Theatre Matters

Contemplations on the dramatic arts from a national perspective

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Steven Oxman has contributed to such publications as the Los Angeles Times, American Theatre, Stagebill, and, most frequently, Variety, for which he has written over 300 television and theatre reviews.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

So Condescending

So the NY Times profiles Des McAnuff, artistic director of the La Jolla Playouse in Southern California. All fine. The occasion is the NY opening of the Four Seasons musical "Jersey Boys," which premiered at La Jolla.

But there's something noticeably condescending about this piece, particularly the headline: "A Tiny Theatre in San Diego and Its Director Supply a Steady Flow to Broadway."

Now, I have enough experience in this to know the writer, Heathcliff Rothman (first time I've encountered the name) did not write that headline, although it's based on this excerpt from the article:

La Jolla Playhouse, a tiny nonprofit theater now housed on the campus of the University of California, San Diego, has produced revivals of "The Who's Tommy," "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" and "Big River," and more recently, Tony winners like Billy Crystal's "700 Sundays," "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "I Am My Own Wife" (which also won a Pulitzer).

First of all: exactly what qualifies La Jolla as "tiny?" That's just outrageously ignorant, so much so that it deserves a correction. It's a major American regional theatre; it has 2 spaces, neither of them "tiny" -- both have between 400 and 500 seats.

And McAnuff is a major director. The overall article has got that unfortunate take, that attitude of "isn't it amazing that a theatre in California sends shows to New York!!" It might, for example, have noted that a few miles away, at the Old Globe Theatre, "The Full Monty" was born under the direction of its artistic chief, Jack O'Brien, perhaps the hottest director in the country. And a little north of San Diego, in Orange County, is South Coast Rep, which has commissioned a few Pulitzers of its own.

Most of the article is fine, but it is extremely grating to have that attitude as its entry into the piece. It reeks of East Coast snobbery. Can you imagine Yale Rep or the A.R.T. at Harvard being called a tiny nonprofit housed on a university campus?

The Times theatre section isn't usually so condescending, so we'll chalk this up as a major mistake.