Activities

Kirk Turns 98!

Kirk Douglas turns 98 today, December 9 2014. Happy Birthday, Kirk!

A Haunting Look Into Child Protective Services: ‘Luna Gale’ At The KDT

--neontommy.com December 7, 2014

Reyna de Courcy and Mary Beth Fisher in "Luna Gale." (Craig Schwartz/Center Theatre Group)

The world of Child Protective Services is not an elegant one and “Luna Gale,” now playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, thrives in its gritty world. Directed by Robert Falls, the play provides for a provocative and emotional rollercoaster throughout its full two hours.

The Kirk Douglas Theatre has a reputation for consistently putting on intense and revolutionary shows that push the boundaries of the theatrical arts and “Luna Gale” is no exception. Possessing some of the best acting in town, direction that is meticulously detailed, and a set design (Tood Rosenthal) that is, for lack of a better word, badass, "Luna Gale" exceeds expectations.

Written by Rebecca Gilman, “Luna Gale” delivers hit after hit of excitement and torment. The story centers on Caroline (Mary Beth Fisher), an employee for the Child Protective Services who helps decide whether children are placed within foster care, or given back to their families. The play begins when an infant named Luna Gale is brought to the emergency ward with a threatening illness. Her parents, Karlie (Reyna de Courcy) and Peter (Colin Sphar), suffer from an addiction to meth that they must learn to control if they want to retain custody of their child. When Karlie’s mother gets involved in the fight for custody (wanting the child herself) a thrilling drama ensues concerning cruel family secrets and the dark recesses of the human psyche.

Mary Beth Fisher gives a phenomenal performance as the quick witted and deeply tormented Caroline. Constantly providing a great mix of humor and honesty that keeps the heavy subject matter from overwhelming the production, while still fully immersing the audience in her struggles. Fisher does a terrific job of playing a character that is not entirely morally agreeable, blurring the line between what is acceptable for someone of her position to do and what is not. Accompanying her on stage is a fantastic ensemble performance in which every character adds different perspectives to the overarching conflict. In a show with no true villain, it is electrifying to see the emotional depths brooding within each character. 

Colin Sphar (Peter) gives a uniquely enjoyable performance, seeming at first like any other stereotypical teenager who is not ready for the responsibility of adulthood. But Colin immediately rises above those assumptions and reveals the layered craft in which his character has been constructed. A caring boyfriend, loving father, and recovering meth addict, Peter, like so many people, struggles to find stable ground. Colin performs this role with skill, expressing so much with so little. It does not take outlandish movements or large fluctuations in his voice to express character objectives. Instead itnis the small looks and the minute actions he takes. This compliment really spans to the whole cast and production overall. There is a clear attention to detail that gives the show a refined feel.

This specificity carries into the directing of the show which is spot on. Robert Falls gives justice to all of the great aspects at his disposal – the actors, set, script – and raises them to the highest level. The play moves like a dream, never dragging or stalling in action. "Luna Gale" truly is a show that you will not want to end, but do not worry, the end is done with class and entirely earns its climactic finality. Robert does a terrific job of making the world feel real, every setting is impeccably designed and the actors feel completely comfortable within the scenes. 

Caroline’s office is covered in stacks of folders and papers, a complete mess. But this chaos adds to a very important aspect of the plays message, revealing just how little support there is for Child Protective Services’ employees and how overwhelming the career can be. Another great touch in Caroline’s office is a self-motivation poster hanging center stage that says “perseverance.” This poster connects perfectly to Caroline who is obsessed with her job and gives everything she has to help children. While uplifting, the poster is also very disturbing as the play progresses and Caroline’s perseverance begins to really show the inner turmoil that is gnashing and tearing within her.

The set of a show is often something that an audience notices but does not pay much attention to. That is not the case with “Luna Gale.” The set is unbelievable in its construction and use throughout the show. It is a show within the show. Designed by Todd Rosenthal, the set is built on a wheel that spins during scene changes to reveal the next scene. The set is broken into three main layouts with one facing the audience at a time. Often switching between Caroline’s office, Karlie’s mother, Cindy’s (Jordan Baker) kitchen, and an emergency room. These three main locations are also traded out for Karlie and Peter’s living room and a coffee shop throughout the production. Unbelievably difficult to properly describe, it is a magic show to watch as these sets come out so consistently and so beautifully.

A thrilling, heart wrenching analysis of the modern Child Protective Services, “Luna Gale” keeps the audience on edge long past curtain. A great show is measured by the discussion that it provokes after its completion, and “Luna Gale” gives more than enough to talk about. The cruelty and beauty of humans, the insanity that exists within everyone, and the complexity of faith are all driving factors in this play. The show never lets up from the important messages within the script, but still manages to provide plenty of moments of intelligent humor and honest passion. “Luna Gale” succeeds on all accounts and is a must see for anyone. Two hours of great theatre that will linger for so much longer.

"Luna Gale" is playing through December 21 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (9820 W Washington Blvd, Culver City). Tickets $25-$55. For more information visit CenterTheatreGroup.org 

 

 

St. Lawrence University to name new residence hall after actor Kirk Douglas

--northcountrynow.com December 5, 2014

St. Lawrence University will name its new $14 million residence hall after famous actor and SLU alumni Kirk Douglas.

On behalf of The Douglas Foundation, which the star and his wife Anne created to support their many charitable gifts, Kirk Douglas said, “I am very happy that the new residence hall will bear my name. This way I will always be part of the campus I love. While I appreciate this great honor, my wife and I find our greatest joy in the heartfelt letters we receive each year from our scholarship recipients, telling us what a St. Lawrence education means to them and their future.”

In his bestselling autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, the legendary star told how he hitchhiked to St. Lawrence University on the back of a fertilizer truck. A sympathetic Dean, Edwin Hulett, gave him provisional admission to the college, despite his confession that he only had $167. With a wrestling scholarship and numerous campus jobs, young Izzy Demsky graduated in 1939 and went on to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. For his Broadway and Hollywood career, he changed his name to Kirk Douglas.

As the son of impoverished Jewish immigrants from Russia, Douglas has always remembered how difficult it was for a poor kid from a minority background to afford a higher education. He and his wife, Anne, through their Douglas Foundation, started the Kirk Douglas Scholarship at St. Lawrence in 1999 to support students who represent diversity, have financial need and demonstrate excellence in academic ability and community leadership. They expanded the program in 2012 with an additional $5 million gift.

According to St. Lawrence University president William L. Fox, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to name the new residence hall on campus in honor of the actor who will celebrate his 98th birthday on Dec. 9, with the publication of his 11th book, a small volume called "Life Could Be Verse: Reflections On Love, Loss, And What Really Matters." The book contains two poems he wrote while at St. Lawrence and includes a photo in which Douglas poses with classmates, one of whom is the red-headed girl who inspired both poems.

Among Douglas’s many prestigious awards – including the French Legion d’Honneur, the Freedom Medal (America’s highest civilian honor), an Academy Award and a Kennedy Center Honor – he proudly cites his honorary doctorate from St. Lawrence in 1958, SLU said. Now he has his own residence hall. It’s in close proximity to another building on campus named for Dean Hulett, the man who once took a chance on a poor boy from Amsterdam, New York.

 

Kirk Douglas Hall will be dedicated at a future ceremony, the details of which will be announced at a later date, SLU said.

People Magazine Accidentally Publishes Kirk Douglas Obit

--Huffington Post, December 1, 2014

Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas turns 98 next week, but reports of his death began circulating online over the weekend after People accidentally posted his obit on the magazine's website.

"DO NOT PUB Kirk Douglas Dies" the headline read.

"Kirk Douglas, one of the few genuine box-office names to emerge just as TV was overtaking American culture in the years right after World War II, died TK TK TK," the article said, with the "TK" referring to copy "to come."

"He was 97 (DOB 12/9/1916) and had been in good health despite having suffered a debilitating 1996 stroke that rendered his speech difficult," the article continued.

The Hollywood Reporter said the People obit had a Sept. 29 timestamp on it, although it's not clear if that's when the article was published.

The obit was removed after links to it began circulating on social media.

It should be noted that most news organizations, including The Huffington Post, work on obituaries for notable people in advance.

Douglas has written extensively about his career for The Huffington Post. Earlier this year, he wrote about his friend Elaine Stritch after her death at the age of 89.

He's also written about the Popestroke awareness and technology.

And last year, Douglas reflected on life as he turned 97.

"I won't pretend that getting older is easy," he wrote. "But I find that it's given me a perspective that I lacked when I was younger."

Douglas said that when he was younger, he was always busy making movies and traveling for his role as a Goodwill Ambassador.

Now, I treasure the quiet times: reading books that make me think about new ideas; watching my roses bloom; gazing at the palm trees shimmering against the afternoon sky; seeing the simple path of a cloud across the sky; and especially sitting with Anne in front of the fire at sunset -- the Golden Hour.

Douglas will celebrate his 98th birthday on Dec. 9. Last week, he told Entertainment Tonight that he wanted to live to 100. See the clip below.

 

His 11th book, "Life Could Be Verse," goes on sale tomorrow.

Through poetry, Kirk Douglas reflects on 'Life'

AFP 509195890 E ENT USA CA

--USA Today December 2, 2014

BEVERLY HILLS — With almost 100 film credits to his name, Kirk Douglas recently caught sight himself on television in a movie he couldn't place. "I said, 'What picture was that?' I kept looking. … Then the camera came up for a close-up, and it was (his son) Michael!" the legendary star says with a chuckle, that famous cleft marking a face known to all since he hit the ring in 1949's Champion.

Douglas, who turns 98 on Dec. 9, sits in his home in Beverly Hills, just a few blocks from the infamous watering hole the Beverly Hills Hotel. He's charming as ever and dressed in blue, long white hair neatly tied behind his head, hands folded neatly around a copy of Life Could Be Verse, a new collection of poems and stories from his life (HCI, out Tuesday).

"This was the first time I was looking over things in my life, and I was surprised at how many poems I've written. So I sort of … put all the poems in a book," says Douglas, who dedicated the collection to his wife of 60 years, Anne.

With a title borrowed from the Yiddish phrase, Douglas traces his journey from adolescence to retirement through simple, vivid prose: His ascent to stardom is rooted in a poem called "Luck," his marriage is sketched in "Romance Begins at 80," his failings as a father are explored in "Michael." ("I became a 'good father', /It took me too long to see ,/When I needed him/More than he needed me.")

Father and son had lunch just before this interview; their relationship today is "very good," says Kirk, who speaks with clarity and zest despite slowed speech he regained with difficulty after a severe stroke in 1996. "I am very proud of him because I think he's a brilliant actor. Really brilliant."

But "I always tried to keep him from being an actor. When Michael went to college, I thought he was going to be a lawyer. Every Jewish father wants a lawyer or a doctor." When Michael had his first role in a play, Douglas turned up to see him. "He had a little part with a few words in a Shakespeare play. And when it was over he said 'How was I, dad?' And I said, 'Michael, you were awful.' I thought that would discourage him and he would become a lawyer."

Douglas is quick to remind there are several more in his brood ("You know, I have four kids"), and Life Could Be Verse includes stories of sons Joel (like Michael, his mother is actress Diana Dill) and Peter (son of Anne), who are both producers in Hollywood.

Heartbreak is there, too. A poem titled "For Eric" chronicles his sorrow over his youngest son's death in 2004 at age 46 from an overdose.

Douglas is equally forthright about the effects of his stroke at age 80, which he writes left him considering suicide. "I lost my voice. I couldn't speak. What can an actor do who can't speak? I still struggle with speaking, but at least I can talk. And I'm grateful for that. But that was the darkest moment in my life: An actor who can't talk."

Today he and Anne spend weekdays in their Beverly Hills home and weekends in Montecito. The holidays will be spent in California, with the family gathering.

Life Could Be Verse is filled with family photographs, including recent shots of Michael and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who separated briefly last year. "They are happy," says Douglas, marveling at Skyping with Zeta-Jones just that morning while lunching with his son. "Catherine is doing a picture in England. And there she was. She could see us. I could see her. I couldn't believe that. It's beyond my comprehension."

Douglas calls Michael's cancer battle "awful" but says, "I told him today, I said, 'Mike, you look better than ever.' He said, 'I feel great.' So I'm pleased by that, because I was very, very concerned."

And the Douglas Hollywood dynasty will continue. "They will be actors, I know it," he predicts of Michael and Catherine's kids. "Dylan is already an actor. He has played in all the school plays. And Carys is a beautiful dancer."

No Kirk Douglas memoir would be complete without mention of Spartacus, and in his new book he recounts how he fought to credit blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (who was blacklisted during McCarthyism) onscreen for Spartacus in 1960. "It became a big thing that I put Trumbo's name on the screen," he says in response to those who have questioned whether he overstated his role in his 2012 memoir I Am Spartacus: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist. "I'm glad that that period is over and now we can talk about love," he says simply.

Ask him about living through McCarthyism (and 16 presidents) and he's resolute: "Everything can be improved, but I think now we have the best (political) process in the world." And yes, he'd like to see a woman in the White House. "I hope so. I think, who is the boss in my house?" He chuckles. "My wife! She's the boss. And I think there are so many companies now where the CEO is a woman. Why not?"

With a foreword from Don Rickles, the memoir is ultimately dedicated to Anne, 84, who comes up frequently. The biggest lesson of his marriage? "The thing is, when you first fall in love, sex is the dominant factor. But as it dwindles, you should begin to see really what your wife is like. And then you'll find the person that either you love or you don't. In my case," he smiles, "I fell in love."

Spartacus' outlook in 2014? "I wake up in the morning and I say, 'Gee, why do I feel well? I'm 98 years old!'"

Jessica Lange Accepts Kirk Douglas Award at Santa Barbara Film Festival Benefit

--noozhawk.com November 16, 2014

Jessica Lange, the ninth recipient of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Kirk Douglas Award, at Sunday's fundraiser held at Bacara Resort & Spa. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

A festive crowd of elegantly dressed guests turned out to support the 2015 Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Sunday night at a benefit that also honored Jessica Lange with the ninth annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film.

More than 300 people clad in formal attire gathered at Bacara Resort & Spa for the award presentation, which was expected to raise $60,000 for the 30th year of the film festival, scheduled to run Jan. 27 through Feb. 7.

“This year’s special because Kirk always wanted to honor a woman,” SBIFF executive director Roger Durling said. “And it’s the first time in the history of the award that we’re honoring a woman, and no one better than Jessica Lange — two-time Academy Award-winner and someone who’s triumphed in theater, in film, as well as TV.”

Lange follows an impressive list of male recipients of the Kirk Douglas Award, including last year’s winner, Forest Whitaker, as well as Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Quentin Tarantino, Ed Harris, John Travolta and the award’s namesake, Kirk Douglas.

“It’s wonderful to be singled out by Mr. Douglas to receive this, so I’m thrilled,” Lange said.

Durling praised Lange for her passion and skill as it relates to Douglas.

“If there’s one word that I think unites her with Kirk it’s the fact that she’s been uncompromising, and that’s one of the things that Kirk said to me, is that I have been an uncompromising actor and Jessica has been, too,” he said.

A red-carpet entrance kicked off the event with Lange, who was joined by actress Demi Moore, who will co-star in an upcoming movie Wild Oats; Ryan Murphy, writer, producer and co-creator of Lange’s current TV show, American Horror Story; and actress Kathy Bates, who has worked with Lange at various times, including on American Horror Story.

Lange has a recurring role on American Horror Story, which hits the reset button each season for a new theme with the same central cast. This year’s “Freak Show” has Lange stretching her limits as the ringleader of a traveling circus show.

“I haven’t played a character like this before that has this kind of history and this drama to her — the many, many layers,” Lange said. “She’s a very complex character, and they write big scenes for me and I like big scenes.

“And there’s nothing kind of ordinary about her — not in the way she thinks, not in the way she acts, not in the way she looks. It’s dramatic, it’s a big dramatic part.”

Moore — of Ghost, A Few Good Men, St. Elmo’s Fire, G.I. Jane and Indecent Proposal fame — was enthusiastic about her opportunity to work with Lange on the 2015 comedy, Wild Oats, which is now in post-production.

“We just finished shooting that in July,” Lange said. “It’s a wonderful kind of bittersweet comedy. It was lovely to work with her and, of course, Shirley MacLaine. We had a great time.”

Well known for his work in television, Murphy has also been involved with Nip/Tuck and Glee, and, in addition to writing, has produced and gone behind the camera as director for episodes in each series.

Also attending the event was Bates, who has worked with Lange for the past two seasons on American Horror Story. Bates shared how she became involved in the series.

“I saw Jessica in the first season, and she was so wonderful, and I said the writing was so great, can you put in a word for me with Ryan Murphy?” Bates recalled.

“And so she did, and he pitched me a great part, and I will be eternally grateful to him for that because he’s created great parts for women. It’s been delightful to play with Jessica.”

Bates’ movie work includes Misery, Fried Green Tomatoes and the epic hit film, Titanic.

Sunday’s presentation began with Durling welcoming the crowd as he introduced this year’s Kirk Douglas Award winner, who was handpicked by Douglas for her film skills and charm.

“Jessica Lange possesses the three key elements in making it in this crazy business: talent, beauty and intelligence ... all of which have served her well and continue to do so,” Douglas said. “It is my honor to give her my award.”

A montage of clips showcased more than three decades of Lange’s work, with films such as King Kong with Montecito resident Jeff Bridges; Tootsie, for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Award opposite Dustin Hoffman; and Blue Sky, for which she won a Best Actress Award working with Tommy Lee Jones.

Lange’s work has included a vast array of big budget and independent films, includingCape Fear with De Niro and Nick Nolte in the Martin Scorsese adaptation; independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers with Bill Murray; and Tim Burton’s Big Fish, joined by Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney.

And in theaters in December, Lange stars in a crime thriller with Mark Wahlberg, The Gambler, about a college professor who runs into trouble with loan sharks from gambling debts.

In addition to Oscar awards, Lange has won Emmy Awards for her work in FX’sAmerican Horror Story and American Horror Story: Coven series, as well as HBO’sGrey Gardens, which is about two charming eccentrics who were relatives of former first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival spans 11 days with more than 200 films, symposiums and panels for producers, women, directors and writers.

An impressive set of eagerly anticipated tributes and awards will be hosted again at the Arlington Theatre with another year of inspiring and legendary names.

Announced in October, Montecito’s Michael Keaton will receive the Modern Master Award on Jan. 31 for his work in Beetlejuice, Batman and Jackie Brown, along with his role in a film that’s in theaters now, Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Also, for the first time in five years, The Attenborough Award for Excellence in Nature Filmmaking on Jan. 28 will honor the Cousteau family — Jean Michel with his son and daughter, Fabien and Céline — for their commitment to educating the public about the ocean.

SBIFF’s commitment to local cultural diversity includes a variety of programs benefiting local youth with a variety of free children’s education and community outreach programs, including Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies, AppleBox, 10-10-10 Student Screenwriting and Filmmaking Competitions, 3rd Weekend and SBIFF College Internships.

 

Check back with Noozhawk for more on the film festival and special coverage of the tributes and awards.

Original Cast of LUNA GALE to Lead CTG Production in Los Angeles

--October 29, 2014

Original Cast of LUNA GALE to Lead CTG Production in Los Angeles; Runs 11/23-12/21

 

The world premiere production of Rebecca Gilman's powerful and arresting "Luna Gale" begins previews November 23, opens December 2 and continues through December 21, 2014, at the Center Theatre Group/Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Directed by Robert Falls, the complete original cast continues with the production, including Jordan Baker, Reyna de Courcy, Melissa Duprey, Mary Beth Fisher, Erik Hellman, Colin Sphar and Richard Thieriot.

Set design for "Luna Gale" is by Todd Rosenthal, costumes by Kaye Voce, lighting by Robert Wierzel and original music and sound design by Richard Woodbury. The production stage manager is Kirsten Parker.

Gilman explores with profound humanity the issues of faith, family and one child's uncertain future.

A veteran social worker, Caroline, thinks she has a typical case on her hands when she meets Peter and Karlie, two teenage drug addicts accused of neglecting their baby, Luna Gale. But when Caroline places their daughter in the care of Karlie's very religious mother, she sparks a family conflict that exposes a shadowy past and forces her to make a risky decision with potentially life-altering consequences.

Rebecca Gilman's plays include "A True History of the Johnston Flood," "Boy Gets Girl," "Spinning Into Butter," "Blue Surge" (all of which were commissioned and originally produced by the Goodman Theatre, where she is an artistic associate), "The Story of Living," "The Sweetest Thing in Baseball," "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," "Dollhouse," "The Crowd You're in With," and most recently, "Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976." She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Harper Lee Award, the Scott McPherson Award, the Theater Masters Visionary Award and an Illinois Arts Council playwriting fellowship, among others.

 

The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, 90232. Tickets are available at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, by calling 213-628-2772, in person at the Center Theatre Group box office or at the Kirk Douglas Theatre box office two hours prior to curtain.

Kirk Douglas Helps Celebrate 10th Birthday of Kirk Douglas Theatre

--Variety October 15, 2014

Gordon Davidson, Kirk Douglas, Anne Douglas

Kirk Douglas gave career tips to up-and-coming actors at Tuesday’s celebration of the 10th anniversary of his eponymous theater in Culver City.

When Douglas was starting out in his career he made his way to Broadway, but soon after Hollywood came calling (“They made an offer I couldn’t refuse”) and he headed west. “I gave up my dream of being a big star on Broadway, but in Hollywood I made a lot of money,” he told the rapt crowd. “I learned a lot of things and one of the things I learned was how to get your name on the theater” — dramatic pause — “buy the theater.”

Although he told Variety that he makes it to the Kirk Douglas Theatre “every chance I get,” Michael Ritchie, artistic director of Center Theatre Group, said Douglas is “a constant presence in the lobby and backstage. To watch actors come out of the dressing room after a performance and see Kirk and (his wife) Anne is a treat.”

Ritchie and Douglas thanked Gordon Davidson, the founding artistic director of CTG, for his vision in creating the nonprofit theaters.

Ritchie said the CTG’s plans are to continue using the Kirk Douglas as a space for experimental theater. “More people hear about Culver City and the theater, there is a real sense of life going on here,” he said, adding that he’s planning “more programming for children and families. The three theaters (Ahmanson, Mark Taper and KDT) are unified in what we do and market them.”

The event was billed as the 10th birthday of KDT rather than an anniversary and Douglas invited the audience to return to its 20th with him. Perfs from past stagings including “13” and “Stoop Stories” followed and the control booth was named for Anne Douglas.

 

(Pictured: Gordon Davidson, Kirk Douglas, Anne Douglas and Michael Ritchie at the 10th birthday party for the Kirk Douglas Theatre)

'Forever,' a harrowing memoir with no Hollywood ending

--Los Angeles Times October 14, 2014

Dael Orlandersmith in the world premiere of her play "Forever" at the KIrk Douglas Theatre

Oe of the few laugh lines in Dael Orlandersmith’s harrowing new solo show, “Forever,” in its world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, comes in an exchange she describes with an attendant at the morgue after her mother’s death.

She asks him if he’s afraid. His laconic reply: “The dead can’t do nothing to you. It’s the living you’ve got to look out for.”

The wisdom of this risk assessment may appear self-evident. But for Orlandersmith — or for the version of herself she plays in these searching, brutally honest monologues — he’s got it completely backward.

An award-winning playwright, poet and actress, Orlandersmith doesn’t have a lot of trouble with the living these days. In “Forever,” she talks of being warmly welcomed at a recent party, where an attractive man approached her and discussed Chopin.

No, the one she’s got to look out for is her mother, who died in 1989 but who nonetheless retains the power to loom up out of the grave, still stinking of scotch, and make this accomplished, powerful, beautiful woman feel inadequate, ugly and dirty.

“Forever” opens in Paris. Orlandersmith is on a pilgrimage to the Père Lachaise cemetery, the final resting place of many of the artists who gave her hope during her Harlem coming-of-age: Balzac, Chopin, Colette, Modigliani, Edith Piaf and — not least — Jim Morrison.

Takeshi Kata’s bare wooden stage features podium and a chair from which Orlandersmith reads from a script and a table with a record player where she occasionally stops to spin an LP. (Adam Phalen’s sound cues are never too loud, and they fade away at exactly the right moment.)

These artists, Orlandersmith says, are the family she chose for herself, instead of the alcoholic mother who taught her about art but also abused and manipulated her. They replaced the friends she couldn’t find or keep in the ghetto.

She describes walking home from the record store with her first Doors album when a man jeered at her for listening to “white-boy … .” She persevered, rebelliously cultivating her own tastes.

This arc is familiar from Orlandersmith’s earlier solo pieces, “Beauty’s Daughter,” “Monster” and “Gimmick,” all about young black women determined to rise above bleak circumstances, who find salvation in art. But whereas in those works Orlandersmith assumed other personae, here she performs as herself, slipping only briefly into other voices during conversations she reports.

“I have not been gut-honest,” she says. “I have never spoken my mother’s name onstage: Beula.”

Is such gut-honesty necessary? Her mother has been dead more than 20 years. Hasn’t Orlandersmith, after winning an Obie (for “Beauty’s Daughter”) and being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize (for “Yellowman”), exorcised the demons of her past?

And if we, the audience, must revisit her painful history, can’t we be kidded through the hardest incidents? Is there a part where mother and daughter cry and forgive, like in the movies?

No.

Neither Orlandersmith nor her director here, Neel Keller, is interested in moving past or making light of pain, or sparing their audience the discomfort of witnessing it. “Forever” derives much of its power from the anger Orlandersmith carries and unflinchingly expresses.

And as her story makes clear, she has every reason to be angry. She was cruelly victimized, not only by her mother but by a man who broke into their house in the middle of the night and raped her — an incident she recounts in unstinting detail.

Her anger can be powerful, electrifying and cathartic. Her capacity for it may even be, as much as her love of art, what enabled her to survive.

But it can be constricting too, blinkering her to other emotions. When Beula is dying in the hospital surrounded by doting nurses (“surrogate daughters,” Orlandersmith bitterly describes them), the vengeful daughter tells her off with pitiless hatred, like a figure out of Greek tragedy.

From a theatrical perspective, unmodulated rage works best in small doses; too much of it stuns the senses. Subtler moments, as when she confesses her dreams of marrying the Irish cop who was kind to her after her rape, can be more effective.

If Orlandersmith refuses to pander to us, denying us our pat Hollywood closure, she herself embodies the hope implicit in her story. The area around the raised set has been turned into a gallery for her family photos — the originals, it looks like, with curled corners and faded color. In a few of them she’s mugging for the camera, like any kid.

With any luck, after “Forever” Beula will stay peacefully in her grave from now on and let her daughter’s spirit shine.

“Forever,” Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Call for exceptions. Ends Oct. 26. $20-$30. (213) 628-2772 or www.centertheatregroup.org. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

 

 

Dael Orlandersmith's Forever Is a Love-Hate Letter to Her Abusive Mother (GO!)

--LA Weekly October 14, 2014

Dael Orlandersmith in Forever - PHOTO BY CRAIG SCHWARTZ

There are many parents present in poet-playwright-performer Dael Orlandersmith’s searing solo stage memoir. They include Chopin and Proust, Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt, Édith Piaf and Richard Wright — all cited as Orlandersmith’s spiritual forebears and all buried in Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery. A pilgrimage there bookends Forever, directed by Neel Keller in its world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

The two most responsible for creating Orlandersmith the artist, however, turn out to include Père Lachaise’s Jim Morrison, whose poetically inflected music first provided her entrée to New York’s burgeoning downtown music scene of the 1970s and led her to a surrogate family of kindred writers and performers.

But most of all there is Beulah, her berating, belittling, pathologically possessive and ego-smothering, alcoholic mother.

In a portrait at once elegiac and angry, lyrical and recriminatory and rife with the kind of love-hate paradoxes that define any filial relationship but are here represented in extremis, Orlandersmith reconstructs Beulah’s life from South Carolina to a Harlem tenement. That's where she gave birth to the future playwright, who promptly became both emotional crutch and the object of blame for all of the tortured woman’s life disappointments. 

Orlandersmith’s intention, she says at one point, was to finally write something with the “naked, gut-honest” candor of an author like Wright. And in the harrowing, very personal and unflinchingly courageous journey described in Forever, she achieves it.

Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; through Oct. 26. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org.