Essential Arts: Small theater's big fight and a flop's second chance

I’m Kelly Scott, arts and culture editor of the Los Angeles Times, and here are some of the stories the arts staff covered this week:

An end, or the beginning of something big?

Actors Equity, the actors union, made a major decision affecting Los Angeles theater this week: Its leadership in New York voted to overturn a longtime agreement governing 99-seat theaters. The old pact allowed the small houses to pay actors below minimum wage for performances and nothing for rehearsal time, which L.A.  union members assert is the key to health of L.A.'s adventurous small theater community. Union members here opposed the change almost 2-1. The issue is a complicated one, with a lot of passion on both sides. Here's a quick primer. Leaders of small theater companies involved in the fight talked about the decision's impact. Theater critic Charles McNulty takes the long view and understands Equity's goal.

(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

That art show on Alcatraz

For the last six months, visitors to Alcatraz Island have been able to see more than Al Capone’s cell. Ai Wei Wei, the Chinese artist who is unable to travel because of his anti-government activities, supervised an installation of his work from his studio in Beijing that took over a handful of buildings on the island. Now that the exhibition is about to close, Lee Romney reported on its impact: on Alcatraz, on the National Park Service that runs the island, and on the people who saw it. Christopher Knight reviewed the exhibition in September, calling it "an always-poignant, often-powerful meditation on soul-deadening repressions of human thought and feeling."

You're an animal

Jimmi Simpson’s talked-about performance in the title role of Circle X’s “Trevor” meant he sat out pilot season this spring. L.A.  theatergoers are lucky he did. The Nick Jones play ingeniously imagines the actor as a  chimpanzee owned by Sandra, played by the Steppenwolf Theatre stalwart Laurie Metcalf. Simpson as Trevor, a former co-star of Morgan Fairchild, talks, but the rest of his affect is simian. After “Trevor” (here is David C. Nichols' review), Simpson goes on to a role that's one degree of separation from HBO’s “The Wire.” He’ll star in “Hap and Leonard,” opposite Michael K. Williams -- Omar Little.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Can they make it work?

If anyone is going to find the key to a David Mamet flop, it’s the two actresses in “The Anarchist,” which opened Friday at Theatre Asylum. Felicity Huffman and Rebecca Pidgeon will try to pull off the 2012 play that closed rapidly on Broadway, where Patti LuPone and Debra Winger played the roles. Both Huffman and Pidgeon are veteran Mamet interpreters (Pidgeon also is married to the playwright). But that didn’t stop Huffman from letting loose a Mamet-ian exclamation when she read the script, or Pidgeon from calling it the hardest thing she’s ever done.

It's good to be LACMA

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has stolen the arts spotlight over the last few weeks. Last week the museum held its 50th year gala, unveiling the “50 for 50” exhibitions of birthday gifts to the museum. Christopher Knight took a closer look at one of them -- Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's carved and painted wood “Dancer With Necklace,” which was on long-term loan to LACMA. Knight calls it  “the first fully realized, free-standing sculpture Kirchner made [and] a  landmark in the history of German Expressionist art.”

The other Pulitzers

It was a big week for Calendar: Television critic Mary McNamara won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. But there were also winners in the arts categories of the Pulitzers. Julia Wolfe's "Anthracite Fields" was reviewed by Mark Swed at the New York Philharmonic Biennial last year. He called it one of his most memorable moments of 2014. Stephen Adly Gurgis won the drama category for his play "Between Riverside and Crazy."

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Coming up this week:

LAT arts writers will be up early Tuesday for the announcement of nominees for the 2015 Tony awards. Look for stories on’ve seen successful plays of the primary sources genre – Lance Dustin Black's “Eight” about Prop 8 and Matthew Shepard’s “The Laramie Project”; Will “Ferguson,” culled from grand jury  testimony in the Missouri city's proceeding, join them? This weekend from from Theatre Verité Collective at the Odyssey Theatre...Christopher Knight takes the measure of the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York's meatpacking district, designed by Renzo Piano...Motown Records impresario Berry Gordy talks to Mike Boehm about “Motown: The Musical,” which opens this week at the Pantages.

What we’re reading:

Follow Jackson Pollock’s “Mural” on its post-Getty Conservation Institute travels: The painting will spend the rest of the spring, summer and fall in Venice at Peggy Guggenheim’s former house, now a museum for her collection, the Guardian reports.

Culture Monster reported the death this week of the woman considered the model for Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter 1943 cover of Saturday Evening Post. But Rockwell's is a different Rosie than the better-known one in a "We Can Do It!" World War II poster, the Atlantic reports. Who was Rosie, really?