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Never Givin' Up- A Second View

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"Actor" and "activist" are linguistically related terms; in the person of MacArthur Genius Award-recipient and Tony Award-nominated actress and playwright – Anna Deavere Smith – the two concepts become integrated. Known for her innovative approach to theater, Professor Smith (she's on the faculty at New York University in the Tisch School of the Arts) is accurately described as a docu-dramatist. That is, she documents current events and issues through the process of interviewing witnesses and stakeholders who are the subjects of such events and issues. After that rigorous but enlightening process, she reenacts the interviews as a series of topical monologues.

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Guys and Dolls

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Broadway's Tony-award-winning Guys and Dolls, first produced in 1950, has been a reliable musical theater staple since its first production. With book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, based on stories by Damon Runyon filled with chorus girls, gangsters, and denizens of the New York streets, it delivers a highly entertaining story accompanied by some of composer and lyricist Frank Loesser's most engaging music. A movie in 1955 starred Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, and Vivian Blaine, who was part of the original Broadway cast.

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Of Good Stock

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Celebrity novelist, Mick Stockton, has died quite some time ago; he has left his three adult daughters the patriarchal abode in Cape Cod, purview over his still much-in-demand bibliography, and many familial loose ends to be sorted out among the daughters.

The men in the lives of this trio of feminine descendants struggle to comprehend the Stockton family's complex legacy, and to blend into it. The protagonist, Jess (Melanie Lora in a most naturalistic characterization), hasn’t even dropped her maiden name. At one point her devoted husband, Fred (Rob Nagle in a winning portrayal), sarcastically inquires as to whether he ought to take Jess’s surname as his own.

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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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Never Givin' Up

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Anna Deveare Smith has an impressive resume. She is an artist-in-residence at the Center for American Progress, a professor in the Department of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts in New York, a lecturer at the NYU School of Law, and formerly taught at Stanford and Carnegie Mellon University. In addition, she is a talented actress performing in television, film, and theater.

She is probably best known by theater audiences for her one-woman performances, particularly to Los Angeles audiences for Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 dealing with the Watts riots. She has received numerous awards for her performances and work, including a Pulitzer nomination, a Drama Desk Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, and multiple honorary degrees from over 20 colleges and universities.

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

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Though Anita Loos wrote several books, contributed hundreds of magazine articles, and was a prolific screenwriter, she was best known for her book and subsequent play, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady. First written in 1925, it painted a picture of the jazz age that Loos cleverly made witty and fresh. It was a best seller and was eventually made into a Broadway musical in 1949 starring Carol Channing. Loos collaborated on the play's book with Joseph Fields, with Jule Styne for music, and with Leo Robin for lyrics. As produced by Musical Theatre Guild for their one-night staged reading series, it shows its age, but it provides a showcase for a cadre of talented musical theater veterans.

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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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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.