Monday, September 22, 2008

Saturday night I was excited to go to the Mark Taper Forum -- regarded by many as the most prestigious theater in Los Angeles.

The Taper closed over a year ago for renovations and this was my first trip back, to see John Guare's ("Six Degrees of Separation") late 60s play, "The House of Blue Leaves."

First the theater, then the show.

The Mark Taper Forum has always been a beautiful sight to behold -- the smallest of the four auditoriums at the Music Center, with less than 900 seats. Tiny seats that, thankfully, were replaced with larger seats as part of the renovation.

The entrance was raised so patrons no longer step down into the theater. The famous abalone wall (seen in the photo in the back of the entryway) has been cleaned and dramatically lit so it shimmers.

Leaving "The House of Blue Leaves" last night I told my guest I didn't really "get" the show. Having thought about it overnight (and read the program notes) I'm more impressed with the show. Set on October 4, 1965 -- the day the Pope passed through Queens on his way to address the U.N. General Assembly -- this is a show about broken dreams and humiliation.

Last night I couldn't understand why the tone of Act One (thoughtful character development) was so different from Act Two (almost slapstick comedy). But now I know what transpired between the writing of the two acts -- the playwright's father died (on the day he finished writing the first act).

The acting truly is superb. John Pankow ("Twelve Angry Men" on Broadway) plays Artie Shaughnessy, who dreams of leaving Queens and moving to California to pursue his non-existent musical career. Kate Burton ("Spring Awakening" on Broadway and married to the Taper's Artistic Director Michael Ritchie) plays Artie's mentally unstable wife, Bananas. And Jane Kaczmarek (from TV's "Malcom in the Middle) is really running on all cylinders as the full-of-life lady from downstairs Artie is carrying on with right in front of his wife.

This comedy has a dark ending that really takes some mental processing to cope with.

And I wonder if I've spotted a new trend. Before the show began last night, as well as last Friday before "9 to 5" in the Taper's sister theater, the Ahmanson, there was no customary announcement reminding audience members to turn off their phones and unwrap their candies. That announcement has become so automatic it's absence was really noticeable. I wonder if the Center Theater Group, which runs both theaters, figures audiences have heard the announcement enough they know by now how to behave. Sadly, 20 minutes into the show the elderly couple behind me started unwrapping their candy in some really crinkly plastic. But who knows if an announcement would have made a difference. People like that seem to live in their own little bubble.
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