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Variety Will Spice Up Halloween

October 25, 1998|Jan Breslauer | Jan Breslauer is a regular contributor to Calendar

Los Angeles, land of the kosher burrito, is a haven for hybrids. This is as true for the city's performing arts as it is for its cuisine.

Some of the most provocative fare in L.A.'s smaller theater scene, for example, is actually interdisciplinary: theater mixed with music, dance, spoken word, stand-up, visual art and what-have-you.

Say we call it Sorta Theater. And let the rubric cover performance art, dance theater, music theater, literary and magic acts, cabaret and everything else that's theatrical performance, if not purely theater.

Sorta Theater can be seen on a regular basis at places like Highways, LunaPark and LACE, as well as in various clubs and galleries. There are companies who've made it their specialty: About Productions, Blue Palm, Collage Dance Theatre and Shrimps, which just this past week presented their swan song, "Swell," at Highways. And there are festivals, both one-time-only (last season's Beyond the Pink) and recurring (LocoMotion at LATC in 1995 and Actors Gang in 1997; Yiddishkayt, which closes its eight-day run today, at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State L.A.).

As it happens, Halloween season is also shaping up as a prime opportunity to sample Sorta Theater.

New this year is Shakespeare Festival/LA's "Hauntings--A Shakespearean Seance," which runs through Saturday at the Pacific Design Center, directed by Broadway veteran Tom O'Horgan. It combines magic and musicalized Shakespeare in a format modeled after the "spook shows" that grew out of vaudeville and were popular in the 1940s and '50s.

More familiar to theatergoing ghouls and spirits is the popular Haunted Cabaret, now in its fifth year and performing this Friday through Sunday at the mid-city blues club Fais Do-Do, directed by Dan Chace. The brainchild of writer-performer Lili Nadja Barsha, this is cabaret in the old style: a pastiche of 15 to 20 quick acts, including music, dance, drama, shadow play, literary recitation and more.

The Haunted Cabaret was born out of Barsha's own creative frustrations. "L.A. accommodates this whole interdisciplinary approach, and cabaret accommodates a variety of performers," she explains. "As an actor and somebody who is multicultural--I come from a family that's black, Asian and Jewish--it lends itself to me.

"When I got here, I was told that as an actor I was racially ambiguous and they didn't know where to fit me in," says Barsha, who will play the part of the devil M.C. "That's why I started producing."

Envisioning her event as a celebration not just of Halloween but also of All Saints' Day and Dia de los Muertos, Barsha sees a strong connection between multiculturalism and interdisciplinary work. "Artists clamor for projects that allow them to work with people of different cultures, but also in different mediums," she says. "In cabaret, you can have an intercultural cast without the project being specifically about race. Cabaret speaks to the mix. So I think that it fits itself into the culture that is Los Angeles."

THE CIRCLE GAME: Over the years, a number of companies from other cities have tried to establish L.A. branches, including Chicago's Second City and New York's LaMama. The latest attempt at a Western beachhead comes flying in under the banner of the respected, albeit defunct, New York company Circle Rep--a venue associated with such playwrights as Lanford Wilson, Craig Lucas and Marsha Norman.

Billing itself as an offshoot of the Manhattan troupe, Circle West is led by playwright-screenwriter John Bishop, a former member of the original company whose stage credits include "The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940" at Circle Rep and on Broadway, and "Elmer Gantry" at the La Jolla Playhouse and "Borderline" at the Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz.

Circle West's plans are to produce three or four plays a year, beginning with Bishop's own "The Great Great Grandson of Jedediah Kohler," which opened its first cast last weekend and will bow with its second cast on Friday, both at 2100 Square Feet.

Also in the works: the West Coast premiere of Lanford Wilson's latest, "Book of Days," directed by Marshall Mason.

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