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Show on the rodent

New directors at Victory Theatre Center launch new production with younger audience in mind.

February 23, 2008|By Joyce Rudolph

Producers hope a new play opening this weekend will pique the interest of younger audiences and encourage them to return to the Victory Theatre Center in Burbank.

Artistic directors Maria Gobetti and Tom Ormeny hired Tim and Carri Sullens as associate artistic directors more than a year ago to go through the new plays submitted to the theater, which range from four or five a week, and find scripts that will appeal to a younger audience. This upcoming performance is their first pick.

The duo is concentrating on new plays that would appeal to a wider range of ages, from high school to those in their 20s and 30s, Gobetti said.

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“We are trying very hard to develop youthful audiences because that’s who will be our audiences tomorrow,” she said. “And they need to develop a theater habit.”

The Sullens are developing new plays under the program they call Hothouse, Tim Sullens said.

The first play in the program is “The World’s Largest Rodent” opening this weekend.

The play was submitted by a Texas school teacher, Don Zolidis.

“The Victory has always had a mission to develop original works, so it had a reputation for that, and we’ve tried to turn that up a notch to produce them,” Tim Sullens said.

The group has been working for a year, taking it from its rough draft form to what the audience sees on the stage, he said. The playwright has been flying in on weekends to work on it, and they have been inviting audiences to see it in the early stages.

The type of play they are looking to produce is one that has an original take on a story or subject and has to ring with some kind of truth, Tim Sullens said.

“‘The World’s Largest Rodent’ has those qualities as well as an element of satire, which we thought was interesting,” he said. “He makes fun of everything from religion, education and science, but is still able to have a sweetness to the story.”

The play is about a 13-year-old boy whose mother is in a coma. He has tried to awaken her, and enlists the help of an imaginary beer-drinking rodent and a home-schooled lesbian girlfriend.

“People who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s will enjoy it,” Tim Sullens said. “It has mild sexual references, and there is a satirical edge to it.”

The Sullens read about 100 plays this year, Carri Sullens said, and this one really stood out.

“It’s rare to find something this good,” she said.

“It’s written by a middle school teacher about a middle school student. He speaks like the kids. It’s a surreal story and incredibly funny.”

Producers had a play reading at Cypress College, and the students received it very well, Carri Sullens said.

“They weren’t used to seeing things on stage,” she said.

“Hopefully we can reach out and bring an audience unfamiliar with live theater and not familiar with our theater. Many people tell me they’ve driven by the theater but have never seen a play here.”

The Hothouse program is allowing the Victory to continue a tradition of concentrating on new works, a tradition that started when they founded the theater in 1979, said former Victory Theatre actress and producer Susan Kussman of Glendale’s Stepping Stone Players. That the Victory has accomplished that is very unique, she added.

“That they have lasted all these years doing original works is just amazing,” she said.


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