It’s been a bit of a dry summer in Los Angeles, theatre-wise, so this afternoon I decided to go see The House of Blue Leaves which is in previews at the newly reopened Mark Taper Forum. I couldn’t get the online ticketing to work for some reason, so just showed up at 15 minutes before curtain, and luckily for me there was a subscriber just waiting for someone like me to come along and take her extra ticket.
The new Taper is pretty incredible. I ran into a friend of mine who works for the theatre who told me about all of the cool things that the staff are excited about, like voms from which actors can see the stage without the whole audience being able to see them at the same time, and the entire row of boothspace in the back. For me (and I imagine for most female audience members) the most exciting aspect are the newly-built bathrooms. Where there used to be a total of three stalls for women in the entire building, there is now a huge spacious bathroom with stalls for about twenty and mirrors for ten, so even the slowest matinee crowd can easily make it in and out during a ten-minute intermission.
As for the play – I don’t want to say too much because it hasn’t officially opened yet, and no one should never be judged publicly from a Saturday matinee during previews. I was really excited to see the play as it’s something I’ve read a few times and often assigned to students as an example of how you can create a world that is totally realistic but utterly unique at the same time. But as I watched the play I couldn’t help thinking: “If this play were written today, would the young John Guare be able to get away with all of this stuff?” Or would he be told that his play has “tonal problems,” that the direct address, “doesn’t work as a convention,” and that the frenzied pace of the second act doesn’t “grow organically” from the first?
In many theatres today, the young John Guare might be given these notes and expected to rewrite and develop the play over a series of readings and workshops, possibly someday getting to see the carcass of the play he started with onstage. But at Center Theatre Group, Michael Ritchie has boldly said he wants the theatre to be a producing organization and not a place that develops plays to death. In this paradigm, it’s easy to slot in a 37-year-old play that is part of the accepted cannon and ask an audience to accept it, warts and all. But I guess I’m wondering, if such a beautiful but technically flawed play were to land on his desk today, would it ever make it to production?
PS. Within 24 hours of writing this post, I got an email from the Chief Information Officer of Center Theatre Group, asking me to tell him what I had trouble with on their online ticket buying system so that he could fix it for the future. How cool is that?