History Plays

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theatre for KCRW.

You know, theater is so damn...ephemeral. I mean, we can still experience a Michelangelo sculpture, we can still read James Joyce, but an ancient Greek tragedy performed by ancient Greeks...well, that is quite literally a thing of the past. That's why it's so exciting to discover a tangible bit of that theatre ephemera when you stumble up on it.

LA is currently blessed with more than its fair share of theatre past. Three productions now running can give you a glimpse back and, perhaps, a peek forward.

First, British director Peter Brook's work and writing have influenced several generations of avante garde theatre artists - he's 86 after all - but we so rarely get to see his work in person. Now, he's bringing two one-acts to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica - The Grand Inquisitor and Fragments. The first is an adaptation of a chapter of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov where the great Russian novelist imagines Jesus returning during the Spanish Inquisition. The second is a quintet of Samuel Beckett's sketches for the theater.

Peter Brook's work is to the theater what the great minimalists are to the world of art. The Grand Inquisitor is great example. It's beautifully simple: two men on a basically empty stage arguing about morality. It's not exactly light but it's unbelievably powerful. If you haven't seen Brook's work in person, this is your chance. Don't miss this chance.

The second opportunity to witness a kind of living theater history is the Mark Taper's revival of Lanford Wilson's Burn This. The play premiered at the Taper back in the ‘80's with John Malkovich and Joan Allen playing mismatched lovers Anna and Pale. If you were lucky enough to have seen that production, savor the memory. If you've never seen it, this revival let's you hear the brilliant language of the play...if not necessarily feel the passion. What's really fascinating is how the production tells you about where the Taper was then...and where it is now.

The third piece is the most intriguing, and promising, for LA theatre: the premier of Murray Mednick's DaddyO Dies Well at the Electric Lodge in Venice. Mednick has been a staple of LA theatre for the past 30 years - not only as a playwright but as founder of the Padua Hills Playwrights Workshop, which nurtured a whole generation of LA playwrights. The plot of DaddyO Dies Well loosely follows the healing psychedelic trip of Mednick's perpetual protagonist, Gary, but the plot is only the surface of the story. The writing is as much about the sound of the language itself as what's going on. The production is a testament to the power of a sustained body of work and that's not easy...in something as ephemeral as the theater.

The Grand Inquisitor and Fragments play this weekend only at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Burn This is up through May 1 at the Taper in downtown LA. DaddyO Dies Well plays through May 22 at the Electric Lodge in Venice.

For info on the shows text the word "curtain" to 69866 and you can join the conversation at KCRW.com/theatre.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theatre for KCRW.

Banner image of Adam Rothenberg and Zabryna Guevara in Burn This: Craig Schwartz