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On the Money
The Big Victory at The Victory Theatre Center
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Vincent Guastaferro, David Fraioli, and Jonathan Kells Phillips
Photo by Tim Sullens
Any work of art is most appropriately examined for how it will stand up in time, how future generations will view the circumstances people endured during the era when it was first presented. With that in mind, it’s hard not to wonder if playwright Kos Kostmayer and the production team that originally mounted his On the Money at the Victory Theatre Center 30 years ago contemplated how relevant the piece would be three decades later. Kostmayer’s jarringly caustic comedy, exploring the desperation of people forced into a dangerous corner while trying to earn a decent living and keep themselves alive, might be even more germane in 2014, an era when ruthless greed and Tea Party politics have widened the economic divide between the haves and the have-nots more clearly than ever before in our lifetimes.
The play follows a dark day in the lives of three employees of a comfy Manhattan bar, each of whom is in desperate financial trouble for his or her own personal reasons. Beginning the day with waitress Nancy (Maria Tomas) getting mugged on her way to work, her gambling-addicted cohort Benny (David Fraioli) losing at the track, and good-natured bartender Jack (Jonathan Kells Phillips) wondering if his floundering acting career will ever be enough to take care of his young family, the tension and anxiety radiating from Kostmayer’s trio of blue-collar everymen is palpable right from the very start.
What unfolds is the planning and disastrous results of a toxic scheme hatched by the shifty, ever-twitching Benny to have a less-than-savory friend of a friend rob the place that evening and share the spoils, just after their abusive boss (Vincent Guastaferro) returns with the day’s cash proceeds from his other three other neighborhood watering holes. Along the way, a series of colorful loonies drops in for alcoholic fortification and, perhaps, a little dollop of human compassion. As our heroes talk themselves into Benny’s folly, they’re interrupted by a series of ragtag locals, including a rambling cowboy off his meds (Jeff Kober) and a quietly slimy loan shark (Tony Maggio) sniffing around for Jack’s late payment.
What’s most arresting about Kostmayer’s sometimes ominous, surprisingly hilarious study of the lengths basically good people go to when struggling to keep from drowning in the cesspool of the tragically waterlogged American dream is how quickly the conflict escalates—and how fast everything in the lives of these people goes to hell. A heap of this timely revival’s success can obviously be attributed to the gritty, tautly wound direction of Tom Ormeny and his stellar cast, each emoting with passion and skill on D Martyn Bookwalter’s beautifully detailed set.
Although on opening night some of the players seemed to still be finding their sea legs, perhaps initially working a little too hard to be totally at ease in their characters’ skins, by the second act everyone had settled in completely, each and every one contributing remarkable performances that could define what ensemble acting is all about. Kober and Maggio are particularly arresting in their portrayals, both exquisite veteran actors able to find layers and layers of subtle nuance in what could otherwise be glaringly stereotypical roles.
Above everything, of course, is Kostmayer’s tightly wound rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, which loudly trumpets an almost logical explanation as to why these people have chosen such a dastardly means to pull themselves out of their individual jams. It somehow makes us want to shout to them not to do it, and we would be right to try to stop it, although the ending, no matter how the failure of the employees’ plan might be expected, is still a bombshell.
If anything might be changed from 30 years ago, it might be in pruning. There’s a lot of repetition in the script about people getting money, needing money, hating money, not to mention hating those who have it, all of which could be eliminated—along with the 1980s-style need for an intermission. If any play could run seamlessly from first lights up to final shocker without a pee break and quick gulp of Two-Buck Chuck, it’s Kostmayer’s in-your-face On the Money.
February 1, 2014
24–March 30. 3326 W. Victory Blvd. Ample street parking is available;
additional parking at the Northwest Branch Library, directly across from
the theater. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 4pm. $24-34. (818) 841-5422.
West Coast Jewish Theatre at Pico Playhouse
Kirk Kelleykahn, Ricco Ross, and
Photo by Michael Lamont
This Matthew Lopez play would have made a fascinating
two-hander. But the playwright added a third character and ratcheted up
the intrigue, conflict, and shaping, making it an even more fascinating
play. Like a fine puppeteer, director Howard Teichman pulls strings to
alter the balance among the characters, adding even more to the
The story is set in Richmond, Va., in April 1865,
immediately after General Lee’s surrender. Into a battle-damaged home
crawls a wounded, disheveled white man. A black man, protecting the
home, charges into the room, rifle in hand. The two are former slave
Simon and his owner’s son Caleb. Simon wears a yarmulke, the skullcap
worn by men of the Jewish faith. Caleb has been fighting for the
Confederacy. How’s that for a setup?
This was, and still is, a Jewish
home, for all of its residents. It’s now Passover, the week in the faith
to celebrate the freeing of the Jewish slaves in Egypt, thousands of
years earlier, and the Israelites’ crossing back into the kingdom of
Israel. How’s that for a theme?
Simon and Caleb get reacquainted—as
much as possible, considering the excruciating pain Caleb is in. Simon
insists Caleb’s infected leg must be sawed off, or else gangrene will
kill Caleb. Fortunately, also returning home is John, a young former
slave in the household. John is street smart, able to bring back endless
supplies of whiskey and other essentials. But the three men don’t quite
know who is in charge there these days. How’s that for conflict?
men benefit from one another’s presence, they care about one another,
they reveal secrets past and present. In Talmudic style, they debate
whether it’s less kosher to steal food or eat a horse. Meanwhile, the
whipping man remains a historic figure—the professional who
“disciplined” the slaves—as well as a metaphor for man’s inhumanity to
man. Caleb, who as a boy watched the whipping man, grew enlightened.
John, who felt the whip, grew empowered.
The way Kirk Kelleykahn plays him,
not even the horrors of slavery could douse the fire in John. The
character is smart, self-protective, literate, and a dreamer. Kelleykahn
also makes him the much-needed, adorably comic relief.
plays Caleb, bedridden for most of the play, yet Savage keeps him
interesting and vibrant, even as Caleb sleeps off the anesthetic supply
of whiskey. Caleb is allowed a tender scene, and Savage excels here,
when he reads aloud his letter to his beloved, though it’s never to be
read by her.
Ricco Ross plays Simon. With no other responsible adults
left on the premises, Simon takes the reins. Bringing out his
home-cooked Passover dinner to feed the family, Ross’s Simon becomes a
Jewish mother, proud of his cooking, intent on maintaining a warm but
disciplined home for his figurative children, proving that a black man
and a Jewish mother are differently hued blossoms on the same tree.
The play’s one unsuccessful moment comes at the beginning here, when
Caleb crawls along the floor and remains there while Simon tends to him.
A substantial number of audience members couldn’t see the action,
craning and shifting in their seats to at least try. It’s a credit to
the director and cast that, even at that early stage, we were so
invested, we wanted to stay with the action.
Are better days to come?
Next year in Jerusalem? History may tell us otherwise, but we always
February 15, 2014
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
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.
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
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
David Ives, The Liar, Antaeus Company
Nancy Keystone, Alcestis, The Theatre @ Boston Court
Jessica Kubzansky, R II, The Theatre @ Boston Court
Joe Iconis, The Black Suits, Kirk Douglas Theatre
John Kander and Fred Ebb, The Scottsboro Boys, Ahmanson Theatre
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
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
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
Ken Merckx, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Noise Within
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
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
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
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
Lorenzo Pisoni, Humor Abuse, Mark Taper Forum
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
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
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
January 5, 2014