Failure: A Love Story
Coeurage Theatre Company at GTC Burbank
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Joe Calarco and Kurt Quinn
Photo by John Klopping
With a huge dose of Story Theatre, a down-home poetic nod to Dylan Thomas, and a charmingly outdated old-fashioned theatricality, Chicago playwright Philip Dawkins somehow has been able to make the dark mysteries of death into something almost celebratory.
With the aid of 13 multitalented performers playing myriad roles both human and otherwise, fed by the vast imagination of director Michael Matthews and the company’s resident musical director Gregory Nabours, Dawkins has world-class assistance from the innovative folks at Coeurage Theatre Company as they relate the sad tale of the Windy City’s Fail family, whose first generation of Eastern Europe immigrant clockmakers arrived in Chicago at the start of the 20th century, only to die tragically exactly 100 years ago when their brand new Stutz-Bearcat plunged into the cold depths of the murky and fetid Chicago River.
After their parents unfortunate demise, the three Fail daughters—Nelly, Jenny June, and Gertrude (Margaret Katch, Nicole Shalhoub, and June Carryl)—carried on the family business with the help of their adopted brother, John N. (Joe Calarco). Their own story of survival—or lack of same—continues the heartrending saga, as Dawkins reveals early in the proceedings. All three sisters would die suddenly in the year 1928: Nelly clobbered by a concrete bust originally dislodged in her parents’ accident, Jenny June disappearing in those same polluted waters in the midst of a swimming competition, and Gertie from consumption after diving in to help find her middle sister and save Jenny June’s betrothed, Mortimer Mortimer (Kurt Quinn), from drowning.
One thing that makes the twists of the Fail family’s bizarrely ill-timed story so compelling is how total stranger Mortimer fits into it. First arriving as a customer at the Fail Clockworks to have a watch engraved to the love of his life he is yet to meet, he subsequently falls for each of the sisters in turn, just before the untimely death of each one.
Dawkins is an amazingly lyrical yet crafty storyteller, able to begin with the end and then let things return to the beginning as the players edgily and energetically weave through the action, sometimes as participants, sometimes as narrators. On JR Bruce’s spectacularly cluttered rustic wooden set resembling the setting for a community barn dance, the eclectic ensemble takes on all challenges, playing everything from dying dogs to massive pythons to cheerfully squawking parakeets, and most manifestly as inanimate objects like ticking clockworks, ever present to remind us that time just keeps marching relentlessly on no matter what our plans and dreams for the future might be.
Along the way, Nabours sits upstage at his piano, leading the ridiculously sunny company with a diverse selection of the music of the ’20s—including “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” And when the entire company suddenly segues into a rousing musical tribute to Jenny June’s arch rival Johnny Weissmuller, choreographed to precision perfection by Janet Roston, the audience is guaranteed the surprises will never cease.
It’s a mighty cheerful accompaniment to the horrific and disastrous deaths of the Fail sisters and their parents, not to mention the demise of the family dog and most of John N.’s collection of rescued animal buddies, but that seems to be the point. The Fails trudge on with their doomed existences as Nabours’ songbook subtly begins to become more poignant, evoking increasingly more bittersweet responses as the family’s future darkens.
As the curiously luckless fate of the Fails unfolds, culminating as the aged John N. and Mortimer movingly contemplate the true meaning of love and marriage seen through the insular prism of their own long lives, the true wonder of this simple yarn starts to quietly percolate through the boisterous theatricality of the production. It’s difficult to imagine the success of Coeurage’s dodgy gamble without the imaginative contributions of Matthews, his cast, and his designers, who work passionately to let the Fails’s message seep into our bones while we never even realize what’s happening. To say Failure: A Love Story can induce lingering meditations on our fleeting lives and the gossamer nature of the time allotted us on this risky planet long after final curtain is a major understatement.
July 27, 2015
24–Aug. 29. 1100 W. Clark Ave., Burbank. Thu–Sat 8pm (no perfs. Aug. 6
or Aug. 15; added perfs Aug. 9 and Aug. 23 at 7pm). Pay what you want.
Falling Apple Productions at The Secret Rose Theatre
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
Members of the ensemble
Borrowing a page from the likes of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, playwright Khai Dattoli’s world premiere offers intermittent dashes of fun. Her tale of a play within a play enlists each night’s audience in determining who, among a trio of characters in this nine-person cast, fills in for this supposed Off-Broadway production’s missing leading man.
Act One occurs during the hour leading up to the opening performance of the fictitious production, titled Staging Room. Often chaotic, intentionally or otherwise, under Paul McGee’s occasionally uneven direction, this setup introduces us to the requisite ensemble of stereotypical theater folk. The story is a little hard to follow at times, due to breakneck pacing, which does a disservice to Dattoli’s often humorous repartee.
There’s Sam, the Glossophobic (fear of speaking, public or private) stage manager, played by Jay Aaseng, and his browbeaten, wisecracking assistant stage manager Jill, portrayed by Danielle Lazarakis. Matthew Bridges is Jeffrey, the harried director-cum-ringmaster of this wacky bunch, who tangles with playwright Emily Roberts, depicted in a refreshingly dry turn by Lauren Baldwin. The remainder of this group of actors-playing-actors-playing-characters includes Dattoli along with Corsica Wilson, Jennifer Haley, Luis Selgas, and Ryan Rowley, all of whom acquit themselves nicely.
So, with the never-to-be-seen romantic lead having skipped town, unannounced, in favor of a film role shooting in Hawaii, who will step in to save the day? Here, Dattoli has done her job well. Each of three possible candidates, all of whom would be intimately familiar with every word of dialogue, plays out a scene from Act Two’s fictional production. Ostensibly done so that the other actors can offer input, it’s a masterful way to give the audience a foretaste of each nominee’s effect on what will clearly turn out to be a comically raucous mess.
Obviously, Dattoli has crafted three separate endings to her piece, including a postscript scene that puts a button on the proceedings. To name the trio from which the audience must choose or detail the potential results of each choice would be an injustice to both the company and audience alike. Suffice it to say, on the night reviewed the final decision, along with a panel in the uncredited set design, which treats all to a backlit view of offstage hijinks, offered a delightfully madcap conclusion.
July 23, 2015
Brighton Beach Memoirs
Kentwood Players at Westchester Playhouse
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Lori Kaye, Veronica Alicino, Laura Slade Wiggins (facing away), Matthew Van Oss, Katie Rodriguez (facing away), Louis Gerard Politan, and Harold Dershimer
Photo by Shari Barrett
For good reason, playwright Neil Simon has been loved by the theatergoing public for decades. For even better reason, his Brighton Beach Memoirs is widely considered to be among his best plays. In Kentwood’s production of it, this 1982 work remains as charming, hilarious, and bittersweet as ever, thanks to top-of-the-line portrayals of Simon’s iconic roles.
Dreams deferred are at the root of this play. They cause conflict and they inspire growth. For 15-year-old Eugene Jerome, living in Brooklyn in 1937 means he dreams of playing for the Yankees. But this character, a stand-in for the playwright, also dreams of being a writer.
There will be no athletic future for Eugene, nor was there one for Simon. But as portrayed here by the delightful Matthew Van Oss, Eugene clearly has the wit and perspicacity to write. And he has a family full of quirks and woes, the gift that keeps on giving to a playwright. Eugene is infinitely more good-natured than the irascible Simon ever has been. Then again, even with the universal travails, his childhood seems infinitely sweeter than Simon’s.
Packed into a compact but immaculate house (sturdy, appealing scenic design by Jason Renaldo Gant) are Eugene’s parents, Kate and Jack; Eugene’s elder brother, Stanley; and Kate’s sister, Blanche, and Blanche’s two daughters, Nora and Laurie. New frustrations, old jealousies, illnesses, and financial troubles plague the characters. All are ultimately handled with loving care.
Throughout the play, Eugene serves as the audience’s tour guide, observing his family with sharp eyes and an acerbic tongue. Anything he might have missed, however, has been noted by this production’s director, Valerie Ruel. The cast evidences a deep understanding of the characters’ interrelationships and histories, as well as their secular Jewishness, keeping themselves and the audience immersed in the tumultuous lives of the Jeromes.
Ruel creates a feeling of living in another era, not necessarily mimicking the 1930s but of a more genteel time and place. That doesn’t mean Eugene has the purest of thoughts and the most refined turn of phrases, however. But lust for his cousin Nora and his cajoling Stanley into revealing ever more data on the facts of life clearly mark this 15-year-old as someone from much earlier, more innocent times.
Ruel’s cast is outstanding, some of the actors turning in portrayals as good as if not better than those seen in the “big” productions of this play. Particularly impressive are Lori Kaye, whose Kate is a loving lioness, and Katie Rodriguez, whose Laurie, usually played as a somber little pill, delights in her manipulativeness.
Louis Gerard Politan is luminous as the noble, probably greatly idealized Stanley. Laura Slade Wiggins is a dewy, sadly frustrated young Nora. Veronica Alicino is a heartsick Blanche, trying to do right by her family. Harold Dershimer is a sturdy yet solicitous Jack, a model of old-fashioned American ethics.
But, of course, Van Oss must carry this show, and he does so on energized young shoulders, mining the meaningful comedy and tender poignancy out of every line and situation.
To top this excellent work, costuming (designed by Marie Olivas), particularly the enchanting but very simple outfits for the women, helps take the audience back in time to days when problems weren’t less burdensome but somehow seemed soluble. And it’s good to know Eugene’s dreams ultimately came true.
July 13, 2015
Republished courtesy Daily Breeze
July 10–Aug. 15. 8301
Hindry Ave., Westchester. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $20 ($2 discount for
seniors, students, servicemen, and Metro riders). (310) 645-5156.
A Permanent Image
Rogue Machine Theatre
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Tracie Lockwood, Anne Gee Byrd, and Ned Mochel
Photo by John Perrin Flynn
Ah, to be in northern Idaho, where an ordinary couple could peacefully parent a son and daughter, and then spend their golden years wallowing in substance abuse and unenlightening religious worship.
Unfortunately for Martin and Carol, the creation of Samuel D. Hunter in A Permanent Image, conscious thought had begun to creep in and disturb the peace. And then Martin died, leaving Carol alone to cope and fend off the sudden hovering of their daughter Ally and son Bo, which is how and when this play begins.
Hunter digs into parent-child relationships, sibling rivalry, marital discord, coping mechanisms, and, actually, the meaning of life. Martin, before he died, began to explore his essence, physical and spiritual, in light of scientific knowledge. How do we know this? Carol videotaped Martin as he sat on their sofa and pondered aloud such concepts as the origins of the universe.
Carol won’t discuss his cause of death. But after his death, she painted the home white. Literally. She painted not only the sofa but also the afghan draping the sofa. She painted not only the walls but also the paintings, the painting frames, the telephone. The opposite of mourning black or perhaps a fresh start, the whitewashing also serves to showcase the films of Martin she can now watch. Nicholas Santiago’s video design plays over David Mauer’s scenic design so unbelievably precisely that the audience seems to see a three-dimensional Martin sitting on that sofa.
Although the details of Hunter’s craft are not perfect—marred by such flaws as awkward scene breaks—the themes he tackles are universal and eternally of interest. So director John Perrin Flynn takes the good with the bad, focusing on and making the audience focus on his fine quartet of actors.
The four bringing the audience into this too bizarre, too real world are Anne Gee Byrd as the intractable heavy-drinker Carol; Ned Mochel as the terminally frustrated son, Bo; Tracie Lockwood as the secretly disappointed daughter, Ally; and the nearly unrecognizable Mark L. Taylor as the filmic Martin, a man who lived a simple life until he began to truly ponder universal complexities.
July 13, 2015
6–Aug. 17. 5041 Pico Blvd., West LA (street metered until 8pm except
Sun) Sat 5pm, Sun 7 pm, Mon 8 pm. $30–35. (855) 585-5185.
The Bitch Is Back
The Edye at The Broad Stage
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Sandra Tsing Loh
Publicity photo by Ben Gibbs
To be clear, the woman of the title is not only the writer-performer of this solo show, Sandra Tsing Loh. The woman of the title is all women who live to be “of a certain age.” These women have become the largest segment of American women. These women are menopausal.
Known as an author, comedian, and radio essayist with a wry intellectual take on mankind, Loh makes this performance piece—subtitled An All-Too Intimate Conversation—highly personal and extremely universal. The evening is not for kids—though hers “happened” to be there on opening night. It may not even be for men—though the dutiful were there, some laughing in pained recognition of descriptions of their wives, partners, mothers, sisters.
Assigned by her editor at The Atlantic magazine to pen an article on menopause, at first Loh balked. Eventually her research, personal experiences, and sense of humor blended into an article in 2011, from which emerged a memoir, titled The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones, and then this solo show.
Thanks to careful staging (no programs are on hand, and no director is credited) consisting of two rows of theater seating in a horseshoe surrounding café tables, there are no bad seats. But it also helps that Loh is a perpetual motion machine, bouncing among tables and zipping up the aisles. Even when she’s seated, she is rolling around the playing area. Lighting seems magnetized to her path (an uncredited crew hovers attentively in the booth high above the seats).
Loh is gentle in her audience interaction. Shout out a good answer to one of her Socratic questions (describing her outfit and its purpose accurately), and you get a bit of interplay with her. Shout out an appalling answer (advising women to start drinking at 4pm), and she allows the audience its laughter but skillfully moves on.
Her outfit—a vibrantly orange top draped over black stretch pants—forms a pointed topic of conversation, as she blasts her body and its menopausal shape. It also cleverly lets her dance around the room. But at the end of the show, the top comes off. Not to worry: An orange tank top lurks under the draped affair. The shape nonetheless revealed is pretty darned toned, the spine supple, whatever her time of life.
Worth the price of admission, but, better than that, cheaper than a visit to a physician, the evening infuses its intended targets with a feeling of satisfied well-being. After all, as she basically concludes at the end of her 75-minute foray into the essence of women, these are the good old days.
9–Aug. 2. 1310 11th St. Santa Monica (ample free parking). Thu-Fri 8pm,
Sat 5pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. $35-55. (310)
DOMA Theatre Company at MET Theatre
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Jess Ford and Andrew Diego
Photo by Michael Lamont
Fifteen years ago, when superpower band Green Day decided to produce a rock opera paying homage to The Who, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, who is credited for writing 98 percent of the Green Day’s most celebrated music, created the dynamically screwed up anti-hero Jesus of Suburbia. When the effort catapulted into the band’s 2004 album American Idiot, it was a worldwide success and won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2005.
In 2009, Armstrong collaborated with Green Day fan and Broadway director Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Tony winner for Spring Awakening) to turn the band’s Tommy-like concept into a stage musical. First mounted at Berkeley Rep, the theatrical version of American Idiot went on to New York, rocking out the venerable St. James Theatre for more than a year.
LA’s decade-old DOMA Theatre Company, which has been turning out some surprisingly massive and well-appointed productions for almost a decade, is a perfect match for Green Day’s loud and irreverent musical, which follows Johnny (Jess Ford), the Jesus of this show’s particular suburbia, who, with his two buddies Will (Wesley Moran) and Tunny (Chris Kerrigan), dreams in song of leaving the restrictive environment in which they grew up, ready to rebel by singing and rocking their way into the big city.
Things don’t work out so well for Will, whose wife leaves him with their infant son because he never seems to get off his couch, rise from his smoky haze, and put down his ever-present bong. Tunny, too, ends up in an unexpected state, whisked into the army and returning from one of America’s horrifying desert wars in a wheelchair.
Still, we follow Johnny the most closely, as his initiation into disenchanted youthful urban existence brings him into contact with Whatshername (Renee Cohen), who introduces him to her politically active and rebellious lifestyle, and St. Jimmy (Andrew Diego), who gets him high on a series of increasingly more debilitating street drugs.
After the perils of our disintegrating society and the bitterness of life in the real world nearly kill all three heroes, each returns to his hometown. Although it would be more satisfying if the guys discovered how to conquer their demons rather than retreat back to the place that shaped them, hopefully along the way their eyes have been opened to things none of them would have understood without their bellyflop into contemporary chaos.
But that’s fodder for American Idiot II, which in a perfect world should include a palpable sense of the era just past the one when the original album was released, a time when our country’s young’uns were forced to come of age through 9/11, as well as during the Iraqi War and conflicts in Afghanistan and across the globe.
Director Marco Gomez and his design team, especially Michael Mullen, who presumably on a shoestring created some the flashiest, most whimsical and creative costuming seen on any LA stage this year, join to lift this production way beyond the usual limitations of typical 99-Seat theater productions of large-scale musicals.
Musical director Chris Raymond and his excellent band add immensely to the mix, as do the generally balls-out performances by the principal players. One small criticism: Although the denizens of American Idiot are all purdy much continuously in pain, it would be a better character choice if every song and every spoken line were not delivered with a tortured expression and the appearance of emanating from a dying beast.
Especially when assaying Angela Todaro’s energetic and highly athletic choreography, the wildly fearless and spirited chorus of 17 knockout young triple-threats collectively liquefy together, wondrously becoming like one more principal character in the story, reminiscent of the townspeople in Evita who also often moved across the stage as one communal mass of humanity.
Of the talented ranks, it would be remiss not to mention the Joplin-esque vocal calisthenics of Sandra Diana Cantu, as well as the überanimated, appropriately over-bleached Kevin Corsini, one of the tallest ensemble members whose unruly crown of straw glows brightly under Jean-Yves Tessier’s exquisitely atmospheric lighting.
Green Day’s most popular tunes re-created in the musical—including “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” which became a message against governmental avarice and ineptitude after the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the title song and “Holiday,” both part of the Green Day’s in-your-face score and Armstrong’s literate and often depressing book and lyrics—clearly express an entire generation’s dissent over the actions initiated by our government in our own country and across the globe.
Underlying the musical’s sometimes simplistic plotline is a conscious message shouting out against corporate greed and unnecessary war, something that overpowers any minor clumsiness. Add in a cast this charismatic and such knockout production values, and this is a miraculous mounting of the musical not to be overlooked.
June 11, 2015
5–Aug 2. 1089 N. Oxford Ave., LA. Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm (dark July 4).
General admission $30; VIP admission (includes reserved seating and a
complimentary snack and beverage), $34.99; seniors and students with ID
$20. (323) 802-9181.
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
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