In a place of priv­i­lege

‘Straight White Men’ is head­ing to Kirk Dou­glas

Los Angeles Times - - CULTURE MONSTER - By Deb­o­rah Vankin deb­o­rah.vankin@la­times.com

What’s the mean­ing of life? What’s the point of eco­nomic priv­i­lege if it comes with an even steeper cost? What’s life with­out salad?

Th­ese are just some of the ques­tions pre­sented in the Kirk Dou­glas Theatre’s up­com­ing 2015-2016 sea­son, to be an­nounced Wed­nes­day by Cen­ter Theatre Group.

“Straight White Men,” play­wright Young Jean Lee’s ac­claimed fa­ther­son drama ex­plor­ing race, iden­tity and eco­nomic priv­i­lege, will fi­nally come to Los An­ge­les this fall in its West Coast pre­miere. Lee will di­rect the play, which Cen­ter Theatre Group co-com­mis­sioned.

CTG Artis­tic Direc­tor Michael Ritchie says Lee’s “sly per­spec­tive” in the play is “eye open­ing.” The pro­duc­tion, which comes to L.A. af­ter a run at New York’s Public Theater, is a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Cen­ter for the Art of Per­for­mance at UCLA.

“I like Young Jean Lee a lot. I’ve had my eye on her for a while now,” Ritchie said. “It’s a sort of an­thro­po­logic study of a cer­tain sub­species — straight white men — and yet, it’s not writ­ten with dis­dain or irony or a gim­let eye. She seeks to un­der­stand the hu­man bonds that we share, re­gard­less of how we’re de­fined.”

The Kirk Dou­glas’ 12th sea­son also in­cludes the West Coast pre­mieres of three other works as well as a re­vival of Sa­muel Beck­ett’s ab­sur­dist, ex­is­ten­tial “Endgame.” Ritchie em­pha­sized the di­ver­sity of the lineup.

“I think th­ese shows are ad­ven­tur­ous and bound­ary-push­ing, both in­di­vid­u­ally and as a whole,” he said.

Beck­ett’s one-act play ques­tion­ing God and hu­man ex­is­tence will be di­rected by Alan Man­dell, who ap­peared in Arthur Miller’s “The Price” at the Mark Ta­per Fo­rum this year. Man­dell also per­forms in “Endgame” along­side other es­tab­lished Beck­ett in­ter­preters, Rick Cluchey, Char­lotte Rae and Barry Mc­Gov­ern.

It’s not an easy pro­duc­tion, Ritchie said — but that’s the point.

“You have to lean into it. You don’t go into it ca­su­ally or walk away ca­su­ally,” he said. “Beck­ett de­mands your in­tel­lect, if not your soul.”

Ac­tor-il­lu­sion­ist-in­ven­tor Ge­off So­belle’s new­est work, “The Ob­ject Les­son,” is both a comic and poignant “im­mer­sive the­atri­cal in­stal­la­tion,” Ritchie said, that “un­packs our re­la­tion­ship to clut­ter” in a theater-turned-stor­age fa­cil­ity. In­stal­la­tion designer Steven Du­fala will trans­form the theater, and David Neu­mann will di­rect So­belle, who wrote and per­forms in the piece. It’s So­belle’s third work at the Kirk Doug- las, and “Ob­ject Les­son” opens the sea­son.

“I call it the new vaudeville in that it’s a the­atri­cal ex­pe­ri­ence that in­volves illusion and goes be­yond a strict nar­ra­tive piece,” Ritchie said.

Adding some mu­si­cal edge to the sea­son, Todd Almond and Court­ney Love will bring the ro­man­tic, angsty op­eretta “Kansas City Choir Boy” to the Kirk Dou­glas this fall. Almond wrote the mu­sic and lyrics, which he per­forms with Love and an en­sem­ble cast. David Bloom will con­duct the string quar­tet that will join them. Kevin New­bury di­rects the pro­duc­tion, which has been re­ferred to as a Greek tragedy as it fol­lows two lovers in small-town Amer­ica who are torn apart by am­bi­tion.

Sheila Cal­laghan’s “Women Laugh­ing Alone With Salad” is an emerg­ing work pro­grammed into the sea­son. The Neel Keller-di­rected com­edy is about a man named Guy and the three salad-ob­sessed women in his life. It was de­vel­oped in a CTG writ­ers work­shop.

“I read it and laughed out loud and just said: ‘I wanna see this in front of an au­di­ence,’ ” Ritchie said. “It’s a big play in that it takes place in many lo­ca­tions and venues, and for it to re­ally live, it needs to be fully re­al­ized on­stage.”

The mad­cap play, which ex­plores so­cial me­dia mar­ket­ing and our im­age-fix­ated cul­ture, strikes a dif­fer­ent tone from, say, Beck­ett’s “Endgame.” But that’s ex­actly the point, Ritchie said.

“Ul­ti­mately, over time, what we’re do­ing is about of­fer­ing just the widest range of theater we pos­si­bly can to L.A.,” Ritchie said, “and this sea­son does it.”

The 2015-16 sea­son runs Sept. 4 through May 22, 2016.

Carol Rosegg Public Theatre

GARY WILMES, seated, and Pete Simp­son star in “Straight White Men,” play­wright Young Jean Lee’s drama that ex­plores race, iden­tity and eco­nomic priv­i­lege. It ran at New York’s Public Theater

Adrian Sanchez-Gon­za­lez AFP/Getty Images

COURT­NEY LOVE will per­form in “Kansas City Choir Boy.”

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