Arts In LA
Equivocation
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum

Reviewed by Dany Margolies


Alan Blumenfeld and Ted Barton
Photo by Ian Flanders

Bill Cain’s Equivocation posits Shakespeare in crisis. Not surprisingly, the bard behaves much as his characters do when facing their great questions. Cain’s character, named Shag, cogitates: To write or not to write. That, plus sly commentary on creativity and politics, witty reflections on Shakespeare’s canon, and a universal point about parental love, thoroughly fill the two-and-a-half hours of this delicious play.
   Shag (Ted Barton) is in the midst of writing King Lear and wrestling his unruly, very true-to-life acting troupe at the Globe, under the leadership of veteran actor Richard—presumably Burbage—(Franc Ross). Character actor Nate (Alan Blumenfeld) realizes it’s best to just say the lines, because he wants pay his mortgage. Incipient leading man Sharpe (Dane Oliver), however, wants to be “brilliant.” Armin (Paul Turbiak) wants to keep food off the scripts. Instead, they’re being asked to trudge across that rainy heath in their underwear.
   That’s one conflict Cain creates. Another arises as King James’s henchman, aka prime minister, Robert Cecil (Blumenfeld, again) summons Shag to the palace and demands a play based on a manuscript by James. The play’s plot is to be the Powder Plot—presumably real, reputedly propaganda—which we know of as Guy Fawkes’s scheme to cause a massive explosion under Parliament, thereby killing the royal family and reinstalling Catholicism in England. Whether Cecil concocted the plot, or whether the government is using it to discredit Catholics, Shag must live with himself yet make a living.
   Another character instigates Cain’s third conflict. She is Shag’s indomitable daughter, Judith (Taylor Jackson Ross), twin of his deceased and better-loved son. She, Cain proposes, is one reason Shakespeare was obsessed with twins and spent his last plays on fathers who threw away their daughters and suffered for it.

Mike Peebler directs Equivocation as a comedy with deep currents. Peebler gives the actors modern British accents (scholars debate whether those accents existed in Elizabethan England), but this helps differentiate among the characters. For example, Blumenfeld’s Cecil is veddy upper class, whereas his Nate is lower-middle class. Franc Ross’s Richard probably has the most accurate accent for the period: a clear but “rhotic” (pronouncing his Rs) speech.
   As expected, considering Peebler’s long familiarity with the outdoor Theatricum Botanicum stage, he makes wonderful use of the area, creating Cecil’s office in the cozy loft above the theater’s entrance, placing Shag’s home against the sheltering structure at stage left, setting prison scenes in the second-story space, and of course using the expansive stage as the Globe. Best of all, Peebler choreographs the playing of a famous Shakespeare tragedy facing away from the audience, so we see the stagecraft in swordfights and beheadings.
   The actors here throws themselves into the roles (all but Barton and Jackson Ross creating more than one), seeming to relish their time spent in Cain’s world. There’s not a misstep in the evening, and the opening-night audience, clearly Shakespeare-knowledgeable, caught every in-joke.

How ever could Shag handle his artistically volatile troupe? Turns out that the sense of fraternity among theatrical families is thicker than blood. How could he write a play for Cecil without violating his own sense of ethics and truth-telling? By equivocating. How can he finally see his daughter for who she is? Ah. That’s one of life’s mysteries even Cain can’t solve.

September 9, 2014
 
Sept. 6–28. 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. The theater is outdoors, so bring a jacket, cushion, and a flashlight for the walk back to the car. Fri 8pm. $10–37, children 6 and under free. (310) 455-3723.

www.theatricum.com

goo.gl/maps/Lgx2
 

 
Persians
Getty Villa’s Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater

Reviewed by Dany Margolies


Will Bond and Ellen Lauren

The weighty ideas expressed in this piece have retained their potency from nearly 2,500 years ago. The skills and vibrancy of the actors here are flawless. Had the two elements meshed, this would be a perfect production.
   Aaron Poochigian’s translation of Aeschylus’s tragedies—said to be the oldest surviving pieces of Western dramatic literature—retains the majesty of a classical work while letting the audience relax into the language and concepts. When the ghost of King Dareius asks how his son’s ego-driven invasion of a powerful neighboring nation can be anything but “brain disease,” who can help but nod in recognition and agreement? When his son Xerxes, the current king of Persia, returns from battle, only to say he suffers afresh from lack of a parade, it’s horrifyingly clear this defeated leader’s ego remains while his countrymen lost everything.
   Any of the audience’s connection to the text is also due to the deeply committed work by the actors. Stephen Duff Webber, playing Dareius, turns that apparitional persona not into a somberly grandiose specter but instead into the court jester: speaking truths but with all the irony and liveliness one expects from the mentor archetype. Gian-Murray Gianino, playing Xerxes, emits all the self-delusion of the spoiled firstborn son, oblivious to the catastrophe he has caused by invading Greece. Playing the messenger, leaning on a weathered oar for a long, long, long time, Will Bond recites a history lesson and turns it into an action-adventure saga as he describes atheists in foxholes.
   However, the magnificence of Ellen Lauren, playing the queen, trumps all. Widow of Dareius, mother of Xerxes, Lauren’s queen feels the weight of both men’s choices and the current responsibility of being the sole clear-sighted one left at the top. Clarity of speech, electrifyingly intense physicality, and an apparently profound understanding of the text mark Lauren’s work.

These actors, and those playing the ever-present chorus, form the SITI company, Anne Bogart’s longtime ensemble. Intensively trained by Bogart, the actors work in a uniform and awe-inspiring style. They have firm, purposeful walks, their bare feet nearly as expressive as their speech. Some voices sounded forced and raspy in the huge outdoor space of the Getty Villa on opening night, one actor has an impenetrable accent, but otherwise the delivery is clear and “natural.”
   In Brian H Scott’s design, broken bits of giant, presumably Greek, statuary litter the stage. Gold curtains forming the upstage wall rend as figures emerge, and the queen’s gold veil and long train leave a trail of meaningless wealth. All wealth is worthless in the underworld, Dareius points out.
   But the audience spends its energy watching these things, not feeling them, not becoming immersed in the storytelling. Bogart’s choreography, consisting of references to Greek dance and Greek pictorial art, is just that and not welling up from the characters. After all, isn’t our hope for catharsis—a Greek word—the reason we go to theater?

September 5, 2014

Sept. 4–27. 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Pacific Palisades. Thu-Sat 8pm. Running time 90 minutes, no intermission. $40-45. Parking is $15 per car. (310) 440-7300.

getty.edu

goo.gl/maps/ZWlZW
 

 
Psyche: A Modern Rock Opera
Greenway Court Theatre

Reviewed by Bob Verini


Ashley Ruth Jones and Michael Starr
Photo by Barry Weiss

The unarguable triumph of Psyche: A Modern Rock Opera is the choreography of Janet Roston, which sets a company of 10, many of them veterans of university ballet and modern-dance programs, to dizzying displays of complex movement. From their first worshipful celebration of the young Psyche (Ashley Ruth Jones), through their incarnation of various spirits and demons doing the bidding of vengeful Greek gods, the ensemble is continuously expressive and interesting.
   At several points Roston and director Michael Matthews bring in trapezes for airborne acrobatics; they’re not as impressive as the aerial work we’ll see at the Pantages in Pippin next month, yet somehow, perhaps because of their proximity to us, they come across as even more moving.
   In other respects, expressive, moving, and interesting are not adjectives that can be consistently applied to Cindy Shapiro’s two-and-a-quarter hour, through-sung, atonal Emo retelling, in semi-modern terms, of the myth of Psyche and Cupid (here called Eros, perhaps to avoid any distracting hint of Valentine’s Day). Her score is one long moan, dynamically scored (by musical director Jack Wall) but lacking in eloquence and dramatic tension; the characters sing what they’re feeling and rarely if ever use the music to make decisions or create action. “Life is so difficult I cannot bear it / I might as well end it” is typical of the on-the-money nature of the lyrics, and the device of having singers repeat their verbs (“You must follow, follow”; “It’s time to travel, travel”) grows stale.

Despite five pages’ worth of program notes and synopsis, and excellent sound design by Cricket Myers, it proves virtually impossible to follow the narrative via visual or aural means; the existence of those five pages is actually a pretty potent hint that someone fears the audience won’t catch on. Our lifeline, and the sole source of the evening’s wit, is projected footnotes (yep, still more commentary) to tell us what has just occurred or what is being said, which proves helpful but clunky. Often the comments are downright sassy, as in “Psyche is fucked” or “Eros is fucked.” What’s significant here is that the spectator would have absolutely no way of discerning the fuckedness of either character in the absence of those side notes, a sure sign that something on stage is simply not communicating.
   If this work is to have a life beyond its six-week engagement at the Greenway Court, Shapiro might do well to introduce Psyche is such a way as to earn our empathy and interest. Right now she’s a construct who never comes alive as a character, and thus she inspires indifference. Shapiro would also be wise not to banish Eros (Michael Starr, an impressively chiseled hunk o’ beefcake) to the attic for the entirety of Act Two, like the first Mrs. Rochester; give him a love song to remind us he’s there, for Pete’s sake, and maybe one with a melody we can turn our ears and hearts around to, for once. And Eros is both the son and lover of Aphrodite (Laura L. Thomas, lively if pitchy); couldn’t more be done with that?
   Despite all the great dancing and strong production values, Psyche: A Modern Rock Opera never escapes its crippling, pretentious self-importance. The soul of humanity, so the Greek myths tell us, was born at the hands of Psyche. Greater infusions of humanity couldn’t do Psyche any harm, for sure.

September 1, 2014

Aug. 29–Sept. 28. 544 N. Fairfax Blvd. (Free parking adjacent to the theater). Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 7pm. $34.99. (323) 655.7679 x100.

www.psycherockopera.com

g.co/maps/78vme
 

 
6 Rms Riv Vu
Sierra Madre Playhouse

Reviewed by Dink O’Neal


Craig McEldowney, Lena Bouton, Kristin Towers-Rowles, Jeremy Guskin.
Photo by Gina Long

In truth, playwright Bob Randall’s piece feels a bit dated with its references to 1970s-era authors, events and societal issues that now seem antiquated. But, for the most part, director Sherrie Lofton and her company tender an often quaint look back to a time of surprisingly affordable New York City rental properties and more than a fair share of polyester double-knit.
   As the title suggests, a seemingly spacious six-room apartment, complete with an offstage kitchen, maid’s quarters, and service entrance is on the market for what, even in the play’s 1972 setting, is the ridiculously bargain price of $325 a month. Arriving separately at the behest of a listing agent are Anne Miller, a mother of two, and Paul Friedman, an advertising copywriter. Oh, and that “river view?” Well, according to one character’s observations, a glimpse of the Hudson can be had if you crane your neck out one of the bathroom windows at just the right angle. Accidentally locked in the apartment due to a faulty front door knob, these two begin what quickly develops into a relationship based on their desires for something a little more exciting than their respective marriages.
   The chemistry that performers Lena Bouton and Jeremy Guskin bring to these roles is engaging, although the sometimes breakneck pace at which their extended scenes have been directed runs roughshod over punch lines and transitional moments. Guskin, in particular, rolls equal parts boyish bounciness and comic mania into his portrayal of Paul. His delivery of a long monologue detailing a one-time flirtation with a young lady on a New York subway car is enthralling. Bouton, too, is button cute but tends to go for broader, more rushed, deliveries when perhaps subtlety would be more effective. And given the script’s emphasis on the need for surreptitiousness during their clandestine meetings, the characters’ volume levels would easily alert any surrounding residents other than those suffering from total deafness.
   Supporting cast members range from fair to excellent. On the positive end of that range are Kristin Towers-Rowles and Craig McEldowney as, respectively, Paul’s wife, Janet, and Anne’s spouse, Richard, who arrive in Act 2 to check out the apartment. Towers-Rowles brings a wonderful joie de vivre to Janet, the somewhat stereotypical Jewish housewife whose dalliances with the Women’s Liberation Movement and her sense of sexual freedom are hilarious. As Richard, McEldowney excellently portrays this straitlaced architect, whose interest in redesigning their potential new abode overshadows Anne’s obvious discomfort. And as the Lady in 4A who reluctantly comes to the leading couple’s rescue, Lynndi Scott steals every scene she visits. Her acceptance of various pieces of fruit from a picnic Anne and Paul are holding in the empty living room is pricelessly funny in its simplicity.
   Lofton’s creative team does a bang-up job transporting the audience back in time. Scenic designer Jon Vertrees works magic, given that the entire set contains not one stick of furniture. Out-of-style wallpaper, marked with gritty outlines depicting where the previous occupant’s framed items hung, reveal Vertrees’s exquisite attention to detail. Naila Aladdin Sanders’s period-perfect costume designs include go-go boots, caftans, and, of course, America’s contribution to clothing disasters, the leisure suit.

August 7, 2014
 
Aug. 1–Sept. 6. 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. Ample free parking behind the theater. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2:30pm, with additional performances (see theater’s website). Dark Aug. 16. $12–25. (626) 355-4318.

www.sierramadreplayhouse.org

goo.gl/maps/iOia
 
The following have generously supported ArtsInLA.com....

 
Lucy Pollak
   Public Relations

  www.lucypr.com

 
Judith Borne
   Public Relations

  www.BorneIdentities.com

 
Ken Werther
Publicity


 
Philip Sokoloff
  Publicity for the Theatre

    showbizphil@sbcglobal.net

 
Demand PR/David Elzer    Marketing and Public Relations

www.demandpr.com

 
Jerry Charlson
   Up & Running Arts Management and Consultants

(323) 733-7073 

 
Lynn Tejada
Green Galactic

www.greengalactic.com

 
Sandra Zeitzew
Director of Public Relations
Santa Monica Playhouse

 www.SantaMonicaPlayhouse.com


 

  Sandra Kuker
Publicity

SJKukerPR@gmail.com


 
Tell them you read about it on ArtsInLA.com

 
...and contact us at info@ArtsInLA.com!

...or tweet us at @ArtsInLAcom (no dot)!


Undateable
Second City

Reviewed by Dany Margolies


Amanda Blake Davis and Robyn Norris

Sometimes theater is about humankind’s greatest achievers. Sometimes it’s about supremely tragic figures. And sometimes, as with this show, it’s about the rest of us.
   A group of Second City’s fine performers went off piste and conducted a social experiment. After Robyn’s (Robyn Norris) friend posted a profile on a dating site and asked Robyn to check it over, Robyn set up an account to access the site. Robyn created the outlandish profile of an admittedly “crazy-insane person” she named TracyLovesCats. A shockingly large number of men—and women—responded, begging for various forms of contact with “Tracy.”
   Norris’s fellow troupe members Chris Alvarado, Rob Belushi, Amanda Blake Davis, Kate Duffy, and Bob Ladewig joined in, posting outrageous profiles no one could possibly think were anything other than a joke. These performers’ “sketch” show, Undateable, re-enacts verbatim the heartfelt responses by real, everyday people to these perverse personals.
   So, even though Rob (Belushi) pushed the intimacy-phobic envelope with DoorSlamEric, women think Eric is dateable. And although PioneerInABox (Kate Duffy) gets busted (she claims to function as if in the 1860s, yet she’s online), she manages to lure interest. Even Amanda’s (Blake Davis) age-questionable Old4U75 appeals to a prospective beau.
   The show, a fascinating concept, is well-structured and is imaginatively directed by Frank Caeti. It is also, of course, hilarious, though a strong strain of sympathy runs through it. And even though the show has been running for months, the performers have fresh energy. These performers are more interested in telling their story than in “being funny,” so the laughs come from the audience’s self-recognition and not from any obnoxious stage-hogging shenanigans.
   The troupe sings and dances—and not badly—to enhance several of their “scientific” points about romantic behavior. A few minutes of improv at the end of the show reflect the performers’ well-honed chops.
   Locational cautions: The venue is in Hollywood where street parking has a two-hour limit, metered until midnight on Fridays. The show is a mere one hour, but it undoubtedly will start a few minutes late. In addition, the theater is upstairs, and the site has no elevator. But if you’re swift and spry, head on up there for a dose of reality. It will probably provide you with more than several hearty belly laughs. It might also make you weep for mankind.

August 19, 2013

6560 Hollywood Blvd. Fri 9pm. $10.

www.secondcityhollywoodshows.com

goo.gl/maps/kGBj
 

 
Lear
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum

Reviewed by Dany Margolies


Ellen Geer and Dane Oliver
Photo by Ian Flanders

Shakespeare’s King Lear has its potencies. Simply described, it follows the downfall of a once-
powerful leader and the dysfunction of his family. Pondering his retirement, the monarch asks his three daughters to avow their love. The elder two, Goneril and Regan, lavish empty words on papa. The youngest, Cordelia, refuses to play that game, believing her actions of loyalty and respect will trump her sisters’ verbiage.
   The role of Lear is also a noted goal of male actors who are, shall we say, no longer castable as Romeo. Audiences expect to see an aged Lear, whose two eldest daughters are married, who is ready to divide his kingdom among the three heirs. Age and apparent frailty aside, Lear commands the stage, the role requiring vocal and emotional range and calling for masses of memorization. Who among our great actors can fit the bill?
   And, can a woman take on the role?

After more than 40 years of filling theatergoers’ summer schedules with various productions of Shakespeare plays and starring in probably every leading female role in those plays, Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum artistic director Ellen Geer takes on Lear. Completing the gender swap, this Lear’s three children are sons. Will the audience feel more protective of a female Lear? Do the two sons’ actions now feel like elder abuse? Alas, it seems disrespect, hunger for power, and plain ol’ cruelty know no gender.
   It’s possible audiences quite familiar with King Lear will find that the intellectual exercise trumps much of the text’s emotional impact. Quite easily, the word father become mother, he becomes she, and so forth, and for the most part the meter still scans as Shakespeare wrote it. But the acting and the picturesque and effective staging in this production, co-directed by Geer and Melora Marshall, thrill where it matters most.

At the play’s top, Geer’s Lear is a bloated bag of ego. The flattery of elder sons Goneril (Aaron Hendry) and Regan (Christopher W. Jones) sits well with her. When she hears the simple “no more, nor less” from her youngest son, Cordelian (Dane Oliver), Geer’s Lear evidences a recognition that he may be speaking accurately and from a deeper love; but she’s embarrassed and rejects him out of pride.
   Lear takes a fall, despite the best efforts of her loyal advisors and companions. The Fool, more often seen in gender-blind casting than the other characters are, is here played by Marshall. Although the character is still referred to as “boy” and “sirrah,” Marshall gives the Fool deep sisterly devotion and care, while maintaining the verbal comedy the role allows. Kent is played by Gerald C. Rivers in a Caribbean accent when face-to-face with the sane Lear, in standard English elsewhere. Lear, Fool, and Kent ride out the storm on the roof of Theatricum Botanicum’s permanent two-story structure, the outdoor stage providing perfect ambience for the play’s outdoor scenes.
   Less easy to see, Edgar’s main scene is enacted far house right. Edgar, though, is here called Eden, played with sturdy sincerity and a notably expressive voice by Willow Geer. Eden’s sibling, Edmund in the original, is here Igraine, played with head-to-toe resentful ire by Abby Craden.
   Other acting standouts are Alan Blumenfeld as the eye-gouged Gloucester and Frank Weidner as Goneril’s henchman Oswald. But the night’s biggest surprise is young Oliver, who plays Cordelian with classic delivery and physicality, and who will undoubtedly shore up the company’s needs in the up-and-coming-actor department. It’s a thrill to watch him go a round with Geer.

Lines get rewritten to suit the gender shift. “Put’st down thine own breeches” becomes “lift’d up thine own skirt.” Puzzlingly, however, here Lear says, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/To have a shameful child!”
   One of theater’s great stage directions, “Re-enter Lear, with Cordelia dead in his arms,” is staged by the Geer family with due respect to the text, as well as to the gender swap. After Lear has found Cordelian’s body, hanged in prison, Ellen Geer emerges from a trap door in the stage, seeming to hoist Oliver up the stairs. In this version, at play’s end, Edgar and Albany will share the throne.
   Marshall McDaniel provides evocative original music, and Ian Flanders and McDaniel contribute scene-setting sound design. Speaking of even more of the Geer family, in grand Theatricum tradition the family dog gets a cameo, showing stage presence and not reacting to the awws of the audience.

June 10, 2014
 
June 7–Sept 28. 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. The theater is outdoors, bring a jacket, cushion, and a flashlight for the walk back to the car. Repertory schedule. $10–37, children 6 and under free. (310) 455-3723.

www.theatricum.com

goo.gl/maps/Lgx2
 

 
The Brothers Size
The Fountain Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder


Gilbert Glenn Brown, Matthew Hancock, and Theodore Perkins
Photo by Ed Krieger

It would be surprising if the emergent notoriety of playwright Terell Alvin McCraney didn’t lead to a career compared to that of his former mentor, the late August Wilson. The Brothers Size, one play in McCraney’s epic Brothers/Sisters Trilogy, is an emotional slap of a drama. At the Fountain Theatre, it succeeds last year’s In the Red and Brown Water to disprove the old adage that lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
   As with Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size is set in San Pere: a steamy-hot, hole-in-the-wall town near a bayou somewhere in the rugged and disaster-prone backwaters of rural Louisiana. Here Ogun Size (played by Gilbert Glenn Brown with salient ferocity and a deep well of understanding for the still-inequitable nature of human oppression) has agreed to share his home and auto repair business with his troubled kid brother, Oshoosi (a remarkable Matthew Hancock), after the younger Size is released from prison.
   The story is based on the mythology of West Africa’s Yoruba culture, tales passed down from generation to generation, utilizing roughhewn poetry and pulsating rhythms to explore and identify the roots of familial love and devotion when faced with the reality of loss and the ever-present gleam of temptation.
   Try as he will to get Oshoosi out of his bed and focusing on the future, Ogun’s patient efforts are thwarted by the recurring appearance of Elegba (an engaging Theodore Perkins), his younger brother’s former cellmate with whom lust had obviously blossomed into something more substantial than physical desire as they paid their debt to society. Elegba is the slithering snake offering a ripe red apple, and soon all of Ogun’s plans for the rehabilitation of Oshoosi give way to Elegba’s dangerously questionable plotting.

The Brothers Size is about love—unconditional and otherwise—but it is also about the intangible quest for freedom in a society still racist at its core, a world that all too often drags the weak and vulnerable into a tangled web of bad decisions and inherited misfortune from which many will never escape.
   Director Shirley Jo Finney understands the nature of these men and the complexities of this material from somewhere deep in her core, expertly weaving in strikingly discordant staging and musicality to achieve a dreamlike, unreal ambience that at first hearkens back to the story’s ancient roots then melds seamlessly into the cacophonous pulse of our contemporary Southern climes. Utilizing modern hip-hop tempos and clanking hubcaps struck against Hana S. Kim’s austerely Dada-like metal beam–dominated set, Finney and her team exotically interpret McCraney’s vision as well as the original source material.
   With the aid of choreographer Ameenah Kaplan and the gifts of these outstanding performers, who go directly to the top of the list as this year’s most exceptional ensemble cast in Los Angeles as they exquisitely embrace the poetry and theatricality of the piece, once again the team of Finney and Fountain proves a match made in dramaturgical heaven.
  

June 14, 2014
 
June 7–Sept. 14. 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood. Secure, on-site parking, $5. Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm (dark June 19-22 and July 4). Running time 80 minutes. $25-34. (323) 663-1525.

www.FountainTheatre.com

g.co/maps/7fvyw
 

 
Announcing ArtsInLA.com’s
Sage Awards
for theater in 2013


   Who says critics don’t like anything? Our theater critics chose their tops of 2013, from best production through best fight choreography, and the crossover among our choices gave rise to a surprisingly large list.
   And so we have decided to inaugurate our Sage Awards—named for the obvious reference to the wisdom we hope for, but also for the plant that covers the Los Angeles area, as we do.
   Congratulations to the Sage Award winners, and we hope to share more great theater in 2014.


PRODUCTION

Ah, Wilderness!, Actors Co-op

El Grande de Coca Cola, Ruskin Group Theatre

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre

One Night in Miami…, Rogue Machine

Our Class, Son of Semele Ensemble at Atwater Village Theatre  

Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre

The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre

The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre

We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915, Matrix Theatre

PLAYWRITING

Jennifer Haley, The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre

Bruce Norris, A Parallelogram, Mark Taper Forum

Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami…, Rogue Machine

Christopher Shinn, Dying City, Rogue Machine

Jackie Sibblies Drury, We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915, Matrix Theatre

ADAPTATION

David Ives, The Liar, Antaeus Company

Nancy Keystone, Alcestis, The Theatre @ Boston Court

Jessica Kubzansky, R II, The Theatre @ Boston Court

MUSICAL SCORE

Joe Iconis, The Black Suits, Kirk Douglas Theatre

John Kander and Fred Ebb, The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre

DIRECTION

Matthew McCray, Our Class, Son of Semele Ensemble at Atwater Village Theatre

Michael Peretzian, Dying City, Rogue Machine

Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

Ken Sawyer, The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre

MUSIC DIRECTION

Dennis Castellano, The Fantasticks, South Coast Repertory

Eric Heinly, A Midsummer Saturday Night’s Fever Dream, Troubadour Theater Company at Falcon Theatre

Ross Seligman, One Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse

Robyn Wallace, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Chance Theater  

CHOREOGRAPHY

Rob Ashford, Evita, Pantages Theatre

Matthew Bourne, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre

Lee Martino, Nuttin’ but Hutton, NoHo Arts Center

Arlene Phillips, The Wizard of Oz, Pantages Theatre

Susan Stroman, The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre

Kelly Todd, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Chance Theater

FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY

Ken Merckx, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

SCENIC DESIGN

Adrian W. Jones, The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre

Keith Mitchell, Billy & Ray, Falcon Theatre

Allen Moyer, Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Jeanine A. Ringer, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

Thomas A. Walsh, Annapurna, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and Evidence Room, at Odyssey Theatre

LIGHTING DESIGN

Ken Booth, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

Paule Constable, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre

Christopher Kuhl, The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre

David Lander, Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Justin Townsend, One Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse

COSTUME DESIGN

Angela Balogh Calin, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

Lez Brotherston, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre

Michael Krass, Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

SOUND DESIGN

Jonathan Snipes, Wait Until Dark, Geffen Playhouse

PERFORMANCE IN A (PRIMARILY) STRAIGHT PLAY

Mark Bramhall (grandfather), Walking the Tightrope, 24th STreet Theatre

Phil Crowley (Nat Miller, father), Ah, Wilderness!, Actors Co-Op

Jason Dechert (young Pericles and pandar), Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

Arye Gross (Mr. Sipos), Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center

Robert Lesser (lawyer/Greek chorus), A View From the Bridge, Pacific Resident Theater

Dakin Matthews (Doyle), The Nether, Kirk Douglas Theatre

Seth Numrich (Eli), Slipping, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at Lillian Theatre

Deborah Strang (narrator), Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within

Paige Lindsey White (Esme the granddaughter), Walking the Tightrope, 24th STreet Theatre

PERFORMANCE IN A (PRIMARILY) MUSICAL PRODUCTION

Sabrina Elayne Carten (Blues Singer), One Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse

Nate Dendy (The Mute), The Fantasticks, South Coast Repertory

Mary Bridget Davies (Janis), One Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse

Jamie McKnight (Scarecrow), The Wizard of Oz, Pantages Theatre

Josh Young (Che), Evita, Pantages Theatre

SOLO PERFORMANCE

Lorenzo Pisoni, Humor Abuse, Mark Taper Forum


ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

The Katrina Comedy Fest, Bayou Playhouse and Flambeaux Productions at Lounge Theatre: Peggy Blow, Deidrie Henry, Travis Michael Holder***, Judy Jean Berns, L. Trey Wilson, and Jan Munroe

One Night in Miami…, Rogue Machine: Giovanni Adams, Kevin Daniels, Jason Delane, Matt Jones, Ty Jones, Jason E. Kelley, Burl Moseley, and Jah Shams

Our Class, Son of Semele Ensemble at Atwater Village Theatre: Melina Bielefelt, Sharyn Gabriel, Matt Kirkwood, Michael Nehring, Gary Patent, Gavin Peretti, Sarah Roseberg, Kiff Scholl, Dan Via, and Alexander Wells

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre: Johanna Chase, Paul Haitkin, Michael Hanson, Elizabeth Herron, Carl J. Johnson, Che Landon, Ed F. Martin, Ann Noble, Dylan Seaton, Christine Sloane, and Paul Witten

The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre: Gilbert L. Bailey II, David Bazemore, Ayanna Berkshire, Shavey Brown, Christopher James Culberson, Joshua Henry, Trent Armand Kendall, Max Kumangai, Hal Linden, JC Montgomery, Justin Prescott, Clinton Roane, Cedric Sanders, Deandre Sevon, Christian Dante White, and C. Kelly Wright

We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915, Matrix Theatre: Daniel Bess, Julanne Chidi Hill, Joe Holt, Phil LaMarr, Rebecca Mozo, and John Sloan


***Travis Michael Holder reviews for ArtsInLA.com. He did not nominate himself, nor did he nominate his show.


The voting theater critics of ArtsInLA.com: Travis Michael Holder, Dany Margolies, Julio Martinez, Dink O’Neal, Melinda Schupmann, and Bob Verini

January 5, 2014
 

 
Race
Kirk Douglas Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder


DeWanda Wise and Chris Bauer
Photo by Craig Schwartz

There was a time when seeing a new play by David Mamet promised an evening charged with electricity, a guaranteed celebration of just how stimulating and provocative art can be if the artist is willing to not give a proverbial rat’s ass what people will think. With the LA debut of Mamet’s newest play at the Douglas, however, all the circuits have been connected with the precise hand of a long-established pro, but the resulting charge is simply not the intense jolt it used to be.
   Race unfolds in one room: the conference room of a well-heeled big-city law office, where partners Jack Lawson (Chris Bauer) and Henry Brown (Dominic Hoffman) are grilling a potential client to decide if they are willing to take on his controversial case. As the firm’s comely intern Susan (DeWanda Wise) sits unobtrusively in the background taking notes on the meeting, pompous business mogul Charles Strickland (Jonno Roberts), accused of raping a young black girl he had been dating, grudgingly and half-heartedly tells his side of the events.
   It’s fairly apparent Strickland chose this firm to take his case, after releasing another, mainly because of the partners’ make-up. Lawson is white, Brown is African-American. One would assume the question would be whether the partners believe the man’s story, but, as Lawson sermonizes to his protégée Susan, the man’s innocence or guilt is unimportant. Instead, the question is whether or not they can persuade the jury that he’s innocent. “He gets off,” Lawson pontificates, “because his entertainer—that would be me—put on a better show.” Asked at one point by Susan, who is also African-American, whether somewhere down deep he thinks black people are less intelligent than whites, Lawson quickly counters that he thinks all people are stupid and blacks are not exempt.

Under Scott Zigler’s crisply slick direction, the production features a dynamic cast and design team that would be hard to better. And even though Mamet has created Susan as far more three-dimensional and instrumental to the plot than are any of his past female characters, something is missing here, especially in the play’s highly predictable ending. The language and themes—not to mention the title—are just as provocative as in those exciting old Glengarry Glen Ross and American Buffalo days, but somehow the writing doesn’t pack the wallop one would expect from one of our time’s most courageous—and most feted—wordsmiths.
   Perhaps we’ve all become inured to the sharply barbed language and skewering one-liners a new play by Mamet promises to deliver. Or perhaps the playwright has reached that place in his renown where he does give that aforementioned rat’s ass after all. It’s just that the usual rat-a-tat-tat urgency of his brilliant, daring early work seems somewhat subdued here. But don’t give up hope. This is a guy with a few surprises up his sleeve yet, especially if he goes back to revisit that brashly youthful time when he didn’t care what his audiences’—or his critics’—reaction would be.

September 8, 2014

Sept. 7–28. 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Free parking underneath City Hall, immediately south of the theater. Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 1pm & 6:30 pm. Running time 1 hour and 40 minutes, including intermission. $20–55. (213) 628-2772.

www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

g.co/maps/ejjjf
 

 
Trying
International City Theatre

Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann


Paige Lindsey White and Tony Abatemarco
Photo by Suzanne Mapes

A theatrical reminiscence by Joanna McClelland Glass about a time when she served as secretary to Judge Francis Biddle gets a standout production at International City Theatre. Its casting choices—Tony Abatemarco playing Biddle, Paige Lindsey White as his assistant Sarah “with an h”—make the very literate and demanding script a thoughtful and intimate view of two people whose lives are changing.
   Biddle, a judge at the Nuremberg trials and former attorney general of the United States under Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, is 82 and declares that this will be the last year of his life. He claims, “The exit sign is flashing over the door.” Sarah is one in a long string of women who have worked for him, mostly unsuccessfully, and she has been urged by Biddle’s wife to try to work with him in spite of his curmudgeonly ways.
   Sarah is from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and credits her Canadian prairie roots for her ability to prevail over Biddle’s dictatorial pronouncements. She admires his record and wants to make this part-time job work.
   Abatemarco inhabits Biddle most convincingly; his transformation into a cantankerous octogenarian with increasing lapses of memory and physical ailments is commanding. White has her work cut out for her to hold her own against Abatemarco’s rich characterization and dialogue, but she gives her character subtle nuances and agreeable charm.

Glass packs a heap of history and literature into her script. Biddle’s ancestor, Virginian Edmund Randolph, was the country’s first attorney general. Most of his siblings had notable careers. Some melancholy days at Groton and then Harvard come into focus, though he is definitely a proponent of an Ivy League education. At least it looks that way to Sarah, a fact that comes up early in her employment.
   Glass credits Biddle with deep regret over his part in America’s internment of Japanese-American citizens during the war. He interjects much of his past into moments with Sarah as he relies more and more on her. He is delighted to learn that she likes poetry, as his wife is poet Katherine Chapin. They share a fondness for e. e. cummings, and throughout the production Biddle quotes from respected writers. He is particularly distressed by grammatical errors, and chides Sarah for her use of split infinitives.
   Director John Henry Davis keeps the action lively in spite of the erudite nature of the play. He finds ways to shine a light on White in the midst of Abatemarco’s imposing presence. Over time, as Sarah becomes more important to Biddle’s welfare, he adjusts the mood accordingly.
   JR Bruce’s inventive set with books stacked sky high sets the tone for the scholarly discourse. The set of stairs stage right leading from Biddle’s home to his office plays a role in watching him grow more and more frail.
   Dave Mickey’s sound design uses Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, and other popular groups of the 1960s to help anchor the audience in the time period. Also, radio clips of significant events like Martin Luther King’s assassination keeps that going as scenes change. Donna Ruzika’s lighting design works well with the overall mood.

Though audiences in Los Angeles tend to stand in appreciation at the end of plays, the instantaneous and universal acclamation on the night attended speaks volumes for the recognition that this is a special play. It is passionate, humorous, and intelligent throughout. By play’s end, the “trying,” by all involved, to make the relationship work proves a success.

August 24, 2014

Aug. 22–Sept. 14. 300 East Ocean Blvd., Long BeachFri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $42-47. (562) 436-4610.

www.InternationalCityTheatre.org

goo.gl/maps/fr2ed
 

 
One in the Chamber
Lounge Theatre

Reviewed by Bob Verini


Robert Bella, Emily Peck, and Heidi Sulzman
Photo by Chelsea Coleman Photography

For committed theatergoers, there's no happier occasion than stumbling upon a mature, polished work of dramatic art where you never expected to find one. In the little hole-in-the-wall Lounge on Santa Monica Boulevard, 6140 Productions is putting up the world premiere of Marja-Lewis Ryan’s One in the Chamber, and you will not encounter a more stimulating evening of theater this year, nor one harder to shake off.
   A strong sense of something special is conveyed the moment you enter the theater space and scope out Michael Fitzgerald’s precisely detailed re-creation of a Colorado farming-home kitchen. Dozens of family photos attest to strong ties, and there’s evidence of activity everywhere: kids’ artwork proudly displayed; sports equipment leaning against the walls; cereal boxes and bread loaves attesting to meals eaten on the fly; laundry piled up for the folding.
   And yet something’s not quite right. Could it be the sense of incompletion, as if all the frantic busy-ness seems to have ceased in place? Or is it that not a single square inch of the spacious kitchen is given over to a family’s settling-in as a group? Whatever the cause of our unease, the set most definitely kicks off speculation on the psychology of the kitchen’s inhabitants, in a stimulating overture to the 75-minute gem that follows.

Ryan’s theme is psychic chaos in the wake of catastrophe, explored through a painfully plausible premise. Six years ago, a 10-year-old accidentally killed his younger brother with a handgun in this very room. Today, a state social worker (Emily Peck) has arrived to interview each of the survivors—father, mother, two sister, and the perp—to decide whether Adam (Alec Frasier) can be taken off probation to live a normal life.
   Normal? What can be normal under these circumstances? Ryan sidesteps all the traps of her given situation. She never falls into Movie-of-the-Week sentimentality or cliché, nor does she take a tendentious, preachy stance on the Second Amendment. All she’s after is a slice of life, albeit lives that have been sliced worse than any family should ever have to cope with. And she achieves it through emotion and behavior that are, from beginning to end, precisely observed and rendered.
   The production is seamlessly paced and cast. Heidi Sulzman, as bipolar mom Helen, has perhaps the most torturous arc to follow, and she’s magnificent, but so is every performance: Robert Bella, easygoing dad desperate to keep peace; Kelli Anderson as elder daughter Kaylee, angsty as any rebellious teen but with an extra air of sadness; Fenix Isabella, all gangly and screechie as little Ruthie, a breath of life in a house that needs it. Frasier is left until the end and lives up to the buildup, a sweet, walking wound. All of the interrogations are masterfully managed by Peck.

If this is, as Ryan admits, the work of a novice director, I cannot wait to see what she produces after more seasoning. But there is no need to wait, as One in the Chamber runs into September. You won’t soon forget it.

August 11, 2014
 
July 12–Sept. 7. 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 7pm. $25. (323) 960-7724.

www.plays411.com/chamber

goo.gl/maps/uEI7Z
 

 
Broadway Bound
Odyssey Theatre

Reviewed by Jonas Schwartz


Michael Mantell, Noah James, Betsy Zajko, Ian Alda, Allan Miller, and Gina Hecht
Photo by Enci

Jason Alexander, co-star of the original Broadway cast of Broadway Bound, directs this nostalgic piece with enough pathos and humor to stir audiences’ hearts. Led by the sensitive actor Gina Hecht, the top-caliber cast mines Neil Simon’s jokes for all their potency, while remaining grounded in this touching memoir of a family collapsing.
   The final play of Simon’s “Brighton Beach” trilogy, Broadway Bound is more dramatic and less jovial than Brighton Beach Memoirsand Biloxi Blues. In winter 1949, the Jerome family is at a crossroads as some members are climbing the capitalist ladder and others are tied to the pre–World War II world, have lost their way.
   The narrator Eugene (Ian Alda) is no longer the naive child of the first play. He and his brother, Stanley (Noah James), have begun an exciting writing career. Their Aunt Blanche (Betsy Zajko), who in Brighton Beach Memoirs is a lonely widow struggling with two daughters, has married a wealthy man and now lives comfortably on Park Avenue.
   Heartbreakingly, the marriage of parents Kate (Hecht) and Jack (Michael Mantell) is disintegrating. The noble, kind spirit that led the household in Brighton Beach Memoirs is gone. Jack has lost the integrity that Eugene idolized in that first play. Weak and sometimes cruel, Jack treats his family like strangers. Kate, who lives to serve her family, finds her boys growing up and her husband sneaking away, so her purpose is dwindling. Grandfather Ben (Allan Miller) ignores his ill wife and lives separately from her in the Jerome house, ranting Socialist rhetoric about how the country has fallen apart.

Dealing with the tragedy of growing old and growing apart, author Simon, who won a Tony for the play in 1986, still manages to be hilariously astute. Punch lines about the generation gap, familial bonds, and life in the lower middle class never mock the characters but shine a light on experiences many share.
   Alexander, who played Stanley in the original production, displays a special affinity with these people, and that filters through to the cast. Miller, as the cantankerous but wise grandfather, plays the role with insight into Ben’s values and into his selfishness. Zajko brings tenderness to Blanche, a central character from the first play, now on the sidelines in the family, too wealthy to fit in anymore and too representative of everything her father hates to connect with him. Zajko makes it clear how much Blanche cares and how frustrating it must be to drift away when she can financially support the people who saved her and her children during the first play.
   James is a firecracker as Stanley, filled with anxiety, hope, and combustive energy of someone on the brink of success. He flops around like a yippy dog, endearing his character to the audience. Mantell has a tougher role, and, due to either brave or unwise choices, his performance didn’t ingratiate his character to the audience. It would take finesse to draw the audience to Jack despite his unlikable actions, and Mantell does not show the consternation in Jack’s current soul. He comes off as merely a cad.
   Eugene Morris Jerome has always represented the youthful exuberance, naiveté, and perceptiveness of Simon as a young man. It’s a great service to Simon’s voice that Ian Alda’s performance is so winning. Marveling at the family his character would eventually write about, Alda’s Eugene is observant, sensitive, and prescient.

But, Hecht holds the play together. Obstinate as a bull but protective and loving, her Kate is the Jewish mother audiences either cherish or wish they had. The play’s pièce de résistance, a monologue about Kate’s youthful dalliance with movie star George Raft, reveals a rebellious and passionate woman who may have been able to achieve more in a different world. Her foxtrot with Alda is graceful and touching.
   Set designer Bruce Goodrich and prop designer Katherine S. Hunt have turned the stage into a lived-in Brighton Beach Jewish home of the late ’40s with ironed doilies, hanging designer plates, sconces, and faded family photos. The costumes, by Kate Bergh, are appropriate for the period and this family’s financial lot.
   A special play, Broadway Bound is poetic in its interpretation of a family’s struggles. Unlike Eugene O’Neill’s, Tennessee Williams’s, or Edward Albee’s literary families, Simon’s famous family rallies together under adversity, with comedy and love. Alexander’s witty version is a valentine to families everywhere.

August 6, 2014
 
Aug. 2–Sept. 21. 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. There is wheelchair access. Fri-Sat 8pm, with selected Wed and Thu perfs, Sun matinee times vary. $30. (323) 960-4412.

www.odysseytheatre.com

g.co/maps/b9j59
 
Website Builder