Monday, March 29, 2010


Cuba and His Teddy Bear

Playwright Reinaldo Povod became a protégé of Joseph Papp at The Public Theatre in 1977. Cuba and His Teddy Bear emerged in 1986. It's a tough look at the life of a single dad, Cuba (Brian Burke): drug dealer/drama queen and his son. Aided by his old pal in crime, Jackie (Kyle Heffner), Cuba, at once attempts to be a father and best friend to Teddy, his sixteen year old son, well played by Dave Alfano. Director Charles Reed greets the audience to say this play has been workshopped by The Actors Collective for eight months. The hard work pays off on stage with performances that stand up as an ensemble as well as in each of the individual actors even as the play itself fails.

The story turns on Teddy, who exhibits his burgeoning maturity by helping to keep Cuba organized, playing the part of his pop’s butler and at once star struck by Che (flamboyant Brandon Alter), a Tony Award winning playwright and heroin junkie. The odd situation of Jackie cutting cocaine on the kitchen table and stashing two pounds of pot under the sink with Teddy blasé as a part of the scene smacked (excuse the pun, heroin factors in later) of Povod’s possibly being influenced by David Mamet, but, alas, he is no Mamet.

Strong performances by Josh Davis (Redlights) big time Puerto Rican pimp, his main squeeze, Lourdes (red hot Melissa Camilo) and bigger than life J. David Shanks as the strung out gay Dealer keep the show moving apace with vitriolic energy. The issue is why anyone should care. The “retribution” that Teddy tries to teach Cuba about (Cuba made a promise to never sell drugs again, but broke his promise and now is feeling the squeeze from the Universe or God or the Virgin Mary or karma or something) and aside from the over the top drama, the screaming, the angst, the rants and raging… after all is said and done, it’s the story of a drug dealer, his somewhat whacky pal and his son, just sitting in silence as the lights fade to black. It’s not the acting, the acting is very well done. It’s not the production, the bare bones set and lights serve the actors just fine. Director Reed has his ensemble completely up to speed and on the same page. It’s just that the play is more of an ordeal than an evening of seeing at least one character’s arc resolve into something better or, at least... different.

Cuba and His Teddy Bear
The Actors Collective Theatre, at The Complex,
6470 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Wilcox), Hollywood, CA 90038.
Valet parking optional (Fee is charged).
Fri. through Sun. at 8 p.m.
Closes April 4, 2010.
RESERVATIONS: (323) 463-4639.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Louise DiTullio The Hollywood Flute!!!

Slightly off topic..

I’m no music critic, but I can attest that the CD Launch Party at the Pasadena City Women’s Club for Louise DiTullio on Friday was an affair to remember. Schmaltzy as that sounds, producers Ronald Royer (who also directed) and Dr. Jeannie Gayle Pool of Jayegaylemusic found one of the classiest places in town for wine and goodies. Located a block away from the impressive Pasadena Masonic Lodge, celebrities like Betty Rose, the widow of composer David Rose, and other well wishers chatted and enjoyed Ms DiTullio’s beautiful music.

For lovers of classical flute and composers like David Rose (Le Papillon), John Williams ( Hook), Jerry Goldsmith (Rudy, Sleeping With the Enemy) and Danny Elfman (Charlotte’s Web), it’s a perfect match.

On Lance Bowling's Cambria Master Recordings ( this is a must have for the discerning collector of music from the movies.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Left to Right Len Lesser and Adam Silver
Photo by Craig Schwartz

AWAKE AND SING, the second offering in repertory at Glendale's A Noise Within hits a solid triple with Clifford Odets’ ode to family and the struggle for individuality. Familiar company members round out the cast with Bronx accents and excellent period costumes by Julie Keen. Michael C. Smith’s set is rich and nicely warmed with James P. Taylor’s lighting.

It’s 1935. The Berger family is presided over by no-nonsense and manipulative matriarch Bessie (dynamic Deborah Strang) whose strength and power steam roll over her long suffering husband, Myron, (a bit too wimpy Joel Swetow), daughter Hennie (dynamic Molly Leland) and young son, Ralph, (thoughtfully played by Adam Silver).

Grandfather and lover of opera Jacob (an excellent Len Lesser) rounds out the immediate family. Times are tough. Ralph (probably Odets, who was only 29 when he wrote the play) longs for his freedom and to be in love. He describes his lady love as being “like French words.” Unfortunately, the girl of his dreams is an orphan with no immediate family. This makes her unacceptable to Bessie who torpedoes Ralph’s attempts to successfully have a relationship.

Fine writing draws us into the tense Berger dynamic as the pot is stirred by the boarder, Moe Axelrod (appropriately rough around the edges Daniel Reichert). Moe’s got a wooden leg (actually three: the government gives ‘em away) because of a wound he suffered on the day before the Armistice of WWI. Moe is sweet on Hennie, but Hennie has problems of her own that Odets reveals in obliquely couched terms that stir Myron to tears and Bessie is driven to just find Hennie a husband, pronto. Not Moe!

The heart of the family, Jacob, may be aging, but his belief in Karl Marx and the equality of all men blossoms in his love for his grandson, Ralph. He dishes out advice and encourages Ralph to become the man he wants to be. “Awake and Sing, ye that dwell in dust!” He promises Ralph a windfall when he dies.

Uncle Morty (spot on Alan Blumenfeld) is a successful businessman and loves to flaunt his wealth. Capitalism versus the heart of society taking care of its own rears its head between Morty and Jacob, with Jacob retaining the better part of valor.

Bronx accents which started out a bit difficult to handle, eased up as the play moved along. Bessie has gotten Hennie married to a nice Jewish boy, Sam (bigger than life David Lengel) who is diligent as the new baby’s dad, not realizing that even though the kid may look like him, the baby came with the bride.

Tough decisions come at the climax with important decisions by Hennie and Jacob, and Ralph's emancipation into the world.

Odets was a member of The Group Theatre founded by Harold Clurman and a band of socially active New York actors, including Stella Adler in the ‘30s. Clurman encouraged Odets to write and the poetry of the young actor’s life emerges beautifully in his brusk and poetic1930s voice. Robust performances make this second production of the company’s three production season another impressive installment for lovers of Classical Theatre. Apt yet never heavy handed direction by Andrew J. Traisters keeps his cast moving apace. Had the entire company taken a note from Len Lesser’s hint of the Bronx, perhaps the business of their accents might have been not such an issue. In defense of the actors, their accents did mellow somewhat as the play went on.

By Clifford Odets
A Noise Within
234 Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91204

In repertory with Much Ado About Nothing and soon to open Playboy of the Western World through May 23, 2010
Tickets 818 240 0910 X1
$44 Top



The director and cast in this production by the Stella Adler Los Angeles Theatre Collective have a list of credits that stretch the length of Hollywood Boulevard. Their inaugural effort, The Charm of Making by Timothy McNeil is, at best, an effort that may have looked better on the page than it does upon the stage. Alain Villeneuve’s set speaks to us as the audience settles. Empty picture frames and odds and ends set pieces may reflect the oddball Mississippi family, but it basically seemed to say that this was a set done quickly and inexpensively. The opening scene has Elvin (Thor Edgell) and his quirky sister Morgan (Bonnie McNeil) seated in a theatre audience listening to Romeo and Juliet played by Timothy McNeil. (His character’s name is Romeo and Juliet. He also wrote the play)… R and J recites the last lines of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Elvin is in tears. Shakespeare’s tragic romance, somehow the spine of this off beat theatre project, immediately puts the audience on notice that they are in for a ride that will not be altogether comfortable.

The plot explores, among many things, the weird circumstance of Morgan’s sitting on the roof of the church naked and Elvin’s unexpressed gay yearnings (except for his arrival in a tight sparkling gown, though most cross dressers would argue that dressing up has nothing to do with being gay) and then in the second act when an antiques dealer, Paul (Alfredo J. Orrego) shows up and some smooching with Elvin commences. One unfortunate casting choice was May Quigley Goodman as Lottie, the pixilated elderly matriarch (twice the actress's actual age) in a really bad wig who attempts to seduce a shy eighteen year old, Cameron (Nicholas Hargous) whose discomfort with his character as well as just being uncomfortable on the stage adds to the confusion. The introduction of Elvin’s brother, Samuel (Jon Boatwright), the Baptist minister, who eases his his ulcer with Pepto and his wife (T.M. Rawlins) eventually lead to Morgan’s demise by shipping her off to the looney bin. Almost.

Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams may be spinning in their graves while Ionesco does a slow turn as to whether or not The Charm of Making may or may not be Theatre of the Absurd. The characters ramble in southern accents on tangents that occasionally make sense, but mostly just don’t. McNeil’s use of Shakespeare to move the piece along must have been a device that made sense to him. His occasional appearance as Romeo and Juliet, apparently only visible to Elvin, reciting Shakespeare and singing was just odd. The whole play is odd. The up side is that the actors were committed to their roles and to Director Justice’s credit, though the southern accents were not that great, they were, consistent.

World Premier
Through April 25, 2010
Stella Adler Theatre
6773 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028
For tickets call: 323 360 7735
$20.00 top

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Darrell Dennis (Shuswap)

PHOTO CREDIT Tony Dontscheff for Silvia Mautner Photography

Tales of an Urban Indian

Twenty some years ago I attended a preview of a one man show at Theatre West called A Bronx Tale. It was written and performed by Chazz Palmeteri. Directed by Mark Travis, Chazz brought to life a dozen or more of the colorful wise guy characters he’d met as a kid in the Bronx, New York. Each character had a specific voice and a signature gesture that blossomed with the young actor’s unstoppable energy. His transitions were crisp and immediately identifiable.

Darrell (Shuswap) Dennis’s one person show Tales of an Urban Indian currently at Native Voices at the Autry directed by Herbie Barnes (Ojibway) is similar with a marked difference. It has a theme and characters that Dennis is able to project, but the snap in the delivery and the flow of the piece seemed to lack the energy necessary to capture an audience.

Crude graphitee on bricks appears on the upstage wall, indicating in no uncertain terms that this is a tale set way off the Reservation. Stereotypical Indian images including the Land O’ Lakes Princess and the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo are then projected as Simon Douglas (Dennis) observes with us, shaking his head and then interrupting the slide show to explain that hackneyed old labels just don’t make it. And, thus, Simon's story begins.

For anyone to mount the stage all by himself for an hour and a half is a major undertaking. Dennis as Simon explains his circumstances at once portraying many, many characters, each of whom he limns, some more convincingly than others, moving through the history of his life’s urban encounters. Whether the problem was the pace or the length of the show is uncertain, but there were moments when it was difficult to figure out just who was who and how it all fit together. Dennis’s portrayal of characters from different tribes must have been right on as the Opening Night audience reacted with enthusiasm.

Simple set by Beowulf Borritt with Christine Plunkett is bare bones efficient. R. Craig Wolf’s lights, given the minimal stage technology at the Autry is very simple, but accentuated scene changes nicely. I was very impressed with costume designer Christina Wright’s credits. Her choice of a T shirt and jeans for Dennis was pretty much a slam dunk.

Native Voices marks ten years of sustaining productions by and about Native Americans.

Through March 28, 2009
Wells Fargo Theater at the Autry Western Heritage Museum
Griffith Park
866 468-3399
$20.00 Top

Monday, March 8, 2010

Notes about Something at A Noise Within

Terri Higginson (Beatrice) JD Cullum (Benedick)
Photo by Craig Schwartz

An uneven production of any Shakespeare play still has the words. If the actors can get the words out, the show is ahead of the game. Fortunately, director Michael W. Murray’s hand is firmly on the tiller within the gorgeous confines of Kurt Boetcher’s efficient set, well delineated by Ken Booth’s lights making for only a few minor issues and, in fact, a production that friends of the Bard should make time for. As Shakespeare does now and then, this story of love; star-crossed lovers… though Beatrice (the vigorous Tori Higgenson) and Benedick (agile JD Cullum) are mostly crossed up by themselves, provides for an entertaining two and a half hours of Much Ado About Nothing.

Because Murray has set the play in the early 20th Century I had some issues with somewhat intrusive recorded music that could have been provided by an on stage musician or even a Victrola. As we hear the actors easily from the stage, the music sometimes took precedence when its purpose, mostly, should have been to support the scene. However, Julia Rodriguez-Elliott’s choreography and the ability of the actors to dance and deliver lines at the same time shows the professionalism that we’ve come to expect from the soon-to-be-absent-from-Glendale Classical Theatre Company.

Don Pedro (Patrick O’Connell) has come to visit his old friend, Leonato (Apollo Dukakis), the Mayor of Messina. In his retinue are Benedick and Claudio (sincere Brandon Hearnsberger), who is immediately smitten with Leonato’s dimutive daughter, Hero (Lindsay Gould). The title of the play may come from an early exchange between Claudio and Benedick when Claudio asks if Benedick has ‘noted’ Hero. Benedick, the sworn for life bachelor says that he ‘looked on her, but noted her not.’ And goes on to say that Leonato’s niece, the stormy Beatrice, was attractive to him if it weren’t for her contrary nature. Thus, "noting" and "looking upon" evolve to the final scene where both Beatrice and Benedick have composed ‘notes’ of love to one another. Much Ado About "Noting."

Highlights of the production spark groundlings like me when Dogberry (spot on Mark Bramhall) and his crew, including Verges, his constable (Mitchell Edmonds), arrive at the beginning of Act II and over hear one of Don John’s (well greased and all in black Stephen Rockwell), henchman, Borachio (Steve Weingartner) brag that he’s been paid to make Hero look like a harlot the night before her wedding to Claudio. Shakespeare is most fun in his presentation of misspoken utterances and pure slapstick. Bramhall stops the show. His Dogberry is worth seeing again.

Run away ‘bowers’ and general good humor make this production a must see for friends of the company and fans of Shakespeare who can roll with the punches. More attention to wigs might be an idea as well as keeping the music acoustical.

Continues in repertory with Awake and Sing (opening March 20th) and Playboy of the Western World (Opening April 17th) through May 21, 2010.

A Noise Within
234 S. Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA
818 240 0910 x 1
$44 top