La Gioconda

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For those of you, both in L.A. and other parts of the virtual universe, who still cling to the antiquated notion that L.A. is not a "theatre town" (whatever that means), maybe October's events have brought you out of your caves. Not only was there the multi-venue Edgefest with something like 45 plays opening over a two week period, and UCLA's International Theatre Festival, there were also several new plays of note that found their way into more traditional venues.

Granted quality control is always an issue. There has never really been a dearth of theatre in LA, since the start of the Equity-waiver system, just a lack of GOOD theatre and that still factors into the mix - that plus the fact that, despite attempts along Santa Monica Boulevard, or downtown, etc. there is still no theatre district here (nor should there be in my opinion!), which sometimes make it hard to know what to go and see.

Out of the Edgefest there was a fair amount that was missable, or at least ephemeral,, but La Gioconda at Stages, On Earth as in Heaven at the 24th Street Theatre and To Reign in Hell at The Electric Lodge would stand out anywhere. To Reign in Hell, Alaskan writer Dave Hunsaker's triptych on women in mythology (Lilith, Persephone, and the Inuit sea goddess Sedna) profited from Kim Gillingham's heroic one-woman performance. Part ritual, part post-modern, post-feminist apologia, To Reign in Hell calls on the attractive and athletic Ms. Gillingham to spend much of the evening hanging from a ship's cargo net, the unifying factor in the three myths. Her intensity, her moments of deft, self-deprecating comic relief, and her nimbly impressive acrobatics keep viewer enthralled in spite of some occasionally over-wrought prose.

UCLA had a full plate on offer with what I call the Amex Culture Club - those events that are on the "must-see" circuit of London, Paris , Tokyo etc., that produce an acceptably attractive and ultimately docile form of alternative theatre. The Junebug Symphony and Societas Raffaello Sanzio, were - I'm told (I didn't get to see them because of scheduling conflicts) - more interesting but Sankai Juku, the bhutoh group, and ZT Hollandia, the political one-man show from The Netherlands, while consummately professional, seemed ultimately bland (especially compared to the risks Sankai took in the old days). The demands of even partially filling Royce or the Freud may be more than the "alternative" can bear, but still, the intense week of international theatrical variety is worth applauding.

Two new plays, Under the Blue Sky by Brit David Eldridge, and Orange Flower Water by American Craig Wright, both deal with the (failed0 sex lives of the middle class. In some sort of cosmic alignment the Brits seem infinately less interesting when it comes to love then we do. We believe that love equals hope, salvation, a second chance, which, as Mr. Wright brilliantly delineates, is probably why we do so much damage to each other in the pursuit of love. Cathy, married to David for fifteen more or less happy years, is unaware that he is having an affair with Beth, unhappily to Brad, or about the same time. Sex is rarely the issue; children are rarely enough reason for self-restraint; as the domestic landscape is littered with landmines and body counts. The remarkable Roxanne Hart and dynamic Terry Urdang are the two women, while Michael Mantell and Brian Cousins portray they men who can't help themselves, and their ensemble work is a master class in good acting. More important, L.A. Stage and Film, the new ensemble that produced the work, has taken actors and themes that represent mature, adult voices and give their foibles, folly and pain dignity and passion. If Under the Blue Sky is less satisfying, it is not for want of trying. A strong cast, particularly Judy Geeson, Sharon Lawrence and John Carroll Lynch, outline the quiet lives of desperate U.K. academics, who find sex a release for their oppressive, mundane lives. Mr. Eldridge's script is a mix of Terrance Rattigan and early Harold Pinter, masquerading as something more radically hip than it is, and that ultimately undercuts its simple rues that people everywhere want to be happy, even if they have to hurt some one they love to get there.

Louis Fantasia