Jon Robin Baitz
Ojai Playwrights Conference 2018
‘Breaking Light’ at a Moment of Cultural Division
Monday, July 30, 2018
In recent years, we tend to think of digital media as the fastest, most immediate form of communication, and in most ways we are right. Yet live theater delivers something that no digital experience can match — a living, breathing human presence right in the room with you — and can rival even viral videos when it comes to responding in real time to the outside world. Take, for example, Vicuña, the 2016 drama by Jon Robin Baitz. In August of that year, the play was part of the Ojai Playwrights Conference, and on October 23, it premiered at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles.
With its tight focus on a blustering real estate tycoon turned reality television star who improbably winds up becoming his party’s candidate for president of the United States, Vicuña was one play in August 2016; another in October, when audiences outside Ojai got a look at it; and yet a third, very different show just two weeks later, after the current occupant of the White House was elected. Same words and actions throughout, but with an entirely different, some would say more ominous significance as history progressed around it. Try obtaining that kind of resonance with a tweet.
By Courtesy Photo
The theme of this summer’s Ojai Playwrights Conference New Works Festival, which runs August 5-12, is “Breaking Light,” an image that festival director Robert Egan chose because he sees this year’s playwrights as “breaking through the darkness of division, despair, and polarity and lighting the way toward compassion, inclusion, and hope.” It’s an aspirational, even optimistic message, but don’t mistake this for a sign of any softening in the material. OPC remains as tough-minded, as confrontational, and as irreverent as it has been from the beginning, and as it was in 2009, when Stephen Adly Guirgis showed up with something he called The Motherfucker with the Hat — which, by the way, went on to Broadway and picked up six Tony Nominations in 2011.
Baitz is back in 2018, as is Ojai stalwart Bill Cain, whose Road to Glory will be featured as part of an evening titled “Ignition: New Work for a New World,” which will take place in Ojai’s Matilija Auditorium on Thursday, August 9. Other elements of that evening include the acting talents of Suits star Patrick J. Adams and a musical performance by the East L.A. Chicano rock group Quetzal.
By Courtesy Photo