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Bertolt Brecht is known to have said about great art that, “nothing is self-evident. I am made to laugh about those who cry, and cry about those who laugh.” We experience a little bit of both in The Other Theatre’s production of George Tabori’s Brecht on Brecht at the Atwater Village Playhouse, directed by Downey resident Alistair Hunter. The evening was one-of-a-kind, from the text, to the actors, to the space, to the very words and ideas of Brecht– this is a production not to be missed.
The performance was an assemblage of the playwright’s poems, songs, prose, and scenes, put together loosely by Tabori, but arranged specifically for this production by the director. A narrative of Brecht’s life it was not, nor did it follow the fictional lives of any of the poet’s most famous characters–yet at the same time, none of this went unnoticed or unlearned throughout the performance. Without being explicitly taught, an audience member completely unaware of the great Bertolt Brecht could easily leave the theatre with a thorough understanding of Brecht’s most passionate beliefs, and the intentions of his now infamous alienation effect and epic theatre.
The cast of five (Gil Hagen-Hill, Daniel Houston-Davila, BeLinda Howell, Susan Kussman, and Gregg Lawrence) brought much more than just talent to the performance. They brought intelligence, sophistication, and a deep understanding of Brecht’s values and way of thinking that is very rare to find in Los Angeles theatre. The space is small but beautiful, comfortable enough to relax, but intimate enough to feel that the actors are talking right to you (and sometimes they are).
Indeed they are speaking to us, here in Downey, in more ways than one. Aside from being a compelling and moving theatrical experience, Brecht was the champion of the type of people we are here in Downey. Brecht spent his life campaigning for the worth of the common man– the workers, the oppressed, the middle- and lower-class. Downey represents all of this and more. Even the wealthy among us are down-to-earth, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth folks. The people who Brecht desired to inspire and empower were those just like us. His words ring just as true today as they did when they were first penned, and have sustained the power to inspire us all.
Brecht on Brecht is presented by The Other Theatre Company, at the Atwater Playhouse, 3191 Casitas Ave. #100, Los Angeles, CA 90039. FREE parking lot. Runs through Sunday, June 9 on Fri/Sat at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm. Dark on May 12, 24, 25, 26. ADMISSION: $25. Students and seniors, $18. RESERVATIONS: (323) 960-1054. ONLINE TICKETING: www.Plays411.com/brecht
Last week an article came out in the Downey Patriot titled thus: ‘New Era’ Off to a Rough Start. It was referring to a comedy night recently held by H&E Entertainment at the Downey Civic Theatre. The show undersold, and the producers were disappointed. They canceled all future bookings for the year, and their disappointment was retold to a Patriot reporter who turned it into a front-page story. What the article didn’t say, though, was that the light quote, ‘New Era’ was quoting this post from here at the Downey Arts Coalition. So since they dragged us into it, I guess I’ll respond. I’m never without opinion, after all.
First of all, the show had an attendance of 200 out of 350 sold or handed-out tickets. This is not a failure. Nor is it even a rough start. 200 butts in seats is a HUGE success, by most standards. And we are not Center Theatre Group or The Kodak. 200 people is a marvelous turnout for Downey, CA. Now, it must be said that the theater itself seats over 700. So in a space that large, 200 is going to feel quite sparse. This is an indication of a different problem. Another venue, or a different management of the space perhaps could have helped. Morale does tend to slump when there are so many empty seats, and that can make the room feel cold and awkward. Also, when audience is spread out over a larger space, they can’t respond to each other, which limits the amount of laughs something like a comedy show would receive. So there was definitely a problem here. But the shear number of tickets should not be knocked. Good job on getting those 200 people! Seriously, that is awesome.
Second, the producers were quoted more than once complaining that those in the community who advocate for the arts didn’t even show up. Well, if we were the only people you were going for, you’d have about 10 butts in the seats. We already support the arts. The people we are trying to reach with this effort are the regular people– those who rarely or never see a DCLO show, Downey Symphony concert, who spend most of their evenings out at Olive Garden and the movies. These are the people we want to reach in our community. Artists making art for other artists is nice, but it’s not far-reaching enough. The purpose of our efforts here is to unify us all as a community.
Third: okay, you want to fill that house? You must market. You must advertise. You must (here’s the hard part) figure out what this community needs (not just wants, but needs), and how to make them want it. And you’ve got to deliver.
Now, as for the New Era and the Rough Start. The new era to which we are referring is the takeover of the Downey Civic Theatre by VenueTech, a booking company that will bring new acts to the theatre and pretty much bring it back to life. VenueTech is in residency at the theatre starting in 2011, but they have yet to book their first season. So the New Era hasn’t really begun. H&E Entertainment is commendable for bringing some new stuff to the theatre, but VenueTech’s first season will be the lineup that we’re all waiting to hear about. They also have different plans for the way that the theatre promotes all of its bookings, including the community’s usual theatre and music events, but it all has yet to be implemented. I do hope that H&E comes back, and that they continue to produce great shows that bring people in. They are doing great work and shouldn’t be discouraged.
Southern Californians have a unique opportunity this fall to experience a theatrical event that bears great significance on our time—and Downey is the proud host. The Downey Civic Theatre will be the temporary home to The Leonidas Loizides Theatrical Group presentation of the Oresteia, and they’ve chosen our little diamond-in-the-rough theatre to present an abridged version of this timeless classic trilogy by Aeschylus. While the production is in the Greek language with English subtitles, and sponsored by The American Hellenic Council, the evening will be meaningful to far more than those within the Greek community. The vision of director and producer Leonidas Loizides is to “hand over the torch of ancient Greek culture” to the rest of us, a task that bears more significance today than ever before.
Complete mythologies were represented in ancient Greece in trilogies, and the Oresteia is the only remaining trilogy we have today. The story follows the end of the curse on the house of Atreus—which began with the brutal murder and cannibalist consumption of his nephews, and continued through to his son Agamemnon, who sacrificed his own daughter to launch his fleet to war, and who was later killed by his wife Clytemnestra in the first play of the trilogy, Agamemnon. Their daughter and son, Electra and Orestes (for whom the play is named), are followed through the other two plays as they seek revenge on their mother for their father’s death. The story ends with the establishment of justice in a court of law triumphing over personal revenge.
Excepting the Oedipus plays, the Oresteia has been arguably the most popular and influential Greek tragedy in the western world. Its influence began with Seneca in ancient Rome, continued through to Renaissance Europe, and from there echoed its themes across the ages and straight into our modern-day story-telling. So this special evening will not be simply an event for the Greek community. They are truly passing the rest of us a mighty torch with this production.
During this time, when our nation is facing rapid social change, political polarization, wars, and political unrest around the globe, Loizides offers us these tragedies that “are full of messages about justice, love, peace, from 2,500 years ago.” They remind us that there is nothing new under the sun, and the struggles of humanity in ancient Greece still make their way into our lives today. Be sure not to miss this incredible opportunity, one night only, at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13 at the Downey Civic Theatre. For more information and to order tickets, call (323) 651-3507, or go to www.americanhellenic.org, or buy your tickets at the Downey Theatre box office the night of the performance.
As for me, there is only one thing that would cause me to miss this event—the birth of my second child, due any day now. So in case you don’t see me there, and you hear later that the Wahlquists are proud to welcome little baby Electra into the world… you’ll get it.
ed. note: You can also read the excellent article about the show found in The Downey Patriot.