LOS ANGELES WOMEN’S THEATRE FESTIVAL Review
Dear Motion Picture of Arts and Sciences,
You have come under intense criticism for Cloroxing this year’s Oscars, without nominating a single Black-themed film or actor for an Academy Award. As an entertainment/arts reviewer I’d like to help you - and the motion picture industry at large - with this whitewashing conundrum, which also reflects your overwhelmingly Caucasian membership. Now, as the history of professional sports proves, the problem isn’t a lack of talent in the Black community, but rather a lack of opportunity. (Can you say “Jackie Robinson”?)
So, in order for the Academy to resolve this membership and Oscar snafu and also for those studio decision makers inhabiting the executive suites who can greenlight motion picture projects, I advise you to please attend the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival. While this annual fest is open to women of all ethnic backgrounds who present live solo performances, it does highlight women of color who work onstage. And of course, much of L.A.’s unique live theatre scene is geared and tied to the film and TV world (although television currently seems to be far more diverse than movies are, as the 2016 Emmys illustrated).
Please send your casting directors, agents, managers, producers, suits, et al, to LAWTF, and I guarantee you that much of the Academy’s and the movie industry’s colorblindness will be solved, and the national embarrassment and shame of being regarded as racist will dissipate. There are so many Black, Latina, Asian and other talents presenting their artistry at this Festival that you will have a colorful cornucopia of talent to choose from (although apologies may be in order for Chris Rock, who will no longer be able to mock the Academy for its perceived bias while hosting your live awards ceremony).
The 23rd annual Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival opened March 24 with a champagne gala and a buffet of healthy, tasty food catered by Under the Canape at the Electric Lodge in Venice. After the feast the throng moved upstairs to the theatre space per se where a musical number was performed by about 10 of this year’s solo performers, raising the roof together with a song celebrating this year’s LAWTF theme of “Telling Our Truths.”
Amidst much good-natured banter, this year’s hosts - actress Starletta DuPois (Friday After Next, Big Momma’s House, South Central, Whitney Houston’s mom in Waiting to Exhale) and actor Barry Shabaka Henley (Ali, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Black-ish) - presented this year’s LAWTF awards, accompanied by graphics projected onscreen. Writer/producer/director/actress Marja-Lewis Ryan, who called herself “a queer girl from Brooklyn” during her impassioned acceptance speech, won the Maverick Award. (Although, it seems to this critic that accepting ovations for being unconventional kinda defeats the purpose of following the beat of a different drummer. When I was voted “Most Avant-Garde” by my Richmond Hill High School graduating class I refused to have my yearbook photograph taken for the accolade.)
The Rainbow Award for diversity was diverse this year in the sense that there were actually two winners this year. Choreographer Ana Maria Alvarez and Dr. Chantal Rodriguez, programming director/ literary manager for the Latino Theater Company, both received Rainbow Awards. Ironically, both winners are Cuban-Americans - so ethnically speaking, the multi-cultural prize wasn’t very diverse, after all.
Even more curious was the bestowing of the Integrity Award on the executive of a defense contractor, Northrop Grumman. Sandra J. Evers-Manly, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility, Northrop Grumman, has also been involved with the NAACP Image Awards and founding president of the Black Hollywood Education Program. As her cleverly hyphenated name indicates, she is also a cousin of the slain Civil Rights martyr Medgar Evers, who was gunned down at Jackson, Mississippi in 1963. On the front page of Northrop Grumman’s website are many militaristic images of and text about drones, bombers, rifle-pointing uniformed soldiers and other warlike propaganda. One can’t help but wonder what Medgar - a leader in the Civil Rights movement, which espoused nonviolence - would make of his name being associated with this militaristic violence. There’s no “integrity” in arming U.S. imperialism.
The late, great Cuban-American actress Elizabeth Peña won the Infinity Award, which is very well-deserved. This critic particularly enjoyed her in John Sayles’ 1996 Lone Star, where she and her onscreen lover, Chris Cooper, discover that they are actually half-siblings - and what they decide to do about this is pretty quirky and kinky.
Singer and Broadway actress Eloise Laws received the Eternity Award and rocked the Lodge with two songs. However, unlike in previous years, aside from the opening evening’s two musical acts, there were no other live dramatic performances by the solo talents participating in LAWTF, which was disappointing. The awards ceremony’s final speaker was the Festival’s co-founder and president, actress Adilah Barnes, whose long list of credits includes 2000’s Erin Brockovich and depicting journalist Ida B. Wells opposite Hilary Swank, Anjelica Huston and Vera Farmiga in the 2004 suffragette HBO movie Iron Jawed Angels.
Other co-hosts for this year’s LAWTF include the great director/ actress/writer Iona Morris, whose father Greg Morris co-starred in the 1960s TV series Mission Impossible. LAWTF ticket buyers travel from near and far to attend, such as the Bay Area’s Diane Barnes, who wrote and performs the one-woman show My Stroke of Luck and has studied with Anna Deavere Smith, maestro of solo shows. This was Barnes’s first visit to LAWTF but one suspects not her last - perhaps she’ll return as a performer?
For more info and a full schedule of the 23rd annual Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival, go to: www.lawtf.org. Okay, so no excuses, Academy and movie execs! You know where to go to find the female talent that reflects the true diversity of 21st century America. Casting directors, etc., get thee to the Festival. And that’s telling the truth, Ruth!
Ed Rampell, Your Most Humble and Obedient Reviewer
The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival is taking place through March 27 at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice, CA 90291. LAWTF and the City of West Hollywood are presenting Encore! A Day of Theatre starting at 12:00 p.m. on April 30 at The Actor’s Company, 916 N. Formosa Ave., West Hollywood, CA 90046. Performances include Sandy Brown’s Oh, Yes She Did! (which could be the slogan of LAWTF). For schedule information: See www.lawtf.org or call (818)760-0408.