Most of us are gearing up for Thanksgiving, widely considered a particularly American holiday. But what does “American” really mean? How do we define ourselves as Americans? What do we want, and how do we go about getting it? This month, these five theatrical offerings, listed in order of closing date, center on these questions and merit our attention.
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Pantages Theatre, Nov 5–24
We are a nation of people who rise above perceived obstacles. And one sparkly example: This 2018 Broadway musical charts the extraordinary life of the woman we came to know as Donna Summer, who rose to become a 1970s music icon. (She worked hard for the money.) Thanks to the book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff, we meet her in three stages of her life: as a young duckling, a disco queen and a diva. The show’s music includes Summer’s hits, written by Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte, Paul Jabara and others. McAnuff, who turned the jukebox musical Jersey Boys into effective storytelling, directs.
6233 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood (800-982-2787). Tue–Fri at 8pm, Sat at 2, 8pm; Sun at 1, 6:30pm. $39–$149, prices may fluctuate.
The Thanksgiving Play
Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at Geffen Playhouse, through Dec 1
We are a nation of artists. And now that it’s November, the country simultaneously celebrates Thanksgiving and recognizes Native American Heritage Month—oftentimes through theatrical interpretations. In Larissa FastHorse’s play, under Michael John Garcés’ direction, three actors are entrusted with creating an elementary school pageant about the first Thanksgiving while staying culturally sensitive. Expect the debates to be lively and the points to be smart thanks to its creators: FastHorse is a sharp Native American playwright (and choreographer), and Garcés serves as artistic director of Cornerstone Theater Company, remarkable for its community collaborations. Just an extra note from the theater: “This production includes depicted graphic violence and gunshots, and is not recommended to those under age 14.”
10886 Le Conte Ave, Westwood (310-208-5454). Tue–Fri 8pm; Sat at 3, 8pm; Sun at 2, 7pm. $30–$120.
Gil Cates Theater at Geffen Playhouse, Nov 5–Dec 8
We are a nation that sees good and evil as absolutes. What we can and should do about evil is never as clear, though. This story started out as a play by Maxwell Anderson, which formed the basis of the screenplay by Richard Brooks and John Huston for the classic film noir that starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. There, a war veteran comes to Key Largo, Florida, to pay his respects to the family of his fallen friend who had served under him, but the hotel is under the control of truly evil men posing as guests. Now, the Geffen promises a “bold reimagining” in this world premiere adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher and Andy Garcia, who also takes on one of the roles.
10886 Le Conte Ave, Westwood (310-208-5454). Tue–Fri at 8pm; Sat at 3, 8pm; Sun at 2pm. $30–$120.
Antaeus Theatre Company at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, through Dec 16
We are a nation of refugees, like it or not, from the 17th-century pilgrims through those currently entering our various doors. Jennifer Maisel’s world premiere, directed by Emily Chase, takes place over eight nights of Hanukah, as a German-Jewish refugee contemplates the eight decades of her life, witnessed by three generations inhabiting an apartment in the years 1949 through 2016—and simultaneously drawing parallels to the experiences of African-Americans and Japanese-Americans.
110 E Broadway, Glendale (818-506-1983). Fri, Sat at 8pm; Sun at 2pm; Mon at 8pm. $35.
Mark Taper Forum, Nov 22–Dec 29
We are a nation of workers. The eighth play August Wilson wrote in his 10-play “Pittsburgh Cycle” covering each decade of the 20th century, this one’s set in a rundown cab station in 1977. This headquarters for unlicensed taxis—operating in this area because “other” (read: white) cabbies won’t drive there—is also a hive for office gossip, a hub for illicit activities and, of course, a stage on which human souls struggle to exist in balance with themselves and others, all depicted with Wilson’s signature mix of wide-scale tragedy and affectionate details. Ruben Santiago-Hudson directs.
135 N Grand Ave, Downtown L.A. (213-628-2772). Tue–Fri at 8pm; Sat at 2, 8pm; Sun at 1pm. $30–$130.