Two facts you need to know before you go see "Soft Power" David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori's new musical at the Ahmanson. One, weeks after the 2016 election, playwright David Henry Hwang was walking home in Brooklyn when he was brutally and mysteriously stabbed in the neck - this really happened. Two, that election? Hillary Clinton didn't win. Both these facts are critical dramaturgical departure points for "Soft Power."
About 10 minutes into Antaeus Theatre Company's production of "Native Son", a black man accidentally kills a drunk white heiress. With most structurally sound plays, that would be enough. We have our moral crisis. We have a protagonist and a powerful question - "what will society do when a black man in 1939 accidentally kills a white woman?"
It's a sold out opening night of "the theater is a blank page" and even though there are only 80 of us in the audience - we're in the very last rows of the balcony at Royce Hall. Even stranger, it looks like we've come to the end of a tech rehearsal. All the rest of the seats are covered with white muslin. The stage, befitting the title, is mostly empty.
"ICE" is the story of an undocumented immigrant who comes in search of the American dream in the 1980's. We see him work a full day at a construction site only to be paid less than half of what was promised. When confronted the boss says basically "look you've got no papers, I can do what I want." We see this pattern repeat while he struggles to live his dream - converting an old ice cream truck into a gourmet taco truck.
If you go see Sarah Jones' one woman show "Buy/Sell/Date" at the Geffen Playhouse, I'll bet you that someone in the seats near whispers during the show "wow, she's good." It's that kind of performance: one designed to elicit appreciation for its technique and virtuosity.
It took me three hours to fall in love with Taylor Mac's "A 24-Decade History of Popular Music." Before I can even begin to explain what's so extraordinary about the show, or why 3 hours makes up barely act one, I have to orient you to the it of it.
There's a lot of this ‘witnessing’ happening in the theater right now. Our political climate has theater makers anxious to do something, say something, to protest in some way. The challenge is–when you're preaching to the choir, what do you say?
Elliott, a nineteen year-old combat vet back home between tours of duty in Iraq, is finally going to confront his dad. Ever since he came home nursing a purple heart leg injury, he's been trying to get his dad to open up. Elliott needs to know if his dad's time in Vietnam was anything like the horror he just experienced in Iraq. But something is missing....
Maybe it was all the beach balls flying through the air ... or the guy with the guitar and the sweet, terry cloth leisure suit - but as soon as I walked onto the stage at Pasadena Playhouse it was clear that this wasn't going to be a traditional "Pirates of Penzance."
Typically, right after I wish you happy New Year, I run through my top picks in LA theater for the whole spring. But this year, there's so much exciting work happening in this month alone... well, let's just say break out your calendars and block off at least a couple nights in January.