Dec 29, 2005

From John Denver to Kaufman & Hart

It’s time for a year-end list, don’t you think? For me, the year was split pretty neatly in half between the two coasts, so it’s hard to think of this all as one. Accordingly I've split this list of everything I saw in 2005 in half. I think this is everything, though not all my L.A. programs seem to have made the move intact, and a certain website no longer has a functional theater review archive (its initials are BS). When I get a chance I’ll take a moment to consider my favorites, and possibly my least favorites, at some length. For now I’ve simply bolded the titles of shows that stood out as exceptional in one way or another. Looks like I had a better year of theater out West, but hope springs eternal for 2006. (Note: I've made four updates to the New York list.)

NEW YORK (August-December)
Almost Heaven: Songs of John Denver at the Promenade Theater
Anathemaville at the Gene Frankel Theater
The Ark at 37 Arts
Ashley Montana Goes Ashore in the Caicos... or What Am I Doing Here? at the Flea Theater
The Audition at the Wings Theatre
The Banger's Flopera at the Barrow Arts Center
Belly of a Drunken Piano at the Huron Club at Soho Playhouse
Bingo at the Theater at St. Luke's
But I'm a Cheerleader at the Theater at St. Clements
The Color Purple at the Broadway Theatre
Dear Dubya: Patriotic Love Letters to at the Brick Theatre
The Eisteddfod at the Ontological Theater
A Fiddler on the Roof at the Minskoff Theatre
Glengarry Glen Ross at the Jacobs Theater
Hercules in High Suburbia at the Mazer Theater
Holy Cross Sucks! at Ars Nova
In the Continuum at the Perry Street Theater
Isabelle and the Pretty-Ugly Spell at the Lion Theatre
Klonsky and Schwartz at the Ensemble Studio Theatre
The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen at Ace of Clubs
The Lightning Field at the Flea Theatre
Love Sick at the Access Theatre
Measure for Measure at St. Ann's Warehouse
Motke Thief at University Settlement Theater
A Naked Girl on the Appian Way at the American Airlines Theatre
Nerds at the Samuel Beckett Theatre
The Odd Couple at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre
Primo at the Music Box Theatre
Richard Cory at the Lion Theatre
Seascape at the Booth Theatre
See What I Wanna See at the Public Theater
Shakedown Street at the Village Theatre
Silence! at the Lucille Lortel
A Soldier's Play at the Second Stage
Spirit, Improbable at the New York Theatre Workshop
Surviving David at the Flea Theatre
Sweeney Todd at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre
Thick at Collective: Unconscious
A Touch of the Poet at Studio 54
The Trip to Bountiful at the Signature Theatre Company
Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Public Theatre
Uncle Jed's Barbershop at the Theatre at St. Clement's
Uncle Sam's Satiric Spectacular at the Players Theatre
Waiting for Godot at the Theatre at St. Clement's
Walk Two Moons at the Lucille Lortel
Wild Women of Planet Wongo at the Samuel Beckett Theater
The Winter's Tale at the BAM Harvey Theater
The Woman in White at the Marriott Marquis
You Wanna Piece of Me? at Ace of Clubs

Accomplice at the Colony Theatre
Acme Love Machine at the Acme Comedy Theatre
Angels in America at the NoHo Arts Center
Anna in the Tropics at the Pasadena Playhouse
Big River at the Ahmanson Theatre
Bus Stop at the Fremont Centre Theatre
Chicago at the Pantages
The Comedy of Aerosmith, Troubadour Theatre Company at the Falcon Theatre
The Contract at the Hollywood Court Theatre
Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream at City Garage
Doubt at the Pasadena Playhouse
Dust at Company of Angels
Echo’s Hammer at the Boston Court
Electricidad at the Mark Taper Forum
Eyes for Consuela, SegWAY Theatre Project at the State Playhouse
Finer Noble Gases at Sacred Fools
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said at the Evidence Room
The Gary Plays, Padua Playwrights at the Electric Lodge
Gaveston at the Celebration Theatre
The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? at the Mark Taper Forum
A Good Soldier at the Odyssey Theatre
Happy End at Pacific Resident Theatre
Henry IV, Part1 x 4, Classical Theatre Lab at Fiesta Hall
If Only at the Globe Playhouse
Imelda at East West Players
Ivona the Princess of Burgundia at Sacred Fools
Julius Caesar at A Noise Within
Killer Joe at Gardner Stages
The King and I at the Pantages
The Knights of Mary Phagan at Theatre 68
The Last Five Years at the El Portal Theatre
A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters, Cornerstone Theater Company at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre
Lydia in Bed at Theatre of NOTE
Mall America, Theatre Neo at the Stella Adler Theatre
Medal of Honor Rag at the Egyptian Arena Theatre
Medea at the Boston Court
Melancholy Play, Echo Theatre Company at the Hayworth Theatre
A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Knightsbridge Theatre
The Misanthrope, Circus Theatricals at the Odyssey Theatre
Monster at the MacGowan Little Theatre
Mother Courage and Her Children, Antaeus Theatre Company at the New Place Theatre Center
My Uncle Sam at Sacred Fools
A Naked Girl on the Appian Way at South Coast Repertory
Neurotica at the Hudson Guild
Never Tell at the Elephant Theatre
A New War at Theatre 68
The Nina Variations at Company Rep
Oklahomo! at Third Stage
Once on This Island at the International City Theatre
The Orange Grove, Playwrights Arena at Lutheran Church of the Master
A Pair by Molière: The Wise-Ass Women and The Man-Hater at Fiesta Hall
The Pink Dress at the Japanese American National Museum
Play Without Words at the Ahmanson Theatre
The Possession of Mrs. Jones at the Zephyr Theatre
Ragtime, Musical Theater West at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
Roar of the Crowd at Theatre 40
Roberta, Musical Theatre Guild at the Alex Theatre
Room at the Met Theatre
Ruthless! at the Hudson Theatre
San Fran Scapin, Andak Stage Company at the New Place Theatre Center
Sleuth at the Falcon Theatre
The Smoke and Ice Follies at the Road Theatre
Songs for a New World at the Rubicon Theatre
Stuff Happens at the Mark Taper Forum
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife at the Laguna Playhouse
Tea at International City Theatre
They Shoot Mexicans, Don’t They?, About Productions at the Luckman Intimate Theatre
The Threepenny Opera at the Open Fist Theatre
Up From the Downs, Watts Village Theatre Company at the LA Design Center
Venus in Orange at the Victory
Waving Goodbye, Syzygy Theatre Company at the Los Angeles Theatre Center
The Wonder Bread Years at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse
Yellowman at the Fountain Theatre
You Can’t Take It With You at the Geffen Playhouse

Dec 23, 2005


I write from Valparaiso, Ind., my sister's house, where I just pored over the Chicago Tribune's "On the Town" section. Michael Phillips is now apparently a film critic there, with Chris Jones handling lead theater critic duties and Kerry Reid, formerly a Back Stage West stringer, handling smaller offerings (like a production of Sheila Callaghan's Crumble).

I'm sure all these stories are easily accessible online but I have limited time on my brother-in-law's laptop, so I'll simply link this feature and tell you to watch this space for a review of one of the finest things I've yet seen in the New York area -- a lovely end to another freelance year. UPDATE: Here it is.

Dec 20, 2005

Then It's War!

I've made the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge a number of times, and it makes for a lovely jaunt. But now it will be necessary.

Dec 19, 2005

Christal Clear

My American Theatre feature on another L.A.-to-NY transplant, costume designer Christal Weatherly, is up here.

Dec 16, 2005

Good Old Reliable Nathan

Indeed he's about all that's particularly good or reliable in the new film. My review here. (My take on the L.A. production a few years ago here.)

Dec 13, 2005

Politically Correct

My review of the Bread and Puppet Theater's new show is here.

Dec 8, 2005

A Spot of O'Neill

My review of the bracing, mostly excellent new Broadway production of A Touch of the Poet is here.

Dec 7, 2005

So This Is Why I'm Here

To review a show like this.

Onward and Upward

Well, it's official: Don Shirley will leave the LA Times as of Jan. 16, 2006. He tells me he's feeling "very upbeat" about the future. And Bob Dowling (pictured above), longtime Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, just announced his departure.

Don is a trusted colleague, fellow native Arizonan, and, dare I say it, something of a friend, and his body of knowledge about the L.A. theater culture (and the LA Times culture) will be missed at the town's paper of record. He could be prickly in print but he's always been unfailingly kind in person. Bob was a mentor to me at Back Stage West, which shared the floor with THR for its first five years, then merely the same building, and as the boss of my boss I felt he understood what I was doing, and what my little upstart team had built at BSW, better than anyone in the company.

These two don't have much in common except that they've loomed large in my professional life, and I wish them both all the best in the next chapter of their publishing careers.

Dec 6, 2005

Linney & Foote

Two new productions about which I'm admiring but lukewarm: Romulus Linney's play about poet Delmore Schwartz, and the Signature's so-so revival of Horton Foote's masterwork.

Dec 5, 2005

Two Helpings of Crow

So Britney will not give to Charity after all. (Nifty new BackStage site, by the way.)

And while I've heard nothing new on the Don Shirley front, one scribe who's taken the LA Times early buyout is none other than pop "music" critic Robert Hilburn (hat tip to LA Observed). I've been on the record deploring Hilburn's "criticism," though I've almost always found his reporting relatively astute and dogged (even if it, too, is generally overawed and studded with book-report prose). We look ahead to brighter days at L.A.'s beleaguered flagship daily.

Dec 1, 2005

Nov 28, 2005

Shirley Not?

Catching up with the indispensible LA Observed blog, which reported over the weekend that theater writer Don Shirley is rumored to be among those soon to depart the LA Times. Does that make the Weekly's two Stevens (Leigh Morris and Mikulan) the only local observers with a background covering the scene for more than a decade? Institutional memory takes another hit.

Nov 23, 2005

"Rent" Asunder

These two wildly diverging reviews, by the NY Times' A.O. Scott and the LA Times' Carina Chocano, make fine back-to-back reading. Can't wait to hear more arguments like this—and it's not just because I find myself more in Scott's camp that I wonder whether the outrage Chocano showers on the film is wisely spent. (Her colleague, the hot air generator Kenneth Turan, prasies Syriana in exactly the sort of terms that make me want to look for a scathing takedown, as much as I look forward to the film.)

Nov 21, 2005

Albee There

My first non-musical in a while, and I liked it.

Another Sign of the Apocalypse

This had to happen sooner or later.

Go East, Young Man

I'm as surprised as anyone that I actually like the new Rent film, considering how I felt about the show. Crow has seldom tasted so good.

Such a Tsuris

A peculiar and rough-hewn evening at this premiere English translation of a Yiddish play, but I did have a better time than at Woman in White.

Nov 17, 2005

Return of the Lord

My review of the latest from Lloyd Webber is here.

TV or Not TV

My review of Rinne Groff's new play at the Public is here. Her work stood out at Louisville a few years ago, and it's nice to see her getting the Public forum (though my peers have been mixed, here and here).

Nothing To Be Done

A thoroughly creditable production of a 20th century classic, reviewed here. (It did put me in mind, though, of another revival I adored.)

Nov 10, 2005

Rocky Mountain Low

To answer a snide comment below: A show like this new John Denver musical is not why I came to New York. But a job's a job.

Nov 8, 2005

Free Spot

The new musical Bingo apparently had its start at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse. Not sorry I missed it there. My review is here. One good West Coast import that I didn't mind, though: the peerless Beth Malone.

Nov 7, 2005

Doleful Matter Merrily Set Down

From the same creative well as the Broadway Sweeney Todd, a bangup production of The Winter's Tale, reviewed here.

Nov 3, 2005

Hear Me Singing "Yes"

My review of the best Gothic chamber musical ever is here. It measures up quite well to the London production, recalled here.

Oct 31, 2005

Seeing, Not Believing

My review of Michael John LaChiusa's newest music-theater piece here (and no, I haven't figured out how to get these links to open a new page).

Oct 27, 2005

Simple Simon

My review of The Odd Couple is up here.

Oct 21, 2005

Swimsuit Issues

It's not often that a playwright leaves a paper trail—of Time magazine essays, such as this one. My review of Roger Rosenblatt's new "almost a play" here.

Oct 14, 2005

Weird Harold

Of course Harold Pinter deserves the Nobel—for his playwriting, not for his politics. Though, as David Hare points out, the 75-year-old playwright will likely use his acceptance speech to bash Bush and Blair, that wouldn't keep me from lining up for his next play. Unfortunately, he has said publicly that he's given up playwriting for activism, and in the latter job description he has indeed proven unsubtle, nigh hysterical—a notably un-tightlipped figure that resembles none of the cryptic creeps, thugs, and ciphers of his plays. He's entitled to his megaphone, certainly, though I find this sort of takedown salutary, particularly for noting Pinter's fair-weather (or more accurately, foul-weather) support of the Kurds. (If you must know where I stand on the pressing issue of the day, it's more or less in this zone.)

Oct 13, 2005

Coming Up Rosie

My newest review here.

A Sign of the Apocalypse?

For some reason this news item knocks me over, though I guess I shouldn't be surprised (and yes, I have considered the lack of disinterest on the part of the researchers). The juicy bits (free registration required to read the whole thing):
A study released yesterday by Starcom USA found that 65% of consumers believe that advertisers pay for editorial mentions. Moreover, Starcom found, readers are receptive to reading about brands in articles... Advertisers, particularly automakers, have been increasingly pressing for ways to buy their way into the editorial pages of magazines, a heinous no-no for the American Society of Magazine Editors... "This study is not a permission slip," said Brenda White, director-print investment at Starcom Worldwide. "It's a warning." If readers already believe editorial content is for sale, she said, publishers who push the needle further could jeopardize what reader trust they have.... Said Janice Min, editor in chief at Wenner Media's Us Weekly. "The thing that's probably discouraging to a lot of editors is that much of the general public wouldn't even care," she said. "People who I consider pretty well-informed will ask me, 'What's wrong with paying for stories?' [or] 'Oh wait, they don't pay you to put that purse in the magazine?'"

I know there are more pressing problems in the world, but in my neck of the professional woods this is just depressing. Though, on a lighter note, there's this chestnut to remind us of the persistently high esteem in which the field has always been held:

The British Journalist

You cannot hope
to bribe or twist,
Thank God! the British journalist.

But, seeing what
the man will do
unbribed, there's no occasion to.

—Humbert Wolfe

UPDATE: All right, this is actually more depressing.

Oct 12, 2005

Poem for a Rainy Day

Quiet as is proper for such places;
The street, subdued, half-snow, half-rain,
Endless, but ending in the darkened doors.
They who will be there always,
Quiet as is proper for such people—
Enough, for now to be here, and
To know my door is one of these.
—Robert Creeley, "Return"

Oct 11, 2005

What's a Fugleman?

At last my erstwhile Times colleague James C. Taylor not only likes something at the Center Theatre Group—he actually prefers it to its original New York production! The play in question is David Mamet's Romance and the review is here.

And for those who wonder what a "fugleman" is, as I did, here's what says:

1. A leader, especially a political leader.
2. Archaic. A soldier who once served as a guide and model for his company.

I think Mamet would prefer the latter definition.

Laugh, Then Not Laugh So Much

BYOOS (office supplies)

Just caught up with a colleague's blog and found this interesting tidbit. Sounds like the cutbacks at Times Mirror are trickling down. That's a detail I didn't catch here or here.

Oct 10, 2005

A Brilliant Mistake

Glittering songbirds of the Great White Way will gather for a Halloween benefit to salute that great Broadway tunesmith... Elvis Costello. I guess that's some folks' idea of a good scare. Seriously, this should be an interesting evening. I hope Alan Cumming does "God's Comic."

Quotes for Today

O how feeble is man's power,
That if good fortune fall,
Cannot add another hour,
Nor a lost hour recall!
But come bad chance,
And we join it to our strength,
And we teach it art and length,
Itself o'er us to advance.
—John Donne, "Song"

When you base your life on credit
And your loving days are done
Checks you signed with love and kisses
Later come back signed "insufficient funds"
—Funkadelic, "Can You Get To That"

Harriet used to keep a humidor full of M&M's in her West Wing office. It wasn't a huge secret. She'd stash some boxes of the coveted red, white, and blue M&M's in specially made boxes bearing George W. Bush's reprinted signature. Her door was always open and the M&M's were always available. I dared ask one time why they were there. Her answer: "I like M&M's, and I like sharing."
—Desperate defender of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers

The Painter Principle

I hired her as an editorial assistant back in 1995, but she quickly became a fixture at Back Stage West and duly ascended the ranks, from writer to Features Editor, then to Editor in Chief. And now Jamie Painter Young has been named National Editor of Back Stage and Back Stage West, replacing publishing veteran Julia Kagan (whom I wrote about when she took the newly created job, just eight months ago). I send my congrats to Jamie, and I wonder if this decisively shifts the focus of the Back Stage "brand" from the East to the West Coast, and from theater to film.

My beef with the direction the paper started going around the turn of the millennium, in case anyone cares anymore, was never a theater vs. film thing so much as a movie-publicity vs. acting-jobs focus. The former emphasis has coincided with large movie ad revenues, to be sure. The latter emphasis, though, is what the Back Stage and Back Stage West brand was always about. Well, there are still casting notices and such. But have you seen anything like this in BSW lately, for example? A free tip: I think that just may be an actor's trade story.

Oct 9, 2005

A Walk on the Wilson Side

A lot of nice bits in this remembrance by Oscar Hijuelos, but the one that sticks with me is the image of Lou Reed playing "a couple of his songs one evening on a nylon string guitar" for August Wilson. I'd donate a major organ to find out what the playlist was. "White Light/White Heat"? "Waiting for My Man"? "Dirty Boulevard"? "Metal Machine Music"? The mind reels.

From One Invalid to Another: Dying Is an Art

It has become fashionable in some quarters to prophesy the end of movies, or the end of movies as we know them, or, for the really cautious Cassandras, the end of moviegoing as we know it. Look, the doomsayers say, at the rate of DVDs flying off the shelves—it's rising, though not, alas, as exponentially as it was last year. And just look at Hollywood's bleak summer of 2005, in which theatrical releases made a few hundred jillion dollars less than they made last year and the year before.

Before long, goes the conventional dig-erati wisdom, we'll forgo the communal experience of the neighborhood cinema, with its sticky floors and chattering teenagers, and stay home to watch Hollywood blockbusters on plasma screens as big as bay windows.

Forgive me if I find these obituaries for the movies premature. Why, just down the street at the local cineplex, that film with the guy from TV is still playing, and so is the one with the penguins. And just a few blocks away, a warehouse-sized store has more titles on tap than an insomniac could watch in a year.

On the other hand, maybe the movies should welcome these death knells, premature or not. Dying can do a lot for an art form. Just look at the theater: It's been pronounced dead, or dying, for many centuries now. And the theater is not just pulling off the longest, most enthralling death scene in the history of drama; it is fairly thriving in its mortal throes, if Broadway box-office receipts are any indication.

Death becomes the theatre. So why can't the movies, wobbling as they are on their Olympian heights, learn a few things from the fabulous invalid for whom dying is an art?

1. Scarcity. Like a trendy restaurant that has foodies bartering body parts to land a table, theater drives demand with scarcity. There are only so many seats at a certain finite number of performances of any show, except possibly Mamma Mia. This simple economic trick, the oldest in the playbook, allows theaters to charge for just one three-hour tour more than what customers might pay for a DVD player, presumably good for thousands of hours of entertainment. What are your high-end movie theaters up to per ticket, $15? That's candy money at a Broadway show. Lesson for Hollywood: Limit your release, spike demand, and watch your per-seat income explode. Admittedly, you won't see the volume you're used to, but dying in style has a price.

2. Immediacy. Yes, some shows feel the need to gestate and grow for several dog years before they're ready to reach the stage. But once a show gets a green light—and a piece of real estate to sit down for a while (see above)—you're talking a six-week rehearsal period, some tech and previews, and it's showtime. Lesson for Hollywood: Development is overrated. And postproduction? Leave special effects to the gamers. There's no reason a perfectly good film with a great script and great performances can't be made in, say, two months. And if you're looking for scripts and actors, the theater is a great place to steal from; if you haven't noticed, the theater has been looting Hollywood like an unguarded Wal-Mart for decades now. When you're dying, see, you've got nothing to lose.

3. Artistic license. Theater doesn't have a ratings board, have you noticed? While Hollywood is contorting itself into the missionary position to cater to the "family values" audience, the mainstream theater is home to libidinous puppets, suspected pedophiles, nihilist barbers and calculating dance hostesses. And that's just the tourist trade; veer only slightly off the Main Stem and you've got naked boys singing and trailer trash-talking. Lesson for Hollywood: Do you really think you're fooling Middle America with that exorcism mumbo-jumbo? You can find an audience for any story you want to tell, even if the score is by Adam Guettel (if you're dying, after all, why not have some pretty funeral music?).

4. Immortality. The art of the theater isn't just scarce in space but in time. It is ephemeral, and lives on only in the memories of theatergoers, and in the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library (see Scarcity). But the memory of a theatergoer is a precious thing; it can never end up in a remainders bin at the local video store, or be edited to fit the format of your screen, or be dubbed into Italian. In short, it is a far more forgiving place to be remembered than in the eternal freeze-frame of a DVD. Ever meet anyone who saw Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie? Try to get them to shut up about it. Lesson for Hollywood: Relax about film preservation, already, and think more about preserving the arts of performance and storytelling. Narrative art exists in time, like music. Leave permanence to sculpture. And instead of conniving to get your film in front of every eyeball on the planet, why not settle for doing your best work in your chosen craft, sharing it with the people who appreciate it and enjoying their company in the limited time we've all got here together? Don't take it from me. That's just what any dying man, or art form, might tell you.

Oct 8, 2005

The Feel-Good Hit of the Summer (circa 1980)

This hilariously sunny trailer for The Shining makes the mind reel. Maybe Kubrick would have had more hits if he'd had better marketing.

"My Resumé Is Full..."

"...but it's in pieces right now."

As my friend John Zalewski warned when he sent this my way, don your Pathos Protection Suits for this voice message from a delusional, and apparently distracted, actress.

Oct 6, 2005

Getting "Naked" Again

My debut on is with my review of Richard Greenberg's new comedy, which, for the record, I previously reviewed here. The play's gotten tighter and better in transit, but it's still not a must-see.

Too Much Information

Sorry for light blogging. Been working in an office for the first time in, oh, years. Offices have their unsung joys, though. The camaraderie, the air conditioning, the found art. Like this nigh-novelistic bathroom sign:

What I appreciate the most? The lack of spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors. So many chances to go wrong, and each one gracefully sidestepped (c'mon, "accidently" had to be a temptation). A real rarity in the workplace of today.

(Just because I have more regular employment doesn't mean I don't have time on my hands.)

Oct 2, 2005

Come and Gone

I posted some August Wilson links when his terminal condition was first announced, but now with the news of his untimely death, I thought in particular of the lead for my Gem of the Ocean preview:
August Wilson told me a secret: how to keep a character alive for centuries.

When I'd heard that Aunt Ester, a death-defying 300-year-old healer mentioned but never seen in Wilson's Two Trains Running and King Hedley II, would be the central character of his new Gem of the Ocean, opening at the Mark Taper Forum this week, I wondered how this supernatural character would fit into the naturalistic world his plays usually occupy.

"Obviously nobody can live to be 300, but her memory is kept alive--it's passed on from generation to generation," he explained. His solution, then, is to make her a sort of human talisman--an identity passed like a mantle from one "Aunt Ester" to the next. So by the time Gem opens in 1904, there have already been "about four or five Aunt Esters," and though the Ester we see (played by Phylicia Rashad), puts her age at 287, she's really "about 72 years old," said Wilson. "She has been consciously carrying the memory, the tradition of Africans."

Who will carry on that memory now that August has fallen? I'll give him the last word, from this 2000 interview:
I don't believe there's any idea that cannot be contained by black life, or any of the full variety of human experience; I believe that world is capable of sustaining you, so that when you leave your father's house you are fully clothed in manners and a way of life that is sufficient. Only when you are centered around self-sufficiency can you make a contribution to the society in which we all live.

Sep 29, 2005

Quotes for the Fall

"Sometimes I feel like my shadow's casting me."
—Warren Zevon, "Dirty Life and Times"

"I'd always liked the stage and even more so, the theater. It seemed like the most supreme craft of all craft. Whatever the environment, a ballroom or a sidewalk, the dirt of a country road, the action always took place in the eternal 'now.' "
Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Vol. 1

Sep 27, 2005

Sep 24, 2005

SLM the Indispensable

Context, circumspection, and craft. I knew I'd miss him personally when I moved East, but I didn't know how much I'd miss his writing. I haven't seen the show, so I can't say whether Steven Leigh Morris' take on Dead End is definitive. But this is real criticism. The rest of us are mere reviewers.

My New Favorite Critic

I'm fickle in my tastes, to be sure. But not since the first few chapters of Everything Is Illuminated have I found sentences as over-ambitious as this:
Man, I am to tell you that Stevern Segel is one for the much action to pack! I watch him on my to screen and he is bring to life the dramatic of hand for hand battle with the evil forces.

Or this:
Him the Smokey Bandit has the fast car to escape with courage from corrupt police captain. I much for enjoyed the many excitement of action and expert driving as pair of business men conduct negotiations with Smokey Bandit in restraunt business selling. But don't too much comfortable in your recline--Smokey Bandit may to drive out from your television with surprise and gusto!

These Netflix reviews by "HV from Duvall, WA" are almost too good, really. Faux-naif or the real thing? You decide.

I Wrote This Review on an iBook

For whatever that's worth. Here it is.

Sep 22, 2005

Give This Man a Column

Paul Rudnick, move over. Wenzel Jones weighs in on the most (unintentionally) entertaining section of Back Stage West: the student film casting notices.

Sep 20, 2005

Sep 19, 2005

Lighting a Candle on the Water

Shocked and sad to hear about the death of Variety's L.A. critic Joel Hirschhorn (pre-obit here). Joel was a sweet, thoughtful man I only got to know in the past year or so, since I joined the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle. An accomplished, Oscar-winning and Tony-nominated songwriter, he was very supportive and friendly to me not only as a fellow critic but as a musician, as well. Indeed, he and I had been talking about writing a musical together; his idea was to do one based on the Vincent Price vehicle Theatre of Blood—that is, until a non-musical stage version recently popped up.

I always enjoyed reading his reviews and talking with him on a variety (no pun intended) of topics. My sympathies go to his wife, Jen. He will be missed. Will the LADCC, rocked by the deaths of a number of veteran critics in recent years, establish another special award in Joel's name? If they do, I suggest putting his name on an award honoring—what else?—new musicals.

I close with lyrics from a song I liked and learned long before I knew Joel, from the Disney film Pete's Dragon (starring, let's not forget, Helen Reddy and Mickey Rooney):
I’ll be your candle on the water,
’till ev’ry wave is warm and bright.
My soul is there beside you,
let this candle guide you.
Soon you’ll see a golden stream of light.

Sep 17, 2005

A "Flopera" and a Chamber Opera

Two reports from the New York Musical Theatre Festival: My reviews of Richard Cory and The Banger's Flopera.

Sep 15, 2005

Counting Blessings

It's not every day that you get to write about a favorite artist for the paper of record. My review of Belly of a Drunken Piano.

Sep 14, 2005

Full "Circle"

Two productions of Brecht's great fable, on either coast, seem to have disarmed critics in much the same way: here and here.

Puking at "Piazza"

...and other tales of audience, er, feedback in this entertaining and disturbing All That Chat thread.

Sep 13, 2005

Double Header

Here are my reviews of Holy Cross Sucks! (or, if you prefer, Holy Cross...!) and a strange little show with a premise that gave me Back Stage West flashbacks, called The Audition. Enjoy.

Sep 12, 2005

Legend for the Fall

Apologies for light blogging. I've got a bunch of NY Times reviews in the hopper; not sure when they're supposed to appear.

I was stunned but not surprised—is that possible?—by James C. Taylor's slam of the Ahmanson's Dead End. The folks at the Center Theatre Group must be counting the days until incoming LA Times critic Charlie McNulty alights on L.A. soil, as Taylor has been their bete noire for some time now. Oh, goodie: Mr. Fire and Rain will no doubt get to pronounce on whether this show is worth the hype. (While he's been very thorough in reporting on how L.A. productions fall short of their New York and London originals, he hasn't been as reliable a prognosticator of SoCal-to-Broadway fortunes, as his dismissal of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels proved.) For another point of view, there's Evan Henerson's far more upbeat review of Ritchie's bank-busting opening shot.

We know the Ahmanson's next musical, whose title is The Drowsy Chaperone, must be important because it made it into this otherwise (almost) entirely New York-centered fall preview listing in the NYT. My thoughts on the list (which also nods to the Canadian production of Lord of the Rings and to the Old Globe's Dylan-Tharp musical The Times They Are A-Changin'):

SHOWS WE ALREADY SAW IN SoCAL (and mostly at South Coast Rep)
The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow at the Atlantic Theatre
The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World (part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival)
A Naked Girl on the Appian Way at the Roundabout
Latinologues at the Helen Hayers
4.48 Psychose at BAM; OK, technically SoCal hasn't seen it yet—but this French production of Sarah Kane's play is going to UCLA before it lands in Brooklyn, for whatever that's worth
Hell House; Les Freres Corbusier, who last brought L.A. A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant, either stole this idea from the folks behind last year's Hollywood Hell House or are collaborating with them on it somehow; all I know is that I noticed the connection when both were running in L.A.
Mr. Marmalade at the Roundabout
Three Days of Rain on Broadway; all right, I know this doesn't even begin to count, since this is a new, for-Broadway production starring that Pretty Woman gal, but I feel the need set straight reports, like this one, that the play was first produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club; sorry, folks, it premiered at South Coast Rep in early 1997, already starring the not-too-shabby Patricia Clarkson and Jon Tenney

Tipping my hand here:
Spirit, the newest from the Improbable Theatre (already got tickets)
Sweeney Todd (see below)
Karla, a play—not a musical, I believe—by Steve Earle, about Karla Faye Tucker (wonder what his take will be? Hmm)
The aforementioned 4.48 Pychose
Bach at Leipzig, a comedy about competing organists; sounds deliciously nerdy
Abigail's Party, the New Group's latest Mike Leigh revival, to star the endearingly slouchy Jennifer Jason Leigh (no relation, I'm told)
Brundibar & Comedy on the Bridge, vintage operas adapted by Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak; I'm very afraid but I'll be there
Pinter's Celebration & The Room at the Atlantic
Rabbit Hole, the newest from David Lindsay-Abaire
The House of Bernarda Alba, a new musicalization by LaChiusa and McNally that's bound to rival Brundibar for pretension
The Pajama Game; sorry, I've got a soft spot for this weirdly sunny musical about unionization, though my actually spending top dollar will depend on who they get for the female lead
Grey Gardens: A New Musical; again, I'm very afraid, as this is based on one of the most depressing, albeit fascinating, documentaries ever made
Hedda Gabler with Cate Blanchett? Oh yeah
The Threepenny Opera with Alan Cumming? Double oh yeah

Sweeney Todd, which was a really stirring chamber musical with unknowns when I caught it last year (I mentioned it here) but whose life I fear for in the face of Broadway expectations; I can't wait to hear Michael Cerveris tear into the score, and to see how much of director John Doyle's downmarket concept has survived the transfer, but I'm planning on getting my ticket early

I'm sure there are other gems to come, but that's how the season looks to me. Now, if I could just find a comprehensive listing of Off-Off-Broadway, which is what I'll be most likely to cover.

Finally, I've had nothing to say about Katrina, since the words have failed me. And so I leave you with this fulsome image, no doubt already making the rounds, which is worth several thousand words at least.

Sep 7, 2005

Warms the Heart, It Does

I think Callas sang a lovely Norma
You prefer Robeson on "Deep River"

I knew there was a story behind this Rufus Wainwright lyric (in "Beauty Mark," a touching tribute to his mom, Kate McGarrigle). And there is. I haven't loved his last two records as much as the first two, but I'll listen again with new ears.

Sep 6, 2005

Ehn Again

My feature on Erik Ehn, playwright and new Cal Arts theatre dean, is in this month's edition of LA Stage. You can't read it online, but if you pick it up, look for a nice bit of NoCal slang, when Ehn refers to the Cal Arts faculty as "hecka busy." It's a pretty good issue all around, though the striking photo of Isabelle Huppert on the contents page (you can also see a much smaller version of it here) does not, alas, lead to an in-depth profile inside.

Sep 4, 2005

Big Willie Shakes

This Onion piece made me laugh, though for theatre-related pieces, nothing has yet topped this one.

Sep 3, 2005

That's Mr. Ron Kendt to You

My latest review in the New York Times originally came out with the wrong byline; it has been fixed. (Here you can see the original mistake.) Very disorienting, to say the least.

Is This a Compliment?

"You go to New York to be aggressive in the theater. You're under the burden of blowing the roof off — or what's the point? But in fact there are many points to hit before the roof is destroyed. Here, you don't feel you have to make the greatest artistic statement of the decade."

That's actor Stephen Spinella, discussing his directing debut, Speaking in Tongues, for L.A.'s Open Fist Theatre in the L.A. Times.

Sep 2, 2005

Classy and Not Classy

The terminally ill August Wilson will have a Broadway theatre named for him, though he's unlikely ever to see the new marquee. Wilson's announcement of his condition last week shocked most people, though this theatre blogger actually seemed skeptical of the news, saying that Wilson "has been an odd duck in interviews" and musing that the news "seems to come with the eerily perfect timing of the near completion of Radio Golf and the whole 10-play installment. Everyone, indeed, wondered what could Wilson do next." Apparently showbiz cynicism is not the exclusive territory of Hollywood.

Aug 31, 2005


With her inimitable talent for bashing the LA Times from every angle, Nikki Finke weighs in on McNulty. Gordon Davidson's quotes remind me of something I noted here.

Aug 30, 2005

The Times on McNulty

Bret Israel, who supervises the LA Times' arts coverage, finally has an answer for those (including yours truly) who've wondered why the paper has taken so long to find a lead theatre critic:
It's been mortifying to go so long without a chief theater critic... But as I've told many people who didn't always believe me, the main reason for the delay was the very high standard the paper sets for its critics, who are the soul of our cultural pages. Charles [McNulty] will join an outstanding group, and I am confident he will shine a penetrating and entertaining light on the wide, unappreciated world of Southern California theater.

For his part, McNulty informs Los Angeles readers that "there's a compelling story to be told about L.A. theater... Those of us who have been working in the American theater already know what a fantastic theater town L.A. is. It's rich in all sorts of ways."

More in this story, which also answers the question about McNulty's Brooklyn job.

And if you're not confused enough, The New York Times puffs the Ahmanson's new show—for which, we are very interested to read, new CTG artistic director Michael Ritchie both raised an extra $1 million and struck a deal with Equity that allows "nearly half of the cast to be nonunion and work free, or nearly." Wow! He just keeps raising the stakes, doesn't he?

Closure at Last: It's McNulty

His name was mentioned to me last week as a possibility, and now it's confirmed: Village Voice senior editor Charles McNulty has been named lead theatre critic at The Los Angeles Times, ending the three-and-a-half-year standoff since Michael Phillips left. His qualifications are impressive; I'm wondering if he will continue to run the MFA program in Dramaturgy and Theatre Criticism at Brooklyn College (go here and type in "McNulty" to see his bio) while reviewing for the LAT. Maybe I should take a class from him.

UPDATE: Catching up with his writing, I'm encouraged. A fine example here. More here, here, here, and here.

Advances From the Coast

Richard Greenberg's A Naked Girl on the Appian Way is coming to Broadway in a few weeks. Here's my review of last year's premiere at South Coast Repertory, with a different but no less distinguished cast.

Pre-dating the Broadway run of John Patrick Shanley's Doubt was the Pasadena Playhouse production, which despite its flaws didn't entirely obscure the play's sophistication. My take is here.

And for what it's worth, in my opinion here's a show that deserves a New York run.

The I'm-Too-Old-for-This File

God bless the open mikes. I've played quite a few in my day, and I decided to try out NYC's purported finest, Monday night at the Sidewalk Cafe in the East Village. It wasn't just my late placement that had me beating a path to the door with my guitar before I had my turn (by my estimate, I would have gone on after 1 a.m., and I haven't had great luck with subways back to Brooklyn late at night). No, what hastened my retreat was the spectacle of exceptionally self-confident but minimally skilled amateurs happily stinking up the stage. My memory of the Highland Grounds "Open Mind" Wednesday nights in L.A. is of the reverse impression: mostly polished musicians with a loose, occasionally insecure edge.

I did hear one great Stephen Foster song, "No One To Love," that I'm going to look up. I also heard the worst cover of "Folsom Prison Blues" imaginable. The rest of the fare was, of course, original (in the literal if not descriptive sense), and I couldn't resist noting a few of the choice lyrics:

A gay hip-hop artist who confessed in song that "I'm still kinda grossed out by the dick."

An intense young man from Atlanta who shouted rather than sang his lyric about "the broken VCR of time/You can't fast-forward or rewind."

Another unspeakably intense young man who sneered through his teeth the lyric "This land was built on your guilt money."

That's entertainment! Maybe I'll have better luck next week.

Aug 29, 2005

Busman's Holiday Viewing

I had no review assignments over the weekend but I still found myself at three shows. Caught the second-to-last performance of Joe Mantello's remarkably clear and scathing Glengarry Glen Ross and was glad I did. I have to say I found Frederick Weller, as the callow young boss John, a bit of a blank, which took some of the sting out the play's final 15 minutes or so. I also noticed something about these moments I'd never felt before: There's a missing, or muddy, transition between Shelley's confession of the break-in and his plea for another chance—a fogginess which stands out all the more given the blinding precision of every other beat in the play. I wonder if Weller's impassive performance might have had something to do with it. As for the justly praised Liev Schreiber, I didn't notice him cutting his nails in Act Two (a much-noted bit of stage business I was told to watch for), but he still nailed Ricky Roma's offhanded, cock-walking pride. And Alan Alda deserves to be on a stage for the rest of this rich new phase of his career. Somebody give him an Arthur Miller play right away.

I was drawn back to the Fringe Fest for The Dirty Talk, Michael Puzzo's lovely odd-couple two-hander, played sharply and movingly by Sidney Williams and Kevin Cristaldi. Despite its LAByrinth Theater Company connection, it didn't get a Times review.

Finally, a friend had tickets to the opening night of the Public's The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in Galt McDermot's groovy musical version from 1971. It took me about a half hour of bewildered acclimation, but I was eventually disarmed by the exuberance and shamelessness of Kathleen Marshall's production, by John Guare's daffy-like-a-fox lyrics, and by McDermot's piñata full of ear candy. Most striking was how much like a genuine time warp it felt, right down to the makeup and hair, the choreography and brass arrangements (which Ben Brantley aptly pegged as Herb Alpert-ish); rather than a too-hip retro nostalgia piece, this played as a perfectly out-of-fashion recreation of a Laugh-In-era artifact, and was all the more appealing for it.

Aug 28, 2005

The Glory Days

I won't be able to make this reunion, but maybe I'll send in some reminiscences of the late, lamented days of the Los Angeles Theatre Center when it had all four theatres running. I caught the tail end of that flowering, reviewing Jonathan Marc Sherman's Veins and Thumbtacks and The Joni Mitchell Project (an early jukebox musical with an extraordinary cast), among others. I also remember a ridiculous King Lear whose Norwegian lead's acquaintance with English was glancing, and Reza Abdoh's extreme, mesmerizing Bogeyman, which in the closing days of the Reagan-Bush interregnum had a kind of Weimar decadence. Like or hate what was onstage, I loved the place itself, and have many great memories of shows there after the producing company folded—Assassins, Harry Thaw Hates Everybody, various LA Weekly award shows, the very recent Waving Goodbye. I can only hope that this reunion gathering is not some kind of farewell to the place's continued operation in some fashion.

Light in August

When I interviewed him in 2000, I asked August Wilson, who has just revealed his dire, apparently terminal condition, what he would write after he was done with his 20th-century "decade" project. He said, "To go back over it and write about each decade again—I mean, there are still plays to be written." He and his family are in our prayers. I've written about this giant of the theatre here, here, and here.

Aug 27, 2005

Freelance Woes

How times have changed. I just read Louis Menand's bracing profile of Edmund Wilson, and this quote jumped out:
“To write what you are interested in writing and to succeed in getting editors to pay for it, is a feat that may require pretty close calculation and a good deal of ingenuity,” [Wilson] once explained. “You have to learn to load solid matter into notices of ephemeral happenings; you have to develop a resourcefulness at pursuing a line of thought through pieces on miscellaneous and more or less fortuitous subjects; and you have to acquire a technique of slipping over on the routine of editors the deeper independent work which their over-anxious intentness on the fashions of the month or the week have conditioned them automatically to reject.”

Elsewhere Menand refers to Wilson's "ingrained indifference to material comforts" as being among the factors that "allowed him, from almost the beginning of his career, to write about only the subjects he wanted to write about." I don't know if it's ingrained in me yet, but I'm getting there.

Contrast that with Ben Yagoda's despairing take on the current lot of freelancers in Slate:
Modern titles, formatted to within an inch of their lives, require freelancers to shape experience into small, breezy portions that extol the lifestyle or consumer culture the magazine and its advertisers are looking to promote. The ultimate upside isn't the creation of a cultural event, but the creation of buzz.

Time to polish up the resumé and look for a full-time gig. Or, in an entirely different vein, follow the advice of this book.

Quartet for the End of (Fringe) Time

So happy to end my 9-play tour of duty through the New York Fringe Fest with a bona fide winner.

Aug 26, 2005

A Cup of Joe

My second to last word on the offerings at FringeNYC.

Aug 25, 2005


I have ever-so-gingerly eased some of my other output into the world of the Wicked Stage. The permalink is in the left column, just below "Writings" and above "Hot Links." Muse willing, there will be updates.

Ever Feel Like This?

The Way "Thick" Thinks

I wanted to like it, honestly I did. My newest Fringe review.

Aug 24, 2005

Heady Headline

Maybe I overstressed the heavy stuff in this review of the best thing I've seen at the Fringe Fest yet. I'm resigned to let my final pun go (yes, I did actually file the line, "I think the Norwegian would"), but I would hate the Times' sober headline to scare off theatregoers looking for a good tume. The Neo-Futurists' Ibsen cut-up isn't just meaningful, it's also madcap.

Aug 23, 2005

Messing With Jesus

So Brian Flemming, co-author of Bat Boy, the Musical, doesn't just disbelieve in Christianity. According to the LA Times, he questions that Jesus even existed. I haven't seen his new documentary, but my initial reaction is: Dude! You're moving the goalposts! Is the historical existence of the Nazarene some claim as a Messiah and others simply regard as a controversial preacher really what has divided and continues to divide Western culture? Seems to me that Flemming is picking a fight (admittedly, with enemies who are well worth fighting) that's beside the point. In much the same way that the did-Shakespeare-really-write-his-plays debate is a side show that diverts our attention from the substance of the plays themselves, the question did-Jesus-even-exist seems like a way not to discuss the heritage of ideas and practices that derive in his name, which is some pretty meaty, contentious stuff no matter what side you take. This heritage does exist, in both its fruitful and destructive aspects, and it's worth debating on its own terms.

I can only empathize with the purgative impulse of ex-fundamentalists, which Flemming is; like an ex-smoker who must disavow that cigarettes could ever possibly be enjoyed by anyone for any reason, or like the ex-Trotskyites who've become neoconservatives, these ex-fundies bring a feverish totality to their debunking that, to me at least, looks as Manichean and simplistic as the worldview they've left behind.

Full disclosure: As a liberal Lutheran with a Jesuit secondary education, I just don't share in my gut a radical, totalized experience of faith from which I've ever felt the need to deprogram. Weigh it, doubt it, tire of it, embrace it, rediscover it—Christian faith is a part of my life and my thinking as surely as music or theatre or being an American and a Democrat in a conservative but not entirely dark age. I don't feel like I even have a dog in the race between extreme fundamentalists and nonbelievers who see all religion, in all its variety, as dangerous superstition. The Jesus I've known is the one Bruce Bawer writes about in this impassioned polemic, which defends what's worth saving about the Christian mission against those who've distorted and abused it. Flemming's approach would seem to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Would I be wrong to wonder whether Flemming's Bat Boy co-author, Keythe Farley, who's an ordained elder at L.A.'s Wilshire Presbyterian Church, feels more or less the same?

(I've written about this topic, with more direct relevance to things theatrical, here, here, here, and here.)

UPDATE: This survey is fascinating but, to me, unsurprising.

Aug 21, 2005

The Welcome Wagon

Does this mention make me an Official Brooklyn Theatre Blogger? Flattered to be among the ranks. Now I'll have to catch up with my colleagues' work.

And, since apparently this fabulous playwright was the one who graciously supplied the link, I am free to say here (since I wasn't reviewing it) that I very much enjoyed Uncle Sam's Satiric Spectacular, a Fringe offering from the acting interns at Actors Theatre of Louisville, with pieces by a clutch of talented writers (including Sheila Callaghan, Hilly Hicks, Bridget Carpenter, to mention the names I recognized) and directed by an old L.A. regular, Wendy McClellan (for a look back at my trip to see her and the Humana offerings during her first hectic year at ATL, look here).

The piece's seat-of-the-pants vaudeville stylings, which gave its liberal critique of the state of the union a diverting, occasionally moving patina of wistful irony, worked quite well in the rather narrow, unprepossessing Players Theatre in the Village. Given the notoriously brutal tech schedule afforded to these Fringe shows—3 to 4 hours, by most accounts—it comes off as remarkably assured, and even its bobbles and wobbles seemed planned.

Today I'm off to see show # 8 in my Fringe travels. Here's hoping I get out this much (for the Times or whoever) after the festival tent is folded.

Aug 19, 2005

Truth in Advertising

Now here's a transcendently bad idea. And I mean that as a compliment.

Rockies May Crumble

A brief and touching tribute to an overlooked bit of L.A.'s past. The city may draw the world's greatest composers, writers, and actors to its teat, but it can't seem to bring itself to remember them—unless they plant a flag in academia.

Aug 17, 2005

Western Fringe

The last of a flurry of reviews, till next week, dear readers.

Aug 16, 2005

Love Those Headline Writers

Gotta love the headline for this review. Meanwhile, the Fringe gets a whole batch of reviews; here's a page with another of my short takes (scroll down). I'd say, based on the fare I've seen and read about so far, that L.A.'s own fringe fest has nothing to be ashamed of.

Aug 15, 2005

Aug 13, 2005

The Archives Creak Into Action

After finally figuring out FTP and all that web-hosting jazz, I'm getting my print archives up and running. The Reviews link (scroll down, on the left) is now working with live links to about 80 percent of what's there. Stay tuned for more.

Aug 10, 2005

Double Standards and Geek Chic

I haven't seen either show, but I'm just wondering: Why is The Godfadda Workout being forced to close, while One-Man Star Wars Trilogy is riding high? Is proximity to Hollywood the problem? And yet Seth Isler has been doing his show for years and years. Why shut it down now? I'm baffled. (I always wondered about MacHomer, too.)

In light of Chris Wells' observation, I found this quote from Jason Zinoman's NY Times review telling:
"One-Man Star Wars Trilogy" may seem like just an oddball summer gimmick, but it is in some ways the logical extension of where commercial theater is headed. The crowds at "Spamalot," a highly polished imitation of old Monty Python skits, laugh before the punch lines. And the many jukebox musicals—which, don't fool yourself, are not going away—preach to the converted.
The element of surprise matters less than the comforting pleasure of seeing something familiar. The geek audience has become highly sought after by Broadway producers.

I can't pretend this is postmodernism in flower—it's more like the pop-culture tail wagging the the theatrical dog—but it would seem create an opening for an authentic dialogue about pop culture. Or, one could argue, an ominous flattening of the aesthetic horizon. You decide, dear reader.

Aug 9, 2005

After Regime Change

Just caught up with this fascinating discussion on the LA Weekly site. More questions than answers, and an almost dizzying number of participants. On a side note, I received an email from someone with intimate knowledge of the Taper's inner workings that the "ossification in that place was staggering" and that those who are skeptical of Michael Ritchie's new regime should give him a chance. I'll look forward to the verdict of others, since I won't be on hand to deliver one.

Some Postmodern Evening

Saw the multitalented Chris Wells and scenic savant Rachel Hauck last night, both of them originally Actors' Gang affiliates, now either settled here (Chris) or bi-coastal (Rachel). Both talked wistfully about Los Angeles theatre, noting that contrary to the romantic vision, it's actually easier to get by as a theatre artist in L.A., compared to New York's more codified commercial hierarchy. Not that either made a fortune, or even much of a living wage, toiling in the trenches of L.A. theatre, just that the struggle to live is much more arduous in New York—as Chris put it, "Money and work are so insane here." He's nearing his 2 1/2-year anniversary in the Apple, while Rachel and her partner Lisa Peterson are tiring, she said, of seldom seeing each other, in whichever city; she was recently working at the O'Neill Playwrights' Conference at the same time Peterson was at the Sundance Summer Theatre Lab. Hauck is off to Tokyo soon to design a production of The Dresser.

The occasion for the meeting was a workshop performance of Wells' unclassifiable, self-penned Olsen Terror, a cabaret-style piece in which he plays a middle-aged media-junkie schlub who believes he is turning into the Olsen twins. Sample lyrics: "I'm only one man/But I feel like two... little girls," or, "It's a full house/But I"m empty inside." He's got some tweaking of the tone to do but it shows promise as another showcase for his outsized yet finely shaded talent.

He did note, however, another N.Y./L.A. difference: "New Yorkers," he said, "aren't able to be as authentically postmodern," by which he means, in his case, that he may have trouble convincing people that a show about the Olsen twins could have anything serious to say about American culture, and more generally, that the distinctions between "high" and "low" seem more entrenched in New York than in L.A. One wonders how Ken Roht's pop-art confections (as opposed to his more serious work would fare here. But speaking of pop art, isn't this the city that gave the world Andy Warhol and The Beastie Boys—and where, as Chris mentioned, he recently saw Wyclef Jean at Avery Fisher Hall?

Obviously, I can only hold out hope for my new home, on both the money and culture fronts. This Thursday I'm reviewing something pretty postmodern.

Aug 7, 2005

L.A.'s Fade to White

Why is this devastating take on the future of multicultural theatre in Los Angeles in the New York Times? Why did it take a New York-based writer to put these words in print:
I find it distressing that Luis Alfaro, who had run the Latino Playwrights Initiative before being made director of new play development, lost his job. And I find it distressing that there is only one minority woman on Mr. Ritchie's artistic staff. No one should have to bear that burden, artistically or practically.

That's not a quote—that's the writer, Margo Jefferson, offering her own perspective amid a series of dismissive quotes from the Taper's artistic director, Michael "Lopakhin" Ritchie.

L.A.'s habit of under-rating itself can lead to some pleasant surprises. But it also has the unfortunate effect of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, of lower expectations yielding lesser results. It doesn't have to be this way; it very often hasn't been this way in L.A., despite the conventional wisdom. Just how many ways can a heart break?

Aug 3, 2005

Culture Gap

The death of L.A. Times media critic David Shaw has been duly and deservedly noted elsewhere. But on a memorial site, this comment from his colleague Jack Miles jumped out at me. Jack is recounting Shaw's relationship with a fellow Times staffer:
Then came a little story about his courtship of Ellen Torgerson, when the two of them, worried about being seen together in public by Times brass, knew that they could attend any play or concert in perfect safety. Cultural events were one place, he said, where you NEVER had to worry about running into Times brass.


This may hardly seem like the most gracious way to begin my final post from Los Angeles, but there it is. Thank you to all those who stopped by Weiland's on Monday to see me off, and/or who sent well-wishing emails and made calls. I leave Los Angeles with profoundly mixed feelings; it is a city that, no matter how much talent or money or gravitas or history accumulates in it and around it, is perennially underrated, not least by itself.

I have struggled, as Gordon Davidson put it to me, to "get my arms around this city," and I think I've given it my share of warm bear hugs, and a few Homer-chokes-Bart throttles, in my day. I will carry my 19 years in this wicked little town—the quakes, the traffic, the sunshine, the (mostly) blue skies, the weird purple sunsets, the terrible class divides, the sprawl, the parks, the subway, the mini-malls, the desperation, the dangerously seductive laidbackness of the place, and above all the vibrant live performance culture that the LA Times brass apparently avoids—with me to the city that never sleeps, and keep you posted.

Have fun.

Aug 1, 2005

Wicked Little Town blog (2003)

The blog about L.A. actors I did for (some dead links in these posts, alas).

Young Goes West Dec. 23, 2003
How Actors Are Like Enron Employees Dec. 22, 2003
Classic Clown Plus Classic Rock Dec. 12, 2003
Networks Network, Minorities Get Work Dec. 9, 2003
Right Place, Right Time? Wrong Question Dec. 9, 2003
Hands Down, Career Up Dec. 5, 2003
Casting Out Loud Dec. 4, 2003
Walla Be Good Dec. 3, 2003
Actors' Ovations, Quotable Lily Dec. 2, 2003
Bobby Hill, World's Greatest Mom Nov. 26, 2003
Untimely Exit for Stage Fave Nov. 21, 2003
Mapa the World, Ma Nov. 19, 2003
Understudy Up for "Shaggs" Nov. 15, 2003
Rising Arizono Nov. 13, 2003
Money Shots Net Dividends Nov. 10, 2003
Runaway Jury Duty Nov. 7, 2003
No Rest in Bucharest Nov. 5, 2003
Another Nick in the Wall Nov. 3, 2003
Give Up and Get Carnivale Oct. 31, 2003
The Queen Is Dead, Long Live the Queen Oct. 30, 2003
Rashomonk Oct. 24, 2003
Scribe "Standing" by Blank Oct. 23, 2003
England to "Arcadia," and Back Oct. 22, 2003
Actors Drop Out for Upstage Moves Oct. 21, 2003
Artios Awards Oct. 17, 2003
Borba's Non-Automatic Transition Oct. 16, 2003
Disney Hall's Casting Call Oct. 15, 2003
Schism Over Monk's Blessing Oct. 14, 2003
Have Guitar, Will Star in Sci-Fi Oct. 10, 2003
Green Makes Good "Match" Oct. 8, 2003
Keyes' Cruel Moment Oct. 7, 2003
Scene and Unseen Oct. 6, 2003
One From Mare's Heart Sept. 26, 2003
The Riff Regan Awards Sept. 26, 2003
Camryn Manheim as Laura Bush? Sept. 23, 2003
Bernard White, Reloaded Sept. 23, 2003
Ageless Pixie Dust Sept. 23, 2003
Egan's "Cabaret" Return Illustrates NY/LA Dilemma Sept. 5, 2003
"Pot" Pilot for HBO Sept. 4, 2003

Inside Track columns

The casting column I wrote for Showfax 2003-2004.

May 1, 2004
Apr. 17, 2004
Apr. 3, 2004
Mar. 26, 2004
Mar. 19, 2004
Mar. 12, 2004
Feb. 26, 2004
Feb. 10, 2004
Jan. 31, 2004
Jan. 16, 2004
Jan. 9, 2004
Dec. 19, 2003
Dec. 12, 2003
Dec. 5, 2003
Nov. 28, 2003
Nov. 21, 2003
Nov. 14, 2003
Nov. 7, 2003
Oct. 31, 2003
Oct. 24, 2003
Oct. 17, 2003
Oct. 10, 2003
Oct. 3, 2003


Jason Alexander The Craftsman
Robert Altman Telling Details
Brian Bedford Back to School
Wayne Brady Wayne's Words
Cate Blanchett Ever Clear
Amy Brenneman Friends and Neighbors
Jim Broadbent Life Drawing
Jason Robert Brown Broadway's Broadway, but L.A.'s invigorating
Michael Cerveris Rocks in His Hedwig
Jenna Cole Cole Roles
Brian Cox He's the guy you hate to love
Brian Cox Brian's Bad Self
Culture Clash Border Radio
Gordon Davidson Exit Stage Right
Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee American Dreamers
Robert Egan Brain Trust
Susan Egan Egan Comes to the Cabaret
Erik Ehn Watch His Language
Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens Dynamic Duo
Daisy Fuentes Everything's Coming Up Daisy
Athol Fugard Exits and Entrances
Uta Hagen Martha's One-Night Stand
Leslie Jordan Confessions of a character
Cindy Katz Carry That Weight
Beth Kennedy The Koan of Comedy
Martin Landau Going places
Mike Leigh The Misanthropic HumanistLinkUte Lemper Come to the Kabarett
Sandra Tsing Loh How Far Can Loh Go?
Carl Lumbly
David Mamet Canon Fodder
Ian McKellen God and Monster
Ian McKellen Knight Vision
Laurie Metcalf Dangerous Nerves
John Cameron Mitchell Mock Star
Christopher Liam Moore What's Moore
Frankie Muniz Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Donna Murphy Gravity's Rainbow
David O Child's play it isn't
Laurence O'Keefe Tune Boy
Gwyneth Paltrow A Case of Like Mother, Like Daughter
Joe Pantoliano A Real Job
Bill Rauch Bill Rauch's Oregon Trail
John C. Reilly Real Reilly
Ken Roht Showman, with a twist
Ken Roht Prolific Ken Roht
Peter Schneider A Grand Entrance
Challenging His Audience David Sefton
Katy Selverstone A Light Inside
David Suchet Mystery Man
Rod Steiger Lightning Rod
Dawn Upshaw Unpredictable Upshaw
Polly Warfield The Passionate Playgoer
Derrick Lee Weeden Firing the Canon
Laird Williamson In Your Imagination Hold
August Wilson August Time
Chay Yew House Feels Like a Home
Tracy Young and Chris Wells What Dreams May Come
Michael York Tea With the Antichrist
Mary Zimmerman Middle East by Midwest