LOS ANGELES – Dimitri Toscas’ latest directorial project is the Off Broadway hit Buyer & Cellar written by playwright Jonathan Tolins that is based on Barbra Streisand’s book My Passion for Design.
The Falcon Theatre was founded by acclaimed director Garry Marshall, who is known for his hit movies Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries, and his daughter Kathleen. It is located in Burbank, not far from the Warner Bros studios.
The play that Backstage called “inventive, witty, and pretty wonderful” is a fictional account that Tolins created around the one real element which is the existing galleria in the basement of Streisand’s Malibu home that houses all her collectibles.
In this fictional account, Alex More is a struggling LA actor hired to be the shopkeeper of the mall for the one and only client Streisand.
The one-man play is brilliantly performed by Broadway and TV actor Jai Rodriguez who portrays several characters.
When Toscas was asked why he selected the play he told TNH, ‘‘When the play became available for licensing, I read the first eight pages of the script and could not stop laughing. I then suggested it to Garry and Kathleen.”
They all agreed that ‘‘it should be more theatrical and would not have the feeling of stand up performance.”
“A charismatic performer is required to carry out a 95-minute performance that has no intermission and Jai Rodriguez carries out perfectly. ‘‘Jai came in when I was out of town and auditioned with Garry Marshall. When it was over Garry immediately sent me the audition video. He said that the actor was fantastic and I would love his audition. And he was right,” Toscas said.
Toscas, who grew up in Joliet, south of Chicago, had initially chosen a different professional path, that of a priest.
As a high school student he spent a lot of his time after school at the Greek Orthodox church in Joliet and naturally decided to attend Hellenic College of Holy Cross.
Singing since he was a child at the church choir, Toscas began to perform again while at the college. He was even offered a position with the Boston Opera and began to perform small parts initially.
Unexpectedly, his love of God conflicted with his love for singing. When the seminary found out that he was performing at the Boston Opera they gave him an ultimatum: either priesthood or opera.
Toscas decided to complete his degree and quit the opera. But his love for music never faded, and after graduation decided to perform rather than pursue priesthood.
His directing career started when he wrote a children’s show for a fringe festival in Orlando that won the top award.
Then, he was offered assistant director positions in regional musical theaters or operas, which eventually led to him getting opera directing jobs.
‘‘My training at the seminary gives me a unique perspective into analyzing stories and character,” he said.
“Directing and priesthood are both professions that want to help people.” Having directed an opera with over 100 members and a one person play Toscas said that “you would be surprised to hear that a one person play is much harder to direct than directing an opera with over 100 people. In a one man play there is nowhere to hide, all decisions you make get magnified.”
His association with the Falcon Theatre began when his friend Paul Vogt introduced him to director Marshall.
‘‘We immediately connected artistically. Garry loved family productions and when I suggested to write Cinderella an original musical adaptation based on an opera, he was excited to bring it to the Falcon.” That was the start of their association.
Other shows Toscas wrote and directed for the Falcon were Bunny Bunny, Laurel and Hardy, Magic Flute, and The Little Mermaid, set in ancient Greece.
‘‘Garry became my mentor,” Toscas said. “He would read my scripts and give me pointers. Participate in auditions, always available to help.”
When Marshall was directing his first opera he asked Toscas for his opinion. ‘‘I was extremely flattered but Garry was that way. A true collaborator who would seek other artists’ suggestions and actually adopting a lot of them.
Garry Marshall passed away in July and Toscas and the Falcon artists miss his presence. ‘‘We were not just collaborators, we were part of the family. And we will remain part of the Falcon family after his passing.’‘
The play performs until November 6. More information is available at falcontheatre.com.