Kirk Douglas Theatre

Center Theatre Group Announces Block Party Lineup and Casting

--Playbill March 31, 2017


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

‘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.


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,

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

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

Photo Flash: In Rehearsal with Jon Robin Baitz's VICUNA World Premiere at the Douglas September 30, 2016

The cast is set and rehearsals are underway for the world premiere of Jon Robin Baitz's "Vicuña," with previews beginning October 23 and opening set for October 30, 2016, at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre. Directed by Robert Egan, "Vicuña" plays through November 20. BroadwayWorld has a sneak peek at the company in rehearsal below!

The cast includes, in alphabetical order, Linda Gehringer, Brian George, Harry Groener, Ramiz Monsef and Samantha Sloyan. The scenic design for "Vicuña" is by Kevin Depinet, costume design is by Laura Bauer, lighting design is by Tom Ontiveros and original music and sound design is by Karl Fredrik Lundeberg. Casting is by Meg Fister and the production stage manager is Brooke Baldwin.

Influenced by the evolving political landscape, this brand new satire focuses on a brash presidential candidate on the rise - a blustering real estate tycoon and reality TV star - and the world-renowned tailor he coerces into serving him. "Vicuña" delves beneath the overstitching, through the weave and into the true power of the power suit. A suit may or may not make the man but it can definitely be revealing. A timely take on our rollicking political scene from Pulitzer finalist Baitz.

Tickets for "Vicuña" are available by calling (213) 628-2772 or online at The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, CA 90232.

Alibar’s ‘Throw Me on the Burnpile’ Lights Up Evening at Kirk Douglas

--Liberty Voice September 19, 2016

Writer and performer Lucy Alibar’s childhood experiences have fueled her creativity, first earning her an Oscar nomination for co-writing the “Beasts of the Southern Wild” screenplay. Now, Alibar debuted an entertaining one-woman show, “Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up,” at Center Theatre Group’s (CTG) Kirk Douglas Theatre on Friday evening.

The show offers a 9-year-old’s vision of Alibar’s childhood (that is unusual by Southern California standards) with charm and an ability to effectively tell a tale. Alibar is charming and earnest playing her childhood herself and spinning her partly autobiographical/partly fictional tales with prepubescent’s flights of fancy. The stage makes it feel like the audience is sitting in the yard or around a barbecue with her as she weaves her stories into an enjoyable evening.

Alibar is dressed in a white T-shirt, cut-off shorts and sneakers to present herself as a pre-teen child in rural Florida. She recounts working in the office of her lawyer dad, Baya Harrison III, the summer before fourth grade and her adventures throughout that year.

Alibar originally started out writing about her childhood in the Florida panhandle. She realized from the reaction to “Beast of the Southern Wild” that her life growing up in the rural South was different than the childhood of most people she encounters in Hollywood or at college in New York City. However, she knows people relate to tales about the sense children make of their world, particularly universal thoughts about people in authority, like teachers, who may or may not be ideal role models.

Alibar worked with director Neel Keller from the CTG to develop the material since they met at the Ojai Playwrights Conference in 2013. She created early buzz for her work in-progress, debuting parts at The Public Theatre in New York and the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab in Boston. The Kirk Douglas run is the World Premiere of the “completed” work.

The experience developing her one-woman show differed from her experience developing the stories for the movie, largely because of the media involved. For film, things are visual, but the “Burnpile” show at the Kirk Douglas required her to use words and gestures to help the audience visualize the stories she is telling. Alibar successfully has the audience in her hands waiting for the next tidbit about her family, their menagerie and the criminals facing the death penalty that her dad defended.

As one would expect from the show’s title, the burnpile (junk pile) behind the house comes up a lot. That includes her dad’s funeral wish to be tossed on the burnpile and lit up. He wants, as she tells in a few tales, “No crying and No Jesus” when his time comes.

Alibar enchants the audience with tales about her brother whom she refers to as “the son of,” a horny goat that has a tendency to hump their other animals, a Daisy Girl Scout escapade, her gift for making fart noises, and working on her Daddy’s death row cases that resulted in him “losing a man or two a year.” She often quotes some of her dad’s lines about the law and death penalty. She reports that her dad explained why he took on those cases: “No matter how poor and sorry a piece of trash you are, you deserve a good defender.”

Alibar’s “Throw Me On the Burnpile and Light Me Up” will be at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, Calif., through Oct. 2. Those who cannot make it to the show may get a chance to enjoy Alibar’s tales, which are being adapted into a pilot for FX.



From 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' to 'Burnpile' at the Kirk Douglas: Lucy Alibar finds her voice

--Los Angeles Times September 13, 2016


The writer and performer Lucy Alibar, best known for co-writing the Oscar-nominated screenplay for "Beasts of the Southern Wild," tends to socialize with an urbane and liberal crowd. She graduated from the Experimental Theatre Wing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, she has developed work at the Ojai Playwrights Conference and the Sundance Theatre Lab, she’s walked the red carpet at movie premieres, and when she's in L.A., she wakes up early for those breakfast development meetings.

But every once in a while, she'll have a moment when she recognizes how far she's traveled from her childhood in Grady County, Florida, deep in Pentecostal territory, on a farm overrun with cats. That’s where her father, a criminal defense attorney and committed atheist, kept a pile of junk — they called it his burnpile — that towered over the house. To Alibar, this was home, and none of its details seemed unusual except when she'd mention them to a Northerner.

At a recent theater workshop, she was talking about a Florida restaurant that would give away French fries when a death-row prisoner was electrocuted. "One of the actors was Canadian, and he just goes, 'That's awful!'" Alibar recalls. "And he's this opera singer, so he has this big, booming voice. And even then I was like, 'Oh right, it is awful.' I mean, it's so, so horrifying. But it was so normal for me."

Alibar’s childhood experiences in the Florida Panhandle and her complex bond with her father inspired her new one-woman show, "Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up," having its world premiere at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre, opening Friday and running through Oct. 2. Alibar developed the material with director Neel Keller of CTG. The two met at the Ojai Playwrights Conference in 2013, after Alibar submitted a collection of short stories that, she explained in the cover letter, might be a play. Conference artistic director Robert Egan agreed and invited Keller to work with her.

"Bob said, 'I think you're going to like Neel. He's from the South,'" Alibar recalls. "Maybe that was his only criterion: 'I just need someone to understand what she's saying when she talks.'"

It proved a good hunch: Keller, who grew up in North Carolina, read Alibar’s draft and detected the elusive theatrical quality he likes to describe as “magic in the bottle.” They had an immediate rapport at Ojai and went on to workshop "Burnpile" at Sundance Theater Lab, New York's Under the Radar Festival and the Douglas in 2015, as part of CTG’s DouglasPlus series for in-progress work. Then CTG artistic director Michael Ritchie offered Alibar a full production.

"My last night, Michael just came and sat down on the rim of the stage," Alibar says, "and he was sort of kicking his legs, and he said, 'Let's just do it!' And I tried to play it so cool.’”

Keller remembers the moment too: "You got out your calendar, like, 'Well, let me see …'"

"Bob said, 'I think you're going to like Neel. He's from the South,'" Alibar recalls. "Maybe that was his only criterion: 'I just need someone to understand what she's saying when she talks.'"

It proved a good hunch: Keller, who grew up in North Carolina, read Alibar’s draft and detected the elusive theatrical quality he likes to describe as “magic in the bottle.” They had an immediate rapport at Ojai and went on to workshop "Burnpile" at Sundance Theater Lab, New York's Under the Radar Festival and the Douglas in 2015, as part of CTG’s DouglasPlus series for in-progress work. Then CTG artistic director Michael Ritchie offered Alibar a full production.

"My last night, Michael just came and sat down on the rim of the stage," Alibar says, "and he was sort of kicking his legs, and he said, 'Let's just do it!' And I tried to play it so cool.’”

Keller remembers the moment too: "You got out your calendar, like, 'Well, let me see …'"

Fast-forward to a few weeks before opening night. Alibar and Keller are reminiscing over dinner in Culver City, down the street from the Douglas. Even after a long day on their feet — it was Alibar's first time rehearsing on the set and her first day off-book — they bounce in their seats with enthusiasm for their work and for one another. When not finishing each other's sentences, they hang on each other's words, nodding vigorously and exclaiming, "Yes!" Upon Keller's announcement that he plans to order a Southern dish, shrimp and grits, Alibar reacts with genuine excitement: “Yeah, Boo!" (Although her Southern accent is faint offstage, she seems to call everybody "Boo.") They occasionally apologize for not letting a reporter get a word in edgewise, and Alibar says her boyfriend and Keller’s wife have the same problem.

They credit their rapport to a mutual willingness to let "Burnpile" evolve naturally into what it wants to be.

"Neither of us has ever felt like we knew where this thing was going," Keller says.

Adds Alibar: "And neither of us needed it to go anywhere in particular. It's free-range, not … whatever the opposite of free-range is.”

Alibar began writing the fragments that became “Burnpile” during the publicity tour for "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which she adapted, with film director Benh Zeitlin, from her one-act play "Juicy and Delicious." Both the play and the movie focus on a child's love and concern for a complicated father.

During panel discussions and audience talkbacks, she says, people would tell her “these very personal, raw stories about their relationships with their parents, growing up in whatever pocket of the world they were from,” she said. “It just made me start thinking about family, and my own family.”

Jet-lagged from travel, she'd wake at odd hours of the morning and write in her journal in coffee shops, and she found her voice becoming the voice of 9-year-old Lucy, or 18-year-old Lucy, telling “a child’s embellished version of a true story.”

Growing up, Alibar took it for granted that her father, Baya Harrison III, had clients on death row — men who had done horrible things. Alibar was used to seeing crime-scene photos around the house. But she didn't find out until she had left home that her dad attended his clients’ executions.

After a woman in her dad’s office revealed that secret, Alibar asked her, “Is that what they have to do? Is that part of the job?” Alibar worried that the executions were contributing to her father’s health problems. But then the woman in the office said, “I think he wants to be there, Lucy.”

“So much of this play started in that moment and this realization that he does this really extraordinary thing,” Alibar says. “Catholics have a term for it called Ministry of Presence, which I’m sure my dad would hate because he’s such a hard-core atheist.”

She wrote about her father, but she also wrote about her childhood friendships, misunderstandings, humiliations, fears and magical thinking. She told Keller at the start of their collaboration that she wasn't sure if the material fit together, if it would work in performance or what kind of performance it would be. At the end of two weeks in Ojai, she read the fragments to others.

"That was the first time I knew," she says.

"It just seemed clear that people loved it," Keller says. "They didn't know what it was, but they loved being in the room with Lucy."

Alibar’s mother, Barbara Harrison, an artist, has booked a ticket to see the Douglas production, “but she showed me her itinerary, and it’s this hellish flight that ends up lasting 24 hours with all the connections,” Alibar says. Her dad hasn’t read the script for “Burnpile,” and he won’t be able to attend the premiere. Despite health problems that her father “doesn’t really talk about,” Alibar hopes that he gets to see the show if it goes to New York.

“I would love for him to see it. He’s a real hero in it, I think. I mean, the fictionalized version of him. The child’s eye view,” she says. “He’s going to be so proud that all his platitudes on atheism are being given a world stage.”

But there is risk in how he’ll react, given that Alibar uses his voice liberally in “Burnpile,” just as she did in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

“He calls me all the time and says, ‘Where’s my check? You steal all my damn lines, and I can’t get a check.’”


‘Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up’

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

When: In previews now, opens Friday, ends Oct. 2

Tickets: $25-$70

Lucy Alibar, Lauren Yee to Bookend CTG’s 2016-17 Kirk Douglas Season

Performer/codirector Suli Holum in the ArtsEmerson workshop production of “"The Wholehearted," Written and co-directed with Deborah Stein. (Photo by Kate Freer) June 1, 2016

LOS ANGELES: Center Theatre Group has announced a season of new and local work for its Culver City space, the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

“This is an exciting season of firsts,” said Michael Ritchie, artistic director of CTG, which also programs the downtown L.A. venues the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre. “We have filled our 13th season at the Douglas with premieres—five world premieres and one American premiere. And, as we celebrate Center Theatre Group’s 50 years of creating theatre in Los Angeles, we also want to turn the spotlight on some of the remarkable work being done on the other stages throughout L.A. with our inaugural Block Party, featuring three plays chosen from the many amazing works done by our fellow theatre companies over the last two years.”

The season begins with Lucy Alibar’s Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up (Sept. 10-Oct. 2). This play by the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Beasts of the Southern Wild revisits her wild childhood in Gracy County, Fla. It will be directed by CTG associate artistic director Neel Keller.

Next is Jon Robin Baitz’s Vicuña (Oct. 23-Nov. 20), about a brash political candidate on the rise and the famous tailor whose work may sew up electoral victory. Directed by Robert Egan.

The solo show The Wholehearted follows (Dec. 2–11). Conceived and created by Stein | Holum Projects, it’s written and codirected by Deborah Stein and performed and codirected by Suli Holum, with original songs by Obie-winning composer and sound designer James Sugg. Produced  in association with La Jolla Playhouse, the play is set in a boxing gym where female boxing phenom Dee Crosby is preparing for a whole new fight.

Following is Tim Crouch’s Adler & Gibb (Jan. 17-29, 2017), a co-commission by CTG and London’s Royal Court Theater.  Written by Tim Crouch and directed by Crouch, Andy Smith, and Karl James, the play follows two fictional female conceptual artists in late 20th-century New York City.

Ngozi Anyanwu’s Good Grief is next (Feb. 26-Mar. 26, 2017). Winner of the 2016 Humanitas/Center Theatre Group Playwriting Prize, the play represents the playwright’s first professional production. Directed by Patricia McGregor, the play follows a Nigerian-American girl’s coming-of-age story in suburban Pennsylvania.

CTG will next celebrate its local theatremaking peers with the first annual “Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theatre,” April 14-May 21, 2017. While it has a history of collaboration with local companies, ranging from Deaf West Theatre to Ebony Rep, Burglars of Hamm to the 24th Street Theatre, CTG will open this six-week festival up to three auspicious recent productions from local theatre companies.

The season closes with Lauren Yee’s King of the Yees (July 9-Aug. 6, 2017), a comedy about a daughter’s search for her missing father in the rabbit hole of San Francisco’s Chinatown and the California’s Gold Rush history. Directed by Joshua Kahan Brody, it is produced in association with the Goodman Theatre.

Center Theatre Group, one of the largest and most active theatre companies in the nation, programs subscription seasons year-round at the 736-seat Taper, the 1,600- to 2,000-seat Ahmanson, and the 317-seat Kirk Douglas, which is celebrating its 13th year of operation.