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Friday, June 15, 2018

CULT OF LOVE REDUX

CULT OF LOVE by Leslye Headland


I was so intrigued and impressed by the performance of the First Team Cast for Headland's CULT OF LOVE at IAMA that when I learned that special performances by the Understudy Cast would be going up, I asked to review their efforts.  Truth be told, I have always admired the work of Sharon Lawrence from her days on NYPD Blue. I really wanted to see how she handled a role that was probably a little too old for her.  Indeed, she retains the youthful look she enjoyed on her television turn.  As Ginny Dahl, Lawrence portrays the mother of four kids, Mark Dahl, Evie Dahl, Diana Dahl Bennett and Johnny Dahl. Each of whom could not be more different from the next.  It's the keen delineation of each of the family members and a surprise guest, Lauren (perfectly confused Emily Rowan), that makes a Christmas celebration in the family home the joyous and sometimes uncomfortable event that unfolds.  Ginny has moments of denial and upset that are not funny to her, but hilarious to the audience!



Daughter, Diana, (Anna Rose Hopkins) is the mother of  baby George,  who is either nine months or a year old. He is still breastfeeding.  Full on pregnant with child number two, Ms Hopkins  brings a strong and loopy performance.  Husband, James Bennett (Alex Alcheh) reveals that he has been let go from his job as an Episcopal priest because of his beliefs that Diana is, in fact a prophet, which we observe as the drama unfolds.



Keeping in mind that this is an 'understudy' cast, the strong performances, with the only glitch manifesting in an unruly bank of lights over which tech seemed to have no control, the 'understudy night' audience, filled with flowers and well wishers were not phased as they cheered their pals.. deservedly so..



Lesbians, daughter Evie (Jenna Johnson) and Pippa, her spouse (Anisha Adasumilli),  are severely judged as Diana lectures them on their earthly ways that will not guide them to Heaven and their last judgement. 



In his Harvard T shirt, Mark (Josh Bywater) having left the seminary to pursue Law (clerking at the US Supreme Court!). Mark has major issues with his beautiful wife, Rachel (Erin Pineda) who has major issues with this whole family thing. Ultimately,  he brings his seminary training to a crucial climax to the play.  



Most favored son.. or not.. Johnny (Tim Peper) is the freest  spirit of the four kids. He arrives late with his surprise guest, Lauren.  Ginny remains in denial that her son has ever been a drug addict (now successfully recovering). Johnny  is the AA sponsor of  Lauren, who celebrates her first drug free Christmas. 


The only member of this cast who is not an understudy  is the  Family Patriarch, Bill Dahl.  As Bill, Tom Amandes duplicated his level headed and loving presentation.  Steady on.  What playwright Headland provides in this final take on her Seven Deadly Sins series (this one examines the sin of pride) are monologues that reveal the polemic that may or may not support the idea of redemption and harmony.  Not one member of this cast fell below the work of the First Team, leading me to suggest that IAMA consider the way that Antaeus presents their shows, with two entirely different casts performing at alternate times.  The IAMA talent roster is deep and deserved the Opening Night "Standing O" brought by their pals who were stacked to the rafters.  

When a show comes together seamlessly, seeming to have its own energies, it takes a moment to remember that the ensemble coalesces because of a director whose hand becomes invisible. Annie Tippe is the director who brought this show together completely and smoothly



Headland's writing and character arcs are delicious and funny and touching and sad.  How I'd love to see the other six plays!


The Cult of Love by Leslye Headland

Directed by Annie Tippe

IAMA Theatre Company  

Atwater Village Theatre

3269 Casitas Ave

Los Angeles, CA 90039 

 $30   

Thursdays through Sundays

Closes June 24, 2018

Tickets and information: 

323-380-8843 

Monday, June 11, 2018

100 APRILS / ROGUE MACHINE

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Psych Ward! deoxyribonucleic acid? End of life issues. Tradition. Psychiatric Ward Self medication.  Delusions. Hallucinations.   
A brilliant mind: going, going, going... 
Congestive heart failure.   
The Turks did it.  The Turks deny it. 
 
John (John Perrin Flynn, founder of the Rogue Machine Theatre Company) is strapped securely to his hospital bed. Overheated in his delusions, he argues with a dark figure hidden in the shadows. “I’m a doctor,” he shouts.  “I’m a doctor!” retorts Ahmet (Robertson Dean). It slowly becomes clear that we are sharing the hallucination residing in the mind of John, who carries deep within him the horrors of the Armenian massacre suffered by his family and a million and a half Armenians one hundred years ago: 100 APRILS. April 15, 1915.

 In the uniform of an early 20th century Turkish soldier, Ahmet, the subject of John’s hallucination, represents the soulless Turks and playwright Leslie Ayvasian’s broad polemic to remember the Armenian holocaust unfolds.  Reality and what are flights of John’s drug induced fantasies come and go.  They come and go.

John has been suffering from life endangering maladies and through his office as a medical doctor has exacerbated his condition by self medicating and has again overdosed and again is imprisoned in the ‘psych ward.’  He’s been here before.

Director Michael Arabian’s choice to cast as John’s wife Beatrice with 100 APRILS playwright Leslie Ayvasian is questionable.  Her credits are legion, but as with Flynn and Dean, each actor seems to be in a slightly different play.  The Armenian plight, opening the wound annually to remind themselves of the horrors of the early twentieth century at the hands of the Turks expands through Beatrice. She is stoic and long suffering. Arlene (Rachel Sorsa), John and Beatrice’s blonde and blue eyed daughter, attempts to be of service and mostly fails. She becomes distraught and completely undone when stung by a bee. 

The irony may be that John’s actual physician, Dr. Ahmet, is a Turkish doctor, who is extraordinarily practical. His questionable bedside manner erupts declaring coolly the facts of John’s congestive heart failure with advancing fluid in the lungs. John's imminent end of life is clearly the playwright’s attempt to call on the Turks again to take responsibility for the massacre and call it as she sees it: a holocaust.  John declares that he has the evidence in the bed with him.  In ‘his ass!’  Proof positive with notes in the margins of a journal that names names as he, in his hallucinations, declares that his family repaired the shoes of the Turkish marauders.
  
We spend the entire length of the play in a psychiatric ward.  Psychosis! Where did the troubles start?  They started, of course, a hundred years ago with disputed events that may never be resolved.  Now comes to mind how we remember the events of our lives.  Current research is being conducted that seems to point to the effect of extraordinary events on the lives of those who experience them first hand. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD! Research shows that traumatic events may create markers in the victims’ DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and then hypothesizes that those markers may be passed along physically from generation to generation.  Of course, with those impacted as the Armenians have been impacted, the issue of ‘never forget’ is literally taught and remembered from generation to generation with malice:  which we witness in the character of John as well as with Arlene and Beatrice. The strong emotions evoked by remembering and in this play, literally acted upon by Beatrice and Arlene as they physically assault the Turkish doctor, leaves no room for doubt that these Armenian women have an extraordinary response to their upbringing. It may be in their DNA? They hold within them, the legacy of generations now long gone by, to carry out revenge for the Armenian holocaust. We are unsure that The Turk, Dr. Ahmet, may be about to prolong the massacre by hastening the death of John, evoking the attack by the women.

Psychosis.  The accepted definition of psychosis is “A severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.”  Flynn’s character, John, the grandson of a victim of the terrors, hallucinates a Turkish soldier: a Turk who denies that the Turks were responsible. Does this play posit that DNA and indoctrination through family traditions, combined with self medication, bring about John’s “reality?”   We have all been indoctrinated by our families, our culture, our religion, our traditions, our politics and a myriad of other influences that are inherent in every person’s upbringing. What is 'reality?'  Are we either impaired or rational: ‘right’ or ‘wrong’?  When we have been literally ‘brainwashed’ with any idea, be it to believe in God,  seek peace and to love one another or “to hate all the people our relatives hate,” it falls to Critical Thinking to come to a Personal Truth: to find a way to Reason. Our own personal Reality.

As John succumbs, an odd blackout makes the audience believe that the play has ended.  An unnecessary denouement follows as we see more of Nurse (icy Janet Song): the crisp attendant whose attitude takes no prisoners but does have a moment of humanity as Arlene attempts to show kindness with a gift. Inured to death, Nurse cleans up, exposing a literal truth declared by John in his rants while dying in the psychiatric ward. 

This play, may be brilliant in its attempt to make a strong polemic statement bringing more to light the notion that we are all victims in one way or another.  Thus, it is vital for every thinking person to reach out for their own conclusions beyond the snare of indoctrination: deliberate or subtle, insidious or obvious: an indoctrination that may not serve us well in the long run. Indeed, psychosis may be the underlying culprit after all.

100 APRILS by Leslie Ayvasian
Rogue Machine Theatre Company
at  The MET Theatre
1089 Oxford Avenue
Los Angeles, CA  90029
Through July 16, 2018
Non-tradtional days and times
Tickets and Information:
855-585-5185  
 

Friday, June 8, 2018

AN EVENING OF BETRAYAL: The 6th Act

The 6th Act producing at Theatre 68 in North Hollywood creates unique side by side comparisons of the passions that make Live Theatre special.  This ambitious production pits  Shakespeare's OTHELLO back to back with modern playwright, Harold Pinter with his 1978 one act, BETRAYAL

We begin with Pinter. Long pauses in spare and cutting dialogue reflect the playwright's style that brought him to fame in the middle of the last century.  It's 1977. The oozing discomfort in the first scene with Emma (Liza Seneca ) and Jerry (Adam J. Smith) haltingly  discussing their seven year affair that they had carried on behind their respective spouses backs from 1968 to 1975.  We then travel backwards in time to experience their situation in reverse.  Fine performances on Gary Lee Reed's simple set show the mostly subtle  internal workings of each of Pinter's characters. As Emma's husband Robert (William DeMerrit) may take his English accent a bit over the top, but the over all pace and performances work. The irony that Pinter is known for emerges in its own sometimes painfully tedious pace. 

Liza Seneca and William DeMeritt
Photo credit Karianne Flaathen
Tough and very British.  This tangled web comes undone. 

The challenge of Liza Seneca's adaptation of Shakespeare's OTHELLO to mimic Pinter's BETRAYAL shows a loving respect for the Bard's story, again told from back to front.  We meet the unhappy players as we find them at the end of the play, all dead. As Othello, DeMeritt is foaming with distrust and jealousy stirred and stirred again by Iago (Smith) who, himself has begun his scheme for revenge feeling betrayed by Othello when he was passed over for a high ranking position that was awarded to Michael Cassio. Cassio (Luke McClure who also doubles effectively as Iago's wife, Emilia) falls victim to the plot that riles 'the green eyed monster' in the Moor's soul.    Iago's handiwork begets a double betrayal: one imagined in the mind of the Moor and one quite genuine as he is betrayed with malice by Iago. 
William DeMeritt and Liza Seneca
Photo credit Karianne Flaathen

The scholarship presented by Ms Seneca and appropriate direction by Elizabeth Swain gives pause to consider what the living theatre can and must do. By reflecting on Shakespeare and familiar themes of a raging jealous Othello and then the examination of Harold Pinter's subtle and internal struggles of slightly smarmy and all together guilty characters provide dramatic insights into the ethics of our modern lives.  Who tells the truth? Who's trapped in deception? How may we survive the tangled webs in which we find ourselves ensnared? Who has not felt a twinge of jealousy or the angst of holding back a secret? The Sixth Act's Evening of Betrayal holds moments of humor and clarity in a personal way that can only be experienced on a stage with the living theatre unfolding before us.
AN EVENING OF BETRAYAL 
The 6th Act at Theatre 68
Betrayal  by Harold Pinter 
Othello (abbreviated) by William Shakespeare
Through June 24, 2018
Theatre 68
5112 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays at 8:00PM  Sundays at 2:00PM.  
Tickets are $25.00
Tickets and information:
 https://www.the6thact.com

Monday, June 4, 2018

BORDERTOWN NOW / PASADENA PLAYHOUSE

Bordertown Now by Culture Clash: Ric Salinas and Herbert Sigüenza with new material by Richard Montoya.  Directed by Diane Rodriguez "Now" comes to the Pasadena Playhouse main stage from the distant past presenting Culture Clash's cutting take on Los Angeles and Chicano culture.   Updated from their 1998 observations, "Now" examines how our formerly United States of America is changing thanks to the current administration: creating an atmosphere of derision, division and fear.

The Sonoran Desert: American side.. a lone vigilante shouts obscenities at a funky pair of Chicano looking guys right next to the looming ugliness of the border wall.  Insisting that they are Americans, which makes no nevermind to the vigilante with the AR15, it takes a while to de-escalate the situation, convincing the man with the gun to stand down.  All the while our hearty Culture Clash Chronicler #1 (Richard Montoya) and CCC #2 (Herbert Sigüenza ) roll camera and sound to chronicle, if you will, the prejudice and patriotism of possibly Ricardo Salina (who may be CCC#3, but these guys are such protean performers that it's hard to tell just who is who.) Revisions are welcome. As the boys start to leave, the vigilante insists on having his say!

Hard language and capitulation by #s 1 and 2, bring the vigilante to a discussion where the challenges of safety for our daughters becomes a mutual point of discussion.  Yee Eun Nam's excellent projections on Efran Delgadillo, Jr.'s scenic design, depicting DACA / Dreamers and the facial tattoos of the dreaded MS13 (whose rise to power becomes a point of information that most of us really don't know much about) depict the hard struggles (are there ever easy struggles?) of south of the border human beings striving to find safety and new lives north of the Border Wall. 
 
Richard Montoya, Herbert Sigüenza. Bottom: Ricardo Salinas
Told in episodes, the 'boys' have traveled to Mexico and north of the border to chronicle human beings who often tend to blur into a mass of unhappy brown. Most impressive is the gorgeous Sabina Zuniga Varela's (CCC #4) venture into the 'man cave' of recently pardoned former sheriff Joe Arpaio.  Moving into his memorabilia strewn 'cave,' we meet the articulate former lawman who makes no bones about his bigotry. His eloquent ramble charms like a cobra weaving hypnotically ready to strike its unsuspecting prey. Make up is so well done and the monologue so well presented that I don't know which of 'the boys' delivered his story. 

The addition of Ms Varela to the cast is brilliant, especially with her captivating turn as a detained young mother who has been separated from  her son. 

Director Diane Rodrieguez's hand is subtle. Her impressive credits going back to the days of El Teatro Campasino, Luis Valdez's strong polemic work that brought the plight of farm workers to the fore, showing her foundation in political theatre.  

One line at the top of Bordertown Now
"You're making a movie?"  
"No.. it's a play.." 
"Oh.. so no one will see it!?" drew knowing laughter from the opening night audience.  Timely references point up that it is in face to face: personal interaction...  where an opportunity to understand the 'sides' of any issue...  are vital.  To that end, check the website for the Playhouse to find a performance where post show discussions may help to further enlighten.  How many of 'them' may attend this excellent production is unknown. Culture Clash's preaching to the choir enforces the ideas of those who believe that treating each other as human beings is a prime directive is obvious. However, if any of those who support the current administration would like to take a step into the bright humor of the sadness of our present situation, this may be a wonderful way to open a door... at least a crack... to some the beginning of some understanding.


Bordertown Now 
by Culture Clash: Ricardo Salinas and Herbert Sigüenza with new material by Richard Montoya

The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101
Through June 24, 2018
Tickets and information:
626 356 7529
info@pasadenaplayhouse.org

Saturday, June 2, 2018

MEXICAN DAY at the MET

Tom Jacobson's Mexican Day (Ballad of the Bimini Baths) explores a time in Los Angeles History when LA Tribune reporter Hisaye Yamamoto (Jully Lee) teamed up with an
African American gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (Donathan Walters) to desegregate the Bimini Baths.
All actual people, with Darrell Larson as Hollywood screen writer Everett Maxwell and Jonathan Medina: the only fictional character, Zenobio Remedios we find ourselves in John Iacovelli's extraordinary set depicting not only the Bimini Baths but easily accessed other locations with the turn of a wall.  


It's 1948. Divisions along racial and ethnic lines are still a part of the daily California culture. West of downtown Los Angeles in the area now known  as Koreatown near Third and Vermont, the Bimini Baths, founded in the early 1900s,  became a plunge and a spa for Angelenos and tourists with the notable exception of anyone of color. The title, Mexican Day refers to Thursdays, the only day when Mexicans and others of color would be allowed to use the baths. Thursdays Only. .  And there by hangs the tale. 
One of a trilogy of plays by Jacobson (Plunge, Tar, and Mexican Day) Mexican Day traces 50 years of social change in Los Angeles; bringing to light the nature of prejudice and the efforts of social reformers who moved forward to deal with it into the mid twentieth century.


Photos by John Perrin Flynn

 Donathan Walters and Darrell Larson
Director Jeff Liu's
ensemble cast  weaves a story that eventually includes the audience with screenwriter Maxwell's narration describing the action as depicted in the movie script that he offers to the audience in Act II. 


Excellent ensemble acting abounds with each of the four players coming around as other characters whom the audience readily accepts. Notable is Larson's Irish Swedish cop! 

Especially heart rending is Larson's portrayal of Everett Maxwell who, among other occupations was an actual screenwriter in the 1920s. His story provides a major mystery. Convincing Maxwell to join forces with Yamamoto and Rustin the play eventually crashes through the fourth wall with an admonition that desegregation and equality for all is still a task, today, that each of us must sign up for and continue to work to understand and move beyond. 

MEXICAN DAY  by Tom Jacobson
Rogue Machine Theatre 
At The MET
1089 Oxford Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Fridays and Sundays at 8PM
Saturdays at 4PM
Through July 1, 2018
Tickets and Information:
Reservations: 855-585-5185 www.roguemachinetheatre.com  


Saturday, May 26, 2018

FOREVER BOUND : A World Premiere at The Atwater

Steve Apostolina's  Forever Bound drops directly into the heart of Los Angeles to tell the story of love.  Well, sort of.  

French Stewart and Steve Apostolina Photo by Kathy Flynn
Book lover, Edmund (thoroughly put upon French Stewart) is hounded by creditors. 
His tiny apartment / office / book store has been invaded by Periplaneta brunnea, those unwelcome crunchy critters that move with the speed of sound and scatter when the light's turn on!  The book business is not going well for Edmund as we learn when his buddy Shep (crafty playwright Steve Apostolina) stops by to see what's what with Edmund.  In production notes we learn that Apostolina has had a long relationship with books, having lucked into selling a first edition of "Interview with a Vampire" helping him survive as an artist come to make a name in LA. His script reflects his love of reading. Occasional references to Shakespeare and other classic writing bring the story to a question for survival and Shep's shady past.  Shep has not always been in the book seeking business. Apostolina admits to several literary influences, one of which is David Mamet's American Buffalo where things get out of hand.

At rise we meet Rosalind (turn of the last century Emily Goss) and, later, her mentor, Thomas (precise and sonorous Rob Nagle) both of whom, at first seem to be in another play all together. 

Rob Nagle and Emily Goss Photo by Kathy Flynn

Fancying himself a sort of Prospero, Thomas calls her Miranda. They eventually bend the trajectory of the story into a dark and nicely played mystery.  Suffice it to say that Apostolina's homage to classic writers and his ability to meld them into these twists and turns...  that may or may not be revealed... is considerable.  Forever Bound is foreboding and funny and leaves us pretty much asea. 

Ann Hearn Tobolowsky directs with a generous hand.  In fact, to her credit, it doesn't show.

Scenic design for Forever Bound is by Pete Hickok; lighting design is by Bosco Flanagan.  Simple and effective. 


Michael Kalisz's poster.. and we rarely rate the posters... is perfect and carries the spirit of the play in a notable way, asking the pertinent question: "Are we all savages?"  

World Premiere: Forever Bound
by Steve  Apostolina
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Tickets and Information:
(323)960-4429   www.plays411.com/foreverbound
Performances: May 11 – June 16
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: May 11 (Opening Night), May 18, May 25; June 1, June 8, June 15
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: May 12, May 19, May 26, June 2, June 9, June 16
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: May 13, May 20, May 27; June 3, June 10
• Mondays at 8 p.m.: May 14, May 21, May 28; June 4, June 11

Friday, May 25, 2018

WORLD PREMIERE: THE CULT OF LOVE

The Cult of Love by Leslye Headland


 
Graham Sibley, Tom Amandes, Keliher Walsh,
Christine Woods, Christian Durso, Sarah Utterback,
John Lavelle and Tina Huang
Photo by Dean Cechvala 

It's Christmas in Connecticut.
 Leslye Headland's  ten year project to examine the interchanges between members of the Dahl family culminate in the "Cult of Love." After dealing with six of the deadly sins in her The Seven Deadly Plays, we now conclude with "Pride." 

We meet the Dahl parents Bill and Ginny (Tom Amandes and Keliher Walsh) who, in observance of family tradition host their four grown children Mark (John Lavelle), Diana (Christine Woods), Evie (Melissa Stephens) and Johnny (Christian Durso) as they have for years in the past.  The Dahls  have deep roots in their Christian faith, exhibited by brother Mark's attending seminary before bailing out to take up law and speaking in tongues evangelical sister Diana, married to failed Episcopal priest James  (Graham Sibley).  Add to the mix, daughter Evie's  wife, Pippa (Tina Huang) and a gathering that anyone who has ever been at the core of a strong family tradition will at once warmly embrace while sometimes regarding it with horror.  Headland's writing, which includes some beautifully performed and deeply meaningful singing reflecting the Christian holiday and deeper: family time that exudes from each member of the family and extended family and one surprise guest Laurel (Sarah Utterback) in a literally palpable way.  Strong traditions stick with us.. as they do with the Dahls and reach into the depths of the audience in such a way as to bring us to the heights of the good memories and laughter until the 'truth' comes out and deep feelings scatter to the four winds. 

The beauty of this full length one act is the clear and well limned performances from every one of the characters.  Director Annie Tippe allows her ensemble cast to function as a perfectly tuned machine while each character being, at once, a part of a strong family tradition, presents a well honed individual. Each  character's arc demands our full attention.  The ensemble is organic. 

The sin of Pride underlies each of the Dahls in a unique way.   Unintentional slights, patriarch Bill's call for Peace and Love, an occasional meltdown when Ginny can't fix things, the love of a pregnant lesbian couple, the need for mind calming drugs and the success of AA all combine to completely enchant ... Yes, this is an enchanted evening that belongs on Broadway. Broadway comes to Atwater!

It's tough to enjoy the players without a program, so I hope that this highly recommended show will be attended well and that those who want to know who the actors are will print this out for their convenience.  Here's a link to the IAMA program with all the basics that one usually finds in one's lap as the curtain goes up.

http://www.iamatheatre.com/program (copy and paste, please)

 Perhaps IAMA wants us to see the play as a truth made whole by the characters and to discover the actors later.  It's a bit of a nuisance, trying to credit everyone from memory, but rest assured, this is a memorable memory play, with onstage music that obviously is a complete pleasure for the cast to engage in.   
Co-Lighting Designers Josh Epstein and Ginerva Lombardo add nuance on a beautifully  functional set by Jeff McLaughlin.

If professional writing and performances are reasons for coming to the theatre, The Cult of Love is a show that must not be missed. 

The Cult of Love by Leslye Headland
Directed by Annie Tippe

IAMA Theatre Company  
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039 
 $30   
Thursdays through Sundays
Closes June 24, 2018
Tickets and information: 
323-380-8843