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April 24, 1998   By ROBERT TRUSSELL    Publication: The Kansas City Star

The lucky number is 13. That's how many versions of Ron Simonian's new play the prolific local playwright has typed into his laptop in recent months. The final version of ``Zone 3'' was finished only after rehearsals began. ``It's taking up a lot of hard drive space,'' Simonian said the other day. He added with a chuckle that in all those earlier drafts, there may be material for three or four other plays. Audiences who have seen previous productions of Simonian's work know that his interest in what might be described as conventional drama is virtually nonexistent. His plays blend mundane realities and fantastic excesses, always revealing a quirky take on human nature. ``Thanatos'' was a meditation on death in which a motel room on the edge of infinity is ultimately littered with corpses; ``Bagheads'' was an extended joke about cannibalism; dismemberment was a key plot element in ``Arms and Legs''; and ``At the Feet of Doves'' depicted an odd-couple team of hit men who blast each other into oblivion before the final curtain. While these thumbnail sketches may sound grim and indulgent, it should be noted that Simonian at his best is a very funny playwright. And he likes to take risks. ``Who knows? Maybe I'm just trying to bludgeon the audience again,'' Simonian said, referring to the headline on a negative review of ``Arms and Legs. '' The new play takes a look at the national obsession with celebrity and the possibility that secret agencies could manipulate that obsession. ``It deals with celebrity deaths and our fascination with celebrities and icons,'' he said. ``And the need to keep people alive - we have to believe Elvis is still alive - and who we cling to. And what does the government really deal with? ``It's really an odd play. It's funny, but I couldn't open up the script and point to a line that would make people laugh. You have to see it from the beginning to the end. The humor comes more from reality, I guess. '' Cynthia Levin, the Unicorn's producing artistic director, said she asked Simonian to write a new play after she couldn't find a worthy submission in the theater company's annual play-writing competition. ``There wasn't anything I felt fit into the season that we were ga-ga over or that was appropriate,'' Levin said. ``So I went to Ron and said, 'What's in your head? ' and tried to shape that idea. To be able to spend six months working on it was a lot of fun. '' The cast includes Mark Robbins and David Fritts - both of whom Simonian envisioned in the show from the beginning - as well as Dan Barnett, Jeff Metzger and Tess Brubeck, a veteran of two productions of ``Thanatos. '' Ernest L. Williams, who is directing, said
the male performers were essentially hand-picked for the show. ``There were actors Ron wanted to do certain roles, so they were asked,'' Williams said. ``Cynthia and I felt very strongly that if we could get some of those, those were good choices. We were able to do that, pretty much. ``We did auditions for the woman's role, and we were all very happy to have Tess come on. '' The actors' feedback became a crucial element in the rewrites, according to Simonian. ``I had written the show for Mark and David, and it's funny because Mark plays a guy named Mark and David plays a guy named David,'' he said. ``So we talked about whether we were going to change their names and I said, 'Why? ' If Mark played Marc Antony, you wouldn't change the name. '' Simonian said this was basically a dream cast. There have been times, he said, when crucial casting errors have turned some of his plays into train derailments. ``The dialogue in this play is the best I've had,'' he said. ``A lot of that is because when you're writing for a Mark Robbins, I think he is the actor - he and David - who can take my dialogue, and it sounds exactly like it sounded in my head. ``There is a realm that Ron likes to deal in, but I do think the play is a little different from some of his other stuff,'' Williams said. ``It does not seem to me as heavilyviolent. There's not as much sexuality. ... ``It seems to me that Ron is in a maturation stage and he's gaining and growing, and this play, I think, reflects a little of that. '' The Kansas City Star Date: April 24, 1998 Page: 13 Copyright 1998 The Kansas City Star Co

In death, celebrities live on, government helps Ron Simonian's 'Zone 3' looks at nation's need to ke: Press
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