Last Monday, Stage Raw held their annual Awards Ceremony. “The Penelopiad” was awarded “Distinguished Production of the Year.” Congratulations to the cast and everyone who worked on the production. Charles and I also received their “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Steven Leigh Morris, Publisher/ Editor of Stage Raw, and Faye Viviana, Executive Producer of Crimson Square Theatre, presented the award and this is what they said:
Sometime in 1989, maybe it was 1990, but it was a long time ago, I was a lot younger then, and so were the co-founders of City Garage Theatre, who we’re honoring tonight. I don’t remember why exactly, but I was on the Santa Monica Pier, and I noticed this theater putting on a play by Harold Pinter. Let that sink in. Harold Pinter, on the Santa Monica Pier. Outside, it was the sound of calliopes and screaming kids and the smells of popcorn and sunscreen. And inside, on this stage there was a kind of stark terror, absurdist repartee, Pinteresque pauses, I remember slivers of sunlight oozing in through tiny cracks in the building where you could still hear those calliopes and I couldn’t help wonder what the hell is going on here? This was not the first production by City Garage and its co-founders, Frederique Michel and Charles Duncombe, who we’re honoring tonight . The organization started putting on plays 1987 at the off-Main Theater, also in Santa Monica. We’re now in 2023 and the company has never left Santa Monica, though they’ve been in several theaters there.
One of them was tucked in an alley of the Third Street Promenade – the embodiment of consumerism. And of course, many of the plays they put on railed against consumerism. Why not? It’s sort of like putting on a play at the beach that rails against the surf. That’s part of what they do. Defiance. Much of what they defy, and have always defied, is the odds. The odds of sustaining a defiant theater of ideas in a complacent culture.
They’ve done plays from all over the world, plays by Fassbinder, Mueller, Margaret Atwood, Charles Mee, Caryl Churchill, Sarah Kane, and Eugene O’Neill, and plays written by their own Managing Director, Charles Duncombe. Their Artistic Director Frederique Michel is French, which means they’ve also done Moliere, and Ionesco. Moliere and Charles Mee probably sit most comfortably with traditional audiences, But Frederique, who directs all their shows, usually directs her actors to move with a kind of arch, presentational choreography that’s very hard to execute well. But they’ve been at it so long, that they’ve discovered a way to communicate with their actors so that the style looks, well, natural.
They’ve made the unnatural look natural. They’ve made defiance entertaining, for 36 years they’ve provoked and stimulated and offended and done everything that the theater does best, but rarely dares to. And 36 years later, they’re still here, adapting, surviving, and, in moments, thriving. It’s with great pleasure that Stage Raw presents its 2023 Lifeime Achievement Award to Frederique Michel and Charles Duncombe.
So many thanks to you, our loyal audience, for being with us through this journey of 35 years. But there is more to come. Next week we’ll tell you about our next production coming up, our own City Garage version of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.”