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‘Alma’ biog graces L.A.

Play about colorful Austrian coming to California

HOLLYWOOD – With money from the Austrian government, a theatrical production about Alma Mahler’s colorful life is headed for Broadway.

Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, that is.

Paulus Manker, an Austrian actor who has already produced and directed “Alma — Widow of the 4 Arts” in Vienna, Venice and Lisbon, is planning to bring the show to the Los Angeles Theater from Sept. 25-Nov. 28. Written by Joshua Sobol, it ran for six years in Vienna.

Born in 1879 in Vienna, the play’s subject was married to composer Gustav Mahler and architect Walter Gropius, and had an affair with painter Oskar Kokoschka, before marrying Jewish writer Franz Werfel at age 50. The Werfels fled the Nazis for Hollywood, where his novel “The Song of Bernadette” was turned into the Oscar-winning pic in 1943. He died in ’45 and she subsequently moved to New York, where she died in 1964.

The production, which involves extensive interaction between cast and audience, is being staged in cities that played an important part in Alma Mahler’s life.

Although the Los Angeles Theater holds 2,200, Manker plans to limit attendance to 200 and charge $120-$140 per ticket and include a three-course dinner. Ticket sales are slated to begin in April; Manker said he is negotiating with a veteran actress for the lead.

The Los Angeles Theater, which opened in 1931 with the premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights,” is considered the jewel of L.A.’s 12-theater Broadway Historic Theater District with its well-preserved French Baroque interior. It is used only for special events now.

“The area is getting terribly hot,” Manker said. “I didn’t learn downtown L.A. is such a beautiful place until I started looking around, and people need more reasons to discover it.”

Cyrous Davoodian, manager of the privately owned theater, said lease papers are nearly signed.

Manker, who still is seeking private funding for the L.A. production, said he has received $100,000 from Austria’s Ministry of Culture, $50,000 from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, $100,000 from the city of Vienna and $50,000 from the province of Styria (the home of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Bita Rasoulian, Austria’s deputy consul general in Los Angeles, said Manker received her government’s support because Alma Mahler’s life constitutes a “natural connection” between Austria and the U.S. And, she said, Austria is hoping New York will be next. “Wherever he’s taken it, it’s been a great success,” Rasoulian says.