How do you get someone like Eileen Heckart, who’d won an Oscar, an Emmy and been nominated for four Tonys, to agree to act in a 93-seat theatre in new short plays by unknown playwrights for six weeks? You ask her.
She was in LA in 1983, feeling underutilized as Nurse Decker in the ABC drama Trauma Center, with her husband and three sons back east, when Allan got a guest star role on the series. According to an interview Drama-Logue did with her, during a break one day, Allan mentioned the Back Alley’s Playwright’s Lab and its new project, HOT & COLD, twelve ten-minute plays for different months of the year. “I was interested,” she said, “because if we don’t start with the material, we have nothing to begin with.”
“Maybe you could do something for us sometime,” Allan said.
“What about now?” Heckart tossed back. “I’m here now.”
And that’s how Heckart ended up headlining a cast that included Judith-Marie Bergan, Jason Bernard, Laura Bruneau, Bill Cort, Jeffrey Marcus, Jennifer Parson, Sal Viscuso and Vallie Ullman, directed by John Pleshette, veteran TV director Ted Post, and Jim Hornbeck, with Allan again as the supervising director.
The LA Times said, “The cast of ten, headed by Eileen Heckart, is impeccably bright, and the program as a whole has an undeniable sparkle as well. Still, one misses the shadow of a thought hovering here and there over the general picnic merriment, and somewhere the sound of a playwright’s ax grinding.”
To help get some axes sharpened, we fortuitously had just received a $3,500 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation for a playwright residency, and our first small grants from LA City and County.
It may have helped Heckart’s decision to work at the theatre knowing she was going to be in rep with Barbara Rush, who was starring in Betsy Hailey’s new adaptation of her bestselling novel, A WOMAN OF INDEPENDENT MEANS.