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LA Stage Times

SCR-Antaeus Alliance, Happy Endings for Sad Plays, The Late Great Gould

by Don Shirley | September 20, 2010

Martin Benson’s staging of Shaw’s Misalliance at South Coast Repertory will delight just about anyone who sees it. But those theatergoers who also saw Bart DeLorenzo’s recent staging of King Lear for Antaeus are in for a particular treat at this Misalliance — especially if they saw both of the Antaeus casts.

Four members of the Lear company are also in Misalliance — and a couple of Shaw’s original lines underline the connections.

<br />Dakin Matthews and JD Cullum in Misalliance. Photo by Henry DiRocco.

Dakin Matthews and JD Cullum in Misalliance. Photo by Henry DiRocco.

In Shaw’s comedy, an intruder (JD Cullum) holds the family of underwear magnate John Tarleton (Dakin Matthews) at gunpoint, hoping to force Tarleton to acknowledge a long-ago sexual dalliance with the intruder’s mum. As the gunman fumbles in an effort to retrieve his mother’s photos from his pocket, he doesn’t know where to put the gun, so his captive — Tarleton — offers to hold it for him.

“Do you take me for a fool?” sneers Cullum’s young hothead, aiming his rhetorical question at Matthews’ underwear mogul.

Well, yes, we do. In King Lear, Cullum was one of two actors who played Lear’s Fool. And Matthews was one of the two Lears.

Later in Misalliance, Tarleton is bemoaning his daughter’s behavior, and the aristocratic Lord Summerhays urges him to calm down. Knowing that Tarleton frequently advises others to read this or that author, Summerhays suggests that the exasperated father should go off and “read something.”

“I’ll read King Lear!,” replies Matthews’ Tarleton. The line is already sardonic in the original, drawing a line between the two frustrated fathers, but it’s even more so here. Of course, Matthews knows Lear’s lines by heart, so this particular Tarleton wouldn’t have to read them anew.

The other Lear cast members who segued into Misalliance are Kirsten Potter and Daniel Bess. Three other Misalliance cast members also list Antaeus credits (although not Lear) in their program bios: Melanie Lora, Amelia White and Wyatt Fenner. That leaves only two Misalliance actors who do not have an Antaeus connection — Richard Doyle and Peter Katona.

Antaeus (in North Hollywood) is beginning to look like a farm team for South Coast (in Costa Mesa). Except for Bess, all of the Lear vets in Misalliance have also worked in other SCR productions.

South Coast had initially scheduled its own King Lear for the 2008-2009 and then the 2009-2010 seasons, before it was canceled in the wake of the recession. But this Misalliance is so briskly entertaining that I’ll take it over an SCR Lear any day — especially, of course, since I just saw Antaeus’ intimate Lear in NoHo.

Other than different actors, Benson’s latest Misalliance is remarkably like his celebrated and much-awarded 1987 staging of the same play — including a new set modeled on Ralph Funicello’s original from 23 years ago. These lines, which I wrote then about the first rendition, also perfectly sum up my feelings about the second:

Misalliance…comes alive with effortless assurance on the stage of South Coast Repertory, under the guidance of Martin Benson. This play is often called labored or improbable. Benson and company conceal the labor and ignore the improbable, making mincemeat of such objections.”

Misalliance, South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tues-Wed, Sun, 7:30 pm; Thur-Fri-Sat, 8 pm; Sat-Sun, 2:30 pm. Closes Oct. 10. 714-708-5555.

This past week was big on openings of plays about horrible social-political situations, from which the playwrights try to extract happy endings.

<br />Don't worry -- a happy ending is up next in Ruined. Photo by Chris Bennion.

Don’t worry — a happy ending is up next in Ruined. Photo by Chris Bennion.

First Ruined opened at the Geffen. Lynn Nottage’s depiction of the brutalities of the Congo civil war ends with a scene that could have been written for a romantic comedy. I appreciate her attempts to ennoble the resilience of the victims, to find a shred of decency in a hellhouse, but it’s difficult — literally and figuratively — to connect the dots between the next-to-last scene, in which everyone appears to be doomed, and the smiling finale. How exactly did the central characters escape the grim situation of that penultimate scene?

Nottage deserves praise for dramatizing an arena that’s so far under the radar of most of the mainstream media in the U.S. — and also for realizing that unrelentingly graphic violence and bleakness, in the style of the suicidal Sarah Kane’s work, can lead to diminishing returns (see Nottage’s thoughts on any comparisons of her work to Kane’s here).

Nottage’s efforts (and director Kate Whoriskey’s) to provide intermittent lifts earlier in the play, through somewhat embellished musical sequences, work much better than the ending, because they don’t require such a drastic suspension of disbelief. The earlier non-musical segments also ring mostly true, although repeated impromptu recitations of poetry in one character’s mouth come off as an artificial way to make the character more ingratiating.

But there was one question of authenticity that nagged at me throughout Ruined — why do we see only three of the women who work for Mama in her brothel? She refers at one point to a half-dozen “girls” and then later to 10 — business is apparently booming. There is even a reference to a child of one of the other women being on the premises. But we see none of these other victims. Only three of Mama’s “girls” seem to do all the work — the sex, the housecleaning, the bookkeeping, the dramatic heavy lifting. The choice to make the others invisible looks more like a way to keep the play’s production costs down than an artistic decision.

Break the Whip also opened this weekend, at the Actors’ Gang. Tim Robbins analyzes a world of pain within the 17th century Jamestown Colony but then tries to keep hope alive with a panoramic finale in which English indentured servants, escaped slaves and Native Americans unite in the woods.

<br />Giselle Jones and Chris Schultz in Break the Whip. Photo by Christopher Ward.

Giselle Jones and Chris Schultz in Break the Whip. Photo by Christopher Ward.

Actually, Robbins never tries to establish the same degree of overall realism that Nottage goes for in Ruined. His actors wear commedia-inspired masks throughout and engage in intermittent commedia shtick. Too bad that none of these distracting sequences work as either comic relief or as commentary on the more sobering stuff.

On the other hand, Robbins is hyper-realistic in the use of languages. The Native Americans and the African American slaves speak native tongues that are translated in (occasionally awkward) English supertitles.

I don’t understand why it’s so important to be realistically and politically correct in the languages, but it’s OK to shred realism and political correctness in the casting and staging. Although there are a few black actors in the show, many of the black slaves and most of the Native Americans are played by white actors wearing masks. Some of those masks even give the appearance of whites wearing blackface.

I know the Gang is committed to a certain non-realistic acting style, and it takes time to teach newcomers how to do it. But this project was in development for more than a year. Did anyone ever consider trying to form an alliance with Native Voices, the Native American company at the Autry?

<br />David Huynh and Scott Keiji Takeda in Mystrious Skin. Photo by Michael Lamont.

David Huynh and Scott Keiji Takeda in Mystrious Skin. Photo by Michael Lamont.

Meanwhile, Mysterious Skin, at East West Players, is one play about a very bad situation that doesn’t try to instill a feel-good exit strategy. Child sexual abuse is the subject of Prince Gomolvilas’ adaptation of Scott Heim’s novel. One of the grown victims remembers his ordeal first as an extra-terrestrial experience. His gradual enlightenment about what really happened, when he and another victim were eight years old, is the play’s arc — but that enlightenment doesn’t necessarily bring release from the pain.

This is one of the most downbeat and graphic plays (in terms of language and nudity) that East West has ever presented — and yet another indication (see here and here) that midsize theaters don’t inevitably retreat into crowd-pleasing platitudes.

But while Mysterious Skin may not be “pleasing,” it’s certainly engrossing. Director Tim Dang provides one especially creative stroke in his use of the house lights. I don’t want to spoil the surprise of it, but it works as a way to make the audience more directly involved in the onstage events.

Ruined, Geffen Playhouse, 10886 LeConte Ave., Westwood. Tues-Fri, 8 pm; Sat 3 and 8 pm; Sun 2 and 7 pm. Closes Oct. 17. 310-208-5454.

Break the Whip, Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd. Wed-Fri, 8 pm; Sat, 7 pm. 310-838-4264.

Mysterious Skin, David Henry Hwang Theatre, Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo. Wed-Sat, 8 pm; Sun, 2 pm. Closes Oct. 10. 213-625-7000.

The Los Angeles Times obituary of Harold Gould didn’t bother to mention that he sometimes acted on Los Angeles stages. In fact, he was one of the greatest LA stage actors of our time. In my years reviewing LA theater, I can’t think of any actor I’ve praised more often.

Here are a few appraisals from LA Times reviews of Gould’s work on LA stages large (the Ahmanson) and small (the defunct Court and Room for Theatre, the Odyssey):

First, from Dan Sullivan’s review of I Never Sang for My Father, 1987, Ahmanson Theatre:

“Gould didn’t miss anything. He remembered the way an old man will mask his panic that his memory is fading by being twice as belligerent about details as before; the way an old man will flirt with a waitress until you could throw the menu at him; the way an old man would rather be considered a monster than be discounted.

Gould even allows the possibility that this old man is a monster. When he begins to recount the details of his triumphant business career during his wife’s wake, your dander starts to rise on behalf of [Daniel] Travanti [playing the son]. But the old man has taken a blow, and it catches up with him at an unexpected time — a moment that seemed absolutely real Friday night, as did Gould’s refusal to take more than a moment’s comfort from Travanti. No embrace in this family can last for more than a few seconds.”

And here are a few of my own comments:

Don Juan in Hell, 1987, Room for Theatre: “Fresh off a long line of devilish grandfather roles, Harold Gould now tackles the grandest and most devilish old-timer of them all-Satan. It’s such a splendidly alluring performance that one wonders if the ministers who have raised a stink about satanic rock-and-roll lyrics will mount a picket line at Room for Theatre.”

Incommunicado, 1993, Odyssey Theatre, in which Gould played Ezra Pound: “Gould…whips through all of Pound’s intricate language with remarkable fluency, yet he also makes the wordless act of brushing his teeth into a sensual experience.”

Old Business, 1994, Court Theatre, in which Gould played another father at war with his son: “Gould is a grinning barracuda. His Abe knows how to succeed in business while being really trying, especially to his son.”

R.I.P., Harold Gould.

A service in memory of Gould will be held in the Goldwyn Theatre of the Motion and Picture and Television Fund campus, 23388 Mulholland Drive, Woodland Hills. on Sunday, Oct. 3 at 2 p.m.

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LA Stage Times

Rodney and Rauch, Titus Redux and Neighbors

by Don Shirley | September 8, 2010

Leave it to Bill Rauch to talk me down from my Rodney Dangerfield shtick.

I wanted to ask Rauch, the Cornerstone Theater co-founder and longtime artistic director who now runs Oregon Shakespeare Festival, about his impressions of LA theater, now that he’s largely removed from it. But as I was doing a little research, I found a telling reminder of why LA theater people often feel as if they’re doing a Dangerfield routine.

The LA theater scene gets no respect, no respect, I grumbled to myself, in my best Dangerfield impression.

Bill Rauch. Photo by Jenny Graham

Bill Rauch. Photo by Jenny Graham

Last year, the New York Times ran an article about Rauch’s initiatives at the Oregon festival since he became the company’s artistic director in 2006. Somehow, however, the article failed to mention that Rauch spent 15 years in L.A. at the helm of Cornerstone — surely the most important chunk of the credentials that got him the Oregon job.

Yes, it mentioned that he had co-founded Cornerstone and cited a couple examples of Cornerstone’s work from its itinerant, pre-L.A. days. But it included nothing about how Cornerstone matured in 1992 by settling in LA, where its home base remains.

The online version of the article also includes an appended correction, which more or less explained how Rauch’s LA’s years had been completely erased from it. Apparently a Times editor, noticing that LA wasn’t mentioned and smartly associating Cornerstone with LA, foolishly assumed that the company had been founded in LA and inserted an incorrect reference along those lines in the first published version. Then, when someone pointed out that Cornerstone actually was born in McLean, Va., the one reference to “Los Angeles” was replaced by “McLean, Va.” — and no one thought to add anything else about LA’s important role in the rise of Rauch.

This summer, the same Times ran yet another article about Oregon Shakespeare by the same writer, who this time focused on the festival’s new cycle of plays based on American history — which began production this summer with Richard Montoya’s American Night. This new article not only failed to mention L.A. in connection with Rauch (again) but also neglected to point out that Rauch got to know Montoya in LA Montoya’s Culture Clash pre-dated Cornerstone in choosing to move to LA.

Oh well — this time, at least, the LA Times stepped into the breach. In what looked like a reaction to the New York Times coverage, the LA Times ran its own story about American Night, which acknowledged the LA roots the other Times ignored and disclosed that Montoya hopes to bring the play to Culture Clash’s proposed new LA home. Meanwhile, the Times’ Culture Monster blog also ran an article about some of the many Angelenos whom Rauch has lured to Ashland — the small-town home of Oregon Shakespeare. And LA STAGE Times ran its own article about Montoya’s project.

Still, as I made a brief stop in Ashland last week, I wanted to hear Rauch’s own reflections on the experience of running a relatively small theater in a huge city, compared to that of running a huge theater in a small town. When I sat down with him in his Ashland office, I asked what he missed and what he didn’t miss about LA theater.

“I miss the sheer amount of productions, the energy,” Rauch replied. “Here [in Ashland] there are a couple of smaller local theaters, but nothing approaches the vibrancy of the L.A. scene. If I read about something happening at another theater, I probably can’t go see it.”

Well, that’s not always true. Rauch says he travels to LA. “a couple times a year, which is not often enough.” He directed Culture Clash in Peace at the Getty Villa last year, in his only directorial job outside Ashland since he started there. He came down to see the Geffen Playhouse productions of Equivocation and By the Waters of Babylon — plays that premiered at Ashland.

Rauch tries to keep up with Cornerstone “because so many of my friends are there and it’s so dear to my heart.” But he has “missed a lot of Cornerstone shows. My relationship to it is now historical” — although he hopes to see the group’s upcoming West Hollywood musical.

Of course he also keeps connected with LA artists by bringing them to Ashland. The Oregon festival’s casting directors Joy Dickson and Nicole Arbusto are based in L.A. “Given that I spent 15 years in L.A.,” says Rauch, “so many of my artistic relationships are L.A.-based. L.A.’s extraordinary theater scene is not known by the rest of the country” — but he says Dickson and Arbusto see a healthy share of L.A. theater.

What doesn’t he miss about L.A. theater? “The fact that a lot of the theater in L.A. doesn’t pay a living wage is a big challenge,” Rauch says.

Also, in LA, many theaters “have to scrounge for an audience.” By contrast, in Ashland, he doesn’t have to worry much about “the size and passion and loyalty of the audience. People who come to Ashland come to see theater, and a healthy number of them come back more than once each season.”

Rauch can do some material in Ashland that he wouldn’t be able to do at Cornerstone. This summer he staged The Merchant of Venice. He had “toyed with” the idea of doing a version of this dark, difficult play at Cornerstone. One of the company’s stalwarts, Shishir Kurup, wrote an adaptation called The Merchant on Venice, which shifted the play to contemporary LA and shifted the conflict from Christians and Jews to Hindus and Muslims. Although Cornerstone didn’t do it, Merchant on Venice went on to success at Silk Road Theatre Project in Chicago in 2007 (maybe some other LA company would like to finally bring it to the city where it’s set?).

Cornerstone, however, is all about building bridges between different communities. The Merchant of Venice, says Rauch, “is a play about the limitations of people’s ability to cross those gulfs.” Cornerstone sometimes used tragedies as source material, but while tragedies like Romeo and Juliet can leave the audience with a feeling of reconciliation, no such feeling is apparent at the end of Merchant. Rauch says the closest Cornerstone came to such a play in his years there was AKA, a Shem Bitterman adaptation of a Wedekind text that was set in Beverly Hills and “leaves you with a sour feeling, without the catharsis of tragedy or comedy.”

Yet for a company named after Shakespeare, not doing Merchant would be a dereliction of artistic responsibility. It was one of the first two plays that the Oregon festival staged, in 1935, and it seemed appropriate to bring both of them back for the 75th anniversary (the other is Twelfth Night). Rauch, who seems a sunny and literally embracing man in person as well as in his previous work at Cornerstone, decided to explore the darker side of the street. “The characters are so hateful, it demands such ugliness, but it’s exhilarating to dig into those hidden corners,” Rauch says.

In a play that often seems to reek of anti-Semitism, Rauch cast longtime company member Anthony Heald as Shylock. Heald is not only a convert to Judaism but actually went through the conversion process at an Ashland synagogue. At a company meeting, he initially argued against doing the play, but he ultimately became the first Jewish actor to play the role in Ashland’s history.

Rauch acknowledges that in Ashland, his job is still collaborative but also more hierarchical than it was at Cornerstone. “Part of my journey here is learning to be an artistic leader.”

Also, he points out, Cornerstone “is something that [co-founder] Alison [Carey] and I started from scratch. Here I have a responsibility to legacy and history. I’m much more aware of my role as a temporary steward.”

TITUS REDUX and NEIGHBORS: And now a couple comments on two recent openings that bounce off my previous discussion of summer Shakespeare and the two dueling Topdogs/Underdogs:


<p>Jack Stehlin and John F. Bocca</p>

Jack Stehlin and John F. Bocca. Photo by Ed Krieger

Titus Redux, now at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, is an even more radical re-mix of a Shakespearean text than A Wither’s Tale, at the Falcon Theatre. Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly as cohesive. Nor is it on a par with director John Farmanesh-Bocca’s similar reworking of Shakespeare’s Pericles at the Douglas last summer.

Titus (Jack Stehlin) is now an American officer who has returned from years of duty in Iraq/Afghanistan bearing the ashes of a son who also was killed in the same conflicts, much to the seething resentment of his wife Tamora (Brenda Strong).

If this narrative were to correlate with the original, Tamora wouldn’t have been his wife. She would have been the wife of a defeated Iraqi or Afghan rival. Fortunately for America’s geopolitical reputation but unfortunately for Farmanesh-Bocca’s concept, U.S. military officers don’t bring home the wives of defeated war lords, so Farmanesh-Bocca pretends that Tamora is just one more unhappy American wife and that her remaining sons and Titus’ daughter are blood-related siblings. When the young men rape and mutilate their “sister,” the original’s political rationale for this bloodthirsty episode is, well, missing in action.

Once Titus Redux skids off those particular marks, it loses its way to the point where parts of it are virtually incoherent, although highly kinetic.

This is a co-production between Not Man Apart (Farmanesh-Bocca’s group) and the hitherto 99-Seat-Plan-using Circus Theatricals (Stehlin’s). Titus Redux never could have been produced in the smaller spaces that Circus Theatricals has used.

I hope that Circus continues to look for ways to move up to the bigger leagues. They’re presenting additional evidence — on top of what I discussed here — that companies that do so don’t necessarily lose whatever cutting-edge interests and reputation they have previously cultivated,  just because their potential audiences are larger.

Meanwhile, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play Neighbors, at the Matrix, provides a fascinating counterpoint to Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog.

Parks created a parched economic landscape in Topdog/Underdog. One African American brother is trying to master three-card monte and the other is trying to move one inch up the ladder of respectability by clinging to a job as a whiteface Lincoln impersonator at a seaside arcade. Temporarily, they share a desolate flat.

<p>Julia Campbell and Derek Webster. Photo by I.C. Rapoport.</p>

Julia Campbell and Derek Webster in Neighbors. Photo by I.C. Rapoport.

In Neighbors, a black university professor lives with his white wife and their biracial daughter in a suburban home on one side of the stage, while a family of itinerant black minstrels — wearing blackface — move into the adjacent house, on the other side of the stage. The former family is presented fairly realistically, while the latter family is presented as a surreal cartoon. The playwright’s primary concern is to demonstrate the differing reactions of the members of the would-be Obama-lite family to the vulgar black stereotypes who live next door.

The question of how these wandering minstrels (the Crows) can afford a suburban home — or anything else, considering the dismal commercial prospects of their grotesque artistic choices — is never seriously addressed, because most of the Crows are nothing more than clanging Symbols. In an interview, director Nataki Garrett indicated that maybe the Crows aren’t really supposed to be minstrels but are simply working-class blacks who are perceived as minstrels by the insecure professor. But this possible point of view isn’t readily apparent in the theater.

The play wallows in the stereotypes that it’s also (apparently) decrying. In the last couple scenes, the playwright doesn’t seem to know how to end his rather long script, so he decides to make the ending purposefully incomplete. I’d like to re-visit The Colored Museum and the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s I Ain’t ‘Yo Uncle, to see why those dissections of black stereotypes worked better than this one does.

Still, Nataki Garrett’s staging certainly creates sparks with its fully charged performances. And the producer, Joe Stern — with his last production Stick Fly as well as Neighbors — is making a startling change of emphasis that may well re-invigorate his aging Matrix Theatre Company.

Titus Redux, Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Tues-Sat, 8 pm; Sun 7 pm. Closes Sunday. 877-369-9112. or

Neighbors, Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Thurs-Sat, 8 pm; Sun 2:30 pm.  Closes Oct. 24. 323-960-7774.

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What’ll the Times Think Of Next?

by Don Shirley | August 9, 2010

I can hardly wait for part 3 of this year’s LA Times series of Sunday articles about the current state of the Southern California theater scene.

Part 1 appeared on March 28, in the form of a commentary by Times theater critic Charles McNulty. He wrote about leadership transitions at Center Theatre Group, Geffen Playhouse, South Coast Repertory, La Jolla Playhouse and the Old Globe, with a few additional reflections on the temporarily dark Pasadena Playhouse. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call these theaters the Big 6.

Part 2 appeared yesterday, in the form of a dialogue between McNulty and LA Weekly theater critic Steve Leigh Morris, covering “L.A.’s 99-seat-or-fewer scene,” which operates on Actors’ Equity’s once-again-controversial 99-Seat Theater Plan.

Part 3 of the series, when/if it appears, will cover the 36-plus theater companies that produce locally in venues of more than 99 seats and/or on Equity contracts — but that are not as prominent as McNulty’s Big 6.

Not that the Times has even hinted that a Part 3 is on its way any time soon. As I’ve previously noted, in the past year the Times has given scant indication that it’s aware that this important segment of the L.A. theatrical landscape even exists. But a guy can dream, can’t he?

I hate to run lists, but unless I enumerate these 36-plus companies, many readers would doubt that they exist. So here goes.

I’m referring in part to the midsize companies that I listed last December: the Colony, East West, the Falcon, Independent Shakespeare, International City, A Noise Within, Theatricum Botanicum, Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, Native Voices at the Autry, Getty Villa, Latino Theater, Ebony Repertory and Weddington Street Productions (the in-house, for-profit company at El Portal Theatre).

<br />Peter Howard in Cornerstone's <em>3 Truths</em>

Peter Howard in Cornerstone’s 3 Truths. Photo by Gary Leonard.

In the December post, I forgot to mention Theatre West, West Valley Playhouse and Not Man Apart (soon to open Titus Redux at the Kirk Douglas) — all in LA County. I also skipped Cornerstone, because its recent productions had been smallish, but then in June it produced 3 Truths at the Watercourt. And if we add nearby counties (as McNulty did in part 1 of his series), we must include Rubicon Theatre, Theater 150, Kingsmen Shakespeare, Laguna Playhouse, Shakespeare Orange County, even San Diego Repertory.

The Times dialogue last Sunday very briefly referred to three midsize organizations that I hadn’t mentioned last December — REDCAT, Overtone Industries and the Steve Allen Theatre. But the article didn’t acknowledge that these groups don’t belong in the “99-seat-or-fewer” category that was the topic of the dialogue.

Beyond the midsize companies, a few groups produce in big venues but are not part of the Big 6 — La Mirada Theatre and the musical companies Reprise, South Bay CLO, Musical Theatre West, Cabrillo and Fullerton CLO. Finally, let’s not forget the companies that work in sub-100-seat venues but use Equity contracts instead of the 99-Seat Plan: Furious, Havok, Syzygy and David Elzer’s productions.

With at least 36 companies, this swath of the theater scene would be big enough for it to merit its own installment in the Times series, strictly because of sheer size. Would the New York Times assess the health of New York’s theater scene by covering only Broadway and off-off-Broadway, completely ignoring off-Broadway? I don’t think so.

But these companies deserve their own chapter in the Times series for other reasons, too. Let me briefly note that the companies mentioned in parts 1 and 2 of the Times series included no race- or ethnic-specific companies, such as East West, Latino Theater and Ebony Rep. In a city as multi-culti as L.A., any overall consideration of the theater scene should mention these.

In part 2, McNulty and Morris mostly discussed the clash between box office imperatives and aesthetic risk. Yet the midsize theaters are in a strong position to bridge that gap, which should be a primary point to be made in the upcoming part 3.

Because they can play to more people than the smaller theaters, midsize theaters have a greater potential to exploit strong word of mouth. Because their Equity contracts pay better wage packages (including rehearsal pay) than the 99-Seat Plan does, they can expect more of the actors.

Yet because they don’t have to fill as many seats as the big theaters, they should be able to take somewhat greater chances than the big league — if their patrons are supportive enough. And because they often preserve almost as much intimacy as the smaller theaters, they can offer a sense of immediacy that can’t be obtained in a larger theater or on HBO — even if they’re presenting a fairly realistic drama.

But let’s move beyond realism. During the dialogue, McNulty wrote of the importance of theater “examining what separates the stage from TV and film. This line of inquiry may seem rarefied, a preoccupation of the avant-garde, but it’s fundamental.” Then he suggests that someone should produce “a marathon offering in a site-specific locale” and “more joint programs with dance companies and music groups.” In fact, the recent Songs and Dances of Imaginary Lands — bloated and unfocused though it may have been — was exactly what he was describing (but then that production was covered in the Times by music critic Mark Swed, not by McNulty).

In response to these comments, Morris cited several examples of groups that blend theater with dance or music. But perhaps because the overall topic was the “99-seat-or-fewer scene,” his examples were mostly obscure companies at small venues that stage brief runs that are probably seen by no more than several hundred people.

May I point out the singing and dancing elephant in the room during this conversation? No one mentioned “musicals.”

Yet musicals are a blend of theater, dance and music. On stage, they usually provide an experience quite different from what is found in TV and film. And far from being “a rarefied…preoccupation of the avant-garde,” they have long been the most popular genre in the American theater.

Perhaps musicals were ignored because so many musicals-only companies concentrate on revivals. Exciting new musicals emerge sporadically, but they’re more expensive to produce than non-musical plays, so it’s harder to take big risks in the musical arena.

That’s a shame, but again, midsize companies (with the proper financial resources) should be an ideal arena for introducing new musicals, which often need more room than they can find in smaller theaters.

Of course L.A.’s theater can’t be all about new work all the time. I salute the brave companies that nurture and produce the new, but — apart from an exchange about the Antaeus’ King Lear — any comments that McNulty and Morris might have made about companies that specialize in classics or other older plays were apparently cut in the editing.

Yet this omission is oblivious to a few basic rules: #1 -Most new works aren’t very good. #2 — Great or otherwise interesting old works can reveal new resonances, and they’re completely new to theatergoers who are seeing them for the first time. #3 — Most audiences hesitate to spend money on new works until they’re declared — via word of mouth or reviews or awards — to be an exception to rule #1 (or, of course, if the cast includes at least one famous actor).

We need a theater that presents exciting new plays, exciting revivals, exciting musicals, exciting non-musicals, exciting performances from actors, exciting concepts from directors, exciting contributions from designers.

A lot of this excitement could ignite the midsize level, if its institutions got the same attention and support as the larger and smaller levels. But then that will probably be the subject of the Times’ long-awaited part 3.

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Incredible Shrinking Coverage, Summer Shakespeare Shifts

by Don Shirley | July 8, 2010

The shrinking of theater coverage at the Los Angeles Times has reached an ominous new phase. Our supposed “paper of record” has completely ignored recent or current productions at three of the larger nonprofit theaters in L.A. County.

I’m talking about (in alphabetical order) the Colony Theatre, International City Theatre and the Theatricum Botanicum. In terms of seating capacity — and in the temporary absence of activity at the Pasadena Playhouse — these three companies and Independent Shakespeare are next in line after Center Theatre Group and the Geffen Playhouse as the largest of the county’s professional, nonprofit theaters with regularly scheduled seasons.

<br />Beth Grant and Melinda Page Hamilton in Grace & Glorie

Beth Grant and Melinda Page Hamilton in Grace & Glorie

That apparently doesn’t count for much at the Times. At Burbank’s Colony, Tom Ziegler’s Grace & Glorie, which opened on June 12 with the award-winning Beth Grant, has yet to be reviewed by the Times.  It’s due to close on July 18, so only two weeks remain in the run.

At Long Beach’s International City Theatre, a revival of A Shayna Maidel opened on June 11 and closed last Saturday, without being reviewed by The Times — a first for ICT, says artistic director Shashin Desai. It was also the first time that  Barbara Lebow’s reliably poignant post-Holocaust drama had been produced in L.A. above the 99-seat level. The Times last reviewed it a decade ago, in a 99-seat production. A generation of younger theatergoers is probably unfamiliar with it.

The Times also has had nothing to say, so far, about Theatricum Botanicum’s Hamlet — an oft-revived play, of course, but have you ever seen a Hamlet in which two actors play Hamlet and Laertes, alternating the two roles at different performances? That’s what Mike Peebler and Jeff Wiesen are doing in Topanga. This Hamlet opened even earlier than the Colony and ICT productions, on June 5, but its run extends (in rep) until Oct. 2, so the Times should be able to catch up with it fairly easily.

If the people who run smaller theaters worry about the lack of Times coverage (and believe me, they do), their problems are tiny compared to those of these midsize companies, where expenses are much greater, where many more seats need to be filled, where runs tend to be shorter than many of those at the smaller theaters.

But the burdens of the people who run these theaters isn’t why the Times should cover their shows.  The fact is that four times as many Times readers can fit into a 400-seat theater as can fit into a 100-seat theater. The greater capacity, prominence and professionalism of these companies should translate into an assumption that more Times readers might be interested in knowing what’s going on in them.

When I was a Times staffer, from 1990 to 2006, that assumption was a given. All other factors being equal or unknown, we took it for granted that a general-interest newspaper should pay at least a little more attention to the theaters with larger potential audiences. Shows at midsize as well as larger theaters were normally reviewed separately, and at greater length than the short reviews in the Friday Theater Beat column – which was primarily reserved for smaller shows. Now, the arts editor who assigns the reviews (Kelly Scott, since last fall) appears to be uninterested in any such distinctions.

A Times review is especially important to midsize theaters for other reasons, too. They don’t have the marketing budgets of larger theaters. But expenses are much higher than in a sub-100-seat theater, where the actors are barely paid.  So ticket prices have to be higher at the midsize level, and as a result, the potential audiences might skew a little older and more affluent — precisely the kind of people who still read daily newspapers.

In L.A., that usually means the Times. The second largest daily newspaper in Los Angeles – the Woodland Hills-based Daily News — is a lost cause.  Although the Daily News purportedly concentrates on the San Fernando Valley, it has reviewed none of the Valley companies since the perceptive critic Evan Henerson was laid off, nearly two years ago. That means that it ignores not only the midsize Colony, El Portal, Falcon and West Valley Playhouse but also long-established smaller companies such as the Victory, Deaf West, the Road, Antaeus, the Production Company, Crown City, and Banshee — indeed, the entire NoHo scene, which is one of L.A’s densest concentrations of theater.

Midsize theaters usually get reviewed in the LA Weekly. But the alternative weekly’s first priority is the small theater scene, to which it devotes its annual LA Weekly awards. (By the way, does anyone else out there miss the days when you could pick up the print version of the LA Weekly and read capsule reviews of all the still-playing shows, not just the ones that were newly reviewed last weekend?)

Back to the Times, it was wonderful to see a front-page Calendar review by the staff critic, Charles McNulty, of the double-cast Antaeus productions of King Lear (in conjunction with a review of a third Lear in San Diego) — and this was on the heels of a Sunday feature about Antaeus. But I couldn’t help but wonder if all that attention was at the expense of covering the two different versions of Hamlet at the much larger Theatricum Botanicum – or if the Times might ignore the next Antaeus production on the grounds that Lear got so much coverage. When the review assignment process appears so arbitrary, it’s easy to wonder about these things.

Of course online reviews have proliferated in recent years. If you’re a Times reader who wonders why you haven’t read about a production that interests you, go to Bitter Lemons, which offers links to a variety of reviews (as long as Bitter Lemons has found at least three reviews of any given show).

While theater companies hope a current Times review will sell tickets,  I often rely on the Times database for another reason — to research a play’s production history in Los Angeles, as I did (above) in order to determine that the last Times review of A Shayna Maidel was in 2000 at the Colony. But gaps in Times coverage are going to mean that its database will be increasingly unreliable. A year from now, I won’t able to use the Times to see that A Shayna Maidel was at ICT in 2010.  I guess I’ll have to rely on Google and, gulp, Bitter Lemons.

Grace & Glorie, Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. Thurs-Fri, 8 pm; Sat, 3 and 8 pm; Sun, 2 pm. Closes July 18. 818-555-7000.

Hamlet, Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd, Topanga. In repertory, Saturdays and Sundays. Closes Oct. 2. 310-455-3723.

Speaking of summertime Shakespeare in our larger theaters, there is more bad news — but some good news as well.

The bad news is that the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles (previously known as Shakespeare Festival/LA) isn’t producing a free, professional alfresco Shakespeare this summer — at downtown’s L.A. Cathedral, at South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes or at any of its other previous haunts such as Pershing Square or the Ford Amphitheatre.

“It’s temporary as we muster resources for our 25th anniversary,” artistic director Ben Donenberg wrote to me in an e-mail. “It’s still coming together, but it will be a nice year of special activities and a restructuring of our financial model to more easily support free summer Shakespeare.” He hopes to return to the Cathedral next year, he wrote.

The Shakespeare Center web site is a little more forthcoming. “Don’t worry,” it says. “Mainstage hasn’t disappeared, just moved. As you can see, we’ve got Helen Hunt lined up to star in Much Ado About Nothing this October. More details to come!” Yes, a Helen Hunt Ado, to be directed by Donenberg, is listed next to this message on the web site’s calendar, without any specific dates. Perhaps the official announcement is being held for…the L.A. Times.

<br />Cameron Knight, Amy Urbina in ISC's Othello.

Cameron Knight, Amy Urbina in ISC’s Othello.

The good news, or at least I hope it’s good, is that Independent Shakespeare Company opens its new and larger space in the Old Zoo area of Griffith Park this week, after being forced to turn away people from its filled-up Barnsdall Park venue last summer. Does this officially make ISC a larger theater instead of a midsize theater?

“I don’t know what the exact capacity is, probably around 2,000,” says ISC’s managing director (and actor) David Melville. “We will be happy if we can bring in 750 on some nights and for this summer we expect our usual average of 350 a night. It may even be considerably smaller to start with, seeing as this is a move to a new venue.”

ISC works on an Equity contract, but it “doesn’t specify capacity as we don’t charge for tickets,” reports Melville. The company relies on donations.  Still, “our actors’ salary has nearly doubled since last year.”

This year’s two plays — Othello opening Friday and Much Ado About Nothing opening on August 5 — won’t be presented in alternating repertory, as in previous summers. “We switched out of rep as an experiment,” says Melville. “Performing in rep is great, but it doesn’t allow a show to grow on a nightly basis — you are always struggling to remember, especially if it’s performing just once a week. It also makes the contracts a bit more affordable. I wouldn’t rule out going back to rep, but for now I really like the idea of one show at a time. Going show by show means a shorter run — more attractive to busy working actors.”

Two other important changes that theatergoers should know in advance: Curtain time is 7 pm, because Griffith Park officially closes at 10:30 pm, says Melville. And no risers bearing folding chairs were permitted at this new site. So bring blankets and/or low-rise lawn chairs. Melville says that the absence of risers is OK, because “the acoustics are amazing, and we think it would be nice to let people spread out a bit more.”

Grace & Glorie photo by Michael Lamont.

Othello photo by Mike Ditz.

Othello, Independent Shakespeare Company, east side of Griffith Park, near 4730 Crystal Springs Drive. Thurs-Sun, 7 pm. Closes August 1. 818-710-6306.

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LA Stage Times

South Coast Rep’s Story: A Role Model?

by Don Shirley | January 28, 2010

Attention, Southland theater lovers — especially those who are also theater builders, either in their actions or in their dreams. It’s time to read Stepping Ahead, A History of South Coast Repertory, by Lawrence Christon.

This 340-page book went on sale last fall in the SCR lobby. I had hoped that others would have written about it by now. As someone who has known and admired the author since we both worked at the LA Times, I felt a slight conflict of interest in writing anything that might be perceived as a friend’s review.

However, no one else reviewed it. Maybe that’s because it’s an authorized history, published by SCR itself — which could convey the false impression that it’s just a puffy promotional book. It emphatically is not. Christon was free to explore SCR’s lowlights as well as its highlights. He devotes more space to a famous failure, The Hollow Lands, than to any other SCR production.

<br />South Coast Repertory's Folino Center

South Coast Repertory’s Folino Center

Maybe potential reviewers assumed that SCR’s history couldn’t be all that dramatic, precisely because it seems to be such a stable, smoothly-run company. After all, it never had to be resurrected from the dead, as did Pasadena Playhouse. Unlike Center Theatre Group, SCR never faced the many conflicting responsibilities of being born and bred as the officially sanctioned theatrical institution of a giant megalopolis.

David Emmes and Martin Benson are still SCR’s leaders, after more than four decades. Neither man has ever adopted an outsized public personality, as did Gordon Davidson, Gil Cates and the former LATC company’s leader Bill Bushnell. Emmes and Benson never had to rise through a racial ceiling, as Sheldon Epps did in Pasadena.

But SCR’s own rise to become one of America’s most essential theaters wasn’t easy. Benson, after an abortive attempt to become a Hollywood actor, was literally a starving artist in SCR’s early days. He lived in his car and scavenged for food among scraps left at the beach. He worked the night shift at Jack in the Box to pay for gas, reports Christon.

Emmes was better off financially, because his family responsibilities required him to maintain a teaching job at Long Beach City College, but he later regretted that his double responsibilities at the college and at SCR kept him away from his kids too much.

<br />David Emmes and Martin Benson with a model of SCR's Fourth Step theater, which opened in 1978

David Emmes and Martin Benson with a model of SCR’s Fourth Step theater, which opened in 1978

Their personal stories, masterfully told by Christon in consecutive chapters, will sound familiar to plenty of those who keep L.A.’s small and midsize theaters humming. So will their professional travails, as outlined in the rest of the book. By the way, Christon discusses an important fact that I never knew — the original leadership team was a “troika,” not a duo. It also included the late John Arthur Davis, who left the company and the area and stopped doing theater in 1969.

SCR had one big advantage over the hordes of small companies that now exist in L.A., 45 years later. Following the advice of San Francisco State theater teacher Jules Irving, who taught and mentored many of the original SCR founders, they decided to create a serious theater company in a growing area, Orange County, where no such company existed. As the years and their accomplishments mounted, they won allies by bringing attention to the county and by giving their theater-hungry neighbors a chance to see plays and professional production values that otherwise might have required a trip to L.A.

It isn’t within the scope of Christon’s book for him to explore parallels to L.A. County companies. But on a much reduced scale, the same dynamic worked to the advantage of a few midsize troupes that moved up from Equity’s 99-seat plan by implanting themselves not in the city of Los Angeles but instead in smaller cities, which might feel a greater sense of pride in their accomplishments. The Colony chose Burbank, International City Theatre grew in Long Beach, A Noise Within in Glendale (although it’s about to abandon Glendale for Pasadena, just as SCR left Newport Beach for Costa Mesa). Rubicon Theatre probably wouldn’t be as successful in L.A. as it has been in Ventura. The new Pacific Stages is planning to rise in El Segundo.

Of course, the flip side of SCR’s identification with OC was that its potential audience was presumably more conservative than L.A.’s and not especially enamored of serious theater in the ’60s and ’70s. SCR, of course, was serious from the get-go, uninterested in becoming just one more OC community theater.

<br />SCR's First Step theater, on Balboa peninsula

SCR’s Second Step theater, on Balboa peninsula

After SCR’s “First Step” tour of Tartuffe in 1964, the company opened its “Second Step” — and its first home base — in a converted marine swap shop that Emmes’ stepfather owned on the Balboa peninsula. Which play served as SCR’s debut vehicle in this epicenter of beach culture — an adaptation of Muscle Beach Party, perhaps? No. Try Waiting for Godot — in 1965, when the play was still unknown or considered weird by most Americans. And then add three more plays that started to run in rep during the summer of 1965 — until the exhausted company gave up on the “Repertory” part of its name after only a few weeks.

The second season opened with Othello and then, thanks to then-New York-based Irving’s assistance in obtaining the rights, the first American production (!) of Pinter’s The Birthday Party, which garnered SCR’s first review from the LA Times. Two plays later, a production of Brecht’s Baal frightened off a few potential donors (Sacred Fools is currently tackling the same play).

<p>SCR's 3rd Step</p>

SCR’s 3rd Step

In 1968, SCR concluded its initial season in its larger, “Third Step” space with Jean-Claude van Itallie’s America Hurrah! — a non-linear, period-specific piece that critic Cecil Smith of the LA Times described as “a searing, flesh-crawling, brain-numbing odyssey through the hell of modern society.” Its opening night was preceded by a dust-up with a cop who objected to an image of a hangman’s noose that someone had spray-painted on a banner that depicted the U.S. flag, outside the theater. SCR’s leaders decided that the noose wasn’t worth any legal hassles and had it removed.

In other words, they were learning to choose their battles, and Emmes and Benson figured out how to do it with consummate skill. SCR is probably best known for its productions of new plays — the most inherently risky category of programming for any theater. By the end of the 2008-09 season, 40% of SCR’s 436 productions had been world, American, West Coast or California premieres, including 50 productions by SCR-commissioned writers. Many — maybe most — of these plays were at least somewhat dark and challenging. But OC’s moneyed backers generally remained supportive and respectful of the theater’s mission.

Of course SCR faces many of the same 21st century problems that other theaters face — a declining subscription base, competing new technologies, shrinking attention spans, the economic crisis, reduced institutional giving. While Christon doesn’t mention it, SCR no longer has a monopoly on its brand in Orange County – Laguna Playhouse has regularly mounted professional and sometimes adventurous theater for more than a decade, using Equity contracts. In discussing the decrease in media coverage of theater, Christon makes a rare factual error — he writes that the LA Times went two years without a first-string theater critic, before Charles McNulty came aboard in 2006. Actually, McNulty’s predecessor Michael Phillips left four years earlier.

With both Emmes and Benson now over 70, they are searching for the best way to turn their creation over to a new generation. But their work isn’t growing stale. Since Christon’s book was finished, Julie Marie Myatt’s The Happy Ones became one of the most OC-specific plays ever produced by SCR — and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle just announced that it will receive this year’s Ted Schmitt Award for outstanding new play. A revival of Fences opens this weekend, and new plays by Julia Cho, Howard Korder and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa will highlight the first half of 2010. Bart DeLorenzo will direct Aguirre-Sacasa’s play; SCR has a commendable record of cultivating LA directors who earlier established reputations in 99-seat theater.

Also this spring, SCR will host Chance Theater’s remounting of Wayne Lemon’s Jesus Hates Me at SCR’s former Second Stage, now the Nicholas Studio. The veteran company will give the newer Anaheim Hills-based group the kind of temporarily high profile that SCR never received from a larger theater in its own youth.

I digress too far from Christon’s book. It would be faint praise to say it’s the best book ever about Southland theater history — because frankly I’m not sure that any other such book exists. Even this book lacks an index and attribution notes, which would have been helpful for future scholars.

SCR's 4th Step in Costa Mesa

SCR’s 4th Step in Costa Mesa

But I can say this: If you think you know a lot about SCR, you’ll almost certainly learn a lot more from this book. Many of the anecdotes and other details that Christon eagerly and eloquently relates never would have been divulged while they were happening — but now they can be savored, not only for their applicable lessons but also for their intrinsic entertainment value.

If you don’t know much about SCR, go to Costa Mesa pronto, take in a play or two, and buy the book while you’re there. May it inspire a few more of L.A.’s theater makers to adopt SCR as a role model.

Folino Center photo by Lance Gordon/McClarand Vasquez & Emsiek Parnters, Inc. Other photos courtesy of South Coast Repertory

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LA Stage Times

Who is Indispensable?

by Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez | November 20, 2009

So Brecht has a quote I have been thinking about since reading a steady stream of Los Angeles Times‘ articles about how LA theaters are coping with these difficult economic times. Loosely translated the quote says people who fight a day are good. People who fight a year are better. But people who fight a lifetime are indispensable. Now Brecht never really delves into who or what these people are fighting exactly but that’s not the point. If we substitute the word “Theaters” for “People” then we are on our way to seeing an interesting pattern in the way stories about theater and economic hardship have been told. It seems to me that the root of all this ink being dedicated to recounting the woes of a group of large Los Angeles theaters is resistance to the paradigm shift away from theater as a Noun towards theater as a Verb.

In a time when we should be looking to the theater companies who perfected the art of doing more with less, the LA Times and others seem to be hell-bent on tugging our attention towards a different group of companies. All the companies highlighted as theaters in danger are large institutions with million dollar budgets and film industry support. No story I have seen since this economic mess started has looked at what the small to mid-sized theaters in Los Angeles are doing, and if some writer somewhere has, then the story is buried under the pile of articles about the LA theater big boys.

But back to this resistance. How exactly did theaters the size of the Geffen Playhouse or Pasadena Playhouse become Los Angeles’ best examples of dealing with hard economic times? How exactly do a handful of theaters with gargantuan budgets that have the flu become a bigger story than a plurality of small to mid-sized theaters in Los Angeles who have learned how to live with pneumonia? These questions are not meant to imply that more established theaters don’t serve a vital purpose in our LA Theater eco-system; it is more to highlight that so do the small and mid-sized theaters.

All this ink spent on the idea that any Los Angeles plus sized theater is (as the Times recently quoted) “living hand to mouth” would be insulting if it were not so bizarre and grotesque. Now if LA Theater needs a model on how to best cope with our financial situation then there are much better examples to choose from than the ones consistently being championed. It is the small and mid-sized theaters in LA that have come up with the most creative ways to stay tough in these tough times, but what I keep reading makes me wonder if there are any theaters other than the big who have come up with any smart, fresh or creative ways to deal with the economic downturn? If so why don’t we talk about them a little? If anyone out there can think of one or two of them let me know, I’ll be sure to forward them to the Times with a nice letter.

Till then small to mid-sized theaters should hold their calls to the Geffen for recipes on how best to cook cat food.

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LA Stage Times

Significant Others

by Don Shirley | November 10, 2009

LA STAGE WATCH is a series of articles by staff writer/blogger Don Shirley.

A recent Sunday morning.  As I sit down with my oatmeal, I check out the latest theater coverage in the Arts and Books section of the Los Angeles Times. I see that a theater book gets front page coverage — that’s unusual. Then I notice that the book, and the article about it, are by Kenneth Turan, one of the two Times film critics.

Turns out that it’s a promotional article for Turan’s new book, an oral history. The topic of the book isn’t film-related. It’s about Joseph Papp’s Public Theater.

I pause mid-bite when I read the first paragraph of the article: “The New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater has been the most significant not-for-profit theater group in this country since it was founded by Joe Papp more than 50 years ago. During his lifetime (he died in 1991), Papp made theater in America both accessible and essential.”

Really? Did I accidentally pick up the New York Times instead of the Los Angeles Times?

Turan misunderstands what “made theater in America both accessible and essential” during Papp’s lifetime. That task was performed not in New York, where theater was already quite “accessible and essential,” thank you very much.  It happened in Los Angeles and elsewhere outside New York.

Those were the decades when professional, non-profit companies appeared throughout America. Although these companies are often labeled “regional,” which carries a whiff of condescension, they deserve most of the credit for making American theater “accessible and essential.”

It should be obvious that this decentralization of American theater was more responsible for increased “accessibility” of the art form than the actions of any single New York-based producer. Less obvious, perhaps, is that increased accessibility brought increased opportunity for theater to become “essential.” If the theaters of your own community provide enough excitement for you to make theatergoing a habit, it becomes… “essential.” By contrast, if you’re thrilled by a show you see while you’re on vacation, but you lack the opportunity to be equally thrilled by the theaters in your home town, theatergoing remains a non-essential luxury.

The proliferation of theatrical centers in the last half of the 20th century demonstrated that theater is an inherently local art, regardless of the subject matter.  Unlike film or TV or the Internet, theater exists in one particular place, on one particular day, before one particular audience. At least theoretically, your chance of experiencing theater that speaks directly to you or your community is much greater in, well, your own community. That’s why it’s important for non-New York companies not to simply ape successful programming from New York.

So is there any other company or figure who deserves Turan’s accolades? Not really. If you spent most of those Papp years in Los Angeles, maybe you thought that Center Theatre Group and Gordon Davidson created “the most significant” theater. But if you lived a few miles to the southeast, you might have felt that South Coast Repertory and the Martin Benson/David Emmes team merited those kudos. When I lived in Washington D.C. during my young adulthood, I would have said that Arena Stage was my most significant theater. I doubt that any theater critic, not to mention any film critic, sees enough theater nationwide to make a sufficiently informed judgment on which company is “the most significant” in the country.

CTG, SCR, and Arena Stage, like Papp’s company, developed artists and sent plays on to productions in other parts of the country. But their greater significance is that they brought professional standards to the intensely local experience that is theater.

I look forward to seeing if or how the Los Angeles Times covers the recently published book Stepping Ahead, Lawrence Christon’s history of South Coast Repertory. Perhaps the theater critic, not the film critic, should tackle this assignment.

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LA Stage Times

New Study of Gender Discrimination for Playwrights

by Janet Thielke | July 5, 2009

Word has been spreading about the spectacular and rather alarming findings of Emily Sands’ thesis, “Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender: An Integrated Economic Analysis of Discrimination in American Theatre,” largely thanks to the Off-stage Right blog by Jodi Schoenbrun Carter. Carter posted Sands’ discussion PowerPoint presentation and full thesis with Sands’ permission and summarized the findings to be evidence that female playwrights are held to a higher standard than their male counterparts, therefore making it more difficult for the production of plays written by females. The Los Angeles Times published a culture monster article in response cautioning against coming to conclusions of discrimination. According to columist Charles McNulty, the real struggle is for any unsolicited playwright, male or female.

Feature Image of Lillian Hellman courtesy of