Friday, June 18, 2021

At last.. AN OCTOROON at The Fountain

 As the dreaded plague fades, the theatre emerges.  Takes a breath.. and builds a stage. 

Two Planks and a Passion? 

The Fountain Theatre launches into the brave new world with what may be a wonderful experience.  

In discussing what theatre must do for us, 19th Century Irish playwright Dion Boucicault in The Art of Dramatic Composition writes:  

“If such an imitation of human beings, suffering from their fate, be well contrived and executed in all its parts, the spectator is led to feel a particular sympathy with the artificial joys or sorrows of which he is the witness. This condition of his mind is called the theatrical illusion.
The craft of the drama is to produce it, and all its concerns conduce to, and depend upon, this attainment.”

Vanessa Claire Stewart and Matthew Hancock Photo by Jenny Graham


When you make reservations to see Branden Jacobs -Jenkins' play, staged in the former parking lot at The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, pack a sweater. Be prepared to not only sit with your bubble, but to feel actual others there with you: challenged by what can only be described as a successful fulfillment of Boucicault's conceit of what the theatre is supposed to do. 

'Engage the 'theatrical illusion.'

The importance of live theatre with an audience in attendance is fulfilled with director Judith Moreland's steady hand and a cast that doubles and triples to keep us guessing. In The Prologue of An Octoroon,  we meet 'the playwright, BJJ,  (amazing Matthew Hancock)  as he pretends to have a 'session' with his therapist (just kidding he can't afford a therapist), he begins to transform into the hero of The Octoroon: George. Lurking stage left is a drunken white guy, Rob Nagle, The Irish Playwright. Boucicault, himself. He faces down Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and in an exchange that takes a page or two right out of Michael McClure's The Beard, we see Hamlet's Advice explode as the two 'hold a mirror up to Nature' as the aggressive and dynamic duo blast one another with a fuscilade of "Fuck YOUs!"  

Keeping in mind that BJJ tells his imaginary therapist that his favorite playwright, Boucicault, the now obscure author of the original melodrama, The Octoroon, circa 1859, we hear from Boucicault through Nagle bragging that he invented copyright and matinees!  

There's disparity in the actors' approach that is mostly forgivable.  We shift from The Prologue that sets the scene for the author's take on the original romp. As the acting style shifts, we meet Dido and Minnie, ( spot on Kacie Rogers & Pam Trotter). They are life long slaves on the plantation that may fall into possession of the cheater, the rotten to the core McCloskey(again Hancock!). The exposition is expository. The characters, including Old Pete (Hazel Lozano doing triple duty including Paul and the Assistant) carry on in broad strokes that waffle between hip modern language and the language of the darkies. Extensive use of terms that are forbidden turns us back to confront our own polite society. We sit...  too passively, inured to the words as we are drawn into the sad story of love and loss.

In The Prologue, BJJ challenges himself to discuss his deconstruction and/or appropriation of African Folk Tales to create his work.  Now and then, in a beautiful and silent entrance, we meet Brer Rabbit (extraordinary Leea Ayers, also effective as Grace: a grace note to the slavery experience with grit).    How this matters is still a bit of a mystery. But, it works.  I like the rabbit.

As The Playwright Boucicault / The Red (literally) Indian: Wahnotee as well as the auctioneer, Nagle brings the characters home without skipping a beat. 

Vanessa Claire Stewart as Dora is the spoiled white girl who has set her cap to capture George and emerge as the Lady of the Plantation because George is back from Paris and is supposed to fix everything.  But!!  He is blindsided by Love. Enter the lovely Zoe (gorgeous Mara Klein) .. The  Octoroon (one drop of Negro blood in eight). Society forbids the marriage of any white person to anyone with any hint of colored blood and here in hangs the tale, well sort of.  

As the melodrama unfolds with some sticky wickets to unravel, the dark purpose of Jacobs-Jenkins to force (or guide?)  the audience  to confront our own biases comes down. The Truth be told, every privileged white person in the audience must deal with it in no uncertain terms.  Like BJJ's play Neighbors, reviewed at The Matrix in 2010, Boucicault's edict for the audience to have an honest and visceral reaction to the play emerges.

It is an opportunity to engage with one's deep nature held up to the mirror of our times. It's a lesson not taught in school but engages an overhead projector and is inescapable.  

We attend the theatre for many reasons. The social aspect is vital and that The Fountain has moved to be able to do a play as it's meant to be done is wonderful.  We need live theatre. Really.

Innovative set design  by  Frederica Nascimento. Projections by Nicholas E. Santiago echo the silhouettes of Kara Walker, certainly with effect, using amazing video that The Fountain has gained a reputation for. It's professional theatre with a strong polemic that demands our attention. 



by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

The Fountain Theatre 

 5060 Fountain Avenue  

Los Angeles, CA, 90029

Tickets and information: 

please copy and paste





Saturday, December 26, 2020

December 26, 2020 McNary Dies

Dave McNary,  long time columnist/ reporter for Daily Variety and comedy show producer, has died. He was 69.

I need to note the passing of a guy who was filled with the joy of writing and being in the Hollywood Scene. He wrote for Daily Variety for more years than I can count.

I first met Dave at The Ice House in Pasadena many years ago.  He produced a Sunday night stand up comedy show.. thus.. this memory being appropriate for Onstagelosangeles.  Dave would host the show and warm up the audience for newbie comics..and maybe some old timers.  Sherri Shepherd was on the bill and an old pal, Bill Ratner.  Dave promoted the Sunday shows as the 'Best Comedy Show Ever!'.. His stand up pals rocked The Ice House for years.

Dave's stroke and death are a shock.  He walked his dog. Wrote his DV columns. and.. until this dampanic hit the fan, he gathered comics up to Mentor Street and that back room where the show went on. 

Raise a cup to one of the Good Guys. To his family, his wife, Sharon (KPCC reporter) and Winnie, the pup.. send love.

michael sheehan


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Keeping Theatre Alive

 We need to be an audience. We need to be on stage. Famine may kill the body.. and the lack of art is killing the human spirit.    I encourage local Los Angeles theatre companies to get on board.


This from David Elzer: 

LOS ANGELES, CA, AUGUST 10, 2020 – Five theater organizations today announced the formation of the #theatre5alliance to bring the arts to people’s homes and to highlight the importance of keeping local theater alive and thriving. 
The alliance is comprised of the Berkshire Playwrights Lab, Durango PlayFest, the Laguna Playhouse, the New Jersey Repertory Company and Seven Angels Theatre. Like similar groups nationwide, each of these organizations canceled their summer performances due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The alliance will harness the writing talents of dozens of well-known screen and stage actors to create original vignettes of three to ten minutes each. The project is the brainchild of actor Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years,” “Lombardi”), who called upon friends in the industry to create videos of themselves reading works they’ve written under the banner “Keeping Live Theatre Alive.” 

He has brought in Filmmaker Jeremy Fletcher to edit individual videos of the actors and alliance members will be making them available on their websites starting August 29th, 2020.  Lauria is a longstanding supporter of local theater and of the alliance members.
“Every sector in society has been impacted negatively by COVID-19, including theaters,” Lauria said. “I wanted to raise awareness of the plight of these organizations while celebrating how actors are keeping their creative juices flowing.”
Actors committed to the project so far include Kim Brockington, Bryan Cranston, Bruce Davidson, Andre De Shields, Judd Hirsch, Stacy Keach, Dan Lauria, John Larroquette, Judith Light, Hal Linden, John Lithgow, Jodi Long, Priscilla Lopez, Wendie Malick, Joe Mantegna, Carolyn McCormick, Patty McCormack, Laurie Metcalf, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill, Lou Diamond Phillips, James Pickens Jr, Stephen Root, Tony Shalhoub, Charles Shaughnessy, Peter Scolari, Joe Spano, Chris Sullivan, Reno Wilson, Henry Winkler, and Robert Wuhl.  
The content will be available to viewers by each theatre and they will use the vignettes in creative ways to raise awareness of their organizations as well as thank their patrons for their support during this difficult year.
For more information on each theatre’s programming plans, visit any of these theatre websites: Berkshire Playwrights LabDurango PlayFestLaguna PlayhouseNew Jersey Repertory, or Seven Angels Theatre.

Monday, May 18, 2020



May 18, 2020   What a day.
I've been lobbying the Library Arts and Culture Department in Glendale to find a way to deliver art to the masses. Well. to folks in Glendale. I learned that libraries in Newport Beach and in Colorado are accommodating patrons by taking orders on line and leaving bags with materials outside the door of the library for pick up.  If burger joints can deliver curb side, why can't the library do the same?
And to ART.. This press release is pretty exciting. In Los Angeles, small theatre (usually 99 Seats or fewer) is the heart of what theatre is supposed to do.. They deliver a panoply of shows that feed the spirit, entertain, rouse the innards, provoke, evoke and stoke the fires of society.  
This press release is good news.  As we figure out next steps for patrons (and theatre critics), these artists are collaborating to get actors back on stage and bums in the to speak.  
Please take a look at the press release below. If you attend any of these theatre companies and want to help, please send a donation or contact them to pre-pay a ticket or a season.  We have a thriving stage community here and the sooner we al breathe the same air and  share the art, the better!
This from Judith Borne (Borne Identities PR for the Stage).. 
Los Angeles Intimate Theatres Release 
a Message of Hope and Solidarity for Their Future
Los Angeles, CA (May 14, 2020) – Artistic Directors of 44 Intimate (aka 99-Seat) non-profit theatres have created a roundtable to discuss the post COVID-19 re-emergence of theatre in Los Angeles. Today the group released the following statement:
“Like Los Angeles, our theatre community has always been at the forefront of innovation. As an integral part of the cultural conversation, a group of 44 artistic directors from LA's intimate theatres came together two months ago to discuss how we can move through the current COVID crisis and come out stronger. We are committed to raising the bar and pushing the boundaries of professional theatre. At weekly virtual roundtables, we continue to remind each other that theatre is a collaborative art form, in every sense of the word. We are stronger together as one community regardless of company size.
While the doors to our theatres may be shut, our artists continue to innovate and utilize new technology to serve Los Angeles and promote the importance of theatre. Our creative work has never been limited to our stages, and the boundless creativity of Los Angeles theatre artists will ensure that our theatres will reopen with a renewed sense of purpose. Los Angeles is one of the cultural capitals of the world, and together we make sure that #LALivesOnStage.”
This statement was signed by the following intimate theatres:
24th Street Theatre, Actors Co-op, After Hours Theatre Company, Ammunition Theatre Company, Antaeus Theatre Company, Boston Court Pasadena, Celebration Theatre, Chance Theater, Company of Angels, Coeurage Theater Company, Echo Theater Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, Fountain Theatre, Ghost Road Theatre Company, Greenway Arts Alliance, IAMA Theatre Company, Impro Theatre, Latino Theatre Company, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, Matrix Theatre Company, Moving Arts, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Open Fist Theatre Company, Ophelia's Jump Productions, Playwrights’ Arena, Pacific Resident Theatre, Rogue Machine Theatre, Ruskin Group Theatre, Sacred Fools Theater Company, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Skylight Theatre Company, Son of Semele, Theatre of NOTE, The 6th Act, The Group Rep Theatre, The Inkwell Theater, The New American Theatre, The Road Theatre Company, The Robey Theatre Company, The Victory, United Stages, VS. Theatre Company, Theatre West, and Whitefire Theatre 
The group is taking this opportunity of a pause in their programming to consider some of the bigger issues facing Los Angeles intimate theatres. Most importantly, they have implemented action committees for creating collaborative strategies in health and safety protocols for audiences, staff, and artists. Other areas of focus include marketing, and planning an online Intimate Theatre Festival, with a Live LA Theatre Festival in the works once everyone is able to gather again. Partnering with LA Stage Alliance/onStage.LA, the group is aiming to establish a central hub for all Los Angeles theatre activities.

Sunday, March 15, 2020


There is a special place in my heart for high school theatre.  Before the "troubles" swept in, the double casts of Roald Dahl's, Matilda, the Musical at Providence High in Burbank worked for months rehearsing two complete casts of principal actors with a huge chorus of singers and dancers.  Last Thursday, March 12, 2020, the first cast went up on the Providence stage.  Director,  Dominic Catrambone with choreographer, Julianne Kusmiercyzk and their cast of thousands mounted one of the most consistently well done shows I've seen in a long time. 

I was invited to see this show by the parents of Sasha Camacho, a first year freshman.
Sasha Camacho as Matilda (Photo credit Ben Camaacho)
In the title role of Matilda, Sasha plays the unappreciated daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Adriano Roy and Alexis Shabun).  

The exceptional camaraderie reflected in the professionalism of Thursday's performance was far beyond the many high school productions I've seen over time.  These kids never flagged. The principals were spot on. 

The sad thing is that the crisis has forced Providence to cancel the final two performances of "Matilda." Fortunately, Providence administrators allowed each cast of principals to do  one performance of the show.  

Sasha went to the Friday performance to help with the ticket booth for the second show. Thirty minutes before curtain, the girl playing Tommy (Isabel Petty) was unable to perform. Like a trooper, Sasha donned Isabel's costume to go on for her. She learned the part during her character's off stage time!  

The Providence administration is hopeful that when the crisis passes, we will all get back to normal and the show may go up again before the end of the school year. Burbank and LA locals please keep your ears open for the new schedule.  Highly recommended.

Book by Dennis Kelly 
Music by Tim Minchin
Providence High School
Theatre Arts Department
511 S Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91505
Future performances TBA 
For information:
Call Providence High School
818 846 8141


Tuesday, March 10, 2020


 Having had the rare pleasure of seeing Joe Chaikin's Open Theatre perform and to have met some of the original members of that group, being reintroduced to The Serpent, first performed by The Open Theatre in 1968, the opportunity to see this iconic masterpiece back on the stage is very special to me.   Can we return to the sixties? Can we revist the passions that drove theatre through the political work of The Living Theatre? Through the maze of The Company Theatre's "James Joyce Memorial Liquid Theatre"?  The icoic physical work of Grotowski in Poland and the subsequent blasts from The San Francisco Mime Troupe and Ellen Stewart's La Mama? 
Director Ron Sossi approaches The Serpent 2020 as the original director, Joe Chaikin did: 
Form the ensemble. 
Work out the argument. 
Assign the roles.
Tighten things up.  

In Chaikin's original notes for The Serpent, he tells us that this is not a play, It's a Ceremony.. it's a ritual: a tribute to our past and commentary on the present and then.. what's to come.  It's prescient, though somewhat obvious.. That old silver clock that waits for us all.
The Ensemble Photo by Enci Box
As the audience enters, Sossi's cast of seven women and five men warm up on the bare stage in  rehearsal togs.   The ceremony calls for physical, mental and emotional limbering... 
Because some of the text harkens back to days well before any of the cast members were on the planet, Sossi has added announcements of tragedies more recent, recited by various cast members: chilling reminders of the times we live in. The cast assembles center stage reciting names.  It takes a minute to understand that this performance:  this unique Ritual of Theatre, includes our audience, each of us is invited as one actor after another calls out the name of someone seated before them.
We are all in this together. Now.

Each of the segments of The Serpent, turns on a singular event, also referencing  assassinations, including how Cain slew Abel. Through repetition and physical movement we relive the murder of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King as well as the murder of Abel.    Especially moving is the actors' exercise. We relive JFK and the others that awful November day in Dallas with the Zapruder film repeating in the background.  The exercise replays specific moments of the shooting. Each movement has a specific number. As one actor calls out specific numbers the actors portraying the principals assume the precise position of the stopped motions of JFK's death.  Chilling.

The title, The Serpent, turns on Van Itallie's take on the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The dialogue will have special meaning to those who wish to examine what the myth is really all about. Dialogue and movements are repeated by The Serpent (six or eight of the ensemble) as it writhes: cajoling and tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.

Over all,  this ceremony.. this ritual holds up .. Sossi's young cast impressively approaches the same energy that the original cast exhibited. Missing from the cast, The Odyssey lost one of its most dedicated actors recently, Alan Abelew, whose visceral approach to acting harkens back to those early days. He is missed.

For a trip down memory lane, especially for actors who come from the days of appreciating or working with ensemble companies like Chaikin's The Open Theatre or The Beck's Living Theatre or The Company Theatre of Los Angeles, you'll find your muscle memory responding to the movements, the organic trust that is unique to what highly stylized and politicized theatre was all about so long ago. 

Celebrate fifty years of dedication to 'important' theatre at The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. It may be a relic, but The Serpent is a history lesson and I, for one, am happy to be tutored.  Well done!

The Serpent
by Jean-Claude van Itallie
Directed by Ron Sossi
The Ensemble: Riley Rose Critchlow, Avery Dresel-Kurtz, Joseph Gilbert, Tomoko Karina, Kristina Ladegaard, Marie Osterman, Ian Stewart Riley, Anthony Rutowicz, Keaton Shyler, Ahkei Togun, Terry Woodberry, Denise Yolén, Peyton Young
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble 
Odyssey Theatre 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.  
Los Angeles CA 90025
  Runs  March 7 – May 3
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: March 4 (preview), March 25 and April 22 ONLY
Thursday at 8 p.m.: March 5 (preview), April 9 and April 30 ONLY Friday at 8 p.m.: March13, 20*, 27; April 3, 10, 17*, 24; May  1  
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 7 (opening), 14, 21, 28; April 4, 11, 18, 25; May 2 
Sundays at 2 p.m.: March 8, 15, 22, 29; April 5, 12, 19, 26; May 3
  *The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.

Tickets and information: 
 (310) 477-2055 Ext. 2

Friday, March 6, 2020

Actors' Gang! Can't Pay? Don't Pay!

These are the nuts and bolts of The Actors' Gang's wonderful production: Dario Fo's "Can't Pay? Don't Pay!" translated by Cam Deaver. 
Directed by Bob Turton. .  
Kaili Hollister (Antonia),  
Lynde Houck (Margarita), 
Jeremie Loncka (Giovanni), 
Thomas Roche (Luigi), 
Steven M Porter (Sargent, Agent, Undertaker, Old Man), 
Danielle Ray Powell (Office, Agent 2, Undertaker Assistant, Nurse).
This is the only time this cast stood still! photo by Ashley Randall

It's not often that I arrive home late at night after seeing a play and sit right down to use the energy that the show has generated to start my review.  Not being prone to gushing, I have to say that from the moment the lights shifted from the house to the stage at The Actors' Gang tonight.. the screaming and rushing and pure silliness to rival Lucy and Ethel on speed grabbed the audience and never let go.

I sometimes have to write a review like a book report.  It's what most theatre reviews are.. a guide to the reader about the plot and the production.. This show is so different and so wonderful that I just want to free associate and tell you that if you live a reasonable distance from the Ivy Substation in Culver City, you must take the information below and make a reservation  and take a friend or two and see Dario Fo's "Can't Pay? Don't Pay!"  translated from the Italian by Cam Deaver. It is skillfully directed by long time AGT member, Bob Turton, who, in his "...turn off your cell phone speech", echoes the mission of The Actors' Gang. Come together!  This play, especially for theatre folks, is one of the most energetic and entertaining shows I've seen in a long time. 

In 1997 Dario Fo won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was truly a Renaissance Man, working with his partner Franca Rame... with whom he developed theatre pieces that certainly changed the lives of all who were fortunate to see them.

There are slight problems with this production but it really doesn't matter.  The action and dialogue are so manic and over the top  that the action alone, beautifully performed by a seriously demented cast of six with Steven M Porter and Danielle Ray Powell returning again and again as different characters to the delight of everyone. It's ridiculous .. really.. just silly. 

It's rare that I find myself using the term 'brilliant'.. and now searching for superlatives after recently seeing "The Book of Mormon" I've realized that sometimes all you can do is repeat yourself: Outstandingly amazingly superbly ridiculous ... and fun!

Born in 1926, and active from an early age, Fo used theatrics to poke fun at the powers that prevailed in Italy.  He was censored and surveilled, prevented from traveling but always came down on the side of the common man.  Advocating that human beings must take charge of their lives, the play shares that message. The joy of seeing actors who are having such a good time, amping one another up beyond the limits of civil theatre, the show flies off the stage to gales of laughter.   Sometimes the pace runs away with itself:  the dialogue  swallowed up beyond understanding, but this ensemble is so in tune, the dialogue and overlapping of lines and  great physical action taken directly from Italy's own Commedia delle Arte? It really doesn't matter..

It's a romp and a hoot and a hollar.. Director Bob Turton's intimate set plops down in the middle of the huge playing area.  Lucky front row patrons are included in the action as the fourth wall is frequently broken to everyone's delight.  

This is what theatre is supposed to do.. It's supposed to gather us up and never let go: teach a lesson, promote an ideology, Engage!
Turton's direction and honorable nods to the roots of Commedia make this more than a must see.. it's an experience that will lift you up and have some fun with no time to judge or worry about anything except what the heck is going to happen next.  

Taking place in a town where working clas folks are having a tough time buying groceries, paying the rent and keeping the electricity on, we meet Antonia (Kali Hollister) and her pal Margarita (Lynde Hauck) who have to hide their stolen bounty  bundled home, "appropriated" from the local market where the manager has upped the prices of everything!   Anotonia's husband, Giovanni (Jeremie Lonka), is a conservative "by the book" working class guy. The girls can't tell him that the goods are stolen for fear of his turning them over to the cops. Things go nuts with a plot device where Margarita hides a bag of groceries under her coat, immediately becoming pregnant! Her poor confused husband, Luigi (Thomas Roche) rounds out this spectacular cast while eating something vile from a jar!

How Mr. Steven M. Porter manages to play four distinct characters (all of whom look like one another) is worth the price of admission alone. His partner in law and other stuff, Danielle Ray Powell is wonderful, too. There in lies the tale: it's a farce. We are politicized and entertained and energized. As it should be.

I've been critical of other critics in the past for using over the top hyperbole when writing about a show.  This one has earned my unflinching respect, not only for Deaver's translation whether or not I got all of the machine gun delivered text because I left the production with raves blossoming in my head on my way home.  

With all the song and dance and goings on, the play comes to a moment. This is the moment that I think Dario Fo was hoping to be heard. Deaver's translation: 
GIOVANNI (standing.. to the audience)
"We workers and employees, we’re under their heel right now. Minimum wage, temp, gig, seasonal, laid off, homeless—we find ourselves in a bit of a lowly state. So low, in fact, our asses are on the ground! But watch out—little by little, we’ll make it to our knees, get back on our feet. And we warn you: once we’re standing strong and united, we’ll be pissed off and ready to fight. Because on our feet, we always have our greatest effect!"  BLACKOUT!

When we are in the Church of Art (with a nod to Lynn Foulkes) and can actually feel our spirit move, that's a good sign that something important is happening. Tell a friend. Make a theatre party.. come back to LA from where ever you are and see what a truly great production does for you.  

by Dario Fo
Translated by Cam Deaver
The Actors' Gang
 9070 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA  
Thursdays at 8:00 pm; 
Fridays at 8:00 pm; 
Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sunday March 22, 2020 at 2 pm
Closes March 28, 2020