Gordon Davidson tribute recalls the humane heart of Los Angeles theater

Center Theatre Group’s tribute to Gordon Davidson on Monday night at the Ahmanson reminded us of the gentleness of this theater giant.

“Zoot Suit” author Luis Valdez gave a rousing speech in which he placed the work of Gordon, who died Oct. 2 at 83, at the center of the American project.

Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis spoke eloquently of how Gordon was his true mentor, modeling not only purposeful, politically conscious leadership but humaneness and sensitivity in his everyday dealings.

Gordon's daughter, Rachel, spoke of the privilege and occasional pain of sharing her dad with the rest of Los Angeles and the wider theater community. Gordon’s wife, Judi, hoarse with emotion, cracked everybody up by saying had she known how important Gordon was she would have treated him better. Everyone testified to the fact she was his rock. (Judi ought to have her own one-woman show. Producers: Get cracking!) 

All of the tributes captured that aspect of Gordon I can still effortlessly conjure — his kindness. He genuinely liked people. This is a rarer trait than we imagine. Community charged Gordon's soul.

Judi confided that Gordon had felt forgotten in recent years. It must have been hard to no longer be in the center of that exciting swirl. But whenever I saw him in the theater, which was fairly regularly, he seemed vibrant and vital and grateful that the important work was continuing.

Many contemplated how Gordon would have reacted to what's going on right now in American politics. There was a consensus that he would have rolled up his sleeves and searched for and developed new work that would speak to the urgent issues of the day. And then he'd talk to audience members after about their experiences, wanting to hear all perspectives on what they had just witnessed.

The greatest way of honoring Gordon Davidson is for theater leaders, in L.A. and beyond, to lead with the same noble intention and unswerving commitment.

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charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

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