04/25/2011 01:07 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2011

Theater in the City of Angels

Whenever I go to Los Angeles, I like to see theater. Some laugh when they hear this -- after all, L.A. is not exactly known as a theater town. But there are worthy things to see in the area. Both the Center Theater Group and the Geffen Playhouse have been starting grounds for popular NY hits. And it was on a SoCal trip back in 2006 that I saw a much-different Sister Act at the Pasadena Playhouse.

What I marvel most at while I am there is the lack of weekday theater assortment. When I was there a few weeks ago, pretty much the only things I could see on a Tuesday night were presented by Center Theater Group or the Geffen. The lack of weekday offerings technically has to do with union waivers, but it is also probably related to lack of interest. I've heard many theories about why there is so little focus on theater in LaLa Land and yet none strike me as comprehensive enough to share here. For each explanatory argument, there is a counterargument. So I leave it as a statement of unexplained fact that, despite worthy offerings, Los Angeles is not really a theater town.

Because the Center Theater Group and the Geffen often have a weekday monopoly, it is appropriate that I shall only talk about shows done by them. First, let me say I love the Geffen. It has a pretty courtyard and there is something peaceful and nice about the venue. The theater often presents original, provocative works and I appreciate that it takes chances. I try to go there each time I'm in LA. This time, my trip just happened to coincide with the opening of Jane Anderson's The Escort. The official description of The Escort says it is "about a high-class call girl," but that is too simplistic. It is really about the way that high-class call girl impacts a family. No, she doesn't come to live with them and spread, um, joy, but she nonetheless has an influence. Just what that influence is takes some unbelievable turns in the second act and I wish there was more believable movement in the plot. However I remain an Anderson fan. While I didn't love The Escort as much as I had hoped, I am still happy to have seen it.

I can't say as much for Center Theater Group's Burn This. Somehow, Nicholas Martin directed the Lanford Wilson drama as if it was a comedy. Now, sometimes this works with dramas. After Anne Heche stepped into Proof, I referred to it as "The Situation Comedy Formerly Known as Proof." I completely loved it, but, it wasn't the same Proof that won the Tony Award. Here it just doesn't work. There is a real dramatic tension to Burn This that needs to build up in each scene for any of it to work. The Signature Theatre Company 2002 revival was effective because there was an uneasy sense to even the earliest moments. There is none of that in Martin's staging.

Of course, right now, the main attraction in the area is Center Theater Group's God of Carnage starring its original Broadway cast (Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden). I didn't see it there, but I recommend it anyway. It is probably the best bet in the area. While attending, you can imagine the differences in Davis' role when Annie Potts and Lucy Liu did it. That will give you an extra laugh.