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
Viertel has arranged a Newman potpourri with somewhat vague and arbitrary thematic linkages between the songs, some of which are character-driven, some parodies, and some political-historical lectures. (The decimation of continents by "The Great Nations of Europe" features Sagal using a professorial pointer.) It may not be possible to take so much material and carve it into probing themes on the stage — which is exactly what the albums themselves accomplish.
This is the best Randy Newman revue seen so far, reflecting a profound understanding of the range of Newman's music and worldview. Yet in trying to be an homage and ensnare so much, the individual songs come through clearer than the sum of them, while the most disturbing ditties, with the darkest insights into our collective pathologies ("Wedding in Cherokee County" and "Rednecks") haven't been included. Perhaps they would be too grating against the production's glitz. That glitz, reflected in Brian Gale's flashy lighting design, shines out oddly against the ruminative, brooding essence of Newman's music — even his parodies and comedies.
Cornerstone Theater Company's Michael John Garcés recently noted a distinction between theaters that obsess on "product" as their salvation as opposed to those whose productions are dedicated to an exploration, where the end result is unknown at the beginning of the process.
"A theater focused on product," he said, "is not having a conversation with its audience."
This is among the reasons that Network of Ensemble Theaters' Los Angeles Micro-Fest (Dec. 3-5, at the Atwater Village Theater) has selected a sampling of theater and dance companies presenting mostly works in process. These companies have exhibited a passion to start with a scintillating idea, and then to explore that idea in order to chart the unknown territory of where that exploration may lead. I was asked to curate this Micro-Fest.
The main entries by companies from L.A. feature American war stories from the 19th century — that of a Polish soldier thrust onto the American battlefield (Critical Mass Performance Group), and a story of American soldiers defecting to the Mexican army during the Mexican-American War (Watts Village Theater). There's a saga of women's eroticism and resistance on the Indian subcontinent (the Post Natyam Collective). The Ghost Road Company will present the surreal landscape of an estranged son returning to his rural home, in Stranger Things. In a full production not from Los Angeles is Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut, a yarn of conjured reality woven from albums of found photographs (Rumble Productions and Theatre Replacement, Canada). In the other full production, Two-Headed Dog performs its anticlown show, Clowntown City Limits, a Beckettian vaudeville of marginal comedians, seesawing between resentment and reconciliation to their fate.
HARPS AND ANGELS | Music and lyrics by RANDY NEWMAN, conceived by JACK VIERTEL | MARK TAPER FORUM, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. | Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m., Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through Dec. 22 | (213) 628-2772 | centertheatregroup.org
MICRO-FEST: L.A. | ATWATER VILLAGE THEATER, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village | Dec. 3-5 | ensembletheaters.net