By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The play was staged in a gravel pit, where space reached back into a dark mist. The prince's entrance involved sliding down into the pit and pelting the first row with little pebbles. A red-nosed harlequin (Sylvester McCoy) offset the overall grimness, in one scene literally stepping across the shoulders of the audience to approach the stage. As in Shakespeare, the richness of Calderon's passion comes from his poetry, Clifford's translation of which was fervently delivered by a masterful company, while occasionally soliloquies were juxtaposed with Basque-style percussion from an onstage drummer.
In these productions, the stories were layered in - rather than spoon-fed - amid startling images and assured stylizations. As opposed to more commercial works, allegory was as vital to their integrity as plot. The directors seemed either self-confident or arrogant, depending on how much their work impressed or annoyed.
Whatever the case, L.A. audiences shouldn't have to travel to Edinburgh to find such plays. There's really no excuse for a city as massive and cosmopolitan as Los Angeles not to have an international theater or arts festival. Even a biannual event would be better than our present year-round equivalent of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (where anyone who can cough up the funds can rent a venue), mingled with a handful of enterprising troupes and commercial booking houses. We get Laurie Anderson on tour and the best musicals in the world, but we seem to have our own curious "Peter principle," whereby non- or even anti-commercial stage directors like Peter Stein, Peter Brook and Peter Sellars stay away. (And Sellars lives here.)
The dinkiest towns in the outbacks of Poland have an international festival, bringing together an array of theatrical temperaments. (Such places, by the way - places in which the economies are far less robust than ours - share our enthusiasm for American-style commerical theater; they simply throw their net wider.) Sponsors include local businesses and multinational corporations. Audiences flock in to experience an injection of arts fare from all over the world. Everyone wins.
On my five-play Edinburgh marathon, I walked to every venue - and that's perhaps the most significant difference between Edinburgh and L.A. You can traverse the width of Edinburgh on foot in about 45 minutes, whereas if you were to walk 45 minutes from the Santa Monica Pier toward downtown L.A., you still wouldn't have left Santa Monica. Still, that's not an insurmountable obstacle: We have buses and other shuttles that seem to work just fine for places like the Getty Museum and the Hollywood Bowl.
Money isn't the obstacle here, management is. After the triumph of our 1984 Olympic Arts Festival, Sellars so botched the coordination of a similar effort in 1987 - reputedly spending more time directing operas in Europe than holding down the fort at home - that the consequent aversion on the part of sponsors to the mere mention of the word festival has kept world theater away from Los Angeles for more than a decade. It's really time to get over it - and get on with it.