Arts In LA
Man Covets Bird
24th Street Theatre

Reviewed by Dink O’Neal

Leeav Sofer and Andrew Huber
Photo by Cooper Bates

How refreshing to witness a show suitable for all ages that neither talks down to its older attendees nor leaves its youngest audience members in the dust. This US premiere—only its second production worldwide—has something for everyone. Playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer’s engaging tale of a young man who develops a touching relationship with a wild bird captures both the heart and mind. In the hands of director Debbie Devine and a phenomenally talented two-person cast, the result is magically inspirational.
   Andrew Huber masterfully tells the tale, in third person, of our young hero. While executing all necessary actions required for carrying out his role, he offers a performance of such charming gentility that one can’t help but be drawn in to his character’s storyline. This young man, whose name is never specified, marches to the beat of his own Bohemian drum, so much so that when he is confronted by a young bird, it seems only natural that the two would strike up a nearly lifelong relationship. Along the way, Huber’s remarkable handling of Kruckemeyer’s 70-minute, intermissionless monologue produces an engaging, edge-of-your-seat effect.
   Likewise, Leeav Sofer’s contribution, though never through the spoken word, is absolutely essential to the show’s message. As the undefined bird, his characterization is that of an ever-present, undemanding soulmate to the man. And despite the occasional well-placed birdcall, Sofer’s performance never falls prey to that of caricature. Instead, we are treated to gorgeously crafted original melodies— written by Sofer and self-accompanied on keyboard and clarinet—that he performs with Huber, who plays acoustic guitar. These interludes, best described as in folk style, are spine-tingling in their harmonic beauty as they set Kruckemeyer’s lyrics to music.

Devine’s work in crafting this production is aided by some of the finest production values imaginable. In this venue’s warehouse-like surroundings—it was once a turn-of-the-century carriage house—and utilizing nothing more than a rolling A-frame ladder and small “beat-box” cubes as portable furniture, her cast moves effortlessly around the thrust stage and through the seating areas. Surrounding the perimeter of the playing space are four distinct areas upon which simplistically hand-drawn projected animation creates various locales. These videos, credited to Matthew G. Hill and Sara Haddadin, flow from one screen to the next while perfectly timed to the actors’ actions.
   Cricket S Myers’s sound cues are a rich addition, in at least one instance seamlessly continuing Sofer’s clarinet solo. Dan Weingarten’s lighting is specific when necessary and lush when appropriate. And a big “hats off” to stage manager Alexx Zachary for calling a show that most certainly must consist of hundreds of cues.
   Kruckemeyer’s script asks, what effect does every moment of our lives have on those we encounter. To the credit of this company’s motto, “Theater for all audiences,” it is more than obvious this goal had been met and then some.

October 6, 2015
Sept. 26–Nov. 22. 1117 W. 24th St. Sat 3pm & 7:30pm, Sun 3pm (dark Oct. 24, 25, 31, Nov. 1). Running time 70 minutes, no intermission. $2.40–$24. (213) 745-6516.


Something Truly Monstrous
Blank Theatre at 2nd Stage Theatre

Reviewed by Jonas Schwartz

Jilon VanOver, Amir Levi, and Jason Paul Field
Photo by Anne McGrath

Rarely are the words zany and film noir in the same sentence. However, Something Truly Monstrous is a madcap send-up of 1940 murky melodramas like High Sierra, Johnny Eager, and The Maltese Falcon—taking a longstanding rumor and twisting the backstory to involve three Warner Bros. prestigious movie actors.
   Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre suffer through the filming of a cockamamie war romance on the Warner Bros. lot that they know will ruin their careers. It’s Bogart’s first time as a leading romantic, and the script is disastrously treacly, the title of which is Casablanca. Plus, they have to deal with their new co-star Paul Henreid, a condescending foreigner who believes he deserves to be a bigger star than either of them. After a night of drinking and plotting, the three wind up in Errol Flynn’s house, carrying around John Barrymore’s fresh corpse.

Writer Jeff Tabnick steals from a rumor started by Flynn in his autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways, that the swashbuckler lifted his drinking buddy Barrymore’s dead body from the morgue and went on a drinking spree, and reimagines if Flynn were merely a patsy, the Casablanca trio planting the body in his home as revenge for his matinee idol status. Tabnick peppers his script with appropriately hardboiled noir dialogue such as, “Not that I missed your eggs-over-easy eyes darin’ me to keep down last night’s supper." The dialogue is not merely clever, it’s very funny. Tabnick ridicules not only the genre that made Lorre and Bogart famous, but also the shallowness of Hollywood relationships and the oligarchy of the studio system.
   Even the subtleties will tickle film fans. Here the cast is as desperate to escape filming Casablanca as the characters in the film were to flee. While the expatriates scrounge for exit papers to leave the Nazi-ravaged city, the actors are stuck with papers (studio contracts) that bind them to films they would never choose of their own volition.
   The characters are caricatures of their onscreen personas, and the three actors exaggerate those mannerisms to comic effect. Jason Paul Field’s Bogey is a tough-guy poseur, constantly drunk and frenziedly hiding his insecurities. Amir Levi is the greasy, whiny version of Lorre, more in tune with his Casablanca character, Ugarte, than how many in Hollywood remember the dignified European. Jilon VanOver, who hovers over both of his co-stars, turns the bon vivant Henreid into a cocky snake in the grass with movie delusions of grandeur. The play generates many laughs from VanOver’s Austrian pronunciations whenever Henreid is trying to frantically sound all-American.
   Director Daniel Henning and his crew turn the set into that of a B movie. Jeremy Pivnick’s low-key lighting turns Levi’s sweaty face and buggy eyes into something truly monstrous. The rear projection of 40s Hollywood streets, like the rear projections in the cheaper movies of the day, have the characters driving the same street over and over. The sets, by Chad Dellinger, are façades and faux cars made of boxes. In a meta-visual joke, when each of the play’s scenes complete, an end-of-shot bell rings, and the stage actors playing the Casablanca actors relax and chit-chat to clarify to the audience that everything we’ve seen is just make believe. Something Truly Monstrous is an early Christmas present to fans of Tinseltown’s Golden Age. Lightweight and engaging, the play entertains.

October 5, 2015
Oct. 2–Nov. 8. 6500 Santa Monica Blvd. (Valet parking available for evening performances.) Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $30. (323) 661-9827.


Road Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Barret Lewis and Gabriela Ortega
Photo by Michele Young

Few playwrights as gifted as Lisa Loomer could find dark humor in such a gloomy and prophetic indictment of the ever-encroaching fringes of our apathetic and self-involved society, cunningly pounding the last few nails into the coffin that holds our frantically flailing American dream. JJ, Breezy, and Franklin are three lost teenagers living on the mean streets of Medford, Ore., trying desperately to get their overly used and abused asses to Los Angeles, home of all fading dreams, before the frost kills them. Little do they know that LA has more homeless kids on its streets than does anywhere else in the country. So when their jagged and pitfall-ridden journey farts to a dismal finish in Ashland, perhaps it’s for the best.
   The frenetic JJ (a phenomenally on-the-money Barret Lewis), whose brain on drugs, he surmises, is more like a cheese omelet than that simple frying egg he’s seen on TV, wants to make it to Hollywood to be discovered as a singing star. The fact that JJ knows only one song—and his guitars keep getting ripped off, making him have to rip off another one—is an extreme indication of the absence of any happy ending for a kid whose father once forced him to beat his own puppy to death in an effort to show him how crappy life is.
   His companion Breezy (Gabriela Ortega) just want to escape her stepfather who is the father of her unborn child, while Franklin (Lockne O’Brien) has been kicked out of his house for being gay, surviving by turning tricks in filthy toilet stalls of a public restroom.
   These severely damaged kids meet a vast array of friends and adversaries along their journey to nowhere, including dreadlocked earth-mother Shannon (Chelsea Averil) and her urban philosopher boyfriend Aaron (Donald Russell), who take them under their wing until it becomes inconvenient, realizing that their charges “create so much drama so they don’t have to live their boring lives.”
   There is a heap of adults to deal with along the way and in flashback as well, all played to the hilt by Elizabeth Herron and Steve Apostolina. Both actors are quite startling as they morph from one person to the next, especially Herron as she portrays Breezy’s cold sore–sporting, severely miscreant aunt with an agenda all her own, and Apostolina as a drunken faded flowerchild living in the park, singing “Maggie’s Farm” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” on the cold hard ground—prompting Breezy ask if he wrote “that stuff” and him to answer, “Absolutely.”

Unlike the old days when Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and David Mamet wrote scenes in their plays so long one needed a bathroom break, the age of playwrights having grown up staring at televisions has created a clear modification to the theatrical artform: short, filmic scenes that last about as long as a Scorsese take. In Homefree, no scene lasts longer than five minutes or so, and each change is accomplished by rolling or turning designer JR Bruce’s roughhewn monolithic barn sections, transforming the setting from park to shelter to the house trailer of Breezy’s tweeker aunt.
   Each transformation is accompanied by the cast and is set to suitably appropriate loud and raucous street music, which is a viable choice but not the best. The scene changes are so frequent and the performance of them so all-encompassing that they detract severely from the flow of the tale Loomer and director Michael Matthews are attempting to tell. It is clever in concept, but too oppressively stagey and even annoying in execution.
   If, instead of music, the actors continued to do the dirty work but without break in their dialogue, finishing one scene and starting each new one while making the scene change, it could have been a far more innovative and fluid alternative—not to mention dropping about 15 minutes from the production’s running time.

Still, Loomer’s insight into these sad characters is palpable, making one wonder if she sat down among the trashcans and makeshift lean-tos to be able to write in their voices so eloquently. Aaron is surprisingly okay with the realization that “people in houses need us to feel better about themselves,” but that concept should be—and surely is meant to be—terrifying to the rest of us. Aaron, JJ, Breezy and most of their whole new stand o’ cotton, we’re told, were conceived in a Walmart and are just trying their best to “hurry themselves out of here.”
   Loomer, Matthews, and their exceptional and strikingly committed ensemble have captured that disconsolate indictment of our next generation and fear for the future beautifully, making us wonder—if our species has indeed fatally crashed itself into a brick wall of pollution, climate change, and hopelessness—whether global warming wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.

September 27, 2015
Sept. 18–Nov. 8. 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $17.50–34. (818) 761-8838.


Kentwood Players at Westchester Playhouse

Reviewed by Dany Margolies

Andrea Stradling, Jennifer Marion, and Scot Renfro
Photo by Shari Barrett

When is an English drawing-room murder mystery not an English drawing-room murder mystery? Or perhaps playwright Don Nigro’s Ravenscroft is not even a murder mystery.
   The first clue that the Kentwood Players production is not your standard whodunit is the set. Rather than cramming rooms and furnishings of the play’s remote English manor house onto the Westchester Playhouse stage, director Sheridan Cole Crawford and set designer Jim Crawford empty the entire stage and backstage area, then dot the space with mere suggestions of those rooms and furnishings.
   So there is no backdrop. The wide cyclorama at the back of the stage, occasionally reddened by lighting designer Richard Potthoff in a spurt of bloodletting, lets the audience know our imaginations must be engaged, as is that of each character.
   A hanging window frame allows a generalized view of a swirling snowstorm. The hint of a backstairs area, a vague upstairs bedroom, and the housekeeper’s cozy bedsit surround the drawing room where Inspector Ruffing (Scot Renfro) struggles to solve a murder or two.

Apparently, within the last three months, two men were found dead at the foot of the Ravenscrofts staircase. One was Mr. Ravenscroft, who left behind his wife (Andrea Stradling) and his daughter Gillian (Kati Schwartz). The other was the mysterious Patrick.
   The inspector repeatedly interrogates the family, as well as the servants: Mrs. French, (Deborah Ishida), Dolly (Jennifer Marion), and Marcy the Viennese governess (Jessica Marshall-Gardiner).
   What the characters say is only half as fascinating as what they don’t say. Some confess, then recant. Some blame the murders on ghosts, lurking in shadows. Characters, too, lurk in shadows, happening to wander into the drawing room when the inspector needs them. But here the sudden appearance of characters is not bad writing.
   After all, our hidden selves lurk in shadows, too, and then may suddenly appear. So, is the inspector a drunken pedophile, spending a few seconds in his fantasy world?

In the inspector’s world, the men are dead. They’re not even carefully described. Patrick was the “coachman, groom, repairman, gardener,” as if none of the women knew exactly what he did. Mr. Ravenscroft is described merely as a language professor. v But Patrick left behind this saying, perhaps the key to this play: “A ghost is an emotion that can’t get out.”
   The women crowd around the inspector, ultimately professing their interest in him. Are they trying to lure him into a finding of death by accident? Perhaps he is not even of the era. The women are, but he is dressed in a more modern suit than that worn in 1905 England (costuming by Marie Olivas).
   The accents here seem haphazard. And yet they’re not. Each character has his or her own distinct British or mid-Atlantic accent. The inspector suggests to Mrs. Ravenscroft that Gillian may need “professional help.” My, what a modern expression for 1905. But whether from the alcohol or from psychoses, the inspector begins to crack.

The play goes on awhile too long, feeling a touch bloated and repetitive even in the first act. Still, there’s fun to be had in solving the mysteries along with Inspector Ruffing.
   Most noticeably, the hands on the clock—one of only two items spotlit at the darkened beginning and end of the play’s two acts—don’t move. The other item, a birdcage, imprisons a songbird that, like the emotions here, can’t get out.
   This play may leave its audience puzzled, vaguely troubled, and yet somewhat entertained. Certainly, those deeply irked by questions left unanswered should not attend. But those who want to dig into the human mind will appreciate it as an even greater mystery than those English drawing-room ones.
September 14, 2015

Republished with kind permission of Los Angeles Daily News
Sept. 11–Oct. 17. 8301 Hindry Ave., Westchester. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $20 ($2 discount for seniors, students, servicemen, and Metro riders). (310) 645-5156.


One Man,
Two Guvnors

South Coast Repertory at Segerstrom Stage

Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann

William Connell and Dan Donohue
Photo courtesy of

Influenced by the popular commedia dell’arte of the 16th century, Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century archetypalThe Servant of Two Masters makes a perfect model for Richard Bean’s British update of a wily servant’s service to two bosses in 1963 Brighton. Populated by some of the stock characters of the form, it is two and a half hours of pratfalls, comic timing, and improbable situations designed for maximum laughs.
   The story in brief: Rachel (Helen Sadler), whose twin brother has been murdered, is in town, disguised as her twin for revenge and in hopes that she can finally marry her boyfriend, Stanley (William Connell). She hires a servant, Francis Henshall (Dan Donohue), at the same time that Stanley also hires him. Henshall’s motives are greed and an insatiable desire to eat vast quantities of food, something that underpins a running gag of the story.
   In another pairing, Alan (Brad Culver) is in love with Pauline (Sarah Moser), who was promised to Rachel’s brother but is now hoping to elope with Alan. Also in the mix are Pauline’s father, Charlie Clench (Robert Sicular) and Alan’s father, the Latin-spouting Harry Dangle (John-David Kellar). Charlie’s secretary, Dolly (Claire Warden), helps round out the main cast along with Charlie’s old friend, Lloyd (Allen Gilmore) who owns a pub. Alfie (Louis Lotorto) and Gareth (Danny Scheie) are waiters there.

As broad a farce as can be imagined, the characters mug, pose, and engage in over-the-top antics that are prescribed by commedia’s catalog of traditions. Characters rapidly exit and enter doors on opposite sides of the stage, identities are mistaken, insults are exchanged, and it is all done in a near-manic atmosphere.
   Donohue is the star, and his physical prowess in executing his shtick is considerable. A scene in which he laboriously attempts to pick up a presumably heavy trunk is a case in point. He finally enlists two audience members to do the deed, and it is clear that the trunk is weightless. He also drafts a woman from the audience to perform silly and slightly embarrassing tasks, much to the theatergoers’ delight.
   The ensemble must work well together to accomplish the comic timing necessary, and the cast is well-chosen. South Coast Repertory resident member Kellar is particularly amusing in a verbose declamation, and Moser makes a perfectly ditsy blonde. Culver and Lotorto also kick up the action.

Another addition is The Craze (Casey Hurt, Mike McGraw, Marcus Högsta, and Andrew Niven) who serve as a skiffle musicians, enhancing the festive mood of the show. The music is peripheral but engaging.
   David Ivers’s energetic direction helps escalate the action from comic to campy. Meg Neville’s costumes are imaginative, and Hugh Landwehr’s Piccadilly scenic design is award-worthy.
   Commedia has its attractions, but this venture is overblown at times and some of the jokes miss their mark. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is done colorfully and cheerfully.

September 22, 2015
Sept 19–Oct 11. 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa. Repertory schedule. Prices start at $22. (714) 708-5555.


First Date
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Reviewed by Jonas Schwartz

Erica Lustig and Marc Ginsburg
Photo by Jason Niedle

Experiencing theater—or any form of entertainment—is similar to the sensation of a blind date. Apprehension, as past disasters or boring evenings flood the mind, mix with exhilaration of a history of joyous surprises. In the opening moments, one can sense confidence in the conversation or a desperation to be adored. When the evening is finished, the audience replays all the moments, good or bad, to decide whether the memories of the night will be cherished or forgotten. First Date is an amalgam of all those quirky dates—a bit odd, quite charming, and filled with enough vinegar and heart to resonate as a memorable evening.
   Awkward Aaron (Marc Ginsburg) goes to a bar on his first real date since losing his girlfriend more than a year ago. The snarky but sympathetic waiter (Scott Dreier) points out how Aaron is trying too hard, buttoned up in his work suit where he should be more relaxed.
   The artsy Casey (Erica Lustig) immediately finds Aaron clumsy and his conversation technique a bit overbearing. Casey is a serial dater, and instead of looking for diamonds in the rough, she quickly dismisses her dates for superficial reasons. Aaron finds Casey intriguing but closed off. Can two strangers survive ghosts of their relationships past, critical best friends/relatives always putting in their two cents, and crippling insecurities to find love in this cold, loud bar? Or will they find themselves imprisoned within the ultimate consolation prize, the Friends Zone?

Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner’s score is reminiscent of musical storyteller William Finn. The songs, ordinary but compelling, reflect the anxiety of modern American life. The melodies are catchy and energetic, recollecting songwriters as diverse as Bock and Harnick, Simon and Garfunkel. The songs reveal the hiccups for contemporary daters, including religious complications, comparison-shopping your date with past lovers, and the terror that your most embarrassing moments are eternally captured on social media.
   Austin Winsberg’s book includes many witty asides and humorous episodes. He captures the humiliation one feels when leading a first date conversation to an impasse or an off-color joke. The script has a rather antiquated view of gay men, which gets tiresome: that any gay man can find love with any gay man in proximity, as if interchangeable.
   Director Nick DeGruccio has picked a fantastic cast. Ginsburg, though dashingly handsome, projects a gawkiness so that the audience can understand Casey’s apprehension. Lustig gives Casey layers, portraying someone tired of dating and being disappointed all the time, yet glimmering with hope that she can meet someone special someday.

Most of the robust laughs come from the chameleon-like ensemble: Dreier as the cynical waiter who only finds happiness pretending he’s a nightclub diva, Kelly Dorney as an imagined version of Aaron’s castrating ex, Stacey Oristano as Casey’s stern but loving sister, Justin Michael Wilcox as Aaron’s oversexed best friend, and Leigh Wakeford as Casey’s reliable date-bailout, who gets increasingly irritated throughout the evening when Casey doesn’t answer his calls. Besides these main characters, the five play wacky others in Casey’s and Aaron’s heads.
   Taking a note from the songwriter’s use of musical parody, DeGruccio uses visual motifs to draw from musical history, while choreographer Lee Martino blends punk, Modern, and traditional Jewish folk dances. During “The Girl For You,” musically reminiscent of Fiddler on the Roof’s “Tevye’s Dream,” DeGruccio has Aaron’s grandmother lifted on another’s shoulders. While “The Awkward Pause” uses the riffs from “The Sound of Silence,” the chorus dresses like hippies wandering through Scarborough Fair. Timing is everything in a zany musical comedy, and DeGruccio appropriately gives the audience no time to think before the next zinger hits.
   Stephen Gifford’s club set is fittingly antiseptic, like most chichi bars in New York, and Steve Young’s spotlights on the ceilings make everyone’s faces appear half hidden, as if everyone has something they’re trying to conceal.

First Date will remind anyone who had to suffer through the dating pool just how frightening it can be, even when both parties are worth the time. Audiences love to laugh at their past traumas, and First Date gives opportunity to find catharsis.

September 21, 2015
Sept. 19–Oct. 11. 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. Ample free parking. Wed-Thu 7:30, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. $20-70. (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310.


Citizen: An American Lyric
Fountain Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Bernard K. Addison, Simone Missick, and Leith Burke
Photo by Ed Krieger

James Baldwin once noted that skin color cannot be as important as being a human being, something that Stephen Sachs and his Fountain Theatre family have explored time and again over their impressive trailblazing 25-year tenure in our city. Once again, Sachs and his intrepid cohorts have proven themselves to be a vital, urgently significant voice in the battle for our humanity with Sachs’s provocative new adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s international bestselling book of confrontational poetry, here customized into a startlingly creative and highly theatrical meditation on the inequities of race relations in America.
   Rankine’s mismatch of personal stories dealing with racism, told directly to the audience in arrestingly lyrical yet in-your-face verse, confronts how African-Americans are treated in our troubled society, and it could not have surfaced more timely. From beyond how our president is treated and disparaged because of his color or the daily stinging news reports of the deadly way people in authority treat minorities, Rankine confronts an audience peppered with non-minorities with disturbing tales of horrific abuse interspersed with simple verbal faux pas slipping from the lips of people trying to show others just how liberal they are—like someone at a party who, trying to form a well-meaning but ill-advised connection, instead carves a crevice as deep as the Grand Canyon by cheerfully telling someone she has features more like a white person.

“Being around a black person,” one of Rankine’s characters observes, “is sometimes like watching a foreign film without translation,” while another cannot get it out of her head when someone close to her keeps calling her by the name of her housekeeper. Also explored is the career of Serena Williams, who seemed to have to fight through a separate set of rules and a slew of possibly racist judges to get the recognition she deserves, not to mention learning how to keep her tongue and push ahead without angry outbursts.
   Under the dynamic direction of Shirley Jo Finney and with a special nod to the precision movement work created by Anastasia Coon, this stellar cast of six—Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick, and Lisa Pescia—could not have been more perfectly chosen to deliver the punch of Rankine’s thought-provoking spoken-word collage. Utilizing as a mantra a quote from Zora Neale Hurston, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background,” Finney’s uber-committed sextet weaves around one another, making way for one another verbally and physically, recounting instance after instance of the many imbalances in our social interactions.

The results are disquieting in many ways, and surely that, in part, is Rankine’s intention. Her brilliantly dramatic urban prose leaves us to contemplate our own deeply imbedded and often hidden prejudices, certainly something to revisit often in our lives and dealings with others. Still, Citizen: An American Lyric could sporadically soften its stance a tad or maybe even occasionally detail a few of our species’ strides and similarities as well as our differences. Part of what is most unsettling is that it confronts us so relentlessly, yet never even momentarily offers any resolution. The often irate indictments spewed out makes those gathered feel somewhat more attacked and personally accused rather than encouraging us to join together to make changes happen, to possibly suggest ways we can all work together to improve our lot in life. As Rankine observes, “just getting along should not be an ambition.”

August 9, 2015
Aug. 1–Oct. 11. 5060 Fountain Ave. Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm & 7pm (no 7pm performance Aug. 16), Mon 8pm (dark Sept. 7) $15–34.95 (323) 663-1525.

Breathing Room
Greenway Court Theatre

Reviewed by Bob Verini

Mary Lou Newmark (behind screen), Charles Reese and Eileen T’Kaye
Photo by Ed Krieger

Greenway Court Theatre’s Breathing Room is a 70-minute metaphysical self-help session, scored to electric violin and synthesizer and incorporating quantum theory. It insists that people are debilitated by overwhelming technological change, and it recommends an extended time-out to develop a fresh perspective on the natural world. With so many theater artists trafficking in campiness, cynicism, and cheap sentiment, it’s refreshing when a show comes along—24th Street Theatre’s Walking the Tightrope was another—determined to make one feel better merely through delicate imagery and leaps of the imagination.
   As teased out in the program, Mary Lou Newmark is an electronic composer and performer who was discovering convergences among her personal agitation with modern life, musings on contemporary anomie, and musical interests.
   She created a semi-avatar “Marilyn,” described as “a visual artist who was creative but somewhat trapped inside her standards and a little overwhelmed with life,” in tandem with “The Professor,” a mischievous trickster/Yoda type holding the keys to psychic secrets. Their performance art vignettes are now stitched together by director Dan Berkowitz, and though the stitches are showing, a through-line ends up coming across.

Eileen T’Kaye’s Marilyn is fussy and flustered—she maintains a running set of annoyed exhalations, not the most enjoyable or active of character traits—as well as sincere and grounded in her effort to keep it together while expanding her mental horizons.
   Charles Reese possesses the combined sweetness and gravitas I associate with the late, great Scatman Crothers. If he overdoes the twee “Magic to Do” invitational affect at times, he brings clarity and excitement to the merging of arcane concepts like quantum wave function (QWF) to trips to a retail store or interactions with forest creatures.
   The actors make for an engaging New Age vaudeville team, presenting their anecdotal concerns and exploring possible remedies. All the while, Newmark is half-seen behind a leafy scrim stage right, offering musical accompaniment now playfully soaring, now scorching like a cello.

I found myself wishing that Newmark had given something for Marilyn to be really pissed off about, so that her spiritual quest could have some guts. I also yearned for The Professor to make some discoveries, not just reveal them with puckish delight.
   But then I reminded myself that character conflict and growth are the domain of traditional drama. They’re simply inappropriate to the performance art genre and, particularly, to the kind of balletic chalk talk Berkowitz and Newmark have built.
   When I just gave myself over to the melodies and images and let the concepts wash over me, I actually experienced a slight (if not quantum) sensory shift. Perhaps there’s something to this idea of watching an osprey pounce from his point of view, instead of that of oneself or of the prey. Maybe popping the QWF—pronounced “quaff,” a buzzword Newmark purveys heavily here—isn’t such a bad idea.

It’s not inconceivable that you too will feel like a better, or more whole, or just more aware, person at the end of Breathing Room. Probably more so than me, even. Still, the entire event is an emphatic reaction against splashy vulgarity, so those inclined to the campy, cynical, or sentimental might prefer to seek their healing elsewhere.
   On the other hand, they might do best to hurry over to the Greenway Court without delay. Succor is in such short supply these days.

October 5, 2015
Oct. 3–25. 544 N. Fairfax Blvd. (free parking adjacent to the theater). Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 7pm. Running time 70 minutes, no intermission. $25-35. (323) 655-7679 x100.

Greenway Court Theatre


Awake and Sing!
Odyssey Theatre

Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann

James Morosini and Marilyn Fox
Photo by Ron Sossi

When Awake and Sing! was produced in 1935, it was a transformative experience for theatergoers. Playwright Clifford Odets was an early member of the Group Theatre in New York, a lab for Stanislavski’s system of acting with a shared commitment among the collective for social change through theater. Among the most prominent members were Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and Elia Kazan.
   The youthful Odets wrote Waiting for Lefty, acclaimed for its call for progressive remedies for workers, including unionization. Its success led to Awake and Sing! in 1935, less fiery but still espousing reform for economic injustice in the aftermath of the Depression.
   In Awake and Sing!, the modest Bronx apartment of the Jewish Berger family is the setting for the unfolding story of the sometimes contentious clan. Bessie (Marilyn Fox); her father, Jacob (Allan Miller); her ineffectual but optimistic husband, Myron (Robert Lesser); Bessie and Myron’s edgy grown daughter, Hennie (Melissa Paladino); and their 22-year-old son, Ralph (James Morosini), co-exist in the small but well-kept lodging (nicely articulated living space by Pete Hickok).
   In the mix are Bessie’s affluent brother, Morty (Richard Fancy), and Moe Axelrod (David Agranov), a cynical family friend whose pugnacious and brash manner adds spice to the dialogue and underscores a simmering tension between Hennie and him. It has just been learned that Hennie is pregnant. To satisfy Bessie’s desires for respectability, she wields her considerable influence and forces Hennie to marry Sam (Gary Patent), a Russian man she doesn’t love who is courting her.

Odets chose an often utilized three-act format, and once the scene is set, the second act a year later contains the dolorous elements of the story. Ralph falls in love, but Bessie is contemptuous of the penniless orphan girl he has chosen. Jacob, in spite of being bullied by his daughter, encourages Ralph to break free and find a fulfilling life. He counsels, “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” For a brief time, Odets was a member of the Communist Party, and some of Jacob’s Marxist imprecations are left-leaning and express a strong social conscience.
   Fox’s austere characterization reflects bitter disappointment in her marriage and a seeming disregard for the happiness of any of her family members. She seems a slightly darker character than Odets envisioned, and the only affection she shows is for her brother, but it is obvious in her manner that his wealth is the contributing factor. Fancy is spot-on as the self-satisfied and arrogant merchant, touting his superiority over the group and clashing with Jacob over political ideology. Miller is appealing as the gentle and frustrated idealist.
   Odets envisioned the play with comedic touches, somewhat lost in this grim portrayal of dreams and romance lost. Agranov comes closest to capturing lighter moments as he snipes away at the family. Paladino delivers a despondent Hennie, but some of her spunk returns as she and Moe decide to abandon convention and leave to seek happiness.
   The ensemble is well-cast and directed by Elina de Santos, reprising an earlier production she helmed 20 years ago at the Odyssey. Notable in this cast are Patent, who manages to wring all the anguish out of his hopeless marriage, and Morosini, whose youth is seemingly crushed by circumstance. He makes the transition from helplessness to optimism believable. Lesser makes a sympathetic foil for Fox’s harsh iron will. The ensemble creates a cohesive whole and delivers skilled characterizations.
   Costumes by Kim DeShazo are effective, and Leigh Allen’s lighting design sets the appropriate mood. Sound designer Christopher Moscatiello achieves a 1930s flavor with Caruso recordings and radio broadcasts.

Odets’s choice to conclude the events with an illusory happy ending for all is probably less realistic than the exposition suggests, but it ties up all the ends satisfactorily for the audience. At least Ralph finds strength within himself and hope for the future.
   A revival of Odets’s play seems fitting as some of the same uncertainties exist in today’s political and economic climate. The dialogue is certainly dated and solutions to their problems would be handled much differently today, but as a glimpse into America’s theatrical past, it is thought-provoking.

September 28, 2015
Sept. 26–Nov. 29. 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West LA. Fri–Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm (Thu 8pm in Oct. and Nov.). $15–34. (310) 477-2055 ext. 2.


One Slight Hitch
Torrance Theatre Company

Reviewed by Dany Margolies

Shirley Hatton, David McGee, and Makenzie Browning
Photo by Michelle Browning

Lewis Black is the standup comedian who delivers prodding rants punctuated by his crooked and wriggling index fingers. He’s rather genius, assuming one agrees with his views.
   He has written handfuls of plays, too, and his One Slight Hitch is in production at Torrance Theatre Company through Oct. 11. “If my name weren’t on it, nobody would know that I wrote this play,” he is quoted as saying.
   But not for the reasons he seems to be implying. He’s a bright man, he reportedly fell in love with theater at age 12, he holds an MFA from Yale School of Drama. One couldn’t prove any of this by his play.
   It takes place in 1981 on the wedding day of Courtney Coleman (Kay Capasso). She’s scheduled to marry Harper, her straitlaced boyfriend of only a short while. But somehow she and her parents keep referring to Harper as Ryan.

We learn some of this, and more, from Courtney’s sister, P.B. (Makenzie Browning), who narrates via voiceover because she’s looking back on this day from the present and because her 16-year-old, onstage self is made oblivious by massive headphones that blast the hits of 1981. Courtney’s other sister, Melanie (Collette Rutherford), ought to be made oblivious by the massive amount of booze she drinks.
   As Courtney’s family gets ready for the wedding, cracks appear in the nuptial joy. Driving the dramaturgical wedge into that joy is the unexpected arrival of Ryan (Johan Badh), Courtney’s recently dumped boyfriend.
   Ryan wants to be the Jack Kerouac of the 1980s, including all that entails. He’s the antithesis of the steady Harper (Ryan Shapiro), who, once he’s clued in on the hitch, takes the lunacy with noble good nature.

It’s pretty standard farcical fare, as Ryan gets shoved out of the way into either the living-room closet or the puzzlingly right-off-the-living-room shower—this odd architecture a fault of the script, not of the direction.
   But director Glenn Kelman’s casting may have contributed to one of the most troubling misfires here. David McGee and Shirley Hatton play Dr. and Mrs. Coleman, Courtney’s parents. Whatever the political leanings of these fine actors may be, onstage here they don’t look like the Reaganites of the script. In a play like this, the audience judges characters by their looks, and these two look like hippies. It doesn’t help that McGee’s Doc wanders around the house in an unbuttoned short-sleeved shirt, his undershirt on proud display.
   Harper’s parents show up at the house, but Black keeps them out of sight, and McGee’s aptitude for comedy shines in Doc’s monologue delivered out the front door as he unhospitably struggles to prevent the travelers from entering or otherwise discovering the goings-on inside.

Rutherford, a highly skilled actor, must have wrestled mightily with her underwritten character, a nurse who cares deeply about healing, yet who drinks astonishing quantities of liquor after an all-nighter and on the morning of her sister’s wedding. Does Melanie love Courtney? Does she lust after Ryan or does she want Ryan to marry Courtney? Can Melanie walk into the backyard on this summer afternoon, wearing a satin full-length bridesmaid’s dress and all that big hair, and not be toppling over from inebriation?
   Rutherford is also saddled with a nurse’s outfit that’s too short and too tight, apparently scripted thusly. But the highlight of Diana Mann’s costuming may be Ryan’s “Star Wars” boxers, which, for those who live in either hope or fear when Ryan emerges from the shower, wrapped in a towel, get revealed by the teasing Melanie.
   Black hints early on about the play’s denouement. “Can I have a real life and still write?” Courtney muses. “Courtney will have the wedding that we never had,” her mother notes. In between, his dialogue takes ungainly turns to move the plot, but at least the plot suits the characters and their personal histories.

And at least here, Kelman and the cast approach this production with such commitment and conviviality that it’s hard to totally dislike the play. One other aspect draws our admiration. Mrs. Coleman has enough self-awareness to know why she wants this wedding so desperately: Her generation was shredded by war, and now wants to see her children’s oblivious generation come back to life.

September 14, 2015

Republished with kind permission of Daily Breeze

Sept. 12–Oct. 11. 1316 Cabrillo Ave, Torrance. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $25. (424) 242-6882.


 American Idiot
DOMA Theatre Company at MET Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Jess Ford and Andrew Diego
Photo by Michael Lamont

Fifteen years ago, when superpower band Green Day decided to produce a rock opera paying homage to The Who, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, who is credited for writing 98 percent of the Green Day’s most celebrated music, created the dynamically screwed up anti-hero Jesus of Suburbia. When the effort catapulted into the band’s 2004 album American Idiot, it was a worldwide success and won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2005.
   In 2009, Armstrong collaborated with Green Day fan and Broadway director Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Tony winner for Spring Awakening) to turn the band’s Tommy-like concept into a stage musical. First mounted at Berkeley Rep, the theatrical version of American Idiot went on to New York, rocking out the venerable St. James Theatre for more than a year.
   LA’s decade-old DOMA Theatre Company, which has been turning out some surprisingly massive and well-appointed productions for almost a decade, is a perfect match for Green Day’s loud and irreverent musical, which follows Johnny (Jess Ford), the Jesus of this show’s particular suburbia, who, with his two buddies Will (Wesley Moran) and Tunny (Chris Kerrigan), dreams in song of leaving the restrictive environment in which they grew up, ready to rebel by singing and rocking their way into the big city.

Things don’t work out so well for Will, whose wife leaves him with their infant son because he never seems to get off his couch, rise from his smoky haze, and put down his ever-present bong. Tunny, too, ends up in an unexpected state, whisked into the army and returning from one of America’s horrifying desert wars in a wheelchair.
   Still, we follow Johnny the most closely, as his initiation into disenchanted youthful urban existence brings him into contact with Whatshername (Renee Cohen), who introduces him to her politically active and rebellious lifestyle, and St. Jimmy (Andrew Diego), who gets him high on a series of increasingly more debilitating street drugs.
   After the perils of our disintegrating society and the bitterness of life in the real world nearly kill all three heroes, each returns to his hometown. Although it would be more satisfying if the guys discovered how to conquer their demons rather than retreat back to the place that shaped them, hopefully along the way their eyes have been opened to things none of them would have understood without their bellyflop into contemporary chaos.
   But that’s fodder for American Idiot II, which in a perfect world should include a palpable sense of the era just past the one when the original album was released, a time when our country’s young’uns were forced to come of age through 9/11, as well as during the Iraqi War and conflicts in Afghanistan and across the globe.

Director Marco Gomez and his design team, especially Michael Mullen, who presumably on a shoestring created some the flashiest, most whimsical and creative costuming seen on any LA stage this year, join to lift this production way beyond the usual limitations of typical 99-Seat theater productions of large-scale musicals.
   Musical director Chris Raymond and his excellent band add immensely to the mix, as do the generally balls-out performances by the principal players. One small criticism: Although the denizens of American Idiot are all purdy much continuously in pain, it would be a better character choice if every song and every spoken line were not delivered with a tortured expression and the appearance of emanating from a dying beast.
   Especially when assaying Angela Todaro’s energetic and highly athletic choreography, the wildly fearless and spirited chorus of 17 knockout young triple-threats collectively liquefy together, wondrously becoming like one more principal character in the story, reminiscent of the townspeople in Evita who also often moved across the stage as one communal mass of humanity.
   Of the talented ranks, it would be remiss not to mention the Joplin-esque vocal calisthenics of Sandra Diana Cantu, as well as the überanimated, appropriately over-bleached Kevin Corsini, one of the tallest ensemble members whose unruly crown of straw glows brightly under Jean-Yves Tessier’s exquisitely atmospheric lighting.

Green Day’s most popular tunes re-created in the musical—including “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” which became a message against governmental avarice and ineptitude after the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the title song and “Holiday,” both part of the Green Day’s in-your-face score and Armstrong’s literate and often depressing book and lyrics—clearly express an entire generation’s dissent over the actions initiated by our government in our own country and across the globe.
   Underlying the musical’s sometimes simplistic plotline is a conscious message shouting out against corporate greed and unnecessary war, something that overpowers any minor clumsiness. Add in a cast this charismatic and such knockout production values, and this is a miraculous mounting of the musical not to be overlooked.

June 11, 2015
Oct. 2–18. 1089 N. Oxford Ave., LA. Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm (dark July 4). General admission $30; VIP admission (includes reserved seating and a complimentary snack and beverage), $34.99; seniors and students with ID $20. (323) 802-9181.


Second City

Reviewed by Dany Margolies

Amanda Blake Davis and Robyn Norris

Sometimes theater is about humankind’s greatest achievers. Sometimes it’s about supremely tragic figures. And sometimes, as with this show, it’s about the rest of us.
   A group of Second City’s fine performers went off piste and conducted a social experiment. After Robyn’s (Robyn Norris) friend posted a profile on a dating site and asked Robyn to check it over, Robyn set up an account to access the site. Robyn created the outlandish profile of an admittedly “crazy-insane person” she named TracyLovesCats. A shockingly large number of men—and women—responded, begging for various forms of contact with “Tracy.”
   Norris’s fellow troupe members Chris Alvarado, Rob Belushi, Amanda Blake Davis, Kate Duffy, and Bob Ladewig joined in, posting outrageous profiles no one could possibly think were anything other than a joke. These performers’ “sketch” show, Undateable, re-enacts verbatim the heartfelt responses by real, everyday people to these perverse personals.
   So, even though Rob (Belushi) pushed the intimacy-phobic envelope with DoorSlamEric, women think Eric is dateable. And although PioneerInABox (Kate Duffy) gets busted (she claims to function as if in the 1860s, yet she’s online), she manages to lure interest. Even Amanda’s (Blake Davis) age-questionable Old4U75 appeals to a prospective beau.
   The show, a fascinating concept, is well-structured and is imaginatively directed by Frank Caeti. It is also, of course, hilarious, though a strong strain of sympathy runs through it. And even though the show has been running for months, the performers have fresh energy. These performers are more interested in telling their story than in “being funny,” so the laughs come from the audience’s self-recognition and not from any obnoxious stage-hogging shenanigans.
   The troupe sings and dances—and not badly—to enhance several of their “scientific” points about romantic behavior. A few minutes of improv at the end of the show reflect the performers’ well-honed chops.
   Locational cautions: The venue is in Hollywood where street parking has a two-hour limit, metered until midnight on Fridays. The show is a mere one hour, but it undoubtedly will start a few minutes late. In addition, the theater is upstairs, and the site has no elevator. But if you’re swift and spry, head on up there for a dose of reality. It will probably provide you with more than several hearty belly laughs. It might also make you weep for mankind.

August 19, 2013

6560 Hollywood Blvd. Fri 9pm. $10.


The following have generously supported

Lucy Pollak
   Public Relations

Judith Borne
   Public Relations

Ken Werther

Philip Sokoloff
  Publicity for the Theatre

Jerry Charlson
   Up & Running Arts Management and Consultants

(323) 733-7073 

Lynn Tejada
Green Galactic

Sandra Zeitzew
Director of Public Relations
Santa Monica Playhouse


  Sandra Kuker

Tell them you read about it on

...and contact us at!

...or tweet us at @ArtsInLAcom (no dot)!

Mark Taper Forum

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Robert Beitzel, Will Tranfo, and Melora Hardin 
Photo by Craig Schwartz

As three achingly dysfunctional long-estranged siblings meet at their family’s neglected plantation in southeast Arkansas the day before the estate is to be auctioned off to cover their recently departed father’s massive debts, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to realize we’re in for a bumpy ride—albeit a long and sometimes difficult one to witness.
   Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is an important new playwright. Luckily for Angelenos, the Mark Taper Forum is the quintessential place to present his play here, with its ability to completely transform the magical space before our eyes. The hoarder-like clutter accumulated in their father’s tumultuous later years is stacked everywhere on Mimi Lien’s spectacularly versatile set, an easy analogy for all the lingering, equally cluttered resentments and grudges the feuding Lafayettes hold against one another.
   Jacobs-Jenkins epic drama nears being a gothic ghost story, although the spirits that indeed seem to inhabit the estate never directly surface beyond a disembodied shoulder pat—until, possibly, the play’s jaw-dropping epilogue. The reasons why the Lafayettes’s childhood home might be haunted are revealed along the way, exacerbated by the discovery of an ancient photo album, found among their dad’s possessions, containing images of dead black people hanging from trees, as well as a crate of mason jars that may or may not contain human fingers, ears, and other more private appendages.
   Whether daddy a was racist or whether he just found the book, as well as the KKK hood unearthed by Bo Lafayette’s 9-year-old son, when daddy bought the old estate with its two onsite graveyards—one for the family’s moldering relatives and one farther down the trail for the bodies of the plantation’s former slaves—remains a mystery. Whether or not spirits float around this emotionally explosive weekend, the general sense is that the actions of those indentured people who once inhabited this property have cursed its inhabitants—and the Lafayettes have inherited the blight whether their ancestors started it or not.

The veteran cast is sensational, particularly Zarah Mahler as decade-lost brother Frank’s latter-day flowerchild girlfriend River (nee Trisha) and the teenage Grace Kaufman as the feisty Cassidy, the doomed family’s only hope-for-the-future character. As warring siblings Bo, Toni, and Frank, David Bishins, Melora Hardin, and Robert Beitzel are up for the surely exhausting challenge of creating these miserable characters. But all of them, as well as Missy Yager as Bo’s menopausal wife, Rachael, and Will Tranfo as Toni’s underwritten son, Rhys, are all at least once in the proceedings done in by their director, Eric Ting.
   It’s not often a director is so glaringly responsible for almost sinking a production, but Ting’s staging is clumsy and incredibly pretentious, with more hugs from behind and wistful speeches aimed directly at the audience than in a daytime soap opera shot with only one working camera. Even more unforgivable is Ting’s inability to guide his actors to control and temper their individual emotional rants. This is not the actors’ fault; even the best of the best need a strong directorial vision to let them know when to dial it back.
   Lien’s elaborate set design, as well as Christopher Kuhl’s eerie lighting and Matt Tierney’s appropriately annoying sound plot, add much to the slickly produced production. At each intermission—and there are two here—it was fascinating to watch six or seven stagehands descend on the stage to reset the many props and piles of clutter, particularly complicated between the first and second act when River and Rachael have begun to organize tables of items from china to straight-backed chairs to sell at a later-aborted estate sale the following day. Such a sea of well-paid union workers is indeed rare in these austere days of LA theater. But, although lips must stay well-zipped about the last scenes of this play, let’s just say that after the conclusion of Appropriate, all those extra hands made perfect sense.

Brenden Jacobs-Jenkins is surely a force to energize the future of American theater once he finds his own voice and stops relying on others before him to make his point. This first major effort, with its August: Osage County meets The Price sensibility, with a little racial hand-slapping thrown into the mix, is an impressive start to what will surely be a remarkable career.

October 8, 2015
Oct. 4–Nov. 1. 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown Los Angeles. Tue–Fri 8pm, Sat 2:30pm & 8pm, Sun 1pm & 6:30pm. $25–85. (213) 628-2772.

The Sound of Music
Ahmanson Theatre

Reviewed by Dany Margolies

From left, clockwise: Audrey Bennett, Maria Knasel, Kerstin Anderson, Mackenzie Currie, Paige Silvester, Svea Johnson, Erich Schuett, and Quinn Erickson
Matthew Murphy

First of all, this is indeed your father’s The Sound of Music, in its national tour now launching here. The stage version birthed the film, which retained much of the theatrical book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. But onstage, the gorgeous songs appear in a different order, and songs not included in the film give supporting characters the chance to voice their positions and emotional states.
   Don’t let it confuse you. The story still centers on Maria Rainer and her immersion into the von Trapp family. She is portrayed by Kerstin Anderson, who is being touted by the show’s director, Jack O’Brien, as a “discovery” with “star-making magic.” Don’t expect Julie Andrews, however. Anderson has a sweet if unimposing voice, and her American vowels may startle the ear at the top of the show, when she sings “The Sound of Music.”
   Yet, Anderson has an astounding joy that radiates from head to toe and doesn’t leave her for a moment. Yes, her acting style is a bit big, but it felt like opening-night big on opening night, full of the thrill of taking on this role, full of eagerness to tell this stirring story. In no way would Captain von Trapp and his children not fall in love with this Maria.

Having brought in Anderson, O’Brien also brings magic to his staging. To fleetly flee and fly from dusky carved-wood convent to sunny villa, garret bedroom to balustraded terrace, cathedral to gated abbey garden, he relied on set designer Douglas W. Schmidt and lighting designer Natasha Katz. O’Brien can’t get the massing and movement of the seven children to look “natural.” But his swirling movement of the nuns in “(How Do You Solve a Problem Like) Maria” early in the show is lively and effective—and the number lets the audience know that the Ahmanson’s sound system is in spectacular order here.
   Not spectacular are the myriad accents heard onstage: Continental, British, American. Perhaps faring best there are the von Trapp siblings. The actors are, of course, adorable and talented. It’s astonishing that they show focus and strength throughout this nearly three-hour performance, on a weeknight, though Audrey Bennett as the youngest, Gretl, was showing signs of wilting.

Portraying their father, Georg, is Ben Davis. His strong resemblance to Ralph Fiennes doesn’t end with the physical likenesses. Davis doesn’t so much perform a song as let it emerge from his depths. Though he has a velvety baritone, he is unshowy, so the story keeps progressing without braking for the song.
   Merwin Foard does a rip-roaring Max Detweiler, the presumably homosexual impresario who helps the family escape the pursuing Nazis (clearly not knowing what the Nazis will have in store for him). Dan Tracy is the young Nazi delivery-boy, Rolf. Teri Hansen is the too-inappropriate-for-Georg baroness.
   Of the charming actors playing the siblings—who include Mackenzie Currie as Marta, Quinn Erickson as Kurt, Svea Johnson as Brigitta, Maria Knasel as Louisa, and Erich Schuett as Friedrich—the standout is Paige Silvester, playing the eldest, Liesl. She has a lovely voice, perhaps more musical than Anderson’s, and she dances beautifully.
   Musical theater aficionados just might geek out over hearing Ashley Brown sing the role of Mother Abbess. Broadway’s original Mary Poppins delivers a soaring performance here, culminating in a knockout “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” to close Act One.

Of course the songs are memorable—most of them long-ago memorized by most of the audience—and the story of parental love squeezed a few tears from many in the audience. Spare a thought, too, for those who needed to, and those who now need to, flee their homelands because of the insanity of so-called leaders allowed a foothold there.

October 1, 2015
Sept. 30–Oct. 31. 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown LA. Tue-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 1pm & 6:30pm. Running time 2 hours and 50 minutes, including intermission. Ticket prices not announced. (213) 972-4400.


Hit the Wall
Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Village

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Dan Middleditch and Roland Ruiz
Photo by Ken Sawyer

It was late June 1969, and what a week it had been. Judy Garland had overdosed in London a few days earlier, and her remains had been interred after being on display in a Manhattan funeral home for an estimated 20,000 mourners—many of them her loyal gay following. The temperatures were in the high 90s, and the humidity was overwhelming, but still the community gathered at the clubs and in the streets of Greenwich Village to bewail and celebrate their queen. At 1:20am on June 28, the door to Christopher Street’s now historic Stonewall Inn burst open, and a swarm of New York’s “finest” announced, "Police! We’re taking the place!”
  It did not go well. Patrons were pushed and pulled as they were divided by what the officers perceived to be their gender. While many refused to produce their identifications, and while curious onlookers from other neighborhood bars and clubs began to gather outside, one roughly handled and vocally protesting lesbian was clubbed over the head with a baton. The growing crowds started chanting “Gay power!” and others spontaneously began to sing “We Shall Overcome.” Soon a full-scale riot ensued. The rest is history, marking the beginning of the gay rights movement in America.

Playwright Ike Holter and director Ken Sawyer have taken on the difficult task of trying to re-create the mood and the reasons behind the Stonewall Riots, which came down to one pressing thing: Gay people were tired to death of being treated like shit. Holter’s and Sawyer’s work is masterful, and, with the invaluable assistance of collaborators and designers, the pair has managed to turn the Center’s pintsized Davidson-Valentini Theatre into the streets of the Village almost 50 years ago.
   Kudos to Sawyer for his fluid and exceedingly imaginative staging, as well as Edgar Landa for his startlingly effective and even a tad scary fight choreography re-creating those moments when all hell broke loose. Incorporating impressively spirited and electrically energetic production numbers and original songs by Anna Waronker and The Go-Go’s Charlotte Caffey for this production, the obviously well-drilled ensemble pulls no punches—quite literally.

And what a dynamic and committed cast it is. Holter’s story is today hardly unfamiliar to most of us and, in all honesty, each character presented in Hit the Wall is doomed to be a recognizable stereotype. Without Sawyer and his team, these particular actors, the live band hovering over the small stage (Johanna Chase, Jennifer Lin, and Nicole Marcus) to beautifully interpret the music, and the kind of quality the LA LGBT Center demands in its productions, this could quickly have hit that wall and made a big drippy splat.
   There’s the nervous drag queen (Matthew Hancock) who felt he had to dress up in honor of his late-lamented former Dorothy of Oz; a pair of caustic, overly effeminate, yet streetwise party boys (Roland Ruiz and Blake Young-Fountain) who hang out on a local stoop and do their own stinging live streaming version of The Fashion Police; the self-hating Adonis (Burt Grinstead), who crooks his finger and promises passing men only an hour to worship him; the upper-class daughter, who dresses like a male dock worker (Charlotte Gulezian) despite the rift it has caused with her family.

There’s also the afro-ed, militant, self-proclaimed dyke (Shoniqua Shandai) who literally travels with her own soapbox to take to local parks and proselytize about her cause; the on-the-fence former preppie dropout (Adam Silver), whose attraction for the drag queen is confusing to them both; and, of course, there’s gotta be at least one wide-eyed milquetoast kid right off the boat from Midwestern suburbia (Jason Caceres), who can’t wait to strip out of his J.C. Penny finery and wiggle his assets at the audience.
   Aided by a supporting cast of cops and outraged neighborhood citizens, these performers simply knock Hit the Wall out of the proverbial ballpark despite the predictability of these easily pigeonholed characters. Hancock is especially mesmerizing as the reluctant, shy drag queen whose real name is not Molly Minnelli but Carson. Gulezian is also a major standout, particularly arresting in a heartbreaking late scene as her straitlaced conservative sister (an exceptional Kristina Johnson) comes to bail her out of jail and offer an alternative that is never going to happen despite how much both sisters want it to be.
   Hit the Wall is not groundbreaking theater, but it is a raucously in-your-face environmental experience that overcomes its built-in limitations. And for anyone who is not old enough to remember or has not studied the history of gay emancipation in our country, it should be a must see. Especially…right about…now.

September 22, 2015
Sept 18–Oct 25. 1125 N. McCadden Pl., West Hollywood. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 7pm. $30.(323) 860-7300.


These Paper Bullets!
Geffen Playhouse

Reviewed by Bob Verini

Nicole Parker and Justin Kirk
Photo by Michael Lamont

About the best way to communicate my absolute, unalloyed pleasure in These Paper Bullets!, Rolin Jones’s Much Ado About Nothing adaptation at the Geffen, is to report that the smile that came over my face in the first five minutes stayed with me through the intermission, which I couldn’t wait to have end so that I could return for Act Two, and hung on back to my car and beyond. This bliss—rare in my theatergoing experience, whether on or off the clock as a critic— was due not just to the hilarious writing, perfect playing, canny direction, and delightful scenography. It also stemmed from the realization that everything about this production, born at Yale Repertory Theater, was clicking into place early on and proceeding seamlessly. Everything seems “right.”
   That rightness starts with the mood established in a boardroom, in which two evident middle-manager types (Brad Heberlee and Tony Manna, both wonderful) are seated at either end of a long, heavy table sipping tea, loudly, beneath a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The painting falls crazily askew as a blustering Colonel Blimp type (a marvelous Greg Stuhr) barges in to complain about the state of youth in England today, complete with narrated newsreel footage (our Colonel standing cluelessly in front of the projector for a while) of Britain’s No.1 rock sensation, those Liverpudlian moptops universally known as Ben, Claude, Balth, and Pedro— everybody’s favorites, The Quartos.
   What are we promised in the first five minutes? That our three onstage bureaucrats will, in fact, stand in for Dogberry and his watch; that there’ll be some nuttiness afoot; that the warriors of Much Ado will in this case be returning from a triumphant international tour; that the production will steep us in the look and ethos of mod London in the 1960s; that a lot of Beatles-related punnery is in store; and, above all, that the prevailing comic mode will be droll and gentle, emphasizing the wit that drives Shakespeare’s 1600 classic more than any other play in the Bard’s canon.

And so it all comes to pass. Jones completely respects the Much Ado plot and characters, but in Carnaby Street attire and manner they simultaneously create something that’s brand new and of itself. Bea (Nicole Parker, superb), for instance, remains a free spirit deserving the sobriquet “My Lady Disdain,” but, as a Mary Quant–inspired fashion designer, she has earned her own independent acclaim and fortune, with even less reason than Shakespeare’s Beatrice to make her way to the altar. Stunning Cousin Higgy (Ariana Venturi, magnifique) readily inspires the devotion of Claudio/Claude (studly, warm Damon Daunno). But by turning her into a dizzy model hooked on vodka and Quaaludes, Jones opens the door to brilliant comic business never allotted, in my experience, to the stock Much Ado ingénue.
   The treatment of The Quartos actually creates not two but three things-in-themselves. The four are believable avatars of Shakespeare’s characters, while comprising a sly brotherhood of madcap ’60s rockers of their own, all joshing and prank-pulling and double-entendre. The villain of the piece is now the group’s former drummer, tossed out for lack of talent and reduced to the wardrobe master, thus allotting to Don Best (a toweringly sinister Adam O’Byrne) motivation for evil far more compelling than Shakespeare’s Don John can ever tap into.
Yet these central figures offer more than just Shakespearean parallels and a believable rock quartet. Their scenes have been shaped as an endlessly inventive, ever-loving homage to everything Beatle: the album covers, the public pranks, the private stories as we’ve come to know them over the years, the music (Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong provides delicious pastichey versions of early hits), and best of all, the anarchic but subtly witty worldview that burst on the world in 1964 in A Hard Day’s Night.
   Following the lead of Richard Lester’s seminal mock-rockumentary, in fact, could be one of the best contributions director Jackson Gay has made to These Paper Bullets! Yes, there are moments of farce, which Gay stages brilliantly and her cast executes to perfection—in particular, the twin scenes in which Bea and Ben (Justin Kirk, hilarious) are gulled into accepting each one’s love for the other, and the riotous interrogation of the villain’s henchman (Rod McLachlan) in the plot to undo Claude and Higgy. In conventional productions, this scene never gets anywhere near the laughs. And yes, some of the ’60s iconography is Laugh-In broad, with partygoers Jerking and Twerking and Monkeying against projections of swirling flowers as if Austin Powers had just crashed into the room.
   But again and again, Gay insists the characters remain soft-spoken and real, bantering like genuine old friends and tossing one-liners lightly into the ozone exactly the way A Hard Day’s Night, and to a lesser degree Help!, won for the Fab Four our undying affection. The Geffen cast plays the play—Bullets! and Much Ado alike—trippingly on the tongue, for real as well as for fun. Exactly what you’ve ever gone to a Shakespearean comedy to see, and much more besides.
   That this production is able to dip so deeply into 50 years’ worth of collective images and memories without ever seeming crass, obvious, or crude brings that same smile back to my face right now. I can’t say enough about this comic event. Please please me, and yourself, by going as soon as possible.

September 20, 2015

Sept. 16–Oct. 18. 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. Tue–Fri 8pm, Sat 3pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm & 7pm. $32–82. (310) 208-5454.


American Falls
The Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Beth Triffon, Garrett Hanson, and Eric Hunicutt
Photo by Darrett Sanders

We have always been fascinated by the guileless complexities of the supposedly idyllic life in those insular small towns lurking quietly in the middle of America. Miki Johnson’s jarringly shocking yet poetic memory play, which weaves together a series of direct-address monologues from the residents, both living and dead, of a small town in rural Idaho, is the perfect culmination of everything that has come before it. There are no ticking clocks or sunflowers to whine about missing in our recently departed heroine’s reminiscences—and probably, in life, this play’s Lisa never appreciates a butternut tree as dearly as Emily Gibbs did.
   In this misshapen world, not even protecting her young son from her dangerously warped husband, who knows the boy isn’t his, could keep Lisa (a disarming Deborah Puette, alternating with Andrea Grano) from killing herself. “I loved that little boy but it wasn’t enough,” she admits to us. Instead she leaves her lovechild Isaac (Tomek Adler) in the dubious care of the certifiably insane Samuel (Karl Herlinger), who spends most of his time onstage screaming obscenities at Isaac. This kid stays motionless seated cross-legged upstage while his stepfather shaves his legs and arms with a straight razor as he tells Isaac how much he’s always hated him and plotted to kill him in the most gruesome ways possible.

Under Chris Fields’s spartan but effective direction on Nina Caussa’s strikingly austere set—complete with picture windows looking out on a vast stretch of desert plains—the broken family’s tragedy is split with the personal horror stories of other intertwined residents of American Falls, seated in their own assigned and basically impenetrable areas of the stage under Jesse Baldridge’s haunted lighting plot and accompanied by Jeff Gardner’s subtle and suitably dreamlike jukebox of countrified musical choices.
   Isaac’s real father, Eric (Eric Hunnicutt), shares a table throughout at the local dive bar, getting progressively more toasted with his buddy Matt (Ian Merrigan, alternating with Garrett Hanson) and his girlfriend Maddie (Jessica Goldapple alternating with Beth Triffon) as they relate tales of childhood sexual abuse and other horrors that not even gulping massive slugs of Jägermeister can obliterate. On the other side of the stage, seated precariously on an old tree swing, is Samuel’s crusty, world-weary, booze-soaked mother, Samantha (Barbara Tarbuck in a tour-de-force performance), who personifies how child abuse travels from one generation to the next as she tells us in no uncertain words how much her son, right from the womb, always gave her the creeps.
   In the middle of all the action, seated at a huge overstuffed reclining lounge chair, is Billy Mound of Clouds, a psychic Native American shoe salesman who can’t even get through telling us about his predictions without veering off into conversations about his favorite TV programs. Cano is the heart of Johnson’s otherwise disjointed and highly horrifying tale of life in places like American Falls, offering one of the finest and most heartfelt performances on any LA stage this year.
   Without the miraculous Cano as Billy as part of Field’s uniformly amazing cast, I can’t help but wonder if Johnson’s lyrical yet earth-grounded play could possibly succeed; he is the glue that holds the entire production together.

One of the earliest lessons I learned about being an arts critic included something I just evoked: using “I” in my writing. I have broken that basic rule with judicious infrequency and usually with the pre-ordained blessings of my editor because I had some connection or history with the play I’m discussing. In this case, however, I want to take this journalistic assault one step further. Because I attend most plays I review with my beloved Hugh Eaglehart Ta’neeszahnii, who was raised on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, his insight into the accomplishments of this gifted new playwright and the performance of Cano is, I believe, worth breaking rules to share:

   “The joke at the beginning about Billy’s satellite dish instantly flashed the brilliance and authenticity of Johnson’s script for me, because only an Indian would get that joke. Many of my family members and neighbors still live in mud-encrusted hogans with dirt floors, yet everyone there has a satellite dish. I was the only one in the audience who laughed.
   “I immediately was drawn in when Billy started talking about his feet and magic shoes. Native Americans aren’t often well represented in art, most likely because we’re some really messed up people. Leandro Cano walks a tightrope that could easily become a hilarious joke for bilagáana, but his authenticity, warmth, and familiarity with the self-deprecating humor of natives made it so believable. I kept trying to find the word to describe how his Billy touched me, and I realized the word is ‘tribal.’ He made me see my uncles back home. My great-grandfather was a medicine man, and his performance made me homesick for the rez. It was like taking a trip to the Four Corners.”

Still, as mesmerizing as the performances are, as perfectly austere are Fields’s direction and the production’s design elements, the true marvel here is the script. “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you!” the ghost of Emily cries out at the dawning of the 20th century in Our Town. “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”
   From lamenting that sweetly picturesque existence in the early 1900s in Thornton Wilder’s timeless Grover’s Corners and the desolate frustrations of eternal spinster Alma Winemiller from Glorious Hill, Miss., in Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke, and on to our current era when the twisted dysfunction of Tracy Letts’s battling Weston family hid their dastardly secrets deep in the dusty earth of Osage County in August, no one has ever skewered the hidden realities of bucolic small-town life in our country better or more elegiacally than Johnson. A hundred years from now, presuming our greedy and indifferent species hasn’t disappeared from the earth entirely by then, in a fair world American Falls should be as much of an American classic as any of its celebrated predecessors.

September 15, 2015
Sept. 11–Oct. 18. 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village. Wed-Sat 8pm, Sun 4pm & 7pm. $25. (310) 307-3753.


Broadway Bound
Theatre Palisades at Pierson Playhouse

Reviewed by Dany Margolies

David Tracq, Georgan George, Larry Thaler, and DL Corrigan
Photo by Joy Daunis

Theatergoers are rarely able to observe characters growing up over the course of several plays. Shakespeare’s Prince Hal provides one notable exception. Playwright Neil Simon offers another. In his Brighton Beach Memoirs, we met Eugene Jerome, the hilariously genial youngster in 1940s New York, torn between becoming a professional baseball player and becoming a famous writer.
   Eugene is Simon’s stand-in, so at the end of Brighton Beach we know where Eugene is headed. Simon then takes Eugene through army basic training in Biloxi Blues, in which references to his talent for and obsession with writing promise another happy ending, at least for Eugene.
   The third play about Eugene, Broadway Bound, currently in a production by Theatre Palisades at Pierson Playhouse, finds Eugene and his brother, Stanley, as a young adults in 1949, about to break in to scriptwriting for radio and television, as did Simon and his equally funny but less famous brother, Danny.
   In the first play of the trilogy, Eugene’s parents, Kate and Jack Jerome, are solidly married. Perhaps Eugene was too young to see the cracks in the marriage, but here the very realistic, very heartrending problems between Kate and Jack are centerstage.
   So, too, are the travails facing the incipient writers, and these provide the comedy. Eugene and Stanley have one night to churn out a script or face never working again, and their agony gets empathetic laughs.

For the most part, director Sherry Coon doesn’t let the comedy get forced, nor does she let her actors sink into self-pity. One hint about Coon’s take on the play may come from set designer Sherman Wayne’s color scheme here. The wallpaper pattern in the Jerome house is of green roses on a creamy background, and the trim on the home’s exterior is green—the color symbolizing growth, health and healing. Eugene and Stanley will be fine. So, too, will Kate, who, suddenly facing an empty nest, seems to grow a magnificently sturdy spine.
   Portraying Eugene, DL Corrigan is rather impish. Eugene usually has a gimlet-eyed take on the family’s foibles, but Corrigan’s Eugene has more of a twinkle in his eye out of sheer enjoyment of his family.
   Playing Kate, Georgan George is not quite the usual Jewish mother, either. She also squints and scowls to a distracting degree. But her ability to create a devoted mother and betrayed wife is outstanding.

David Tracq masters the energy and enthusiasm of Stanley. Tracq impressively remains effervescent through Stanley’s panicked night trying to write a comedy sketch, and his excitement at listening to the Jerome brothers’ words on the radio is fresh and truthful.
   Dark clouds hang over Kenneth Steven Bernfield’s Jack. The model father in Brighton Beach Memoirs lives in a grayer area here, and Bernfield delicately wrestles the demons who prevent Jack from being the man his sons believed him to be.
   Kate’s sister, Blanche, gets a memorable portrayal by Caroline Westheimer, refusing to apologize for her new wealth, pleading beautifully with her father to call his wife, because, yes, marital relationships are not this family’s strongest skill.
   But one other cause for heartbreak crept up on opening night. The actor playing Kate’s über-Socialist father, Ben, was apparently a late replacement and was shaky on his lines. By way of a crutch, he seemed to be begging for laughs for his character. Most of this occurred at the top of the play, setting a sour tone that gradually faded.
   Simon, as it turns out, has not had the happiest of personal lives, despite his phenomenal professional success. Eugene, one hopes, will learn from his family’s, and Simon’s, mistakes and fare better.
September 7, 2015

Republished with kind permission of Los Angeles Daily News

Sept. 4–Oct. 11. 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 2 hours and 45 minutes, including intermission. $18-20. (310) 454-1970.


Café Society
Odyssey Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Donathan Walters and Ian Patrick Williams
Photo by Ed Krieger

It’s rather chilling that in our media-deadened society we can turn on the evening news and hear, “Another mass shooting today in…” and not be surprised, let alone horrified. In Peter Lefcourt’s smart and all-too-contemporary comedy, a group of Angelenos are held captive in a Westside Starbucks by a guy with a bomb in a bowling bag—and the point made is that even those here directly forced into submission are not surprised, let alone horrified, by their own drastic situation.
   In Lefcourt’s world, his characters easily reflect our skewed lives in LA. Kari (a completely hilarious Chandra lee Schwartz) zips into the bathroom of the Pico Boulevard coffee supermarket to change from hooker-wear to business attire between auditions, and ruthlessly rightwing business entrepreneur and Fox News defender Bob (Eric Myles Geller) makes a sight-unseen date online at to meet realtor Marilyn (Susan Diol) at the store for an afternoon hookup.
   Here, despite Lefcourt’s clever innovation, the playwright faces a considerable challenge, shared by director Terri Hanauer and her intrepid design team. These vapid characters and three other captives in corporate latte-land continue to live their treacherously self-involved lives as Martin (Nick Cobey) demands to talk on the phone with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz or Martin will blow his prisoners and all of the man’s most flavorable beans—not to mention original CDs of Summertime Grooves and Bossa Nova Moods—to kingdom come.
   As those gathered continue to check for messages and updates on their own little lives, screen images of all of their individual electronic devices appear on projection designer Yee Eun Nam’s two huge displays at the back of Amanda Knehans’s very authentic-looking set, where Starbucks’ familiar menu of drinks continuously disappears and transforms throughout the action into the characters’ text messages and emails as the world turns dramatically dangerous around them.

It isn’t until their plight shows up on their screens, reported on by local on-air celebrity Kelly Kahanahana (Kailyn Leilani), an assignment that pisses off Martin even more because he so dislikes her typical Barbie doll delivery of the news, that the mocha hits the fan. It seems Martin is protesting all kinds of societal injustices, particularly as accentuated by Schultz’s empire, which in his mind continues to grind out Vente after Vente, severely underpaying his employees while living a luxurious life at his home behind the Hotel Bel-Air, his ranch on Maui, or his ski getaway in Aspen—all places at which operators at Starbucks’ hotline try in vain to locate him so perhaps he could talk to the perpetrator and ease the situation.
   Throughout the ordeal, the electronic devices keep transmitting, even though Kari can’t initially contact 911 because she’s late on her Verizon bill and her personalized phone plan “doesn’t allow for 911 texting.” Marilyn keeps surreptitiously trying to close an important deal to sell a house. “I’m being held captive by a guy with a bomb,” she tells the listing agent of the property, who instantly counters with, “Can’t you just text your buyer?” Wannabe screenwriter Jeff (Eric Wentz) keeps trying to instantly turn the ongoing tribulations into a screenplay, discussing with the captives who they think would be best to play them in the project. “Not Denzel,” the store’s barista Darnell (Donathan Walters) insists. “I’m tired of Denzel!”
   The final inhabitant of the Starbucks is someone who has abandoned electronica: frequent hanger-on Anastasia (Ian Patrick Williams), a cross-dressing homeless man who believes he is the lost Russian countess, when in reality he is the disgraced head of a failed Fortune 500 company until the most recent recession. This is something that occasionally snaps the guy back into his former gruff-voiced corporate honcho status, his side-talking projectiles of profanity only tempered when someone talks him back into his gentler and more conducive fantasy persona by calling him “Your Royal Highness” or asking him about the upcoming ball at the palace.

Hanauer’s ensemble is beautifully committed to the material, although the desensitized nature of their characters make it difficult for them to have more than one direction to explore and, in Lefcourt’s script, some of them sit with nothing to contribute for long stretches at a time until a funny line is thrown their way. Equally difficult is the task allotted to Hanauer, who seems to have concentrated more on this factor than on the often glaringly static staging, which too frequently leaves her actors placed in uniformlynspaced straight lines across the stage.
   Despite this and a rather unsatisfactory conclusion—though it’s all followed by a hilarious onscreen trailer for Jeff’s upcoming film version starring, among others, Meryl Streep as Anastasia and Denzel Washington after all as Darnell—Lefcourt’s script, though hardly yet perfected, is still often sharply funny and bitingly astute. His conceit is a rich indictment of the numbed-down condition of our electronically dominated lives where we wonder which is real: what’s happening around us, or what’s flashing on our ever-present cellphone screens.
   The fact that none of what’s happening seems in any way be threatening to these people until the news trucks and swat teams start congregating outside the store and their plight shows up on TV is the best thing about life as depicted here. And it should not be lost that when those gathered begin to sense the danger of their situation, Kari instantly texts her agent to be sure he doesn’t give reporters her latest headshot but instead uses the prior one. You know, the one with the longer hair.

August 31, 2015
Aug. 22–Oct. 11. 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. Fri–Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $25–30.(323) 960-1055.


El Grande CIRCUS de Coca-Cola
Skylight Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Marcelo Tubert and Paul Baird
Photo by Ed Krieger

Standing in the lobby after this show, Skylight Theatre Company’s artistic director, Gary Grossman, was quick to point out that his prolific ensemble has spent years mounting “issue plays” and that he was thrilled to present something for a change where the theme is “silly is as silly does.”
   Of course, someone would be hard-pressed to find something as silly as this production—unless, it would be the notoriousEl Grande de Coca-Cola that spawned it. First surfacing Off-Broadway in 1973 before playing for more than a year at the Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip and virtually kick-starting the careers of Jeff Goldblum and the late Ron Silver, the revue’s creator and star Ron House’s Latin-themed romp into Marx Brothers territory became an international hit, with new productions regularly sprouting up all over the world ever since.
   For years House and his fellow original cast member Alan Shearman wanted to create a sequel to the madness. The two have come up with the perfect concept, as Pepe Hernandez (the leading character in the original, played forever by House) has decided to spread his wings and further tap into the “limitless talents” of his eager sons and daughters to reach beyond the cabaret stage and transform into their own family circus.
   Complete with rather ominous knife throwing, a flamenco flea circus where Pepe’s enthusiastic applause eliminates one of his performers, a bout of aerial gymnastics in which the comely performers wrapping themselves in suspended silk ribbons get too tangled to unwind without help, and the family morphing into members of the Bolshoi Ballet’s “Radioactivo!” company to take on a clunky rendition of Swan Lake , this is truly sidesplitting stuff guaranteed to make your ribs hurt.

Under Shearman’s delightfully tongue-in-cheek direction and with the collaboration of Tor Campbell’s intentionally lead-footed choreography, this new cast works brilliantly together. As Pepe’s daughters Consuelo and Maria, Lila Dupree and Olivia Cristina Delgado bring to mind a slapstick routine from Lucy and Ethel—one of those times Ricky didn’t realize the new act he hired for his club was actually his favorite nemesis and her vaguely willing sidekick. Paul Baird goes for Ricardo-perfected straight-man status as the girl’s dashing brother Miguel, doubling quite admirably on the piano whenever the need arises.
   Marcelo Tubert is the quintessential replacement for House as patriarch Pepe, complete with a Joker-esque pitchman grin that could sell canned tamales to Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. He is especially hilarious as he takes on the role of the matriarch in a sendoff of those infamous Mexican television novellas, looking a little like a Chicana Eleanor Roosevelt as he/she shouts “Infidelio!” when discovering his co-stars in a pile of cuckolded positions before they whip out weapons to end each other’s overdramatic existences.
   As the Hernandez family’s adopted brother Juan, the kid left on their doorstep by wandering gypsies, Aaron Miller steals the show. From his continuously tortured and fearful expressions that make him look like a Chihuahua about to be caught in the blades of a table fan, to his off-tempo drumming, to his continuous pratfalls and outrageous physical antics as he eagerly careens from accident to accident during the proceedings, this guy could have an El Grande all his own—especially as topped by his Monty Python-like on-his-knees turn as a pintsized Napoleon trying to load a gigantic cannonball into an equally gigantic cannon.

Even though part of the conceit is that all of Pepe’s ring-mastering pronouncements of what is to come are delivered in Spanglish—or mostly Spanish with some key English words thrown in—if anything might be improved here, it could be to drop some of the continuously slow overemphasis on phrases to be sure everyone in attendance gets what’s being said. Giving the audience the benefit of the doubt that they don’t have to be hit so hard with repeated semi-translations and the wink-wink-nudge-nudge stressing of words similar in both languages would make all this that much more comical. The outrageous fun here isn’t in what’s being said; it’s in the visual absurdity of what’s being executed by this energetic troupe of world-class clowns able to make the rest of the world around us disappear, at least for a carefree 90 minutes of incredibly infectious inanity.

August 17, 2015
July 25–Oct. 18. 1816-1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. Fri–Sat 8:30pm, Sun 3pm. $34. (213) 761-7061.

El Map
Website Builder