A CalArts student play helmed by actor James Franco makes its off-campus debut at Edgemar Center for the Arts

By Michael Aushenker
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Interior. Master acting class.

That could be shorthand for “The Magic Tower,” a stage project that emerged from a California Institute for the Arts class taught jointly by Hollywood Renaissance man James Franco and Deborah LaVine, co-director of CalArts’ film directing program.

The multimedia interpretation of Tennessee Williams’ series of one-act plays (eventually expanded into “The Glass Menagerie” and “A Streetcar Named Desire”) by LaVine, Franco and 10 students makes its off-campus debut this weekend at Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica.

LaVine’s journey with Franco began three years ago when the young actor came to CalArts to teach a collaborative filmmaking project adapting D.J. Waldie’s memoir “Holy Land” and became interested in LaVine’s “One Act to Cinematic Event” class.

“His ideas transformed a very traditional and calcified class into a progressive, experimental and provocative workshop,” LaVine said.

“James has provided the CalArts students with much inspiration,” she said. “He is a remarkably committed faculty member, providing academic, intellectual guidance to the students, but he also serves as a role model who constantly demonstrates the requirements for success as being hard work, and complete immersion [in one’s art]. “I’ve known him to do a 12-hour turnaround, flying in from an international location just to teach the class, and flying out the same night after class was over.”

Franco, coincidentally, was unavailable to talk to The Argonaut this week because he was bound for Morocco to perform in and direct a film from his screenplay based on William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” according to a spokesperson.

Though known more for acting roles that span drama (“Milk,” “127 Hours”), comedy (“Pineapple Express,” “This is the End”), arthouse films (“Howl,” “Sal”) and tent-pole popcorn flicks (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” Sam Raimi’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” and “Spider-Man” trilogy,), Franco, who’s receiving Oscar buzz for “Spring Breakers,” has years of experience leading college courses. At 35, Franco has already taught at USC, UCLA and NYU.

Last week, “Interior. Leather Bar,” Franco’s cinematic mediation on William Friedkin’s “Cruising” he co-directed and co-stars in, was released to generally good reviews.

In a statement, Franco shed some light on his collaborative interpretation of Williams’ “The Magic Tower.”

“So many of Williams’ characters are dreamers who live in their imaginations,” Franco said. “The conflicts arise when their dreams must contend with brutal reality. That’s Tennessee: Blanche Dubois in one hand and Stanley Kowalski in the other.”

See “The Magic Tower” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. $10 to $15. Call (310) 392-7327 or visit edgemarcenter.org.

Michael(at)argonautnews.com

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