Charles McNulty, Theater Critic
Moderator Michael John Garces, left, of Cornerstone Theatre Company, and Tim Dang of East West Players at a forum to explore the current state of diversity in Southern California theater. (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times / December 16, 2013)
6:00 AM PST, December 18, 2013
In 21st century America, there is one subject even more difficult to discuss honestly in public than race: money.
6:00 AM PST, December 7, 2013
These days it seems as though every time I turn around there's another installment of the Peter Pan story. Next stop for that flighty green-garbed spotlight-chaser: his own reality TV series, "The Real Lost Boys of Neverland," followed by a special edition of "Celebrity Rehab" for perennial pubescents.
5:00 AM PST, December 10, 2013
Whatever form Irish novelist and playwright Sebastian Barry happens to be working in, you can be sure that he will be drunk with language. Words make him swoon. He loves the way they sound and slide off each other, the singsong rhythms they fall into under his wand, their echo in time.
10:00 AM PST, December 1, 2013
NEW YORK — Tea time at Sardi's, and in rushed Bette Midler too busy to give her caricature on the far wall an admiring glance.
11:00 AM PST, December 14, 2013
NEW YORK — Anyone who has ever puzzled over the age-old question why do the Brits seem to do Shakespeare so much better than the Yanks? should hot-foot it to Broadway, where an answer can be found in a pair of performances by the English virtuoso Mark Rylance.
9:00 AM PST, December 6, 2013
Ever since Stephen Sondheim reached the four-score mark three years ago, the spotlight has shifted from his work to the legend himself. There have been birthday galas, musical tributes, interviews galore and books in which the master reveals the secrets of his songwriting sorcery.
5:30 AM PST, December 6, 2013
Scrooge still holds a monopoly on holiday theater, but worthwhile alternatives to "A Christmas Carol" have been cropping up of late. A few are even W.C. Fields friendly, meaning the audience is largely free of wailing, coughing, scampering little darlings.
6:00 AM PST, November 22, 2013
Death and denial were made for each other, but for those facing tragedy, the raw truth can be a tonic.
5:30 AM PST, November 19, 2013
— When "Side Show" first appeared on Broadway in 1997, the critics had plenty of nice things to say but audiences weren't rushing out in droves to see a musical about conjoined twins. The show closed after 91 performances.
5:45 PM PST, November 14, 2013
Anne Barton, one of the 20th century's foremost Shakespeare scholars, died Monday in Cambridge, England. She was 80. Cambridge University, where she was an emeritus professor of English and fellow of Trinity College, announced her death but gave no other details.
6:30 AM PST, November 12, 2013
Direct from the age of black-and-white television, Reginald Rose's "12 Angry Men" has been redeployed to confront the issue of race relations.
10:00 AM PST, November 9, 2013
NEW YORK — The revival of "The Glass Menagerie" that has Broadway abuzz boasts two-time Tony winner Cherry Jones in the role of the Southern gothic matriarch Amanda Wingfield, among the greatest parts in the repertoire for a mature actress. But this isn't the only stellar attraction.
5:00 AM PST, November 6, 2013
Marcus Gardley taps into some fascinating, and for many little known, history in his new play "the road weeps, the well runs dry."
5:00 AM PST, November 5, 2013
Joe Iconis, a promising 32-year-old composer, is best known for writing the song "Broadway, Here I Come" for Season 2 of the now-defunct backstage theater soap opera "Smash."
6:00 PM PDT, October 22, 2013
NEW YORK — "Fun Home," the musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel's extraordinary graphic memoir, gets off to a choppy start, takes unnecessary musical detours and is staged in a rough-hewn style that sometimes seems more accidental than intentional.
6:00 AM PDT, October 29, 2013
Amy Herzog's "4000 Miles" is a small drama that's confined to one room and focused on the relationship between two characters, an elderly grandmother and her neo-hippie grandson.
6:20 PM PDT, October 27, 2013
NEW YORK — Wielding silence as deftly as he harnessed speech, British playwright Harold Pinter wrote plays that have the precision of musical scores. Much of the joy in encountering these extravagantly minimalist works in performance is noticing where the stresses have been placed and interpretive liberties taken.
3:50 PM PDT, October 14, 2013
In the program for "Fast Company," a play by Carla Ching now having its world premiere at South Coast Repertory, the verb "grift" is helpfully defined: "To obtain goods or money illegally by use of skill rather than violence."
6:00 AM PDT, October 2, 2013
The Madrid-based Rakatá brought "Henry VIII/Enrique VIII" to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica last weekend, and the company applied its extensive experience with Spanish Golden Age classics to the staging of Shakespeare's seldom revived history play.
4:40 PM PDT, October 17, 2013
The suspense is laboriously built up in the Geffen Playhouse production of "Wait Until Dark," a freshly adapted version of Frederick Knott's 1966 play that gave rise a year later to the movie with Audrey Hepburn as a blind Greenwich Village pixie beset by nefarious shadows.
10:00 AM PDT, October 11, 2013
If you were to sum up the history of the American musical, the tale would go something like this: Over time, patchwork entertainments featuring loosely strung together musical numbers became integrated by book writers, the best of whom looked to composers as fellow authors. A golden age gleamed during the postwar boom, when popular radio and Broadway were still in sync. The invasion of the Beatles would change all that, but the whole glorious enterprise would really come undone by a decadent commercialism that would leave Broadway at the turn of the millennium awash in jukebox nostalgia and theme park kitsch.
5:30 AM PDT, October 28, 2013
Audra McDonald was in grand merry-making form for much of her magnificent L.A. Opera concert at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
4:20 PM PDT, October 3, 2013
The knock against Neil Simon in the early days was that he cared more about his punch lines than his characters. "The Sunshine Boys," his 1972 play about the rocky reunion of a pair of elderly vaudeville comics, attempts to turn this playwriting vice into a virtue.
1:05 PM PDT, October 9, 2013
SAN DIEGO — Characters in drama don't have to be likable, as Shakespeare, Ibsen and Eugene O'Neill keep reminding us. But we ought to care about their fates. They should arouse our concern even if we might politely turn down a dinner invitation from them.
4:30 AM PDT, October 8, 2013
Shakespeare and contemporary popular music might seem like strange bedfellows, but his plays have a way of coalescing with whatever musical style is thrown their way. A rock version of "Two Gentlemen of Verona" won the Tony for best musical in 1972, proving that not even the zaniest combination is off the table.
9:14 PM PDT, September 30, 2013
Nearly all of the shows in Radar L.A. have packed up their costumes and carted away their props, but theatergoers with a taste for adventure are still vibrating from the upsurge in voltage.
3:55 PM PDT, September 27, 2013
Rarely has the dance of shadows, the interplay of light and dark, been put to better storytelling effect in the theater than in the extraordinary "Shun-kin," a collaboration between the London-based company Complicite and Japan's Setagaya Public Theatre that brings to the stage a curious 1933 tale of love and sadomasochism by the Japanese writer Jun'ichiro Tanizaki.
7:00 AM PDT, September 24, 2013
Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart" holds such an important place in the history of the AIDS epidemic, chronicling the stark early days, indicting the government for its inaction and challenging audiences to transform grief into activism, that it took me decades to appreciate the personal drama.
6:00 AM PDT, September 18, 2013
John Pollono, author of the much-feted "Small Engine Repair," has supplied Rogue Machine with the world premiere of another gritty New Hampshire drama, "Lost Girls."
7:00 AM PDT, September 25, 2013
The three solo performance pieces being presented on separate bills at the Kirk Douglas Theatre — Luis Alfaro's "St. Jude," Roger Guenveur Smith's "Rodney King," and Trieu Tran's "Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam" — haven't much in common stylistically. And why should they? They're the product of different sensibilities in a theatrical form dedicated to celebrating radical individuality.
5:00 AM PDT, September 17, 2013
"Richard II," Shakespeare's history play about the fate of a king who talks a better game than he delivers, is given an entrancing stripped-down production at the Theatre @ Boston Court.
5:39 PM PDT, September 9, 2013
It's always a privilege to be in the company of an actor who doesn't worry about being liked by an audience, who refuses to ingratiate himself as a performer to soften the sharp edges of his character.
9:00 AM PDT, September 20, 2013
The real estate mania that brought the financial system to the brink of collapse has also had a deleterious effect on the arts. Too many refurbished show palaces and money pit museums have found themselves at the mercy of their mortgages.
5:00 AM PDT, September 6, 2013
Prometheus has long been a symbol of the rebel hero, a revolutionary challenging an oppressive order. Dubbed "the patron saint of the proletariat," he is a god who sided with mankind against the immortals, bestowing on them enlightenment and the great gift of fire, crimes for which he is punished by Zeus, the universe's reigning tyrant at the time of the myth.
5:00 AM PDT, August 17, 2013
The love games of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" are as frolicsome as they are exquisitely patterned. Of all his romantic comedies, this one has the structural elegance of an elaborate dance.
1:00 PM PDT, August 22, 2013
BERKELEY — Their Stradivarius voices precede them. Climbing the stairs for an interview following an afternoon rehearsal of their Broadway-bound production of Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land" at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart announce their approach through the mellifluous flow of their conversation.
8:00 AM PDT, September 13, 2013
In "Someone," Alice McDermott's elegiac new novel, time and place have a dream-like fluidity. There's no doubt that we're in Brooklyn, but this is a Brooklyn of immigrants, largely Irish Catholics, whose new world is a palimpsest in which the old world still routinely peeks through.
5:30 AM PDT, July 29, 2013
"Chicago" is a perfect fit for the Hollywood Bowl for precisely the same reason the current New York production has become the longest-running musical revival in Broadway history: The show welcomes performers from all walks of the entertainment industry to unleash their jazz hands and release their inner vamps in roles that are pure catnip to theater lovers.
5:30 AM PDT, August 1, 2013
One of the joys for a theater critic of watching Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" is the chance to see Cate Blanchett take another crack at Blanche DuBois, a role that won her much acclaim in the touring Sydney Theatre Company production of "A Streetcar Named Desire."
7:15 AM PDT, September 12, 2013
Theater festivals have the potential to galvanize an audience, but in a sprawling city already awash in performance, the importance of sharp curating can't be overemphasized.
6:10 PM PDT, August 22, 2013
To judge by appearances, Catherine is a roaring success. A celebrated New York academic who still fits into her skinny jeans, she's dubbed the "hot doomsday chick" when she appears on Bill Maher's program.
5:00 AM PDT, July 23, 2013
A high-toned concept combined with disagreeable characters and a jaded worldview provided the formula for Bruce Norris' bracing retort to "A Raisin in the Sun," "Clybourne Park," the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama that became a huge hit at the Mark Taper Forum before heading to Broadway and winning the Tony.
5:00 AM PDT, July 19, 2013
History took a giant step forward in June with the Supreme Court's watershed rulings on marriage equality, and naturally it will take artists, even those notoriously quick-off-the-mark filmmakers, a bit of time to transform such momentous news into meditative reflection.
6:20 PM PDT, August 5, 2013
SAN DIEGO — No hard feelings, Shakespeare, but it sure is a pleasant change when one of those outdoor summer festivals devoted to your work offers audiences something beyond another smilingly superficial encounter with "As You Like It." There are only so many times a spectator can stroll through a prettified Forest of Arden before getting a theatrical strain of Lyme disease.
3:23 PM PDT, July 10, 2013
"Sister Act" has been on quite the pilgrimage since its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2006.
11:00 AM PDT, July 20, 2013
LONDON — Traveling to London this summer or just curious about the current state of theatrical affairs? Here's my score card of the scene after a week spent scurrying in and around the West End.
4:30 PM PDT, June 13, 2013
Political comedy isn't what it used to be, but what shtickmeister could compete with the running gags of those currently holding office?
5:00 AM PDT, July 2, 2013
LONDON — All the best ingredients in the world don't guarantee a great chocolate bar, as Willy Wonka would be the first to attest. There's magic in the preparation, a special alchemy that can elude even a master confectioner's best effort.
8:00 AM PDT, June 22, 2013
On a crowded sidewalk outside of Theatre Asylum last weekend, Edna Garrett from "The Facts of Life" was virtually blocking traffic with her huge wig. Nearby, Lurch from "The Addams Family" was darting through the throng to greet a friend, his twinkling eyes and widening smile softening the effect of his cadaverous makeup.
1:49 PM PDT, June 7, 2013
Another Broadway season, another cavalcade of television and movie stars testing their stage mettle.
3:10 PM PDT, June 14, 2013
Six months after her husband's death, Olga Knipper, famed actress and widow of Anton Chekhov, is gearing up to face an audience again.
7:00 AM PDT, June 7, 2013
NEW YORK — If you were to incarnate the spirit of Broadway — the talent, the showmanship, the stamina for roller coaster rides — Nathan Lane would likely be your man.
5:00 AM PDT, June 4, 2013
Awash in music, "Sleepless in Seattle," Nora Ephron's 1993 film starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, almost makes sense as a stage musical. That is, until you start considering who could compose a score to compete with a soundtrack that includes "As Time Goes By," "Make Someone Happy" and "Stand by Your Man."
4:30 PM PDT, May 30, 2013
"The Scottsboro Boys" has finally arrived in Los Angeles, a year after this 2010 Broadway musical performed in San Diego and San Francisco. It shouldn't have taken this long, but don't miss the opportunity to catch one of the most inventive American musicals to come around in a long while.
6:00 AM PDT, May 14, 2013
To judge by some of the reviews of the new film adaptation of "The Great Gatsby," you'd think Australian director Baz Luhrmann would be facing extradition for his crime against an American classic.
6:15 PM PDT, May 6, 2013
Stepping into the ring with Jack Johnson, otherwise known as the "Galveston Giant," was as much an invitation to conversation as a guarantee of a beating. He'd banter with his opponents, teasing them about their fate, before knocking them out when the chat began to bore him.
7:30 PM PDT, June 11, 2013
Theodor Adorno's oft-quoted, much misunderstood remark, "It is barbaric to write poetry after Auschwitz," raises questions about the ability of artists to represent the Holocaust. How can the cultural tools that were complicit in genocide comment on its barbarity?
4:10 PM PDT, May 2, 2013
August Strindberg's "Miss Julie," a key landmark of modern drama, has been getting quite the workout from contemporary theater artists drawn to this tale of an unstable aristocrat's disastrous one-night affair with her ambitious servant.
8:00 AM PDT, April 27, 2013
NEW YORK — "I'm too tired to be anxious," said playwright Richard Greenberg, looking worn out with anxiety as he settled into a booth at a Chelsea diner.
6:00 AM PDT, May 1, 2013
The Tony nominations were announced Tuesday, but before we plunge into the big race between "Kinky Boots" and "Matilda the Musical," one obvious question should be addressed before any other: Given the crassly commercial direction of Broadway, why do we continue to make such a fuss about these awards?
4:30 AM PDT, May 21, 2013
There are many ways of being a political playwright. Christopher Shinn's approach, centered on characters rather than on ideologies, is one that will never go out of style.
6:55 PM PDT, April 22, 2013
NEW YORK — Sucking on a cigarette and swigging from a bottle of spirits, the Virgin Mary isn't looking all that virginal in Colm Tóibín's defiantly strange, inescapably controversial and at moments intensely gripping dramatic experiment "The Testament of Mary."
5:00 PM PDT, April 24, 2013
NEW YORK — Enthroned on her couch in Beverly Hills, Hollywood superagent Sue Mengers did not go gentle into that good night but, instead, gossiped and tattled against the dying of the light.
4:45 PM PDT, May 9, 2013
The setting for August Wilson's magnificent "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" is a boardinghouse in 1911 Pittsburgh, but the spiritual location is a crossroads between the ghostly past and the forbidding future, slavery and freedom, despair and hope.
4:00 AM PDT, April 9, 2013
"Smokefall" appears to be Noah Haidle's version of "Our Town." Nearly every American playwright has one, but most keep them hidden in desk drawers.
5:34 PM PDT, April 23, 2013
Broadway for Cicely Tyson is clearly like riding a bike.
6:00 PM PDT, April 2, 2013
NEW YORK — On a cramped stage at the Cherry Lane Theatre, a historic off-Broadway venue tucked away on one of the quaintest streets in the West Village, Vanessa Redgrave is offering her costar Jesse Eisenberg an education not even the world's finest drama school could provide.
4:10 PM PDT, March 29, 2013
Critic's Notebook: The dramatist who used to regularly scorch the stage with complex stories has let his anti-P.C. rage blunt his work.
February 20, 2013
So you think your family is nuts? The fraternal train wreck of Gary Lennon's "A Family Thing," now having its world premiere in an Echo Theater Company production at Stage 52, will have you feeling Norman Rockwell-y about even those relatives whose loose-cannon remarks make you want to dive under the dining room table during the holidays.
6:05 PM PDT, March 10, 2013
If there was one ring in the world that I, a weakling theater critic, knew I could knock Mike Tyson out in, it was the Pantages Theatre, where "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth" played this past weekend.
8:40 PM PDT, April 1, 2013
NEW YORK — In the program for "Lucky Guy," the play Nora Ephron raced to complete before her death last year, there's a note by the author titled "Journalism: A Love Story."
4:29 PM PST, February 7, 2013
An appealing and capable cast keeps the flicker of hope alive that Joanna Murray-Smith's play "The Gift" will be worth our time despite the mounting evidence to the contrary. But by the end of this 90-minute comedy even the actors seem done in by the effort of sustaining the illusion that there's something important going on.
7:30 PM PDT, March 11, 2013
In the intellectually raucous British household of Nina Raine's "Tribes," family members don't so much talk as assault each other with monologues.
7:05 PM PST, February 11, 2013
"The Brothers Size," now at the Old Globe, is part of Tarell Alvin McCraney's "The Brother/Sister Plays," a trilogy that includes "In the Red and Brown Water," which is concluding its acclaimed run this month at the Fountain Theatre.
10:00 AM PST, March 8, 2013
An American classic staged by a veteran actor, a musical farce to delight Anglophiles, and a reworking of a landmark 19th century drama are just a few of the more promising theater offerings this season. Predicting which will become a hit is always a crapshoot. For those placing bets, the Old Globe's offering has better than even odds, but on paper all of these shows are worth a gamble.
4:30 PM PST, February 13, 2013
Hollywood Boulevard is home to both the Pantages Theatre and Madame Tussauds, and there were times during the new production of "Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical" that I wondered if the two institutions had arranged a secret merger.
7:30 PM PST, January 29, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO — Amy Herzog, a breath of fresh air on the playwriting scene, shapes her plays out of the missing pieces of conversations, the resonant silences that suggest that emotion is both too heavy and too slippery for words.
9:00 AM PST, February 9, 2013
Founder of the Mark Taper Forum, éminence grise of the regional theater movement, crusading champion of Los Angeles theater, Gordon Davidson was put in an unusual position last fall at USC's School of Dramatic Arts: He had to explain who he was to a group of undergraduates who had signed up for a semester-long course with him.
January 18, 2013
Sigmund Freud considered religion a mass delusion, a sort of group neurosis ideally suited to obsessive types. C.S. Lewis was a literary intellectual who found ways of channeling his devout Christianity into even his nontheological writings, "The Chronicles of Narnia" most famously among them.
6:00 AM PST, December 15, 2012
In "Lincoln," director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner have pulled off the improbable: They have built this season's prestige hit around congressional proceedings that might seem more appropriate for C-SPAN than the big screen.
8:00 PM PST, December 16, 2012
Shakespeare throws caution to the wind in "Cymbeline," a late romance so fantastically convoluted that the characters themselves can't help expressing disbelief at what occurs. The plot, a stuffed sausage of Shakespearean story lines, positively defies summary.
7:45 PM PST, December 10, 2012
If like me you come from a mixed family, meaning there are conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats boisterously hashing out their differences at the holiday table, you'll have an easy time recognizing the Wyeth clan gathered to celebrate Christmas at the family's Palm Springs compound in Jon Robin Baitz's grippingly entertaining "Other Desert Cities."
12:00 PM PST, February 15, 2013
In one of the most infamous scenes in modern drama, a group of young men in a London park stone a baby to death in its carriage. What begins as roughhousing escalates to all-out sadism until a rock is thrown at point blank range, ending the child's pitiful cries for good.
7:05 PM PST, January 20, 2013
SAN DIEGO — For some theatergoers, George Bernard Shaw's classic 1913 play "Pygmalion" is "My Fair Lady" without the songs and traditional romantic ending. But returning to the source of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's beloved musical reminds us that Shaw's marvelous comedy contains its own music — an ebullient symphony of wit and wisdom too honest to pander to convention and too amusing for anyone to object.
10:00 AM PST, December 15, 2012
Could the theater artist of 2012 really be … Samuel Beckett?
5:15 PM PST, January 14, 2013
"The Mother… With the Hat" is not the actual title of the exhilarating Stephen Adly Guirgis play now at South Coast Repertory, but it's the best I can do without bringing down the strong arm of the censor. Hard as it might be for casual cursers to believe, naughty words still have the power to offend.
5:00 PM PST, November 29, 2012
NEW YORK —The paparazzi lying in wait for Katie Holmes, tabloid bait after her getaway divorce from Tom Cruise, may be the ideal group to review her performance in Theresa Rebeck's "Dead Accounts" at the Music Box on Broadway. Let's just say she looks fabulous in that just-bumming-around-but-still-gorgeous way that helps TMZ make its payroll.
6:00 AM PST, January 11, 2013
Before Quentin Tarantino, Martin McDonagh and all the other sadistic bad boys of film and theater, there was the 17th century dramatist John Ford testing his audience's tolerance for perverse blood sport.
3:40 PM PDT, October 25, 2012
Gather round, 21st century dramatists. Here's a little addendum to your playwriting handbook: Protagonists in bathrobes are not your friend.
5:00 AM PDT, October 12, 2012
With his shock of silver-gray hair, his face etched by time with the lean expressiveness of a Giacometti sculpture and his soulful eyes registering every fleeting hurt and happiness, John Hurt bears a striking resemblance to Samuel Beckett in the distinguished British actor's magnificent rendition of "Krapp's Last Tape" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
12:45 PM PST, November 9, 2012
7:00 AM PST, December 1, 2012
NEW YORK — Tracy Letts has his hands full these days writing plays and preparing for the release of the movie version of his Pulitzer-Prize-winning drama, "August: Osage County." But he's added another formidable task to his agenda: elucidating Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" for a 21st century audience.
1:00 PM PDT, July 14, 2012
On the surface, Cate Blanchett would seem to be the least Chekhovian human being on the planet. No idle longing for Moscow for this international stage and screen star, whose frequent flier mileage must have broken the million mark since she and her husband, writer Andrew Upton, took over the Sydney Theatre Company in 2008 and became intercontinental barnstormers.
9:30 PM PDT, October 21, 2012
The final presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney takes place Monday evening in Boca Raton, Fla., and if the concluding round is anything like the other two, the theatrical presentation of the candidates will be more closely scrutinized and squabbled over than their platforms and positions.
7:30 PM PDT, September 23, 2012
Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota's smart, sleek production of Eugene Ionesco's "Rhinoceros" at Royce Hall was a sight for sore eyes over the weekend. Not that this offering from Théâtre de la Ville-Paris convinced me that the play is entirely deserving of its status as an absurdist classic. This may be the playwright's most popular effort, but it's hardly his most theatrically effective. Yet the return of international theater to UCLA is undeniably an occasion for rejoicing.
6:30 PM PDT, October 8, 2012
Charles Smith is just your average, bumbling occupant of the Oval Office. Up for reelection, he doesn't stand much of a chance of gaining a second term. His wife is already asking whether she can take one of the White House couches she had reupholstered when they leave. Even those seeking favors are apt to remind him that his poll numbers are "lower than Gandhi's cholesterol."
6:20 PM PDT, September 20, 2012
Connoisseurs of really bad television — you know you're out there — whose taste for schlock hasn't been satisfied by the mediocre new fall season should run to the Pasadena Playhouse to see "Under My Skin." The title is meant to be romantic, but anyone who manages to sit through both irritating acts of this lowest-common-denominator comedy will know that the truth is far more painfully dermatological.
6:14 PM PDT, September 7, 2012
Just a few years after writing his antiwar masterpiece, "The Trojan Women," Euripides was even more despondent about the reckless imperialist course of Athenian foreign policy. His response wasn't a louder shriek of lament but a rollicking romantic melodrama — escapist fare, really, but with a radical Euripidean twist.
June 3, 2012
4:02 PM PDT, October 18, 2012
Masochism is the chief prerequisite for a private writing seminar with Leonard, the fearsome teacher, writer and editor conducting a mini reign of terror in Theresa Rebeck's Broadway comedy "Seminar," now at the Ahmanson Theatre.
3:18 PM PDT, September 13, 2012
No need to bone up on the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith before attending "The Book of Mormon" at the Pantages Theatre. Just know that this exceedingly naughty, though in the end disarmingly nice, show is devised by the minds behind "South Park" and that risqué "Sesame Street" for theater-loving adults, "Avenue Q."
November 8, 2010
Stately and rumpled, Stephen Sondheim descended from an upper floor of his elegant East Side townhouse and submitted to the interview as though it were a necessary barber shop shave. He's used to these intrusions — the artist obliged to natter on about his work was one of the themes of "Sunday in the Park With George" — but this year the distractions have gone to a harrying new extreme.
May 7, 2012
SAN DIEGO — Musicals are supposed to raise your spirits and warm your heart, right? Not necessarily. And certainly not in the case of "The Scottsboro Boys," the fearlessly inventive show about one of the most notorious episodes of racial injustice in America. It disturbs audiences as much as it entertains them.
November 7, 2010
The moment one enters the gracious Upper West Side apartment of Eli Wallach, the home he has shared for decades with his wife and fellow actress, Anne Jackson, there is an unmistakable sense of life being well lived. Smiling and curious about his guest, he sits down for the scheduled chat about himself, but he'd much rather offer a tour of the place, pointing out the photos of his daughters, the artworks of his son, the stage and screen memorabilia extending back more than half a century, and — oh, what's this? — a framed marriage certificate from 1948.
2:00 PM PDT, August 4, 2012
NEW YORK — Anton Chekhov is always with us in the theater. But this summer his work has been especially prevalent, serving as an inspirational model for such contemporary playwrights as Tracy Letts, Andrew Upton and Annie Baker.
August 23, 2009
If the Oregon Shakespeare Festival doesn't have the most enthusiastic audience of any regional theater in the country, there must be some performing arts center out there with quite a rabid cult.
3:06 PM PDT, May 10, 2012
There's so much to praise in the blissful Broadway revival of "Follies," which opened Wednesday at the Ahmanson Theatre on the heels of its numerous Tony nominations, but let's pay homage first to the sheer sophistication of the show itself. After experiencing "Follies" again — an adult entertainment if ever there was one — I flat-out refuse to accept any more jukebox substitutes.
July 13, 2012
Two questions immediately presented themselves when it was announced that "The Exorcist" was going to be done onstage: How? And why?
July 2, 2010
Late spring, give or take a couple of weeks, traditionally marks the end of the theater season. And while taking stock of the last year, I'd like to make note of a group of plays I caught in Hollywood — Helen Mirren in "Phèdre," Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour in the world premiere production of Alan Bennett's "The Habit of Art" and, on Monday night in the program's ecstatic capper, Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw in a revival of Dion Boucicault's " London Assurance."
9:00 PM PDT, July 1, 2012
What gruesome casualty statistics fail to do, a horse made of wire mesh and plywood pulls off with profound simplicity: Joey, the magnificent puppet stallion at the center of"War Horse,"communicates to a broad public the staggering waste of war.
December 20, 2009
NOTES ON THE DECADE
Millennial anxieties ushered in the new decade with Y2K panic, 9/11 made it seem as if the paranoid were on to something, two quagmire wars were launched and the Great Recession left everyone wondering about the prognosis of the American economy as it enters its 21st century teens on life support. Yet if the theater, perpetually on the brink of extinction, taught us anything during this unenviable era, it's that apocalyptic fantasies are just that -- the wishful fears that somehow the chaotic slate will be wiped clean.
6:35 PM PDT, July 29, 2012
"The Producers" returned to Los Angeles for three performances this past weekend at the Hollywood Bowl. And during the curtain call at Friday's opening, Mel Brooks, who wrote the giddy score and co-wrote the zany book with Thomas Meehan, came onstage to express his gratitude to the audience and to compliment the cast for pulling it together in a short period of time.
May 3, 2009
There are precious few guarantees in the theater anymore. Boffo playwrights went out with the Neil Simon dinosaurs. A new show by Stephen Sondheim, hands down the greatest living musical theater composer, can't even count on a Broadway booking. The only thing producers can bank on are stars. Celebrities still sell, which is why so many of them are working these days on the Great White Way.
April 30, 2012
NEW YORK — Judy Garland, often drunk and occasionally disheveled, in Peter Quilter's biographical drama "End of the Rainbow," is rummaging for booze in her suite at the Ritz hotel. She's wired, and not simply because of the pills she can't seem to wean herself off of.
June 14, 2010
Awards should be aspirational, validating excellence and originality even though each and every one of us knows that commercialism rules the day. But far be it from the ever-insecure Tonys — the geeky glee club representative of the major entertainment awards — to bite the hand that feeds it.
July 10, 2008
A new school of psychology is inaugurated in Matthew Lombardo's play "Looped," which had its world premiere Tuesday at the Pasadena Playhouse. It's called Tallulah Therapy, and it involves being stuck in a room with an aging Southern booze-and-pill-addicted actress who says the most outlandishly naughty things, reveals her sorriest secrets and demands that you confront whatever it is you've been running away from your whole life. And make it snappy, dahling -- this old diva needs a stiff drink.
April 29, 2011
It may be hard for those who grew up watching "Will & Grace" to imagine the shock and excitement when Mart Crowley's "The Boys in the Band" caught fire off-Broadway in 1968, becoming one of the most discussed, derided and defended dramas of its era.
September 24, 2008
LA JOLLA -- Imagine Joan Crawford's stately glamour, Susan Hayward's tough-broad shtick and Carol Burnett's parodic flair all rolled into the same male actor. Yes, the one and only Charles Busch is back on stage, starring in your garden-variety science-fiction gangster melodrama meets Russian fairy tale.
June 20, 2010
Few plays have affected me as viscerally as "Angels in America." I can still recall my state of mind in the theater, having traveled to New York from New Haven, where I was in graduate school, to see both parts ("Millennium Approaches" and "Perestroika") in a single marathon day in the late fall of 1993. To put the matter clinically, I was overwhelmed.
6:00 AM PDT, July 24, 2012
Are we really living in a post-racial world? It seems like we’re back in the 1990s, when all hell broke loose on Broadway after the British star Jonathan Pryce was cast as the Eurasian lead in “Miss Saigon.”
October 11, 2008
The first section of William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" is such a notorious brain twister that any attempt at straightforward dramatization would be almost as foolhardy as trying to resurrect the Old South. Told from the point of view of Benjy, the Compsons' mentally challenged adult son, the narrative hopscotches with such retrospective insouciance that Faulkner was tempted to color-code passages to clarify shifts in time.
November 1, 2008
Morality evolves and musical styles change, but there's something constant about sex, teenagers and rock 'n' roll. Oops, almost left out the emotional glue holding together this perennial pubescent compound -- angst.
August 14, 2012
As imagined by John Logan in his Tony-winning drama "Red" and portrayed by the galvanizing Alfred Molina, painter Mark Rothko is a man of fierce convictions and fiery words. His opinions about art are delivered like biblical proclamations, spoken in the Old Testament cadences of a burning bush.
June 16, 2008
FIRST THE good news: Compared to our debt-roiled, war-mired nation, Broadway had a lot to celebrate this year. In addition to luminously acted new dramas and shimmeringly staged revivals, there was something approximating a genuine horse race for best musical -- a godsend for everyone who religiously sits through the normally suspense-bereft Tony telecast.
6:00 PM PDT, April 25, 2012
NEW YORK — Who was Joseph Alsop? This question, this mystery drives "The Columnist," a new drama by David Auburn,Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Proof," about a star journalist who was as clear cut in his political views as he was opaque in his private life.
May 2, 2010
The American Stage
March 28, 2010
Southern California is famous for being ahead of the national curve -- in styles, fads and unenviable crises. And right now, the region's largest institutional theaters are serving as a crystal ball for leadership concerns affecting nonprofit theaters throughout the country. ¶ I'm referring, of course, to Center Theatre Group, the Geffen Playhouse, South Coast Repertory, La Jolla Playhouse and the Old Globe, all of which are at crucial crossroads. The founders or guiding spirits of these prestigious theaters have left, are on the verge of leaving or are in a quandary about whether to make an exit at such a precarious historical moment. Meanwhile, their successors, caught between an economic rock and a cultural hard place, seem increasingly ready to give away the store to lure former subscribers from their Netflix queues. ¶ This transitional anxiety, dating to Center Theatre Group founder Gordon Davidson's passing of the torch to Michael Ritchie in 2005, has only magnified worrisome developments that have intensified since the recession. Perhaps the most insidious among them is the blurring of commercial and nonprofit values. ¶ Some explanatory back story: The regional (sometimes known as resident) theater movement, which resulted in the proliferation of nonprofit stages from coast to coast, was designed not simply to decentralize theater -- road shows had long been bringing live performance to the provinces -- but to allow it to flourish as an art form throughout the country.
July 25, 2008
High-profile reporting isn't the usual route to becoming a playwright, but in one respect Bernard Weinraub's newspaper pedigree serves him well in "The Accomplices." Like any muckraker worth his salt, Weinraub knows how to level accusations and make them sting.
August 22, 2010
Nostalgia is never more suspect than when the person romantically harking back is too young to have experienced the era firsthand. But reading Patti Smith's memoir "Just Kids," a tender recollection of her coming of age as a singer-songwriter alongside her artistic soul mate, the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, I couldn't help envying the cultural ferment of the late '60s, early '70s and wondering how we could recapture some of the dirty magic.
August 1, 2008
Wendy Hoffman (Kristina Lear), an earnest screenwriter with an attractive, low-key style, wants to tell the story of injured vets at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Capt. Gray Whitrock (Michael James Reed), a strapping military guy with a prosthetic foot and a by-the-book manner, is the gatekeeper to the ward. Their verbal tug-of-war -- laden with as much partisan disdain as sneaky sexual subtext -- establishes the serious game of Jessica Goldberg's new play, "Body Politic."
May 26, 2008
There's nothing like a British farce to make you feel stubbornly, even condescendingly American.
March 5, 2009
If one were to choose a single phrase to distill the essence of Horton Foote's distinctive literary grace, the title of the 1983 film for which he won an Academy Award for screenwriting, "Tender Mercies," could hardly be bettered. For it is this quality of loving forbearance that characterizes his relationship to all those everyday eccentrics from Texas backwaters he introduced us to -- that colorful, twangy crew who wear their hearts as well as their foibles on their sleeves.
November 28, 2010
Finishing the Hat
November 22, 2009
The Method is dead. Long live the Method. ¶ Spend an afternoon with David Lee Strasberg, the ambitious 38-year-old son of legendary acting guru Lee Strasberg, and you just might walk away with the idea that something revolutionary is going on at the Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. That would be overstating matters. This family-run school with flagships in West Hollywood and New York still finds its raison d'être in what Strasberg himself identified as the training of the actor's internal skills. But the vision of the Method being articulated at the institute, observing its 40th anniversary this year, seems to have little to do with the stereotype of sweaty, mumbling actors wallowing in the muck of unhappy childhoods. ¶ Dressed in preppy clothes that hint at his undergraduate days at Brown, Strasberg fils, the institute's CEO and creative director (whom I'll refer to as DLS), says that the Strasberg approach -- the best known of the American adaptations of the Stanislavsky "system" commonly grouped together as the Method -- is less reliant on psychobabble than most people believe. The words "Oedipal Complex" never pass his lips. But more interesting is the way developments in neuroscience keep cropping up in his conversation. Don't bother telling him about the toy your parents didn't buy you, but do engage him on the subject of conditioned reflexes and the neuropsychology of smells.
July 20, 2007
SAN DIEGO — If the words "Children's Television Workshop" light up old neural centers in your brain, consider yourself in the right demographic for "Avenue Q," the diverting Tony-winning musical that lends a new twist to the familiar "Sesame Street" formula.
Touring the newly renovated Mark Taper Forum a few weeks before its official unveiling was a bit like standing at the crossroads between the past and the future. It wasn't merely the sight of stage carpenters readying the set for "The House of Blue Leaves," John Guare's delirious 1970 farce, which will inaugurate the next chapter in the Taper's 41-year history when the show opens today. Nor was it the mix of old construction and new, the way the striking carousel-shaped building has been endowed with a freshly carved-out basement lounge complete with luxurious bathrooms, not to mention all the technical improvements that have the crew happily humming as they work.
September 16, 2008
GROPING for a comfortable moral in John Guare's classic black comedy "The House of Blue Leaves," which opened Sunday at the Mark Taper Forum in a sensational revival directed by Nicholas Martin, is a little like asking an escaped felon for some friendly advice. But one thing can safely be said: When it comes to trampling traditional family values, there's nothing more brutalizing than a middle-aged guy with a frustrated dream.
September 3, 2008
WHEN IT comes to pursuing the bad guys, few actors move mountains like Tyne Daly. For years on television she huffed and puffed after crooks as a New York City cop on "Cagney & Lacey." More recently, as a social worker on "Judging Amy," she battled for needy children while making sure her own gavel-pounding daughter never lost sight of what was really at stake in her courtroom. But playing Clytaemnestra in the Getty Villa's new staging of Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon” brings this righteous fury to what can confidently be called its tragic apex.
August 4, 2008
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK | THE ART OF PERFORMANCE
Great actors, even those who have been blessed with longevity, often bear a tragic mark. It's not just the ups and downs of stardom that can make for a cruel career. Rough inner seas are typically the very reason someone seeks to be among what William Hazlitt, that lyrical witness of the early 19th century British stage, called "the motley representatives of human nature."
May 20, 2008
When you've been crowned the heavyweight playwriting champion of trash-talking masculinity, it can be hard to get anyone to acknowledge that you're good for more than just verbal uppercuts. David Mamet's talent has always been more diverse than his reputation. No, there definitely isn't an old softy waiting to emerge from behind the brawler's facade. But what about a bespectacled metaphysician with an absurdist streak or a vaudevillian cutup who could still probably make a killing in late-night sketch comedy?
July 14, 2008
The trouble with historical fiction is that there often isn't a satisfying amount of either element. Fact constrains fantasy as the helpless past gets reduced to a pencil sketch.
September 23, 2008
NOTHING gets the comic juices flowing like a workplace revenge fantasy. In "9 to 5: The Musical," an eager-to-please adaptation of the fizzy 1980 pop-feminist film, three female employees, tired of banging their heads against a low-hanging glass ceiling, team up against the sort of sexist boss who deserves to run into Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer and Billie Jean King in a dark alley.
August 9, 2009
In these cash-strapped days, people are lucky to get to see a show once, never mind a second or third time. But with "Spamalot" now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre more than four years after it opened on Broadway and a couple of years after it premiered in Las Vegas, there are a number of returning customers, Monty Python addicts chief among them.
March 27, 2007
Please put down whatever else you might be doing. This review demands your undivided attention.
July 7, 2008
ON SECOND THOUGHT
MUCH AS one would like to join Edith Piaf in a duet of "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien," a critic can't help having occasional regrets after passing instantaneous verdicts on scores of plays and musicals, usually in the space of a few morning hours after a deadline-spoiled night's sleep.
May 2, 2010
"Tales of the City" may have introduced author Armistead Maupin and Olympia Dukakis, the most memorable face from the three television miniseries adapted from the books. But American Conservatory Theater, the venerable resident theater on Geary Street led by artistic director Carey Perloff, is what keeps bringing them back together.
June 15, 2008
AMERICANS ARE suckers for teams. The prospect of talents blending into a collective heave ho of inspiration turns us into giddy school kids at recess. Sports fans know better than anyone the joy of watching the gifted spur one another to new heights. Want to see a grown man cry? Wait for the next bottom-of-the-ninth grand slam. Want to make him sulk for weeks? Fill him in on how those supposedly chummy superstars really feel about each other off the field.
June 29, 2008
Curious about the changing sound of the Great White Way? Times Theater Critic Charles McNulty weighs in on five noteworthy cast recordings from the year on Broadway -- four from new shows that couldn't be more wildly disparate and one from a classic that's been absolutely revitalized.
October 8, 2008
WHEN "Tobacco Road" premiered on Broadway in 1933, it pushed the envelope with its unsavory depiction of rural poverty. Would theatergoers looking for a fun night out want to have their noses rubbed in the degrading conditions of destitute Georgia sharecroppers? As it turned out, the middle class had a real appetite for this sort of filthy fingernail naturalism.
June 13, 2008
Four monologues, four characters, one mesmerizing actor and a whole mess of sorry violence -- Stephen Belber's "Finally" at the Black Dahlia Theatre is a small Rashomon puzzle laden with pernicious explosives.
November 18, 2006
"When Patrick came home in a coffin, the media contacted me," says Nadia McCaffrey. "They asked if I wanted the media to cover it. I knew it was forbidden to take photos of coffins with flags on them. But I thought about it and said, 'Yes.' "
June 1, 2007
By theatrical standards, Broadway's 2003-04 season was hardly vintage. But for musicals it was an unusually newsworthy one. Headlines were made, naturally enough, by Rosie O'Donnell, who invested $10 million in the ill-fated Boy George musical "Taboo." The war between the blockbuster "Wicked" and "Avenue Q," the little puppet show that could, for the top Tony was fought with a surprising Harvey Weinstein-like fierceness. And Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's "Caroline, or Change" had launched an all-out campaign to rescue the Great White Way from complete commercialization with its envelope-pushing civil rights music drama.
October 16, 2008
The plays of John Millington Synge may have more rustic charm than a bed-and-breakfast brochure from the Irish tourist board, but don't be fooled by their picturesque settings and lyrical lilt. Tragic, comic or some blithe hybrid, they have a way of telling audiences uncomfortable truths -- usually about the raging cowardice of ordinary men and the strong, sex-starved women who are stuck with them.
February 23, 2007
"Wicked" parked its theatrical sorcery at the Pantages on Wednesday, and don't expect it to vanish in a puff of smoke anytime soon.
August 1, 2008
Points for degree of difficulty: "Gulls," which is receiving its world premiere at the Theatre @ Boston Court, sets out to transform Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull" into a musical.
November 17, 2006
By now you've probably heard a good deal about the psychological case study known as Carrie Fisher. To review the basic facts: Hollywood icon parents torn asunder by lavender-eyed Jezebel, early movie stardom marred by laughingstock hairdo, a minor shipwreck on the shoals of Paul Simon, rehab, resurrection via "Postcards From the Edge," rehab again, confession of mental illness to Diane Sawyer, bipolar acclaim, fresh scandal involving dead gay Republican operative in bed, more rehab. Prognosis: one-woman show.
March 21, 2006
Love in all its dizzying, rainbow-flag-waving variety is on frolicsome display in the Cornerstone Theater Company's "As You Like It: A California Concoction," which opened Friday at the Pasadena Playhouse.
November 3, 2006
Tony Kushner, author of the epic millennial trumpet blast "Angels in America," has never doubted that he's living in interesting times — "interesting" in the euphemistic sense of the proverbial Chinese curse. As an artist and citizen, he has felt a responsibility to respond to contemporary political upheaval through his plays and copious remarks as the quotable go-to guy now that Susan Sontag and Arthur Miller have moved on to that old public-intellectual retirement home in the sky.
September 24, 2006
NO one said it was going to be easy. But with his first season behind him and his second already underway, Center Theatre Group artistic director Michael Ritchie has yet to communicate a clear theatrical game plan.
October 14, 2006
In the aftermath of Katrina, the sight of an African American family ambushed by a natural disaster can't help carrying political baggage. But racial concerns hardly register in Des McAnuff's update of the unpredictable theatrical twister known as "The Wiz."
November 3, 2006
Romantics beware: "The Light in the Piazza" may seem like a picture postcard of amour with its lovely American ingénue and handsome Italian bachelor falling head over heels amid the sensual backdrop of Florence. But all is not as it appears in Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas' musical adaptation of Elizabeth Spencer's 1960 short novel, which provides some ominous Henry James cloud cover on what from afar could be mistaken for a sweet, sun-dappled love story.
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