the nearly four decades since HIV/AIDS, once referred to as the “gay
disease,” brought worldwide scorn and judgment to those living an
alternate lifestyle, close to 40 million people have died, and today
37.6 million people are living with the scourge of it. Aside from the
great sorrow AIDS has brought to our world, the disease has also become a
major source of discrimination against the gay community—mainly by all
those self-aggrandizing conservative religious bigots who pretend to
live under their savior’s pleas to practice charity and nonjudgment.
“I’ve felt indelibly stained,” one participant in QueerWise’s unforgettable new performance piece Shades of Disclosure
admits, “by the sickness I’ve brought on myself.” For the 17
participants in this eye-opening testimonial experience courageously
telling the stories of how HIV/AIDS has affected their lives, such
honesty is the norm, not the exception. Michael Kearns, the tireless
LA-based writer-actor–AIDS activist who originated the concept for the
evening 31 years ago when AIDS/US first debuted on this stage,
masterfully directs now, when Shades could not be more timely in this frightening era when our freedom suddenly feels desperately precarious.
The participants, who collectively wage war on our society’s damaging
and demeaning labels—all but two of whom play themselves and read the
stories they crafted based on their own personal experiences—relate
their tale to 16-year-old Sophie Kim, a LGBTQ activist at
Harvard-Westlake High School who found a home in QueerWise after coming
out to her parents at 14. As she videos their comments, one by one the
members of the eclectic ensemble recount who they are and how they—and
we all—are connected despite our differences.
The members of QueerWise include
writers, spoken word artists, social workers, and educators who commit
their efforts to create and perform events such as this. Noted actors
such as Darrell Larson, who bravely explains how his diagnosis led to
admitting his lifestyle to his wife and daughter and signaled the end of
his marriage, is joined by transgendered psychotherapist—and knockout
guitarist—Jessie Jacobson, who shakily faces her patients while trying
to grapple with her own identity; floundering young nomad Mason Mahoney,
wondering if there will be a place for a biracial gay man in the
current climate of America; Guatemalan immigrant Roland Palencia, who
fears for his own future in his adopted country; and Kim’s teacher from
Harvard-Westlake, who wonders if her youthful student will grow up to
love and fight for the rights we, her elders, fought so hard to protect.
These stories and others are gently related to Kim as the members of
QueerWise offer their “truths now with swift purpose and quiet grace.”
Although Shades of Disclosure
works best when its storytellers lift their eyes from the scripts they
carry, the honest telling of each person’s tales provides a jarringly
evocative evening reminding us that our war against bigotry, racism,
gender equality, and a disease that has decimated millions is not only
not over yet but is a fight that right now at this scary and insecure
moment in time must be renewed with vigor and relentless determination.
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
February 6, 2017
Everyone involved in bringing Grimly Handsome
to life at Santa Monica’s City Garage has done all the necessary work.
Still, the play will feel like a farrago, unless the audience is willing
to patiently dig in to sort out the threads.
Julia Jarcho’s script, the 2013 Obie-Award winner, now in its West
Coast premiere, is an intermissionless three-parter. First, on a frigid
evening, two men wait for customers at a Christmas tree lot in New York
City. They are Gregor (Andrew Loviska) and Alesh (Anthony M.
Sannazzaro), each an Eastern European. We find this out when they speak
heavily accented and hesitant English, though when they’re speaking in
their native tongue, we hear it as flawless English.
Alesh wants to be an American policeman. Gregor, wearing an eye
patch, chides him with a reminder of police corruption back home. Or, is
“the village” they refer to “The Village?”
A girl, Natalia (Lindsay Plake), looking like Red Riding Hood browses
the trees. She’s stunned at the high prices, so Gregor, with apparent
sarcasm, gives her a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
When she leaves, Alesh and Gregor role-play picking up women. And then they role-play drugging, raping and killing them.
We next see Natalia curled up on her sofa, the tiny awkward tree on
display, as she reads a detective novel. And then she returns to the
lot, where she takes a cup of tea from Alesh the way Snow White
trustingly took an apple from the queen. Alesh carries her lifeless body
So far, so grim. Or, should that be “Grimm?”
Director Frédérique Michel gives this first scene high style and
deliberate pacing, so the work feels suspenseful. She then choreographs
her use of Josephine Poinsot’s costumes, so Plake quickly re-emerges
from backstage to start putting on the bits of costuming Sannazzaro had
taken off: cap, flannel shirt, scarf.
Plake’s Natalia thus transforms into Nally, an easily distracted man
called in for interrogation by New York Police Department detectives
Greggins (Loviska) and Alpert (Sannazzaro) as they investigate a series
of Christmas slayings.
Except, under Michel’s hand, it’s not clear that they truly are
detectives. The words they say could pass for cop talk, but here, again,
they speak with high style and deliberate pacing. Is Natalia dreaming
them up? Note the dial phone in the room.
More twists and surprises follow along these lines. Themes of
identity and identifying with, interrelatedness, and natural evil waft
through the 90-minute work.
But most surprising, and certainly a highlight of the costuming, is
the third segment. It seems to leave us with the idea that animals have
better ethics than we do—or at least that they learn from their
collective unconscious. Ignorance will be our downfall, we are warned.
Witness for the Prosecution
The Group Rep/Lonny Chapman Theatre
Originally published as Traitor Hands
in the Jan. 31, 1925, edition of Flynn’s Weekly, this stalwart among
the prodigious catalogue of Agatha Christie’s works has enjoyed numerous
incarnations, including a slew of film and television versions. Its
theatrical debut took place October 28, 1953, at Broadway’s Winter
Garden Theatre. Though arguably not one of Christie’s most-gripping
forays in adapting one of her novels for the stage, this three-act piece
still can be quite engaging, especially when given dedication to detail
as evidenced in this production.
Director Jules Aaron keeps things humming along with a provocatively
crisp pacing that maintains an aura of “What’s coming next?” Christie’s
clues are all there, and this cast of 14 exercises the pithiness of her
language with ease. Kudos to Linda Brennan, the production’s dialect
coach, for a commendable slate of accents employed by her charges.
Defendant Leonard Vole, played
with a mixture of befuddlement and righteous indignation by Patrick
Skelton, is on trial for the bludgeoning murder of Miss Emily French, a
66-year-old woman who, as an indication of the play’s age, is repeatedly
referred to as “elderly” throughout Christie’s script.
Vole’s legal team consists of Sir Wilfrid Robarts, brought to life
with scene-stealingly delicious perspicacity by Larry Eisenberg, and
Mrs. Joan Mayhew, given an energetically optimistic turn by Michele
Schultz. Aaron chose non-traditional casting in changing Mayhew from
John to Joan. The resulting relationship between these two barristers is
captivating and serves to further highlight the tale’s occasional
Romaine, a German national Vole married and brought back to England,
is his only true source of an alibi as the circumstantial evidence
mounts against him. She turns out to be the titular character. Divulging
any more of the plot’s twists and turns would be unfair to the
production and detrimental to our dear readers’ enjoyment of this
expertly directed, multilayered mystery. Suffice it to say that Salome
Jens offers a remarkably adroit performance as this often maddeningly
Thanks to J. Kent Inasy’s stunningly ingenious scenic design
involving pivoting double-backed walls and platforms, we are transported
from Sir Wilfrid’s chambers to the Central Criminal Court of London,
better known as the Old Bailey.
Here a collection of memorable
characters is introduced—including Lloyd Pedersen’s drily humorous
Justice Wainwright; Chris Winfield’s frustratingly self-assured
prosecutor, Mr. Myers; Sherry Michaels’s witness Janet Mackenzie, Miss
French’s housekeeper who makes no bones about her distrust of defendant
Vole; Bruce Nehlsen’s sometimes fed-up, over-confident Scotland Yard
Inspector Hearne; Mikel Parraga-Wills’s court clerk, with his
silver-tongued delivery of the sessions’ calls to attention and
administration of witness oaths; and Todd Andrew Ball’s and Roslyn
Cohn’s uniquely drawn medical specialists, after both double as Sir
Wilfrid’s legal staff in the opening scene of Act 1.
Inasy’s lighting complements not only his notable set but also Angela
M. Eads’s period-perfect costuming and Judi Lewin’s hair and wig
designs. Aaron and sound designer Steve Shaw incorporate well-chosen
musical pieces as scene segues. Aaron’s choice to make the audience the
jury is well-thought-out; however, the use of taped crowd sounds at
various points throughout the courtroom scenes is a tad distracting,
especially when the onstage characters begin talking over disruptions
that the presiding judge would most certainly quiet from the bench
before allowing the case to proceed. Still, this is but a quibble with
an otherwise uniformly excellent production.
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
January 31, 2017
The Found Dog Ribbon Dance
Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre
is an intensely personal matter. The impact of a loss, whatever form it
takes, is quite often inexplicable to the outside world. How one
handles it and the potential need for comfort is the big picture in
playwright Dominic Finocchiaro’s world premiere piece. Finocchiaro
populates his play with unique people brought to life by a uniformly
excellent cast under the able direction of Alana Dietze.
As strange as it may seem at first, Norma, played with exquisite
simplicity by Amanda Saunders, is a New York City–based professional
“cuddler.” Blazing a path into this heretofore little-known job
category, she encounters a widely varied clientele.
There’s Dave, a pajama-clad divorcé, played by Eric Gutierrez whose
moment of angst upon misreading Norma’s empathy is heart-wrenching.
Harrison, a balls-to-the-wall stock market analyst, given a strong
portrayal by West Liang, serves as a superlative muse for challenging
Norma’s outwardly calm demeanor.
Meanwhile, Trista, played by Clarissa Thibeaux, is Norma’s first
female client, an 18-year-old given to “cutting” as she obviously
struggles with her sexual identity. And Gregory Itzin is outstanding as a
quietly empathetic older gentleman named Xeno who winds up providing
Norma with the very connection and opportunity for reflection that she
is supposedly offering him.
Throughout, Norma sponsors the titular canine character, brought to
life here by Daniel Hagen, whose work is engagingly perfect. Director
Dietze along with Saunders and Hagen have avoided any pitfalls of
disbelief the audience might foster, given this human-animal
cohabitation. Theirs is a reality one buys into immediately and wholly.
As Norma attempts to locate Dog’s owner, she runs headlong into a
pair of characters who, frankly, could use her professional services.
Gabriel Notarangelo plays Colt, a streetwise skateboarder whose
foulmouthed invectives mask the heartbreak of having lost his own canine
companion. Julia Dretzin embodies Miranda, a nearly heartless, or so we
first assume, businesswoman whose mission is to bring home any dog in
order to placate her children over their missing pet. Notarangelo and
Dretzin spin gold with these cameo appearances, as their characters
challenge Norma’s comfort zone.
On the flip side, all is not drama
and depression. While posting a flier at a local coffee shop, Norma
encounters an older-than-average—early 40s—barista named…wait for
it…Norm! Steven Strobel is flawless as this charmingly goofy,
occasionally immature, yet surprisingly deep man whose hobby is
described by the other half of the play’s title. Strobel’s and
Saunders’s scenes, touchingly directed by Dietze, are equal parts giddy
teenage infatuation and quietly wistful moments of introspection. One
finds oneself hoping for this relationship to take root and flower as
Norma’s long-suppressed losses are given freedom to emerge, thanks to
this unusual union.
Dietze’s production staff complements her work with aplomb. Kirk
Wilson’s arena-styled scenic design welcomes the audience to sit in any
of the three sections surrounding the playing space. Jesse Baldridge’s
lighting of the many locales in Finocchiaro’s script is warmly
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
January 27, 2017
The Great Kooshog Lake Hollis McCauley Fishing Derby
Torrance Theatre Company
Torrance Theatre Company’s latest offering is another charmer from Canadian playwright Norm Foster. Titled The Great Kooshog Lake Hollis McCauley Fishing Derby,
it shows the city mouse in all of us that small-town folk have all the
wisdom we could hope for but perhaps none of petty stresses we cling to.
The play has the feel of a fairy tale. A man who has misplaced his
enjoyment of the important things in life becomes stranded for just the
right amount of time in the lovely surroundings of Kooshog Lake, where
three fairy godmothers and one fairy godfather wryly readjust his
With a title like that, it’s no surprise the play is also a bit about
names. What we call someone influences how we think of that person, and
what we’re called influences how we think of ourselves.
It’s about James Bell (Nick Brustin), tightly wound big-city big-shot
banker, who was driving through the area on his way to a conference
when his fuel pump opportunely broke, stranding him here just long
He has been giving his life to his
job. That job, it seems, will no longer be giving back to him. At
Kooshog Lake, he comes upon Sienna Grey (Jennifer Faneuff), the
earth-mother (thus the name) general-store owner whose afternoon nap
James interrupts. She’s mourning her only son, who moved away and hasn’t
called. But this doesn’t mean she’ll treat James with any apparent
The father figure in this mix is Kirk Douglas (Ron Gould), who starts
to mess with James’s mind by pretending he doesn’t know who the real
Kirk Douglas is. When the townsfolk tell James there’s only one phone in
town, James loses all perspective.
As if she could sniff out the presence of a new man in town, Rhonda
(Eleen Hsu-Wentlandt) stops by the store. She may be a remorseless
flirt, but she also runs most of the lakeside businesses. Despite his
urban sophistication, she scares James. That’s likely why he quickly
turns to the luminous Melanie Morningside (Rachel Baumsten), who
evidences good sense and a sweet but currently aching heart.
So, who is Hollis McCauley? He’s the catfish the locals have been
trying to hook for more than 20 years, in their annual fishing derby
with an enviable purse to be won for his capture. If he were to be
caught, would anyone hang on?
The Kooshogians aren’t perfect.
They’ve done things they regret, and they tease James until he doesn’t
know joke from truth. But they’re exactly what he needs right now.
Exactly what the play needs is a director with warmth and humanity,
and it gets just that in Gia Jordahl, who makes this Foster comedy
remarkably rich yet delicate—well, except for Brustin’s frequently
The scenic design and construction by Mark Wood takes the audience
far away from Torrance and into a piney, weather-beaten haven. Lighting
by Katy Streeter evokes warm morning and evening northern sunlight.
Bradley Allen Lock’s costumes set a relaxed, timeless tone.
Kooshog’s townsfolk feel a strong sense of community. They don’t lock
their doors, because, as Kirk Douglas says, “If someone steals from one
of us, they steal from all of us.” What a lovely place in which to
retreat for a few days. Or a lifetime. Or two hours, including
Something is strangely fascinating about Adler & Gibb, the latest from the strangely fascinating theatermaker Tim Crouch.
In 2010, he brought to Los Angeles An Oak Tree,
in which Crouch ushers an unprepared actor, different each night, onto
the stage and feeds him or her direction and dialogue over earphones. In
2011, Crouch returned with The Author, about our various roles in and accountability for the theater.
The British iconoclast is back with his 2014 work Adler & Gibb,
about the nature, making, performing and celebrity of art. It’s
co-directed with his frequent collaborators Andy Smith and Karl James.
As with all his work, it is not suitable for everyone, nor, probably,
is it intended as mass entertainment. It is best enjoyed by those with
an interest in theater and culture, or those with a thirst for and
willingness to sit through something this different.
Before it begins, or perhaps for
its beginning, a child (on the night reviewed, the remarkably
disciplined and adorable Olivia Abedor) interacts with the audience,
handing out props and retrieving them, all based on instructions she
hears via headphones. Instructing the child throughout this 90-minute
work, Jasmine Woodcock-Stewart sits upstage, a microphone in hand,
matter-of-factly showing the audience that art is being made with
technology and with theater magic.
Then comes a slightly more concrete beginning. As in conventional
work, we watch an actor apparently playing a character. Jillian Pullara
is Student, beginning her academic presentation about art-world icon
Janet Adler, who hit the heights in the 1980s, walked away and into
obscurity in the 1990s, and died in circumstances prompting ghoulish
Lest you wonder, Adler is fictitious, though you couldn’t prove it by Adler & Gibb.
She seems real to the audience, perhaps more real than the people
trying to describe her, perhaps more real in contrast to Crouch’s
deliberately distancing, deconstructed, elliptical and fractured style
Adler is the subject of a proposed film, to be enacted by Louise
(Cath Whitefield) and bankrolled by her (unseen) betrayed husband.
Louise is bloated with need and ego, soothed and stoked by her acting
coach Sam (Crouch).
Sam and Louise do an acting exercise about trespassing on the retreat
built by Adler and her life partner Margaret Gibb (Gina Moxley). Then
they’re either inside Gibb’s home, uninvited and unwanted, or imagining
The script mocks art, but it does
so in the most artistic of ways. It mocks the cult of the artist, it
mocks art criticism. It ponders ownership—of art, artist,
representations of art and artist, property, love, life.
It paints in violence. The dialogue speaks of the beating of Gibb’s
dog. The moment is acted by Whitefield and Abedor, as Louise takes a bat
and, while we watch, thrashes the little figure.
Now, the child has donned a padded jacket, the beating is done with a
“pool noodle,” and, the Kirk Douglas Theatre assures us, the child is
safe and protected by her headphones from the fouler language and
“graphic imagery” of the production.
But the opening night audience didn’t seem to even flinch at this
point. Is it that we’re Hollywood-ized, that we know these things are
created through careful craft and through adherence to California law if
not union regulations? Or is it that we were busy wondering which to
react to: the beating death of a dog, the (not) possible bruising
inflicted on a young actor, or the coaching we imagined was needed to
reassure the child that this was “just acting.”
Who fired the gun at the story’s end? If Louise, is that any worse
than what we have watched her do to Gibb? And, speaking of brutality,
why doesn’t Louise ever thank her acting coach?
The story, which has begun very much in the world of theater, ends in
the world of film. There’s no bright line dividing those worlds in
here, and perhaps Crouch is saying there isn’t one out there.
But none of this is the strangest part. What’s stranger is how Adler & Gibb
leaves an emotional residue. Despite all its elements shining a light
on how the magic is made, somehow we care, feel, are left wandering
through a melancholic mist as we leave the theater. So, ticket-buyer,
beware. Just as you should see a horror film only if you want to be
scared, you should see this production only if you want to be made to
observe and think—and perhaps feel a peculiar disquiet.
back, just past the second star to the right and straight on til
morning, yet another telling of the Peter Pan story. Even for those
among us who run from sappy musical theater offerings, right now, as the
world crumbles and burns around us, Finding Neverland could not be more gratefully welcome. Based on the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan
and the 2004 film version, this grand-scale Broadway musical adaptation
follows the relationship between playwright J. M. Barrie (Billy
Harrigan Tighe) and the fatherless London family that became his
inspiration for Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, which debuted on the London stage nearly 100 years before Johnny Depp ever donned a nicely pressed ascot.
Just at the point where Barrie’s successful playwriting career was
stymied in a massive writer’s block and his stressed-out producer
Charles Frohman (Tom Hewitt, who doubles as a delightfully ominous
Captain Hook) was thinking of checking out another, fresher protégé, in a
classic bit of serendipity Barrie met lovely young widow Sylvia
Llewelyn Davies (Christine Dwyer) and her obviously pre-Ritalin litter
of energetic sons (including the infectiously talented Jordan Cole, Finn
Faulconer, and Mitchell Wray at the performance reviewed) in a local
Sensing the reclusive, solitary detachment of the brood’s eldest
brother Peter (the sweet and angel-voiced Ben Krieger), it doesn’t take
long for Barrie to take the kid and his siblings under his wing,
something that shocked the tight-corseted denizens of proper
conservative London society. The bond between Barrie and the Llewelyn
Davies family may or may not have sped up the demise of the his already
floundering marriage; but, in the process, it also brought the world one
of the most-familiar and beloved children’s stories of all time.
This musical version couldn’t be
much better. After a New York run starring Matthew Morrison and Kelsey
Grammer, it has taken to the road without losing any of its high-tech
visual marvels. The incredibly kinetic staging by director Diane Paulus
and the spirited, charmingly cheery choreography by Mia Michaels are
perfectly accentuated by an eager ensemble and a world-class production
team on every level. Yet, even the veteran expertise of set designer
Scott Pask, lighting magician Kenneth Posner, and costumer Suttirat Anne
Larlarb take a back seat to Jon Driscoll’s amazingly fluid and
ever-moving visual imagery that, on the massive and towering Pantages
stage, steals the show.
In an era when traditional movable and fly-able set pieces are often
replaced using striking visual projections—a special boon for touring
productions—Posner’s towering and moody views of stormy London skies,
with dramatic clouds and graceful soaring birds crashing across a
romantic moon, are brought to dreamlike life. Although sometimes
creating such modern industrial-strength illusions can prove an easy way
out, here it works as magically as, well, a healthy sprinkle of pixie
Aside from everything this
charming adaptation has going for it, however, there’s the hauntingly
lovely score by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. From Dwyer’s solo turns
with the lyrical ballads “All That Matters” and “Sylvia’s Lullaby” to
the show-stopping production number “We’re All Made of Stars,” which
features Krieger, Faulconer, Wray, and Cole in the most smile-inducing
specimen of bonded sibling behavior since Seven Brides for Seven Bothers,
we might not be prepared to hum a few bars of “Circus of Your Mind” as
we leave the theater, but it may just motivate immediately going out and
purchasing the CD.
Everything about Finding Neverland
runs like a well-oiled machine, but without losing any of the momentary
enchantment that can take us all, regardless of our age, back to the
time when we first saw Peter Pan take flight and longed to help him get
that shadow of his sewn back on and journey through the night skies with
him to join the Lost Boys. Never growing up to face a world gone
totally mad is a consummation devoutly to be wished there days, and it’s
a lovely treat when any fantasy can transport us away from the daily
barrage of evening news insanity.
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
February 22, 2017
Circus 1903: The Golden Age
must be hard for circus-themed touring productions to exist in the
massive and glitzy shadow of Cirque du Soleil. There have been many
animal-free Cirque clones popping up over the last years—and most of
them hang for dear life onto the coattails of the Montreal conglomerate
with varying degrees of success. None, however, has been as imaginative
or downright captivating as Circus 1903: The Golden Age of Circus, now loaded into the Pantages for a too-short stay.
Beginning with the premise that this usual troupe of death-defying
aerialists, acrobats, jugglers, and tightrope artists are setting up
their wares alongside a railroad depot in a small town at the turn of
the last century, Circus 1903
is different from its competitors. Not only were the producers smart to
hire notable magician David Williamson to play their wisecracking,
slightly world-weary ringmaster Willy Whipsnide, they also brought on
board costumer Angela Aaron to re-create the players’ painstakingly
accurate period wardrobe, as well as scenic wizard Todd Edward Ivins and
lighting designer Paul Smith to add to the illusion of the members of
the ensemble joining to raise their tents and festooning them with
strings of lights and colorful banners.
By the second act, their smoky, atmospheric preparations give way to a
full-blown performance, and the result may be slightly minimal but
still, most charmingly magical.
And speaking of magic, the other
distinctive thing this traveling entertainment has going for it is the
participation of Mervyn Millar and Tracy Waller of Significant Object,
who bring to life the show’s resident star attractions: the enormous,
incredibly graceful “Queenie” and her adorably goofy and energetic baby
“Peanut.” Millar and Waller’s pair of life-size elephant puppets are
manipulated by several retro-costumed puppeteers walking next to and
visibly moving inside the beautifully rendered creatures, instantly
reminiscent of the enchanted animals dominating the National Theatre’s
adaptation of War Horse—of
which Millar was part of the creative team. Bringing these glorious
beasts to life proves a feat of extraordinary artistic alchemy, only
making their delighted audiences wish for more. A few future lions and
tigers and bears, maybe? Oh, my. We can only hope.
Surely Circus 1903
doesn’t have the limitless resources available to the world-full of
nonstop wonder fashioned for one of Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix’s
empire of enchanted dreamscapes, but what Circus 1903 does with what it
has got is, simply, magical on its own.
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
February 17, 2017
946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips
Wallis Center for the Performing Arts
Like a cat that doesn’t want to be caught, theater that satisfies adults and children can be elusive. But Britain’s Kneehigh theater company caught an adorable cat firmly by the scruff with this production.
And what a gorgeous, joyous, meaningful piece of theater Kneehigh has devised, using creative storytelling, lively song and dance, and thoroughly endearing puppetry. In this adaptation by Michael Morpurgo (War Horse) and Emma Rice from Morpurgo’s novel, the stage at the Wallis has become a seaside town (Lez Brotherston’s set and costumes), where a second-story band shell houses musicians, many of whom are also actors in the show, as talents abound here.
At the home of Grandma and Grandpa, a kindhearted geeky-grungy grandson (Adam Sopp) visits. Grandpa (Chris Jared) passes on, tenderly staged as he rises youthfully and without handicap from his wheelchair and ascends a ladder to the bandstand. Granny (Mike Shepherd) ignores her disapproving children and bolts out of the funeral on her motorcycle, but not before she hands her grandson her diary from her youth.
As he begins to read it, we’re transported to 1940s Devon, England. Living on a struggling farm are preteen Lily (Katy Owen), her overworked mother (Kyla Goodey), and Lily’s grumpy grandfather (Shepherd). The town’s schoolteacher, Madame Bounine (Emma Darlow) has her hands full with Lily and the other undisciplined students, but like everyone in town, nevertheless she persists.
Refugees, including a charming young geek named Barry (Sopp), come from London and aren’t particularly welcome. Lily lashes out and is surprisingly bratty, both for a wartime Brit and for a story’s heroine. But when it’s needed, Lily’s golden heart takes over.
And then, American soldiers take over the area, requiring displacement of the residents. Yes, this happened, for real, in the Devon town of Slapton Sands. There, as history now tells us, soldiers disastrously rehearsed the D-Day invasion. The 946 in the play’s title commemorates the number of American lives lost.
The show also commemorates American gum-chewing. Alas, this seems to be how so much of Europe remembers our soldiers. Here, the GIs include the African-American Adolphus T. Madison (Ncuti Gatwa) and his faithful friend Harry (Nandi Bhebhe). Grandpa can’t understand why the “ruddy Yanks” need to disrupt his life. Then Barry, unwanted elsewhere, moves in with the family. This city boy is a dab hand at repairing the broken farm machinery and an enthusiast for the farming way of life. Attitude is contagious.
Still, Lily is slower to appreciate Barry. She’d rather spend time with Tips, her cat. Tips is playful, affectionate, smart, and portrayed by a puppet wielded by the actors, primarily Bhebhe. Tips apparently refuses to evacuate and is lost to Lily. The can-do Adolphus and the quiet but observant Harry promise Lily they’ll search for her, and they do. But, being a cat, she’s independent.
Dramaturgically, her independence allows people of various ages, nationalities and races to get to know one another. Not surprisingly for those days, the countryside Brits hadn’t come in contact with many blacks. And, as Harry later admits, he had never met whites who took him to their hearts like these folks do.
Remarkable about Owen’s performance as a child just turning 12 years old is Owen’s willingness to launch, skid, and plunge over and off the stage, with no fear of a broken hip. Remarkable about the performances of all the actors are the commitment, freshness, and auxiliary skills they ply, including playing instruments under Pat Moran’s music direction and eccentric dancing incorporating period fads, choreographed by Rice and Etta Murfitt.
You know by the show’s title that adventures abound. So does destruction, sacrifice, death. So does rich theatermaking, from obvious drag through references to Brecht. And so does joy, in little plot twists that reveal the power of love to heal and unite, the remarkable resilience in each of us if we free it.
Now, curiosity kills cats. But why doesn’t the audience see the cat’s adventures here? And what is soldier Madison’s middle name?
a malevolent Trump-like conglomerate called Monocorp falsely alarms the
public that sexual activity must be stopped due to an impending
epidemic, the prospect of future sex for our species is jeopardized. The
only solution is strapping on—the wrist…what were you thinking?—a
little apparatus Monocorp manufactures called the Love Light, which,
when activated, stimulates an orgasm of epic proportions. In offering
this product for worldwide utilization, Monocorp can soon, of course,
control the planet.
With an infectious score that, as a character tells us with tongue
firmly in cheek, runs the spectrum all the way from hip-hop to rap, this
outrageously X-rated pop musical melds Arthur C. Clarke, Lady Gaga, and
a North Beach-y peep show vibe with surprising success. The weakest
part is writer-composer John Papageorge’s predictable and rather silly
script, which has the feeling of being created on the spot as the play
progresses and oddly makes one wish, if he wanted to go for adult humor
and off-color double-entendres, he’d gone a little further.
Still, the music is worth suffering through the dialogue and
situations, which also boasts exceptional performances, surprisingly
fluid staging by director Kiff Scholl on the Lounge Theatre’s extremely
limited playing area, steamy choreography by April Thomas, and comically
sexy strip-clubby costuming by local glitter-god Michael Mullen that
makes one immediately wonder just where this guy shops.
Ally Dixon and the Pee-wee
Herman–suited Kevin McDonald have a splendidly good time as the
corporation’s evil henchwoman Vivian and her nerdy suitor George O.
Thornhill, while Tanya Alexander and Michael Uribes scenery chew with
hilarious results as Monocorp’s devious CEO and a sketchily talented
magician whose allegiances waver from bad to good. Jolie Adamson steals
every one of her scenes as Cherry, a Valley Girl-accented robot with
moves like C-3PO and outfits inherited from Britney Spears. Maya Lynne
Robinson, as a fallen pop star who tries out a Love Light, vibrates and
twitches and rolls her eyes back in the lengthiest and most memorable
onstage “happy ending” in the history of the American theater.
Alex Vergel as the wisecracking deejay-MC; Sean Leon as Alexander’s
hunky “enforcer”; and Erica Ibsen, Natalie Polisson, Briana Price, and
Elise Zell as the gamely raunchy dancing ensemble fill out the ensemble
with spunk, much to the delight of one single older man in a wrinkled
overcoat seated directly in the front row who looked so much like a
drooling, knee-slapping denizen of a real-life gentlemen’s club that he
almost seemed like a plant. Yup, Future Sex, Inc. is, as Papageorge’s dialogue tells us, a “one of a kind—like a snowflake or a cum stain.”
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
February 9, 2017
O’Reilly’s delightful Irish play about two lonely souls of a certain
age is both witty and poignant. From the first moments when bachelor Dan
(Mark Bramhall) speaks to the audience as storyteller, we are engaged
in a tale that is deceptively simple yet thoroughly affecting.
Dan is lonely after his many-decades lover has died. Dan fills his
time with visits to the vet with his small dog, Chapatti. When the vet
suggests that he is coming too often with a dog that has no health
issues, Dan determines that he has nothing to live for, but what will he
do with Chapatti?
As luck will have it, he bumps into an elderly neighbor, Betty
(Annabella Price), a personable soul who cares for 19 cats. She is just
as outgoing as Dan is withdrawn. With a history of an unhappy
relationship, she sees Dan as her last hope for love.
Price and Bramhall have an easy
chemistry and elevate what could be predictable into a warm and
uplifting story full of heart and a few surprises along the way.
O’Reilly artfully balances comic moments with an exploration of human
needs as the characterizations unfold. While both characters have had
disappointments in life, the play is never maudlin nor contrived.
Marty Burnett’s set design effectively creates Dan’s and Betty’s
houses and an outdoor space. Elisa Benzoni’s costumes are notable,
especially in a scene where Betty and Dan are tentatively exploring
romance. Lighting by Matthew Novotny and sound by Melanie Chen
successfully round out the production. Dialect coach Jan Gist needs a
mention, as Bramhall and Price make believable their Irish
characterizations. Director David Ellenstein’s adaptation of Judith
Ivey’s original direction has just the right touch for the story.
In this time of in-your-face drama
and overtly preachy storylines, O’Reilly’s gentle and very human
narrative is a welcome addition to Laguna’s theatrical season.
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
January 27, 2017
Palos Verdes Performing Arts at Norris Theatre
If you insist on a little sense in dramatic literature, you might note that Nunsense
has not a lot. Character development goes nowhere. Identity, devotion,
sisterhood, a calling? These get mentioned here but get no payoff. And
yet this musical was the second-longest-running show in Off-Broadway
history, lasting more than 10 years there.
But if you want to be cheered up, perhaps tell a joke to the crowd,
and play a quick but hilarious round of bingo, this show will serve you
well. In large part that’s thanks to its five heaven-sent musical-comedy
With book and music by Dan Goggin, based on his line of greeting cards, Nunsenseis
pretty much an excuse for more than a few songs and more than a few
gags. It also calls upon its cast to showcase multiple talents, from
expected song-and-dance skills to unexpected skills.
As the backstory goes, the convent’s chef accidentally introduced
botulism into her vichyssoise, killing 52 sisters. The survivors had
money to bury only 48 of them; four are in the freezer, awaiting
interment (cue joke about blue nuns). And so this fundraiser. That’s how
hard Goggin worked to set up this revue by the Little Sisters of
The sisters warmly welcome the
audience (be prepared to answer or perhaps tell a nun-related joke).
Then Reverend Mother (Dawn Stahlak) arrives. She’s witty and savvy,
though she becomes inebriated sniffing a bottle of rush. And of course
at one point in her youth she wanted to go into showbiz.
Joining her “onstage” is young novice Sister Mary Leo (Noelle
Marion), who can dance, as she shows us in her red satin pointe shoes.
Fortunately, Marion can dance too, in her ballet solo “Benedicite” and
in the group’s tap number, “Tackle That Temptation With a Time Step.”
Beyond her skill in hot-wiring cars, Sister Robert Anne (Rebecca
Lumiansi) likewise had aspirations to perform, and a bit of talent,
which she proudly displays in “Playing Second Fiddle,” about being an
understudy onstage and in life.
The charmingly wacky Sister Mary Amnesia (Silvie Zamora) lost her
memory when a crucifix fell on her head. Zamora sings in a light soprano
as the sister’s tremulous self. But when she brings out a puppet as
part of the “act” (how they got that puppet to look just like Mary
Amnesia is a modern miracle), Zamora turns her puppet into Ethel Merman.
And, given the 11 o’clock number (unless you attend the Saturday or
Sunday matinees offered at the Norris, in which case it’s technically a 4
o’clock number) is Sister Mary Hubert. She’s played by the stellar
Jennifer Leigh Warren, who belts the gospel “Holier Than Thou” to shake
the heavens—or at least the audience seated in the balcony.
The show is directed with heart
and wit by Ken Parks and choreographed with wisdom and simplicity by KC
Gussler. Bless Palos Verdes Performing Arts for including a live
orchestra, which sounds great, under conductor–music director Jake
Anthony, from the playful musical-theater tunes through the
classical-music themes wafting through Goggin’s score.
No one from the audience is asked to tithe—mainly because a source of funds is revealed at the show’s end, but also because Nunsense
is ultimately a very gentle show, despite the presence of a 12-inch
ruler at one point. These nuns do not berate, they do not punish, they
even welcome Protestants among the audience.
And despite the incontrovertible truth that this show consists of
singing, dancing, acrobatic nuns, there’s a joy in watching characters
who have fanciful dreams yet love their day job—and a joy in watching
the actors who revel in playing those characters. The bingo is a blast,
musician, composer, and author Oscar Levant was one of those
larger-than-life figures prominent from the 1930s until his death in
1972. In his New York days, he was a member of the Algonquin Round Table
along with Dorothy Parker, Alexander Wollcott, and Robert Benchley. He
was a a sought-after concert pianist. He was a regular panelist on the
radio show Information Please, providing mordant wit, which led to his later career in Hollywood, notably in films The Barkleys of Broadway and An American in Paris, playing an eccentric version of himself.
Playwright Dan Castellaneta, himself an eclectic actor, comedian, and voiceover artist (The Simpsons, Darkwing Duck, Rugrats, The Tracey Ullman Show) has taken on the task of exploring a dark period in Levant’s life when he was frequently committed to mental institutions.
Part vaudeville, comedy sketch, and melodrama, Castellaneta’s fluid
foray into Levant’s life attempts to portray the figures who influenced
Levant and the inner workings of his genius. From an autocratic father
who certainly contributed to his neuroses to longtime friend George
Gershwin, he traversed a life of celebrity and addiction. Sometimes
confusing as the play morphs from past to present, it nevertheless
presents an affecting picture of a man whose talents were frequently
overshadowed by his psychological angst.
As Levant, Castellaneta is
suitably funny and tragic. In Act 1, the story is theatrical as well as
expository with a fine cast of characters—JD Cullum, Deb Lacusta, Gail
Matthius, Phil Proctor, and Jonathan Stark—playing multiple roles as
Gershwin, Levant’s wife, Harpo Marx, Levant’s parents, Jack Paar, and
others. Because the piece is structurally complicated, it is tough going
at times for the characters to make seamless switches from person to
person, so sometimes there’s a glitch or two. Act 2 is more measured,
and during this interpretation of Levant’s life the emotional heft of
the story is most affecting.
Cullum is particularly notable as Charlie, a mute patient Oscar meets
as he spends time in the hospital. Many of the best moments of the
story are played out in their exchanges. He also adds considerable humor
as Harpo. Lacusta is affecting as his wife, and Matthius has funny
moments as Fanny Brice and a fellow mental patient. Proctor is a
reliable character actor who does yeoman work as Levant’s father,
Harpo’s butler, and others. As Paar, on whose show Levant was a frequent
guest, Stark is noteworthy. He also fills in as doctor and Gershwin.
Music supervisor–pianist David O provides Levant’s musicianship only
partially concealed behind the scenes, and harpist Jillian Risigari-Gai
delivers Harpo’s music as the two characters mime the music in the
foreground. It is a significant addition to the play’s overall mood.
Also striking is Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting design, transforming the
nearly bare stage into multiple settings like Harpo’s home where Levant
spent much time, the hospital with its struggles, and his home with his
Director Stefan Novinski balances
the comedy with adversity nicely as he maneuvers his cast through the
many overlapping scenes. As Levant was noted for his one-liners,
including “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin,” Novinski makes
their many inclusions in the script seem believable as dialogue.
Though the play challenges the audience to keep the time periods and
events sorted out, it works best as a theatrical endeavor when it
focuses on the human aspects of the story rather than the biographical.
The ensemble’s considerable talent makes for a worthwhile exploration of
this complex and intriguing man.
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
February 14, 2017
Mark Taper Forum
history of Los Angeles is a fascinating and often sordid tale. This is
particularly true of the bigotry and racial profiling which has
befallen, and continues to befall, our pivotal Chicano population over
the years. It makes the Taper’s sparkling revival of Luis Valdez’s
groundbreaking musical Zoot Suit,
which premiered at the same theater way back in 1978 when the dinosaurs
still roamed the earth and the mastodons had not yet gotten hung up in
the tar pits, more timely than ever—before our current administration
brings back tar and dumps us all in it for a swim.
As the news continues to be chockful of reports of Trump-inspired ICE
raids and deportation roundups that have rocked Los Angeles and the
country this weekend, recent National Medal of Arts recipient Valdez,
who once again directs his own masterpiece with the participation of his
son and longtime collaborator Kinan as his associate director, takes us
back to 1942. While World War II raged across our globe, the LA pachuco
society was the relentless target of brutality and the stomping on of
human rights by the police and the military.
Valdez returns to his story of the infamous Sleepy Hollow murder
trial and the resultant Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, aided by a passionate
cast and designers who have obviously worked tirelessly to do their
homework. Designer Christopher Acebo’s soaring metal industrial
structures, looming in front of a mysterious night-lit backdrop of the
East LA barrio smoldering below a rendition of City Hall, is a perfect
tool for Valdez’s stark staging and the hot-blooded dance numbers
choreographed by Maria Torres to the infectiously cheery original score
by the legendary late “father of Chicano music” Lalo Guerrero.
Speaking of research, costumer Ann
Closs-Farley’s amazing period costuming defines her as a vital member
of the exceptional team that has brought this production back to life,
whether it be finely tailored Joan Crawford-esque suits for reporter
Alice Bloomfield (Tiffany Dupont) or the spectacularly colorful
dancewear moving seductively with every jerk and stretch of the
energetic and rubber-limbed ensemble. . Her work is accentuated by the
gorgeously detailed “drapes” that adorn the ghostly El Pachuco (Demián
Bichir) and members of the local gang who became victims of the American
court system. Once referred to by a young Malcolm X as a “killer-diller
coat with a drape shape, reet pleats and shoulders padded like a
lunatic’s cell,” Closs-Farley’s brilliantly day-glo-ing zoot suits,
complete with their signature watch chains dangling from the belt to
below the knee, could make a comeback due solely to the success of this
Bichir is a dynamic presence as he bravely attempts to fill the
well-worn pointed-toed shoes that became the springboard to fame for his
predecessor in the role, Edward James Olmos. Bichir is wonderfully
sparse in his choices as he prances and poses as the continuously
dominant spirit figure gliding through the action as the conscience of
the falsely accused Henry Reyna (Matias Ponce), although his gravelly,
raspy delivery of some of his key lines does tend to get lost in their
own gargle. Ponce also seems to keep his delivery more to the bone than
do many of his castmembers, as does Jeanine Mason as his spunky love
interest Della. A special treat is the casting of Daniel Valdez (who
also doubles as musical director) and Rose Portillo as Henry’s
longsuffering, endearingly simple immigrant parents, since they are the
actors who, four decades ago, played the roles of Henry and Della in the
Of course the saddest thing about seeing Zoot Suit
so painstakingly returned to its original venue is to realize how
little has changed since the Sleepy Lagoon murders and the subsequent
Zoot Suit Riots, which shook Los Angeles to its core and subsequently
spread around the country 75 years ago. Like studying the arc between
Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard in 1905 and Tracy Letts’s August: Osage County
100 years later, the endurance of great art unmistakably exposes how
our conflicted species refuses to modify our behavior and learn from our
mistakes, how little we really, truly try to honor and to practice the
humanity we profess to hold so dear.
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
February 13, 2017
Lyrics From Lockdown
The Actors’ Gang at Ivy Substation
a political climate where disagreements are labeled as
“unconstitutional,” “destructive,” even “treasonous” or “evil,”
refreshing is the message that’s both timely in its relevance and
balanced in its presentation. In this case, the message, that of a
justice system that, at times, is most certainly unfair to its
participants based on no more than a series of immutable factors such as
race, ethnicity, or the supposedly guaranteed “freedom of association.”
In this moving, often comical, power-punch of a solo performance,
author Bryonn Bain details his amazingly overflowing cup of life. Having
broken with the tradition of his Brooklyn upbringing to serve as the
four-time president of his class at Columbia University and eventually
graduate from Harvard Law School, Bain seemed on track for what by all
standards would be success at every turn. And yet, the path his life was
to take proved to be the positive outcome of a blindside.
Racially profiled and wrongfully incarcerated by the New York City
Police, Bain has produced a stunning array of work and social activism,
which even included serving as the topic for a segment of CBS’s Sixty Minutes
in which he was interviewed by the venerable Mike Wallace. In this
theatrical production, he parallels his autobiography with that of Nanon
Williams, sent to Texas’s Death Row at age 17 (a sentence converted in
2005 to life imprisonment), both of whom have spun gold from dross
through their unveiling of the ills found within our nation’s
Bain’s ability to offer his
thoughts and feelings without drubbing his audience over the head is
perhaps the most admirable quality of his work. Instead, he introduces
us to his family: a father known for his love of Calypso music, a
Bible-thumping mother, and two brothers, one of whom walked the
tightrope between lawfulness and the gangsta lifestyle. In doing so,
Bain humanizes himself, and his message is thereby saved from being
overshadowed by the unforgiving militancy so often found in those who
espouse a “cause.” It’s one of many wise choices that he and director
Gina Belafonte have made in crafting this fast-paced one-act.
So too are the incorporations of musical stylings, credited to the
playwright’s father, B. Rolly Bain, which transform this poetry into
gripping lyrics backed by an onstage three-piece ensemble. John B.
Williams on the double bass and Isaiah Gage on the cello, along with the
remarkable talent of an artist identified as “Click the Supa Latin”
serving as a human beatbox, make amazing use of what are normally
considered traditionally staid instruments. Although untitled, Bain’s
compositions run the gamut from blues to calypso and classical to
hip-hop. In particular, he riffs on subjects which for the purposes of
this review shall be referred to as “Growing Up on Marcus Garvey
Boulevard,” “Things Are Not Always What They Seem,” “On My Way,” and
Equally valuable is a trio,
artistes in their own right, inhabiting the theater’s tech booth. Billed
as the designer and video DJ for the production is Omolara Abode. In
addition to a pair of traditional suspended screens marking the set’s
upstage area, Abode’s almost ceaseless array of video and still
projections fill the side walls of the Ivy Substation’s decades-old,
brick-walled interior. Meanwhile, Pierre Adeli’s sound cues, including
live vocal interjections from the booth, flawlessly augment and
accentuate Bain’s 75-minute monologue. Seamless lighting transitions,
under the guidance of technical director Jason Ryan Lovett, are provided
throughout the show by Cihan Sahin.
Concluding his performance with “So Many People in Need,” perhaps the
most poignant of all his sung works, Bain and director Belafonte send
their audience out onto the street moved and perhaps encouraged to
action rather than merely ruminating over what has just been
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
February 12, 2017
the name conjures a headache in some and bliss in others. Playwright
Samuel Beckett is considered one of the most-influential 20th-century
playwrights, certainly within Theatre of the Absurd style, his Waiting for Godot at the peak of those works.
At the Odyssey Theatres, five of Beckett’s short plays are being
performed under the umbrella title that bears his name. With that much
advance notice, the audience certainly should know what to expect.
And knowing that the Odyssey’s resident company of superb veteran
actors, the KOAN Unit, under director Ron Sossi, is bringing the works
to life, we are assured the production will be deep and sharp.
The works are staged on set designer Mark Guirguis’s simple black-box
area. A raised platform upstage, where doors open into unseen rooms,
gets used for one of the pieces but remains in murky darkness for
others, thanks to lighting designer Chu-Hsuan Chang’s mysterious but
“Act Without Words II” opens the
production. Alan Abelew and Beth Hogan hunker inside white plastic
sacks, until each is goaded (Norbert Weisser clad head to toe in black,
wielding a spear) into a day’s action. Abelew, as “A,” loathes every
moment. Even his food, a tasty-looking carrot pulled out of his pocket,
prompts A to spit out his sole sustenance. A has turned to prayer and
pharmaceuticals to get through his days.
Hogan, as “B,” loves every moment of the day, though the manic pace
might take its toll. Chronically checking her watch, compulsively
exercising, obsessed with her appearance, at least she relies on herself
to get through it all, ending with a bit of self-reflection.
Beckett reputedly felt annoyed when people presumed references to his
earlier plays, but the carrots, black suit and bowler hat of Godot greatly tempt us here.
“Come and Go” finds three women gathered on a bench in an enigmatic
reunion. Diana Cignoni and Sheelagh Cullen join Hogan to perhaps relive
their school days, giggle girlishly, share information or spread
misinformation, and still find communal support.
Their names—Flo, Vi, Ru—evoke flowers, and they’re dressed in floral
pastels, with pristine white satin Mary Jane shoes. But something darker
is at work. Each one of the three wanders off while two stay behind to
whisper. What they share might be salacious gossip, or it might be news
of impending death.
The plays get even darker with
“Catastrophe,” in which Director and Assistant literally and
figuratively manipulate Protagonist, who represents actor, audience, and
nation. Sossi has swapped genders of Director and Assistant, casting
Hogan as the imperious Director, oblivious to the figure’s suffering,
and Abelew as the obsequious Assistant, who was only following orders.
Weisser’s Protagonist doesn’t collapse, likely fearful of the
consequences. But when the others leave, he prods us with a chilling,
astonishing, richly emotional stare.
“Footfalls” finds Diana Cignoni as a daughter, pacing in front of her
mother’s doorway, and Sheelagh Cullen (unseen) voicing the mother. It’s
perhaps the most deeply psychological of the plays here, yet it’s also
full of wordplay. The mother may be dead or dying, the daughter may be
living in the past or living an unfulfilled life now, but Christian
imagery reflects constraints on the peripatetic figure.
After an intermission that lets
the audience gather breath and wits, “Krapp’s Last Tape” stars Weisser
in one of Beckett’s better-known short works. A “wearish old man”
listens to tape recordings of himself at younger ages. At each age, he
has looked back from a vantage of more experience and more disdain.
Despite the shabby appearance and goofy antics, Weisser is an elegant
Krapp of rue, nostalgia, wryness, and the wisdom of age and experience.
Beckett included detailed stage directions with his scripts. In “Come
and Go,” for example, his directions are longer than the dialogue.
Sossi uses some, leads his troupe elsewhere on others, encouraging
intellectual and emotional responses to Beckett’s works.
Costume designer Audrey Eisner provides the crisply evocative looks,
while sound designer Christopher Moscatiello creates atmospheres of
So, what to expect here? As in life, those willing to observe, to
think, to accept that some things are imponderable but still worth
considering, will fare best.
a given that most self-created solo shows dig deep into the past and
the personal demons haunting their authors. Benjamin Scheuer takes it
one step further with The Lion,
adding one component fairly unique to that genre: unflinchingly
recounting the bittersweet memories of his life and individual trials
and using gloriously evocative music.
Scheuer offers a bravely unembellished look at growing up in a
difficult situation, letting his story unfold through powerful and
hauntingly poetic ballads, his sandpapery vocal dexterity, and some
truly ferocious skills as a guitarist. Yet austerity is the key here,
Scheuer moving from stool to stool, picking up a half-dozen guitars
showcasing his versatility, on the Geffen’s intimate Audrey Skirball
Kenis stage. His only co-conspirators in showcasing his massive talent
are the unobtrusive but effective direction by Sean Daniels,
complemented by Neil Patel’s ever-changing sound studio design, lit
simply but chameleon-like by Ben Staton.
Scheuer tells of his uncomfortable
relationship with a demanding father whose expectations do not mesh
with his son’s free spirit, ending in a bitter argument never resolved
before his dad, whom he obviously adored, suddenly died of a brain
aneurism. A gifted hobbyist musician, Scheuer’s father was a notable
Although he shared his musical passion with his son—even building him
a homemade banjo in the basement—his frustration that his offspring
didn’t inherit his analytical skills or wasn’t interested in academic
success destroyed their time together.
Scheuer’s story trudges on through a love affair, catastrophic
illness, and numerous attempts to find himself in some way that does not
involve his passion for music, told by these gifted hands in this quiet
and unvarnished production.
Scheuer is the quintessential product of singer-songwriters from a
groundbreaking generation past, a Leonard Cohen or Cat Stevens or James
Taylor for the millennium, only taken a step further with a personal
tale he shares without filter or embellishment—and we, his sufficiently
mesmerized and emotionally transported followers, are his grateful
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
January 16, 2017
Pick of the Vine 15
Little Fish Theatre Nine short plays by nine playwrights fit together snugly to make a brisk evening of theater in Little Fish Theatre’s 15th annual Pick of the Vine play festival.
Subjects and themes this year include birth and death, truth and lies,
sexuality and gender, parenting, revenge, and, topically, politics. And
even if none of the plays hits home in every viewer, the collection
offers the opportunity to sample these playwrights while watching
uniformly superb acting by the evening’s eight performers.
First up is “I Don’t Know,” by James McLindon, directed by Madeleine
Drake. Soldiers march to their sergeant’s cadences, but the sentiments
expressed don’t fall in line with the sexual politics of a younger and
more liberal generation. The drill sergeant (Rodney Rincon) gets an
ear-opening lesson from his soldiers, also in rhyming cadences.
For a couple’s 30-year-old,
live-at-home son (Brendan Gill), it’s time to grow up and hear the
truth, in “Santa Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” by Patrick Gabridge,
directed by Gigi Fusco Meese. However, maturity doesn’t mean we can’t
keep the magic of Christmas alive, as his parents (Geraldine Fuentes,
Rincon) eventually agree.
In the sensual and disquieting “Wheelchair,” by Scott Mullen,
directed by Richard Perloff, two strangers (Olivia Schlueter-Corey, Bill
Wolski) meet on a park bench, where a seemingly random wager ends in
In “The Holy Grill,” by Gary Shaffer, directed by Drake, a young
couple (Jessica Winward, Wolski) face their premarital interview at
their local church. But the priest is supposedly not available, so two
detectives step in (Rincon, Don Schlossman), leaving the couple to try
to lie to law enforcement of the earthly kind.
“A Womb With a View,” by Rich
Orloff, directed by Perloff, whimsically imagines what goes on behind
the scenes in getting a baby (Holly Baker-Kreiswirth) ready for birth.
“Screaming,” by Stephen Peirick, directed by Perloff, looks at parents
(Jessica Winward, Wolski) with a 3-month-old child. Of the nine plays,
this one seems the toughest to bring to life: It’s less play than
serious conversation between one character who’s not listening and one
who’s not forthcoming. Unlike Perloff’s other two, more-successful,
pieces, here he aims for the straightforward, leaving the audience to
decide how to react.
“Thick Gnat Hands,” by Erin Mallon, directed by Elissa Anne Polansky, is
a lovely study of the wisdom we can glean from illness. Polansky’s
actors (Schlossman, Wolski) are far upstage, distanced from the
audience, but the actors lure us toward them as the story reminds us to
forgive ourselves and live each day with a conscious joy.
Equally tender is “The Way It Really Truly Almost Was,” by Brendan
Healy, directed by Polansky. A husband (Schlossman) sits at the bedside
of his comatose wife (Baker-Kreiswirth), attempting a revisionist look
back at his marriage. His wife sets him straight.
The comedic highlight is “A Very Short Play About the Very Short
Presidency of William Henry Harrison,” by Jonathan Yukich, directed by
Meese. The story of the ailing brand-new president (Rincon) who won’t
take the advice of his wiser aide (Schlossman) bursts with witty,
pointed, political commentary, plus a bit of toilet humor.
Throughout the nine plays, a piece
of the set becomes refrigerator, dialysis machine, park bench,
deathbed, birth canal, and more. That’s all the audience needs. But the
upstage structure, in a mud-brown pattern against painted brown wood,
distracts, as we expect it to be turned around into something, anything,
for a finale.
We expect this because Little Fish usually offers well-designed and
well-constructed sets. This one remains static and unappealing. Better
to have kept the background plain, leaving the audience, well-stimulated
by the writing and acting, to imagine the settings.