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THE CREME DE L.A. CREME | Theater

Off the Political Stage, L.A. Theater Abounds

Options include musicals, classics, even an election comedy.

August 10, 2000|MICHAEL PHILLIPS | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

Greetings, Earthling. Welcome to Los Angeles, city of the angles (sorry, "angels"), where a decent map and a rented Geo can get you extremely lost, but also can convey you to a larger, farther-flung and more diverse collection of theater stages than any political convention attendee could possibly visit in one . . . visit.

I'll feign honesty at this point. Selling you on your host city's theatrical offerings, amid the stage-managed antics of high convention season, is like dumping 16 tons of coal at the Newcastle city limits, and then sticking a sign in the pile that says: NEVER BEFORE SEEN IN NEWCASTLE! You know theater. You're about to become part of a multistage political pageant, micro-stage-managed to prevent any spontaneity whatsoever.

But real theater beats fake theater in a smackdown every time. Herewith lies a deeply selective guide to some prime stages you must see while you're here. Even if it means blowing off every single convention event to do so.

Let's begin downtown. Two shows presently grace the stages of the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre, part of what's now known as the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County.

"Expecting Isabel," Lisa Loomer's comedy about one couple's adventures in conception, just opened at the Taper, after its launch at Arena Stage in Washington. At the Ahmanson, through Sept. 3, the atmospheric chamber-sized musical "James Joyce's The Dead" continues its run.

These unfold on two of L.A.'s best-known stages. Elsewhere downtown, however, there's another temporary stage of sorts set up in an vast unfinished part of the Subway Terminal Building on Hill Street, just a block from Pershing Square. Here, "An Antigone Story" runs through Aug. 20. The latest from Cornerstone Theater Company, which favors site-specific work, this compelling multimedia update on the Sophocles tragedy makes the most of its shadowy surroundings.

Along Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood are many shows. To get you started: The Actors' Gang offers its revival of "How to Steal an Election," beginning Aug. 12. At the Hudson Backstage Theater, a transfer of a highly imaginative Zoo District production--"The Master and Margarita," a Faustian tale of getting what you want at a steep price in Stalinist Moscow--continues through the end of the month.

Then, hit the 110 East (the "historic Arroyo Seco Parkway") and check out the Pasadena Playhouse, a beautifully maintained flapper-era relic. Neil Simon's "The Good Doctor" plays there through Aug. 20.

One last highway to travel. Up the 101, a left on 27, and on your right you'll find a peerlessly charming outdoor setting, located in Topanga Canyon. The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum offers a storied history, beginning when the blacklisted actor (who later was Grandpa Walton on "The Waltons") opened his theater in the McCarthy era. Today it continues to thrive, although McCarthy doesn't, and it remains a genial Geer family affair.

Several shows continue through early fall. One is a well-received production of "Our Town," starring Ellen Geer, Will's daughter, as Thornton Wilder's wise stage manager.

After the blare of a national political convention, I can't think of a more apt American classic to reacquaint you with the things that matter most.

Addresses, prices, dates. Page 20.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

"L.A. has become a theater city that is second to none. On any given night, they can choose from a huge variety of plays and musicals, both classics and world premieres, here at the Playhouse, the Geffen or at the Taper, created and performed by world-class theater artists. "

SHELDON EPPS

Artistic director, Pasadena Playhouse

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