Charles McNulty, of the L.A. Times, in an article about Nicholas Hytner, the director of Britain’s National Theatre, said that he believes that much of our theater is a result of “the crabbed and cowering bottom-line mentality that is turning far too many of our theaters into the equivalent of generic shopping malls,” and although I think that’s harsh, I have often thought that if I had to see yet another production of The Odd Couple (“It’s Neil Simon. It will sell!”) I would think first about wading far out into the Pacific with a brick in my hand.

Community theaters, in particular, are accused of producing only chestnuts, farces, musicals and murder mysteries.

This year, Theatre Palisades decided to buck the trend. A community theater in the Pacific Palisades, it mounted an excellent production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning drama Rabbit Hole.

Elizabeth Marcellino of the Palisades Post gave it a rave review. Under the headline, Theatre Palisades Delivers Great Drama, she wrote “Theatre Palisades took a risk in staging the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, but that daring paid off as early as opening night, when the cast delivered an astonishingly strong ensemble performance. …Rabbit Hole is cause for celebrating the fact that Pacific Palisades has a local theatre able to put up such a great production, charging only $20 for the privilege of watching terrific theatre. Go see it.”

But people didn’t come. The theater advertised in the community and online. It offered half price tickets, twofers. Members of Sold Out Crowd and Theater Extras didn’t come. It didn’t pull Goldstar and LA Stage Alliance customers. People from the community stayed away. Theater members didn’t come.

Subscribers said, “Can I use my ticket for the next show?” One said, “Tell me this is good. My husband is in the car and doesn’t want to come in.” Several women said that their husbands wouldn’t come.

And everybody tried to figure out why.

Some thought it was because the economy is in such bad shape. People are struggling and they want to be lifted out of reality, want to hear about happy times. They want to laugh. It’s not a new thought. Last week, I heard actors rehearsing the next show, a comedy, Moonlight and Magnolias, by Ron Hutchison. One character was shouting, “People go to the movies because real life stinks.” There’s some truth in that.

I think that the subject matter kept people away, a subject that has nothing to do with economic hard times. As soon as people heard that it was about a family’s recovering from the accidental death of a four year old child, they balked, saying “We have enough sorrow in our lives. Why look for more?” “That’s too intense for me.”

Initially, I didn’t want to see it. I’d read it and thought it was very well written, with great parts for actors, but I didn’t know if I wanted to watch people in such pain. When I did attend, I was very moved, sometimes to laughter as well as tears, and went to see it again. In fact, most who saw it liked it very much. One audience member said, “Keep doing this kind of theater.” Subscribers who did attend also wrote to say how glad they were that they had come.

Go figure.

2 thoughts on “TAKING A RISK

  1. Wow! A Pulitzer and they can’t pull people in?! Thanks for reporting on this — and I hope to go to Bakersfield Mist in the coming weeks (when my weekends are less hectic). They’ve extended into December and there was an article in the L.A. Times saying now that they’ve gone over 80 performances, they have to pay the actors more than the 99 seat Equity Waiver minimum! Want to join me, or have you already seen it?

  2. Good good GOOD for your theatre to take that kind of risk, and please please please let them get the kind of validation they need to keep doing it . . . damn those box office numbers!

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