They know drama
Local theaters overcome hardship to finish strong in 2010
By Jana J. Monji 08/26/2010
Economic hardship may be the big storyline for 2010, but the local fall theater season is opening with the promise of better days ahead.
While Glendale’s A Noise Within Theatre breaks ground at its new Crown City location to prepare for its first Pasadena season next year, the Pasadena Playhouse recently emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy to announce a partial lineup over the coming months“Dangerous Beauty,” a play based on the 1998 film of the same name about a courtesan in 16th-century Venice, will open in January at the historic Playhouse, and in December the Intimate Opera Co. and Pasadena Dance Theater will stage productions there.
Pasadena Playhouse Artistic Director Sheldon Epps said the Playhouse would soon also announce a production that would open as early as mid-October.
Epps said the bankruptcy was a responsible choice for the theater because it has been carrying debt for over a dozen years, a scenario he likened to paying “alimony from a marriage that I was never in.” No matter how well things went, they could never get ahead.
“Even with a great box office success, there was still a great black sucking hole of debt eating up any profit we were able to make,” he said, until an anonymous entertainment industry donor who admired the theater’s work made a large donation and challenged the community to match it.
Meanwhile, A Noise Within is wrapping up its final season in Glendale while completing construction on its new 300-seat, 33,000 square-foot venue at Foothill Boulevard and Sierra Madre Villa Avenue, near the Gold Line station.
ANW’s current Brand Boulevard location seats 148, meaning the move to Pasadena will double audience capacity.
“We’ve had more demand [for seats] than we’ve been able to meet,” explained Artistic Co-director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, who said ANW expects to open their first Pasadena production in fall 2011.
Before ending its run in Glendale, the theater will stage a retrospective event celebrating all of the different plays it has staged there.
“The move is such an important transition for the theater we felt there needed to be a way to mark that,” Rodriguez-Elliott said.
The immediate fall lineup in Glendale, meanwhile, includes Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” a new adaptation of “Great Expectations” and “Blithe Spirit,” Noel Coward’s tale of ghostly love.
Damaso Rodriguez (no relation to Rodriguez-Elliott), who started his career as an intern with ANW, has directed shows at Boston Court and was involved in forming the Furious Theatre Co., will be directing “Blithe Spirit.”
“Great Expectations” revisits a show ANW staged early in its history.
Other noteworthy revivals this fall include 2002’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Topdog/Underdog” at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena and Tennessee Williams’ classic “The Glass Menagerie” at the Mark Taper Forum, but curtains are also opening this fall on many world premiere productions.
Jordan Harrison’s “Futura,” in which a professor attempts to change the world through the art of typography, opens Sept. 30 at the Theatre@Boston Court.
The musical “Leap of Faith,” premiering at the Ahmanson, is based on the 1992 Steve Martin movie of the same name about a con man posing as a Christian faith healer to bilk money from small town folk in Kansas.
“Harps and Angels,” a new musical by Randy Newman, premieres at the Mark Taper Forum with songs including “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” “Sail Away” and the anthemic “I Love L.A.”
So, despite economic downturn, local theater is alive and thriving with new plays and old favorites, but the grandest revival of all may be the rebirth of the Pasadena Playhouse itself.