Arts In LA
LA STAGE INSIDER

by Julio Martinez, July 25, 2014


IN MEMORY OF
DIANA GIBSON


In June 1983, I am hired by MET Theatre co-artistic director Laura Owens to publicize the premiere of a one-act play compilation called Baby Steps by a playwright named Diana Gibson. I have never heard of Gibson, but I am impressed with the level of talent involved in the production, including its exec producer John Ritter, director Kevin Tighe, and actors Kim Darby, Meg Foster, Terry Kiser, and Betsy Slade. When I ask Gibson for a bio, she indicates she doesn’t have one. This tall, decidedly somber-looking lady speaks so softly, I have to strain to garner any info from her. I finally glean that she is a USC grad with an MFA in both drama and art. She performed with the USC Festival Theatre Company that annually treks to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and she had contributed two folk-rock tuners.

   Baby Steps opens Aug. 20, 1983, to generally positive reviews; but I am transfixed by a solo segment performed by Kiser, portraying an almost catatonically distraught father who explains to his young (unseen) daughter why her mother tried to take her own life. When I compliment her work, Gibson smiles shyly and walks away.

   At this time I am also working as the publicist for chaotically brilliant Ted Schmitt, promoting the output of his CAST Theatre four-space empire. Near the end of 1985, Schmitt says he wants me to meet the woman he has brought on to serve as CAST’s dramaturge. Gibson pokes her head into the office, mumbles something, and leaves. I am wondering how this lady can dramaturge if no one can hear her.

   About a year later, I arrive at the CAST, only to hear Schmitt bellowing something resembling, “The direction is too static.” And as if rising from some deep chasm, Gibson’s voice emerges. “It services the play, the play, the play, the play, the play,” she says. Each time she hits the word play, Gibson’s voice rises a few hundred decibels. I come to realize that Gibson’s total energy is reserved for nourishing and supporting the playwright. The play in question is John Patrick Shanley’s Savage in Limbo, featuring LADCC Award-winners Laurie O’Brien and Elizabeth Ruscio, helmed by Roxanne Rogers.

   Schmitt becomes ill in 1989, succumbing to complications of AIDS in May 1990. Gibson takes over management of the CAST and the mentoring of a young playwright-director named Justin Tanner (pictured above, with Gibson and his players). The often contentious but always creative Gibson-Tanner alliance produces 10 plays (1989–1999). Gibson also finds time to nurture LADCC Award-winning premieres of David Steen’s Avenue A (1991)—introducing Mark Ruffalo (pictured with Laurel Green in Tanner’s Still Life With Vacuum Salesman, 1994, photo by Ed Krieger)—and Dan Gerrity’s Melody Jones (1992).

   In 1999, Gibson is in the midst of producing Tanner’s Bitter Women. On opening night, I find Gibson pacing in front of the theater, cursing nonstop. When she sees me she screams, “Justin should be back stage with the actors. He made last-minute changes. He should be with the actors.” When I ask where he is, Gibson shoves her fist in the direction of the box office where Tanner is calmly selling tickets. Tanner spots me, smiles and calmly utters, “Hey, Julio. How’s it going?” A few weeks later, Diana calls me and declares she is leaving the CAST, stating, “I’m tired.”

   That year, Gibson joins the Fountain Theatre as subscriptions director. In declining health over the last few years, Gibson passes away at age 69 on July 17.

   A memorial service is being held Aug. 2 (Saturday) at 1 pm at the Fountain Theatre. For more information, email info@fountaintheatre.com.


EXEC DIRECTOR LOU MOORE LEAVES THE WALLIS

Lou Moore (pictured) who has served as executive director of The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills since its debut in 2013, is departing her position. Until a permanent replacement is named, The Wallis’s upcoming 2014–15 season will be overseen by interim artistic director Patricia Wolff, in tandem with director of production James D’Asaro. Tania Camargo remains as general manager of The Wallis.


LONG BEACH PLAYHOUSE SEASON 85

Long Beach Playhouse offers an eight-production Mainstage 2014–15 season, beginning with The 39 Steps by Patrick Barlow and John Buchan, adapted from Buchan’s novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, opening Sept. 27. The season continues with George Bernard Shaw’s comedy of war and manners, Arms and the Man, opening Nov. 8; and holiday perennial A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, adapted by Gregory Cohen, opening Dec. 13.

   For 2015, the playhouse offers Agatha Christie’s whodunit Murder on the Nile, opening Jan. 17; Tom Stoppard’s (pictured) study of adultery, The Real Thing, opening Feb. 28; Lynn Nottage’s takeoff on 1930s screwball films, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, opening April 11; Arthur Miller’s American classic Death of a Salesman, opening May 23; and the tuner Jesus Christ Superstar, wrought by Tim Rice (lyrics) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (music), opening July 11.


PREMIERES

Echo Theatre Company presents The Echo One Acts 2014—six premiere one-act plays by American playwrights, including What Are You Doing On The Bed, by Shawna Casey; Say You, Say Me By Lionel Richie, by Miki Johnson; As We Sleep, by John Lavachielli; Laileen On The Way Down, by Jen Silverman; The Optimist, by Brian Tanen; and General Sherman’s Hollow Body, by Wes Walker. Performances begin Aug. 2 at Atwater Village Theatre.


AROUND TOWN

Pasadena Playhouse has announced Emmy-winning TV personality Wayne Brady (pictured) as the star of a revival of Cole Porter’s 1948 mashup of Shakespeare and Broadway, Kiss Me, Kate, helmed by Sheldon Epps, co-starring Merle Dandridge as Kate, opening Sept. 21.

   In Long Beach, The Garage Theatre, “in collision with Alive Theatre,” offers the 1928 Bertolt Brecht–Kurt Weill satirical indictment of capitalism, The Threepenny Opera, helmed by Eric Hamme, opening Aug. 1.

   In Westwood, Geffen Playhouse has extended Dixie Longate’s one-woman, audience interactive Dixie’s Tupperware Party for four more weeks, now ending Aug. 31. Indefatigable Dixie is now in the seventh year of a worldwide tour.


THE THING IS...



   “I was in the London production for about five months, and then I got poached to come over here and do it in the States, which is great. I’ve never been in the States before, and now I get to pretty much see all of it. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me. I have had the kind of life that my character Guy leads. I have done a bit of busking, playing my guitar and singing on the streets of Liverpool and in Manchester as well. It is actually not an easy way to perform. You don’t realize it, but the streets are very loud. You have a lot to compete with when you do it. I think that’s how (co-creator) Glen got his voice so strong, competing with the hustle and bustle of city life. My vocal strength is certainly tested in the opening number, Leave. It is the biggest number I’ve ever done in a show. It is also the hardest number for me in this show, and I have to start with it. I’ve just got to remember to warm up properly and do everything right so I don’t blow a gasket. But there is a pace we all achieve—performing as the show’s singers, dancers, and musicians—and have almost no time to relax since we seldom leave the stage. We also have four performances to look forward to on the weekends. It is a challenge, but it is a wonderful way to perform.”
Stuart Ward discusses his lead role in the national tour of the Tony-winning musical Once, at Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, through Aug. 10.


 Julio Martinez hosts Arts in Review—celebrating the best in live theater and cabaret in Greater Los Angeles—on Fridays, 2–2:30pm, on KPFK (90.7FM).
 

 
LA STAGE INSIDER

by Julio Martinez, July 17, 2014



Andrew Graves, Kevin Stidham, Patrick Quinlan, John McKenna, and Kacey Camp
Photo by Michele Young


PREMIERES

Making its West Coast debut, Billy Roche’s Lay Me Down Softly—a tale of love and pugilism, set in 1960s Ireland, opened this week at Burbank’s Theatre Banshee, helmed by Banshee artistic director Sean Branney, runs through Aug. 23.

   In conjunction with its late night Off The Clock scheduling, Rogue Machine on Pico Boulevard presents the premiere of Paternus—chronicling the evolving relationship of a father and adult son, struggling to survive a relentless snowstorm with only their RV for protection—scripted by Daphne Malfitano, helmed by Mark St. Amant, starring Darrell Larson and Timothy Walker, opening July 18, running Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30pm.

   Up in Ventura, Rubicon Theatre Company hosts a limited West Coast debut run of Will Eno’s Title and Deed—“a lyrical, haunting, funny celebration of life and language”—starring Irish actor Conor Lovett, for whom the play was written, directed by Judy Hegarty-Lovett, playing July 23–27.

   Odyssey Theatre in West LA hosts the West Coast premiere of Sacred Elephant—a solo work probing man’s relationship with the planet’s largest land mammal—scripted by Jeremy Crutchley and Geoffrey Hyland, adapted from the poem by Heathcote Williams, performed by Crutchley, helmed by Hyland, opening July 25.

   The LA premiere of The Protagonist—focusing on two brothers living their own versions of the American dream, each unable to understand the rationale of the other—scripted by Tim Livingston, staged by Jeremy Guskin, opens July 25 at Lillian Theatre in Hollywood.


AROUND TOWN

International City Theatre revives Canadian playwright Joanna McClelland Glass’s 1984 two-person drama, Trying, inspired by Glass’s real-life experiences as personal secretary to 81-year-old Judge Francis Biddle—former chief judge at the Nuremberg Trials—helmed by John Henry Davis, starring Tony Abatemarco (pictured) and Paige Lindsey White, opening Aug. 22.

   In Pasadena, The Theatre @ Boston Court and Circle X Theatre Co. have extended the run of Stupid Fucking Bird—an irreverent remix of Chekhov’s The Seagull—scripted by Aaron Posner, directed by Michael Michetti, now playing through Aug. 10.

   Shakespeare Orange County extends its run of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, staged by Susan Angelo, adding performances on July 31 and Aug. 1. Set in 18th-century Polynesia, the production features 60-member Garden Grove–based Polynesian dance group Hitia O Te R, led by Alex Tekurio.

THE THING IS...

“I was encouraged by a lot of friends to write a one-woman show, but I didn’t know what to write about. So, I decided to start with poetry. I went to the Soaring Solo Workshop in Sherman Oaks, taught by my director Jessica Lyn Johnson. Every week I would go and every week I wouldn’t perform, because I didn’t know what I wanted to write about and I was very really nervous about performing. Then, one day in my journal, I found one of the most vulnerable poems I had ever written, and I decided I was going to get up and share it. I did, and my classmates seemed so interested in it that I realized I would have to write a one-woman show about that, about the thing that happened in my life I wanted to forget. Then I would have to get up on stage and perform it. I wasn’t sure it was going to actually work, but it developed from poem to poem, and over the past year it became a show. This is my debut as a playwright. I’ve had three performances, and I’ve discovered the audience affects the show greatly. I had one audience that laughed so much, it completely stopped me. I had to keep finding my place because they would laugh and then they would suddenly stop and I had to fill this quiet. This has been a great learning experience for me. I love it and I am going to keep going with this.
Kyla Garcia performs her solo work, The Mermaid Who Learned How to Fly, July 25, at Theatre Asylum in Hollywood.

INSIDE LA STAGE HISTORY



Ken Danziger, John Francis, Gillian Eaton, and Paddi Edwards
Photo by Hariton-Baral Design

Actor-playwright-director Steven Berkoff is born in the East End of London on Aug. 3, 1937, of Romanian-Russian-Jewish descent. Expressing a love for theater at an early age, Berkoff follows his public school education by attending Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art (1958). He begins his theater training at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Barrow-in-Furness (1962). His first original works are verse plays—East (1975), Greek (1980), and Decadence (1981)—self-fashioning himself as “the bad boy of British theatre.” British drama critic Aleks Sierz dubs Berkoff’s dramatic approach as “In-yer-face theatre. At its best, this kind of theater is so powerful, so visceral, that it forces audiences to react...by fleeing the theater or embracing it as the best thing they have ever seen.”

   In 1981, Susan Albert Loewenberg of LA Theatre Works options Greek—Berkoff’s jaundiced retelling of the Oedipus myth—starring Ken Danziger, John Francis, Gillian Eaton, and Paddi Edwards, opening April 30, 1982, at Matrix Theatre in West Hollywood. In the 1982 edition of California Theatre Annual, LA Times theater critic Sylvie Drake proclaims, “Amid a vast proliferation of junk were pockets of impressive stuff—none more astonishing than the L.A. Theatre Works production of Greek.”

   Berkoff (pictured) has found a theatrical home in LA. While earning a solid living portraying a wide assortment of villains in such films as Beverly Hills Cop, The Krays, Octopussy,and more, Berkoff associates himself with a number of local theaters, highlighted by his long-running Kvetch (1986) at Odyssey Theatre in West LA. His output includes Acapulco (1990) and East (1990) at the Odyssey; Lunch (1992) at the Powerhouse in Santa Monica; solo works One Man (1994) at Freud Playhouse, Massage (1997) and Shakespeare’s Villains (1999) at the Odyssey; and Brighton Beach Scumbags (2000) at the Lillian in Hollywood.

   Confining his post-2000 stage work mostly to Britain, Berkoff is scheduled to perform in a revival of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party at Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, helmed by Oscar-winner William Friedkin, scheduled to open mid-February of this year. It is postponed indefinitely. On Feb. 1, LA Times writer David Ng reports, “The cause of the postponement was the sudden departure of British actor Steven Berkoff, with accounts differing as to whether he resigned voluntarily or was effectively dismissed from the production.” Berkoff is currently touring his latest work,The Actor’s Lament, throughout Great Britain.


Julio Martinez hosts Arts in Review—celebrating the best in live theater and cabaret in Greater Los Angeles—on Fridays, 2–2:30pm, on KPFK (90.7FM).
 

 
LA STAGE INSIDER

by Julio Martinez, July 10, 2014


The stage and seating of Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum

LA COUNTY ARTS ORGS GARNER MORE THAN $4.5 MILLION IN GRANTS


LA County Arts Commission has revealed that 180 county-based arts organizations have received 2014-15 grants ranging from $3,600 to $233,000, offering “funding to pay for salaries and job creation.” Venice-based LA Theatre Works, founded and directed by Susan Albert Loewenberg (pictured) received the largest live theater company grant ($66,300).

   Other local theater company grantees receiving significant stipends include 24th Street Theatre ($33,800), A Noise Within ($36,600), Actors Gang Inc. ($30,500), Cornerstone Theater Company ($40,000), East West Players Inc. ($59,700), Odyssey Theatre Foundation ($37,500), and The Theatre @ Boston Court ($46,100). A complete list of all grantees and detailed grant information is available at lacountyarts.org/grants.


THEATRICUM HOLDS BIRTHDAY BASH HONORING THE BARD’S 450TH

Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon honors William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday with an all-day celebration, Saturday, July 26. Guests include historically conjured Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare himself.

   Current notables in attendance will be UK Deputy British Consul Barbara Greene; British Council West Coast director Simon Gammell, OBE; LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; and Rev. Dr. Paul Edmondson and Dr. Paul Prescott of Shakespeare on the Road, which is in the process of a 60-day road trip to Shakespeare festivals across the US to document American celebrations of this theatrical milestone.


ROAD THEATRE HOSTS SUMMER PLAYWRIGHTS FEST

Road Theatre Company in NoHo stages its fifth-annual Summer Playwrights Festival—38 plays in eight days—overseen by festival director Scott Alan Smith, held at both Road on Lankershim in Lankershim Arts Center and Road at Magnolia, housed at NoHo Senior Arts Colony, July 27–Aug. 4.

   Represented playwrights include Pulitzer Prize winner D.L. Coburn, Lisa Loomer, Leon Martell (pictured), Catherine Butterfield, Marisa Wegrzyn, Kate Robin, Tom Jacobson, and more, touting an equal representation of male and female scripters.



SIERRA MADRE PLAYHOUSE GETS NEW SEASON, NEW MANAGEMENT

Sierra Madre Playhouse reveals a new slate of season shows, beginning with Bob Randall’s 1972 comedy, 6 Rms Riv Vu, helmed by Sherrie Lofton, opening Aug. 1. The bill o’ fare continues with the LA premiere of Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles, chronicling the unlikely bonding between a 91-year-old grandmother and her 21-year-old son, helmed by Christian Lebano, opening Sept. 26. This year’s holiday spotlight will be A Little House Christmas, adapted by James DeVita from the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, helmed by Emily Chase, opening Nov. 28.

   The new year kicks off with the young audience matinee tuner Einstein Is a Dummy, book and lyrics by Karen Zacarias, music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, helmed by Mary Jo Duprey, opening Jan. 16, 2015. Lee Blessing’s 1987 Pulitzer nominee, A Walk in the Woods, helmed by Geoffrey Wade, opens Jan. 30, 2015.

   A “classic America comedy,” helmed by Alan Brooks, is promised for the March 20 slot, to be announced. The season closes with perennial bio tuner Always…Patsy Cline, scripted by Ted Swindley, helmed by Robert Marra, featuring 13 Cline hits, opening May 28.

   Guiding the playhouse is a new management team comprising managing director Estelle Campbell, director of operations Ward Calaway, and technical director Ben Womick.


PREMIERES

VS. Theatre hosts Inkwell Theatre’s premiere of Luigi—a reunion during the last days of a family patriarch reveals the intergenerational connection of family—scripted by Louise Munson, helmed by Annie McVey, opening July 18.


AROUND TOWN

Deanna Dunagan (lead actress Tony winner), Rondi Reed (featured actress Tony winner) (pictured with Dunagan), Kimberly Guerrero, Francis Guinan, and Mariann Mayberry—cast members from the original Steppenwolf and Broadway productions of Tracy Letts’s 2008 Pulitzer-winning August: Osage County—reunite for an L.A. Theatre Works recorded-before-a-live-audience-for-future-radio-broadcast staging at James Bridges Theater on the campus of UCLA, helmed by Bart DeLorenzo, opening July 10 (five performances only). They will be joined by Ron Livingston, Rosemary DeWitt, Robert Pine, and others.


INSIDE LA STAGE HISTORY



On a Friday night in February 1929, Wayside Artists’ Colony on Atlantic Avenue hosts a gathering of folks, answering an invitation “to align themselves with a movement to sponsor creative dramatic art in Long Beach.” Reporter Vera Kackle Williams of the Press Telegram estimates an attendance of more than 700 would-be thesps, resulting in the creation of The Long Beach Theatre Guild.

   From 1929 to 1931, Guild productions are staged at Wayside, as well as such venues as Masonic Temple and Pacific Coast Club’s Library (dubbed the Playbox), finally finding a home at the Capitol Theater. On Feb. 10, 1933—closing night of the comedy Let Us Be Gay—Long Beach is struck by a massive earthquake, severely damaging the Capitol, closing down productions for months.

   Finding a temporary home at Municipal Auditorium, LB Theatre Guild opens with another comedy, Louder Please. In 1935, the Guild establishes its first permanent home, transforming an aged and deserted Union Pacific depot at First Street and Alamitos Avenue. For the next four years, productions are guided by such pros as Larry Johns and Elias Day, nurturing such future Hollywood stars as Laraine Day, Robert Mitchum, and Hugh Beaumont. In the summer of 1939, the ensemble officially charters itself as not-for-profit Long Beach Community Players.

   In 1941, the Long Beach Fire Department condemns the depot theater, causing a temporary move to a Unitarian Church on Lime Street, where the company resides until 1951, under the leadership of character actor Herbert Yenne. Space restrictions requires Yenne to abandon proscenium staging in favor of “center staging,” placing the actors and audience into closer proximity. By1950, these “avant garde” stagings prove so successful with the public, funding is secured to build a permanent facility at 5021 E. Anaheim, opening in 1951 as 200-seat Long Beach Playhouse.

   Yenne is replaced by Johns in 1954, overseeing an expansion of the space through 1964, adding an art gallery, the upstairs 98-seat Studio Theater, and a covered patio. Over the next five decades, LBP establishes a successful format of presenting mainstream fare on its Mainstage, while introducing Long Beach audiences to riskier, contemporary playwrights such as Christopher Durang, Eric Overmyer, David Mamet, and Jose Rivera in the Studio, presenting an overall 16 plays per year, as well as hosting an annual New Works Festival, enjoying its status as “the oldest continuously operating community theater west of the Mississippi River.”

   Under the leadership of artistic director Andrew Vonderschmitt since 2009, LBP is currently adhering to a company “tradition” of closing its mainstage season with a musical: 1964 multi-Tony-winning Fiddler on the Roof —wrought by Jerry Bock (music), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), and Joseph Stein (book)—helmed by LBP vet Phylis Gitlin, choreographed by Ellen Prince, opening July 12.
 

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NEW THIS WEEK

   * Theater reviews of Luigi, Once, Lay Me Down Softly, Sordid Lives, We Will Rock You, Buyer & Cellar


    * Film review of Magic in the Moonlight

COMING NEXT....

   * Theater reviews of Taming of the Shrew, Hair, 6 Rms Riv View, Damn Yankees, and more

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