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‘Pursuit’ Looks Back at a Gay Old Time

Twenty years of gay and lesbian experience in Los Angeles are documented--and dramatized--in “Pursuit of Happiness,” opening Friday at the Celebration Theatre. The piece, which incorporates slide and videotape projections, was created by local playwrights Ayofemi Stowe, Robin Podolsky, Michael McClellan, Don Disner and John Callahan.

“When Michael Kearns first approached me about doing a show on gay history in L.A., the idea was going to be real people telling their stories,” said Callahan, who is directing. “But when the five of us got together, we decided to do a play rather than a confessional. So we went to the National Gay and Lesbian Archives and spent lots of time researching the period.” The show was first seen as an entry in last year’s Fringe Festival adjunct to the Los Angeles Festival.

“The play starts with the 1966 New Year’s Eve raid on a Silver Lake district bar, the Black Cat--which we call the Purple Parrot,” Callahan said. “A couple of months later, there was the first openly gay rally in Silver Lake. The play ends with the March on Washington last year. You know, New York and San Francisco catch all the limelight; L.A. has the reputation for being apolitical. But it’s just not true. We’re trying to point that out historically.”

Callahan does admit taking some artistic liberties (“incorporating details, filling in time gaps”) and a personal agenda. “We tried to make it as historical as we could, but obviously one draws from personal experience when creating characters. Also, we tried not to have it be completely Anglo, because L.A. is not that. So we’ve got five females and five males; three characters are Latino, one is black, one is Jewish--reflecting the L.A. gay community as it really is.”

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CRITICAL CROSS FIRE: “Nothing Sacred,” George C. Walker’s adaptation of Turgenev’s novel “Father and Sons,” is playing at the Mark Taper Forum.

Said The Times’ Dan Sullivan: “Granted, tone is tricky here, as it is in Chekhov. But this cast needs to put away its knowledge of how basically lovable all these dear, odd, lost-in-the-country people are, and get down to cases.”

From Richard Stayton in the Herald Examiner: “It’s not merely that this tedium resembles a ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ parody. . . . There is nothing urgent, nothing current, nothing compelling, nothing nihilistic about ‘Nothing Sacred.’ ”

Time magazine’s William A. Henry III disagreed: “Walker persuasively makes the debate among student anarchists in 1860s Russia that echo among Marxist collegians of 1960s America. Tom Hulce is impressively showy as the charismatic yet destructive Bazarov. As the admiring friend he visits . . . Corey Parker is a well-intentioned, quietly compelling Everyman with whom audiences can identify.”

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Remarked the Orange County Register’s Thomas O’Connor: “Think of ‘Nothing Sacred’ as’thirtysomething Russian.’ Perhaps the comparison to TV’s self-absorbed yuppies is misleading, since it suggests a deeper, funnier, more cohesive level of performance than Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s disjointed, airily staged production.”

From the Hollywood Reporter’s Jay Reiner: "(It) has a literary richness and fine ironic edge to the writing that more than makes up for its occasional lapses in focus. And its characters--the entire expansive, confused, talkative, soul-baring lot of them--are a joy.”

In Drama-Logue, T.H. McCulloh said: “This production does not serve the intent as well as it could, and makes one look deeper to find the really fine play behind its presentation. The problem is that only one of the actors makes a strong connection with the text: Franklyn Seales, as the troubled and heart-rending brother Pavel.”

From Daily Variety’s Amy Dawes: “For all the stimulation of its precise and high-flung language, its rigorously defined characters and frolicsome verbal sword fights, ‘Sacred’ operates more as an entertainment than a challenge. Though the seeds of some radical ideas are present here, they are not really explored.”


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