Newly jobless in Pasadena, director Damaso Rodriguez tackles the Great Depression in Seattle
Whether they like it or not, sometimes the lives of creative people are informed by their art, and right now it's happening to Damaso Rodriguez.
Last year, Rodriguez, then the associate artistic director of the Pasadena Playhouse, accepted an offer to direct a revival of Clifford Odets' rarely-seen drama, "Paradise Lost," at Intiman Theatre in Seattle.
But the moonlighting turned into a temporary day job last month when the Pasadena Playhouse unexpectedly went on indefinite hiatus, its leaders saying the company's chronically difficult finances had worsened in a bleak economy. It was deemed necessary to stop and try to raise the millions needed to resume, while seeking legal advice on whether bankruptcy protection from creditors might be the best course.
Meanwhile, the staff got laid off, Rodriguez, 35, included.
And that makes him just the man to be overseeing "Paradise Lost."
Odets' play, a flop on Broadway in 1935, is about a small business owner and his family, and the upheaval they go through during the Great Depression.
"Desperate times provoke desperate acts and Odets provides vivid examples," a Times reviewer wrote about a 1987 production at UC Irvine. "But desperate times can also prompt heroism, and that is what Odets wants to examine...."
"It's a bizarre experience," says Rodriguez, who has a 4-year-old son and an 18-month-old daughter with his wife, actress Sara Hennessy, who does have a day job. "It must be, in a kind of twisted way, really good for the play for me to be going through this personally while these characters in the play are going through it."
In "Paradise Lost," Rodriguez says, "the cumulative effect is meant to be hope for the future, but the play wrestles with whether that's maybe a delusional view."
Also raising the stakes for the director: this is his first experience at a major theater other than the Pasadena Playhouse (where he's staged "Orson's Shadow," by Austin Pendleton, and Lillian Hellman's "The Little Foxes," and had been scheduled to mount an April revival of Donald Margulies' "Sight Unseen"). He's hoping to join the ranks of in-demand freelance stage directors, and succeeding in Seattle would be a nice start.
What's more, Rodriguez is batting lead-off for Kate Whoriskey. "Paradise Lost" is the first show of her tenure as Intiman's new artistic director, following 10 years in which the company was run by Bartlett Sher, winner of the 2008 Tony award for best direction of a musical, "South Pacific." Rodriguez and Whoriskey hadn't met until she interviewed him for the job of staging "Paradise Lost," on a recommendation from Brian Colburn, the Intiman managing director who previously had been managing director of the Pasadena Playhouse.
While he grapples with Odets' story of the Great Depression, Rodriguez is doing his bit to help L.A.'s creative community get through the Great Recession: His 14-member cast, a veritable army in these days of economically mandated sparseness on many nonprofit stages, includes six L.A.-based actors. Among them is Eric Pargac, a co-founder, with Rodriguez, Hennessy and three others, of Pasadena's Furious Theatre Company.
Furious has been keeping the light on for theater at the Pasadena Playhouse since the main stage shut down on Feb. 7. Its production of Jason Wells' black comedy, "Men of Tortuga," runs through March 28 in the upstairs, 75-seat Carrie Hamilton Theatre. Furious, which had enjoyed rent-free resident status until the Pasadena Playhouse suspended operations, will likely have to find a new home for the two remaining shows in its season -- both of which Rodriguez is scheduled to direct.
-- Mike Boehm
Photo: Damaso Rodriguez. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times