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Pitch, Bitch and Queen: The Best in Theater

Pitch of the Year: Perhaps it was just flattery by the publicist in order to get his production reviewed, but whose heart wouldn’t be warmed when somebody says: “I know this’ll be right up your alley: It’s a play about pedophilia in the Catholic Church.”

Bitch of the Year: Tamar Fortgang’s Kate in Zoo District’s The Taming of the Shrew, played out in multiple locales of downtown’s Orpheum Theater, was a cross between a ballerina and a bodybuilder. Fortgang slithered snakelike, she hissed catlike, she hugged bearlike, and she finally Stood By Her Man in a feast for which the entire audience joined her, breaking bread and drinking wine at banquet tables on the theater’s main stage. It was a ferocious and unapologetic portrait of female supplication, Elizabethan style, without a hint of irony to knock or mock the gender inequality of Shakespeare’s era and impose contemporary predilections. The choice was as belligerent as it was brave — the way theater is meant to be, and possibly Kate as well.

Best Bard on the Block: Globe Shakespeare Theatre’s all-male “original practices” (true-to-the-era) Twelfth Night at UCLA Live! not only spun the play’s gender-bending in circles, the languorous pacing added melancholy to what’s usually a slapstick farce. Mark Rylance played leading Lady Olivia like a wind-up Kabuki doll on wheels. By the end, you knew all the put-downs and mistaken identities were funny, yet — being emblematic of the state of the world — they were no laughing matter. It was like a paper cut: Who would guess that something so slight could cut so sharply?

Next Best Bard on the Block: If, as detractors complain, A Noise Within has become a vanity showcase for the likes of co-artistic-director Geoff Elliott, who cares? His revival of the title role in Coriolanus stands as an example of why he’s earned the privilege to play lead after lead in his own company. In this rarely produced play, with its flashes of prescience, Elliot portrayed the triumphant, spiteful Roman general (and mama’s boy) with fitting charisma, eloquence and lunacy.

Director on a Streak: Stefan Novinski found just the right balances of contrary tones in a series of productions through the year, starting with Edward Kemp’s adaptation of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying at Hollywood’s Open Fist Theater. Novinski somehow held the play’s morbidity and humor in check, allowing Faulkner’s grim compassion to come through. In Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth at Evidence Room, Novinski got to the epic biblical grandeur behind Wilder’s farcical family saga of catastrophe and recovery. Finally, it was a blend of elegiac and whimsical tones that marked his tender production of Scottish playwright David Grieg’s existential comedy, The Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union, back at the Open Fist.

Queens of the Angels: We lost actress Pamela Gordon to cancer and critic Polly Warfield to the after-effects of an automobile accident. Both died within weeks of each other, both were recipients of the L.A. Weekly’s Queen of the Angels Award for accomplishment in the theater, and both were part of a landscape that feels smaller without them.

Politics as Unusual: Though the worldwide simultaneous readings/workshops of Lysistrata in the Lysistrata Project did nothing to stop the American rush to war earlier this year, it was part of a resurgence in political theater in many American cities. Other local entries included Johnny Got His Gun (Bradley Rand Smith’s adaptation of Dalton Trumbo’s novel at Stages); a snappy revival of Joan Littlewood’s Oh! What a Lovely War at Knightsbridge Theater; two productions of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange by Greenway Arts Alliance and Ark Theater Company at the Whitefire Theater; and Banned and Burned in America, Bryan Davidson and Kim Dunbar’s chronicle of American censorship, also at Greenway Arts Alliance.

I’ll Call You Right Back: The producer of Chimps at Furious Theater Company turned red and then a shade of green when, during his own pre-show announcement asking patrons to please turn off all cell phones and pagers, his own phone started bleating from inside his jacket.


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