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The Los Angeles Times

Friday, January 7, 2000


'Frasier' star leads playwrights fund-raiser


David Hyde Pierce, Peter Strauss go 'postal' in 'Disgruntled Employees'

By CHARLOTTE BOECHLER




      OJAI -- You've heard of disgruntled employees of the United States Postal Service wigging out. Now's your chance to see celebrities going postal.
      David Hyde Pierce, best known for his Emmy-award winning role as Niles Crane, the delicately fussy and enchantingly pompous brother of Frasier Crane on the hit NBC comedy series "Frasier" joins John Mahoney, Peter Strauss, Chris Hogan, and Christine Estabrook 8 p.m. Jan. 22 in a live reading of "Disgruntled Employees" at Nordhoff High School, 1401 Maricopa Hwy., Ojai.
      The event benefits the Ojai Playwrights Conference held in July, which debuts a selection of plays and attracts theatergoers across the country. Tickets are $50.
      This is not the first time big names have been attached to the annual benefit. Pierce and Larry Hagman participated last year, said Chris Westphal, media director for the Ojai Playwrights Conference. According to Westphal, the event offers actors an escape from their typical roles and routines.
      "They can do something a little out of the envelope for them. It's not a full-blown play with all the commitments and rehearsals. It's a couple of days where they can stretch their wings," he said. "It's a relatively low-pressure event."
      Pierce has also appeared in "The Terminator" and was the voice of a bug in "A Bug's Life."
      Mahoney co-stars with Pierce on "Frasier," playing his father, Martin Crane. He's also starred in several films and is a stage veteran, winning a Tony for his role on Broadway in John Guare's "House of Blue Leaves."
      Ojai resident Strauss is also a star of film and theater, winning an Emmy for his lead role in "The Jericho Mile." Most recently, he appeared in the miniseries "Joan of Arc."
      Estabrook won an Obie Award for her role in "Pastorale" and has been featured in several television shows, including "The Practice" and "Ally McBeal." Hogan is best known for co-starring on "MAD-TV."
      "Disgruntled Employees," described as a blend of social commentary, biting satire and simple lunacy, delves into what happens behind the scenes at a post office when a newcomer shakes up a staff that is already a precarious step away from stumbling into insanity.
      "The characters are teetering on the edge and when a new arrival comes in, that just about pushes everybody to the brink," said Westphal, who considers the play edgy and quirky. "They're eccentric to the point of pathology. They're probably not people you would generally want to have over."
      Westphal easily identifies what makes this play a dark comedy: "The eccentricity of the characters ... they are kind of extremes of what we imagine in our darkest whimsical fantasies about what goes on in the back rooms of the post office."
      The audience may even learn a lesson from the characters.
      "They're going to think twice about talking back to a post man," Westphal quipped.
      Playwright Kevin Crowley, boasting a nine-year writing career, penned the madness. He's appeared in "The Fugitive" and "Major League."
      Chris Fields, artistic director of the play, chose the script because it was one of the funniest he'd ever encountered.
      "It's wildly funny, wildly contemporary and treats serious social problems with a light touch," he said. "It's really fun to sit and listen to."
      Westphal said he'd be surprised if the play didn't end up in bigger theaters.
      "We've had a number of plays that have debuted here and have gone on to successful stagings."
      The benefit gives live theater enthusiasts the opportunity to be in the know. "It's a chance to see something new and be the first to have seen something that may go on to be quite successful in mainstream theater," said Westphal, who added that seeing top-notch actors working up close is also an experience not to be forgotten.
      What will Postal Service employees think of the play? Pondered Westphal: "They may be a bit miffed."
      FYI
      *Live reading of "Disgruntled Employees"
      *Benefit for Ojai Playwrights Conference
      *Featuring David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney and Peter Strauss
      *8 p.m. Jan. 22 at Nordhoff High School, 1401 Maricopa Hwy., Ojai
      *Tickets are $50
      *Call 640-0400

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Copyright © 2000 Los Angeles Times
Posted 1/8/00