Monday, November 25, 2013



Directly on the heels of seeing Judi Dench’s current take on the Magdalene Girls, (Young women sent to the nuns to give birth in shame) PHILOMENA,    Fionnuala Kenny’s ELVIS’S TOENAIL brings the story of shunning and punishment by the Catholic Church, one’s own family and the community directly to the heart.  

At rise we hear a vicious argument and see pregnant Rita (perfectly cast Leanne Klingaman) expelled from her parents' home. 
Lenne Klingaman plays Rita

It’s 1961 on Raffle Road in Dublin.  American Rock and Roll is on the rise. On the wall of the workshop where progressive Mrs. Kelly (well presented Laurie Wendorf) turns out frocks as well as supplying nuns’ habits and school uniforms for the local abbey and Catholic School, Elvis's poster, in motorcycle gear: a shrine graces the upstage wall. Mrs. Kelly employs four unique colleens who work hard and, incidentally, adore The King.  

Giddy excitement by bouncy veryredhead Carmel (bouncy and energetic Arielle Davidsohn) and her pal, Imelda (equally enthusiastic Christine Quigless) permeate the shop as their somewhat senior colleague, Christine (McKerrin Kelly), demurs to their youthful excitement.  
 Christine Quigless as Imelda and Arielle Davidsohn as Carmel

The heavy polemic of the cruelty of the Catholic Church rings loudly throughout Kenny’s script as Rita finds her way to Mrs. Kelly’s, disobeying the order to go to the nuns with the shame of her pregnancy.  Her extraordinary skills and strong work ethic endear her to her co-workers.  We meet Mother Francis (trooper Marnie  Crossen) who places a large order for garments that will help Mrs. Kelly’s business and her connection to the abbey.   A side story of missing seamstress, Rose (tall and dark Katie Savoy) buttresses the issue of pregnancy without the state of marriage as Father Ambrose (slightly over the top Gary Bell) comes looking not only for Rose, who has vanished on payday, but Rita as well. This strongly exhibits the  extraordinary power that the Church may even to this day hold over the faithful.  Kenny’s script leads us to feminism and independence that was difficult, if not impossible to imagine fifty years ago, not only in Ireland, but around the world as well.    In no uncertain terms, the good guys and the enemy are  clearly drawn.  The title is almost incidental to the play.  Imelda’s relative has sent The Toenail, a relic from the bathroom of King Elvis, which is now displayed with his poster and covered with a velvet curtain ironically depicting the Sacred Heart.  When criticized by Father Ambrose, it’s pointed out that it’s all about Hope, without which, life may simply be unbearable. 

Unnecessary fake smoking by Miss McEvoy, the buyer (Francesca Ferrara) and a fine turn by Saxon Jones as Christy round out the cast of this must see production.  Sal Romeo’s direction (with Joe Banno) comes together on the tiny stage, set design executed by Elana Kathleen Farley. 

I highly recommend seeing Elvis’s Toenail before seeing Philomena and somewhere in the mix rent Peter Mullan’s The Magdelene Sisters for insights into how religion and prejudice have shaped our society and the hurdles that still challenge us: hurdles and walls which must be conquered to promote   acceptance of Women’s Rights as they struggle even still for Equality.  

by Fionnuala Kenny
The Sidewalk Studio Theatre (View)
4150 West Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Runs November 15th -December 14th, 2013
Fridays and Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Ordinarily, these pages are dedicated only to reviews of local  L.A. theatre productions.  

However, I just received a notice that a star studded cast of entertainers will be on hand on presenting "Sparkle! An All Star Holiday Concert" Friday, December 13, 2013 at 7:30PM at the Acme Theater in Hollywood to the benefit of The Actors Fund.

Having personally seen the good works that The Actors Fund has done for over a hundred years (131, thank you very much!) I hope that there will be lots of deep pockets in attendance.  A very special singer/actress I met on a commercial shoot in Denver years ago for Old Country Buffet, Sharon McKnight, will be singing, along with a bevy of well known stars.  Please pass this information on:

Ticket prices for SPARKLE! An All-Star Holiday Concert range from $35 — $100 (VIP package including priority seating and post-show meet and greet).  
The Acme Theatre in Hollywood is located at 135 N. La Brea Avenue. Los Angeles, 90036.
To purchase online, go to 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


“What goes around comes around” may be a theme on more than one level with the current production of Bruce Norris's  The Pain and the Itch currently playing at The Zephyr on Melrose.  The slip sliding of time is a theme in Harold Pinter’s  1978 drama Betrayal currently revived on Broadway.  The fierce sniping of Albee’s Virginia Woolf also snakes through Norris’s well crafted two act drama.  A comparison is inevitable. Norris is in good company.  The play begins rather at the end,  wending its way through flashbacks (Ric Zimmerman’s lighting on Joel Daavid’s well designed set adds to the mix) to a sad resolution.  Originally produced by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 2005, at that time set in New York City, director Jennifer Chambers sets the play in the toney L.A. neighborhood of Pacific Palisades.  The issues of success, gender roles and social class clash.  Thanksgiving with little to be thankful for runs amok.  
Left to right:  Katilin Huwe, Alec Tomkin, Sally Schaub, Beverly Hynds, Christopher Guyton, Eric Hunicutt,
Miss Ava Bianchi  Photo by Michael Sheehan

Mr. Hadid, a large dark skinned man (Christopher Guyton) weeps… sobs on the stylish sofa in the well appointed home of Clay and Kelly (Eric Hunicutt and Beverly Hynds). Clay is uncomfortable and sympathetic.  As Mr. Hadid composes himself, his interest in how much things cost inches us toward understanding.  Then, Clay tells the story in flashbacks as to how events have come to pass.  The story unfolds.  Sibling rivalry, a mysterious malaise, strong characters well acted emerge.

Full disclosure: I wanted to see the Sunday performance of this play because a friend is an alternate in the cast and was going on that night.  Also, in our Los Angeles theatre community, there are probably hundreds of dedicated actors who agree to do a show standing by and seldom get the attention they deserve.  The four alternates in Sunday’s show brought the play to life:  Guyton as Mr. Hadid, Alec Tomkin as Cash, Katilin Huwe as Kalina and Sally Schaub as Carol.  Miss Ava Bianchi plays Kayla (not an alternate, but sharing the role.)

A special anxiety having to do with jealousy, social class and guilt seems to be Norris’s goal and director Chambers brings home not only these discomfiting issues, but finds resolution as her actors immerse themselves deeply into the conceit that we are human beings; we make mistakes and are not always capable of fixing them.

Norris puts his characters through difficult paces.  Sally Schaub as Carol is the mother of Cash and Clay.  “No wonder two boys would fight whose names were Cassius and Clay!”  Her beautiful straight blonde hair and bangs reflect another time as does her dialogue with Mr. Hadid regarding watching PBS. She may be what some might term a socialist.  Parenting is difficult at best as we see in her grand-mothering of Kayla and her being soundly criticized by Clay because she always liked Cash best. The conflict between Cash and Clay bubbles in snipes and shouts.  Clay is a stay-at-home dad while spouse Kelly is the go-to-work mom with a new baby on her breast who has her own conflicted issues.  Her four year old daughter romps through the house being chased by Cash’s sexy nineteen year old playmate (Kaitlin Huwe with a strong Eastern European accent, excellent timing and too much the truth, eh?). This lays the ground work for an Albee-esque battle that expands to the mystery of the gnawed upon avocado.

The play is an actor’s dream.  Every character is singular and complexly designed to make the audience do some self examination regarding gender roles, success, morals and prejudice.  The Pain and The Itch are more than just physical symptoms. They are indications of the attitude to which each of us may set our own personal compass and sail off into our lives.

By Bruce Norris
Zephyr Theatre
7456 Melrose
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Through December 1, 2013
Tickets and Information:
323 960 5774
General Admission $25.00
Students  $15.00

Monday, November 11, 2013


Reginald Rose’s 1954 teleplay adapted by him for the stage is a perennial staple for theatres ranging from high school productions to professionals.  Sometimes staged as 12 Angry Jurors to accommodate women, the Pasadena Playhouse reminds of the prejudices and other issues that have plagued society, especially pre-civil rights USA, for years.  Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s grimy scenic design and appropriate costumes take the audience directly into the barren jury room on a hot and muggy New York day. 

(L-R) Gregory North, Adam J. Smith, Bradford Tatum, Robert Picardo, Jason George. Photo by Jim Cox.

 Shadows of Henry Fonda as Juror Number 8 from Sidney Lumet’s 1957 Oscar nominated feature,  or,  the ’97 version directed for television by William Friedkin with Jack Lemmon as the lone detractor are cast long and wide. Initially, eleven of these men are anxious to bring back a quick conviction of the fifteen  year old kid accused of stabbing his father to death.  In Pasadena Playhouse Creative Director Sheldon Epps’ production at rise we find Jason George as Juror Number Eight, thoughtfully poised, gazing out a window contemplating the task he and eleven other men, six white and the other five also black, have before them.  The program cover and the ad posters set the scene.  It’s six against six.  The Caucasians vs. The African Americans.  White vs. Black.  Unfortunately, on this special opening of the play, the issue of Diversity is being celebrated but the stereotypes, especially for the Caucasians are simple and superficial.  This is a wonderful play that speaks to the issues of prejudice, ageism and impatience.  Each of the jurors is well developed, even the huge bully, Juror Number Three, Gregory North, whose height and bulk are literally loaded with weight and substance.  Why an equally intimidating African American might not have been cast in this pivotal role is never discussed, but it seemed to me that the casting certainly exhibits some questionable stereotypes of the Caucasians in word and deed while each of the African American jurors fielded the issues with a more patient and thoughtful demeanor. 

The innocence or guilt of the defendant, whose name we never know, but is characterized by one of the white jurors as ‘one of those people’ who are plotting to over run the United States, hangs in the balance as Number Eight begins to ask questions.  Though it’s all hear-say to the audience, we become jurors as well, as the ‘facts’ unfold.  Juror Three exclaims that the 'facts' get all twisted around.  It’s an open and shut case, isn't it?!

Juror Four, Robert Picardo, is a long time hold out whose actions are vital to the deliberation.  Rose uses subtle hints to aid Juror Eight as he casts doubt on the "open and shut case." Of course, the most important  issue in any criminal trial is to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.   Rose has constructed a situation that has won him high acclaim over the years and for good reason.  His characters work.  Why, in this effort to bring diverse casting to the Playhouse, women and/or other actors of color and age were not considered is a shame.  To simplify the battle over guilt and innocence in this basic black/white all male cast, has deprived us of a real opportunity for diversity.

Scott Lowell, as the Jury Foreman, has his work cut out for him.  Challenged at the get go by other jurors and getting them to all sit down at the table took some doing.  Difficulty in hearing the senior member of the jury, Adolphus Ward as Number Nine and trying to coordinate the numbers of the other jurors with their actor selves makes writing about individuals difficult. Suffice it to say that the play holds up.  The tensions and dramatic beats are well choreographed by Epps as the story moves along.  Each of the other jurors: Number Two, Jeff Williams; Five, Jacques C. Smith; Six, Ellis E. Williams; Seven, Barry Pearl; Ten, Bradford Tatum; Eleven, Clinton Derricks-Carroll and Twelve, Adam J. Smith have their specific moments that shock, sustain and enliven the well mounted event. 

By Reginald Rose
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino Ave,
Pasadena, CA 91101
Tickets and Information:
Phone: (626) 792-8672
Through Sunday December 1, 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Black Suits Rock at the Kirk Douglas.

If you’ve ever been a teenager.  If  you’ve ever had a band.  If you’ve ever been deep in love and the next day not so sure. If you’ve ever had a passion and believed with all your heart, you’re not alone. You'll find yourself in the right place for The Black Suits (world premiere musical).  Joe Iconis’s music and lyrics partner with his and Robert Emmett Maddock’s book bringing us, Ladies and Gentlemen… a rock and roll extravaganza.   

Sitting next to a man who smelled of peanut butter and tobacco who touted himself a ‘real critic’ added to the experience for me.  He seldom applauded at the end of the multitude of expository numbers and informed me that he and his writers write ‘real criticism,’ whatever that is!  Of course, we all know the difference between a lowly ‘reviewer’ and a ‘true critic.’  Or do we?  To be taken to school by a smelly middle aged guy who did not deign to applaud nor rise with the standing ovation at the curtain certainly put me in my place, boy!  If these brief insights of mine inform or enlighten a bit, that's my only goal.  

That said, a packed house at the Kirk Douglas in Culver City (CTG’s extended venue) enthusiastically absorbed the high tech teen angst with glee.  Derek McLane’s scenic design  is brilliant. Ben Stanton's elaborate light design must have the meter spinning off the wall!  All the elements of a Broadway Musical (emphasis mine) are in place.  Charlie Rosen’s orchestration is double covered by his offstage orchestra led by him while doubling on bass. Steven Feifke, Keyboards; Austin Moorhead, Guitar;  Taylor Murphy, Drums and Aaron Schuman, Guitar/Keyboards supplement beautifully.  Our onstage musicians are each spot on.  On bass we have the ever horny and frog kissing Nato (Will Roland); Berkeley Acceptee, Brandon (Harrison Chad) sits on his throne with drums;  Lead guitar, handsome Jimmy Brewer as John  and, the man with the band, singer/titular leader, Chris (Colby Getzug). 

A group of pals are drawn together.  A garage band. A girlfriend,  also looking for artistic expression (“Photography is not an art,” says, Brandon, the drummer, comparing years of study to become an accomplished musician). Crafty Lisa (pretty Veronica Dunne) becomes a photojournalist and her art blossoms even through a phase with rather fetching blue hair.

Chris’s angst takes him to neighbor Mrs. Werring’s (Amazing Annie Golden) kitchen.  She’s had her own brushes with greatness in the Music World.  She becomes a literal cheerleader for Chris and his band.  Golden’s outstanding voice kicks out the jams. At times I could virtually feel my socks being knocked off!

The predictability of the uncomplicated story is simply a comfort. Obvious issues evolve. Summer pals hone their chops; struggle through their first real gig out side the safety of the garage. Their roller rink gig moves them along to finally compete in THE BATTLE OF THE BANDS!, but not without girlfriend issues, ego issues, missing parents issues and issue issues.  Somewhat over written, the book and score blast us through teen age memories and some decent music. None of the tunes much stick as we’re headed out the door, but the memories of youthful angst and passion are all available and well played by The Black Suits, for sure, yo.  

The Black Suits
CTG’s Kirk Douglas Theater
9820 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
November 3 through November 24, 2013
Tuesdays through Sundays (No Performance on Mondays)
Tickets and Information: 213 628 2772