When The Christians comes to the Mark Taper Forum from December 2, 2015 to January 10, 2016, it will mark Obie Award-winning Director Les Waters’ third Center Theatre Group play in 15 months. In September 2014, he directed the world premiere of Marjorie Prime at the Taper, and in July and August of this year, he directed Girlfriend at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
The relationship between CTG and Waters, who is also the artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, began in 1989, when he co-directed the American premiere of Our Country’s Good at the Taper with Max Stafford-Clark. Stafford-Clark was the artistic director of England’s Royal Court Theatre, and Waters was the associate artistic director. Stafford-Clark wasn’t available during the first rehearsal period, so Waters stepped in, and it became a co-directed production.
Waters’ involvement in Marjorie Prime came about in similar fashion, when the original director had to drop out due to a conflict. But bringing him back so quickly was no accident on CTG’s part. The CTG artistic team fell for the Waters-directed Girlfriend in February 2013 at Actors Theatre; in spring 2014, a group of donors led by CTG’s artistic staff encountered the Waters-directed The Christians at the Humana Festival of New American Plays, also at Actors Theatre.
“The Christians was one of the best plays I have seen in decades. While the play centers on a challenge to the beliefs of an evangelical church, it is equally relevant to how we deal with confrontations involving our own fundamental beliefs, be they religious or secular,” said CTG donor Linda Peterson. She was particularly impressed by Waters’ staging of the show: “It truly felt like we were sitting in a megachurch, eavesdropping on the issues facing the congregation.” She’s looking forward to seeing it at the Taper, too. “I think L.A. audiences will love this show,” said Peterson. “I haven’t missed an opportunity since to urge CTG staffers to bring the show here.”
The enthusiasm of Peterson and her fellow donors was echoed by CTG Artistic Director Michael Ritchie. “I have admired Les Waters’ work for many years and am quite pleased to be bringing him to Center Theatre Group for a trio of productions that showcases the depth and range of his directorial skills,” said Ritchie.
Ritchie and CTG have a rich tradition of long-term collaborations with prominent directors from all over the country and world. Moisés Kaufman, who directed Bent at the Taper this past summer, has directed six CTG productions since 1998. Phylicia Rashad will return to the Taper for the fourth time in five years to direct Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in fall 2016. And Garry Hynes, who helms The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Taper next fall, also directed The Price at the Taper and The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Kirk Douglas Theatre over the past few years.
Waters is delighted to be working with Center Theatre Group so frequently and to be spending time in Los Angeles. He said that when you get to return to any company over and over again, you get to know the people. But Center Theatre Group is special because it’s “a theatre that champions new work, as does Actors Theatre of Louisville,” he said. “It feels like an artistic home.”
Although Marjorie Prime, Girlfriend, and The Christians differ in tone, style, and subject, Waters identified a few threads that link them together. “All three plays explore major issues that are important to audiences,” he said. “All three play with theatrical form, and examine what a play can actually be.”
And, bringing both Girlfriend and The Christians to CTG is “great for Actors Theatre,” said Waters. “It’s wonderful that the plays have a further life and can be appreciated by audiences in different cities.”
Directing outside of Louisville is also an artistic boon for Waters. Working here means that “my focus is entirely on the play,” he said. “I’m an observer at CTG—a very privileged observer. I don’t have to be part of a team of people running the theatre. So my sole focus is in deepening and enriching these plays for CTG’s audience.”
That focus, according to Ritchie, is readily apparent and highly valued. “Les brings a collegial spirit into every rehearsal room or theatre that he walks into, yet at the same time he maintains a steady hand on the tiller of the production,” said Ritchie. “This gives everyone involved the freedom to do their best work—and is a far too rare quality to ignore. I am sure that Les will be with us for many seasons to come.”