Saturday, October 15, 2016


Jai Rodriguez as Alex Moore
Photo by Sasha A. Venola

Buyer & Cellar currently at the Falcon is a tour de force performance of a near flawless script by  Jonathan Tolins, directed expertly by Dimitri Toscas.  It's Jai Rodriguez holding the stage for an hour and a half with a roller coaster ride that is, simply, a Must See. 

Inspired by Barbra Streisand's book "My Passion for Design,"  whether or not Tolins' story is true or not, the story comes to life with a nudge and a wink as Rodriguez (as Alex Moore) enters from the house making sure the audience understands that this is a "work of fiction."  That said, the checkered career of Alex Moore, including employment at The Magic Kingdom!.. unfolds with a cast of at least five other characters smoothly brought to life with precision by the actor. Adam Flemming's spare but versatile set becomes, with easy lighting changes by Nick McCord, various locations, most notably the downstairs 'shopping mall' created by Alex's Malibu employer to pretty much enjoy on her own.  Alex's job is to literally mind the store: the yogurt machine, the popcorn popper and to dust the myriad of collectables that reflect the exquisite and very expensive tastes of the actress, director, singer and interior designer  who has enjoyed seven decades of her career:  Barbra!
As Alex settles into his employment in Streisand's cellar, a "perceived" friendship develops with the star.  Transitioning easily from one character to another, from storyteller to the supporting players with a simple gesture and change of voice, we find ourselves adoring the character and feeling sorry for her as she confesses that all she has ever really wanted was "to be pretty." 

Rodriguez never drops a stitch as the story flows along.  

It must be noted that even with the standard request by the preshow announcer to turn off all electronic devices, a phone lit up in the lap of the woman seated directly in front of me.  As we are, all of us??, becoming slaves to our electronic leashes, the days of courtesy in public seem to be dwindling away. It may be cruel to call this woman a 'jerk!'  Who knows what the emergency might have been, but had she done as we were asked, the phone would not have intruded. 

When we go to a movie or a play, I think it's to escape the 'real world' briefly to abandon disbelief and immerse ourselves in the play or the film.  If we find it not to our liking, then we are free to excuse ourselves. I hope the woman felt a bit of shame as I leaned forward and asked her to turn her phone off.  

To be dragged out of the play by rude behavior is simply wrong.  I hope that we never become a society of rude "jerks" constantly linked to the ever intruding iPhone or other devices which ruin a performance for an entire theatre full of folks who have paid admission to suspend our disbelief and immerse ourselves in the the argument of the play.

Buyer & Cellar is a well constructed, funnier than anything: poignant and kind tour de force: an evening to remember.  Don't miss this one! 

Buyer & Cellar 
by Jonathan Tolins
Falcon Theatre
 4252 Riverside Drive
Through November 6, 2016
Tickets and additional information  
Burbank, California

Monday, October 10, 2016

THE TRAGEDY OF JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare) Conceived, Adapted & Directed by DANIEL HENNING

Chad Brannon (at coffin) and the cast of The Blank Theatre’s world premiere production of THE TRAGEDY OF JFK (AS TOLD BY WM. SHAKESPEARE) Photo credit Rick Baumgartner

Daniel Henning has been making theatre in Los Angeles for many years.  I first met him when The Blank Theatre Company had applied for funding from the California Arts Commission and it was my job to evaluate the work I saw in The Lost Studios over on La Brea.  For twenty years or so, Daniel has been working on the story of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  Even though he was not even born in 1963, he has done extensive research and is considered an authority on the subject.

As the fifty-third anniversary of one of the most memorable and horrific tragedies in American History advances upon us, the memory of that day is indelible.  Henning does his best to create the language of The Bard which sometimes flows less trippingly on the tongues of the Kennedy brothers (Ford Austin as JFK and Chad Brannon as RFK) than it does from the main characters: J. Edgar Hoover (Firey Tony Abatemarco) and Lyndon B. Johnson (Bombastic Time Winters).  Winters nails the look and bombast of the 36th President combining his Texas twang with the rhythms of Henning's verse.   

The chilling exposition reveals that JFK not only ignored the prophesy of his secretary, Evelyn Lincoln (Kelie McIver), but also a bloody dream by Jacqueline (Casey McKinnon) goes begging as LBJ coaxes Kennedy to visit Dallas on that fateful Friday.  
Projections recall not only the President's murder as captured by the Zapruder film, but we move forward to the killings of both RFK and Martin Luther King. 

Shades of Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar creep in as Bobby Kennedy, taking a cue from Mark Antony in his well known speech from "Julius Ceasar"  belies his brother and praises Johnson.   

Wordplay and excellent exchanges, especially between Hoover and LBJ erupt as history has shown us that Hoover, who hated and harassed the Kennedys, abused his office. The power wielded by Hoover even with threats of suicide, were manic and borderline psychotic. Abatemarco finds the fine line between chewing the scenery and projecting the mania that must have haunted Mr. Hoover.

Sydney Russell's bare bones set allows the story to unfold pretty much unhampered.  Problematic, though, is the representation of the Dealy Plaza pergola with openings all along the back of the stage which interferes with informative projections.  There are many missed opportunities for images that could be seen projected over the actors on stage. Seeing the Zapruder film still dredges up questions and deep feelings

Going beyond the murder of the President, the text takes us to the March on Birmingham with images of the brutality suffered by Freedom Marchers and Martin Luther King's influence that blossomed to help create the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We then moves briefly forward to 1968 and The Ambassador Hotel with Bobby Kennedy announcing his presidential candidacy.  Actual footage of the kitchen where he died is projected as well.  

Henning's research and declarations refute the Warren Commission Report. Jackie reportedly agreed with the Report while Bobby did not. Lee Harvey Oswald (Brian Brennan) declares to the audience that a paraffin test revealed that Oswald had no gunshot residue on hands when he was captured. There is no mention of the Grassy Knoll nor the 'bums' with new leather shoes,  but Texas Governor John Connally's (Jonathon Lamer) wounds by a single bullet are brought into question.  

Over all the direction of his own writing works for Henning though the Shakespearean language attempt fluctuates from character to character and expected strong stage presences lapse from time to time to a more natural presentation.  The revelation that the disgruntled Army General Edwin Walker (over the top Jonny Walker) actually distributed flyers calling JFK a traitor to the assembled Texans on that fateful day adds to the drama as well as the revelation (according to Henning) of a cabal assembled to do away with the President.  
Over all the large cast of seventeen with much doubling, brings the story to life. 

(as told by Wm. Shakespeare)
Conceived, Adapted and Directed by Daniel Henning
Presented by The Blank Theatre
1816 ½ N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, California
October 1November 6, 2016
Friday at 8:30pm / Saturday at 8pm / Sunday at 2pm
Tickets and Informaton: 
(323) 661-9827 

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Judy: Sondra Mayer   Punch: Jimmy Slonina
School of Night is a local theatre company that wowed the community in the Hollywood Fringe Fest and after popular acclaim they're back at The Ruby in The Complex in Theatre Row.  There's no pretense about what's going to happen for about an hour. Forewarned that this show isn't for children of any age, Punch starts whacking verbally even as the curtain speech with some interesting back story is going on.  Then, as my old wrestling coach used to say, "It's Katie Bar the Door!"

Adapted and directed by Christopher Johnson the tight ensemble lead by Jimmy Slonina as Punch and briefly, Sondra Mayer as Judy launch into the down and dirty .. really dirty business of mayhem.  It's commedia and then some as Punch deliberately and methodically literally destroys first his baby (after a run in with his dog), Judy, and then the rest of the cast. Scatalogical craziness, murder by bat, axe, firearms and a chain saw fill the bill with non-stop action carefully timed and executed. The cast's adherence to a strict comedic style shows that this ensemble cares about the unit and the unit is tight and funny.  With the exception of Slonina, everyone doubles or triples at break neck speed, except when they stand stock still. They are Kjai Block, Tiffany Cole, Synden Healy, and Eric Rollins.  

Johnson's extremely stylized direction is made whole by the incredible foley talents of Ryan Beveridge.  Surrounded by a dozen instruments, Beveridge brings the entire romp to life with drum rolls, violin and sundry other sound makers that underscore the wild action.

The play is less than an hour in length and once rolling only 'takes a break' for emphasis that literally has the audience on the edge of their seats.   As individuals every cast member keeps to the chore.  Crisp and full of energy, they clash, bash, often doubling as koken who, bring props and facilitate the impossible.  Stage combat by Jen Albert is flawless.

This is a down and dirty romp.  Only back for a limited run, this one is for adult fun and it's no wonder the raves from the Fringe were over the top.

Adapted and Directed by Christopher Johnson
Ruby Theater
6476 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Through October 2, 2016
Tickets and Information


Monday, September 19, 2016


Alexandra Freeman, Jacqueline Wright,
Albert Dayan and Michael Sturgis
Photo by Darrett Sanders 
 (Click photo for full view)

Producer Chris Fields has been in LA for about twenty five years.  His Echo Theater Company takes chances and should be making headlines with the work that's being turned out in the multifaceted 99 seat venue in the Atwater Village Theater complex.  "Blueberry Toast" by Mary Laws has all the stuff of Beckett or dear Edward Albee or Arthur Kopit or Luigi Pirandello on acid.   To see four actors on a hot Sunday afternoon knock themselves out... literally.. to present Laws' World Premiere play was a revelation.  It is the revelation of the essence of communication and non-communication in a full length one act. It cuts to the quick with dark comedy and brutality that foments in the depths of all but the most saintly of us. It is an act of art.  

Laws in her interview discussing this play talks about how wrong 'season subscriptions' are.  She is an advocate for challenging the audience to confront the new stuff, the unfamiliar, the deep feelings that only rarely will a couple of hours on stage in a darkened space with living actors reveal.  The wonderfulness of our old friend, The Fantasticks, that I reviewed last week, of course, has a place.  Biff Rose (an old folkie whom I admire) has said, "Man does not live by bread alone.  You've gotta have a little toast!"

Toast!  The issue is communication and toast.  Pre show music over Amanda Knehans' cheery suburban kitchen set with requisite checker board floor, has no stove. It does have a green upright piano and a stack of games we might see an average family sit around the kitchen table to play.  The music is bright and shiny.  Bright lights..  we might be in the circus.  Director Dustin Wills is not messing around.  The action starts with over the top acting on acting that rocks the stage.  Walt (excellent Albert Dayan) sits at the kitchen table working on something to do with poetry.  Perkier than perky, Barb (amazing Jacqueline Wright) launches herself on stage to greet the new day and her husband with the offer to make him a breakfast of anything he'd like.  Anything at all.  Just name it.. Anything.   Walt and Barb banter back and forth. He announces that he'd like Blueberry Toast! Herein lies the rub:  the crux of many issues with those of us who want to please, who want harmony and, alas.. the barriers begin to rise.  
As the Blueberry Toast issue begins to bubble, we meet Jack: airborn,  musical and perplexed as he is the second best child, (Michael Sturgis) and his equally bouncy-suck-up-to-daddy sister Jill (Alexandra Freeman) who (they are adults playing children) roar in at inappropriate moments to announce that they are writing a play!  They scamper like eight year olds, invading the increasing tension in the kitchen.  

As the missed understanding about Blueberry Toast escalates, the children return after the presentation of their first act:  "The Dark and Humble Choice of Mankind" to periodically present Act II: "One Day I'll Die and No One will Cry," Act III: "Et Tu Brute" and the final act: "Soliloquy."

Laws' brilliant script is a tour de force for four actors with stamina and focus seldom seen.  How misunderstanding escalates to grand guignol  reminds of the late Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in spades.  The dedication of the actors to director Dustin Wills' excellent choices is alarming.   This is serious theatre that challenges the audience to examine the many faces of communication.   Ms Laws' potent play   deserves to be seen by the theatre community first and then, introduced to those who love important theatre. This is work that combines the words and the intensity of ensemble work that actors and directors can only wish for.   Frightening and prophetic, I cannot recommend this production highly enough.  
Blueberry Toast is a MUST SEE!... especially for true students of Theatre.     

by Mary Laws
Echo Theater Company
The Atwater Village Theater
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Thursdays through Mondays 
through October 24, 2016 
(Check schedule for omitted dates)
Tickets and Information:
310 307 3753

Monday, September 12, 2016


Full Cast and Company of The Fantasticks at The Pasadena Playhouse. Photo by: Jim Cox Photography

In 1960 Tom Jones (Book and Lyrics) (not Tom, the singer: "It’s not Unusual" Tom) and Harvey Schmidt (Musical Score) were coaxed from obscurity to refine a one act musical they had worked on as college students to present Off Broadway: a romance in two acts.  For over fifty years and 3,000 productions in almost every country in the world, The Fantasticks has brought to life the scheming of parents to bring their children together by just saying, “No!”   Before the Pasadena Playhouse was shuttered from 1969 to 1985, a student production of the play was presented in the annex that now houses a restaurant that is part of the Playhouse complex.  These many years later, director Seema Seuko, has resurrected the show by deliberately changing up the casting to include representatives of many diverse ethnicities pointing up that it’s the heart of the material performed by a heart felt cast with simple piano on stage accompaniment by music arranger / pianist David O and occasional harp interludes by Liesl Erman that bring the show to life.  Conversely, The Fantasticks continues its run Off Broadway East (NYC!) with a more traditional cast including Madison Parks as Luisa, the daughter of my friend, Garrett Parks.  I mention this for a reason that will become clear in a moment.

David F. Weiner’s elaborate yet dilapidated set breaks tradition by not exhibiting a large flying drop featuring “The Fantasticks” painted upon it.  This is substituted by what looks to be the remains of a circus tent.  The up stage wall opens to the blue sky as our cast of characters are brought in stealthily by The Mute (lithe Alyse Rockett). All the choreography is finely tuned by Kitty McNamee.   To do this show in the rustic remains of an old playhouse reminds us of the last time The Fantasticks was presented here so many years ago.  As El Gallo (elegant and slightly restrained Philip Anthony Rodriguez) addresses the audience with the first and possibly the most memorable tune of the show, “Try to Remember.. “ As he sings, we are gently lulled into the story of first love, young love, heart ache and heart break that has kept this exquisite play alive for all these years.  Having actually paid to see an abysmal production of the show a few months ago, having the Playhouse bring it to life properly is pure enjoyment.  This creative approach with the ethnic mix of a Eurasian Luisa (Ashly Park in slightly forced operatic tones), homegrown white boy, Matt (Conor Guzman, with a slightly more relaxed approach), his Japanese dad Hucklebee (Gedde Watanbe) and Luisa’s father Bellomy (African American Regi Davis), we immediately accept that it’s the story not the ethnicities of the actors that will bring the play to life.  Director Sueko, points up in her program notes that in our current age of domestic strife and wars around the world, this story of conflict is a tempest in a teapot that mirrors, if only slightly how, if we make an effort, differences can be over come and peace may guide the planet (to coin a phrase…) “and love may steer the stars.”

For those who are not familiar with the story, suffice it to say that every plot must have some twists.  Ours is twisted by the tail to the great joy of the audience as El Gallo hires Henry Albertson (Wonderful.. Hal Linden), an actor of Some Repute with his protégé and side kick, Mortimer (Amir Tala, who momentarily steals the show)  whose specialty is ‘dying!’  At Henry’s command to show his stuff, Tala, mimes an entire scene of preparing a poison potion, getting the glasses mixed up and..  voila.. ker plunk!  Applause.

A few opening night hesitations were not conspicuous and the flow of the two acts that brings the audience to its feet makes this a favorite that is not to be missed. Subtle changes to the play with Tom Jones and The Rape Song were acceptable.  Additional insights and moments to remember are installed in the small gallery just off the courtyard where props and costumes are ready for silly selfies and the history of the show from its early beginnings are all on display.   

Try to remember the last time you sat in the theatre for two hours and left feeling that the time had flown by and not yet deep in December the art and craft of Theatre with a capital “T” had left something warm and honest in your heart.  It’s all about the heart.  Jones and Schmidt bring that heart to life..  

 I mentioned Maddie Parks earlier. She is the living heir to her family tradition,  now playing Luisa nightly in New York, as her grandmother did theatre there so long ago.  I wanted to make a note of her name because you will hear it more often and with great praise as time goes on. 

Do not miss this production.  It’s absolutely a tribute to the tradition of The Fantasticks many times over. 

by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino
Pasadena, CA 91101
Through October 2, 2016
For tickets and information:
626 356 7529

Monday, August 29, 2016


 Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy are two creative talents who have worked as actors and writers for over thirty years.  Parallel Lives, currently at The Falcon in Burbank has been around the world and back again with a non-apologetic feminist approach to comedy. Trefoni Michael Rizzi's simple set allows for the easy trading places of imagined characters created smoothly by Crista Flanagan and Alice Hunter as "Crista" and "Alice" bouncing (sometimes literally) through their paces in what is, essentially an evening of sketch comedy with the women creating a myriad of different characters, all with a comedic turn.
Christa Flanagan and Alice Hunter / Photo by Sasha Venola

Kathy and Mo's clever writing and nice direction by Jenny Sullivan move us through two acts of disparate subjects from the beginning of the world, over seen by two fluttering angels as well as, my favorite, a Disney Mothers of Princesses and others whose mothers have died!  Ariel's mom, Ethel Mermaid and Cinder Ella's mother, Barbara Ella, along with Bambi and Dumbo's moms carry on about their long lost children.  

Bible references bounce in and out "It's in the Bible!"  And,  with Flanagan and Hunter never missing a beat the show marches steadily along.  

Parallel Lives (the reference is obscure to me?) is light and easy fare for those who are ready to sit back and let the actors do all the work.  Some laughs are bigger than others, but it's just for fun. 

by Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy

The Falcon Theatre
4252 Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 
Through September 18, 2016
Wed/Thu: $37.00 - $40.00
Fri/Sat/Sun: $42.00 - $45.00
Opening Night: $55.00 - $60.00
Students (minors or with valid student ID): $30.00
For tickets and additional information:
Please call the Box Office: 818 955 8101 

Sunday, August 21, 2016


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.

By Peter Lefcourt
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 S. Sepulveda
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Through September 25, 2016
Tickets and Information:
323 960 7787