Arts In LA
Luigi
The Inkwell Theater at VS Theatre

Reviewed by Dany Margolies


The cast of Luigi
Photo by Lew Abramson

A sullen 13-year-old sets in motion this world premiere, by Louise Munson. That’s the playwright’s first mistake. Uninteresting and unlikeable, young Anna doesn’t anchor the audience’s interest. Munson introduces her in the midst of the American teen’s visit to her great-uncle Luigi at his villa in Italy. At the top of the play, sitting at an outdoor dining table, Anna and Luigi attempt to chat—he in Italian, she trying to speak Italian. This leaves audience members who don’t speak Italian hoping the rest of the play won’t continue this way.
   But it does. Large chunks of it are in Italian, including a conversation in which the only intelligible words are “FOX-a news” and “Georg-a Bush.” Those portions of the play in English reveal Anna’s desire to “know about love” and her attempts to write poems. No wonder Munson can provide no resolution. Instead, Anna and the audience find out about this family’s history and intersecting lives.
   The slim material is then padded with such wastage as a long rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun.” In point of fact, that’s an entire scene. Another scene includes the family’s rendition of “Good Night, Irene.” Some scenes run a mere several sentences and then power down. Some encompass how various couples met. Some reveal how unhappy the characters are. There are references to Odysseus and to Anaeus.

With one exception, all of the scenes take place on the villa’s outdoor eating area, cleverly depicted by set designer David Mauer. That one scene takes place indoors but can’t be seen by audience members sitting on the aisle. Seven actors entering and exiting through a single door provide this play’s main activity—and prompt a hope in the audience that they won’t collide. One other bit of suspense is whether Luigi will die over the course of the play, as we learn he has cancer of the lymph nodes.
   For one scene, the actors bring out bowls and baskets of appetizers, wish each other “buon appetito” —then turn around and take all the food backstage. Frankly, it’s difficult to get involved with characters if that’s the extent of a scene.
   Those characters include Anna’s disappointed-in-life mother; Anna’s aunt, who does embarrassingly bad yoga and modern dance; Anna’s good-natured brother Max, who develops the warmies for the aunt; the aunt’s carefree boyfriend; and of course Luigi and his patient wife.

One scene seems to repeat itself, with slightly varying dialogue. Anna is reading, presumably a book of poetry or perhaps her own work, and speaking into a recording device. She’s dressed in a white nightgown, a wreath encircling her head. Presumably this recurring scene represents memory, or the fluid nature of poetry, or the like. The idea needs fleshing.
   Maybe Anna learned something during her visit, but this reviewer has no idea what that might be. Even Max’s stuttering, hemming summation at the play’s end didn’t help.

July 27, 2014
 
July 18–Aug. 16. 5453 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles. Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 2 and a half hours, including intermission. $10-20. (323) 417-2170.

www.inkwelltheater.com

goo.gl/maps/yw1kw
 

 
Lay Me Down Softly
Theatre Banshee

Reviewed by Neal Weaver


Kevin Stidham, Andrew Graves, and Patrick Quinlan
Photo by Erin Noble

Billy Roche’s play is set in Delaney’s Traveling Roadshow, a down-market boxing show that’s touring the Irish midlands, circa 1960. Theo Delaney (Andrew Graves) is the show’s proprietor, who has a love ’em and leave ’em approach to women. He makes his profit from admission tickets, concessions, and a raffle, but his chief gimmick is advertising that his fighters will take on all comers. This seems to be a fine plan until a pro fighter—whom we never see—turns up to challenge Theo’s principal boxer, Dean (Kevin Stidham), and defeat him in the ring. The pro must then be paid the advertised purse for winning the match, radically cutting into the profits. And now the pro is threatening to come back every week and carry off the prize.
   Dean, a feisty guy with lots of bark and very little bite, is not thrilled by the prospect of being beaten up by the pro every week. Three others are also in the mix. Peadar (John McKenna), an old sidekick of Theo’s, now serves as handyman and de facto fight manager. Junior (Patrick Quinlan) is another handyman, and a former boxer until he injured his foot in the ring. And Lily (Kacey Camp), Theo’s tough-talking current lady-friend, is along to work the box office and concessions, and to sell the raffle tickets. The plot gets under way when Theo’s daughter Emer (Kirsten Kollender) appears on the scene. He abandoned her mother before she was born, but now he seems to have taken a shine to Emer. Lily tells him Emer is up to no good, but because she regards Emer as a sexual rival, Theo and the audience tend to disbelieve her warnings.
   Emer takes a shine to Junior and persuades him to get back in the ring, despite his injury. She’s hell-bent on getting out of the Midlands and attempts to convince Junior to run away with her, but Lily offers stiff competition.

Director Sean Branney provides a sterling production, despite flaws in the script. It’s primarily a genre piece, with more flavor and atmosphere than plot. And there are a few too many offstage characters, though Roche’s knack for Irish storytelling makes them colorful and intriguing. But when the offstage characters threaten to become more appealing than the ones onstage, it’s a sign of trouble. The scenes are always interesting, but the piece seldom generates the kind of dramatic heat one expects from a boxing drama. The presence of a full-scale boxing ring onstage (courtesy of set designer Arthur McBride) encourages us to expect to see boxing, but all the significant matches occur between the scenes.
   Graves’s Theo likes to play the tough manager, but he’s a soft touch at heart. Stidham’s Dean is a big talker but short on delivery. Quinlan’s Junior is honest and stolid, but no match for the wiles of Emer. Camp’s Lily is sassy and competitive, and Kollender’s Emer conceals her iron determination and larcenous heart beneath a sweet exterior. But the soul of the piece is McKenna Peadar, Theo’s sweetly smiling boon companion and henchman, with a taste for poetry and playing his accordion.

July 23, 2014
 
July 12–Aug. 23. 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. Approximately 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission. $16–20. (818) 846-5323.

theatrebanshee.org

goo.gl/maps/C6CFy
 
We Will Rock You
Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre

Reviewed by Neal Weaver


The national tour cast
Photo by Paul Kolnki

This show is an exuberant, enthusiastic, unabashed homage to the rock group Queen and its lead singer, the late Freddie Mercury. It is also splashy, a little bit silly, and loud enough to rattle your ribcage, with a rock-concert-style light show that is occasionally blinding. If those things appeal to you, then you should love this show. If not, you should probably stay home—or, like at least one member of the opening night audience, come equipped with earplugs.
   The tale is set on an imaginary planet (a surrogate for Earth) in the future. Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold) is the head of Globalsoft Industries, which has devoted itself to stamping out rock ’n’ roll. She’s a symbol of all the commercial interests that have exploited artists and musicians. The hero of the piece, Galileo (Brian Justin Crum), is the poet whose mission is to save rock and, by extension, the world. It’s not entirely clear just why Killer Queen is so afraid of rock, and in the real world she’d have been more likely to co-opt it than destroy it.
   But, whatever: There’s an underground group called the Bohemians, dedicated to rediscovering the lost world—or lost religion—of rock, and hanging out in an ancient and dilapidated Hard Rock Café. They have preserved some artifacts of the rock world—a Harley-Davidson, a TV set, and a videocassette whose message they don’t know how to unlock. They also remember the names of the rock gods, even if they don’t know what they mean, and misapply them wildly. Thus you have a gal who calls herself Oz (Erica Peck), for Ozzy Osborne, and her male partner Brit (Jared Zirilli), for Britney Spears.

The opening-night audience was delighted by every cockeyed pop culture reference. When a black Bohemian named Aretha gives Galileo’s sidekick Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis) a new outfit, she says, “Put it on, and don’t come back ’til you look like a natural woman.” The leader of the Bohemians is Buddy (Ryan Knowles), a long and lanky guy with a vocal range that extends from deep gravel voice to high falsetto. And presiding over the Bohemian enclave is the bronze statue of Mercury, whom they regard as their spiritual ancestor, even if they aren’t sure who or what he really was. When the Bohemians are captured and mind-zapped by the Killer Queen’s minions, only Galileo and Scaramouche escape to try and save the day.
   The almost hagiographic treatment of Freddie Mercury and Queen obviously pleases the hard-core fans, but non-devotees may find it a bit excessive. And the fans, perhaps reliving their own glory days, are hell-bent on keeping the celebration going, and waving their light sticks in time to “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.”
   The music is, of course, by Queen. Writer-director Ben Elton gives us a ramshackle script and a production that is flashy, relentless, and chock full of video special effects. All the performers acquit themselves well, when they’re not called upon to be so loud we can’t hear them. Among the machine-made sturm und drang, Crum and Lewis, as Galileo and Scaramouche, add a much-needed touch of humanity along with their considerable vocal skills. As Killer Queen, Arnold can belt out a song along with the best, and Peck and Zirilli provide high energy performances as Oz and Brit. Knowles, as Buddy, makes the most of his zanily subversive patter and vocal tricks.
   The approach is insistently hip, and slightly tongue-and-check. But it almost seems like cheating when they refuse to give us “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which everyone seemed to be waiting for, until a final encore.
July 17, 2014
 
July 16–Aug. 24. 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown Los Angeles. Tue-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 1pm & 6:30pm. (Added 2pm performance Thu, Aug. 14 and 21; no 6:30 pm performance Sun, Aug. 17 and 24.) $25–120. (213) 972-4400.

www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

g.co/maps/a9xqj
 

 
The Sexual Life of Savages
Skylight Theatre Company at Beverly Hills Playhouse

Reviewed by Dany Margolies


Melissa Paladino and Luke Cook
Photo by Ed Krieger

Ian MacAllister-McDonald’s world premiere script broaches several slices of life not usually seen onstage. The topic, as his play’s title responsibly hints, is the sexuality of his five characters. The dialogue is exceedingly explicit, and we’re not talking an occasional F-bomb. But the situations his characters put themselves in and the conversations the play will undoubtedly provoke in its audiences are unique.
   The characters range from the presumably untouched to the sexually gluttonous. Hal and Jean have been a couple for two years. We meet them moments after Hal has demanded to know her “number”—how many sexual partners she has had. Her total has stunned and disgusted him. The fallout from that conversation causes them to break up.
   In the next scene, Clark and Hal are discussing this and other sexual matters in the teachers’ lounge of a high school. (The appropriateness of this conversation in this locale is, of course, questionable.) Clark brings three-ways into his marriage, advertising for female participants through his supposedly private website. Simultaneously in this scene, Jean is in a hospital break room, discussing with her colleague Naomi her version of her breakup with Hal.
   The new art teacher, Alice, enters the teachers’ lounge, and Hal becomes attracted to her. Meanwhile, Naomi, we learn or observe from the start, is a lesbian, who breaks up with her partner and, over the course of the play, finds her way into Clark’s marital bed.

Elina de Santos directs a stunningly skilled cast. Luke Cook masterfully creates the uncomfortable Hal, but Melissa Paladino is so good as the feisty Jean that she’s almost at that “is she always like this or is she acting?” state.
   As Coach Clark, Burt Grinstead is a touch cartoonish in the teachers’ lounge—though perhaps anyone that secure would seem so—but we get to see Clark when he’s alone, and Grinstead lets us glimpse a bit of insecurity. T. Lynn Mikeska plays Naomi as part brusque, part vulnerable.
   However, an astonishing acting moment happens here, thanks to Melanie Lyons as Alice. This character begins as a prim but hopeful young woman with an English accent. As Hal discovers, she changes, and the transformation and descent, seen on her face, are startling.

De Santos ensures ample subtext, painting in subtlety and swirling currents. She creates various playing areas here, but the bed takes centerstage. Pacing is snappy, except near the play’s end, when de Santos allows a lingering exchange of thoughts—the characters’ and the audience’s—time to develop.
   But problematically, form overwhelms substance in the script, disrupting the audience’s concentration on the moments MacAllister-McDonald has otherwise carefully crafted. No sooner do we suspend disbelief then the playwright introduces a conceit. Sometimes it’s cross-conversations, in which two pairs of actors carry on their dialogue simultaneously. Sometimes it’s through the direct-address monologue each characters delivers. The information imparted may be interesting and relevant, but the contrived method of delivery takes its audience out of the story and back into the theater seats.
   This play is not for “sensitive” audiences. But those fascinated by behavior might find this an intriguing glimpse into, as promised, the sexual lives of the race.

July 15, 2014
 
July 6–Aug. 16. 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 7pm. Running time 1 hour 40 minutes, no intermission. $30-34. (213) 761-7061.

www.skylighttickets.com

goo.gl/maps/ydMP
 

 
The Curse of Oedipus
The Antaeus Company

Reviewed by Neal Weaver

Chad Borden, Ramón de Ocampo, and Lily Nicksay
Photo by facetphotography.com

The dark and bloody legend of King Oedipus inspired the ancient Greek dramatists to create many plays recounting his fate. In Sophocles’s tragedy Oedipus the King, we learn how he fled his home city, Corinth, to escape a terrible prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. But instead of evading his fate, he runs headlong into it, unwittingly fulfilling the prophecy. Told by an oracle of the gods that he must find and punish an evildoer to save his city from a plague, his search reveals to him that the evil-doer is himself. In shame and horror at his unknowing incest, he puts out his eyes.
   In Euripides’s The Phoenicians, as much a blood-and-thunder melodrama as a tragedy, we see how the blinded, guilt-ridden Oedipus confers joint kingship of Thebes on his two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices, proposing that they should reign in alternate years. Instead, they become murderous rivals, launch a war over the throne, and slay each other in single, fratricidal combat. Oedipus is driven into exile by the people of Thebes.
   In Sophocles’s elegiac Oedipus in Colonus, we see him led by his daughter Antigone to a sacred precinct in Athens where, under the protection of King Theseus, he at last finds peace, humility, and his final apotheosis.

Now, in a daring move, writer-translator Kenneth Cavender has taken up these three plays—and other ancient sources—and blended them into a single, epic drama. His concise, direct, athletic renderings rescue the plays from the fustian and bombast of the older translations and present them new-minted, with a curiously modern thrust. And director Casey Stangl gives them a faithful and dynamic staging, with a sterling cast of terrific actors.
   As Oedipus, Ramon de Ocampo eloquently captures the unfortunate monarch’s strength, hot temper, and arrogance, as well as his transition to faltering, guilt-ridden, fallen hero. He gives us a man, imperfect and suffering, rather than a monument carved of stone. Equally effective, in a very different way, is Josh Clark as Oedipus’s wily brother-in-law Creon, who nurses secret ambitions to capture the throne for himself. He struggles to take it, and when he briefly succeeds, he can’t hold onto it. In a futile effort to restore order to his troubled city, he tells the people over and over, “Go home. The danger is over.” But the danger is never over.
   Fran Bennett, in a piece of inspired gender-blind casting, gives us an iconic rendition of the blind prophet Tiresias, who senses the tragedies looming, but can do nothing to stop them. Eve Gordon is a passionate, thwarted Jocasta, the mother/wife of Oedipus; and Kwana Martinez is a courageously obstinate Antigone. Mark Bramhall and Stoney Westmoreland are the rival gods Apollo and Dionysus, who preside over the action and seek to impose their own meanings on it.

Ultimately the backbone of Greek tragedy is the chorus, and this one is vital, dynamic, and eloquent. Stangl has cast actors of all ages, shapes, and sizes: Philip Proctor, John Achorn, Cameron J. Oro, Chris Clowers, Elizabeth Swain, Susan Boyd Joyce, Belen Greene, and Keri Safran. But this is no abstract unit: they are rather a cross-section of confused, striving individuals, attempting to understand what is happening around them, what it means, and how it affects their lives.
   Drummer Geno Monteiro provides electrifying percussion to punctuate and heighten the action, while François-Pierre Couture’s semi-abstract set features criss-crossing cords that suggest a web the characters are caught in—until the end, when the web snaps. The story may be archaic, but, without striving, it achieves contemporary relevance. When Oedipus proclaims that he feels the agony of his suffering people, it rings like an echo of Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain.” And when the Delphic Oracle hastily reaches out to claim payment for a prophecy, we think of fundraising televangelists. There’s plenty of grim laughter along with the blood and death.

Note the production is double-cast. Check theater website for schedule.

July 2, 2014

June 19–Aug. 10. 5112 Lankershim Blvd. Parking $7 in the lot at 5125 Lankershim Blvd. (west side of the street), just south of Magnolia. The theater is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. Thu-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 2 hours and 35 minutes, including one intermission. $30-34. (818) 506-1983.

www.Antaeus.org

goo.gl/maps/B6Gn
 

 
Penelope
Rogue Machine

Reviewed by Neal Weaver


Scott Sheldon, Brian Letscher, Ron Bottitta, and Richard Fancy
Photo by John Flynn

This grimly hilarious dark comedy by Irish playwright Enda Walsh (The New Electric Ballroom, The Walworth Farce) puts a snarky, post-modern spin on the Greek myth of Penelope, faithful wife of Odysseus. Odysseus sailed away to fight in the Trojan War and hasn’t been heard from since. It’s generally assumed he’s dead, and scores of ambitious suitors have taken up residence in his palace, living the high life at the expense of Odysseus’s treasury and demanding that Penelope shall marry one of them.
   In Walsh’s version of the tale, we are somehow in both ancient Ionia and the present day. Someone mentions driving away in a Lexus. Walsh revels in anachronisms. One of Penelope’s suitors, the unfortunate Murray, has been driven to suicide by his rivals, and 95 of them have abandoned the field and gone home. Only four remain. Elderly Fitz (Richard Fancy) spends his days reading—and if it’s Homer he’s reading, he must have at least a glimmering that fate will not be kind to him. Quinn (Brian Letscher) is a fleshily handsome and arrogant narcissist, who likes to show off his body. Dunne (Ron Bottitta) is a strutting showoff, but sensitive about his age and weight. Burns (Scott Sheldon), the low man on the totem pole, has somehow been reduced to acting as servant and dogsbody for the other three.
   They spend their days sunning themselves at the bottom of Penelope’s empty swimming pool, which they have fitted out as a combination lounge and bar and grill, dominated by a large elaborate barbecue that mysteriously appeared one day. The suitors feel that the barbecue is a kind of warning and threat from “him.” (Odysseus is never mentioned by name: He’s referred to only as “he” and “him.”)

Initially the suitors seem to have nothing more on their minds than idle chitchat. They argue about the proper way to describe a sausage: “Sausagy” is deemed inadequate. They discuss books: They all love The Magic Porridge Pot, which Quinn declares is “the only book.” But there’s an air of unease among them. They know that “he” is on his way home. And one of them must win Penelope’s hand before “he” arrives. As the tension mounts, relations become strained. They have a pretzel fight, hurl drinks in one another’s faces, and knock one another down. Quinn insists, despite their seeming friendship, that each of them has murderous feelings toward the others.
   Now the moment of decision has arrived: Each must audition for the approval of Penelope (Holly Fulger), who silently and enigmatically watches. Fitz delivers a sincere and heartfelt plea. Dunne, always the braggart, proclaims his own strength and virility. Burns declares the need for love, to assuage the pain of living. But Quinn delivers a pageant instead of a plea. With the assistance of Burns as straight man, he performs an elaborately hilarious vaudeville magic show, appearing consecutively as Napoleon, Josephine, Romeo, Juliet, Rhett Butler, and Scarlet O’Hara. And as a grand finale, he appears only in his speedo, with magnificent multicolored wings that he can spread or fold at will. He proclaims himself The Mighty Quinn.
   But in the end, the myth is the myth, and despite all the talk, it can’t be changed. There are dark hints that it will end the way it has always ended, with a bloodbath.

Walsh’s play is an ominous, albeit funny, existential parable, with more than a touch of nihilism. It’s always entertaining, and the mythical context keeps the tragedy at arm’s length, but it’s always there.
   Director John Perrin Flynn juggles the play’s diverse elements with wit and skill, and the actors are splendid. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s colorful set depicts Penelope’s down-at-heel swimming pool with marvelous detail. Lauren Taylor’s costumes are wonderfully apt, and Hazel Kuang provides the props. And whoever is responsible for those wings—costumes or props—has created a visual tour-de-force. Magic consultants are Jack Lovick and Arthur Trace, and Ned Mochel is credited, curiously, with “violence design,” and there is plenty of it. One can’t help feeling sorry for the stage crew who must clean up after the performance.

June 18, 2014

June 14–Aug. 10. 5041 Pico Blvd. (street metered until 8pm except Sun). Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time 90 minutes, no intermission. $30. (855) 585-5185.

www.RogueMachineTheatre.com

goo.gl/maps/BRIu
 

 
Flower Duet
The Road on Magnolia

Reviewed by Julio Martinez


Avery Clyde and Adam Mondschein
John Lorenz

The haunting two-soprano “Flower Duet” from Léo Delibes 1883 French opera, Lakmé, gives playwright Maura Campbell the title for this awkwardly conceived five-actor perusal of conjugal dysfunction in the rural outskirts of Burlington, Vt. As in the distaff duet, this work focuses on two women: Stephanie (Avery Clyde) and Maddie (Jessica Noboa). They are upscale damsels whose intermingled lives ebb and flow through two decades of soap opera–esque travails that seldom elevate above the maudlin and the predictable as each struggles to achieve happiness with the men in their lives and with each other. Helmer Jeffrey Wienckowski manages to maintain an impressively fluid thematic flow through the play’s eight scenes, including one flashback and two flash forwards, but does not manage to underscore or amplify anything meaningful in Campbell’s text.
   Christopher Scott Murillo’s impressively detailed setting, complemented by Boris Gortinski’s mood-enhancing lighting, serves as the kitchen/dining environment for both households as supposedly sexually liberated Stephanie and Max (Adam Mondschein) strive unsuccessfully to establish a firm foundation on which to base their relationship. Meanwhile, Maddie is being driven to an alcohol-fueled breaking point by her hubby Sandy’s (Patrick Joseph Rieger) emotional and sexual inattentiveness.

Complicating matters is the blossoming dalliance between Sandy and Stephanie and growing concerns by Maddie and Sandy that their 4-year-old daughter Daisy (played by adult Kara Hume) might have developmental issues.
   There are no real resolutions to any of these concerns except the passage of time. Eventually all four of these protagonists move on quite nicely between scenes, out of sight of the audience. By play’s end, Stephanie, Sandy, Max, and Maddie are present to launch Daisy into her adult life. The ending further diminishes all the shenanigans that went on before.
   One really annoying bit of business is the ongoing assertion that Stephanie and Maddie actually have the vocal ability to sing the “Flower Duet,” which they are intermittently rehearsing to perform at a friend’s wedding. Wienckowski’s staging to work around the fact that Noboa and Clyde do not have this ability is clumsy. Another distraction is the odd, symbolically stylized costuming of Haleil Parker, entwining flowers within clothing and executing a surrealistic wedding dress that looks like it was created for Miss Havisham of Great Expectations.

The cast impressively inhabits the personas of these troubled folk. Clyde’s sensually charged Stephanie exudes a tangible sense of friction when trying to break through Max’s cerebral aloofness. For his part, Mondschein instills levity into the proceedings, projecting utter disdain toward Sandy while being lugubriously courtly toward Maddie.
   Rieger and Noboa believably portray a couple who have lost any semblance of the sensitivity and good-heartedness they offered each other when courting (seen in flashback), so all that’s left is the simmering bile of mutual dissatisfaction. Hume’s Daisy is an undefined entity seen in various situations, including dancing and singing vignettes that don’t relate to anything.
  

June 10, 2014
 
June 6–July 26. 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $17.50–34. (866) 866-811-4111.

www.RoadTheatre.org

goo.gl/maps/bfDXl
 

 
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For the Record: Tarantino
DBA

Reviewed by Bob Verini


Quentin Tarantino in background
Photo by Rony Alwin

For the record, For the Record: Tarantino has safely made the transition from the small and cramped Rockwell’s in Los Feliz Village to the larger but also cramped DBA, former site of the Peanuts nitery, in WeHo. The sightlines are better, but the booze is still flowing and the fun is no less infectious.
   The “For the Record” series formula begins with the selection of a noted filmmaker whose work leans heavily on distinctive pop music. (As examples, auteurs previously honored to date include Baz Luhrmann, Martin Scorsese, the Coen brothers, and Garry Marshall.) The chosen oeuvre is pored over for iconic speeches and scenes, which are then spliced ’n’ diced and Cuisinarted along with solo and group performances of soundtrack songs by a company of nine, in pursuit of what it says here is “a live music immersive concert experience.”
   I would’ve thought “an immersive live music experience” was itself a definition of a “concert,” but why quibble? However you define the revues devised by adapter-director Anderson Davis, they’re always light on their feet and propulsively musical, the more so depending on the nature of the films and their given tunes. Which is to say that For the Record: Tarantino is hard to beat as a source, given the psychedelic characters and unforgettable musical set pieces from the likes of Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and Reservoir Dogs. The cast at DBA, as if set afire by the excitement of the material handed to it, does it up brown. (Jackie Brown, that is.)

Those familiar with the movies will be best able to appreciate the crazily twisted musical settings (the torturer and victim of Reservoir Dogs engage in a duet to “Stuck in the Middle With You”), and witty character transformations (the O.D.ing Uma Thurman of Pulp doesn’t have to move a muscle to become the assaulted Black Mamba of Kill Bill). On the other hand, who isn’t immersed in the Tarantino filmography nowadays—especially, youthful crowds inclined to a rowdy good time on a Saturday night? And probably even the snobbiest buff, one who wouldn’t be caught dead at the likes of Death Proof, couldn’t help but enjoy the talent and energy bouncing off all four walls of the expanded performance space. He’d be lost as the various mishmashed plots start to come together in the second act, but he’d be entertained for sure.
   Photographic evidence indicates that the celebrated “Q” himself has been in appreciative attendance accompanied by Demi Moore, and surely both were amused to see Moore’s daughter Rumer Willis take on the Thurman role in papa Bruce’s Pulp Fiction. You never know who’ll be “on” any given night; the producers keep some two-dozen troupe members on call so that the show never has to go dark. Willis’s pipes aren’t the strongest, but she’s game and wields a mean Hattori Hanzo sword, you betcha. As a matter of fact, on opening night all the women seemed to have more fun, and more to do, than the men—not surprisingly, given Tarantino’s predilection for giving ladies the lion’s share of his juiciest action.

Fair warning: Some will find problematic, and even disturbing, the inclusion of material from Inglourious Basterds and, especially, Django Unchained: Wacky shootings of mobsters are one thing, but when the victims are Jews hidden under the floorboards and the N-word is carelessly tossed around, you may find your hilarity choked off a bit.

March 31, 2014
 
March 27–July 26. Thu-Sun 8pm. $35­–55.

www.dbahollywood.com

www.ForTheRecordLive.com

(directions/address given to only those who purchase tickets)
 

 
Undateable
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.

www.secondcityhollywoodshows.com

goo.gl/maps/kGBj
 

 
Lear
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum

Reviewed by Dany Margolies


Ellen Geer and Dane Oliver
Photo by Ian Flanders

Shakespeare’s King Lear has its potencies. Simply described, it follows the downfall of a once-
powerful leader and the dysfunction of his family. Pondering his retirement, the monarch asks his three daughters to avow their love. The elder two, Goneril and Regan, lavish empty words on papa. The youngest, Cordelia, refuses to play that game, believing her actions of loyalty and respect will trump her sisters’ verbiage.
   The role of Lear is also a noted goal of male actors who are, shall we say, no longer castable as Romeo. Audiences expect to see an aged Lear, whose two eldest daughters are married, who is ready to divide his kingdom among the three heirs. Age and apparent frailty aside, Lear commands the stage, the role requiring vocal and emotional range and calling for masses of memorization. Who among our great actors can fit the bill?
   And, can a woman take on the role?

After more than 40 years of filling theatergoers’ summer schedules with various productions of Shakespeare plays and starring in probably every leading female role in those plays, Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum artistic director Ellen Geer takes on Lear. Completing the gender swap, this Lear’s three children are sons. Will the audience feel more protective of a female Lear? Do the two sons’ actions now feel like elder abuse? Alas, it seems disrespect, hunger for power, and plain ol’ cruelty know no gender.
   It’s possible audiences quite familiar with King Lear will find that the intellectual exercise trumps much of the text’s emotional impact. Quite easily, the word father become mother, he becomes she, and so forth, and for the most part the meter still scans as Shakespeare wrote it. But the acting and the picturesque and effective staging in this production, co-directed by Geer and Melora Marshall, thrill where it matters most.

At the play’s top, Geer’s Lear is a bloated bag of ego. The flattery of elder sons Goneril (Aaron Hendry) and Regan (Christopher W. Jones) sits well with her. When she hears the simple “no more, nor less” from her youngest son, Cordelian (Dane Oliver), Geer’s Lear evidences a recognition that he may be speaking accurately and from a deeper love; but she’s embarrassed and rejects him out of pride.
   Lear takes a fall, despite the best efforts of her loyal advisors and companions. The Fool, more often seen in gender-blind casting than the other characters are, is here played by Marshall. Although the character is still referred to as “boy” and “sirrah,” Marshall gives the Fool deep sisterly devotion and care, while maintaining the verbal comedy the role allows. Kent is played by Gerald C. Rivers in a Caribbean accent when face-to-face with the sane Lear, in standard English elsewhere. Lear, Fool, and Kent ride out the storm on the roof of Theatricum Botanicum’s permanent two-story structure, the outdoor stage providing perfect ambience for the play’s outdoor scenes.
   Less easy to see, Edgar’s main scene is enacted far house right. Edgar, though, is here called Eden, played with sturdy sincerity and a notably expressive voice by Willow Geer. Eden’s sibling, Edmund in the original, is here Igraine, played with head-to-toe resentful ire by Abby Craden.
   Other acting standouts are Alan Blumenfeld as the eye-gouged Gloucester and Frank Weidner as Goneril’s henchman Oswald. But the night’s biggest surprise is young Oliver, who plays Cordelian with classic delivery and physicality, and who will undoubtedly shore up the company’s needs in the up-and-coming-actor department. It’s a thrill to watch him go a round with Geer.

Lines get rewritten to suit the gender shift. “Put’st down thine own breeches” becomes “lift’d up thine own skirt.” Puzzlingly, however, here Lear says, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/To have a shameful child!”
   One of theater’s great stage directions, “Re-enter Lear, with Cordelia dead in his arms,” is staged by the Geer family with due respect to the text, as well as to the gender swap. After Lear has found Cordelian’s body, hanged in prison, Ellen Geer emerges from a trap door in the stage, seeming to hoist Oliver up the stairs. In this version, at play’s end, Edgar and Albany will share the throne.
   Marshall McDaniel provides evocative original music, and Ian Flanders and McDaniel contribute scene-setting sound design. Speaking of even more of the Geer family, in grand Theatricum tradition the family dog gets a cameo, showing stage presence and not reacting to the awws of the audience.

June 10, 2014
 
June 7–Sept 28. 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. The theater is outdoors, bring a jacket, cushion, and a flashlight for the walk back to the car. Repertory schedule. $10–37, children 6 and under free. (310) 455-3723.

www.theatricum.com

goo.gl/maps/Lgx2
 

 
The Brothers Size
The Fountain Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder


Gilbert Glenn Brown, Matthew Hancock, and Theodore Perkins
Photo by Ed Krieger

It would be surprising if the emergent notoriety of playwright Terell Alvin McCraney didn’t lead to a career compared to that of his former mentor, the late August Wilson. The Brothers Size, one play in McCraney’s epic Brothers/Sisters Trilogy, is an emotional slap of a drama. At the Fountain Theatre, it succeeds last year’s In the Red and Brown Water to disprove the old adage that lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
   As with Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size is set in San Pere: a steamy-hot, hole-in-the-wall town near a bayou somewhere in the rugged and disaster-prone backwaters of rural Louisiana. Here Ogun Size (played by Gilbert Glenn Brown with salient ferocity and a deep well of understanding for the still-inequitable nature of human oppression) has agreed to share his home and auto repair business with his troubled kid brother, Oshoosi (a remarkable Matthew Hancock), after the younger Size is released from prison.
   The story is based on the mythology of West Africa’s Yoruba culture, tales passed down from generation to generation, utilizing roughhewn poetry and pulsating rhythms to explore and identify the roots of familial love and devotion when faced with the reality of loss and the ever-present gleam of temptation.
   Try as he will to get Oshoosi out of his bed and focusing on the future, Ogun’s patient efforts are thwarted by the recurring appearance of Elegba (an engaging Theodore Perkins), his younger brother’s former cellmate with whom lust had obviously blossomed into something more substantial than physical desire as they paid their debt to society. Elegba is the slithering snake offering a ripe red apple, and soon all of Ogun’s plans for the rehabilitation of Oshoosi give way to Elegba’s dangerously questionable plotting.

The Brothers Size is about love—unconditional and otherwise—but it is also about the intangible quest for freedom in a society still racist at its core, a world that all too often drags the weak and vulnerable into a tangled web of bad decisions and inherited misfortune from which many will never escape.
   Director Shirley Jo Finney understands the nature of these men and the complexities of this material from somewhere deep in her core, expertly weaving in strikingly discordant staging and musicality to achieve a dreamlike, unreal ambience that at first hearkens back to the story’s ancient roots then melds seamlessly into the cacophonous pulse of our contemporary Southern climes. Utilizing modern hip-hop tempos and clanking hubcaps struck against Hana S. Kim’s austerely Dada-like metal beam–dominated set, Finney and her team exotically interpret McCraney’s vision as well as the original source material.
   With the aid of choreographer Ameenah Kaplan and the gifts of these outstanding performers, who go directly to the top of the list as this year’s most exceptional ensemble cast in Los Angeles as they exquisitely embrace the poetry and theatricality of the piece, once again the team of Finney and Fountain proves a match made in dramaturgical heaven.
  

June 14, 2014
 
June 7–Sept. 14. 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood. Secure, on-site parking, $5. Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm (dark June 19-22 and July 4). Running time 80 minutes. $25-34. (323) 663-1525.

www.FountainTheatre.com

g.co/maps/7fvyw
 

 
Announcing ArtsInLA.com’s
Sage Awards
for theater in 2013


   Who says critics don’t like anything? Our theater critics chose their tops of 2013, from best production through best fight choreography, and the crossover among our choices gave rise to a surprisingly large list.
   And so we have decided to inaugurate our Sage Awards—named for the obvious reference to the wisdom we hope for, but also for the plant that covers the Los Angeles area, as we do.
   Congratulations to the Sage Award winners, and we hope to share more great theater in 2014.


PRODUCTION

Ah, Wilderness!, Actors Co-op

El Grande de Coca Cola, Ruskin Group Theatre

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre

One Night in Miami…, Rogue Machine

Our Class, Son of Semele Ensemble at Atwater Village Theatre  

Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre

The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre

The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre

We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915, Matrix Theatre

PLAYWRITING

Jennifer Haley, The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre

Bruce Norris, A Parallelogram, Mark Taper Forum

Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami…, Rogue Machine

Christopher Shinn, Dying City, Rogue Machine

Jackie Sibblies Drury, We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915, Matrix Theatre

ADAPTATION

David Ives, The Liar, Antaeus Company

Nancy Keystone, Alcestis, The Theatre @ Boston Court

Jessica Kubzansky, R II, The Theatre @ Boston Court

MUSICAL SCORE

Joe Iconis, The Black Suits, Kirk Douglas Theatre

John Kander and Fred Ebb, The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre

DIRECTION

Matthew McCray, Our Class, Son of Semele Ensemble at Atwater Village Theatre

Michael Peretzian, Dying City, Rogue Machine

Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

Ken Sawyer, The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre

MUSIC DIRECTION

Dennis Castellano, The Fantasticks, South Coast Repertory

Eric Heinly, A Midsummer Saturday Night’s Fever Dream, Troubadour Theater Company at Falcon Theatre

Ross Seligman, One Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse

Robyn Wallace, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Chance Theater  

CHOREOGRAPHY

Rob Ashford, Evita, Pantages Theatre

Matthew Bourne, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre

Lee Martino, Nuttin’ but Hutton, NoHo Arts Center

Arlene Phillips, The Wizard of Oz, Pantages Theatre

Susan Stroman, The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre

Kelly Todd, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Chance Theater

FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY

Ken Merckx, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

SCENIC DESIGN

Adrian W. Jones, The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre

Keith Mitchell, Billy & Ray, Falcon Theatre

Allen Moyer, Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Jeanine A. Ringer, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

Thomas A. Walsh, Annapurna, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and Evidence Room, at Odyssey Theatre

LIGHTING DESIGN

Ken Booth, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

Paule Constable, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre

Christopher Kuhl, The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre

David Lander, Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Justin Townsend, One Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse

COSTUME DESIGN

Angela Balogh Calin, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

Lez Brotherston, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre

Michael Krass, Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

SOUND DESIGN

Jonathan Snipes, Wait Until Dark, Geffen Playhouse

PERFORMANCE IN A (PRIMARILY) STRAIGHT PLAY

Mark Bramhall (grandfather), Walking the Tightrope, 24th STreet Theatre

Phil Crowley (Nat Miller, father), Ah, Wilderness!, Actors Co-Op

Jason Dechert (young Pericles and pandar), Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

Arye Gross (Mr. Sipos), Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center

Robert Lesser (lawyer/Greek chorus), A View From the Bridge, Pacific Resident Theater

Dakin Matthews (Doyle), The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre

Seth Numrich (Eli), Slipping, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at Lillian Theatre

Deborah Strang (narrator), Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

Paige Lindsey White (Esme the granddaughter), Walking the Tightrope, 24th STreet Theatre

PERFORMANCE IN A (PRIMARILY) MUSICAL PRODUCTION

Sabrina Elayne Carten (Blues Singer), One Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse

Nate Dendy (The Mute), The Fantasticks, South Coast Repertory

Mary Bridget Davies (Janis), One Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse

Jamie McKnight (Scarecrow), The Wizard of Oz, Pantages Theatre

Josh Young (Che), Evita, Pantages Theatre

SOLO PERFORMANCE

Lorenzo Pisoni, Humor Abuse, Mark Taper Forum


ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

The Katrina Comedy Fest, Bayou Playhouse and Flambeaux Productions at Lounge Theatre: Peggy Blow, Deidrie Henry, Travis Michael Holder***, Judy Jean Berns, L. Trey Wilson, and Jan Munroe

One Night in Miami…, Rogue Machine: Giovanni Adams, Kevin Daniels, Jason Delane, Matt Jones, Ty Jones, Jason E. Kelley, Burl Moseley, and Jah Shams

Our Class, Son of Semele Ensemble at Atwater Village Theatre: Melina Bielefelt, Sharyn Gabriel, Matt Kirkwood, Michael Nehring, Gary Patent, Gavin Peretti, Sarah Roseberg, Kiff Scholl, Dan Via, and Alexander Wells

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre: Johanna Chase, Paul Haitkin, Michael Hanson, Elizabeth Herron, Carl J. Johnson, Che Landon, Ed F. Martin, Ann Noble, Dylan Seaton, Christine Sloane, and Paul Witten

The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre: Gilbert L. Bailey II, David Bazemore, Ayanna Berkshire, Shavey Brown, Christopher James Culberson, Joshua Henry, Trent Armand Kendall, Max Kumangai, Hal Linden, JC Montgomery, Justin Prescott, Clinton Roane, Cedric Sanders, Deandre Sevon, Christian Dante White, and C. Kelly Wright

We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915, Matrix Theatre: Daniel Bess, Julanne Chidi Hill, Joe Holt, Phil LaMarr, Rebecca Mozo, and John Sloan


***Travis Michael Holder reviews for ArtsInLA.com. He did not nominate himself, nor did he nominate his show.


The voting theater critics of ArtsInLA.com: Travis Michael Holder, Dany Margolies, Julio Martinez, Dink O’Neal, Melinda Schupmann, and Bob Verini

January 5, 2014
 

 
Once
Pantages Theatre

Reviewed by Julio Martinez


The cast of Once


A vital love story threads together this journey of two displaced souls struggling to regain their stability in the streets and pubs of Dublin. But poignantly revealedin this musically sumptuous but overly dramatized sagais that our protagonists, Girl (Dani de Waal) and Guy (Stuart Ward), are not meant to be together but are destined to instill in each other the passion and confidence to move on.
   Although this storyline is familiar from its source material—John Carney’s 2006 independent film, Once—de Waal and Ward exude a tangible romantic connection that permeates, amplifies, and elevates the proceedings to a higher level of veracity in this touring production of John Tiffany’s stage adaptation.
   Tiffany and movement guru Steven Hoggett, aided immensely by Bob Crowley’s pub-inspired setting, create a musically meditative world wherein the 13 ensemble members act, sing, dance, and accompany themselves on a variety of instruments. Like an extended pub outing, the drinks, music, dramas and comedies flow freely as pints are downed and inhibitions are loosened. Unfortunately, the proceedings are often bogged down by Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s book that constantly peruses plot points rather than facilitating them and letting the folks move on with the action.

Of course, the show flies predominantly on the wings of the songs created by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the stars of the film, and here the drama plays out. Guy’s voice-rending show opener, “Leave,” gives Girl all the information she needs to know: He is a phenomenally talented young man whose soul has been deeply wounded. The gentle probing in the duet “Falling Slowly” informs Guy and Girl that this failed street musician and this Czech refugee are musical soul mates who need to find a reason to create together. And Girl’s “If You Want Me” unveils the insecurities of a young woman who has no safety net under her life. The rest of the ensemble at times literally surrounds the couple with a Greek chorus of supportive fare, highlighted by the endearing a cappella first-act closer, “Gold” and the affirmative, zesty instrumental work on “North Strand.”
   Complementing this Girl-Guy pas de deux, when not overburdened with dialogue, the enthusiastic ensemble inhabits characters—notably Donna Garner’s lusty portrayal of Girl’s mother, and Benjamin Magnuson’s (also a fine cellist) comedically geeky bank manager.
   Once makes the usually cavernous Pantages Theatre seem intimate. But it would be interesting see what a local small-space ensemble could do with this melodious, Gallic-infused romance-fest.
  

July 25, 2014

July 17–Aug. 10. 6233 Hollywood Blvd. Tue-Thu 8pm, Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 1pm & 6:30pm. “Prices start at $25.” (800) 982-2787.

www.HollywoodPantages.com

goo.gl/maps/Fk7R
 

 
Buyer & Cellar
Mark Taper Forum

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder


Michael Urie
Photo by Joan Marcus

The premise is so implausible it could be real, although Michael Urie, the sole performer in Buyer & Cellar, makes sure in the opening beats that his audience knows Jonathan Tolins’s sprightly little comedy is a work of fiction. Still, there is that slight head jerk and the rapidfire batting of his expressive eyelashes as Urie suggests that Barbra Striesand, who features prominently in the imagined storyline, is known to be a tad litigious. Is there a bit of a subtle wink-wink-nudge-nudge added here to suggest there is more to consider as we’re taken on an E-ticket ride through an eccentric superstar’s personal at-home Oz?
   The story centers on Alex Moore, a young Hollywood acting wannabe who loses his job at Disneyland as the Mayor of Toontown, leaving him plenty of time to do LA theater (which, he observes, “is just about as tragic as it sounds”). Soon, however Alex is referred to a position as the sole proprietor of Streisand’s personal shopping mall, set up in grand style in the basement of a barn on her Malibu estate. As Alex describes it, “it’s as if your grandmother designed an Apple Store,” featuring an antique shop, a vintage doll store, a soda fountain complete with sprinkles to be liberally offered in Streisand’s very own frozen yogurt bar, and a clothing store filled with the diva’s personal wardrobe resembling “a dress shop in Gigi stocked with costumes from Funny Girl.” Why, there’s even a mink hat on display—one that’s perfect for tugboat travel.
   At first Alex wonders how he can keep from going bonkers, dusting Streisand’s massive assemblage of just about anything and everything Americana from the 18th through the 20th centuries, a collection culled over the decades never inhibited by any budgetary restrictions, making it something akin to Hoarders on a higher plane. One day, however, things change as the lady of the house enters the doll shop and immediately plays a bizarre game with the wide-eyed Alex, playing unknown customer to his clerk in her own world, suggesting Alex call her Sadie as she browses the store’s crowded shelves. As she dickers on the price of a doll that’s already hers, her uncomfortable, starstruck employee is only too glad for all those improv classes he took with The Groundlings.

It’s hard to imagine the farfetched nature of this piece working without the many-octave range and endearingly cuddly nature of Urie, who takes about five minutes to make everyone in the audience fall in love with him. His Alex is clearly someone you just want to hug and protect, but when Urie launches at breakneck speed into one of the play’s other characters, from Alex’s bitchy boyfriend Barry to the star’s husband James Brolin to the manor’s Gestapo-esque housekeeper to Babs herself, it becomes apparent this talented lad could play just about anyone. As Streisand, he’s not in any way the tired traditional drag-queen Barbra, instead giving his subject a sweet delicacy and the lost essence of a mysterious, reclusive public figure somewhat tormented by the nature of great fame and all the criticism someone in that unique position must try to ignore. Only one standard Streisand-y mannerism survives and is surely recognizable to just about everyone in attendance, as Urie runs his nonexistent stiletto fingernails through his subject’s imaginary blow-dried frosted bangs.
   Buyer & Cellar is extremely slick and, running just under two intermissionless hours, diabolically quick, filled with so many nonstop Friends of Dorothy–inspired references that it begins to feel like Tolins’s roots might just have been as a camp follower of the Jewel Box Revue. Ordinarily, this technique can cause massive eye-rolling in an audience, but again, in Urie’s capable hands, it all works like gangbusters. And as Alex and his famous boss teeter more and more on the verge of becoming reluctant friends, something that eventually costs him his obviously jealous boyfriend, it also becomes a little bittersweet, eventually emerging as a knowing statement about the loneliness and insecurities of superstardom.
   At one point Alex tells us that, unlike Barry, he doesn’t want to spend his life being a less-talented person making fun of more-talented people—a concept Urie and Tolins, along with their director Stephen Brackett, adhere to with classy finesse. Never is the legendary supernova the butt of an easy joke, nor are her eccentricities presented as anything but understandable under the weight of decades of massive worldwide scrutiny. This just might be the reason the awkwardly exposed, often pitiably cloistered megastar with a penchant for litigious conduct has left Buyer & Cellar alone in silence and without comment.

July 15, 2014
 
July 13–Aug. 17. 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown LA. Tue-Fri 8pm, Sat 2:30pm & 8pm, Sun 1pm & 6:30pm. Running time just under 2 hours, no intermission. $25-70. (213) 628-2772.

www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

g.co/maps/a9xqj
 

 
Sordid Lives
Kentwood Players at Westchester Playhouse

Reviewed by Dany Margolies


Samantha Barrios, Catherine Rahm, and Alison Mattiza
Photo by Shari Barrett

Give Kentwood Players credit for mounting this production. Del Shores’s Sordid Lives focuses on social outcasts who ignite ire—if not disgust and even hatred. Where Kentwood’s version falters is in its failure to make some of the characters real despite their outrageousness. But when the actors delve into universal truths, the show hits Shores’s intended targets: our shriveled little hearts.
   The play is set in the middle of Texas and follows the family dynamics after the death of Peggy, who was sister to Sissy and mother to Latrelle, La Vonda, and Earl. Clearly, homosexuality runs in this family. So does intolerance. So does outlandishness.
   The play begins as Ty, Peggy’s grandson who was raised in this Southern Baptist family, reveals to his therapist that he is gay. Presumably the audience will think his life is the sordid one. Minds will change quickly.
   So, yes, the audience can snicker when it learns that Peggy died in flagrante with G.W., the husband of her daughter’s best friend. The audience can laugh louder when it learns that Peggy died from a fall after tripping over G.W.’s wooden legs, which he left lying on the floor. The audience can howl when it sees the assortment of family members and friends left to face the aftermath of Peggy’s choices.
   But this play is a microcosm of all of us. Everybody had a family, whether beloved and close or not. Everybody eventually faces differences. Everybody deals with consequences. And most of us, at least the lucky ones, at some point in our sordid lives feel the relief of receiving—and giving—forgiveness and acceptance.

Director Kirk Larson pulls all of his actors into this world, though some have wandered into cartoonish territory, laughing at their characters and begging the audience to laugh with them. A few of the other actors, however, capture just the right tone.
   Notably, Catherine Rahm plays Sissy, Peggy’s younger sister. Sissy would be the family peacemaker, but she is trying to quit smoking. Rahm plays it relatively straight, her Sissy hoping to ease the family quarrels while calming her own nerves.
   Samantha Barrios plays La Vonda, the “liberal” one in the family. Barrios gives her a buoyant, jolly quality, making her a woman whom Ty would probably have preferred as his mother. Ty, however, was born to Latrelle, and Alison Mattiza goes full bore for a pinched, seemingly intolerant characterization.
   But the production’s loveliest performances come from three actors. Michael Sandidge plays Ty as just so clean-cut and cheerful, he’s almost too perfect. Slowly, carefully, Sandidge lets the depths of his character emerge.
   Greg Abbott plays the gay, transvestite Earl, whom the family has institutionalized for more than two decades. Clad in pink pajamas, a pink feather boa, and rose-trimmed slippers, Abbott’s Earl, among all these characters, symbolizes the people we most set aside. In watching Abbott work, suddenly we don’t see an actor onstage but instead a true-to-life human being who is hidden and hiding, harmless and hopeless.
   Also embodying the Shores style is Susan Stangl, playing Peggy’s “close” friend Bitsy Mae. Stangl doesn’t laugh at her character; she is the character, feeling her emotions and just “being” onstage. Stangl accompanies herself on guitar as she sings the scene-setting songs in a soothing, appealing voice.
   Kentwood Players chose to use the tamed-language version of the play: The naughtiest word said here is the S-word, though a lot of behavior gets discussed. Fortunately, this version is ample to tell this story of reconciliation and perhaps hope.

July 14, 2014
 
July 11–Aug. 168301 Hindry Ave., Westchester. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 2 hours, including intermission. $20 ($2 discount for seniors, students, servicemen, and Metro riders).(310) 645-5156.

www.kentwoodplayers.org
 
goo.gl/maps/jYTp9
 

 
Always...Patsy Cline
El Portal Theatre & 22Q Entertainment at El Portal Theatre

Reviewed by Dink O’Neal


Sally Struthers and Carter Calvert
Photo by Ed Krieger

Long before concerts of all genres evolved into today’s ever expanding spectacles of pyrotechnical and luminary wizardry and over-amplification, it was the music, lyrics, and an artist’s ability to personally connect with an audience that produced instant stardom. Based on a series of letters between the title character and perhaps her biggest fan, this homage to the late Patsy Cline and her all-too-short rise to stardom captures the essence of a bygone era. Cline’s vocal interpretations of message-laden songs touched the collective heart of America as it enjoyed the last vestiges of an innocence soon to be shattered by Vietnam and our country’s social struggles.
     Written and originally directed by Ted Swindley, this latest incarnation, starring Sally Struthers and Carter Calvert, pairs this incomparable duo for their third run of this piece, as they bring the most self-confident chemistry to the stage. Each moment feels as fresh as if it were happening for the very first time, and the actors’ obvious admiration for each other’s talents is unmistakable.

As Louise Seger, a single mother of two living in Houston, Struthers floods the stage with an effervescent energy that knows no bounds. Having first heard Cline on The Arthur Godfrey Show, Seger’s true-life encounter with Cline at a local honky-tonk concert hall sets this unusual friendship rolling like a freight train. Without a single moment offstage during the entire show, Struthers owns the space as she relays her character’s interactions with one of country-western music’s brightest stars. Whether inhabiting a variety of characters that comprise Louise’s circle of family and friends or yukking it up with Calvert on foot-stomping duets of “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” Struthers demonstrates her well-honed, comedic skills. And when she delivers the inevitably bad news surrounding Cline’s tragic death at age 30 in an airplane accident on March 5, 1963, we see a side to this woman that only an actor of Struthers’s depth can essay. Hers is a tour-de-force performance that must be seen to be believed.
     Likewise, Calvert’s vocal depictions of Cline’s original recordings, spot-on perfect at every turn, are stunning. Demonstrating flawless control, tonality, range, and command of the nuances that elevated Cline above her contemporaries, Calvert is equally at home with ballads and roof-raising up-tempos. Her renditions of “Stupid Cupid,” “Bill Bailey,” and “San Antonio Rose” had the audience singing and clapping along. On the other hand, it was nearly impossible to imagine a dry eye as Calvert brought forth gorgeously simple versions of “I Fall to Pieces,” “You Belong to Me,” “If I Could See the World” and her nearly showstopping performance of Cline’s signature piece “Crazy.”

Of course, Calvert doesn’t perform a cappella. Under the musical direction of John Randall, who plays piano while leading a five-piece onstage combo, the show’s catalogue of 22 of Cline’s most-famous hits comes to life with gusto. Scenic design consultant Bruce Goodrich bookends the band’s centerstage elevated platform with mini-sets depicting Louise’s kitchen and the Houston watering hole where the ladies first crossed paths. Gordon DeVinney’s wardrobe design, particularly Calvert’s never ending array of costumes, brings back beloved memories of the Grand Ol’ Opry’s golden era.
   Perhaps the most moving aspect of this show is the realization of lost opportunities. Cline was more than just a singer. She was an artiste, and it’s through Calvert’s and Struthers’s performances that we can only imagine the songs unsung and what might have been had fate’s cruel hand not taken Cline at such a tender age.

July 15, 2014

July 10–Aug. 3. 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm. $42-46. (818) 508-4200.

www.elportaltheatre.com

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Dixie’s Tupperware Party
Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at Geffen Playhouse

Reviewed by Bob Verini


Dixie Longate
Photo by Bradford Rogne

The good graces of the Geffen Playhouse are responsible for Los Angeles’ introduction to one Dixie Longate: Alabama native, single mom, social critic, and, above all, housewares entrepreneuse in the unveiling of Dixie’s Tupperware Party. This 100-minute interactive theatrical experience—having already cut a successful swath through New York City and numerous other venues—encompasses audience participation and liberal doses of Dixie’s unique brand of Southern-fried personal reminiscence.
   Oh my baby Jesus, does she talk, as the taffeta-clad, bouffant-haired lady herself might put it: yarns about how her parole officer got her started in the Tupperware dodge, her three deceased exes, and the thrill of going to an annual salesladies’ corporate jubilee to celebrate the past year’s biggest earners.
   Make no mistake, by the way: This is a for-real sales event, no foolin’. The chairs of the Geffen’s intimate Audrey space are preset with catalogues, order forms, and complimentary pens (thanks, Dixie!). Before you’re granted exit, you will have seen a couple dozen items paraded before your eyes, stock numbers and all, and just try to get past Dixie and her beaming minions as they pounce to take your order before you can make it out onto LeConte Avenue again. A lot of “the crap,” as Dixie is fond of referring to her wares, needs to be shipped from Tupperware Central, though on opening night there was quite a run on all sorts of bowls, canisters, and gadgets available cash and carry. The lady is, without a doubt, persuasive.
   The provenance of the merchandise is assuredly official Tupperware, but that of the show is couched in some mystery. Director Patrick Richwood makes his presence known through a beaming photo in the program, but the writing is credited to some guy named Kris Andersson, who appears to have something of the same relationship to Dixie that that Australian fellow Barry Humphries has to the celebrated (and frequent visitor to our county) Dame Edna Everage.

In both cases, you don’t want to sniff around too closely; just sit back and wallow in the situation. And there’s plenty to wallow in.
   Dame Edna and Miss Dixie share a good deal more than a certain ambiguity beneath the pantyhose. Both greet their audience members with tender condescension, and both are rampant narcissists exuding self-love at every conceivable opportunity. “Where are you from, darlin’?” Dixie will ask a flustered patron. “London.” “Oh!” the star exclaims, “Hola!”—clearly indicating that in her eyes one furriner is jes’ lak t’other, and, never mind that, can I interest you in this container for marinating meat?
   Speaking of meat, while Edna is no slouch in the naughtiness department, Dixie has her beat by a country mile, with allusions to sexuality that go so far beyond double entendres, they’re just entendres. It starts with the pronunciation of her name (when you say it out loud slowly, the only possible response is, “Why, yes, they certainly do”); followed by rapid-fire references to private parts and demonstrations to boot.
   Prudes will be made uncomfortable by her verbal and visual antics even as they’re drawn to the deep-dish salad crisper, though Dixie clearly couldn’t care less about any ol’ stick-in-the-muds who are bothered. Indeed, one senses she has a wicked evil eye for anyone squirming; bless their hearts, they better watch out.
   Most important, divas Edna and Dixie share an ability to perfectly play their spectators like a musical instrument in order to extract the maximum amount of embarrassed hilarity. When four audience members are placed on stage, one is immediately identified as “lesbian” simply to be the butt of Doc Martens humor, while a young man down front is chosen to stand in for everyone of the male gender who dismisses Tupperware as all about mere bowls. “Ain’t that right, Patrick? Just bow-els, bow-els,” she drawls with frosty hostility.

And say this for Dixie, she picks her targets extremely well: The putative lesbian took it all with good humor, and when poor Patrick took the stage to show how easily the Tupperware can opener works, his 10-minute display of ineptitude justified every bit of skepticism about male competence our hostess had already raised.
   You could quibble and say that while Dame Edna sticks to her guns without ever backing off her nastiness, Dixie takes the time, before her party ends, to lower the lights and get all sincere, the way Don Rickles does when he wants to take some of the heat off his insults. On the other hand, Dixie’s dazzling improv ability is something Edna could well envy, and her brief foray into sentimentality only serves to endear her to us even more.
   I do hope you’ve gotten enough of a taste of the show to know whether it will grab you where you live. I for one thought it was wonderful. And I really love my new can opener.

July 11, 2014
 
July 10–Aug. 3. 10886 Le Conte Ave. (parking around the block adjacent to Trader Joe’s). Tue-Fri 8pm, Sat 3pm & 7pm, Sun 2pm & 7pm. Running time 100 minutes, no intermission. $55–60. (310) 208-5454.

www.geffenplayhouse.com

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