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Jewish Journal

Theater Notes

by Naomi Pfefferman

July 9, 1998 | 8:00 pm

When the Jewish Women's Theatre Project askedSusan Merson to write its first commissioned play last year, theactress/writer recalled a bizarre TV news item.

"This 85-year-old man woke up one morning, turnedto his wife of 50 years and choked her to death," says Merson, theformer director of the Streisand Festival for New Jewish Plays andthe grande dame of Jewish theater in Los Angeles. When asked why, theelderly man shrugged and replied that his wife coughed toomuch.

Merson thought there must have been anotherreason. "Only an unrequited passion could drive me to that kind ofact, so I wondered, 'What kind of woman could possibly create thatkind of passion in that kind of Jewish guy?'"

The result is Merson's darkly comic monologue,"Clarice Cohen's Tribal Tales of Love," now at The Eclectic TheatreCo. in North Hollywood. The sequin-bedecked heroine is irrepressible,born-again mid-life chanteuse Clarice Cohen, the torchsong star ofthe Jewish synagogue circuit. Clarice's grand passion is ErnieAbrams, with whom she cavorts at every Holiday Inn with a senior'sdiscount, until his wife, Estelle, comes between them.

The widowed Clarice is a survivor, much like hercreator. Broadway actress Merson moved to Los Angeles in 1985 becausethe theater was dying in New York; she gave up the Streisand Festivalfive years later because "It was an exercise in futility -- therejust wasn't financial support from the Jewish community." InHollywood, Merson has often been typecast in ethnic or Jewish roles,like the spinster Aunt Gert in the film version of Neil Simon's "Lostin Yonkers." Undaunted, she has written five one-woman shows toshowcase her talent, the latest of which is "Clarice Cohen."

The play, she says, is a loving parody offeminism. "Clarice's life is all about expressing herself," Mersonsays. "It's about 'Giving it all you've got, baby.'"

Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.through August 1. Tickets are $15. (213) 660-TKTS.

Also in Los Angeles:

*"Talley'sFolly," at the Center Theater in Long Beach through July 19: LanfordWilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the first of a trilogy, depictsthe World War II courtship of Sally Talley, the daughter of richSouthern parents, and Matt Friedman, a German-Jewish immigrant in St.Louis. Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25to $30. (562) 938-4128.

*"The Last Tycoon," opening July 10 at theFountain Theatre: Adapted by Fountain producing director/dramaturgSimon Levy from F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, the play is setduring the golden age of Hollywood. The hero is movie studio iconMonroe Stahr (a character loosely based on Irving Thalberg), whoseintegrity is constantly threatened by the moguls and money-men.Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18 to $22.(213) 663-1525.

*The Skirball's "Spotlight" theater series, July25, 2 p.m.: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein willtalk about her work and the theater landscape in general. Tickets are$12. (213) 660-TKTS.

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