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Category: Theater

Tom Stoppard, Don Delillo and Billy Crudup read to aid Belarus Free Theater


Playwright Tom Stoppard, novelists Don Delillo and E.L. Doctorow and actor Billy Crudup are among those who will read Jan. 19 in New York to benefit the Belarus Free Theater. Members of the theater will also participate; they've been in New York for the Under the Radar Festival and are about to return to Belarus.

Condoleezza Rice once called Belarus "the last remaining true dictatorship in the heart of Europe." Since 1994, it has been led by President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus saw political unrest after a controversial election in December that again, questionably, ratified Lukashenko's position. Public protests were swiftly followed by a new crackdown, targeting advocates of civil rights and free speech. Authorities arrested more than 600 journalists and free speech advocates, including members of the Belarus Free Theater.

Since its founding in 2005, the Belarus Free Theater has been on the outs with authorities. The troupe  rehearses in unofficial spaces and performs its politically charged plays in cafes, apartments and even the woods.

Wednesday's benefit for the Belarus Free Theater, which promises to include special guests, will take place at Le Poisson Rouge in New York; doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: People protesting the arrest of free speech activists in Belarus hang a banner reading "Free the journalists" Dec. 27 at the Belarus Embassy in Moscow. Credit: Natalia Kolesnikova /AFP/Getty Images

Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett: The highlights

Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett sat down with close to 2,000 friends and fans Tuesday night at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. Cavett was in town to promote his latest book, "Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets," a compendium of his New York Times columns that combines reminiscences with observation. Brooks was there to help, holding up the book from time to time to remind the audience of the occasion.

"I feel somewhat like a panther or a leopard on an overhanging limb of a tree, and there's a rabbit walking underneath," Brooks said, comparing Cavett -- whom he called "sweet" -- to a vulnerable bunny.

"Because you said that," Cavett responded, "I"m going to tell a couple things I had decided not to tell."

Cavett is, of course, best known as an erudite and incisive talk show host, whose calm, bred-in-Nebraska demeanor proved a fertile foil for everyone from Janis Joplin to Groucho Marx. Brooks is the comic filmmaker -- "Young Frankenstein," "Blazing Saddles," "Spaceballs" (everybody always leaves off "Spaceballs") -- whose 1968 movie, "The Producers," became a Tony-winning Broadway hit more than 30 years later.

Brooks and Cavett know each other from their early days as comedy writers, and on stage they traded anecdotes like old friends. Clearly they'd mapped out some of the things they'd touch on: There was much Jewish-Gentile banter, a shared recollection of a Ballantine Beer ad they'd done together, and tales of meeting Bob Hope as young men, then again later as celebrities.

In one of several obviously prearranged "spontaneous" moments, when Brooks called out to Carl Reiner, who was sitting in the third row, the 88-year-old film director-writer-actor joined the conversation for a bit from the audience.

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Mark Z. Danielewski's Halloween party


Mark Z. Danielewski, author of "House of Leaves," stood on stage in tails and a white hat Sunday night, ready to conduct the five readers arranged in front of him. They'd had just two weeks to prepare the production of his 2005 novella "The Fifty Year Sword" for a sold-out performance Halloween night at the REDCAT Theatre in Disney Hall.

Inside a jittering metafictional frame, "The Fifty Year Sword" is a spooky story with orphans, a mystical journey, fate, a malevolent storyteller and, perhaps, mercy. On the page, its five voices are represented by different-colored quotation marks; Danielewski is known for using page layout to both build and deconstruct his narratives.

A stage show, then, was an entirely new beast. The show included five readers, Danielewski conducting them, a soundtrack designed by John Zalewski and a shadowplay designed and choreographed by Christina Marie.

It's the first time CalArts, which curates the downtown REDCAT theater and gallery, has had this level of production from one of its creative writing visiting artists. "Most authors just stand up and read, do a presentation that's straightforward," said CalArts' Tisa Bryant. But Danielewski "had lots of things in his head," she said. "He really took it and ran."

During the performance, the readers followed their scripts carefully, occasionally raising their eyes to follow Danielewski's gestures. The story jumped quickly from one reader to another, often in segments as short as two to six words. As it began, it was a bit hard to follow, like watching television with someone with an itchy remote finger. But when the story gained momentum, the various voices braided together with a burbling momentum.

"I like an experience that's available on multiple levels," said author Janet Fitch. Wearing a red wig and a black cape, Fitch was one of the many in the audience who had gotten into costume for the holiday. "I loved the shadow puppetry."

"The words and the music and the shadows -- my heart was racing with all the peaks and the valleys in the story," said Jesus Aldana-Alba. He and his wife, Jeanette, wore elaborate lion face paint; they had come because Aldana-Alba is a fan of Danielewski's "House of Leaves." "Seven days I read, and when I finished I sighed for three," he said. "Remembering that gets me giddy."

Danielewski's book, which had been for sale in the lobby, sold out before the show began.

People filing in for a second performance added after the first sold-out show saw nothing but an empty table, a kind of bookseller's shadow play.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: "The Fifty Year Sword" at REDCAT. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg



Festival of Books: Comedian and author Julie Klausner

Festival of BooksI Don't Care About Your BandJulie Klausner
Idontcareaboutyourband As a preview for the L.A. Times Festival of Books, coming April 24-25, Jacket Copy is talking to some of the authors you can see there. Comedian and author Julie Klausner -- seen on  TV on "Best Week Ever," on stage at the Upright Citizens Brigade and in print in McSweeney's and in her first book, "I Don't Care About Your Band." She'll be appearing on the Saturday panel "Memoir: All the Single Ladies."
Jacket Copy: Can your new book "I Don't Care About Your Band: What I Learned From Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I've Dated" serve as a warning to young women just starting to date? Is it more of a survival tale?

Julie Klausner
: It can really be anything to anybody. I've heard from guys who read it because it's sexually explicit, and women in their 30s who read it and write me e-mails saying, "Have you been spying on me, because I've had all these experiences," and teenage girls who e-mail me stuff about how they related to the part about hooking up instead of dating and that I "rule," which is hilarious because I totally do not rule -- obviously, I rock. My point is that everybody should buy my book, even dogs. Especially dogs! Also, if you send me a photo of your dog reading my book, I will be so happy.
JC: Do you have a favorite book or movie about Los Angeles?

"Mother, Jugs & Speed" and "Sunset Boulevard" are L.A. classics, as is "Troop Beverly Hills," for obvious reasons -- but "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" is my all-time favorite film, set in Los Angeles or otherwise. Joan Didion's essays set in California are favorites of mine for sure. Also, I know you didn't ask, but my favorite TV show set in L.A. is "The Monkees." "Fat Actress" is a close second.
JC: What are you currently reading?
: I just finished "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," which I picked up after I saw it referenced in an essay about casual sex. I wanted to know whether reading it would make me hungry for candy or scared of being raped by anonymous men in bars. Turned out it did both! Also, it was so dated. SOOOO dated. ...

JC: What are you looking forward to at the festival?

I want to see Carol Burnett! And I want to ask a mystery writer whether or not it helps them, when they have writer's block, to wear a deerstalker hat and do that thing when you take a magnifying glass up to your eye and then bring it far away from your face and repeat it.
JC: What do you hope to see or do in L.A. apart from the Festival of Books?

I am planning to make the House of Pies the House of Pie. Because I am going to eat all of their pies except for one!

-- Carolyn Kellogg


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