Hey Vanity Fair, We Don't Need Movie Reenactments to "Save" L.A. Theater
Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally in Annapurna. Behold, a good L.A. play! Starring celebrities!
Vanity Fair has its head lodged so far up its ass, it's seeing stars.
In Jimmy Im's April 10 story on how For The Record (a cabaret/theater show now in West Hollywood) is going to "save" L.A. theater from itself, he opens with fighting words: "Los Angeles is teeming with actors, so why is the theater so bad?"
The story then goes on to praise For the Record's "innovative concept" of using the children of Hollywood stars as actors (like Rumer Willis, daughter of Demi Moore) and have them act out songs and scenes from movies directed by Hollywood legends such as Quentin Tarantino and Baz Luhrmann.
"The idea is simple: find a brilliant cast of Hollywood starlets who can sing and act, throw them on stage with handsome, theater-experienced guys and have them re-enact memorable film scenes from a famous Hollywood director. Then ensure the L.A.-specific audience is a major player in the master plan," Im explains.
Okay, let's start with the premise that only the likes of For the Record have ever thought of using Hollywood celebs: That overlooks, say, that the Geffen Playhouse right now has plays starring Annette Bening and CSI star William Petersen. It overlooks Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman in last year's Annapurna at the Odyssey Theatre, and Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne starring together in Fences at the Pasadena Playhouse. Celebrities have been on L.A. stages for decades.
See also: Our Theater Reviews
But the view-from-the-rectum assumption that only celebs can save our theater continues with the other false assumption in Im's story: that because some L.A. theaters can't attract celebs, our theater is "so bad."
Was it a dream, or did John Pollono's new play Small Engine Repair, which opened without stars at mid-city's Rogue Machine, recently transfer to New York for a hit Off-Broadway run? Is it a mirage that Stephen Sachs' new play, Bakersfield Mist, which premiered without stars at east Hollywood tiny Fountain Theatre is now in rehearsals for its British premiere on London's West End? Perhaps it was some mystic vision when the New York Times raved about North Hollywood's Zombie Joe's Underground (no stars there, either) when they performed Off-Off-Broadway in 2008?
Those are just the shows that transfer. That doesn't count the hundreds of small theater productions celebrated annually by the L.A. Stage Alliance, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and the L.A. Weekly in their annual awards, honoring the likes of North Hollywood's Road Theatre Company, Venice's Pacific Resident Theatre and Westlake's Bootleg Theatre, all of whom have been working quietly in the trenches for decades and turning out what's often consensually recognized as brilliant work - all without a celebrity in sight.
The Vanity Fair story also neglects to mention the allegations that For the Record uses screenplays and songs without paying royalties or rights. FTR co-founder Scheel didn't deny the veracity of this charge back in 2012, explaining to the Weekly that studio executives and even Tarantino himself have seen the show, "and they love it," skirting the question of whether the producers have legal permissions or rights to the materials they're using for their productions.
Since Vanity Fair shows no interest in covering or even crediting the swath of productions that lend value to our theater scene, it could at least come up with a standard of "salvation" that's better than re-hashing expired screenplays that are "catered to a slightly ADD crowd," as Scheel describes it to Im.
Perhaps the magazine could visit Theater @ Boston Court, or Rogue Machine, to see the kind of work that's earned L.A. theater marks of distinction - at least among people who know anything.
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Facebook and Twitter:
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Los Angeles.