The time-bending musical montage about the early years of motion pictures, The First Picture Show, will end its two-prong premiere, Sept. 19, at the Mark Taper Forum. Performances started there Aug. 1 for an opening Aug. 12.
Father and son team Ain Gordon (Birdseed Bundles,Wally's Ghost) and David Gordon (The Mysteries and What's So Funny?), and composer Jeanine Tesori (Violet) collaborated on the piece, formerly titled, Who's Anne First?. Picture Show was developed at the Taper in April 1997 but had its world premiere at co- producer San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre, May 6-June 6.
The piece centers on 99-year-old Anne First, one of the last surviving women directors of silent film. Living out her final years in obscurity in a movie colony retirement home, she is rediscovered by her great niece, who is making a documentary on silent film's golden age. Back then, the artistic possibilities of a revolutionary new medium clashed with the fear and censorship engendered by the emergence of a new technology.
Casting for the L.A. run will differ somewhat from the San Francisco mounting, though Ellen Greene (Little Shop of Horrors, Weird Romance) will still play Anne at ages 15-38. Other holdovers from the SF cast include Kathleen Conry, Norma Fire, Karen Graham, Ken Marks, Jeanne Sakata, Valda Setterfield (see below) and Harry Waters, Jr. New additions include veteran actress Estelle Parsons, alongside Kerry K. Carnahan, Christian Nova, Chuck Rosen and Steven Skybell.
Both productions of The First Picture Show have been designed by Robert Brill (sets), Judith Anne Dolan (costumes), Jennifer Tipton (lighting). Garth Hemphill did the sound in SF, Jon Gottlieb does the honors in L.A., with Kimberly Grigsby providing musical direction. In 1978, David Gordon founded the Pick Up Performance Company to incorporate theater and media work into his work as a choreographer. Son, Ain joined the company in 1994 to help create The Family Business, which featured Valda Setterfield -- David's wife and Ain's mom.
. "We work together," wrote David Gordon of his familial creative partnership with Ain. "We have the benefit of knowing each other but not being the same. Sometimes we are interested in each other's ideas and opinions. Sometimes we don't know what we're doing in the same room. We do not hesitate to criticize. We are willing to be foolish and foolhardy, loving and sentimental, acerbic and harsh, lost and stubborn in front of each other. We fight like dogs.
"One of us is in his fifties, the other in his thirties," continued David Gordon. "One of us is married to a woman and has a son. The other is in a committed relationship with another man and calls himself married even though the government doesn't. Working together challenges our generational perspectives and biases. We perversely enjoy the battle."
True to form, the Pick Up Performance Company is working on another project simultaneously. Illustrated Radio Shows, a movement theatre piece by David & Ain Gordon, looks back at the company's work over the past thirty years.
For tickets or more information on The First Picture Show call (213) 628-2772.
-- By Sean McGrath