|Calendar Live - Room Enough for Challenging Ideas
Sunday, December 9, 2001
Room Enough for Challenging Ideas
At the Evidence Room, a former bra factory's vast space is conducive
By DON SHIRLEY
The office of the Evidence Room was abuzz. Artistic director Bart
DeLorenzo had just opened an envelope bearing auspicious news from
Washington: The National Endowment for the Arts was recommending approval
of the theater company's first NEA grant application.The grant will
yield only $5,000 for the company-perhaps hardly noticeable given
the group's $100,000 annual budget. But NEA grants often generate
other contributions. And in the vast and far-flung world of L.A.'s
smaller theaters like the Evidence Room, NEA-grants are so uncommon
that they serve as one way to stand out from the pack.The NEA grant
is just one more confirmation of the ability of the Evidence Room
to distinguish itself. Especially since the company's move last year
to a cavernous ex-factory space on Beverly Boulevard, just west of
downtown L.A., the Evidence Room has become the most prominent nerve
center of L.A.'s Generation X theater scene. The theater company's
programming, which often applies a contemporary American spin to challenging
European material, is delivered with a bold design sensibility, reflective
of the two years that DeLorenzo spent as an assistant to the celebrated
Romanian emigre director Andrei Serban at American Repertory Theatre
in Cambridge, Mass.
The Evidence Room's first production in the new space, "The Berlin
Circle," an adaptation of Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk
Circle," was named 'production of the year' in last spring's
LA Weekly awards and won a production award from Back Stage West.
A revival of English playwright Edward Bond's "Saved" and
Friedrich Schiller's "Don Carlos" also attracted critical
But the company is open to new American plays as well. It's currently
presenting the premiere of Gordon Dahlquist's "Delirium Palace"
as part of the (Inside) the Ford series at another space in Hollywood.
Coming soon to the Evidence Room itself: new works by John Steppling
and Justin Tanner, two wildly different writers who were probably
L.A.'s best-known home-grown playwrights of the '80s and '90s, respectively.
The NEA money will help develop an adaptation of "Don Juan"
by L.A: playwright Peter Nieves. Times theater critic Michael Phillips
recently dubbed the Evidence Room "L.A.'s most valuable rising
theater." Scott Proudfit of Back Stage west said the company
has "few equals in terms of play selection, design, performing
ranks, and frankly just guts."
The Evidence Room's rising profile is due not only to its programming,
but also to its status as a hangout,wit h a high-ceiling Festival,
which is spearheaded by companies similar to the Evidence Room in
age and spirit, and the two festivals-representing the Taper establishment
and the edgy new wave-gathered for a joint closing party at the Evidence
Room. Veteran cutting-edge director David Schweizer, who staged "The
Berlin Circle," said that "a lot of what is depressing about
smaller theater is to go into these squashed, low-ceilinged rooms.
If you find a space like the Evidence Room, in a community so attuned
to the visual, you perk people up." Also, Schweizer said, "with
the geography of L.A., the follow-up is a problem. Everyone goes to
a car after the play, the energy disperses, and you don't hear from
them for four months. At the Evidence Room, you don't want to instantly
leave. That's wonderful and unusual."Describing the Evidence
Room's ambience as "modern, hip,unpretentious, inviting the audience
to go on some kind of a wild ride," Schweizer compares it to
the glory days of Los Angeles Theatre Center's resident company from
1985 to 1991.Unlike the center, the Evidence Room is only a single,
99-seat space, "but it feels like a bigger place, with big ideas."
The Evidence Room grew out of informal play readings in L.A. apartments
that began in 1994. Three of the original group members-DeLorenzo,
Alicia Hoge, and Jason Adams-remain as executive directors, and they
have been joined by a fourth executive director, Ames Ingham, who
joined the group in 1995. All four are in their 30s but won't reveal
specific ages. The original founders came from the East Coast-DeLorenzo
and Matthew Sheehan from Duxbury , Mass. (where they didn't know each
other); Hoge from New York; Adams from Washington, D.C. They came
to L.A. in the early '90s for a variety of reasons. DeLorenzo, primarily
a director, wanted to escape winter and had heard that L.A. "seemed
open to whatever you wanted to do, a town interested in new things,"
Adams.,- an actor and designer, came West to make. a living in movies
and TV-- and succeeded, working more than four years in two roles
on the series "Dr. Quinn, Medicine -Woman." Hoge traveled
to L.A. to act in an independent film and fell in love with fellow
cast member Adams. They've been married for five years and have two
children, a 3-year-old and a 1-month-old,
As the group grew, it began looking for a name. Adams,Hoge and Sheehan-who
left L.A. in 1998 and now teaches third grade in New York City-say
the "Evidence" part of their moniker was somewhat inspired
by the O.J. Simpson trials. Even today, Adams said, couriers occasionally
show up at the front door of the current Evidence Room with packages
for the real Los Angeles Police Department evidence room.DeLorenzo,
however, doesn't recall the O.J. association.He said the "Room"
part of the name came first, inspired by the theories of director
Peter Brook ("The Empty Space") that "the theater is
a place, not just a series of productions." The group admired
the New York avant-garde company the Wooster Group, which operates
out of a space called the Performing Garage, and they wanted to find
a similar name that would indicate "a place where unexpected
things would happen." When the group decided to do a full production,
it still lacked a room but eventually found one-a big warehouse-in
east Culver City. There the company opened an adaptation of "Krankheit
der Jugend" (German for "Sickness of Youth"), a 1923
play by Ferdinand Bruckner, which the Evidence Room called "Swell."
Ingham joined the group later that year as "Leonce and Lena"
and "The Houseguests" were in repertory.
By the end of 1997, the landlords, who had initially helped subsidize
the rent, had decided to use the space for more lucrative ventures.
The group staged productions in the nearby Ivy Substation for two
years. But they wanted a room of their own. Ingham spotted the former
brassiere factory on Beverly Boulevard that's now known as the Evidence
Room. Adams, Hoge and Ingham-operating as a limited partnership-raised
the money to buy the building . They found a commercial tenant, a
sunglasses manufacturer, for its east side. The tenant's rent provides
enough for the mortgage payments, they said. Rent from the Evidence
Room company pays back investments that the threesome made to convert
a structure that had most recently been a storage facility into a
theater. Adams said he designed the space and personally did about
95% of the renovation, working 12-hour days during the five months
between the close of escrow at the end of 1999 and the opening of
"The Berlin Circle," for which he and- also designed the
City inspectors finally approved the audience seating area on the
day of the show's first preview, and the fire marshal arrived for
final inspection half an hour after the second preview started. "He
was ready to walk out on the stage while the show was going on,"
Adams recalled, but finally was persuaded to postpone that part of
the inspection until later. After the preview was over, the marshal
ruled that the only problem was that a few extra safety lights were
needed. Adams worked through the night to install the additional lighting
in time for the marshal's approval the next morning.
Renovation is still going on. The group plans to open a basement area
under the stage as a dressing room and rehearsal space during the
coming year. The large cast of "The Berlin Circle" had to
change some of its costumes on an adjacent, outdoor porch. With the
exception of "Three Days of Rain" last year, "we tend
not to do smaller shows here," DeLorenzo said. The company's
first brand-new play, "Delirium Palace," has only five actors-and
it's housed not at the Evidence Room but at (Inside) the Ford, where
it opened a series co-sponsored by the county and A.S.K. Theater Projects.
Evidence Room will co-produce Steppling's "Dog Mouth" in
January with Padua Playwrights Productions, and will launch Patricia
Scanlon's "The Strip, a Living Comic Book," a late-night
serial to be written by Tanner, Scanlon and two others, in February.
Tanner will.also appear as twins, a .brother and sister.
The company's first major outreach project is in the works. In rampArt,
15 to 20 youths who live within 11/2 miles of the Evidence Room will
spend 17 weeks creating an original theater piece, funded by a $10,000
grant from the Cissy Patterson Foundation. The company hopes this
project, directed by Hoge, will help ethnically diversify the company's
work, which has used few artists of color, despite a location in a
heavily minority-populated neighborhood. "I like to think we
will continue to surprise," DeLorenzosaid. "We have a willful
interest in not repeating ourselves."
Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer. "Delirium Palace,"
Evidence Room at (Inside) the Ford, John Anson Ford Theatre Complex,
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. Dates: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8
p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Dec. 16. Prices: $15-$20. Phone: (323)
461-3673.Also: Other productions of the company are at the Evidence
Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (213) 381-7118.
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times