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Sunday, May 28, 2017

LES BLANCS / ROGUE MACHINE

Shari Gardner, Desean Kevin Terry, and Jelani Blunt 
Photo by John Perrin Flynn

This is only the second play that I've reviewed at The Rogue Machine Theatre.  After seeing their production of Still Life which impressed me on several levels, I had to come back.  The choice of Lorraine Hansberry's Les Blancs provides acting and direction and excellence in production values:  a treatise on colonialism in a fictional African country. The story turns on stereotypical archetypes that, sadly, reflect the actual business of white dominance in black nations even to this day.   Gregg T. Daniel's precise direction and Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's imaginative scenic design are spot on.  The opening introduction of the cast of characters reminded me of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins's The Neighbors, another treatise on race.  
http://onstagelosangeles.blogspot.com/2010/09/neighbors-neighbors.html

Hansberry has created a complicated situation where well meaning white folks clash with military whites who have come to dominate the native culture and being dominated is something that most folks are uncomfortable with.  The continuing struggle for freedom that permeates the world, is reflected in this piece with skill. The ethical and moral stance of the ruling race, no matter the well meaning efforts of thoughtful others, seem always to result in conflict that  serves only to thin the herd of the minority. 

Bill Brochtrup's Sergeant Major George Rice, our prime antagonist, is crisp and British. Writer Charlie Morris  (Jason McBeth), Joel Swetow's hard drinking Dr. Willy DeKoven and the cool and beautiful Dr. Marta Gotterling (Fiona Hardingham) work beautifully.  As Madame Neilsen, Anne Gee Byrd is most soulful as the wife of the missionary who established the mission and clinic years before.  

Outstanding is percussionist Jelani Blunt, who sets the mood with pre-show doumbek and beads while the opening night audience filters into the theater.  His underscore drives the piece throughout. Lithe and dangerous Shari Gardner dance interprets the conflicts and passion that move the story forward.

Strong performances by Desean Kevin Terry (Tshembe Matoseh), the conflicted and westernized returnee to his homeland; his brother, Abioseh (Matt Orduna) who has become a Catholic priest!; Eric (Aric Floyd) and Amir Abdullah as Peter reflect the deep chasm that our human culture insists on widening by force. 

Written in the sixties the play is set in an ambiguous time period, the struggles of the 'under classes' that were themes in Hansberry's other plays give pause as hypocrisy blossoms despite the best efforts of some to do the right thing. 

Finally, the supernumeraries in this piece are professional and totally dedicated, especially as the revolt expands with guns and spears into the audience.  As I have been critical of children on stage in the past, the kids in this production are present and professional! Impressive.

This thoughtful and well mounted production deserves an audience. The polemic is transparent.  Hansberry's characters hold few surprises, but the work is excellent.. excellent theatre. 

LES BLANCS  by Lorraine Hansberry
ROGUE MACHINE THEATRE
1089 N. Oxford Avenue 
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Plays Saturdays and Mondays at 8PM
Sundays at 3PM
Closes July 3, 2017
Tickets and Information
855 585 5185 

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Monday, May 8, 2017

OPEN FIST! THE GARY PLAYS!!

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The Gary Plays by Murray Mednick

These lengthy and very involved plays by Murray Mednick are worthy of a scholarly approach with attention to their inspiration.  I can highly recommend each one, but also recommend that seeing all three in one day will be overwhelming and exhausting.  Mednick’s writing smacks of the scholar that he most certainly is and the issues he embraces in such a way as to gather the audience in and then wrap them in an enigma that.. perhaps….. taken in smaller bites might be better served. 

 A Sunday marathon starting at noon at the Atwater Village Theater currently occupied by the Open Fist Theatre Company and running helter skelter through the afternoon and with a dinner break then starting again at seven until almost ten is a lot to absorb. So.. taking full responsibility for my own actions, nodding from time to time, it’s important to understand that if you adore challenging theatre, crisp and well defined direction, spot on characters presented by professional actors with amazing special effects, check the schedule and plan a well paced visit to see all three of The Gary Plays.
Amanda Weier, Jeff LeBeau, Derek Manson
Photo by Darrett Sanders

Based on a true story that happened to an actor friend of Mednick’s, the character Gary, played in the trilogy’s first iteration by Jeff LeBeau, whose dedication to the role exceeds whatever excellent might be.. Gary: the actor..  is faced with multiple challenges that stem from the murder of his young son, Danny (also excellent Josh Trant) and his relationship with his ex-wife, Danny's mother  (Laura Richardson) and their interaction forward and back in time. This includes another family whose pathway crosses Gary’s: Monica (Barbara Schofield) and Charles (Carl J. Johnson) and their hypersexy independent teen Laura (Laura Liguori).  The abstract and dream like quality of each of the three plays continues, not always in a linear fashion, making the narrative only a suggestion that may or may not be apparent to the audience.  A curtain speech allows that each of the three plays stands pretty much on its own, but to approach the material from anywhere but the beginning, it seems to me, would be cheating the playwright and the playgoer. Even with side trips and obscurities, there is a whole picture and there lies the story. 

To discuss the entire idea would be a long essay in and of itself.  The best thing to be said about these three plays is that Guy Zimmerman’s direction supplemented by extraordinary scenic projections by Hana S. Kim, is a dance well choreographed.  It’s more than just strong stage pictures. It’s individual actors dedicated to the stories with skills that remind me of the work exhibited by Joseph Chaikin’s Open Theatre in the heyday of experiment and strong statements on stage. The Gary Plays are more intellectual than visceral. 
Roderick Menzies and Laura Liguori
Photo by Darrett Sanders


Each of the three plays is made up of two sections
Part I: Tirade for Three / Girl on a Bed; 
Part II Gary’s Walk / Out of the Blue and
Part III DaddyO Dies Well / Charles’ Story Each is divided into smaller ‘acts’ that are sometimes announced by Chorus (Amanda Weier and Derek Manson who double as other characters in all three parts).  To spare the use of the term ‘excellent’ to describe director Zimmerman’s work with all of the cast members.. let it be said in no uncertain terms that his direction and the actors’ work is exemplary: completely dedicated to the Three Parts.

Expanding the Story of Gary, played in Part I by Jeff LeBeau, Part II: Kelly Van Kirk and Part III: Darrell Larson, we learn of the devastating effect of the loss of Gary’s son, Danny (Josh Trant) : a troubled kid who pals around with an addict/Vietnam vet, Rondell (Phillip C. Curry, whose basso profundo vibrates the theater!). Danny was murdered in a park, apparently, at random.

Telling the basic story of The Gary Plays in one fell swoop can never do justice to Mednick’s efforts. That said, throughout the three parts, the ensemble efforts of the entire team bring us a day long examination of difficult times with an underlying theme, perhaps, that “Money is more important than people!” Mendick’s characters flow flawlessly through the trials and tribulations of parenting, addiction, divorce, angst, self doubt, revenge, seeking refuge and therapy finding solace? as well as the on going question that we all ask about life and death.  Is the end, the end? 
Peggy Ann Blow, Elizabeth Lande, Derek Manson,
Kelly Van Kirk and Roderick Menzies
Photo by Darrett Sanders

Flash and evil Antonio (Peggy Ann Blow!) doubles as a well meaning high school counselor.  In Gary’s Walk, timing with beautiful projections works wonderfully. Long diatribes by hipster DaddyO (Roderick Menzies) in Out of the Blue conducts Gary (Van Kirk) through a barfing personal search with a guided Ayahuasca ceremony (peyote!) with Mama Bean (Elizabeth Lande) holding court. The trilogy twists forward to Charles’ Story where we find Gary (Larson), now a “performance artist employee” of a fancy Malibu rehab center. Here, movie producer Todd (Norbert Weisser) conducts business after his third (or so..) detox who mind dances with group therapy.  As the Malibu fire advances toward the blue Pacific (where Gary has longed to deposit the ashes of his dead son in the former piece).. we find that Charles emerges as the one who has more than likely overcome his issues with his wife and the death of his daughter.  Fling into the mix references to Greek mythology’s Trojan Wars, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, the scholarship of this trilogy of plays takes on epic proportions.  
Darrell Larson and Norbert Weisser
Photo by Darrett Sanders

As I sometimes say, this is not for the feint of heart.. or the faint of heart and that one hopes that the experience of these plays informs the serious playgoer.  Anyone looking for a quick theatre fix is better directed to any of the ongoing shows that feature an easy two or three hours that won’t make them do much work to be informed or entertained.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that! 

That said, Highly recommended for the patient folks who support challenging theatre. Start with Part I.

THE GARY PLAYS by Murray Mednick
The Open Fist Theatre Company
The Atwater Village Theater
3269 Casitas Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90039  
Performances: May 4-June 4
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 12 p.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p,m.
Tickets and information:
(323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org


Saturday, May 6, 2017

BOSTON COURT: WORLD PREMIERE: A MEMOIR




Dan O'Brien is a poet and a playwright in search of Truth.  Michael Michetti's tight direction guides (Dan) Tim Cummings and (Dan) Brian Henderson...  (It's a mirror like search that takes a minute to understand)  through the poetry of O'Brien's very personal quest with brilliant dexterity.  Henderson embodies the playwright while Cummings limns relatives and others who reveal bits and pieces to the puzzle.

Tom Antiveros' projections, Elizabeth Harper's lighting design and a simple set by Sara Ryung Clement become a dozen or more locations where characters reside from east coast to west and back again.  Simplicity is the key to the success of Dan's journey with a welcome minimal use of pantomime.  O'Brien's memoir emerges smoothly and emotionally with good humor as Dan, seeks to find answers as to why his family rejects him; wondering who his father really is. His consulting psychics who reveal odd insights brings a metaphysical aspect to the story that makes me want to chat with O'Brien further! 

Two metal 'Navy' chairs, single frame and moving projections with specific lighting bring the show together almost as supporting actors, guiding us through O'Brien's story.

Opening night adrenaline may have had the actors rushing slightly with some lines lost to quick delivery, but as the piece progressed, Cummings' choices are specific: never caricatures, especially, with the chore of presenting the several men and women who reveal the family's stories. Subtle body and hand movements combine with excellent vocal changes bringing each character to life.  Henderson maintains the through line in a well honed dance as the actors completely compliment the text and one another.

THE HOUSE IN SCARSDALE: 
A MEMOIR FOR THE STAGE 
A world premiere play by Dan O'Brien  
Directed by Michael Michetti.
 Boston Court Performing Arts Center 
 80 N. Mentor
Pasadena, CA
Tickets: $5-$39 
BostonCourt.com 
Phone 626-683-6801
May 6, 2017 through June 4, 2017

Monday, May 1, 2017

CAT II / ANTAEUS EXTENDS!


Hoppin' Johns..  with Buttered Biscuits fills the new Antaeus Theatre with Tennessee Williams' CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF.  The unique situation that makes this professional theatre company work is the selection of strong 'classic' theatre pieces and the ability to have two A list casts to fill this opening production of the new season. Reviewing this second edition of the William's classic gives me an opportunity to compare and contrast this "Hoppin' Johns" cast with the "Buttered Biscuits" reviewed earlier here.  Strong direction is a must, dealing with specifics indicated by the playwright in his stage directions.  Director Cameron Watson has his hands full with slightly different acting styles and two different children in each cast. I mention the kidlets first because in the rolling thunder (and fireworks) that dominate this Williams classic, allowing for the children is a choice that is a difficult one at best.  Not to dwell on this, but, the children ("little no-neck monsters") stifle the flow of the production.
Tamara Krinsky, Daniel Bess, Linda Park
Photo by Steven C. Kemp
The unsubtle theme of passion and desire come across in very different strokes with this Hoppin' Johns cast.  In fairness, the play has been on its feet for several performances and the first production reviewed was still very new.  Stephen C. Kemp's beautifully skewed set gives the audience a taste of what's to come.. This contentious Mississippi family is in turmoil. The angst of Brick's (Daniel Bess) drunken rejections of his gorgeous wife, Maggie (Linda Park); the celebration of Big Daddy's (appropriaely bombastic Mike McShane) birthday, the abuse of long suffering Big Mama (Julia Fletcher) and the contention and competition for the huge plantation that Brother Boy, Gooper (Michael Kirby) and his overly preggers wife, Mae (Tamara Krinsky) bring shamelessly to the table.. all fall into a ragu of rage, suspicion and sadness ...  a common theme for Mr. Williams.

The issue of maintaining southern accents may be a challenge for this cast, but seemed to even out as the full three acts unfolded.  The brave choice to cast Ms Park as Maggie the Cat works beautifully as she engages feline physicality attempting to bring her long suffering husband back into the marriage bed. Back story of Brick's friendship with his childhood pal, Skipper, leads to an oblique confession by Big Daddy as to how he came to inherit the sprawling plantation now lusted after by Gooper and his wife. Robert Pine as Dr. Baugh, is subtle. John DeMatia plays the Reverend Tooker

It's a long play.  The intricacies of the plot carry us through Big Daddy's birthday ordeal, making the audience engage physically as well as emotionally with the pain and suffering these disparate characters drive themselves through.  The Anteaus production is professional on every level. This company is a gift to the City of Glendale that hopefully will be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. For fans, seeing both editions of this production is a must! 
    BJ's across Brand is great for a pre-show meal or a nightcap and chatting. 

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF

• Written by Tennessee Williams
• Directed by Cameron Watson
• Starring

Daniel Bess ♦ John DeMita ♦ Julia Fletcher ♦
Henry Greenspan ♦ Michael Kirby ♦ Tamara Krinsky ♦
Eliza LeMoine ♦ Mike McShane ♦ Linda Park ♦ Robert Pine
• Presented by Antaeus Theatre Company
Extended through May 14
Remaining performances:

• Thursdays at 8 p.m.:  May 4 and May 11
• Fridays at 8 p.m.:  May 5 and May 12
• Saturdays at 2 p.m.:  May 6 and May 13
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.:  May 6 and May 13
• Sundays at 2 p.m.:  May 7 and May 14
• Sunday at 8 p.m.: May 14 ONLY
Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
(between N. Brand Blvd. and Maryland Ave.)
Tickets and information:
(818) 506-1983 or www.Antaeus.org
PARKING:
First 90 minutes free, then $2 per hour, in Glendale Marketplace Garage 
120 S. Maryland Ave (between Broadway and Harvard)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

PLASTICITY! At the Hudson!

Alex Lyras   Photo Credit Jessica Sherman
The Hudson Guild has taken store front (and back) theatre through its paces for many years.  PLASTICITY, conceived by Alex Lyras and Robert McCaskill featuring Lyras as a bevy of interesting characters, is the type of work that is so inventive, so present and accounted for that the extension of the show since its opening in late January, playing only on Monday nights, that one might hope that word of mouth would keep it running in The Hudson's 35 seat space for a long, long time. 

A discussion of brain injury as a topic for a one person exploration may, at first, seem like a stretch.  In fact, PLASTICITY really is about stretching and philosophy and the whys and wherefores of chance: the serendipity of our lives.  Even though Lyras is the only physical actor on the Hudson stage, featuring projections on a proscenium scrim as well as on the back wall of the stage, we meet a nine or more characters: some through Lyras and some via video projections.  The actor’s timing is crucial and thanks to brilliant projections by Corwin Evans, edited by Peter Chakos, the show comes together in a narrative that works beautifully.  Music and presumably other sound effects by Ken Rich are perfect.

DNR, the victim, engaged to the strikingly lovely, “Kate” suffers a brain injury.  We’re led to believe at first that it might be from a catastrophic rock climbing accident via opening video. We learn climbing terms and the climber's next to last resort has him praying for a ‘divot,’ a tiny hand hold to help his free climb move forward. There’s a term for a leap of faith... if missed, it’s on belay for the climber and hoping for a save. 
 Lyras portrays a wide variety of characters including a Hindu Brain Surgeon, the victim of the stroke, his twin brother,  a rapping orderly at the hospital, the psychiatrist discussing his client: Kate, the fiancĂ© of DNR,  others via skype and video with a truly effective use of lights, sound and projections.The production reminds of Chazz Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale, that first went up at Theatre West almost thirty years ago. Plasticity may have the luxury of a similar route to fame and fortune.

This production is show is literally a trip. A trip into the mind.  It questions our very being. One line that sticks is made by a consultant of questionable repute engaged by the victim’s twin trying to find a way through the tragedy:  “The brain is a brilliant liar!”  McCaskill’s direction invisibly guides co-writer Lyras through days and years of character changes.

Extended for Monday’s only! This one's for the theatre audience that longs for an artistic challenge and an undeniable performance.

PLASTICITY   
by Alex Lyras and Robert McCaskill
Hudson Guild Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
May 1, May 8, May 15, May 22 
• (323) 960-7787 or www.plasticitytheplay.com
• Facebook: www.facebook.com/alexlyras
• Twitter: @lyrasalex
TICKET PRICE:$30


Monday, April 3, 2017

Brilliant STILL LIFE at The MET

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Laurie Okin and Susan Wilder 
Photo by John Perrin Flynn
 The Rogue Machine is a company of serious theatre practitioners who must stay in shape by finding places to park in their neighborhood and climbing cardiac stairs to their well appointed performance space at the MET Theater.  The space has great history with famous names and beautiful productions attached ever since Bill Bushnell (corrections are welcome) got the place going many years ago.  This is the heart of what theatre for the next generation is supposed to look like. Funky and low down. Ancient wood paneling and refreshments for a donation make for a comfortable lobby to meet other patrons before the house opens. 

Still Life will only be up for a short time longer.  If Sunday’s excellent performance with standby James Liebman (in for Lea Coco) as the artistically conflicted statistician, Jeffrey, is any indication of the dedication of this group, it’s a must see.  Director Michael Peretzian has molded Academy Award Winner for “Birdman” Alexander Dinelaris’s modern morality play flowingly into a story for our time. Dinelaris asks deep and personal questions that each of us must address but seldom do. 

Looking in the dictionary, one might see the term ‘jerk’ (for want of a broader term that has to do with pejorative body parts) and find a portrait of “Terry” depicted by Jonathan Bray, the owner of the ad agency where Jeffrey works to futurecast the wants and needs of the general public.  In a strong turn, we see both truth and beauty in this character’s approach to living the wasted life.  His brutish and blatant approach to getting things done, fraught with fear and loathing of himself and others is enough to put us all on notice to pay attention. Pay attention to how the ripples we  send into the Universe may leave others in chaos.

Central to the story is a love affair between Jeffrey and one of the most natural actors I’ve seen on any stage: Laurie Okin as the inspired photographer, Carrie Ann.  Daughter of a well known photographer, Theo (Frank Collision), she has risen to prominence for her dramatic photos, some of which depict the startling beauty of dead things.  This sets the scene for the examination of what is important to the story's characters we meet and what the true value of being alive is to each of them: to each of us.

Susan Wilder as Joanne brings to life a gorgeous no nonsense agent for the down to earth Carrie Ann.  Her life turns on how well she represents herself and her client. Exchanges between the two are tough and heart rending.

Every scene depicts some special conflict that we must, as individuals, also work out within ourselves to move forward with life… and death. 

In multiple turns, Jennifer Sorenson shines as Michaeline, the dive bar bartender,  who is challenged to examine her own personal worth by Terry's indecent proposal. She is forced to examine herself by Terry as he snorts himself into oblivion, too late becoming aware of his own distinct shortcomings.  

Tania Verafield, Nardeep Kuhrmi and Alexandra Hellquist round out the cast perfectly. Tom Buderwitz’s excellent scenic design is spare and modern; beautifully set off by Leigh Allen’s subtle lighting with what are presumably more photos by Carrie Ann projected during scene changes, depicting in an astounding way, the circle of life. 



STILL LIFE  by Alexander Dinelaris
A West Coast Premiere
Rogue Machine Theatre
In residence at The Met Theatre
1089 N. Oxford Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90029
Through April 17, 2017
Saturdays and Mondays at 8:30PM
Sundays at 3:00PM


 




Saturday, April 1, 2017

Sun Tzu’s Brother

According to Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor the credited authors of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War had a brother, (whose name was mentioned and it seems that I was laughing and neglected to write it down. Let’s call him Larry), who was the first chronicler of comedy.  The idea of condensing the entire history of funny stuff into two zany acts including cream pies is quite a feat!   
Ginsburg, Jacobson and Fazal Photo by Sasha Venola
Thanks to Zehra Fazal, Marc Ginsburg and Mark Jacobson, this idea is not all together absurd, though some of the bits in this history lesson totally are!  There in lies the rub.  It’s fast and furious with these three skilled actors embracing their inner Rambozo (the first comic?) and through him, they engender the entire audience with the permission to laugh.  Laughter is the best medicine, but that’s a Reader’s Digest thing, though a truism and now my inner Rambozo is acting out. 

What is funny to one may not be funny to another. There are guffaws and groaners and inappropriate stuff that serves up guilty pleasure.  There are popular digs and topics that to some must forever be off limits, “Aside from that how did you like the play?” That features Honest Abe as a stand up comic!   All humor by necessity must be somehow referential and in tune with the audience.  I once heard a guy on the radio try to tell the Dalai Lama the story of what the Dalai Lama said to the hot dog vendor:  “Make me one with everything.”  His Holiness didn’t get it!

To the credit of Fazal, Ginsburg and Jacobson (the latter of whom goes wonky if confronted by a strobe light!) most of the silly bits, quick changes and unapologetic schtick keep the audience in groans and titters (rim shot) throughout.  One marginal idea to draft audience members on stage to provide sound effects for a rather lame attempt at Give Me A Location improv doesn't work. It needs either ringers from the audience or to be cut.  One of the ‘rules’ of comedy is to keep it moving.  Embarrassed audience members who really aren’t into it, slow everything down and with the threat of Cream Pie waiting in the wings there was no way that I’d allow myself to be dragged onto the stage! 

Director Jerry Kernion keeps his actors hopping as we see them in and out and up and down, Stephen Gifford’s Music Hall set features a couple of Laugh In type windows put to good use with the echo of farce in mind as doors left and right open and close.   

THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF COMEDY (abridged) 
by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor
The Falcon Theatre
4252 Riverside Dr.
Burbank, CA 91505
Through April 23, 2017
Tickets and Information:

Box Office phone 818-955-8101
Box Office hours Tues-Fri noon-6pm, 
Sat & Sun 10am-4pm
www.falcontheatre.com