Zoo break: Every theatre company has growing

Zoo break: Every theatre company has growing pains, contracting pains, and other, less predictable twinges and afflictions. Last year's ongoing story about the leadership battle at the Actors' Gang was a big deal in part because of its founder's celebrity—also because of the troupe's deserved preeminence on the local scene—but such artistic differences are hardly unique. The fearsome creative energy that fuels small theatre companies in L.A. can also feed dissension, frustration, and factionalism. The recent shake-up at Zoo District, one of L.A.'s more distinctive and ballsy theatre companies (Nosferatu, The Master and Margarita, The Slow and Painful Death of Sam Shepard), has been happening in slow motion since last year, when the company switched from a sort-of artistic democracy to a more corporate board-of-directors model. In November, founding artistic director Loren Rubin brought the company Ken Prestininzi's ambitious Amerikafka for the 2002 season; Rubin now says that while many in the company were excited about the play, some "armchair dramaturges" had "concerns" about it. Several rewrites, readings, and workshops later, the anti-Amerikafka forces had gathered steam while boardmembers, according to Rubin, had raised no money for it. Instead, they were more interested in Michael Franco's adaptation of Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog, which, on the strength of Franco and Richard Helweg's award-winning adaptation of Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, had garnered a grant from the Trust for Mutual Understanding to produce it at the 1,400-seat Kiev National Theatre. So Rubin took himself, and Amerikafka, to the Met Theatre in Hollywood, where it will open in October, with Met co-artistic director Silas Weir Mitchell in the lead; Heart of a Dog will play Kiev Sept. 7-9, directed by Suzuki-steeped Antony Sandoval, who staged the indulgent but compelling Pathé X and the hilarious non-Zoo project Go True West. Now at the helm of the Zoo is founding member Jon Kellam, who said he plans "a lot more training and style work" for the company. "Our signature is becoming more and more about the process than the product." Said Rubin: "He wants the company to be movement-based." Whatever the house style, Rubin said that after being shut down by the board in an ironically "Kafka-esque" way, he doesn't anticipate a return to the Zoo fold: "I don't feel like Zoo District is a healthy place that supports the artists within it. I feel very supported at the Met. People believe in me and want me to succeed." Countered Kellam: "I wish he'd stuck it out." Up next for the Zoo are Seely and Feely: Lively Lad, a commission from A.S.K. Theatre Projects, to be directed by superfreak Joe Seely, and Bloody Chamber, helmed by Kara Feely, who did the haunting, Dali-esque design for Pathé X.

• Zoo District member Tamar Fortgang (so memorable as Patti Smith in Sam Shepard, and reportedly side-splitting in an Amerikafka workshop as an old Yiddish man), is communications director by day at Cornerstone, and she communicated that the community-based company's next "ensemble" show, tentatively titled Mary Shelley's Santa Claus, to be scripted by Erik Ehn and directed by Mark Valdez, will play Dec. 5-22 at the Armory in Pasadena, where Furious Theatre Company has been making a name for itself. Fortgang, who helped get the annual Edgefest off the ground, also wants to continue—and hopes to elevate—the conversation among L.A.'s theatre folks, with a free "town hall," Sunday, Sept. 8, at 11 a.m. at Cornerstone's downtown offices. On the agenda, in Tamar's words: to "discuss—and refine—our place in Los Angeles' culture," with hopes of making a presentation to L.A. Mayor James Hahn. Cornerstone is at 708 Traction Ave., LA 90013; coffee provided.

• Director Matt Almos told us that the Burglars of Hamm's recent run of Resa Fantastiskt Mystisk at the New York International Fringe Festival was "a big stinkin' hit!" A rave from The New York Times bodes well for the company—and for the growing rediscovery of the unjustly obscure Swedish dramatist Lars Mattsun. Our sister paper, Back Stage, did a piece on Resa's successful "fringe marketing" concept—something about "perpetuating the Lars Mattsun myth." Say it ain't so!

• The deal that wasn't: A plan by the Fountain Theatre to purchase NoHo's American Renegade Theatre as a second space to produce other shows recently fell through. Too bad: The Fountain's mainstage hits tend to keep running and running, Energizer Bunny-style (After the Fall, and stars Tracy Middendorf and Dave Higgins, are still going strong after five months), while subscribers wait for the next offering to find a stage. The wait is over: Up next on the Fountain mainstage is Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys, directed by Ben Bradley (producer of two previous Fountain hits, I Am a Man and Central Avenue). With The Exonerated reopening at the Actors' Gang on Sept. 7, all we need is the opera Dead Man Walking to make our fall social calendar complete.