Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

In Writing

February 19, 2011

Tim Crouch as The Author
Photo: Craig Schwartz/CTG 2011

Culver City’s Kirk Douglas Theater, the would-be experimental edge of L.A.’s Center Theater Group, got around to offering something that would live up to such a moniker this week with the opening of Tim Crouch’s The Author. The event was presented as part of the “DouglasPlus” series, the poorly promoted developmental theater branch of the theater’s offerings. Crouch’s sort-of-play debuted at the Royal Court Theater in London in 2009 and in all honesty its impact is greatest the less you know about it, so if you’re planning on going already or have any interest in theater off the beaten path, go first, and read what follows here later.

The Author is notable for what it is not. It is not a play to be watched passively by an audience facing it in the dark. Crouch intends to examine the role of the audience in creating theatrical experiences and questions their role as a passive consumer of images and sounds. Upon entering the KDT stage the audience is seated on two sets of risers facing one another. The performers, including Crouch who plays the titular author, are planted among the audience members. After a short pause where little happens, the performers begin to take turns speaking and slowly unravel a story in which Crouch the character has written a sensational hyper-violent and sexually explicit play for the Royal Court Theater in London. The two stars of the play are also there in addition to a purported audience member who has seen the play. The characters relate their experiences preparing for the roles in the author’s play about the graphic sexual abuse of a minor female by her father. The material becomes progressively more disturbing as the lines between the imagined play and the actions of the characters become blurred in their own descriptions.

All of this is purportedly interactive, and the characters repeatedly ask the audience if they are “OK” and if they should continue with their story. But this gesture is more metaphorical than practical and the random comments of audience members are as likely to be ignored or passed-over than responded to by the characters who despite all the arch set-up, still have a story to get through complete with developing story arcs and a dénouement. And while some of the graphic descriptions can make the audience squirm and the banal protestations of the audience-member character can be rather biting along the way, the overall project didn’t really grab me as all that disturbing or anger provoking.

Crouch’s project is not unlike that of works such as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games where the audience’s role in the creation of a work of art is repeatedly in question when it comes to graphic depictions of sex and violence. These are fair questions, but I don’t know that The Author asks them any better than anyone else has. What’s more, the show is hampered by being taken out of its original context. Developed for the Royal Court Theater in London, the characters repeatedly make reference to working at, subscribing to, and being aware of the history of the Royal Court and the British theater scene. And while the meaning is clear, the impact is lost. There are multiple references to landmark theatrical controversies at the Royal Court including Edward Bond’s Saved and Sarah Kane’s Blasted, but the connection between these works, The Author, and the physical space of the theater is lost over the thousands of miles between London and Los Angeles. In contrast, I can think of the wonderful job Dutch provocateurs Wunderbaum accomplished on similar turf here last fall at REDCAT by wedding an imagined controversy or explicit art in the Netherlands with local artists, actors, and performance history right here in Los Angeles. Still, Tim Crouch’s The Author is not your average evening at the theater, and even if the questions it raises are not new ones, they are worth considering even here in the most media-savvy of all towns. It's on stage now in Culver City through Feb 27.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?



Opera Reviews '10-'11

Opera Reviews '09-'10

Opera Reviews '06-'09

L.A. Phil Reviews '09/'10

L.A. Phil Reviews '08/'09

L.A. Theater Reviews


Follow Along


Los Angeles

Follow me on Twitter