The Playgoer: More L.A. Openings

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

More L.A. Openings

By Steven Leigh Morris

This weekend, Open Fist Theater (a 99-seat venue in Hollywood) premieres two one-acts by Neil LaBute. The world premiere of The New Testament is to be directed by Bjorn Johnson: “On the eve of a Broadway production, a writer and his producer try to recast an important role in a new play, much to the chagrin of the original actor.” It performs with Helter Skelter, which LaBute is directing, as part of the theater's “First Look” series – though Helter Skelter is not a new play.

Over at the Pasadena Playhouse (a Broadway-style house that sent Vanities: The Musical to New York, and has a reputation for having Broadway on the brain), artistic director Sheldon Epps directs Charles Randolph-Wright's new play, The Night Is a Child. It opens next week and performs through October 4. “A mother's search for peace and absolution unfolds a midst the sensual sounds of Brazilian music in Rio de Janeiro.” Opening November 4 and playing through December 13 comes a new musical by Iris Rainer Dart, Mike Stoller and Artie Butler, Laughing Matters, directed by Leonard Foglia. “. . . about three generations of Jewish women and the history, humor and music that binds them together.”

At the Geffen Playhouse (also a Broadway-style house), opening Septeber 8 is Blair Singer's new play, Matthew Modine saves the Alpacas, a satire “that parodies celebrity humanitarianism, Hollywood and hand sanitizer. Eighties heartthrop Matthew Modine was 'A-List' all the way. But now, a couple of decades later, he's not on any lists. He needs to get back in the limelight – he needs . . . a Cause.” It stars – three guesses, time's up! -- Mathew Modine, along with Peri Gilpin, French Stewart, Mark Fite and Mark Damon and one actor who hasn't yet been cast.

Down in Costa Mesa, South Coast Repertory presents one new play in its fall season, with two more slated for the spring. September 28 to October 18 is Julie Marie Myatt's The Happy Ones, about a fellow in suburban OC who suffers a “devastating blow, leaving Walter with no reason to put the pieces of his life back together . . . until he gets an offer of help from a Vietnamese refugee. . ."

The rest of their fall season looks like regional theater standard fare: Sondheim's Putting It Together (September 11 to October 11), and the West Coast premiere of Noah Haidle's Saturn Returns (October 23 to November 22).

Spring season brings the world premiere of Howard Korder's devastating In a Garden (if it's even half as good as it appeared in a workshop earlier this year, this should be a play that deserves national attention -- about a B-List American architect who's commissioned to design a gazebo-of-Eden in Iraq during U.S. bombing runs there. I found it to be a grimly funny and poetical work. Also in the spring, a new coming-of-age play, Doctor Cerberus, by the young Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, about a gay kid obsessed with comic books as a window onto his life's plight.

Final note: Last year, SCR's then lit manager grumbled about critics writing on the plays-in -development in the theater's new works Pacific Playwrights Festival. The critics were invited by the theater's press rep to these productions, being performed as rehearsed readings or workshops in front of a paying audience. (Charles Isherwood and Variety's Bob Verini also covered the festival that year, in print, and the lit manager said she furious about that, too) I got a similar complaint this year from the agent of one of the playwrights (for a friendly, mixed assessment of a work-in-process), but I did just notice that the theater used a pullquote from Verini's writeup on the workshop of Doctor Cerberus on its website, for marketing purposes. Some of us still harbor the illusion that because we're more than an extension of a theater's marketing department, that doesn't make us enemies of the state.

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