Photo by Kathleen Clark

“I wanna stop this shit,” Rachel Rosenthal says, referring to performing — paradoxically, while performing a scene from what’s being billed as her farewell performance (Ur-Boor), — “. . . and concentrate on becoming a better person, a normal person, watching ER reruns and eating tea and crumpets.” Fat chance. Rosenthal might as well vow to grow dainty curls on her beautifully bald pate as threaten to disappear into normality. After all, for the last 40-odd years, her name has been internationally synonymous with experimental theater and, more recently, with the larger-than-life performances of her Rachel Rosenthal Company.

As this reporter is warmly welcomed to her airy, art-filled apartment, there are introductions all around — to the handful of dogs and the cat happily napping on a bed, over which hang large framed drawings of them. The animals are more than pets, but signifiers of an uncouth world, of the “boor” that is man, in the way he mistreats them. If only we could understand our place “as a species,” Rachel opines. It is, she believes, the key to our survival. Then again, she admits, “The mystery of the cosmos is completely unfathomable.”

If she’d had an extra life running parallel to this one, she might have been a scientist, studying the stars and the planets, she says, but she wouldn’t change anything about this go-round — never mind that she’s re-reading Remembrance of Things Past (in French), Rosenthal’s not prone to
ruminating over her own history. When obliged recently to review the texts of past shows for an upcoming anthology, she notes with surprise being “very pleased,” having never done that before. For it’s the present that holds her interest, particularly and ironically enough, the production of Ur-Boor (playing weekends at LATC), in which she looks back at her childhood for clues about the meaning of civilized behavior.

The show will visit New York, Toronto and perhaps other cities and, once it’s over, in what Rosenthal guesses will be Act 5 or 6 of her 73-year life, she’ll return to the visual arts. Rosenthal’s already been a sculptor and illustrator; now she wants to try painting, while continuing to teach performance workshops.

“I have a low boredom threshold,” she smiles, seemingly ageless, with an appealing continental accent and the assured but intense demeanor of someone who will not be content to lie fallow, to rest on her many laurels or slide quietly into the Leisure World of her twilight phase.

“I was a dilettante for years,” she says happily. “It opened me up to all these things out there . . . like having a bouquet of different flowers.”

In Los Angeles, Rosenthal has always been a fish out of water, even in the theater world, where she considers herself “a hybrid,” neither strictly performance-arty, with its implications of spontaneity and solo self-involvement, nor a traditional theater actor/director. Considering her inventive use of improv, text and choreography, the Rosenthal Company’s work falls somewhere in between.

Will she miss the stage? Yes, she says. But “I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world. I’m continually filled with gratitude that I had access to so many things and people who have enriched me.” Not believing in a personal god, and being “completely agnostic,” she sees her good fortune as having happened by luck and chance. “I’ve had a very good life. I really am very satisfied and grateful.”


Ur-Boor performs at the Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., downtown; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; through June 24. For further information, call (213) 485-1681.

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