Arts In LA

Archives 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 priorities.
   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 enough.

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 motherliness.
   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 mugging delivery.
   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 intermission.

Reviewed by Dany Margolies
January 23, 2017
 
Republished courtesy of Daily Breeze
 
Adler & Gibb
Kirk Douglas Theatre

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 speculation.
   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 of storytelling.
   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 they’re there.

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.

Reviewed by Dany Margolies
January 23, 2017
 
Republished courtesy of Daily Breeze
 
Finding Neverland
Pantages Theatre

It’s 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 park.
   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 dust itself.

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
of Circus

Pantages Theatre

It 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
 
Future Sex, Inc.
Lounge Theatre

When 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
 
Chapatti
Laguna Playhouse

Christian 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
 
Nunsense
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 performances.
   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 Hoboken.

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, too.

Reviewed by Dany Margolies
January 23, 2017
 
Republished courtesy Daily Breeze
 
Lyrics From Lockdown
The Actors’ Gang at Ivy Substation

In 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 incarceration industry.

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 “Scribble On.”

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 experienced.

Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
February 12, 2017
 
The Lion
Geffen Playhouse

It’s 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 mathematician.
   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 beneficiaries.

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 revenge.
   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.

Reviewed by Dany Margolies
January 16, 2017

Republished courtesy Daily Breeze
 
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