The 99-Seat Beat: L.A.'s small theaters present a Neil Simon classic, an up-and-coming hit by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and more
Among the shows playing in Los Angeles’ bustling smaller theaters this week are two Pulitzer Prize drama finalists, one receiving its West Coast premiere, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Gloria,” the other an old favorite, Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound.” Also on the bill is a new company that reaches out to military veterans and a mini-festival of new work by women writers.
‘Gloria’ by Echo Theater Company
What: “Sweat” at the Mark Taper Forum depicts the territorialism that has gripped the United States as blue-collar jobs vanish. Jacobs-Jenkins’ 2015 play “Gloria,” presented by Echo Theater Company, looks at the phenomenon in the white-collar world, taking the audience into the office of a Manhattan magazine, where ambitions and rivalries are dog-chasing-its-tail distractions in the midst of the print industry’s collapse.
Why this? Although cloaked in zippy banter, “Gloria” is a stinging study of the U.S.’ toxic stratification, in offices and far beyond. Then something happens — you’ll hear no spoilers from me — that sends this incisive cultural critique in a whole new direction. At the story’s core, says Chris Fields, the Echo’s artistic director, is “the very real and difficult struggle to maintain our humanity.” Repeatedly plunging into such fraught topics as race and class, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Jacobs-Jenkins, 33, has delivered such works as the skeletons-in-the-closet family drama “Appropriate,” seen at the Taper in 2015, and the satiric “Neighbors,” presented at the Matrix in 2010. He was named a MacArthur Foundation fellow in 2016.
Details: Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave. Previews Friday and opens Saturday. 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, 4 p.m. Sundays; ends Oct. 21. $20 and $34. (310) 307-3753, www.EchoTheaterCompany.com
‘A 60’s Trilogy’ by Veterans Repertory
What: Veterans Repertory, a branch of the L.A.-based United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance, is introducing itself with “A 60’s Trilogy” — three short plays by Tommy Carter. Two of the pieces address race relations in the 1960s; the third convenes at the 1982 dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to ponder service and sacrifice.
Why this? The group’s artistic director is David Fofi, a highly regarded director who led the former Elephant Theatre Company. He is also a Navy veteran. Veterans Repertory engages vets in theater’s creative and therapeutic aspects, Fofi says. That might mean participating in a writing or acting class, or it could be lower-key, sitting among the audience at a military-themed play and being reminded “that we’re keeping them in our thoughts,” Fofi says, “that they’re not forgotten.” Some of the actors in this presentation are veterans; all are professionals.
Details: New American Theatre, 1312 N. Wilton Place, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Friday, 9:15 p.m. Saturday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Sept. 21, 3 p.m. Sept. 22, 7 p.m. Sept. 23; ends Sept. 23. $20 and $25. www.Plays411.com/trilogy
‘Broadway Bound’ by West Coast Jewish Theatre
What: In 1949 Brooklyn, brothers Eugene and Stanley Jerome — stand-ins for Neil Simon and his older brother, Danny — navigate personal and family dramas while on the brink of a breakthrough as a comedy-writing duo.
Why this? The obituaries and appreciations accompanying Simon’s death on Aug. 26 put theater lovers in the mood to see his plays again, and this one, in my opinion, is his best. The central mother-son relationship is particularly touching, one moment in particular, for the beauty and simplicity with which it depicts two lives moving perfectly in step, however briefly. “Broadway Bound,” the third in a trio of particularly personal plays, depicts a young man coming into his own. It was a finalist for the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for drama, although Simon wouldn’t receive that honor until 1991, for “Lost in Yonkers.” Howard Teichman, who is directing for West Coast Jewish Theatre, has studied the Simon canon deeply, having staged several of the playwright’s works.
Details: Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. Previews Friday and opens Saturday. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, also 8 p.m. Oct. 11, 18 and 25; ends Oct. 28. $25-$40. (323) 821-2449, www.wcjt.tix.com
‘Hot Off the Press’ by Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival
What: Excerpts from new solo works by four Los Angeles women writers are being presented as part of the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival’s first “Hot Off the Press” event on Sunday. Three pieces are performed by their authors, with Heather Dowling contemplating motherhood in “Fertile,” Pam Levin mulling the complexity of parenting in “The Untraditional Present” and Amy Witry navigating organ donation in “Once Upon a Kidney.” Juliette Jeffers’ “Kasturba,” performed by Aishveryaa Nidhi, studies Mohandas Gandhi’s wife and partner in activism.
Why this? The festival, established in 1993, presents programs year-round, “giving voice to women and the many, myriad stories they have to share,” says co-founder and executive producer Adilah Barnes. “Hot Off the Press” is designed to provide writers much-needed audience feedback. For those in the seats, it’s a chance to participate in a show’s creation. Plus, there’s always something to be learned. “We call what we do edu-tainment,” Barnes says.
Details: Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 7 p.m. Sunday only. $10. (818) 760-0408, www.lawtf.org
The 99-Seat Beat appears every Friday. Our reviewers shortlist offerings with an emphasis on smaller venues. Some (but not all) recommendations are shows we’ve seen; others are based on the track record of the company, playwright, director or cast. Comprehensive theater listings are posted every Sunday at latimes.com/arts.
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