'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?


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 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,



Dael Orlandersmith's FOREVER Celebrates Opening Night at Douglas Theatre

The world premiere of Dael Orlandersmith's "Forever," directed by Center Theatre Group Associate Artistic Director Neel Keller, opened this Sunday, October 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the CTG/Kirk Douglas Theatre. A DouglasPlus presentation, "Forever" was commissioned and developed by CTG. Performances continue through October 26, 2014. BroadwayWorld has photos from the opening festivities below!

In "Forever," writer/performer Orlandersmith investigates the complex legacy she received from her mother and their difficult life in New York. A riveting and powerful memoir about family - the ones we are born into, and the strange way powerful bonds are formed with people who are "kin" through shared experience and perspective, is inspired in part by Orlandermith's experiences in Paris at the famed Père Lachaise Cemetery where strangers from around the world make pilgrimages to the graves of such legendary artists as Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust and Richard Wright.

Set design for "Forever" is by Takeshi Kata, costume design by Kaye Voyce, lighting design is by Mary Louise Geiger and sound design is by Adam Phalen. The production stage manager is Young Ji.

The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, 90232. For tickets and information, visit, 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.

David Mamet's Controversial Play 'Race' Gets L.A. Premiere At The Kirk Douglas

race_mamet.jpg September 11, 2014

Shortly before David Mamet's "Race" opened on Broadway, the playwright himself took the unusual step of contributing an explanatory essay to the New York Times about his potentially controversial new work. "I have never spent much time thinking about the themes of my plays," Mamet asserted, "as I have noticed [that] when an audience begins to talk about the play's theme, it means the plot was no good. But my current play does have a theme, and that theme is race and the lies we tell each other on the subject."

Almost exactly five years after the publication date of that NYT article, "Race" is finally getting its Los Angeles premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, and as Mamet perhaps implied, its plot is not among his strongest. Still, in addressing what one of the play's characters describes as "the most incendiary topic in our history," the play comprehensively fulfills what Mamet has elsewhere described as theater's essential mission to address "a seemingly unresolvable social problem," a societal "unconscious confusion," in a way that we could not rationally consider anywhere else.

The entire play takes place in the conference room of a three-attorney criminal defense law firm where we initially see the two middle-aged partners grilling potential client Charles Strickland (Jonno Roberts), a publicly-prominent Wall Street one-percenter type whom the DA has charged with raping a young black woman in a hotel room. One of the partners, Jack Dawson (Chris Bauer) is white; the other, Henry Brown (Dominic Hoffman), is black. The third lawyer, Susan (DeWanda Wise), also black, is a novice associate with Ivy League law review credentials, who starts out quietly taking notes on the discussion, but soon becomes critically involved in the firm's strategic disposition of Strickland's case.

The overt (and obviously questionable) premise of the play and the partners' understanding of Strickland's prospects before a jury is that the deck is stacked against the accused because no one wants to let a white man off the hook for a crime against a black victim. "We're thrilled you're guilty," explains Brown. "Because of the calendar. Fifty years ago, you're white? Same case, same facts, you're innocent. This is the situation in which you discover yourself."

Dawson believes Strickland is innocent, while Susan is convinced he's guilty but still recognizes his right to a defense. It is not long, though, before Dawson's professional cockiness, in classic Mametian fashion, prevents him from even noticing a few boneheaded statements he makes about the racial politics of the case, racial politics in general and Susan's own status as a young black woman in his employment. Inevitably, then, her own agenda shifts from cooperation to confrontation.

The conflict between a young woman protégée who turns the tables on her older male professional mentors may bring to mind Mamet's earlier plays "Speed-the-Plow" and "Oleanna," even if our sympathies are far less one-sided here than in that latter play. The basic problem with "Race," though, is that for all the firepower generated by the accusations, recriminations, apologies and betrayals flying back and forth between the attorneys, the real consequences of their decisions are borne not by themselves, but by their client Strickland, who's not even onstage that much and strikes us as little more than a helpless dud when he is. In Mamet's better plays, the characters claw at each other's souls and fates to save themselves; in "Race" the characters' arguments are their own, but the stakes pile up largely outside of their arena.

Veteran Mamet director Scott Zigler grants the intricacies of the characters' respective grievances a clear airing, and all four cast members successfully maintain the intensity that Mamet's dialogue ratchets up for them. The floor to ceiling shelves lined with law books which subtly dominate set designer Jeffery Eisenman's spacious conference room leave no doubt that we are all at the mercy of these officers of the court and their manipulations of the rules.

For David Mamet's NY Times essay, go to: "We Can't Stop Talking About Race in America"

"Race" plays every evening except Monday, plus matinees Saturday and Sunday, through September 28. Tickets $25 through $55 (plus a 10% service charge) on the CTG  website.

Chris Bauer, Dominic Hoffman, Jonno Roberts and DeWanda Wise to Star in RACE at CTG's Kirk Douglas Theatre This Fall

Chris Bauer, Dominic Hoffman, Jonno Roberts and DeWanda Wise to Star in RACE at CTG's Kirk Douglas Theatre This Fall

--August 6, 2014

Casting is set for Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet's "Race," which opens September 7, 2014, at the Center Theatre Group/Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. Previews begin August 31, and performances run through September 28.

Directed by longtime Mamet collaborator Scott Zigler, "Race" features acclaimed stage and screen actors Chris Bauer("True Blood," "The Wire," Broadway's "A Streetcar Named Desire"), Dominic Hoffman, (Mamet's world premiere of "Faustus"), Jonno Roberts (Broadway's "Take Me Out") and DeWanda Wise (ABC's "Firelight").

"Race" has set design by Jeffery P. Eisenmann, costume design by Leah Piehl and lighting design by Josh Epstein. Casting is by Mark B. Simon, CSA, and the production stage manager is Kirsten Parker.

In "Race," Mamet tackles America's most controversial subject in his provocative tale of sex, guilt and bold accusations. In "Race," two lawyers find themselves defending a wealthy white executive charged with sexually assaulting a black woman. When a new legal assistant gets involved in the case, the opinions that boil beneath explode to the surface.

David Mamet is the author of the plays "The Anarchist," "Race," "Keep Your Pantheon," "School," "November," "Romance," "Boston Marriage," "Faustus," "Oleanna," "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1984 Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics Circle Award), "American Buffalo," "The Old Neighborhood," "A Life in the Theatre," "Speed-the-Plow," "Edmond," "Lakeboat," "The Water Engine," "The Woods" "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," "Reunion" and "The Cryptogram" (1995 Obie Award). His translations and adaptations include "Faustus" and "Red River" by Pierre Laville, and "The Cherry Orchard," "Three Sisters" and "Uncle Vanya" by Anton Chekov. His films include "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "The Verdict," "The Untouchables," "House of Games" (writer/director), "Oleanna" (writer/director), "Homicide" (writer/director), "The Spanish Prisoner" (writer/director), "Heist" (writer/director), "Spartan" (writer/director), "Redbelt" (writer/director), "Phil Spector" (writer/director). Mr. Mamet is also the author of "Warm and Cold," a book for children with drawings by Donald Sultan, and two other children's books, "Passover" and "The Duck and the Goat; Writing in Restaurants," "Some Freaks," and "Make-Believe Town," three volumes of essays; "The Hero Pony" and "The Chinaman," two books of poems; "Three Children's Plays," "On Directing Film," "The Cabin," and the novels "The Village," "The Old Religion" and "Wilson." His most recent books include the acting books, "True & False," "Three Uses of the Knife," "Bambi Vs. Godzilla," "Three War Stories," and "The Secret Knowledge." "Glengarry Glen Ross" was awarded the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play in 2005.

Tickets for "Race" are available at, the CTG box office located at the Ahmanson Theatre, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre box office starting two hours before curtain or by calling (213) 628-2772.

Pictured: L-R (back row): cast members Chris Bauer and Dominic Hoffman and L-R (front row): cast members DeWanda Wise and Jonno Roberts during the first rehearsal forDavid Mamet's "Race." Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Jessica Lange to Receive Santa Barbara Film Fest's Kirk Douglas Award

-- Boston Globe Juy 30, 2014

Jessica Lange will be the ninth recipient of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's Kirk Douglas award for excellence in film this year.

Lange, who won an Emmy in her first season on "American Horror Story," will be presented with the award at a gala at Santa Barbara's Bacara Resort and Spa on Nov. 16. She follows past recipients such as Quentin Tarantino, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro and John Travolta.

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

Lange won the Academy Awards for best actress and supporting actress for her roles in "Blue Sky" and "Tootsie" respectively. She was also nominated for best actress in four additional roles: "Frances," "Country," "Sweet Dreams" and "Music Box" and has been Emmy nominated the past two years for "American Horror Story."

The Kirk Douglas award serves as a fundraiser to the annual festival, which will be celebrating its 30th anniversary from Jan. 27 through Feb. 5. This year's festival will also include a three day film studies program for undergraduate film students to learn film appreciation, criticism and analysis from film educators.


Pat Harvey's inteview will be repeated tonight, Sunday, July 27, between 8:30 & 9 PM on KCAL9. The couple recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, and the interview focuses on their enduring romance, their life together, and their many achievements, including their work for charity.



A reminder about a very unique event: 

Kirk and Anne Douglas will be interviewed by Pat Harvey on Friday, July 25, at 11 PM PDT on KCBS Los Angeles, Channel 2. The couple recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. The interview will focus on their enduring romance, their life together, and their many achievements, including their work for charity. 

You can also see the interview on-line at

On Sunday, July 27, the interview will be repeated between 8:30 and 9 PM on KCBS's sister station KCAL9. 

Don't miss this rare opportunity to get an inside look at one of Holllywood's most legendary marriages! 

Kirk One-Man Show Airs July 24


The film of Kirk Douglas's one-man theatre piece BEFORE I FORGET will air tonight, July 24, 2014, on TCM at 7:15 PM Pacific Time / 10:15 PM Eastern Time. Kirk talks about his life on screen and off with a mixture of humor and seriousness that made the show a critical hit when it first appeared on stage. 

Kirk & Anne Interview Fri July 25 11 PM KCBS

--July 22, 2014

kd ad rome 1954

Kirk and Anne Douglas will be interviewed by Pat Harvey on Friday, July 25, at 11 PM PDT on KCBS Los Angeles, Channel 2. The couple recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. The interview will focus on their enduring romance, their life together, and their many achievements, including their work for charity. 

You can also see the interview on-line at

On Sunday, July 27, the interview will be repeated between 8:30 and 9 PM on KCBS's sister station KCAL9. We'll update you on more specifics as we receive them.

Don't miss this rare opportunity to get an inside look at one of Holllywood's most legendary marriages!