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Circle X and Ensemble Studio Theatre-L.A.'s latest joint venture? Side-by-side Tom Jacobson premieres

April 21, 2011 |  9:00 am

Having written more than 50 full-length plays, Tom Jacobson probably has seen almost every kind of production of his work. But this weekend will offer a first: Two premieres presented by two companies in two days in one building.

Circle X Theatre Co. will open "The Chinese Massacre (Annotated)" on Friday and Ensemble Studio Theatre-L.A. will open "House of the Rising Son" on Saturday at their shared space, the Atwater Village Theatre.

"It should be fun," Jacobson says. "A lot of people, I hope, will see both plays, which are very different, and get a chance to compare and contrast."

"The Chinese Massacre," which is directed by Jeff Liu, examines the 1871 race riot that erupted when Los Angeles was still a Wild West town. Fourteen actors perform more than 40 roles in what Circle X artistic director Tim Wright calls "a very Brechtian, epic piece of storytelling."

"Rising Son," which is directed by Michael Michetti, is a modern-day family drama set in New Orleans and Los Angeles. EST-LA artistic director Gates McFadden says the piece blends gay rights, ghosts and "a look at the bigger picture, the balance of nature, predators and parasites."

"The premieres are an opportunity to see the range of Tom's work," McFadden says. "You can see similarities. Tom loves history. He loves science. He loves to put things in greater context." And yet, says Wright, "the differences in the playwright's voice, the structure and style of the plays are astonishing."

McFadden says EST-LA chose Circle X as its partner in converting rented warehouse space into side-by-side 99-seat stages (plus a cabaret spot) because they have similar artistic interests -- including the desire to nurture new works -- and both want to share resources "instead of dividing things into 'this is yours, this is ours.'"

Risingson6 The companies' joint inaugural  season in Atwater began earlier this year with EST-LA's production of Nicholas Kazan's "Mlle. God," continues with Jacobson's plays and ends with Circle X revisiting Jim Leonard's "Battle Hymn," which it staged in 2009. (The theaters also have offered late-night programming.)

Jacobson, a former EST-LA co-artistic director, says "Rising Son"  "has been around awhile, so I'm delighted Gates decided to do it after seeing it in one of her reading series." Circle X, which presented the L.A.-based writer's "Sperm" in 2004, received grant money for a Los Angeles history play and commissioned "Chinese Massacre."

When the companies discovered they each had a Jacobson premiere, they initially planned to stagger the openings. "But then, Tim and I got excited about making them into a festival," McFadden says. "Now, you can even see both plays on the same day if you come on a Sunday."

"The Chinese Massacre (Annotated)" will run through May 28 and "House of the Rising Son" through May 29. Playgoers who buy tickets to one show can receive a discount on tickets to the other show.


Theater review: 'Crack Whore Galore' and 'Violators Will Be Violated' at Atwater Village Theatre

Theater review: 'Mlle. God' at Atwater Village Theatre

Screenwriter Nicholas Kazan to present new play at Atwater Village Theatre

-- Karen Wada

Photos: Top, Elizabeth Ho and Silas Weir Mitchell in "The Chinese Massacre (Annotated)" presented by Circle X Theatre Co. Below: Steve Coombs, foreground, and Paul Witten in "House of the Rising Son" presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre-L.A. Credits: Shane William Zwiener.