Apr 16, 2012

L.A. Hires Its Own

Something strange is happening in Los Angeles: Its two biggest nonprofit theaters, on either side of town, currently feature plays not only cast largely with L.A.-based actors but directed by L.A.-based directors: At the Taper, a new production of Waiting for Godot, starring Barry McGovern, Alan Mandell, James Cromwell, and Hugo Armstrong, is directed by Michael Arabian, who I know mainly for a pair of site-specific classics he staged on movie lots back in the 1990s (a motorcycle-borne Romeo and Juliet on the CBS backlot, a Trojan Women in the "Gilligan's Island" lagoon), and whose directing credits, as far as I can tell, are of the non-LORT regional theater, let alone New York hot-shit director, variety. In fact, I confess that when he and I chatted at last year's TCG Conference in L.A. and he mentioned he'd be doing Godot at the Taper, I was a little skeptical. Well, it not only went up at the Taper; by all accounts it's a great production.

Meanwhile, across town at the Geffen Playhouse, David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People, the Pulitzer-winning, class-conscious comedy/drama that starred Frances McDormand on Broadway, is seen in a brand new production, not an import, with Jane Kaczmarek in the lead. That's good enough news (as is the presence of Lindsay-Abaire regular Marylouise Burke in the cast), but even better is that Matt Shakman is the director. Matt who? The artistic director of the justly acclaimed, tiny Black Dahlia Theatre, who did great work there when I was on the scene, and who subsequently got into TV directing (last I heard). Like Arabian's Godot at the Taper, Good People also represents Shakman's large-theater directing debut. And, like its crosstown counterpart, this Good People is apparently very good, indeed.

This is a lot rarer than you might think in Los Angeles, where the larger theaters, not to mention the local daily paper, remain overly reliant on New York talent and tastemakers. If you look at the Geffen's upcoming season, for instance, there's only one L.A. theater director, Bart DeLorenzo, on tap (outside of Geffen a.d. Randall Arney). To bring Jo Bonney to L.A. to reprise directorial duties on Lynn Nottage's By the Way, Meet Vera Stark is much more the rule with L.A. theater (I expect that play, by the way, to resonate even more loudly out West). Center Theater Group likewise tends to import New York shows with their original directors and, if possible, actors intact (last season's God of Carnage, this season's Red, next season's Other Desert Cities), and even originates many of its shows with NY-based talent (Michael John LaChiusa and Graciela Daniele's upcoming Los Otros, for instance).

I don't know the story behind how these two exceptions at the Taper and the Geffen came about, but it's heartening to see artists who've proven their chops in the trenches of L.A.'s smaller theaters get a chance on the larger stages. I can only hope it's a trend.

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