CC: DISCUSS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SUCCESS IN NY & LA.
MS: WELL, NY FEELS INTERNATIONAL. IT’S THE WORLD STAGE. BUT THERE’S SOMETHING OLD WORLD & ARCHAIC ABOUT THAT STAGE TOO! LA IS AS FAR WEST AS YOU CAN GO. IT SEEMS LIKE ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN HERE. THE PACIFIC RIM. IT’S THE FUTURE, RIGHT?
Rings true, and it got me thinking. Sargent, like Justin Tanner, would seem to be one of the underground treasures that LA Times critic Charles McNulty refers to in this very welcome recent piece, in which he stood up for L.A. theater's quantity and diversity. Except that McNulty hardly ever spends any ink actually writing about the best work on this underground scene. This is puzzling; his NY Times colleagues Brantley and Isherwood, for instance, cover the best work at HERE, PS 122, LaMama, etc., or plays by Foreman, Maxwell, the Woosters et al, alongside their Broadway and Off-Broadway reviews. But it seems to me that McNulty largely consigns shows at the 99-seaters to other fine critics at the LA Times (David Ng, D.C. Nichols, Kathy Foley, Charlotte Stoudt). That's fine, as far as it goes, but I don't get the sense that McNulty is really on the case, smoking out the scene's under-sung finds. By contrast, I remember Michael Phillips, very early in his tenure at the Times, reviewing Reefer Madness! at the Hudson Backstage, and before him, Laurie Winer enthusiastically taking up Tanner's banner. Maybe this shouldn't be the case, but the endorsement, or even the critical attention, of a newspaper's lead critic can make a big difference in how a local market, and its various scenes and sub-scenes, are perceived. And to too many who should know better, in L.A. sub-100-seat is synonymous with subpar.
Don Shirley has some related thoughts here, specifically on the matter that inspired McNulty's defense of L.A.: a New York Times travel piece extolling Seattle's theater scene, and quoting former Pasadena Playhouse managing director Brian Colburn, now at the same post at the Intiman, to the effect that it was better and more vibrant than L.A.'s. Two fascinating things hit me about that: Colburn surely has something to do with the fact that Damaso Rodriguez, of the excellent L.A.-based Furious Theatre, will direct Odets' Paradise Lost at the Intiman in March.
On a more personal note, I first saw Colburn play Horace Robedeaux in a lovely, haunting production of Horton Foote's Lily Dale at the Little Victory Theatre in Burbank. (I reviewed it for Back Stage West but the review's not online.) If anyone should know how much good theater happens in L.A.--albeit for what tiny compensation and acclaim--it would be Colburn.