The Economist recently called disruptive innovation — an idea that changes a whole system — the most influential business theory of the early 21st century. Not to front, but theater people got to this party a long, long time ago. Add an unexpected ingredient to an old recipe, and what happens next is drama.
In the 99-Seat Beat, our weekly look at L.A.’s smaller stages, four productions combine elements in odd and fruitful ways. “Anna in the Tropics” unleashes Tolstoy on Florida factory workers. “Daniel’s Husband” explores how marriage equality complicates a gay romance. “Crime and Punishment” externalizes a murderer's psychological state. And in “Julius Weezer,” the Troubadour Theater Company throws Shakespeare into a room with a contemporary pop-punk band and locks the door.
‘Anna in the Tropics’ in Atwater Village
The essentials: Open Fist Theatre Company is reviving Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2003 play, “Anna in the Tropics.” The story is set in 1929 in a Florida factory where workers roll cigars by hand, a job so tedious that a lector is kept on staff to read aloud to them. Cruz’s play kicks off when the dashing new lector counterintuitively chooses “Anna Karenina,” a novel about adultery in wintry, Imperial Russia. His listeners quickly fall under Tolstoy's spell, which awakens them to inconvenient passions of their own.
Why this? Cruz was a student of the avant-garde playwright Maria Irene Fornes, and his heightened language suggests that he is not going for kitchen-sink realism here. His characters are at once flesh-and-blood people succumbing to animal passion and souls ravished by literature. Finding the balance can be tricky; fortunately, veteran L.A. director Jon Lawrence Rivera, who knows his way around lyricism, is at the helm.
The details: An Open Fist production at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. select Fridays, plus 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays and 8 p.m. Mondays through June 8. $20-$40. (323) 882-6912 or openfist.org
‘Daniel’s Husband’ at the Fountain
The essentials: Since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, gay and lesbian couples have been free to experience the existential hell they once depended on heterosexuals to describe. Now every American can enjoy the frustration of falling for someone who “doesn’t believe in marriage” — the dilemma in “Daniel’s Husband,” Michael McKeever's 2018 off-Broadway hit getting its Southern California premiere at the Fountain Theatre.
Why this? The deceptively sit-commy premise of McKeever’s script makes its gut punches all the more wrenching. This production reunites director Simon Levy with actors Bill Brochtrup and Tim Cummings, who teamed on a memorable 2013 revival of Larry Kramer's “The Normal Heart.” Don't leave the tissues in the car.
The details: Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. Opens 8 p.m. Saturday. Performances 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. Mondays, through June 23. $40-$45. (323) 663-1525 or fountaintheatre.com
‘Crime and Punishment’ in Santa Monica
The essentials: In 1866, Fyodor Dostoevsky required more than 500 pages to write “Crime and Punishment." In 2017, Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus adapted it into a 90-minute play for three actors, billed as “a conversation on the nature of evil." In his Edgemar Center production, director Peter Richards projects live-feed images of the performers on screens behind them, so the audience can catch every tortured expression.
Why this? We can’t know what Dostoevsky would think of this Twitter-era adaptation, but we suspect that he would have approved of the casting. His murderous antihero, Raskolnikov, whom he described as "exceptionally handsome, above the average in height, slim, well built, with beautiful dark eyes and dark brown hair,” is played here by TV heartthrob Michael Trevino (“The Vampire Diaries"), making his stage debut.
The details: “Crime and Punishment,” Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through May 26. $25. (323) 960-7822 or OnStage411.com/Crime
The Troubies return with ‘Julius Weezer’
The essentials: L.A.’s beloved Troubadour Theatre Company has landed at El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, where it launches its 25th season with a new Shakespeare/pop music mash-up, “Julius Weezer” — the tragedy of “Julius Caesar” set to the oeuvre of the indie geek-rock quartet Weezer.
Why this? The uninitiated might think, “Yeah, Weezer rhymes with Caesar, but can this coincidence carry a show?” Anybody who has experienced the Troubies’ Bardic pastiches — “Fleetwood Macbeth,” “The Two Gentleman of Chicago,” “Much A-Doobie Brothers About Nothing” — can answer definitively: And then some! Troubie favorites Matt Walker, Beth Kennedy, Rick Batalla and Rob Nagle can make anything funny. They might also convince you that a pun isn’t just a pun when it comes to comparative literature. For instance, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo is arguably the Julius Caesar of our time. Replace “sweater” with “toga” in “Undone,” and the score writes itself.
The details: El Portal Theatre, 11206 Weddington Ave., North Hollywood. Previews 8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. Thursday. Opens May 10. Performances 8 p.m. Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through May 19. $50-$65. (818) 508-4200 or (866) 811-4111 or elportaltheatre.com
The 99-Seat Beat appears every Friday. Our writers shortlist offerings with an emphasis on smaller venues. Some recommendations are shows we've seen; others are based on the track record of the company, playwright, director or cast.
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