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Sunday, August 6, 2017

THE RAINBOW BRIDGE at the Ruskin

The Rainbow Bridge
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play. All the animals who had been ill or old are made whole and strong again.

The animals are happy and content, except for one thing.
They each miss someone very special who had to be left
behind. Until the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. He runs from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted.

And when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion. Happy kisses rain upon your face as you look into the trusting eyes of your pet, long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.
Author unknown.
 
Emily Jerez, Paul Schackman, Mary Carrig, and Lynne Marie Stewart
 Photo by Ed Krieger


It is always intriguing to get in on a World Premiere.  The challenge for any playwright is to find a place to do the show and  the Ruskin Group Theatre is well known for embracing new projects as well as the tried and true plays that it finds interesting.  

Playwright Ron Nelson sees his play as a 'vitamin for the soul.'     We have all heard that "Laughter is the Best Medicine" and make no mistake The Rainbow Bridge has some laughs.   

Picture, if you will.. a tiny stage with walls decorated with different colored canvas banners, by scenic designer Hillary Bauman, attached to posts by grommets to indicate various scene settings Scene changes are rigorously attended to by cast and crew, different colored banners indicating a new location.  I liked the banners and the grommets, but the changes were a bit time consuming.

Back to my Twilght Zone introduction, Imagine, if you will, that little Charlie, the Jack Russell terrier left to Jerry by his alcoholic mother, Lois (dear Lynne Marie Stewart)  and somewhat skanky sister, Amanda (Amy Schumer look-a-like Mary Karrig) after they died in tandem: Amanda: suicide by pistol and Lois slipping in the blood!! 
Lights up:  we meet Charlie (recently euthanized, lying under a little blanket) by the very sexy vet Dr. Stein (sexy Jaimi Paige), who insists that the (not so) bereaved Jerry (very loud and exuberant throughout Paul Schackman) read aloud the healing poem/prayer called The Rainbow Bridge (see above / please click on the image for a larger view).   Jerry has had to put poor Charlie down because it was simply the humane thing to do.  Dr. Stein insists that he needs to resolve his pain (of which he apparently has none). Jerry reads the prayer aloud and with a rainbow flash, both dead Lois and dead Amanda appear And,  not unlike Topper or Blythe Spirit, they taunt the poor guy as he struggles as an attorney and a loving dad and husband who has become a compromised son/brother.  

The sitcom rhythms are interrupted by frequent scene changes with Lois and Amanda hounding Jerry incessantly from scene to scene.  Hilarity ensues with Jerry attempting his 'normal' life while dealing with the ghosts of his dead mother and sister who cannot be seen, of course, by anyone but him.  The way to send these harpies back to where ever they came from takes time to develop and the true character of Jerry, whose basic ethics are challenged from the get go, is a little difficult to grasp, but after several scene changes and discussion with and demands by the ghosts, we come full circle. 

Performances by the supporting cast:  Emily Jerez, Mouchette Van Helsdingen and  L. Emile Thomas round out the argument of this very odd black comedy.  

THE RAINBOW BRIDGE 
by Ron Nelson
 Ruskin Group Theatre 
 3000 Airport Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Opened Friday, July 21, 2017
Fridays - Saturdays at 8pm
 Sundays at 2pm  
Through September 17, 2017
Tickets $25 
$20 for students, seniors, and guild members
Information: (310) 397-3244 or online at www.ruskingrouptheatre.com
Ample free parking available on site.   

Monday, July 31, 2017

AS I LIKE IT AT ANTAEUS

AS YOU LIKE IT by William Shakespeare rambles with banishings and fallings in love and mixed up lovers and now and then a speech that wakes you up and carries you along ..  an old familiar song that in the midst of shenanigans changes everything.  This is what happens well into the show as from the back of the house we turn to hear a voice.  At first we only hear Jacques  (James Sutorius
James Sutorius
Photo by Daniel G. Lam Photography
demand more music from musicians who are hey nonny nonnying. And, then he enters.  Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Antaeus always finds a way to cast their shows color blind and with excellence.  Rosalind (Sally Hughes) and Celia (Desiree Mee Jung) are BFFs and cannot live one w/out the other.  So, when Rosalind is banished because the mean old Duke Frederick (Brian Abraham) wants to just get rid of her and send her to her banished dad, Duke Senior (Bernard K. Addison) off in the Forest of Arden, the conflicts begin right along with a loopy plot. 

What the Bard was up to with As You Like It is rather a mystery as characters come and go and the ruse of Rosalind disguising herself as a boy, Ganymead and doing a very strange dance as the animal magnetism practically explodes with poor Orlando (Matthew Gallenstein) is entertaining and just a trifle long.  Like Portia exacting promises at the conclusion of The Merchant of Venice, sly little Ganymead.. Rosalind.. works like anything to put right the romance of the plot and, of course, succeeds. All's Well.. etc.  

Frosting on this excellent cast is supplied with JD Cullum having about as much fun with Touchstone as is permisable on any stage.  The patter required is supplemented by  gestures (appropriate and inappropriate) with a medium sized zucchini  that is worth the price of admission alone.
Luis Kelly-Duarte, JD Cullum
Photo by
Daniel G. Lam Photography

There's wrestling and a lion attack (off stage) and on Francios-Pierre Couture's all purpose set with a slightly Moroccan theme,  the less than intimate allusion to the Forest of Arden still works.

Director Rob Clare's staging is somewhat linear, but with no elevations or other opportunities for variety, the play feels presented much as how it might have been in the original. 

Taking issue with the Bard is risky.  Certainly, this cast tackles the text with alacrity and following the scenes is relatively easy. It's just that this one really stretches credibility even though the lovers do unite and 'there by hangs the tale!'  Anna Lamadrid as Phebe takes a little bit and makes it more.

"All the World's a Stage..." Jacques reminds us. His mellifluous rendering of this speech alone is worth wading through the meandering plot.  I loved A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's mix and match period costumes, as well as Mr. Clare's choices to create a few breaks in the fourth wall to draw the audience in with a nudge and a wink.  There's a little dancing, too.

Read the synopsis and come prepared to have a great time. 

AS YOU LIKE IT
by William Shakespeare
Antaeus Theatre
110 E. Broadway
Glendale, California 91205
Performances: July 27 – Sept. 10
Tuesday at 8 p.m.: July 25 ONLY (preview)
Wednesday at 8 p.m.: July 26 ONLY (preview)
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: July 20 (preview), July 27 (opening); Aug. 3, 10, 17, 24, 31; Sept. 7
Fridays at 8 p.m.: July 21 (preview), July 28 (opening); Aug. 4, 11, 18, 25; Sept. 1, 8
Saturdays at 2 p.m.: Aug. 5, 12, 19, 26; Sept. 2, 9 (no 2 p.m. matinee on July 22 or July 29)
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: July 22 (preview), July 29; Aug. 5, 12, 19, 26; Sept. 2, 9
Sundays at 2 p.m.: July 23 (preview), July 30; Aug. 6, 13, 20, 27; Sept. 3, 10
Tickets and Information:
(818) 506-1983 or www.Antaeus.org

Friday, July 28, 2017

MISTY LEE.. BOLD MAGIC.. TWO NIGHTS ONLY

The El Portal Theatre is a beautiful proscenium house in NoHo where entertainment abounds.  Misty Lee (Dominatrix of all trades more or less)
Misty Lee Photo mistylee.com
is a highly credentialed magician who has been inspired by this poem by Sarah Williams to create her stage show: "Bold Magic!"  

 
-->
"Reach me down my Tycho Brahe,

I would know him when we meet,

When I share my later science,

sitting humbly at his feet;

He may know the law of all things,

yet be ignorant of how 
We are working to completion,

working on from then to now. 

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,

Lacking only certain data for your adding, 
as is meet,

And remember men will scorn it,

'tis original and true,

And the obloquy of newness 
may fall bitterly on you. 

But, my pupil, as my pupil

you have learned the worth of scorn,

You have laughed with me at pity,

we have joyed to be forlorn,

What for us are all distractions

of men's fellowship and smiles;

What for us the Goddess Pleasure

with her meretricious smiles! 

You may tell that German College

that their honor comes too late, 
But they must not waste repentance

on the grizzly savant's fate.

Though my soul may set in darkness,

it will rise in perfect light;

I have loved the stars too fondly

to be fearful of the night.                               



Sarah Williams

To mount a huge production like Bold Magic takes a large crew and great creativity.  Opening for the first time, director Tom Keegan, has allowed Misty Lee to ramble a little. After all, it is her show!  Co-Producer Lennon Hobson doubles as choreographer and leggy assistant with her almost identical pals, Brooke Brady, Kija Rae and Megan Ashly Cutler (who takes flight in a closing trick at the audience's direction!)

Thanks to an enthusiastic audience, Misty Lee does 'tricks' (she never calls them 'illusions') and interjects patter that make some of the tricks a little long.  None the less, the audience loved the show. And, for those who love to see a beautiful and talented magician tease with threats of danger (there is an electric chair!) this is a must see!

Shastaaa, the mind reading honeybadger, has back up singers and needs new batteries in his/her magic box! 

MISTY LEE
BOLD MAGIC
El Portal Theater
Lankershim Boulevard
North Hollywood, CA 
July 29 and 30, 2017
Saturday and Sunday only at 8PM 
Tickets and information:
www.boldmagic.show 

Monday, July 24, 2017

BUILDING THE WALL EXTENDED AT THE FOUNTAIN

Victoria Platt and Bo Foxworth
Photo by Ed Krieger
Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan directed to a fine point by Michael Michetti, examines a not so brave new world. New to the role of Gloria, Victoria Platt plays a university history professor  who is allowed access to Rick (Bo Foxworth), a former supervisor in a private prison,  in an attempt to discover how someone evolves from a somewhat average guy into an agent of the unthinkable.

It's 2019.  The United States has become outlandishly authoritarian under the leadership of the 45th president.  The story is a polemic with fear at its foundation.  That's a good thing in some ways: certainly it's a wake up call.  The 'call to arms' that we all should have heard by now is one that half of the population of the United States stll thinks is uncalled for harassment of the president.  A 'dirty bomb' has exploded in Times Square. The subsequent follow up of impeachment seems too little too late.  The snow balling effect of 'repatriation' of immigrants that Schenkkan proposes in the play in direct parallel to Hitler's eradication of Germany's cultural issues is not far from the fears that the United States may only now be truly awakening to.

That a good man like Rick can find himself caught in a web of simply "doing a job" that becomes a moral dilemma, is hard to fathom until you think about what someone, you or I? might find himself faced with to protect himself and his family.  Life issues.

The beauty of Building the Wall is that Schenkkan starts us off with the fear and conflict of an angry convict literally doing a dance of hostility.  He's probably just a thug who deserves to be in prison.  Gloria, his polar opposite, an attractive, educated liberal history professor who happens to be a black woman begins her interview as a challenge, but the dialogue evolves into an examination of humanity, morality and ethics. It never really solves the problem. It doesn't offer a solution. But the experience does give the audience troubling insights: reflections that are even physically apparent with scenic designer Se Oh's perfect reproduction of a prison interview room.  The upstage observation mirror gives the audience an opportunity to see itself as possibly complicit.  

Foxworth has a lot to work with as the convicted felon.  Unsympathetic, tattooed, filled with Republican pride, angst and anger. The arc of the character reminds us all that our morals are fluid and sometimes fate is unkind. Ms Platt  presents initially as a well educated researcher,  privileged, even though she tells us that growing up black in the South usurped her innocence at the age of six.  Prejudice and privilege face off in their finely tuned dialogue Ironically, this prison is not unlike the privatized institution where Rick had advanced to become a supervisor where his moral ethic had become compromised: compromised because the now disgraced president, not unlike Hitler, has stirred the pot with prejudice, fear and loathing to the point of mass murder.  The final line, "Who would want to live in a country like that?" chills as we ponder our own ethical and moral choices.

Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan

 The Fountain Theatre 
 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) 
 Los Angeles, CA 
 Extended through August 27
Saturdays at 8 p.m. 
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Mondays at 8 p.m.  
Three Fridays at 8 p.m.,  
July 28, Aug. 11 and Aug. 25. 
Tickets range from $20$40
every Monday is Pay-What-You-Want.
Secure, on-site parking is available for $5
The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible.
Reservations and information
(323) 663-1525 

 

Friday, July 21, 2017

THE TEMPEST at OC Shakespeare



When I first saw The Tempest performed, at the Mark Taper Forum, it featured Anthony Hopkins as Prospero and introduced a myriad of new ideas about staging.  The roiling seas vanished into the top of the mountain on the magical island!  Mr. Hopkins' mastery of the language was mesmerizing.  He brought the Bard to life.  
Clockwise from top-left: Harry Groener as Prospero; Daniel Kim as Ariel; Cora Riley as Miranda; Robert Tendy as Ferdinand
Image credit: Jordan Kubat

Entering the Shakespeare Orange County venue in Garden Grove,we are met by huge drops painted in the style of Chinese ink paintings by Dipak Gupta.  Roller coaster upstage platforms bring exciting opportunities for the movement to come. The Asian Influence is unexpected and welcome.   

Director Peter Uribe's take on The Tempest takes broad license to the story by turning to the way  Garden Grove has developed culturally over the past fifty years.  The influx of immigrants from Vietnam as well as other Asian countries brings his casting brilliantly together with local available talent.  Calling upon well known actors: Harry Groener as Prospero, Hal Landon as Gonzalo, to bring their long experience beautifully to the show works just fine.  But, the real surprises lie in Uribe's casting of dozens of Ariels and "Arielettes" who dance and fly to and fro at Prosper's magical bidding. The conceit works beautifully with Jay Lee and Daniel Kim bringing Ariel's personality to life, though the other twenty or so actors are delightful as they do their master's bidding.   

The Asian touch to The Tempest is brought amazingly to life in the banquet scene with Miock Ji's Korean Dancers.  A tribute to local culture surprises with the interval performance of Korean drumming that is astounding. 

The story of how Prospero is set adrift and lands on Caliban's island and the subsequent storm the magician  raises to capture his 'detractors' all plays out with the cast of over forty working as a finely tuned machine.  Stand out performances include Groener as Prospero, who brings his natural quality to the character, simply taking care of business: manipulating the charade.  Cora Riley (Miranda) breaks onto the scene full of energy at odds with Groener's more natural style.  Stand outs as Stephano (Tony Torrico) and Trinculo (Michael Calacino) make the most of the clowns that Shakespeare took time to expand and have some fun with. 

The creative choices made by director Uribe embrace the local culture and bring jaw dropping spectacle to the show. Every performer gives a professional performance. To the last Arielette, the actors' dedication to the play brings the audience to its feet.  Bring a pillow! And...  a sweater. 

The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare Orange County
12762 Main St.
Garden Grove, CA 92840
Dates: July 8–29, 2017
Curtain time: 8 PM
Tickets and Information: 714.590.1575
www.ShakespeareOC.org