Pie in the Sky
Victory Theatre Center
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
K Callan and Laurie O'Brien
The world premiere of Lawrence Thelen’s lovely little two-hander Pie in the Sky has a unique hook: As the play’s rural mother and daughter banter about their lives and loves and lifelong differences in the middle of the night in an Abilene, Texas, trailer park, they peel apples, measure out brown sugar, manipulate “store bought” crust into submission, and bake a pie. Actually bake a pie. Live. Onstage.
Not only is the Little Victory filled with warmth and sweetness from the quietly heartfelt performances of K Callan and Laurie O’Brien, but by the time the oven’s timer dings, the intoxicating and comforting smell of homemade apple pie permeates the entire playing space—and those in attendance, suffering the Pavlov’s dog effect from the aroma, are treated post-performance to a bite of the ladies’ culinary creation.
Thelen’s story is simple, and the familial revelations Mama (Callan) divulges to her lonely widowed daughter Dory (O’Brien) as they shuffle about the trailer’s kitchen at 4am are surely shocking to her, yet for the audience, most everything that’s revealed is rather predictable, especially the ending. Anyone who does not guess ahead of time what’s about to happen when that fateful final timer buzzes has to be thinking more about the smell of pie baking than the characters in the drama and the constant hints they’re dropping.
Despite moments when it appears the chopping and coring and measuring and mixing of some of the dessert’s ingredients, not to mention Dory’s constant eye-rolling over her mother’s demands and inappropriate comments, are robbing viewers of our precious and fleeting time on the planet, what makes it all work are the sincerity and downhome spirit of these two veteran actors and the insightful leadership of their director, Maria Gobetti.
Life is full of little secrets, as Dory’s feisty octogenarian mother proclaims, and just when we think we’re starting to figure it all out, it starts to fall apart. “Peel, slice, stir, repeat” is Mama’s mantra, the repetition of which would be the downfall of Thelen’s Pie in the Sky if it were not for the serendipitous inclusion of this production’s triumvirate of world-class talents, three strong and incredibly gifted artists named Gobetti, Callan, and O’Brien.
April 2, 2017
31–May 21. 3324 W. Victory Blvd. Ample street parking is available;
additional parking at the Northwest Branch Library, directly across from
the theater. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 4pm. $24-34. (818)
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Photo courtesy L.A. Live
There’s not much doubt Absinthe, which played to packed houses at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas from 2011 until last year, is a blatant rip-off of a certain mega-successful French-Canadian circus conglomerate. That said, there’s also no contest that if Zumanity, that company’s sexually charged permanent attraction at New York-New York Hotel and Casino, can be billed as “The Other Side of Cirque du Soleil,” Absinthe could be dubbed “The Farthest Nether Regions of Zumanity.” It’s shudder-inducing to think just what the creators of this show, with their 600-seat “Spiegeltent” now plopped down for an indefinite run at L.A. Live, could do with the term “nether regions.”
This production could make Zumanity look like Mary Poppins, if raunchiness is the judging point. It goes far beyond anything ever envisioned by those innovative imagineers from Montreal, from exposed skin to incredibly inappropriate comments shouted over the loudspeakers by emcee The Gazillionaire, supposedly the show’s owner, and his uber-horny assistant Penny Pibbets (whether these people are for real or actors is something of a secret, it seems). The bossman uses the F-word more frequently than Lenny Bruce ever could imagine.
Between his constantly XXX-rated commentary and continuous attempts to offend anyone in the first two rows—the embarrassed victims dubbed with labels such as the Black Guy, the White Hippie Dude, the row of Gays, the Chinese Chick, and the Orange County Republican, he tells jokes like, “What do you get when you cross a German and a Mexican?” Answer: Beanerschnitzel. Penny talks a lot about her varying degree of vaginal wetness, introducing acts such as the hunky Mexico City–based Los Dos Tacos with salty running dialogue about the acrobats smelling like penis and Ax Body Spray and proclaiming them so hot that Tom Cruise would love to…um…pleasure himself while watching them.
Through the over-the-top adult humor, heartfelt vocals by the wonderfully Joplin-esque Green Fairy, and a turn from a lovely tassel-turning stripper named Misty West 88th Street, Absinthe’s typical gravity-evading circus performers from around the globe do their thing. Among others, there’s an incredibly dangerous roller-skating act called The Twizzlers, who work so close to the Spiegeltent’s audience seated in the round that they’re warned not to move or worse yet, stand up; the seemingly boneless Silicon Valley Girls trio, who bend in places no human should be able to; the graceful and gorgeous Girl in the Bubble, who accomplishes an unearthly rubbery dance writhing around a gigantic clear plastic globe; and the chiseled Matt Matterhorn, who uses poles to exhibit his amazing gymnastic prowess. Oh, and we’re told by Penny that the Bubble Girl and Mr. Matterhorn are dating so we should all just close our eyes and fantasize about the positions they can get into together.
The Gazillionaire’s introduction for the knockout antics of the balancing quartet The Lost Boys refers to them as four meatheads “from Belarus or Russia or the Ukraine” who resemble 1,000 pounds of beef stroganoff, speak no English whatsoever, and, between vodka shots, use their athletic prowess to try to fly out through the roof of the tent since they have never been able to lose the urge to defect.
The most beautiful and jaw-dropping performance of all is assayed by the balletic, garden fairy–like Flying Farquhars, shaggy blond twins (we’re told) from Armenia who perform a gossamer, incredibly sensual aerial pas-de-deux far above our heads, restrained only by what unambiguously resembles bondage straps. If that horny Penny wasn’t wet after their act, she must be acting after all.
Absolute Vodka and other heady potions are hawked endlessly from the moment one enters the tent and continue to flow even during the performance, servers passing drinks down through the aisles like the donation box at a Jerry Falwell revival meeting. Oddly, however, no libations are necessary to get high watching Absinthe—the show itself will make you reel.
March 27, 2017
March 22 “for a limited engagement.” 1005 Chick Hearn Ct., downtown LA.
Tue-Wed 7:30pm, Thu-Sat 7:30pm & 9:30pm, Sun 5:30pm and 7:30pm.
“Starting at $49.”
A Noise Within
Reviewed by Mindy Schupmann
Emily Goss and Matt Gall
Photo by Craig Schwartz
In his nearly 30 years of playwriting, Eugene O’Neill experimented with myriad stage conventions, winning Pulitzer and Nobel prizes. Though most of his dramas were melancholy or tragic, in 1932 he penned a comedy that portrays the Miller family of Connecticut on the Fourth of July, 1906. Its protagonist is almost-17-year-old Richard (Matt Gall), certainly O’Neill’s alter ego, who is flush with first love and bursting with ideas culled from classic literature his mother finds improper for a boy his age.
The family also consists of younger brother Tommy (Samuel Genghis Christian); younger sister Mildred (Katie Hume); elder brother Arthur (Ian Littleworth); father Nat (Nicholas Hormann); mother Essie (Deborah Strang); Nat’s sister, Lily (Kitty Swink); and Essie’s brother, Sid (Alan Blumenfeld). The conflict for Richard is that his love, Muriel (Emily Goss), has written Richard a note ending their relationship as commanded by her father (Marcelo Tubert), who has found love letters quoting poetry from said books that he finds scandalous. In his despair, Richard goes on a double date with Arthur’s friend, Wint Selby (a breezy Conor Sheehan), who takes him to a bar where he meets a prostitute, Belle (Emily Kosloski), and gets drunk. Returning home, he faces his parents, who discuss what punishment he should receive.
As simple as the story is, under the skilled direction of Steven Robman and with a superb cast, the story unfolds with many opportunities to examine a family dynamic, love in its many forms, and ideas and ideals nostalgically depicted.
Strang and Hormann are pluperfect as Richard’s parents, penned by O’Neill with just the right amount of loving and wise concern. Swink and Blumenfeld are also excellent as characters who can’t consummate their relationship, as Lily can’t overcome her aversion to his drinking, and he seemingly is too weak to make a success of his life. All four bring depth to their characterizations.
Gall’s characterization of Richard is multifaceted and touching as he navigates the waters of adulthood. When he discovers that Muriel is still in love with him, his naivete and youthful exuberance make for tender and delightful moments. Goss is charming as Richard’s sweetheart.
Littleworth, Hume, and Christian make for wonderful, period-perfect siblings, enhanced by Garry D. Lennon’s excellent costume design and just the right touch of ’30s sensibilities. Tubert ably portrays a stuffy prude as Muriel’s father, and Kosloski is also fine as the slightly racy working girl. Kelsey Carthew makes the most of Norah, the stereotypical family serving girl, and Matthew Henerson is a hearty salesman who helps Richard home from the bar.
Director Robman has interjected musical numbers performed by the actors into the story from the time period that serve as atmosphere and enhance the scene changes and passages of time. They are a diverting addition to the production, music-directed by Jonathan Tessero. Frederica Nascimento’s simple scenic design and Tom Ontiveros’s lighting design also enhance the play.
This is a glimpse into a less complicated period, often attributed to O’Neill’s desire for the life he didn’t have growing up but wished for. It is a staple of American theater, and A Noise Within presents a polished and enjoyable production.
March 22, 2017
Through May 20. 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. Repertory schedule. $48–76. (626) 356-3100 ext. 1.
At Home At the Zoo
Lovelace Studio Theater at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Troy Kotsur and Russell Harvard
Photo by Kevin Parry
Edward Albee received his first recognition when his groundbreaking one-act The Zoo Story, written in 1958, first grabbed New York by its theatrical short hairs in 1960 after debuting in Berlin the year before. It has remained one of his most-celebrated works, the first signal to the world of the prolific genius that was to follow before his death at age 88 last September.
In 2007, the equally prolific and artistically unstoppable Deaf West Theatre mounted its extraordinary version of The Zoo Story starring two of its finest company stalwarts, Troy Kotsur and Tyrone Giordano, who signed the play’s rushing explosion of ideas while speaking actors stood nearby, watching the story unfold as they delivered Albee’s torrential dialogue. It was the culmination of a longtime respect and love affair between the playwright and Deaf West, which began several years earlier when the company contemplated mounting Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf starring Phyllis Frelich.
That production never came to be, but the relationship it fostered remained. In 2004, working under a commission from Hartford Stage Company, Albee created a prequel to The Zoo Story, titled Homelife, exploring the moments before Peter heads to what he hopes will be a quiet corner of Central Park where he can read a book and smoke his pipe in peace. Instead he meets a troubled stranger named Jerry, who insists Peter stick around so he can tell him what just happened to him during his visit to Central Park Zoo.
The two plays have been jointly titled At Home At the Zoo, and Deaf West was a logical choice to be awarded permission for the LA debut of the expanded work—not only with the blessings of the author, who insisted on personal approval in granting rights for all his works, but even with Albee talking about being in attendance. Unfortunately, the tenuous financial times postponed those plans, and now that the production has finally come to fruition in collaboration with the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Deaf West and director Coy Middlebrook have had to make magic happen without its creator nearby.
Albee would have been mighty proud. Homelife brings to the story a clear reason why Peter (Kotsur, who reprises his arresting 2007 turn in the role) becomes so intent on defending his masculinity as he and Jerry (the phenomenal Russell Harvard, who rocks the role until March 16, when Giordano takes over) devolve from respectful pleasantries into a violent confrontation as each defends possession of the public bench each considers his own personal property.
Kotsur (voiced by Jake Eberle) is brilliantly subtle in what at first seems to be the less complex role, as Peter tries diligently to communicate in the first act with his loving but sexually frustrated wife Ann (Amber Zion, voiced by Paige Lindsey White), who is desperate to find some new excitement in their predictably complacent relationship. Ann loves her reserved book-editor husband, their daughters, parakeets, cats, and the life they’ve established together in their comfortable upper-middle-class Eastside Manhattan apartment.
Of course, only Albee could take their conversation where it goes, from a 10-minute discussion about circumcision to Peter’s eventual confession chronicling the bloody details of a suppressed brutal sexual encounter during a drunken college frat party. By the time designer Karyl Newman’s slickly 1970s New York flat revolves into massive backlit triangles of fall-like Central Park views, what makes Peter stick around and listen to the increasingly more delusional Jerry (mesmerically voiced as in 2007 by Jeff Alan-Lee) is explained for the first time as his tormentor delivers his infamous lengthy rant about his encounter with his drunken landlady’s dog.
Middlebrook does an exceptional job staging what could be a painfully static two hours of Albee’s familiarly complex dialogue. Deaf West chooses its projects based on how successfully a play can be translated into American Sign Language, and At Home At the Zoo is a perfect match. There’s a kind of expressive style, a remarkably innocent freedom and grace that identifies the performances of most hearing-impaired actors, which beautifully accents and pays homage to the signature gifts of one of the last century’s bravest and most thought-provoking wordsmiths.
March 16, 2017
10–March 26. 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills. Tue-Fri 8pm, Sat
2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm & 7pm. $60. (310)
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