Sunday, February 23, 2014

Molière's Tartuffe at ANW

Alison Elliott (Mariane) & Deborah Strang (Dorine)

Restoration farce and Molière pretty much go hand in hand as representative of comedy of the times (it’s the 1600s!)  No doors opening and closing, but madcap humor and appropriate silliness abound in A Noise Within’s season opener, TARTUFFE. 

It takes most of the first act filled with exposition discussing the questionable wonderfulness of  Tartuffe (Freddy Douglas), the man whom many love to hate, but Orgon (Geoff Elliott)  and his mom, Madame Pernelle (Jane Macfie), are nuts about him and as the play progresses, not only is he painted as the Second Coming, Orgon wants his daughter, Mariane (lovely Alison Elliott) to marry him instead of her true love, Valère (Rafael Goldstein)!  There is never a clear reason why Orgon has decided that Tartuffe is God’s gift to the world, but about the time he’s signed over everything he owns to him, he begins to wise up.

No mistaking who’s in charge here. In fact the kudos go to the women.  Deborah Strang as Dorine shines in this piece, along with fine performances by Alison Elliott as Orgon’s daughter and Carolyn Ratteray as Elmire . What ANW does and has been doing for years is mixing and matching their seasoned long time company members with new actors who are not completely in sync with the old timers.  In this piece, Douglas as Tartuffe rises to his own level.  Director Rodriguez-Elliott makes good use of Frederica Nascimento’s creative set with black clad gothic supernumeraries who quickly move the furniture.   Bits with scads of tulle hold some fun and the physical humor works well.  Angela Balou Calin’s costumes over flow onto the stage.  Quite spectacular!  The issue is that with Mr. Elliott so over the top and others rising to his output not always effectively, it makes for a somewhat uneven production.

Interesting anachronisms caught the eye with the use of those plastic tobacco products that seemed totally unnecessary to me. However, a surprise EVENT blasts its way in with the The Officer (close on the heels of mustachioed Monsieur Loyal) both well limned by William Dennis Hunt, and we are treated to La Grande Finale!!   More tulle and feathers!

Over all production values are, as usual, just fine. The theater at the Sunday matinee was filled with an appreciative audience.  It’s a decent effort.

TARTUFFE by Molière
Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott
A Noise Within
3352 East Foothill
Pasadena, CA 91107
Tickets  $34 top
626 356 3100 ext. 1
Plays in repertory February 15 to May 24, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

SEX.. and now that I have your attention….

Lissa Levin’s SEX & EDUCATION, currently playing at The Colony in Burbank, returns us  back to Eighth Grade Grammar and Senior Composition with genuine laughs that reflect the successes that Levin’s had as a hard working scribe for television situation comedy.  It works. 

William Reinbold, Stephanie Zimbalist,
Allison Lindsey

Isarewaswereambebeenhavehashaddodoesdidmaycanmightmustshallwillwould should could… being.  My eighth grade English teacher's, Mary Duggan’s rhythmic recitation of these twenty-three helping verbs is still with me many years after eighth grade.  We run into some of them again as this raucous ninety minutes unfolds.  It’s simply a lot of fun.  Even uproarious! Hilarious!!

It’s the last day of classes at Jackson High.  The final test for English 101 looms as retiring teacher Miss (not Ms) Edwards, is triumphantly brought to the stage by the fervent Stephanie Zimbalist. She may no  longer be the star we remember from Remington Steele, but she sure retains the same hot energy.   SEX & EDUCATION presents  Miss Edwards’ final test that, if he passes, will cinch Joe’s (confident William Reinbold) full ride scholarship to play basketball at the university of his choosing.   When, Edwards intercepts Joe’s profanity strewn note passed to his honey bunny cheerleader girlfriend, Hannah (lovely and really amped up Allison Lindsey), she launches on one final effort to actually do some teaching. This lesson in grammar and composition is reluctantly absorbed by the big time basketball star. He briefly snatches the power as he does some diagramming of his own. Brilliant stuff. 

All three, actors in this masterful comedy keep the pace and the jokes just keep topping each other one after another.  In a former time as with the LAPD's raids on a production of Michael McClure’s The Beard and the profanity laden comedy of Lenny Bruce were found to be problematic, we find that Burbank just howls and is soon inured to the raw language in favor of the razor sharp thrust and reposte of Levin's over the top wit.  A fourth “actor,” in the piece is Jared A. Sayeg’s beautifully executed lighting design combined with Trefoni Michael Rizzi's simple classroom/ basketball court set. Thus are created opportunities for each of the on stage actors to break the fourth wall with insights and asides. Dozens of lighting cues bring each actor in direct communication with the audience, letting us in on what’s going on inside their heads … and it really works. 

In fact, the show is a hit.  If cussin’s not your cup of tea, forget about it and go anyway! Ya survived The Sopranos, din't cha?

The Colony Theatre
 555 North Third Street (at Cypress)
adjacent to the Burbank Town Center Mall
Continues through Sunday, March 16.
Thursdays & Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 3:00pm & 8:00pm;
Sundays at 2:00pm.
Opening night performance with reception - all tickets $55.00.
Q and A talkbacks after the performances on Friday, February 21 and Thursday, March 6.
Tickets 818/558-7000 ext. 15
$20.00 - $49.00 (group discounts are available)

Monday, February 17, 2014


 Guest reviewer, Judith Weston, is an actor, an author and a teacher of the craft of theatre.  Because I won't be able to get right out to see Jan Munroe's  Alligator Tails at Theatre/ Theater, I asked Judy to weigh in about this one.  Caveat!  Munroe is a pal and a terrific performer. I saw this piece when he first put it up and it was really great then. Michael Sheehan 

Here's what Ms Weston has to say:

My friend Jan Munroe in Alligator Tails! I saw it 30 years ago and I saw it last night! Thank you Jan for reviving one of my favorite pieces of theater. It's surreal, funny, breathtaking. Jan calls it "cornpone surrealism" - don't expect a linear narrative - Capote meets Faulkner maybe? BUT don't miss it! - Judith Weston

Written and Performed by Jan Munroe
Theatre Theater
5041 Pico Blvd., 1 blk W. of La Brea
Saturdays @5, Sundays @ 7, Mondays @ 8 
(no show Feb. 24th!) through March 24th;
Res: 323-850-6344; $20


Monday, February 10, 2014


Echo Theatre Company has landed at the Atwater Village Theater.  It may be a crash landing with Tommy Smith’s sexually charged “Firemen.”  It’s the Nineties in rural Washington State.  Ben (Ian Bamberg), a high school wrestler, has come under fire and held in detention for leaving a lascivious note for Susan (Rebecca Gray), the high school secretary.  Dialogue is ponderous and leads us down a dangerous path.

“You know I’m a kid, right?” Ben asks Susan, having finagled his way into her office. The question of vulnerability is well delineated. We ask ourselves what would our reaction be if the adult was a man and the under aged student was a girl?  

A play with odd twists and turns, Firemen, is, evidently, linear in time, strangely violent and psychologically challenging.   It’s a question of decent acting in a meandering script.  It may be clear to director Chris Fields and playwright Smith what this sad and uncomfortable scenario eked from the headlines is all about, however... 

For whom do we cheer in this sordid mess? Why stay for the second act?  Honestly, I really can’t say.  Morbid curiosity and filling in the missing pieces leaves us with an inevitable conclusion, again, taken from real life.  How do we deal with tragedy in our lives and resolve our issues?

Bamberg,  delivers teen angst and is the inevitable victim.  The odd connection between Ben and Susan takes shape uncomfortably.  Susan’s son, ten year old Kyle (Zach Callison) falls victim, too.  An implausible connection between Detention Counselor Gary (Michael McColl) and Ben’s mom, Annie (Amanda Saunders), is only credible in a work of fiction. 

Angel Herrera’s crisp multifunctional set with vertical blinds adds to the somewhat stark atmosphere.  The real mystery for me is why? Why produce this piece? What is the audience supposed to take away? Where can we find some resolution for the ordeal of aberrant sex and twisted morals we didn’t know we were in for?   

A World Premiere :  FIREMEN by Tommy Smith 
Echo Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Atwater Village, CA 90039
February 8 through March 16, 2014
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 7PM
Tickets and information: 310 307 3753
Free adjacent parking

Saturday, February 8, 2014

BUNNY BUNNY: Gilda Radner: A Sort of Romantic Comedy

When Alan Zweibel met Gilda Radner in 1975, he was hiding behind a potted plant.  Zweibel was up for a writing gig and Gilda.. well, anyone who saw the first Saturday Night Live will never forget her. 
Brendan Hunt (Zweibel) Erin Pineda (Gilda) Photo by Chelsea Sutton

Some stories don’t have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Remember that first Saturday Night Live with George Carlin?  It featured a fake commercial for a three bladed razor!   

Bunny Bunny” was an incantation that Gilda recited with her first spoken words the first day of every month.  She’d been afraid of the monsters in her room as a kid. Her dad told her that if she just recited, “Bunny Bunny” that she would not be in danger.  It worked.

She loved the underdog.  She loved Zweibel.  Zweibel loved her. She called him Zweibel. He called her Gilbert.

What if you just forgot some of the most important things in your life.  Like just forgot to do them.  What about that? Huh?

Zweibel’s heart rending script takes on the feeling of sketch comedy.  He was, after all, a stand out writer for SNL and jokes (rim shot) were his stock in trade.  Gilda was his best friend.  When she died… and the beauty of his play is that we know where this is going, and yet we hop on board and share their brilliant, stormy relationship for a totally engaging two acts to the very end... he started writing every single thing he could remember about her. About them.  Yes, to the end, we are involved, in love and terribly sad to see her go.  Adam Flemming’s fantastic set design includes a huge drape with text covering the stage floor; hanging banners receiving projected locations flowing along, accentuating the fast paced dialogue.  No pretense here.  Bunny Bunny shamelessly smashes the fourth wall and we find ourselves … again… in love again…  with the kooky brunette who flummoxed Jane Curtain as Emily Latella, lovingly spoofed Baba Wawa and rocked all of us little Rosanna Dannas. 

Lithe Erin Pineda never imitates Gilda. She is bright and funny and natural.  At times she seems to actually channel the vulnerable SNL star to a T:  one time by simply sitting up stage with her back to the audience.  It’s a remarkable and endearing performance.  We know what’s coming… that the end is coming and yet we embrace the touching silly moments that made this young woman special.  She liked charwomen!

As Zweibel, Brendan Hunt never really makes an effort to do anything. His quick and funny one liners, his warm memories roll out naturally, right along with silly fights and overwhelming emotions.  The play is a love letter to his dear friend, Gilbert.  

 Director Dimitri Toscas releases his actors simply into each new scene with fresh memories, enhanced by the very talented supernumerary, Tom Fonss, portraying a whole  slew of  entertaining characters including Alan’s bride (with canoe paddle).  He practically stops the show as Gene Wilder with one line.   

This presentation at The Falcon is not to be missed. 

Bunny Bunny Gilda Radner: A Sort of Romantic Comedy  
Written by Alan Zweibel
Directed by Dimitri Toscas.
Falcon Theatre
4252 W Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Tickets and information(818) 955-8101
 Jan 29 - Mar 2, 2014
$42.00 Top

Monday, February 3, 2014

Jan Munroe / Thirty Years Later

Jan Munroe (Left) An Alligator (Right)
Jeff Murray for Theatre Theater presents
JAN MUNROE'S ALLIGATOR TAILS: The 30th Anniversary Edition 
Previews Feb 15th Sat 5pm, Sunday 7pm & Monday 8pm. Runs  Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays thru March 24, 2014
No show Monday, February 24th! All other Mondays @ 8 p.m.! 

Theatre Theater 5041 W Pico Blvd 90019 
Tix $20 
Reservation 323 850 6344

For Press Reservations or Info 323 422 6361