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Monday, July 21, 2014

THE DOLL via Unbound and Wicked Lit


THE DOLL Adapted by Jeff G. Rack

A unique opportunity awaits locals who love innovative theatre.  I’m late to the party, but there’s a week left to see THE DOLL presented by Unbound Productions at the astonishing Strub Hall Manor on the Mayfield School campus in Pasadena.

Wicked Lit and Unbound Productions have created a unique environmental theatre piece that sweeps us back in time and into the crisp and almost courtly era of the 1930s.  Similar to the production of Tamara, presented at the old American Legion Hall on Highland in the 1970s, The Doll moves a small audience from room to room as we sit or stand inches from the actors as they unfold a Gothic Tale of mystery and horror.  Horror may be a slight over statement, however, the two women in the audience in front of me were huddled tightly together and were holding hands as the spooky story unfolded. 

Designed by Wicked Lit specifically for Strub Hall, the short production immerses the audience in mystery. Our no nonsense guide/Hilda (Tanya Mironowski) is the head maid/servant of the manor.  She guides us into to the mansion’s dining room for the introductory scene and then through the mansion with efficiency. 
Amelia Meyers as Jane Joska
 

In the dining room, the delivery of an arcane parcel specifically for Colonel Masters (bombastic Andrew Thatcher) is misdirected to his slightly spoiled darling daughter, Monica (Asia Aragon), just before the colonel’s actual return from the British campaign in India.  Estate manager Jane Joska (beautifully prim and spotlessly precise Amelia Meyers) runs a tight ship.  She takes her management duties very personally. When troubles arise, she takes responsibility.  Mrs. O’Reilly (warmly portrayed by Jennifer Novak Chun), another maid, has heard strange voices coming from Monica’s bedroom.  Upstairs, we gather outside the bedroom door to witness the women’s attempt to find out just what is going on. Armed with a poker, a rosary and a Bible, they see and hear something through the keyhole!

All in all, the short play is a Penny Dreadful that brings the action inches from the audience, perfectly directed by Paul Millet. 

The Wicked Lit company has teamed with the drama department at Mayfield School to fully stage their gothic within the mansion built early in the last century by an oil magnate who was certainly a conspicuous consumer.  The intricately carved woodwork, marble floors and exquisite d├ęcor are from another, more elegant time.  Just to wander through the space is an experience that most common folks shall never experience.  To see the mansion is, alone, a very good reason to see this show!

Scheduled to close next weekend, I highly recommend this one to the theatre aficionado who appreciates a unique approach and highly professional acting. Director Millet has taken into consideration that the audience is inches from the action. The actors bring their characters to life with nary a hint of “acting.”  

Christine Cover Ferro’s costumes are perfect. Tech by Ric Zimmerman is spot on.  This is a short but memorable trip back to an elegant past with some really spooky stuff thrown in.  

A well done staged reading of The Shadowy Third is also being done in conjunction with The Doll.

Unbound Productions presents:
THE DOLL (A Wicked Lit Installation)
Adapted by Jeff G. Rack
Based on a story by Algernon Blackwood.  
Mayfield School
500 Bellefontaine
Pasadena, CA 91105
Final Performances:
July 24-26 at 7pm, 7:30pm and 8:45pm
All tickets are $25.00
Get Tickets at unboundproductions.org 
(323) 332-2065


Friday, July 18, 2014

ONCE: IN DUBLIN'S FAIR CITY

ONCE  

Dubliner, John Carney, wrote and directed a sweet little indy film in 2006 called Once.   It featured a simple story line with some dynamite music that reached into the hearts of not only the movie audience, but a couple of years later was expanded into a workshop theatre piece that brought The Guy and The Girl (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) and their movie story to the stage.  In the stage production, Guy (Stuart Ward) is busking on the streets of Dublin.  He is sad and depressed; ready to hang it all up.  Czech cutie, Girl (Dani de Waal), a sweet muse, comes to the rescue and in an innocent and loving way guides Guy back to the path he has been born to travel. Ward’s guitar licks on his ‘old Martin’ with signs of big, big passionate stroking are amazing to the point of beautifully unnerving.  
Stuart Ward guitar, Dani de Waal piano.  Photo credit Jamie Loeb


Opening Night at The Pantages Theatre was loaded with celebs and a huge crowd.  Somehow a drunk and his tweeter/texter girlfriend were seated next to me.  That the Pantages serves adult beverages and allows them in the audience is a choice, but in this case, a choice that was distracting until Tweetie kicked over her drink and left and the drunk split before the end of act one leaving a trail of trash.

That said, the audience is encouraged to take part in the festivities on stage where a working bar is serving up drinks before the show as well as at intermission.  The cast and audience mingle.  House lights dim. The audience is hustled back to their seats and a rousing pre-show warm up with all the musicians/actors dancing and singing and playing their instruments commences.  It’s a hootenanny.  It’s street music. It’s the film come to the stage with creative bells and whistles.  The bar becomes various locations, enhanced by scenic designer Bob Crowley’s well placed mirrors behind the bar giving us a double view of the action.  Natasha Katz’s subtle lighting continually enhances the mood. We are transported from the streets of Dublin to Guy’s little room over the Hoover repair shop and a dozen places in between.  It works.  Carney’s script has been nicely expanded by Enda Walsh using again, the soaring music of Hansard and Irglova. “Falling Slowly” is irresistible.  In Act II, “Gold” is sung very quietly almost like a hymn, acapella, by the entire cast. 

The cast is the orchestra. The orchestra is the cast.  Doubling and tripling, the talent scoops us up and transports us to Romance, Song, Subtle Nuance, Wit and a Rousing Celebration of what the Theatre, given the resources and this cast, sharing the stage, gift so generously to the audience.  ONCE is a celebration of music and muse and knocking the roadblocks clean off the stage.  Even in a huge venue like The Pantages, the story and the music bring the audience to its feet. Director John Tiffany and Chorographer Steve Hoggett team to move the actors / musicians through complicated paces that flow like clockwork.  No wonder this show won eight Tony Awards and a Grammy for best album from a musical.

Highly recommended.  Closer to the stage is a good idea.

ONCE
By John Carney via Enda Walsh
THE PANTAGES THEATRE
6233 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028
Tuesday – Friday at 8PM
Saturday at 2 and 8PM
Sunday at 1 and 6:30PM
July 17 through August 10, 2014
Tickets (Starting at $25.00) and information
HollywoodPantages.com or Ticketmaster.com


Monday, July 14, 2014

FAMILY PLANNING : A WORLD PREMIERE

LAUGHTER at The Colony!

Michelle Kholos Brooks’ brand new play (World premiere of FAMILY PLANNING) brilliantly directed by Cameron Watson, celebrates forty years of the Colony Theatre’s bringing new work and old to the stage.  After early beginnings down on Riverside Drive, The Colony landed in Burbank in their beautiful mini Taper in 2000. In her curtain speech, executive director, Barbara Beckley, welcomed an enthusiastic audience, which rose in one body to a standing ovation to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the theatre.  Overwhelmed with the ovation, Ms Beckley recovered to announce that after major financial struggles (Imagine that!  Money issues for the theatre??) the Colony is on its feet and in the black.  An atmosphere of fun filled the air. 

Playwright Brooks’ play may feel a little like a situation comedy as there are some major situations and there is comedy afoot, but on David Potts’s beautifully executed set (the money is on the stage) we see that “Family Planning” for the characters is very necessary and in more ways than one.

Sidney and Michael (Dee Ann Newkirk and Jack Sundmacher) now live in the home where Sidney grew up.  Her parents long ago divorced, but dear old dad, Larry (tweeting flower child Bruce Weitz) who has had some setbacks, is ‘temporarily’ back in the home. This forces the couple into the living room for an intimate moment.  Coitus interruptus ensues as rattling at the front door makes the couple think that someone is trying to break in.  It’s Mom, Diane, (lovely Christina Pickles).  Situations advance a bit predictably as the parents who raised their daughter together in their home (now the domain of the youngsters) are forced to become some semblance of a family again.

Watson puts the cast through its paces.  It’s professional actors in a well crafted piece of theatre.  The laughs are fast and furious as the parents pretty much take over and the kids reveal their desire to have a family.  Family secrets are revealed and a truly touching moment is shared by Weitz and Pickles as they slip into their cups via martinis and memories.
Christina Pickles and Bruce Weitz Photo by Michael Lamont


Brooks’ style is reflective of some of the best of Neil Simon, leaning toward The Odd Couple.  Clever dialogue and creative character development work especially well for Pickles and Weitz, both well known and well loved from their long television careers.  We are left wanting more. The story lines are well founded to possibly expand. 

Family Planning has surprises and well placed jokes that surprise and as with Simon’s best work, leaves us bursting with joy and stopping for a moment to consider a little pathos at the same time.  Lovely work.  Do not miss this one for a totally enjoyable evening in the theatre. 
FAMILY PLANNING : World Premiere by
Michelle Kohlos Brooks
The Colony Theatre
555 N. Third Street
Burbank, California
Through August 10, 2014

Friday, July 11, 2014

CORIOLANUS?

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CORIOLANUS by William Shakespeare

Just south of Little Tokyo there’s some art going on.  The Friday night crowd wanders the summer streets, parking is dear and there’s a festive atmosphere around the neighborhood.  The Archway Theatre on South Hewitt is housed in a former bar with great ambiance and exposed bricks that may be a hundred years old. 

Director Steven Sabel has chosen to mount the seldom produced Coriolanus.  With doubling, his cast of over twenty, we find that the actors are sincere…  and loud.  The brick walls of the 45 seat space make the recitations of the enthusiastic thespians bounce as they escalate to show their strong emotions. 

The trouble with this tragedy is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. A brave soldier, Caius Marcius (later to become Coriolanus), (Robert Beddall) goes to defend his city: Rome.  Sword play ensues.  Inches from the audience, sword play needs be cautious, which, of course looks like stage combat.  Casting women as soldiers may be politically okay, but it is very difficult to see these women being smacked around by men.  The issue of shouting, virtually by every member of the cast, was unnecessary. Please don't tear a passion to tatters.

Suffice it to say that the fault is in this choice of productions.   A very difficult Shakespearean tragedy, read by relatively inexperienced actors in a tiny space has two strikes against it as the curtain goes up.   Coriolanus post dates by eight years Julius Cesar (which is also tragic, but easier to understand, at least.)  In Julius Cesar we hear “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!”  However, in this play, Shakespeare has Menenius Agrippa (Frank Gedden) use the line to attempt to calm the common folk, “Do not cry havoc, where you should but hunt with modest warrant.”  And though, the ‘havoc’ in Archway’s production is mostly in the marginally adept actors, it’s enough to make us question, "Why this play and why now?"

CORIOLANUS by William Shakespeare 
as adapted and directed by Steven Sabel
The Archway Theatre
305 S. Hewitt Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Through August 16, 2014
Tickets and information
213 267 9933

In fairness, this email is from the director of this play.   He seems to be a sincere and dedicated person.  His criticisms of my review are valid.  Of course, had I stayed for the second act of his production and wanted to discuss the issues of tech and the other aspects of his production, I would have had to spend another two hours dodging the obvious.  This is the director's email to me.  He is right. I am a lazy critic.  I can think of lots of things worse than that, though.   It's much more fun to write a rave. Michael Sheehan

///
"Your viewpoints aside, as you are entitled to your opinion; still there is nothing worse than a lazy critic. You might have read the Director's Note to find an answer to your overriding question of why this play, and why now. You also might have checked your spelling of the title of the play throughout your post, and the director's last name before going to hasty print.
Journalism 101, my friend.....

Also - no mention of production values in a theatrical review? Costumes, scenic design, lighting - are all artistic aspects of a production worthy of more words than your sexist viewpoints about women.

Steven SABEL"


Monday, June 30, 2014

TO BE: HUMAN

 RIBBON OF LIFE by Steve Julian

The final staged reading of Steve Julian’s RIBBON OF LIFE at Acting Artists Theatre for the Hollywood Fringe Festival exposes secular and religious ideologies; bigotry and prejudice; beginning and ending of life issues; the plight and the joy of being transgendered and tattoos .    



Twenty five year old Savannah (Abigail Marks) lives at home with her parents Maggie (Elizabeth Dennehy, a ringer for Glenn Close)  and her husband, Savannah’s father Simon (Christopher Murray).  Maggie, at the age of 55 is experiencing subtle and not so subtle memory loss.  Simon, now a businessman, after serving as a Catholic priest for ten years; brings his religion directly into his now secular life.  Toss into the mix a very hip and happening Grannie: Maggie’s mother, Jenny (lovely Gwen Van Dam), who lives with the family.  Sharp as a tack, Jenny sees the end of life as an opportunity and has a strong desire to commit suicide on her 80th birthday.   

Julian’s clever dialogue and strong characters bring up issues that most of us must face sooner or later, with the exception of the prospect of having your daughter announce that not only is she moving out of the house, but is in love with Esmae (excellent Premstar Santana) formerly known as Preston.

The excellent cast transcends the issue of carrying books in hand to create genuine passion on several fronts.  All packed into a single two act play, we encounter not only the issues of the family in question, but these very issues in our own lives.   Simon reveals  the reason that he left the priesthood and started his family. Savannah and Esmae shock both parents with the announcement that they are a couple, but Simon’s reaction becomes an extraordinary rejection of Esmae because of his own frightened bigotry regarding Esmae’s being a transgender woman.  Figuring out who does what and to whom is important to Simon. His prejudice explodes after he researches the issues of transgender on the internet. With limited exposure and deep rooted issues founded in his Catholic faith along with a knee jerk reaction to how any daughter of his could be in love with another ‘woman?’ the shit hits the fan.  However, we are certainly convinced that Esmae really IS a woman in almost every way.
Premstar Santana as Esmae  Photo by Rich Clark

Meanwhile, Maggie is beset with concern regarding her own issues that include pregnancy at the age of 55 and a very well thought out dialogue by Julian regarding whether or not she will terminate her pregnancy. It seems to be a miracle in that Simon has been ‘fixed!’ and she is just beginning her bout with menopause.

Not fully developed is Jenny’s very forthright declaration that she fully intends to end her life for many sound reasons.  Should Ribbon of Life find a venue and mount a full production, it seems that working on the grandmother’s character would be a good idea. Her arc really should be expanded.  Jenny is wise and tolerant, qualities that seem to escape the parents, at least for a while. Time heals. 

The Hollywood Fringe Festival is an opportunity for the Los Angeles theatre community to come together and try things.  Julian’s play is a grand effort that works, even with scripts in hand. These are well developed and dedicated performances.  The polemic takes a scattergun approach to tough issues that are rising to the surface daily in American society.  Things are no longer black and white with family decisions and gender issues as they were fifty years ago.  This weekend marked the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City. Though the love affair between Savannah and Esmae straddles a gray area that may or may not have much to do with a Gay Life Style, certainly, it should be considered.   The fact is that 21st century people, “Millennials” if you will, are making decisions and choosing life styles that older generations may have a difficult time accepting, let alone even finding acceptable definitions for.  These two young women are smart, educated, tattooed and dedicated to the ‘person’ that each finds in the other.  

We learn new words in the context of the play and some surgical procedures that may make some folks squirm a bit.  However, drop dead gorgeous Santana’s portrayal of Esmae transcends stereotypical depictions of male to female transgenders.  Instead of being portrayed as defensive or apologetic for her condition, Julian presents her as strong, intelligent and fully aware.   We are led to stop worrying about genitals and get a lesson in humanity that makes sense… eventually, even to Simon.

I encourage playwright Julian to shop this project to local theatre companies where it may be fully realized.  It’s all exposition, so finding some physical business to bolster the story might be interesting.  Director Alexis Jacknow has taken difficult material and with well cast actors has created, even with books in hand, a story worth further exploration.  Julian has done his homework and this ensemble piece hits the bulls eye in showcasing his writing and the excellent talent of his cast.

RIBBON OF LIFE by Steve Julian
Hollywood Fringe Festival
Closed June 29, 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

TAKE IT OFF! (Well most of it!) OFF! BURLEYCUE at the Fringe


Doc and Stumpy! Not Ren and Stimpy!  

However the zany stuff in the big burlesque show featuring Andy Davis and David Springhorn with percussions by Tuba Heatherton and three, count 'em, three naked women (Miss Angie Cakes, Dee Dee Perks and April Showers) with well worn sketches is worth a trip to the Hollywood Fringe Festival. 


If you’ve seen THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S, you have a bit of an idea of what wonderful old timey burlesque is all about: Baggy pants comedians with old jokes that at once make the audience groan and applaud.  Quick patter leading to up close and personal encounters with the likes of raven haired April Showers (a ringer for Bettie Page), Miss Angie Cakes (who also doubles in the sketches) and Dee Dee Perks with her hula hoops and misbehaving bra. (A strip tease is supposed to be gradual. Dee Dee’s bra had other ideas and in a brisk moment of frustration she tossed it to the wind and let it all hang out, valentine pasties all a quiver!)

 It’s all in good fun and for the run of the Fringe Festival, you can’t beat the price. Step into the Way Back Machine to enjoy a simpler time when raunchy jokes and a trio of ecdysiasts  who shake it like their sister Kate but don't break it,  garner well earned whoops and hollers from an appreciative audience.

“Saucy comedy, and sultry dancers presented by LA's premier baggy pants comedy duo - Doc & Stumpy. 10 dates in June, different show each night. Come for the tassels. Stay for the laughs.”
 

Doc and Stumpy’s Instant Burlesque
 
Adult Entertainment!  
Schkapf Theatre
6567 Santa Monica Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90038
$10
Runs Through the Fringe Festival

Andrew "Doc" Davis
David Springhorn as J. Stumpington Putz
Michael "Tuba" Heatherton
Phil Dye as Wolfgang Wolfwhistle
Miss Angie Cakes as the Talking Woman in the Donations Sketch
April Showers
and Birthday Girl Dee Dee Perks and her spinning hoops

Crew:
Caitlin "Miss Cake" Gateaux House Manger and Box Office
Bjorn Reddington on sound and lights


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Durang Deranged in the Fringe

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Christopher Durang writes plays:  some very funny stuff over the years including one acts like Actor’s Nightmare and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You.  Gnarly word play and silly satire extend to his ‘DENTITY CRISIS, under the brilliant direction of Alexa Sascha-Lewin as part of the current Hollywood Fringe Festival.  Only three performances left, but for half an hour of high energy silliness and a nice slice of banana bread, it’s a ‘don’t miss it’ situation. 

Just to the west of Theatre Row on Santa Monica are some neat little performance spaces.  The 56 seat venue, Theatre Asylum, is a seat of the pants space ideal for the Fringe Festival.  One show comes in and plays as another sits on deck. As we enter the theater we are greeted by Edith Fromage (Sela Victor); fresh banana bread (actually her own invention… or so she says) and a smile.  A little guitar music lulls us into a false sense of the demurity.  And, then, the fun begins.

Durang shocks us time and again with Robert (seventeen year old dynamo Nicholas Podany) whom we think for a moment is Jane’s (Haley McFarland) brother and Mme Fromage’s son.  Proteus has nothing on this kid as he morphs madly from one character to another: the son, the father/husband, granddad and a dandy suitor who also woos his mom.  It really doesn’t matter who’s on first. Poor Jane, sitting quietly, is the eye of the whirlwind that continues to swirl about her as her mother insists that she play the piano, though she has never had a lesson and never really plays.  Enter Mr. Summers (more transformational Townsend Coleman) who gets to the essence of the issues that have Jane previously attempting suicide before ending the session abruptly.  It seems that as a child, Jane has been traumatized by a frightening production of Peter Pan where, after Tinkerbell drinks the poison to save Peter, the audience doesn’t respond loudly enough with applause and Tink dies.  Was it a dream?  Do you believe in fairies?

Off the wall hijinks ensue.  Deborah Marlowe appears announcing that SHE is Mr. Summers who has had a sex change operation!  Imagine Coleman then reappearing. There are fish net stockings involved.

It’s a pure romp. The tickets are ten bucks and there are only three more performances.  It’s worth finding parking off Santa Monica and enjoying a well written, well directed and nicely acted one act. 

‘DENTITY CRISIS
by Christopher Durang
Theatre Asylum
6320 Santa Monica
Hollywood 
Wednesday, June 18th at 10PM
Saturday, June 28th @ 6:30PM
Sunday, June 29th @ 4PM
Tickets and Information @
Hollywoodfringe.org