Whatever you want to say that the job of the artist is, it has to do in part with making us see things in a fresh, personal way, even if it's in a grandiose, universal-appearing scheme.
For example, who hasn't at one time or another walked past (or answered) a sign that says "Help Wanted"? One will normally assume that the sign suggests a wage proffered for a relatively menial service. But what if one looks at it more closely, as a poet might? What if those stark words suggest a deeper, more naked statement of human need?
"Help Wanted" is the title of a work by Franz Xaver Kroetz that is having its West Coast premiere at the Los Angeles Theatre Center on Thursday. Kroetz, a West German, is a voice that many people in Los Angeles are becoming interested in hearing. The Odyssey produced his "Through the Leaves" earlier this year, and his "Request Concert" will soon be opening at the Cast.
Robert Harders, who directed "Secret Honor" for the LATC when it was the Los Angeles Actors Theatre, is directing "Help Wanted" and had this to say about it:
"It's a series of 10 vignettes linked by depictions of people who are unemployed, and the whole thing is so subtle that after we--Bill Bushnell, Diane White, designer Nicole Morin and literary manager Mame Hunt--went through it, turning it vertically, horizontally, and every which way, we wound up just about where we started.
"On one level, it deals with people who are unhappy and distorted in their perception of things. A couple of the vignettes deal with people who have hit bottom and learned to come back, or at least see. In one, an older man, a former accountant, has been out of a job so long that he realizes he'll never work again. He gives his wife an expensive bracelet, which he's stolen. He thinks, 'They've stolen my life from me, I'll steal from them.'
"In another, a young woman who has given everything to make herself available to a man feels a satisfaction in having been chosen by cancer--her body's answer to what she's done to herself.
"Another, called 'Poor Poet,' deals with a poet who has had some political involvement in the past and is on the cusp of making it in his career. When he's called on the phone and asked to participate in a protest demonstration, he comes up with an extremely elaborate explanation for why he won't, and we see how he's immobilized by fear of retaliation, something artists everywhere have to contend with. Even here.
"There's a deeper level to this piece. I'm not a scholar of Marx, but when I read Marx in connection with this play, I realized that what I knew of his ideas was embarrassingly inaccurate, fed, of course, by our social climate. What impresses me about Marx is his emphasis on coming to grips with human needs as opposed to artificial needs.
"I would like to think this piece was written to change people's behavior. I don't know if we can do that. I don't know if theater in America is a viable instrument for social change. But that's why we decided to do this work--to find out--in this season when the message about loving your brother is translated into rampant consumerism."
Elizabeth Ruscio, Hal Bokar, Sasha von Schoeler, Brent Jennings and Dennis Redfield are in the cast.
John Guare's "Bosoms and Neglect" will have its first Southern California exposure, so to speak, since its 1981 South Coast Repertory production, when it opens Saturday at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. Danny Goldman directs.
Peg Yorkin and Richard Dreyfuss will be honored by the California Theatre Council at the California Theatre Council's awards dinner on Jan. 30 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. David Wolper will chair the fund-raising event; Rene Auberjonois, Julie Harris and John Lithgow will provide entertainment. For more information, call (213) 622-6727.
Playwright Peter Parnell, whose "Romance Languages" opens at the Taper and San Diego's Old Globe in January, will also have his "The Rise & Rise of Daniel Rocket" launch the fifth season of PBS' "American Playhouse" series, starting Jan. 20. Also on the schedule: Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George," starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters; "Displaced Person," starring Stan Shaw; a four-hour miniseries of the "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," with Jim Dale, Barnard Hughes, Frederick Forrest, Sada Thompson, Samm-Art Williams, Anne Shropshire and Patrick Day; and Barry Miller and Lance Guest in a 90-minute adaptation of John Updike's "The Christian Roommate," written and produced by Neal Miller and directed by Nell Cox.