Theater festivals have the potential to galvanize an audience, but in a sprawling city already awash in performance, the importance of sharp curating can’t be overemphasized.
Radar L.A., an adventurous amalgam of international theater, made a winning debut in 2011 in part because it recognized that L.A. is a unique metropolis and that a replica of New York’s Under the Radar Festival just wouldn’t cut it.
It took more than two years for the festival to return, but the wait promises to be worth it. The program, presented by REDCAT and CalArts in association with Center Theatre Group and a consortium of other partners, features work from Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, New Zealand and Japan as well as our own backyard. It runs from Sept. 24 to Oct. 1.
Curated by Mark Murphy, executive director of REDCAT, Diane Rodriguez, director of new play production at Center Theatre Group, and Mark Russell, director of the Devised Theater Initiative at the Public Theater in New York, the lineup features a mix of Latin American, Pacific Rim and U.S. artists, sometimes working in collaboration, as with acclaimed American puppeteer Basil Twist and Japanese master musician Yumiko Tanaka’s in “Dogugaeshi.”
I’m eager to catch the solo performance work on Rodney King that Roger Guenveur Smith has been developing, and there’s a rare opportunity see Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound” in a graceful Getty Villa production directed by Travis Preston that’s included under Radar L.A.'s umbrella.
A festival of this sort requires some risk-taking — it’s the intrepid who are usually most rewarded.
Fortunately, the program is designed so that theatergoers can see multiple events in a single day, with most downtown venues within walking distance from one another. My advice: Buy a multi-event pass and go on a performance binge.
Various venues throughout the area, including REDCAT, Kirk Douglas Theatre, Getty Villa, Freud Playhouse, MOCA Grand Avenue, Los Angeles Theatre Center and historic downtown theaters, free-$42; (213) 237-2800; www.redcat.org
Through OCT. 13
Conceived, adapted and directed by Jessica Kubzansky, this reworking of Shakespeare’s history play about a king who enjoys the pomp of monarchy more than the onerous responsibility is stripped to its essence and performed by a three-person cast. Kubzansky, a co-artistic director of the Theatre @ Boston Court, knows her way around Shakespeare, and her experience will serve her well in figuring out this complicated Shakespearean portrait of a ruler who, like so many of our own politicians, talks a better game than he delivers.
The Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; $5-$34; (626) 683-6883; www.bostoncourt.org
SEPT. 18-NOV. 3
‘The Normal Heart’
The 2011 Broadway production of Larry Kramer’s searing 1985 AIDS drama made clear that the play hasn’t lost its political or emotional punch. The story of a fiery activist’s crusade against the denial and indifference that made the epidemic all the more difficult to combat offers more than just a history lesson — it is a heart-rending profile in the productive uses of outrage. Simon Levy directs the Fountain’s revival, which invites us to encounter the full blast of Ned Weeks’ life-saving anger in an intimate space.
The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles; $20-$34; (323) 663-1525; www.fountaintheatre.com
SEPT. 24-NOV. 3
‘The Sunshine Boys’
Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch, stars of the classic sitcom “Taxi,” reunite in this Neil Simon play about a pair of vaudevillian comics forced to put aside their bitter grudge for a television gig too lucrative to pass up. DeVito scored rave reviews when he performed the role of Willie Clark in London opposite the great Richard Griffiths, who died last spring. Hirsch, no slouch as a stage actor, will bring his own distinctive charisma to the part of Al Lewis. One thing we know for sure: This duo has comic chemistry.
Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; $20-$110; (213) 628-2772; www.centertheatregroup.org
The London-based Complicite is a purveyor of hallucinatory theatrical collages. Productions by this company (“Mnemonic,” “A Disappearing Number,” “The Street of Crocodiles”) are considered events by theater connoisseurs. A collaboration with Setagaya Public Theatre, “Shun-kin” is an adaptation of a 1933 tale by Junichiro Tanizaki, a love story with a sadomasochistic twist between a blind musician and her servant lover in 19th century Japan. Performed in Japanese and directed by Complicite leader Simon McBurney, this production, presented by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance and part of this year’s Radar L.A. festival, blends puppetry with the dazzling mise-en-scène for which Complicite is renowned.
Freud Playhouse at Macgowan Hall, 245 Charles E. Young Drive E., Los Angeles; $50-$85 ($150-$500 opening-night benefit); (310) 825-2101; www.cap.ucla.edu
SEPT. 28-OCT. 27
Samuel D. Hunter’s “The Whale,” produced at South Coast Repertory last spring, marked the emergence of an important playwriting voice in the American theater, one unafraid to confront the country’s fierce and often-hypocritical religiosity. His new play, set in a small northern Idaho town, involves a newspaper publisher, personal ads and the barriers placed in the way of intimacy. This sounds rather secular, but count on Hunter to zoom in on the story’s transcendental meaning. Davis McCallum directs the world premiere.
The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego; $29-$72; (619) 234-5623; www.theoldglobe.org
OCT. 18-NOV. 17
Amy Herzog’s critically acclaimed play revolves around a lefty Greenwich Village grandmother and her wayward, neo-radical grandson, who has cycled across the country in a state of confusion about his future. The personal is resonantly political in this beautifully observed chamber drama. David Emmes directs this enticing SoCal introduction to an American playwright you will no doubt be hearing more from.
South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, from $22; (714) 708-5555; www.scr.org
OCT. 27-NOV. 24
‘The Black Suits’
The American musical needs an injection of talent. Joe Iconis, a Jonathan Larson Award-winning composer, is someone to watch. His new musical, a coming-of-age story about misfits from a Long Island high school garage band, has its unveiling at the Douglas. Robert Maddock collaborated with Iconis on the book, but the music and lyrics belong entirely to the man who enlivened the second season of the backstage soap opera “Smash” with his song “Broadway Here I Come.”
Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; $20-$55; (213) 628-2772; www.centertheatregroup.org
NOV. 5-DEC. 1
‘Twelve Angry Men’
Artistic director Sheldon Epps directs the Pasadena Playhouse revival of Reginald Rose’s stirring courtroom drama in which a jury deliberates the fate of a young man accused of murder. What seems an open and shut case reveals unexpected complications when a lone juror challenges the rush to judgment. In Epps’ staging, the jurors will be evenly cast with African American and white actors with the aim of stimulating a conversation about race and justice in America.
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; $25-$125; (626) 356-7529; www.pasadenaplayhouse.org
‘We’re Gonna Die’
Experimental playwright Young Jean Lee ventures into dark, existential territory in this pop cabaret contemplating the intractable facts of the human condition. With this artist in charge, however, the work isn’t likely to be a downer. Lee’s radical hip sensibility leavens truth with levity. This offering from UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance marks Lee’s L.A. debut. Better later than never.
Actors’ Gang at the Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; $40; (310) 825-2101; www.cap.ucla.edu