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L.A. Theater in 2010

Another clown looks back on Los Angeles theater in 2010: photo from City Garage's Paradise Park.
PHOTO BY PAUL RUBENSTEIN

Top 10 list? No thanks. We already have the L.A. Weekly Theater Awards for that — details to be announced shortly.

So here's a list, but not a competitive one.

ENDANGERED THEATERS THAT DESERVE HELP

City Garage got booted from their Santa Monica digs in November after their lease expired. At last report, they had stripped of the theater they'd occupied for 15 years and were homeless but working on a deal with Bergamot Station. The theater has been and remains a local treasure for its presentation of audacious texts, with Frenchwoman Frédérique Michel's arch and deliberately automatonic stagings of works including those by Heiner Muller, Caryl Churchill, Charles L. Mee, Ionesco and Molière — all packed onto a tiny stage and helped along with Paul Rubenstein's lush soundscapes and Charles M. Duncombe's production designs.

A Noise Within: Glendale's classical rep company is trying what most small theaters gave up on decades ago, and for good reason: moving "up" to midsize, where the economic challenges in our subsidy-free zone are tempestuous. Just ask the Colony Theatre or East West Players. ANW tried this a few years ago with a brief, frustrating and frustrated sojourn to Cal State L.A.'s Luckman Fine Arts Complex. But they are determined, and are in the midst of a successful (so far) capital campaign that includes construction of a new Equity-scale theater in Pasadena. We haven't seen construction from the ground up of any theaters that remain regularly used since Burbank's Falcon Theatre (1997), Pasadena's Boston Court (2003) and downtown's REDCAT (2003). The challenges of sustaining a midsize theater in Pasadena will be daunting. And as frustrated as I sometimes am with the company's aversion to inventiveness, the baseline of competence and skill in conjunction with a long tradition of presenting classical works from all genres to new audiences makes it imperative that the company's experiment in up-sizing succeeds, for all our sakes.

Gunfighter Nation is a new company marked by the return of long-standing L.A. personality-playwright John Steppling, who serves as the company's co–artistic director along with his son, Lex Steppling. And, like the working together of father and son, the company has drawn its acolytes from two generations: One, that of Steppling, includes the playwright-descendants of the Padua Hills Playwrights Workshop and Festival (founded in 1978 by Murray Mednick and Sam Shepard); and the next generation, which brings to the art the consciousness of social and community service. In the company aesthetic, one generation informs the work of the other, which is a rare gift and melding of purposes that's happening in the rehearsal halls and accompanying taverns. They've also put on some pretty good plays in their first year, including Steppling's latest work, Phantom Luck. Like many new endeavors, they exist on tenacity and prayer to the gods of a desperately fragile economy. They are perhaps the only new company with such a long history. I hope they make it.

SHORT-ANSWER QUIZ TO PISS PEOPLE OFF, 10 POINTS EACH

• What's the difference between art, artsy, and artsy fartsy?

• Is multidisciplinary work, and the promotion of it, really such a threat to traditional presentations — or can we all just get along?

• Does the blending of music, video and online technologies on our stages really draw a new generation of theatergoers, or is that just the fantasy of faculty and students from Cal-Arts and the programmers over at REDCAT, that's disconnected from the real world?

• Does L.A. theater really suffer from a lack of inventive (concept) directors?

• If you answered "yes" to the above, please answer the following: (a) If so, why? (b) If so, is that such a bad thing? If you answered "no" to the above, please move on to the next question.

• Why is it that the United States' most famous concept directors find most of their employment in Europe, Canada and South America rather than in their homeland? (a) People outside the United States are stupid and pretentious; (b) People inside the United States are stupid and crass; (c) Concept directors have no respect and therefore don't deserve any. (Only one answer, please!)

• Does L.A. theater suffer from a lack of autobiographical one-person shows? If so, why?

• Does L.A. theater suffer from a lack of shows named [Fill in the Title]: The Musical! If so, why?

• Why is the Fountain Theatre always sold out when it just does plays about bitter musicians and graveyards?

• Should actors be paid for their work? If so, should they be paid even if their production loses money? Why?

• Should investment bankers be paid for their work? If so, should they be paid even if their company loses money? Why?

• Did you enjoy this quiz? If so, why? If not, please move on to the next question.

Please submit your answers to smorris @ laweekly.com. Correct answers will be posted at blogs. laweekly. com/ stylecouncil/stage-news in early 2011. There will be prizes for the best correct answers. If you answered incorrectly, you will be condemned to anonymity.

I LIED: HERE ARE SOME OF MY FAVORITES FOR 2010, BUT IN NO COMPETITIVE ORDER

Ann Randolph's Loveland at Santa Monica Playhouse; Psittacus Productions' A Tale Told by an Idiot at Son of Semele; everything I saw at REDCAT; Lynn Nottage's Ruined at the Geffen; Palomino at the Kirk Douglas; Stage Door and A Wolf Inside the Fence at Open Fist; Independent Shakespeare Company's Much Ado About Nothing in Griffith Park; all of the War Plays trilogy presented by Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse; the Calabasas International Theater Festival; the Hollywood Fringe Festival; Gertrude Stein's Brewsie and Willie, directed by Travis Preston for Poor Dog Group; Mary Lynn Spreads Her Legs at the Steve Allen Theater; Opus and The Train Driver at the Fountain; Anton's Uncles, Theatre Movement Bazaar at the 24th Street Theater; Tom Jacobson's The Twentieth Century Way at Theater @ Boston Court; Shaheed at the Peggy Feury Studio; Jon Tuttle's Holy Ghost at Theatre of NOTE; Shem Bitterman's Influence at the Skylight; Nan McNamara's lead performance in Wit at Actors' Co-op; the SpyAnts' production of Charles L. Mee's bobrauschenbergamerica at [Inside] the Ford; City Garage's production of Paradise Park; Baal at Sacred Fools; An Oak Tree at the Odyssey; Four Places and The Sunset Limited, presented by Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater; and Zombie Joe's Underground, just for being ZJU.

Finally, this year's Talent and Tenacity Award goes to Antaeus Company for being so talented and tenacious. This is the first year they have presented a full season, which corresponds, by sheer coincidence, to the first year that the T&T prize has been bestowed. It comes with this humble recognition and whatever rewards derive from being talented and tenacious, but it does not come with money. After all, this is theater in Los Angeles.