A Goy's Guide to Greenberg
Richard Greenberg's offbeat contemporary comedies are enjoying a delightful double-header on Southern California stages. The Author's Voice in Los Angeles' Third Street Theater features a "twisted gnome" who serves as a muse to an author who is bent on seducing his pretty young editor. There is definitely a surprise ending! Could this be autobiographical?
Directed by Timothy Lea and presented by Main Floor Productions, the comedy plays though Oct. 7.
Nearby in Orange County is the world premiere of Greenberg's Everett Beekin, a sassy, fast-paced, thoughtful comedy the playwright terms "a denial of death play in the guise of an assimilation play." Greenberg is the author of five plays that have premiered at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, and Everett Beekin capitalizes on his California journeys by poking fun at West Coast beach life, laid-back attitudes, and wealthy corporate giants.
The play's structure is a bit unusual. Act One introduces the audience to a yappy Jewish family ensconced in Manhattan's Lower East Side in the 1940s; Act Two sticks with the same actors, skips a generation, and introduces new characters (who are the descendants of the 1940s family). To the delight of the South Coast Rep crowd, the new characters have settled into 1990s Orange County. Clever South Coast Rep staff added a program glossary of Yiddish terms headlined "A Goy's Guide to Yiddish" for Act One (and probably should have added a "Beach Boys' Guide to Surf Speak" for Act Two).
In any case, Nike Doukas and Kandis Chappell handle Greenberg's snappy dialogue with hilarious aplomb in the first act, then manage remarkable character changes in their new roles post-intermission. Evan Yionoulis' deft handling of the many coincidental, fateful, and complicated plot meanderings results in an agreeable, if not totally delicious, family outing. Yionoulis received an Obie Award for her direction of Greenberg's Pulitzer Prize finalist, Three Days of Rain, which also premiered at South Coast Rep.
Greenberg offered some tantalizing insights into his most recent works (and their occasionally bizarre structure) in an interview with journalist Tom Jacobs. "I'm very non-Aristotelian; I like to get a lot of material in and cover a lot of time. When I was very young, I wanted to be a novelist…I like to compress novelistic sweep into a play…I'm very interested in the information that's left out, because I think most information is left out. That's just the way life is."
A Playwright Busier Than Richard Greenberg?
Great Actors, But Can They Direct?
Although it's a speculative venture, Austin Pendleton's research incorporates wonderful, colorful, and historically accurate anecdotes about the lives of Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles. In her notes on the play for the Old Globe, Katie Rodda suggests that, "although Olivier and Welles are respected and famous in their own rights, Pendleton draws them as somewhat insecure, petty, and paranoid when they are in the daunting company of one another."
Sounds like the perfect soap opera formula for great romantic dramas and history's theatrical rumor-mills, right?
Great Directors, But Can They Act?
The Sept. 23-24 conference featured Julie Taymor as a keynote speaker, and CNN's Larry King as a panel moderator for a director's roundtable of Scott Ellis, Sheldon Epps, and Rob Marshall. A grand collection of other musical personalities including Susan Egan, Harry Groener, Dean Pitchford, Stuart Ross, Grover Dale, Lillias White, Harold Wheeler, Susan Birkenhead, and Larry Blank peopled a series of educational sessions designed for professionals, amateurs, and audiences who love musical theatre. Broadway on Sunset was founded in 1991; this is the organization's 11th series devoted to the development of musicals in America.
Broadway on Tour
Titanic closed on Aug. 27, and Ragtime sailed in for a run from Sept. 12-23 with similar results—an audience moved to tears and thunderous applause. This past year, audiences of all ages, social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds journeyed to the OCPA to see "Broadway's greatest hits," most recently, Cabaret, Beauty and the Beast, and The Civil War. Annie Get Your Gun, Rent, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Fosse, Cinderella, and Saturday Night Fever are just around the corner and, with ticket prices ranging from $28.50-$62.50, the Orange County Performing Arts Center is creating new audiences for America's musicals.
Southern California has helped create homes for many new plays, but Broadway musicals still draw the most immediate, and oftentimes, the most passionate crowds. q