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Abduction from the Seraglio

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I’ll confess that I approached the Pacific Opera Project’s Star Trek- themed production of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio with some trepidation. Not because I’m an opera purist who believes that operatic interpretations are sacrosanct, and definitely not because I mistrust POP’s Artistic Director, Josh Shaw, whose inventive productions I have enjoyed. It really was about the fact that I’d never really watched Star Trek, in any of its incarnations, and assumed that I would be lost in a sea of inside jokes.

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Oedipus El Rey

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Classical dramas survive eons of time because they speak to modern audiences and are unfettered by the places and cultures of their origins. The surviving plays of several ancient Greek poets belong in the classical collection, and in the right hands they are malleable in current situations of today.

Modern playwright, Luis Alfaro, saw in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, written more than 2500 years ago, a compliant tragedy. His ambitious cultural adaptation, Oedipus El Rey, first presented in San Francisco, has found its way to San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Lyceum Stage, where it  offers a provocative and edgy, although somewhat flawed production . Translations always lose, and gain, some things.

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The Ghosts of Versailles

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I must confess upfront that I am the target audience for The Ghosts of Versailles. William Hoffman’s intricate and clever libretto mixes historical figures with familiar fictional characters in a spectacular, Stoppardian, meta-theatrical circus act which manages, against all odds, to work on every level. John Corigliano’s inspired score walks its own tightrope of pastiche, send-up, and delicately nuanced, but always accessible postmodern sound. I have loved the opera since its 1991 Met premiere and found myself as excited as the proverbial kid in the candy shop to finally see a live production.

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Fugue

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With the world premiere production of Fugue, playwright Tommy Smith delves into the lives and psyches of three classical composers: Carlo Gesualdo, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Arnold Schoenberg. Tchaikovsky, of course, is one of the most popular composers of all time, and his musical themes are well-known. Schoenberg, despite his importance to modern music, worked in a style resolutely guaranteed to find him little popularity outside of music critics and academics. Gesualdo, if he’s known at all by the average concert-goer, is more famous for his personal life than his compositions.

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Hellman vs. McCarthy

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In 1979, talk show host Dick Cavett interviewed noted author Mary McCarthy. Her inflammatory comments about writer Lillian Hellman on the air prompted Hellman to institute a libel suit for $2.5 million dollars against McCarthy. The result of that confrontation is the subject of Brian Richard Mori's play now presented at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills.

McCarthy was, by all accounts, an acerbic intellectual known for her liberal politics and, in particular, antipathy for Stalinism, which Hellman had embraced at one point in her life.

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Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

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There are pop-operas, rock operas, and so-called jukebox musicals. Now through March 29th, San Clemente's Cabrillo Playhouse is presenting Why Do Fools Fall in Love? The tuneful amusement it provides would be well described under any of the above listed categories. In fact, playwright Roger Bean – author of such clever musical concoctions as The Marvelous Wonderettes, The Andrews Brothers, and Life Could Be a Dream – may have invented a slightly new genre of musical with his 2006 Why Do Fools Fall in Love? It could, along with a few of the other of Bean’s pleasingly formulaic stage musicals, be fairly called girlie-bopper theatrics.

 

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The Price

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The Price, written by that pillar of American drama, Arthur Miller, made its Broadway debut in 1968, where it ran for 429 performances and garnered two Tony-Award nominations--one for Best Play and the other for Best Scenic Design.

This rarely produced script puts focus on family dynamics, as grown brothers sort out the property of their recently deceased father. Not only do the two estranged siblings, one a New York City cop, the other a  successful surgeon, attempt to put a price on items such as furniture; they also find themselves assessing the value of certain life decisions.

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Gefilte Fish and Chips

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In the same way that you don't think of combining gefilte fish with chips of any sort, one wouldn't necessarily think that a Jewish Englishman would be a master musician, a raconteur, and a performance artist. But when it comes to Daniel Cainer and his solo-show, Gefilte Fish & Chips, Cainer demonstrates a unique and winning combination of aforementioned nationality, ethnicity, and talents; he’s an unlikely hodgepodge of potentialities conveyed through a warm and pleasingly quirky performance persona.

 

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The Road to Appomattox

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The Colony Theatre is presenting the local premiere of Catherine Bush’s The Road to Appomattox, which was commissioned by the Barter Theatre in commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War. Bush’s play contrasts a modern-day story of a couple visiting historical markers surrounding Lee’s movements prior to his surrender and the actual events in the Confederate camp. An unhappy series of mistakes, coincidences, and accidents will eventually force Lee’s hand and signal the dissolution of the Confederacy. Similarly, the modern couple is facing problems which could derail their marriage.

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Anna Christie

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Written in 1921 by Eugene O'Neill, Anna Christie earned a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and, in 1993, some three generations after its Broadway premiere, it won a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.  Again, in 2011, it was honored with an Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Play. Now So Cal theatergoers have an infrequent opportunity to experience an original staging of this American classic at Los Angeles' Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, through March 8.

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Spotlight

LA Drama Critics Address the 99-Seat Theatre Controversy

A Statement Concerning the Proposed Equity Changes to Los Angeles Theater

The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle views the impending changes of policy concerning the small theaters of the greater Los Angeles area with alarm. We are concerned that the inevitable result of such changes will be a drastic reduction in the amount and quality of local theater. Indeed, we foresee what could be the virtual demise of Los Angeles as a leading incubator of plays and theater of innovation and diversity.

As critics, we are the front lines of the audience. Thus, we are keenly aware of the importance of small theaters and the actors who perform at them to the cultural ecosystem of Los Angeles as a major metropolitan center for the arts. Our institutional theaters and touring roadshows provide a valuable and popular service, but they alone do not and cannot provide the vast spectrum of forms of expression which a great city requires. Within that spectrum, live theater plays an essential role.

Under current proposals, nearly all of the winners of our Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence over the past dozen years – our highest honor – would be threatened with closure or, at best, severely curtailed activities. A majority of the shows recognized in our annual nominations and awards would likely have never been produced. Worse, the future would promise a vastly constricted, less diverse, less venturesome, less exciting theater scene.

 

The cultural loss would be incalculable, affecting the hundreds of productions staged annually in Los Angeles. The economic loss of all the businesses interdependent on that production output is calculable, but even without the numbers being run, we believe the net impact on the city could be catastrophic. If not of the order of magnitude of the recent threatened port closure, it is analogous in import and effect.

 

The inner workings of an artists’ association, like the management of a corporation, are not the public’s business unless or until the impact of those actions has a material adverse effect on civic life, the general welfare, the region’s economic well-being, or a city’s core identity. At that point, an association’s practices become an appropriate matter for intense public concern. In the current situation, it is of critical importance that discussion and debate concerning these developments take place openly and extensively in the public sphere by all affected stakeholders. The goal is a healthier, more diverse society that provides greater opportunity for all, including the freedom of artists to develop their talents as they believe themselves to be best served.

The current situation is urgent and dire. When an historic piece of eminent architecture is destroyed, a natural resource despoiled, or a species goes extinct, the loss is irreplaceable. Once the infrastructure that undergirds the best of Los Angeles small theater is destroyed, it cannot, realistically, be resurrected. By the time the pain is finally felt and the general outcry heard, the possibility of effective action will have already been long foreclosed.

The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle urges all stakeholders in the cultural, civic and economic health of the region to involve themselves in learning about the issues and consequences of the proposals currently on the table. The Mayor, the City Council and the Board of Supervisors need to consider the economic ramifications. Foundations and opinion leaders must consider the changes’ potential impact on their missions. Major media must contribute to the disciplined and thoughtful public discourse, even as social media air opinions on all sides. All of these stakeholders have a role to play in a civic crisis, and make no mistake, a crisis is what we are facing. Moreover, it is a crisis whose quiet and parochial buildup has served to sidestep public attention and debate. Very soon, it may be too late.