Friday, April 11, 2014

Love? Come, Go With Me EXTENDED

Nikhil Pai and Erika Soto 

Photo Credit:  Grettel Cortes

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s most available and popular tragic romance is summed up immediately in the prologue of the Independent Shakespeare Company’s current production in Atwater.  The entire cast appears, sharing the prologue; visibly shocked that the story does not end well as related in Shakespeare’s lovely opening sonnet:  “Two Houses, both alike in dignity..."

After lauding the talent and skills of Bristol Old Vic Company’s Midsummer Night’s Dream recently at The Broad, I must retreat and say that to find myself in plastic chairs and a simple playing space with this ISC cast of excellent and culturally diverse and talented Americans, that under these right circumstances, the Bard comes off Aces.  We cut immediately to the chase, eliminating the opening of the fight (no thumb biting here)  that gets the Prince’s (Xavier J. Watson who doubles as a foppish Paris) dander up.  We meet a female Benvolio (lithe Lovelle Liquigan doubling as Lady Capulet), Romeo’s confidant and pal.  No worries about how the Montegues find out about the Capulet’s soiree, we get right to the point with tres gai Mercrutio (doubling Lord Capulet joyful Andrè Martin) who encourages Romeo (excellent Nikhil Pai)  to crash the party.  Quickly is Rosaline forgotten and in the lovers’ meeting we find love at first sight with familiar lines spoken with conviction. Just charming. “Let lips do what hands do…”

Bawd(y!) Nurse (profound Bernadette Sullivan) goes to bat for Juliet (wonderful Erika Soto) remembering how she would bet fourteen teeth that she knew her charge’s birth within an hour (sadly says she, she only has four). She broadly proclaims her loyalty and love full voice.  This energy from every member of the cast was impressive.

Fantastic doubling as Friar Lawrence and Tybalt, Evan Lewis Smith commands the stage with his voice and presence.  The sword play here with Mercrutio is at once comic and frightening.  This is a highlight of the show as often there is too much care in stage combat. Even with the audience only six feet away, the actors do not flinch, but thrust and parry as Romeo attempts to stop the melee.  Mercrutio is struck under Romeo’s arm. ‘Find me tomorrow and you will find me a grave man,’ he says, condemning everyone and expires.  Romeo’s brief bout then brings Tybalt to his end skillfully without flair. 

To the credit of director Melissa Chalsma, there is no attempt at accents. It’s an American production in a tiny space with limited tech (though adequate) mounted beautifully.  Shakespeare’s Wooden “O” probably had about the same amount of technical support, allowing the words and the story to carry the day.  Designer Cat Sowa’s wooden back wall with one black curtain, a ladder and a sturdy table are all that Chalsma needs to bring her actors up to speed. Daniel Mahler’s costumes work just fine.  Kevin Rico Angulo (Lord Montague and Friar John) rounds out the cast.

It is rare to see such committed energy in a simple studio setting. The recent failure of Macbeth at A Noise Within, with their expensive professional space, costumes and lighting did not succeed because the dedication of the actors and the director were somehow sidetracked.  It is the abundant energy that the ISC ensemble brings to their tiny space that makes the play work.  I loved this production because the actors never tarried in their quest.  They whittled the text carefully, still allowing it to breathe while skillfully bringing it to life.  We buy the story because it is, after all…  Romeo and Juliet, for goodness sakes!  Creative dance movement and handling of the simple props draws the audience in and includes us as part of the drama.  The fourth wall comes and goes gently with purpose.  Who else to hear a soliloquy but the audience?

It’s an efficient evening (two swift acts) that makes one truly appreciate the beauty of the words. The words and the excellent skills of the cast are all reasons that one must see this production. It is not to be missed.  

By William Shakespeare
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30PM
Sunday at 2PM
April 11 through May 25, 2014
The Independent Shakespeare Company
3191 Casitas Avenue  #168
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Tickets and Information: 818 710 6306

Friday, April 4, 2014


When the Brits do Shakespeare it’s probably the way that it ought to be done. This includes an intrusion on the way to our seats with an ‘audition’ taking place in the audience administered by Lucy Tuck, one of the dozen ensemble members who bring the Bard to life.  A pre-show romp included the cast mingling with the audience, yelling back and forth and having a good old time.  The stage is set with a multitude of props and the Bristol Old Vic Company has, literally brought their own ‘boards’ with them creating the playing space.  Echos of the physical theatre of Grotowsky and the imagination of Peter Brook, who brought the play to the Ahmanson years ago, abound.  

Director Tom Morris in collaboration with the Handspring Puppet Company (responsible for the puppet horses in Warhorse last year) create the play in a multicultural and fantastical way. The fairies are brought to life with agitprop puppets and gusto.   We meet the Mechanicals early on, bombastically planning their Pyramus and Thisbe.  Miltos Yerolemou as Bottom, along with compatriots Saikat Alhamed (Snug), Colin Michael Carmichael (Quince), Fionn Gill (Snout) and Christopher Keegan (Flute) energize the production leading up to the their own hilarious theatrical presentation at the end of the play as the tricks on the earthly lovers by David Ricardo-Pearce (Oberon/Theseus) and Saskia Portway (Hippolyta /Titania) are resolved. 

Vicki Mortimer’s design for the stage; with the fabrication and design of Handspring is appropriately magical and ethereal.  Brilliant use of garden tools combine to create mischievous Puck (played by three actors (Lucy Tuck, Fionn Gill and Saikat Alhamed) who disassembles and reassembles magically about the stage.  The magical forest created by the ensemble, each with a wooden plank, morphingly changes scenes flawlessly.

The confused lovers, Naomi Cranston (Helena), Alex Felton (Lysander), Hermia (Akiya Henry) and Kyle Lima (Demetrius) rollick in and out of love manipulated by the fairies with physical abandon.  Only these characters remain resolute while the rest of the cast transforms smoothly at the drop of a hat. This is an ensemble piece. These actors are all trained for the stage: movement, voice and presence.  It’s the present and genuine quality of the actors that most impresses.  Almost indefinable, each person in his turn is available through the myriad of characters to bring the words and the joy of this favorite play to life. One of many memorable interludes must be Bottom’s evolution into an ass. Shades of Warhorse blossom, as well as Bottom’s bottom in a fantastical take on this unforgettable part of the play.

Renew your acquaintance with the story and then, make a promise to see Shakespeare done the way the Bard would have appreciated his story to be told.  It is a gift. It's bold and new and exceedingly well done.

By William Shakespeare
Collaborated by The Bristol Old Vic 
and Handspring Puppet Company

The Broad Stage
1310 11th St. (At Santa Monica Blvd)
 Santa Monica, CA 90401
Through April 19, 2014
Tickets and information
  (310) 434-3200

Monday, March 24, 2014


JUST A SONG AT TWILIGHT, possibly Noel Coward’s theatrical swan song currently on stage at the Pasadena Playhouse features four fine actors and four divergent acting styles. Director Art Manke has Roxanne Hart, Zach Bandler, Bruce Davison and Sharon Lawrence deftly reciting Coward’s lines in a terrific set by Tom Buderwitz, the hotel room where Hugo (Bruce Davison) holds forth with his former secretary, now wife of twenty years, Hilde (Roxanne Hart).  A visit by an old flame, Carlotta (shapely Sharon Lawrence) promises uncomfortable banter and eventually a down to business discussion addressing an issue that Hugo has avoided all of his life: his ‘interest’ in homosexuality.
Bruce Davison, Roxanne Hart and Sharon Lawrence
 Photo credit Michael Lamont

It’s the sixties, when gay men (and others) were just peeking out of their closets and to old timers like Hugo, any hint of mint could be destructive to their careers, even though Hugo’s success as a writer has been exceptional. Perhaps the shame that still lingers in our society even fifty years later caused the fear that erupts in Hugo as Carlotta explains that she anticipates writing her memoir. She has in her possession incriminating letters sent by Hugo to his former ‘friend,’ Perry.  Carlotta is an Actress with a capital “A.”  Lawrence’s stage presence is appropriately broad.  Compared to Davison’s studied portrayal of Hugo, the contrast is rather one of style.  Coward’s words are and always have been stylish and poetic. The entire production is testament to style.    The feeling of the thirties, even set in the sixties prevails.  This is how the upper crust lives, waited on by room service with the mere touch of a button.

As always, the Pasadena Playhouse Opening Nights are full to the brim with celebrities and patrons. Buderwitz’s hotel is perfect.  David Kay Mickelsen’s costumes are also perfectly done. The money is on the stage. The presentation is thoroughly professional.  Roxanne Hart as Hilde, Hugo’s wife, has adopted an interesting German or Germanic accent that is not always easy to decipher.  However her attitude and proficiency expand the character throughout.  Though seldom on stage, our Room Service waiter, Zach Bandler is crisp and clear.  No mistaking that he is there to serve and he does so efficiently.

It may be the perfection that makes this production falter a little.  Everything is so just so.  Energy in the second act exceeded the first and that was a good thing.  Over all, this is a Broadway play revived for a Broadway audience come to see the play and to be seen. 

The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino
Pasadena, California 91101
Tuesday through Friday at 8PM
Saturdays at 4PM and 8PM
Sundays at 2PM and 7PM
Through April 13, 2014
Tickets and information
626 356 7529

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow ANW

The Scottish Play is bloody: perhaps Shakespeare at his darkest.  Lust for power. Greed and invincibility so moves the petty pace on Susan Gratch’s exquisite set.  Jenny Foldenhauer’s rag tag costumes emphasize a somewhat lengthy rag tag production directed by Larry Carpenter.
Elijah Alexander (Macbeth) & Jules Willcox (Lady Macbeth)
Elijah Alexander (Macbeth) Jules Willcox (Lady Macbeth)Photo by Craig Schwartz 

The cast:
Celebrant Witch 1      Amin El Gamal
Celebrant Witch 2      Thom Rivera
Celebrant Witch 3      Jeremy Rabb
King Duncan              Matt Orduna
Malcolm                     Feodor Chin
Macbeth                     Elijah Alexander
Banquo                       Leith Burke
Angus                         Laurence Fernandez
Lady Macbeth            Jules Wilcox
Macduff                      David DeSantos
Servant                       Seven Pierce-English
Lennox                       Mitchell McCollum
Macduff                      Katie Pelensky
Macduff’s son             Theo Taplitz
Duncan’s Guard          Lucas Dean Peterson
Duncan’s Guard          Erin McDonnell

MACBETH by William Shakespeare

A Noise Within

3352 Foothill Blvd.

Pasadena, California 91107

Plays in repertory with Tartuffe and up coming Come Back, Little Sheba.

Wednesdays through Sundays through May 11, 2014

Tickets and information

626 356 3100 Ex 1



A bit of research reveals that a “Top Girl” is the ‘girl’ who over sees the other girls in any situation where women employees need to be supervised.  Top Girl may be the person who intercedes between the male boss and the women worker bees in the ‘pink ghetto.'

In Act I in Caryl Churchill’s play introduces us to an ambitious Marlene (Sally Hughes) who has invited prominent women from history to lunch.  Beautiful and poised , Marlene fusses as the The Waitress (very efficient Alexandra Goodman) sees to the wine, takes luncheon orders and expresses internal opinions about what’s what. 

Isabella (Karianne Flaathen), Lady Nijo (Kimiko Gelman), Dull Gret (Etta Devine), Pope Joan (Rhonda Aldrich) and Patient Griselda (Jeanne Syquyia) arrive.  Exposition ensues.  Survival has not been easy.

Act II, Marlene is at work with co-workers in a London office where the glass ceiling is about to be raised.  Actors from Act I double and triple in new roles.   Devine and Goodman return as teenagers Angie and Kit.   Angie runs off to London to be with Marlene.

This ambitious piece is a strong polemic discussing the trials of being a woman throughout the ages.  Issues of child bearing factor strongly. 

Stephen Gifford’s set moves beautifully. Literally. Costumes by Terri A. Lewis work.  The business of feminism is only the tip of the iceberg.   Women who understand and sympathetic men will understand.  It’s a strong statement well presented.  Director Cameron Watson is, obviously, one of those men. Double cast as always at Anteaus, "The High Flyers" cast plays alternately with "The Ballbreakers".  Check the website for specifics.

By Caryl Churchill

Antaeus Theatre Company
5112 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Thursday through Sunday
March 13 through May 5, 2014
818 506 1983
$34 top

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


What Peter Brook wrote about eloquently in his book The Empty Space, reminds us that “…  theatre defies rules, builds and shatters illusions, and creates lasting memories for its audiences.” Hopefully, this shall always be true.  Brook’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream did that, as did his Dr. Faustus, many years ago at the Ahmanson.  Defy the rules: create lasting memories.
Robert Joy and Eve Gordon  Photo by Kevin Riggen

Waiting at the box office I heard the ticket seller say, “Oh.. Back Again!” to the woman in front of me.  It’s not a surprise that lovers of theatre may return again and again.  This is a landmark production. 

THE UGLY ONE by Marius von Mayenburg (translated by Maja Zade) and directed by Ensemble Studio Theatre LA Creative Director Gates McFadden exemplifies what can happen when all of the elements of Theatre are drawn together properly.  It’s the chemistry of casting excellent actors in a well written play creating a collaboration of artists which, with luck and skill become a perfect ragu!    That’s what a great production is, after all: quality ingredients prepared with loving care by artists who know what they are doing.

Our ensemble for The Ugly One: Robert Joy, Eve Gordon, Tony Pasqualini and Peter Larney, each protean and truly enjoying the play, transform flawlessly as story emerges. A brilliant engineer (I think) has created a wonderful widget and is looking forward to doing a presentation to a conference of potential buyers.  He learns that he is just too ugly to make the pitch.  Hilarity ensues!
Tony Pasquallini, Robert Joy, Peter Larney  Photo by Kevin Riggen

The small audience sits is a space hardly bigger than an average living room. At what might be considered ‘rise’ (there is no curtain), the actors haul their props and costumes out of four Banker Boxes at one end of the tennis court style stage. We are now engaged!  It’s big and loud and funny and brash and silly and moving and mean and deep and superficial.

This smaller space is a big change for Ensemble Studio Theatre LA and it just goes to show that all dedicated theatre people ever need is a space and a passion.  The passion, of course, resides within each member of this company (and in this script, too), including fantastic projections by Hana Kim and beautifully simple sets and costumes by Ms Kim and Catherine Baumgardner.  The "turn off your cell phone" admonitions are personal. The cast is a smoothly running machine.

The Ugly One (is beauty in the eye of the beholder or in the skills of the surgeon who starts with the nose because it sticks out further on the face?)  is a play for those who love the challenge of being swept along practically in a stream of consciousness. Lines flow musically. Every beat is crisp and clear: A Dance. Smooth as silk. Four actors embody eight different characters.  The character's names don’t change:  The Ugly One/Lette: Robert Joy, Jenny: Eve Gordon, Karlmann: Peter Larney  and  Tony Pasqualini: Scheffler.  It’s never problematic to observe the characters change from boss to surgeon, from assistant to son, from wife to old woman. (Eve Gordon’s limp steals the show!).    Only Joy as Lette sticks to his character from start to finish, though evolving from The Ugly One to the Handsome One Who Argues with Himself. The dialogue is fluid and funny. Theatre on a tennis court. Expert and at least a near masterpiece.  ESTLA and director Gates McFadden have created a Space and a Passion.   The Ugly One is a must see for anyone who truly loves theatre and appreciates watching an ensemble that knows its business inside out.

FEBRUARY 15 — MARCH 31, 2014
323 611 1929
3269 Casitas
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Sunday, March 9, 2014


TALHOTBLOND by Katherine Bates brings to The Ruskin Stage a true story of computer sex and major delusions.  Early on in cyberspace, users called local Bulletin Board Systems like Modem Butterfly on telephone modems that had no graphics to speak of and only the imaginations of the users to spark their social interests.  Even then, the concept of Hot Chat was a major attraction.  Excited early social networkers, connected simply with words before the explosion of Facebook and MySpace, faster computers and wifi created soft and hard core porn.  

This sad tale of a middle aged man (Mark Rimer as Thomas Montgomery) “stumbling” into a teen chat room, devising a nom de plume “marine sniper”  and being smitten by the handle ‘talhotblond’ is not new.  The award winning documentary “Catfish” also explores the world of being swept away by imagined love and obsession.

 Bates’ play begins with a shadow tease of “tall hot blonde” Jenny (Erin Elizabeth Patrick). It's a prelude to the piece which evolves slowly and sadly.  There’s little to recommend the story except that director Beverly Olevin has her actors keeping the pace and doing their best.     Jeff Faeth’s sets are multipurpose and serve.  Projections reveal chats between Jenny and not only Thomas, but another suitor, co-worker Alan Garrett (John-Paul Lavoisier). 

The underlying sadness and tragedy of how anyone may be so swept away by fantasy lacks essential power to bring the audience emotionally into the fray.  Thomas's feelings and commitment waffle back and forth time and again, even in the face of his being found out by his wife, Cheryl (Katleen O’Grady).    Unlike Catfish where, in the documentary, we see the principals gradually emerge and the woman who has created her fantasy character revealed, Talhotblond sadly emerges only as a postscript. 

By Katherine Bates
Ruskin Group Theatre
3000 Airport Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 2PM
Through April 26, 2014
$25 / $20 Seniors, Students and Guild Members

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Jan Munroe's Alligator Tails


Jan Munroe and friend Photo by Arlene Karno

Jan Munroe’s credits are broad:  ranging from stage to film to television. His time in Paris with Marceau and Decroux as well as major story telling chops all combine to make his brief one man (and an alligator) piece worth a trip to Pico just west of La Brea. 

Thirty years ago Munroe conceived and performed this piece at whatever the Skylight Theatre on Vermont was called back then to appreciative audiences.  Part of the audience tonight featured more Munroe relatives who created a real family feeling for the evening. With six generations going back and back mostly centered in Quincy, Florida, we meet cousins and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and parents’ parents and parents, too.

These many years later, Munroe’s approach to his own words flows like honey.  He brings to life dozens of his relatives and others.
I especially loved the aunt with alligators in her pond (the big one’s name is Joe) which hardly ever bother anyone, "but ya gotta watch out for them water moccasins." 

From the spooky McAdams suicide house to Granddad’s hanging up the phone on an opportunity to partner with R.J. Reynolds, we are treated to stories that reflect another time and a quaint little place in the Florida Panhandle where cousins stuck together.. and still do to this day. 

Munroe originally performed Alligator Tails in about 1994 under the direction of his friend Steven Keats. The simple set features two white rockers, a huge map of Florida showing Quincy centered between East of Nowhere and West of Nowhere with sharks in the Gulf and Hurricanes in the Atlantic.  Ahhh, Paradise.

As a monologist, Munroe ranks right up there with Spaulding Gray and Paul Linke.  We hang on each Alligator Tail brought back time and again with sweet tea, black eyed peas, chitlins and Co'Cola. (The list I neglected to make proper notes of, but it's music to the ears) His rap is pure melody, his score:  the symphony of life.  The work is unfettered by pretense.  With a little luck this show will extend.  It deserves an audience.   

Well played, Mr. Munroe, well played.

Written and performed by Jan Munroe
Saturdays at 5PM
Sundays at 7PM 
Mondays at 8PM through March 24, 2014Theatre Theater 5041 W Pico Blvd 90019  Tix $20  Reservation 323 850 6344