Paul Birchall’s Got it Covered
From Monday Nights at Rogue Machine to Awake and Sing! to Jennie Webb
I Like Mondays
What is nicer than a Monday night show? If I were a theater producer I would always slip a Monday night performance into the schedule, just on principle.
For one thing, all the critics will come, as they really won’t have anything else to do that night, except perhaps tweaking their prose before the Tuesday deadline and maybe watching Antiques Roadshow. You may even get some of the ol’ parasites (read: awards voters) from the Ovations, LADCC, and Stage Raw, given the lack of distracting other attractions.
In addition, you’re going to be surrounded by real theater people, folks who are so busy doing other shows that they don’t have time to see plays except on a Monday night.
The audience for Rogue Machine Theatre’s Monday closing night of their excellent production of Permanent Image was chock-a-block with intimate-theater veterans. Here you could find the leads from the Pacific Resident Theatre’s acclaimed revival of The Homecoming. There, you could overhear one of the actors bragging about prepping for the La Mirada production of Michael Frayn’s farce about a farce, Noises Off, to name a few.
My second observation about the closing of Permanent Image: Why not simply declare star Anne Gee Byrd a local treasure? What an amazing actor she is. I remember seeing her a season or four ago, playing the loving-to-a-tragic-fault matriarch of the unhappy clan in the Matrix production of All My Sons. Now here she is again, playing a completely different kind of matriarch — brittle as ice, bristling with rage and sorrow that she masks with one of those tight smiles that suggest anything but humor, and a passive-aggressive interactive manner fit to make her children shriek like banshees. I’ll say it again: She’s an amazing actor.
Revive and Sing!
Also at Permanent Image, I had the opportunity to chit some chat with the amazing Elina DeSantos, co-artistic director of Rogue Machine, who should herself be designated a Local Living Legend for L.A. Theater. Over a delightful glass of delicious Rogue Machine plonk, DeSantos discussed the upcoming 20th anniversary revival production of Awake and Sing!, which she’s directing at the Odyssey.
This is going to be really exciting, it seems: DeSantos helmed the original Odyssey production in 1995, and it ran for 9 months. For this remount, the company has assembled much of the original cast from its earlier run, including the ever-amazing Richard Fancy and Dennis Madden, with original producer (and another Living Legend) Beth Hogan producing.
“And we’ve got Marilyn Fox (now artistic director of Pacific Resident Theatre) reprising her role,” DeSantos noted. “In the original production, she was way too young for the part. Now, she’s just … perfectly cast!”
Odets’ play is a bit of a standard amongst theater folks of a vintage lefty sensibility — and there have been many productions of it between these two Odyssey stagings — but given the current economic iniquities, as well as the sentimental reasons for honoring a theater company that has been able to make a go of it for so many decades, this should be a show well worth coming out for.
Information about Awake and Sing! can be found by phoning the Odyssey at (310) 477-2055 or at the Odyssey’s website, www.odysseytheatre.com.
Voltaire Wasn’t a Woman
There are few theaters more intimate and also more delightful than Sacred Fools, which in its space off of Melrose on Heliotrope has carved out a reputation for genuinely unpredictable works of high quality and imagination. When attending a show at Sacred Fools, one always sees a house full of half-familiar faces from other shows around town. They always bring friends, it seems: The company’s audiences consist of a young hipster crowd of the kind that makes theater box office mouths water.
And if you have the ear for it, just keep your mouth shut and you will hear all the local theater gossip you need to know.
At the opening weekend of Sacred Fool’s riff on Candide (my review will appear under “REVIEWS” later this week), I found myself sitting next to Jennie Webb, the local playwright, producer, and publicist, whose current major cause is the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, which tracks and analyses gender parity issues in the local theater scene. Over a nice glass of Sacred Fools wine, Webb and I discussed the recent uproar surrounding the Manhattan Theater Club’s season, which only contains one female playwright — and even that seemingly tacked on after public criticism of the theater company’s all male slate.
Perhaps Webb’s glass was laced with vinegar, but whatever the cause, it was with a peppery spirit that that she pulled out the Sacred Fools program to show that even locally, among extremely acclaimed companies, the issue of gender inequality is really quite noticeable. Not to be unfair to Sacred Fools, which just happened to be the theater at which the convo between Webb and myself took place, a quick perusal of the company’s upcoming shows revealed that here, too, the entire season consists of works by male playwrights — and only one of those is directed by a woman.
Webb was quick to point out similar problems within the upcoming seasons for Long Beach’s International City Theatre and Rogue Machine; the seasons consist of plays that are overwhelmingly, if not entirely, written by men. “I asked [so-and-so artistic director] about this,” Webb said indignantly, “And he noted that his criteria was to get ‘the best’ plays. So is he saying that no woman has written a great play?”
Webb was quick to note that companies such as Antaeus and LATC have a much broader attitude towards including diverse playwrights and directors. And South Coast Rep, possibly in response to the MTC issue, is doing a thus-far mostly all-female playwrights season on its Julianne Argyros Stage that launches on October 4 with the world premiere of playwright Qui Nguyen’s romantic comedy Vietgone, directed by May Adrales. Mr. Nguyen’s play will be followed by Sandra Tsing Loh’s The Madwoman in the Volvo and Bekah Brunstetter’s Going to a Place Where You Already Are.
The discussion on diversity seems more important than ever, particularly in these hardscrabble times for the arts. If a nonprofit theater gets any funding from governments or foundations, the idea of a non-diverse program become downright bizarre and unjustly discriminatory.
You may learn more about the Los Angeles Female Playwright’s Initiative at http://lafpi.com.