A WHITE HOUSE MESS.
Conventional wisdom says you're not supposed to write plays about politics, sex and religion, unless your name happens to be Tony Kushner (``Angels in America'').
That makes Sharianne Greer a perfect three-for-three in the ox-goring department. Not only did the Manhattan Beach playwright pen a satirical drama about how abortion affects a dysfunctional family. She decided to set her play at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
In Greer's ``The First Bedroom,'' President Robert Fuller (Quinn K. Redeker) and his wife (Dena Dietrich) come to verbal blows over the unplanned pregnancy of their youngest daughter, Holly (Kristina Lear). After Holly gets dragged from an abortion clinic by Secret Service agents, and the media gets wind of the affair, enough hell breaks loose to make Iran-Contra look like a Tarzana pool party.
If the play lives up to its feather-ruffling potential, you may need a reservation to join the picket line at Studio City's Ventura Court Theatre, where ``First Bedroom'' opens a five-week run tonight.
``I thought it symbolized both the traditional American family, the `Father Knows Best' kind of deal, and the political overlay of how this (abortion) fight is continually fueled,'' Greer says, justifying her decision to metaphorically mix fire with gasoline.
Funded by a $2,000 California Arts Council grant, the production will raise funds for two local nonprofits, Women in Theatre and T.H.A.W. (Theatre of Hope for Abused Women).
Producer Veronica Crystal Young thinks ``First Bedroom's'' touchy subject matter may serve as a kind of litmus test for the L.A. theater market. Before Women in Theatre and T.H.A.W. stepped in, at least two other theaters had passed on the play.
``I wouldn't say it's a hard sell on the pro-choice or the pro-life side. It looks at all sides, and I think it provokes thought. And I feel that's what theater is supposed to do,'' Young says.
The spark that ignited Greer's imagination was a 1989 Newsweek story about an alleged sexual fault line in the Bush White House. Reports at the time hinted that first lady Barbara Bush was personally in favor of abortion rights, but kept her feelings private so as not to embarrass her anti-abortion husband, George Bush.
When she read those accounts, Greer says, a ``lightbulb went off and I said, `Oh, my god, that's perfect.' '' By getting behind closed Oval Office doors, Greer figured she could humanize the abortion issue and leaven it with back-room political intrigue.
Although she describes her fictional first lady as closer to Barbara Bush or Nancy Reagan than Hillary Clinton, Greer stresses that her play's central conflict between private belief and public action transcends party lines.
``I'm a Democrat, but I can't believe he (Bush) would be unmoved by that situation. I'm just ready to believe that a politician can say one thing and do another, because that's what they're about.''
Calm, thoughtful and wryly understated, Greer doesn't send up any red warning flags that you're in an iconoclast's presence. Temperamentally, she's more of a moderate.
The eldest child of a Democrat father and a Republican mother, she was raised in a bipartisan, nondenominational Christian home, ``so I'm open to both sides.'' Her grandfather was a director of photography for Howard Hughes and her great-grand-aunt, Mae Marsh, starred in D.W. Griffith's silent film epic ``The Birth of a Nation.''
Dreaming of becoming an actress, she used to stage her own plays as a kid, excelling at bossing friends and siblings around. She went on to attend Los Angeles City College's Theatre Academy at Loyola Marymount University before earning an MFA in play writing from the University of Las Vegas, Nevada. Three previous works, ``Fortressed,'' ``Brilliance'' and ``Tabooki,'' have been produced in the L.A. area.
When she's not writing plays, Greer supports herself by assisting two executive producers at Disney's TV animation studios in Burbank. Like the White House, it's a place that works hard at buffing its public image.
``You know, Disney for the most part is like a totalitarian birthday party,'' Greer says. ``It's completely festive, and yet you've got to watch your step sometimes. We do have some high-level people in management who have very strict beliefs. This (the play) could be the nail in my coffin, for all I know. On the other hand they are very liberal. I work in TV animation and (a number of) people in our building are gay, and it's not an issue.''
Greer fully expects ``First Bedroom'' to raise hackles again, as it did when she originally wrote it for her MFA thesis at UNLV. ``This is feminist dogma and you'll never see this produced!'' one male instructor chided her at the time.
``Now it's been eight years of rewriting, and I guess it's not quite dogma, but I guess some of it is,'' she says. ``It definitely has a feminist slant.''
What: ``The First Bedroom.''
Where: Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City.
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; through Sept. 27.
Tickets: Tonight's opening gala benefit $25; general admission $15; students and seniors $12. Call (818) 763-3856.
Photo: Dena Dietrich and Brian Gaskill in ``The First Bedroom,'' a satirical drama about how abortion affects a dysfunctional White House family.
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|Title Annotation:||L.A. LIFE|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Article Type:||Theater Review|
|Date:||Aug 22, 1997|
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