This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.
Okay, we have to talk about Shakespeare. Last week I was in New York to see this year's installment of the Bridge Project, an ambitious, imperfect but exciting endeavor that attempts to stage repertory theater at a high, international level of quality.
Last year, this venture — spearheaded by director Sam Mendes and actor Kevin Spacey — premiered with excellent productions of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale and Chekhov's Cherry Orchard featuring top actors from London (Rebecca Hall, Simon Russell Beale, Sinéad Cusack) New York (Ethan Hawke, Josh Hamilton) and even LA's Dakin Matthews. It started in Brooklyn, played all over the world and finished up at London's Old Vic.
After seeing these productions last year, I argued that a stop in Los Angeles would be a welcome—and arguably necessary—part of any cultural bridge; alas, this year's productions of Shakespeare's As You Like It and The Tempest, not only don't stop in LA, but they don't feature any LA-based actors. Both of Mendes' productions are stylish and engaging, if not quite as revelatory as last season's — and the casts, while distinguished (especially Stephen Dillane, who was a stand out as both a Dylan-esque Jaques and a non-plused Prospero) don't seem as tight as an ensemble this time around.
Nonetheless, it is almost impossible to see actors of this quality — and productions of this budget and artistry — in repertory anywhere in this country. And repertory theater is the best way to see theater: watching actors play different roles on different nights allows us to appreciate both the artistry of the performers as well as the writing. It ensures that theater is a living dialogue as opposed to just a museum.
Angelenos who happen to be traveling to Europe, Hong Kong or Singapore in the next few months can still catch this transcontinental troupe — but despite my pleas, it appears the Bridge Project will not be connecting with LA anytime soon.
While seeing the Bridge Project at BAM, the big talk back East was that the Royal Shakespeare Company is going to build a replica of one of their Stratford-upon-Avon theaters inside a giant Manhattan Armory next year. The plan is to then bring six of their productions and perform them in rep as part of the 2011 Lincoln Center Festival.
I think it's a great idea, but I hope that LA theater lovers are paying attention. If Brooklyn has the Bridge Project, Manhattan has the RSC, and Chicago and Washington (to say nothing of Utah and Oregon) all have established repertory Shakespeare companies (or festivals), then it's time LA gets in to the act.
Yes, Southern California has countless Shakespeare offerings, but most are a motley assortment of non-union summer productions. The last time one of LA's major theaters did a full production of Shakespeare, was South Coast Rep's Hamlet (featuring Dakin Matthew's expert — and hilarious — Polonius) and that was in Orange County…three years ago!
If New York can team up with British companies, there's one company in London that is uniquely suited for an LA partnership: Shakespeare's Globe, who toured here in Santa Monica last November with Love's Labour's Lost at the Broad Stage.
In the UK, The Globe performs in an outdoor theater: a replica of Shakespeare's original theater in the round. This gives the company a sense of history, but it also means the company can't perform in London's harsh winters.
So my modest proposal is: if New Yorker's can find the money to build a replica of the RSC's theater in Manhattan, LA needs to find a way to build a replica of Shakespeare's Globe here. LA's mild climate makes it perfect place for the Globe to have a winter home; and the rest of the year, when the Globe is in London, LA will have a signature venue to house its own dedicated-Shakespeare repertory company.
And what's more, Dakin Matthews — of last year's Bridge Project — would be the perfect person to oversee such a company. Matthews is staring in King Lear this summer; but instead of a first-rate Shakespeare venue, it will be staged in a tiny theater in the valley.
If LA wants to be considered a serious theater town it needs a serious Shakespeare company and venue. The best way to do this in today's economy is probably a serious partnership.
This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.
Images: Joan Marcus