These ghost stories are about hubris and squandering resources. Bushnell and White were chosen to run LATC partly because of their thriving two-theater complex off Santa Monica Boulevard, then called Los Angeles Actors Theater (now the MET Theater). They tried to run their center with the same kind of bluster that made LAAT among the city’s most vibrant, daring and respected small venues. LATC went down in flames because, in addition to Bushnell’s almost tragic arrogance, he simply couldn’t fathom the notions of ä fiscal restraint, political finesse and commercial pressure that come to bear upon a larger theater. In fact, he ran LATC much the way Boris Yeltsin has run Russia, with much the same personality and with similar results. In a country like ours, with such paltry subsidy to the arts, larger theaters are almost by definition compromised by the financial challenges facing them.
Unless they’re bankrolled by government or business, how can such spaces take a risk on a playwright like Glen Berger, or a multimedia project about memory? The curse of the theaters, large and small, is poverty, a hunger that affects different scales of theaters in different ways. The larger ones depend on pleasing funding agencies, as well as crowds, while the smaller, if they can just pay their bills, are freer to do their work without a corporate or foundation check. And that’s why, unless there’s some kind of tectonic cultural shift, the future of L.A.’s stage as a forum for fresh ideas and sensibilities resides in those converted warehouses and storefronts — still struggling, still scrapping, across the Southland.
Theater fads come and go, but some insist on wearing out their welcome. Below are excerpts from Steven Mikulan’s reviews on three genres we love to hate: the one-person show, the white-trash play and the dysfunctional-family epic.
From "The Word Is Out," July 8, 1994
On any given week you can find someone on a stage describing the highlights of an incest-filled childhood, re-enacting past schizophrenic breakdowns or, in the case of Annie Sprinkle, someone who’ll invite you to peer into her uterus with the aid of a speculum and Mag Lite . . . They confuse raw candor with technique, believing that total honesty is enough to win over the viewer. What they forget is that striptease is more intriguing than exhibitionism, and a confidential whisper can reveal more than a speculum and a flashlight. Theater audiences want to be fondled and caressed; they want to be led gently, but unmistakably, to a discovery — about the performer and, hopefully, themselves.
From "Yokels Only," August 29, 1997
For a while now it’s been the chic thing in party conversations to bash white folks, especially if the people doing the bashing are white folks . . . The piñata of choice is often the redneck, be he Okie, Arkie, Tarheel or whoever else drives a battered pickup . . . Even when driving through rural California, we’re likely, upon spotting someone wearing boots and a bad haircut, to hum the theme from Deliverance to appreciative friends. And so it is in theater, where, locally at least, "white trash" comedies have practically replaced aerospace as a boom industry.
From "In the Family Way," November 7, 1997
Story families have been acting out at least since Tantalus served his son as a casserole to the gods — sometimes tragically, sometimes with a laugh track . . . There is the Rube Goldberg Family, whose characters all seem to be cross-eyed descendants of the Vanderhofs in Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s You Can’t Take It With You . . . Then there is the Apocalyptic Family, occupying a shifting frontier between farce and tragedy . . . Finally, there is the Sick Family, an unrelentingly somber coterie prone to substance dependencies and dirty secrets. A Sick Family softball game would be coached by James Tyrone and Eddie Carbone, and, I would think, probably be a long scoreless night.