Vs. Theatre Aims for Steady as You Go

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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Artistic Director, Johnny Clark wants Cal in Camo, the present production, to kick off a new beginning for Vs. Theatre in 2019. “We are very proud to close out the calendar year with this play,” he said. “I hope this is the last production that we say [to our audience], ‘We don’t know what comes next.’” After a string of successful World, West Coast, and LA premieres, Clark wants to be able to declare a season with at least two productions.

He is encouraged by responses to Cal in Camo by William Francis Hoffman in a Red Dog Squadron co-production, now extended through November 16th.  And it is significant how the play emerged from a liaison between the two entities. Clark relates that he read the play about a year before Brad Raider, co-founder of RDS, came to him with the idea of doing it at Vs. When Raider, who plays Tim, approached him, Clark knew right away he wanted to do it. “It turns out that Brad had seen the play when it premiered in New York.” He said, “And I knew of it because I had read it.  It was kismet.”

Cal in Camo reunites Cal (Bree Turner) with her taciturn brother, Flynt (Tim Cummings), after the birth of her fitful baby and the drowning death of Flynt’s wife. Complicated by Cal’s inability to mother and her troubles with husband, Tim, the family moves inexorably toward an almost Biblical moment of truth. It is an arresting story, helmed by a sensitive director, Amy K. Harmon, and performed by the ensemble of well-seasoned actors. Meticulously sculpted both in lighting, sound, and production design, Vs. and Red Dog Squadron represent the very best that Los Angeles’s unheralded theaters bring to the table.

But getting there defied the odds. Due to schedules and availabilities, Harmon had a scant four weeks to pull everything together. “We relied on [Bogart’s] Viewpoints to give us a vocabulary to explore. Working swiftly required us to have immense focus.”

Since the setting requires a sense of great outdoors beyond the family living room, Harmon relates that she was “scared of the depth [in the space].”  But an added platform opened it up, and what might have been a liability became an opportunity. Of the performance, she added,  “We worried how it was going to work, but we all trusted each other, and now I love the way we did it.”

For the future, Clark unveils his strategy going forward. “I have two questions that I ask myself when considering a new play:

1) Can we do this as well or better than anyone else?

2) If this is the last play we ever do, is this the work we’d like to go out on?”

And, as an after thought, Clark adds, pragmatically,

“3) Can we get the rights? That last is the most unpredictable.”

Red Dog Squadron’s Brad Raider cannot be more pleased about the play, the production, and Vs.’ hospitality. After a five year hiatus, RDS co-founders Raider and James Roday (presently filming ABC’s A Million Little Things) finally have the time to produce again. It can only mean more star-quality productions of adventurous plays for Los Angeles.