Enthusiasm. If stage artists don't have it and send it out, audiences won't pick it up. What audiences will drop faster than you can say "Equity Waiver" is forced, calculated enthusiasm--that byproduct of desperation that was palpable almost anywhere you looked in smaller theater this year. You could hear it approaching the box office: Love us, please .
The plea is especially loud if you're a critic and the theater depends on your review. (Indeed, it has become virtually a physical law: the louder the plea, the poorer the show.)
So it's less significant that only eight of the 87 shows this reviewer assessed were outstanding than the fact that the eight opened quietly, without fanfare.
Three were original works: Stephen Sachs' inventive story-theater adaptation of Italo Calvino's "The Baron in the Trees," at the Ensemble Studio Theatre; Martin Jones' evocative rock 'n' roll tragedy, "West Memphis Mojo," at International City Theatre, and movement performer Thomas Leabhart's caustic satire on consumerism, "Like, What Is the Difference Between Abstract and Bizarre?" at Pipeline's Wallenboyd space.
Like those premieres, the Tiffany Theatre's revival of Joe Orton's "Loot" (\o7 not \f7 the Taper's, but comparable on most levels) and Theatre of the Open Eye's epic Japan America Theatre staging of Philip Kan Gotanda's "The Dream of Kitamura" wed fine productions to vital plays. Director Reza Abdoh took over Theatre Upstairs with a repertory bill of Sophocles' "King Oedipus" and Copi's "Eva Peron" so rich in ritualistic, visual experiments and a global theater language that one allowed for the weak cast. Two remarkably stark stagings--Rick Cluchey's "The Cage," at the Odyssey, and Daniel O'Connor's "Slaughterhouse on Tanner's Close," at the Pacific Theatre Ensemble's Venice storefront space, testified to how theater craft and committed ensembles can fill the vacuum left by underdeveloped writing.
Two works-in-progress, about working people, showed progress and promise of more: "Waiting," a writing-acting collaboration on the waitressing game by Lee Garlington, Laura Hinton, Kathy Miller, Anne Elizabeth Ramsay, Jane Sibbett, Valerie Spencer and Dana Stevens; and "S.E.L.A.," by the TheatreWorker's Project at Ensemble Studio, a personal but collective account of lives surviving Southeast Los Angeles plant closures.
A curtain call for the actors: Rick Cluchey, William Hayes and Douglas Van Leuven ("The Cage"); Daniel Bryan Cartmell and Bud Leslie ("True West" and "The Imaginary Invalid"); Jude Narita ("Coming Into Passion/Song for a Sansei"); Jason Edwards, Lee Hampton, Myles Thoroughgood ("West Memphis Mojo"); Tuck Milligan ("Baron in the Trees"); Jonathan Frakes ("My Life in Art"); Dierk Torsek and Valerie Mahaffey ("Loot"); Charles Quertermous and Robert Macnaughton ("Jitters").