November 15, 2007
Theater: Davidson’s retirement leads to ‘Lessons’
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"There are a lot of prominent ghosts there," Davidson says.
Another anchor has been his longtime affiliation with Leo Baeck Temple, a Reform congregation in West Los Angeles.
"I was drawn to Leo Baeck by its rabbis, Leonard Beerman and Sandy Ragins, and their concern for social justice, an emphasis now continued by Rabbi Ken Chasen," Davidson says.
He sees a parallel between the missions of the rabbi and the artistic director.
"In some ways, both deliver sermons. Sometimes a rabbi has to ask disturbing questions, which his audience may not want to hear. The artist has the same function."
How does a man who was at the center of the city's artistic and cultural life for nearly four decades deal with retirement?
"I like to think of it not as retirement, but as moving on," Davidson starts out.
That said, "I initially thought it would be a smoother transition," he adds. "I am generally satisfied with my body of work, but letting go took some doing on a personal level.
"I am happy not to have to raise money and deal with all that administrative paper work, but I miss the theater community I worked with; we were like family."
Davidson no longer attends opening nights.
"People would come up to me and say, 'We miss you,' and 'What do you think of the play?' I felt it was a distraction for the current artists."
He now has a small office in Culver City, with a kitchen, living room and one assistant. He is organizing his voluminous files, spanning the years from 1967 to 2005, covering not only his professional work but also some of the historic and political events of the era.
When organized, the material will go to a library, but he had not yet decided which one.
There are other projects, unfinished or not yet started.
"I want to write a memoir and deal with the growth of the public theater in this country," Davidson says. "I am trying to write a play about Los Angeles, but I can't get my arms around it."
He was slated to direct an opera in China, but the project fell through. He conducts occasional seminars at UCLA and other universities, and he has staged a benefit revival of the anti-Vietnam war play "The Trial of the Catonsville Nine."
"Live plays are not like movies; they are written in sand," he muses. "That's why you need revivals; that's why you need to keep telling the story. There's always a new generation, with new ways of looking at things."
There's a new generation in his daughter Rachel's family, his 6-year-old granddaughter Arielle, opening a new chapter in the Davidsons' personal story.
Gordon Davidson is still working to define his identity as a Jew. He and Judy were deeply moved when they visited a school in St. Petersburg, where Jewish kids with no background in their heritage were learning the rudiments of celebrating Shabbat.
"What defines a Jew?" he asks rhetorically. "I am still trying to absorb the mystery."
"Lessons" continues through Dec. 23, Thursdays-Sundays (no performances the week of Dec. 10) at the Strasberg Creative Center's Marilyn Monroe Theatre, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. For ticket information, phone (323) 650-7777 or visit www.westcoastjewishtheatre.org.
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