Arts In LA
Theater Reviews
 
Pizza Man
Pop Up Theater at an undisclosed location

Reviewed by Dink O’Neal


Emma Chandler, Freddy Giorlando, and Raleigh West
Grafton Doyle

Misogyny, mania, mayhem, oh my! All are on full display in playwright Darlene Craviotto’s cleverly crafted snapshot of the mental states of two women, each at the ends of their individual ropes. In keeping with this company’s unique choice of venues, the piece is presented in an oversized, loft-like apartment located deep in the heart of Hollywood. Amid the complete trappings of this actual living space, director Jamie Lou and a more-than-capable cast of three pull off a uniquely engaging production.
   Julie and Alice, played by Emma Chandler and Raleigh West, are a seemingly mismatched pair of roommates. Julie has lost her job as the result of having spurned her boss’s crude romantic advances. Though she is normally the levelheaded member of this unlikely duo, the result is a series of reactions that skyrocket from depression to destructively violent behavior. To her credit, Chandler pulls it off with admirable aplomb even when Craviotto’s script requires near uncontrollable rage.
   Balancing the tale is Alice, dumped by a married man who, after a 13-month tryst, has decided to return to his wife. The perfect foil to her roommate’s unpredictable displays, Alice is at times wisely sympathetic, almost maternal in nature, and at the very next moment hilariously obtuse. West’s top-notch comedic sensibility and timing offer countless moments of respite from what could have been merely a melodramatic tale of wallowing self-pity.

As the two come together to support, cajole, even harass each other over the depths to which their lives have disintegrated, it becomes obvious that the male gender is the root of all evil, or so they opine. What’s the answer? Why, revenge, of course! And who better to take out their frustrations on, with Julie dragging Alice along compliantly, than the title character who arrives bearing culinary sustenance.
   As Eddie, the soon-to-be hapless target of Julie’s rage, Freddy Giorlando holds his own in the face of this tidal wave of estrogen-fueled malevolence. Just as with his two female counterparts, Eddie ricochets between excitement over his good fortune in being “taken advantage” by two attractive women and unbridled fear when the situation start to go south. Giorlando is consistently believable in this occasionally farce-like set of circumstances, which lends great credibility to the play’s climax and resolution.
   Given the true-to-life setting, production values are, in a word, “realistic.” Lou does a fine job of allowing her cast to utilize numerous spaces around this locale, all of which are within eyesight of her audience. It’s an intriguing way to experience a play that is anchored by a trio of very fine performances.

February 8, 2018
 
Feb 2–24. Fri-Sat 8pm. $25 for general admission, $35 for reserved seating.

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Barefoot in the Park
Glendale Centre Theatre

Reviewed by Dink O’Neal


Stephanie Skewes and Ted Wells
Ashley Caven

Often considered one of Broadway’s “Golden Boys” of the 1960s and ’70s, Neil Simon created a prodigious catalogue that spans far more than merely those two decades. This particular chestnut of his, premiering in 1963 with a film version following in 1967, is given a loving revisit here under the sure-handed guidance of director George Stratton.
   Newlyweds Paul and Corie Bratter, fresh off what seems a whirlwind romance and a six-day honeymoon holed up in one of Manhattan’s ritziest hotels, are now facing the realities of daily married life. Corie, played with energetic verve by Stephanie Skewes, has located the Bratters’ first permanent residence. That it is a relatively tiny fifth-floor walk-up, six if you count the front stoop, devoid of a bathtub or enough bedroom space to accommodate anything larger than a single-sized mattress, is a constant source of comic commentary throughout Simon’s piece.
   Corie’s counterpart Paul, played by Skewes’s real-life husband, Joshua Evans, is an anxiously conventional young lawyer who has recently secured his first post-graduate job. It quickly becomes evident that this is a somewhat mismatched union as Corie’s joie de vivre begins to clash with Paul’s realism. Skewes and Evans, by nature of their offstage relationship, bring a smart believability to their onstage alter egos. Stratton capitalizes on this fortuitous blessing throughout the couple’s scene work, especially during a rather feisty argument sequence in Act 2.

Supporting roles in Simon’s tale range from the anachronistically absurd to hilarious cameos. Ted Wells pulls out all the stops as the Bratters’ rooftop-dwelling neighbor, Victor Velasco, a Bohemian artiste-cum-playboy with a heart of gold. Almost instantly, Velasco clues in on Corie’s need for adventure, which leads to hilarious shenanigans, particularly when he woos her unmarried mother who stops by to visit the young couple’s new digs.
   As Corie’s mother, Caron Strong provides a funny albeit occasionally inconsistent performance. Strong’s delivery, heavily reminiscent of the recently passed Ann Wedgeworth, is difficult to understand at times in this approximately 400-seat venue. The result is that Strong’s character comes off as slightly tipsy when she’s not and almost pedantically slow when she is under the influence after a night out with Victor and the kids. Not hers alone, pacing issues hamper a few instances that should otherwise highlight Simon’s patter-like repartee.
   Rounding out the company are Rick Steele and Mark Gates as separate visitors to the Bratters’ new abode. Steele portrays a deliveryman whose single entrance, gasping and wheezing from the Everest-like ascent to drop off some belated wedding gifts from Corie’s mother, is cutely amusing. Gates’s performance as Harry Pepper, a telephone company installer/repairman, is one of the show’s highlights. Proving that the most can be made of a secondary character, Gates steals both of his scenes with a relaxed delivery that honors the dry wit for which Simon’s works are known.

Production values are certainly up to snuff in this arena-styled theatre. The multileveled set, credited to Stratton and Nathan Milisavljevich, offers a surprisingly welcome set of playing spaces. Paul Reid’s lighting covers all the bases, and Angela Manke’s costuming captures the period with charm.

January 28, 2018
 
Dec. 31-Feb. 10. 324 N Orange St, Glendale. Thu–Sat 8 pm, Sun 3 pm. $20–32, (818) 244-8481.

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The Manor
Greystone Mansion

Reviewed by Dink O’Neal


Darby Hinton and Daniel Leslie
Photo by Ed Krieger

To the plaintive strains of orchestral underscoring and an expository welcome delivered by the family butler, a collection of ghostly figures enters the hall-like living room of the Tudor Revival-style Greystone Mansion. Over the next two hours, the audience is treated to the 16th-annual incarnation of playwright Katherine Bates’s extraordinarily engaging “environmental” production. Moving throughout five separate locations in this 55-room, 47,000-square-foot monument to architectural excess, we witnesses, split into three apportioned groups, follow a storyline that must have been an astonishing challenge to commit to paper.
   This semi-biographical adaptation is cleverly constructed. It draws upon the 1929 true-life tragedy, ruled a murder suicide, that befell Edward “Ned” Doheny Jr., who was given Greystone as a gift by his father, oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny, and Ned’s secretary, Hugh Plunket. It weaves in the elder Doheny’s involvement in the Teapot Dome Scandal, which stained the administration of President Warren G. Harding. Bates’s mythical family, the MacAlisters, suffers no less a calamitous outcome.
   Director Martin Thompson handles this intertwined set of multilayered plot points and his cast of 12 with seemingly relative ease. The season-opening performance felt a bit measured throughout the first act as though the cast and various technical personnel involved, led by stage manager Don Solosan, hungered for an actual audience to get a true feel for the timing of so many scenes playing out simultaneously. By the second act, however, the downward spiral of the MacAlisters and all within their sphere of influence graduated from merely intriguing to downright captivating.

Heading up this fictitious family is Darby Hinton, as Charles MacAlister, and Carol Potter, as his second wife, Marion. Hinton and Potter have a lovely chemistry that hinges on the love and support each of their characters offers the other particularly in the play’s darkest moments. As their son, Sean, and new daughter-in-law, Abby, whose wedding day kicks off the play, Sol Mason and Annalee Scott bring vibrancy to the proceedings.
   Abby’s father, Frank Parsons, sharply essayed by director Thompson, is the MacAlister family’s lawyer. As the plot thickens, Parsons has his work cut out for him defending his clients against federal prosecutions, which parallel those faced by the Doheny dynasty. The crimes surround a bribe required by MacAlister’s former partner, Alfred Winston, now an influential U.S. senator, in exchange for gold mining rights. Brought to life with evocative sliminess by Daniel Leslie, Winston’s good-old-boy persona provides cover for the machinations of a razor-sharp tactician. His wife, Cora, given a beautifully sympathetic turn by Melanie MacQueen, is caught up in the increasing circle of victimhood due to her husband’s criminal dealings.
   Adding more fuel to the fire are Mikel Parraga-Wills and Kira Brannlund as Gregory Pugh, the Parsons’ handyman, and his Cockney-accented wife, Henrietta Havesham Pugh, a former music hall chorine. As the tale progresses and the stakes are upped, Parraga-Wills does a yeoman’s job of portraying his character’s ever-increasing mental deterioration. Meanwhile Brannlund humorously brings to life her alter ego’s gold-digging fixations.
   Finally, special kudos to perhaps the three most instrumental members of this talented ensemble: Daniel Lench as James, the Butler; Katherine Henryk as Ursula, the Housekeeper; and Esther Richman, Ellie, the mute Maid. This trio serves as the production’s tour guides, handing off and ushering the three groups of audience members to and from each location. Their duties require constant vigilance concerning the synchronization of the various scenes, which, by the nature of this show, are performed three times so as to be seen by the entire audience.

To preserve the denouement, suffice it to say that Lench’s closing address accompanying what plays out before the audience, once again reconvened in the living room, induces goosebumps and serves as the perfect capper to this Shakespearean drama.

January 18, 2018
 
Jan 11–Feb 4. 905 Loma Vista Dr, Beverly Hills. Free parking onsite. See website for schedule. Note early curtains. $65. (310) 364-3606.

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I Am My Own Wife
Laguna Playhouse

Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann


John Tufts
Photo by David Bazemore, Courtesy of Ensemble Theatre Company

Doug Wright’s intriguing biographical play about German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf stars John Tufts, who morphs seamlessly into 30-plus characters as he narrates the tale set in wartime Berlin in the 1940s. Described as a “one-woman show performed by a man,” it is provocative and delivers a nuanced portrayal of a complex character with mystery surrounding the reality of her story.
   Born Lothar Berfelde in 1928, von Mahlsdorf was attracted to female clothing even as a child, and through the evolution of his sexuality he transforms into Charlotte over the years. Passionate about antiques, she sets about rescuing furniture and artifacts from the Nazis by creating the Gründerzeit Museum, a place that also served for a time as a safe haven for gays. Being gay in Hitler’s Germany was dangerous, but we learn she survived though a set of circumstances we are asked to examine as the story unfolds.

Tufts is a chameleon dressed in a simple black dress, a bandana, and sensible vintage oxfords. With no change of costume, he slides seamlessly from Mahlsdorf to Wright to soldiers and citizens whose lives connected with Charlotte over the years. Tufts’s Charlotte is shy, coquettish, and poignant. Is she a hero saving priceless artifacts from the Nazis by creating the museum, or is she a traitor who sells out even a fellow antiques collector when the Nazis come calling?
   Wright’s conflicted feelings about Charlotte evolve throughout his interviews with her; and, as the inconsistencies grow, he is faced with deciding what to believe. Wright incorporates a fascinating array of people into his characterizations, effectively providing context for the storyline.
   Keith Mitchell’s set design is cleverly omnipresent as a museum facade with multiple hanging relics suspended over the stage. Pablo Santiago’s lighting design helps create the stark landscape of Charlotte’s gray world. Sound design by Christopher Moscatiello also brings wartime Berlin to life.

Director Jenny Sullivan relies on Tufts’s unique transformations to create the drama, choosing subtlety over histrionics. That choice makes the story more evocative and memorable. Watching a master actor at work makes waiting two years for Tufts’s schedule to allow for the production to come to Laguna pay off for artistic directors Ellen Richard and Ann E. Wareham. It is a quiet but very satisfying character study worth seeing.

January 24, 2018
 
Show closed

 
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The Chosen
Fountain Theatre

Reviewed by Harker Jones


Sam Mandel and Alan Blumenfeld
Photo by Ed Krieger

Based on Chaim Potok’s classic novel of the same name, The Chosen is an intimate four-character play about two Jewish boys coming of age through the backdrop of World War II. Our hero and narrator, Reuven (Sam Mandel), fatefully meets his BFF Danny Saunders (Dor Gvirtsman) through a heated street baseball game in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1944. At first adversaries, the two boys, who couldn’t be more different despite growing up only five blocks from each other, realize they have more in common than they would have ever thought.
   Reuven is a smart-aleck Orthodox math whiz. Danny, wildly smart with a photographic memory, is a Hasid on track to replace his father as rabbi and tzaddik, a religious leader and spiritual master, even though Danny wants to study psychology. Reuven’s father (Jonathan Arkin) is kind, open-minded, and generous, while Danny’s (Alan Blumenfeld) is pious, closed off, and cold. But times are changing, and none of the men swept up in them are able to resist change.
   Marking the 50th anniversary of the novel’s publication, the play (adapted into a well-received film in 1981) is a story we’ve seen countless times before, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t merit in it. The themes of religion versus science, fathers versus sons, tradition versus progress are always relevant. Potok’s play, which he and Aaron Posner adapted from his novel, paints deft portraits of the characters without falling into melodrama.

Director Simon Levy gets sensitive performances from his ensemble. Gvirtsman’s Danny is open, soulful, and tortured between his obligations and his yearnings. Gvirtsman is a good listener, too. Blumenfeld, as his father, is pitch-perfect as a man guided by God to lead his people and struggling to understand how not just the world but also his son are changing.
   Levy stages much action and many locations—two homes, a hospital, a softball game, and a college campus among others—with one backdrop. It’s a beautiful, sumptuous set of a wooden library with countless books, showing off how learned both of the boys’ families are. And that’s one of the things that creates such friction between the boys and their fathers, and between the families: Both are intellectual and have been steeped in education. Lack of knowledge is not an issue. Finding compromise is. And who isn’t that true for?

January 30, 2018
 
Jan 20-Mar 25. 5060 Fountain Ave, Los Angeles. Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm, Mon 8pm. Running time 2 hours, including intermission. $20-$40. (323) 663-1525.

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Disney’s Aladdin
Pantages Theatre

Reviewed by Jonas Schwartz


Adam Jacobs
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann & Deen Van Meer

The stage production of Disney’s Aladdin, now playing at the Pantages, is charismatic family programming that highlights the 1992 film’s score by Alan Menken, Tim Rice, and the late Howard Ashman, with additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin. But the evening cannot compete with the grandeur and limitless nature of animation, nor can it reincarnate the film’s greatest special effect, the gargantuan portrayal of the Genie by the late Robin Williams.
   In fictional Agrabah, a fanciful Middle Eastern city, a street hustler (Adam Jacobs) finds a genie (Michael James Scott) in a magic lamp who grants him three wishes that he uses to charm his true love, the princess Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla). If only he can thwart the evil Jafar (Jonathan Weir) and his sidekick Iago (Reggie De Leon) from exposing him for their own nefarious machinations.
   The score features all the great songs from the film: “A Whole New World,” “Prince Ali,” and the showstopping Act 1 finale, “Friend Like Me.” The new songs, some written specifically for the stage show, fit the original style and are welcome additions. “Proud of Your Boy,” which had been written for the movie by Menken and Ashman before being cut, ranks with the beloved princess who long songs like “Part Of Your World” from The Little Mermaid and “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast.
   Chad Beguelin’s book is problematic, mostly because the added characters add no dimension. Aladdin’s friends Babkak, Omar, and Kassim have several fun numbers (two, like “Proud of Your Boy,” had been written by Ashman during the film’s genesis), but their characterizations are of thin architypes. They are given too much stage time not to be fully fleshed people. The villains have been rewritten to be bland and feckless. Though much of their dialogue comes from the movie script, here Beguelin (book and lyrics) keeps the conversations between Aladdin and Jasmine charming and heartfelt. Weir projects zero menace as Jafar, and De Leon is so wishy-washy one wishes for Gilbert Godfrey to reprise his film role.

Jacobs is winning as the title character, a role he originated on Broadway. With a grin wide enough upon which to project a Cinerama movie, Jacobs balances the boy’s coyness, desperation, and good-heartedness. McCalla is empowered as the princess who follows her heart and mind, not the laws written to imprison her. Scott is as suave as a gambler from Guys and Dolls, doing his best to shatter the image of Robin Williams, but he feels earthbound, particularly when repeating lines Williams launched into outer space. Not the fault of his performance, but the Genie doesn’t carry the show as he does in the movie.
   Casey Nicholaw’s choreography is inventive and rollicking, borrowing from Middle Eastern, Bollywood, and Broadway techniques. His direction keeps the musical moving to a jazzy beat. But he doesn’t go grand enough. The show needs more razzle-dazzle, more magic. The ensemble is too small, particularly in the “Prince Ali” number as well as other crowd scenes. Even with the same size cast, Nicholaw could have found innovative ways to simulate a cast of thousands as Harold Prince did in the Masquerade number of Phantom of the Opera or even in a goofy way like Tommy Tune had with his football players/cheerleaders in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Though the director has the ensemble change clothes and run back into the procession, once everyone gathers on stage, the number feels too intimate.
   Gregg Barnes’s costumes are stylish and colorful. He utilizes the breakaway effect well. Bob Crowley’s sets are ordinary and seem like 1950s painted backdrops, except for the Genie’s lair for the Act 1 finale, which evokes depth and splendor. Illusionist Jim Steinmeyer has one ace up his sleeve, and it’s a doozy. It’s impossible to comprehend how he made that carpet fly, but neither beams nor cables were visible to the audience for keeping that traveling rug up in the air. The effect is not even shrouded in darkness. The rug floats in front of a large, bright moon where even a keen observer must admit that only the supernatural could invoke that contraption to defy gravity. The show needs more spectacle like that.

A polished return to the old-fashioned musicals of the 1950s and ’60s, Aladdin will delight children and keep adults tapping their toes. Though the creators were unable to vanquish the ghosts of the movie, the cast drags the audience into this fantastical world.

January 13, 2018
 
Jan 11–Mar 31. 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. Tue-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 1pm & 6:30pm. Running time 2 hours and 30 minutes, including intermission. $35–$205, “subject to change.” (800) 982-2787.

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