Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Live and in color at The Elephant Room

(Please click on the photo for the full effect)

The Elephant Room currently unleashed at CTG's Kirk Douglas in Culver City may get an audience in spite of itself.  

 Kings (and Queens) of Comedy include duos and trios in the form of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen, Martin and Lewis, The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, The Ritz Brothers and in modern times The Flying Karamazov Brothers.  If the guys (Lounge Lizard: Dennis Diamond, Cowboy: Daryl Hannah .. no, not THAT Daryl Hannah and Hippie Louie Magic in bad wigs and marginally executed slap dance choreography ) tearing up the Elephant Room had taken a cue from any of the above it might help.  The irony is that they have successfully taken their show on the road and in spite of the mess, bad jokes and lame tricks, the audience laughs, sometimes in concert, sometimes just shaking its collective head, realizing that they are sitting still for such shenanigans.

The shiny main curtain changes colors as the audience crams itself into airline seating.  Why, at rise, the three guys are sitting on a fold out sofa that is spewing smoke is a mystery. They recite the opening stage directions milking moderate applause from the audience.  We’ve been warned that these guys are on the prowl.  Leering stares from the trio are supposed to let us know that they mean business, ladies.  It’s a mishmash of silly dancing and an introduction to the turquoise Elephant Room  which is literally sitting on cinder blocks (to show there are no trap doors, I guessed) where the ‘magic’ will astound and entertain.

The magic is marginal, using mostly store bought magic tricks, performed in concert from time to time, each member of the cast contributing his particular brand (Lounge Lizard, Cowpoke, Hippie) of magical comedy.  Though never mind bending, the best trick, perhaps, is the trio working together with materializing and disappearing eggs.  One egg apparently shifts from one guy to the next in a clipped rhythm that is pretty impressive.  More impressive is the manifestation of a crystal wine glass and the guys breaking their now three manifested eggs into it one at a time.  Meanwhile, Daryl returns to the stage with a frying pan, Diamond produces a block of cheese, Louie produces a fork and an omelet is created with magic “fire” from Diamond’s finger tips.  Before our very eyes the seemingly normal fry pan cooks the eggs to a perfect turn. 

The old call-a–volunteer-from-the-audience-routine produces an attractive young woman who screams and hollers as an electric sabre saw we’ve just witnessed shredding a head of romaine is passed through a special device over her body and saws something else on the other side.  It’s cheesy old stuff.  The script is minimal and the dumber and dumberer patter is completely in sync with the purpose of the whole silly production: simply to have some fun.  Serpentine streamers, a ton of confetti, a disappearing guy from the audience named Kyle and an embarrassed blonde named Paige, are all part of ninety minutes of only slightly organized mayhem instigated by director Paul Lazar. Created by three "magicians," Trey Lyford, Geoff Sobelle and Steve Cuiffo, it could use some tightening, but for a good time call... 

P.S. Loxodontics by Eric Wright and the Puppet Kitchen are the frosting on the big cheesecake.

Created by Trey Lyford, Geoff Sobelle and Steve Cuiffo
CTG presents at The Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
Tuesday through Friday 8PM
Saturday at 2 and 8 PM
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 PM
Through September 16, 2012 
Tickets $20 to $50.00 (subject to change)
213 628 4017

Monday, August 20, 2012

  L to R: Joe Pacheco, Patrick Quinlan, Austin Hebert, Shaun O’Hagan, Scott Conte

The Irish Curse, continues through September 16, 2012 at the Odyssey.  It is a fine, fine play. 

Contrary to the publicity hype, that seems to promote the show as a comedy, I found it more dramatic than I'd expected and though presented with good humor, it is much more. 

We find five men:  A cop, tall and handsome by his own admission, Stephen (Shaun O’Hagan);  Rick (Austin Hebert) the feisty Irish 22 year old kid; Joseph (Scott Conte), an attorney in his forties and newcomer Kierin, from Ireland (Patrick Quinlan), a virgin who’s afraid his bride (he'll be married in two days) may reject him because of his diminutive size

 Father Kevin Shaunessy (Joe Pacheco) is the 50 year old Catholic priest who runs an AA type session for men with the "Iris Curse:"  colloquially:  a tiny penis.  What Martin Casella’s dialogue does beautifully is to defuse the embarrassment of penis terms, along with a healthy smattering of curse words that are inappropriate but effin’ necessary in the meeting room of St. Sebastian's Catholic Church.  It’s a rainy night in Brooklyn and these men, who alternately love and hate, reject and respect one another, come together to find new insights into their mutual concern: how to regain and/or maintain self respect in the face of a society that apparently places great value on the size of a man’s penis.

Casella’s script is way more than cock jokes.  As we are made privy to the private lives of the four members of the group we discover the fears which dominate their egos, that, in a patriarchy, are so fragile.  The coincidence of Father Shaunessy’s bumping into Kieran, brings new life to a group that has become somewhat jaded to the ongoing issues that have been hashed and rehashed, while the good Father tries to rein the rhetoric in.  The characters are superbly written, beautifully defined, well arced and professionally acted. To his credit, Director Andrew Barnicle moves his actors minimally, but after all it’s really only exposition.  Bantam rooster Rick in the big cop’s face, after admitting that he, Rick, stuffs his jock strap with a rolled up tube sock, is about as confrontational as it gets. The dialogue and the action such as it is, never stop flowing. At once the characters are sometimes confrontational and often funny. Even the priest makes confessions regarding his reductive member which affected his decision years ago to join the clergy.

We discover the 'issues' that these men face because of embarrassment and teasing and how self esteem can be challenged by their individual size situations.  Yes, size does matter, no matter what they think women think.  It matters to them.  A lot.  The real stand out in the dialogue is the new guy, Kieran.  The angst and issues of the newlywed-to-be surface more deeply as he tells of how the ‘curse’ effected his da and how in a similar scenario of his finding his his way to this group,  his da found another accepting group years before.  Perhaps Casella is promoting serendipity or chance, maybe even fate, but what we have here is an hour and a half where we forget the sniggering about the size of anyone’s cock or Johnson or mushroom or pee pee and gain believable insights into strong feelings harbored deep within five exceptional yet average guys on a rainy night in Brooklyn. 

The play has been extended...   through September 16, 2012

The Irish Curse by Martin Casella
The Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda
LosAngeles, CA 90025
Tickets $30 Top 
310 477 2055 Ext 2

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Alfred Molina as Mark Rothko
John Logan’s RED invigorates the imagination and resurrects beautifully the spirit of Mark Rothko currently at the Mark Taper Forum. 

Alfred Molina  as the painter not only takes the stage, but draws the audience in with exaltations of the creative process and ego that stir the passions. At once the image of the painter and the actor meld in the Passion/ Work of Molina and Jonathan Groff as Ken, his assistant newly hired who shows up dressed to impress but does not.  Rothko immediately puts Ken in his place and as the story evolves, it may be Ken who survives with the notion that, as Rothko exhorts him early on, he may be the son who kills the father.  Director Michael Grandage’s hand is invisible as the story unfolds flawlessly.  The best credit one can give a director is when his work appears so naturally. 

Ken knows that he is in the presence of something great and allows that being a part of it is an education that can be gained in no other way.  The two discuss philosophy and in a stroke of genius, Logan has Ken compare Rothko to Apollo and Pollack to Dionysus in masterful strokes.  Rothko says that painting is ninety percent observation and thinking and ten percent laying on of the paint.  The physical action of laying the ground for one of the painter’s huge canvases is, simply, a dance in Red.

Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowicz in Russia, moving at the age of ten to Portland to be with his family.  After a three year separation and only months after his arrival in the United States, his father passed away, leaving a hole in the young man’s spirit.  This loss seems to have permeated the life of the painter, who began with making figurative artwork and after moving to New York and being influenced by abstract  expressionists like Jackson Pollack began what became an obsession with large fields of color. 

The year is about 1958.  Downstage the fourth wall becomes the mural that Rothko was commissioned to paint for the Four Seasons Restaurant in the new Seagrams Building in New York City.  From time to time the actors come down to contemplate the work. Inspiration comes and goes.  Scenic designer Christopher Oram’s practical atelier where Rothko worked toward the end of his life and career is excellently crafted and is supplemented by Neil Austin’s lights which almost become another character in the play, as do the sound cues by Adam Cork.  It is spare, but active with huge canvases upstage and Rothko and Ken working in concert with panels on a large rolling  easel.   

Rothko’s ego splashes all about the stage unbound.  The man arrives at the studio from home dressed in suit and tie and then transforms into the artist.   This is his calling, his work, his profession, his life.  At one point in a discussion about the demise of Jackson Pollack, Rothko calls the splatter artist’s death a suicide.  “He didn’t commit suicide,” Ken responds.  Then Rothko enumerates all of the contributing factors that led the hard drinking wild man from Wyoming to hit a winding country lane in an Oldsmobile convertible at break neck speed.  “If that’s not suicide, I don’t know what is.  My suicide" he says, "won’t be so ambiguous.”
The heady dialogue is fodder for debate and elucidation.   For artists and those who fancy themselves ‘in the know’ about contemporary art, it’s a wonderful colloquy.  For fans of Molina, he does it again and again, stepping out of the way to allow Rothko's complex character to emerge: ebb and flow and flood the stage.  Young Groff holds his own and in a huge speech meets the famous artist head on in a way that shocks and surprises but at the same time necessitates the next steps for both the youngster and the master.  It’s a masterful play and a wonderful production with nuance and laughs and performances worthy of more praise than I can find words for here.  Tickets are dear.  Go anyway.
Michael Sheehan
By John Logan
Mark Taper Forum
Los Angeles Music Center
135 North Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: 213-972-7211
$100 top
Closes September 9, 2012

Thursday, August 9, 2012

INsiders at ANW

This from Pasadena's Classic Theatre Company:

 "The INsiders" Launches Wednesday, August 29, 2012, 7 pm;
Continues Through April 2013 at A Noise Within 

A Noise Within (ANW), the acclaimed classical repertory theatre company, launches "The INsiders" program to explore the company's six 2012-13 season masterwork productions and their relevance to the 21st century with lively discussion forums led by guest experts and specialty workshops on the artistic process.  "The INsiders" begins on Wednesday, August 29, 2012, 7 to 9 pm, with "The Dark Fantasy of Cymbeline," a program focused on Shakespeare's Cymbeline presented by Dr. Miranda Johnson-Haddad.  It continues throughout the season, spotlighting George Bernard Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath adapted by Frank Galati, Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, and George Farquhar’s The Beaux' Stratagem adapted by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig.  The interactive conversations, held September 19, October 10, November 7, 2012; January 9, February 6, March 6 and April 10, 2013, offer in-depth information on the historical, cultural, political and philosophical influences impacting the plays and their contemporary relevance as well as insights into the artistic process.  "The INsiders" (formerly known as “Scholar’s Society”) was established to engage members in challenging and lively discussions about A Noise Within's work, which has been lauded by critics as "freshly imagined," "invigorating," “inspired,” and “masterfully crafted.”  Members also receive a copy of each play.  "The INsiders" meetings take place at A Noise Within’s new 33,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art Pasadena venue. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

ALL MY SONS / Dreamhouse Theater Company

 Patrick Cavanaugh and Caroline Westeimer   Photo: John Sullivan
All My Sons

Arthur Miller’s success as a playwright stems from his deep interest in the human condition.  Most think first of his Death of a Salesman, the story of failure through the best of intentions mingled with excuses.  Interestingly, Salesman was Miller’s second play following the success of ALL MY SONS in 1947. Evidently, based on a true story of greed and malfeasance stemming from the sale of faulty airplane parts for the WWII effort ALL MY SONS foreshadows the sad tale In Miller’s Willy Lohman with the main character, Joe Keller.  Briefly, Keller (multitalented Ronald Quigley who is credited with the set design) has profited from the war in a suspicious way.  Blaming his partner, Steve Deever, for shipping cracked cylinder heads, Keller is exonerated in court while Deever is sent to prison. 

Dreamhouse Theater Company’s current production of ALL MY SONS at The Jet Theater in NoHo stands with professional productions of the play in many aspects.  Quigley’s spot on exterior of the Keller home takes us to Ohio a few years after the war.  Keller has grown his business after the cylinder head scandal and his son, Chris (Patrick Cavanaugh) is the beneficiary.  There is a bravado in the Keller men.  The matriarch, Kate (Caroline Westheimer) holds out hope that their older son, Larry, will return from the war, though he’s been declared missing in action and presumed dead. The war is now over, yet Kate holds out for the unlikely return of her son. Frank Lubey (Lukas Bailey) fans the flames of Kate’s vigil by declaring that, according to Larry’s horoscope, he could not have died on his ‘favorable day.’

The story, as in other works by Miller, goes down a rocky path of familial strife. A young man seeks his own way out of the shadow of his father’s apparent greed.  Personalities conflict.  Hard feelings are maintained.  Chris wants to marry Larry’s girlfriend, Ann Deever (beautiful Jacqueline Hickel), against his mother’s wishes.  The dialogue is crisp and cutting.  Finding the through line to any kind of happiness is difficult for Arthur Miller and whether or not this play leaves us with much hope is beside the point.  It’s a story of people struggling to survive in the face of ruin.  How Keller is finally revealed as the true culprit in the cylinder head debacle turns him inward with shame and, as later in Death of a Salesman for Willy Lohman, the end is near.

Director Alex Sol (working with his lovely wife, Producer Sarah Sol) is building a strong company of theatre professionals whose youth and enthusiasm are vital to taking a storefront and building a space to present theatricals.  Excellent tech (with the exception of one flash that should be seen anywhere but behind the front door of the Keller home) is flawless.

Arthur Miller’s language is an absolute reflection of the forties in Post WWII middle America.  The cast pulls it off, keeping pace and their individual characters lively and involved.  It’s an intimate space where every nuance of the issues of the story are immediately available.  Small theatre like this deserves an audience.  Tell a friend and experience the joy of a dedicated company with a difficult play.

ALL MY SONS by Arthur Miller
Dreamhouse Theater Company at
The Jet Theater
5126 Lankershim Blvd. (Enter in the back)
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 7PM
Tickets $25.00
Understudy Matinees August 12 and 19 @ 2PM $12.50
Through September 2, 2012
818 745 7331