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The emphasis is on comedy in this week's live theater openings, but probably the most unusual among the six new productions is David Mamet's "Speed the Plow," which created something of a minor stir on Broadway because of its talked-about casting - Madonna.

Also on tap are a rarely done comedy classic at the Broadway Stage by a playwright considered to be the Shakespeare of Italy and a new musical melodrama at Desert Star Playhouse.In addition, there'll be a weeklong festival of one-act plays at Weber State University, an overnight "mystery dinner" at The Homestead resort in Midway and a comedy classic by the Wasatch Playhouse troupe in Clearfield.

Here are the details:

- "IT HAPPENED IN VENICE," opening Thursday evening at the Broadway Stage, 272 S. Main, has been translated and adapted by director Adrian Giurgea from Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni's classic comedy, "Il Campiello" ("The Little Square").

The prolific 18th century playwright, who was fluent in Italian, French and the Venetian dialect (almost a separate language) wrote more than 150 plays, many of them in the commedia del arte style and dealing with light, humorous subjects. However, no more than seven or eight have been translated into English, which Giurgea finds lamentable. Such composers as Mozart, Haydn and Vivaldi used Goldoni's libretti or were inspired by his plays for some of their works.

"It Happened in Venice" is set in a small Venetian square, not one of the city's huge piazzas, but a tiny plaza where two twisted streets meet and a colorful neighborhood works and plays.

Three old widows squabble and scheme over the potential courtships of their children while still dreaming of capturing new husbands for themselves.

The plaza itself, says Gieurgea, is the real hero of the play. The play, as such, has no defined protagonist, but the little square is a busy, bustling gathering place for all of the neighborhood.

"It has an epic, almost mythical quality," said Giurgea about the play.

His cast includes Christine Woodward, Joan Mullaney and Tommie St. Cyr as Katherina, Pasqua and Orsola, the three squabbling widows; Christy Summerhays and Marian Partee as Lucietta and Gnese, Katherina's and Pasqua's daughters.

Others in the cast are Ben Rolly as Zorzetto, Orsola's 16-year-old son; Blayne Wiley as Anzoletto, a peddler, and Gary Anderson and Robert Ormsby as a couple of visiting Neopolitans (Count Astolfi and Fabrizio).

Also Dawn Levingston as Gasparina, Fabrizio's conceited young niece; Bob Zancanella as Sansuga, an innkeeper, and Rudd Murdock and Chris Bengtzen as two young street urchins.

Performances will be Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. from March 12 through April 4 at the Broadway Stage, 272 S. Main. Admission is $12 for adults on Thursdays ($10 for senior citizens) and $15 on weekends ($12 for senior citizens). Students are admitted for $8 at all times. Group rates are also available. For reservations, call 359-1444.

- "LAREDO SPUR: BEST OF THE WEST, BAR NONE," is Desert Star Playhouse's latest melodramatic musical comedy, with skullduggery aplenty as villain Woodrow P. Holly schemes to turn the little town of Dry Gulch into "the moving picture capital of the world" - except the Bar None Ranch is in his way.

The cast includes Eric Jensen, Michael Claridge (who also directs and choreographs), Melissa Bridge, Barbie Christensen and Ken Grazier, along with newcomers Bo Roberts, Gayle Hayes and Ben Black.

The show was written by Peter VanSlyke. David Len Allen is musical director.

The post-show olios will have a Mississippi riverboat theme.

Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays and Mondays at 7 p.m. from March 12 through May 9. (The first Thursday performance is a half-price preview.) Regular admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under (infants not allowed).

The Desert Star Playhouse is a cabaret style theater featuring pizza, ice cream treats and family entertainment. Reservations are recommended. Call 266-7600.

- "SPEED THE PLOW," David Mamet's dark comedy about the secret lives of Hollywood movie producers and the art of "making the deal," opens a five-week run in the Backroom at D.B. Cooper's, 19 E. 200 South.

Carolyn Wood directs and performs in the play, with Geoff Hansen, Don Glover and Karen Nielsen also in the cast.

The adult play, the second in a series of midweek Backroom performances, deals with the politics of sex, violence and tested friendships in the manic world of Hollywood filmmaking.

Most performances will be Tuesdays-Thursdays (except for the second week). Playdates are March 10-12, 18, 20-21, 24-26, 31 and April 1-2 and 7-9, all at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 each.

The Backroom has limited cabaret seating (40 seats). Preshow dinner specials are available at D.B. Cooper's, a private club. Group rates are available. Reservations: 532-2948.

- SEVEN ONE-ACT PLAYS, all directed by students, will be presented March 10-14 in the Monson Theatre of the Val A. Browning Center at Weber State University, Ogden.

Agatha Christie's "The Patient," directed by Leslie Warwood, and Michael Christofer's Tony Award-winning "The Shadow Box," directed by Julie Armstrong, will be presented Tuesday, March 10, and Saturday, March 14, at 7:30 p.m.

Sam Shepard's "The Rock Garden," directed by Bryon Wynn, and Samuel Beckett's "Play," directed by Joseph Dancy - both very adult works - are scheduled Wednesday and Friday, March 11 and 13, at 7:30 p.m.

Three other plays - Lewis Carlino's "Sarah and the Sax," Edward Albee's "The Sandbox" and Suzan Zeder's "Wiley and the Hairy Man" - will be directed by Dee Hill, John Blaylock and Rebecca Hess, respectively, and staged Thursday, March 12, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, March 14, at 2 p.m.

Admission: $6 for adults, $3 for students and senior citizens. Reservations: 626-8500.

- "WHO'S CRAZY AT ST. PATRICK'S?" is an overnight mystery event at The Homestead Resort in Midway.

A Hunt Mystery & Company production, the March 14-15 weekend includes a masquerade dinner party on Saturday, the audience-participation mystery (which begins on Saturday and concludes the next morning), one night's lodging, an opening social and a Sunday brunch.

The setting for the mystery is a namesake holiday celebration at St. Patrick's Hospital, where the guest list includes two patients from the psychiatric ward (Winnie Mae Just and Count Mortimer), and the sensational dancing team of Milt & Ginger Snapper. The festivities turn upside-down when Ginger is snuffed out and there are plenty of possible suspects.

The cast includes Lenore Cambria, JaNae and Kevin Cottam, Jesse Dolce, Alan Mangum, Monte and Diane Lyon, Gary Gingold and Don Bright.

Cost is $75 per person (double occupancy, taxes and gratuities extra), plus the option of taking part in a variety of Homestead activities, including snowmobiling and sleigh rides.

For reservations, call 1-800 327-7220.

- "YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU," the Kaufman/Hart comedy classic about the eccentric, anything-goes Sycamore family whose daughter falls in love with the son of an impeccably proper Wall Street tycoon, is being staged by the Wasatch Playhouse troupe at the Ideal Theatre, 49 S. State Street, Clearfield.

Playdates are Thursdays-Saturdays and Mondays, March 12-23, at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for students/senior citizens, and $15 for a family of six. Group rates ($1 discount for 20 or more) are available on Mondays and Thursdays, in advance only. For reservations, call 771-4272.