By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
“I was waiting for my car,” Vitali recalls. “I was down on the ground. Everybody thought I was dead. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t drive. I never even went to a doctor. For a couple of weeks, it was hard to walk. People told me, you have to sue — you can take money from the insurance. But I never did.”
Mary Preston witnessed the accident’s aftermath and described it as horrifying. “We asked him if he needed an ambulance, but he kept saying, ‘No, no, I’m so silly, stepping into the street like that, I’m so silly.’ The next day he threatened to sue us all.”
Not true, says Vitali. “I said I would sue if they didn’t take back the valet they fired. I called the owner and said, take back this guy, he was such a nice guy. I felt so sorry that he lost his job. She promised she would, but she didn’t.”
Then again, he didstrike a pedestrian while speeding backward at 35 miles an hour in somebody else’s car.
November 2003. Ashes to Ashesapproaches its premiere, and Vitali doesn’t know his lines.
Patten recalls that Vitali was blowing off rehearsals with his speech coach. Vitali said he thought he needed an understudy. Co-star Diana Jellinek even came up with hand signals to cue his next line.
“He wore a Gucci suit, while Diana had a dress that looked like a paper sack,” said Patten. “One of my jobs was to do the program and work on the bios. So I would go to the printer’s and spend hours doing the layout. It was supposed to be his face and Diana’s, like on the poster, then he Photoshopped her face out of the program.”
Patten recounts how at the final dress rehearsal director Di Trevis and Vitali had a falling out over the curtain call.
“Di said, ‘I want to make this [curtain call] simple. Both of you come out, take a bow, then leave together.’ Francesco says, ‘No, the lights are going to go off, and when they come back on, [co-star] Diana is going to bow, then she’ll signal for me, and I’ll have my bow, then I will signal for [the director] Di, for her curtain call.’
“Di said, ‘No, that will be embarrassing.’
“He said, ‘If you don’t do it, I’m not doing the show.’
“Di said, ‘Fine, I quit,’ and walked out. Everybody was thinking maybe we should all quit. But they did the show. They did what he said. The production could not have been saved. It was terrible. It played one night. The other show [Berliner Cabaret — sans Vitali] was a hit, recommended in the L.A. Times. But both shows closed because the actors quit.”
Explains managing director Brett Baker, “The night after we opened, Francesco refused to pay the cast and crew based on reasons he thought were adequate and reasons I thought were unacceptable. I was in charge of his budgets. Yes, he had the money. So I went to collect the second half of fees that were owed. The first half had been paid. After we opened, he went into default on payment. Di and I had no choice but to close both shows due to breach of contract. The cast and crew were so emotionally and spiritually demoralized by this man, they were not able to move forward — the narcissism, the ego, the endless conversations about the size of his name on the marquee, his dressing room that looked like an upscale Brentwood apartment while everybody else’s looked like horse stalls, not to mention the professional embarrassment. In all our experiences, we had never experienced anything so horrific. Di flew back to London the next day and has never returned.”
(Di Trevis failed to respond to e-mails from the Weekly.)
Another London-trained director named Aaron Mullen saw the single performance of Ashes to Ashes and somehow found it sufficiently compelling to spend the next two months trying to convince the reluctant, shell-shocked Greek to play Hamlet.
Act 3, Scene 1
“I left the theater,” Brett Baker continues. “None of my creative team was interested in going anywhere near the theater while Francesco was there.”
But Chance the contractor, the only man, it seems, who never left the theater, was around to see Aaron Mullen hired: “I saw how Aaron buttered him up, talking about him doing an underground, progressive version of Hamlet.Francesco started boasting about it, and everyone at the theater, at least everyone who was left, said, ‘No, no, don’t do it!’ But he said, ‘It’s going to be perfect. I can learn this.’”
“I live four blocks from the theater,” says actor Peter Deanda. “I’m like semi-retired, and I said to a friend of mine, hey, I’ll read for this thing, so I got the gig [Polonius] and it seemed plausible, and though I knew they had pre-cast Hamlet, I didn’t know who it was. Everybody was already cast. When he finally showed up, I heard the accent, and I went, ‘Oh shit.’”
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