Saturday, November 14, 2009


L to R:Mikael Salazar (Garry), Jill Hill (Brenda), Apollo Dukakis (Selsdon), Stephen Rockwell (Freddy), Deborah Strang (Dotty), Emily Kosloski (Brooke), Shaun Anthony (Tim)
Photo Credit Craig Schwartz


Today I had to go to my bookshelf and dust off my dictionary. It was nice exercise. The thing weighs a ton.

Brilliant: fr. adj. 1. Shining brightly; sparkling. 2. Vivid; intense. 3. Very splendid or distinguished. 4. Having or showing keen intelligence, great talent or skill, etc. – n. a gem, esp. a diamond, cut in a certain way with many facets for maximum brilliance, see GEM. SYN. BRIGHT.

To use the term “brilliant” to describe A Noise Within’s current production of Michael Frayn’s play, NOISES OFF, seems a little hollow, only because from curtain to curtain in three acts its brilliance, including incredible set changes at the act breaks, are nothing short of amazing. Noises Off is… simply… Wonderful. Silly. Zany. Clever. And, just plain fun.

Geoff Elliott, directs along with his wife, Julia Rodriguez-Elliott
. He also plays Lloyd Dallas the busy Brit who, along with directing Nothing On (the play ostensibly being rehearsed in preparation for its World Premier Prior To National Tour!) is also in production for Richard III (coincidentally currently running in repertory with Noises Off at A Noise Within.) Notwithstanding a lot of the use of the word Noise, Elliott and company accomplish a near miracle. Often hearing American actors attempt British accents can be quite troubling, in that they haven’t a clue as to a proper sound. Not that I know much from Bow Bells to West End, but to a person, this cast nails not only their accents, but they are all on the same page; all in the same play and each a solid contribution to the ensemble.

Farce: a noun also from the French, has many references. The appropriate definition here alludes to broad humor. To say that Frayn has captured the essence of farce is faint praise. With no less than seven doors (and a curtain… they may have run out of doors?) opening and closing in perfect timing: slamming, breaking, sticking all the while applauding themselves with grace notes of breaking glass, Noises Off should wind up on Wikipedia as a prefect definition of the term.

The basic premise is that Dotty Otley (the brilliant Deborah Strang) plays the maid, Mrs. Clackett, in a grand home belonging to the Brents, where the fun of Nothing On begins. Dotty (not Deborah) has ponyed up the funds … or part of them, to produce Nothing On, a very silly British bedroom farce, casting herself in the mordant character of the loyal and slightly doughty old retainer of the manse where all the doors are. The first act (of Noises Off as well as Nothing On) consists of a sticky technical rehearsal of Nothing On.

Interaction between the director, Dallas and his cast will bring back memories to any actor who has yearned for more attention, stopping to call for a line or to question just what his motivation might be.

Enter Garry Lejeune (the brilliant Mikael Salazar as actor Roger Tramplemain), with cutie patootie Brooke Ashton (very blonde in every sense of the word … and brilliant Emily Kosloski as Vicki) with props to juggle and the prospect of a little hanky panky in the upstairs bedroom where Roger and Vicki retire thinking they are alone in the house. No sooner have Roger and Vicki found their way to the boudoir, than immediately enter actor Frederick Fellowes (silly brilliant Stephen Rockwell as the character Philip Brent, the owner of the manse who dictates to Mrs. Clackett that he and his lovely wife, Flavia, (the actress Belinda Blair, brilliantly portrayed by ANW’s Jill Hill) are not there. They are NOT AT HOME! Of course, they are with duplicate props that coincide with the stuff that Garry and Vicki have just brought in.

Okay, it’s a farce. I’d mention the sardines, but there are too many to mention.
Apropos of nothing, according to the Nothing On programme, there are more than 13.4 million sardines eaten in Great Britain every day! And, I’ve forgotten to mention Tim Allgood, the Stage Manager (Shaun Anthony, whose curtain speech at the beginning of Act III is.. well, brilliant) and the unsung Assistant Stage Manager, ANW’s Ms Lenne Klingaman as Poppy Norton-Taylor (who is really good so’s I won’t get all redundant …) who may have something going on with the director, Dallas, an affair which Tim manages to screw up because of Dallas’s having the hots for Brooke. It's complicated!

I carry on like this because Frayn’s inspired script and this excellent.. well, brilliant, production was so much fun, that I really want to convey the silliness and the great timing, even when the timing was really awful (okay, that’s ACT III of Noises Off which, I think, is ACT I of Nothing On where Stage Manager, Tim gives his terrific curtain speech) as well as the hilarious characters who literally knock themselves out in pursuit of putting up a play.

The set changes between acts are nothing short of watching the building of the pyramids before our very eyes. Oh Yes... there’s a burglar, played by Selsdon Mowbray (ANW’s brilliant Apollo Dukakis who gives new hope to actors over fifty!)

The Elliotts and their dedicated cast and crew have succeeded brilliantly and as a person of the theatre all I can say is that to miss this show is to miss an opportunity to laugh and laugh for all the right reasons. This is the sort of entertainment that, when successful, can alter the human spirit for the better. It’s a gift.

Tech credits are wonderful. Adam Lillibridge’s complex set is beautifully practical, front stage and back. Stay between the acts to see his dedicated crew make their amazing transformations. Ken Booth’s lighting intrudes in the very best of ways. Soojin Lee’s costumes, especially Vicki’s black suspenders are just great.


A final note. A Noise Within is a non-profit foundation and is currently raising funds for a new theater space in Pasadena. Tax deductible donations in any amount are welcome. Please see Noises Off and decide if this might not be a special place to make
one of your end of the year contributions.

A Noise Within
234 S. Brand Blvd.
Glendale, Ca 91204
Box Office: 818 240 0910 ext. 1

In repertory with Crime and Punishment and Richard III
Through December 20, 2009
Check for specific production dates

Please make a note of the following activities at A Noise Within.


Two “Champagne and Sardines”
Post-Performance Receptions Slated for
Michael Frayn's NOISES OFF
on Saturday, November 28, 8 P.M. and Friday, December 18, 2009, 8 P.M.

Two “White Russians and Discussions”
Post-Performance Receptions for
Friday, November 20, 8 P.M.
(Featuring Ed Bacon, Rector at All Saints Church in Pasadena),
and Saturday, December 5, 2009, 8 P.M.
(Featuring Cast Members)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Sheila Tousey and Tonantzin Carmelo
Photo Credit Tony Dontscheff Photography

Less than perfect, Carbon Black, currently at the Autry Heritage Museum produced by Native Voices under the direction of Randy Reinholz (Choctaw) challenges the audience to go beyond obvious production obstacles and get to the heart of its message. Playwright, Terry Gomez (Comanche), has imagined her play set in a small apartment somewhere near Albuquerque. Carbon (Inky to his mom) Black (Michael Drummond) is a bright thirteen year old kid who lives with his agoraphobic single mother, Sylvie (Sheila Tousey: Menominee, Stockbridge Munsee). Evidently, Inky’s mom has been physically attacked in the past and the resultant trauma has her holed up for three years; on public assistance, slipping in and out of reality.

Carbon has missed too many days of school and is called to his counselor’s office, the lovely Lisa Yellowtree (Tonantzin Carmelo: Tongva Kumeyaay), to discuss the issues of his truancy. Enter Bodell Tucker (over the top Stephan Wolfert with a limp), vice principal of Inky’s school, to harass Miss Yellowtree and berate Inky for his wicked ways. Interestingly, Wolfert in his program notes mentions seeing a production of Richard III and being influenced to abandon his military career for a life in the theatre. The irony of this is that his choice for his characterization of Tucker is that he has adopted a club foot and withered hand, apparently an homage to Richard. I mention this only because it was such a distraction to the flow of the production that for director Reinholz to have allowed it seems a questionable decision.

The issues of the underclass, mental illness and its effects on its victims is the message of the play which, in spite of this delivery system’s failures really ought to be examined. Gomez includes light polemics regarding stereotyping Native Americans and prejudice. A charming Native American tune is included by Carmelo in her counsel to Inky and later to Sylvie, that, at once, soothes and swathes the production in it’s heritage.

Unfortunately, the show itself, applauded heartily at every scene break by an enthusiastic opening night audience, is marginally successful as a theatrical production. The auditorium at The Autry is less than theatre friendly, but within the parameters of what they have to work with, Gomez’s message is a cry for attention that our society must eventually heed.

Native Voices has been in production for ten years, presenting theatrical fare representing Native American values and issues.

Native Voices at The Autry
Thursday through Sunday
November 7 through November 22, 2009
Tickets and Information 866 468-3399

Friday, October 23, 2009


Left to Right Robertson Dean, Michael A. Newcomer, Holly Hawkins
Photo by Craig Schwartz


A Noise Within touts itself as dedicated to the ‘Classics.’ With this, the second production in their burgeoning season, Marilyn Campbell and Curt Colombus’s adaptation of Doestoyevsky’s big old novel is a little like Cliff’s Notes, especially to those who have actually read the whole thing. Not having read the Russians, I was interested to see how the Theatre would, with three actors, present the Russian classic. Michael C. Smith’s ominous set featuring steep rickety wooden steps promises what the protean efforts of Michael A. Newcomer (Raskolnikov) and Robertson Dean and Holly Hawkins as an interesting supporting cast deliver.

Porfiry (Robertson Dean) is a detective investigating the death of Alyona (Holly Hawkins) a pawnbroker who has been murdered. Effective flashbacks and dream sequences reveal Dostoevsky’s philosophy regarding the ordinary person / personality vis a vis the extraordinary. Over time, the issue of who may be above the law and who must pay has been discussed in many ways. In the 1500's the pope who had commissioned Cellini to make artworks basically stated that Cellini was such a genius that he was above the law. Who is more valuable? Who may get away with murder?

Raskolnikov, is a student of philosophy and in his investigation of good and evil and his guilt or innocence in the murder is the point around which the story turns. However obtuse the argument of the play, the performances are executed with A NoiseWithin’s well known care. Hawkins and Dean portray a panoply of characters with precision. It’s a primer in classical performance. Christina Haatainen-Jones’ costumes are perfect. James P. Taylor’s lights serve. A gushing glitch of blood allowing Porfiry to track it about the stage needs adjustment after flooding the front row of the audience opening night with a bit more grande guingol than expected.

Over all, this production is an attempt to condense a huge literary effort to an adult stage presentation. Whether it works or not is less important than the effort. Only a purist who has actually read Doestoyevsky may know for sure. I found myself checking out from time to time as the plot unfolded. Even with excellent performances and acceptance of the device of two actors playing multiple parts effectively, it’s still an epic reduced to the bare bones.

So? For the good of all mankind, is the death of one small life so much to give? Does the presentation of an epic novel condensed to its essence make a difference? For students of acting and well tuned theatre, this is an evening worth the effort. A purist may take issue with a condensation, but the curious and the aficionado of creative theatre should take a look.

Crime and Punishment
A Noise Within
In Repertory through December 17, 2009
818 240 0910 x1

Thursday, October 8, 2009


The Cast of Festen
Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff

By David Eldridge

FESTEN as mounted by The California Repertory Theatre Company almost makes Albee’s “…Virginia Woolf” look like a walk in the park. Director Joanne Gordon’s staging on a minimalist set by Danila Korogodsky in the Queen Mary’s Royal Theatre is concise, precise and incisive. The cast is professional and spot on.. even if a bit too much from time to time. It seems that blowing the roof off the theater may be the director’s intention.

As the audience enters the theatre, Sarah Underwood, is seated under a dim spotlight wailing some amazing saxophone riffs, setting the mood for the play. She wears many hats. As musical director she has composed the music for the entire production, as well as “narrating” the play musically. She also doubles as the cook. Her intensity and excellent chops on the sax are overwhelmed momentarily by the entrance of Michael (over the top Josh Nathan) who literally launches himself onto the stage spewing epithets that strike genuine fear into his young daughter (Quinley Lazor). Wife Mette (Deborah Lazor) is cowed but stands her ground.

The play progresses to celebrate (Festen: Celebration) the 60th Birthday of Helge (Jeff Paul), a very well to do hotelier: sire to Michael and his siblings, Christian (David Vegh) and Helene (Anna Steers) who bring surprises of their own to the party. To use the term dysfunctional to describe the action of these characters may be to do them a disservice. Angst, abuse and real anger abound, building from one accusation to another is a masterwork of writing. Characters writhe in their own juices and the party, even featuring a brutal game of musical chairs revealing prejudice and sexual malfunction from beginning to end. It’s almost too much to bear, but as a character study and acting opportunity for this well tuned cast, it’s worth the investment of time and the bitter reward of observing the elephant in the room with no one, finally, at the curtain, really caring what terrible things have transpired.

Brilliant staging of three separate hotel rooms using two huge banquet tables helped define the idiosyncrasies of each of the siblings. Billowing sheets and unabashed sex, almost incestuous, flowed like honey. Notable performances include .. again, Sarah Underwood’s Kim, sans sax, Jocelyn Hall’s Pia, The Doughty Grandfather, Kenneth Rugg.

Sometimes art is not pretty. Festen, certainly, is not. To even call it marginally enjoyable would be a stretch, however, Joanne Gordon’s director’s hand is a firm one. She brings these actors to a professional pinnacle and allows them, to a person, to succeed. It’s a triumph in any theatre company. It is especially impressive at the university level. This is not a pretty play, but one that adult audiences will certainly find merit in.

The Royal Theatre
At The Queen Mary
1126 Queens Highway
Long Beach, California
Through October 17th 2009
(562) 985 5526

Monday, October 5, 2009


Steve Weingartner (Richard III) and Deborah Strang (Queen Margaret)
Photo by Craig Schwartz

Richard III at A Noise Within

The City of Glendale is about to lose a valuable treasure. To say that A Noise Within, the Classic Theatre Company is a treasure is surely to miss the mark, but under the circumstances this shining jewel must somehow be easily defined and so… A treasure. For more than twenty years A Noise Within has brought important American Theatre to its stage along with the best of Shakespeare and other classic theatre pieces. Currently, there is a fund raising effort afoot to move the company from its long time home at Colorado and Brand to the hinterlands of Pasadena. The proposed space is, indeed, ambitious and beautiful .. as a professional theatre company deserves. It just seems to me that to lose this vital connection to the arts while at the same time promoting and enabling a disgrace such as the Americana right across the street is not only short sighted, it’s just plain stupid. Had the developer of that eyesore understood the importance of culture in society, he might have found a way to fund a space not unlike the one that A Noise Within may soon repair to. He may have attracted the culturally aware who would patronize the rest of the glitz there in spite of its questionable taste. But.. alas.. alas.. This glorious company will soon be gone and all of Glendale will be the lesser for it.

Not only has the City abandoned culture to venues like the Americana, but they have also done doubly bad service to Glendale citizens and the Theatre by adjusting parking so that it is nearly impossible to park on the streets near by to attend. These new computerized meters which litter Brand compel theatre patrons to find other parking because an evening in the theatre may extend beyond the allowed parking limits. It is, simply, a shame and a crime.

And, so.. to attend this excellent production of the current A Noise Within’s offering of Shakespeare’s Richard III, one has to be lucky to find parking and hope that there won’t be a ticket on the windshield when exiting the theatre.

Classic Theatre is steadfastly being kept alive by the continued excellence of the company at Brand and Colorado. Director Geoff Elliott’s staging of the Tragedy is, at once, historical and current. The intrigues of Richard, the master villain, (Steve Weingartner in a compelling turn) are, at bottom, pure evil. Richard is driven to conive his way to the throne of England and only has to murder half the cast to get there. His efforts succeed briefly, but he then, falls victim to the intrigues of others. Deborah Strang as Queen Margaret sets the bar for histrionics and matches Richard’s rants beat for beat.

To truly enjoy a play like this one, it serves us to check the text or at least the plot before sitting in the audience. The language is not quite so familiar as some of the Bard’s other efforts, but simply allowing the action to unfold as it does in this production is like listening to a concert. To a person, the cast performs Shakespeare’s words with ease, never lapsing into contrived English accents, but allowing (as Hamlet advised) the speeches to flow trippingly on the tongue.

Elliott’s excellent use of space over seen by Darcy Scanlin’s looming monoliths combine with Ken Booth’s lighting to move the play apace.

Though the costuming is slightly askew, the dedication of the company to the words is quite well met and deserves an audience.

Through December 12th, plays in repertory with Crime and Punishment and Noises Off. Check for openings and schedules.

A Noise Within
234 S. Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA 91204
818 240 0910 x1

Friday, September 18, 2009


ART: Yasmina Reza’s brilliant Tony winning exploration of friendship and the delicate dance we do to keep things on an even keel shines on the stage at East West Players through October 10th. This play is so much fun, I must simply say that if you don’t see anything else this year that you must get down to Little Tokyo before it closes!

Serge (Francois Chau, best recognized as the enigmatic leader of the Dharma Initiative on ABC’s LOST) is a dermatologist and has, after much consideration, purchased an Antrios. It's about 4 x 5 feet. White, with (so he says) shades of other colors subtly enmeshed within the painting. It is contemporary ART. In this rendition, East West has chosen the original text which uses French francs as the monetary standard. 200,000 francs (about $40,000) is what Serge reports he’s paid for this masterpiece. The term masterpiece comes into contention as the story evolves.

Marc (a well tuned performance by Bernard White) is an engineer. He is a classicist. He sees things as people whose lives turn on precise numbers must, in black and white. His will is supreme and his ego exceeds his ability to compromise. In a brief visit to his apartment in Alan Muroka’s brilliantly executed off white set, we see Marc’s taste in art. On a periaktoi wall which turns to reveal each friend’s apartment, we see a representation of a window out of which a perfectly rendered landscape is revealed. Things are all as they seem. Direct and crisp and, above all, representational. Marc derides Serge for his foolish purchase of “shit.”

The third corner of this man-love triangle is Yvan. Unlike his pals, Yvan, is not well to do. In fact, after a marginal career in fabrics, he finds himself selling wholesale paper goods and stationary. This is a job, not a career and for this, Yvan is indebted to his fiance’s uncle who runs the paper company. A perfect foil “Yvan, the joker” (perfectly limned by Ryun Yu whose timing and dedication to this part are worth the price of admission alone) Yvan segues his loyalty and his ethic back and forth between Serge’s enthusiastic glee as the owner of his new painting and Marc’s cynical outlook, not only on the artwork, but on life itself. Yvan’s extraordinary monologue about his upcoming wedding and issues with his mother and his wife-to-be stops the show.

What has drawn these three together is never revealed. Three more divergent personalities one would have a hard time imagining. The gift is that Reza’s brilliant text and Alberto Isaac’s focussed and perfectly timed direction come together in an almost musical romp of art and ethics and the revelation of true feelings in these three exquisitely drawn characters. .. and, one minimalist piece of contemporary art.

Alan E. Muraoka’s set we think is white until the introduction of the Antrios. Seeing his essentially minimalist set sculpted with Jeremy Pivnik’s lighting: both subtle and bold (changing from interaction between the characters to fourth wall deconstruction moments for each character) bring to center what theatre is really about. This is a collaboration of playwright, director, actors, staff.. all… a team of professionals working together toward one common goal. The actors, buoyed by Reza’s text, shine in the perfect set, illuminated with lighting that is at once brilliant and so natural that it never really calls attention to itself. This is an ensemble production assembled on the matrix of contemporary literature that should stay on the stage for years to come. Even a marginal reading of this play would still be enjoyable, but Mr. Isaac and the crew at East West Players have brought it to a pinnacle, for which they deserve an audience.

It’s just wonderful.

Through October 10, 2009
East West Players
120 Judge John Aiso Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
213 625 7000

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Pictured: Jo-Beth Williams and Sybyl Walker. Photo by Craig Schwartz (Errata)

This image won't stay up. Apologies to the Pasadena Playhouse.

Charles Randolph-Wright’s The Night is a Child, on stage at the Pasadena Playhouse through October 4th is a complicated mélange of ideas, buoyed up by beautifully executed scenic design. Yael Pardess’s scrims and Jason H. Thompson’s projections sweep us away to Brazil one moment and back to the chilly winds of Massachusetts the next. The device works, but at the expense of almost overshadowing the essence of the play.

Harriet Easton (JoBeth Williams), middle aged mother of three adult children, has lost her son, Michael. The details of his death remain vague. Harriet’s other two children, alcoholic Brian (Tyler Pierce who doubles as his brother Michael) and daughter Jane (Monette Magrath), are distressed to receive an email from their mother announcing that she’ll be out of touch, but, not to worry, which, of course, puts them in a tizzy; desperate to find her because of her delicate condition. It has only been a year since Michael’s death.

The circumstances of Michael’s death come to light as Harriet explores the glory of Ipanema. Befriended by Bia, the very spirit of Brazil and Samba (an exquisite Sybyl Walker), she is directed to a hotel where she is well received by the owner, Joel (Maceo Oliver.) Mysteriously, Michael appears to tutor Harriet with her Portuguese. She comes to believe that the local practice of Santeria may have something to do with her visions and entreats Bia to guide her to a ‘real’ Santeria ceremony to reconnect with her son. Bia’s inability to enter the Santeria church foreshadows events to come.

Epps guides his actors with precision. Each delivers an excellent turn. Armando Mcclain as Henrique (along with incidental characters), adds welcome grace notes. The play itself remains somewhat of a mystery. We do find empathy and even sympathy for the individual characters. The idea of ‘letting go’ ultimately becomes the issue for each of them and is revealed to some satisfaction by the final curtain. The text itself holds little depth except as a vehicle for some interesting explorations into how we deal with unimaginable and excruciating challenges in life. This sounds like a contradiction. The problem I found was caring enough about the characters and the basic argument of the play to appreciate the revelations that come to each of them as they experience what Randolph-Wright has brought them through.

The final tableaux is beautiful and spectacular.

In the annex gallery, the Playhouse has installed artwork reflective of Voo Doo. Worth a look when you venture out to see the show.

Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino

Mirror Mirror

In Hamlet's advice to the players the Dane directs that they must "...hold, as 'twere, a mirror up to nature, show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image..." Commentary on art, hopefully, reflects upon and expands our understanding. As seen through the experience of others, commentary becomes a mirror which may guide us; even expand our experience. The purpose of these entries is to offer an opinion about theatrical productions in Los Angeles. These observations are mine alone. Over the past twenty years, having written for Drama-Logue, Daily Variety and other publications, these entires become my contribution to the theatre scene in L.A.

Comments are welcome.

Michael Sheehan