Old Play, New Season

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This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

This is the last week of the 2006-2007 theater season. In Los Angeles, the end of the season doesn't bring with it a big awards show to wrap everything up—nor does the amount of plays produced let up for any extended period. In this way, LA theatre-going is like LA weather, it's pretty much the same all year round.

But for those who are technical about things, next week brings the start of a new season. There are more than a few things to look forward to in the months ahead: next week brings the second production of a classic play to the Getty Villa's outdoor arena. In October, Ian McKellen will be performing Shakespeare and Chekov at UCLA. And Bart DeLorenzo, of the now closed Evidence Room will be directing a new play at South Coast Repertory.

But in many ways, Los Angeles Theater appears to be in a bit of a transitory phase. This is seen primarily in the fact that the Mark Taper Forum is closed for the next few months, undergoing significant renovation. The Taper has been the center, if not always the pinnacle, of LA theater for 40 years. And just as the Music Center felt it was time for to make modifications to the Taper, the theater scene across LA seems to be undergoing some serious changes.

This was to be the gist of today's Theatre Talk. A discussion about these changes and why they have resulted in what has been a rather lackluster year. But last night, when venturing out to one final show of the season I was confronted by an event that once again proved that the LA theater scene resists generalizations.

Summer in LA offers a host of outdoor Shakespeare; and of late, one small troupe, the Independent Shakespeare Company, has been impressing audiences and critics at Barnsdall Park in Hollywood. But last night wasn't Shakespeare in the Park, it was a staged reading of play by man named John Ford.

Now in Hollywood, John Ford is synonymous with westerns, thanks to the legendary filmmaker of the same name who directed classic American westerns with John Wayne: Stagecoach, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The theater world's John Ford predates both westerns—and America for that matter. John Ford, the English dramatist, wrote plays in the years after Shakespeare's death and is remembered most for his 1633 play 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.

Now, as you might guess, ‘Tis Pity She's a Whore is no light beach read so I figured that on a beautiful August night, I'd be one of a very few people choosing to spend their time attending a two-and-a-half hour play about incest written 400 years ago...but when I arrived at the top of Barnsdall Park, there were close to 100 people there.

At first I thought it was a mistake, that the crowd had come thinking it would be an outdoor screening of John Ford's Stagecoach and not a staged reading of a play by that other John Ford. But no, when the director introduced the play and the actors, everyone stayed put. It must be said that there was no charge for tickets to this event, but no matter, the people showed up—and what's more, they stayed until the end. Thanks to the gutsy performers of the Independent Shakespeare Company it can now be said: LA is the type of theater town where Jacobean tragedy draws a crowd on a Wednesday night.

Here's to the new theater season. Next week we'll be talking about a 2000 year-old Roman comedy.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.