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Sunday, August 21, 2016

DRAMA QUEENS FROM HELL

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DRAMA QUEENS FROM HELL
By Peter Lefcourt

Andrew Diego, Paul Galliano, Chad Borden, Christopher Callan, Dee Freeman Photo by Ed Krieger

The appeal of Drama Queens from Hell will come from more rehearsal and finding a way to tighten, tighten, tighten the show up.  Get a bustier and cinch that sucker to the max:  one act that speeds through the night like a drag race on Mulholland Drive.  Playwright Peter Lefcourt, in the critic’s notes, says that he’s influenced by Christopher Durang, among others and some of that bite rings true in this inside joke that turns on the idea that some young punk director has fallen into the rights to do a remake of Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD.  At rise we meet Paul Galliano as Gerard Manville, said director, wrapped in his burial shroud/toga who announces his own death not unlike William Holden’s voice over as the writer, Joe Gillis, who is found floating in Norma Desmond’s tepid pool in the opening scene of Wilder’s movie. 

One thing that Billy Wilder knew all about, along with the writing, that made his films like Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment and, of course, Some Like It Hot so special is timing and pace.  It’s a given in any dramatic piece that things move along. What director Terri Hanauer has failed to do with this interpretation of Drama Queens From Hell has been to remember to keep it moving.   This is not  a terrible script and certainly the three Queens (Christopher Callen as Maxine Zabar, Dee Freeman as Felicia Brown and center stage waving the LBGTQ banner, Chad Borden as TG Brianne McCauley) are handsomely strutting their stuff as they plot to wangle their way into the audition to snag the part that Gloria Swanson created as Norma Desmond in this re-up of the Billy Wilder Classic. 

Borden, last seen in a wonderful protean turn in Cloud Nine, at Antaeus, is neither fish nor fowl representing the Transgender contingency to win the part of Norma.  The dichotomy of shaving “her” under arms while a healthy patch of chest hair peeks through a plunging neckline is problematic. Camp is the order of the day with  Christopher Callen as Maxine representing the geriatric community pestering her agent,   Artie Paramecium (riding the porcelain throne, Rich Podell) who also represents the other two actresses. Finally, no matter that Norma Desmond was a famous Caucasian silent movie star, Ms Freeman rocks in the first audition reading OFF BOOK to an actual scene from the Wilder film! 

The show becomes more stereotypically Camp and spiced way up when the young director hires his tres gay assistant, Raphael (Andrew Diego), over the top as he should be. Diego brings the energy of the play up to where it should have been all along.  The whole idea of three disparate actresses vying for a part that only Meryl Streep could bring authenticity to is silly.  The play is silly. References to inside show business trivia and the current plague on Los Angeles’s 99 Seat theatre situation will only be understood by a few. Diego doubling in drag as the German vintage dress salesgirl bubbles everything up again.  Had Ms Hanauer decided to make it a play with quick changes and even more doubling while keeping it to one act, the whole thing might have been a champagne cocktail!  Light and refreshing!

Playwright Lefcourt’s idea of a good time is lurking somewhere in this production. It’s all in there, screaming to get out!  In these days of gender awareness, age discrimination and boosting the African American more into the spotlight, imagining how Billy Wilder might have better informed the piece cries for the obvious: Timing! Pace! Fun!!. Kudos to tech staff especially for the audition scenes where each actress dubs the lines that Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond made famous.  There is a very funny play in here. Keep it moving. Keep digging. It’s in here somewhere.

DRAMA QUEENS FROM HELL
By Peter Lefcourt
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 S. Sepulveda
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Through September 25, 2016
Tickets and Information:
323 960 7787
www.plays411.com/dramaqueens

Friday, July 29, 2016

STEAMY SUMMER STUFF AT THE FOUNTAIN




Lindsay LaVanchy
Photo by Ed Krieger
Even in the relative cool of the funky little Fountain Theatre, the heat from four actors, each in his/her own little zone of Tennessee Williams, is palpable.  Opening night for the stage version of 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, Williams' expanded one act adapted by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann from Williams' screenplay, Baby Doll, under the steady hand of Simon Levy doles out expected passion on Jeffrey MacLaughlin's Mississippi Delta set. A familiar iron crib holds woman child, Baby Doll (Lindsay LaVanchy) as she strikes the familiar Carroll Baker pose made famous in Elia Kazan's movie of the same name.  It's the eve of Baby Doll's twentieth birthday and she has somehow gotten married to the older and tougher Archie Lee (John Prosky) who at rise is sawing a peep hole through the wall of the dilapidated old manse where they are sinking into financial ruin. 
The thing about being steeped in Tennessee Williams right now is that the power and dilapidation of his scenarios and his characters: tough and vulnerable; strong and sexy; troubled and aggressive as well as morally questionable, like characters from Commedia, we recognize Blanche and Stanley, Big Daddy and Brick, Maggie the Cat.. and then enjoy how the story evolves with thick southern accents and broad strokes.  There's nothing subtle about this one.  Karen Kondazian as Aunt Rose Comfort is seasoning for the gumbo.  Pixilated and homeless, her efforts to stay on board with Archie and Baby Doll are endearing.  The main course for all the heat is, of course, the arrival, with riding crop in hand, of Daniel Bess as Silva Vacarro. Vacarro's cotton gin is the unfortunate victim of an arson fire, the source of which we all know. The dance of seduction between Silva and Baby Doll is obvious and inevitable. 
The romance of Williams' words in and of themselves is seductive. When Baby Doll invites Silva to take a nap, apologizing for the size of her iron crib, he smiles and  says, "Any flat surface is suitable for slumber."  And,  the predictability of the plot moves quickly and assuredly thanks to Levy's decisive hand.  Bombast and seduction, a theme for Williams from time to time. That's what  this one is all about.  It's a must see for those who love the heat. 

BABY DOLL 
By Tennessee Williams
Adapted for the stage from his screenplay by
Pierre Laville and Emily Mann

The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90029
Through September 25, 2016
Tickets and Information
323 663 1525
 www.fountaintheatre.com
 

Monday, July 18, 2016

ONE OF THE NICE ONES.. one of the nice ones @ THE ECHO

 
Graham Hamilton and Rebecca Gray
Photo by Darrett Sanders


If ever there was a cloning that seemed unlikely, imagine Henry Miller meeting Neil Simon.  Erik Patterson's  hilarious and profane comedy currently at the Atwater Village Theater occupied by the adventurous Echo Theatre Company is down and dirty, sexy, fast paced and even comes quickly.  Literally.  

Rebecca Gray as Tracy delivers a tour de force performance  as the wheel chair bound phone sales rep whose job it is to rope in potential customers.    Amanda Knehans' bizarre set serves with quick changes. But adds a touch of improv to the play.   Director Chris Fields whips his actors into a frenzy as the unexpected keeps everyone racing, literally, to keep the pace.  Graham Hamilton as Roger plays the tenured supervisor.  With phone rep Neal (Rodney To, whose facial contrivances are worth the price of admission alone), Roger's scene with him at the urinals in the men's room is  over the top.   

Unflinchingly profane, Patterson has brought the language that we all may use from time to time bubbling to excess with twists and turns that keep us guessing and gasping. Kudos to The Echo for being brave enough to produce this extraordinarily smutty comedy.  The play is 'smutty' in the very best sense of the word as the climax to the first scene will virtually knock your socks off.  


The argument of the piece teaches us new definitions of bizarre behavior and Fields'  excellent cast turns in an amazing performance.   Highly recommended for those with a skewed sense of humor and a high threshold for the language of Henry Miller or maybe Christopher Durang on acid.   It's a shocking and a totally unexpected rush.  

ONE OF THE NICE ONES
by Erik Patterson
Echo Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Through August 21, 2016
Tickets and information:
310 307 3753 
www.echotheatercompany.com

Saturday, July 16, 2016

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS : KINGDOM OF EARTH :

Brian Burke, Susan Priver, Daniel Felix de Weldon
Photo by Michael Lamont
Tennessee Williams' KINGDOM OF EARTH opened tonight at The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.

Production  holds few surprises as we engage Williams' hapless characters echoing familiar other characters in the playwright's ouvre.  John Iacovelli's two level set with winding staircase to Mama Lottie's boudoir welcomes the audience through a veil of fog and the threat of a major flood pounding the levy as the maelstrom rages along the Mississippi Delta. "Wood's Colt" Chicken (Brian Burke), half brother to Lot (Daniel Felix de Weldon) has the blood of a dark skinned paramour to his Daddy Ravenstock who also sired half brother 'blonde by choice' Lot, who sashays in with his new 'bride' Myrtle (Blowsy Susan Priver). Lot is just out of the hospital. It's unclear if it was the booby hatch or where he was being treated for his advancing TB. 

As the storm rages,  Lot and Myrtle, a ringer for  Blanche DuBoise, blow into the family manse. Myrtle used to be in Show Bizness.  She is now 'married' to Lot and hopes to have her own piece of real estate.  The property  may or may not actually belong to her new husband.

Thick southern accents and playing to the back wall of the theater makes Kingdom of Earth a beautiful exercise in the extremes that Williams' work calls for. Nothing subtle. The performances are Gothic.  The literal oozing of sexuality from Myrtle as she finds herself in the clutches of Chicken is palpable. The storm rages. The levy weakens. Sound Effects by John Nobori are great! Lot  emerges from the closet and with his last gasps, sends up a tribute to his dead mother. It's  pure Tennessee Williams.

Michael Arabian's direction deftly keeps the flow.  As one of the more obscure (at least to me) of Williams'  theatricals, to be immersed once more in the cloying humidity of the South and the drama within the drama makes this one work.  Another reviewer decided to dish the show as we headed for the food. His having seen Estelle Parsons in the original 1968 production. I'm sure that the original cast with Brian Bedford and Harry Guardino were great. Estelle was nominated for a Tony!  I enjoyed Priver's performance.  
This guest production deserves an audience. Bring a sweater!  

KINGDOM OF EARTH 
(The Seven Descents of Myrtle) 
by Tennessee Williams
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 S. Sepulveda Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Through August 14, 2016
Tickets and Information:
OdysseyTheatre.com 
310  477 2055

Saturday, June 18, 2016

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS UNSCRIPTED

 Like the familiar adage that you can never step into the same river twice, Impro Theatre Company promises that any performance that you see in this current offering will be unique.  Garry Marshall’s Falcon Theatre in Burbank regularly hosts this brilliant company of actors and this production must not be missed!  Impro’s current theme turns on the works of master storyteller, Tennessee Williams.  The set by Michael C. Smith and lighting by Leigh Allen evoke Vieux Carre and the torid days and nights remembered in Williams’ plays that feature equally steamy characters, each with a story to tell.  Spot on costumes by Sandra Burns and tech improv cast member in the booth Madison Goff tie the show together. 

There’s improv and then, there’s Impro!  With all respect to Merrie Masquers, The Committee, The Wing, The Groundlings, Whose Line is it Anyway and The Spolin Players, Impro takes the craft of improvisation to new heights.  However..  Howevah.. there might be a slight problem as the tale of vacationers on a mountain top in Florida evolves (do not expect to be taken to Florida or up on a mountain top when you go)..  in that the laughter as the story takes shape is raucous.  As intimations of Blanche DuBois and Big Daddy evolve with other characters whom you may remember from Williams’ familiar plays, twists and turns in the hands of these professionals just keep twisting and turning. 

I did not make note of last night’s players and so making specific comments about who played whom is impossible.  And, as the players rotate from night to night, like Forrest Gump’s momma always says, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”  In fact it really doesn’t matter.  The energy of the cast with subtle music and sound effects; expert lighting that the improv director in the booth provides, it’s a guaranteed entertainment that Tom, himself, would probably enjoy while taking copious notes to create new versions of his classic pieces.

With lines like “After I started puking, he shut up!” and the Bobo's description of his wife as a “smoky carapace” of herself, it’s clear that the actors have steeped themselves in this unique genre of the fifties and the lives and times of these shadow people who will live but once and drift away, perhaps a reflection of our own sweet bitter memories in a darkling mirror. 

The cast changes with each show.  The ensemble includes: Nick Massouh, Lauren Rose Lewis, Dan O'Connor, Edi Patterson, Michele Spears, Jo McGinley, Floyd VanBuskirk, Stephen Kearin, Kelly Holden Bashar, Ryan Smith, Kari Coleman, and Mike McShane. 
Photo Credit Sasha Venola

If you love the theatre, rush to The Falcon and spend ninety minutes steeped in laughter, y’all. 

IMPRO THEATRE’s Tennessee Williams Unscripted

FALCON THEATRE
4252 Riverside Drive
Burbank, California 91505
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
Through July 31, 2016
Tickets and Information
818 955 8101
falcontheatre.com




Saturday, June 11, 2016

DANGER IN CHICAGO / EXPLOSION IN LOS ANGELES

It is not my intention to become embroiled in the controversy that has arisen regarding the reports of past abuse levied on actors and others at a storefront "professional" theatre in Chicago.  

Every review that I write and post here is simply my opinion and my reaction to whatever production I may have been invited to review.  If I make a mistake in spelling or pertinent information in my review and it's pointed out to me, I'll fix it.  Otherwise, it is just an opinion. It's a way for folks to have information about a show and for the company to have objective take on their hard work. 

The article about Profiles Theatre Company in Chicago is a news story.  I have not gone to Chicago to vet its authenticity.  I have not met the principals in the story. The article (link below) stands as a long report on alleged 'abuse' to actors and others involved in some of the Profiles' productions. 

The opinion piece published on Bitter Lemons has brought the wrath of the local theatre community down on Colin Mitchell, the now former editor of Bitter Lemons because of his strong opinion regarding the reports from Chicago.  

I believe that we must be informed to have a full opinion about anything.  Sound bites and headlines are not enough to be fully informed.

This entry here on onstagelosangeles is to make available the original story from Chicago and Mr. Mitchell's editorial responding to the story.

Here's the original article:
 
and the Bitter Lemons response to the article:

Michael Sheehan
onstagelosangeles
 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

HEDDA GABLER SHINES : THE PISTOLS

JD Cullum, James Sutorius,
Nike Doukas and Kwana Martinez
Photo by Facet Photography
Click on photo for full effect
Steven Robman's extensive directing career ranging from the national stage to television over four decades blossoms with dignity and panache at Antaeus in their unique approach to sharing the classics.  "Partner cast," Sunday's performance by "The Pistols" moves smoothly on Se Hyun Oh's gorgeous and well appointed set.  Henrik Ibsen's gothic story of love lost, deceit and greed in this version adapted by Andrew Upton strides deliberately through the paces of Hedda's domineering personality and the inevitable crash that follows.  Ibsen's nineteenth century play now set in the 1920s, past the influence of the Victorian period in which it was originally presented works well, even though the restrictions of thirty years previous may not so rigidly apply.  As Hedda, Nike Doukas, is crisp and sharp in tongue and presentation.  She strikes fear into her scholarly husband, Tesman (JD Cullum) and intimidates the household he has purchased for her with the help of the one man who would love to be the "third part" of a "triangle" partnership, Judge Brack (James Sutorius).  Back story touches on the affair that Hedda had with her first true love, Ejlert Løvborg (Ned Mochel).  The theme of death as art creeps in as the passion of Ejlert for Hedda erupts when he returns, having overcome issues with 'indulgences' and is ready to publish a brilliant book that references history from the future.  

Fine performances with crisp stage pictures engineered by Robman pick up the pace in the second act as Hedda manipulates Ejlert into a revival of his old feelings of inadequacy and yearning for the rekindling of his love for her. Exposition via the excellent Lynn Milgrim as Aunt Julle and Kwana Martinez's Thea Elvstead knit the fascinating tale of survival in the face of rejection and anticipated Scandinavian angst is nicely wrapped up with an equally touching turn by Karianne Flaathen as Berte, the household retainer.  Subtle lighting by Leigh Allen  and excellent costumes by Leah Piehl are thoroughly professional from head to toe.

Ibsen, perhaps a forerunner in the promotion of womens' rights and power, especially with his A Doll's House, is still dark and gloomy with occasional moments of mirth.  For scholars and adults who are interested in well honed performances and a nicely trimmed presentation, I highly recommend this final fling on the Antaeus NoHo stage as they prepare to move to new digs in Glendale come this fall.  

The Pistols cast is part of the 'partner casting' that affords more members of the company time on stage and gives audiences an opportunity to see two professional versions of the same play.  There are actually two other casts: The Generals and The Fjords, each of whom will give slightly different takes on the interpretation of the text. It is fascinating to see individual interpretations by the actors still under the experienced hand of Robman's very specific direction.  Well done! 

HEDDA GABLER by Henrik Ibsen  
Interpreted by Andrew Upton
Antaeus Theatre Company
5112 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Through July 2, 2016
Tickets and Information
818.506.5436
info@antaeus.org