Gene Franklin Smith, playwright and artistic director of the Write Act Repertory Company, has played David to the Los Angeles Times' Goliath. Smith, whose latest (and twelfth) play Devil's Consort was just produced here, has levelled a devastating attack on the Times for its incomplete and perfunctory coverage of the little theatre scene. The attack was contained in a "Counterpunch" letter published recently in the Times' entertainment section.
"There's a boisterous renaissance going on here, and most people couldn't care less," Smith said. "In no other major city in America, including New York, are there more plays produced annually than in Los Angeles. Yet theatre is still unappreciated and devalued as 'art.'"
Smith bemoaned the lack of audience at most of these plays, a problem which could be partially attributed to the spread-out nature of the city and to competition from cineplexes "with a Wolfgang Puck Express next door." Small theatres, he said, "are thus extremely dependent on the local press to entice an audience to see their plays. Many newspapers review plays, but realistically, the two that have the most noticeable effect are L.A. Weekly and the Los Angeles Times."
Smith praised the Weekly for reviewing most of the new plays that premiere in Los Angeles, but damned the Times for its failure to review more than five or six theatre productions a week. Even those reviews were rarely longer than four paragraphs. They are nothing more than "a synopsis of the play's plot," Smith said, with criticism of the play confined to a last paragraph which also contained "actors, directors, lights and costumes." From these brief lines "it is nearly impossible for readers to get a clear sense of why it would (or would not) be worth their time and energy to see the play."
Smith concluded his letter by saying "theatre criticism...should be more than just the Cliff Notes version of a play. It should also intrigue and excite in the same way that film criticism has the power to pack movie theatres on an opening weekend. The Times and its theatre reviewers need to nurture--and, in some respects, educate--L.A. audiences into understanding that their interaction is the final component that can often lift theatre into the realm of art." -- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent