THEATRE WEST, founded in 1962 by a raft of Hollywood illuminaries is the oldest surviving professional theatre company in Los Angeles. Nurturing new theatre, Theatre West is the 'beating heart' of the Dramatic Arts in Hollywood. Providing space for this production of The Garden of Alla reflects its dedication to keeping Hollywood History alive.
Romy Nordlinger reaches back a hundred years, surfing the history of the legendary actress, Alla Nazimova (1878-1945). Alla declares that she is "not a woman, not a man, not tall, not short, not fat, not thin..." But! as Nazimova, Nordlinger is all woman: dramatically feminine in perfect proportions. With the term 'gender fluid' on the lips of hip kids in the 21st century, Alla flows well into the distaff side in her Garden of Alla. Pre-show trailer gives us an intimate look at the real life Nazimova: actress, director, writer, producer. A clip of the 1923 silent film " Salomé " features a single card Director credit for Charles Bryant. It is quickly blotted out and Alla Nazimova filled in. In the days when being gay was not only unacceptable in polite society, but could ruin someone's reputation, Bryant outed Nazimova to her demise.
Photo by David Wayne Fox
Director Lorca Peress gives Nordlinger her head. Stage pictures are minimal with Alla calling 'Roll Film' and 'CUT!' to include Adam Jesse Burns's excellent videos and graphics. These accompaied by Score and Sound Design by Nick T. Moore.
The presentation starts on a high energy note with some tentative business with a martini and unsuccessful cigarette, but warms to the narrative ranging from Nazimova's difficult early childhood in Ukraine, through encounters with Stanislavski and Chekhov; to New York: fame and fortune, winding up in Hollywood making more dough than Mary Pickford (we detect a smidge of professional jealousy) and building her Garden of Allah on what would become the easterly end of the Sunset Strip.
Today? Heading out Sunset Boulevard where the Garden of Allah once stood, the McDonald's that Nordlinger decries in this production is gone. Dust Devils scuttle on the bare earth at Sunset & Laurel Canyon in anticipation of famed Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry's looming high rise plan for that corner, the ghosts of early Hollywood, Nazimova among them... may be waiting to haunt towering skyscraper? Another sorry monument to blot out the sun setting on Sunset Boulevard? Joni Mitchell now has new fodder: a sad image for the loss of Old Hollywood.
Certainly, holding stage for almost an hour and a half is an impressive tour de force. A raft of glorious reviews notwithstanding, we get the story, but it seemed to me that the soul of Nazimova may be waiting in the wings.
The Garden of Alla
• Written and Performed by Romy Nordlinger
• Directed by Lorca Peress
• Video Design by Adam Jesse Burns
• Score and Sound Design by Nick T. Moore
3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West
Los Angeles, CA 90068
(Between Barham and Lankershim on Cahuemga)
• Metered street parking
• Paid lot ($10 cash only) available across the street from the theater
• $35 online with advance purchase
• $40 at the door
July 7 – July 23
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: July 7, July 14, July 21
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: July 8*, July 15*, July 22
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: July 9**, July 16, July 23
*Screenings of Nazimova’s “Salomé” (1923) and “Camille” (1921) follow the performances on Saturday, July 8 and Saturday, July 15 respectively (included in the ticket price; separate admission $5).
**A Q & A with Martin Turnbull, founder of The Alla Nazimova Society and author of the 9-book “Hollywood’s Garden of Allah” series follows the performance on Sunday, July 9.