Theater has it rough.
The form is expected to have loftier goals than, say, film or television. But with the advent of the spectacle musical and, of course, the rough economy, theatrical plays are faced with seemingly insurmountable odds.
Add to that the blending of theatrical conventions such as environmental theater evolving into Flash Mobs and puppetry as a mainstay in musicals. Even the most basic of plays are evolving, adding mechanical horses and elaborate props and sets. Or they’re thinly veiled stand-up routines. Tyler Perry integrated a revival style into his plays. Audiences are demanding that theater be more of an experience akin to Vegas than New York. Just having people talk on stage — well, unless you have a bankable celebrity in the cast, there’s more pressure when one eschews financial concerns for the sake of “art.”
When there are lighter elements involved its message, theme, tone, or subject matter, a play can be accused of being superficial. Or tagged with being a sitcom onstage. Oprah Winfrey made a comment in one of her interviews that people go to theater for the language. But that’s a high bar to reach as well: How many clever turns-of-phrase and 7-plus-letter words does one need to pass that litmus test?
L.A.-based East West Players’ world premiere production of A Woman of No Importance is great fun, full of energy and great performances. While several of the reviews likened it to a sitcom, they raved about the high quality of the performers and the writing. As did I in my review on Hyphen Magazine.
Asian American theater has been thriving in Los Angeles recently with the successful run of Sun Sisters, produced by Company of Angels and actress-producer Joyce Liu, written by Chinese-Desi Vasanti Saxena, 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors’ latest hilarious sketch comedy Asiatico!, and The Geffen’s Extraordinary Chambers, for which 18MMW’s Greg Watanabe and Lost’s Francois Chau received L.A. Ovation Award nominations.
The scene has been so packed recently I’ve been unable to see everything. I most castigate myself for missing hereandnow theater company’s The B Side. Liu also performed a solo piece at Highways Performance Space honoring the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. To help the API community make themselves aware of all the shows, playwright-actor Mark Jue and East West Player’s Marilyn Tokuda organize mass outings to the shows, as they did for Michael Golamco’s Year Zero in Burbank during the summer.
Aargh! Castigating myself again as I just found out about the brilliant Velina Hasu Houston’s concert reading of her play Bliss at USC. I’ve bumped into this wonderful woman at several events, including Amy Hill’s show.
Yes indeed, Amy Hill debuted a new show at the Japanese American National Museum this past weekend. Always an engaging storyteller and performer, Hill performed with her daughter Penelope in LOST AND FOUND, Life as I (K)NEW It.
Melissa and Joey’s Elizabeth Ho returns to the stage alongside such luminaries as playwright-actor Ken Narasaki, Tuesday Night Project’s Quincy Surasmith, and Cold Tofu artistic director Helen Ota in the debut production from Artists at Play of Lauren Yee’s Ching Chong Chinaman.
And if theater’s too highbrow, Traci-Akemi Kato-kiriyama’s Tuesday Night Café will please with comedy, poetry, performance art, and music the first and third Tuesday of the month. And Cold Tofu improv every month.
photo: Widow of No Importance-East West Players; Joyce Liu; Tuesday Night Project