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Paying Less for More at Our Little Theaters


On a recent Wednesday night I joined the crowd that poured into the Ahmanson Theatre at up to $60 a head for the opening of the latest New York road show, "The Allergist's Wife," an amusingly irreverent comedy starring a passel of older but still vital and talented, used-to-be-famous actors. I left the theater mildly amused, having spent a pleasant two hours that were marginally more uplifting than an evening of television.

The next night I joined a handful of devoted souls who filed into a small storefront theater in North Hollywood at $25 a head to see a performance of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," with veteran actor Eddie Jones as a heartbreaking and quiveringly alive Willie Loman. I left the theater full of excruciating sorrow for the human condition, and mercifully raised above the mundaneness that is the hallmark of modern life.

The contrast between the two experiences jolted me and made me want to share it.

The theater company, the Interact, that is performing the Miller play is struggling for funds to keep going and, despite being a Critics' Choice in The Times, the production has had to fight for audiences. I have to wonder why. Do those hoards of people who flow into the Ahmanson's pricey plays know about the many fine little-theater productions that are going on in their city? Do they think that because the theaters are small, they are amateur?

Maybe with this particular production it is because the play was done not long ago at the Ahmanson. But the fact is that some excellent small theaters in Los Angeles cannot exist because they cannot find audiences.

As a theater lover, I find this shameful and frustrating. I know too well that a lot of what's done in small theaters are "vanity" productions, not worth the annoying drive across our sprawling metropolis. But often an experience in one of these forlorn little black boxes can do what this production did for me: lift one out of the everyday and make life seem meaningful again.

Companies such as the Interact, the Fountain Theater, the Matrix and the Pacific Resident Theatre Company in Venice do consistently good work employing some of America's best actors, who long to genuinely practice their craft with worthwhile material.

I suppose it has ever been so that the mass of people will rush to a diverting amusement and avoid the suffering served up by tragedy. Maybe everyone doesn't want to have his heart ripped out by Arthur Miller and Eddie Jones. But the versatile actors in these little companies can do comedy, too!

Keep your subscription at the Music Center, and thank you for supporting the arts. But branch out and take advantage of our unique opportunity to see superior theater. We are consummately lucky to have in our city these first-rate theater folk, who, for so little money, are willing to expose our souls to us.


Victoria Thompson is a writer and actress who has lived in Los Angeles and enjoyed its small theater productions all her life.

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