The City, presented by The Group Rep, continues Fri.-Sat., 8 pm; Sun., 3 pm; through Feb. 28. Tickets: $15-$22. Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd.Â North Hollywood; 818.700.4878 or thegrouprep.com.
If one were to peruse the simple description of the play, The City by Clyde Fitch, it would seem to be culled from today’s headlines. The action centers on the machinations of a charismatic young politician running for governor whose faÃ§ade of wholesome virtue begins to crumble once the extent of his unbridled ambition and other unsavory facts about his personal life are revealed.
“Actually, it premiered on Broadway in 1909,” says Stan Mazin, who has adapted and staged the work for the North Hollywood-based Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre. “We became attracted to the work because there was such a strong parallel between the things Fitch was writing about and what we are witnessing in politics right now.”
Though little known today, Fitch (1865-1909) was America’s first commercially successful playwright with 36 published plays, which varied from social comedies and farces to melodrama and historical dramas. He was the first American playwright to publish his plays. His first work of note was Beau Brummell (1890), followed by such critical successes as Masked Ball (1892),Â Nathan Hale (1898), Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines (1900) which made a star of Ethel Barrymore, The Climbers (1901), The Girl with the Green Eyes (1902), The House of Mirth (1906)Â and others. At the height of his career, Fitch was earning up to $250,000 from his plays at a time when the average working man’s salary was a dollar a day.
“Group Rep’s Artistic Director Earnest Figueroa brought The City to me and asked me to read it,” Mazin recalls. “I loved it in its present state, set during the turn of the 20th century. The play had such a wonderful classic structure but contained so many contemporary evils: corruption, political blackmail, incest, a celebrity divorce, criminal financial manipulation. It was like reading about Enron.
“Earnest wanted me to update it to present time. So I updated the language, set it in today’s world but didn’t tamper with the basic structure of the work. It was Fitch’s last play. He died soon after it was produced on Broadway. When it did premiere it caused a scandal. It was the first play to use the phrase, ‘God damn.’ Actually, the line in the play is, ‘You’re a God damn liar.’ Despite the controversy, The City had a very successful run.”
Mazin wasn’t too fazed about adapting a play set during a time when the manual typewriter was the height of mechanical sophistication to today’s world of cell phones and fiber optics.
“Actually, there was very little to change,” Mazin recalls. “There were small things like the use of the term ‘blackguard’ which I eliminated. Also, there is a scene where the main character, George Rand, throws a letter into a fire. Now, he puts it through a shredder. There is another scene where a mother and daughter are arranging flowers in a room as a distraction, all the while talking to the father. They wouldn’t do that today. I have the mother talking on a cell phone and the daughter text messaging as the distraction. These things all heighten the reality of today’s world but do not distract from the themes Fitch created.”
Group Repertory Theatre has had a long and storied history of taking classic works and making them work for contemporary audiences, beginning with their first production, the 1974 staging of Round Dance, an adaptation of Schnitzler’s turn of the 20th century classic La Ronde.”
Under the original guidance of Founder/Artistic Director Lonny Chapman, Group Rep established a permanent company of actors, directors, writers and technicians. The company has produced over 200 productions including more than 37 world premieres of original works. Chapman continued to lead the company until his passing in 2007. In April of 2009, the company welcomed Figueroa as its new Artistic Director.
Stan Mazin is a longtime member of Group Repertory Theatre which is 36 years old. Mazin has been with it for 35 of those years, when the company had only 20 members. “I am one of three people who have been in it continuously,” Mazin affirms. “Some members have come and gone and then returned. I have kept my membership in the company current for 35 years.
“Our first space was a converted garage on Van Ness Avenue in Hollywood. Then we moved to North Hollywood on Magnolia, near Vineland. We have been in our current home on Burbank Boulevard for 25 years.”
Mazin has managed to keep busy in the company. He has directed Prisoner of Second Avenue and the recent Give ‘Em Hell, Harry! Some of his acting credits include Broadway Bound, Company, California Suite, 411 Joseph, and Chaim’s Love Song. Along the way, he also found time to do four Broadway shows: High Spirits, Bajour, Holly Golightly and Walking Happy which brought him to LA in 1967. He also did a tour of West Side Story in 1965, playing Bernardo opposite Christopher Walken as Riff.
He has also done a plethora of television shows, including 10 years as a dancer on The Carol Burnett Show. And he still operates Stan Mazin Travels, taking five or six tours every year to various destinations around the world. He leaves Feb. 21 for India. Noted dancer/director Dom Salinaro, his partner of 44 years, passed away last year.
“The City has been my first opportunity to adapt a play for Group Rep,” says Mazin. “It has been a wonderful experience for me. I am working with a phenomenal 10-member ensemble and directing a play I think is going to surprise everyone with its relevance to today’s world.”
Feature image of Brahman Salem and Hector Hank and story images by Doug EngallaPrint