Kirk Douglas Theatre

Jewish roots, Chinese heritage merge in ‘King of the Yees’

--Jewish Journal   July 5, 2017

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Combine a director’s Jewish roots with a playwright’s Chinese heritage and the result is a quirky comic play that shows the two cultures have more in common than you might imagine.

That’s the case with Joshua Kahan Brody directing Lauren Yee’s “King of the Yees,” opening July 16 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. It is set in a San Francisco Chinatown universe well beyond Brody’s Eastern European Jewish background, but reflects abundant parallels with his family’s history of immigration and assimilation.

“I feel the same way that the play does, which is that it’s important to honor our heritage and to not forget who we are,” Brody, 32, said during an interview backstage at the Douglas. While he said he understood how previous generations might feel the need to be protective of their ethnicity and to immerse themselves in exclusively Jewish enclaves, he added, “I don’t really feel that need myself.”

In “King of the Yees,” the playwright’s assimilated alter ego, also named Lauren Yee, struggles to understand her father’s commitment to Chinatown and his dwindling civic group, the Yee Fung Toy Family Association.

Like her character, Yee grew up in San Francisco, but not in Chinatown, she said in a telephone interview. As a child, she did not speak Chinese and was less than enthused with having to attend the Yee Fung Toy banquets. She is married to a secular Jewish attorney, as is the fictional Lauren Yee.

In the play her father, Larry Yee, goes missing and her character sets out on a magical quest to find him, traversing Chinatown’s mysterious customs and politics. Ultimately, the character’s odyssey connects her with her father and centuries of ancestors in a way she never could have foreseen. In the process, the fictional Lauren enlists the help of a Chinese gangster who expresses — in a politically incorrect way — his admiration for Jews. He says he loves the tribe because they are “just like us. The hard work, the good food … the cheapskate, the mom so loud always control the son, the dad bad at sport cannot throw the ball. … The Jew know you gotta stick together, make sure they don’t erase you from your story.”

The scene is a tricky bit of social satire, but Brody insisted the references are not racist. “Lauren isn’t making fun of Jews,” he said. “Instead, she gets away with it because these things are both self-deprecating about Chinese stereotypes and sort of teasing about Jewish ones. Frankly, there’s no malice in the play, no bad intent. And I’m pretty good at getting a group of people on the same stage and making something with warmth and a great deal of love.”

Yee, for her part, said she chose Brody to direct “because he understands my sense of humor and what I find funny. He also can walk into a play called ‘King of the Yees,’ which is about Yees — which he is not — and then about Asian-American identity in the 21st century, which is something that is not in his everyday life. He approaches it with a wonderful sense of openness and curiosity and respect that allows him to support this world.

“Then there’s also the fact that he has a Jewish background. He brings to the play a related but slightly different perspective in terms of cultural identity.”

Brody spent his early years in New Jersey before moving to London with his family after his father, an investment banker, transferred there for work.

Both sets of his grandparents were Bundists but “very culturally Jewish,” he said.

Brody’s maternal grandfather hailed from Vilnius, Lithuania, and survived Bergen-Belsen and other concentration camps

during the Holocaust. Brody’s maternal grandmother escaped the Warsaw Ghetto with a bullet injury, then helped smuggle Jewish children to safety as part of the Polish resistance movement.

“My mother’s first language was Yiddish, and when the extended older relatives were around it was all Yiddish,” he said. “I regret that I never learned my family’s language, which is similar to what Lauren’s character feels in the play.”

Brody said his family’s Judaism fell away somewhat after they moved to England. “Lauren’s parents grew up in Chinatown, but she didn’t grow up there,” he said. “She experienced the lack of day-to-day interaction with those people, and the same thing happened to me.”

Even so, Brody on his own decided to continue his Jewish education for two years after he became bar mitzvah at a large Reform congregation in London. “It was because I had a real intellectual curiosity about Judaism, and also it was a bit of an identity thing for me,” he said. “I still identify so much as Jewish. Yet, I’m not religious today. So my question is, what does it mean to have an ethnic identity that is tied to a religion, but is not actually religious?”

Brody first met Yee, also 32, when both were undergraduates at Yale University. Later, they attended the theater master’s degree program at UC San Diego. There, Brody directed one of Yee’s student plays the same year he also tackled a version of S. Ansky’s Jewish ghost story “The Dybbuk.”

“To me, the subject of that play is also fundamentally about identity:  What is the soul of a person? If a person dies and the soul inhabits another body, who is that person?” he said.

At the La Jolla Playhouse last year, Brody directed Jeff Augustin’s “The Last Tiger in Haiti,” which revolves in part around the cultural havoc that followed Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010. “That play also deals with questions of assimilation, and specifically the virtue of authenticity and who gets to tell one’s story,” he said.

To understand Yee’s family history, Brody immersed himself in research, including listening to the hours of interviews the playwright recorded with her father, as well as visiting Yee Fung Toy associations throughout the United States, which were established to maintain contacts among and work for the benefit of members of the Yee clan. He also spent time with Larry Yee, who turned out to be just as exuberant and iconoclastic as his character in the play.

When Brody first read “King of the Yees,” he thought the Larry character was over the top. “And then you meet Larry, and you realize it isn’t,” he said. “This literally happened when Francis Jue, who plays Larry, said, ‘Am I doing too much?’ And we were like, ‘No, keep going. We feel like Larry is in the room with us.’ ”

“King of the Yees” opens July 16 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. For more information about “King of the Yees,” visit centertheatregroup.org.

 

 

DRY LAND Celebrates Opening Night as Part of 'Block Party' the Douglas

--Broadway World Los Angeles  May 15, 2017

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Center Theatre Group's Block Party continues with the opening of The Echo Theater Company production of "Dry Land" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Written by Ruby Rae Spiegel and directed by Alana Dietze, "Dry Land" opened on May 14 and runs through May 21, 2017. BroadwayWorld has photos from the opening festivities below!

Block Party highlights some of the remarkable work being done in other, more intimate theatres throughout Los Angeles by fully producing three previously staged productions. The three visiting companies received the full support of Center Theatre Group and its staff in order to fund, stage and market each production.

"Dry Land" is a haunting play about female friendship and an abortion that takes place in the locker room of a central Florida high school. Written when Spiegel was just 21 years old and still an undergraduate at Yale, the play is a deeply truthful portrait of the fears, hopes and bonds of teenage girls - as gut-wrenching as it is funny.

The cast of "Dry Land" includes Daniel Hagen, Ben Horwitz, Connor Kelly-Eiding, Teagan Rose and Jenny Soo. The cast also includes Jacqueline Besson and Alexandra Freeman as well as USC School of Dramatic Arts students Francesca O'Hern, Bukola Ogunmola, Sidne Phillips and Tessa Hope Slovis. Scenic design is by Amanda Knehans, costume design is by Elena Flores, lighting design is by Justin Huen and sound design is by Jeff Gardner. Anna Engelsman is the production stage manager.

Center Theatre Group to Host Block Party Info Session This Month

--Broadway World Los Angeles  May 11, 2017

blockparty

Center Theatre Group will host a special informational session at the Kirk Douglas Theatre rehearsal room on Monday, May 22, 2017, at 7 p.m. for those interested in applying to Center Theatre Group's second annual Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theatre.

Block Party aims to highlight some of the remarkable work being done on other stages throughout Los Angeles by fully producing three previously staged productions. The deadline to apply to the 2017-2018 Block Party program is May 30, 2017.

Theatre companies from the greater Los Angeles area may submit one production for consideration. To be eligible, the production must have opened between January 1, 2016, and May 30, 2017. Three productions will be selected for presentation at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, March 29 through May 20, 2018.

This year, the round one application has been significantly simplified, streamlining the application process for companies that apply. A select number of companies will then be invited to the round two application, at which time more in-depth design information will be requested.

The three selected productions will be announced in the fall and each will have a two-week run with 12 performances (including two previews) at the Douglas. All three theatre companies will be part of a collaboration with Center Theatre Group and will receive the full support of Center Theatre Group and its staff in order to fund, stage and market each production.

Center Theatre Group's 2016-2017 inaugural Block Party featured the Coeurage Theatre Company production of "Failure: A Love Story," which ran April 14 through 23, followed by The Fountain Theatre production of "Citizen: An American Lyric," which ran April 28 through May 7 and will finish with The Echo Theater Company production of "Dry Land," which runs May 12 through May 21.

With Block Party, Center Theatre Group hopes to strengthen relationships within the Los Angeles community, create additional avenues for Center Theatre Group to become familiar with local playwrights, actors, directors and designers, and foster relationships between Center Theatre Group staff and the staff at theatre companies throughout Los Angeles.

Block Party receives major support from Aliza Karney Guren and Marc Guren with generous funding also provided by Joni and Miles Benickes.

Center Theatre Group has a long history of pairing with local theatre companies including the Deaf West production of "Big River" which was produced at the Mark Taper Forum in 2002 and went on to Broadway before returning to the Ahmanson Theatre in 2005 as part of a national tour. More recently, Center Theatre Group partnered with Ebony Repertory Theatre for the remounting of "A Raisin in the Sun" (which played at the Douglas), 24th Street Theatre's "Walking the Tightrope" (also at the Douglas) and other productions around the city such as "The Behavior of Broadus" (with Burglars of Hamm and SacRed Fools Theater Company) and "Birder" (with The Road Theatre Company).

Center Theatre Group, one of the nation's preeminent arts and cultural organizations, is Los Angeles' leading nonprofit theatre company, programming seasons at the 736-seat Mark Taper Forum and 1600 to 2000-seat Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles, and the 317-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. In addition to presenting and producing the broadest range of theatrical entertainment in the country, Center Theatre Group is one of the nation's leading producers of ambitious new works through commissions and world premiere productions and a leader in interactive community engagement and education programs that reach across generations, demographics and circumstance to serve Los Angeles.

Interested theatre companies need to complete an online application by May 30, 2017, to be considered. To fill out the online application and for more information about Center Theatre Group's Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theatre, visit www.CenterTheatreGroup.org/BlockParty. Should any questions arise throughout the application process, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Those interested in attending the May 22 informational session are encouraged to RSVP by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

 

‘Hamilton’ Parody ‘Spamilton’ to Play at Kirk Douglas Theater

--Variety April 27, 2017

spamilton

Center Theatre Group has just released its upcoming 2017-2018 production docket, slated to kick off this fall at its longtime native venue, the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City. This year marks Center Theatre Group’s 14th season on the Douglas stage, and the lineup is, accordingly, stacked.

“This is a diverse season of productions at the Douglas,” says Center Theatre Group’s artistic director, Michael Ritchie. “But one thing they all have in common is that they resonate with the arts and culture of Los Angeles.”

The season launches with the world premiere of Obie-winning playwright and famed humorist Paul Rudnick’s “Big Night”, followed by the west coast premiere of Gerard Alessandrini’s musical parody “Spamilton” (a pithy satirical play on the Broadway blockbuster, which Lin-Manuel Miranda lauded for its comedic prowess).

Pulitzer Prize finalist, which The New York Times praised as a “rare and rewarding thing: a theater work that succeeds on every level, while creating something new.” Hudes’ play, which traces the legacy of war as it is passed down through three generations of a Puerto Rican family, is the first installment in a trilogy series. Center Theatre Group will also produce the second installment — Hudes’ Pulitzer-winning “Water by the Spoonful” — in conjunction with “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” at the Mark Taper Forum.

The season culminates next spring with the return of Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theater, which selects three productions from smaller local theaters to produce on the Douglas stage. After a successful first go-round, the theater group has decided to revive the series for a second season, and will be accepting applications from theater companies in the greater Los Angeles area through May 30.

“This season’s productions are guaranteed to keep people talking,” says Ritchie. “At times they may change the way you see your neighbor, at other times they may change the lyrics you sing to your favorite tune – but over the course of the season they will make you laugh, cry, dance and explore the countless theatrical opportunities the city has to offer.”

Center Theatre Group’s upcoming season will roll out as follows:

“Big Night” by Paul Rudnick (Sept. 3 – Oct. 1)

“Spamilton” by Gerard Alessandrini (Nov. 5 – Dec. 31)

“Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” by Quiara Alegria Hudes (Jan. 27 – Feb. 25)

“The Second Annual Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theater” (March 29 – May 20)

The new season begins Sept. 3 and runs through May 20, 2018 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Center Theatre Group Announces Block Party Lineup and Casting

--Playbill March 31, 2017

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Casting has been officially announced for Center Theatre Group’s Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theatre. This year CTG will be remounting past productions from three local L.A.-based companies. Coeurage Theatre Company’s production of Failure: A Love Story, Fountain Theatre’s production of Citizen: An American Lyric, and Echo Theater Company’s Dry Land will be staged at the Kirk Douglas Theatre April 14–May 21.

“As we celebrate Center Theatre Group’s 50 years of creating theatre in Los Angeles, we want to turn the spotlight on some of the remarkable work being done on other stages,” said Center Theatre Group Artistic Director Michael Ritchie. “Coeurage Theatre, Echo Theater and Fountain Theatre, as well as others throughout L.A., regularly produce excellent, boundary-pushing work and we’re so glad they are sharing some of that work with us.”

Coeurage Theatre Company’s Failure: A Love Story by Philip Dawkins opens the celebration April 14–23. The piece is set in Chicago of the 1920s and focuses on the three Fail sisters. It’s a chronicle of their lives together and the man who fell in love with all of them. The cast features Joe Calarco, June Carryl, Cristina Gerla, Kristina Johnson, Margaret Katch, Denver Milord, Gregory Nabours, Theodore Perkins, Kurt Quinn, Brandon Ruiter, Nicole Shalhoub, Gina Torrecilla, and Brittney S. Wheeler. Michael Matthews will direct.

The Fountain Theatre’s production of Citizen: An American Lyric (April 28–May 7) was adapted for the stage by Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. The production, based on Claudia Rankine’s poetry, merges multiple art forms to meditate on the struggle against racism in America. The cast features Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick, Monnae Michaell, and Lisa Pescia. Directed by Shirley Jo Finney.

Echo Theater Company’s Dry Land by Ruby Spiegel is the last in the series of remounted shows, running May 14–21. Set in the locker room of a central Florida high school, it’s a hauntingly truthful portrait of hope, fear, abortion, and the strong bond between teenage girls. The cast features Daniel Hagen, Ben Horwitz, Connor Kelly-Eiding, Teagan Rose, Jenny Soo, Jacqueline Besson, and Alexandra Freeman, as well as USC School of Dramatic Arts students Francesca O’Hern, Bukola Ogunmola, Sidne Phillips, and Tessa Hope Slovis. Alana Dietze directs.

CTG received 76 submissions for this year’s Block Party from theatres all over L.A. and the surrounding area. It’s the hope of CTG that events like this will forge new relationships within the Los Angeles theatre community and strengthen those already established. There are “pay what you can” performances for Failure April 14, Citizen April 28, and Dry Land May 12. For more information, visit CenterTheatreGroup.org.

‘Good Grief’ is a funny, poignant meditation on memory at Kirk Douglas Theatre

--Los Angeles Daily News March 12, 2017

Our pasts cannot be changed. We can try to relive them, but in reality all we store in our memories is our reactions to them.

These ideas thread through “Good Grief,” a psychological, mythological, archetypal and still utterly affectionate and charming work by Ngozi Anyanwu in its world premiere at Culver City’s Kirk Douglas Theatre through March 26.

Set in a Pennsylvania suburb, the play centers on Nkechi, a young first-generation Nigerian-American. Though primed to live her immigrant parents’ idea of the American dream, she has dropped out of medical school. She says it didn’t suit her, but in reality she is grieving for the love of her life killed in a car crash and for her lost youth and happy moments that are now mere memories.

The playwright plays Nkechi. Instead of venting too-personal traumas, however, the writer-actor gives us a thoroughly universal picture of growing pains and a wonderfully specific picture of an exceedingly bright, perceptive, funny girl who thinks no one understands her.

The enchanting Nkechi is surrounded by totally relatable characters, played by a flawless casts. On opening night, they won giggles, groans, cheers and sighs as the various characters wafted through Nkechi’s recalled life.

First in importance to Nkechi are the boys she liked. Her dream boy is Jimmy Deering (Mark Jude Sullivan), for whom she spent her adolescence pining. But her best friend, possible romantic interest and likely soon-to-be lover is Matthew (Wade Allain-Marcus). He, to his endearing credit, has loved Nkechi since the moment he met her, in their grade-school homeroom.

Gods and godlike archetypes watch over and help recount her story. Nkechi’s mother (Omozé Idehenre) is the intellect, a psychiatric-nursing student with clipboard in hand, objectively observing how Nkechi processes grief. Meanwhile, other mothers (Carla Renata) overreact in exaggerated emotions, including a World Wrestling Entertainment–style bout in Ahmed Best’s fight choreography.

Nkechi’s brother (Marcus Henderson) is the jester, likewise trying to usher the grieving process along. Hilariously, his coping mechanisms are marijuana, booze and 1990s rap. Papa (Dayo Ade) is the pragmatist, sternly but lovingly urging Nkechi to just move on.

This is a memory play, not a straightforward chronology. Its fragments of recollections, or perhaps dreams, are carefully sorted out by director Patricia McGregor. She also adds much humor, none of it mean, most of it universal.

The 1990s references pile up as Nkechi recalls her youth. Sound designer Adam Phalen ensures that the soundtrack of Nkechi’s life seems to come from the tiny radios onstage, though audiences unfamiliar with the songs might have trouble hearing the lyrics.

But the fact that gossip and reputations fill our minds, sometimes barring us from getting to know the person, is unfortunately timeless.

The scenes take place in and around Matthew’s bedroom and Nkechi’s. They’re designed, by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, with white LED lights that outline the homes as if a child drew them, constructed on moving platforms so that the scenery swiftly swings into place. The area between the houses becomes a wrestling ring, a road on which Papa urges his shell-shocked daughter to learn to drive, and the living room where Papa shouts at the Eagles from his armchair.

Nkechi dropped out of her Philadelphia med school. Perhaps her imagination was too vivid to allow her to focus on such objective studies. Or, perhaps all of us seek solace in imagination and memory when our souls are taxed by death and disappointments.

Whatever the case, Nkechi would make a great medical doctor, the type who takes the whole person into consideration in her diagnoses and who clearly explains causes and effects to the patient. On the other hand, that also describes a great playwright.

Dany Margolies is a Los Angeles-based writer.

‘GOOD GRIEF’

Rating: 4 stars.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, through March 26.

Where: Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City.

Tickets: $25-$70.

Length: 1 hr., 40 mins., no intermission.

Suitability: Mature teens and adults for language and subject matter.

Information: 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.

First Look at Tim Crouch's ADLER & GIBB at the Douglas

--BroadwayWorld.com January 18, 2017

The American premiere of Tim Crouch's "Adler & Gibb" will open tonight, Wednesday, January 18, 2017, at 8 p.m. at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre. The DouglasPlus production had one preview performance on January 17 and will run through January 29. A co-commission by Center Theatre Group and The Royal Court Theatre in London, "Adler & Gibb" is written and directed by Crouch and co- directed by Andy Smith and Karl James. BroadwayWorld has a first look at the cast in action below!

The cast features Crouch as Sam, Gina Moxley as Gibb, Jillian Pullara as Student and Cath Whitefield as Louise. Furthermore, Olivia Abedor, Kylie Cox-Toyota and Ayla Moses alternate the role of Child.

The production features design by Charlotte Espiner, original music and sound design by Max and Ben Ringham and video design by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor. The production stage manager is Brooke Baldwin.

"Adler & Gibb" tells the fictional story of Janet Adler and Margaret Gibb, legendary boundary-pushing conceptual artists working in New York late last century. When they abruptly step away from the limelight at the height of their careers, the mysterious move only adds fuel to their fame. From the real to unreal, from fake to true and from theatre to film, the play takes Crouch's fascination with form and marries it to a compelling story of misappropriation.

Tickets for "Adler & Gibb" are available by calling (213) 628-2772, online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, at the Center Theatre Group box office at the Ahmanson Theatre or at the Kirk Douglas Theatre box office two hours prior to performance. Tickets range from $25 - $70 (ticket prices are subject to change). The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, CA 90232. Ample free parking and restaurants are adjacent.

Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

'FAILURE', DRY LAND and 'CITIZEN' Tapped for CTG's Block Party at the Douglas

--BroadwayWorld.com  December 20, 2016

Center Theatre Group has selected three local productions for the inaugural Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theatre at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Block Party will remount Coeurage Theatre Company's production of "Failure: A Love Story" by Philip Dawkins, Echo Theater Company's production of "Dry Land" by Ruby Rae Spiegel and Fountain Theatre's production of "Citizen: An American Lyric" by Claudia Rankine and adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs. Each production will have a two-week run presented April 14 through May 21, 2017.

The selected shows will receive the full support of Center Theatre Group and its staff in order to fund, stage and market each production. Full casting for "Failure: A Love Story," "Dry Land" and "Citizen: An American Lyric" will be announced at a later date.

"Failure: A Love Story" from Coeurage Theatre Company will take the first slot and will begin previews April 14, open April 16 and close April 23. Written by Philip Dawkins and directed by Michael Matthews, the show chronicles the lives, loves and deaths of the three Fail sisters and the one man who fell in love with each of them. Set against the backdrop of 1920s Chicago, this touching, whimsical tale explores the impermanence of life and the permanence of love.

"We're completely thrilled to be a part of this program," said Coeurage Artistic Director Jeremy Lelliott of being selected. "Center Theatre Group is a standard-bearer in the L.A. arts scene, and to benefit from their support and input on our growth and this upcoming production marks an exciting new chapter for Coeurage and the 99-seat community as a whole."

Fountain Theatre's "Citizen: An American Lyric," a meditation on race that fuses poetry, prose, movement, music and the video image, will begin previews on April 28, open April 30 and close May 7. Adapted by playwright and Fountain Theatre Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, it is a provocative stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine's internationally acclaimed book of poetry about everyday acts of racism in America. Of Rankine's "Citizen," The New Yorker wrote that it was "brilliant... [and] explores the kinds of injustice that thrive when the illusion of justice is perfected." The New York Times wrote that "Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry's forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves."

"We're thrilled to be partnering with Center Theatre Group on its first-ever Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre," said Sachs. "It's particularly meaningful to us that 'Citizen' was chosen because racism and white dominance in America is as timely now, since the election, as it ever was. The project also reflects the diversity of our work at the Fountain Theatre."

Written by Ruby Rae Spiegel and directed by Alana Dietze, Echo Theater Company's "Dry Land" will take the final slot of Block Party and will begin previews May 12, open on May 14 and close on May 21. It is a haunting play about female friendship and an abortion that takes place in the locker room of a central Florida high school. Written when Spiegel was just 21 years old and still an undergraduate at Yale, the play is a deeply truthful portrait of the fears, hopes and bonds of teenage girls - as gut-wrenching as it is funny. In his New York Times "critic's pick" review, Ben Brantley called "Dry Land" "tender, caustic, funny and harrowing, often all at the same time."

"The Echo is delighted and honored to be selected for Block Party," said Echo Theater Artistic Director Chris Fields. "The fulfillment of being recognized and the deep gratification of being part of a special affirmation of our entire Los Angeles theatre community is just wonderful."

"As we celebrate Center Theatre Group's 50 years of creating theatre in Los Angeles, we want to turn the spotlight on some of the remarkable work being done on other stages," said Center Theatre Group Artistic Director Michael Ritchie in discussing Block Party. "Coeurage Theatre, Echo Theater and Fountain Theatre, as well as others throughout L.A., regularly produce excellent, boundary-pushing work and we're so glad they are sharing some of that work with us."

Tickets for Block Party will go on sale to the general public in February.

Center Theatre Group received 76 submissions for Block Party from intimate theatre companies from North Hollywood to San Pedro, Topanga to Sierra Madre. Each company was able to submit one production that opened between January 1, 2015, and August 12, 2016.

With Block Party, Center Theatre Group hopes to strengthen relationships within the Los Angeles community, create additional avenues for the organization to become familiar with local playwrights, actors, directors and designers, and foster relationships between Center Theatre Group staff and the staff at theatre companies throughout Los Angeles.

Center Theatre Group has a long history of pairing with local theatre companies including the Deaf West production of "Big River" which was produced at the Mark Taper Forum in 2002 and went on to Broadway before returning to the Ahmanson Theatre in 2005 as part of a national tour. More recently, Center Theatre Group partnered with Ebony.

Repertory Theatre for the remounting of "A Raisin in the Sun" (which played at the Douglas), 24th Street Theatre's "Walking the Tightrope" (also at the Douglas) and with other companies around the city for "The Behavior of Broadus" (Burglars of Hamm and SacRed Fools Theater Company) and "Birder" (The Road Theatre Company).

Center Theatre Group, one of the nation's preeminent arts and cultural organizations, is Los Angeles' leading nonprofit theatre company, programming seasons at the 736-seat Mark Taper Forum and 1600 to 2000-seat Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles, and the 317-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. In addition to presenting and producing the broadest range of theatrical entertainment in the country, Center Theatre Group is one of the nation's leading producers of ambitious new works through commissions and world premiere productions and a leader in interactive community engagement and education programs that reach across generations, demographics and circumstance to serve Los Angeles.

The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, CA 90232. Ample free parking and restaurants are adjacent.

In 'The Wholehearted,' a female boxer looks for redemption out of the ring

--Los Angeles Times  December 6, 2016

"The Wholehearted"

In Deborah Stein’s play “The Wholehearted,” world-premiering at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, a female prizefighter named Dee Crosby finds herself at a crossroads in life.

For those who don’t follow women’s boxing, Dee’s most recognizable precedent will probably be Maggie, the dauntless, heartbreaking figure Hilary Swank played in the 2004 Clint Eastwood movie “Million Dollar Baby.”  But unlike Maggie, who is paralyzed by a sucker punch during a match, Dee has suffered her worst injuries outside the ring.

Suli Holum, who plays Dee, and Stein co-direct “The Wholehearted” and are the principals of an experimental theater company with video designers and songwriters on tap. For this two-week run — part of the DouglasPlus series for new, in-progress and experimental work — the house has been reconfigured so that most of the seating is on the stage, arranged around a boxing ring, like the crowd at a fight.  

Four screens perch above the set, each visible to a quarter of the audience. They display recorded footage as well as live video — some filmed by Dee on the spot with a handheld camera, some captured by a cameraman, Stivo Arnoczy, who strides into the theater from the lobby just often enough to make the artifice disconcerting. 

Sometimes the various formats are woven together into a dazzling tour de force, as when Dee reenacts a match that plays above her head, aping her onscreen self’s  swings and dodges.

Holum, who mostly plays Dee but slips into other characters as well, punctuates her monologue with original country-western tunes by James Sugg and Heather Christian. These songs, performed in the style of the feisty classics that play before the curtain (Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue” and Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City”), deepen the script’s exploration of gender roles and violence. They’re also catchy, and Holum performs them with raspy panache.

For all its high-tech, cutting-edge flair, the true pleasure of “The Wholehearted” is of an old-fashioned sort: Holum’s fearless, fierce, vulnerable performance. Her Dee may be physically scrappy, but her face can’t hide her aching fragility.

As we learn from the sleekly produced exposition — fictional clips from “Entertainment Tonight”-style TV programming — Dee is a former champ. As a young girl, she was plucked from obscurity by a creepy older man, Charlie Flaxon, who trained her, married her and then, at the height of her fame, spectacularly attempted to kill her.

Now Charlie is out of prison, and Dee is hiding out in a storage room at the gym, plotting her revenge. She’s also recording a video apology to the high-school girlfriend, Carmen, she abandoned 20 years ago but never forgot.

Sure, it’s a stagy premise, and the script might benefit from more nuance, especially in the figure of Charlie, whom Holum portrays by slicking pomade into her hair and strutting around like Elvis. It’s hard to believe Dee put up with him for a second, much less abandoned true love for his shenanigans.

The play is so eager to show us the irony in Dee’s story — not even the strongest woman in the world can fight back against domestic violence — that it overplays its hand at times. But Dee’s tender recollections of Carmen — a kiss under the stars, or a sweetly sarcastic put-down, as trite and unforgettable as in so many first loves — form the beating heart of “The Wholehearted.”

------------

“The Wholehearted”

Where: Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday,  2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday (call for exceptions)

Tickets: $45 (subject to change)

Information: (213) 628-2772 or www.centertheatregroup.org

Running time: 1 hour, 5 minutes.

 

 

 

Jon Robin Baitz’s Politically-Charged Vicuña Kicks Off in L.A.

--Playbill October 24, 2016

Performances began October 23 at the Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles for the world premiere of Vicuña by Other Desert Cities playwright Jon Robin Baitz. The politically-charged satire follows a real estate Tycoon and reality TV star who wants to be President, and the renowned tailor who must serve him—it is billed as “a timely take on our rollicking political scene“ from the Pulitzer finalist.

Directed by Robert Egan, Vicuña plays through November 20, with an official opening night set for October 30. The cast is made up of Linda Gehringer, Brian George, Harry Groener, Ramiz Monsef, and Samantha Sloyan.

Here is how CTG bills the world-premiere play: “A tailor to the wealthy, powerful, and famous struggles to serve a very unusual client: a blustering real estate tycoon and reality TV star who—to everyone’s surprise—becomes a major party’s nominee for President. As the election spins out of control, the tailor and his apprentice are forced to examine their roles as confidants and image-makers for the candidate…and whether the right suit has the power to clinch the presidency.”

Vicuña features scenic design by Kevin Depinet, costume design by Laura Bauer, lighting design by Tom Ontiveros and original music and sound design by Karl Fredrik Lundeberg. Casting is by Meg Fister and the production stage manager is Brooke Baldwin.

For tickets and more information visit centertheatregroup.org.