The 99-Seat Beat: Dreamers, Van Gogh, 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' and more
By Philip Brandes
Feb 16, 2018 | 6:00 AM
Post-traumatic American politics, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gaugin as the original odd couple, Cold War-era tensions revisited and a camp musical based on a beloved 1990s film are among the offerings from L.A.’s small theaters this week. Here’s a quick rundown of promising productions.
‘One Year Later’ from Open Fist
The essentials: This pop-up production from the nomadic Open Fist Theatre Company offers an anthology of 14 playlets exploring our current political and social climate. Imperiled immigrants and “Dreamers,” social media bullying, airport security run amok, polarizing Confederate statues and fractured families are among the ripped-from-the-headlines vignettes performed by a 25-actor ensemble. The venue has been converted to a casual couch-lined speak-easy setting, inviting audience and cast to engage in pre- and post-show mingling, discussion and libations.
Why this? Fearless, sharp-edged social commentary has been an Open Fist hallmark for nearly three decades. The scripts (including one by Pulitzer playwriting finalist David MacGregor) were chosen in January from more than 100 submissions following an open call for politically themed short plays. Selection criteria included scope — being neither too ambitious nor too trivial — plus clear relevance, well-drawn characters and complete storytelling in merciful running times between 4 and 10 minutes. If a segment doesn’t rock your boat, you won’t have to wait long for the next one.
Details: An Open Fist Theatre Company production at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; ends March 3.$25. (323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org
‘The Art Couple’ from Sacred Fools
The essentials: In the annals of mismatched roommates, painters Paul Gaugin and Vincent van Gogh were so diametrically opposite in temperament, philosophy and style that their turbulent co-habitation in 1888 could easily have been the prototype for Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” And there you have the loopy premise of this “untrue telling of a true story” in which the two artists inspire Simon to write a more highbrow first draft of his iconic comedy.
Why this? As longtime associates of the ever-stylish Sacred Fools Theater Company, playwright Brendan Hunt (who plays Van Gogh) and director Lauren Van Kurin re-team for this quirky literary origin story, packed with name-dropping allusions and inside jokes from the worlds of art and theater — and, of course, from “The Odd Couple” itself. Beneath the freewheeling satire, though, it’s a meditation on the process of making art and figuring out what kind of artist one will be.
Details: A Sacred Fools production at the Broadwater Black Box, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays (dark March 4); ends March 17. $15. www.sacredfools.org
‘A Walk in the Woods’ at Actors Co-op
The essentials: Lee Blessing’s 1988 two-hander is about the unexpected friendship that develops between mid-level U.S. and Soviet diplomats during informal breaks in their stalled nuclear arms negotiations. Away from their diplomatic fishbowl, the abstract threats of global annihilation and geopolitical brinkmanship take a back seat to their personal connection, in a bittersweet reminder that international politics will always remain the province of flawed human beings — Cold War truths that haven’t thawed.
Why this? Actors Co-op Theatre Company has a proven track record with morality-themed material requiring finely nuanced performances. The revival features a less common gender-reversed casting of the uptight, naively optimistic American in Nan McNamara (recent Ovation and L.A. Drama Critics Circle award nominee for Actors Co-op’s “33 Variations”) and Phil Crowley (“An Evening With C.S. Lewis”) as her charming, sadder-but-wiser Russian counterpart.
Details: An Actors Co-op production at Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays (and also this Saturday and Feb. 24); ends March 18. $30. (323) 462-8460 or www.actorsco-op.org
‘Priscilla’ at Celebration at the Lex
The essentials: Making its L.A. intimate theater debut, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — The Musical” was adapted by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott from Elliott’s 1994 taboo-busting hit movie about two Australian drag queens and a transgender woman on a road trip of self-discovery aboard their lavender tour bus, Priscilla. Flamboyantly choreographed and accessorized camp classics include “I Love the Nightlife,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “What's Love Got to Do With It” and “I Will Survive.”
Why this? With its outrageous antics, nostalgic roster of 20-plus pop hits and sympathetic characters, this jukebox musical is suited to Celebration’s founding mission of LGBTQ rights advocacy through quality productions, still going strong after 36 years. The cast includes seasoned veterans of Broadway and national tours.
Details: A Celebration Theatre production at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends March 25. $25-$45. (323) 957-1884 or www.celebrationtheatre.com
The 99-Seat Beat appears every Friday. Our team of reviewers — people with more than 75 years of combined experience tracking local theater — shortlists offerings with an emphasis on 99-seat theaters and other smaller venues. Some (but not all) recommendations are shows we've seen; others have caught our attention because of the track record of the company, playwright, director or cast. You can find more comprehensive theater listings posted every Sunday at latimes.com/arts.