February 2, 2012
When the Stars Are in Alignment Above North Vermont Avenue
When it comes to arts and letters in Los Angeles, an exceptionally bright spot can be found on a short stretch of Vermont Avenue just a bit north of Hollywood Boulevard.
We went there on a recent Saturday night with our dear friend, Raye Birk, to see a performance of “Hermetically Sealed,” a new play by Kathryn Graf that is being presented at the Skylight Theatre by the Milton Katselas Theatre Company under the direction of Joel Polis. The short walk from the parking lot to the theatre reminded me that a short stretch of North Vermont Avenue affords more than one pleasure for the senses as well as the mind.
First we passed the sidewalk tables at Figaro, a bustling French bistro that would not look out of place in Paris (or, for that matter, Greenwich Village). Then we glimpsed the window displays at Skylight Books, one of the best-loved independent bookstores in Southern California and a beacon of light for readers who want to hold a book in their own two hands before buying it and, now and then, see a touring author with their own two eyes.
Tucked away behind Skylight Books is the storied performance space called the Skylight Theatre. That’s where we once saw Raye Birk in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” directed by Milton Katselas, who passed away in 2008 but is still revered as an acting coach, author (“Dreams Into Action” and “Acting Class”) and a stage and film director.
Katselas, in fact, is the nexus for much of what is happening on that stretch of North Vermont. He was one of the original co-owners of Skylight Books, and current co-owner and general manager Kerry Slattery credits Katselas as “the instrumental party in getting the bookstore going after Chatterton’s closed in the same location.”
Then, too, he is recalled in the name of the Katselas Theatre Company, the production company associated with the acting school at the Beverly Hills Playhouse where Katselas taught for many years. Its mission is to develop and introduce new plays, a role that Katselas himself played throughout his own career, and the Skylight Theatre is the venue where many of these plays are staged.
“Hermetically Sealed,” the company’s latest production, is a stunning evening of theatre that tells the story of a troubled family in a small American town — a story of madness, sexual scandal, and family dysfunction that is also surprising funny. Like the rest of the audience, we were laughing out loud when our hearts were not breaking at the tender but troubled relationship between a fifteen year-old-boy named Conor (played by Nicholas Podany) and his mother (played by Gigi Bermingham).
Thanks to producing artistic director Gary Grossmann, we were able to snag front-row seats and sat six feet away from young Nicholas Podany during the performance. The whole company is accomplished — and I was especially impressed by the set decoration, where every detail that catches the eye of the audience contributes something to the performance and the play itself — but Podany was a stand-out. He’s an exceptionally appealing young actor, poised and sensitive, always in command of a demanding and impactful role. I expect that we will be seeing much more of him in the years ahead.
Our evening reminded me that a bricks-and-mortar store like Skylight Books can be more than a place to buy books. When the stars are in alignment, a bookstore can illuminate a whole block and even a whole city.
“Hermetically Sealed” runs at the Skylight Theatre through February 12. For information, visit the website of the Katselas Theatre Company.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.