Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Today, I had the good fortune to sit in on a “Listening” with the California Arts Council and local Los Angeles arts advocates at the Wells Fargo Theater at the Autry Museum.  One thing that seems to run through the Arts Community is a concerned and educated tone of voice.  I was particularly impressed with an extempore talk given by John Gallogly, Executive Director of Theatre West. 

Gallogly made mention of EIRs: Environmental Impact Reports that are made all the time to show how our physical environment is impacted by our human invasion of nature.  He suggested that the State of California organize a CIR: Cultural Impact Report that would show in a very real way how one student dropping out of school because he/she could no longer participate in art or theatre or music classes fiscally impacts the state.

Below are some of Gallogly’s comments, edited to emphasize the main point that he made that was most impressive to me: the vital importance of the Arts and Culture aspects of our daily lives in California.  By urging support of AB580, the California Arts Council may again regain funding to further the Arts and in so doing move to save lives and funds in the future. Wyoming spends more per capita on the Arts than we do in California.  I have not vetted Gallogly's statistics, but it makes sense to me that finding ways to create an atmosphere where art may thrive certainly is a very good idea.  Michael Sheehan

“Create a Cultural Impact Report (CIR) ala an Environmental Impact Report. At the beginning of any planning process across all state departments, research and apply the known, off the shelf, cheaper arts solutions wherever they are appropriate, just as one does with an EIR.  

Myriad studies in prisons, juvenile justice, hospitals, elder care, early education, after school programs etc. all show how involvement in the arts leads to better end results at lower cost.  For example in post op patients who are exposed to 1/2 hour of live music in their rooms have shorter hospital stays (by 1/2 day) and a better rate of recovery. (Americans for the Arts) 

Do the cost benefit analysis of that equation and the $100 investment in a musician pays a 5,000% rate of return in reduced hospital costs. Each high school dropout costs society $285,000 over a lifetime in lowered earnings, less taxes paid, more frequent incarceration, early and/or out of wedlock pregnancy, more use of social services, etc.  (NY Times, two articles). 

We all know many students only stay in school for athletics. There are at least as many whose reason to get up in the morning is glee club, band, drama dept, etc. If a drama teacher costs $100,000 a year and keeps one child in school every two years, it's still a huge return of investment. Instituting a Cultural Impact Report would help create access and LOWER costs for the state across multiple platforms.  It seems  clear to me that investing in the California Arts Council in this way would save the state an enormous amount of money even while providing more access to those who need it most.“

Mike Boehm's article has much of the important information that supporters of the arts should know:,0,3361837.story 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Beaux' Strategem: Ribald and a Romp

Beaux’ Stratagem at ANW
By George Farquhar
Adapted by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig
Malia Wright and Abby Craden Photo by Craig Schwartz

As we enter the back door of the new A Noise Within space in Pasadena, we are greeted by a notice announcing  that Caleb Mayo, the understudy for Blake Ellis will play the part of Jack Archer tonight.  The theatre has a heavy schedule with three plays in repertory and Farquar’s Beaux’ Stratagem is the last one in the cycle.  Restoration comedy can be wonderful or it can be a mess in the hands of folks who don’t get the subtleties.  It’s got to be broad, but in a stylized manner. The Manner is the key and in director Julia Rodrigues-Elliott’s hands, the show picks right up and a good time is had by all. 

ANW uses its thrust stage and aisles to best advantage, inviting the audience to come along for the ride.  Michael C. Smith’s rustic 18th Century set with diverse country settings which evolve into several different locations beautifully sets the scene.  We’re on location for a romp.  Jack Archer / aka Martin (the wonderful Caleb Mayo, understudy to Blake Ellis, never drops a stitch) and his pal Tom Aimwell (Freddy Douglas) have a plan. Both near-do-wells, Aimwell pretends to be a moneyed and well bred courtier while Archer masquerades as his servant.  Together, they plot (thus the ‘stratagem’ part) to find a rich woman; Aimwell will marry her for her fortune and then the two will split the booty. 

Meanwhile we meet Time Winters as the rascally Gloss, a Scot  who sometimes masquerades as a parson.  Later in the play, Winters returns in the person of Foixgarde, an impatient Frenchman who stops the show with his broad accent and even broader impatience.

The “booty” in this case turns out to be more than one fair lady.  Mrs. Kate Sullen (confidence and perfection: Abby Credon) is an unhappy wife to sot and besotted Sullen (appropriately over the top in his cups Robertson Dean who is having more fun than anyone in the entire theater!).  Drunk, Sullen proposes that Archer should kiss his wife.  It takes a while with plot twists, sword fights and lots of yelling. But the strategy winds its way to a fun conclusion. Malia Wright’s Dorinda plays well with others, especially in a well staged sword play scene coordinated by Kent Merckx.

Ever wonderful Deborah Strang as a ‘healer,’ Lady Bountiful, flounces and bounces as she plies her trade with prescriptions of amputation for a scratch while sturdy assistant, Scrub (Alan Blumenfeld), gamely keeps up. 

ANW founder, Julia Rodriguez-Elliot’s direction allows the actors full reign as the audience is drawn more and more into the hilarity, the cast feeds on the palpable energy. The play moves apace with vigor.  

In a clever cinematic move, lighting designer Meghan Gray partners with sound designer Doug Newall to emphasize moments where characters ‘discover’ one another.  In a pink glow complete with heavenly harps, the action stops briefly. Ahh, love.

Excellent costumes are by Angela Balogh Calin. Hair, wigs and make-up by Monica Lisa Sabedra. 

The ensemble bursts upon the stage in cacophonous prattle as the scenes change. Production is a finely tuned machine, especially with an understudy in a key role completely in charge of every move, this is one of the best shows that the company has presented in a long time. 

by George Farquar
Adapted by  Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig
A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill Boulevard
Pasadena, CA  91107
Through May 26, 2013
Tickets and Information  626 356 3100  

Saturday, April 20, 2013

TRUE West?

True West
Stages of Gray

Shaun Ryan, Kevin Ferris, Maureen O'Donnel
Director Randall Gray announced in his curtain speech that this production of Sam Shepard’s True West is the only production licensed here in the west or maybe in the United States.  His cast of four for the Arvin Cast (there’s a second cast called “Barstow” presenting a different take on the play) includes 
Austin: Kevin Ferris, 
Lee: Shaun Ryan, 
Saul Kimmer: Cliff Ingram, 
Mom: Maureen O’Donnell.

Director Gray may be a student of Antoine Artaud or might have been going for an odd breaking the fourth wall, audience alienation thing.    Interminable pauses and really bad acting must fall back to the director unless wooden recitation and aimless meandering were part of his plan. This play is by a pre-eminent American author whose work is raw and unique.  It should run about ninety minutes as a long one act.   Gray’s production comes in at almost two and a half hours with an intermission.    

True West by Sam Shepard
Stages of Gray Theatre
299 N . Altadena Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109
Tickets: 800 811 4111

Friday, April 12, 2013

Double Double at The Falcon

Billy and Ray 
Written by Mike Bencivenga 
Directed by Garry Marshall  at The Falcon Theatre

When Garry Marshall brought quality Equity theatre to Toluca Lake many years ago, it was a sign that someone who had done well in ‘the Business’ was giving back.  This beautiful 130 seat jewel box reflects a classy attitude, providing quality stage productions for all of Southern California. Marshall opened The Falcon in 1997  and for sixteen years has provided a venue for new plays and established theatre.   This is a tribute to what only those who appreciate the theatre understand:   giving back with art to the community.  Marshall, Dakin Matthews and  Gates McFadden (Ensemble Studio Theatre West at the Atwater Village) are among the generous  actors/producers/directors who have made a good living in the land of TV and features who now present us with these, their gifts. 

Marshall’s gift for spring is Mike Bencivenga’s well crafted “Billy and Ray.” It’s 1943. WWII is winding down. Paramount seems bent on making and releasing a gangster flick, “The Hitler Gang” before the end of the war.  This makes it difficult for producer Joe Sistrom (excellent Anthony Starke) who has been lumbered with producing it.  Sistrom really wants to find a way to get a script for Double Indemnity written because he’s invested $15K of Paramount’s money for the rights to James M. Cain’s dark novel.   

L to R Anthony Starke, Kevin Blake, Shaun O'Hagan, Ali Spuck
With the famous Paramount gate looming over Billy Wilder’s Hollywood office,  excellent set design by Keith Mitchell, we see that there’s been a major dust up here with rubble and overturned lamps.  Perfectly cast Ali Spuck as Wilder’s super efficient assistant / secretary / accidental collaborator Helen Hernandez, aids and abets as the pending  partnership between Wilder (Kevin Blake) and Raymond Chandler (Shaun O’Hagan channeling Gregory Peck or Alan Alda as the play progresses) as they struggle to work together to create what may become the film noir Paramount classic:  Double Indemnity.

Blake as Wilder slips in and out of his Austrian accent, but still delivers the essence of the frenetic director and his wild approach to making a movie.  O’Hagan presents Chandler as consistently staid and straightforward bringing his literary conceit to the collaboration.   Spuck as Helen is a perfect mordent, binding the story together.  Quick pace and snappy dialogue is not the machine gun pop of His Girl Friday, but the feeling of the forties is here with Marshall’s keen direction, assisted by Joseph Leo Bwarie, credited with a flourish by Marshall in the Talk Back after the show. 

Raunchy, bawdy, silly and fun, Bencivenga’s two act romp is a must for film afficiandoes and folks who love a well spent evening in the theatre.   The author was forthcoming about the five year journey to bring Billy and Ray to production.  His honest and direct approach to clever dialogue with deep insights into both Wilder and Chandler are all on the page.  This is a stage play with all the bells and whistles.   And, as Mr. Marshall points out with glee: The Parking is Free!

Billy and Ray by Mike Bencivenga
Directed by Garry Marshall
Falcon Playhouse
Riverside Drive across the street from Bob’s Big Boy
Toluca Lake, CA
Through April 28, 2013
Tickets and information:
www .
818 955 8101