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In the Playground of the Post War Period

Brewsie and Willie, by Gertrude Stein - Poor Dog Group, UCLA Hothouse Residency – When we share with a work of art an experience of presence, we come close to understanding art’s intrinsic value. Deploying skill and emotional force, the artist imbues the material with a living, emergent quality that engages the viewer fully, inducing an open stance toward the immediate moment. There is a small awakening to the radical freedom inherent in the embrace of the ever-shifting present. In theater, this mark is being hit when you hear yourself say, “okay, now something new needs to happen,” and then immediately find that what you had in mind (three women enter, for example) is actually happening. This kind of small elation, for me, took place … [Read more...]

Romancing the Ring

The Ring Festival Los Angeles April 15 -June 30, 2010 – For ten weeks this spring more than 115 cultural partners and Institutions have gathered round the Los Angeles Opera'a first complete Ring Cycle and mounted in support an amazing array of events, symposia, art exhibitions, lectures, theatrical performances and film presentation. This is a great time to experience the depth, breath and enthusiasm of this city's artistic community. Not only are all committed to the cooperative ideal of festival, but they are wholeheartedly embracing the labyrinth of material that The Ring poses for critical study: Political Allegory, Epic mythological archetypes, philosophical inquiry ranging from classical Greek to contemporary French, in depth … [Read more...]

Hysterical Historiography – Part Two

In this, the second installment of a two part interview, playwright and Times Quotidian contributor Rita Valencia speaks with associate artistic director (and co-founder) Lex Steppling about his motivations to form the new Los Angeles based laboratory theater group, Gunfighter Nation. Gunfighter Nation debuts "The Alamo Project" at the Odyssey Theater, May 28th and 29th, 10:30pm. Gunfighter Nation presents The Alamo Project An Interview with Rita Valencia and Alexis Steppling I meet Alexis Steppling, associate artistic director (and co-founder) of Gunfighter Nation, in an Altadena coffee house where he is hanging out with his wife Suzanne and their toddler daughter, the lovely and good-natured Stella. Lex has a friend along who is … [Read more...]

Hysterical Historiography

In this, the first of a two part interview, playwright and Times Quotidian contributor Rita Valencia speaks with Gunfighter Nation Artistic Direct John Steppling about his motivations to form the new Los Angeles based laboratory theater group. In Part Two Valencia will be speaking with Lex Steppling about the youth connection and contributions to Gunfighter Nation. Gunfighter Nation presents The Alamo Project An Interview with Rita Valencia and John Steppling The Alamo Project is an evening of short plays about the Alamo. The Alamo, the legendary 1835 seige of a Texan mission, is emblematic of the ease with which past events can become myth, and how myth serves the purpose of the mythmakers. As part of this process, history, real … [Read more...]


Reflections on Götterdämmerung, Los Angeles Opera – Conceived of first and executed last Götterdämmerung, brings to a conclusion the weighty and consummate Der Ring des Nibelungenby Richard Wagner. Last week I had the extraordinary happenstance to attend two performances of this Los Angeles Opera's production featuring the baton of James Conlon with sets and direction by Achim Freyer. This is a really big show that attracts opera pilgrims from far and wide and I jumped at the chance for a second go around. Thrilled to settle into my splendid founders seat, I was set to experience a most satisfying, up close reprise. First impressions were allowed to settle down and reformulate with a second viewing, but there are certain things that … [Read more...]

LeCompte and Co.

North Atlantic, Wooster Group at REDCAT, February 10–21, 2010 – Many things went through my mind walking away from REDCAT after seeing the Wooster Group’s North Atlantic, but one of them was surely hats off to the company’s artistic director, Elizabeth LeCompte. First created by LeCompte and company in 1982, North Atlantic holds up remarkably well. The writer, James Strahs, pulled from texts by Thornton Wilder, Arthur Miller, Eugene O'Neill and Gertrude Stein, and the company, anchored by Francis McDormand, Kate Valk, Ari Fliakos and Scott Shepherd, hit their marks with style and precision. Set on an aircraft carrier moored off the coast of Holland, the piece juxtaposes tough-talking military exchanges with kinky sexual banter, … [Read more...]

Language and its Opposite

The Walworth Farce – The longer you work in theater the more intriguing it becomes. The basic fact that audiences are able to look across an imaginary line and see into a different time and place becomes more remarkable the longer you ponder it. The embodied nature of theater - that there are bodies up there speaking the words - also seems to accrue significance. In a subtle way the embodied present of the speaking actor pulls against the basic truth claim of the words themselves, opening a little window of freedom. The fact that dramatic characters are almost never attuned to this freedom only makes statements on stage inherently poignant and ironic in a way they can never be on the page. When playwright, director and performer are … [Read more...]

The Ukrainian Surprise

Grotowski Festival 2009, Wroclaw, Poland – The process by which a child learns how to navigate the world is, from beginning to end, profoundly theatrical in nature. The child imagines herself into the world of pencils, bookshelves and full-moons-in-the-sky by embodying them in the eyes of another, making the felt experience of the object personal, direct and surprisingly immediate. Watching this kind of "imaginative play" is completely engaging ("baby TV, Eliza channel," my wife and I used to call it) and there is never any doubt that your witnessing presence is allowing the learning to take place. When a piece of theater is very, very good it attains a similar kind of startling immediacy, the performers drawing on the attention of the … [Read more...]

Applauding in Poland

Grotowski Festival 2009, Wroclaw, Poland – At a performance of Gospels of Childhood by the Zar Theater Company in Poland you are spared the indignity of applause. As the piece ends the performers fling open windows and exit, the sounds of the city filtering in, joining with the space. You feel the collective awareness that has formed in the room drift out into open air. The lights rise. After a time people stand as if on cue and begin to walk back into their lives. Gospels of Childhood was part of this year's Grotowski Festival in the city of Wroclaw, as was a second Zar piece called Cesarean Section. Essays on Suicide. The two pieces were billed as a diptych, but a third piece, a work-in-progress that I saw, but whose … [Read more...]

Shipwrecked – A Response

Agreed. – Wooster Group's Sci-Fi mashup of Cavalli opera La Didone offered little sense of transcendental satisfaction for the die hard opera lover (of which I am one!). And really the whole conflation felt gratuitous. But as sheer entertainment...I had a great time! First off RedCat feels the perfect spot for this kind of hyperactive performance. Wooster really makes the most of all the technology available. The sound is amped and so are the cast, ready at any moment to take one for team Wooster. Probably my favorite performance was Scott Shepard as sir Piggy. He ran around snorting and grunting executing one prat fall after another, all the while clinging to his ukulele. When at last he is shot down, he belly flops onto … [Read more...]