Arts In LA
Into the Woods
Kentwood Players at Westchester Playhouse

Reviewed by Dany Margolies

Brad Halvorsen and Brandie June
Photo by Shari Barrett

Traditional fairy tales begin with characters who have far to travel, while the promise of adventure perfumes the story. And at the conclusions of these tales, the righteous get their rewards, while the wrongdoers are punished or worse.
   But that’s only Act One of Into the Woods. Then what? What if the prince climbs up Rapunzel’s yards-long golden tresses, only to abandon her before she bears his twin babies? What if Cinderella finds that her prince is a carefree lothario? On the other hand, what if the giant that Jack has killed after the young lad climbs that beanstalk has left a widow—and she’s infuriated?
   What the heck happened to “happily ever after?” More to the point of this show—with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine—aren’t we responsible for our own actions? Further, aren’t we, as members of society, responsible for other people, too?

Into the Woods begins as fairy tale characters state their wishes. A baby, money, travel opportunities—the characters ask for different, better, more-exciting lives. Cinderella (played here by Heather Barnett) wants to escape her drudgery and go to the king’s festival. Jack (Brad Halvorsen), to the despair of his Mother (Patricia Butler), wishes his starving but beloved pet cow Milky White (Brandie June) would give milk. And the Baker (Terry Delegeane) and the Baker's Wife (Amy Coles) are desperate for a baby.
   All of them—as well as Rapunzel (Alicia Reynolds), Little Red Ridinghood (Carly Linehan), two extraordinarily tall princes (Matthew Artson and Jon Sparks), a very Mysterious Man (Ben Lupejkis), and a secretly beautiful Witch (Elizabeth Bouton)—do indeed go into the woods, hoping to find what they need there.
   This being Sondheim and Lapine, the woods are a metaphor. So perhaps it’s best, in this show’s spirit of existentialism, to leave interpretation to each audience member—unless that audience member wants to just enjoy being greatly entertained.

And this Kentwood Players’s production certainly entertains. Shawn K. Summerer directs a smooth, lively, pointed, and crisp production. There’s wit in every characterization and physicality at every moment—including lots of pratfalls. Most of the singing voices are knockouts, and all of the portrayals are sharp, with performances that understate the humor rather than playing for laughs.
   The music direction, by Catherine Rahm, is gorgeous, at least once the performers found their bearings on opening night. Sondheim is melodically and rhythmically complex and unpredictable. But very soon this cast became note-perfect—as is the small but mighty orchestra, conducted by Daniel Gledhill.
   Sure, we might wish the Witch’s mask didn’t hide her expressions and perhaps muffle occasional lyrics. And the tree that supposedly falls seems to still be standing. But if we learned anything from this musical, we’re better off focusing on the good of what’s already there.
   The character-defining costumes—by Kathy Dershimer, Elizabeth Summerer, and Jon Sparks—notably include a cow’s mask for Milky White that enables the Baker to feed her all the items the Witch has demanded, and yet nothing spills out during the scene. Tony Pereslete’s set turns the small stage into spacious woods, and Robert Davis’s lighting gorgeously establishes place and tone.
   This exceptionally deep musical is about choosing and decisiveness, consequences and responsibility. It’s also just a joy to watch.

November 16, 2014
Nov. 14–Dec. 20. 8301 Hindry Ave., Westchester. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $25 ($2 discount for seniors, students, servicemen, and Metro riders). (310) 645-5156.


Brighton Beach Memoirs
Torrance Theatre Company

Reviewed by Dany Margolies

Patrick Gallagher, Billie Foley, Price Morgan, Geoff Lloyd, Shirley Hatton, Ariane Alten, and Eliza Faloona

Widely considered the best of writer Neil Simon’s well-made plays, Brighton Beach Memoirs—about a Jewish family in 1930s Brooklyn—has landed in the South Bay through Dec. 19 at Torrance Theater Company. But can this Southern California cast give it that New York zing and Jewish bittersweetness?
   The kitchen-sink comedy centers on 15-year-old Eugene Jerome and his family, modeled after Simon and his family—or, to be precise, Simon’s fantasy of a family. Eugene’s home is crowded with his father, mother and elder brother, plus his mother’s sister and that aunt’s two daughters.
   Eugene wants to become a writer, if the Yankees don’t come calling first. He keeps thorough notes because he knows what goes on in that home and the hilariously remarkable things his family says will become his artistic material.
   The abrasion at every turn sparks some of the funniest lines ever spoken from the stage. But each family member encounters his or her roadblocks. And those roadblocks are true-to-life, whether in the 1930s or now. Job loss, loneliness, ill health, intra-family strife—the characters must navigate each with loyalty and integrity.

K.C. Gussler directs this production. And, yes, he shepherds the zings and the tenderness. He starts with a cast of skilled actors who understand the sadness of Simon’s comedies, the heightened stakes each character feels in the story.
   Each actor’s timing is gorgeous, not only comedically but also in the way conversations and emotions build. The actors know they’re in a comedy, but no one tries to force the laughs, and so they get them.
   Heading the pack is Price T. Morgan as Eugene. A pepper pot, the young actor plies Simon’s wryness and Eugene’s tremendous, endless energy. Patrick J. Gallagher brings a heroic quality to the levelheaded, fair-minded Stanley, and Geoffrey Lloyd is a steadying force onstage as the brothers’ weary but patient father, Jack.
   Playing Eugene’s younger cousin and the least-likeable character, Laurie, Billie Foley unselfishly disappears into this unattractive, indulged little girl. Playing her elder sister, Eliza Faloona skirts petulance to give Nora’s longing for her late father much genuine heft.
   Ariane Alten delicately plays widowed aunt Blanche, who has voluntarily assumed the status of a second-class family member until it’s time to throw off that mantel. And holding the family together, sometimes like magnets and sometimes like a skewer, is Eugene’s mother, Kate, given an intense, firm, and loving portrayal by Shirley Hatton.
   Crisp sound design and impeccably timed work by the crew help the actors navigate the cramped quarters.

Sharing a bedroom with prickly brother Stanley, sharing a bathroom with the luscious Nora, sharing a dining-room table with all, Eugene will never lack for material. His alter ego didn’t, either. Simon has written more than 30 plays, earning four Tony Awards and one Pulitzer.
   Two of those plays are sequels to this one: Biloxi Blues, which follows Eugene into Army basic training in Mississippi, and Broadway Bound, in which Eugene and Stanley become professional writers in New York City. But right now, in Torrance, there’s a bit of 1930s New York and a loving family about to thrive—zing and bittersweetness and all.

November 10, 2014
Nov. 8–Dec. 14. 1316 Cabrillo Ave, Torrance. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 2 hours, including intermission. $25. (424) 242-6882.


Cannibal! The Musical
Coeurage Theatre Company at Lyric-Hyperion Theatre & Cafe

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Peter Larney and Mikey De Lara
Photo by Nardeep Khurmi

Seeing Trey Parker’s name on any project is enough to let you know you’re in for a ride. In 1993, the 23-year-old co-creator of South Park and The Book of Mormon wrote, directed, produced, co-scored (along with fellow University of Colorado at Boulder student Rich Sanders), and starred in a three-minute trailer made for their college film class. After news of its outrageousness spread around campus, Parker, joined by another student featured in the film who went on to become his future writing partner Matt Stone, raised $125,000 and turned Cannibal! The Musical into a full-length film. Although it was shot during weekends and on spring break, according to Coeurage Theatre Company’s resident composer and here keyboardist-actor Gregory Nabours, most of the crew members failed their film history class as a result.
   Parker’s early filmic sign of greatness was loosely based on the true story of Alferd Packer (played here by Kurt Quinn, master of the Ben Turpin deadpan), a prospector with a questionable interest in his beloved horse Liane (represented by a small stuffed puppet suggestively manipulated by the definitely life-sized Kalena Ranoa). Historically, Packer was the lone survivor of an 1872 journey from Utah to Colorado in search of gold, an ill-fated trek that left his five fellow travelers dead—and partially eaten.

The musical begins as Packer languishes in jail, charged with cannibalizing his buddies, as he tells his side of the bloody-funny tale of the expedition in flashback to Polly Pry (Ashley Kane). She’s a comely young newspaper reporter with a “heart as full as a baked potato” whose own motives might include replacing Liane as an object of Packer’s affections. Just as in every John Ford movie ever made, the party meets many obstacles and hardships along the way. These include Injuns (played by geisha-bowing, Japanese-speaking Asian actors Kari Lee and Jane Lui, along with Mikey De Lara, who also doubles as guitarist for the onstage band), as well as a group of sadistic trappers (Joe Tomasini and twin brothers Ryan and Mike Brady) who whisk away poor Liane with possibly inappropriate intentions for her wellbeing.
   With an inventively over-the-top troupe of actors, each ready and willing to “play-act like a Kansas City queer” under the spell of director Tito Fleetwood Ladd, the boundlessly ambitious and youthfully energetic Coeurage Theatre Company is the quintessential LA entity to take on Parker’s minor film epic and turn it into bloody good counterculture entertainment. Carly Wielstein’s delightfully off-kilter choreography is equally welcome, as the actors earnestly playing faux-rugged Old West characters send up every Broadway style from De Mille to Fosse to Robbins. Simply put, cowboys and cattlemen haven’t been so physically unfettered since the creation of the Dream Ballet in Oklahoma!

Castmembers enthusiastically munch on propmaster Ryan Lewis’s occasionally realistic-looking human legs and other appendages (made from Fruit Roll-Ups and gelatin, I’m told by a reliable source) and fling around a considerable amount of splattering stage blood with great abandon as their characters face the wilderness with dubious frontier survivalist decisions like “Let’s build a snowman!” when the weather changes on their journey, all of which contributes to making this production more fun than a barrel of edible monkeys.
   Although Parker’s book and lyrics are hilarious, signaling the future Cartmans and Kennys to come, his score written with Sanders is a bit generic. Still, it’s made palpable here by musical director¬–keyboardist Nabours’s vocal arrangements and his band of fellow actor-musicians. And with song titles such as Packer’s lovelorn lament to his missing mare Liane, titled “When I’m On Top of You,” and featuring spirited dance numbers such as the disco-y solo swansong by sequined and heavily bedazzled rhinestone cowboy Swan (Travis Dixon, whose character’s hazy sexuality in middle of the man’s man world of the 19th century American plains might almost rival the suitability of Packer’s feelings for all things equine), there’s not a moment of this wonderfully silly musical treat that won’t make you howl with laughter. If it starts giving you a taste for barbequed ribs, however, consider getting some professional help before it’s too late.

November 8, 2014
Oct. 31–Nov. 22. 2106 Hyperion Ave. Street parking is available. Fri 8pm, Sat 8pm & midnight. All seats are available on a pay-what-you-want basis. (323) 944-2165.


Phantom of the Opera
Vox Lumiere at Los Angeles Theatre Center

Reviewed by Jonas Schwartz

James Lynch
Photo by Johanna Siegmann

Kevin Saunders Hayes’s ambitious multimedia experimentations with silent films returns to Los Angeles with a funhouse version of the Lon Chaney classic Phantom of the Opera. Projecting the film on the big screen, the production comments on the movie by intensify the experience with original songs, dance, and wild costumes. Though the quality of the songs is uneven, the intriguing premise and Natalie Willes’s scandalous choreography make for an amusing evening.
   The Carl Laemmle 1925 version of Phantom won worldwide acclaim for its epic sets, frightening sequences, and Man of a Thousand Faces’s most horrifying makeup creation. Manipulating and punishing his own face with tape and wires, Chaney pulled back his features to construct a chilling monster. Both maniacal and pitiable, Chaney’s Erik was a complex villain, since Erik is haunted by unrequited love.

Saunders Hayes collides early- and late-20th-century influences, making the silent masterpieces palatable for school-age children who grew up in an MTV universe. The production, with strobe lighting, thumping beats, and grotesque body movements that border on camp, is a live version of a music video. Because the screen is not obscured, the audiences can delight in the modern fixings while imbibing one of the great horror films. It’s a shame that nitrate deterioration has blurred a lot of the film, but hopefully celebrations like this will continue the fight for movie restoration after such carelessness in the studio system during the mid-20th century.
   Willes’s choreography is Saunders Hayes’s asset. Ballet, interpretive jazz, and hip-hop are mashed-up with precision. The aerial partnering sequences are dazzling and innovative, something you’d see in a Cirque du Soleil show. She has employed dancers who have flawless technique.

The peculiar original score is problematic. The opera numbers are piercing, effectively melding with the visions on the screen. They are exquisitely sung by Danielle Skalsky as the Grand Dame, Julie Brody as Carlotta, and Marisa Johnson as the onstage version of Christine. The pop songs, many with an industrial sound that were utilized by ’80s bands like Styx, are less successful. The melodies are loud and monotonous.
   Because of the theater’s sound system, the lyrics are indecipherable. When they could be heard, they were the same phrases over and over. Some, like the Faust character singing again and again, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi” and “Let’s party like it’s 1899,” are insipid. On the other hand, the use of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is creepily commanding. Sharell Martin’s costumes—bustiers and metallic skirts for the women and shield-like cut-off shirts for the men—create a sexy, robotic punk mood. The Phantom is dressed in tight leather, blood red and black, night goggles and a mad hatter top hat, a clever variation of the boogeyman.

The concept of Vox Lumiere is a sterling idea: making forgotten films accessible to the new generations. Given better songs, it would have the potential to evolve into something startling, adding new dimensions to many gems of masters like F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, Sergei Eisenstein, and D.W. Griffith.

October 14, 2014
Sept. 19-20, Oct. 10-11, Nov. 21-22, and Dec. 12-13. 514 S. Spring St. (parking behind the theater). Fri-Sat 8pm, once per month. $40-75. (844) 809-7025.


The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?
Davidson/Valentini Theatre, Los Angeles LGBT Center

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Ann Noble and Paul Witten
Photo by Michael Lamont

Edward Albee’s disturbing tragic comedy The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? was the first of his exceptionally prolific body of work to rival Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in importance. It is also his most shocking effort ever, the most challenging to our societal sense of morality and acceptable behavior, and the only one of his plays where finding oneself laughing is something of a guilty pleasure.
   Martin (Paul Witten) is a happily married and highly successful architect who celebrates his midlife crisis at age 50 by having an affair with a bucolic beauty of decidedly nonhuman attributes. He named his four-legged mistress Sylvia because “it seemed to fit her” and, as the tale begins to unfold, he becomes increasingly more puzzled why the people he loves can’t understand what he feels. He’s tried support groups, a kind of Animalfuckers Anonymous where fellow attendees have “things” for horses, dogs, and one small pig, but he keeps his passion hidden until he spills the oats to his best friend Ross (Matt Kirkwood). Ross immediately feels compelled to tell Martin’s wife, Stevie (Ann Noble), so they can plan a strategy to get the poor guy help—or at least buy him stronger cologne.

Ken Sawyer’s direction is fluid throughout, especially amazing when the suddenly aware Stevie begins to smash ceramic tchotchkes around Robert Selander’s smartly claustrophobic Manhattan living room setting, while Martin tries to calmly, rationally explain himself to his freaking-out wife. Between lobbing vases into the fireplace, Stevie makes jokes about her own inadequacy in knowing how to handle this, especially as she has only two breasts and walks upright. No matter how happy or strong a marriage may appear, there are a lot of ingrained suspicions that pass through a wife’s mind, but, as Stevie admits, “I wonder when he’ll start cruising livestock” was not high among them.
   With such a well-proven director to skillfully guide his brave performers through a difficult script, exhausting to watch and perform as Stevie turns their Pier 1–friendly apartment to rubble, The Goat is made more accessible by the rich performances of Witten and Noble, who are fearless in the difficult roles of a couple still in love but facing a devastation neither one believes he or she can possibly survive. Both veteran LA stage actors are monumentally simple, hilariously funny, sincerely heartbreaking, and obviously deeply trusting of Sawyer’s steady but unobtrusive leadership.
   Spencer Morrissey, though not entirely comfortable yet with his stage physicality and considerable talent, has wonderfully touching moments as their teenage son, whose own admission to homosexuality pales in comparison to his father’s newly unearthed penchant for bestiality. Kirkwood’s most memorable moment comes when Martin extracts Sylvia’s photo from his wallet and passes it to his old friend. Without showing it to the audience, his facial expression describes Sylvia right down to those sexy, well-turned hooves of hers (a special unexplained shout-out to the production’s property designer, Bethany Tucker).

Running through Albee’s raucous but always sophisticated humor is the creeping onslaught of tragedy worthy of the ancient Greeks. Just when it seems Martin’s continuous avoidance has become too much, too constricting, Albee pumps up his character with an uncanny strength and even indignation at the reaction of those he loves. Coming slowly to the realization that the people around him are more concerned with how others will react to his barnyard dalliance than how they feel about it themselves, Martin presents the real theme of this masterfully constructed play. Ayn Rand once wrote that most people in the world are “second-handers,” that they live not for themselves but for how everyone else they encounter in their lives perceive them to be. Nothing in this world is more immoral than that.

September 27, 2014
Sept. 19–Nov. 23. 1125 N. McCadden Pl. Free parking is available. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 7pm. $30. (323) 860-7300.

The following have generously supported

Lucy Pollak
   Public Relations

Judith Borne
   Public Relations

Ken Werther

Philip Sokoloff
  Publicity for the Theatre

Demand PR/David Elzer    Marketing and Public Relations

Jerry Charlson
   Up & Running Arts Management and Consultants

(323) 733-7073 

Lynn Tejada
Green Galactic

Sandra Zeitzew
Director of Public Relations
Santa Monica Playhouse


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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.

Fountain Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Jenny O’Hara
Photo by Ed Krieger

Talk about something to hit Los Angeles in time for Halloween, this eerie, airy tale by New Orleans’s writer John Biguenet transports us into the cluttered interior of a creepy gingerbread-y cabin in some “deep, dark woods” as the welcomed guests of a possibly authentic, decidedly homebrewed, raspy-voiced Creole-accented witch.
   Biguenet, Grand Guignol–obsessed wordsmith and creator of the gothic novel The Torturer’s Apprentice, utilized more than his imagination to create this solo play. Raised in the Crescent City’s working-class Chantilly district, in a recent interview Biguenet shared that “only tourists walk on the sunny side of the street” in his hometown. “If you grew up in New Orleans like I did, you know there is darkness in the world.... I had to plunge into that darkness to write a play that’s both terrifying and comic.”
   Perfect for furthering the playwright’s intention is director Stephen Sachs’s inspired casting of the extraordinary Jenny O’Hara as a character identified in the program as Witch. Although the scary-looking crone tries earnestly to refute such a label, insisting her adversaries’ creepy-crawler invasions and fatal falls down the well were purely coincidental, when she pointedly jokes about cooking little boys with the same glee as roasting a sweet-fleshed suckling piglet, any potential dinner guest would have to wonder if that plate of carnitas was really that other other white meat.
   At first sight, O’Hara appears to be a small presence on Andrew Hammer’s breathtaking backwoods storybook set that looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting gone nightmarish, overpowered by Misty Carlisle’s exhaustively over-decorated candlelit property design. But soon O’Hara, spouting an 80-minute monologue written entirely in rhymed iambic couplets, commands the stage and scares the living bejeezus out of her audience. At one moment resembling a youthfully sunny, warmly smiling June Allyson–like ingénue lurking just under the character’s rat’s nest hairdo and penciled-on wrinkles, O’Hara transforms on a dime into a menacingly countenanced Gale Sondergaard, warning those in attendance to watch their step or they could find themselves insect-infested too. Her voice at times is so gentle and soft one must strain to hear her, but when lighting designer Jennifer Edwards makes lightning flash, O’Hara’s voice crescendos to awesome, powerful heights, competing effortlessly with Peter Bayne’s suddenly rock concert–decibeled sound effects.
   To this remarkable play’s credit, the final result goes deeper than scaring its audience and eliciting a few heartfelt screams from the back row. Underlying the quintessential seasonal fun of Broomstick—and transcending even O’Hara’s masterful turn, Sachs’s excellent staging, and a design that makes one want to go onstage and explore all those dusty goodies lurking in the corners of the witch’s cabin—is a surprising deeper message about the intolerance, misogyny, and rampant racism still existing in the rural South.
   “It’s easy to make fun of childhood fears, but they are real,” Biguenet confesses in that recent interview, noting his purpose in this play was to raise the hair on the backs of our necks as his witch casts a spell on us with the subtle rhymes and richness of her stories. “My witch can’t turn a tree into a fireball—special effects don’t interest me—but I could give her the power of language.” Mission accomplished. Broomstick is guaranteed to provoke unexpected thought—as it keeps the viewer jumping at shadows and itching the nape of the neck long after final curtain.

October 26, 2014
Oct. 18–Nov. 30. 5060 Fountain Ave. Secure, on-site parking, $5.Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $15-20. (323) 663-1525.


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.


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


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


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 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 He did not nominate himself, nor did he nominate his show.

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

January 5, 2014

The Vortex
Matrix Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Craig Robert Young and Shannon Holt
The McCarthy Studio

There’s nothing much harder to perform than anything written by Noël Coward. This once-scandalous 1924 play, in which the fledgling dramatist wrote a juicy role for himself in an effort to propel himself to stardom, is particularly difficult. Although his strategy worked and his performance as the coke-addicted upper-crust dandy Nicky put him on the map as an actor and as a playwright, his once highly controversial play has not survived the ages as well as some of his other classic works.
   When the play was first financed in London by its author, the themes of drug abuse (thought by some scholars to be a mask for Coward’s still-hidden homosexuality) and marital infidelity were far more novel and certainly more provocative than they are today. But director Gene Franklin Smith and his fine band of actors have thrust themselves headfirst into the manners and posturing of Coward’s style, refreshing ever-present cocktails and lounging across convenient chaises longues while confidently uttering the master’s notoriously brittle bons mots. It is a noble effort, finding a base from which to interpret the blurred humanity of people from a bygone era who have been “living their lives on pretense for years.”

Aging and intolerably vain socialite Florence Lancaster (Shannon Holt) lives a busy life overshadowed by her desperate need to stay youthful, especially since it’s “too late to become beautifully old” at this point in her journey. Brazenly carrying on in front of her presumably long-suffering husband, David (John Mawson), and her continuously traumatized eye-rolling friends Helen and Pawnie (Victoria Hoffman and Cameron Mitchell Jr.), Florence parades her latest boytoy, Tom Veryan (Daniel Jimenez), at a gathering at her London flat. Perhaps if her dandy of a son, Nicky (Craig Robert Young in the role Coward wrote for himself), wasn’t preoccupied courting a vapid young thing named Bunty Mannering (Skye LaFontaine) and regularly sniffing that demon powder, he might be more concerned about his mother’s dalliances—something that changes rapidly after Bunty and Tom leave their respective Lancasters behind for a go at each other.
   Although the verbal sparring between these purposely insipid characters is recognizable as Coward’s dialogue, far less of the expected droll humor is offered here than in the master’s more-enduring drawing room comedies such as Private Lives or Blithe Spirit. This includes the shattering ending that seems lifted from another play—or could have been a product of one of the writer’s well-documented lifelong mood swings.
   It’s a tough transition, from playing period cocktail banter tossed about by the hoity-toity of London society in the ’20s—with most of the juiciest lines delivered as though the fourth wall is one gigantic room-length mirror—to the final emotional and physically draining confrontation in Florence’s bedroom between the troubled mother and son. Still, Holt and Young tackle the scene and each other with all barrels blazing. Meanwhile, their game fellow actors, around mostly to guide the pair to that moment, do so admirably, albeit hampered by their small well-dressed band of underwritten stereotypical supporting characters.

Resetting the period from the 1920s to the 1960s, although an interesting choice, particularly in the first scene as all actors frug their hearts out Laugh-In style to Dusty Springfield and Diana Ross, is not entirely successful—even if it does give costumer Shon LeBlanc a swell opportunity to parade a knockout collection of Carnaby Street–inspired finery. But revisiting an old warhorse like The Vortex affords a perspective on the attitudes and mores of its playwright’s era. By the swingin’ ’60s, Florence’s lifestyle and Nicky’s drug use were hardly shocking. So, here the updating thins the message Coward intended to convey and dilutes the reason the work was so eagerly embraced in its own time.
   Glitches needed ironing out during the opening weekend after this production transferred from Malibu Playhouse to the Matrix, including sound cue issues that would have made Coward quite vociferously annoyed (this from the outspoken fellow who once gave his opinion of Lee Strasberg’s class at the Actors Studio as “pretentious balls”). Still, it’s a treat to see The Vortex performed and appreciated again, especially by such a dedicated, plucky troupe of fearless artists with such obvious respect for the material and its creator.

November 16, 2014
Nov. 13–Dec. 14. 7657 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm. (323) 960-7735.


Kinky Boots
Pantages Theatre

Reviewed by Dany Margolies

Steven Booth and Kyle Taylor Parker

Please, if you can’t tolerate disco music and you loathe musicals about accepting people for who they are, skip this one. If, however, you appreciate the propulsive glory of that musical genre, and if the theme of acceptance cheers you, this show is worth your while.
   Neither should you expect Beckett or Pinter. This musical about two men—the stolid heterosexual son of a shoemaker and the drag queen who needs high-heeled boots—can have only one ending (book by Harvey Fierstein). But there’s satisfaction in predicting that ending long before it happens, particularly because these characters are enormously appealing.
   So, when Charlie Price, the cheerful but insecure heir to a respected shoe factory in England, finds himself with a new fiancée and a staff of workers counting on him for their livelihoods, the audience feels like guardian angels, fingers crossed for him.

Steven Booth plays Charlie as one of the most sweetly pleasant characters to grace the stage—at least until his meltdown. Charlie’s fiancée, Nicola, is materialistic and somewhat shrewish (played by Grace Stockdale), so we know she won’t last in the story. About the time we realize that, the perky Lauren comes into focus, played with never-ceasing joy by Lindsay Nicole Chambers.
   Early on in the story, Charlie is accidentally walloped by Simon, known for most of the musical as Lola, the queen of drag queens. When Lauren gives Lola a big, warm, understanding smile, more than one audience member must have been thinking, “Say, why doesn’t Charlie dump Nicola and marry her?”
   Lola unashamedly struts into the factory, earning the self-conscious ire of burly worker Don (Joe Coots) and the unself-conscious admiration of George (Craig Waletzko). The antagonism between Don and Lola escalates so far, it becomes a central conflict in Act Two. It also becomes a stunning lesson in kindness and tolerance.
   Kyle Taylor Parker has the showier role, not just because he plays the outsize Lola but also because Parker gets to play the shyer Simon. Parker, too, makes his characters someone we long to hug, and his comedic chops are matched by the depth of his dramatic work.

A few distracting plot points tangle the second act—probably there to bring a few first-act characters back—and Charlie’s moment of worry turns him angry and uncharacteristically bigoted. But the tackling of “father issues” by the characters and the themes of what makes men “men” make this musical stand out in the canon.
   Jerry Mitchell’s direction focuses on characterization, and his choreography is a happy combination of the expected and the unexpected. One highlight is the exhilarating Act One closer, danced on conveyor belts.
   The scenic design, by David Rockwell, serves well the story’s various locales, and the lighting, by Kenneth Posner, creates English sunlight, factory dust, and fantasy brilliance. But best is how they unselfishly showcase the costumes, designed by Gregg Barnes. The set, in browns and greys, settles in behind factory-worker costumes in blue-jean blues and pastels.
   The dazzlers, to no one’s surprise, are worn by the drag queens—and yes, all of them are played by men. Satins, sequins, zippers, rivets, and stiletto-heeled thigh-high boots combine to create visual splendors that stay on the retinas long after the show is over.

What is surprising is this show’s music. Composed by Cyndi Lauper (along with the lyrics), arranged and orchestrated by Stephen Oremus, it’s an aural spectacle. Bass and guitar deepen the textures, strings and horns brighten the tones, but those bittersweet chord progressions and relentless eighth-notes of the disco-infused tunes sure make the aged in the audience long for those good ol’ days.
   Her lyrics might be fabulous, but they are relatively indecipherable here. They are sung, if not by the best voices in musical theater, with exceedingly passionate conviction by the cast. The musical might not call for operatic voices, however. Here, Booth sings mostly in the style of 1970s pop with occasional nods to rock. Parker, however, has a huge belt, stunningly apparent in the drag numbers because our eyes see a woman with an uncharacteristically powerful voice.
   Charlie and his shoe factory workers learn to go from making a range of shoes for men to, yes, “a range of shoes for a range of men.” Hopefully, some in the audience will likewise learn to be their authentic selves and learn to accept others for doing the same. In addition, some of us might be tempted to once again put on our boogie shoes—just not the high-heeled ones.

November 13, 2014
Nov. 11–30. 6233 Hollywood Blvd. Tue-Thu 8pm, Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 1pm & 6:30pm. Running time 2 hours and 30 minutes, including intermission. $55–195. “Recommended for Ages 10 and Up. Children under 5 will not be admitted to the theatre. All patrons must have a ticket regardless of age.”


VS. Theatre Company and Firefly Theater and Film, at VS. Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

Emily Swallow and Stephen Klein
Photo by Ed Krieger

She’s a grad student studying yeast cultures; he’s working on algorithms. With the exception of Tom Stoppard, Itamar Moses is the only playwright who could write a talky two-act play in which two horny young college science geeks (Emily Swallow and Stephen Klein) use incessant technologically savvy conversation as foreplay for hot sex.
   Molly and Elliot meet in a college library where each is distracted from the glowing light of computer screens by the presence of the other. Soon they have retreated to Elliot’s dorm room in the guise of establishing a work connection, but, of course, before long they are humping like rabbits (“I love the moment when you’re suddenly allowed to touch someone,” Elliot proclaims). In record time, they dump their current friends with benefits (Nicole Erb and Rob Nagle) in favor of exploring the possibly passionate future of what might prove to be newly minted potential soulmates.
   The sensations of their new relationship lead the lovers on. Between orgasms they sit on Elliot’s bed in their underwear, discussing the usual emotional scars of past loves, tentatively exploring what surprises might emerge from beneath the studied flannel-shirted nerd-wear (“I feel like I tricked you into thinking I’m happy or interesting or fun to be around,” Molly warns), and hesitantly deliberating whether those pesky stars might actually be in alignment this time around. It isn’t long, though, before they begin to sniff out other prospective mates (all played by Erb and Nagle) entering into their daily lives, making the journey of Molly and Elliot more rocky than a hike down Runyon Canyon after dusk.

This play must be a roller coaster to interpret, in danger of drowning in Moses’s ever-present textual dexterity, a palpable presence that could easily come off as bang-on-the-head pretentiousness. In lesser hands, Completeness might turn out to be anything but complete, but this mounting is blessed with a quartet of exquisitely multilayered, bittersweet performances that honor and match its author’s tech-swollen dialogue. His jigsaw puzzle of a play is able to rise above its inherent traps thanks to the commitment of its obviously driven cast, the understated but passionate vision of director Matt Pfieffer, and Darcy Scanlin’s incredibly smart, strikingly spare, versatile set design ingeniously filling VS. Theatre Company’s challenging playing space.
   The message is clear even if, alas, no answers are offered. Behind the scientific and technological loquaciousness that spews in torrents from these characters’ mouths, there’s an abundance of Chekhovian subtext that reveals in a snap that these are all are people broken well before their years. “This is just a terrible time in all our lives,” Molly admits, “and a terrible, terrible generation to be a part of.” Technical advances in all our lives, it seems, have trumped and all but eliminated our old values and most established rules of human engagement. There’s nothing new to be offered beneath Moses’s clever, sharply contemporary dialogue, which in the final analysis is a sad indictment of the state of anthropological interaction in our wildly stepped-up, media-obsessed society.

November 11, 2014
Nov. 7–Dec. 7. 5453 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles. Metered parking until 8p.m. Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. $25. (323) 739-4411.


Villa Thrilla
Atwater Village Theatre

Reviewed by Dink O’Neal

Brad Lee Wind, Ron Kologie, Giulia Davis, Erica Hanrahan-Ball, Gregory Gifford Giles, and Carolyn Crotty
Photo by Ed Krieger

On its surface, this world premiere by playwright Anna Nicholas has all the requisite components to achieve her stated goal of combining an English-style murder mystery with the farcical goings-on of Noises Off. A cast of broadly drawn characters, none of them quite who or what they seem to be, inhabits a mansion on the proverbial dark and stormy night. The set, a richly appointed foyer/drawing room courtesy of designer Madison Rhoades, contains no less than five separate entrances/exits for said performers to pop in an out of at will. Lighting by Brandon Baruch and sound cues attributed to Peter Bayne, here only occasionally timed correctly, are supposed to add to the unfolding mystery. And yet, the outcome is a surprisingly muddled mess.
   Most of director Gary Lee Reed’s cast of 10 (little Indians?) operates in a world of clownish choices with often unintelligible accents and overplayed punch lines—not to mention innumerable dropped cues—ruling the day. Add this to an almost horserace-like pace of certain individual actors’ line deliveries, and this play-within-a-play’s storyline winds up darn near impossible to follow. The trick to this type of endeavor, be it comic or truly suspenseful, is allowing one’s audience the ability to amass and separate clues from red herrings either during the proceedings or as self-revelatory moments of “Ah, ha” after the denouement. This performance was so difficult to decipher at times, it left this critic scratching his head as to when certain actors were playing their true-life characters or their murder mystery alter egos.

Still, a few performances are worth noting. Erica Hanrahan-Ball, dressed to the 9’s in costume designer Adriana Lambarri’s smartly composed go-go dancer attire complete with lusciously frosted eye shadow, stands out from the crowd. Her skill at creating two sharply drawn character(s)—a classically trained actress appearing as the airheaded wife of the evening’s host—provides a satisfying respite. So too, the appearance of a real-life police detective, played by Leslie A. Jones, whose second-act arrival brings a welcome deceleration to the virtually out-of-control proceedings.
   Attempting a plot synopsis would be pointless. The overall lack of attention to details and focus is so rampant that by the time this tale reaches its abrupt conclusion, the result isn’t so much one of “Whodunit” but rather “Who cares?”

November 7, 2014
Oct. 18–Nov. 23. 3269 Casitas Ave. Free onsite and street parking. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm. (800) 838-3006. $32.


Wedding Band
Antaeus Theatre

Reviewed by Neal Weaver

Karen Malina White and Veralyn Jones
Geoffrey White Photography

When novelist and playwright Alice Childress (1916–1994) wrote Wedding Band in 1962, most producers found it too hot to handle. Its tale of a love affair between a black woman and a white man had the potential to alienate black audiences and white audiences. And its raw account of racism in America was offensive to many. Though the play was given a workshop production at NYC’s Actors Studio, and there were a couple of regional theatre productions, it took 10 years for the piece to achieve a full New York production, in 1972, at The Public Theatre. And when it was subsequently produced on ABC Television, eight affiliate stations refused to run it.
   Childress set her play in a down-at-heel black neighborhood in Charleston, S.C., in summer 1918—when World War I was still raging in Europe and the lethal Spanish flu epidemic was killing hundreds at home. Black seamstress Julia Augustine (Veralyn Jones) is romantically involved with a white baker and German émigré, Herman (Leo Marks). They’ve been together 10 years, and they’re very much in love, but they can’t marry because the state’s miscegenation laws prohibit interracial marriage. So Julia finds herself at odds with both the white community and her black neighbors, who disapprove of her involvement with a white man and regard her as an adulteress.

During a visit to Julia, Herman collapses with a virulent case of the flu, which leaves her on the horns of a dilemma: Without medical attention, he may not survive, but if she calls in a doctor, both she and Herman may be arrested. And the neighbors are fearful that any involvement with white authorities may cause trouble for all of them.
   Soon, Herman’s Mother (Ann Gee Byrd) and his sister Annabelle (Belen Green) arrive, determined to take him home lest he be discovered—or die—in the home of his black mistress. The Mother is a virulent white supremacist who brandishes the N-word frequently and viciously, as she drives Julia out of her own home and pulls the clothes onto the near comatose Herman and carries him away. She’s a controlling termagant who has kept Herman tied to her apron strings and driven away Annabelle’s suitor because he is a lowly sailor. (Ironically, she is also a victim of prejudice as a German at a time when the war has inspired hatred and suspicion of all “Huns.”)
   Eventually, the still-shaky Herman returns, having finally broken free of his controlling mother and bought tickets to New York for himself and Julia. Mother and Annabelle return, intent on taking him away again, but Julia forbids her to enter her house, and she is driven from the field. But seeds of antagonism have been sown between Julia and Herman, and she takes him to task for failing to stand up for her and leaving her to make all the sacrifices.

Several subplots deal with Julia’s neighbors, including the matriarch Lula Green (Sandra McClain) and her rebellious son Nelson (Jason Turner), their nosy and bossy landlady (Karen Malina White), and the impoverished Mattie (Nadege August), who has been denied her soldier husband’s military allotment because she can’t prove they were legally married.
   Director Gregg T. Daniels has assembled a fine ensemble and gives them finely nuanced direction. Jones ably captures Julia’s fear of the white majority and her ultimate rebellion against it. McClain is a tower of strength as Lula, who lives in fear that her “uppity” son may fall victim of white wrath. And Byrd etches a merciless and savage portrait of Herman’s irascible mother.
   François-Pierre Couture designed the flexible skeleton set, A. Jeffrey Schoenberg provides the apt costumes, and Peggy Ann Blow created the vocal arrangements for the songs that add rich texture to the production.
   Note: Like all Antaeus productions, this one is double cast.

October 27, 2014
Oct. 18–Dec. 2. 5112 Lankershim Blvd. Parking $7 in the lot at 5125 Lankershim Blvd. (west side of the street), just south of Magnolia. Thu-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 2 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission. $30-34. (818) 506-1983.

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