The following have generously supported ArtsInLA.com....
Up & Running Arts Management and Consultants
Tell them you read about it on ArtsInLA.com
...and contact us at info@ArtsInLA.com!
...or tweet us at @ArtsInLAcom (no dot)!
Years to the Day
Beverly Hills Playhouse
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Michael Yavnieli and Jeff LeBeau
Photo by Ed Krieger
Longtime friends Jeff and Dan meet
up for a coffee, having not had a good face-to-face in four years. Their first genuine
“how are you?” comes five minutes into this world premiere by Allen Barton.
Yes, Dan spends much time and energy posturing and joking, but Jeff follows
right along. This dynamic intrigues. The audience cares to know what drives
these two, even as they banter about phone technology and the latest film.
Apparently what drives them are a
shared history and basic needs for contact and stability in their lives. Barton
seems to have set his play in the future, though this is not emphasized nor
explained. But his point seems to be that humans will always find it hard to
share and reveal our true selves, despite all our gadgetry and mediums.
Director Joel Polis confidently
keeps the men at the table throughout—no blocking to vary the staging. But
nothing seems static, because his actors play the subtext of every available
moment. Each man sees the humor in the most banal of conversations, each knows
the sadness behind their life choices. As actor Michael Yavnieli portrays him, Dan
speaks in harsh words, but his tone twinkles. Jeff LeBeau gives Jeff subtle
physical mannerisms that vary over the course of the men’s revelations.
(Among those mannerisms, however,
LeBeau continually plays with his shoe, particularly touching the sole. If it’s
intended as a character trait, the trait adds nothing to the audience’s
understanding of him. If it’s a bad habit, it should immediately be stopped.)
Over the years of their
friendship, Jeff has, somewhat understandably, refrained from expressing
opinions he thought might cause Dan to “spaz out.” Unsurprisingly, Jeff has
also kept a large part of his personality hidden. Meanwhile, years before, Dan’s
parents divorced and pretended to loathe each other, but in reality the couple
remained romantically involved. Jeff is divorced, among other things, but shows
a different side in front of his daughter. Living lies, hiding secret selves,
the characters in Barton’s world make even bigger messes for those around them.
The two men finally face each
other across the table when each reveals his deepest truths, in a tender,
all-too-brief moment. Thereafter, Jeff sits a little differently from before,
and Dan seems a little softer than before, try as he might to hide it. Whether
the men have changed enough to make this work sufficiently “dramatic,” and whether the
“conflict” is ample, depends on one’s theatrical tastes.
April 8, 2013
Walking the Tightrope
24th Street Theatre
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Paige Lindsey White and Mark Bramhall
Photo by Cindy Marie Jenkins
Created for children and adults, this 65-minute play evokes powerful feelings of youthful discomfort and adult mourning, as young Esme comes to her grandparents’ seaside home for a summer visit. This West Coast premiere by Mike Kenny, directed by Debbie Devine, will sadden and haunt and ultimately enlighten by its storytelling. Oddly, it may simultaneously enthrall by its simple theatricality.
A few rudimentary boxes and frames onstage, backed by projections, provide all the audience needs to be able to imagine a quaint train station, a sunny day at the beach, a comfortable moonlit bedroom. Esme (Paige Lindsey White) arrives by train, alone, but only her grandfather (Mark Bramhall) comes to greet her. Where is Nanna? Slowly, over the play’s course, the grandfather begins to overcome his grief and becomes able to reveal the fact of Nanna’s death to his grandchild.
White charms as the child, Bramhall arouses wrenching sorrow as the grandfather. But as the gentle, lingering, greatly maternal presence of Nanna, Tony Duran is masterful. Gently ensuring a warm beverage is at hand, handing out beach necessities at the back door, comforting and making life softer, Duran’s twinkling little grandmamma stands guard over her family in spirit though no one but the audience seems to notice the assistance.
A question that may come to mind when one sees this play is whether young Esme’s parents (unseen) should have stepped up and told Esme, rather than putting the burden on grandpa, that her grandmother died. Such questions are ripe for parental discussions. Young theatergoers may pose their own questions (the producers recommend this production for ages 6 and older). In stepping back from the family-blame game, however, one might consider that grandpa was unable to speak frankly, for a variety of reasons.
Onstage pianist Michael Redfield plays his original score, warming and soothing the painful moments and adding brightness to the happier ones.
March 31, 2013
26–May 18. 1117 W. 24th St. Secure parking is available for $5 in the
lot on the southwest corner of 24th and Hoover. The theater is
wheelchair accessible. Sat 2pm & 7:30 pm. Running time 65
minutes. $10-15. (213) 745-6516.
Brecht on Brecht
The Other Theatre Company at Atwater Playhouse***
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Susan Kussman, Belinda Howell, and Daniel Houston-Davila
Photo by Allan Rabinowitz
On the small, basically barren stage, featuring five mismatched chairs and one door frame attendees must walk through to enter, the sense of being in for a real treat is palpable—and this welcome new mounting of the 1961 Off-Broadway classic does not disappoint. Sadly, a frozen computer kept the opening-night audience from seeing footage of Bertolt Brecht, a man who once observed that his own intelligence ruined his life, as he was forced to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Older people in attendance might have wished for those archaic, simpler ways of projecting images in live presentations to accompany this production, but in the end nothing could silence the wonder of one of the modern world’s most influential thinkers.
Luckily, the computer glitch was visual and not auditory, so the voice of Brecht—some of which was recorded while he appeared before US Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt in 1947—still rings out throughout the play, starting with the scratchy opening strains of the great man’s own tinny 1928 recording of his “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer,” or “Mack the Knife” as we now know it, instantly evoking exactly what he and composer Kurt Weill intended. As a dramatist and dramaturg, Brecht was keen to create epic theatre without epic production values, something that soon made interpretations of his technique referred to as “Brechtian,” which the Free Dictionary describes as a “style that relies on the audience’s reflective detachment rather than the production’s atmosphere and action.”
Because of Brecht’s genius for austerity and extravagance combined, revivals of his works have one unusual thing in common: They are nearly director and actor-proof. Here, however, under the muscular direction of Alistair Hunter, the five-person ensemble is golden, understanding the quirks and excesses that make Brecht’s poetic observations on life so poignant today.
Susan Kussman leads the ensemble with a perfect sense of Brecht, delivering her pieces in harsh light, often as though she were the proverbial frightened deer caught in the headlights. Belinda Howell, who sings many of the songs, including the lusty shout-sings from Mother Courage, also has a wonderful feel for Brecht, both ladies expertly complemented by the sturdy talents of Gil Hagen-Hill, Daniel Houston-Davila, and Gregg Lawrence. Obviously, this courageous quintet and their director have worked together passionately to bring this haunting material to life, as Brecht’s words careen from his early days in Berlin through his disillusioned tenure as a screenwriter in Hollywood—which he referred to during that era as “The Swamp,” stating, “Every day I go to the market where all the lies are told”—before fleeing to East Berlin to live out his final years without finger-pointing by people who were clearly not able to understand what he had to say to us all. “I fled from the tigers,” Brecht wrote, “I fed the fleas. What got me at last? Mediocrities.”
The scariest thing about reviving Brecht on Brecht more than a half-century after George Tabori compiled this indelible material for its first appearance at Theatre de Lys—playing off-times in front of the set for one of the many mountings of Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera)—is how little has changed in the world. The intolerance and its horrific aftermath of a closed-minded, self-promoting society, something which Brecht so fiercely chronicled and which sent him scurrying for safety all over the world, still exists in our supposedly more sophisticated times.
Perhaps the most lingering message left behind from this heartfelt revival of Brecht on Brecht is a sparse little poem from The Buckow Elegies, written in 1953: “I sit by the roadside watching the driver changing the wheel. / I do not like the place I have come from. / I do not like the place I am going to. / So why with such impatience do I watch him changing the wheel?”
April 29, 2013
***The venue is Atwater Playhouse. This is a
new performing arts facility and should not be confused with the Atwater
Village Theatre one block away.
27–June 9. 3191 Casitas Ave. #100. Free parking in lot. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun
2pm. Dark on May 12, 24, 25, 26. $18-25. (323) 960-1054.
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble at Odyssey Theatre
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
Photo by Ron Sossi
Sometimes when film and television stars deem to return to the stage—especially small 99-Seat stages where actors are paid just enough for gas to get to the theater—the action is met with grumbles and eye-rolling by those who disdain the star’s success. There is nothing even remotely akin to slumming in the Los Angeles debut of Sharr White’s astounding Annapurna.
Real-life married couple Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman met while working together in Charles Mee’s The Berlin Circle at Evidence Room in 2000, a relationship that began for Mullally with the excitement that she was asked on a date by someone who had no idea who she was (considering her fame and awards for her work on Will & Grace were already in the wind). The production generated a true romance among Mullally, Offerman, and their director then as now, Bart DeLorenzo. Both actors have had major success since then, but both return to their roots whenever they are able, especially if it involves working with the remarkably prolific DeLorenzo.
This ménage of world-class talent is a fortunate amalgam for White’s play, a phenomenal two-character character drama from a playwright who probably will soon be as famous as his current performers. Using the analogy of scaling one of the highest and most treacherous peaks of the Himalayas, White’s story thrusts together Ulysses, a beaten-down former poet of some promise reduced to living a penniless and solitary life in a deteriorating gulfstream trailer in the Rocky Mountain foothills of Colorado, with Emma, the ex-wife he has not seen for 20 years, since the day she disappeared with their 5-year-old son in the middle of the night.
Climbing a range takes “commitment,” a word that signals special meaning for mountain climbers, evoking the moment when there’s no chance of returning to civilization from the path originally taken. The same is true for Ulysses and Emma, who shows up at her ex’s trailer with food and cash after learning he’s dying of lung cancer. “I’m just passing through,” she tells him. “Eventually.” In the course of the play’s 90-minutes, Emma cleans up Ulysses’s squalid, bug-infected, dogshit-encrusted pigsty as he coughs and wheezes and tries to be the pillar of emotionlessness men like him feel they need to be. He knows her arrival after two decades, sporting bruised shoulders and arms, carrying groceries and $17,000 in cash, and pulling a vase of fake flowers from her backpack, means it’s time to find out what happened all those years earlier, before he kicks the proverbial bucket—that is, if he can find one not crawling with his friends the ants.
Under the sturdy, austere direction of DeLorenzo and featuring two actors capable of such astonishing commitment to their art, Annapurna is the play and production of the year so far in Los Angeles. How easy it would be for the simple unfolding of these people’s enduring love for each other to be boring and more than a tad maudlin, but never once does the story get bogged down in expositionary excess. Offerman is riveting, offering a bravely uncluttered, incredibly honest portrait of a troubled man in enormous pain, physically and emotionally, while the far less showy yet heartbreaking performance of Mullally is a wonderful foil to his work. Mullally, who has had her share of memorable turns on LA stages long after her fireplace mantel was graced by a pair of Emmys and a few other well-deserves awards, seems to be here to support her man—something that so fuels her Emma with as much love as any two people could possibly share.
Even without these odds for success, the indelible debut of Annapurna signals a major new playwright to watch, who, like Williams, turns jarringly dark poetry into difficult dialogue that would be hard to decode in lesser hands than those contributed here by the Offermans and DeLorenzo. And when Ulysses begins orating the first stanzas of the epic poem he has written over the last lonely two decades to the love of his life, the long-absent Emma, Williams again comes to mind, as when the aged Nonno begins reciting “How Calmly Does the Olive Branch,” the epic poem he has also been composing for 20 years, at the end of The Night of the Iguana. Many writers are compared to Williams, it’s true; White might be the one guy who makes that mantle stick.
April 23, 2013
20–June 9. 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. See theater
website for schedule, but generally runs Wed-Sun. Running time 90
minutes, no intermission. $25-30. (310) 477-2055.
Reviewed by Julio Martinez
Photo by Linn Øyen Farley
It is understandable why Canadian-based thesp Tara Grammy’s Mahmoud—co-scripted by Grammy and Tom Arthur Davis, helmed by Davis—received solo-performance honors at 2012 Toronto and New York Fringe festivals. Iranian-born Grammy offers an exuberant, hyper-polished, pitch-and-rhythm-perfect sojourn within the lives of three disparate Toronto immigrants—an aging, relentlessly upbeat Iranian engineer-turned–cab driver; a romance-smitten homosexual Spaniard; and a callow Iranian-Canadian teen actor wannabe—each living out “the day-to-day grind in a large metropolitan city.”
Despite duo Fringe kudos, there is not enough substance to this piece to sustain a regular theatrical run. Her adroit performance skills notwithstanding, Grammy’s sketchy, thematically incomplete character studies need to be fleshed out and amplified. At a paltry 50 minutes, the current staging of Mahmoud at Whitefire Theatre barely serves as an introduction.
Ever-vivacious Grammy touches on a number of sensitive issues: inherent racism and media-driven distrust of Middle Eastern immigrants; ignorance-driven homophobia among immigrants; preteen social angst amplified by minority status; and the historical credibility gap separating the original Iranian immigrants who fled their country following the overthrow of the shah of Iran in 1979 and the current, social media–savvy young Iranian immigrant adults who have been raised under the influence of Western culture.
The unifying force in this piece is the title character, Mahmoud the cab driver, who at some point shares his taxi with each of the other characters. Grammy effortlessly flows into the persona of this colorful refugee of a prosperous, upper-middle-class existence under the shah who became a persecuted victim of Ayatollah Khomeini’s fundamentalist Islamic regime. Intermingling Grammy’s exquisite timing with the thematically supporting production designs of Jenna Koenig (lights) and Mike Conley (sound), helmer Davis seamlessly moves the dramatic throughline forward, chronicling Mahmoud’s ongoing struggle to remain upbeat and positive while plagued by the ongoing nightmares of his obliterated former life. Unfortunately, there is not enough thematic substance within Mahmoud’s travails—present and past—to give him credence as a three-dimensional character.
The same can be said of Grammy’s not-so-adroit flamboyant Spanish-born gay romantic who is pining for the return of his Iranian lover so they can be married. Sporting an implausible, muddled Castilian accent, this character has no backstory to make believable his manic assertions that his boyfriend—a product of one of the more homophobic societies on earth—is going to wed him and take him home to meet the family. There is also an unworkable taxicab confrontation between the Spaniard and Mahmoud. It would be equally plausible to believe Mahmoud throws his passenger out of his cab because he is homophobic or due to the Spaniard’s relentlessly obnoxious behavior.
What plays to near perfection is Grammy’s 13-year-old Tara, suffering all the normal early teen social woes, further plagued by the knowledge that with her dark skin and hair, she can never compete with the blonde beauty who naturally beats her out for the role of Tinker Bell in the school play and the heart of the class hunk.
The highlight of this production is the taxi ride argument between adult Tara, who has had the privilege of enjoying many visits to modern-day Iran, and Mahmoud, who hasn’t seen his home country for more than a quarter century. Davis stages the scene to haunting effect. It is achingly poignant that long-suffering Mahmoud cannot appreciate this young woman’s transcendence over history, while Tara cannot express empathy for the self-built wall of terror Mahmoud has built that permanently places him in exile. This scene should serve as a potential beginning to a second act that continues the path of Tara and Mahmoud to discover and reveal in-depth resolutions to their journeys.
May 20, 2013
Reviewed by Julio Martinez
Heather Alyse Becker and Maria Kress
Photo by Thomas Mikusz
When ever-sarcastic Depression-era feminist Nancy Blake (Dianne Travis) accuses fellow Manhattan socialite Sylvia Fowler (Leona Britton) of having an “orgasm by gossip,” she is distilling the agenda underscoring playwright Clare Boothe Luce’s 1936 all-female stage play, The Women, having an unsteady but still stageworthy revival at Theatre West. Helmer Arden Teresa Lewis’s labored effort to marshal her 17-member distaff cast through a dozen scene changes and myriad costumes does not always serve the flow of Luce’s dramatic throughline, but the text prevails. And it is a deliciously satisfying text.
Having no real power or influence to control the society in which they live, Luce’s women of privilege feed on one another for their emotional nourishment. The current object of Sylvia’s cultured malice is life-contented wife and mother Mary Haines (Maria Kress), who unfortunately falls victim to the “good intentioned” machinations of the women she considers her good friends. Britton’s Sylvia glows as she manipulates events to make sure Mary learns that Mr. Haines is having his way with working-class salesgirl Crystal (Caitlin Gallogly). Kress exudes the proper poise and sophistication but doesn’t inhabit the persona of Mary, a demure, trusting innocent who eventually evolves into a take-charge warrior. Kress seems to be attempting to discover Mary as she goes along.
What elevates The Women above the level of a mere high society cat fest is Luce’s seamless social counterbalance, offering up the reality of life for the have-nots who pamper these ladies of privilege. Performing as an ensemble unto themselves, Jeanine Anderson, Heather Alyse Becker, Melanie Kwiatkowski, Paula K. Long, and Sarah Purdam portray an assortment of maids, nannies, waitresses, salesgirls, beauticians, nurses, etc. who constantly indicate their opinions of the ladies they serve, as much with body language as with words. Long’s Nurse, who informs pregnant and pampered Edith (Anne Leyden) what it is like to bear children when a woman lives in poverty is a penetrating study in controlled bitterness.
Luce reveals that in the life and times she inhabited during the early part of the 20th century, the only difference between a society matron and a salesgirl is at what level each can find a man to take care of them. Mary’s mother Mrs. Morehead, portrayed with steely determination by Sandra Tucker, staunchly advocates that her daughter keep her husband at all costs, even with his infidelity. There is an equal determination oozing out of opportunistic Crystal—played to the hot-eyed hilt by Caitlin Gallogly—who utilizes all her youthful credentials to replace Mary as Mrs. Haines.
The playwright also hints at a future when women just might be moving toward a greater freedom of purpose. She incorporates the expediency of a Reno Nevada divorce, made possible by the six-week residency statute enacted by Nevada in 1931. Travis’s free-spirited writer Nancy is proud to be a virgin in her 30s, untouched, unencumbered, and free to travel the world whenever she pleases. And for comedy relief, Luce throws in amour-smitten Countess De Lage (an endearingly dotty Jacque Lynn Colton), an independently wealthy four-time divorcee who keeps marrying and discarding men just to keep her love alive.
The designs of David Offner (sets) and Valerie Miller (costumes) adequately evoke the period. And the ensemble should be credited for the dedicated manipulation of both with nary a mishap.
May 14, 2013
10-June 16. 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West Los Angeles. Street and valet
parking. Theatre is wheelchair Accessible. Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm.
Running time 2hr, 40min. $28-$25. (323) 851-7977.
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Mark Taper Forum
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Erica Tazel, Glynn Turman, Lillias White, Skye Barrett, John Douglas Thompson, Raynor Scheine, and January LaVoy
Photo by Craig Schwartz
August Wilson is surely the most important American dramatist of the final two decades of the last century, a given that makes it so important to honor his memory with the kind of reverential productions his plays deserve. To say the Taper’s revival of this Wilson masterwork is worthy of this mantle is an understatement; it is a magnificent effort.
Under the nurturing, subtly omnipresent leadership of director Phylicia Rashad, Joe Turner’s back with a vengeance. and Los Angeles is lucky to be able to again experience an impeccable production of what could be Wilson’s best work, part of what has been called his Century Cycle: 10 plays that chronicle the African-American experience, each representing a different decade and all taking place in the ever-evolving Hill District of Pittsburgh. Beginning with Gem of the Ocean, set in 1900, and ending with Radio Golf, Wilson’s last play taking place in 1997 (which debuted at the Taper shortly before its creator’s death), no one since O’Neill so clearly defined who we are as Americans, with all our spirit and all our warts right out there for all to see.
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is the second play in the cycle, set in 1911 in the kitchen and sitting room of Seth and Bertha Holly’s modest boardinghouse dwarfed by a massive, silky backdrop of the then-burgeoning Pittsburgh skyline and the Smithfield Street Bridge looming above the second floor of John Iacovelli’s evocative set. As Bertha (Lillias White) cooks and keeps her house in order in the most loving way possible, her husband (Keith David) oversees the antics of their boarders with what he’d like to be an iron hand, even if his inherent gentleness gets in the way of his attempts at authority. White and David are the heart of this production, leading the breathtaking ensemble cast with incredible spirit in a time when African-Americans were still caught between the end of slavery and a dubious—though promising—future. “The world got to start somewhere,” woebegone drifter Herald Loomis observes, his own once-solid faith in turmoil from living in the troubled times enveloping him. “I been wandering a long time in somebody else’s world.”
Joanne DeNaut must be credited for her exemplary casting here. Glynn Turman as the neighborhood’s resident conjure man Bynum Walker; Gabriel Brown, January LaVoy, and Vivian Nixon as boarders who come and go, their stories peripheral to the others but equally as fascinating, are all golden and fiercely committed to telling Wilson’s tale. John Douglas Thompson is chilling and heartbreaking as Loomis, a man held by bounty hunter Joe Turner for seven years and now on the road with his daughter Zonia to find the wife (a knockout Erica Tazel in her 11th-hour appearance) he was forced to leave behind.
Raynor Scheine is excellent as the Caucasian peddler who liberally peppers his stories with the “n-word” without a clue that it is offensive to his friends and, as the 10-year-old Zonia and her new, equally pintsized friend Reuben, Skye Barrett and Nathaniel James Potvin smoothly hold their own, acting alongside their veteran adult counterparts, surely another nod to the supportive and passionate hand of a majorly gifted director.
This new mounting is resplendent in every way, alternately delicate and wildly boisterous, epic and humble. “I ain’t never found no place for me to fit,” one boarder confesses to another. “Seem like all I do is start over.” Our country has come a long way in the last 102 years, but thanks to Wilson’s rich, blessedly fervent storytelling and his charming, resilient characters who speak in simple yet lyrical terms, it’s easy to see we still have a long way to go.
May 11, 2013
The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later
Reviewed by Melinda Schupman
James McHale and Karen Webster
Photo by Casey Long
In October 1998, Matthew Shepard was attacked and brutally beaten by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson in Laramie, Wyo. Shepard was tied to a fence and left to die. Though he didn’t die for several days, his injuries were too severe, and he remained in a coma until his death. He was targeted because he was gay, and at the subsequent trial the acts were deemed a hate crime.
Following this story, which gained national attention, Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie to interview citizens about their views of this horrific crime. Those interviews turned into The Laramie Project, a play first performed in February 2000. For more than nine years, Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, advocated for hate crime legislation for LGBT individuals, including people with disabilities. Remarkably, the controversy surrounding this attempt began under President Bill Clinton, when the House of Representatives rejected his efforts to extend Federal hate crimes legislation. Later, a threat by President George W. Bush to veto a bill presented by John Conyers meant failure again. The Matthew Shepard Act was finally signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Prompted by the critical acclaim for The Laramie Project, Kaufman and several members of the original interview team returned to Laramie to re-interview some of the participants and to see what, if any, changes might have happened in the town. That visit begat the current play, also with a powerful impact.
The most common thread this time around is their desire to move away from the notoriety and go forward. Sadly, 20/20 did a special, asserting that the killing was a drug deal gone wrong, and many townspeople eagerly welcomed that interpretation rather than the one in which an innocent young man was molested because of his sexual orientation.
Director Oanh Nguyen stages the play on a raised platform stage with only chairs as props (scenic designer Fred Kinney). They have surrounded the actors with walls on which video projection (designer Joe Holbrook) can effectively serve as a colorful scene changer, from Wyoming views to prison walls. The eight-member cast (Jocelyn A. Brown, Robert Foran, David McCormick, James McHale, Erika C. Miller, Karen O’Hanlon, Brandon Sean Pearson, and Karen Webster) take on multiple roles as they portray the various citizens of Laramie.
The ensemble is superb, and it is hard to single out individual performances for praise. The plethora of characterizations required range from passionate advocates to ignorant townspeople. This second production of the events surrounding the crime adds important characters to the lineup. One interview is with a priest (well-played by Robert Foran), who cautions the interviewers to see the murderers as people. The two, Henderson (James McHale) and McKinney (Brandon Sean Pearson), give voice to their thoughts after 10 years of incarceration. Both are chillingly realistic yet, through the prism of the priest’s eyes, victims of misfortunes in their own lives. Both actors are palpably disturbing.
The play is more than an account of events. It attempts to explain the many ways in which people react to tragedy, from intellectualizing to denial. Nguyen plays it straight, letting the audience identify with characters or with the circumstances of the crime. Henderson’s portrayal is subdued, with regret and strange passivity, but Pearson, who elicits anger and pathos, delivers a memorable characterization. Kaufman’s rendering of this tragic story speaks most eloquently about the perils of diversity. While issues of equality play out in the media today, the personal face of ordinary people’s responses to such discrimination and hate crimes is fascinating. Kaufman and his co-writers Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris, and Stephen Belber have produced a work that has sufficient gravitas to make a place for itself as a work of important political and social examination.
May 6, 2013
with The Laramie Project. Apr. 23–May 19. 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim
Hills. Thu 8pm (The Laramie Project) Fri 8pm (The Laramie Project: 10
Years Later) Sat 3pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm (Laramie/Laramie: 10 years
later) $27–35. Student, senior, and group discounts are available. (714)
Reviewed by Bob Verini
Logan Marshall-Green and Lily Rabe
Photo by Michael Lamont
Neil LaBute’s brainstorm of setting Miss Julie in Prohibition-era Long Island syncs up with multiple ’30s-movie dreams, which in turn set off provocative sparks within August Strindberg’s 1888 fever dreams. Whatever your assessment of the updating, there’s no question that the Geffen Playhouse premiere offers a tremendous LA showcase for three much-vaunted Gotham talents: Lily Rabe, Logan Marshall-Green, and Laura Heisler.
If Myung Hee Cho’s gleaming gray and white kitchen set reminds you of butler William Powell’s domain in My Man Godfrey, that seems totally apropos. LaBute and helmer Jo Bonney are clearly tapping into tropes and images of New Deal–era social satire, especially the farces in which a wisecracking servant squares off with a deb far above his station.
Rabe’s Miss Julie is a throaty Katharine Hepburn in green flapper drag, alternately drawn to and repelled by her father’s footman John, embodied by Marshall-Green with studly self-possession and sneering Brooklyn patois (John Garfield is definitely indicated). Meanwhile, off to the side, John’s fiancée (Heisler) displays Nancy Carroll cuteness and Eve Arden cynicism; she’s already pregnant by the guy, so she has little to fear from any shenanigans pulled by the lady of the house in her slumming expeditions.
The upside of the updating is that Strindberg’s class war and sex battles are rendered with deep high stakes immediacy: Where most traditional productions set in 19th century Sweden seem quaintly remote, this one plops the play’s Gatsbyesque social climbing right into your lap. The downside is that there is as yet not much control over the balance between humor and pathos. Bonney really tests our willingness to go along with Miss Julie’s downward spiral. Should the audience be quite so cued into hilarity during the play’s most famous violent act, involving a pet finch?
Nevertheless, all three performances are enormously precise and persuasive, Rabe in particular making every gesture, movement and line reading count as she vacillates between lewdness and serenity, joy and despair, not unlike Carole Lombard at her most moonstruck. You may not feel that Julie’s final decision is rendered wholly believable—is it ever, in this day and age?—but Rabe’s characterization is a tart reminder of the very fine line between the comically screwball and the homicidally bipolar.
May 2, 2013
1–June 2. 10886 Le Conte Ave. (immediately south of UCLA). Tue-Fri 8pm,
Sat 3pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm & 7pm. Running time 110 minutes, no
intermission. $69-73. (310) 208-5454.
Falling for Make Believe
Reviewed by Bob Verini
Tyler Milliron and Ben D. Goldberg
Photo by Michael Lamont
To Burbank comes the legend of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, retold in a trim 95 minutes by librettist Mark Saltzman. As stage memoirs go, this one is thin but not entirely unpersuasive, and in its musicality (21 Top 40 hits pulled from the savory songbook) and entertainment value alone, should be a winner for the Colony, which can use one in its heroic battle for financial solvency.
The past century’s preeminent bard of the unlucky in love, Lorenz Hart (1895–1943) was tiny in stature, homely, Jewish, alcoholic, and man-crazy—a losing combination in any era, but especially toxic in the heyday of the patrician café society that once governed Manhattan’s artistic elite. He kept his yearnings totally private—a frustrating paradox to the eager biographer, of whom Saltzman is only the latest of many—and yet there they are, for all the world to hear, pressed within the sheet music representing a quarter-century’s worth of lyrical inventiveness.
So nakedly did Hart hang heart on sleeve, Saltzman has an embarrassment of riches to choose from in detailing a downward self-destructive spiral in words and music. There’s the one-night stand he met when “My Heart Stood Still” but can’t remember “Where or When”; the trick out of Hart’s league (“You Are Too Beautiful”) and in for the kill (“You Took Advantage of Me”); and the absolute lack of faith in human interaction (“This Can’t Be Love”; “I Wish I Were in Love Again”). It’s a doleful musical profile indeed, even leaving out Hart’s all-time anthem to emotional defensiveness, “Glad to Be Unhappy” (“Unrequited love’s a bore/And I’ve got it pretty bad”), or his most plaintive lyrical line in “Bewitched,” “and worship the trousers that cling to him.”
Whether integrated into the narrative or offered as ironic or pointed commentary, these timeless tunes are performed with great gusto under Keith Harrison’s musical direction and complemented by Lisa Hopkins’s choreography, creating a real sense of musical time and place.
And the lead performance is top notch, Ben D. Goldberg nicely capturing the boozy ambivalence and self-hatred of a man out of step and out of happiness options. His portrait is deepened through scenes of homosexual life and love in prewar Manhattan, when Prohibition’s end opened the doors of “proper” saloons but banished same-sex socializing to closets and secret signals. Director Jim Fall does a good job of sketching out the milieu, aided by Jeffrey Landman’s just-sleazy-enough portrayal of a Gotham pimp and enabler who keeps Hart hopped up and strung out.
Our personal guide to the demimonde is one Fletcher Mecklin (Tyler Milliron), a stand-in for all the Broadway hangers-on who have ever hoped to enter the upper echelons on the coattails of a Lorenz Hart. (Saltzman gets something else right about Hart here: The lyricist’s sense of personal integrity refused to let him partake of the casting couch, where at least his fame and power might have gotten him laid on a regular basis.) Milliron is most likable and credible as a talented Midwestern hottie who is never quite able to “Sing for Your Supper” and sleep his way to the top, though it would’ve been good if his narration, on the day of Hart’s funeral, were invested with a little more age and gravitas.
There’s other work to be done on the roles. Composer Rodgers gets the same kind of uncritical pass he always demanded in life; Brett Ryback seems to know how flat and dour the role has been conceived but does his best to invest the man with levels. Rebecca Ann Johnson’s chorine—a too-young surrogate for aging “Pal Joey” star Vivienne Segal whom Hart vainly hoped of marrying—lacks weight except when she’s belting, which is happily often.
And there’s one seriously bungled scene in which Rodgers bails out Hart and Fletcher from a drunk tank. It’s the play’s sole opportunity to dramatize the special humiliation of being officially slammed down just for being oneself, yet Fall, Saltzman, and actor Megan Moran play it for stupid, vulgar laughs. (The lady cop confuses “Blue Moon” and “Blue Skies.”) This is a sequence that needs no jokes, only real terror.
May 1, 2013
27–May 19. 555 N. Third Street (at Cypress), Glendale. Park in and enter
from the shopping center structure. Thu-Fri 8pm, Sat 3pm & 8pm, Sun
2pm. $20–42. (818) 558-7000 ext. 15.
Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers
The Blank Theatre at 2nd Stage
Reviewed by Bob Verini
Trisha LaFache and Daniel Shawn Miller
Photo by Mary Ann Williams
Bursts of joyful theatricality turn the West Coast premiere of this Michael Lluberes play into something not to be missed. What Lluberes does with the J.M. Barrie perennial is, truth be told, no fresher than Michael Matthews’s Story Theater concept, but Matthews’s actors happily take to their task as if no one had ever before built an environment with boxes and chests, or presented narration in direct address, or pulled out rippling blue fabric to represent a river. Their joy, even in hijinks so overfamiliar, becomes yours.
The script’s provenance is unusual. The world-famous fantasy that sent Maude Adams, and later Mary Martin and Cathy Rigby, a-soar remains in US copyright until 2023. However, to the sorrow of the rights-holders, the 1911 novel Peter and Wendy on which the play was based is now in the public domain, leaving the tale open to whatever shenanigans every Tom, Dick, or Michael has in mind to pull with it. And Barrie hewed so closely to his original prose source, anyway, that the two versions are to all intents and purposes identical. The eternal Never Land rascal, the Darling family, Captain Hook, Smee, and the crocodile are all fair game now for iconoclasts, parodists, and psychological investigators of every stripe.
The worst of the ripoffs are yet to come, though, because this show is no subversive desecration or hackwork. Fans won’t be irked or disturbed by what goes on within this playhouse. There are a few benign twists—Mr. Darling and Nana are gone; Mrs. Darling is made to double as Hook; little brother Michael plays a very different role—which all in all fail to justify the extreme subtitle; our hero remains “Peter Pan, the boy with slight mother issues.” Lluberes’s biggest service is in whittling down the story—which ran three hours the last time I saw it in London—to a sleek, comfortable two.
And it’s told with enormous brio, style, and good will. Matthews’s ensemble skillfully morphs from Lost Boys to Indians to pirates and back again, and each gets his or her moment to shine. Trisha LaFache is a disappointingly pallid Hook, but Daniel Shawn Miller’s buff Peter and Liza Burns’s glowing Wendy manage to set off real sparks in each other—complicated, understated sparks appropriate to Barrie’s delicately weird worldview. The environment established by Mary Hamrick’s set, Kellsy MacKilligan’s clothes, Rebecca Kessin’s sound design and especially Tim Swiss and Zack Lapinski’s subtle lighting is one for an audience member to curl up in like a favorite childhood book.
April 30, 2013
27–June 2. 6500 Santa Monica Blvd. (Valet parking available for evening
performances.) Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $30. (323) 661-9827.
The Miracle Worker
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Danielle Soibelman and Tara Battani
It mattered not at all that everyone in the audience knew how this William Gibson play would end. Yes, teacher Annie Sullivan would drag the blind and deaf Helen Keller to the pump and hold the child’s hand under cold running water, and Helen would be struck by a lightning bolt of understanding. And yet that didn’t stop the entire front row of a Saturday matinee audience from sitting perched in rapt attention throughout the entirety of the production. Such is the miracle of this play.
Annie was brave. Helen was braver. So are the actors portraying them, under the polished direction of Thom Babbes. Annie is taken on by Tara Battani, relatively period but mostly loose-limbed and living in roiling determination. Helen is played by Danielle Soibelman, totally immersed yet disciplined enough to throw punches, unafraid to grab her scene partner’s face, engaging in some of the most convincing stage combat seen in Los Angeles. These two ragingly impassioned and physically committed actors fully engage with their roles.
Although the audience would be satisfied watching only these two, Gibson wrote it, in the 1950s, as a large-cast play. Young students at the school for the blind and young servants help support the action. The Keller family is rather a mess. Helen’s father (Bruce Ladd) is a martinet. His son James (Tony Christopher) resents his pretty young stepmother (Catherine Gray) whom the father brought into the family. Aunt Ev (Joanne Atkinson) further fractures the relationships. In Gibson’s world, it takes Annie to force the family into a cohesive whole with a vital purpose.
Onstage is one more large bundle of disciplined joy: the Keller family’s pet dog. Adding to the realism, of course the onstage water pump for the final scene functions right on cue. For the occasional audience member who momentarily loses concentration on the story, Shon LeBlanc’s costuming—and in particular Mrs. Keller’s gowns—will keep the eye firmly on the stage.
Who or what is the miracle worker here? Is it Annie, who stuck by her understanding and persevered in her efforts? Is it Helen, who knowingly fought her way out of darkness and who became a world-renowned public speaker? Or is it whomever or whatever gives each human an indefatigable spirit?
April 29, 2013
12–May 26. 1760 N. Gower St. (located on the grounds of First
Presbyterian Church of Hollywood). Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2:30pm (additional
Saturday performances April 20 and May 18, 2:30pm). $20-30. (323)
462-8460, ext. 300.