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Take Another Look at L.A.

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In Counterpunch on Nov. 27, Jonathan Reynolds answered a question posed by The Times, “Does L.A. Get the Theater It Deserves?,” with “A more relevant question is: Does L.A. get the theater it wants? The answer is, lamentably, yes.” I wonder why that is? One of his four reasons was “the theater here just isn’t as good as it is elsewhere.” I cannot believe that such a blanket statement could be made referring to all theater in Los Angeles. It is possible to see only bad theater in this town if you choose the wrong productions. Yet with nearly 1,100 shows opening each year in Los Angeles, are we to believe that none of them are any good?

“The writers, actors, directors and designers in cities such as New York, Chicago, London and Paris are simply better stage artists.” As a “stage artist” who makes his home here in Los Angeles, I am offended by Reynolds’ remarks. There are simply more plays opening here each year. When you have that kind of volume, some are going to be better than others--some are even going to be “a place to audition for sitcoms and features,” to quote Reynolds.

But every bad production that opens in L.A. does not somehow negate the wonderful work being presented on stages all over the Southland. When I speak of theater in Los Angeles, I am not discussing the myriad of plays that open each year for the purposes of “auditioning” (“showcases,” as they are called). I am discussing the work of professionals who create theater for theater’s sake and maybe even for a fast-growing thing we call an audience.

Let’s take a look for a moment at some recent “showcases.” You cannot tell me that Mary Steenburgen and Jean Smart chose to do “Marvin’s Room” at the Tiffany Theatre last year because they were hurting for work. Are we to believe that John Rubinstein and those 20-something (number not ages) actors in “Counselor-at-Law” each night were in it for the possibility of being cast in that new 1930s sitcom about the Great Depression starring the Olsen twins? And was my own L.A. premiere production of “Chess” cast with struggling actors who just could not find a job elsewhere? No. As a matter of fact, during the course of the run, many of them left to do other theater engagements, some even on stages outside of Los Angeles. (My production, by the way, offered L.A. audiences 4 1/2 more weeks to see the show than the Broadway audiences got. That’s Broadway, as in New York.)

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Pardon my sardonic tone, but I believe it is the only way to respond to Reynolds’ Counterpunch article. It saddens me to think that any member of the general public of Los Angeles (I prefer to call them audience members) feels that way about Los Angeles theater. I and my fellow colleagues at Actors’ Gang, East/West Players, Ahmanson/Taper, Interact, Theatre West, the Shubert Theatre, Celebration Theatre, Actors Alley and the rest of the legitimate theaters in L.A. are working hard to create quality theater for a quality audience.

The biggest problem as I see it is not that theater in L.A. “is not as good as it is elsewhere” but that people are looking at it from theatergoing experiences from a decade ago. The face of Los Angeles theater is changing drastically, and the biggest things holding us back are attitudes like those expressed by Mr. Reynolds.

As I finish this rebuttal, I am preparing for a trip to New York. Maybe I’ll see a play while I am there. The New York Times theater directory tells me of my choices. How about the smash “Broadway” hit “Master Class”? No. I saw it here. “Sunset Boulevard”? No. I saw it here. “Smokey Joe’s Cafe”? Saw it here. “Racing Demon,” “How to Succeed . . .,” “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” “Riff Raff,” “Grandma Sylvia’s Funeral,” “Hello, Dolly!,” “Fool Moon”? Saw them all here. That does not really leave much. I guess I will have to see that smash “New York” hit “Victor/Victoria.” I’ll tell you what I think.


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