Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Merry Wives of Windsor

Merry Wives! Indeed! (Serena Evans and Sarah Woodward)

Applause! How many different and indifferent kinds of applause must there be? Gratuitous? Polite? Appreciative? Thunderous? The ovation! To hear British actors handle the language and the attitude of William Shakespeare is truly a feast. If you haven’t been to The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, this would be the time, if you can get a ticket. The beauty of the 499 seat space is that even from the back row one is still in intimate contact with the action on the stage. This company, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, on tour from London, plays wonderfully at The Broad because every word can be heard; every gesture, nuance, tick and eye roll is available.

Director Christopher Luscombe is credited with this new production designed especially for The Broad. Scene design by Janet Bird (who also did period costumes) presents on a severely raked stage, a double turntable holds a two story structure, the roof of which supports a five piece orchestra with what appear to be authentic Renaissance musical instruments. Nigel Hess's compositions are grand and the musicians seem to really be having a good time! Through out the play, they supply incidental music and sounds as well as just hang over the balcony from time to time enjoying the goings on.

There is a feeling of comfort and good will in all the company. Sir John Falstaff (complete and unfaltering Christopher Benjamin with credits going back to television’s The Prisoner) takes stage with all the bluster one could hope for. His randy gambols, especially ambitious for a man past sixty, extend to hustling two married ladies at the same time. Most wonderful Mistress Page (joyful Serena Evans) and Mistress Ford (equally conspiratorial Sarah Woodward) receive identical letters of intent from Falstaff and decide to trick him and embarrass him for his hubris.

To condense the plot would be a chore. Suffice it to say that outstanding performances by all the cast, especially Mistress Quickly (Sue Wallace) and completely silly Frank Ford (Andrew Havill) are like (insert your own ‘Breath of Fresh Air’ analogy here!). It’s simply fun and a romp. The language and the story are told with great good humor as evidenced in the final dance with the audience clapping in time and applauding concurrently. Huzzah! and Bravo! were heard at the curtain call.

When writing a rave, I have to slow myself down a little and not sound like a ringer. I invited a director friend of mine who is past presiding patriarch of the Finger Wagging Naysayers. He’s full of knowledge about theatre. He’s written books! He’s directed more shows than he can remember. I really wanted to share this play with him, but he lives what might be an hour’s drive away and it was raining, so he didn’t want to drive all the way to Santa Monica for ‘bad Shakespeare.’ That he would have been huffing and laughing and pointing, as he does when something good happens on stage is a given. That I was unable to coax him to Santa Monica is a shame. I told him I’d try to get the next show to just come and play under the tree in his backyard. He thought that was a good idea!

So… if you have theatre friends who love to hear Shakespeare recited and presented with great joy, find a way to get them to The Broad.

There are only seven more performances. Evening performances start at 7:30 PM. Call the number below or check the web site for specifics.

Merry Wives of Windsor
Through October 24, 2010
The Broad Stage
1310 11th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tickets start at $47.00
310 434 3412

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FDR at The Playhouse

Ed Asner as FDR
Photo Courtesy of The Theatre Guild

The Pasadena Playhouse rises from the ashes with Ed Asner’s tribute to the 32nd President of the United States: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In FDR, based on the 1958 play by Dore Schary, "Sunrise at Campobello," Asner takes the story past the original ending of the play to its sad conclusion as Roosevelt, having won his fourth term as President, succumbed to a massive cerebral hemorrhage while in retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia in 1945. Asner, a popular staple with television audiences with his long run as Lou Grant on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and the follow-up CBS hit "Lou Grant," now at the age of 80 wants us all to know that age is only a number and talent is as talent does. To tackle a tour de force like this, one hundred minutes of pure exposition through monologue, at any time of life is a major challenge for any actor. Asner is, however, not just any actor. This actor knows his stuff.

From the rise of the curtain that re-opens the Playhouse… well there is no curtain, uncredited scenic design presents a simple three area set that gives the story simple spaces to delineate time and locale, which works well. As Asner struggles from FDR’s wheel chair to canes, having told the story of how he awakened one day at the age of 40 unable to move a muscle and how he regained some movement, it’s clear that the actor has no intention of giving the audience an imitation of the President. To the contrary, even with a wispy hair piece, it’s still Ed, the familiar curmudgeon in demeanor and voice whom recent audiences enjoyed as the voice for Mr. Fredrickson in the Pixar hit, “UP.” Asner, unlike Ralph Bellamy, who played the part in the Broadway production of "Campobello," and subsequently in the film of the same name who successfully duplicated FDR’s voice and attitude… Asner simply allows the spirit of the President access. The actor steps out of the way and the words and tone of the President unfold.

As our country balances on the verge of social change, as it did when FDR took office and with his leadership found a way back to sanity, this memoir… a sort of love letter to the President, is apt and moving. FDR embodied all that is good in a political figure and Asner shares it with good humor. Having been accused of being overly thrifty, even a “penny pincher”, FDR tells the story of a poker game at the White House where, among others, a young army officer, Dwight Eisenhower, was in attendance. At the end of the evening, it turned that Roosevelt owed Eisenhower twenty dollars. When he paid the officer, Eisenhower asked him to autograph the bill for him. “Are you going to keep it,” asked the President? “Of course,” said Eisenhower. “Well, hell, then, give me back that twenty and I’ll write you a check!”

The Playhouse is open for business and this show should draw an audience.
Go prepared to listen.

FDR starring Ed Asner
Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino
Pasadena, CA
626 356 7529
Through November 7, 2010
$59.00 Top
$15.00 Rush one hour before the curtain
check for dates and times

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


(l-r) Scott Lowell (Charles Condomine) and Abby Craden (Elvira Condomine)
PHOTO CREDIT: Craig Schwartz

To be more British than Noel Coward would be a challenge if we are to believe the goings on in the Condomine household in Kent created by Coward in his 1941 epic, Blithe Spirit. The Condomines are ever so almost upper class. They have a household staff. The only one we really meet, Edith, the galumphing maid, played by the wonderful Alison Elliott (Geoff and Julia’s daughter) steals the show with every entrance and exit. Her parents must be proud. To carry on about Alison’s grace note to the play serves a double purpose. First, it may be Edith who represents us common folk and secondly, through her less than delicate business, she may subtly represent how we may feel about all of this pip pip folderol. Elliott’s work is practically all physical and worth the price of admission alone. She is also the most believable character in the show.

Though director Damaso Rodriguez has his cast well in hand, one note that some other ANW directors have yet to take and Rodriguez has not understood, however, is that the six or so feet upstage from the apron may be visible to anyone in an empty house, but for the audience sitting above the fourth row in the center section of the theater, it’s impossible to see action on the floor! But, I’m ahead of myself.

Charles Condomine (enthusiastic Scott Lowell) is a successful novelist doing research for a new book. He has invited the quirky medium, Madame Arcati (erratic Jane Macfie) to the home he shares with his second wife, the lovely Ruth (lovely, indeed, Jill Van Velzer). Charles’ first wife, Elvira (campy and vampy Abby Craden) has been dead for seven years. The current Condomines have been happily married for five. The banter as the couple awaits the arrival of Arcati is oh so Coward: Light and airy, cocktails and cigarettes. Edith announces visitors Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (blustery Gibby Brand and ever sweet Jacque Lynn Colton) who settle in for what may be a silly evening of summoning up spirits, Blithe and otherwise. The good doctor is a skeptic and then some.

Arcati’s arrival and the ensuing shenanigans summon Elvira back from the dead. Of course, only Charles can see her and the upshot is that it takes a while to understand that not only is Elvira back, but she’s very interested in having Charles join her. The romp that follows is typical high standard ANW fare with crisp performances (passing some lapses with Macfie who, from time to time, seems to be waiting her turn) culminating with surprises that should come as no surprise.

Coward’s snappy patter and oblique references to sex are charming and witty. The play, written in 1941 takes place in ’36, but makes no mention of any of the turmoil in Europe that had begun there then or the major world issues in ‘41. It’s a light romp which personifies what Coward said of himself, “I am England and England is me.” We hear his voice and experience these Brits through the eyes of a talented young man who spent his life extolling the virtues of his native land in theatre, film and music. Clever and fun, Blithe Spirit moves apace with an excellent scenic design by Kurt Boetcher, period costumes by E.B. Brooks and lights by James P. Taylor. Entre act music by Doug Newell has the feeling of the twenties and permeates the room.

Geoff Elliott’s curtain speech repeated opportunities for donors to contribute to the company’s expected new space in Pasadena next fall. Naming opportunities for donors for everything from seats to bathrooms are available. Donations are tax deductible and tours of the new space may be arranged for donors by calling the company at the number below.

A Noise Within
Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91204
Tickets 818 240 0910 x1
$46 top
In Repertory with Measure for Measure
and Great Expectations (opening October 23, 2010)
Blithe Spirit closes on December 5, 2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Barnsdall Art Park / LA MUNICIPAL Art Gallery

Dear Mr. Garcetti,

I was impressed with your brief participation at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater last night. I was not impressed with the evening. Whoever was in charge of the questions filtered out the tough ones.

Here are some questions that I submitted that were not answered by the panel.

1. Why were employees of LAMAG not invited to the panel? Their lives are the most at stake including Nancy, in the wheel chair.

2. Is the annual budget of the City of LA actually $7Billion? (I'd like to know what the budget is, please.)

3. Is the budget for all the Municipal Arts Centers actually less than $1.5Million? (I'd like to know the actual budget, please.)

4. Is the actual budget for LAMAG $380,000.00?

5. What can ordinary interested citizens do to stop this RFP thing and help?

If you really believe that Olive Hill holds the "beating heart" of the arts in Los Angeles (I tend to agree), then it seems like pulling the plug on the space as a MUNICIPAL resource is suicide.

I didn't submit questions asking about the CAD's budget and the salaries of the staff. I understand that Olga Garay supervises a staff of seventeen. I wonder.. and will you tell me.. what her salary is?

With the recent uproar about the million wasted dollars on GPS devices for parking officers cars and the scandal of corrupt city officials in Bell ripping off the citizens there, it seems to me that some accountability should be forthcoming.

If Meg Whitman spends $120Million out of her own pocket to run for Governor while Bill and Melinda Gates funnel billions into their personal causes, certainly the City of Los Angeles must find ways to not let Arts Centers slip from municipal hands.

This bed tax thing is silly. And, your reputation regarding it for funding the Arts has been brought into question. I hope you are a true supporter, especially of the LAMAG and will be pro-active in finding the funding to keep it MUNICIPAL.

Finally. One solution for funds might be a simple two mill levy earmarked for the DCA and the Arts Centers on groceries and restaurant meals purchased in the City. As Los Angeles approaches or maybe passes a population of Ten Million residents, you can do the math.. but let's say that each of the ten million folks buys only two dollars worth of food a day. that's twenty million spent in the City in one day.. a miniscule levy of two mills would bring in $40,000 a day, over a million dollars a month: $12Million, plus annually.. Even for an average family spending as much as $500 a month, the donation would be one dollar!

My lowball estimate of the amount of food bought and consumed would solve the Arts Problem almost immediately.

This is all food for thought. Naysayers can come up with all kinds of reasons why any idea won't work. Pennies for the arts is certainly not what the City deserves.. make all the excuses you want about the economy and such, but if the 'heart' to which you referred is further and further stifled, then our society cannot help but deteriorate.

I refer you to an interesting book by Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point discusses how trends take hold and how they affect society. On Page 141 in Chapter Four THE POWER OF CONTEXT Gladwell discusses how simple attention to maintaining a neighborhood can make a huge difference. The "Broken Window Theory" has to do with how attitudes of people change in an orderly environment. Broken windows make us feel that no one cares about a building, but where the environment is cared for, attitudes change. The correlation is that when the Arts are cared for, the citizenry gains the benefit, either directly by participation, or vicariously in the positive ripples that emanate from the source: music, dance, theatre, fine art, movies, etc...

Do the math on a two mill levy. No one would notice unless they bought a thousand dollars worth of food at one time.. and then.. their fair share would be a whopping two bucks!

Let's make LA a thriving center for culture and the people who..mostly unselfishly.. create cared for spaces in the City.

Michael Sheehan