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