Why David Henry Hwang defends theater’s Michael Ritchie and ‘bravest act of producing’
The known and unknown Los Angeles
Regarding Jeffrey Fleishman’s list of standout L.A. noir novels [“20 Essential Noir Books,” Oct 20]: I was very surprised that Los Angeles native Jonathan Kellerman was left off it.
He is the creative mastermind behind the Alex Delaware mystery series, now 35 books strong, begun in 1985 and continuing to this day. The books showcase both the known and unknown Los Angeles and surrounding environs.
The main character, Alex Delaware, a psychologist like Kellerman, cannily solves murders and mysteries with his longtime best friend, gay detective Milo Sturgis. The real standout is how much Kellerman interweaves Los Angeles’ complicated and multilayered world in his books.
I also wanted to let you know how much we are enjoying The Times on Spectrum. Not only are the journalists on the various programs all enthusiastic and committed to showcasing as much information on the subject matter as possible but I also appreciate how they all take the time to really delve into a topic, a welcome change from the usual rushed and shallow reporting on other channels.
Regarding “A Test for Moz Fans” [Oct. 26] by Randall Roberts: Eric Clapton is lucky that the “cancel culture” did not exist in 1976 when he made the vile racist comments regarding black Britons quoted in the article.
For a man whose entire career has stemmed from borrowing the blues from African American musicians, it’s unbelievable to me that this prejudiced hypocrisy didn’t end his livelihood then and there. He apologized in a 2018 documentary, “Life in 12 Bars,” but that it took him 42 years to admit he was wrong seems to me to be halfhearted at best.
The one good thing that did come out of this debacle was the late-1970s U.K. music movement Rock Against Racism, formed in direct response to Clapton’s tirade. I can think of at least one modern country that would benefit from a revival of this movement.
More reading on cancel culture: “At the Hollywood Bowl, Morrissey Faithful Make Peace With His Right-Wing Rhetoric”
Finding the Center in L.A. theater
Charles McNulty nailed it in his article regarding Michael Ritchie’s lack of vision [“Our Local Theater Lacks Direction, Leadership,” Oct. 20]. As a 40-year subscriber to the Taper, I recently relinquished my front row seats due to annual disappointments. Despite such loyal longevity, no one called me or said goodbye. It didn’t matter at all.
I was concerned when Gordon Davidson retired, but I kept the faith that Ritchie would be a close follow to his predecessor. Alas, he has not been. It used to be based on thinking from the outside, rough theater, on its way to Broadway, if lucky, world premieres, that’s how L.A. theater should be. In the last five years, there have been one or two decent choices, yet my ticket prices doubled this year.
Yes, “middlebrow mediocrity” is such a fitting term.
I can only relate my own experience as an artist working with Center Theatre Group and its artistic director, Ritchie, on the commissioning and development of our recent show, “Soft Power,” which premiered at CTG in 2018 and just opened at the Public Theater in New York. In 2014, Ritchie offered me a commission and production slot for the Mark Taper Forum, which I gratefully accepted. While commissions are nice enough, a guaranteed slot represents real faith in an artist.
Over the intervening years, my project grew in size and scope, from a “play with some songs,” to gaining Jeanine Tesori as our composer, to a full musical, to realizing we would need a 23-piece orchestra. The original story also included a President Hillary Clinton character. After the 2016 election, Ritchie requested a phone conversation with Tesori, our director, Leigh Silverman, and me. The three of us fully anticipated that Ritchie would politely postpone this unwieldy, experimental project.
Instead, he suggested moving our show, the time still being written, from the Taper to the larger Ahmanson, to accommodate the orchestra.
My collaborators and I, who have worked in the theater for many decades, believe this to be arguably the bravest act of producing we have experienced in our careers. For me, this represents a concrete example of CTG’s commitment and courage to create bold new works for L.A. and the American theater.
David Henry Hwang
McNulty’s essay criticizes Center Theatre Group, saying it prefers looking to New York than “its own back yard.” He fails to note a terrific program CTG began recently to support and provide leadership to the Los Angeles theater community. In Block Party, productions from Los Angeles’ smallest creative spaces are given encore productions in CTG’s Kirk Douglas Theatre, exposing them to larger audiences. In addition, the program offers guidance to the leadership of the selected companies in areas of marketing, development, etc.
The politics of culture
The Times labels Lorraine Ali a television critic. Good luck finding any television criticism in her latest anti-Trump screed [“Boos All Part of the Game,” Oct. 29]. How long before she is put where she belongs — on the Op-Ed page?
Sometimes the wrong train takes you to the right station. Frank Rich did it, Frank Bruni did it and Ali should do it more often.
Political insight shared by nonpolitical writers brings us a more expansive human context. It’s what we need in this tumultuous period of our political evolution.
Please, more brilliant human-scale observations.
You say bodega ...
Regarding “He Found Himself at the Movies” [Oct. 23] by Jen Yamato: As a native of Los Ángeles and a proud Chicana, I am perplexed when writers use the word “bodega” when referring to markets or liquor stores in this city. To people of Mexican descent, bodega means warehouse or storeroom.
This should be clarified to all writers who cover stories in Los Ángeles. Out here, licorería, tienda, mercado, tianguis, abarrotes or the false cognate marketa are most commonly used to refer to such markets. Please alert the New York Times as well; it always makes the same mistake.
I am absolutely astonished that The Times did not review (or presumably assign a staffer to attend) world class operatic tenor Javier Camarena’s superlative performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oct. 20.
What happened to The Times? It appears to be following the devolving road to mediocrity that L.A. Opera has chosen to take since its brilliant avant-garde Ring Cycle in 2011. L.A. Opera used to be a top-tier company, but it has refused to stage any Wagnerian operas since “The Flying Dutchman” in 2013. Outrageous. This sadly relegates L.A. Opera to the second tier of our nation’s opera companies, at best. We’ve had to travel to San Francisco, New York and to Europe these last seven years to enjoy Wagner’s operas.
So now it seems that The Times, which I have heretofore held in high esteem as one of the best metropolitan daily newspapers in the country, is in lockstep with L.A. Opera’s devolution by ignoring Camarena’s memorable performance.
Regarding “Life Is Beautiful for Ray Stevens” [Oct. 26]: I’ve always been amused that the first time I ever became aware of the classic “Misty” was from Stevens’ countrified classic on KHJ radio.
Marina del Rey
We already have a theater district in L.A.
Regarding “Calendar Feedback: Curtain Up on Proposals to Improve L.A. Theater” [Oct. 27]: A letter writer suggests building a theater district downtown. There already is such a district.
It’s called the Broadway Historic Theatre District and includes a string of onetime vaudeville and full-scale dramatic houses. Some, like the Morosco (now the Globe) and the Belasco, have been beautifully restored and host live events; some have been converted for temporary retail use; and a couple, the Rialto and the 8th Street/Olympic, are now full-scale retail establishments.
I discovered this on a tour hosted by L.A. Conservancy. Take a walk down Broadway, walk past the lavishly restored theaters like the Orpheum or the Theatre at Ace Hotel (the former United Artists theater), and check out places like the Cameo, the Roxie and the Arcade (formerly the Pantages).
I was delighted to read the letter from Rosanne Welch [“Calendar Feedback: This Movie Didn’t Write Itself,” Oct. 27] pointing out how a review in The Times missed mentioning the writers of a film. I have been writing letters on the same subject to The Times for more than 40 years, some of which have been published and some of which have not.
As I approach the autumn of my years, I am glad to see somebody else taking over the thankless job.
Watch out for diversity backlash
Regarding: “History of Violence” [Oct. 27] by Greg Braxton: When Damon Lindelof reflected on the presence of “multiculturalism in some of his past projects,” saying he felt “shame and guilt” in seeing the “billboards with all these white people on them” of said projects, I feel that his thoughts are misguided.
Blaming white people for their influence in entertainment is unproductive, because you don’t fight anti-black racism with anti-white racism. While it is desirable to have an entertainment industry that serves everyone, diversity for the sake of diversity robs a person of his/her actual merits, talents, abilities, qualifications and common humanity. All those things don’t matter anymore if someone is hired for a project solely on the basis of skin color. I understand and admire Lindelof’s good intentions at being accurate and nuanced in his exploration of race relations for “Watchmen,” but I would encourage him to be careful in his endeavors.
An art collector’s nightmare
Regarding “Is It a Rothko, or Is It Fake?” [Oct. 21]: I got a big kick reading about NBC Universal’s vice chairman, Ron Meyer, buying a Mark Rothko painting for $900,000 18 years ago and hanging it in his California home. I could imagine him displaying this Rothko (if typical, the canvas covered with two or three blocks of fuzzy color) to his friends and associates, all oohing and aahing over Rothko’s celebrated psychological and spiritual masterpiece.
But this year, Meyer learned that it’s a suspected “total forgery” with “virtually no value.”
Ron, let me clue you. The majority of critically acclaimed contemporary painting, including Rothko’s mind-numbing blots, are hype. They have no real value. Not even the originals.
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