via Wikimedia Commons
via Wikimedia Commons

Memorial plans were pending Monday for Gordon Davidson, the boundary-pushing director and founder of the Mark Taper Forum.

Davidson, who died Sunday at the age of 83, led the Mark Taper Forum for 38 years before retiring in 2005.

He is credited with raising the standing of Los Angeles-based theater productions through staging plays that tackled politically relevant and sensitive issues of the time, such as Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” about the AIDS epidemic, and Anna Deavere Smith’s “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” a one-woman show that weaved together the perspectives of various Angelenos during the 1992 riots.

After appearing on Broadway, “Angels in America” went on to win a Tony Award, with “Twilight” garnering a nomination in 1994. The Taper itself also received a Tony Award in 1977 in recognition of its work as a regional theater.

As the artistic director of the Center Theatre Group, Davidson built up a repertoire of uniquely Los Angeles-style offerings for the Taper and the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. He also sought to establish the smaller, more experimental Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City that opened in 2004.

The Center Theatre Group’s current artistic director, Michael Ritchie, said Davidson “produced one of the broadest arrays of plays, particularly new plays, of any theater in the country.”

“Without his prolific vision for Center Theatre Group 50 years ago, the theatrical landscape in Los Angeles, and the country, would be very different,” Ritchie said. “He remains one of theater’s great leaders and I was proud to call him a mentor, friend and colleague.”

Under Davidson’s leadership, the Taper in 1978 staged Luis Valdez’s “Zoot Suit,” about a group of young men who were wrongfully accused of murder in the Sleepy Lagoon case in the 1940s. It marked the first time that a major American theater had put on a play revolving around Mexican-American or Chicano characters, and its success at the Taper led to a Broadway run.

Davidson first drew major acclaim for the Taper from the established theater world with “In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” about the scientist who created the atomic bombs later dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and “The Trial of Catonsville Nine,” about the protest of the Vietnam War draft. Both plays went on to Broadway runs.

Davidson’s first play directed for the Taper, “The Devils,” about the sexual fantasies of a 17th century French priest, made a big impression locally, ruffling the feathers of local religious leaders and members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors when it was staged in 1967.

Details about a memorial for Davidson are expected to be announced in the next few days.

–City News Service 

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