Yes, it’s that time of the year again, when I look at the announcements of Center Theatre Group’s seasons at its three theaters to see how much attention “LA’s Theatre Company” will pay to LA in the coming year.
First, there are hopeful signs at the Mark Taper Forum. In the recent Taper season announcement, CTG artistic director Michael Ritchie made a point of noting that “distinctly Californian stories are told in Los Otros and Other Desert Cities“ — two of the Taper selections for 2012.
Los Otros is a CTG commission from composer Michael John LaChiusa and librettist/lyricist Ellen Fitzhugh. It’s about “a Southern California woman” and “a Mexican American man” who grew up in the Central Valley, according to the release. OK, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s set in LA — if it were, why not bill it as being set in LA? Still, any story that takes place anywhere in California south of, say, San Francisco comes closer to LA than almost anything CTG has presented in recent years.
I like much of LaChiusa’s previous work, which usually receives its LA productions at Hollywood’s tiny Blank Theatre. I’m not familiar with Ellen Fitzhugh’s oeuvre, but from an interview I glean that she once lived in LA, attending the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop here, then moved to New York.
Despite some LA time in Fitzhugh’s past, however, I can imagine that there were probably some rolling eyes and frowning faces among LA’s own musical theater makers when word came that New Yorkers would be creating this California story. The Argentinian American director, Graciela Daniele, is also New York-based. She worked with LaChiusa on Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Other Desert Cities is set in Palm Springs — again, not quite LA, but it indicates some progress toward including southern California within CTG’s field of vision. The playwright, Jon Robin Baitz, is an LA native and a Beverly Hills High graduate. He achieved some of his early success as a playwright in LA and has returned here to do TV, but he’s more often identified nowadays as a New Yorker. Other Desert Cities originally premiered in NYC and is now headed for a Broadway run. CTG’s announcement noted that the length of that commercial run might affect the later CTG run, which is currently scheduled to open on Dec. 2, 2012 — more than a year from now.
For the record, another often-LA-based playwright, David Mamet, is also represented on the Taper season, with his election-oriented November. Of course it isn’t set in LA. Although it wasn’t well received by the New York critics in 2008, there is almost nothing that Mamet could write that Ritchie wouldn’t put on a CTG stage. Mamet appears to be Ritchie’s idea of a reliable LA playwright.
One veteran LA director, Michael Arabian, has a job on the Taper slate, directing Waiting for Godot, which will offer a role for LA institution Alan Mandell.
Let’s move to the Ahmanson. Considering that the Ahmanson is mostly a home for post-Broadway and some pre-Broadway tours, it’s no surprise that LA is not represented in its 2012 mix. OK, Universal Pictures is producing Bring It On. And Green Day, which wrote American Idiot, originated in California — but it was from Berkeley, where the musical version also originated, at Berkeley Rep. Sorry, this doesn’t count.
However, a couple of productions will advance the cause of LA talent and LA material at the Kirk Douglas. First, LA’s own Ebony Repertory Theatre will re-create its A Raisin in the Sun at the Douglas — a happy revival of Ritchie’s long-dormant notion of letting smaller LA companies take the Douglas stage from time to time, as well as a welcome revival of this terrific production itself. I’m especially pleased to see it return in conjunction with a subsequent staging of the Raisin in the Sun 50-years-later sequel of sorts, Clybourne Park, at the Taper.
Second, Culture Clash’s and Richard Montoya’s American Night: The Ballad of Juan José, is headed for the Douglas in March. I saw the show’s premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year, and frankly I can’t remember how specifically it’s set in LA. But it’s certainly an LA story — the tale of a Latino immigrant studying for his citizenship test. Judging from Culture Clash’s habit of stuffing local references into its productions, almost to a fault, I’ll be surprised if the Douglas production isn’t very much locally-targeted.
So I’ve got to say that the Douglas programming helps lift CTG’s grade on using LA content and talent from the current season’s F to a C in the coming season.
But don’t rest on your laurels, CTG. I’m still awaiting word that the Civilians’ long-planned docudrama about the San Fernando Valley porn industry, which was developed under CTG auspices, will be scheduled for a full production by CTG. And I still urge CTG officials to continue thinking about these words on the CTG website:
“The organization is committed to producing theatre that reflects and informs our own community. We hope to attract new audiences to our theatres through stories inspired on our own streets as well as through plays that transport our audiences lifetimes away…Center Theatre Group plans to bring new work and new voices to the stage through collaboration with other Los Angeles theatre companies and ensembles”…
For now, Ritchie has made some small progress toward bringing CTG back home, and I’ll temporarily refrain from repeating my line that CTG stands for Center Theatre Gotham. Oops, sorry, too late.