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Times drama reviewers look back on Los Angeles’ smaller and children’s theater productions in 1988 : Performance Gold Amid the Gray

With Equity’s successful struggle to kill Waiver theater--and thus require, among many, many other things, that actors get paid--you would have thought that the small houses would claim insolvency and close. Or short of that, they would give us a stream of cost-cutting shows with one or two actors, a spotlight and no set.

But you would have been wrong.

It’s true that high rents and related costs may become a grim reaper. The significant losses were the closings of Room for Theatre (whose “Pin Curls” was as good a light comedy as appeared anywhere) and Pipeline (whose “Aleph I,” “Phantom Limbs” and “Aqui No Se Rinde” from Belgium’s Theatre de Banlieue made its closing even harder to take). But Pipeline has a new home at the Odyssey. And the Odyssey seems to be getting serious about moving into a mid-size complex. It’s the end of Waiver, but it’s not the end of the world.

Indeed, the Odyssey was home to the most extraordinary work I saw on my 1988 stage beat: S. I. Witkiewicz’ “The Shoemakers,” directed with ribald brilliance by Kazimierz Braun, and a reminder that some of the first victims of totalitarianism are artists.

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Four other shows were more deeply flawed, but exceptional in their own ways. Charles Borkhuis’ “Phantom Limbs,” at Pipeline’s now-closed Wallenboyd space, was a harrowing and single-minded attempt to penetrate the paranoid mind with richly inventive language and stage images.

Jeff Goldsmith’s “McCarthy,” also at the Odyssey, dared to make us look at Sen. Joe McCarthy as a guy with problems (very male), rather than as a monster.

An alternately wild and sobering look at where social and sexual revolution come together was L.A. Theatre Works’ superbly cast “The Grace of Mary Traverse,” marking the American premiere of the gifted playwright, Timberlake Wertenbaker.

Michael Hacker’s “Long Time Coming,” at the Powerhouse, had none of the overarching ambitions of these other shows, and triumphed because of it. It showed how a young playwright can acknowledge his teachers (Sam Shepard, in this case), then convincingly depart from them.

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The only memorable musical this year was a revue: “Blame It On The Movies (I),” at the Coast Playhouse. Nothing approached the repertory ensemble fervor delivered by the Actors’ Gang this summer, when they did “Carnage” and “Freaks” on Fridays and Saturday-night double-bills. Other fine group performances included Ron Max’s cast in “Moonchildren” and Marcia Rodd’s actors--especially the women--in “Pin Curls.”

Singular performances (in both senses of the phrase) that left a deep impression: Hal Bokar in “Pablo” at Stages; Victor Brandt as the Senator and Ralph Seymour as Roy Cohn in “McCarthy”; John Fleck’s outrageous guest turn with Theatre Carnivale; Marilyn Fox in “The Shoemakers”; Woody Harrelson in “The Zoo Story”; Brent Hinkley in “Terminal Bar” at the Cast Theatre; Thomas Murphy and Daniel Bryan Cartmell as the brothers in “The Price” at the Grove Theatre; and Barry Yourgrau’s performance/reading of his “Safari” and other stories at the Saxon-Lee Gallery.


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