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Ruskin Group Theatre
Reviewed by Julio Martinez
Julia Arian, Kathleen O'Grady, and Mark Rimer
Photo by Ed Krieger
Playwright Kathrine Bates bases this world premiere on the true story of middle-aged factory worker Thomas Montgomery’s deranged, murderous Internet chatroom obsession with a supposed teenage girl—as chronicled in Barbara Schroeder’s 2009 film documentary, talhotblond. Since all the tawdry, cold-blooded facts of this case have been well-chronicled, it is expected that Bates would imbue her play with insights that go beyond the mere events leading up to the 2006 murder of Montgomery’s 22-year-old co-worker and Internet rival for this provocative teen’s online affections. As realized by helmer Beverly Olevin and a struggling ensemble, Bates’s straight-ahead dramatic throughline offers no intriguing, revelatory twists or turns; it simply gets there.
The 90-minute intermissionless piece establishes that 47-year-old Thomas (Mark Rimer) and factory office-mate/part-time college student Alan (John-Paul Lavoisier, alternating with Lane Compton) enjoy an amiable workplace relationship, sharing a mutual attraction to online gaming and casual Internet chatroom distractions to relieve the boredom of the job. Interjecting himself into mix is sarcastic young office clerk Pete (Oscar Cain Rodriguez). When online hottie Jennie (Erin Elizabeth Patrick), AKA talhotblond, insinuates her presence onto his screen and eventually into his psyche, emotionally fragile Thomas’s civil façade begins to crumble.
Rimer works hard at bringing to life the often-redundant scenarios in Thomas’s frustrating courtship of provocatively elusive Jennie; his self-destructive relationship with wife, Cheryl (Kathleen O’Grady), and teenage daughter, Gwen (Julia Arian); and his deep-seated regret about his youthful, failed service in the US Marines—as indicated by his online alter ego, Tommy Marine Sniper (Ben Gavin). But by play’s end, Rimer’s Thomas runs out of material on which to base his angst, so he plows ragingly forward to Bates’s tragic conclusion.
The playwright provides a few interesting plot points along Thomas’s path of destruction—Cheryl’s discovery of Thomas’s online improprieties and her spiteful communication with Jennie, resulting in Jennie’s vengeful pursuit of Alan—that offer other members of the cast colorful levels to play. O’Grady segues impressively from confused, conciliatory hausfrau to steely-eyed protector of the home front. Patrick conveys a comical pouty resentment when she learns she has been investing her sultry online assets on an aging fraud. And, Arian’s Gwen knows how to be a teenager, exuding the decreasing allegiance of a daughter who has who has reached a maturity that emotionally distances her from her father.
Lavoisier’s Alan appears more confused than alarmed by Thomas’s increasing irrationalism and never establishes a level of veracity when Alan also becomes ensnared by Jennie’s online-transcending allure. Because Jennie’s continuing evasiveness isn’t credible, neither are Alan’s reactions. Rodriguez is properly irreverent as wisecracking Pete but hasn’t quite mastered the supposedly easy flow of Pete’s dialogue. Gavin’s woodenness as Marine Sniper should be alleviated by more time with the role. And Mary Carrig’s Rose Shieler—the middle-aged Internet deceiver who actually ensnared the hearts of these two fallible men—projects a believable smug pride in being able to pull it off.
Jeff Faeth’s set, Mike Reilly’s lighting, and Marc Olevin’s sound do much to establish the complicated environments surrounding this Internet-age tragedy within the limited playing area of the Ruskin.
March 11, 2014
7–April 26. 3000 Airport Ave. (Free parking in the lot in front of the
theater.) Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm. Running time 90 minutes, no
intermission. $20-25. (310) 397-3244.
My Name Is Asher Lev
Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja, and Joel Polis
Photo by Ed Krieger
The novel My Name Is Asher Lev, by the late Chaim Potok, is a bildungsroman about the youth and coming of age of a young artist, whose vocation as a painter puts him at odds with his religious faith, his family, and his community. The novel offers an interior drama, as well as an expansive view covering a period of 20 years with a multitude of characters.
This left Aaron Posner, who was adapting the novel for the stage, with a dilemma. “…I wanted the focus to be on Asher,” Posner has said. “His passionate perspective had to be at the center. Yet…I felt sure that a sprawling, multicharacter realistic drama would not successfully portray Asher’s particular struggle.” Posner’s solution, after much thought and work, was to pare away everything except the crux of the story and to employ only three actors: one to play Asher, and the other two to play his parents and all the other important people in his life.
Asher is born into the narrow, strict, passionately devout Hasidic Jewish community in Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y. He is, almost from infancy, dedicated to drawing, arousing anger and resentment in his father, who can’t understand why the boy wants to waste his time on that nonsense instead of working and cultivating his faith. The mother, Rivka, is more sympathetic, but she’s forced to become a buffer between her strong-willed husband and her equally stubborn son.
Things come to a head when the embattled father discovers that his son is drawing pictures of naked women and, worse still, of the Crucifixion. It seems to the old man that his son has gone over to the enemy, embracing everything that is forbidden, evil, and inimical to the Jewish cause. Asher is able to able to partially mollify his father by invoking the traditions of the art world. “I understand tradition,” the old man says. But the gap between them continues to widen as the demands of an artist’s life are increasingly at odds with the values he grew up with. Finally, Asher is forced to realize that there is no way to reconcile the conflicting points of view, and he must make a gut-wrenching choice.
All too often, theater has treated art and religious belief facilely and simplistically, but Posner, and Potok, have pondered these matters long and hard, and accord them the dignity and complexity they deserve.
Director Stephen Sachs has assembled a terrific trio of actors for his production, and he directs them with sensitivity and finesse. Jason Karasev etches a persuasive portrait of Asher, from his childhood as a willful but winning kid, to his shy and puritanical adolescence as a young Hasid who’s terrified of the prospect of doing a life drawing of a naked woman, to his growing worldliness as a gifted and successful artist.
Anna Khaja reveals her versatility as the anguished mother Rivka, an insouciant but tactful artist’s model, and a rich, sophisticated, and knowledgeable gallery owner. Joel Polis skillfully plays an even greater variety of roles, including the hide-bound, fiercely protective father; Rivka’s bon vivant brother; the elderly Rebbe who is the Hasidic community’s spiritual leader; and the secular Jew and dedicated painter who teaches Asher that his art makes demands that are just as fierce as those of his religion.
February 24, 2014
22–May 18. 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood. Secure, on-site parking,
$5.Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 1 hour and 45 minutes, no
intermission. $25-34. (323) 663-1525.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Kelly and Sal Viscuso
Photo by Enci
A steady rain falls on the lives of two Chicago cops,
but it can’t wash away the pain and hatred and guilt that live in them.
Though one seems to be the “good cop” and the other “bad,” nothing is
clear-cut in this Keith Huff play.
We hope pilots aren’t fretting
about their stock portfolios and heart surgeons aren’t fuming over a
fight they had with their spouses the night before, at the time when we
need their attention the most. But the two beat cops here were clearly
distracted while ostensibly patrolling. Frustration has been simmering
in Joey and Denny because they’ve been passed over for promotions to
detective. Denny is intent on crushing the dealer/pimp whom Denny
believes threw a rock into the front window of his family home. And one
of the cops is in love with the other one’s wife. Distractions, indeed.
When the pair misses clear signals that a young boy needs the help of
the police, theatrical tragedy strikes.
There are a few moments here
when director Jeff Perry overdoes. At one point, seemingly to
differentiate time and place and purpose, he puts one of his actors
under only a single light, the rest of the stage in blackness, and then
never does it again. Either one of us among the audience missed the
point, or Perry didn’t trust his audience to get the import of the
moment. This script does not need ornamentation. It needs the kind of
subtle work he and his cast do the rest of the time.
And so, Perry
and actors Thomas Vincent Kelly and Sal Viscuso immerse themselves in
this cold, dark, rainy world for an engrossing hour and a half. The
actors play best friends from childhood, cops who toe a thin blue line
between law enforcement and vigilantism, men who watch over each other
but perhaps aren’t the best guardians. Viscuso seethes and Kelly
shrinks. Kelly melts and Viscuso congeals. Viscuso gets defensive and
Kelly defends. For the most part, Viscuso’s Denny is the “bad cop,” but
he acts out of misplaced loyalty and out of stubbornness born of
prejudices, so we pity more than loathe him. Kelly’s Joey acts out of
loneliness, filling a void where he sees one, landing a bit of
right-place-right-time luck whether or not he deserves it.
Perry’s direction here at its best, the actors, sharply focused and
painting in small strokes, create a world the audience can clearly feel.
And what a relief it is when the actors take their bows and we can
leave that dangerous, brother-against-brother, world behind and get in
out of the rain.
February 27, 2014
Feb. 22–May 11. 2055 S.
Sepulveda Blvd., West LA. There is wheelchair access. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun
2pm. Also selected Weds and Thurs. Running time 1 hour, 40 minutes, no
intermission. $12.50-30. (310) 477-2055.
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
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.
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
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
David Ives, The Liar, Antaeus Company
Nancy Keystone, Alcestis, The Theatre @ Boston Court
Jessica Kubzansky, R II, The Theatre @ Boston Court
Joe Iconis, The Black Suits, Kirk Douglas Theatre
John Kander and Fred Ebb, The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre
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
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
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
Ken Merckx, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within
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
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
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
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
Lorenzo Pisoni, Humor Abuse, Mark Taper Forum
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
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
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
January 5, 2014