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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
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
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)
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
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.
Dixie’s Tupperware Party
Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at Geffen Playhouse
Reviewed by Bob Verini
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. 31. 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.
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