THERE'S PLENTY OF ACTION on the 11th floor of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. In room 1102, Isabelle Garnett, a 53-year-old widow, has breezed into town for an impulsive adventure. Across the hall, in 1103, James Towne Sr. is about to embark on a whing-ding, too.
Naturally, in both of these situations, there are complications and interruptions, and there may be more action in rooms 1102 and 1103 than there is downstairs in the casino."1102 and 1103" aren't just nondescript room numbers in a glitzy, high-rise Las Vegas hotel. In tandem, they're the title of a new play by renowned and prolific Salt Lake playwright David Kranes - and the play is premiering this week at Salt Lake Acting Company.
They also mark the fourth production SLAC has done of Kranes' works and the fourth time that Kenneth Washington has directed Kranes' plays.
Earlier Kranes' works staged by SLAC include the highly acclaimed "Salmon Run" (1985), "Montana" (directed by Washington in 1987), and "Cantrell" (1988).
Edward J. Gryska, artistic director for SLAC, notes that the latest production is "a brilliantly funny new play by Kranes, whose range and sensitivity continue to amaze and delight."
Washington, who is director of the BFA Actor Training Program at the University of Utah, explained that while "1102 and 1103" is presented in the format of one-act plays, the action in both rooms takes place at the same time. "If the two acts could be meshed together, it would be like interlocking your fingers together. Once you see the whole play, the puzzle fits."
Some of the characters cross over into both acts.
While this week's opening marks the first staging of the play, Salt Lakers had a glimpse of what was to come last season during a readers' theater-style presentation of "1102 and 1103," directed by Ann Cullimore Decker at SLAC.
And, during the recent rehearsals for the upcoming production, the play was still a work in progress, with Kranes making some modifications and doing some rewriting.
Washington, during an interview in his office in the Performing Arts Building on the U. campus this past week, said he was excited to be working again with Kranes.
"We've had a long, very fortunate relationship and that makes this experience very easy and very pleasurable," Washington said.
Both Washington and Kranes are quiet, introspective, somewhat reserved. Kranes shies away from media interviews, especially when they involve his own works. But Washington, an articulate, easy-going Louisiana native (who swore he would never become a teacher- and who now instructs fledgling actors), was agreeable to being interviewed.
-ABOUT THE PLAY - "The play is funny, but there are also some sad and lonely things about it. There's a blend of those things that make the play special and different," he said.
Nancy Borgenicht of SLAC had told us earlier that Kranes' new play was kind of "Neil Simon-ish." But Washington said it's more poignant than Simon's comedies, and it does have some serious moments about it.
"One thing David and I have talked about . . . his earlier plays dealt with young men going through anguishing times. Now David has sons that age, so it's like he's older and can look back on that time with a different perspective instead of being in the midst of it himself. The perspective is more adult. I think this play is a good example of being able to look back and be amused by some situations while still feeling the pain," said Washington.
Washington previously directed two Kranes plays in the Babcock Theater (downstairs in the Pioneer Memorial Theatre complex) and others for Theatre 138 and SLAC - "Nevada," "Hooray," "Montana" and "Future Tense."
The cast of "1102 and 1103" includes Gail Hickman (seen earlier this season in SLAC's "Steel Magnolias") and Alan Echeverria as the two Caesars Palace patrons embarking on separate adventures.
But their plans - Isabelle Garnett's night on the town with a hired escort and James Towne's frolic with an attractive young blonde - are thwarted by the widow's son-in-law (John Runnels) and Towne's son (David Wisshack).
Others in the cast include Doug Caputo, Linda Littel, Shane Mozaffari and Pilar Witherspoon.
Michael J. Allman is set designer, with Megan McCormick and Amy Roberts in charge of lighting and costumes, respectively.
"1102 and 1103" opens Wednesday at Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. Fifth North, where it will continue through May 7.
Wednesday and Thursday of this week are "preview" nights, with all seats priced at $10. Ticket prices for subsequent performances are $12 on Wednesday and Thursday evenings (7:30 p.m.) and Sunday matinees (2 p.m.); $14 on Sunday evenings (7 p.m.) and $15 on Fridays and Saturdays (8 p.m.).
Students with I.D. may purchase discounted "student rush" tickets for $6 any evening, five minutes prior to curtain time.
The SLAC box office is open noon to 6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and evenings prior to performances.
-DAVID KRANES teaches writing at the University of Utah (where he was named University Professor for 1989), and is artistic director of the Sundance Institute's Playwrights Laboratory.
He wrote "1102 and 1103" for Florence Stanley, a New York actress he met during a Sundance playwrights summer lab, but the idea for the play came to him when he was in Las Vegas waiting for his wife in a shopping mall.
"I saw all of these unlikely women buying these Diane Freis dresses and I thought, `What happens to somebody to make them buy a dress like that?' And it all came to me in a flash - a play about a woman trying to be adventurous.
"I knew it was a one-act - so, I thought, what is the male flipside, the male who has an adventure? And I decided to play one against the other," Kranes says.
"Later, I walked out on the balcony of Caesars Palace, where I was staying, and overheard conversations from rooms above and below, and decided this was the fantasy setting for mixing of these two ideas," Kranes said in a SLAC press release.
Just last week it was announced by Pioneer Theatre Company Artistic Director Charles Morey that Kranes has been commissioned by PTC to write a new play, "Anthem," especially for the Lees Main Stage of Pioneer Memorial Theatre. This is scheduled to be produced during PTC's 1990-91 season.
Kranes' plays have been produced at such regional theaters as The Manhattan Theatre Club, Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
His fourth novel, "Keno Runner," will be published this summer by the University of Utah Press.
His drama, "Cantrell," which premiered last season at SLAC, will be included in "The Best New Plays of 1988." Two other Kranes' one-act plays, "Montana" and "Audience," will open in Los Angeles in June.
-KENNETH WASHINGTON said he took a couple of playwriting classes from David Kranes when he first moved to Utah as a student in 1974.
"From the first time I did one of his plays, it was always a very easy-going working relationship. You've heard the famous horror stories of directors vs. playwrights, where the director kicks the author out of the theater. But I think we respect each other very much and we have similar values," he said.
In addition to the four productions they've worked on together, Kranes and Washington have also both been involved in a number of Sundance Institute summer playwriting labs.
Washington noted that Kranes once said "It's no accident that a play is called a play."
As a child, Washington said, "we play pretend. Athletes get to play the same games they played as children. I'm doing the same thing, from pretending as a child, to basically the same thing now - except that things become more complex as we become adults. As older human beings, pretending is not as simple as it once was, but it still comes from the same impulses and it's still a form of play."
"So we (Kranes and I) started off with that in mind, and we've had some fun," Washington said.
Although he has a well-deserved reputation as an outstanding director (he directed Kevin Kling's "Lloyd's Prayer" at the 1988 Humana Festival of New Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville), deep down, in his heart of hearts, Washington would've preferred to be a dancer.
Growing up in the Deep South (Arcadia, not far from Shreveport, La.), Washington was determined that he would never, ever, become a teacher. Most of his family was involved in teaching, so he dabbled in several areas - newspaper reporting (for the Detroit Free Press), television and radio production (in graduate school), public relations, even teaching for a year. But none of that worked.
"Looking back over my life at the time, one thing I had always enjoyed was theater, so I decided that must be what I like to do most," he said. (Unfortunately, theater and other cultural arts in Shreveport were off limits to Washington when he was growing up in what was then the segregated South.)
When he first came out to the University of Utah, he was interested in dance history. It was the U.'s outstanding reputation for dance that lured him here.
Washington started teaching parttime at the U. in 1976, spent a year in Paris on a fellowship, then began teaching fulltime in 1977. He's the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship and received an American College Theatre Festival Award in 1988 from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
As director of the U.'s Actor Training Program he does a lot of counseling and administrative work, as well as teaching.
"I deal with students at a very vulnerable age who are wanting to go into a very difficult career. Their egos are on the line and they're dealing with parents who don't want them to go into the theater . . . and the students are worried about having enough talent to pull it off. It's very challenging work."