Real Men Sing Show Tunes... and play with puppets
Norris Center for the Performing Arts
group to take a thrashing here is gay men. Shortly thereafter, the “real men”
get their knocks in against the womenfolk. That’s the downside of this West
However, give the show’s creators, Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria,
this: They admit early and often to being juvenile and vulgar here, and there’s
no hint of mean-spiritedness. Indeed, these men poke fun at themselves more
than they do at any other group. And the upsides of this show are the talents
and charm of the performers, the tuneful and engaging songs, and the smooth-as-silk
staging. Oh, and the puppets (constructed by Louis and Ellis Tillman).
The show begins as the heterosexual members of a men’s Broadway chorus
are introduced. Three men sparsely occupy the stage, singing “Real Men.”
Soon Man No. 3 (Chris Warren Gilbert) is at the office of his
psychotherapist (Chris Kauffmann), unable to open up. The therapist insists on
puppet therapy, so out comes a puppet who looks like a little girl but who’s a
woman in her 30s. Soon the puppet is grabbed roughly and hurled into the wings.
Next, Man No. 1 (Santa Maria) sings “I’m Not,” insisting, despite his
clean apartment and the like, that he’s not gay. At this point, fortunately,
the show has nowhere to go but up. So, up it goes.
The mirth-inducing puppetry is featured in “Prairie Men,” in which
Santa Maria and Kauffmann appear as cowboys on top, bendy ballerinas on the
bottom, while the lyrics rhyme ballerina with Al Pacina. Of course that’s too
cute, so the show counterbalances it with a walking, talking male copulatory
organ that, shall we say, takes a bow at the sight of the ill-kempt wife.
But the show grows tender, as Man No. 1 wonders why he said “I Do” and
Man No. 2 resents his wife’s young children (yes, puppets) until one says the
magic word. An ingenious bit features a middle-aged Superman (a hilarious puppet)
and the middle-aged galoot (another hilarious puppet) whom Middle Age Man
fights in an alley—until Mrs. Middle Age phones for help with the DVD player.
The men credit their fathers and other role models. They grow old
while protesting, “I’m glad I’m not young anymore.” And topping off this segment
on aging, Santa Maria does an awe-inspiring old geezer.
The show is tied together by the device of a 12-step program, and the
musical numbers are broken up by a series of one-liners delivered as readings
from “The Book of More Men.” Settings are swiftly created by projections, and
the pit band (uncredited) is lively and tight under the baton of Daniel Thomas.
So, the sensitive in the audience might even forgive the writers for
their insensitive moments. Besides, how cranky can one be with writers of
lowest-common-denominator gags who toss in an offhanded reference to a classical
music conductor from the 1950s?
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
April 29, 2013
The Theatre @ Boston Court
easy to describe the formal aspects of this Dan Dietz world premiere.
Its meaning proves a much bigger headscratcher. In the vein of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Assassins, and Jeffrey Sweet’s American Enterprise, Misfit
filters an episode from U.S. history through a modern musical idiom,
making use of equal parts docudrama accuracy and theatrical hyperbole.
(Washington, Reagan, and J. Robert Oppenheimer make buffoonish cameo
appearances.) This particular legend, if so hifalutin a term can be
applied to the show’s long-forgotten lowlifes, is that of the 18th
century Harpe brothers, whose objections to the newly established
constitutional republic allegedly led them to declare a sort of personal
revolution and conduct a bloody reign of serial terror in the
Clearly Dietz sees meaningful allegory in the Harpes’s protest, but
what does it yield? It’s not as if their cause (they want America to
have a king again) is anything we’d be inclined to rally around. There’s
little emotional or intellectual logic in the arc of their
rebellion—the boys meet a pair of lovelorn sisters (Maya Erskine and
Karen Jean Olds) on the prairie and turn into the Manson Family—and the
psychological connections required for empathy are absent. Sleazy
blackguard Little Harpe (Daniel MK Cohen), the brains of the outfit, is
portrayed as George to the Lennie of dull-witted brother Big (A.J.
Meijer), but that’s as far as the relationship goes.
In the end, muddled Misfit
belabors the point that there’s violence in America’s DNA that plays
havoc with our better impulses—a message so familiar and tired, Western
Union won’t even bother to deliver it any more.
Meanwhile, the chosen musical
form, rockabilly, is almost immediately revealed as malapropos. The
Memphis sound of Carl Perkins and early Elvis certainly presaged a rock ’n’
roll revolution, but it was only anarchic and demonic to Eisenhower-era
fundamentalists and cranks. Today it just sounds joyous. As replicated
by Dietz and Phillip Owens’s authentic-sounding new songs with bassist
Omar D. Brancato’s fine orchestrations, it neither complements the
Harpes’s bloody doings nor adds meaningful juxtaposition. It just seems
off-kilter. Massacres are staged through Lee Martino’s vigorous ’50s dance party choreography, but to what end? There’s no enhanced irony or horror there, just athleticism.
The portrayal of murderers on a spree lacks conviction overall. Lead
singer Banks Boutté seems to think he’s supposed to perform some sort
of emcee function à la Cabaret,
so he’s sinister and suggestive without suggesting anything in
particular. The stuffed dummies used to represent the Harpes’s victims
are an empty conceit. Later, things take a clichéd sentimental turn when
Little is supposed to be reformed by the love of a good woman (Eden
Riegel), but it’s no more believable than when he repents of the
repentance and returns to the killing fields.
Dietz has Big accidentally kill an infant by hugging it too closely, still more shades of Of Mice and Men.
Yet historians make a case that the brute was retaliating because the
kid’s crying got on his nerves. The author’s indifference to that little
historical nugget gives you a pretty good idea of the play’s squishy
Helmer Michael Michetti’s cast is capable across the board, and, in
Cohen, Riegel, Erskine, and Olds, much more than that. But this anatomy
of American misfits proves, in James Agee’s memorable phrase, the same
old toothless dog biting the same old legless man.
Reviewed by Bob Verini
April 23, 2013
A Catered Affair
Musical Theatre Guild at Alex Theatre and Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza’s Scherr Forum
a simple and universal story: A mother insists on giving her only
daughter a lavish wedding. The reasons here, however, are not so simple.
Addie Hurley never got the wedding she wanted, perhaps not even to the
man she wanted. Since then, she says, she always favored their son and
never treated daughter Jane kindly. Guilt and shame drive Addie now.
So even though husband Tom needs the money for an additional share in
his taxi, and even though Jane insisted on a City Hall ceremony, Addie
persists, coaxed along by her “single” (read: gay) brother, Uncle
This musical, with book by Harvey Fierstein, music and lyrics by John
Bucchino, is based on the 1956 Bette Davis–starrer written by Gore
Vidal, from the original 1955 teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky. Fierstein
keeps the 1950s setting and thus a few of the original script’s
old-fashioned elements (including the pressures of pregnancy out of
wedlock), but shows the timelessness of remorse and personal sadness.
Musical Theatre Guild presented the rarely seen vehicle in a
concert-staged reading, the performers holding their scripts but moving
around the stage. The design included black chairs that start in a
circle against a black curtain, but A. Jeffrey Schoenberg provided the
colorful, period-adorable costuming, and the (uncredited) lighting
design eventually bathed the actors in an apricot glow as Addie gives up
her vicarious dreams.
The music is more Sondheim than
Rodgers, yet the performers brought out its complexities and nuances in
MTG’s greatly abbreviated rehearsal schedule, under Brent Crayon’s music
direction. Alan Bailey, who helms here, let melancholia drift through,
so although a wedding is in the planning, this piece was not a light
comedy. Bailey created pockets of hilarity, though, as when during a
dinner at the Hurleys’s home, the in-laws-to-be, the Hallorans, crowd in
at the table, convincing the audience the families are in a tiny Bronx
The undoubted star here was Marsha Kramer as Addie. Despite popular
notions of a lack of roles for women over 30, Addie can be a gift to a
musical theater performer, and Kramer unwrapped that gift with great
tenderness. From the musical’s start, she left no doubt Addie lives in
deep, long-term sadness and disappointment. Her Addie’s joy in planning
“a catered affair” for her daughter was tainted with delusion, then with
stubbornness, and we felt anguish for her and the wasted life she feels
she has led.
Playing Tom, David Holmes gorgeously watched Addie as she fantasizes
about the wedding she would have liked for herself. As Jane, Melissa
Fahn displayed a warm, operatic voice and a combination of innocence and
determination befitting the 1950s. Helen Geller earned giggles as the
busybody neighbor and admiration as the quietly understanding
saleswoman. Roy Leake Jr. made Uncle Winston a three-dimensional being
(after the show, knowledgeable members of the audience praised his work
over Fierstein’s, who reportedly overplayed the role) and gleefully
delivered the tipsy variations on “Halloran.”
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
April 23, 2013
Los Angeles Theatre Center, Theatre 3
playwright Judith Thompson has chosen to underscore a tragic societal
schism—disenfranchised adolescents desperately needing the security of
safe home environments, versus the already established communities who
don’t want these children residing in their neighborhoods—as a series of
short, woefully unfocussed expositional scenes that dilute and sabotage
the playwright’s intent. The five-member ensemble, under Jose Luis
Valenzuela’s often awkward staging, work hard at establishing character
veracity but are defeated by meandering, often needlessly overwrought
dialogue that does not ring true.
The combatants are distilled down to ragingly self-hating 16-year-old
Raine (Esperanza America) and Margaret (Susan Clark), a former pillar
of an upper-middle-class community, who has become a sorrowful recluse
since the death of her husband. When Raine, who has lost her mother to
cancer, moves into the group home on Margaret’s upscale, suburban block,
they immediately establish a kinship of sorrow and loss that,
regretfully, is never adequately explored. Instead, Raine becomes
engulfed by the chaotic machinations of troubled group-home founder
Lewis Chance (Sal Lopez) and an aggressively sociopathic teen, Sparkle
Margaret has problems of her own, dealing with her own fading
mortality and an emotionally fractured adult daughter, Janet (Nina
Silver), who is a mother and lawyer. Despite their mutual affection,
Raine and Margaret soon find themselves on opposite sides of the NIMBY
(“not in my backyard”) dilemma.
The most perplexing aspect of
Thompson’s dramatic throughline is her total failure to establish a
plausible battle between the group home and the neighborhood leaders who
want to throw them out. Lopez’s Chance is effectively conciliatory and
persuasive when first addressing the community’s populace. Yet, this
man, who supposedly has had years of experience running group homes,
later becomes ragingly inhospitable to the two most important members of
his opposition and is subsequently reduced to the level of a babbling
fool when addressing members of the city council. All lawyer Janet has
to do is lay out the facts from the community’s point of view, which is
no contest at all.
To satisfy Thompson’s agenda to vent against the villainy of the
status quo, America’a Raine and Nguyen’s Sparkle serve up sociological
“truths” that are not plausible, coming from characters of their ages
and backgrounds. This is especially true of Raine’s second-act harangue
of Margaret, who is blasted with a short history of the downtrodden
waifs of society.
Clark instills within Margaret a fundamental amalgam of
sophistication and feistiness that is underused in this work. Margaret
offers flashes of Brahman superiority that gives evidence she could
solve everyone’s problems with a snap of her fingers. Yet, she fades
completely once the wheels of societal orthodoxy start rolling forward.
Lopez commendably commits to the many shifts in Chance’s emotional
stability, effectively if unintentionally establishing a character who
should never have been placed in charge of a group home from the outset.
Director Valenzuela seems more
perplexed than aided by designer Tesshi Nakagawa’s disjointed, wall-less
environments that define the group home, Margaret’s living room, and
the surrounding neighborhood. At times, the comings and goings of the
characters appear aimless, as if unsure when to make an entrance or an
exit. It is also noticeable if not disconcerting to have characters
enter from the rear of Margaret’s house and then leave through the
Judith Thompson’s Habitat,
which was first produced in Canada in 2001, certainly takes aim at the
NIMBY mindset in society, but her scattergun approach to this work fails
to hit her target.
Reviewed by Julio Martinez
April 22, 2013
Billy & Ray
Billy & Ray is Mike Bencivenga’s depiction of the collaboration between B. Wilder and R. Chandler on the homicidal film noir classic Double Indemnity.
If you can make it through Act 1’s outrageous overacting, jokes that
fail to land, and exposition and researched anecdotes heavy-handedly
ladled out, your return from intermission will reward you with a pretty
absorbing and satisfying show.
The principals are conceived as a thin gloss on The Odd Couple,
with director Wilder (Kevin Blake) the sloppy, womanizing, boozing,
cigar-chomping boor, and pulp novelist Chandler (Shaun O’Hagan) the
repressed academic priss who never shows up for work without a jacket
and tie. Blake’s miscalculation, compounded by Bencivenga and helmer
Garry Marshall, is to take for granted that we will find Wilder’s snotty
bullying to be charming, instead of allowing us to discover his charm
on our own. His speaking voice resembling Peter Lorre howling in
mid-orgasm, strutting around full of himself, Blake’s Wilder comes
across as an insufferable lout with no redeeming qualities. Get the
The morality of the presentation is also noteworthy. It’s dismaying,
not to say sickening, that we are clearly meant to see Wilder—a serial
adulterer who respects nothing and no one, wasting Paramount time,
money, and facilities on screening room amours and gambling—as a merry
pixie who is to be admired for his daring in flouting convention, yet at
the same time Chandler is mercilessly mocked for his stuffiness and for
sneaking shots of hootch from his briefcase while claiming to be a
There was a time when you could count on general agreement, with
Blanche DuBois, that the only unforgivable sin was deliberate cruelty;
there was a time when the struggle of someone like Chandler to curb his
alcoholism might prompt compassion on the part of artists. No longer.
Now the compass of modern American drama (including the cinema here)
asserts that as long as one is true to oneself, one is entitled to a
moral pass. Now it’s hypocrisy that has become the failing one cannot
possibly redeem. Wilder goes out of his way to be arbitrarily cruel to
his writing partner, but he’s honest about it so it’s okay; Chandler is
a hypocrite for trying to pretend he doesn’t drink, so he’s fair game
for ridicule. Double Indemnity is an unsavory story, but it doesn’t seem right that its making should be depicted with yet more sour cynicism.
Anyway, there’s every reason to leave Act 1 and do what Indemnity’s
Walter Neff should have done the moment he met Phyllis Dietrichson,
namely hop in the jalopy and head for the border. However, do come back
for the second half of Billy & Ray.
All the performers settle down and start playing the stakes of the
situation. Ali Spunk’s secretary stops trying to sound like Bette
Midler’s “Soph” character and brings tenderness into the writers’ room
along with the endless bourbon. Anthony Starke’s producer Joe Sistrom is
no longer there to just fuss about as he trots in exposition, but
begins to care deeply about the fate of his project and his employees.
Even Blake modulates his obnoxious hamminess to hand over the stage to
O’Hagan, who becomes quite real and moving as he lets us in on what’s in
Chandler’s baggage other than a flask.
Still, Bencivenga lets a delicious irony slip away. The
collaborators’ chief artistic challenge, as portrayed here, is in
staying within the Production Code’s restrictions on the depiction of
murder, sex, rape and all the other seaminess favored by original author
James M. Cain (not to mention novelist Chandler himself). Bencivenga
deftly shows us the subtle choices made by the adapters to convey all of
Cain’s sordidness through indirection—choices that make Indemnity
an enduring, genuine classic. Yet at no point does any character, or
our playwright, ever acknowledge that the much reviled Production Code
was the impetus for all that creativity. Had the Code not been in
place—had its prohibitions not forced the likes of Wilder and Chandler
to find ingenious solutions around them—is there anybody who would argue
that Double Indemnity would have turned out better?
Reviewed by Bob Verini
April 22, 2013
Skylight Theatre Company, Rogue Machine, and York Theatre Royal at Skylight Theatre Complex
Plays by Donald Freed are never encumbered by subtleties. In his Tomorrow,
now in its world premiere at Skylight Theatre, Freed’s newest and
perhaps best gift to the world in his long and illustrious writing
career, is no exception. It’s as though Freed has dispensed with all
extraneous bullshit and gone for the jugular of our somnambulant
national consciousness. As the radio in the background in Abigail and
Jamie Booth’s deteriorating craftsman estate above Beachwood Canyon
drones on about the Supreme Court decision in 2000 to hand George W.
Bush the presidency on a silver platter, Freed’s three players re-enact
passages from Shakespeare’s Macbeth—a play about a man who stole a throne by murdering a king.
Laura Keating (Jenn Robbins) is an ambitious young star-on-the-rise
who has been offered what could be the defining moment of her career,
playing Lady Macbeth in the West End, a performance that will be turned
into a film starring the same actors. She seeks out coaching from her
idol, the 100-year-old Abigail (Salome Jens), in the role Abby had been
renowned for performing. Abby has lived for many years in self-imposed
exile with her great-nephew Jamie (Kevin Quinn, in for Geoffrey
Forward), surrounded by racks of retired costumes and walls filled with
dusty old photographs of the then-celebrated people with whom Abby once
shared the stage, from Uta Hagen and Eva Le Gallienne to Edward G.
Robinson and Nazimova.
Laura sinks to her knees to beg Abby to help her, even offering
$1,000 per hour and the mortgage on her house. “I want your soul,” Abby
tells the desperately cloying young woman. So begins Freed’s mesmerizing
ballet of crashing themes, utilizing the declining splendor of the
theatrical arts fueled by so many avid theater artists, people who
literally gave up their lives for their careers, with the deterioration
of our troubled society. Even Abby’s long-held dream to begin a national
theater company has years before been dashed by economics and apathy,
culminating in her realization that “We cannot have an American national
theater until we have an American national soul.”
The scenes among these three
characters yield much more than simply offering a story of people
boosting one another into experiencing the passion every true artist
needs to go on, although the audience is blessed to be privy to that
mysterious process seldom seen by outsiders. Jamie, who painfully gave
up his own celebrated career years earlier in shame after freezing
onstage in a pivotal scene in the very same “Scottish play,” leads Laura
to refine her vocal range and diction. Abby forces their eager student
to explore deeper and deeper into the Lady’s background and how it
demarcated her choices, dissecting and enhancing the Bard’s rich subtext
with ardent fervor. The craft of the actor has never before been shared
so openly onstage or with more fascinating results.
Damian Cruden’s direction is flawless, from his staging to the
incredibly intricate performances he elicits from miraculous Jens and
Quinn, who not only proves himself to be the perfect foil for her
tour-de-force turn but also as one of those unstoppable theater artists
Freed’s play celebrates. As Jamie, he is quite amazing, especially
considering he took over this demanding, impossibly loquacious role from
Forward for the first time, with only a week’s notice, on the evening
reviewed. Quinn would have here been applauded even if the knowledge of
this feat hadn’t been offhandedly shared following the performance.
Robbins is by far less successful, ironically quite impressive when
she slips more and more into the role of Lady Macbeth, but she is unable
to make any of her moments as Laura believable, indicating her
character’s emotions rather than letting them filter through the sieve
of her own persona. Her acting shows, especially when held up against
the work of these co-stars.
Jens is one of the true geniuses of the world stage, who gives a
performance that every student of acting should see several times. One
cannot take one’s eyes off her, even when others speak. A few slow head
turns or well-placed blinks signal waves of understanding not many
actors alive today could attain. Perhaps the most expert part of her
performance is how the frail, elderly Abby transforms into a tigress as
she works with Laura, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of her
forgotten career to become the actor she once had been.
The title Tomorrow
was obviously chosen to be a metaphor about how we must, as artists,
let our personal disappointments disappear to help one another grow in a
world, as Shelly said, where poets are the “unacknowledged legislators
of mankind.” There’s a line in the play about the fear of becoming one
of those obscure old faces gracing Abby’s walls, photos now fading into
oblivion if no one is there to remind future generations who they were
and what they contributed. O, Mr. Freed, how wonderful to have you here
to allow us this gossamer tribute—especially while shouting at us to
wake up with such brilliantly eloquent, quiet delicacy.
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
April 22, 2013
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at Elephant Stage’s Lillian Theatre
his haunting poem “Lament for the Moths,” Tennessee Williams warned:
“Enemies of the delicate everywhere / Have breathed a pestilent mist
into the air.” In our supposedly advanced and liberated society, the
rampant suicides and attempted suicides of LGBT teenagers are epidemic.
In Daniel Talbott’s arresting play Slipping,
now in its LA premiere, one of those young victims is Eli, a troubled
kid struggling with his sexuality after relocating to Iowa from San
Francisco following the car crash that claimed his father’s life.
Although the emerging storyline is easily foreseeable, the text is
elevated by Talbott’s sweepingly poetic dialogue and the richly textured
monologues Eli (Seth Numrich, who originated the role in New York in
2009 before he became a hot new star on the horizon) delivers to the
Eli is trying to escape a lot of things, including whether his
father’s death was an accident or a result of his mother’s infidelities.
Above all, however, Slipping
chronicles Eli’s attempts to come to terms with his sexuality. Eli’s
battle is not compounded by the usual unaccepting parent, as his mother
(Wendy vanden Heuvel) is quick to ask if there are any guys in his new
school to whom he’s attracted. Although Eli is indeed intrigued by
sweetly goofy girl-crazy classmate Jake (MacLeod Andrews, who also
appeared in the play Off-Broadway), Eli is badly damaged by his first
affair—with an abusive, self-loathing jock (Maxwell Hamilton), who
alternately wants to make love to Eli and beat the crap out of him.
Talbott’s sturdy staging is the other wonder here. Besides his
evocatively poetic soliloquies, another unconventional aspect is
embraced with courage and fervor in his directorial choices: the weaving
back and forth in time among San Francisco, Iowa, and New York without
concern for standard dramatic structure. Talbott never conforms to
telling a story that builds to one conclusion. Instead he offers a
culminating meeting late in the timeline that could signal a possible
happy ending before depicting a scene of heartrending emotion between
the same two characters several years earlier.
Vanden Heuvel does her best with a rather underwritten role, making
one wish Eli’s mother had a chance to experience life-changing
revelations about her life and her relationship with her son that could
make a difference to the play’s outcome. It’s something of a given that
Numrich—who went from this production in New York to starring on
Broadway as Albert in War Horse, followed this season by his critically acclaimed turn in the leading role in the heralded revival of Golden Boy—is what has brought this play to our shores four years after its debut.
He is an incredible young actor, easily echoing the early days of
Paul Newman or James Dean. Indeed, his work here is something of an
amalgam between Dean and Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause.
But although Numrich is all but guaranteed to become a major star,
perhaps he and Andrews reprising their original performances today is a
bit challenging for them. Numrich appears to have to work too hard, at
26, to pull off playing Eli in his mid-teen years, especially right
after bulking up to play Odet’s classic hero Joe Bonaparte.
Andrews is more successful bringing an infectious teenage energy to
Jake, his character’s emerging love for Eli the most touching aspect of
this production—although a bit of manscaping for the play’s hotly
unflinching sexual tableaus might have added to the illusion. The most
impressive performance of this remounting is the new guy: Recent UCLA
grad Hamilton gives a scary, finely nuanced performance as the
desperately tortured Chris.
Despite its predictability, Slipping
is an important new play, one that needs to be shared on whatever level
it is offered. Because Talbott’s writing and staging is so clearly
filmic, it wouldn’t be surprising if this run in our reclaimed desert
might find it has an even more apparent future than the emergence of its
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
April 15, 2013
David Mamet’s bones and rep were made with his 1975 American Buffalo,
a scabrously funny deconstruction of our national way of doing business
as seen through the eyes, ears, and butterfingers of three lowlife
Chicago a-holes who think they’re masterminds. Randall Arney’s Geffen
Playhouse revival milks all the humor and fun out of this seminal
piece—and reminds us what a genius Mamet can be at his best—but falls
short in giving us, between the eyes, the darker underside of the
For most of the play’s lean and mean two hours, the habitués of a
Chicago junkshop (lovingly re-created by designer Takeshi Kata) rail
against the fools, liars, and betrayers of their acquaintance. Here’s
blowhard Teach (Ron Eldard) ranting about the temerity of a woman friend
in chiding him for eating a piece of toast off her plate at the local
(and I tell you this, Don). Only, and I’m not, I don’t think, casting
anything on anyone: from the mouth of a Southern bulldyke asshole
ingrate of a worthless nowhere c—t can this trash come. And I take
nothing back, and I know you’re close with them…. The only way to teach
these people is to kill them.
That mix of the profane and the courtly, the entitlement underlying
that “Ah, it’s no big deal” passive-aggressiveness, instantly
established Mamet’s peerless comic voice, and by the reactions of the
opening night Geffen audience, it’s been a long time since any other
play or playwright has served up the same heady brew. The Don referred
to above (Bill Smitrovich) is the shop owner with a curiously paternal
interest in youthful junkie Bobby (Freddy Rodriguez), a
hanger-on-cum-protégé to whom Don purveys life advice:
no difference with you than with anyone else. Everything that I or
Fletcher know we picked up on the street. That’s all business is: common
sense, experience, and talent.
Useful tip, right? No more so a page later when Donny avers, “That’s
what business is: people taking care of themselves.” These guys are
constantly pontificating on what they know and what they’ve learned;
none of it makes any sense, and it’s hilarious because we instantly see
the gap between their view of themselves and who they really are.
Unfortunately, there’s another,
wider, more important gap that this production fails to exploit. In the
course of the play the characters get the notion of this one big score,
ripping off some random coin collector whose late interest in a Buffalo
head nickel suggests he’s got a cache of riches to be burgled. Things
are increasingly, absurdly incomplete and chaotic as a long day’s
journey of half-assed planning moves into night and the hoped-for zero
We can’t be surprised when it all falls apart, but we also should not
be surprised when it erupts into violence. Mamet is concerned not just
with blowhard fantasies but with their consequences, and for the play to
fully pay off, we have to believe in the white-hot rage boiling inside
the eyes of Teach and Donny. We have to comprehend that for all the
bravado, when people with nothing are confronted with their nothingness,
they turn, and things get terribly ugly indeed.
There’s no rage boiling within Eldard and Smitrovich, and minimal
tension between them. When Teach apologizes for speaking in anger, or
when Donny lashes out at Teach for taunting Bobby about “skin-popping,”
the moments have no weight, there’s nothing behind them. Arney is
content to get the laughs; but he can’t or doesn’t want to elicit the
deeper strains of emotion behind Mamet’s remarkable characters.
Played perfectly, American Buffalo doesn’t
just make us say, “Yes, that’s exactly how people do business in this
country.” It should also chill our blood with the realization of the
passion behind all the big talk and self-deception. Played perfectly,
the work can bring about a real catharsis of pity and terror. At the
Geffen, helmer and actors are heedless of the terror, and that’s a pity.
Reviewed by Bob Verini
April 11, 2013
One Night With Janis Joplin
it looks and sure sounds like a rock concert, this production is a
genuine piece of theater that re-creates not just the personality of the
legendary gravel-voiced rocker (Mary Bridget Davies) but the world in
which she lived and died. The Pasadena Playhouse practically throbs with
the soul of Woodstock Nation—an era which, for all its
antiestablishment cynicism and nihilism, sustained the unmistakable
sense of possibility that a dream of peace, love and rock ’n’ roll could
be made real in the here and now.
You go in expecting the usual cheesy “I was born/And then I wrote”
animated Wikipedia article that usually passes for the review of a
notable entertainer’s life and work. But writer-director Randy Johnson
never falls into predictable traps. For one thing, the details are
deftly and sparingly woven into the fabric of Pearl’s boozy monologues
between numbers. They’re also presented out of chronological order, so
the audience never gets several steps ahead of the biography. Yes, we
get to see images of the young Janis against the back wall, but never
when we expect them; when they pop in, they appear to be projections of
her mind at any given moment, rather than a contrived multimedia device
for our benefit.
Better still, Joplin’s musical influences aren’t just talked about
but also literally brought on stage in the person of The Blues Singer.
The breathtaking Sabrina Elayne Carten pops in to impersonate the likes
of Bessie Smith, Nina Simone and Chantels lead singer Arlene Smith as
each one intersects with the Joplin playlist. Performing the numbers
that helped to shape Janis’s unique “white girl sings the blues” style,
Carten—with Johnson’s adroit shaping—permits us to hear the influences
for ourselves. We’re encouraged to draw our own conclusions about these
great artists’ musicianship and its impact on the little girl from Texas
whose voice was snuffed out way too soon.
Not enough can be said about
Davies, whose command of Pearl’s sound, look, moves, and temperament is
close to supernatural. Her Janis is aware of her own abilities and proud
of them, but also suitably modest about where she derived them and what
they ought to mean to her fans. The decline and death (at age 27, good
God!) are evoked, but subtly, imperceptibly: So complex is Davies’s
artistry that we only gradually realize that she is playing Janis’s
downward arc. It’s a sleight of hand act: She makes us so aware of
Janis’s life force that the realization of how swiftly it was to be
snuffed out hits us like a thunderbolt. Make no mistake, Davies pulls
off not just an impersonation, it’s a full-out piece of acting worth
studying, and one that’s impossible to forget.
The show, which originated in Cleveland and D.C., looks and sounds
like a million bucks. Bandleader Ross Seligman’s sidemen are
astonishingly varied and capable, plausibly ’60s, without ever veering
into campy caricature, and Justin Townsend’s lighting is the most moody
and subtle locally seen this year, whether in a play or musical.
All the familiar hits are here, but One Night With Janis Joplin
perhaps never surpasses its Act One finale, when Carten delivers
“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” in full Bessie Smith drag
and droop, only to transform into Aretha for a spine-chilling duet with
Janis on “Spirit in the Dark.” For the better part of 20 minutes, Davies
and company defy you to dwell on the real world outside. It’s the 1960s
all over again, so full of love and promise.
Reviewed by Bob Verini
April 10, 2013
Son of Semele Ensemble at Atwater Village Theatre
horrific acts of inhumanity rarely happen in one fell swoop. Instead,
they are usually the result of a series of after-the-fact identifiable
and even predictable incremental steps. Such seems to have been the case
with a relatively unknown, at least to those in the Western Hemisphere,
massacre of Jewish Poles in the village of Jedwabne on July 10, 1941.
Estimates of the number of dead range as high as 1,600, and despite
trials of a few local residents in 1949 and 1953, villagers to this day
claim ignorance or immunity on behalf of previous generations and
familial predecessors. Not until the publication, in 2001, of a book by
historian Jan Gross was the Polish government forced to fully face the
guilt that most rightfully belongs to the unfortunate Jewish residents’
Polish playwright Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s original work, adapted here
by Ryan Craig, details the lives of 10 classmates, half of them Jews and
half Roman Catholics, leading up to and following the slaughter of the
Jedwabne Jewish community. Based loosely on a number of real-life
victims and participants, it is certainly a compelling and often
heart-wrenching story. Pulling no punches, the playwrights recount how
Jews were murdered in the town square, as well as the torching of a
local barn where 400 of the survivors were herded and eventually
exterminated at the end of that fateful day. Though the vast number of
storylines and subplots make a gripping tale, the coverage of more than
six decades from start to finish makes the two-hour-and-45-minute
running time seem unnecessarily lengthy, occasionally repetitive, and at
times quite difficult to follow as Act 2 struggles to tie up all the
Director Matthew McCray has, however, brought together a remarkable
ensemble that unhesitatingly grabs this play with both hands. As one
witnesses childhood friendships dissolve into divisive religiosity and
national pride, thereby leading to unspeakable acts of cruelty, the
trust and collective commitment these actors exhibit is beyond powerful.
In the Jewish roles, Sharyn Gabriel, Michael Nehring, Gary Patent,
Sarah Rosenberg, and Kiff Scholl never come off as “put upon,” despite
their clearly delineated positions as victims. Nehring in particular
does a fine job given that his character immigrates to America as a
child, subsequently interacting with his former peers only via a series
of letters. Scholl’s and Gabriel’s characters marry and produce a child.
Her death, along with their child, in the farmyard inferno, as well as
the brutal slaying of Patent’s character, are some of the harshest
moments in the production. Rosenberg’s character is saved from the
onslaught by one of the five non-Jews, whom she marries after converting
to Catholicism to save her life.
On the other side of this coin are
the terrifying transformations of the perpetrators from innocent
youngsters to heartless automatons steeped in self-denial. Actors Matt
Kirkwood, Gavin Peretti, and Dan Via play the undoubted villains of
Slobodzianek’s tale, yet each fleshes out portraits of conflicted
turmoil. Kirkwood’s character runs back to the church as he finishes his
life as a parish priest. Peretti and Via, each symbolizing the most
barbaric aspects of human nature, manage to evoke disgust and yet a
perverse sense of compassion. Alexander Wells and Melina Bielefelt ably
provide the rare glimpses of sympathy seen on this side of the aisle.
His character marries the aforementioned Jewess, while Bielefelt’s hides
Scholl’s widower with whom she, too, becomes romantically entwined.
Throughout the production, the cast plays a variety of musical
instruments, to varying degrees of success, while augmenting the script
with original songs by composer Sage Lewis. Occasionally effective, this
music tends, more often than not, to sideline the production’s
momentum. The atonal tunes accompany highly poetic lyrics that, despite
the audience’s proximity to the players, aren’t always that easy to
understand. Production values are handled nicely including Sarah
Krainin’s arena-formed playing space filled with utilitarian-style
classroom desks and chairs. Anna Cecelia Martin’s lighting picks up the
monochromatic features of Jenny Foldenauer’s costuming, while Cricket S.
Myers surrounds the space with a highly effective sound design.
In all, this is not a production for the faint of heart. Raw and
painful in its indictment of man’s coarseness, it not only reinforces
the adage that we must “never forget” but also shines a needed spotlight
on the world’s current throes of violence and upheaval.
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
April 8, 2013
On the Spectrum
The Fountain Theatre
Kent LaZebnik’s personal connection with ASD (Autistic Spectrum
Disorder)—he has two nephews and a niece diagnosed with autism–provides
the inspiration for this, his third dramatic work dealing with the
subject. Interesting enough, yes, but were it not for his skills as a
storyteller, the result could have easily veered off into the lands of
way-too-technical or dry-as-dust.
Instead, he has crafted a sharp, witty and informative 90-minute,
extended one-act without treating his audiences as though they were
listening to a lecture. So compelling is this tale, though perhaps
wrapped up just a bit too quickly at the conclusion, one wishes it had
been given the chance to grow up into a two-act play. This small quibble
aside, the sure-handed direction of Jacqueline Schultz affords
LaZebnik’s engaging piece a fitting West Coast premiere.
Mac is a 23-year-old diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. His single
mother, Elizabeth, a photo editor, has devoted her life to obtaining
every possible type of therapy for Mac, and it has paid off in spades.
He has completed some sort of collegiate level degree in computer
graphics, and he is considered highly functioning and able to pass for
“typical” in the outside world. With technological advancements in her
career field making her skills more and more obsolete, Elizabeth faces
the prospect of having to sell their Manhattan apartment, a development
that does not sit well with Mac.
While searching for a job to supplement the family income, he
connects online with a woman named Iris, who, due to her own struggles
with autism, realizes their bond. She hires him, sight unseen, to
develop the graphics for her website, which is devoted to a fictitious
“Otherworld” where Celtic mythology collides with whatever images and
ideas pop out of Iris’s head. As their relationship blossoms, first
electronically and then in person, the effect it has on all three
characters is what elevates LaZebnik’s tale from merely intriguing to
As Mac and Iris, Dan Shaked and Virginia Newcomb are engrossing
at every turn. Shaked handles his character’s duality, both the calm
moments and occasional outbursts, with complete believability. Before us
we see a young man who has worked harder than most of us could ever
imagine just to be able to seem “normal” to everyone around him. Shaked
does a yeoman’s job in handling the “blind leading the blind” aspect of
his character’s relationship with Newcomb’s as together they encounter
heretofore unexplored emotions and physical consciousness.
Likewise, Newcomb does an amazing job bringing to life an adult who
has been afforded nearly none of the therapeutic assistance her male
counterpart has accessed. Her movement about the stage, replete with
repetitive gestures and facial mannerisms, mirrors the nearly constant
narration and computer generated voice program she uses to communicate.
It is a nearly description-defying performance that tears at the
Veteran actor Jeanie Hackett plays Elizabeth with the exact balance
of frustration, love, and protective concern one imagines would be
necessary to handle a lifelong commitment to a child challenged with
Mac’s disorder. The relationship Hackett and Shaked have polished
between their respective roles is one of mutual respect and love, yet
never losing sight of the fact that each possesses the right to be
brutally honest with the other. It’s an innately human set of qualities
that adds a special level of “life” to their characters.
Supporting this trio of outstanding performances and director
Shultz’s expertly conceived conceptual vision are the most enviable of
production values. John Iacovelli’s scenic design consisting of
countless frames, be they windows or pictures, provides an endless
series of perspective-driven spaces for R. Christopher Stokes’s dappled
lighting. Peter Bayne’s original music compositions and sound design are
flawless as are Jeff Teeter’s stunning array of eye-catching video
designs that transport us through locales both corporeal and
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
April 1, 2013
Open Fist Theatre
is not Caryl Churchill’s best play. But, wowza, does Open Fist Theatre
Company know how to produce it, bringing the structurally unwieldy,
big-cast, part-foreign language script to vivid life. It centers on the
times just before, during, and after the Romanian people’s move to oust
If the audience thinks of the play as focused on that moment in
history, the play, feels heavy-handed and obvious. If, however, the
audience takes it as symbolizing any and all repressive leadership, the
play feels chilling. Director Marya Mazor creates a dark, cold world,
where unornamented concrete structures restrict physical and emotional
expansion (production design by Richard Hoover). At the play’s start,
the 20-member cast portrays the populace waiting, resignedly silent and
unmoving, in an equally unmoving line. The characters in line turn to
the audience in Brechtian style. In unison they recite a poem, in
Romanian, with broad if not necessarily convincing smiles, praising
Churchill divides her play into stories of the individual and stories
of the nation. Parts I and III focus on two families, their friends and
colleagues, and the interpersonal relationships that reflect a
not-so-gracious but very universal side of humanity. Part II consists of
verbatim statements by Romanians, made to Churchill and the company of
British actors who went to Romania in the midst of the 1989 upheaval to
conduct interviews. The Open Fist cast, stepping up to two microphones,
delivers a cavalcade of testimonials. The inclusion of Eastern European
accents puzzles, until one realizes that the statements are verbatim
accounts given to Churchill, by brave souls with various abilities to
The two families at the play’s center are the laboring-class Vladu
family and the professional-class Antonescu family. Papa and mama Vladu
(Joe Hulser, Katherine Griffith) are parents to three children. Lucia
(Jennifer Hyacinth Schoch) marries an American but loves a Hungarian
(James Ball). Gabriel (Brad Schmidt), married to Rodica (Jessica Noboa),
is wounded in the revolution. Florina (Alla Poberesky), a nurse, seems
to be in love with Radu (Rene Millan), the son of the Antonescus
(Patrick John Hurley, Barbara Schofield).
The depth of the theater company’s bench astonishes. The leads are
stellar, and some are beyond “acting,” completely realistic onstage. But
even the smaller roles are filled with actors who would be leads in
other productions: A priest (Ryan Mulkay) chats with an angel (a teenage
Ian Hamilton), and drinks are served by a Broadway-caliber waiter (Jan
Add to this Mazor’s traffic-control direction, the dusky lighting
design by Wyatt Bartel/PRG-LA, and Tim Labor’s ominous sound design and
original compositions that sound straight out of Carpathian villages,
and the whole makes for an impressively evocative and provocative
evening of theater.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
April 1, 2013
The Good Thief
Open Fist Theatre
storyteller in this solo show doesn’t do characters. He doesn’t show
slides. In the hands of performer Michael McGee, he enthralls with
words. Conor McPherson, who later wrote The Weir and still later Shining
City, gives an actor this opportunity for pure storytelling,
This is not to say director Scott Paulin seems absent. Far from it,
he gives shape and seasoning to the monologue. At just the right moment,
McGee bursts into fakey martial arts moves, combatting a stage full of
imaginary adversaries. At just the right moment, McGee settles into the
onstage chair and cracks open a big bottle of a little sumthin’.
McPherson has created a character ripe for change. Our “thief” starts
his tale by revealing his profession as small-time thug and his
romantic style as card-carrying member of the she-deserved-the-beating
club. Sent on a job by the man who stole his girlfriend, he finds the
situation not as expected, and the job is botched. Through mistakes and
luck, he ends up on the run with the now-widow of the man he was only to
rough up a bit. On the road, he dreams—literally or not—of a peaceful,
loving, more useful life. Then, having glimpsed the life of a contented
man, he tries to re-create it with a later-in-life “roommate.”
McGee seems to see and hear everything he recounts. So does the
audience. From a dreary pub to a sunny garden, every setting reveals
itself in the viewer’s imagination. Lighting design, by Wyatt Bartel,
helps create the sites and moods. The sound design, by Peter Carlstedt,
is solid, but it distracts. With storytelling this good, gilding of the
aural lily isn’t needed.
With that much alcohol being downed by the character, should we
wonder how much of the end of the story is from his imagination?
Besides, how has he made it back to the pub to tell us his story on this
particular night? Hmm. And who is the good thief? Is the play so titled
because the character unwittingly stole moments of a better life? Or,
as McPherson likes to do, does the title refer to a certain figure from
one of the greatest stories ever told, Irish or otherwise?
Paulin sets the mood with his curtain speech, complete with Irish
accent that could easily fool LA ears. In addition to the standard
reminders about electronic devices and candy wrappers, he offers a
foreword that, in Irish storytelling tradition, dovetails perfectly with
the piece we’re about to hear.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
April 1, 2013
Six 01 Studio
British dramatist Philip Ridley has a penchant for oxymorons. His titles pull you up short with their startling juxtapositions: Leaves of Glass, The Pitchfork Disney, The Reflecting Skin.
Even his career is oddly bifurcated, as he bounces between lacerating
X-rated adult drama and lighthearted plays and novels for kids. The
title of his masterpiece to date, Mercury Fur,
evokes the cold molten metal and warm fuzziness that coexist within a
brilliant preapocalyptic nightmare, in which the world’s wealthy choose
the planet’s impending doom to indulge their sickest fantasies, while
their minions desperately seek some last-minute love. (The needtheatre
company pulled off a dazzling local production in 2009.)
Another local outfit has gotten ahold of a worldwide Ridley hit with yet another oxymoronic title: Tender Napalm
is a 90-minute series of spoken narratives performed—either as waltzes
of love or dances of death, you pick—by two unnamed teenagers (Graham
Hamilton and Jaimi Paige). They seem to be the last two people on earth,
or at least relate to each other as if they were, trying to stave off
Armageddon by way of the creation of tales.
While some of the stories seem
designed to impress (he tells of elaborate derring-do in vanquishing a
sea serpent), others involve elaborate psychosexual one-upsmanship
verging on outright attack. At different times, each describes placing a
live grenade into a nether orifice of the other and pulling the pin,
and on several occasions each seems to throw a monkey wrench into a
familiar storyline merely to throw the other for a loop. This must’ve
been what it was like when Edward Albee’s George and Martha were dating.
It’s all very vivid and profane and sweaty and theatrical. You can
readily understand why two thesps would sign on as co-producers for such
an impressive showcase of their talent, as they’re called upon to
handle thick English accents, leap and preen and fight and make mad
love. After a while, a little of such inchoate, abstracted stuff goes a
long way, though just when your eyes start crossing in the middle of
still one more list of disparate images, someone invariably says or does
something amazing to compel your attention. It all winds up with a
memory (a fantasy?) of how they met long ago, for a rather lovely coda.
Paige is the more natural and
easier to watch; Hamilton is the more “actor-y” but more fascinating to
watch. Together they make a pretty good team under Edward Edwards’s
direction, on a ratty Persian rug placed within a square arena bounded
by 14 chairs on each side. The thesps work up a considerable sweat, and
one can only hope that their sole prop, a long green
schmatte—practically a third character deserving of its own curtain
call—gets a good laundering between performances. It needs one.
Reviewed by Bob Verini
April 1, 2013
Mrs. Warren’s Profession
The Antaeus Company at Deaf West Theatre
can’t go wrong with an evening of intelligent discourse about
true-to-life issues. George Bernard Shaw’s writing is hard to top, and
his social conscience is as modern as could be. Mrs. Warren’s profession
has been prostitution. As Shaw pointedly states, it saved her from
poverty and likely starvation. She wasn’t in the business for giggles.
Mrs. Warren’s daughter, Vivie, home from college—educated but without
the possibility of a degree in the 19th century—discovers how her
lifestyle has been financed. She discovers other facts about her family
situation, too, and about the natures of the men around her and her
mother. No one is a hero here, but no one is purely villainous, either.
Even though the actors’ accents waver and speech cadences are
occasionally too modern, director Robin Larsen ensures that the audience
is looking at real people, not cartoon characters of “old” times.
Mirrors are held up to real-life relationships as Larsen connects the
dots between characters. Anne Gee Byrd’s Mrs. Warren and Rebecca Mozo’s
Vivie clearly have a mother-daughter relationship, albeit Vivie has been
educated in the British style, separated from her mother for months on
end. Vivie’s friend and intermittent beau, Frank (Ramon de Ocampo),
clearly disrespects and disdains his father, the Rev. Samuel Gardner
Larson also makes visual Mrs. Warren’s past. Behind the action, set
designer François-Pierre Couture includes a slatted flat that, when lit
by Jeremy Pivnick, reveals the young Mrs. Warren at “work.” The moments
of revelation make real just some of the strength and determination of
that woman and so many more. As Shaw wrote in his “apology” to the play,
“[S]tarvation, overwork, dirt, and disease are as anti-social as
prostitution…. [T]hey are the vices and crimes of a nation, and not
merely its misfortunes.”
But some of Larson’s staging might confuse the easily puzzled among
the audience: For example, why do the characters sometimes come through
the latching gate of the rectory garden and sometimes come around the
The character name Praed (played by Bill Brochtrup as the “sensible”
one onstage) gets pronounced in a variety of ways. Yes, this is the wont
of the Brits, and most humorously the name is pronounced like “prayed.”
But it’s not clear that the character—as opposed to the actors—intend
to use differing pronunciations.
Whatever one’s impressions of this production, as the playwright said
of himself in the third person, “Shaw cannot be silenced.”
Multiple casts take on the roles. This review covered a Friday-night performance, by “The Shaws.”
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
March 31, 2013
Kirk Douglas Theatre
opening night of this world premiere, playwright Jennifer Haley cooked
up a small firestorm that poured into the lobby and onto the street
after the show. A notable portion of the audience continued talking
about the subject matter. Those who didn’t, however, walked out in
solitude and buried themselves in their online world of texting and
email and whatever. Really? They didn’t even pause to think about what
they had seen?
Haley paints the future of “Western” civilization as living online,
some people totally and permanently becoming their virtual selves, in a
place called the Nether, formerly known as the Internet. Haley focuses
her play on a site called The Hideaway, created by a man called Sims
(Robert Joy), who is being interrogated by Morris (Jeanne Syquia),
designated a detective. The playwright does two remarkable things: She
creates a mesmerizing (some would argue extremely disturbing) world, and
her play’s central conflict leads to endlessly debatable questions of
psychology and/or morality.
Morris has brought Sims to a sterile grey chamber, where she tells him
she’s authorized by those on message boards to investigate The Hideaway.
The site, or realm as it’s called, allows adults to have horrifyingly
abusive and deadly relationships with children in a highly realistic,
albeit “virtual,” form. In this realm, the sunlight is warm, the odors
of mulch underneath open windows waft up to a second-story bedroom, and
the sexuality and bloodshed leave the participant thoroughly believing
How can this not be completely
reprehensible? Therein lies the play’s ultimate query. Sims knows his
propensity for child abuse cannot be fixed by psychotherapy or
castration. So he created this simulation, where he and others can act
out their compulsions. Is it an acceptable means for venting, or will it
make pedophiles think there’s acceptance in the world at large because
this realm condones their acts, or should humanity have a zero-tolerance
policy on any form of abuse, even an artificial one? Isn’t there a
divide between mens rea and actus reus?
Isn’t Sims merely the intersection of artist and scientist, reproducing
life as he would like to see it but forcing it on no one?
To give little away: At some point the audience may catch glimpses of
the virtual hideaway and its denizens (Brighid Fleming, Adam Haas
Hunter, and Dakin Matthews). Morality aside, the view is spectacular,
created with grace and smarts by director Neel Keller and set designer
Adrian W. Jones. Keller literally moves the action along, making the
scenes of interrogation intense and tinting other scenes of happy
Victoriana with the darkest undertones.
The play’s one remarkable moment of acting occurs at the end, as
Matthews takes on a 9-year-old girl’s persona. It earned the actor a
gentle, genuine, probably pressure-relieving laugh—definitely for his
performance, not the characters’ situations.
This production should be seen for the world it creates and the
conversation it will provoke. Meantime, spare a thought for the young
people in real life who are being abused as you read this.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
March 26, 2013
Skylab Theatre Complex
this website nor anyone affiliated with it endorses child abuse of any
kind. Chances are, playwright Doris Baizley does not endorse child abuse
of any kind. She wrote a play, and the play is undoubtedly intended to
provoke. In that, she succeeds. Please don’t shoot the messengers.
This West Coast premiere, written “in collaboration with [attorney]
Susan Raffanti,” traces online correspondence between a San Diego–based
FBI agent and a man he is investigating for a thus-far cyberspace-only
relationship with a 14-year-old girl named Sandy.
Unsurprisingly, this 14-year-old girl is a fictitious creation of
said agent, Richard Roe (note the legalese surname). Under pressure from
the agency to ensnare a predator, he haunts various chat rooms with the
intent to persuade an adult male, any adult male, to hop a plane with a
suitcase full of rubbers and head for Lindbergh Field in the hopes of
John Doe (note, again, the legalese name, perhaps to insure the
playwright against lawsuits by the similarly named) finds Sandy online
and begins to chat with her. Instead of snapping up Roe’s bait, Johnny D
counsels patience, abstinence, and dating boys her age. And he remains
resolutely put in Illinois. As Roe becomes more desperate, the agent
The men’s desks and chairs are
identical. Both men empty their pockets of the belongings of manhood
before sitting down at their computers. Both men sip their favorite
beverages as they type. Each loves to fish. As it turns out, each is in a
troubling relationship with his wife and kids. One, however, is in love
with a fantasy, marinating in the memory of a preteen crush gone sour.
Baizley includes additional characters: adults online (Bonnie
Brewster, Danielle Marie Gavaldon, and Wolfie Trausch) who are
pretending to be young girls, and Roe’s supervisor (Christian Lyon).
Baizley probably included these characters to provide visual and aural
variety, and director Jim Holmes uses them well. But they’re not
necessary to the storytelling. Our interest remains with Doe and Roe and
their eminently dramatic conflict.
In large part our interest is stoked because two of the city’s finest
actors play the roles. JD Cullum is stellar, playing Johnny D as lost
in arrested development, tempted by feelings awakened after more than 30
years. Johnny seeks a connection with someone his own emotional age,
and Cullum nails the neediness and the immaturity. Gregory Itzin plays
Agent Roe as thoroughly frustrated by his personal and professional
situations, unhappily puzzled by the feelings evoked as he discovers
commonality with his correspondent. Itzin melts into Roe’s loneliness,
evidencing moments of comfort in chatting with a correspondent Roe knows
to be a contemporary.
Projections (presumably by set- and lighting designer Jeff
McLaughlin) effectively and simply establish locations. Just before the
play begins, sound designer Christopher Moscatiello sets the tone with
Tom Waits’s poem of paranoia, “What’s He Building in There?”
The play is not flawless. It’s hard to believe FBI agents talk to
each other the way these two do; it’s even harder to believe FBI
specialists in this area don’t know most if not all the tricks and
carefully use them. It’s likewise hard to believe Johnny D wouldn’t spot
the trickery. Then, again, he has the mindset of a teenage boy and may
be desperate to misunderstand the clues—most of which he catches. But
the script is complex and rich. And Baizley knows when and how to end
the work. The tragedy haunts the audience, and whatever we think would
have happened, there’s sadness for the broken John Doe and especially
for victims across the globe. We are, all needless to say, complicated
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
March 26, 2013
International City Theatre at Long Beach Performing Arts Center
success of some theatrical pieces depends on one central character to
provide the emotional heft necessary to carry the show. This might be
the case in this Terrence McNally revival about Maria Callas were it not
for the charming portrayals of the students who are signed up to take
the master class offered by the brilliant opera star at Juilliard in the
early 1970s, near the end of her career. Described as fictional, the
play nonetheless weaves elements of Callas’s real life into the
Callas, played with passionate precision by Gigi Bermingham, begins
as she, with autocratic condescension, starts the class that we, the
audience, are attending. There is no cushion for her chair; she needs a
footstool because of her short stature; she calls for water—all requests
that are fulfilled by an unimpressed stagehand (humorously portrayed by
Jeremy Mascia). She is prepared to pass on her wisdom but only if the
students merit her time.
The first young soprano to face the indomitable Callas is Sophie De
Palma (Danielle Skalsky). At first eager, she is halted after singing
only one note. Callas witheringly points out that wasting time on the
voice must not begin until the singer can embody the character.
McNally’s Callas claims, “This is not about me,” when clearly the
opposite is true. Scathing yet, at times, humorous, Callas is the
As the second singer—a confidently brash young tenor, Anthony
Candolino (Tyler Milliron)—approaches, Callas puts him through his
paces, but she is gentler with the male singer than she is with the two
women in her class. His performance triggers memories of her past,
bringing her to reflection and tears.
The third student is Sharon Graham (Jennifer Shelton), who leaves
after being challenged with haughty treatment, but she returns for the
honor of being critiqued by the bel canto expert. When the session ends
badly, she reviles Callas with hateful remarks. All three students bring
life to the play with beautiful operatic renditions of works that
Callas either performed or knew well.
Bermingham handles the characterization well, though she is much more
elegant and toned down than the fiery Greek whose life was, by her own
accounts, difficult. Her Callas muses over her failed relationship with
Aristotle Onassis, and she relives her triumphs at La Scala.
Director Todd Nielsen maintains a brisk pace, allowing Bermingham her
dynamic presence, but he wisely allows the students to give as good as
they get. Jeremy Pivnick’s skillful lighting enhances Bermingham’s
solitary monologues into her past. Accompanist–music director James Lent
plays a cheerful role as Callas’s skillful pianist in the classroom. An
operatic soundtrack plays in the background throughout the evening.
attempts to capture the soul of this quixotic, ego-driven woman. She is
gracious and abrasive, sentimental and tormented. McNally’s play on its
own is self-indulgent biography, but watching Callas come to life in a
taxing role for any actor is rewarding.
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
March 25, 2013
DOMA Theatre Co. at The MET Theatre
crackles with energy and treats audiences to a tidal wave of standout
performances. In this musical with book and lyrics by Tom Eyen, music by
Henry Krieger, and additional material by Willie Reale, three black
female vocalists, à la The Supremes, try to discover a method by which
to break out in the music scene of the early 1960s. Along the way, the
singers suffer through interpersonal rivalries, managerial feuds, and
unrequited love affairs as each member of the group struggles to find
the strength to follow her individual dreams.
Director Marco Gomez has pulled off a daring feat in finding a way to
shoehorn a large ensemble piece—28 performers and an onstage musical
sextet—into this smaller venue’s playing space. Not once, even during
choreographer Rae Toledo’s most intricate work, is there a sense of
overcrowding. Music director Chris Raymond, on keyboard, exudes
confidence conducting from far stage right. His combo is balanced
beautifully with the flawless vocal amplification provided by sound
designer David Crawford. Picking up every nook and cranny of Amanda
Lawson’s two-storied set, Johnny Ryman’s illumination misses not a beat
when, seemingly at every turn, costume designer Michael Mullen
increasingly amazes with a series of gowns and period clothing that are
worthy of their own curtain call.
Basking in the glow of these exceptional production values is a cast
whose intensity seems barely containable. Constance Jewell Lopez,
Jennifer Colby Talton and Tyra Dennis are dynamite as the titular trio.
As Effie White, the group’s original lead singer, Lopez handles the
emotional arc with strength and her songs with all of the hallmarks of a
star. Her rendition of the Act 1 barnburner “And I’m Telling You I’m
Not Going” very nearly heralds the intermission a whole scene early
because of Lopez’s showstopping performance.
Likewise Talton as Deena Jones (the Diana Ross equivalent in this
story) and Dennis as Lorrell Robinson, the baby of the group, are
exceptional. As their characters transform from followers to leaders
before our eyes, both actors do a yeoman’s job bringing to life the
maturity their characters must develop to reclaim their personal
dignity. Memorable as well is Tiffany Williams as Michelle Morris, the
singer chosen to replace the ever increasingly difficult Effie when the
group seems about to self-destruct.
On the male side of the aisle, all
is well. Welton Thomas Pitchford provides the perfect combination of
cunning and confidence in the pivotal role of Curtis Taylor, Jr. A
former car salesman, Curtis nudges out another adversary and becomes the
group’s manager and Deena’s love interest. On the verge of losing her
over his manipulative ways, Pitchford’s pleas in “When I First Saw You”
are simple and powerful. Likewise, Frank Andrus Jr. plays Effie’s
brother C.C., whose musical compositions are the group’s bread and
butter, with sincerity and a refreshing lack of guile. And finally,
there is Keith Arthur Bolden who is an indefatigable core of passion and
fervor as Jimmy “Thunder” Early, the established star in whom the trio
first entrusts their future. Clearly modeling his role after real-life
singer James Brown, Bolden brings down the house with “Steppin’ to the
Bad Side,” “Walkin’ Down the Strip,” and his second-act swansong “I
Meant You No Harm.”
The remainder of the multitalented cast covers multiple roles
spanning the 1960s and on into the next decade as the ride gets much
rougher. In the end, however, our heroines make peace with their various
demons and distractions, which leaves each of them in separate, albeit
much better, places from which to orchestrate the rest of their lives
It’s another feather in the increasingly crowded brim of a musical
theater company that has staked a claim of noteworthy excellence in a
city where its list of rivals has sadly dwindled over the past few
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
March 25, 2013
Nuttin’ But Hutton
NoHo Arts Center
was the queen of the novelty songs. The girl next door whose firebrand
pizzazz and subtle sex appeal made her the worldwide pin-up darling of
the GI’s during World War II. The actress who proved to studio chiefs
that she could handle anything they threw at her including saving their
butts when Judy Garland’s downward spiral threatened the completion of Annie Get Your Gun and Rita Hayworth bowed out of The Greatest Show on Earth. And when she faced her own demons, she left it all behind on her own terms. She was the indefatigable Betty Hutton.
Betty may have met her match in the multitalented Diane Vincent, who
felt moved, upon seeing Hutton’s final televised interview with TCM’s
Robert Osborne, to spend countless hours along with her husband—Sam
Kriger, who doubles as the show’s music director—researching Hutton’s
life and career in order to create this remarkable homage. Vincent is
the perfect whirling dervish of energy as she turns every one of the
show’s nearly two-dozen numbers into showstopping bombshells. Vincent’s
solo standouts include Frank Loesser’s “Rumble, Rumble, Rumble” and
Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s “His Rocking Horse Ran Away,” but
those barely scratch the surface of what this wide-eyed comedian and her
fellow cast members pack into this fast paced-ride. The sure hands of
director Larry Raben and choreographer Lee Martino keep everything
moving smoothly and expertly balanced between madcap hilarity and
Vincent’s unabashedly paper thin script revolves around DeeDee, an
actor who, in Act 1, has cornered a struggling Ziegfeld wannabe in his
office where she machine guns him with her Hutton tribute in order to
secure his backing for a full-blown production. Veteran character actor
Nathan Holland provides just the right amount of harried skepticism as
producer Buster Heymeister, playing foil to Vincent’s hysterical
bombardment. His duet with Vincent on “A Square in a Social Circle” is a
heartwarming break from the show’s rapid-fire delivery.
Backed up by a trio of highly
individualized chorus boys (Chad Borden, Daniel Guzman, and Justin
Jones) who just “coincidentally” happen to be named Tom, Dick and Harry,
DeeDee pulls out all the stops trying to win over Heymeister’s support.
Oh, and was it mentioned that Vincent’s “anything for a laugh”
sensibility lends itself to a series of groan-inducing puns and punch
lines that keeps the audience wanting more? Listen closely for her
topper, which involves the use of Holland’s character’s name.
Likewise, Vincent and Kriger offer the backup guys the opportunity to
highlight their background stories and hidden desires as Act 2 shows us
DeeDee’s finished production. Borden’s dreams of traipsing the boards
as a Shakespearian tragedian come to fruition when the cast re-creates
Loesser’s blockbuster number “Hamlet.” Guzman’s character, killing time
until he can play Emile “Debe-Cue” in a local playhouse’s production of South Pacific,
steps out in a medley remembering Hutton’s Broadway appearance in that
Rogers and Hammerstein vehicle. Jones is a crackup with his
ventriloquist’s-dummy partner, which serves him well during a
cute-as-a-button duet with Vincent titled “Igloo.”
Kriger’s orchestrations and, in particular, his quartet arrangements
for the men are heavenly, as is the small combo of musicians he leads
from a stage right balcony. Costume designer A. Jeffrey Schoenberg
deserves a medal for the never-ending array of wardrobe choices and
changes the cast pulls off with effortless aplomb. Jeff McLaughlin’s
scenic design with smoothly gliding furniture pieces and swiveled wall
panels looks great under Luke Moyer’s constantly impressive lighting.
Cricket S. Myers sound balance is never better than during Vincent’s
contemplative renditions of “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” and in what
serves as the icing on the cake, her truly heartfelt show-ending duet
with a video projected Hutton as they sing her signature piece,
“Somebody Loves Me.”
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
March 25, 2013
End of the Rainbow
When Judy Garland sang, “Forget your troubles, come on get happy,” in the 1950 film Summer Stock,
she convinced much of her audience that she was at least trying to take
her own advice. Hollywood insiders knew about her crushing insecurities
and multitudinous addictions. But in performance, Garland gave. She
shed her issues for the moment and became the musical number. In
hindsight, of course, we see behind the big, brown, long-lashed eyes.
Peter Quilter’s West Coast premiere End of the Rainbow
gives us a self-centered, thoroughly distraught, though manically
jocular Garland. The action takes place in 1968 in a not-yet-paid-for
suite at London’s Ritz Hotel and on the tiny stage of a nightclub.
Garland, in the West End for a five-week run of concerts, is being
tended to, with varying degrees of success, by her manager-fiancé Mickey
Deans (Erik Heger)—soon to be husband No. 5—and by her accompanist, the
saintly, gay Anthony (Michael Cumpsty).
Quilter’s script lumps in bits of well-known biography and quotes and
extrapolates the rest, coming to a jarringly direct-address ending in
which Anthony tells us not all will be well, unsurprisingly. Thus, the
draw of this production has been the performances, directed by Terry
Johnson. As Garland, Tracie Bennett gives at best an athletic
performance—a jittery, frenetic portrayal. Bennett can “do” Garland the
way comedic drag performers do her: as a cartoon drawing, finding the
gross outlines that immediately establish the persona. But who is
Garland the person, and why don’t we know her any better after the two
acts we spent watching her?
In her performances, the real-life
Garland appeared extroverted, seemingly aware of her every gesture and
of course aware of her musicality. Bennett’s Garland seems introverted,
while the actor seems focused on giving the audience—the ones at the
nightclub and the ones in the Ahmanson Theatre—every quirk and tic she
thinks we want to see. A touch of that might even be acceptable, if we
only could see behind the shell, when Garland is not “on.” She cries to
Mickey, “I don’t want to be loved out there, I want to be loved in
here.” Well, let us love the real her. Instead of showing us the
offstage agony and the onstage professionalism, it seems as if Bennett’s
Garland is “performing” in the private-life scenes and dealing with
“demons” in the nightclub scenes.
What can keep the audience hooked
in are the universally human quandaries and qualities onstage here. Judy
can’t cease being bossy, though she professes to be delegating to
Mickey. She can’t face a performance or a radio appearance without
confidence-building chemistry. She can’t see pure, caring love when it
comes to her. Those moments, few as they are, are wrenching.
So is Cumpsty’s performance as Judy’s Scottish accompanist. This
portrayal of a kind, supportive, smart man should qualify the actor and
character for a spinoff all about Anthony. In addition, Cumpsty plays
piano for Judy’s desultory rehearsals in her hotel room and at the club
Two more reasons to shout hallelujah: With orchestrations by Chris
Egan, music arrangements by Gareth Valentine, and music direction by
Jeffrey Saver, the onstage band sounds simultaneously modern and
old-school in the best senses of those terms; and William Dudley’s
costuming thoroughly evokes the era.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
March 23, 2013
Kentwood Players at Westchester Playhouse
100 years ago, the 20th century held great promise for America. We
would earn a reputation as a world superpower. We would be known as a
populace of hard work and bravery and innovation. And yet, we were a
nation of haves and have-nots, “colored” and whites, hawks and doves,
activists and the uninformed. We welcomed some immigrants and not
others. We worshiped celebrities. We suffered unemployment. How much of
that would change over the century?
the musical based on E. L. Doctorow’s novel of the same name, brings to
life this panoply of 20th century American issues. It does so at a
distance of time that makes us ponder what has changed and what hasn’t.
The musical—with book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and
music by Stephen Flaherty—is flavored with ragtime rhythms. Its stories
are recounted in short scenes of varying tempos. Three main tales weave
together, ultimately reflecting the fabric of our nation.
Mother and her family, upper-class Caucasians, at first seem bound by
propriety, fighting the groundswell of change coming to their world.
Meantime, Coalhouse Walker Jr., the Harlem-based musician, is quietly
infuriated by those he thinks look down on him. Tateh, a Jewish
immigrant, struggles his way out of the tenements, determined to make a
living in the new land.
As their stories mesh under the direction of Susan Goldman Weisbarth,
the cast of nearly 50 fills Westchester Playhouse’s small playing area.
Weisbarth stages elegantly, particularly considering the choppy
material. Her full-chorus numbers thrill, thanks in large part to music
director Bill Wolfe, who ensures the clarity of the clever, intelligent
lyrics and who allows moments of choral pianissimo to contrast with and
build the big moments.
For the most part, Weisbarth’s
stars handle Flaherty’s complex music well. The strikingly handsome Deus
Xavier Scott captures Coalhouse Walker’s magnetism, simmering anger,
and dignity, and the performer’s singing voice is stirring yet soothing.
Jennifer Sperry is luminous as the proto-feminist Mother, her voice
warming up and warming as the show progresses. As Tateh, Bradley Miller
displays a big voice and big heart, as well as an effortless dance
The cast boasts charming child performers, particularly the engaging
Logan Gould as Mother’s son, known as Little Boy, and the enchantingly
focused Karen E. Kolkey as Tateh’s daughter, Little Girl. An older and
thus more-sophisticated performer, Slater Ross captures the hormones and
determination of Younger Brother. Coalhouse’s beloved, Sarah, gets a
sweetly shy portrayal by Johanna Rose Burwell. Sarah’s opposite, the
indomitable activist Emma Goldman, gets a fully charged portrayal by
Though not all the voices astonish and not all the dancers amaze, the
totality does—thanks to hard work and bravery and innovation. In Ragtime,
America begins its journey to the melting pot, along the way birthing
civil rights and jobs for women. What will we make of the century
spinning ahead of us?
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
March 22, 2013
Mark Taper Forum
Nina Raine’s Tribes
is a dense stew of a family saga, boasting more provocative themes and
sharply defined characters than most plays of double its length or
ambition. Maybe not since August: Osage County
packed the Ahmanson Theatre in 2009 has a single Los Angeles stage
played host to such a richly satisfying examination of the bonds and
strains acting upon our two families: the one in which we’re born, and
the one we shape for ourselves.
The main theme is deafness, and not just that which was visited at
birth to Billy (a mesmerizing Russell Harvard) and is slowly creeping up
on his girlfriend and American Sign Language tutor Sylvia (excellent,
touching Susan Pourfar).
The members of Billy’s family—academic parents; feckless, disturbed
older brother; and feckless, rootless older sister—all make their living
through words (or try to), which means they wildly overestimate their
ability to communicate. Even worse, they possess a knack for selectively
processing what anyone else is saying, based on long-standing prejudice
Raine knows the ways in which relatives take each other for
granted, and the consequent explosions when a child or sibling suddenly
doesn’t behave as expected. It doesn’t take long for new families to
become afflicted, either: Billy and Sylvia’s love affair quickly becomes
as tainted by crossed wires as if they’d been together for a decade.
There’s no better recipe for theatrical hilarity than a roomful of
people whose business is to use words as a weapon or shield, going at
each other at white heat. But it’s more than a comedic energy that’s at
work here. Layers and levels among the various relationships are only
gradually revealed, making Tribes
one of the rare plays that becomes more complex and more gripping as it
moves along. When the emotional stakes are as high as Raine raises
them, amusement again and again turns on a dime into heartbreak a
theatergoer will not soon shake or forget.
All the performances are
spectacularly assured—doubtless a function of having been honed for more
than a year at New York’s Barrow Street Theatre—with special mention
going to Will Brill’s astonishing two-hour descent into mental
catastrophe as Daniel, whose protectiveness toward his baby brother
proves to have an eerie psychological subtext.
Director David Cromer once again shows his ability to weave
metatheatrical devices (projections, oddly-framed subtitles, and sound
effects) into realistic dramas, as he did at The Broad Stage for Our Town and in New York for the sadly underappreciated Brighton Beach Memoirs.
While some of the devices enhance the emotion, others seem
self-consciously showy. Yet none seems idle or ill-thought-through, and
when the impact is as strong as it is here, one is inclined to just take
it all in and be carried along, unprotesting.
There’s a lot of yelling in this household, which is justified
thematically and characterologically, but which makes it a little
difficult for the viewer to find a comfortable seat at the table for the
first half-hour. But don’t give up on Tribes. It’s got your number.
Reviewed by Bob Verini
March 11, 2013
Driving Miss Daisy
Sierra Madre Playhouse
What a squandered opportunity for two highly skilled actors and a script
that offers minute-by-minute chances to reach and teach an audience.
Instead, here the two actors create cartoon characters in a hurried
display that cursorily sketches the script’s issues and emotions.
Alfred Uhry’s three-hander introduces the audience to the 72-year-old
Daisy Werthen at a point where, her driving abilities on the wane, her
son Boolie hires the 50-something Hoke to chauffeur her. Prejudices
being what they were in the 1940s South, the Jewish Daisy and
African-American Hoke come to grips with their “places” in society and
their self-images. Over the course of the play, from 1948 through 1973,
the characters and American culture bravely change.
Mary Lou Rosato and Willie C. Carpenter can and do find moments of
depth as Daisy and Hoke. Those moments are quiet, effective, and
unfortunately brief. Director Christian Lebano seems to have put his
rehearsal time into staging rather than delving into the world of the
play. The various cars are represented by a handsome set of
black-lacquered chairs and a bench, which work well visually; but the
actors guide the furniture down the raked stage and back up, leaving the
audience to hope the dolly doesn’t slip into the first few rows of
Because the attention here is focused on sliding set pieces in and
out and quick-change costuming, Uhry’s script is revealed as a badly
strung-together chronology that lurches along like Daisy’s driving.
There’s little foundation or momentum for the final scene, in which Hoke
should gently feed Miss Daisy. Instead it plays as if they’re downing
as much food as possible before the swiftly dimmed lighting cuts off the
It’s left to Brad David Reed, playing Daisy’s son Boolie, to limn a
realistic character who reflects an understanding of the conflicts
around him and who grows from handling them—even while playing the comic
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
March 5, 2013
Cavalia’s Odysseo’s White Big Top
Once again Cavalia’s trademarked multi-spired tents have been raised on
what is normally a vacant and structure-less foundation in Burbank.
Although this incarnation bears some resemblances to its 2011
predecessor, this time the remarkably talented cast of rider/trainers
and their equestrian charges transport their audience through myriad
worldly and terrestrial locales as they delight the senses at every
turn. Co-directors and choreographers Wayne Fowkes and Benjamin Aillaud,
respectively handling the human and animal performances, have crafted a
production that is the textbook definition of spectacular.
From the opening strains of composer Michel Cusson’s original
score, which runs the gamut from haunting to exhilarating, it’s obvious
that every aspect of the show works in perfect harmony. A single,
riderless horse enters the playing area, slowly followed by an
ever-increasing number of its kind, while vocalist Anna-Laura Edmiston,
interpreting Cusson’s French lyrics, welcomes one and all to this
mysterious experience. As Act 1 progresses, there is the familiar and
impressive Roman and Trick riding.
So too, a touching display of human-equine interaction titled “Le
Sedentaire” wherein trainer Elise Verdoncq singlehandedly guides nine
steeds through a series of patterns using nothing more than barely
perceptible vocal commands and calming caresses. But the newest
additions draw the greatest responses. A troupe of West African
acrobats, including members of two families, practically steals the show
with each appearance. Equally mind-blowing is “Carusello,” an aptly
titled segment in which a full-sized merry-go-round descends from the
upper reaches of the tent, coming to rest on the stage floor. Utilizing
this veritable playground is a group of stunningly agile gymnasts whose
feats of physical prowess on rotating and static poles are nothing short
Act 2 begins with “Oasis,” during which 28 pairs of horses and humans
scattered about the stage in reclining positions slowly rise and
combine into a singular body of dancelike movement. Following this
majestic demonstration are death-defying performances on aerial hoops.
Along the way, lighting designer Alain Lortie combines his talent with
that of a group of visual specialists to transform the arena and the
three-story Imax-styled scrim behind it into locations including the
lunar surface, the Sahara, and the grasslands of the African tundra.
Capping off the evening is a nearly full flooding of the sand-covered
stage with approximately six to eight inches of water. Into this
marsh-like setting bursts a riderless herd that cavorts about the stage,
leading into “Odysseo,” the titular finale/curtain call in which the
entire cast, human and equine, presents highlights from the production.
One note of caution: Given Cavalia’s location and the travel and
parking logistics involved, it is highly advisable to plan ahead and
allot ample time for reaching the venue prior to the opening curtain.
And although this is not a short show, due in part to a necessary
30-minute intermission so that man and beast can prepare for Act 2, it
is worth every minute.
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
March 4, 2013
12 Angry Men
Torrance Theatre Company
few days ago, a juror made local news for conducting Internet research
to help herself decide the case she was on. The court dismissed her from
the jury panel.
So the audience at Torrance Theatre Company’s current production
might need to suspend disbelief and all knowledge of the legal system
while watching Reginald Rose’s 1950s play (here in the version adapted
by Sherman Sergel). It’s a small price to pay for the thrill of watching
men solve problems through the power of well-chosen words.
Rose sets his play in a jury room, where the eponymous panel must
unanimously decide a young man’s guilt or innocence. But the setting
serves only as a springboard for Rose’s main themes: we are creatures of
prejudice, so it’s best we act peaceably and through discourse.
By the play’s end, the audience has learned a bit about each
juror—though not any juror’s name. At the top of the play, only Juror
No. 8 thinks the defendant deserves a considered deliberation. The
foreman tries to keep peace while the men debate the testimony and
confess their biases and re-enact the crime.
Perry Shields directs with
charming detail and a firm hand on pacing and tone, leaving the play in
its original, 1950s setting. He also stages the work flawlessly, so even
though the action requires nothing more than men sitting around a long
table, here those men wander and lunge and stretch and perch at
precisely calibrated moments, keeping the play rolling along. The fussy
in the audience might wonder whether 1950s jurors would dare appear in
casual attire, but at least it breaks up the visuals and suits the
Shields also cast well. From the outset, Rose’s specific character
“types” make themselves known to the audience. The belligerent father,
Juror No. 3, is given a well-constructed portrayal by Scot Renfro, going
from merely angry to flushed rage over the course of the play. The
gentle European immigrant, Juror No. 11, gets a lovely portrayal by Bob
Baumsten, who clearly and consistently speaks with a vaguely Yiddish
So-called multicultural casting works beautifully here. Matthew David
Smith plays Juror No. 5, who admits to having lived in slums, with
strength but not pomposity, and with respect for the period yet without
Juror No. 8, however, must carry the show. He begins the journey by
revealing the results of his independent investigation, in a flashy move
that should convey what he’s thinking. In Reed Arnold’s subdued
portrayal, the audience rarely sees the essence of this character or his
thought processes. Arnold makes him neither an everyman nor a hero,
never growing or changing.
Arnold shows skills, however. He is an adept listener, reacting with
theatrical timing, as does the rest of Shield’s cast, remaining
thoroughly focused though mere feet away from the audience in this
The characters swelter in the
closed room, so periodically one or another gets up for a drink at the
water cooler. Here, the 1950s-evoking cooler—indeed the entire jury room
with its well-worn table and chairs, and its realistically painted
linoleum flooring—deserves praise for SteveG Design and the scenery
crew. Steve Giltner’s lighting design hints at government-issue bulbs
without looking harsh on the actors.
What’s missing from the 1950s? Fortunately, all that cigarette smoke makes no appearance here.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
March 4, 2013
Eleventh Street Productions in association with and at Secret Rose Theatre
art of therapy—and it appears to be an art—attempts to explore issues
leading to enhanced personal development. In this case, writer-director
and licensed clinical social worker Jeff Bernhardt looks at this world
through the eyes of three therapists and a bitter young man who is the
patient of one of them.
Steven (Jed Sura) has a new client, Lance (Luis Selgas), who has come
to him unwillingly because his parents want him to be “fixed.” Though
Steven tries to make a connection, Lance isn’t willing to cooperate, and
his early sessions are unproductive.
As is often the case, therapists attend therapy sessions of their
own. Steven sees Moira (Lynn Ann Leveridge), a warm, motherly
practitioner, who is helping him understand issues of abandonment by his
mother and his failure to commit to a relationship with his girlfriend.
Moira, in turn, sees Sandra (Marcie Lynn Ross), a formal and reserved
therapist who seems detached from her patient.
Bernhardt’s construct utilizing frequent mini-scenes allows for the
interweaving of the central characters. As a device it works to keep the
action moving, but it also fragments the storyline and leaves questions
The star of the play is the beautifully designed set by Eloise Ayala.
The three coexisting offices reflect the personalities of the
therapists. Moira’s is eclectic, with various art pieces and incense;
Steven’s is more academic and masculine; Sandra’s is sterile and
Selgas is outstanding as the
troubled, angry, and volatile young man whose persona is authentic.
Leveridge is also completely believable as she invests her character
with real empathy. In a particularly emotional moment with her own
therapist, she imbues her character with genuine pathos. Ross and Sura
are equally good in their characterizations.
While the story is engaging and follows a plausible trajectory,
tightening the threads of the plot to allow for longer development of
the characters’ issues would improve the audience buy-in. At play’s end,
the three therapists have begun to address their personal lives more
proactively, but it is more mechanical and tidy than emotional. Still,
much food for thought is provided, and sympathy for the counselor
results. Bernhardt’s caveat might be: therapist, heal thyself.
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
March 4, 2013
Jeckyll & Hyde, the Musical
Broadway/L.A. at Pantages Theatre
are a few positive aspects of Jeff Calhoun’s direction of a show that
is fast approaching “chestnut” status as it winds its way across the
country on a multicity tour before its heralded revival on the Great
White Way. Lavish production values set a high water mark from the
opening moments and work exceptionally well—less perhaps one glaringly
harsh exception in the second act. Designer Tobin Ost has created a
magnificently versatile scenic design featuring large panels that swivel
and move about the stage, providing areas upon which projection
designer Daniel Brodie’s handiwork, some still and some moving, augment
various scenes. Likewise, Ost’s costuming is sumptuous and eye-catching,
darker hues setting the tone for this gothic tale of horrific tragedy
thanks to lighting designer Jeff Croiter’s topnotch illumination.
Couple these highpoints with a deep well of supporting players from
which Calhoun has drawn, and one could easily see a long and healthy New
York run. But this piece must rest, as well it should, on the shoulders
of the actor selected to assay the titular roles. Unfortunately, in
what can best be described as a disappointing example of “stunt”
casting, Constantine Maroulis—he of American Idol
fame—demonstrates that an otherwise amazing ability to “rock out” on
what are clearly “legitimate” musical theater compositions seems merely
self-indulgent and horribly out of place.
It’s as though he and musical director Steven Landau are
compensating for Maroulis being seemingly in over his head. His Jekyll
displays not a shred of leading man quality, but comes off instead as
weak and possessing none of the drive and determination that leads to
his self-experimentation. His bland version of composer Frank Wildhorn’s
and lyricist Leslie Bricusse’s Act 1 signature piece “This Is the
Moment” seems more about posing around the stage than playing the good
doctor’s mounting excitement. Likewise, it seems inexplicable that a
woman as self-assured as Teal Wicks’s beautifully voiced Emma Carew
would ever find romance with such an insecure specimen.
Maroulis’s version of Jekyll’s
evil alter-ego, Edward Hyde, is, to be sure, much more watchable, that
is if catching rare glimpses of his face from behind a mop of
forward-combed hair qualifies as such. As Hyde becomes the stronger of
the two, the transformations and Maroulis’s wavering accent become less
and less convincing. But the worst affront comes in the form of
Calhoun’s take and his star’s performance of “Confrontation.” Is it that
Maroulis couldn’t handle what is arguably one of the most difficult
solo pieces ever written or did his director feel that current audiences
needed to be wowed with exaggerated spectacle? Rather than
demonstrating the battle being waged between the character’s dual
personalities, Maroulis sings only the Jekyll half of the song while the
walls of his home play movie screen to overblown video sequences
featuring the actor, prerecorded, singing the Hyde role amidst images of
cracked mirrors and animated explosions. Rather than providing a
climactic part of a larger story, it seems like a stage-sized version of
an Xbox game.
On the other hand, and thankfully
so, his co-star, Deborah Cox is everything anyone could wish for in the
role of the love-starved prostitute, Lucy Harris. Cox’s acting is of the
highest caliber, and kudos to her for trusting the songs enough to
simply sing them as originally written. No outlandish demonstrations of a
vocal range that no doubt she has on hand. Just gorgeous, lovingly
rendered performances of “Someone Like You,” “A New Life,” and her
showstopping interpretation with Wicks of the female duet “In His Eyes.”
How audiences will respond to this piece when it finally reaches
Broadway remains to be seen. On the night reviewed, the reactions of
those at the Pantages were certainly a mixed bag. Some leapt to their
feet to applaud, while others headed up the aisles even as the rest of
the cast exited the stage and Maroulis made a final approach to the
footlights visibly encouraging further adoration the way one might
envision a rock concert to end.
Reviewed by Dink O'Neal
February 16, 2013
Around the World in 80 Days
International City Theatre
nearly 150 years Jules Verne’s inventive writings have captured the
imagination of other writers, poets, and artists as they create works
based on his often fanciful science fiction stories. A delightful case
in point is playwright Mark Brown’s clever adaptation directed by
Allison Bibicoff with a crack team of five energetic actors playing more
than three dozen parts.
We all know the story: Phileas Fogg (Jud V. Williford) bets a group
of his Reform Club fellows that he can circle the globe in 80 days.
Joined by his French manservant, Passepartout (Michael Uribes), he
travels by steamer and rail, all the while encountering exotic locales
and perilous mishaps. Around the same time as Fogg is leaving on his
adventure, a British bank robbery leads Detective Fix (Brian Stanton) to
suspect the wealthy Fogg of the deed, and Fix follows him, placing
obstacles in Fogg’s way so he can arrest him at the appropriate time.
Trying to describe the plot’s machinations and actors’ roles is
nearly as difficult as Fogg’s global endeavors. A particularly amusing
scene is an elephant ride utilizing two gray umbrellas, a stack of
chairs, and a labeled “trunk” that actors climb on, swaying as they
journey. There’s a typhoon, Indian uprisings in the old West, and
mysterious orange-clad figures to foil. The story is well-anchored by
the very proper and precise Williford, epitomizing the unflappable Brit.
Uribes contributes acrobatic skill and quick-witted comedy, making a
wonderful foil for their risky perils.
Cast member Melinda Porto delights as male and female characters,
notably her nuanced portrayal of an Indian princess rescued by Fogg from
the funeral pyre of her husband. Mark Gagliardi’s facility with accents
and quick changes are a large part of the success of the production.
Stanton, in addition to his detective portrayal, does yeoman work as
other colorful characters.
Staci Walters’ global-map backdrop plays its part well, following
Fogg and company from London back to England with a moving light along
the travelers’ path. Donna Ruzika’s artful lighting and Dave Mickey’s
thoughtful sound design add punch to the production. Kim DeShazo’s
costumes, particularly those which are quick changes, are highly
Bibicoff has her hands full with Brown’s challenges. It is noted that
he gives few stage directions, allowing for directorial imagination.
Thanks to Bibicoff’s skills and lighthearted management, this play
charms from beginning to end and makes a fine opener for ICT’s season.
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
February 3, 2013
Karl Sydow in association with Glasgow Citizens Theatre at Ahmanson Theatre
program notes for this U.S. premiere attempt to stave off complaints by
Beatles connoisseurs. “And, of course, Paul is left-handed,” the notes
conclude. But the right-handed Daniel Healy who plays Paul McCartney is,
pardon the Dionne Warwick paraphrase, always someone there to remind us
that the production takes much license—unfortunately not all of it
by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys, details the early history of the
Beatles as the band gels in Hamburg and Liverpool. More particularly,
and problematically, however, the story follows the trajectory of Stuart
Sutcliffe, the band’s original bass player. Sutcliffe, played by Nick
Blood, is cool and hip, and although he’d rather be painting than
spending seven nights per week, six hours per night, in the smoky clubs
of Hamburg, he is after all winning the girl and winning a scholarship
to a German state art school. He makes a very dull main character in the
midst of this low-stakes story.
The audience is told, every which way, how much John, played with
pert insouciance by Andrew Knott, “loves” and “admires” Stuart. Paul
plods on, but we know there’s hope for him. Meantime, as we also know,
drummer Pete Best, played by Oliver Bennett, is doomed. That’s
narratively and musically a pity; Bennett wails in virtuosic licks, and
Best shows up sober, on time, and in time. Best is replaced in late
innings by Ringo, to whom Adam Sopp gives cheery pendulous stick
strokes. Daniel Westwick plays the callow George Harrison.
David Leveaux’s direction shares a
credit with “Iain Softley’s Production for Glasgow Citizens Theatre.”
Whoever took charge here, it’s not nearly enough. “Longer” and “louder”
seem to be the actors’ guides, as walls slide in and out around them to
show scene changes, while a shabby sofa serves as the furnishing that
represents “a scene at home.” At a train station, steam engines let off
puffy clouds of water vapor. A few scenes later, Paul and John are in an
otherwise empty club, surrounded by puffy clouds of cigarette smoke.
Thick accents—maybe resembling Liverpudlian but in many cases not
resembling German—waft in and out of hearing. Leanne Best, playing the
photographer and eventually Stuart’s wife Astrid, is allowed to shout
her every line. Once again, though she is a pretty creature in stylish
blonde gamine cut, this Astrid makes one wonder what Stuart ever saw in
During each of the Hamburg club scenes, a drunken man dances in front
of the band. Sometimes those dances are clearly from the 1980s and not
the ’60s. That the actors playing the Beatles don’t look like their
real-life counterparts is not as troublesome as that they don’t look
like they’re in the ’60s, either.
But most troublesome in this production, the sound of the band’s
numbers is muddily distorted, as well as nearing painfully loud.
Additionally, it’s possible instruments were being tuned out of the
audience’s sight, but you couldn’t prove it by this reviewer’s ears.
One scene catches a bit of fire. Paul is noodling around with a
lackluster song that begs, “Please love me, too.” John wanders by and
starts to tinker. Bit by bit, two artists see a problem, work it, and
solve it. “Love Me Do,” is born. This is simple and entrancing
storytelling. Perhaps another time, in another show with better
storytelling skills, we’ll find out how Paul’s melody line for that song
became the harmony.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
February 1, 2013
Machu Picchu, Texas
at The Stella Adler Theatres
the top of this Timothy McNeil play, the audience may be a little
confused about who’s related to whom. As McNeil continues to introduce
the family members to us, it seems they’re a little confused in their
relationship boundaries, too. The numerousness of the characters,
though, contributes to the “old-fashioned,” “well-made play” feel of
McNeil’s work. Still, metaphor pervades the storytelling, making it
appear quite up-to-date and yet timeless. This world premiere script has
its charms, but it also has a few faults that could be repaired.
In brief, here’s the consanguinity: Sonia and Harold Ogden, in whose home the play takes place, are parents to Melissa. Sonia’s
sister Rhonda is married to Charlie Foster, and their sons are Terry
and Dalton. Also visiting over the play’s course are Sonia’s childhood
friend June Bug and her husband, Donnie, as well as Melissa’s boyfriend
Brandon and Terry’s childhood friend Michael.
Harold and Sonia are trying to tend to Terry, who’s emotionally
wrecked because his father, Charlie, had recently been brutalized by
“college kids” and who is now brain-damaged and wheelchair-bound. Sonia
was in love with Charlie before he married her sister, and Sonia thinks
her love was requited. Terry is in love or lust with his first cousin
Melissa. She seems to return the feelings, but then she shows up with
Brandon. Soon, Terry momentarily falls into the arms of Michael. June
Bug, unoffended by the goings on, confesses a brief long-ago crush on
Unfortunately, it’s not clear what these unhappy souls, particularly
Terry, were like prior to the attack. Was he an average “college kid,”
too, when he was attending? Or was he always this withdrawn and lost?
And when was he tossed out of school? Was Rhonda always so tightly
wound, or has her husband’s horrifying incapacitation caused her to
become a never-ending well of annoyance and fury? Sonia, it’s likely,
was always a nurturer; here she is continually providing snacks, though
she probably knows they’re needed to soak up all that booze. And
Charlie, it seems, has always been the epitome of amiability. What a
special soul he is, and how we wish he were onstage longer.
McNeil’s themes wend expertly
through the play: delusion, dreams, dark urges, and the consequences.
The grownups seem to be teaching the younger generation all the right
things—work hard, be kind, take the high road—though alcoholism runs
wide and deep. However, begging for a rewrite are two ungainly moments
in the script. Information hastily revealed before the intermission
break might be better left to play out in Act 2. And a rendition of
verse and chorus of “Over the Rainbow” bogs down the midst of Act 2.
McNeil also directs, and he creates his mood fully and disturbingly.
Some of the upstage action can’t be seen from portions of the audience,
however—in particular when Terry sits in his bedroom, knife poised, and
contemplates cutting his wrists. But the staging is otherwise thorough.
The generous set (design by Michael Fitzgerald) tells so much about the
family. At stage left is a crafts area at which Sonia tries to make her
house a home—or at which she immerses herself in tasks to forget her
troubles. At stage right, tiny plants are trying to spring up on the
porch. A well-stocked bar seems to hover over the house upstage. And
behind everything, the Andes tower over this Texas home.
The two McNeils also turn in superb performances. Bonnie McNeil’s
matriarchic Sonia gently shines a glow of hope over the family, and Tim
McNeil’s brain-damaged Charlie is crafted with precise but respectful
details and a humanity the size of Texas.
What happens when good people give in to their dark urges and give up
their dreams, and how do they deal with the consequences? It’s an
intriguing setup for a drama, and it’s tackled here with solid
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
January 28, 2012
Ganesh Versus the Third Reich
Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA’s Macgowan Hall Freud Playhouse
hidden message here: From the start, we’re told that this is a story
about power. Indeed, it’s several stories about power. An acting troupe
is trying to piece together a theater production in which two paragons
of power collide. The troupe, unsurprisingly, is led by an alpha-male
director and comprises a few actors who think they should be running the
Enhancing and adding complexity to the storytelling, the fictional
troupe was created by the real-life troupe Back to Back Theatre, hailing
from Australia and led by director, devisor, and designer Bruce
The production’s audience probably should know that four of the five
actors are, in the words of Back to Back, “intellectually disabled.”
This knowledge will keep the audience from any impatience at not
understanding those actors’ occasionally limited verbal articulation.
But any disability doesn’t keep those actors from, well, acting. Each
man reflects stagecraft—including presence, focus, and imagination. On
the night reviewed, a backdrop stuck on its track. These “intellectually
disabled” actors worked the problem until they solved it, just as
fellow actors do any night on any stage around the world when things go
amiss in live performances.
But as with group dynamics, each actor falls into a role in the
troupe. The class clown is Mark Deans. The quiet problem-solver is Simon
Laherty. The authority-questioner is Scott Price. And the thespian is
Brian Tilley, playing Ganesh in the almost-play-within-a-play. Onstage
with them is Luke Ryan, playing the troupe’s director. Ryan also plays
Vishnu—simplistically stated, the Hindu god considered master of the
universe, in charge of battling chaos.
The troupe is developing a production in which Ganesh—again
simplistically summarized, the elephant-headed Hindu god known as the
destroyer and the protector—travels to 1940s Germany. There, Ganesh
plans to reclaim the symbol and symbolism of the swastika, originally a
Hindu sign of luck.
Scott and the director fight over the director’s exercise of power.
Some in the audience will side with actors who are in need of and
deserving kindness. Some in the audience will side with a director
frustrated over constantly reining in and disciplining his actors.
Fisticuffs ensue—rendered gently—until Scott’s castmates subdue their
director and shoo him off. What happens when there’s a void in strong
leadership? Simon, never offered the role of Hitler, steps into it; in a
strikingly theatrical turn, the lights switch to “performance” mode,
dramatically illuminating the “play” and concealing in darkness the
rehearsal furniture and costumes and the lolling actors around him.
It’s one of many moments of
gorgeous visuals (design and set construction by Mark Cuthbertson,
design and animation by Rhian Hinkley, lighting by Andrew Livingston,
Bluebottle). Floor-to-ceiling plastic sheeting creates the various
backgrounds: misty forests, a fenced-in home at evening. Two tables, a
few chairs, projections, lighting, sound design, and, presto, creation!
Ganesh, a Jewish man, and a Nazi are on a train hurtling through
mountain passes. The audience is invited in to see how artistry is made,
but the effect awes us anyway.
Even more stunning is how these young Australians can generate such
chill air portraying 1940s Germany. It’s not just that their Hitler and
Mengele terrify; it’s that Laherty, playing Simon, wears striped pajamas
throughout rehearsals, and when Simon steps into the role of a young
Jewish man, he burns with an intelligent flame we know will be
horrifyingly extinguished by a sick social “need” for perfection.
The play about Ganesh is never quite completed, for reasons that make
up its framing device. At the end of the evening, we’re left with Mark,
who makes himself secure under a table. What is he doing there? Hiding?
Resting? Playing? Thinking? Enjoying just being?
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
January 27, 2013
Giving Up Is Hard to Do
The Victory Theatre Center’s Little Victory Theatre
At what point do you reveal to someone—a potential lover, a family member,
an interviewing employer—an essential part of you that you’ve been
keeping secret? And, having told that person, what reaction have you the
right to expect?
For the many who find autobiographic solo shows too ego-driven, this
one by writer-performer Annie Abbott, directed by Joel Zwick, may come
as a pleasant surprise. Abbott is a working-class actor, and her tales
of breaking in and earning her first roles pepper this 75-minute piece.
So do her adventures in online dating after she was widowed from her
much-worshiped husband. But the crux of this story is exceedingly
universal—though not to be divulged here.
Abbott is energetic and engaging, playing grandmothers and young
nieces and nephews and her towering husband as he knocks down walls in
their new home. She makes a cozy storyteller, dressed in rich shades of
plum nicely standing out against the brick-and-wood set of office,
restaurants, backyards, and meeting room (all designs attributed to
Abbott’s script sews disparate pieces of her life together in an
easy-to-follow, appealing, sometimes poetic story, punctuated by
summaries (“I found myself standing in footprints I thought long ago
disappeared”) that hang in the air for a few tender moments.
What doesn’t work here is the setup—the introduction and conclusion,
the excuse for Annie to tell her story. The main substance, the point of
the production, begs for better. There’s enough humor and frankness in
Abbott’s recounting of her life. In telling a story about meeting
someone she could finally trust, she and Zwick should trust the audience
to be ready to listen without needing a warm-up act.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
January 27, 2013
Happy Face Sad Face
The Elephant Lillian Stage
Happy Face Sad Face,
R.J. Colleary’s new play, elicits much more of the latter than the
former, though if all concerned were a little more conscientious and
less self-congratulatory, they might have a shot at favorably reversing
the ratio. Commendably, if hubristically, the show self-identifies as
possessing “a brilliantly simple concept,” to the effect that the same
story, first a drama and then a comedy, is “told from the polar opposite
I would share that enthusiasm if I could think of a single instance in which such a conceit actually worked. Woody Allen’s Melinda & Melinda
tried it, although the cutting back and forth between the serious and
wacky versions went awry when it proved impossible to figure out which
was meant to be which. Aside from canny programming choices by regional
producers (as when a production of Hamlet is chosen to play in repertory
with Stoppard’s Dogg’s Hamlet/Cahoot’s Macbeth), the line between tragic and comic may be too thin to make much hay out of the contrast Colleary attempts here.
At least he indulges in no cross-cutting: Act 1 is the serious take.
Audience snorts and guffaws on opening night suggested audience members
weren’t immediately catching on that Sad Face
was up first, though they can’t be blamed for inferring that such a
preposterous plot—involving a stranger’s insurance scheme, the slow
revelation of family secrets, and a lot of people waving guns
around—must have been intended as satire. Late-inning machinations and
twists prove to be the main point of interest in what emerges as a
glibly cynical thriller with a would-be O. Henry payoff, not a truly
serious drama per se. But at least it keeps one interested.
The switcheroo to comedy in Act 2
feels a bit of a cheat, because instead of creating mirthful spins on
Act 1’s storyline, Colleary just imposes a lot of silly choices on his
characters. Insurance agent Jason (Tom Christensen) for instance, who
glides through Act 1 coolly clad in casual preppy attire, now shows up
in silk copper-colored pajamas and a flapping dragon-print robe. His
visiting, squabbling parents (Thomas F. Evans and Perry Smith) come back
after intermission as S&M-freaky swingers, while wife Emily (Krizia
Bajos), a Cuban-American of oddly snippy but otherwise sensible mien,
is transformed into a shrieking, non-English-speaking harpy who out-chicas Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara, if such a thing is possible. Either way…a Cuban named Emily?
For the record, Smith garners some real laughs as a wacko bondage
mistress, but Christensen flits around as if always preparing to reveal
his supposed heterosexuality as a sham, though that never comes to pass.
Meanwhile dad Evans, in underpants and a dog collar, spends most of Act
2 hidden behind a sofa, which is good.
Here’s a totally unsolicited but
totally apropos acting lesson for all concerned. A truism of acting goes
that whenever someone on stage exhales or retreats or collapses, it has
the effect of bringing something—an action, a scene, a moment, an
intention—to an end. Once the air is gone, something else has to be
built from scratch, and each new effort to get something going puts a
strain on audience attention.
In both acts, helmer Kathleen Rubin allows her players constantly and
fatally to let the air out of the scenes. It’s especially important
that characters in a thriller or comedy, Colleary’s genres of choice, be
quicksilver and alive: They must always be thinking, always trying to
make things happen, eyes gleaming and bodies tingling with energy as if
they can’t wait to leap up. In this production, by contrast, the cast is
forever sitting around depressed and mopey, like castaways in those New
Yorker cartoons set on tiny desert islands. If by any chance any of
Rubin’s actors is moved to get some action going, you can count on a
castmate to squelch it by misapplying the prevailing energy.
One consistent buzzkiller is Jason’s insurance client Malcolm (Rob
Locke), who cannot stop panting exhaustedly. It’s unclear whether Locke,
a portly fellow, is actually in distress or he somehow feels he has got
to keep reminding us that Malcolm is infirm, but either way it’s
unpleasant to witness.
An acting teacher I once knew made a simple but effective suggestion:
Anytime you or your character feels like exhaling, find a way to
justify turning it into an inhalation, and you’ll be energized by what
happens. As proof that Happy Face Sad Face
could profit from this tip, consider that the three biggest opening
night laughs in Act 2 occurred when two or more characters took big,
deep breaths simultaneously. I daresay the audience was unaware of why
they were being roused, but it was like taking a hit from oxygen masks
dropping from a plane’s ceiling. A steady infusion of fresh air wouldn’t
fix the ungainly plot and dialogue, but it could do a lot for the
palatability of this production.
Reviewed by Bob Verini
January 23, 2013
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
word stewardess has often been synonymous with the word glamorous, and
Marc Camoletti’s naughty French farce, translated by Beverley Cross and
Francis Evans, spotlights three sexy flight attendants and their playboy
boyfriend, Bernard (Carter Roy). Bernard has created the ideal life for
himself. With mathematical precision worthy of a war campaign, Bernard
has acquired three stewardess fiancées, each working a different
airline. He has managed this because they have flight plans that don’t
overlap. True to formula, that is going to change.
Gloria (Melanie Lora) is the first of the three—a blonde American
nearly the embodiment of a living Barbie. Number 2 is Gabriella (Kalie
Quinones)—a feisty Italian with an attitude. Number 3 is Gretchen (Amy
Rutberg)—a hearty and imposing German. All three are in love with
Bernard and are pushing him toward marriage, a commitment for which he
has little enthusiasm. Matters are further complicated when bachelor
schoolmate Robert (Marc Valera) comes to stay. Bad weather has
interfered with Bernard’s split-second timetable, and eventually all
three women end up in the apartment at the same time, an event that
challenges the amorous Bernard and his hapless friend.
Adding deadpan humor to the proceedings is Berthe (Michelle Azar),
Bernard’s beleaguered maid. Playing Berthe, acerbic yet complicit in the
events, Azar nearly steals the show. Jeff Maynard’s directorial
choices are often hit-and-miss. When applying physicality to the scenes,
he does a fine job with expert timing. He is heavy handed, though, and
some characterizations begin at too intense a level and seem overdrawn
As in any good farce, Kevin Clowes’s colorful apartment design
includes multiple doors necessary for comic entering and leaving.
Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting design also creates a bright and effective
atmosphere. Helen Butler’s stewardess uniforms are notable.
When the play premiered in the 1960s, sex was just taking center
stage in a number of films and plays. By now, it is old hat, and this
touring revival is pleasantly silly but breaks no new ground. Though the
cast is enthusiastic, the final result is a tepid C+.
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
January 21, 2013
The Snake Can
Indie Chi Productions at Odyssey Theatre
think of the romantic travails of the middle-aged as hilarious, and
most plays on this topic say little but patronize much. This play
includes its fair share of hilarity, and inevitably its main audience
will be the middle-aged, though the appeal of several of the
performances demands broader attendance. Indeed, in this world premiere,
playwright Kathryn Graf treats the topic respectfully, thoughtfully,
and intriguingly, giving what could be a light play enough disturbing
undercurrents to satisfy the serious-minded theatergoer. The surprise
popping out of this production, like the snake out of the can, is its
The play centers on three women who are close friends in differing
relationship situations. Meg (Sharon Sharth) ricochets among boy toys.
Nina (Diane Cary), a painter, has separated from her husband Paul
(Gregory Harrison), who has a new girlfriend. Harriet (Jane Kaczmarek), a
widow for seven years, is a journalist currently trying to pen a novel.
Harriet’s loneliness drives her to online dating, through which she
meets Stephen (James Lancaster), at least intellectually her match. Meg
tries dating Jake (Joel Polis), to uncomfortable effect. Nina wants no
relationship, determined only to make art.
Much of Graf’s script holds the mirror up to nature. Life’s issues
are unabashedly there, onstage, for the audience to recognize. If you
want a peek at what’s wrong with the way women deal with relationships,
watch Harriet and Meg try to figure Stephen out after one date.
Some of the script, however, could be trimmed. In particular, the
scene between Meg and her best friend’s ex husband Paul rolls on far too
long, going over material already spoken about or obvious. The play
tidies up loose ends, which will appeal to some audiences and frustrate
others. A few charmingly phrased epigrams are offered by Brad (Polis
again), who serves as a plot device and delivery system for the play’s
wisdoms, such as, “By this age, whatever hasn’t killed us, hasn’t made
us stronger, it’s made us tired, and vulnerable and just a little more
scared of life.”
Director Steven Robman shepherds
the tone, giving the comedy weighty underpinnings and keeping the drama
away from melodrama. He also seems to have given the actors latitude in
some areas—though why not, with these veterans? During Nina’s aria of
frustration, Cary roams the stage, seemingly unencumbered by blocking.
His scene changes are brisk, aided by Hana S. Kim’s projections.
Not a snake-can surprise, and enhancing this production, are several
performances. Sharth is a perky delight, making Meg energized but very
real. Lancaster makes Stephen a comfortable presence, clearly able to
appeal to Harriet, the actor a more-than-able foil for Kaczmarek in
their thought-provoking scenes together.
But absolutely stellar is Kaczmarek. Not for a second is she actorly:
She never falls back on line readings or gestures seen onstage so often
when actors haven’t decided what their characters would do. She’s
always vibrant but never hammy. She glows with the joy of playing a
character. Yes, the character Graf wrote is sturdy and funny. But
Kaczmarek makes her interesting, mixing the unexpected with the
Costume designer Miguel Montalvo works in a pleasant grey palette and
gives the women enough shoe changes to keep the hawkeyed in the
audience a little envious. Montalvo also gives Stephen green suede shoes
and a matching tie, for those seeking visual clues about the
characters’ “real” lives.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
January 21, 2013
Theatre Movement Bazaar and Bootleg Theater at Bootleg Theater
does Track 3 head to? It heads to Moscow, but only if one is
uncomplaining and faithful and perpetually contented. And that means
three sisters by the names of Olga, Masha, and Irina will probably not
be on that train.
In Track 3, Chekhov’s Three Sisters
gets a thoroughly creative adaptation by Richard Alger, directed and
choreographed by Tina Kronis. This work merges text with dance—though
it’s not “dance” as audiences may expect after watching certain
television versions of it. No sambas, no 32 fouettés. Kronis’s style is
fascinatingly distorted daily movement. Why ask an actor to walk across
the stage when he or she can slither, limp, leap, or otherwise skedaddle
in unique ways?
The production’s period (Alger’s lighting and scenic design, Ellen
McCartney’s costuming) has a Chekhovian look, yet splashes of modernity
delightfully disorient the eye. So, too, Alger’s story sticks to the
original, but smartphones interrupt the action—fortunately onstage and
not from the audience.
The lighting is bright and spills onto the brick walls of the theater
and into the audience. This keeps the piece from being as moody and
mysterious as other of Kronis and Alger’s works. It also keeps the
viewer’s mind focused on the mechanics of the production and not
wandering off to Russia with the characters. Adding to the Brechtian
feel, the actors sit at the side of the stage, preparing for and
Those actors reflect long
rehearsals here, but they also reflect skills built over years. They
move well. Particularly adept at Kronis’s vocabulary, Mark Skeens plays
the worshipped brother, Andrei. In general, though, the men commit more
fully than the women do to the dancing, moving with purpose and
completing each “step.”
The actors also sing, particularly charmingly in a barbershop quartet
of Skeens, Mark Doerr, David LM McIntyre, and Jesse D. Myers; and
Myers, playing heartbroken suitor Tuzenbach, contributes beautiful
guitar accompaniment to other musical numbers. Doerr cuts a romantic
figure as Masha’s lover, Vershinin. Skeens reveals the crushed spirit of
Andrei. McIntyre provides gentle comedy as the buffoonish Solyony but
also steps in to reveal “random” facts—presumably as the nonmentioned
character of Ferapont from Chekhov’s original.
Yes, women star in this version, too. From the production’s start,
the iconic trio springs forth as a lively—yes, including Masha—group.
Kendra Chell creates schoolmarm Olga, Dylan Jones plays the disappointed
Masha, and Caitlyn Conlin is the babied Irina. And then, Liz Vital
bursts forth as Natasha, the sisters’ new and unwanted sister-in-law.
Vital seems to thrive on physical comedy, her skills made even more
noteworthy by Natasha’s lovely scarlet shoes.
Alger leaves in the essentials and
the amusing. Natasha’s inamorato gets mentioned, repeatedly, because
“Protopopov” is such a fun-to-say name. Masha’s husband is never seen,
because, feh, who needs him! Natasha proudly wears a shiny green belt.
The troubling fork remains downstage throughout.
At the play’s very end, the sisters construct a tiny house out of
teacups and books. Indeed, isn’t that all a cozy home needs?
For the persnickety in the audience: The actors pronounce the city as
“Mahs-cow.” To their credit, they do so with uniformity—though on the
night reviewed one educated-otherwise actor let slip and then corrected
mid-sound a “Mahs-coh.”
Sadly, the pronunciation doesn’t matter to three sisters, who still,
despite a long history of appearing onstage in various fantastical
adaptations, aren’t anywhere near their return to Moscow.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
January 19, 2013
The Motherfucker With the Hat
South Coast Repertory Julianne Argyros Stage
Stephen Adly Guirgis’s fine play The Motherfucker With the Hat
is about many interesting things, the least important of which is the
title’s brazenly cocking a snook at print editors and old-school
patrons, daring anyone to object to the vulgarity. Well, the title is
juvenile and stupid, an unnecessary attempt to call attention to itself.
But the play is anything but.
and Michael John Garcés’s production at South Coast Rep are strongest
is in the insistent tugging at the tenuous bonds between pairs of people
with whom we can all identify. Husbands and wives. Lovers. AA sponsor
and sponsee. Relatives. Buddies. Guirgis has built his reputation as the
detailer of society’s flotsam and jetsam in such works as and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.
But if you look past all of his freaks and geeks with their
self-consciously outrageous dialogue and behavior, you locate a
sensitive humanist, whose main theme is the endless physical,
psychological, and financial and emotional obstacles that separate the
members of our species in their important relationships. Guirgis is
peerless at piling on those obstacles, such that it becomes completely
fascinating to watch his people struggle to cut past them.
is a five-hander, a much smaller cast than Guirgis is used to fielding.
Yet there are as many complications among them as in his breakthrough
epic (13 characters) of Times Square in the Giuliani era In Arabia, We’d All Be Kings (1999).
There are race and class differences exploited here, as well as
differing moral philosophies and just plain everyday misunderstandings,
and Garcés manipulates them (and our feelings and funny bones) with
Where the play is strong but the
production is not, is in the central tragedy of Jackie, a recent parolee
struggling with going straight but unable to exorcise a lifetime’s
legacy of fear, doubt, and low self-esteem. When Hat
begins, he has been (mostly) sober for weeks, he has nabbed a job with a
future, and he brings his girlfriend flowers. Within minutes, however,
his demons are aroused at the sight of some motherfucker’s hat in the
apartment, and thereafter he tears himself apart with the methodical
decline of a Greek tragedy.
I didn’t see the Broadway production in which Bobby Cannavale scored
a personal triumph as Jackie, but I can imagine him in it: He’s a big
man—not just physically but aesthetically; he commands any room just by
standing in it—playing a character who is being pushed by society, and
AA, and everyone around him to become small, well-behaved,
obsequious…that is, ordinary. When Jackie is imposing, as Cannavale
surely is, his fall can assume a tragic dimension. But a miscast Tony
Sancho is already small and ordinary, and boasts a limited vocal and
emotional palette to boot.
The rest of the cast is marvelous, and Nephelie Andonyadis’s
spinning, swirling set picks up on the chaos at work among the actors.
But there’s no way a whiny, petulant, unprepossessing Jackie can break
our hearts, and Sancho does not do so, not for a moment. As a result
this Motherfucker delights but never awes.
Reviewed by Bob Verini
January 15, 2013
The Grand Irrationality
The Lost Studio
array of themes populates Jemma Kennedy’s world premiere script.
Together, those themes might send a nicely existential message about
taking responsibility for oneself. The production, however, suffers from
an unimaginative mounting.
We first meet Guy Proud (Gregory Marcel), indeed a guy but not yet a
man, as he lunches with Nina (Kirsten Kollender), a businesswoman who
has made herself sexually objectified. Guy works for Big Daddy ad agency
as a copywriter. Nina is a senior product developer for a soft-drink
company. He cares more about keeping his job than being creative on it.
It’s hard to tell whether she cares more about hooking up with Guy than
about ensuring booming sales on the new beverage, but Kollender’s
portrayal seems to lean more toward the romance, judging by the crushed
heart she delicately reveals near the play’s end.
Guy’s lunch is interrupted by his blowsy sister Liz (Mina Badie), who
wheels her baby in with her to announce that her and Guy’s father,
Murray (Peter Elbling), has fallen and is injured. Murray, it turns out,
is quite a card. Murray’s neighbor Vivienne (Bess Meyer) is a
Frenchwoman and an active women’s rights advocate. Guy’s boss Alex
(James Donovan) completes this chamber piece by filling in the fatherly,
though vulgarly delivered, advice Guy isn’t getting from Murray.
Feminism, alcoholism, abandonment
issues, and astrology feature in Kennedy’s script. Ultimately, the Proud
family decides to get a grip. The script may be too long. It’s hard to
tell because, although director John Pleshette has done solid work
developing his actors’ characters, the staging drags out the
storytelling beyond what average patience can bear. The frequent scene
changes seem well-rehearsed but not well-conceived. Pleshette’s work
with the actors shines in the production’s consistent tone and the
characters’ three-dimensionality—though the French and Irish accents are
Highlighting the acting, Elbling is, to borrow a delightful British
adjective from the dialogue, stupendous. He creates the heart of a very
unsympathetic character, and he displays pristine timing that lets
Murray speak naturally without cutting off his scene partners’ lines.
The production’s nudity is gratuitous, mostly because it is distracting and does not fit with tone of play.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
January 15, 2013
Hansel and Gretel
well-known tale, of German origin, is credited to the Brothers Grimm
for its first official recording in the early 19th century. The ironies
of the publishing duo’s surname and the general tone of their works are
hardly lost on those familiar with their compilations. Foreboding and
often quite gruesome, these stories were clearly intended to frighten
and warn the reader.
For the purposes of this spritely production, however, Lloyd J.
Schwartz’s script homogenizes the more grotesque aspects while
maintaining a clear focus on the moral that no matter how bad things
get, it’s never the right choice to run away. And judging by the
enraptured attention of the 3- to 9-year-old audience members at the
performance reviewed, director Elliot Schwartz and company have achieved
precisely their intended goal. Although the production is heavy on
audience participation, director Schwartz keeps things moving with
enough speed so that there isn’t time for fidgety boredom to take over.
In the title roles, adult actors Joey Jennings and Caitlin Gallogly
make a cute pair for their paradoxical physical appearances and their
onstage chemistry. Jennings plays Hansel as a very tall boy whose zero
percent body fat contradicts his constant desire to eat. Gallogly’s
Gretel, on the other hand, is the sensible one. Shorter in stature and
sporting a blue gingham dress that would do Dorothy Gale proud, she has
the job of reining in Jenning’s nicely turned goofiness. Their delivery
of composers-lyricists Hope and Laurence Juber’s ear-friendly original
compositions, particularly “We’re in a Mess of Trouble,” is
Anthony Gruppuso does a fine job as the protagonistic pair’s father,
an unemployed woodcutter. Having eschewed the wicked stepmother,
playwright Schwartz uses dad’s lack of work as the reason his children
decide to run away. Gruppuso’s voice lends a legitimate quality to the
production’s most lyrical number, titled “Family,” while ably handling
his comedic interactions with the young viewers.
Silliness in spades is served up by Barbara Mallory as Birdy, a scatterbrained fowl, reminiscent of Dory from Finding Nemo,
who eats the children’s breadcrumb trail. On a technical note, her
number, “Birds Fly Better in Flocks,” was almost unintelligible due to
the taped music’s volume level and the logistics of herding nearly two
dozen kiddos who flooded the stage when she asked for volunteers.
Meanwhile, Kathy Garrick, as an
ever-so-friendly Witch, is the closest thing to a villain this play
serves up. Gone are the cannibalistic undertones, replaced by her
conniving plan to overfeed the titular duo, thereby leading to their
slothful laziness, so she can hijack the production and present her own
theatrical showcase. Her big number, “The Candy Wrapper Song,” performed
with Mallory, is clearly the standout piece on the song list.
In the end, with a magic spell here and a well-timed reveal there,
the proceedings wrap up with a nice big bow. It proved to be an
experience that sent everyone out the door with smiles on their faces.
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
January 14, 2013
’Tis Pity She’s a Whore
Cheek by Jowl, Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA’s Macgowan Hall Freud Playhouse
several reasons, it may take the audience a while to “get” this
production. But once the concept makes sense and the more-adept
performances begin, there will be no doubts left about the setup and the
execution. This is a benchmark evening.
Director Declan Donnellan places John Ford’s nearly 400-year-old play
in the present. The set is a bedroom backed by a blood-red wall hung
with movie posters—sirens and seductresses are their unifying theme—and
their contrasting images, primarily of the Virgin Mary. One door in the
upstage wall opens to a hallway, but the other door opens to a pristine,
brightly lit bathroom in contrast with the darkly sanguine bedroom.
Donnellan avoids scene changes: All the action takes place in and
around the bed, whether reflecting a choice to reveal the text as a
nightmare or to show that every thought and movement of each character
stems from sexuality or its denial. The friar offers his advice to
“repent” while the bed sits squarely centerstage; a crowd piles onto the
bed to “whoot” loudly over a fight.
Most fascinating, however, is that Donnellan brings one or more
witness into many of the scenes. Thus, many conversations seem to be
watched over by someone. Does this represent our conscience, or does it
represent society’s prurience, nosiness, curiosity, judgmentalism? At
the play’s gruesome end, so many characters feel compelled to peek into
the bathroom and see the bloody wreckage, though those ahead of them
emerge screaming in fright and disgust. We love our voyeurism, don’t we?
We also love the superficial. The female characters play dress-up in a
variety of modes: a haloed bride, a widow in weeds (a little black
dress here), a naughty schoolgirl. The males, at least the overtly
sexual ones, go leather-clad or starkers.
So why the doubts at the top of
the play? Apparently not every RADA-trained actor has spectacular
enunciation (who knew?) and not every actor can dance (we knew!). The
cast emerges to perform a little introductory divertissement, but only a
few of the actors move well and in time to the music. Then it may take
time for the audience to stop objectively observing the world of the
direction and start to feel for the characters.
Eventually, somehow, we feel. It seems to happen when Donnellan shows
us the mundane: when the married couple fights in the bedroom, or while
the husband offers his wife a gift of tiny baby clothes, which she
unpacks with gentle surprise. Or it may happen when the violence becomes
just too much: when a sadistic “exotic dancer” bites the tongue out of
the chatty “tutoress,” or when the brother of the “whore” commits his
two final deeds.
It seems there’s nothing to pity here, and no blame leveled at the
title character, as the original script’s last line is omitted. What’s
left is a vivid evening of storytelling—and any judgment is up to us.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
January 10, 2013
Dirty Filthy Love Story
Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater
dirt and filth of Rob Mersola’s world premiere script refers to his
protagonist’s hoarding. The love in the title is a thornier issue.
Ashley (Jennifer Pollono) is a young widow who cannot throw anything
away. Her nosy neighbor Benny (Burl Mosley) finally worms his way into
her home and persuades her to begin the purging process. The unlikely
prince who comes to clean up her life is the waste-disposal expert Hal
Ashley, it seems, had a troubled relationship with her husband. It
seems her relationship with her mother (spoken to by phone, a lot) might
be even more problematic. By contrast, the garbage collector Hal brings
a purity of love into Ashley’s life.
The relentless humor in Mersola’s script springs from pain. A deep,
tender heart occupies the play’s center. And director Elina de Santos
ensures that the audience laughs with the characters and never at them,
which makes this play about extremes of behavior very, very universal.
Pollono tears our hearts. Her Ashley is ludicrous, but she is also
real. Pollono plays her with a revealing candor—a bit of a clown and yet
a princess-in-waiting. Mosley’s Benny is pure clown, yet Mosley’s
calibrated performance lets the audience know when it’s acceptable to
Bitton, however, goes for no laughs as Hal. The actor is stunningly
gentle with Hal. Bitton is so rawly honest, one forgets he’s acting,
whether he’s plowing through boxes or calming Ashley.
Another spectacular star of this
production is the set, designed by David Mauer and Hazel Kuang, which
fills the stage to overflowing. Indeed, Rogue Machine bravely and
generously allows the set to spill over into house right, limiting the
number of seats to be sold each night. Debris tumbles at precisely the
right moments, in precisely the right places, reflecting thoughtfully
designed and carefully constructed “backstage” machinery. If only we
could control our hearts just as precisely.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
January 9, 2013
Other Desert Cities
Center Theatre Group at Mark Taper Forum
decades of literature in which parents have been unrelentingly
portrayed as thoroughly idiotic, playwright Jon Robin Baitz at last
gives us the Wyeths. Yes, he loads them up with politically conservative
ideology. And, yes, the top of the show is joke-heavy, as Polly and
Lyman’s liberal-leaning daughter, Brooke, comes home for Christmas.
Fortunately, however, Baitz has a bigger agenda.
As Brooke, her brother Trip, and their mother’s sister Silda genially
gang up, the audience can’t help but notice a distant coolness in Polly
and Lyman. These parents like their lifestyle of tennis and drinking
and a close circle of Reaganites—including, it turns out, Nancy—and the
cigarette habit they hide from each other. But when Brooke announces she
is about to reveal family secrets via her memoirs, cracks appear in her
Their desert home spans the wide Mark Taper Forum stage, stirringly
appointed by Takeshi Kata to fully convince the viewer the family lives
in affluence in Palm Springs, Calif. The stone walls, floor-to-ceiling
windows, and pale color scheme whisper desert elegance, but the design
also conveys secrecy and lifelessness, as curtains remain closed at all
hours while most of the signs of occupancy are the bottles of booze. Of
course there’s also a thickly lit Christmas tree, which becomes even
more laden with symbolism when Baitz reveals that Polly and Silda are
wide expanse of the home may, however, be the problem director Robert
Egan couldn’t navigate. He blocks the actors far, far apart, and thus
many conversations are yelled across the stage. Further, to keep the
visuals from monotony, he makes the actors wander over the stage and
stand in conversation. The men, with better vocal skills than the women
have here, don’t seem to be screaming when they speak, so the audience’s
support may tend toward Lyman and Trip at the start of the play.
Robert Foxworth plays Lyman superbly. Foxworth not only understands
and conveys Baitz’s humor, but the actor is also in character from head
to toe at every moment, so we’re immersed and invested in Lyman’s story
without “actorly” distractions. Also adept is Michael Weston, who is
natural and engaging and who brings honesty to Trip’s sense of humor.
Playing Brooke, Robin Weigert is given, or allowed, so much business
by Egan, she’s a bundle of tics. But she has masterful moments,
including Brooke’s explanation of the topic of her new manuscript; the
actor sounds as if the moment is new and improvised and full of
JoBeth Williams gets off to a weak start, trying to communicate with
her scene partners across the expansive stage; but she is flawless
listening to Foxworth and then taking the reins during the play’s
reveal. Jeannie Berlin doesn’t pick up her cues as Silda, leaving
uncomfortable gaps in her conversations with Williams’ Polly. Baitz gave
Silda the funniest lines, however, so audience members not paying
attention to acting technique will probably be inclined toward
Baitz briefly mentions “other desert cities”—once as Brooke talks
about the sign along the freeway leading from LA to Palm Springs, and
once in reference to other, other desert cities, halfway around the
world, which begins a mention of political truth-telling and starts the
mind wondering about parent-child relations there.
But here, in this small but fraught desert city, Polly and Lyman have
a reason for being so seemingly unemotional. As it turns out, mom and
dad are dimensional, caring, and wise—though, fascinatingly, the ethics
of their choice at the core of the play are debatable.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
December 18, 2012
Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReinDOORS
Troubadour Theater Company at Falcon Theatre
L.A. Christmas without a new Troubie holiday show would be like an
office party without spiked punch. Even in one of Troubie’s
less-than-great outings, like the current Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReinDOORS,
you get a healthy dose of the unique relationship that exists between
Matt Walker’s troupe of musical zanies and their audience. In the mutual
affection between strangers that characterizes every Troubie
performance, there’s no better expression of the spirit of Christmas to
be found in Southern California.
There’s a lot to like in this adaptation of the Rankin-Bass perennial
about the weird reindeer with the shiny nose, as cross-pollinated with
the Doors’ songbook. Musical director Eric Heinly comes up with
theater-friendly orchestrations of the likes of “Riders on the Storm”
and “The End,” which he and his combo deliver with smokin’ heat. Molly
Alvarez pulls off some typically slick choreography for the troupe, with
Ameenah Kaplan staging a nifty flying sequence late in Act 2. And the
cast of 18 is one of the Troubies’ strongest, standouts being Paul C.
Vogt’s droll, understated Frosty the Narrating Snowman; Rick Batalla as a
bloated, shirt-open, chest-hair-sporting Santa; and the indispensable
Beth Kennedy, featured as Rudolph’s Tab-addicted mother Blitzen and—wait
for it—yes! The Winter Warlock. Most delightful of all, perhaps, is Dan
Wascom as “Bomi” the Yeti, doing things on stilts (in a giant
Elmo-dyed-white costume) that should be impossible, if not illegal.
For all that, why does the show feel so second-tier overall? Even
keeping in mind that Troubie shows always change, grow, and improve over
time, the disjunction between the jolly Rankin-Bass cartoon and the
dour, deterministic Doors songs simply hasn’t been addressed in the
construction. One wonders why Rudolph wasn’t played as a Jim Morrison
clone. (Morrison is actually pretty much absent from the entire
production.) Steven Booth’s Rudolph is just a likable dolt as he was in
the animated version, and not much comic mileage is made out of his, and
the other North Pole denizens', singing these songs. So Rudolph is just
kind of there, kind of dull, actually.
Meanwhile, here’s a quick guess: I’d venture to speculate that this show
uses fewer parody lyrics, and relies more on the original words, than
any other Troubie show before it. Sure, it’s good for a chuckle when
Rudolph’s nose glows to inspire “Light My Fire,” but the joke doesn’t
expand beyond that. All of which is to say, the songs just aren’t that
funny, and the effort hasn’t been made to truly metamorphose the Rudolph
cartoon by way of the Doors’ sensibility—the way West Side Story and A Christmas Story were magically, hilariously made to merge in last December’s offering.
Essentially, Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReinDOORS is
a satire without a target, which means it misses its mark too often.
Maybe the key to the problem is the show’s fatal looseness. Absent is
the strong structure that made last year’s extravaganza shine. I for one
would like to see the Troubies tackle another Christmas tale while
following the blueprint of another familiar book show like West Side,
with its tonal consistency and lyrics ripe for parody. (Rock songs as a
rule aren’t especially reliant on their words, so there’s little to
spoof there. But show tunes are a different matter.) What about Santa on the Roof? (Sounds crazy, no?) Or The Winter Warlock Picture Show?
It’s about time for W.W. to take center stage, and I for one would love
to see her/him assume the role of Frank N. Furter for some
As I say, you can’t spell Christmas in L.A. without “Troubies.” Well, I mean you can spell the word, but not cast the spell. ReinDOORS should be seen. But we’ll have to await Santa Matt and his elves’ getting back to prime form next year.
Reviewed by Bob Verini
December 12, 2012
Elevator Repair Service at REDCAT
If you are reading this on or prior to Dec. 9 and you haven’t procured a ticket to Gatz,
the Elevator Repair Service marathon running only through that date,
please stop reading and get going. This is one of those theatrical
events that truly merits the clichéd designation “not to be missed,”
though the reason it’s unmissable may not be the aspect of the
production that’s been touted to you.
Having read this far, you doubtless know that the intrepid ERS team
is presenting (the most appropriate verb in this context) the entirety
of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby,
word for word. The vast majority of the text is read aloud by actor
Scott Shepherd, though there’s a distinctive staging idea at work that
doesn’t exactly make Gatz a play—it’s probably best described as a literary circus—but its values are immediate and theatrical and heavily visual. Gatz most certainly isn’t a “staged reading.”
You’ve also surely heard that it’s long, though you may not have been
told that the bulk is handed out in manageable, easily digestible
chunks. For the record: Chapters I, II and III take two hours, followed
by a 15-minute intermission. Chapters IV and V occupy another one hour
and 45 minutes, at which point you get an hour-long dinner break.
Chapter VI and most of chapter VII take up 90 minutes, and then after
the intermission they finish up chapter VII through to the end, a
comparatively speedy 85 minutes. On Dec. 1, we began at 2:06 pm and
filed out at 10 minutes after 10.
It’s a prodigious theatrical feat, full of amusing acting turns and self-conscious directorial moments, but Gatz
is finally most interesting and, yes, important, for the insight it
provides into Fitzgerald’s text. The story of Jay Gatsby nee Jim Gatz is
a satirical portrait of 20th-century America—all the more striking
because though it was barely written two decades in, it got the
century’s number big time—but it is first and foremost a satire,
something adaptations bland (1949 with Alan Ladd) and floridly
romantic/funereal (1974 with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow) totally
missed. It’s easy to miss in a silent read, as well. But when
read/performed aloud, and helmed by a director (John Collins) who knows
how mordant-funny the tale really is, the novel’s genius is evident,
maybe as never before.
And if you mourn the loss of deathless romance in what ERS make of
Gatsby and Daisy, remember that she commits manslaughter and doesn’t
give a damn about it.
Reviewed by Bob Verini
December 6, 2012
Coney Island Christmas
Gil Cates Theater at Geffen Playhouse
Every year Christmas plays emerge—some staple productions like A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life, and some not so ordinary like The SantaLand Diaries or Winter Wonderettes.
There is a certain amount of trepidation attending one when the cast
includes children—or young adults pretending to be children, which can
often be much worse.
In this play, adapted by Donald Margulies from a short story by Grace Paley called The Loudest Voice,
the setting is Brooklyn in the ’30s. The Abramowitzes own a grocery
store on Coney Island. Their daughter Shirley, a very forthright and
loud-voiced young lady, is the central character in the story. At play’s
opening, young Clara (Grace Kaufman) is home, claiming illness that
will cause her to miss her Christmas pageant at school. Her
great-grandmother Shirley (Angela Paton), using a bit of psychology,
tells her a story about when she was in school. As the scene unfolds,
the stage fills with characters, one of whom is Shirley at school age.
Clara is fascinated with what she is seeing, and she settles down
with her great-grandmother to watch. Shirley’s parents appear center
stage in their store, and her mother (Annabelle Gurwitch), who appears
to be very strict, tells young Shirley (Isabella Acres) to be useful and
unpack cans and shelve them. Her father (Arye Gross), seemingly the
warmer of the two, reminds his wife that life is meant to be enjoyed.
This establishes the conflict that will arise when Shirley is tapped for
a particular part in her school play, something that is an obvious
conflict with her mother’s view of Judaism and assimilationism.
Shirley’s teacher, Mr. Hilton (John Sloan), is an enthusiastic young
man with big plans for his class. The first performance we see from the
youngsters is a Thanksgiving play, complete with Pilgrims, Indians, and a
very enthusiastic turkey played by Shirley. Mr. Hilton is helped by an
attractive French music teacher, an energetic Miss Glace (Lily
Holleman), clearly smitten with her male colleague. This pageant is soon
followed by a Christmas one, even more elaborate and hilarious.
Bart DeLorenzo’s direction wrests every bit of humor imaginable out
of his large cast. Shirley’s best friend, Evie Slotnick (Kira
Sternnbach), is a priceless scene stealer and adds considerable comedy
to her various roles. As the parade of wise men, angels, and even Santa
Claus show up at the manger, there can hardly be an audience member who
can’t conjure up memories of school programs that are equally improbable
and fraught with peril.
is delightful as the senior storyteller, easily capturing the
excitement she feels as she sees herself and her parents come to life.
She is warm and wise. Kaufman is natural with just the right amount of
spunk. Gross is also excellent as the loving father, trying to please
his demanding wife yet following his instincts for what will be best for
Shirley. Gurwitch is also fine as the mother kvetching against change,
who is trying to keep the customs alive in the family. As Shirley’s
schoolmates, the excellent cast of 20-somethings are superb, principally
Joe Gillette, Ty Freedman, Julian Evens, Mays Erskine, and Andrew
Walke. Sloan and Holleman are equally delightful in their parts,
particularly as they root for their charges with animated gratification.
Eileen T’Kaye neatly adds a bit of local color to shrewd shopper Mrs.
Kornblum. Also in the lively ensemble are Rachel Hirshee, Sequoia
Houston, Elitia Daniels, Jim Kane, and Richard Realivasquez.
But it is Acres who carries a large part of the show, from delight at
being selected for important roles in the pageants to anguish as her
mother forbids her participation. Acres is a strong actor and brings
authenticity to her part.
Takeshi Kata’s Coney Island set in sepia and black conjures up old
photographs and is artistically interesting. Utilizing a revolving
turntable, he allows for smooth scene changes. Far in the background is a
skeletal Ferris wheel adding an extra dimension to the design. Costumes
by Ann Closs-Farley are also imaginative and whimsical.
the now-late Geffen Playhouse founder and producing director Gil Cates
commissioned this Jewish Christmas story, he envisioned it being a
classic across the denominations that could be repeated annually.
Margulies has easily created the framework, and DeLorenzo has set a high
bar for subsequent productions. It is hard to imagine a better one.
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
November 30, 2012
Roundabout Theatre Company at Ahmanson Theatre
pure escapism and delightfully silly antics, Cole Porter’s 1934 romp
joined the ranks of plays and movies designed to provide a respite from
the travails of the Depression. This touring version of the 2011
Broadway revival employs a passel of talent and gives audiences the
pleasure of revisiting Porter’s witty lyrics and lovely ballads.
Like the screwball comedies of the ’30s, Howard Lindsay and Russel
Crouse’s book created from the original work by P. G. Wodehouse and Guy
Bolton is full of improbable situations. In brief, a young stockbroker,
Billy Crocker (Erich Bergen), has a wealthy client, Elisha Whitney
(Dennis Kelly), who is bound for England on a cruise ship. When Crocker
arrives at the ship on an errand for Whitney, he spots a girl he is in
love with, Hope Harcourt (Alex Finke). Prodded by her mother, Mrs.
Evangeline Harcourt (Sandra Shipley), Hope is set to marry a prosperous
Englishman, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmayer), in order to
repair the family fortunes.
Also aboard is Crocker’s gal pal, former evangelist–turned-singer
Reno Sweeney (Rachel York), who not so secretly hankers after Billy and
is the nicely contrasting vamp beside the virginal Harcourt. That should
certainly be enough to create a perfectly respectable play; but, in the
hands of the original four collaborators and ramped up in the new book
by Timothy Crouse (Russel’s son) and John Weidman, all sorts of quirky
characters are thrown in for good measure.
There’s Moonface Martin (Fred Applegate), a second-string gangster
whose companion is Erma (Joyce Chittick), the flirty charmer who takes
on the willing crew. Throw in two Chinese card sharks (Vincent Rodriguez
III and Marcus Shane), four so-called angels under Sweeney’s wing
(Jacqueline Burtney, Courtney Rottenberger, Vanessa Sonon, Dionna Thomas
Littleton), the Captain (Chuck Wagner), and the ship’s purser (Jeff
Brooks), and you have the principal characters. They are joined by a
cadre of passengers and crew members who enliven the musical numbers and
provide heft to the storyline.
Act 1 is arguably the better half
of the play. Porter’s hits “I Get a Kick Out of You,” Easy to Love,”
“It’s De-Lovely,” and “Anything Goes” are standards, and
director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall gives them fresh appeal.
Adapted from other Porter shows, they fit nicely into the plotline.
The original Sweeney was played by Ether Merman, and York has all the
power and confident delivery required, though she gives it a more
full-throated, seductive turn. Bergen adds lanky charm to his role as
love interest. His “You’re the Top” with York and “All Through the
Night” with Finke are show favorites and charming interludes in the
wildly comical and convoluted plot.
Character roles are a staple of Broadway shows, and a standout in
this show is Applegate, who joins with York in “Friendship,” one of the
best comic songs delivered. The other standout is Staudenmayer, playing a
character typical in Wodehouse’s stories and a welcome addition to the
production. His duet with York near the end of the show, “The Gypsy in
Me,” is a wonderfully comic crowd pleaser.
Another notable performance is by Chittick, nearly stealing many of
the scenes in which she appears. Her insouciant effervescence makes
“Buddie, Beware” with the sailors noteworthy. Also enjoyable is Kelly as
the slightly tipsy Yalie who pines for Hope’s mother.
Costumes by Martin Pakledinaz are clever and dazzling, notably a
quintessentially British one for Staudenmayer and the many beautiful
gowns for the female characters. Makeup design by Angelina Avallone and
hair and wig design by Paul Huntley add authenticity for the ’30s look.
Derek McLane’s original scenic design aboard ship and in cabin scenes
also serves the production well. Added to that is the inventive
lighting design by Howell Binkley, especially in a scene where a blue
light comes to life in Moonface Martin’s “Be Like the Blue Bird.”
Among the most memorable moments in a Broadway musical are those when
the orchestra delivers the overture and the curtain rises on a wonderful
set. Music director Jay Alger, donning a naval hat, adds that special
touch, providing energy for the musical numbers, in particular for the
tap-dancing “Anything Goes.”
The production is not without
flaws. Act 2 is over-long and filled with zany plot machinations that
exist only to provide further opportunities for showcasing musical
numbers. While York and Chittick are Broadway-quality performers, Finke
is a paler version in her role, though she has a voice that blends well.
In order to populate the very large set, sometimes cast members
appear and disappear simply to add color as the show progresses. On
opening night, however, the cast handled some technical glitches well.
This original Roundabout Theatre Company production is bright,
lively, and, on balance, delivers the requisite humor originally plotted
by its creators. It recognizes the need for modification but doesn’t
stray too far from the original authors’ intent. Those of a certain age
will welcome the return of Porter’s classics with nostalgia, and those
who are newly discovering time-honored theater will find charm in the
vintage ballroom-dancing and colorful choreography. It is easy to see
from this production why Anything Goes continues to be a staple of musical theater companies.
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
November 29, 2012
Circle X Theatre Co. at Atwater Village Theatre
setting for this rock musical is Abu Ghraib, and the characters are
soldiers of various stripes. But the triangular relationship at the
story’s core could be set anywhere and anytime in history. This musical
is operatic in its expansive reach. Not that the word opera comes to
mind when listening to the score’s rhythms and watching the
choreography’s hip-hop tone. But the whole is classical in
construction—including its three-act structure that runs nearly three
hours with two intermissions.
This world premiere—with book by Jim Leonard, music and lyrics by Rob
Cairns and Beth Thornley—centers on a real-life romantic and military
quandary, though the storytelling takes artistic liberties with names
and facts. This version tells of black Sgt. Chuck Shepard (James Black)
and the two white women—Lindsay Skinner (Kate Morgan Chadwick) and
Margaret Scott (Meghan Maureen McDonough)—who became spellbound and then
pregnant by him and begged him to marry them.
Act 1 opens with a somber ballad. “Love conquers all, but love is no
defense,” the three lovers sing, by way of apologetic introduction that
resonates and reflects the many actions shown, described, and hinted at
over the evening. There’s danger in not fully knowing what or whom one
loves so passionately. Young Americans generously volunteer for National
Guard duty, thinking they’d fight floods, not wars. Donald Rumsfeld
(Sean Spann) professes love for country. Lindsay’s parents (Larry
Clarke, McDonough) profess love for her. Shepard professes love for his
fellow soldiers. The 9/11 murderers (Mueen Jahan, Anthony Manough)
professed their love, too. Every action here is true or realistic, yet
far from norms and expectations.
Act 2 opens with a rolling three-quarter-time drinking song at Club
Abu. The song lyrics have been provided to the audience, some of whom
are sitting at the café tables edging the stage. Sure enough, most are
easily lured into joining the “fun,” despite having seen and heard the
misguided, violent, shameful things the characters did in Act 1. So can
we blame the young soldiers for their willingness to “join in?”
Pitch-black humor abounds, and yet
not many will want to laugh. The 9/11 murderers mundanely order a
pre-flight pizza, bickering like early-bird diners over which one was to
bring the coupon. John Langs directs, keeping visual vibrancy
throughout while the tone deepens and darkens. He fully uses the
two-story playing space, keeping the audience busy. Another of his smart
moves was to retain lighting designer Jeremy Pivnick, who creates mood
Choreography by Cassandra Daurden mixes hip-hop and old-fashioned
Broadway jazz, and it suits the performers, who look like real-life
soldiers and not like Fosse’s Jets and Sharks. Music direction by Rob
Cairns and Beth Thornley is notable for its balance and the performers’
Remember the good old days when war was merely hell? asks one of
the characters. Fortunately or not, we’re now in the days when musicals
are not merely escapist fun. Be prepared to observe and think at this
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
November 25, 2012
Pacific Resident Theatre
Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House sans accoutrements is still A Doll’s House.
The housewife who starts out as chattel finds the strength to break
away from societal and marital strictures. Nora is Ingmar Bergman’s
abridged version of Ibsen’s play minus such characters as the children
and servants. It nonetheless captures the essence of the power-struggle
marriage between the doll-like Nora and her husband, Torvald—though in
this production, with English translation by Frederick J. Marker and
Lisa Lone-Marker and directed by Dana Jackson, the story still runs two
In both versions, young Nora Helmer, who lives in 1870s Norway,
realizes her courage and potential as more than a perfect dolly who
exists solely to serve her husband. In Bergman’s redux, the characters
helping effect change in Nora (Jeanette Driver) are Torvald (Brad
Greenquest); the longtime family friend, Dr. Rank (Bruce French); the
chum of distant memory, Kristine Linde (Martha Hackett); and the lawyer
to whom Nora owes money, Krogstad (Scott Conte).
Jackson’s direction focuses sharply on Nora, putting her on a bright
red loveseat center stage at the top of the play, as the supporting
characters sit upstage awaiting their entrances. Driver’s Nora starts as
a twittering bird—from a modern feminist viewpoint a little annoying in
her abject submission to Torvald.
Over the play, Driver deepens and strengthens Nora’s voice and lets
her listen more and more openly rather than pretending to not notice.
That Nora’s transitions may exist more in these physicalized changes and
the audience’s knowledge of Ibsen’s famous character than in the script
is not the fault of the actors or director here.
The most behaviorally fascinating
and probably most honest moment in the production occurs when the
elderly ailing Rank opens his soul to Nora and confesses his longtime
feelings for her. Driver’s Nora knows but can’t cope, whereas French’s
Rank thinks she knows but can’t press the issue. Both actors speak the
dialogue as written but evidence subtle emotional reactions that
contrast with the words.
Also trying to find additional dimensions to Mrs. Linde, Hackett is
rather luminous, making her character a sturdy but certainly not
overconfident role model for Nora. At least on the night reviewed,
however, Hackett’s hair was cropped in a very modern style, which
distracted more than once from the storytelling.
Also distracting are exits and entrances up the center aisle that
suddenly occur near the conclusion of the play, and a strange moment of
nudity in which the Helmers undress to show they’re going to bed, then
immediately dress as the lights come up—though artistically handled by
But Jackson creates the era and, magically, the climate, as this
production is best at transporting the audience to a chilly distant
past, when the war on women seemed to be ending at last.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
November 25, 2012
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre at Broad Stage
For anyone interested in, let alone passionate about, Shakespeare or
classical acting, a trip to The Broad Stage to attend the (UK) Globe
Theater’s touring production of Hamlet ought to be as much a priority as
a pilgrimage to Lourdes for the halt, weak, and lame. This could be the
best Hamlet (and the best Hamlet) you will see in your lifetime. It
certainly was in mine.
Finally we get a prince of Denmark who
justifies all the textual references to his rash youth. Michael Benz,
whose future stardom should be a foregone conclusion, bears a
not-unuseful resemblance to Dennis Christopher back in his Breaking Away
days; Benz is raw and callow, thoroughly believable as the
overeducated, overemotional young scholar with whom nothing in the adult
world sits well, least of all his parental situation. Yet Benz also
possesses incredible (for his age) physical control and concentration,
as well as a merciless intelligence. His skills make Hamlet’s transition
to manhood and revelation, and finally to premature death, eminently
plausible. In sum, I’ve never seen a Hamlet conceive of, let alone pull
off, such a clear, textually supported, and affecting transformation
over the course of the five acts. During the interval, I bet a friend
that this Hamlet would come back from England demonstrably the same
character but with new resolve and stature—and I was so right.
Blessedly, the other characters in the court of Elsinore aren’t played
as types but as fully wrought individuals who are transformed by the
tragedy’s headlong events. Especially impressive are the Claudius of
Dickon Tyrrell (what a Shakespearean name!), at first a dapper,
self-possessed gent who shrinks by inches as his world closes in;
Miranda Foster’s Gertrude, only gradually made aware of how her actions
have offended Heaven; Carlyss Peer’s Ophelia, making the descent into
madness chillingly believable; and a memorable, original Polonius in
Christopher Saul, getting all the character’s laughs without
compromising his stature as a statesman. Everyone but Benz plays
multiple parts, in a complex casting scheme that brings out the best in
each actor and, I would argue, the best in each role. For instance,
having Tyrrell essay not just the King but the ghost king and the First
Player—a feat of magic made possible by a curtain quickly flung closed
and open across the mock-Globe touring stage to whip us between the two
sides of the playing area—creates all sorts of resonances if you pay
attention to what’s being said and by whom.
Best of all, this is
as well-spoken a piece of Shakespeare as I have ever been thrilled to
attend. Helmers Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst clearly subscribe
to the Sir Peter Hall school of versification, which transformed the RSC
into a world-class classical repertory but whose precepts, at least in
the U.S., have as Hamlet would say been more honored in the breach than
in the observance. They’re really quite simple, actually:
the rhythm. The iambic pentameter is the characters’ heartbeat, not an
impediment to your naturalistic style. Use the verse; it’s not yours to
abandon at whim.
2. Act on the lines, not between them. The syllables
and words tell you what you should be thinking and feeling. Everything
you need to know is there.
3. Take slight pauses at the ends of lines,
and feel free to take a full stop when a sentence or clause ends
mid-line. Otherwise: Keep it going. As a rule, Shakespeare’s characters
think as they speak, not while they’re silent.
4. Play the urgency.
Pick up the cues.
Most American actors of Shakespeare, in my
experience, follow No. 4 pretty regularly, Nos. 2 and 3 intermittently,
and No. 1 almost never, which is actually the most important rule for
unearthing from the plays everything the author placed there. Seeing
this Hamlet amounts to an acting class in the playing of verse.
of my colleagues and friends have snippily carped at all the humor,
often racy and broad, in this production, sniffing it’s not a tragedy. I
wish them many fine times with lugubrious three-hour productions with
Melancholy Danes clad in black and walking the parapets of Elsinore lost
in grim thought. Me, I’ll stick with the one Hamlet—and I estimate I’ve
seen over three dozen—that made me feel deeply for the boy whose
tragedy it is that he’s forced to be a man too soon, and that kept me in
its grip from beginning to end.
Reviewed by Bob
November 20, 2012
DOMA Theatre Company at MET Theatre
on the unseen side of its iconic logo lies a section of the Big Apple
where sunny days rarely chase the clouds away. This neighborhood—lined
with shabby-looking, somewhat boarded-up brownstones—is populated by a
bizarre collection of people and craft-store fabricated creatures.
Pre-kindergarten phonics or in-depth discussions concerning which of
these things is not like the others hold little concern. This is a
street where the inhabitants struggle merely to survive. And thanks to
this altogether flawless production, it’s a sinfully delectable place to
Sporting a hilariously adult-themed book by the ironically named Jeff
Whitty, with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, this piece
is a creative coup. Obviously based on the world concocted by Jim
Henson and crew, it’s a ladle of homage sprinkled into a swimming pool
filled to the brim with irreverent jabs and some downright naughty
goings-on. And it works wonderfully in this cozy venue under the
impeccable direction of Richard Israel, as the misfit residents of this
forgotten lane endeavor to conquer issues including sex, love, and
Danielle Judovits, Christopher Kauffmann, Mark Whitten, and Libby
Letlow are the human hands and voices behind the most outrageous
collection of oddball puppets one could ever conjure. Judovits, gifted
with effortless vocal skills, plays Kate Monster, the preschool teaching
assistant pining for love, as well as her own arch-nemesis, Lucy the
Slut. Kate/Judovits’s Act 1 ending ballad, “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,”
is heartbreakingly tender in its simplicity. Breathing life into Kate’s
romantic counterpart, Kauffmann is cute as a button. Playing an
unemployed college graduate, aptly named Princeton, he ponders “What Do
You Do With a B.A. in English?” And as these two pas de deux their way
through the show, Kauffmann also doubles as Rod, one-half of a male
roommate situation, who wrestles with his sexual identity.
Whitten and Letlow must lose 10 pounds a performance. In addition to
portraying Rod’s goofy roommate, Nicky (their duet “If You Were Gay” is a
near showstopper), Whitten brings down the house with every energetic
appearance of Trekkie Monster, a horny—both his head and his
libido—loveable furball who assures us that “The Internet Is for Porn.”
Letlow is a walking definition of versatility, demonstrating her
extensive background in theatrical puppetry. Her appearances as Kate’s
teaching mentor, Mrs. Thistletwat, and her work with Whitten as a pair
of passive-aggressive demons called the The Bad Idea Bears are wickedly
As the non-puppeted neighbors, Chris Kerrigan and Janelle Dote
provide much-needed human interaction. Dote’s duet with Kate titled “The
More You Ruv Someone” is a belter’s delight, while Kerrigan revels in
his solo “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today.” The final cog on the wheel
that makes this show spin smoothly is Benai Boyd’s gender-bending
portrayal of landlord Gary Coleman. Yes, that Gary Coleman. Boyd is
perfect as she pops in and out with sassy asides and words of
wisdom—including “Schadenfreude,” a duet with Nicky so clever, it’s
regrettable that there aren’t more verses.
Israel’s fantastic direction is supported by Angela Todaro’s sharply
executed choreography and Chris Raymond’s first-rate musical direction.
Raymond conducts a stage-right combo of six that is superbly balanced
with the cast’s microphones. Johnny Ryman’s masterful lighting finds
every crevice of Staci Walters’s astonishingly detailed scenic design.
On a personal note, this production has catapulted its way to the top
of this reviewer’s list of the best shows of 2012. Dare to miss it, and
you, like the cast of this groundbreaking piece, will be singing “It
Sucks to Be Me.”
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
November 19, 2012
One November Yankee
NoHo Arts Center
two-person drama by Joshua Ravetch examines the lives of three sets of
brothers and sisters. Stars Harry Hamlin and Loretta Swit give it all
they’ve got, but the script is thin, and it’s hard to find a sustained
emotional connection to the characters. Ravetch directs his script, and
that helps to some degree, but it may also hinder his objectivity as he
weaves his storyline. Scenic designer Dana Moran Williams and set
constructor–artisan Red Colegrove/Grove Scenery have given the play a
visual shot in the arm with the canary yellow, single-engine plane
missing half a wing and nose down on the stage. As each of the four
scenes unfold, that representation of a crash is central to the action.
The first and last scenes concern Maggie and Ralph. He is an artist
who has constructed a replica of this plane for MOMA, while Maggie
kvetches a lot, grudgingly offering her support. There is a fair amount
of squabbling between Maggie the realist and Ralph the optimist.
The second scene takes place five years earlier but still revolves
around the aircraft so prominent in the story. We learn more about the
plane crash and the effect it has on siblings Margo and Harry. To
disclose more would spoil the revelations that occur in the third scene
with yet another pair, Mia and Ronnie, and, finally, back to Maggie and
Ralph in the present time.
There is a fair amount of adult
humor laced throughout the play. F-bombs are plentiful, and there are
times when wit sparks a scene that is otherwise flat and sex seems a
subject designed strictly for the audience.
Kate Bergh’s costumes are well-suited to the time period, but
unfortunate wigs do not enhance Swit and are distracting. Luke Moyer
adds fine lighting to the production, and Jeff Gardner’s sound design
works well, especially as background for scene-changing. A television
monitor provides engaging historical footage of airplane history.
Hamlin and Swit have good chemistry, and they are old hands at
characterizations from their many years on television and the stage.
They often add the electricity that enlivens the play’s superficiality,
and they find the humanity necessary to engage the audience. Hamlin is
particularly touching in one vignette as he faces his future.
All plays are, by nature,
contrived; and believability is a key element that can take a simple
idea and make it meaningful for an audience. In this case, Ravetch has
combined humor and drama, but the story only begins to gain momentum in
the second half. The show is described as “theatrical origami,” a
designation that is apparent near the end of the play as pieces fall
into place. It has promise, but it feels like a short story trying to be
a two-act play, and its needs fine-tuning.
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
November 19, 2012
A Christmas Twist
SeaGlass Theatre at the Victory Theatre Center’s Big Vic Theatre
From some of the wacky minds that brought forth Of Grapes and Nuts,
which tweaked John Steinbeck’s greatest works, comes this irreverently
funny collage of characters and storylines first put to paper by the pen
of Charles Dickens. Authors Doug Armstrong and Keith Cooper, joined by
Maureen Morley, have intertwined a bevy of Dickensian favorites—Fagin
and Mr. Bumble, as well as Scrooge, the Cratchits, and the requisite
Ghosts of various Christmases—resulting in a rip-roaring holiday
In this hilarious consolidation, Mr. Bumble, the workhouse beadle, is
the nephew of Ebeneezer Scrooge, who coincidentally owns the orphanage
made famous in the original Oliver Twist. Bumble winds up selling the
young lad, herein nicknamed Tiny for obviously comic purposes, to Fagin,
who ends up losing him on his first job, whereupon Tiny is adopted by
the Cratchit family. Act 2 incorporates all of these oddballs and
nutcases into Scrooge’s traditional visit from the specters who bring
about his soulful transformation and an ending chock full of revelations
and comeuppances galore.
At this point, it might take a
scorecard to keep up with the outlandishly bizarre comings and goings,
but, really, who cares as long as the laughs keep rolling. And with a
cast this versatile, it’s one bellyacher after the next. Paul Stroili
directs this romp while he provides an outstanding turn as Mr. Bumble,
whose flowery dialogue consists of some of the most nonsensical
analogies imaginable. The style, pacing, and off-kilter tone are all
testaments to Stroili’s intimate connection with this material, which
had its world premiere in Chicago in 1989.
Aiding Stroili in these madcap high jinks is the facile Chris Wynne who,
as Fagin, serves as victim to Bumble’s aforementioned challenging
language only to reappear in a show-stopping cameo as the lisping Mr.
Fuzzywig. There’s Lauren McCormack’s Scrooge, subtly deadpanned as he
endures a night of unexpected apparitions. Jen Ray submits a delightful
homage to child actor Jack Wild in her portrayal of Little Artful Annie
(wait for the joke, it’s coming). Kimberly Van Luin is a hoot as Mrs.
Cratchit and the anxiety-ridden Ghost of Christmas Past. Alison
Blanchard’s inebriated Ghost of Christmas Present drags Scrooge around
Scott LeGrand’s uncluttered yet surprise-filled set with gusto.
But the night belongs to Warren
Davis and David Reynolds in their respective roles as the surprisingly
swinish Bob Cratchit and the oversized man-child “Tiny” Twist. Davis
produces a near flawless turn as his Cratchit, so often the victim in
this tale, relishes with sadistic glee the ludicrous stunts that he and
his wife put Twist through, all in the name of celebrating Christmas.
Meanwhile, Reynolds, sporting the physique of an NFL lineman, hobbles
about the stage with the aid of a crutch clearly many sizes too small as
he offers asides to the audience, denouncing his various persecutors.
The sheer juxtapositions alone are laughable, but it’s what Davis and
Reynolds accomplish here that makes them so noteworthy. Handsome attire
all around is credited to costume designer Travis Thi. Keep an eye out
for Blanchard’s Christmas Tree–styled dress and the various
accoutrements found hanging all over actor David G. Peryam’s
side-splitting visit as the spirit of Scrooge’s former partner, Jacob
Marley. Efrain Schunior’s sound inserts, including soap opera-ish organ
chords, are another dollop of icing on this well-turned fruitcake of a
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
November 12, 2012
A Bright New Boise
Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater
Samuel D. Hunter script is saying something, and other people say they
hear its message. But some of us do not hear it. Why not? The play
pleased a New York publication enough to win an Obie. The play then
merited the interest of Rogue Machine theater company and director John
Perrin Flynn, who are giving it its West Coast premiere.
The play seems to be about religious zealotry and its effects on
those less believing. Will (Matthew Elkins) has come to town, ostensibly
to find employment, possibly to escape a scandal at his Evangelical
church. We can’t be sure about any of this, nor that Will is desperate
enough to take the not-quite-full-time job at ultralow wages, and so
it’s hard to work up sympathy for him. Once he convinces the store
manager (Betsy Zajko) he can handle the job under her stated conditions
and she hires him on the spot, his first act is to tell young Alex (Erik
Odom) that he’s his father. Alex seems shaken by the news, but he also
seems shaky to begin with. His adoptive brother, Leroy (Trevor
Peterson), is a counterpoint to Will, having artistic talents and a
capacity for proselytizing shock.
Will certainly disturbs the status quo of every other character.
Pauline (Betsy Zajko) crisply runs a branch of Hobby Lobby, having kept
the store on steady legs for years now. Leroy has been protecting his
brother, and Alex might have temporarily forgotten the father whom he
thinks abandoned him. Another employee, childishly awkward Anna (Heather
L. Tyler), has been living a solitary life, spending her after-hours
evenings in the store’s break room—one setting of the play, sharing
stage time with a parking lot Flynn creates by bringing a cross-like
streetlamp on and off the stage. Periodically, Will stands under that
lamp and, face upturned, pleads, “Now!” presumably asking to be taken
from his Earthly state or asking that the entire race be rapturized.
Maybe a hint about the storytelling is offered by two corporate
“suits” (Ron Bottitta and Rob Dodd), whom the audience sees via
closed-circuit TV as the two offer corporate-style inspiration to the
workers—when the broadcasts aren’t crossing wires with grisly videos of
The play doesn’t clearly fall into a genre, which of itself should
not signify any wrongdoing by Hunter; but at least some of us are left
wondering if we should be laughing at these characters, pitying them, or
trying to emulate them.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
November 11, 2012
Independent Shakespeare Company in the ISC Studio
storytelling hallmarks this world premiere musical in Los Angeles that
centers on an 1827 crime in the English countryside. David Melville and
Melissa Chalsma, better-known to summer-Shakespeare audiences as the
makers of Independent Shakespeare Company’s outdoor seasons, wrote the
book for Red Barn, in part because the story, told to Melville by
his mother when he was a boy, continued to stay with him—an excellent
recommendation for a tale. In it, the mole-catcher’s daughter, Maria,
had an affair with the landowner’s son and heir, Matthew, and bore his
daughter. Matthew would set wedding dates and then postpone, until his
debauched lust pushed him into an even more irrevocable act.
The musical’s book tells the story chronologically but with detours
to courtroom testimony by the townsfolk. It neatly introduces the
characters. The dialogue sounds period, with occasional intentional bits
of very modern English.
Melville’s music enchants. The appealing melodies and chords and
rhythms are varied yet make a cohesive whole, and that whole establishes
time and place without sounding of the period. Indeed, one might find
the music more redolent of the Beatles than of, say, the likes of Elgar.
The score is played by Melville and Ashley Nguyen (who also plays
various townsfolk) on guitar, David Bickford (who also doubles as a
judge) on piano, and Dan Schwartz (who music directs) on bass.
The ISC Studio space is a white
box, which surprisingly sets the piece more in 19th century England than
a black box might. The space feels barnlike (in a good sense), as well
as like a schoolhouse and courtroom. Chalsma directs. She stages the
piece fluidly, with charming details, shaping the action to build and
peak. She plays up the creamy white space, costuming her performers
(credited to Michelle Neuman) in shades of eggshell and brown.
The production stars Mary Guilliams, as the unfortunate Maria, and
Matthew Michael Hurley as her paramour William. Robert Alan Beuth as
Maria’s father, Claudia de Vasco as her stepmother, Aisha Kabia as the
obligatorily saucy wench, and Erika Soto as the classically pure wife
give lovely, specific portrayals. Melville plays the comedically
villainous Beauty Smith, and, though Melville wouldn’t intend to steal
the show, it’s impossible not to watch his every quirky moment onstage.
The two creators say they wrote this musical on and for the
Independent Shakespeare actors, giving the performers the chance to work
in a new area: musical theater. That’s a noble idea, and certainly the
cast includes performers in the actors-who-sing and actors-who-move
categories, in addition to a few musical theater triple-threats. But if
this production is to have a second life—and it should—better singing
voices are in order, particularly for the two leads. However, likely
responsible for much of the storytelling’s success are the acting
abilities and engaging presences of the actors, again particularly those
two leads. Firming up the Suffolk accents will also turn this into the
top-rate production it can easily be.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
November 11, 2012
The Muesli Belt
Theatre Banshee at The Banshee
U.S. premiere of an Irish import is a gentle little script that
probably would speak to Dubliners of the late 1990s. But playwright
Jimmy Murphy offers not much to Angelenos of the new millennium, who
would be thrilled with increasingly large offers to purchase any
property we might be lucky enough to own. In addition, the play’s
structure feels anticlimactic before we even notice a climax. But it
provides an armature on which to hang human behavior, and director Sean
Branney makes certain the five characters spark and sparkle.
Dublin boomed during that era—not to mention the signature penchant
for drink we hear about in so many Irish plays—so pub owner Mick (Matt
Foyer at the performance reviewed) has been able to keep the Black Pool
afloat for at least a quarter of a century. Tommy the tenant (Ian
Patrick Williams) raised his daughter in the adjacent cottage. Nora the
hairdresser (Kathleen M. Darcy) has been struggling, but she knew better
days, particularly when she met the love of her life and held her
engagement party at the Black Pool. Sinéad the barmaid (Lisa Dobbyn)
depends on the bar for her living.
The overly friendly local property developer, Mossy (Andrew Leman at
the performance reviewed), has finally named Mick’s price, and Mick
sells the bar—in action offstage. The sale forces Tommy to move, Sinéad
to find work elsewhere, and Nora to confront her feelings for Mick.
Tommy cashed his retirement check, Sinéad shows herself to be a reliable
worker, and Nora, we’re told, will start advertising her business and
just might decide on a second date with Mossy and/or accept his offer to
buy her family-business salon.
That’s the plot. The interesting
undercurrent on this stage is Mick’s aversion to or lack of interest in
the women, who drop hints subtle and unsubtle that they’d give him a go.
This aspect of Mick is never explored, but its result seems clear: He
is out of there, no strings attached.
But no matter what might trouble the viewer about the script, Branney
has brought out every possible relationship among the characters, and
his actors play the the relationships with graceful warmth. Foyer’s Mick
is emotionally transparent to the audience, even if Mick isn’t to the
other characters. Darcy’s Nora is so humanly layered, we’ll never know
all her hidden thoughts and feelings. Dobbyn is a sharing presence on
the stage, and Williams is a gentle one. Adding spice, Leman’s Mossy is
an Irish Mr. Applegate as he gleefully brings havoc to the neighborhood.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
November 8, 2012