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GANG BANGED?



DEAR EDITOR:


As members of the Actors’ Gang, we are writing to express our disappointment
in Steven Leigh Morris’ cover article “The
Hand That Rocks the Cradle” [August 3–9]
and our disbelief that the L.A.
Weekly
would allow Mr. Morris to write the article —a piece of advocacy,
not journalism —in the first place. Mr. Morris is not an objective reporter
of the recent developments at the Actors’ Gang; he is an advocate of a particular
viewpoint with close personal and professional ties to one faction within the
company. Morris’ play Moscow, which recently played at the ASK Common
Grounds Festival, was developed in workshop at the Actors’ Gang. It was directed
by, and included in its cast, several of the presently disgruntled Gang members.
That Mr. Morris would ally himself with the faction that can best help him achieve
his goals as a playwright is not surprising. That your editorial staff would
be unwilling or unable to make the conflict of interest clear to Mr. Morris
is a shame and a disgrace.

Mr. Morris never spoke to us about our opinions on this issue, even though
he had ample opportunity to do so. (Ann was the costume designer on Moscow.)
Nor did he speak with any of the other members of the company who served in
leadership positions in Tim Robbins’ absence and continue as active members
today. If he had, he might have discovered that the Actors’ Gang is nothing
more than a large group of talented individuals who often have trouble getting
along. Were it not for the presence of a movie star, the story would hardly
be worth writing about.

The simple fact is, we have never billed ourselves as the Great Infrastructure
Gang, or the Can’t We All Just Get Along Gang, or the Democracy Is Better Than
Dictatorship Gang. We have always been the Actors’ Gang, and we let our work
speak for itself. It is our hope that the theater community will judge the Actors’
Gang on the quality of our shows, and not on our ability, or lack of ability,
to manage our daily business or get along behind the scenes.

—Keythe Farley, Ann Closs-Farley
Los Angeles

 

STEVEN LEIGH MORRIS REPLIES: How stupid do the Farleys think I am? Infuriating
Tim Robbins hardly serves my goals as a playwright. And to write a cover story
trumpeting any friend’s agenda would be to flush my years-earned reputation
for journalistic integrity down the toilet. Details of my artistic involvement
with the Actors’ Gang, including the principals’ names, were fully disclosed
on the first page of the article. Ten of the troupe’s 40 members were contacted,
from all sides. Most chose to be strategically evasive, or to remain off the
record.

 

DEAR EDITOR:

Steven Leigh Morris’ article on Tim Robbins’ return to the Actors’ Gang is
one of those classic sleight-of-hand stories that disguises itself as dogged
investigative journalism, while in fact being little more than a writer’s cheap
ploy to milk the celebrity teat and score a cover story.

Not that Mr. Robbins’ return to the L.A. theater scene isn’t newsworthy. It
is. Not that the artistic shakeup at a local theater as influential as the Actors’
Gang doesn’t deserve media attention. It does. The fact is that, since Mr. Robbins
lessened his presence at the Actors’ Gang a few years ago, the theater has indeed
fallen into a state of general disrepair. The work has been okay, but not consistently
excellent. The physical space has grown shabby and rundown. The energy waned.
I felt it. I’m a patron. I’ve been to the shows.

Would I, if I were Mr. Robbins, founder and financial benefactor of the company,
have been upset with the state of affairs at the Actors’ Gang? Yes, I would
have been. Would I have felt that it was within my rights to step back into
the company that I created and helped keep afloat over the years, and attempt
to jump-start the dream again? Yes, I would have. And would I, if I were Mr.
Robbins, upon suspecting that a newspaper journalist was seeking to blow a relatively
simple story about an artist trying to maintain his artistic vision into an
übermythic tale of ego and power, have resisted participating in that
same story? Yes, I would have.

Mr. Morris ends his article by intimating that Mr. Robbins’ reluctance to
participate in the Weekly article somehow proves that Mr. Robbins has
something to hide or be ashamed of. Perhaps it’s just that Mr. Robbins felt
it counterproductive to participate in a “he said/she said” tug of war in the
newspaper, and decided rather to spend his time working with his gang of actors.

—Lucy Barnes
Los Angeles

DEAR EDITOR:

Many thanks to the Weekly and Steven Leigh Morris for “The Hand That
Rocks the Cradle.” For some of us living by and working in L.A. small theater,
there had been a vague unease as to what was happening to the Gang, long a model
for a lot of us. In recent months, among actors, when the Gang was brought up,
heads would shake, â eyes would be averted, mystery abounded. Finally, one can
read this piece and draw one’s own conclusions. Thank Christ we’re talking about
it.

—Cathy Carlton
Los Angeles

 

DEAR EDITOR:

I’m writing to thank you for covering L.A. theater so extensively, and particularly
for your fascinating cover story on the Actors’ Gang. You are very lucky to
have as committed and thoughtful an editor and a writer as you do in Steven
Morris. I’m sure you’ll be getting a lot of flak from some of the Actors’ Gang
members, and I know a movie star like Tim Robbins can really raise the temperature
when his actions are examined. The general feeling in the theater community,
however, is that Morris presented an extremely balanced account of what was
an extremely stressful situation. Now that the company seems to be moving into
calmer waters, it seems disingenuous for anyone to deny there was ever a storm.
And I think it’s important for the Los Angeles community to understand how its
signature organizations run.

You should be very proud of your theater coverage. It’s probably the best
in town. I know it’s the main reason I read the Weekly. More cover stories!

—“Afraid of Tim Robbins”
Los Angeles

 

DEAR EDITOR:

Steven Leigh Morris’ examination of the crisis at the Actors’ Gang reminds
me of the old saw “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
When Tim Robbins announces that he could ruin people’s lives because he is a
“very powerful, connected person,” I am not only deeply saddened by his hubris,
but that he has bought into the dark side of Hollywood — he has become a “player.”

—Susan Suntree
Santa Monica

 

DEAR EDITOR:

Steven Leigh Morris has taken a huge professional risk in writing this story,
and the Weekly is to be commended for printing it despite Robbins’ celebrity
and all that implies. I am sure this piece will generate quite a bit of mail,
a fair amount of it negative — proof that Morris has hit a nerve. The Actors’
Gang is (was?) arguably the best acting ensemble in Los Angeles, and if this
recent turn of events breaks it up, the loss will be felt by far more than just
the Gang. This story has played out at numerous now-defunct small theaters before
(with slight variations), but the story never made the front page, because it
never happened to a theater run by a celebrity (as Robbins himself points out
in the article). Nonetheless, it is a story that needs to be told. It appears
Robbins has given the theater community a strange gift — a high-profile case
study that will surely become legend. How sad that the cost must be so high
for everyone concerned.

—Alicia Millikan
Culver City