Best of 2019 LA Theatre: the gender act.

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“What if they went to Moscow?” Photo courtesy of REDCAT.

Okay, Best of LA Theatre 2019 part two.

Last week, I shared plays that tackled race head on. This week, one last favorite production that made an audience confront how race haunts our national drama from an unlikely source: The Getty Villa.

With the Getty’s mission to only do Greek and Roman plays - you’d think they might hide safely behind the statue of antiquity but even though they are only producing one fully-realized production a year, the Getty Villa has offered complicated ways to cast the classics. With this year’s adaptation “The Heal” by playwright and director Aaron Posner, an old play that traditionally is populated by white men was reinvigorated by both race and gender. Mr. Posner re-wrote Sophocles classic and re-cast the white son of Achilles as a black daughter. Odysseus was cast as a black general and the chorus was a trio of races. Suddenly a stodgy old tale became vital.

Gender was the other common theme to the best plays this year.

Alana Dietze brought “The Wolves” to life at Echo Theatre Company. A girl’s indoor soccer team reveals the complicated lives of teenage girls through the weekly routine of pre-game practice. Like many of the plays on this years list, this play is just the latest chapter in a longer journey. Ms. Dietze has directed a string of plays at the Echo, including “Dry Land” and “A Small Fire,” that have provided tender, poignant and fierce windows on the female experience. If you don’t know her work, you should.

Brazilian director Christiane Jatahy was welcomed by REDCAT for her take on cinema, theatre and Chekhov. “What if they went to Moscow?” was her take on Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” led by a trio of three amazing actresses. Ms. Jatahy was an artist that Los Angeles discovered through Mark Murphy’s vision at REDCAT. Like the Wooster Group, LA audiences got to know not just one piece but a body of work. I hope, as REDCAT changes leadership, Angeleno’s don’t lose this window to the rest of the theatrical world.

Closer to home, the Odyssey Theatre produced Maria Irene Fornes’ classic “Fefu and her friends.” This isn’t an easy play. It took over the Odyssey and had an audience travelling backstage and experiencing the narrative as it unfolded around us. Director Denise Blasor filled the theatre with eight complicated female characters who brought Fornes’ poetry to life. It’s sad in 2019 that play headed up by 8 complicated female characters is noteworthy but it is.

What tied the best plays of 2019 together was more than race, gender and politics. All these plays were part of a years long journey: whether it was Cornerstone partnering with community; or directors like Gregg T. Daniels or Alana Dietze or Nancy Keystone returning to the same subjects through a variety of plays; or even the Getty Villa grappling with bringing an ancient heritage into a new century - the best of 2019 filled LA stages with stories that helped us grapple with our challenging world. Let’s hope that LA theatre remains challenging in 2020 and maybe our world - less so.

Happy New Year.