Greenway Court Theatre
Reviewed by Bob Verini
Mary Lou Newmark (behind screen), Charles Reese and Eileen T’Kaye
Photo by Ed Krieger
Greenway Court Theatre’s Breathing Room is a 70-minute metaphysical self-help session, scored to electric violin and synthesizer and incorporating quantum theory. It insists that people are debilitated by overwhelming technological change, and it recommends an extended time-out to develop a fresh perspective on the natural world. With so many theater artists trafficking in campiness, cynicism, and cheap sentiment, it’s refreshing when a show comes along—24th Street Theatre’s Walking the Tightrope was another—determined to make one feel better merely through delicate imagery and leaps of the imagination.
As teased out in the program, Mary Lou Newmark is an electronic composer and performer who was discovering convergences among her personal agitation with modern life, musings on contemporary anomie, and musical interests.
She created a semi-avatar “Marilyn,” described as “a visual artist who was creative but somewhat trapped inside her standards and a little overwhelmed with life,” in tandem with “The Professor,” a mischievous trickster/Yoda type holding the keys to psychic secrets. Their performance art vignettes are now stitched together by director Dan Berkowitz, and though the stitches are showing, a through-line ends up coming across.
Eileen T’Kaye’s Marilyn is fussy and flustered—she maintains a running set of annoyed exhalations, not the most enjoyable or active of character traits—as well as sincere and grounded in her effort to keep it together while expanding her mental horizons.
Charles Reese possesses the combined sweetness and gravitas I associate with the late, great Scatman Crothers. If he overdoes the twee “Magic to Do” invitational affect at times, he brings clarity and excitement to the merging of arcane concepts like quantum wave function (QWF) to trips to a retail store or interactions with forest creatures.
The actors make for an engaging New Age vaudeville team, presenting their anecdotal concerns and exploring possible remedies. All the while, Newmark is half-seen behind a leafy scrim stage right, offering musical accompaniment now playfully soaring, now scorching like a cello.
I found myself wishing that Newmark had given something for Marilyn to be really pissed off about, so that her spiritual quest could have some guts. I also yearned for The Professor to make some discoveries, not just reveal them with puckish delight.
But then I reminded myself that character conflict and growth are the domain of traditional drama. They’re simply inappropriate to the performance art genre and, particularly, to the kind of balletic chalk talk Berkowitz and Newmark have built.
When I just gave myself over to the melodies and images and let the concepts wash over me, I actually experienced a slight (if not quantum) sensory shift. Perhaps there’s something to this idea of watching an osprey pounce from his point of view, instead of that of oneself or of the prey. Maybe popping the QWF—pronounced “quaff,” a buzzword Newmark purveys heavily here—isn’t such a bad idea.
It’s not inconceivable that you too will feel like a better, or more whole, or just more aware, person at the end of Breathing Room. Probably more so than me, even. Still, the entire event is an emphatic reaction against splashy vulgarity, so those inclined to the campy, cynical, or sentimental might prefer to seek their healing elsewhere.
On the other hand, they might do best to hurry over to the Greenway Court without delay. Succor is in such short supply these days.
October 5, 2015
3–25. 544 N. Fairfax Blvd. (free parking adjacent to the theater). Sat
2pm & 8pm, Sun 7pm. Running time 70 minutes, no intermission.
$25-35. (323) 655-7679 x100.
Greenway Court Theatre
Awake and Sing!
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
James Morosini and Marilyn Fox
Photo by Ron Sossi
When Awake and Sing! was produced in 1935, it was a transformative experience for theatergoers. Playwright Clifford Odets was an early member of the Group Theatre in New York, a lab for Stanislavski’s system of acting with a shared commitment among the collective for social change through theater. Among the most prominent members were Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and Elia Kazan.
The youthful Odets wrote Waiting for Lefty, acclaimed for its call for progressive remedies for workers, including unionization. Its success led to Awake and Sing! in 1935, less fiery but still espousing reform for economic injustice in the aftermath of the Depression.
In Awake and Sing!, the modest Bronx apartment of the Jewish Berger family is the setting for the unfolding story of the sometimes contentious clan. Bessie (Marilyn Fox); her father, Jacob (Allan Miller); her ineffectual but optimistic husband, Myron (Robert Lesser); Bessie and Myron’s edgy grown daughter, Hennie (Melissa Paladino); and their 22-year-old son, Ralph (James Morosini), co-exist in the small but well-kept lodging (nicely articulated living space by Pete Hickok).
In the mix are Bessie’s affluent brother, Morty (Richard Fancy), and Moe Axelrod (David Agranov), a cynical family friend whose pugnacious and brash manner adds spice to the dialogue and underscores a simmering tension between Hennie and him. It has just been learned that Hennie is pregnant. To satisfy Bessie’s desires for respectability, she wields her considerable influence and forces Hennie to marry Sam (Gary Patent), a Russian man she doesn’t love who is courting her.
Odets chose an often utilized three-act format, and once the scene is set, the second act a year later contains the dolorous elements of the story. Ralph falls in love, but Bessie is contemptuous of the penniless orphan girl he has chosen. Jacob, in spite of being bullied by his daughter, encourages Ralph to break free and find a fulfilling life. He counsels, “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” For a brief time, Odets was a member of the Communist Party, and some of Jacob’s Marxist imprecations are left-leaning and express a strong social conscience.
Fox’s austere characterization reflects bitter disappointment in her marriage and a seeming disregard for the happiness of any of her family members. She seems a slightly darker character than Odets envisioned, and the only affection she shows is for her brother, but it is obvious in her manner that his wealth is the contributing factor. Fancy is spot-on as the self-satisfied and arrogant merchant, touting his superiority over the group and clashing with Jacob over political ideology. Miller is appealing as the gentle and frustrated idealist.
Odets envisioned the play with comedic touches, somewhat lost in this grim portrayal of dreams and romance lost. Agranov comes closest to capturing lighter moments as he snipes away at the family. Paladino delivers a despondent Hennie, but some of her spunk returns as she and Moe decide to abandon convention and leave to seek happiness.
The ensemble is well-cast and directed by Elina de Santos, reprising an earlier production she helmed 20 years ago at the Odyssey. Notable in this cast are Patent, who manages to wring all the anguish out of his hopeless marriage, and Morosini, whose youth is seemingly crushed by circumstance. He makes the transition from helplessness to optimism believable. Lesser makes a sympathetic foil for Fox’s harsh iron will. The ensemble creates a cohesive whole and delivers skilled characterizations.
Costumes by Kim DeShazo are effective, and Leigh Allen’s lighting design sets the appropriate mood. Sound designer Christopher Moscatiello achieves a 1930s flavor with Caruso recordings and radio broadcasts.
Odets’s choice to conclude the events with an illusory happy ending for all is probably less realistic than the exposition suggests, but it ties up all the ends satisfactorily for the audience. At least Ralph finds strength within himself and hope for the future.
A revival of Odets’s play seems fitting as some of the same uncertainties exist in today’s political and economic climate. The dialogue is certainly dated and solutions to their problems would be handled much differently today, but as a glimpse into America’s theatrical past, it is thought-provoking.
September 28, 2015
26–Nov. 29. 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West LA. Fri–Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm (Thu
8pm in Oct. and Nov.). $15–34. (310) 477-2055 ext. 2.
One Slight Hitch
Torrance Theatre Company
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Shirley Hatton, David McGee, and Makenzie Browning
Photo by Michelle Browning
Lewis Black is the standup comedian who delivers prodding rants punctuated by his crooked and wriggling index fingers. He’s rather genius, assuming one agrees with his views.
He has written handfuls of plays, too, and his One Slight Hitch is in production at Torrance Theatre Company through Oct. 11. “If my name weren’t on it, nobody would know that I wrote this play,” he is quoted as saying.
But not for the reasons he seems to be implying. He’s a bright man, he reportedly fell in love with theater at age 12, he holds an MFA from Yale School of Drama. One couldn’t prove any of this by his play.
It takes place in 1981 on the wedding day of Courtney Coleman (Kay Capasso). She’s scheduled to marry Harper, her straitlaced boyfriend of only a short while. But somehow she and her parents keep referring to Harper as Ryan.
We learn some of this, and more, from Courtney’s sister, P.B. (Makenzie Browning), who narrates via voiceover because she’s looking back on this day from the present and because her 16-year-old, onstage self is made oblivious by massive headphones that blast the hits of 1981. Courtney’s other sister, Melanie (Collette Rutherford), ought to be made oblivious by the massive amount of booze she drinks.
As Courtney’s family gets ready for the wedding, cracks appear in the nuptial joy. Driving the dramaturgical wedge into that joy is the unexpected arrival of Ryan (Johan Badh), Courtney’s recently dumped boyfriend.
Ryan wants to be the Jack Kerouac of the 1980s, including all that entails. He’s the antithesis of the steady Harper (Ryan Shapiro), who, once he’s clued in on the hitch, takes the lunacy with noble good nature.
It’s pretty standard farcical fare, as Ryan gets shoved out of the way into either the living-room closet or the puzzlingly right-off-the-living-room shower—this odd architecture a fault of the script, not of the direction.
But director Glenn Kelman’s casting may have contributed to one of the most troubling misfires here. David McGee and Shirley Hatton play Dr. and Mrs. Coleman, Courtney’s parents. Whatever the political leanings of these fine actors may be, onstage here they don’t look like the Reaganites of the script. In a play like this, the audience judges characters by their looks, and these two look like hippies. It doesn’t help that McGee’s Doc wanders around the house in an unbuttoned short-sleeved shirt, his undershirt on proud display.
Harper’s parents show up at the house, but Black keeps them out of sight, and McGee’s aptitude for comedy shines in Doc’s monologue delivered out the front door as he unhospitably struggles to prevent the travelers from entering or otherwise discovering the goings-on inside.
Rutherford, a highly skilled actor, must have wrestled mightily with her underwritten character, a nurse who cares deeply about healing, yet who drinks astonishing quantities of liquor after an all-nighter and on the morning of her sister’s wedding. Does Melanie love Courtney? Does she lust after Ryan or does she want Ryan to marry Courtney? Can Melanie walk into the backyard on this summer afternoon, wearing a satin full-length bridesmaid’s dress and all that big hair, and not be toppling over from inebriation?
Rutherford is also saddled with a nurse’s outfit that’s too short and too tight, apparently scripted thusly. But the highlight of Diana Mann’s costuming may be Ryan’s “Star Wars” boxers, which, for those who live in either hope or fear when Ryan emerges from the shower, wrapped in a towel, get revealed by the teasing Melanie.
Black hints early on about the play’s denouement. “Can I have a real life and still write?” Courtney muses. “Courtney will have the wedding that we never had,” her mother notes. In between, his dialogue takes ungainly turns to move the plot, but at least the plot suits the characters and their personal histories.
And at least here, Kelman and the cast approach this production with such commitment and conviviality that it’s hard to totally dislike the play. One other aspect draws our admiration. Mrs. Coleman has enough self-awareness to know why she wants this wedding so desperately: Her generation was shredded by war, and now wants to see her children’s oblivious generation come back to life.
September 14, 2015
Republished with kind permission of Daily Breeze
DOMA Theatre Company at MET Theatre
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Jess Ford and Andrew Diego
Photo by Michael Lamont
Fifteen years ago, when superpower band Green Day decided to produce a rock opera paying homage to The Who, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, who is credited for writing 98 percent of the Green Day’s most celebrated music, created the dynamically screwed up anti-hero Jesus of Suburbia. When the effort catapulted into the band’s 2004 album American Idiot, it was a worldwide success and won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2005.
In 2009, Armstrong collaborated with Green Day fan and Broadway director Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Tony winner for Spring Awakening) to turn the band’s Tommy-like concept into a stage musical. First mounted at Berkeley Rep, the theatrical version of American Idiot went on to New York, rocking out the venerable St. James Theatre for more than a year.
LA’s decade-old DOMA Theatre Company, which has been turning out some surprisingly massive and well-appointed productions for almost a decade, is a perfect match for Green Day’s loud and irreverent musical, which follows Johnny (Jess Ford), the Jesus of this show’s particular suburbia, who, with his two buddies Will (Wesley Moran) and Tunny (Chris Kerrigan), dreams in song of leaving the restrictive environment in which they grew up, ready to rebel by singing and rocking their way into the big city.
Things don’t work out so well for Will, whose wife leaves him with their infant son because he never seems to get off his couch, rise from his smoky haze, and put down his ever-present bong. Tunny, too, ends up in an unexpected state, whisked into the army and returning from one of America’s horrifying desert wars in a wheelchair.
Still, we follow Johnny the most closely, as his initiation into disenchanted youthful urban existence brings him into contact with Whatshername (Renee Cohen), who introduces him to her politically active and rebellious lifestyle, and St. Jimmy (Andrew Diego), who gets him high on a series of increasingly more debilitating street drugs.
After the perils of our disintegrating society and the bitterness of life in the real world nearly kill all three heroes, each returns to his hometown. Although it would be more satisfying if the guys discovered how to conquer their demons rather than retreat back to the place that shaped them, hopefully along the way their eyes have been opened to things none of them would have understood without their bellyflop into contemporary chaos.
But that’s fodder for American Idiot II, which in a perfect world should include a palpable sense of the era just past the one when the original album was released, a time when our country’s young’uns were forced to come of age through 9/11, as well as during the Iraqi War and conflicts in Afghanistan and across the globe.
Director Marco Gomez and his design team, especially Michael Mullen, who presumably on a shoestring created some the flashiest, most whimsical and creative costuming seen on any LA stage this year, join to lift this production way beyond the usual limitations of typical 99-Seat theater productions of large-scale musicals.
Musical director Chris Raymond and his excellent band add immensely to the mix, as do the generally balls-out performances by the principal players. One small criticism: Although the denizens of American Idiot are all purdy much continuously in pain, it would be a better character choice if every song and every spoken line were not delivered with a tortured expression and the appearance of emanating from a dying beast.
Especially when assaying Angela Todaro’s energetic and highly athletic choreography, the wildly fearless and spirited chorus of 17 knockout young triple-threats collectively liquefy together, wondrously becoming like one more principal character in the story, reminiscent of the townspeople in Evita who also often moved across the stage as one communal mass of humanity.
Of the talented ranks, it would be remiss not to mention the Joplin-esque vocal calisthenics of Sandra Diana Cantu, as well as the überanimated, appropriately over-bleached Kevin Corsini, one of the tallest ensemble members whose unruly crown of straw glows brightly under Jean-Yves Tessier’s exquisitely atmospheric lighting.
Green Day’s most popular tunes re-created in the musical—including “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” which became a message against governmental avarice and ineptitude after the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the title song and “Holiday,” both part of the Green Day’s in-your-face score and Armstrong’s literate and often depressing book and lyrics—clearly express an entire generation’s dissent over the actions initiated by our government in our own country and across the globe.
Underlying the musical’s sometimes simplistic plotline is a conscious message shouting out against corporate greed and unnecessary war, something that overpowers any minor clumsiness. Add in a cast this charismatic and such knockout production values, and this is a miraculous mounting of the musical not to be overlooked.
June 11, 2015
Oct. 2–18. 1089 N. Oxford Ave., LA. Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm (dark July 4).
General admission $30; VIP admission (includes reserved seating and a
complimentary snack and beverage), $34.99; seniors and students with ID
$20. (323) 802-9181.
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
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