Category: Kirk Douglas Theatre

Theater review: Culture Clash's 'American Night' at Kirk Douglas

March 12, 2012 | 11:57 am

American Night Photo 7
Speak softly and carry a big schtick: That’s the guiding principle of “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,” Richard Montoya’s fast-paced fantasia on U.S. history, now running rampant at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Developed in collaboration with Culture Clash, the gleeful “Night” uses sketch comedy, song and a dizzying number of wigs to survey the glories and pratfalls of the American Dream. 

Dream, as in emphasis on slumber. The night before taking his citizenship exam, an exhausted Juan José (René Millán, nicely understated) tries to wrap his head around constitutional amendments and the logic of the Spanish-American War. Dozing off, he takes a picaresque spin through two centuries of “democracy,” bumbling into the famous (Jackie Robinson), the infamous (the Ku Klux Klan) and the obscure (see below). Consider “Night” as revisionist vaudevillian history of the United States from a (Howard) Zinn-master. Bemused, sly and sometimes moving, the evening affirms that we the people are indeed free to pursue happiness, despite metered parking in Culver City until 11 p.m. 

Fluidly directed by Jo Bonney, who shares a development credit with Culture Clash, “Night” is nimblest when it exposes the strange bedfellows of the American project. Shawn Sagady’s projections slide along upstage corrugated panels, leaving the stage a free-for-all where, for instance, Sacagawea (Stephanie Beatriz) is imagined as a brainy Ugly Betty, wearing a retainer and in need of a quick trip to REI to procure appropriate footwear.  (Her response to her face on the dollar coin? “I look fat.”) 

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Frank Gehry is working for free as architect of new Jazz Bakery

January 31, 2012 |  5:30 pm

Leadman

This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

Having designed L.A.’s signature space for classical music, Frank Gehry is on board to do the same for jazz -– although his pro bono work on a new Culver City home for the Jazz Bakery would be on a much smaller scale than his downtown Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Gehry’s involvement became public Monday when the Culver City City Council authorized the city manager’s office to execute a “commitment letter” transferring a narrow slice of city-owned land next to the Kirk Douglas Theatre –- just one-seventh of an acre -– to the nonprofit Jazz Bakery for a new home. 

The council had to move quickly. The fear was that if the transaction was not completed by the end of the day Tuesday the long-brewing plan to give the Jazz Bakery the land would be sunk by the state government’s decision to eliminate redevelopment agencies statewide starting Wednesday. That will include the Culver City Redevelopment Agency, which administered the property at 9814 Washington Blvd. that’s being transferred.

Richard Posell, a Jazz Bakery board member and attorney, said there’s widespread confusion over just what the new ground rules for using former redevelopment agency land might be if the transfer agreement weren't signed by the deadline. Final details were still being negotiated late Tuesday afternoon.

“I think it’s going to get signed,” Posell said. If not, he quipped, “I hope Jerry Brown likes jazz.”

The Jazz Bakery aims to raise an estimated $10.2 million to build its new home, with a $2-million grant from the Annenberg Foundation as the campaign’s cornerstone. Plans call for a two-story building, with the main, 250-seat concert room upstairs and a small black box theater on the ground floor. The Jazz Bakery has been seeking a permanent home since 2009, when it lost its lease at the Helms Bakery complex, a mile northeast of the new location. Since then, it has produced concerts in various places.

Ruth Price, president and artistic director of the Jazz Bakery since it debuted in 1992, said Tuesday that she didn’t know Gehry, or even ask for his help, before he called about six months ago to volunteer his services.

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Theater review: 'A Raisin in the Sun' at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

January 24, 2012 |  9:00 am

A raisin in the sun 1

A reprise of the 2011 Ebony Repertory Theatre production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” directed by Phylicia Rashad, opened Sunday at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, and for anyone wishing to encounter or re-encounter this classic by Lorraine Hansberry, this is a clear-eyed, emotionally stirring rendition.

To be honest, I don’t think I could be friends with anyone who wasn’t moved by the ending of this drama, about an African American family’s struggle to leave its dark, run-down apartment on Chicago’s South Side for a bright modest house in an unwelcoming white part of town. And this revival succeeds in my book by passing the lump in the throat test. I felt the swell around my Adam’s apple as the play built toward its climax, and when Lena Younger, the widowed mother now played by Kim Staunton (L. Scott Caldwell performed the part last year), retrieves her poor, persevering potted plant before the lights go down, my eyes went moist as they inevitably do during this indelible scene.

Center Theatre Group has billed this offering as part of “A Special Masterpiece Event” that includes the Broadway-bound production of Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Clybourne Park” at the Mark Taper Forum. Norris’ drama, which opens Wednesday, tells the story of the house that the Younger family is heading to at the end of “A Raisin in the Sun,” imagining the history just prior to the sale and then jumping 50 years later to a completely different cultural and demographic landscape.

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Theater review: 'The Night Watcher' at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

November 21, 2011 |  4:45 pm

The night watcher
Charlayne Woodard’s manner is so disarmingly anecdotal in her effervescent solo show, “The Night Watcher,” that it takes a moment to realize that this isn’t our best girlfriend sharing confidences from the stage of the Kirk Douglas Theatre but a performer whose luminous talent exceeds her limited stardom.

She begins with a tale involving another gifted African American actress, the more famous Alfre Woodard (no relation), who called her up out of the blue to get Woodard and her husband to consider adopting a mixed-race baby that was about to be delivered at a Los Angeles hospital. This would seem to be an unusual thing to urge on a colleague, but it seems that many people have had a similar desire to put Woodard’s nurturing skills to good use.

“The Night Watcher” can be seen as one woman’s defense of remaining childless. But it’s really about the many ways in which maternal love can be shown in a world badly in need of more guiding hands. Given a tastefully simple production by veteran director Daniel Sullivan on a stage with a simple chair and just the right number of suggestive background projections, this modest offering touched me with its generosity, gentle humor and grace.

 

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Olympia Dukakis and Charlayne Woodard talk theater

November 12, 2011 | 10:15 am

Olympia Dukakis and Charlayne Woodard
As soon as they sat down, Olympia Dukakis and Charlayne Woodard were laughing and swapping stories as if they'd known each other for years. In truth, the two had just met, brought together by The Times to discuss their latest shows, both of which are being presented by the Center Theatre Group.

Dukakis, an Oscar winner for "Moonstruck," is starring with Marco Barricelli in Morris Panych's dark comedy "Vigil," which runs through Dec. 18 at the Mark Taper Forum. Woodard, a Tony nominee for "Ain't Misbehavin,'" opens her one-woman play "The Night Watcher" on Nov. 20 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Over coffee in a downtown rehearsal room, the veteran performers compared notes on acting, audiences and the challenges of speaking (or not) for a whole show. In "The Night Watcher," Woodard talks for nearly two hours, sharing her heartfelt experiences as aunt and godmother. In "Vigil," Dukakis utters but 12 lines as an elderly recluse whose world is disrupted by a miserable motormouth.

Woodard on performing solo: "...nothing is as challenging for me as coming to work every night and my scene partner -- the audience -- changes. It's like a free-fall."

Dukakis on playing a character with 12 lines: "It turned out to be much harder than I expected because I am a language person. I enjoy language -- language is used to persuade, to incite, to move. So here I am without it..."

Read Dukakis' and Woodard's conversation in Sunday's Arts & Books.

-- Karen Wada

Photo credit: Don Bartletti, L.A. Times

Theater review: 'I've Never Been So Happy' at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

October 10, 2011 |  7:01 am

Rude mechs 1 

Rude Mechs, the crazy-as-a-fox performance troupe from Austin, Texas, loves throwing audiences for a loop. So for the benefit of any Rodgers & Hammerstein innocents out there, let’s acknowledge upfront that “I’ve Never Been So Happy,” the company’s new musical at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, could potentially give “Oklahoma!” addicts a stroke with its cowpoke sendup of musical theater conventions.

This freewheeling carnival of a show, which opened Saturday under the zingy direction of Thomas Graves and Lana Lesley, adopts its air of insouciance with a deadpan mask. Why, our wacky friends from the Lone Star State, last seen at the Douglas just a few months ago during RADAR L.A. with the sprightly mockumentary “The Method Gun,” have returned to host a little shindig. What could be more normal than seeing wieners roasting in the theater’s men’s room and the lobby decked out like a country fair for our intermission pleasure?

Thankfully, audience participation isn’t a requirement of this DouglasPlus offering. Theatergoers, however, must be willing to go along with the joke or the mayhem may start to seem raucously dizzying. But for those on the same wacky wavelength as Rude Mechs — and this boldly experimental group has earned its cult following — “I’ve Never Been So Happy” will no doubt possess a cobweb-clearing comic force. 

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Fall arts picks: Theater

September 16, 2011 |  8:30 am

Ghetto klwon 
Big spectacles are awaiting us this fall — “Bring It On: The Musical” at the Ahmanson Theatre, “Jesus Christ Superstar” at La Jolla Playhouse. But I’m looking forward to some smaller-scale works that seek to make up in offbeat charm what they may lack in expensive special effects.

Among these are two musicals that are carving their own quirky paths — “I’ve Never Been So Happy,” a work by the genre-busting Rude Mechs (“The Method Gun”), and “Hey, Morgan!,” the Black Dahlia’s foray into indie musical comedy.

David Henry Hwang’s comedy “Chinglish,” opening on Broadway in October, stands out amid the new dramatic offerings this season. And closer to home there’s John Leguizamo’s “Ghetto Klown” — a solo effort that will no doubt populate the stage as though it were a massive extravaganza.

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Eisa Davis, 'This' actress and playwright

August 13, 2011 |  8:15 am

illes Marini and Eisa Davis in "This" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

"My mother always used to joke that she never understood where I came from," explains actor and playwright, Eisa Davis, who is currently performing in the Kirk Douglas Theatre's production of "This."

When peering into Davis' childhood and upbringing, it would be easy to make such an assumption. On one side, she has a mother who is a civil rights lawyer, who took Davis on countless demonstrations, fighting for  justice. And on the other, she has a famous aunt, Angela Davis, who is so passionate about her work as a political activist that at one point in her career, she was almost gassed for standing up for the rights of political prisoners. Yet Eisa Davis is not lawyer, civil rights leader nor political activist -- she's an actor and playwright.

"My mother would look at me and say, 'I don't know whose child you are. Cause all of this? Not me.'" Davis laughs. "It is a mystery to me why it is that I came out this way and how that identity got forged."

It is an identity of many facets: actor, playwright, singer, dancer and certified yoga trainer. Similar to a parent unable to pick a favorite child, Davis refuses to say which craft she enjoys most.

"The biggest force was really trying to do things that I thought would be fun and at the same time would be things that made my grandmother and my mom happy." With a sarcastic chuckle, Davis says, "See, you know, I was just a very, very compliant child." 

Compliant? Maybe not. But a strong-willed, rebellious child with a fire in her belly and a passion for the arts? Absolutely.

Related: Profile of Eisa Davis, playwright and actress

-- Jasmine Elist

Photo: Gilles Marini and Eisa Davis in "This" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Credit:  Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times

Theater review: 'This' at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

August 8, 2011 |  4:33 pm

This 1 a 

A quick survey of the intriguing loft apartment conjured by scenic designer Louisa Thompson tells you all you need to know about the characters of Melissa James Gibson’s marvelous play “This,” which opened Sunday under the direction of Daniel Aukin at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Filled with books, paintings, toys and remnants of a winding-down dinner party, the space quite obviously belongs to creative and highly literate parents who are far too steeped in the messiness of life to put on a show of perfect tidiness.

That messiness turns out to be the main subject of Gibson’s highly Chekhovian drama — it’s the “this” of her slightly annoying but apt title. The playwright’s manner might be quirky in a 21st century fashion that relishes language games and can bear realism only if it’s allowed maximum fluidity, but her vision bears striking similarities to her Russian predecessor, who wanted to capture the experience of human transience, the consciousness of time passing as life assembles itself in ways that are rarely in accord with our dreams and expectations.

The characters of “This” have just crossed the threshold into middle age, all of them approaching 40 or already over the line and wondering about the road ahead, its length, direction and ultimate purpose. Marrell (Eisa Davis), a jazz singer, and Tom (Darren Pettie), a woodworker, the occupants of this urban home, are an interracial couple going through a rough patch in their marriage after having their first baby. They’re acutely sleep deprived and chronically annoyed with each other for such domestic misdemeanors as not keeping the water pitcher filled to the Brita filter line.  

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'This' opens in Culver City with Kirk Douglas watching

August 8, 2011 |  1:47 pm

Cast-of-This-at-the-Kirk-Do
Kirk and Anne Douglas sat front row, center, at Sunday's opening night performance of "This," Melissa James Gibson's play about changing relationships, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. "I come to everything," said Douglas. "Of course I do."

Of course, no one told the cast, consisting of Saffron Burrows, Eisa Davis, Glenn Fitzgerald, Gilles Marini and Darren Pettie. At least not in advance. And while other actors often turn up on opening nights, including on this night Ricki Lake, whose new talk show premieres in September, and Camryn Manheim of “The Practice,” the presence of a Hollywood legend is something else.   

Anne-and-Kirk-Douglas At a post-performance party in the lobby, most cast members said they hadn’t noticed Douglas until they took their bows. But not Gilles Marini, of "Sex and the City," "Brothers & Sisters" and "Dancing With the Stars."

Marini said he spotted the theater’s namesake, now 94, during an early scene, when he stepped to the edge of the stage. "This" was his first venture into live theater and a challenge he felt as an actor he had to meet.

"I always thought that this could be difficult to do, but I love to confront my fears,” he said.

On seeing Douglas (who did not stick around for the party), he recalled thinking, " 'Holy moly, it's Kirk Douglas. He's right in front of me.' That was to me the cherry icing on the cake,” and then added, “It was the entire cake."

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