Consider the following. You're a person devoted to the theater--every aspect of it: directing, play writing, adapting, critiquing. You're used to job insecurity; that goes with the art form. Still, in one year's time, you: 1) resign a top post at a prestigious theater; 2) squeeze in two book-writing assignments as the publishers are tapping you on the shoulder; 3) take the theater critic job at a newspaper; 4) lose the job when the newspaper closes; 5) finish off the books; 6) return to directing.
Some might wonder if this is a life, or a roller coaster. For former Los Angeles Herald Examiner critic Charles Marowitz, who experienced all of the above in 1989, it is all in the course of things. At least, that is the somewhat stoic attitude he holds these days, as his Shakespeare adaptation, "Variations on Measure for Measure," plays at the California Repertory Company on the Cal State Long Beach campus.
In the Los Angeles theater community, he is nearly alone in his penchant for crossing the fence from theater artist to critic and back again, according to his desire. He is certainly unique in the breadth of talents he plies.
"I've always been on both sides," he said, sitting in an outdoor campus breezeway. A New Yorker by birth, Marowitz left London for Los Angeles in 1981 after two, sometimes-stormy decades in the British theater scene. His voice, a polyglot of American and British, carries a residue of those years. He has chronicled this period in one of his upcoming books, "Burnt Bridges."
Marowitz made it clear that, if he has burned any bridges lately, he has no regrets. Joining Los Angeles Theatre Center in March, 1988, as dramaturge and editor of the LATC magazine, Alarums and Excursions, Marowitz left 10 months later.
"I did it in a strong, spontaneous impulse," he said. "I was fed up with LATC. I found myself fighting with the management, and eventually, it burst."
The bursting point came in January, 1989, when Marowitz was organizing a panel discussing theater's future. LATC artistic director Bill Bushnell objected to the panel's all-Anglo makeup. Marowitz's response was to walk out the door. He claimed to The Times after his departure that Bushnell had interfered with "contractually delegated" aspects of his job.
Bushnell denies the charge: "It's inaccurate. This dispute did not involve any contractual matters."
Marowitz insisted, though, that he doesn't wish an all-Anglo theater for Los Angeles. "I'm strongly in favor of ethnic theaters developing and growing, but they shouldn't be assessed by special criteria. They are treated in a patronizing way, which doesn't do them any good."
In another stab at LATC and its multicultural programming, he added: "Black and Latino theater should have their own sovereignty, independent funding, and not be under the paternalistic wing of an Anglo-run operation."
As the Herald Examiner critic from May, 1989, until its demise in early November, Marowitz had a platform for such opinions. Everyone knew, including Marowitz when he finally accepted the paper's offers to come on board, that the Herald was a sinking ship.
Why, then, did he do it? "I knew full well that it would be a short stint, so it was comforting to realize that I wouldn't be reviewing forever. It was an adjustment, going from the one or two weekly reviews I did--and still do--for the (London) Guardian, to three or four for the Herald. I hoped that I could influence local theater. There wasn't a counterpoint (to The Times). Maybe I could provide one.
"I received a lot of letters and responses to the reviews. Some were very upset that I reviewed the Venice boardwalk, female mud wrestling and weekend driving schools. They protested that, with so little space, I shouldn't cover such trivia. But my point was to broaden the conventional view of theater. Much theatrical work happens outside of theaters: Chippendale's, Disneyland, the Crystal Cathedral."
In a moment of self-reflection, Marowitz remarked that since "90% of what a critic sees is (awful), you can either become a curmudgeon, or you can step back and offer constructive alternatives." Some of these for him include theaters moving away from the naturalistic stage style and not choosing "safe" or commercially proven plays.
This suggests risk-taking, which "Variations on Measure for Measure" would seem to be replete with. Marowitz has, in some circles, become notorious for adapting Shakespeare to his own ends. For instance, his controversial 1986 adaptation, "The Shrew," gave Kate the final word. He feels that this latest attempt at coming to terms with "Measure for Measure"--perhaps the most nettlesome of the Bard's so-called "problem plays"--continues in "The Shrew's" feminist direction.
"I don't think I can sum up in a few words what I'm saying in the play, but I will say that it's a radical revision. I've deleted the comic parts, which I've never seen work well. I'm re-examining the way justice is meted out, particularly to Isabella," the virgin (played in this production by Marowitz's actress-wife Jane Windsor), who is faced with saving her brother's life or giving in to the entreaties of a ne'er-do-well.
You might call it "Recycling Shakespeare," which happens to be the title of Marowitz's other new book, due this autumn. "I'm not saying that we should kick out 'Measure for Measure.' This play is inspired by the original one, after all. But I am interested in carrying on an ideological dialogue with the original, so the audience can come away with some fresh ideas regarding justice."