The 17 best theater offerings in L.A. this fall
This fall season presents many opportunities to refresh your aesthetic palette. Surprise, unconventionality, mischief and defiance are all on the menu with works that aren’t afraid to test or even upend your sensibilities.
We could all use a vacation from humdrum routine. Theater that breaks the rules or brings together the incongruous has the potential to awaken us from those habits of perception that deaden us to experience.
For the record:
6:35 a.m. Sept. 12, 2019An earlier version of this article misspelled “The Great Leap’s” playwright as Lauren Lee. She is Lauren Yee.
A good place to start for those wanting to participate in this program of artistic rejuvenation is Bill Irwin’s show “On Beckett.” The piece — part lecture, part performance — is an ideal occasion to become better acquainted with one of the 20th century’s most innovative, influential and iconoclastic dramatists.
It goes without saying that “A Play Is a Poem,” a new anthology of short works by Ethan Coen having its premiere at the Mark Taper Forum, will feel no obligation to hew to musty tradition. Adam Bock, a playwright who never writes the same play twice, has a new comedy at South Coast Repertory, “The Canadians,” that is guaranteed not to be as bland as its title.
This fall’s classical music highlights include Esa-Pekka Salonen, “Porgy and Bess” and the L.A. Phil’s birthday gala.
San Diego has the most mouth-watering new musical of the season: Cameron Crowe and Tom Kitt’s “Almost Famous,” a stage version of Crowe’s semiautobiographical film. For an offbeat choice closer to home, a new production of “Little Shop of Horrors” at Pasadena Playhouse should tantalize with its jaunty blend of horror comedy and peppy rock ’n’ roll. And for the truly adventurous, “In Circles” at the Odyssey Theatre revives Al Carmines’ musical valentine to Gertrude Stein’s gaily recursive “A Circular Play.”
But top of the list this season is the by-all-accounts brilliant Broadway revival of August Wilson’s “Jitney” at the Mark Taper Forum. Wilson may not have been an avant-gardist, but he was a supreme artist, able to show American history in a fresh light and thereby make us all the more alive to our collective common reality.
Sept. 11-Oct. 13
“A Play Is a Poem”
A collection of five one-acts by filmmaker Ethan Coen in various American locales stretching from Appalachia to the executive suites of Hollywood, this new drama sets out to paint a portrait of America that sounds as intriguingly idiosyncratic as one of the Coen brothers’ movies. Neil Pepe directs this world premiere production, which is set for an off-Broadway run at the Atlantic Theater in the spring. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A. $25-$110. (213) 628-2772. centertheatregroup.org
Sept. 13-Oct. 27
A top-notch creative team has been assembled for this world premiere musical based on Cameron Crowe’s much-adored 2000 film about a 15-year-old boy whose life changes after he gets the chance to interview an up-and-coming band for Rolling Stone. Crowe has adapted his Oscar-winning screenplay for the production, which is directed by Jeremy Herrin (who received a Tony nomination for his staging of “Wolf Hall”). To make matters more enticing, the score includes classic rock tunes and new songs by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”). The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego. $70 and up. (619) 234-5623. TheOldGlobe.org
Sept. 13-Oct. 27
Tony-winning actor Bill Irwin, one of the great interpreters of Samuel Beckett, offers a master class on the Irish Nobel Prize winner in this hybrid show, in which he performs excerpts of plays and prose fiction while shedding light on a tragicomic vision that finds laughter in the darkest places. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. $30-$75. (213) 628-2772. CenterTheatreGroup.org
Sept. 14-Nov. 10
As part of its 50th anniversary season, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble is thinking big. This musical production, which filters the mind-bending writing of Gertrude Stein through the exuberantly eclectic composing talents of Al Carmines, is directed by David Schweizer, an auteur who never fails to put his own stamp on a production. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. $32-$37; discounts available; $10 tickets on select dates. (310) 477-2055. OdysseyTheatre.com
Sept. 17-Oct. 20
“Little Shop of Horrors”
We could all use a little more killer zaniness these days, so it’s a good time for a revival of this Howard Ashman-Alan Menken musical about a man-eating plant that turns a dweeb into a hero before demanding his soul. Mike Donahue directs a cast that includes George Salazar (“Be More Chill”), Mj Rodriguez (“Pose”) and Amber Riley (“Glee”) in a production promising “some deliciously devious new twists.” Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. $25 and up. (626) 356-7529. PasadenaPlayhouse.org
Sept. 21-Oct. 28
“Miss Lilly Gets Boned”
Bekah Brunstetter, whose gay marriage play, “The Cake,” has been a hit dessert in L.A. and beyond, returns to an earlier work that she describes as “definitely the craziest” in her oeuvre. Robin Larsen directs this curious-sounding tale about a captive elephant and a virginal Sunday school teacher who takes a chance on love. Rogue Machine Theatre, Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. $25, $40. (855) 585-5185. roguemachinetheatre.com
Sept. 29-Oct. 3
One thing is guaranteed about a new play by Adam Bock (“A Small Fire,” “The Receptionist”): It will be unlike anything you’ve experienced before. The latest comedy by this deeply innovative playwright explores the journey of two Canadian lads on a cruise that transports them far away from their normal routine of hockey, beer and banal friendliness. A cast of five plays a boatload of characters in this Canadian-out-of-Manitoba comedy. South Coast Repertory, Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $24-$93. (714) 708-5555. scr.org
“217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous”
Obie Award-winning writer-director Ain Gordon finds theatrical inspiration in a curious historical tale with profound consequences for LGBTQ civil rights. The subject is the brave psychiatrist John E. Fryer, who had to elaborately conceal his identify while giving testimony that led to the American Psychiatric Assn.’s removal of homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973. UCLA Freud Playhouse, 405 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. $28-$59. (310) 825-2101. cap.ucla.edu
Oct. 16-Dec. 15
“Between Riverside and Crazy”
Stephen Adly Guirgis’ 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama arrives in Los Angeles under the direction of the reliably sharp Guillermo Cienfuegos. The play, about a widower ex-cop, his rambling rent-stabilized apartment and the colorful characters who cycle through it, is an urban comedy with vertiginous language and a dangerous plot that keeps everyone braced for the unexpected. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A. $25-$45. (323) 663-1525. FountainTheatre.com
“Witkacy / Two-headed Calf”
This co-production by CalArts Center for New Performance and Poland’s Studio Teatrgaleria brings Natalia Korczakowska, one of Eastern Europe’s leading experimental theater artists, to Los Angeles. This cross-cultural production, pairing artists from Poland and CalArts, explores the work of the seminal Polish playwright and avant-garde force Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (commonly known as Witkacy) in a piece set against the backdrop of California’s impossible to corral nature. REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., downtown L.A. $14-$32. (213) 237-2800. redcat.org
Oct. 19-Nov. 16
Julia Cho’s moving drama, which had its world premiere at Berkeley Rep, revolves around the strained relationship between a Korean immigrant father, who has been released into home hospice care, and his chef son. This patient play about death, directed by veteran Lisa Peterson, is also about food as a source of nourishment, cultural transmission and healing love. South Coast Repertory, Segerstrom Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $24-$93. (714) 708-5555. scr.org
Oct. 22-Dec. 1
“The Thanksgiving Play”
How do you solve a storytelling problem like America’s founding? Michael John Garcés directs this satire by Larissa FastHorse about a group of “woke” white thespians charged with putting on an elementary school pageant about the first Thanksgiving without offending any cultural faction in an era of punitive political correctness. Geffen Playhouse, Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. $30-$120. (310) 208-5454. geffenplayhouse.org
Oct. 23-Nov. 24
Mike Birbiglia’s “The New One”
Hannah Gadsby, who became an international star with “Nanette,” predicted a revolution in stand-up comedy. If Mike Birbiglia, an everyman with a deliberately low-grade delivery, is going to be taking part, it will be through earnestly ironic, genre-blurring hilarity. His latest autobiographical solo will no doubt discover new quirks in an old subject: the chaotic entrance of a newborn into what was more or less a pleasant routine. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A. $35-$145. (213) 972-4400. entertheatregroup.org
Nov. 6-Dec. 1
“The Great Leap”
Lauren Yee’s play follows an American basketball team as it travels to Beijing for an exhibition game and finds itself embroiled in an international incident. The production, a collaboration with East West Players, is directed by Tony winner BD Wong, who possess some mean all-around skills on the theatrical court. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. $25 and up. (626) 356-7529. PasadenaPlayhouse.org
Nov. 6-Dec. 10
The Maxwell Anderson Broadway drama that gave rise to the classic film noir starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall has been refashioned by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher and actor Andy Garcia. Garcia plays the mob ringleader who has overtaken the Florida hotel that is the battleground for this tale about a disillusioned World War II veteran who must muster the inner strength to take on another formidable enemy. Geffen Playhouse, Gil Cates Theater, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. $30-$145. (310) 208-5454. geffenplayhouse.org
Andrew Dawson’s “Space Panorama” and “Spirit of the Ring”
Dancer, theater artist, puppeteer and storyteller Andrew Dawson uses cunning minimalism in this double bill to take us on a tour in rapid time of two epic stories: the Apollo 11 moon landing and the whole of Wagner’s Ring cycle. Royce Hall Rehearsal Room, UCLA, 10745 Dickson Court, Westwood. $28-$49. (310) 825-2101. cap.ucla.edu
Nov. 22-Dec. 29
Ruben Santiago-Hudson directs this Tony-winning revival of the August Wilson drama that brought his American century cycle into the 1970s. Set in a gypsy cab depot, this early work was the last of Wilson’s 10 plays to reach Broadway, but from all reports the wait was worth it. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A. $35-$145. (213) 628-2772. centertheatregroup.org
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