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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
This is the L.A. premiere of a play based largely on FBI case files. It won the 2004 Guthrie/Playwrights Center Challenge grant for development and was first presented in 2007 by the Salt Lake Acting Company.
Baizley is in her late 60s, with ebullient energy and sparkling eyes. She has enjoyed a prolific playwriting and screenwriting career, lasting decades, from her Venice home, where she's lived since 1984 and reared a son with her architect husband, Ed Woll. Baizley's plays, including Catholic Girls and Mrs. California, have been produced in theaters large and small around the country.
"I thought I would never, ever come to Los Angeles. From the fifth grade, I wanted to be a playwright and go to New York. I actually thought I had invented dialogue," she says with the slightest twist of whimsy before sipping from her coffee mug in her kitchen.
Her first play, written at the age of 10, concerned Queen Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh. In Act 1, he offers his cape so she can cross over mud. Then she knights him. In Act 2, James has become king, and he cuts off Raleigh's head.
"We did it at school," Baizley says. "We used a basketball for the head. It was a huge hit. It occurs to me now, it contained everything I would ever be writing about — documentary material and knockout special effects — things I still haven't pursued enough."
Like Haley, Baizley benefited from programs aimed at promoting female writers. Where Haley's Blackburn Prize (given exclusively to women) allowed her to give up her day job as a web designer, Baizley was the beneficiary of the women's movement–driven push by cultural institutions to better include both genders: It directly led to a fellowship in Los Angeles.
Baizley had been part of an exciting arts scene in the East Village, where she'd had a couple of plays produced. But, she says, her career "wasn't leading anywhere."
Then, in 1973, she was given an American Film Institute fellowship — a scholarship to study filmmaking in Los Angeles. "I thought, 'I don't want to write screenplays in Los Angeles.' It turned out to be my nightmare of what I thought it was like. AFI was like a mansion with guys in suits carrying locked briefcases and making appointments to speak to the guest speakers. It was horrible!"
At the same time, as soon as she sent in her application to AFI, she got a phone call from John Dennis, who was running the Taper's Improvisational Theatre Project and was seeking a staff writer of children's plays for $75 a week.
He told her to fill out a questionnaire by the following week. One question: "How would you stage a dictionary?"
"I thought, 'Oh, my God, I really like this guy!' " Baizley recalls.
And he liked her. He toured his productions of her plays Bugs and Guns, which gave the eponymous subjects dialogue.
Baizley's version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was an annual fixture at the Taper from 1976 to 1980. She and Michael Sargent were later colleagues in the Taper's playwrights group.
"When I came out here, I was a total New York snob. 'If it isn't off-off-Broadway, if it's commercial, I don't want anything to do with it,' " she says. "I got off the plane in 1973, I didn't know what L.A. looked like. I saw mountains, and figured I was in the wrong place."
Then she saw ITP's production of The Death and Life of Billy the Kid at a soundstage at Fox. "It was outrageous, just beautiful, this poetic ensemble play."
Baizley has been around long enough to be nostalgic for the Taper's New Works Festival — an annual series of play readings and workshop productions, which ran from 1988 to 2000.
"It's not getting the play on, it's the one time of year, in one place, that playwrights could meet each other," she says. "It gave L.A. the feeling of a literary community, a playwrights' community. It gave a heartbeat to being a playwright in L.A., which I miss a little bit." (This is precisely the hunger that Haley's L.A. Playwrights Union has been feeding.)
In recent years, Baizley has worked with Lodestone Theatre Ensemble as well as on documentary dramas for stage, film and radio on issues of social justice, writing, as she puts it, stories where "whoever stands up for something always gets punished."
Her Mrs. California — a comedy-drama (premiered in 1984 by the Taper and produced at the Coronet Theatre in West Hollywood) about a 1950s beauty pageant for married women — remains Baizley's most produced play.
She went to see a recent production at Smith College, almost 30 years after its premiere.
"I walked in early and I heard the lighting designer shouting, 'OK, we need the Dot special, now the Babs special [lights focusing on the play's principal characters]' and I started to cry. These kids weren't even born when I wrote that play.
"I thought, this is what it's like to be an old playwright with a play that outlives you."