Los Angeles has never been known as a theater town, which is odd when you really consider how much acting, writing, and directing talent resides within its city limits. While film and theater are vastly different mediums, you’d think the self-proclaimed entertainment capital of the world would have more a stage presence. However, there’s only a few, gleaming early 20th Century theaters like The Pantages—which hosts big Broadway exports on a seasonal basis—and a handful of small, independent establishments like Brimmer Street and the Pasadena Playhouse, locations that Angelenos really have to search out in order to see a show. With all the driving, parking, cramped seating and competition against all the modern movie theaters in town, it’s no wonder stage is kept afloat primarily by dedicated thespians and couples trying to have a “unique” night out in LA. However, there is one notable exception: the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, located in the charming and bustling neighborhood known by locals as Franklin Village, the West Coast version of the UCB Theater in Chelsea.
Just as Second City and Groundlings launched the careers for many of comedic actors over the past 40 years who are now household names, UCB has become the newest, most popular kid on the improvisational block since a few of its founders are Amy Poehler and Matt Walsh, who currently rank among the small screen comedy elite. Just about every night the four-plus hours of improv shows and short comedic stage plays sell out with lines that stretch much of an L.A. block. While the improv shows can be hit or miss—as it’s much like watching a professional sports team scrimmage—a new series of short, comedic one acts have really been taking UCB to the next level. One night last week, I caught a double bill of King of Kong: The Musical—which needs to be seen to be believed—and True Hustle, the one-woman show about a fresh L.A. fish who lands a gig as a talent coordinator at a porn company. Both are edgy and uncompromising in their own unique ways.
King of Kong: The Unauthorized Musical follows the basic beats of the popular documentary sped up into a hyper-drive of hilarious musical numbers and was funny enough to draw out lawyers from the studio which owns the film. True Hustle, starring Marie Lively and directed by Happy Endings and Community writer Annie Mebane, appears to be a bit of biography from Lively about her time employed at a major porn company run by a guy named Larry who works in a “Death Star” off Wilshire. You can make your own conclusions about that—though the one act is a hilarious, shocking and ultimately poignant take on a Hollywood dreamer who quickly comes of age from her place behind the scenes in the porn biz. It’s rare to see such uncompromised, original works in a place like Hollywood, but for now you can on an almost night basis at the UCB. Assuming you can wrangle a seat.