Hidden classical treasures

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One of LA theatre’s hidden treasures is the theatre that happens at the Getty Villa.

I’m not talking about their annual outdoor productions - which folks seem to know about.  I’m talking about the work that happens the rest of the year. For the past decade, the Getty has produced a series of workshop productions that has hosted LA’s most exciting theatre companies. The basic idea is delightfully simple: invite a theatre company to create a modern take on a Greek or Roman classic. The Getty provides not only the space but also the funding to put up the workshop and shares their scholars to help guide the companies exploration.

The list of companies that have presented work reads like a “best of” list of both LA and national companies: Nancy Keystone’s Critical Mass Performance Group, Poor Dog Theatre, Theatre Movement Bazaar, SITI Company, Wilderness, Culture Clash - the list goes on.

What the Getty realized long before LA’s other large theatres - was there was value in supporting LA companies and giving them space to create.  The results have been powerful both at the Getty and in the productions that these workshops have spawned. A typical trajectory is a workshop at the Getty and then a full production run elsewhere so this initial support leads to not only a rich body of classic adaptations but also work that helps build each of these companies.

I only wish there were a handful of other LA institutions that had both the resources and the discipline to support LA theatre this consistently.

The Getty Villa’s latest production goes up this coming weekend with a site-specific show from Four Larks called “Katabasis.”

Four Larks - like the Villa - is another hidden LA treasure.  Their two full-scale LA productions “Orpheus” and “The Temptation of St. Antony” both made my best of year list for their immersive and layered work creating what they call “Junkyard Operas.” They are a dense marriage of theatre, opera, dance, site specific installation.  What’s stunning about their work is that exhibits both a rigorous technique and a sort of wonderful rough, inventive edge - the kind of magic that happens when a classical musician covers a pop song (though their musical bent is more new-folk). It’s the kind of work that brings together not only the artists but the audiences who typically inhabit not just the theatres and concert halls but also the art galleries and music venues.

This latest work “katabasis” is inspired by the Getty’s exhibit “Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife” and is a processional piece through the Getty’s grounds and architecture. The piece was originally slated for the fall but the Woolsey fire changed those plans so it’s been rescheduled to this weekend.

If you can’t catch this show, make sure the Getty Villa’s theatre program is on your radar.  It’s a great place to see some of LA’s best companies tackle the classics.

Four Larks’ “Katabasis” plays at the Getty Villa this Thursday through Sunday.

For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW Theatre Newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theatre.