By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
Franco has worked as a pitchman on TV, and it shows. He’s a fast-talking, product-oriented guy who has produced a number of shows in L.A. — some independently, and some (Nosferatu, Pathe X and The Master and Margarita) with the company Zoo District. Franco became the focal point of a philosophical conflict within that company, a conflict with possible reverberations for the Open Fist production of Joe’s Garage. Though the opposing Zoo District camp was led by director Jon Kellam, most of those who backed him were women, revealing a gender divide within the Zoo District troupe. Franco and the men were advocates of the “let’s find a script and do it now” approach to putting on plays — a view in stark contrast to Kellam and the women’s desire to concentrate the company’s resources on actor training and play development. Franco describes the division as the “product-versus-process debate.” The women’s view translated into the time-consuming idea of giving new plays readings and workshops in order to repair weak ligaments and prime the plays for a professional debut, with the highest standards possible.
“I’m 50 years old,” Franco says in the Open Fist lobby during a rehearsal. “I don’t have four years to spend telling one story. There are too many other stories I still want to tell.”
This attitude reflects Franco’s damn-the- torpedos insistence on presenting this Joe’s Garage not as a workshop but as a full production — a cavalier choice that’s perplexed and bemused some people associated with the production. Franco and Towne drafted a script from the libretto and liner notes enclosed in the CD of Joe’s Garage, a studio recording of the opera made in 1979, and the project now has a budget of $70,000 to $90,000. Open Fist (of which Franco is a member) is contributing the venue, some actors, equipment, staff support, operating costs and a small percentage of the overall budget. But almost anywhere else in the country, a work of this scale — blending a new script, choreography, video design, puppetry and the sound-mixing challenges that come with a live band — would at least be tried out as a smaller-scale workshop. Among the many purposes of such workshops is to attract potential investors for future productions. Franco is having none of it, and says he’s happy to spend up to $25,000 of his own money to offset whatever funds he can’t raise from outside sources. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s drawn down his mutual funds for a theater project, and it sounds like it won’t be his last.
“There are a lot of Zappa fans out there, and they’re already reserving tickets,” he says when asked what plans he has for transferring this production. “I’ll just have to see who turns up, and how it turns out.”
On the evening of August 19, Gail Zappa floats into the lobby of the Open Fist Theatre, delighted and surprised to find daughter Diva and son Ahmet also there. A vocalist herself, Gail has the beautiful, round face of an ageless hippie, with kind, world-weary eyes. Behind her candor and gentle veneer percolates some muted frustration. “It’s not easy working for a dead guy,” she says in the theater office while the cast is doing their Suzuki warm-up. “The simple answer and the horrifying answer is that my future is my husband’s past. And I’m just trying to keep it as unfiltered as possible by everybody who would like to have it reflect their image.”
She makes no mention of the lawsuit she threatened to file last year against Arf-Society, the German musicians society and fan club that helped to organize the renaming of a Berlin street after Frank Zappa. The Zappa family failed to respond to invites from Arf-Society for its endorsement, so the the club proceeded anyway. The club also supports the kind of Frank Zappa tribute bands that arouse Gail’s ire. She doesn’t cite them by name, but the target of her anger is clear enough: “People who misinterpret Frank, or miscast him, somebody who plays his music, somebody who writes a book, taking a very large footprint and shrinking it down to a minuscule size that’s not recognizable by anybody. It’s really grand theft identity. I can imagine, but I can’t prove that I’d be right about what Frank would want.”
Who could possibly know more about what a man would want than the woman who bore his four children? “You can’t imagine how many people would disagree with that,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of experience with absurdity.”
Many people had approached her for the rights to produce Joe’s Garage, but it never felt right, she says, until Towne came along.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city