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Saturday, August 29, 2015

SONDHEIM UNSCRIPTED! YES!!

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The last outing of the Impro Theatre Company for me was A Western Unscripted.  The beauty of this band of actors lies in that unspoken glance, a love of the Theatre, taking the suggestion to ‘have fun with it’ deeply to heart and to stay in the moment.  Having an audience who loves you is very helpful, too.  Having the great musical skills on hand that the music director / Piano Man Peter Smith brings to the mix is vital. It’s truly wonderful and so much fun.
Ensemble Sondheim Unscripted  Photo: Jill Mamey

Having seen good improv and marginal improv and disastrous improvisation, I’m not all together a fan of the medium. When it’s done well, well.. that’s amazing.  The issue is ego. When ego leaps in, then the ensemble takes a hike. In tonight’s version of Sondheim Unscripted, that never once happened even with the direction turning to the Gods on Mount Olympus... and Down Below as well.  The scholarship and skill of this crew is undeniable.  One thing that I’d have appreciated would have been A Chorus Line sort of introduction with the players holding up headshots that had their names in bold type.  I was blown away by especially by Michele Spears, who is a founder of the company and credited with being a co-director. However,  the ‘direction’ comes from within the ensemble.  

What happens in Toluca Lake at The Falcon, will NOT stay in Toluca Lake because when the word gets out what a good time this company is having, The Falcon will be packed and the audience will be enchanted and probably making plans to come back for more just to see if the company can top themselves.

As in most Improv shows, we need an object..  what?  A Crock Pot? And four notes for the score.  I don’t know much about music but a B flat made things wonky in the best of ways. 

To recount the plot, is a challenge.  Somehow we wound up with Greek Gods on Mount Olympus and Hades down below hustling for all he’s worth a slap and tickle with Minerva (Spears).   The ensemble found its way into Broadway tunes and made them work!  One hopes that the group records their performances and may consider workshopping some of them into finished pieces. 

As Zeus decides to abandon Olympus, he utters, “Eternity Sucks…” The existential nature of the show with Gods and mortals mixing it up shows the scholarship and extraordinary skills of these talented actors. 

I'm just listing the credited cast.   I adore Spears. She played Minerva… We have eight actors and Smith at the keyboard.  The eight are among the following:  Daniel Blinkoff, Ted Cannon, Kari Coleman, josh Dean, Lisa Fredrickson, Kelly Holden Bashar, Brian Michael Jones, Brian Lohmann, Dan O’Connor, Edi Patterson, Jen Reiter, Paul Rogan, Cory Rouse, Ryan Smith, Floyd VanBuskirk, Patty Wortham!

Needless to say, but I must:   To see improvisation at this level with the special bent of a dedicated theme on an amazing trompe d’oeil set by Sandra Burns and fly by the seat of the pants lighting by Leigh Allen, it’s a must see. It’s what theatre is supposed to be: entertaining, enlightening, exceptionally smart and thought provoking.. though the laughs may trump the thinking part.  These actors are like a well oiled machine with silly putty for gears that may head in an odd direction, but never too far afield for someone to not grab the brass ring and make hay with it if you like to mix your metaphors!  Must see. Must!  Discounts for returnees! 

IMPRO THEATRE’S  SONDEHEIM UNSCRIPTED
The Falcon Theatre
4252 Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Through September 27, 2015
Tickets and Information: 818 955 8105
Falcontheatre.com


Saturday, August 1, 2015

EL GRANDE CIRCUS DE COCA COLA ESTRENO MUNDIAL! EXTENDED-O

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EL GRANDE CIRCUS DE COCA COLA  WORLD PREMIERE!

EXTENDED THROUGH SEPTEMBER 20, 2015!

After more than forty years, this hilarious old chestnut has new life.  Written by Ron House (the original Pepe Hernandez) based on the wonderful El Grande De Coca Cola created by Alan Shearman, Diz White, John Neville-Andrews and House, the new version is irrepressible, unfathomable, energetic silliness of the highest order.  The Skylight Theatre is large enough for a full audience to roll in the aisles if need be and the opportunity abounds for a solid two hours.  As flamboyant Maestro Pepe Hernandez (Marcelo Tubert, whose first language was actually Spanish), slaughters with Spanglishish pronouncements and impersonations.  He also offers el coupono por uno dollar off on acting lessons in the Hernandez Technique that he says surpasses Stanislavsky and Strasberg and probably the guy who taught at the Skylight for years, Milton Katselas

Marcelo Tubert as Pepe Hernandez
Pre-show, Consuela (Lila Dupree, who also produces) and her seester, Maria (raven haired Olivia Christina Delgado), charm the audience, calling out celebrities who have attended.  “Helen Mirren” was hustled for possible jobs by Consuela, who passed out her resume to everyone with both of her credits including her phone number. 

Director, Alan Shearman, brings the show quickly to a boil and without pause, the audience is dragged kicking and screaming with laughter through skits and audience participation.  One highlight of the show is a tribute to Napoleon with drummer Juan (Aaron Miller)’s enormous effort to put a gigantic cannon ball into a cannon that fills half of the stage.  On drums Miller, shows a mad passion for rocking the show with abandon.  Worth the price of admission alone!

Multi-talented Paul Baird, as handsome Miguel, has an amazing tale to tell.  Evidently, he arrived at a call back audition for a show being cast adjacent to El Grande.   Knowing nothing about the show, he peeked in to see what was going on having been rejected from the audition that he was late for.  Producer, Lila Dupree, noticed him and invited him in, declaring to Shearman that he might be right for Miguel, who plays piano, is fluent in Spanish and would also play a German knife thrower.  His resume listed his attributes and when he could do the language (El Grande is mostly in Spanish.. ish..), ride a unicycle and play the piano and  accordion as well as capture the silliness of all the characters that House has expanded upon, the show was cast.  The actor, indeed every actor, has endless energy and rocks the two hours of nonstop Circus, including riotous interstitial commercials for El Coca Cola, the sponsor of the show? 

John Iacovelli’s cheesy circus set creates a perfect scene.  Live music created by Baird, fills the space.  There are encounters with Chupacabra (the circus’s wild tiger) who eats a Subaru leaving only a side mirror for Miguel to admire himself in. 

Plans for this show are extensive with a hoped for date in the West End of London on the agenda.  This is a romp that must be experienced.  For a limited time only at the Skylight, El Grande Circus de Coca Cola is an absolute must see for everyone who loves to laugh.  How the cast keeps the energy up is amazing and the tears of joy that return even remembering the evening cannot describe how much fun this production engenders.  Wonderful. It’s just wonderful. 

EL GRANDE CIRCUS DE COCA COLA
By Ron House
Directed by Alan Shearman 
The Skylight Theatre
1817 ½ N. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Fridays, Saturdays at 8:30 and Sundays at 3PM
Through SEPTEMBER 20, 2015
Tickets and Information:
Http://skylighttix.com
213 761 7061

Monday, June 29, 2015

OFF THE KING’S ROAD by Neil Koenigsberg

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Having recently seen LOVE AND MERCY, the film based on the life of Brian Wilson, seeing Neil Koenigsberg‘s OFF THE KING’S ROAD is at once charming as well as being the sort of thing that brings one to consider the business of aging in the world, especially in the United States and how each of us deals with the inevitable.  We must employ Love and we must absolutely employ Mercy in our dealings with one another.  Having a close friend in the throes of dementia right now and understanding more than I might like to understand about end of life issues, absorbing the message in what we usually call a ‘straight play’ takes on a life of its own.

For more than fifty years, actor Tom Bower (Matt Browne) has been a theatre person.  Though playing an older character, the energy of the guy is palpable. He weathers the weary efforts of a man whose wife has died and now, he is alone and lonely.  He has been in the care of psychiatrist Dr. Yablonsky (harried Thaddeus Shafer) for the past six months and is now in London in an attempt to find some happiness as a widowed person. He is dealing with major issues that have brought him all the way from California to this charming pension, Off The King's Road, the name and the location in question. 

Joel Daavid’s excellent set is put to excellent use with excellent effects, including really effective and excellent interstitial music by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinsky.  The matinee that I saw had a few glitches that will smooth out as the run gets fully on its feet, however, Amy Madigan’s smooth and sensitive direction keeps her diverse cast all on the same page and energetic. 

We meet Freddie (Michael Uribes) the perfectly enthusiastic concierge for the charming old Victorian turned guest hotel just off The King’s Road where casual guests and one resident call home.  The resident, Ellen Mellman (protean Casey Kramer), is the very model of a slightly lumpy yet very modern middle aged Brit who is also lonely. She brightens considerably at the arrival of Matt.  She has a cat, Christina, who factors eloquently into the plot.  Meanwhile, Matt is attempting to have some fun and with the shrink’s help (whom he calls in the middle of the day in London and the middle of the night in California) he employs a large blackboard to plot his London Adventures.  Matt has also factored in something that some might find unusual for a man in or approaching his seventies.  He calls her “Jenna.”  She’s inflatable and marginally cuddly.  We also meet Sheena, (gorgeous Maria Zyrianova) not the queen of the jungle, but an import from Zagreb, who firmly requests her fee in advance. 


The chemistry of the cast and the poignancy of this story makes me want to see it again after it’s been cooking for a little while.  One major issue, however, is with the conclusion of the play. To me, how much better it would be to bring the curtain down three minutes sooner.  We were ready for the end and for reasons that made no sense to me, it rather stumbled off into the dark.     

OFF THE KING’S ROAD by Neil Koenigsberg
The Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Through August 2, 2015
Tickets and Information:
323 960 7712

Friday, June 26, 2015

PICNIC: Stuffed Peppers at Antaeus


William Inge’s 1953 Pulitzer Prize winning play, pre Feminist and post war, sweats into Labor Day with the sound of an inbound freight.  The Potts family and the Ownenses share a back yard. Robert Selander’s terrific set is a nice reproduction of a modest home complete with tree and sky and a swing.  Kitty Swink as Helen Potts, a single woman in her middle age who tends her aging mother, enters in curlers and a house dress.  The Potts and the Owens have been neighbors for a long time and convene with casual friendship. Labor Day is coming and with it, on that train that just blew through, some trouble and some changes.  The simplicity of the playwright’s message may not have seemed so simple sixty years ago when women of a certain age had expectations of them.  Matriarch Flo Owens, senses trouble when she sees Helen’s new helper.  Flo rents rooms to teachers and raises her two daughters. Millie (Conner Kelly-Eiding) is a feminist in waiting as she reads Carson McCullers’ Ballad of the Sad Café.  Elder, prettier sister Madge (Jordan Monaghan), becomes the eye of the hurricane coming closer as the picnic comes together.


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 Flo has her eye on the trouble that is brewing in the person of newly arrived Hal Carter (Daniel Bess).

It’s Hal, shirtless, with striking pecs that sets some hearts a flutter and it’s through Hal whom we see right off the bat that things are going to change.  Flo has high hopes for daughter Madge, who at eighteen is working at the five and dime and is being courted by a well to do townie, Alan Seymour (Ross Philips).  Their embers are not glowing brightly and dim even more the minute that Madge and Hal lay eyes on one another. 

Inge’s characters all have their pathways set and he manipulates them in not an unexpected way.  It’s the fifties and director Cameron Watson has taken care to steep the actors deeply in the times.  Haircuts and costumes by Terri A. Lewis are right on.  Opening night pace took time to percolate, but once things got rolling, the steam from Hal and Madge was palpable.  A well done B plot exposes the frustrations of  lonely school teacher, Rosemary Sydney (Gigi Bermingham), ‘the old maid school teacher.’ She becomes compromised with beau, Howard Bevans (John DeMita), whose introduction of a bottle of whiskey to the party expand the notion of In Vino Veritas far beyond the pale.  Rosemary hijacks the show briefly while in her cups.  To save face in local society, she must not be caught in an indiscretion and better yet, should really be married.

The driving force of the wild man, Hal Carter, former football star at the same college where he was in a fraternity with Alan Seymour, moves like a freight train through the play.  Alan is, at first, surprised and happy to see his old pal who tells him that he, Hal, was ‘one authentic hero!’  To which Hal in unexpected candor replies, “only between the goal posts…”  The double entendre of the statement takes a while to sink in.  Hal is a rake and ramblin’ boy.  Madge is ripe for the picking. The picnic is all checkered gingham with a dark underbelly that Antaes exposes with élan.  It’s a good production of a good play.  Dated. Classic. Inge’s clearly written characters work out their issues in unsurprising ways. The passions and the jealousies and the individual arcs of each of these simple folks make for an enjoyable evening in the Theatre!

PICNIC by William Inge
Antaeus Theatre Company
5112 Lankershim Boulevard
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Tuesdays through Sundays
June 26 through August 15, 2015
For tickets and information
818 506 1983 / www.Antaeus.com
  

 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

MURDER BLOOD BEAR STORY

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Katelyn Schiller is a very interesting actress.  Very.  

 Her credits are substantial and her idea of a good time is to bring her Murder Blood Bear Story to the Hollywood Fringe Festival.  She’s in that tiny little Elephant studio at the Theatre Asylum at Lillian Way and Santa Monica Boulevard for only a couple of more performances. 
If she takes my suggestion, she’ll have a more appreciative audience and maybe have even more ‘happiness’ for the effort.  Schiller enters as the forty seat house fills up.  By this time, I’m guessing that not only is she getting a few more friends than the ones who loyally show up for the opening, but folks who have just heard that this story (goosed along nicely by a wonderful graphic by the ‘blonde’ in a submissive pose with the image of great brown bear right behind her) and are as curious as I was.  She enters with a rag tag suitcase and a few props including a tiny little bird on a string on a stick that she flits about the theatre with. She lands the bird on the shoulder of the lady in front of me.  Schiller’s eyes are wonderful pools of questions and possibly elusive answers.  After flirting with the little bird on the string, she comes nose to nose with me!  Undeniably beautiful, I think I may be kissed, but like a bunny in the woods, she turns and scampers to the stage zip zap. 

She speaks in the language of the twenty-somethings of the 21st Century.  Sometimes incomprehensible (except to the millenials in the audience) and sometimes crystal clear.  She is full of energy and wants to be happy.  She tells stories and creates dialogue with other characters whom she also becomes. I was never too sure who was who but the energy is palpable and her quest, her never ending quest for joy and happiness is ongoing and going and going.  She sings. She dances. She is menaced by the bear.  I am unsure of the blood and the murder, but there is the feeling of the bear, for sure.  The audience loves her.   She is lovely.  I’m unsure of the platinum blonde approach and wonder if that was significant in some way?

The problem.  Sight lines.  Even in this tiny black box, Schiller lays her suitcase and her props on the floor.  If only she had a prop table that would allow us to easily see the props that are significant to her story.   A table would give her not only a place easily seen, but also another set piece that she might use for telling the story.  Perhaps it is her intention to keep part of the audience craning our necks to see the props and even her when she’s doing some  scenes literally on the floor.  I wanted to see everything.  Katelyn Schiller had moments of perfection preceded by and followed by moments of just okay.  She wrote this by herself and it’s all her own story.  Director Payden Ackerman must have made suggestions, but the flow of Murder Blood Bear Story seems to emanate from the heart and soul of this young actor.  Down the road, if she keeps the blonde, she may become Goldie Hawn or… Kate Hudson?  Or, even better, she’ll emerge as Katelyn Schiller and those of us who saw her quest for happiness will be able to say, “Oh.. I saw her when…”

Murder Blood Bear Story
Written and Performed by Katelyn Schiller
Theatre Asylum Elephant Studio
1078 Lillian Way
Hollywood, CA 90038

Only two more performances:
Monday June 22  @ 5:30PM
Thursday June 25 @ 10: 00PM
Tickets and Information:
http:/hff15.org/2122

Sunday, June 14, 2015

WATERFALL AT THE PLAYHOUSE

 When the Pasadena Playhouse decides to go all in, the results are, by definition, spectacular.  With the new seats and the decision to employ not only a large company of mostly Asian actors, singers and dancers, but a complete orchestra in the pit, Southern California musical lovers are in for a treat. 

Richard Maltby Jr.’s WATERFALL explores artistic director Sheldon Epps’ goal of expanding diversity at the State Theater of California, doing it in a way that embraces Thai/Siamese culture as it was influenced by the Japanese in the years before World War II  and then. later into the war.  Thai newcomer, Bie Sukrit stars as Noppon, a Siamese kid who longs to be an American. He embraces the West with gusto and is encouraged by his pals.  Enter Katherine (Emily Padgett), a Carole Lombard/Ginger Rogers blonde, who falls immediately in the loving eye of Noppon.  Though she is married to an older man, Noppon, so smitten, finds himself  ironically, an escort for the beautiful woman.

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(L-R) Emily Padgett and Bie Sukrit. Photo Credit: Jim Cox.
The love story that evolves is simple and sad.  Katherine confesses that her real love in life has been to paint.  Thus the beautiful image that sums up the play.  Given an afternoon to be alone, Noppon and Katherine explore a waterfall in the Thai countryside.  The practical waterfall is another coup for The Playhouse.  The orchestra could use a couple of umbrellas.  Sasavat Busayabandaht’s scenic design fills the stage with gorgeous surprises.

The cast and ensemble employ traditional Thai costumes by Wade Laboissonniere    as well as a beautiful display of kimonos which become problematic in the storyline.  Most impressive are the ensemble numbers, however none of the tunes by David Shire really leave one humming on the way out of the theatre. 

Co–director/choreographer Dan Knechiges and director Tak Viravan imbue the production with lively and intricate dance and musical numbers.  With the problems of the times advancing, there is never much of a feeling of danger beyond some cultural issues and the inappropriate connection between Katherine and Noppon. The show, however, is spectacular in scope and for those interested in the politics of the times and the interracial issues of Thai/Japanese connections, this is a must see, if for no other reason than to bask in the pageantry.

WATERFALL by Richard Maltby Jr.
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 South El Molino Avenue
Pasadena, California 91101
Plays through June 28, 2015
Tickets and Information:
PasadenaPlayhouse.org
626 356 7529

Saturday, June 13, 2015

THE TROUBLE WE COME FROM at The Falcon

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Michael Weston and Scott Caan (Photo by Jill Mamey)
It is such a pleasure to see actors who ‘make it’ with a film career or a television series come back to the stage.  Kudos to Scott Caan (Dano Williams on the new Hawaii Five-0 ) who penned this swiftly moving two act piece.  As the ‘actor’ Vince, he also backs up the talented Michael Weston (Charlie).  The source of the title remains a mystery.  Charlie, is a playwright who has written a play that Vince is starring in. The theater is a small one right next to where Charlie lives. At rise we see him rush into his apartment finding remnants of an unwelcome visit.  The red string bikini can only belong to Joanna, the hot raven haired lover with whom he has enjoyed celestial erotica, though he has just found out that he is about to become a father with his current squeeze, Shelley.

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Teri Reeves (photo by Jill Mamey)
  
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The amazing performances by Teri Reeves as four completely different women is noteworthy because even though we know from the program that Joanna, Samantha, The Blonde and Kelly are all played by Ms Reeves, her approach and delivery for each one is sexy and believable.  No stereotypes for her.  Her Kelly is especially moving.

Playwright Caan may be writing autobiographically.  It’s not hard to surmise that this handsome young actor has had a dalliance or two on the road to Honolulu.  The dialogue is snappy, funny and thoughtful.  Caan and Weston explore their  relationship with Caan’s character pumping Charlie for details of his sexual exploits. He  then has an exploit of his own on the couch, in the shower and elsewhere!  Charlie is emotionally at risk.  He is easily aroused and is attractive to and attracted to many women, including the four love interests whom we meet during the course of the play.  Toward the end, we meet the woman who dismissed him with an email, Kelly, after a three day quiet period.  It’s been three years and Kelly returns to rekindle what has become dead cold: Ms Reeves at her best.  

An odd twist brings Charlie’s babymomma, the Aussie, Shelley, (Claire van der Bloom) to the stage with an interesting conclusion  best left to the reader to figure out.  Have we been watching a play or is this an observation of the real lives of these interesting folks who, of course will go on with their lives after the curtain falls?

Director Matt August positions his actors comfortably. The dialogue moves apace with the feeling of Billy Wilder or Frank Capra blossoming crisply.  Beautiful multifunctional set by Stephen Gifford and appropriate lighting by Luke Moyer are all up to Garry Marshall’s Falcon standards.  Seeing this show will be a pleasure or maybe a problem for folks who have found themselves torn and distracted by too many love interests.  Playwright Caan rounds out his characters well, especially his own, who while playing an ‘actor’ transcends the acting possibly becoming a guy whom he may be observing in the mirror every day!

THE TROUBLE WE COME FROM by Scott Caan
The Falcon Theatre
4252 Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Thursdays through Sundays
Closes July 12, 2015 (no show July 4th)
Tickets and information
818 955 8101
or falcontheatre.com