Arts In LA
Mrs.
Parliament’s

Night Out

Torrance Theatre Company

Reviewed by Dany Margolies


Yvonne Robertson and Scot Renfro
Photo by Alex Madrid

Mr. Parliament has forgotten his 32nd wedding anniversary. Big oops? Perhaps not. His faux pas triggers in his wife the chance for growth and happiness in this Norm Foster comedy. This is no black-and-white portrayal of a marriage on the brink. Under the direction of Perry Shields, the play reveals layers of issues that have probably been building up for all 32 years Teresa and Chuck have spent together.
   Yes, Chuck is a self-absorbed male chauvinist. But much of that may be the result of Teresa’s seeming loss of interest in the marriage. At the top of the play, she looks dowdy (spot-on but subtle costume designs by Bradley Allen Lock) and trudges through her day without spark. Chuck, on the other hand, has been paying no attention to the vibrancy that now lies buried in Teresa. She’s bright, funny, and eager for adventure. He wants only to watch televised news. They’ve grown so far apart that she is preparing a special rice dish for him on their anniversary yet he doesn’t like rice.
   So Mrs. Parliament gives herself a night out. Actually, the play spans a few weeks, during which her nights out include attempts at bowling, photography, wine-tasting, boxing lessons, archery lessons, art lessons, and a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. At said meeting, she encounters and perhaps falls for the group leader. He is unmistakably interested in her, and she is wooed by his willingness to talk with and listen to her.

Yvonne Robertson and Scot Renfro portray the Parliaments. Robertson’s Teresa is lively and quick-witted. But, perhaps because of the character’s ambivalence, it’s hard for the audience to decide whether we like her. She is certainly far from perfect as she begins her journey, sucking what she can from life without regard to feelings or needs of others. Renfro’s Chuck is more clearly defined, a man disappointed by life and in fear of losing his roles as husband and worker.
   Five other actors play more than a dozen characters Mrs. Parliament meets along her voyage of self-discovery. These actors—Dan Adams, Bob Baumsten, Geraldine Fuentes, Joan Kubicek, and David McGee—ply accents, physicalities, and voices to create a tapestry of hilariously vivid “types.”
   Baumsten and Fuentes play the elderly Jewish neighbors (who deserve a show of their own). Then Baumsten bounces back out as a helpful bowler and a pugnacious boxing coach. Fuentes next limns a deliciously pompous singing teacher and an old-timer waitress. Kubicek plays the Parliaments’s solicitous daughter, then a rather butch buddy from the neighborhood bar, plus a creepy addict who’s just too fond of the NA group leader. Adams plays the neighborhood grocery store owner, sounding like the “Family Guy” version of the Pepperidge Farm guy. McGee plays a snooty jewelry salesman and an artist’s model, then convincingly takes on Teresa’s sympathetic potential love interest.

Yes, good work is going on onstage. But the audience is missing the show going on right behind the set, as the actors instantaneously peel off layered costumes, strap on big bellies, and slap on outrageous wigs for their next entrances.
   Did we call Lock’s costuming subtle? He blasts subtlety off the stage with an outfit for Teresa’s salsa instructor (Adams) of a metallic-red shirt over a white wife-beater and black satiny pajama bottoms, topped by a black mop-top wig.
   In large part thanks to the simple staging and effective utilitarian set (Cary Jordahl), the show runs at a spritely pace, clocking in at under two hours. An audience can learn plentiful lessons and enjoy plentiful laughs on this night out.

January 19, 2015
 
Jan. 17–Feb. 15. 1316 Cabrillo Ave, Torrance. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. (No perf Feb. 1, but additional show 8pm Feb. 12.) Running time, including intermission, 2 hours and 30 minutes. $25. (424) 242-6882.

FriendsofTTC@gmail.com

torrancetheatrecompany.com

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Revival
Lucid Dramatics at Acting Artists Theatre

Reviewed by Julio Martinez


Victor Gurevich and Ben Moroski
Photo by Andrew Oxenham

Written, directed, and produced by Carla Neuss, Revival attempts to chronicle the loneliness and despair of the disparate habitués of a small, hideaway cocktail bar. The bar is located in a downscale section of Los Angeles and is owned and operated by spiritual healer–cocktail guru Crispin (Ben Moroski). The bar’s regulars include socially jaundiced Tyler (Victor Gurevich), burnt-out pastor Fred (James Svatko), and jaded college student–turned–gentleman’s escort Jo (Adrienne Whitney). They seek refuge from reality by weaving a personal story that will inspire Crispin to concoct a special cocktail for each that captures the palate, assuages all fears, and promotes tranquility. Despite the earnest efforts of the ensemble, nothing else of any dramatic value is accomplished in this shortsighted stage work.
   Neuss indicates that Crispin is on an odyssey of his own, in search of the long-lost holy grail of liqueur that will somehow transform his own life. The playwright takes her woebegone losers-in-life through myriad storytellings, personal revelations, and confrontations. But, by play’s end, no one has been transformed. Everyone simply moves on. Neuss does not offer enough information about these lost souls for the audience to care what happens to them.

Moroski certainly projects the somber intensity of a man who is on a journey of discovery; but his Crispin remains a thematically unsatisfying enigma throughout. Whitney’s Jo is much more forthcoming, handling each of her three “dates”—all performed by a decidedly uncomfortable Joe Mortone—with efficiency and dispatch, while indicating she might want to achieve some level of personal commitment with Crispin. Yet, her eventual meltdown is arbitrary, having been set off by some activity offstage to which the audience isn’t privy.
   Gurevich’s Tyler is believable as a raw-nerved convert to the mandate of Crispin’s alcohol oasis—tell a sweet little story but leave the real world outside. He gives ample evidence that if it weren’t for the bar, his psyche would disintegrate. Svatko is endearing as the life-conflicted cleric. Unfortunately, he has trouble with his delivery, occasionally rendering himself inaudible.

Scenic designer Yuti Okaham creates a quirky-looking bar-lounge setting that evokes the aura of a secret hideaway. But the placement of the bar dead center at the rear of the stage results in awkward blocking. And Gieselle Blair’s wig designs do more damage than good as Martone struggles through his three date personas.
   Revival is in its premiere outing, affirming that Neuss has an original voice. With a running time of around 100 minutes, no intermission, it could stand a rewrite to flesh out the necessary storytelling elements that need amplification.

January 22, 2015
     
Jan. 18–Feb 7. 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. Sat 3pm & 8pm. Running time 1 hour and 40 minutes, no intermission. $25. (949) 616-9726.

www.luciddramatics.com

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The Whipping Man
South Coast Repertory

Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann


Adam Haas Hunter, Charlie Robinson, and Jarrod M. Smith

Matthew Lopez’s evocative Civil War story opens in near darkness as a Jewish Confederate captain, Caleb (Adam Haas Hunter), drags himself into his severely damaged home near Richmond, Va., a few days after the recent cessation of the war. Seriously wounded, he is met by former slave Simon (Charlie Robinson), who has stayed behind to look after things after the family fled. When Simon recognizes Caleb, he offers Hebrew blessings for his return. The family and its slaves shared Judaism as their spiritual ethic.
   They are soon joined by John (Jarrod M. Smith), another slave who has grown up with Caleb but whose personal history is a mix of thievery, rebellion, and drunkenness. He brings with him liquor and household items he has “liberated” from the area’s stores and homes. Simon immediately presses him into service, as Caleb’s gangrenous leg needs to be amputated, and Caleb refuses to go to the military hospital. The home becomes a sanctuary of sorts for the three. Caleb is also reminded that John and Simon are now free men, and their attentiveness is doing what is right rather than what they are bound to perform.

Lopez’s play mixes historical racial narrative with melodrama, and though it has many inconsistencies, the production overcomes some of its problems. Director Martin Benson focuses on the human side of the conflict by developing rich characterizations.
   Robinson’s quiet dignity and humor keep Simon from devolving into caricature. The portrayal is believable as Simon celebrates his faith and takes pride in his worth to the family. He anchors reality as the story unfolds.
   Hunter is also excellent as the privileged Southerner who has returned home with secrets and sees his future as bleak. He embodies weakness and regret. His amputation scene is a cringeworthy masterpiece, and his subsequent suffering never falters.
   Smith is also notable as the angry recipient of the “whipping man’s” administration of Southern justice. As John taunts Caleb with accusations, he projects pent-up rage. He is brash yet embraces his Judaism faithfully with all of its traditions. One of the most interesting scenes in the play is a Seder dinner planned by Simon that the three share.

Tom Buderwitz’s set design is elegant, showing vestiges of what once was a grand home with well-appointed design. Tattered curtains hang from the tall windows, and holes in the walls and roof attest to war’s destructive nature. Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz’s muted lighting adds to the melancholy mood and enhances the bleak sadness of the storyline.
   Michael Roth’s original music/soundscape ratchets up the underlying atmosphere, giving the production enhanced presence. Angela Balogh Calin’s costumes also add to the poignancy of Southern failure.
   Lopez’s play suffers from a plethora of story threads that bog down the central theme of freedom and racial equality. Still, its message prompts discussion and examination of the human condition, especially in light of our daily dose of societal inequities.

January 16, 2014
 
Jan. 9–25, then moves to Pasadena Playhouse. 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa Schedule and ticket prices are on SCR’s site. (714) 708-5555.

www.scr.org

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Viral
Moving Arts and Bootleg Theatre, at Bootleg Theatre

Reviewed by Neal Weaver


Alicia Adams and Daniel Dorr
Photo by Justin Zsebe

Playwright Mac Rogers has written an oddball comedy about suicide. But his thinking is so muddled, it’s sometimes hard to tell if he’s for it or against it. Scatterbrained Geena (Mariel Higuera), her bullying boyfriend Colin (Daniel Dorr), and her onanistic brother Jarvis (Oscar Camacho) are sexually aroused by witnessing death. But they’re not interested in plain, garden-variety snuff films. They want the death to be peaceful, beautiful, and self-willed by the dying. They’ve come up with the unlikely notion that if they make a death movie of their own, they can make a fortune by selling it to people who share their interests and proclivities.
   To make their film, they must find a star/victim who wants to die and will consent to do so under their auspices. So they create a bogus assisted-suicide website, and then they wait for applicants. One soon appears, in the person of practical, laconic Meredith (Alicia Adams). She’s no fool and soon tumbles to the fact that the three are not quite what they pretend to be. But she wants to die, and she has no money, so if they provide the place and the drugs, why not go along?
   But it’s not so simple: Eager Reena wants to create a handsome set for the shoot, Colin wants a dress rehearsal using tic-tacs to represent the lethal pills, and Jarvis is so turned on he keeps retreating to his room to masturbate. And when their prospective producer Mr. Snow (Mark Kinsey Stephenson) appears, he wants Meredith to die in the nude to make the film more commercially viable, but this offends Colin and Reena, so they decide to become their own distributors.

Just what point Rogers is trying to make is never very clear. He makes a last-minute effort to introduce human content, by having Meredith inspire Reena to rebel against the bossy, hypercritical Colin. But at least the piece is sometimes funny, and director Darin Anthony keeps things lively enough to make us almost forget that it goes on at least 20 minutes too long. And the actors make the most of their roles. Higuera finds considerable charm in Reena’s eager-beaver scattiness, Dorr’s Colin is properly officious, and Camacho derives a measure of comedy from Jarvis’s eternal horniness. The most impressive performance, however, is Adams’s. Her Meredith may be loony, but she has common sense, and at least she knows what she wants.
   Curiously, the show has a very odd starting time of 7:17pm. The number gets a brief mention during the play.

January 12, 2015
 
Jan. 10–31. 2220 Beverly Blvd., downtown LA. Thu-Sat 7:17pm (note early curtain). Running time approx. 90 minutes with no intermission. $15–25. (213) 389-3856.

www.bootlegtheater.org

g.co/maps/j454m
 
Love, Sex and the I.R.S.
Palos Verdes Performing Arts at Norris Theatre

Reviewed by Dany Margolies


Bryan Dobson, Diane Vincent, and Jeffrey Cannata
Photo by Melissa Mollo

Farce. It’s that theatrical plot in which a character—apparently always male—tells a lie and gets wound up in it. Then, somehow, over the course of two hours, he manages to unwind himself and earn the forgiveness of his fellow characters. Not many stage productions of farce succeed. This one does, earning top marks all around.
   Billy van Zandt and Jane Milmore wrote the play in the late 1970s, and director Ken Parks sets his version in that era. The play is considerably funnier in that context. Somehow, in the 1970s, love seemed easier, sex more daring, and tax fraud less common and less troubling.
   The writing seems well-plotted, explaining away possible inconsistencies and leaving the audience free to howl at the one-liners. Or perhaps this production makes the situations more plausible because of Parks’s crisp staging and the spectacular comedic chops of this cast.

The play takes place in the Manhattan apartment of two men: starving musicians Jon and Leslie. Jon has finally found work for their band. In Weehawken. At a bar mitzvah. The following October. In the meantime, Jon has been saving money by preparing his own, and Leslie’s, taxes. He has saved them further money by filing as husband and wife. They’re being audited. In two hours. Jon swiftly persuades Leslie to cross-dress and pretend they’re married.
   In the blink of an eye, Leslie grows petulant. Meanwhile, Jon’s idea of feminizing the apartment is to accessorize with throw pillows and antimacassars, making it look as if their great-grandmother lives there.

Jeffrey Cannata is an extremely gracious actor. Playing Jon, this solid scene partner lets the storm swirl around his character rather than grabbing attention. So as Jon’s panic and desperation gradually increase, the audience buys into the story.
   David Herbelin, meanwhile, is thoroughly physically invested in Leslie. By the time Leslie gets into a dress, heels and wig (costumes by Christina Bayer), Herbelin is into female mode, starting with a simpering grin. As Leslie gets tenser, Herbelin’s brow furrows ever deeper, and his shoulders creep up around his ears, nearly touching the bouncy copper curls of his god-awful wig.
   Adding other farcical elements, Jon’s girlfriend Kate has the warmies for Leslie. But she sticks by Jon, even helping to dress Leslie. Playing Kate, Shannon Fitzpatrick is half Herbelin’s size, ensuring laughs when he squeezes into her once-dainty dresses. Leslie, smitten with Kate, has been ignoring his girlfriend Connie. Elaine Hayhurst brings the Jersey Shore to the stage as she plays the lovelorn lass.
   The playwriting device of an invasive landlord lets doors get slammed and window ledges get utilized. Kevin Paul plays him with a deep well of chutzpah. Naturally, Jon’s mom happens by from Chicago in the midst of all this. Playing her, Diane Vincent starts as an average concerned mother. But as the scotch flows, she becomes pratfallingly tipsy, then passing-out drunken, melting over much of the sofa. None of this affects Vincent’s ability to deliver a punch line.

And now for the I.R.S. portion of the evening. Bryan Dobson plays agent Floyd Spinner, who’s clean-cut, bespectacled, and garbed in a starchy suit and tie. But after several schooners of scotch, Spinner’s true, vibrant colors come out as Dobson ratchets up the comedy. Dobson’s old-time shtick is polished to a gleam, and still he makes it seem fresh and immediate and totally tailored to the character.
   Even the interstitial music adds to the humor of this show. Cue “Ladies’ Night” and “Taxman,” and the audience is dancing in its seats. Cue “Macho Man” for the curtain call, and the cast is dancing during the bows. Cue theater this good, and everyone is beaming on the walk back to the car.

January 26, 2015
 
Jan. 24–Feb. 8. 27570 Norris Center Dr., Rolling Hills Estates. Free parking. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 2 hours, including intermission. $25–55. (310) 544-0403, ext. 221.

www.palosverdesperformingarts.com

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Time Stands Still
Secret Rose Theatre

Reviewed by Julio Martinez


Nik Isbelle, Aidan Bristow, Presciliana Esparolini, and Troy Ruptash
Photo by Dan Warner Photography

Donald Margolies’s sojourn within the lives of two conflicted battlefield journalists, who are attempting to readjust their lives and relationship now that they are separated from the foreign conflicts that originally drew them together, is given a deeply involving up-close-and-intimate outing at Secret Rose Theatre in NoHo.
   The play’s title aptly applies to the emotion-rending events that battered the body of photographer Sarah (Presciliana Esparolini) and crippled the psyche of her journalist lover James (Aidan Bristow). Sensitively guided by helmer Vicky Jenson, Esparolini and Bristow offer a finely detailed, emotionally compelling pas de deux as Sarah and James attempt to achieve a level of post-war-zone compatibility as a “normal” couple living in a Brooklyn flat.
   Margolies doesn’t supply any feel-good resolutions to the conflicts he sets up. He supplies only struggles, leading to arbitrary decisions. This is a good thing because Sarah and James eventually come at each other with raw nerve-endings and naked souls. Esparolini’s Sarah is combative, fighting the limitations of her bomb-blasted limbs, the sometimes claustrophobic needs of the man she loves, and her own sense that she is not appreciated professionally. Yet she projects a loving soul who truly wants to please James and keep him safe.
   Bristow offers an effective portrait of a much more emotionally closeted writer who finally hit a wall of battlefield horror that he could not get past. Now he is slowly coming to terms with a changing agenda about how he wants to live the rest of his life. Bristow’s James seems to bloom as he only too gladly settles into the insignificant everyday pleasures of civilian life.

Supplying well-timed point and counterpoint to this saga are the journalists’ middle-aged editor and longtime friend Richard (Troy Ruptash) and his much younger girlfriend Mandy (Nik Isbelle). This is not an infusion of equals. There is no free-flowing intellectual/aesthetic discourse amongst this quartet. Helmer Jenson admirably achieves a balance among competing agendas and blatant contentiousness, smoothly moving the action forward, solidifying the reality that these four are deeply committed to one another.
   Ruptash’s Richard, who at one time had a relationship with Sarah, projects a believable amalgam of heartfelt concern for and editorial detachment from the often demanding Sarah/James duo. Isbelle’s comedically gifted outing as Mandy provides welcome relief, as she undercuts Sarah’s and James’s journalistic highhandedness, telling them people don’t want to read all their “bummer” pieces.
   Complementing the proceedings is the original music underscoring of music director Craig Richey. Tim Paclado’s setting certainly realizes the space limitations of an average Brooklyn apartment, but also causes occasional awkward stage movement.

January 21, 2015
 
Jan. 17–Feb 8.11246 Magnolia Blvd. Handicap accessible; street parking available. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm & 7pm. Running time 1 hour and 50 minutes, including intermission. $30. (323) 960-7788.

www.TimeStandsStillLA.com

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Jack Lemmon Returns
Broad Stage

Reviewed by Jonas Schwartz


Chris Lemmon

Two-time Oscar winner Jack Lemmon has always been at the top echelon of acting talent. A gifted comedian (he represented Billy Wilder’s personification of the everyman in The Apartment and Irma La Douce) and modern tragedian (his alcoholic characters in Days of Wine and Roses and Save the Tiger are Shakespearean in scope) demonstrate a tremendous range. His son Chris Lemmon’s one-man show toasts his father’s accomplishments and delves into their complicated relationship.
   Utilizing conversations with Chris Lemmon as well as Chris’s memoir, A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute to My Father, author-director Hershey Felder follows Jack’s early life with a stern father and flamboyant mother (she was the model for Daphne in Some Like It Hot), his first amateur performances, college life at Harvard, and his career. Lemmon shares his father’s good moments and low points, which sometimes occurred at the same time: The night Lemmon won his first Oscar for Mister Roberts in 1956, he abandoned his first wife at the ceremony to leave for after-parties, signaling the end of their marriage. Jacks’ alcoholism and personal parallels to his characters in Days of Wine and Roses and Save the Tiger are disclosed.

The best reason to recommend Jack Lemmon Returns is Chris’s winning personality. He imitates his father’s voice adroitly and changes his normal expressions to evolve into Jack. He captures Jack’s cadence, humor, and nervous tics. Chris stares directly into audience members’ eyes, creating a sense of intimacy. He plays piano with style, a skill he learned from his father. Director Felder should have relied on footage of Jack’s best scenes instead of having Chris enact them. Because these moments and Jack’s talent are ingrained in the audience’s memory, it comes off as a peculiar choice.
   Felder’s script doesn’t delve as deeply as it should have done. The timelines are unclear, leaving the audience confused. Chris mentions Jack’s alcoholism while discussing the death of Jack’s best friend Walter Matthau, but it’s uncertain if Jack admitted and treated his alcoholism at that time only (12 months before Jack died) or if he came to grips with the disease earlier in life and Felder chose to draw the parallels at that point in the script. The relationship between Chris and Jack also could have used fleshing out. The show tells good stories of Chris’s youth and Jack’s abortive attempts to spend time with him; but then nothing mentioned about their interactions during many years.
   Also, because the crux of the story involves their relationship, it would have been intriguing to hear from Chris how the addition of a half-sister positively or negatively affected him. Did he see his father be more attentive to her than he had been to Chris, or did he repeat patterns? As Felder has done in his own works, he focuses on Jack’s films and peppers those times with anecdotes instead of painting a full picture of the man.

Despite script issues, Jack Lemmon Returns is a loving but complicated portrait of a revered man told by the son who obviously adored him. Chris Lemmon not only exposes new dimensions of an American legend but also reveals himself to be a charismatic stage presence.

January 12, 2015
 
Jan. 7–25. 1310 11th St.See Broad Stage website for schedule. Running time 1 hour 45 minutes, no intermission. $54-175. (310) 434-3200.

thebroadstage.com

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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
 

 

 
Sage Awards 2014


PRODUCTION

Buyer & Cellar, Center Theatre Group at Mark Taper Forum

Everything You Touch, The Theatre @ Boston Court and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at The Theatre @ Boston Court

Henry V, Pacific Resident Theatre

Stupid Fucking Bird, The Theatre @ Boston Court and Circle X Theatre Company at The Theatre @ Boston Court

The Curse of Oedipus, The Antaeus Company

PLAYWRIGHTING

Mickey Birnbaum, Backyard, The Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre

Sheila Callaghan, Everything You Touch, The Theatre @ Boston Court and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at The Theatre @ Boston Court

Scott Carter, The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, NoHo Arts Center and Geffen Playhouse

Kenneth Cavander, The Curse of Oedipus, The Antaeus Company

Greg Pierce, Slowgirl, Geffen Playhouse

Marja-Lewis Ryan, One in the Chamber, 6140 Productions & Lounge Theatre at Lounge Theatre

Tommy Smith, Firemen, The Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre

ADAPTATION

Aaron Posner, Stupid Fucking Bird, The Theatre @ Boston Court and Circle X Theatre Company at The Theatre @ Boston Court

Troubadour Theater Company, Abbamemnon, Troubadour Theater Company at Falcon Theatre

MUSICAL SCORE

Matt Almos, Brendan Milburn and Burglars of Hamm, The Behavior of Broadus, Sacred Fools Theater Company and Burglars of Hamm at Sacred Fools Theater

DIRECTION

Guillermo Cienfuegos, Henry V, Pacific Resident Theater

Jessica Kubzansky, Everything You Touch, The Theatre @ Boston Court and Circle X Theatre Company at The Theatre @ Boston Court

Robin Larsen, A Delicate Balance, Odyssey Theatre

Michael Michetti, Stupid Fucking Bird, The Theatre @ Boston Court and Circle X Theatre Company at The Theatre @ Boston Court

CHOREOGRAPHY

Marcus Choi, Beijing Spring, East West Players at the David Henry Hwang Theater

Julie Hall, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Actors Co-op at the Crossley Theatre

Spencer Liff, Spring Awakening, Deaf West Theatre in association with The Forest of Arden, at Inner City Arts

MUSIC DIRECTION

Jake Anthony, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Actors Co-op at the Crossley Theatre

Eric Heinly, The Snow QUEEN, Troubadour Theater Company at Falcon Theatre

David O, Floyd Collins, La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

John O’Neill, Harmony, Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre

Jared Stein, Spring Awakening, Deaf West Theatre in association with The Forest of Arden, at Inner City Arts

SCENIC DESIGN

Tom Buderwitz, A Delicate Balance, Odyssey Theatre

Melissa Ficociello, The Last Act of Lilka Kadison, Falcon Theatre, Abbie Phillips and Jan Kallish in association with Lookingglass Theatre Company, at the Falcon Theatre

Stephen Gifford, Backyard, The Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre

Andrew Hammer, Broomstick, Fountain Theatre

Jeff McLaughlin, Pray to Ball, Skylight Theatre

LIGHTING DESIGN

Leigh Allen, A Delicate Balance, Odyssey Theatre

Francois-Pierre Couture, The Curse of Oedipus, The Antaeus Company

Guido Girardi, Beijing Spring, East West Players at the David Henry Hwang Theater

Lisa D. Katz, Floyd Collins, La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Luke Moyer, The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, NoHo Arts Center and Geffen Playhouse

COSTUME DESIGN

Gregg Barnes, Kinky Boots, Pantages Theatre

Jenny Foldenauer, Everything You Touch, The Theatre @ Boston Court and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at The Theatre @ Boston Court

Sharon McGunigle, The Snow QUEEN, Troubadour Theater Company at Falcon Theatre

SOUND DESIGN

Peter Bayne, Broomstick, Fountain Theatre

Richard Woodbury, Slowgirl, Geffen Playhouse

PERFORMANCE IN A PLAY

Brooke Adams, Happy Days, The Theatre @ Boston Court

Hugo Armstrong, Backyard, The Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre

Rae Gray, Slowgirl, Geffen Playhouse

O-Lan Jones, A Delicate Balance, Odyssey Theatre

Eric Lange, The Country House, Geffen Playhouse

Abigail Marks, Top Girls, Antaeus Theatre Company

Kristine Nielsen, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Center Theatre Group at Mark Taper Forum

Ann Noble, The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?, Los Angeles LGBT Center at The Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza

Jaimi Paige, Venus in Fur, South Coast Repertory

William Petersen, Slowgirl, Geffen Playhouse

David Selby, A Delicate Balance, Odyssey Theatre

Susan Sullivan, A Delicate Balance, Odyssey Theatre

Kirsten Vangsness, Everything You Touch, The Theatre @ Boston Court and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at The Theatre @ Boston Court

Paul Witten, The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?, Los Angeles LGBT Center at The Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza

Jacqueline Wright, Backyard, The Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre

PERFORMANCE IN A MUSICAL

Carter Calvert, Always…Patsy Cline, El Portal Theater

Larry Raben, The Drowsy Chaperone, Norris Center for the Performing Arts/Palos Verdes Performing Arts at Norris Theatre

Jeff Skowron, The Producers, 3-D Theatricals, Plummer Auditorium and Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Kyle Taylor Parker, Kinky Boots, Pantages Theatre

Peter Allen Vogt, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Actors Co-op at the Crossley Theatre

Stuart Ward, Once, Pantages Theatre and Segerstrom Stage

Mark Whitten, Floyd Collins, La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

SOLO PERFORMANCE

Kris Andersson, Dixie’s Tupperware Party, Geffen Playhouse

Annette Bening, Ruth Draper’s Monologues, Geffen Playhouse

Barry McGovern, I’ll Go On, Center Theatre Group at Kirk Douglas Theatre

Christopher Plummer, A Word or Two, Center Theatre Group at Ahmanson Theatre

Michael Urie, Buyer & Cellar, Center Theatre Group at Mark Taper Forum

ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

One in the Chamber, 6140 Productions & Lounge Theatre at Lounge Theatre: Kelli Anderson, Robert Bella, Alec Frasier, Fenix Isabella, Emily Peck, and Heidi Sulzman

Stupid Fucking Bird, The Theatre @ Boston Court and Circle X Theatre Company at The Theatre @ Boston Court: Will Bradley, Arye Gross, Charlotte Gulezian, Zarah Mahler, Matthew Floyd Miller, Amy Pietz, and Adam Silver


The voting critics of ArtsInLA.com: Travis Michael Holder, Dany Margolies, Julio Martinez, Dink O’Neal, Jonas Schwartz, Bob Verini, and Neal Weaver

January 5, 2015

 

 
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
 

 
Reborning
Fountain Theatre

Reviewed by Bob Verini


Kristen Carey and Joanna Strapp
Photo by Ed Krieger

Roger Ebert once opined, “It’s not what a movie is about but how it is about it,” and the notion holds for plays as well. It’d be silly and unfair to reduce Fiddler on the Roof to “a musical about Russian Jews,” or Long Day’s Journey Into Night to “a play about a New England family with a substance abuse problem.” The writers’ particular treatment of their material is what matters: the ways in which artistry transcends topic.
   In one recent, provocative local example, the genius of Tommy Smith’s Firemen, a 2014 offering by Echo Theater Company, is that it refused to be pinned down as “a play about a middle-school teacher who sleeps with a student.” Yes, that plot element was in there, but the handling was sensitive and brilliantly indirect verging on the Pinteresque. Moreover, Smith was concerned with much more in his play than just a Lifetime movie topic: He had a lot on his mind about frightened people’s connections with other frightened people. So much so that he included characters with no direct involvement in the central, taboo love affair, but who had their own loneliness fish to fry.

Of course, a corollary is that when a film or play is nothing more than “about” a topic, that’s a sure sign of trouble, which brings us to Reborning, a work by Zayd Dohrn having its L.A. premiere at Fountain Theatre after a world premiere in San Francisco. This is a play “about” the true-life reborning phenomenon, in which artists create ultrarealistic dolls meant to be indistinguishable from the living, breathing variety. Sounds like a decent enough jumping-off point, opening the door to a whole variety of interesting considerations, including: Why would someone take up such a practice, as opposed to other types of art? How might the art form mess with the artist’s head? And what’s up with a person who’d want to collect such a doppleganger: mania, or aesthetic appreciation, or something darker?
   The Fountain spectator expecting any of that investigation will be disappointed, because the way Reborning proves to “be about reborning” is hokey, melodramatic, and lacking in believable dialogue or behavior. It’s as if Dohrn, having heard tell of this phenomenon, decided to just toss it up onto the stage with a modicum of research under his belt, in hopes that something would resonate. It does not, nor does it convince.

Take the central boy-girl relationship Dohrn establishes. Reborning artist Kelly (Joanna Strapp), feverishly poking a needle into a doll’s eye, is clearly nervous and maybe at a breaking point, pulling at a joint. Her longtime lover¬ and fellow artist Daizy (Ryan Doucette) crafts commissioned rubber dildos, one of which is proudly, lewdly sticking out of his pants when he bursts in, to a customer’s bemusement. When the customer leaves, he starts messing with Kelly’s materials and rudely grabbing at her doll displays, calling them “Chuckie.” “They’re starting to creep me out,” he announces, scoffing at the weirdos who would pay through the nose for a lifelike infant doppelgänger. This from the 10-inch-dildo seller. They banter Freudian theory until the truth comes out: Lately their sex life sucks.
   Almost all of this comes across as phony. Daizy and Kelly have been together for years, and clearly she’s been making these vinyl surrogates for a while now. Why would he, out of the blue, raise naïve questions about the fundamentals and commercial appeal of the art she’s been making, and making money at? Answer: because he is eliciting exposition. He must know how touchy she is about her work, so why would he thoughtlessly manhandle and deride it while she’s clearly in the throes of endeavor? For that matter, why doesn’t he notice her emotional state, or at least give us a Scene 1 hint as to whether this is her normal frame of mind or something noteworthy?
   Why does he parade the protruding dildo as if she’d never seen it before? That one’s easy: It’s meant to get a cheap laugh. And if you think the play ever gets into the contrast between their respective crafts, forget it; Daizy’s crass props carry no other plot or thematic function.
   Meanwhile there’s Kelly, who seems to take no pleasure or pride in her work. “It calms me” she exclaims, not at all calmly. If it brings her no solace, as it seems not to, why does she continue to do it? Out of compulsion, or neurosis, or hope that it will eventually take her to some pleasanter emotional space? Or shall we take the cynical view, that the playwright has predigested the act of making “fake babies,” and decided that anyone who chooses that calling must ipso facto be a basket case?

It’s so easy—far too easy—to use reborning as a metaphor for a tortured soul who can’t accept intimacy. More than that, it seems wrong to pen a play about a craft, only to arbitrarily hang a cornucopia of neuroses on it. Wrong as a dramaturgical choice, and unfair to the craftspersons themselves. (For the record, the real-life reborners quoted in the press materials sound like perfectly rational, normal people.)
   Would matters be improved if Strapp weren’t allowed, by the playwright and director Simon Levy, to play all her neurasthenic cards in the first scene, so that she has nowhere to go but just get crazier? Or if Doucette were given an opportunity to reveal some relaxed charm that might hint at what Kelly is holding onto in their relationship? Possibly so. Certainly Kristin Carey, as the customer whose commission brings events to a head, is by far the strongest element, simply because she possesses stillness and control and isn’t Acting all over the place.
   There’s a mystery woven in, too: something about Kelly’s past. But the real mystery is how this script was accepted for production by the estimable and usually reliable Fountain. If this is what this theater greenlights, what must its reject pile look like?

January 27, 2015
 
Jan. 24–March 15 5060 Fountain Ave. Secure, on-site parking, $5.Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 80 minutes. $15-34. (323) 663-1525.

www.FountainTheatre.com

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Blonde Poison
Theatre 40 in the Reuben Cordoba Theatre

Reviewed by Neal Weaver


Salome Jens
Photo by Ed Krieger

Stella Goldschlag (1922–1994) seems a wildly unlikely protagonist for Jewish playwright Gail Louw. Goldschlag was a notorious “Jew catcher” for Hitler’s Gestapo, and it has been estimated that her activities sent 600 to 3,000 Jews to their deaths. She was so efficient at her job that the Gestapo called her “Blonde Poison.” Louw is certainly no apologist for Goldschlag. The playwright makes no attempt to exonerate or whitewash the woman, but she does seek to understand what could have driven Goldschlag to such monstrous behavior. And, in the end, the portrait is not an unsympathetic one.
   Stella was just coming of age when the Nazis came to power. At first, she and her parents didn’t perceive the danger that was coming. They were convinced the German people were too civilized to tolerate for long Hitler’s barbarous policies. While other Jews were fleeing the country, the Goldschlags could not believe they were really in danger. By the time they realized their peril, it was too late. Because Stella was blonde and beautiful, she was able to pass for an Aryan, at least for a time, but her parents were not so lucky. They were taken into custody and slated for deportation to the death camps. It was then she agreed to work for the Nazis, in exchange for the lives of her parents and herself. And her career as a Greifer for the Gestapo began. She was repeatedly assured that the Gestapo never separated families. But they were lying, and her mother and father were sent to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt and executed there.

Louw has cast her play in the form of a solo drama and set it in the more recent past: 1994, shortly before Stella (Salome Jens) died. She has been asked for an interview by a journalist she had known in their student days, when he professed his love for her. But now, as she waits for the journalist to arrive, she is terrified. And it becomes clear how much she is haunted by her past and terrified at the prospect of being asked hard questions about it. The most unanswerable question is why she continued to work for the Gestapo after the death of her parents. She can’t answer it, even to herself. She keeps repeating, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
   As the play unfolds, the details of her life since the war emerge. When the conflict ended, she found herself pregnant, the result of an ill-fated love affair. When the Russian troops entered Berlin, she escaped rape by going into hiding. But when her child was born, she was deemed an unfit mother because of her wartime activities, the child was taken from her, and she was sentenced to 10 years in prison as a collaborator. When she later attempted to meet her child, she was rejected with fear and loathing. And, perhaps in order to achieve some sort of absolution, she converted to Christianity.

It’s a harrowing tale, told and acted with both passion and restraint. The solo drama is essentially an artificial format: a single woman talking to herself at length about her past sorrow and malefactions. But Louw is a skillful writer, and Jens acts the role with such profound conviction that we never question her reality. Her attempts at understanding and rationalizing her horrendous past actions seem both credible and moving. Her guilt may be profound, but so is her suffering.
   Director Jules Aaron frames the action with tact and sensitivity, and a finely invisible hand. Designer Jeff G. Rack has created the handsome set—though one wonders how Goldschlag could afford such a fine apartment after all her travails.

January 12, 2015
 
Jan. 8–26. 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills (in the parking structure at the back of the campus of Beverly Hills High School, enter at north end of campus, free parking). Mon 8pm, Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm, Running time 95 minutes, with no intermission. $26. (310) 364-0535.

www.Theatre40.org

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