The fate of West
Hollywood, Calif.'s Globe Playhouse, a landmark
Shakespearean theater, was up in the air last fall after its
founder and director of more than three decades, R.
Thad Taylor, passed away. But an unexpected savior
came in the form of Latina lesbian playwright Odalys
Nanin, who has not only taken over the lease but put her own
money into renovating and transforming the theater
into a queer community arts space.
Nanin has long
been beloved for her award-winning plays, often stories of
star-crossed lesbian love, such as the critically acclaimed
Garbo's Cuban Lover, the tale of
Greta Garbo's affair with Cuban-American poet
Mercedes de Acosta (Nanin herself starred as De Acosta). She
also works to support other women of color in theater
through her nonprofit group MACHA--Mujeres
Advancing Culture, History, and Art.
One thing she
never intended to do was acquire the Globe Playhouse. She
only wanted to rent it for a play she had written, Skin
of Honey, a love story set in 1980s Cuba.
Nanin hadn't realized when she put down a
deposit for the Globe that Taylor was already extremely ill.
very brave; he didn't tell anybody," says
Nanin, a longtime friend of Taylor's.
"And within two weeks, he was gone."
theater's owner already besieged by people looking to
put the prime West Hollywood space to new uses, Nanin
made a dramatic gesture to save her play: She offered
to take over the lease.
More than 35
years ago, Taylor built a miniature replica of
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on the site of a
former Mercedes-Benz warehouse in West Hollywood. With
a minimal budget--each play was funded with the
proceeds from the last and staged with volunteer
performers--Taylor managed to put on a play each
those glory days of the Globe: She performed there as
Jessica in The Merchant of Venice when she first
arrived in Los Angeles more than 20 years ago.
"This place was my destiny," she says at
the theater one recent weekend. As owner, she has set out to
restore the mini Globe replica while giving it her own
mark. Now called the Macha Theatre, the venue's
new marquee shows Nanin performing as Mercedes de
Acosta, sipping from a long-stemmed cigarette holder.
theater is a surprisingly harmonious hodgepodge of
17th-century theater, warehouse, and, in Nanin's
words, "bohemian boutique." Ornate
chandeliers (original to the Globe) swing from a tin
ceiling over a cluster of candlelit tables in the lobby,
which Nanin plans to keep open as a cafe after
hours. The stage has a similarly intimate scale: Only
99 vintage 1942 seats curve around it.
Nanin is clear on
the fact that she's creating a space for queer
plays--her own and others'--not
Shakespeare. Yet one might argue that Nanin's
new plays echo elements of Shakespeare that were in fact
quite queer. Skin of Honey, opening in
September, places its lovers in the midst of political
turmoil in Cuba, echoing Shakespeare's sexual and
political intrigues in works such as Hamlet and
Twelfth Night. And for spring of 2008,
Nanin plans a new play set in Elizabethan times that
promises to be a Shakespeare-worthy gender and
theater's new role as a community arts space goes
beyond staging plays. One wall serves as a gallery for
local painters and, during the off-season, Nanin plans
to hold workshops for queer youth in playwriting and
The goal is to
"create an ensemble of kids who will be writing as an
ensemble, acting as an ensemble, and then showcasing their
work," says Nanin. "It's a safe
place to write about their experiences, a safe place
to speak out."