Friday, April 23, 2010

Synge, Sing, Synge

Lindsay Gould (Pegeen) and Michael Newcomer (Christy Mahon)
Photo by Craig Schwartz

John Millington Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, currently in rep at A Noise Within sings with the rhythmic language of the Irish. In the great traditions of Joyce and Yeats, director Geoff Elliott skillfully brings the story of a wayward “playboy” to the stage with all the gusto that one expects from this well tuned professional theatre company. Stephen Gifford’s earthy set, a little pub in County Mayo on the foggy west coast of Ireland, greets the opening night’s guests. It’s the turn of the last century. One can almost feel the chill.

Pegeen Mike (fiery Lindsay Gould), somewhat against her will, tends her father’s pub, the gathering place for locals to ward off the chilly days and nights. Shawn Keogh (appropriately lumpy Brian Hostenske) arrives to make his moves, mostly unwelcome, upon the comely lass. Michael James Flaherty (versatile Apollo Dukakis in his most convincing turn) Pegeen’s da, is of the mind that Shawn should keep Pegeen company as he and his besotted pals, Philly Cullen (William Dennis Hunt) and Jimmy Farrell (Tim Venable) stumble off to attend a wake: a fine auld Irish tradition.

And, so it goes. The real crux of the story turns on Synge’s definition of “playboy.” Unlike our immediate vision of busty playmates with bunny ears, it turns out that the appearance of Christopher Mahon (oddly charismatic Michael A. Newcomer), cold and hungry, covered with the travels of a man on the run, becomes the one we come to know as a “true Playboy of the Western World,” Begorrah! Christy confesses in time that he’s killed his poor father, buried him and run away. This fascinates the locals, including the Widow Quin (lusty Jill Hill) and, in time, other eligible colleens, as well as the tough Pegeen. It seems that a playboy these fifty years before Hefner is a person who pulls off a fantastic feat. And, that, Christy has done.

Stage fog drifted about the actors like the dust cloud that surrounded Pigpen in Peanuts. If this was on purpose or an effect gone awry is unclear, but over all, once the fog had lifted, the energy and hard core acting skills bring the show along apace. The plot takes a couple of wicked turns with big surprises. Geoff Elliott appears as Old Mahon turning the story of the playboy on its ear, much to the appreciation of the opening night audience.

Soojin Lee’s earthy costumes work just fine. Ken Booth’s lighting is warm and cool all at the same time.

Through May 22nd in repertory with Much Ado and Awake and Sing
A Noise Within
234 S. Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA
Tickets and information 818 240 0970 x1

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Poetry of Pals

Langston and Nicolas

Town Street Theatre’s current ambitious World Premiere Production of Bernado Solano’s “Langston and Nicolas” explores the long friendship of the American poet and the Cuban, Langston Hughes (Justin Alston, the younger and Brian Evaret Chandler, the older Langston) and Nicolas Guillen (Chris Rivas, the younger, Armando Ortega, the older Nicolas and Carlos San Miguel, the senior Nicolas). Currently running at the Stella Adler the play is, at best, a very ambitious production.

Conceived and directed by Nancy Cheryll Davis, the story spans over forty years of the two poets friendship obliquely discussing shades of homosexuality; the passions of poetry and politics as well as a strong polemic regarding racial discrimination.

Seventeen members of the cast include multiple casting for not only Hughes and Guillen as younger and then older men, but with the supporting cast appearing in many guises. The script leaps back and forth in time, each time announced in voice over accompanied by images of Harlem and Havana (mostly Havana) created by Nathaniel Bellamy. Director Davis keeps the audience guessing with split focus on the overly wide stage. Action in some scenes center stage in pantomime takes unintentional precedence over the important meat of the scene going on far to one side or another. Choreography by Nancy Renee is professional and enthusiastic.

A passionate recitation of one of Hughes’ poems, "The Negro Mother," by TenĂ© Carter Miller (poetry of both men is featured in several scenes of the play) brought a strong reaction from the near capacity audience for Sunday’s matinee.

Over all, however, a diversity of acting styles and the plethora of characters detracted from, rather than added to the presentation of the piece.

Even with the very professionally designed program by Forrest Gardener of 3AM Sound (he also designed sound for the show), it was difficult at times to figure out just who was who and when was when and where we were at any given time.

The Town Street Theatre’s dedication to the promotion of plays by and for the African American community is to be applauded, along with their continuation of their TST Musical Theatre Camp 2010 to be held for local youth from July 10th until August 14th.

Langston and Nicolas
A Town Street Theatre Production
At The Stella Adler Theatre
6773 Hollywood Boulevard (Second floor)
Hollywood, CA 90038

Friday and Saturday at 8PM Sunday at 3PM
Through May 2, 2010
Reservations: 213 624 4796
$25 Top

Boleslavsky Lives!

Emily Bridges and Beau Bridges

Acting: The First Six Lessons

In a curtain speech Beau Bridges and his daughter, Emily, take the stage to a hometown welcome. Beau’s been a member of Theatre West, he says, for at least forty years and this is his first time on stage there. He’s affable and tells the story of how he was introduced to the company by his godmother, Betty Garrett and as a young man did scenes with her. He told the audience that his parents (his full name is Lloyd Bridges III) always supported his being an actor and his dad, Lloyd, gave him, at the age of ten, a copy of Boleslavsky’s Acting: The First Six Lessons. The play, as adapted by Beau and Emily, has been in the works for a couple of years. They designed the set, a well functioning unit that serves as the Teacher’s (Bridges’) study, as well as a movie set, an elevator and the top of the Empire State Building.

At rise The Creature (well tuned Emily Bridges) arrives in The Teacher’s (equally impressive Beau Bridges) study with a burning desire to act. She wants to create art, to live art, to BE art.. The teacher is mildly sympathetic but tells his new charge that Talent is the key to success on the stage .. one must not only become completely observant, but adapt to the nuances of each character one is challenged with and to find a way to Concentration.

In the course of the ninety minute production, we see the Creature expand, contract, fumble and grow. Emily, a Fordam grad, shows that talent must run in the family and under the tutelage her mentor (her proud father glowing under his stage persona) finds nuance after nuance in her work (after some chilling stuff at the top of the show as she limns King Lear.. not one of the daughters, but the King himself), later advancing to a more suitable role: Ophelia. She performs the scene once which sounds mature and well prepared, though she says it’s not right. She then finds grace notes and subtle fineries suggested by The Teacher. She does the scene again that reaches to the depths and heights of Ophelia’s deep and dark feelings. The audience is swept away.

For actors, students of acting and aficionados of the art and craft of theatre the Bridges bring Boleslavsky’s First Six Lessons to life.

The production is dedicated to Betty Garrett, a founding member of Theatre West, whom I was fortunate to sit beside and hear stories of Beau’s early days with the company. Initially, Beau was rejected for membership because he was so young! This, his first effort on the main stage of Theatre West ably directed by Charlie Mount is, simply, a must see.

Through May 16, 2010
Fridays at 8PM Sundays at 2PM
In Repertory with Kres Mersky’s The Life and Times of A. Einstein
Theatre West
3333 Cahuenga West
Los Angeles, CA 90068
Reservations 323 851 7977
$25 Top

Albert's Birthday

Kres Mersky

We call women who act ‘actors’ now. We used to call really good actresses ‘actors’ as a compliment. Kres Mersky is truly an actor who brings her “The Life and Times of A. Einstein” to the Theatre West stage triumphantly. Her career as an actor blossoms the way a fine wine caresses the palate and the warmth of a summer’s day lingers in the twilight.

Over the years Kres has done versions of her one woman masterpiece and it has only gotten better with time. Having first seen her at the Taper, Too several years ago, it was refreshing to see that time has been good to her.. she’s still playing beyond her age in years. As Einstein’s loyal secretary, Ellen Schoenhammer.. (“beautiful hammer” in German), she greets members of the press (the assembled theatre audience) who have come to interview The Professor on the occasion of his birthday. Ellen vamps as Einstein is not in residence and Anna, the new housekeeper has screwed up the cake order.

We segue in time as Ellen’s tenure in Einstein’s employ advances from ten to seventeen to twenty-seven years. Her final scene is poignant and dignified.

Mersky commands the stage with angst and good humor as time after time she has to make excuses for her employer's absence. As time goes by, we learn that she has absorbed some of Einstein’s theories and with a wry smile explains them… sort of. She charms us as she explains how she met the great man and was awarded her job where they met standing by a lake in Germany… Einstein in sandals… Ellen with a gun… She is mesmerized by the scientist’s toes!

A family affair, Mersky's husband, Paul Gertson, directs. The beats and pauses are flawless. Yancey Dunham’s simple lighting subtly sustains the mood on an uncredited set.

The ninety minute show rolls smoothly from start to finish with the ebb and flow of silly moments and serious. Mersky’s professional sense of timing surprises us with her efficiency as a secretary. She draws us into this affable character whom she has created from the wonderfulness of her vivid imagination. This is a tour de force performance that lovers of theatre and even lovers of science should put at the top of their list of evenings for pure entertainment.

The Life and Times of A. Einstein
Written and performed by Kres Mersky
In Repertory with Acting: The First Six Lessons with Beau and Emily Bridges
Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 7PM
Theatre West
3333 Cahuenga West
Los Angeles, CA 90068
$25 Top
Reservations: 323 851 7977
Through May 16, 2010