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Theater criticism in Los Angeles--keep the conversation going

January 28, 2009 |  5:00 pm

Empty_theater_seatEarlier this month, theater leaders from the Pasadena Playhouse, Geffen Playhouse and Center Theatre Group wrote a letter to the L.A. Times, defending the need for theater critics and writers in Los Angeles.

Their action came in response to reports of layoffs of theater critics, editors and arts writers at the LA Weekly, the L.A. Daily News and the Daily Breeze. Since our last report, the L.A. arts media have seen another casualty: Variety's Phil Gallo, who oversaw and contributed to arts coverage, is being cut.

On Tuesday, Sheldon Epps of the Pasadena Playhouse, Gilbert Cates of the Geffen Playhouse and Michael Ritchie of Center Theatre Group appeared with Larry Mantle on KPCC's Airtalk to discuss the need for critics in Los Angeles and the issues facing theater companies here.

As Reed Johnson reported in today's Calendar section, theaters in the Southland and across the country are facing severe financial problems of their own -- and the loss of voices in the community surely won't help.

"That's really the important point: Not so much the critics and reviews, but the conversation that goes on about theater," Epps said on Mantle's show. "The need for people to talk about theater in this town --to agree to disagree, to write about what is exciting."

Among the other highlights, Cates suggested a sort of peer-review system in which people who run theaters assess the work being done at other theaters. And the reviews, he said, could run alongside those of the newspaper critics.

Ritchie pointed out, "We don't always agree with the critics -- even when the reviews are positive." He then offered up what may be Culture Monster's favorite quote since David Mamet called Jeremy Piven "a thermometer."

"Sometimes getting praise from a critic is like having a proctologist tell you you've got a nice ass - -sooner or later, there's still some pain to come."

You can hear the whole program here. And if you want to keep the conversation going, you can always comment below.

--Lisa Fung

Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times

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