The Falcon is now in the midst of its first full season, an accomplishment Marshall shares with partner Meryl Friedman. "Meryl knows a lot," he says. "She's worked in small theaters for 16 years." A native New Yorker, Friedman came to L.A. by way of Chicago, where she founded and acted as producing director of the Lifeline Theatre Company. "Of course, Chicago's a little different," says Marshall. Still, he trusts Friedman's theatrical expertise on all fronts: "She even knows what kind of cookie sells in the lobby!"
Friedman laughs as she admits that she sometimes feels out of place surrounded by film and TV industry folk who just don't "get" live theater. "People seem surprised when they come through the Falcon and see me working in different capacities," she relates. "They say, 'Wow, you're changing a light bulb!' But just because I have this title doesn't mean I want to live in a box. I need to know what's going on."
The Falcon's inaugural season is progressing nicely. Friedman's own Anastasia Krupnik, from Lois Lowry's popular children's book, got things rolling back in October on the kids' front. Pudd'nhead Wilson--her vibrant adaptation of Mark Twain's story, set to a score of Negro Spirituals--opened in February, and was recently extended through April 16. The big season opener last fall was Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning Crimes of the Heart, directed by Marshall and starring Faith Ford (Murphy Brown), Crystal Bernard (Wings), and Morgan Fairchild (Flamingo Road).
Needless to say, the drawing power of big names on the marquee is no surprise to Garry Marshall. But he sees "star vehicles" as having an extra bonus when it comes to theater, at least in the projects he chooses: "If we get two cast members who are stars, we can introduce you to [new] actors." In other words: Audiences may have come to Crimes as fans of the three TV actors, but they also got to enjoy the performance of Stephanie Nizik, whom Marshall had previously cast in Lungfish. "So that works," Marshall says. "But in Pudd'nhead Wilson, there are no stars, and that's gotten the best reviews we've ever had. So we're trying to do both: to bring in new people and new works, and also stay alive."
The theater has just committed to a co-produce the world premiere of Credo by Richard Camp, in June. "It's a play that will take us different places," says Friedman. And though the Falcon has made what Friedman calls "an obvious and ongoing commitment" in a number of areas, including plays for young audiences, she feels that "The theater is, in some ways, too young for us to have figured out what we do best, or the audience response to it."
Marshall agrees, saying: "I guess there's a lot more to learn. We are in our infancy." Who knows what the future might hold for this little theater in this big film-and-TV town. "They could turn us into 'The Falcon Blockbuster,' " Marshall quips. But that's not very likely, because Garry Marshall knows that L.A. is full of actors who are hardened theater addicts, just like him. "A true actor wants to do theater," he says. "Nothing beats it."
And then he tells a tale from his previous day's work, as an actor on the set of Hollywood Sign--the first American feature by acclaimed German director Sönke Wortman, starring Burt Reynolds and Tom Berenger. "In the middle of this picture," Marshall relates, "Burt said to me, 'You know what play I'd like to do? That Championship Season!"
[For more information on the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive in Burbank, call 818-955-8101. Or visit the theater's website, www.falcontheatre.org.]