Its a War Thing

Joel Beers theater notes

WAR, PART I
War may suck for every living thing on the face of the planet besides maggots and lice, but it's a great opportunity for theater companies and artists to raise their voices. So it's heartening to see that three local companies are participating in the Lysistrata Project, a worldwide reading of Aristophanes' ageless anti-war comedy set during the Peloponnesian War. In the play, a group of women from various Greek city-states unite in Athens and take over the building where the money is kept. They agree to withhold sex until the men drop their arms and find peace through diplomacy.

The contemporary resonance is obvious, and theater groups across America and Europe are joining together to read the play on March 3.

A joint reading between Rude Guerrilla Theater Co.and the Garage Theatre Co.takes place at 8 p.m. at the Empire Theaterin Santa Ana. Tickets are $20; all proceeds benefit the Move On Peace Campaign.

The Hunger Artists Theater Co.is going on the road to show its support for the project, hooking up with Los Angeles theater companies as part of the Lysistrata-LA Project. A bunch of independent artists along with 18 theater companies will take part in the LA reading. Performance venue and location have yet to be set, but like all the readings around the globe, it will take place on March 3. WAR, PART II
Also on the war front, a New York-based organization called THAW (Theaters Against War) is urging theater companies and artists to make a statement on March 2 about the impending war on Iraq. That statement can be anything from the subtle (a flier in a lobby) to the grand (organize a teach-in or pro-peace discussion with audiences after the show). For more information, access www.thawaction.org.
Kojac
Photo by Jack Gould
WAR, PART III
Any production of Shakespeare's Henry V carries with it the weight of history and war and bloodshed in the name of honor. With war and rumors of war, the contemporary resonance is more obvious. Enter Stages Theatre and its production of Henry V, which opens Feb. 28. Here's one hope from this small critical corner: How about a Henry Vthat doesn't subvert the complexity of the title character by hyping really bitchen combat scenes in order to prove the manliness of the cast?

That appears to be the take of director Brian Kojac, who plays the eloquent and inspiring Henry. Kojac is trying to resist dual temptations. The first trap is staging a pro-war Henry V, starring a glorious leader who eloquently rallies his underdog troops and then roars off to noble battle in the name of England. The second trap is an anti-war Henry V, whose king is portrayed as an opportunistic politician, a ruthless, bloodthirsty, image-conscious tyrant who will say and do anything to win and cares nothing at all about the consequences of his actions.

Kojac is shooting for a non-conceptual Henry V that "lets the piece speak for itself. I think Shakespeare presented opposing viewpoints. It may seem overwhelmingly in Henry's point of view (i.e. war is good), but it's also equally a play that warns against confidence, arrogance and underestimating the enemy.

"The trap that other productions may fall into, one I hope mine doesn't, is that Henry is all big, bravado speeches and then charging into battle," Kojac said. "That's required of the role where he leads his troops to battle, but you also have to find the moments where he doubts and questions."

In that vein, Kojac has reworked a couple of passages to allow Henry some alone time in order to show the cracks in his otherwise formidable armor.

Kojac is also taking time to make sure the words of the character Williams are heard. "That character brings a real clarity to the play about the real toll of battle," Kojac said. "Up to that point, the play deals with all these big political ideas and general's tactics, but right before the battle, Williams brings up the real human cost: it's arms and legs and bodies and widows, and it's delivered simply. That doesn't need to be strengthened or clevered up directorially. It just needs to be delivered honestly."

WAR, PART IV
Finally, one local theater administrator has been waging a personal war on three fronts. First, he learned he had cancer. Then, the city that owns the theater he helps run started making loud noises about booting him out. Last week, his best friend died. But Charles Johansen, one-half of the duo that runs the Grove Theater Center (GTC) in Garden Grove, is battling through the adversity. Doctors removed a tumor from his liver late last year, and he has created a website in the memory of his friend, Gabin, his lovable canine companion of 12 years (who either performed or did bark-overs for more than a few GTC productions).

Things are less clear concerning his theater's fate. There's still no official word if the GTC will survive March as the producing entity for the city's two theaters. But Johansen and Kevin Cochran, the other dude who runs the joint, are proceeding as if they're going to be in the city for 20 years. The theater's 2003 season opens March 1 with Ken Ludwig's door-slammin', dress-droppin', identity-swappin' farce Lend Me a Tenor.

 
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