Looking across the border crossing of the holiday season, there's cause for curiosity and a feeling of being encouraged by the possibilities of what 2013 offers for the local stage.
On the scrappy side of things — i.e., the land of the unpredictable — the Hollywood Fringe festival returns for its fourth season in June. It's also adding a week, running from June 6-29, including previews. That means anybody who cares can expect to visit the Fringe's press rep, Stacy Jones, and her husband, festival director Ben Hill, in the ICU in early July, as they recover from their attacks of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Fringe is the city's only noncurated performance festival, which means that the stage doors of Hollywood swing open for anybody who feels they have something of merit to present. In the past, the events have been well demarcated in the spiffily organized program.
Having sat on panels of critics, it's clear there's a point of view that the majority of the work that rolls through the Fringe is shite. That's probably true, but the same could be said of so much theater across the country created under the guidance and auspices of teams of experts — curators, dramaturgs, artistic directors and producers who should know better, following the club of their peers and speculating on the tastes of audiences they barely understand.
Despite the Fringe's open-door policy and the onslaught of appalling one-person shows it brings, every year, at rock-bottom ticket prices, the Fringe also brings us a few marvels: from Eric Davis' Red Bastard to the heady, slightly surreal wit of sketch-comedy troupe Lost Moon Radio. The latter hosted the L.A. Weekly Theater Awards last year, and is returning to do the same on April 8, again at the Avalon in Hollywood. It'll be some postapocalyptic Mad Max lunacy. Mark your calendars.
A Fringe show is like a surprise gift. You pay around $10 and wind up holding this thing in your hand. The wrapping paper looks OK, but you just don't quite know what it is until you open it. It takes a certain, adventurous personality to find delight in this. There are quite a few such folk out there. Fringe attendance almost doubled in its second year. From casual observation of last year's fest, these folk tend to be young. Risk takers usually are.
On the flip side, a completely different festival, Radar L.A., returns in September. That festival's impressive appearance in 2011 (intermingling L.A. companies with Pacific Rim invitees) coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Theatre Communications Group conference of representatives from theater companies nationwide, so much of Radar L.A.'s attendance was buttressed by conference attendees. The question is how the 2013 festival will fare in a less contrived market.
One of that festival's best entries, Guillermo Calderón's Neva, by Chile's Teatro en el Blanco — about actress Olga Knipper (Anton Chekhov's widow) discussing art against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution — will return to the Kirk Douglas Theatre from June 11-16 in an English-language version (the Radar L.A. version was in Spanish with subtitles) as part of the Douglas Plus series.
Center Theatre Group, which administers the Kirk Douglas in addition to the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre, is in other ways putting its money where its mouth is. Last year, the company's director of new play production, Diane Rodriguez, said the organization was working with new playwrights, with the aim of putting their works onto its stages, or at least into the Douglas — the house built by the company's former head, Gordon Davidson, for just that purpose, and an ambition that, until now, has been largely rebuffed by the current administration. So it's mighty fine to see new works by Jennifer Haley and Marco Ramirez scheduled for the venue.
Haley is a local playwright who lives in Eagle Rock. Her sci-fi play Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom was presented by Sacred Fools Theatre Company in 2010. Earlier this year, Haley won the 2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, honoring achievements by female playwrights — in this instance, for her futuristic crime story, Nether, premiering at the Douglas March 19–April 14.
Ramirez was a member of Center Theatre Group's 2010-11 Writers' Workshop. His plays have been produced at the Kennedy Center, the Juilliard School, and locally at the Black Dahlia Theatre. His boxing drama, The Royale, is slated to premiere at the Douglas April 28–June 12.
Other CTG events to keep an eye on: Nina Raine's Tribes at the Mark Taper Forum, Feb. 19–April 14, coming to us from London's Royal Court Theatre via New York's Barrow Street Theater. The play, about speech and silence, concerns how we hear, a theme visited through the experiences of hearing-impaired characters. The Barrow Street cast will perform here in a staging by their director, David Cromer, who also directed the intimate, music-laced production of Our Town starring Helen Hunt at the Broad Stage in 2012.
The upcoming season at Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena also is worth having on the radar, particularly the world premiere of Dan Dietz's American Misfit (opening April 13) — a fantasia with music that "tells the post–Revolutionary War story of the Harpe brothers, who launched a murderous rampage to protest the new democracy." Sometimes the more things stay the same, the more they stay the same. Michael Michetti will direct.
Director Nancy Keystone and her Critical Mass Performance Group developed a work-in-progress inspired by Euripides' Alcestis at the Getty Villa last year. The now more fully developed production opens June 29 at Boston Court, co-produced by the two companies.
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Sacred Fools Theatre Company in Hollywood has a late-night show in which playwrights bring in a rehearsed sketch, along with an entourage of fans. These are performed in the troupe's late-night, weekly Serial Killers series. The audience votes on whether a continuation of the sketch is to be invited back the following week. A couple of full-length shows have evolved from this process and have been presented on the company's main stage, among them the upcoming world premiere of writer-director Jaime Robledo's Watson, and the Dark Art of Harry Houdini (opening June 14) — a sequel to Robledo's 2010 Watson, The Last Great Tale of the Legendary Sherlock Holmes. In the new play, Watson and Holmes travel to New York on the trail of a killer. There they meet Harry Houdini, who "seems to know more than he's telling," according to a description of the play.
At the same theater, Brendan Hunt's Absolutely Filthy opens very soon — Jan. 25. Its intriguing premise concerns a homeless man who stumbles upon the funeral of his long-estranged best friend, and sees some of his childhood friends for the first time in years. The production will be directed by Jeremy Aldridge, who staged the original, astonishing Sacred Fools version of Louis and Keely, Live at the Sahara.
It would be remiss not to mention that UCLA's Center for the Art of Performnce presents Brit troupe Cheek by Jowl's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore from Jan. 11 and an Australian import, Back to Back Theatre's Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, which opens Jan. 24.
With these, and other offerings by the likes of Theatre of NOTE (whose acting company gets better and better), the macabre antics of Zombie Joe's Underground and metaphysical excursions by Son of Semele Ensemble, not to mention whatever scintillating new plays Rogue Machine might unfurl, or what classics Antaeus Company will unleash with double or triple casts, these in conjunction with dozens of other strong ensembles could make 2013 a worthy year for our theater. We can only hope.