Ever since they both opened their doors in 1991, A Noise Within and the Antaeus Theatre have built strong reputations for producing powerful revivals of classic plays. And for the past year, they have each shared one other distinction, having played key roles in adding to the vibrant nightlife of Glendale’s bustling downtown.
A Noise Within moved to a spacious facility in east Pasadena in 2010, leaving Glendale without a prime stage in the heart of the action along Brand Boulevard. But last January, Antaeus moved into a new facility just north of Brand at 110 E. Broadway with a 30-seat and an 80-seat theater, kicking off a huge success that features the closing weekend of Harold Pinter’s rarely-performed satire “The Hothouse” tonight through Sunday.
Set in an institution whose nature is subject to interpretation as either a “rest home” or “sanitorium” with anonymous “residents” or “patients” referred to only by assigned numbers, “The Hothouse” is a satire on authoritarianism gone awry. Focused on a blowhard leader named Roote who is rapidly losing the confidence of the staff around him, it could be easy for many to interpret the play as paralleling current events in the White House.
“The play was selected before the last presidential election,” says director Nike Doukas, with a laugh. “I had always loved the play, wanted to direct one for Antaeus, and decided it was so perfect even as we decided it on the summer before the election. At that point we were still thinking it wouldn’t be a possibility, but once I had time to start thinking about the play more deeply the election had happened, and it was shocking.”
According to Doukas, “The Hothouse” shows how bad institutional leadership “affects an entire community of people, and on a higher level, totalitarianism and despotism.” She notes that Pinter “is always working on more than one level,” with a basic tone that’s “funny and creepy, but it starts to also have more resonance on wider and wider levels.”
She has found that local theater buffs, particularly actors and other theater professionals, have enthusiastically supported the production because it is rarely performed. In fact, despite being originally written in 1958, Pinter himself put the play aside until he finally directed a production himself in 1979.
“Everybody is struck by how fresh it feels, despite being written in 1958,” says Doukas. “It’s much more broadly comical than his usual, but also his violence and plot twists really stand out. Many say it reminds them of [fellow British playwright] Joe Orton. I always thought, ‘If Pinter and Orton had a baby, it would be this play.’”
Antaeus began in 1991 as a project of the Center Theatre Group, headed by founding Artistic Director Dakin Matthews and co-founder Lillian Groag. In 2002, Antaeus expanded its reach, establishing the Antaeus Academy, a training program for early career professional actors, according to the theater’s website.
In 1996, the group, based in North Hollywood, incorporated as a nonprofit organization. In 2006, theater officials went looking for a permanent home, taking up temporary residence at the Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood. Following four years of fundraising and a year of construction, in March the group moved into a permanent home, the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, in downtown Glendale.
Doukas has been with Antaeus since 1992, observing firsthand its growth from a weekly theater workshop at the Mark Taper Forum in downtown Los Angeles through small productions at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater and its own first home on Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood. But when the booming Noho theater district drove rents to unaffordable levels, Antaeus happily accepted a generous relocation offer from Glendale city officials and moved to the Jewel City.
“I think we have the best classical actors in Los Angeles, a very deep company of people who knows how to use language like nobody else, with respect for the classics with an incredible sense of risk-taking and danger,” says Doukas.
“If you are somebody who loves to see language-rich plays like those by Chekhov, Shakespeare and Shaw you cannot get a better example anywhere in the States between us and A Noise Within, and I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much of that.”
“The Hothouse” runs tonight through Sunday at 8 p.m. tonight and Fri., 2 and 8 p.m. Sat. and 2 p.m. Sun. at Antaeus Theatre Company, 100 E. Broadway, Glendale. Tickets are $30 to $34. Call (818) 506-5436 or visit antaeus.org.