Venice, Argentina? Plus Three Examples of Theater Makeovers

Venice, Argentina? Plus Three Examples of Theater MakeoversVenice, Argentina? Plus Three Examples of Theater Makeovers

by Don Shirley | LA Stage Times: October 21, 2010

Finally, if you recall Theatre 2 at Los Angeles Theatre Center – the LATC space that’s closest to Spring Street – you’ll remember that it has what feels like the most radically raked seating area in L.A. theater. For the Robey Theatre Company’s premiere of Kimba Henderson’s The Reckoning there, the audience is directed to enter from the upper-floor back-of- the-house instead of the usual first-floor front-of-the-house. An enormous Southern-plantation set dominates the front of the stage, to the extent that it juts into the usual seating area – but one level up, above that customary front-door entrance. Artistic director Ben Guillory says he wants the audience to appreciate the full impact of John Paul Luckenbach’s set when they enter — a view that can be obtained only from the rear.

When I tried to sit fairly close to the stage, Guillory asked me to move farther back, because he was concerned that my view of the upper reaches of the set would be blocked. Oddly enough, after intermission, we were allowed to enter through the lower-level front door and then climb the steps up to the seating area – but by then most of the audience had seen the set in all its glory, had staked out their seating locations, and weren’t tempted to sit too close.

Like some previous productions in this 298-seat space, The Reckoning is presented under the less expensive terms of Actors’ Equity’s 99-Seat Plan, so 199 of the seats are not allowed to be sold. No seating is permitted in the side sections, which are decorated with near-life-size puppets of famous African Americans. The huge set, the conscious effort to fill up the center of the seating area, and the large puppets watching silently from the sidelines – these features combine to create a visual illusion that we’re in a mid-size, big-deal theater. In fact, it’s hard to think of any standard 99-seat theater that could have accommodated this set. Henderson’s play, about the racially separated strands of the families that inherited or didn’t inherit this plantation, veers close to soap opera. But as soap operas go, it has its absorbing moments – not only because of the historical racial issues that it probes, but also because it has been packaged in this imaginative and unconventional treatment of the Theatre 2 space.