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Honoring a Legend

This coming Monday, at the 25th annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards, this newspaper will present its Queen of the Angels Award to Gordon Davidson, who is currently in his final and, by all accounts, busiest year running the Taper and Ahmanson theaters. (Williamstown Theater Festival head Michael Ritchie will take over in January 2005.) Our Queen of the Angels award is not technically a recognition of “career achievement” — that honor goes this year to Pacific Resident Theater’s artistic director, Marilyn Fox — but rather a “because we felt like it” nod of appreciation that was created in 2000 for Back Stage West’s senior critic Polly Warfield. Subsequent recipients include publicist Kim Garfield, poet-playwright-performer Luis Alfaro and actress Pamela Gordon.

Davidson started at the Taper in 1967, after being brought out here from New York by John Houseman to assist on a production of King Lear at UCLA. In the intervening years, Davidson has been largely responsible for changing the perception of Los Angeles from a bus-and-truck stop for touring theatricals to a serious theater center and laboratory for new work. As the Taper has slipped from its youthful, angry activism into a comparatively complacent middle age (particularly as represented on its main stage), the Weekly has been something of a thorn in its side, perennially critical of that shift.

Still, the Taper’s accomplishments have been many and varied under Davidson’s watch — including three Pulitzer Prizes for plays developed there (The Shadow Box, Kentucky Cycle and Angels in America, Part I), and a series of labs that continue to support gifted writers and directors. And when we marched into his office asking for the Taper’s support of the L.A. Weekly’s Play Writing Award, Davidson didn’t even blink, offering our award-winning scribes involvement in one of the Taper’s play-development programs. At the very least, he deserves our thanks and our respect, as a figurehead and as a friend.

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