Separating Church and Stage/Will NYC Dig Buried Child?/Film Heads Bow Out 

The Church of Scientology may have a bone to pick with playwright Dane Hanson.

Separating Church and Stage

When local playwright Dane Hanson placed a classified ad announcing his new one-man show, Birth of a $cientologist, he had no idea he was taking on the litigious Church of Scientology. The play, which opens this Wednesday at the Organic Theater, tells the story of one Jasper Twinkle, a lapsed Catholic who becomes convinced religion has ruined his life. He converts to Scientology after reading L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics.

After the ad appeared two months ago, Mary Anne Ahmad, director of public affairs for the Church of Scientology in Chicago, called the Organic Theater and asked Hanson to contact her. Ahmad says she was concerned Hanson may have violated intellectual property laws by using the word "Scientology" and excerpts from Hubbard's book without permission. "I'm not the expert on trademarks, but Hanson could be in violation of the law," Ahmad says.

Hanson admits the play quotes two sentences from Dianetics, which advocates a form of psychotherapy that aims to help people dispel the unpleasant past. But he believes the attributed quotes are protected speech. "The piece is a satire that really picks more on Catholicism than Scientology," says Hanson, who was raised a Lutheran and educated by Jesuits. "It's funny they would even care because it's not really about Scientology."

Recently Hanson went to the Church of Scientology offices on Lincoln Avenue with posters for his show. He met with Ahmad, and she asked to see a copy of his script and also inquired whether he was a Scientologist. Hanson has declined to hand over the script, and Ahmad says she forwarded what little information she gathered about Hanson and his play to the church's headquarters in Los Angeles. As of early this week, Ahmad was still awaiting a response.

For his part, Hanson says he welcomes any publicity the Scientologists bring to his play.

Will NYC Dig Buried Child?

Two years after its production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice bombed in New York, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company may be back on Broadway. While details are still being worked out, producer Frederick Zollo says he plans to move Steppenwolf's current production of Sam Shepard's Buried Child intact to a Broadway theater in March or April.

Zollo says he may be able to take advantage of a new agreement formulated among the Broadway Alliance, a coalition of unions, producers, and theaters on the Great White Way. The agreement allows plays--not musicals--to be produced at a lower price than typical Broadway fare. It offers concessions on theater rentals and labor costs, as well as discounts on newspaper ads. Zollo says the show will probably be capitalized at around $750,000, the maximum allowed under the terms of the Alliance agreement, and no Steppenwolf funds would be involved in the Broadway presentation. He also says Buried Child's top ticket price would probably be $45; the current top ticket price for most nonmusicals is $55.

Serious theater is a tough sell on Broadway these days. All of the previous Steppenwolf productions that went to Broadway--including The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, The Song of Jacob Zulu, and the Tony Award-winning The Grapes of Wrath--lost money. The current production of Buried Child, directed by Gary Sinise from a revised script by Shepard, opened Steppenwolf's 20th anniversary season last month. Several Chicago critics, including the Reader's Albert Williams, expressed qualms about the show, but New York Times second-string drama critic Ben Brantley wrote a highly favorable notice. Zollo, who has a long history of producing serious theater on and off Broadway, says he's confident a New York staging would be successful. Though Buried Child won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979, the new version would mark Shepard's Broadway debut.

"This is a major American work, and Gary and Sam have arrived at a great production, which the play has never had," Zollo says.

Film Heads Bow Out

In decisions apparently reached separately, Illinois Film Office director Suzy Kellett and Chicago Film Office director Charles Geocaris announced last month that they will be stepping down from their posts. Kellett's leaving to become director of Washington State's film office, while Geocaris wants to pursue other opportunities in the film industry. Both executives had clearly been under pressure over the past year. Filming in Chicago and around Illinois has slowed considerably in the face of intense competition from other states and Canada, and well-publicized reports last summer of mob ties to the local film business didn't make their jobs any easier.

In light of these difficulties, some believe the time may be right for new leadership. A source close to the Illinois Film Office says state officials have already started the process of choosing Kellett's successor. A leading contender for the post is Ron VerKuilen, a veteran film office scout. VerKuilen, who has good contacts in Hollywood, reportedly is ready to step out from Kellett's shadow and show what he can do in the director's chair. Others in the running for Kellett's job include Paul Wagner, a former director of the Chicago office of the Screen Actors Guild, and Val Gobos, a respected talent rep. No word yet on who may be under consideration for Geocaris's position.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.

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