At home now in down­town L.A.

Neal Bled­soe feels the same way about be­ing on stage, where he’s costar­ring in ‘The Pride’ at the Wal­lis.

Los Angeles Times - - ARTS & BOOKS - By Deb­o­rah Vankin deb­o­rah.vankin@la­

Last week the Wal­lis An­nen­berg Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts opened Alexi Kaye Campbell’s “The Pride,” a drama about a com­plex love tri­an­gle of sorts that tog­gles be­tween 1958 and 2008 as it ex­plores iden­tity, in­ti­macy, shame and de­sire.

The play, co-star­ring Neal Bled­soe (“The Man in the High Cas­tle”) and di­rected by Wal­lis artist-in­res­i­dence Michael Ar­den (2016 Tony nom­i­nee for “Spring Awak­en­ing”), co­in­cides with Pride Month and ad­dresses so­ci­ety’s chang­ing at­ti­tudes to­ward love and sex­u­al­ity over five decades. “What it means to be a man has changed,” Bled­soe says of his char­ac­ter, Phillip, “but just be­cause so­ci­eties change, doesn’t mean they al­ways change for the bet­ter.” The ac­tor fielded ques­tions by email about the play and about his move to L.A. for this edited con­ver­sa­tion. When you first moved here from New York, you didn’t much care for L.A. But mov­ing to down­town was a game-changer. How so?

L.A. can be con­flict-averse, some­thing that’s re­flected in its neigh­bor­hoods. They can be seg­re­gated and some­what tribal, while the dual forces of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and the search for au­then­tic­ity can make them feel like theme parks of them­selves.

Down­town felt vi­tal, true and full of con­flict to me. Ev­ery­where else in the city you can lock your doors and drive away from prob­lems and peo­ple, but down­town forces you to nav­i­gate the hu­man el­e­ment. And for all of L.A.’s beauty, beaches, moun­tains, it is the chance hu­man en­coun­ters, the his­tory, the chal­lenges of its past and present, its hope for the fu­ture, the spec­tral im­print of sto­ry­tellers who came be­fore me that I could find there and nowhere else that made me feel at home. How does the L.A. land­scape in­spire you as a sto­ry­teller?

There’s space and time to cre­ate here, two things that I need as a sto­ry­teller, things I didn’t al­ways get in New York. But also, its peo­ple fas­ci­nate me. L.A. still has a Ragged Dick meets Lana Turner siren song that calls peo­ple from all over the world to it. It’s the one place, at least that I know of, where some­one short on tal­ent and long on am­bi­tion can come and make a suc­cess of them­selves. In all fields. Ac­tors, writ­ers, di­rec­tors, dancers, ath­letes, mod­els, artists, dream­ers and peo­ple liv­ing out their lives on the out­skirts of the dream fac­to­ries, aware that if it’s hap­pen­ing to other peo­ple, maybe, just maybe, it could hap­pen to them too. It’s hard to not be in­spired by them. What are your fa­vorite DTLA haunts?

Yuko Kitchen, Nickel Diner, KazuNori, Wolf & Crane Bar, the Var­nish, Led­low, Chi­cas Tacos, Daikokuya, G& B Cof­fee, Blue­whale jazz club, Chego, Mignon. Langer’s or Wexler’s pas­trami? Wexler’s (I’ve not been to Langer’s yet, a sin, I know). Last Book­store or Book Soup? Last Book­store Grand Cen­tral Mar­ket stall? Rahul Khop­kar’s Ra­men Hood Fa­vorite L.A. hik­ing trail?

The Bridge to Nowhere [San Gabriel Moun­tains]. If you keep go­ing past the bridge into the nowhere, you can see ev­ery­thing from gold pan­ners to bighorn sheep. You’ve ap­peared on Broad­way (“Im­pres­sion­ism”) as well as on the big screen (“Sex and the City 2”) and TV. Where do you feel most at home as an ac­tor?

I’d say on stage. Night after night, it’s en­tirely up to you, the ac­tor. The live ex­pe­ri­ence is like noth­ing else. The stakes are raised. You can’t yell cut and hope that the edi­tor will splice mul­ti­ple per­for­mances to­gether to make some­thing that works. Also, the amount of time spent in re­hearsal, the hours and hours div­ing into a sin­gle text to dis­cover its se­crets is not a lux­ury I get in film or tele­vi­sion. There’s some­thing spe­cial in the con­nec­tion that can only hap­pen when hu­man be­ings are in the same room with each other. De­spite all of their fancy CGI, it’s some­thing that film and TV hasn’t fig­ured out how to do yet. Much has hap­pened in the world since “The Pride” pre­miered in 2008. What makes the play rel­e­vant to­day?

The main two events of the year this play pre­miered were the elec­tion of Barack Obama and the global re­ces­sion. Obama, even though he had to fa­mously evolve on the is­sue, rep­re­sented a hopeful sense that so­cial progress to­ward equal­ity was in­evitable. The re­ces­sion was the start to the push­back, against what many of us know as progress to­ward some­thing more eu­phemisti­cally “tra­di­tional,” a con­ser­va­tive 1950s golden age, which is the other pe­riod of this play.

We have seen the rise of na­tion­al­ists and an ero­sion of our faith in glob­al­ism. It felt like we were go­ing to be given the coun­try and the world we had al­ways been promised. What we as­sumed was in­evitable has been called back into ques­tion, even as some other rights have been as­sured. I think this play serves as a clar­ion call to re­mind us that we mustn’t go on au­topi­lot, that we can never just as­sume that the work is done. I think we had a hopeful sense that in 2008 we had or were about to take two steps for­ward; since then that fear, I think, has forced us to take a step back. It per­haps makes the play even time­lier now than when it was writ­ten. The play spans 1958 and 2008. How is your char­ac­ter’s fate de­ter­mined by the era he lives in?

Phillip is a man who is try­ing to live as well as he can in the cir­cum­stances pro­vided to him. In Lon­don of 1958, we would have just come out of the ex­is­ten­tial threat of the Sec­ond World War and into a rapidly mod­ern­iz­ing world where Bri­tain lost its em­pire and its place in the world, faced the Cold War, Amer­i­can rock ’n’ roll, movies, tele­vi­sion and a so­ci­ety strug­gling to main­tain a so­cial order it thought made them great. Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was a crime and a dis­ease. That fear of be­ing found out for who Phillip re­ally is and the peo­ple he has to sup­port keep his de­sires buried deep within him.

Also, me­dia had not fully con­nected us yet. In 2008, Phillip has not had to deal with many of those so­cial pres­sures. Progress brings un­in­tended re­gres­sion in other ways, such as the cur­rent hy­per­sex­u­al­ity of our so­ci­ety. What was re­pressed has now be­come cul­ture and what was cul­ture has now been re­pressed. In 2008, I long for the struc­ture, fi­delity, trust, some­thing that in 1958 I might’ve had some form of, but the choice and a so­ci­ety telling me what I am in­hibits that. You col­lab­o­rated on artist Jon Kessler’s “The Web,” a 2013 im­mer­sive in­stal­la­tion shown in New York and Basel, Switzer­land, that ad­dresses mo­bile de­vices in our lives while also ex­am­in­ing the role of the viewer. Can you tell us about this?

Jon asked me to come on board and give a phony TED talk about the launch of his new app. He’d started a ru­mor that he’d sold this app for mil­lions of dol­lars and was re­tir­ing from the art world. I was the CTO of the com­pany that bought it, GVI, or Global Vil­lage Id­iot. My speech was writ­ten by Josh Co­hen and the whole thing de­volved into an Em­peror’s New Clothes-like mad­ness. We were es­sen­tially sell­ing the au­di­ence back their own lives. The jokes played well in New York, but I don’t think our Swiss au­di­ence ap­pre­ci­ated the puns. Most peo­ple may not know: You’re also a sports jour­nal­ist.

It’s true. The MMQB over at Sports Il­lus­trated has given me a bit of a home the last few years. I’m fas­ci­nated about what our ob­ses­sion with foot­ball says about us as a cul­ture. Most of what I like to write about is the in­ter­sec­tion of sports and cul­ture. I’m not a stat guy or a hot-take artist. I try to write things in the vein of Frank De­ford, Ge­orge Plimp­ton and WC Heinz, writ­ers who were able to tell the sto­ries be­hind the story.

Wal­lis An­nen­berg Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts

“THERE’S SPACE and time to cre­ate here, two things that I need as a sto­ry­teller, things I didn’t al­ways get in New York,” said Neal Bled­soe of his L.A. res­i­dency.

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