Visitors

Sunday, April 26, 2015

FANTASTIC at The Boston Court

In their program notes, Boston Court Artistic Directors Michael Michetti (who directs this play) and Jessica Kubzansky remind the audience that The Boston Court is not your average theatre company.  They pride themselves on taking chances. They are warm and welcoming in their curtain speech and invite the audience not to sit back and relax, but to “come to the edge of your seat, lean in and enjoy…”   The man sitting next to me did just that through the entire show. 

Commissioned by the Cleveland Public Theatre, this is the second production of Eric Coble’s play, My Barking Dog. It’s allegorical and literal and silly and after a pokey start in the dark we witness not only character arcs that build to a totally unexpected fantasmagorical climax but virtually experience the characters metamorphoses as they evolve.

Unemployed Toby (Ed F. Martin) stands on Tom Buderwitz’s stark multifunctional, essentially bare stage and decries his loneliness of fourteen years, never been kissed for seventeen, and his being unemployed for months.  He mimes his attempts on a laptop to get free WiFi from a neighbor, making excuses as to why he can’t just hit a Starbucks to do his job search.  His take on life has declined to every day becoming a Sunday: a day that he describes as God’s Joke Day of Existential Angst as it is the day most people are dreading their return to work. Being out of a job, he experiences that angst every single day.


Contrapuntally, we meet Melinda (protean and mercurial Michelle Azar) who works nights in a printing plant.  Dowdy and shy, she enjoys not working with people.  She points out that in fourteen years she has not changed from her original ID badge photo, proudly showing the audience.  We discover in time as both characters directly address the audience that they live in the same apartment building.  They live in the City.  It’s a Big City.  Melinda returns from work in the middle of the night and Toby can’t sleep and so, both up in the wee small hours they concurrently see a dark shape progressing up the back stairs to their apartments.  It’s not a dog.  It’s a coyote who is now existing in the City. Inevitably, Sad Sack Toby and Pitiful Pearl Melinda meet and begin to court the coyote. 

There’s a third “character” not listed in the cast list, but essential to this fantasy. It’s Buderwitz’s set which begins as a simple platform with some informational projections by Tom Ontiveros.  It then expands in unexpected ways.  The first designer to impress me since the magic of The Company Theatre’s Russell Pyle, Buderwitz’s design drives the City to its knees and the fantastic business of transformation brings the story to its inevitable conclusion.  Additionally, Ms Azar is one of few actors we have ever seen who literally transforms before our eyes. 

This is a tough ‘two hander’ (plus one) that offers a challenge for the actors as well as for the audience.  Leave your expectations at home and come to Pasadena to see something just a little bit different.  Truly, Fantastic.

MY BARKING DOG
By Eric Coble
The Boston Court Theatre
70 North Mentor Avenue
Pasadena, California 91106
Opened April 25, 2015  
Thursdays  through  Saturdays  at  8  p.m.
Sundays  at  2  p.m.  through  May  24, 2015  
with  an  added  performance  on  Wednesday,  May  20, 2015
Free parking behind the theater

Saturday, April 25, 2015

AEA: MISGUIDED, MALEVOLENT, OPPRESSIVE: John Rubinstein

In 1980, I arrived at the stage door of The Mark Taper Forum. It was the last performance of Children of a Lesser God.  Thanks to April Webster, the stage manager at the time, I found a cubby at the top of the house and witnessed stage magic: John Rubinstein and Marlee Matlin exploring life and love.  My seeing this actor's work makes his statement that I saw today thanks to my friend, Janet Miller, very personal. John eloquently states the case for Intimate Theatre in LA that every supportive actor in Los Angeles has known for years.  My considered opinion is that it is very important that the audience also knows what is at stake. Thank you, Mr. Rubinstein. 


"The "Showcase" code allows only 16 performances, among other things. Actors in LA are, for the most part, not trying to "showcase" in order to get an agent or get TV parts, although those possibilities are always there, and sometimes yield results. They are exercising their craft, they are doing their art. 16 performances removes the possibility of making any money back to pay for the production.
The other provisions of AEA's destructive Decision all sound like they're creating interesting opportunities for varying degrees of production; but they're basically, if you read the fine print and the lists of caveats and caps and limits and restrictions and time deadlines, just sham. The purpose of the union Council and the paid staffers who more or less dictate to the actor-volunteers that we elect, is to ELIMINATE the small theater scene in LA. And that's what this Decision does. The union makes no money from LA small theaters. They do not care about them. They want them gone. They lie, and they use propaganda to promote their agenda, which is based on lies. "We're trying to solve problems in LA." Bullshit. "We're listening to the voices of our members." Bullshit. "We want to help the smaller theaters in LA grow into full contract houses." Bullshit. None of that is true.
This latest referendum vote was handled in the most fascistic, horrific way by the union, my parent union, the union to which I have poured tens of thousands of my hard-earned dollars over the last half-century. Vote YES. They sent out massive emails urging us to vote YES. They never gave the NO people a soap box. Can you imagine your tax dollars funding the Federal Government, and when an election comes up they inundate you with messages saying: "There are two candidates: Republican and Democrat. We, your government, urge you to vote Republican. Here are all the wonderful things the Republican will do for you. Here is a picture of your new and wonderful life under the Republican. Vote Republican if you are in any way dissatisfied with any element of your life." Really? Any word from the Democrat? No. A debate? No. A pro and con argument in any of the messages? No. Just VOTE REPUBLICAN! Then the vote takes place, and the Democrat wins in a landslide, in the biggest turnout ever for any election, 66% of the vote for the Democrat. And THEN --- the Government says, "Thank you. We hear your voices. We're working for you. We're listening. We are laboring tirelessly to guarantee and strengthen the quality of your lives, to be responsive to your needs. Thanks for your vote. We are granting the victory to the Republican. God bless America." Really?? Would you accept that? No. That is precisely what AEA did just now. Exactly.
There is no livelihood to be forged for actors in LA's small theaters. THE MONEY IS NOT THERE. Arguably, there is in New York. You actually can make a living working as an actor in the theater in New York. It's not easy; acting is never an easy way to earn your living. Nonetheless, it is possible in New York. But not in LA. So to keep arguing that "actors should be paid" is, finally, just a silly thing to say. OF COURSE they should be paid. But if there is no money to pay them, simply repeating that sentence is childish, and shows a complete lack of understanding of what is actually going on. In Los Angeles, California. In 99-seat and smaller theaters.
Actors need and want to act. They MUST act. If they are making their livings doing TV and film and any of the hundreds of other ways actors stay alive in LA, but still need and want to act on stage, they must be allowed to do so. Even if there is no way that they can pay themselves, or find "producers" who can pay them, a living wage. They will show up and do the work anyway. After air and water and the health and happiness of their children, acting on stage shows up pretty high on the priority list.
Hire me to do a national tour, like I'm doing right now? Yippee. The Weisslers and their co-producers are making good money on "Pippin." Thus I, too, am making a decent salary. I'm making my living in this play on tour, because the producers are turning a PROFIT; enough of a profit that they can pay the writers' royalties, reimburse the backers' investments, pay for the theater, the travel, the cast, crew, and all other expenses, and still take home a big fat pile of cash up to Westchester County every week. I feel privileged and lucky and happy to be working, and to be paid enough to live on and feed my kids. But notice, I am on a different stage around the country every week. Venues of 2,500-3,500 seats. I am not in a 50-seat theater in Los Angeles.
When I get back to LA, I hope to continue, as I have for 50 years now, to make my living as an actor. I have been lucky there, too. Four times --- four times over 50 years --- I have made a temporary "living" as a stage actor in LA. At the Mark Taper Forum, which pays a few hundred dollars a week, I was in Paul Sills's "Metamorphoses" in 1971, and in Mark Medoff's "Children of a Lesser God" in 1979. Both roughly 3-month engagements. In 1997 I was in "Ragtime" at the Shubert Theater (one of the only big Broadway-type theaters in Los Angeles, long since torn down with no new big theater to replace it) for almost a year, making Broadway-type pay; and in 2007-2008 I did an 18-month stint in "Wicked" at the Pantages. These were great moments of good fortune for me, and I will always be grateful. But during the other 47 years? Tons of small theater in LA, no income from it, and I made my living, as ALL actors do in LA, in any other way that I could.
And still am --- in TV and movies, and teaching at USC, and writing music for films, and recording audiobooks, and doing cartoon voices. I'll play the piano in a bar or a hotel lobby till 3 in the morning, HAPPILY, if I need to and someone will give me the gig. But if there is ALSO a small theater that wants to put on a production of a Shakespeare play, or a big musical, or a 1930's drama with 40 people in the cast, or a Shaw or Chekhov or Ibsen or Mamet or Miller or Gorky or Williams or Ayckbourn or Durang play, or a brand new play by a playwright who is taking risks and trying something out --- and they want me to be in it, even though there is no possibility on earth that they'll even be able to think of making any profit from it; but they do, by hook and crook and tireless work, manage to scrape up the money for the rights, for the theater space, for the set and costumes, for the insurance so that they can legally invite an audience in to see it --- then I will be honored, and jump for joy to be able, along with everything else I'll be doing to pay my bills and feed my children, to step out onto a stage and be in that play. If there is money to pay me, I'll take it. I deserve it. All actors do. But if there isn't, I still must act. And I will.

The union I was so proud to join 50 years ago, upon whom I have depended to uphold my rights and my proper wages, and to help me with health and pension benefits, all, of course, based on the thousands upon thousands of dollars I have paid in over the years, the union I love --- has no right to tell me and my colleagues that we cannot choose to come together and put on plays, even when there is not a venue that can afford to pay us minimum wage. We are not forced to work in those wonderful, scrappy little theaters. We ASPIRE to work there. If a paying job comes up, we more often than not have to go and do that job, whatever it is, and forgo the joy and fulfillment of that play in that little theater. We do want to eat, and live somewhere, and put sneakers on our kids' feet. But NOT doing that play --- THAT is the sacrifice we often are forced to make. Working for nothing in that 50-seat theater is not a sacrifice. It is a dream. It is an honor. It's what we do.

Our own union is now trying to take that away from us. They shouldn't be doing it, but they are. It is misguided at best, malevolent and oppressive at worst. The methods and tactics being used are dishonest and underhanded, patronizing, and oblivious to the needs of their members. That's why we're fighting it. I hope you will join us."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

DISRESPECT: AEA IGNORES LA ACTORS

-->
Cynical friends said before the Actors Equity Association Councilor’s vote on the disassembly of the Los Angeles 99 Seat Plan that the referendum vote would not really matter.  When the referendum vote came in with almost half of the approximately six thousand local actors actually voting, it showed that the interest in the change in the small theatre situation here was well publicized.   

The very sad thing is that even though the referendum to approve the new AEA plan was defeated by an almost  two to one margin, the AEA councilors, dominated by  East Coast Actors, totally ignored the expressed wishes of Los Angeles AEA members and approved their diabolical new plan.

A long time LA actor, John Ross Clark, was actively in favor of the new AEA plan. He has taught me a great lesson … or rather, has reconfirmed an idea that I’ve had for a long time. No matter what the issue may be, some folks see it one way and others see it another.  I’m talking about two folks looking at the same piece of art, listening to the same idea or music or seeing the same screening of the same movie or play. It may be our wiring, our environment, our intellectual capacity or what we had for breakfast (or didn’t) that colors our perception of things.  We just disagree.  Or agree! Expressing the obvious, of course, but it needs to be said.

 Also, there’s the issue of ‘tone’ when discussing issues.  Clark’s use of pejoratives and simply his tone in discussing these issues exposes his disrespect for small theatre and the artists who comprise Pro99 here in LA. I am guilty of the same thing, having called him ‘cute.’  Of course, the truth is that he is cute, which maybe begs the question?  We ridicule our detractors, I guess.  It’s better than coming to blows!  The saddest thing is when folks we disagree with are blind to what seems so obvious to us. 

Now, as the dust settles from the disrespectful treatment of Los Angeles actors by the very board who should have taken an oath to protect them, I have encouraged local AEA members to simply bolt the union.  Or, ignore it.  It’s important to have representation, of course, and to that end, perhaps a new guild of LA actors will emerge who can successfully negotiate with local theatre companies to come up with a fair and equitable way to produce Intimate Theatre here.  The irony, of course, is that the producers of small theatre here are often the same actors who may direct, design costumes and wear other hats in mounting a play.  

I don’t have a specific answer as to how to distribute the ‘wealth’ here.  Of course, the figures are different for every company: formal or informal.  Some are funded by grants and donors who pledge cash to these mostly non profit theatres.  The box office may add to the income.  Realistically, though, the production of a play in small theatre seldom winds up in the black. That’s why it is called NON profit!  It’s about doing the show.  It’s about stretching creative muscles. It’s about working in an ensemble with likeminded artists.  It might be about getting an agent or catching the eye of a casting director and that is certainly a ‘payment’ of sorts!   

I’ve quoted Helen Hays, the First Lady of American Theatre, in the past.  She reminded us that when she acted on stage, she ‘gave’ a performance.  Of course, some actors ‘sell’ it.  Some ‘kill’ an audience. But, ultimately, the performance from the artists’ point of view is a gift that may be reciprocated by money or other physical benefits. This is as it should be when the production is successful enough to pay the rent and other physical essentials. The real reward, if you ask practically any actor besides Mr. Clark, is the appreciation felt by the applause from the audience and the unique camaraderie with his/her fellow company members. 

The only way an actor can “work out” with other actors is on a stage in front of an audience.  This is essential.  Actor Jenny O’Hara has compared it to going to the gym to stay physically fit.  Others might compare doing a show to worshiping in the Church of Art.  

Why is unfettered Intimate Theatre is so important? Because it matters.  Because it is unique. It must remain a situation where individuals can make their own choices. It must be up to the individual actor to choose to create new theatre unhindered, and not to be bullied by a union who, in this case, has totally lost touch with the reality of what small theatre is really about here in Los Angeles.

Michael Sheehan

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

WHAT THE AEA “NO” VOTE REALLY MEANS

Today the Actors Equity Association Council will vote on the proposal to end the current “99 Seat Plan” for Los Angeles.  Many headlines have announced that local actors have rejected making more money... or words to that effect.  In FACT nothing can be further from the truth. The Truth is that by a margin of two to one, LA Actors have responded to a non-binding referendum that what they want is a fair and equitable discussion with the union to continue to be able to create Art (emphasis mine) in Los Angeles intimate theatres. Period.

The burgeoning small theatre scene in LA is unique.  Store fronts and church recreation rooms have hosted tiny audiences for over forty years here.  Enthusiastic university grads and working professionals have had the opportunity to grow as actors, directors, producers and playwrights BECAUSE  of being able to put up a show on a shoestring or a book of green stamps.   It has not been about the money.  It has been about the ART. And, it should remain so.


When the Powers That Be (read AEA) and local producer/playwright/actors (often they are the same person) sit down and agree on a workable plan, that will satisfy our local Small Theatre Community, all shall be well.  Discussion and accord are vital.  These two things are not mutually exclusive.  Reasonable people can and should find a way.

The headlines saying that local actors “reject higher pay” is just silly.  I wish that the big time news agencies would do their homework and report accurately, even in the headlines, what this is all about.

Here’s to reason with the AEA councilors and AEA management.  Ultimately, it’s about the ART. It’s about the WORK!!   There’s a cut line for ya.

Michael Sheehan
Onstagelosangeles

Sunday, April 19, 2015

WORDS BY IRA GERSHWIN at The Colony

One thing that I love about The Colony Theatre in Burbank is that they keep the place up beautifully and lay out a great spread on opening night.  The subscribers and the guests of the folks in the play mingle and everyone was there to support the conclusion of the 40th season for the company.  The partnership with the City of Burbank and the quality of their productions is admirable.
Elijah Rock, Jake Broder and Angela Teek star in the Colony Theatre Company production of "WORDS BY IRA GERSHWIN," by Joseph Vass, directed by David Ellenstein and now playing at the COLONY THEATRE in Burbank.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Lamont
 

Joseph Vass’s Words by Ira Gershwin is billed as a musical play. In fact it is that and something else that may yet to be defined.  Director David Ellenstein keeps things moving, but it comes off mostly like a review with only two performers while Gershwin’s interstitials are aided by Orlando de la Paz’s projections.    Ira, (excellent Jake Broder), sits stage right in a comfortable chair, occasionally strolling about discussing the early days collaborating with his brother, George.  The four piece combo that supports the singing and dancing is wonderful. Four musicians, led by Kevin Toney on piano, with Terry Wollman on guitar, Greg Webster on drums (really intense and expert stuff especially in the battle with Rock when he comes tap dancing on stage in the second act), and  John B. Williams on the double bass.  Where we were sitting the band was right in front of us. It was an absolute treat to see how tight and solid these musicians were.

It was pointed out to me that in the days when George and Ira were knocking out the words and music in New York City, that the writers and composers all hung out together, thus allowing that crossover from one guy to the next was probably a given.  Also, it was these prominent guys who wrote all their music and words down while the hipsters uptown in Harlem just played and played and were probably a big influence on the Gershwins. One anecdote that Ira shared has to do with a major hit that he and his brother created for Porgy and Bess called “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”  He told the story of how when the Nazis occupied Holland during WWII, they would broadcast propaganda on local radio announcing that they were winning the war, etc.  Then, the locals who ran the radio station would play It Ain’t Necessarily So in English which many of the Dutch could understand. The additional twist is that the tune for that song comes from the Torah!! A double whammy on the Nazis!

The choice to cast African American actors, Angela Teek as The Chanteuse and Elijah Rock as The Crooner may have been a conscious... or an unconscious nod to the source material that George and Ira may have been influenced by.   Broder’s Ira, after he got a little warmed up, was spot on.  Rock and Teek even dragged him into a couple of their numbers even though he states in the dialogue that he never really wanted to appear on stage… but, he says, “Here I am!”   Recounting how George loved the spotlight and would rush to any piano in the room when they socialized stands out as an honest and moving moment as well as Ira’s touching story of losing his brother at an early age to brain cancer.

For those who remember the twentieth century and the ‘Great American Songbook’ that we accredit to George and Ira, this is the show for you.   

WORDS BY IRA GERSHWIN by Joseph Vass
The Colony Theatre
555 N. Third Street
Burbank, CA 
Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM
Saturdays at 3PM and 8PM
Sundays at 2PM
Through Sunday, May 17, 2015
Tickets and Information:
818 588 7000 extension #15
www.Colony Theatre.org

Saturday, April 18, 2015

VERDIGRIS EXTENDED AT THEATRE WEST

-->
Theatre West is a Los Angeles institution.  Unlike almost any small theatre in town, it has held forth for more than fifty years in the same functional space on Cahuenga Boulevard.  Founded by working actors who loved their theatre roots, now becoming successful in film and television, TW became a safe haven where producing new plays and teaching one another the elements of performance was the prime directive.  Working as a collective, stars like Betty Garrett and Lee Meriweather paid their monthly dues, taught classes, produced, directed and acted to the mutual delight of one another and to supportive audiences.  Never was it their goal to come away with a living wage.  The goal was to keep Theatre alive, keep experimenting, and to embody the spirit of the Living Stage with the unique experience of live performance.  In memory we can all hear Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland’s excitement in Babes In Arms to “put on a show.”  In fact, it ain’t easy to just throw up a curtain and build a stage and turn on some lights, but working together, Theatre West has fostered that spirit and from the look of things they will continue to succeed for at least another fifty years.
 
Jim Beaver (l.), Sheila Shaw, Adam Conger Photo Credit Charlie Mount

Jim Beaver’s autobiographical memoir, first produced at Theatre West in 1985, surveys the life and times of Richard Muldoon (Adam Conger),  an aspiring young actor who falls into the topsy turvy world of his old home town, Edgar, OK,  just a little ways from Oklahoma City.   It is late summer, 1972, as reflected nicely in Marjorie Van Derhoff’s period costumes.  Written and produced well before Tracy Letts’ August Osage County (also an Oklahoma story) and years after Chekhov’s  The Cherry Orchard (1903) Beaver’s story has elements of both.  The opening tableau on Jeff G. Rack’s weather beaten set is somewhat misleading, as the lights come up on Act I. The characters all appear strong and potent in the half light: reminiscent of a pleasant memory.  Richard narrates his story to the audience, sweeping his hippie hair back out of his eyes, dreaming of becoming an actor and remembering himself at the age of twenty-four, searching for his identity.  Harassed by wiry Farley Kern (Ian Lerch), Richard stays the course while torn between settling with the lovely Linda (lovely Katie Adler) who loves him and pursuing his dream of becoming a movie star.

Down the aisle and up a ramp preceded by an ongoing yammer comes Margaret Fielding (non stop Sheila Shaw), the matriarch of the Fielding family.  She’s confined to a wheel chair, but that does not stop her from bullying and berating her ‘staff.’  She is paralyzed and holds forth with a speaker phone while Mae Bee Burley (excellent Corinne Shor) and Ben Bo Burley (Dylan Vigus) tend to her every need, removing layers of furs and even holding a bucket for her to do her business in (thankfully behind a hospital three fold).  Oklahoma accents are tricky, but the cast has mostly mastered their north of Texas drawl.  Ben Bo invites Richard in to meet with Margaret who hires him on the spot to help with chores around the house that mostly only get half done.  Margaret ignores her bills and campaigns not only for slick Senator Bruce Bagnall (David Mingrino), but for his opponent as well.  She is harassed by her conservative son, Carl (David Goldstein), whom she hangs up on when he calls and dismisses when he and his ditzy wife, Bonnie Fern Fielding (over the top Chlo√® Rosenthall), come to call.  He wants to sell the house! Money and Margaret’s needy state of affairs are the issue.

Playwright Beaver himself plays Margaret’s brother, Jockey.  Jockey and his good old boys are in the woods brewing corn, which keeps him in a constant glow.  It may be his glow that prompts the title, Verdigris.  Richard tells about working in a bar where one of his jobs was to polish a brass rail so the gray green tarnish would not dim it’s glow.  The beautiful poster for the play exhibits a pristine photograph held up to a now gray green prairie home.  In 1938 Jockey was the captain of the Edgar High School football team (Margaret was the Homecoming Queen!). Now, the glow has diminished to the old man’s blush of corn mash, his constant companion.  Margaret’s old flame, Carter Cobb (solid Cal Bartlett), recounts his early affection, but losing her to his rival John Fielding who died while pushing his wife down the center stripe of the highway. 

Beaver is no Chekhov nor Letts, but Mark Travis’s direction allows for a talented cast to have at it with gusto as life choices are forced and the characters allow themselves to be pitched to and fro at the whim of the disabled matriarch.  The most touching scene in the play comes near the end where brow beaten Mae Bee has left the home.  She is dowdy and embarrassed, having hoped to have a boyfriend, never been kissed, but loyal to a fault with her devotion to Margaret.  She returns and in a moment of mutual caring and declaration of love, she comes to terms with her employer. Touchingly, Margaret, at last, shows love and gratitude for her.

In two acts, the play goes on and on a bit, but the grit and struggle pay off as the characters evolve showing the care that Beaver and Travis have deep within themselves to bring them to life.  

VERDIGRIS by Jim Beaver
Revived at Theatre West
3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West
Los Angeles, CA 90068
Friday and Saturday at 8PM
Sunday at 2PM
Closes April 26, 2015
Tickets and information
323 851 7977

Friday, April 17, 2015

PRO 99 NO VOTE

As I have said over the past few weeks, the proposed change to the Los Angeles AEA 99 seat plan was the wrong thing for intimate theatre here in town.  Here are the results of the recent AEA referendum. Hopefully, the AEA Councilors will take this overwhelming rejection of the recent idea to heart and decide to listen to Los Angeles actors and work out a plan that will promote small theatre, engage actors in a way that all can agree upon and move forward to support the local creative theatre community that thrives here.  Congratulations to the Pro99 actors who brought their case to light.  Onward to a fair and equitable way for small theatre to continue and grow.  Michael Sheehan onstagelosangeles


The ballots for the 99-Seat Proposal Advisory Referendum have been tabulated.  
Total number of ballots sent: 6,990
Total Number of ballots returned: 3,141
Percentage of eligible members voting: 44.6%
Total Number of invalid ballots: 20
Total Number of valid ballots: 3,121
Total Number of valid internet ballots: 1,402
Total Number of valid paper ballots: 1,719
I AM IN FAVOR OF THE EQUITY COUNCIL’S PROPOSAL FOR 99-SEAT THEATRES IN LOS ANGELES
Total Number of Yes votes: 1,075
Total Number of No votes: 2,046