With all respect to the Ovations and our very own Garland Awards, the annual LA Weekly Awards is the theatre party of the year. It's overflowing, noisy, and slightly chaotic—just this side of bacchanalia—and everyone is there, or just about everyone. Monday night I slid into the high-ceilinged lobby of Los Angeles Theatre Center to get stuck immediately in a confused crowd of colored-wristband wearers, Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" blaring and aerialist Judith Flex (can that be her real name?) flipping and twisting on ropes dangling from the upper balcony. People were drinking free vodka cranberries from plastic cups, and I briefly spotted Weekly theatre editor Steven Leigh Morris midway up the curved staircase, surveying the scene from above, looking somehow both dapper and rumpled in his tux, like the father of the bride watching a particularly rowdy reception.
It was Ziggurat Theatre Company's night, to a large extent: Not only did its Red Thread sweep the design awards, it was the awards show's co-presenter, offering a somber, sadly nudity-free opening number that combined Bulgarian Women's Choir-type ululation with light and movement to celebrate an ancient culture destroyed by "unbelievers," which lives on only in the telling of stories and in performance—a sobering reference that managed to resonate with the sacking of the Baghdad Museum; with arts cutbacks that may, among other things, endanger Cultural Affairs' stewardship of the beloved LATC, and with Fahrenheit 451, a signature work of the evening's career achievement awardee, SoCal sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury. Introduced by a sporting Michael York—whose introduction hailed Bradbury as a "monument to American creativity"—the author was wheeled out centerstage to claim the evening with a series of pithy reminiscences and one-liners: "This is the culmination of a lifelong dream," he began, recalling that in junior high he told his friends he was going to be an actor at the local radio station. " 'Do you know anybody?' my friends asked me. I said no. 'Does your father know anybody?' they asked me. I said no. And they said, 'How are you going to get work as an actor if you don't know anybody?'" The only logical reply: "I said, 'I'll hang around the stage door and be lovable.' "
Bradbury thanked the theatre for "saving my life, when motion pictures have so often destroyed it." He explained, "I've dedicated my life to the theatre. I've always written plays, but no one was interested in doing them. So I saved my money. Eventually I asked my wife, 'Is this the year we open the window and throw the money out?'" He hailed Charles Rome Smith, the founder of Pandaemonium, an all-Bradbury-all-the-time company which has gone into overdrive on the man's work of late. His sharpest jab was at Hollywood mendacity: "The studios want to come over and pee in my soup. They say it will improve the flavor."
The evening's other honorary award, the Queen of the Angels award, went to ageless pixie Pamela Gordon, who's worked, among other places, at the old Padua Hills playfest, at Theatre of NOTE, Evidence Room, and the lost Lost Studio, and who held on to her moment like a stage-struck little girl. Though less coherent than Bradbury, she was similarly quotable: "An actor is someone who carves in snow." And, "I have a lot to say, and I've forgotten all of it." And, "This is probably the happiest night of my life, except for, you know, children and all." And, "By the way, tonight is Saddam Hussein's birthday." And, in a candidate for quote of the evening, if not the year, "Move over, Nicole, move over, Catherine—my phallus is bigger than yours." Her most heartfelt sentiment, though, was simple: "Theatre is the main thing. There's nothing else like it… I refuse to cry."
Self-billed "urban clown" Michael Rayner and Ziggurat's Dean Purvis made engaging presenters, Rayner doing some astonishing things with a wheelbarrow and tennis racket. Addressing the awkwardness of balcony seating for many of the honorees, so-called "buckets of glory" (an innovation of last year's co-presenters, Burglars of Hamm) delivered awards plaques via pulley to the upper level. This gave the evening's two ties—playwriting and leading male performance—an engaging back-and-forth feel. One irony about the playwriting winners, though: Since ASK Theatre Projects no longer attaches cash to the award, Mark Taper Forum has stepped in to offer a New Work slot to the winner. But this year's winners—Murray Mednick for Fedunn and John O'Keefe for Times Like These—are both seasoned Padua scribes with no apparent shortage of great productions of their work. And since Mednick reportedly found the Taper workshop of his Mrs. Feuerstein a bruising experience, one wonders how eager he'll be to accept his prize.
Before and after, I gathered interesting tidbits: that Fabulous Monsters impresario Robert Prior plans to take his rave-fable Ramayana 2K3 to Burning Man this year; that Joe Jordan, the lanky Sacred Fool nominated for Dracula: A Musical Nightmare, next plans to helm the verse-set La Bète there; that Lauren Campedelli, who won a female supporting actress award for her turn in last year's Pentecost at Evidence Room, is reprising her role as a tough Palestinian activist in Mark Lamos' new Old Globe production (as is Guy Ale, the gypsy in ER's mounting); that Stefan Novinski will next direct Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth at ER, using the resident company but also employing his wife, Donna Marquet, to design the set.
Oh, and I buried the lead: The show clocked in at one hour, 50 minutes. A short show is a good show in my book.
• Bad taste file: While Rick Batalla's Blake… Da Musical got right to the point in the title—no question what was being served there—the way the workshop production of David Scott Milton's new Murderers Are My Life is being promoted gives me the willies. "Return to the scene of the crime" is the lead of the press release for Murderers, to be staged for four weeks starting this Sunday, May 4, at Studio City's Two Roads Theatre—just across the street from Vitello's, the eatery at which Bonny Lee Bakley had her last supper and was later dispatched in her Dodge Stealth, either by husband Robert Blake or, well, someone else who happened to be packing heat on Tujunga Boulevard two years ago—actually, exactly two years ago from this Sunday's reading. Billed as an "intimate, chilling, but often comic look at some of today's notorious California murderers, by a man who taught and got to know them, all too well," Murderers is produced by John Herman Shaner (Fellow Traveler) and directed by Paul Linke. I guess every play deserves a shot.
• Immediately after mentioning Barbara Passolt in passing in last week's column, I caught her three-woman cabaret What a Woman Wants… To Sing at the cozy Gardenia. Directed by Rick Sparks and performed with Molly Beck Ferguson and Linden Waddell, it's a slick two-act evening, in which some of Freud's case studies provide an excuse for lots of brassy show tunes and sentimental weepers. I particularly liked the jazz-shaded trio rendition of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria," Passolt's saucy rendition of "I'm Everybody's Girl," and a "surprise" encore involving "Mr. Sandman," tuned glasses, and spoons. And I was shocked to hear from Barbara's husband that this is her first club work—if so, this musical theatre pro is a natural. What a Woman Wants will be back in June.