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The show must go

The show must go


When the founder of the Los Angeles-based Globe Playhouse passed away, the fate of the theater was uncertain. Now a lesbian playwright has stepped in to preserve the landmark's legacy while refashioning its future.

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.

"He was very brave; he didn't tell anybody," says Nanin, a longtime friend of Taylor's. "And within two weeks, he was gone."

With the 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 month.

Nanin remembers 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.

The renovated 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 identity play.

However, the 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 Shakespearean acting.

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."

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