🎭 🎸 Learning About Legends | Surviving Frank Lloyd Wright @ EST/LA ♦ Ruskin / Book Binder @ Blvd Music

Surviving Frank Lloyd Wright (EST/LA)Saturday was an interesting day. The Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) hasn’t started yet, so my calendar was empty. My wife was out of town and I wasn’t in the midst of highway page updates, so I didn’t have much to do. I thought about the opening night of  Ready Set Yeti Go at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB), but there were no discount tickets. But then I received some emails about the solution to my problem.

The first was from Ensemble Studio Theatre / Los Angeles (FB) about a “Check-In Reading” for a play they had in development from Tom Lazarus (FB). “Check-In Readings” are no-frills readings of plays under development in the Launchpad 2018-19 Long Term Dramaturgical program. The readings “check-in” on the current status of the play, and allow an audience to give their reactions and make suggestions.

At this reading, the play was “Surviving Frank Lloyd Wright: The Creation of Hollyhock House“. It was described in the email thusly:

The true story of political radical and free love advocate Aline Barnsdall hiring the scandal plagued genius Frank Lloyd Wright to architect a creative utopia. They battle over the design and the out of control budget. Wright hires Rudolph Schindler to supervise construction throwing the future of Hollyhock House in doubt as the aesthetic and sexual triangles play themselves out.

Given that as an ancillary interest to my highway hobby I have a keen interest in the history of Los Angeles, this play caught my eye. So yesterday started out with a jaunt to Atwater Village for the reading.

This was my first time attending one of these readings, and I had a blast. The setup was simple: actors reading from the script, with another actor reading the stage directions. Voice performance, no costumes, allowing one to focus on the script in development. The performers were: Ian Patrick Williams (FB) – Frank Lloyd Wright; Lizzie Peet (FB) – Aline Barnsdall; Ethan Rains (FB) –Rudolph Schindler; Ashley Francis Hoffman (FB) – Maud (Maude Noel, Wright’s 2nd wife); Maura Knowles (FB) – Miss Lang; Jon Sperry (FB) – Norman Bel Geddes; and Stevie Stern (FB) – stage directions.

I’m not going to go into the developmental work needed or any criticisms — those were communicated to the playwright during the discussion afterwards (and were the purpose of this reading). Readings are how plays mature into what you see working on stage, and it is rare for a play to emerge fully formed and perfect (no matter what the author may think). The same is true for government documents :-). So this is more my positive thoughts on the show.

Going in, although I had heard of Frank Lloyd Wright and Barnsdall Park, I didn’t know much more than that. This show was focused on the creation of Hollyhock House. It starts with Aline Barnsdall hiring Frank Lloyd Wright to build an artist’s utopia at the top of Olive Hill, which she had purchased with her inheritance.  Her plan was to build a theatre, housing for staff, and a house for herself and her daughter on the hill. Wright was focused on the house, and kept delaying everything else. The focus of this play was the conflict between the two, and which ones would give first, and what the ultimate result would be.

I was initially confused as to location when this play started, probably because I’ve never been to Barnsdall Park or seen Hollyhock House. The way the characters spoke, I thought the hill was much higher than it was — but that was likely due to the growth of the area around the park obscuring the hill. Still, this play introduced me to a side of Los Angeles that I didn’t know, and made me go and research people I had never heard about (in particiular, Aline Barnsdall). That’s a good thing for a historical play. It helped me learn the personalities of these people. The script caught and held my attention, and I had a blast learning both about the story and the play development process.

The performances were strong. The actors, as this was a reading, had no costumes, no particular directions other than those in the script, and no real rehearsal. As such, you got to see the pure actor’s side: taking the lines on the page and bringing them to life just through voice and minimal movement. They did a great job. I particularly enjoyed the Williams, Peet, and Sperry.

I got such a kick out of this that I plan to attend more readings. If you want to learn about these types of efforts, get on the email lists for the theatres you like. To get on EST/LA’s list, click here.

Rick Ruskin and Roy Book Binder (Blvd Music)The second email I received was from Boulevard Music (FB) about a concert from Rick Ruskin and Roy Bookbinder. I was familiar with Rick Ruskin (FB), having been introduced to him by my uncle through some of his earlier albums. I was unfamiliar with Roy Bookbinder (FB) (sometimes written as Roy Book Binder). Both were expert guitar players, students and friends of the Reverend Gary Davis, with both a blues and humorous guitar style.

As I was less familiar with the songs from these artists (I have four albums from Ruskin, none from Bookbinder), I don’t have a play list. The two were both on stage at the same time, alternating songs and sharing stories. Ruskin did a mix of songs from Davis, himself, and a few covers of popular songs. Bookbinder focused more on the blues, doing songs from Davis, himself, and a few others. What was notable about Bookbinder was his stories. Before — and sometimes during — each song, Bookbinder would tell a rambling story of how the song came to be, stories about characters in the songs, and so forth.

There were a few mentions of Peter, Paul and Mary; I hadn’t realized that “If I Had My Way” was a Davis song and earned him substantial earnings. There was also a story about Mississippi John Hurt.

I enjoyed the music quite a bit, and picked up two albums from each artists. Always support artists at shows by buying merch.

Both had interesting observations about their age. This got me thinking about who the new folk artists are; in other words, who are the youngsters perpetuating the folk tradition. I’m not sure the answers, but I’d like to explore getting music from folk artists who aren’t 15 years older than I am.


Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Next week, the the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) starts. If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

Key: : Non-Fringe Show/Event; °: Producer/Publicist Arranged Comp or Discount

As for July, it is already filling up. The first weekend of the month is still open. The second weekend brings An Intimate Evening with Kristen Chenowith at,The Hollywood Bowl (FB).  The third weekend of July brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). August ends with Mother Road at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB), and we might do rush tickets for Alice in Wonderland as well. In between those points, August is mostly open.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!