Good news, one of the most important plays in America right now is playing in Culver City.
Bad news, it closes on Sunday.
Vicuña, John Robbin Baitz’s world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theater, has profound insight to the current political crisis. At the play’s heart is a dire warning about collaborating with the dark, bullying work of a Trump presidency. The play revolves around two tailors, Anselm and his young apprentice Amir, who are asked to make a bespoke, vicuña suit for presidential candidate Kurt Seaman. Mr. Seaman is a thinly veiled stand-in for Donald Trump. Before the election ,Vicuña was a dark comedy about what most of us thought was a laughable presidential candidate, but after the election the play speaks with a prophetic and disturbing voice. It anticipated the emotional crisis and fear that seems to consume so many of us.
Vicuña, like all new plays, was an artistic risk.
It was daring for Center Theater Group’s artistic director Michael Ritchie to produce a play about an election that divided our country before the first ballot was cast. This is a play about right now. There is no historical distance or suggestive metaphor. This show is about Trump, starring Trump. Vicuña was either going to become irrelevant or profound depending on the election results Producing it took guts. That should be celebrated. This artistic choice did honor to founding artistic director Gordon Davidson’s legacy of socially engaged, politically conscious theater.
So why close a play that has just become relevant?
First, the easy answers to that question: schedule, budget, audience. There is another play scheduled for the Kirk Douglas and extending would require tearing up existing plans and dealing with inevitable conflicts. Yes, that costs money. And, yes, last Friday when I went to see Vicuña the audience was just over half full. But this is an extraordinary moment that requires profound redefinition.
If we are going to respond to this moment artistically we must rip up last week’s plans and reexamine our ideals. We should reimagine (or perhaps rediscover) the relevance of our theater.
Center Theater Group finds itself in the enviable position of having produced a play that is essential in a moment of crisis. This is a play that needs to be seen. This is a play that deserves an audience. That’s not convenient but that requires the same bold artistic vision that chose it in the first place.
Center Theater Group should do honor to this play and to our city, not by imagining a transfer to New York, but instead by committing to Los Angeles. Extend Vicuña. Fill the seats with high school students during the week until you rediscover an audience that’s invested in challenging work.Surround the play with context and resources. Hold post-play debates. Welcome protesters. Use it as a moment to remind donors why theater is an essential public forum.Hell, invite Trump.
Just don’t close Vicuña before it has a chance to do it’s work. Our city and our country deserve that from the arts.