A Year In Reviews

by Tony Bartolone, Staff Writer

pLAywriting in the city

2011 was a year overflowing with live theatre. From one-woman musicals to gritty dramas to stand up comedy to experimental, mind-bending psychedelia, one thing is certain; I watched a lot of plays.  After much calculation, the official estimate is thirty-six plays and about one billion comedy shows. That is almost a play for every ten days of the year (and way too many comedy shows). So now it’s time to take a look back, and ask, “What was the year really about?”

What was the most affecting thing I saw in 2011? Well, I can’t write a retrospective without talking about the occupation. There are many different kinds of theatre, but nothing was as entertaining, dramatic, and overall moving as The Occupy Movement. Critics of the protest constantly asked, “Why?” Why were people camped in front of City Hall in LA and in locations across the country? Why did they have such a sense of entitlement? Why were they so unsatisfied with what they have? Why? Why? Why? The answer: so that everybody can ask those questions. So everybody can ask “Why?” And so we can get closer to the truth. Art, at its most basic components and at its most elaborate productions, is simply a form of expression. That’s all the Occupy Movement was, pure expression. There were moments when being there was genuinely terrifying. However, those peaceful rebels took on that fear to avoid an even more horrifying future. Theatre should stimulate conversation, and nothing generated more dialogue than all those occupants downtown.

Then there was the Hollywood Fringe Festival. It was an absolute wonder to watch all the actors, writers and artists of all kinds galvanized and condensed on Santa Monica Blvd. It was a concentrated cornucopia of energy and passion. It was an allover celebration of life and the art that reflected it. Singing, laughing, screaming, fighting, falling, striving, dying, crying… There was no emotion nor color nor relatable anecdote left unspoken. Whether it was the absurd tale of Telly Savalas in Who Loves You, Baby? or the well-accented, agoraphobic, rock-and-roll story of two lovers in Sam Shepard’s Cowboy Mouth or maybe even the one-woman, dominatrix dungeon, Hi, How Can I Help You?, the fringe had it all (even if you didn’t know it existed).

The rest of the year was a grab-bag of intriguing experiences and hilarious encounters. In January, Sister Maripat Donovan was sharp as tack spreading her hilarious version of the word in ‘Til Death Do Us Part: Late Night Catechism 3 at the La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts. Also at the La Mirada, theatre returned to twisted fun in a rock-solid production of Little Shop of Horrors in April. On the first of May I saw the last show of Five by Tenn at Theatre 68. Tennessee Williams always delivers with lyrical plays about loss and love and living with former, yet longing for the latter. After recovering from the whirlwind of Fringe Fest in June, I sat in the dark and absorbed a slow climax through thick language in Steven Dietz’s clever work of Fiction at the Underground Theatre in July. I digested Poison Apple at Space 916 in August, and wondered What’s Wrong With Angry? at Celebration Theatre in September. And Holy Fuck. Free Comedy. at the Downtown Independent in October. I started November with bang as Bang Comedy Theatre presented Let’s Bang: A Variety Show and closed out the month with the beautifully bizarre, Crumble at Sacred Fools. And finally, I wrapped up the year with an assault on my sense of morality in the poignant prison drama, Short Eyes at LATC presented by Urban Theatre Movement. It was one hell of year.

Reflecting on all the shows of 2011, I can’t help but think of how many times I’ve heard somebody say something disparaging and cynical about theatre in LA. There are appealing, wonder-filled, impressive theatrical experiences all over LA. There is theatre full of energy and beauty. There are unique voices demanding to be heard. 2011 was a spectacular year for theatre in the City of Angels. Here’s to 2012.

Check out all my reviews from this past year at: The  Huffington Post , at LA Theater Review,  and right here at pLAywrighting in the city.