Well-respected actors sometimes shy away from stage
jobs in Los Angeles because they are afraid a relatively low-paying
gig might interfere with more lucrative work in film or TV.
In Joe Stern's new Matrix Theatre Company, that
shouldn't be a big problem. He's double casting every role.
Stern is one of the few producers with strong
credentials in L.A. theater and TV. In the old Equity Waiver days,
theatergoers knew him for his 99-seat Matrix Theatre on Melrose and
the group that inhabited it, Actors for Themselves, winner of 19 Los
Angeles Drama Critics Circle awards. More recently Stern became better
known as executive co-producer of "Law & Order" on CBS. But he left
that job at the end of last season.
Now he's back with a new troupe at the old space.
Rehearsals began Tuesday for George M. Cohan's "The Tavern," opening
The cast features a bunch of L.A.'s leading actors,
if not its highest-profile stars. For example, Lindsay Grouse and
Penny Fuller will alternate in one role, David Dukes and Charles
Hallahan in another. Audra Lindley and Marion Mercer will take turns
playing Mrs. Lamson, and Robin Gammell and Cotter Smith will both play
Each actor will rehearse with everyone else who
might be performing any given scene. Sounds complicated, but Stern
believes the actors are experienced enough— and know one another well
enough—to pull it off. There will be no "A" cast or "B" cast. A
theatergoer won't be able to find out in advance who is playing on any
The actors will receive the token fees mandated by
the Actors' Equity 99-Seat Theater Plan. But they'll also be
compensated by the freedom to work elsewhere when they are not at the
Matrix. The production is being paid for by money from Matrix rentals
Stern has collected in the last three years—a fund that he hopes will
pay for at least two seasons. After that, he'd like to attach his
group to a college campus, which would again free the Matrix to be
used for rentals.
Stern plans two more productions for the first
season—though titles haven't yet been set—and subscription packages
will be available. Opening on March 21 will be another revival,
probably from the 19th Century. The final play, scheduled for May,
will be a new work produced in conjunction with Off Broadway's
Playwrights Horizons. Chances are it will play here first, then go to
New York, Stern said. "We will be their regional theater."
Don Scardino, artistic director of Playwright
Horizons, is an old friend of Stern and worked as a director on "Law &
Order." He confirmed that his group will help Stern pick new plays for
the Matrix and will probably retain an option on producing them in New
York. "Anytime Joe wants to re-commit himself to the theater,"
Scardino said, "I want to support him."