Is it the art? Or the frame?

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

What's the future of Los Angeles intimate theater? Antaeus Theater Company's might give us a clue.

Antaeus didn't just open Cat on a Hot Tin Roof last weekend, it opened a whole new theater: the "Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center" in downtown Glendale. It's not often that Los Angeles welcomes a new theater much less one at 99 seats with construction budget counted in millions, and it's right in the heart of one of LA's many city centers - Glendale.

This is a big deal for LA and it's a big deal for Antaeus. Its former space in North Hollywood, though charming had the feeling of something cobbled together with many trips to Home Depot and was surrounded by storefronts that lacked a certain vibrancy. In Glendale, the new theater is right off Brand, a block away from the Americana mall and surrounded by parking, restaurants and bars. Walking to the theater, you're surrounded by folks out for meal or a drink. There's the tantalizing possibility that someone might stumble upon the theater as just one entertainment possibility, or meet for dinner and walk to the show - something that's all too rare for Los Angeles theater.

Downtown Glendale has a surprising pedigree for nurturing classical theater. Remember A Noise Within built a strong audience there before building their own space on the edge of Pasadena. So if past is prologue Antaeus chose well.

Antaeus' new home removes many of the obstacles that face small theater in LA so it's going to really put the theater to the test. Said more directly, can a company that didn't always sell 83 seats in NoHo sell out 99 consistently in Glendale? Was the audience challenge really about parking, a good bar, and a tidy theater? Or something else?

Antaeus is also going to test the future of Actors' Equity contracts at some point. Remember the whole kerfuffle about paying actors a minimum wage? Antaeus currently enjoys an exemption to the new rules as a membership company. If that loophole is closed, will Antaeus' finances still pencil out?

What about the work itself, this production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? Like most of Antaeus' work, it's a classic done very well. In any city outside of LA, New York or Chicago, you wouldn't consistently see acting this good outside of a regional theater - and maybe not even there. It's an easy argument that Antaeus has probably the strongest acting ensemble in LA. It's also one of LA's most predictable in both good and ... not so good ways.

There's nothing about this Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that will surprise you. It's a solid production - which is no small feat. You'll be moved at times but there's nothing transcendent or shocking - which might be the perfect way to build an audience.

Antaeus' future is going to put that to the test and tell us if that old real estate adage, “location, location, location” is true for theaters. Either way, we're going to learn something about LA's theatrical future from Antaeus.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof plays at the Antaeus Theatre Company in its new home in Glendale through May 7.

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

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes with 2 intermissions.

Photo by Steven C. Kemp