Monday, April 28, 2014


Theatre/Theater:  Jeff Murray and Nicolette Chaffey have been an active and important part of the Los Angeles Theatre Scene for many years.  I was reminded of one of the first shows directed by Jeff I’d seen in 1982 in a store front space on Melrose, CREEPS.  They have kept their various venues open for such a long time by filling a gap.  The choices for plays to present and to sponsor have always been varied and always entertaining, as well as being thoughtful pieces of theatre.  

The current production at the most recent incarnation of Theatre/Theater on Pico is  BURAI – Standing All Alone written and directed by Naoki Fujiyama. It tells a nineteenth century story set in  Japan  of a young man who must regain his family’s honor.  Extremely cinematic in its presentation with short scenes and blackouts, Fujiyama has assembled an excellent cast to tell what feels like a traditional tale presenting characters and ideas we in the West have mostly only experienced through the movies of Akira Kurosawa.  Highly stylized performances by the large cast of nineteen actors in excellent authentic nineteenth century costumes by Sueko Oshimoto, immerses the audience into another time; a completely different culture.  

As we learn patience and tradition in The Tea Ceremony, the meticulous attention to detail and style of the production take some getting used to.  Long pauses and ritual reflect the times, the 1800's. This is the sad story of Sadatora  (excellent Masa Kanome), the enforcer for the local shogun, Toshimasa Shigemori (Steve Huang). Sadatora is married to the beautiful Yuki (extraordinarily pretty Kyoko Okazaki) who is dying of consumption.    Love and honor permeate the telling as a proud and joyful father, Genzaburo Sugiyama and mother, Fumi Sugiama (Nobu Inbushi and Mie Aso) are assassinated by Sadatora at the order of the shogun. 

Honor being a cultural foundation at this time period in Japan, the sons of the slain parents one by one challenge the assassin unsuccessfully to avenge their murders. Concurrently, Sadatora finds his duties as enforcer under the thumb of the shogun more taxing on his spirit. With his wife slowly dying, the battles he is forced to fight with Genzaburo’s sons become challenging physically and emotionally.  Stage combat is fast, furious and extremely well done. 
In an interesting interstitial scene, Shigemori and his entourage are treated to one of the most impressive parts of the evening.  Geisha Mika Santo, in full traditional makeup and kimono presents a delicate dance that one may seldom see outside Japan. An interesting portrayal by Naoyuki Ikeda as Umesuke, a strange little man who was originally under the wing of the Sugiama Family, now loyal to the shogun adds a bit of wasabi to the mix.  

I missed the traditional hanamichi (ramp from the stage to off stage) probably because the set up of Theatre/Theater is not conducive.  Also absent were the presence of on stage musicians.  I also would have liked to hear the accompanying sounds of shakuhachi and wood blocks, though recorded music was appropriate. However, once we settle into the unique Eastern way that the play is intended, the swordplay is amazing and the characters all come to life in an even and thoughtful way. 
"Asahi and Japanese tea bags and soda in  unique little bottles (Ramune) are complimentary!"
Highly recommended.

BURAI: Standing All Alone
5041 W. Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 2PM
Through May 11, 2014  
Tickets and information:
323-7990-6110 (Kyoko Okazaki)
Ticket Site:
(Search for BURAI in Los Angeles Area)

HOOKED: Bailey Mason All Alone On Stage

Looking just a little bit
Bailey Mason / Photo credit Shari Barrett
like Cher, Bailey (“You can call me Bails”) Mason holds forth in a daring exposè of her life and experiences to date.  Under the direction of Mark Travis, known for his expertise with one person shows, Ms Mason comes to the stage with her life’s story.  Sometimes out of chronological order, the events of her surprising history: molestation, prostitution, abusive marriage and prayer, she seems to be just a short distance from being really ready.

Prettier than her program photo, Mason holds forth in the basement of what is, presumably, her Spiritual Home, the Spiritworks Center in Burbank.  The assembly room has a simple proscenium and very basic lighting.  Mood changes are accomplished with lights as well as occasional sound and music cues. Sitting close  to one speaker made the sound a little intrusive.

With tighter direction; possibly a hat rack and a small table for her water bottle, in addition to her one black stool; a few props or costume pieces to enhance the story telling, Ms Mason’s heart rending story might be more fully realized.  The “nervousness” that she exhibits at the top of the show “Waiting for the Zoloft to kick in,” is either genuine or part of the presentation.  It was difficult to tell which.  As her production settles into its run, I think that she will gain confidence and tighten her choices.  It takes a lot of personal fortitude to expose one’s self by telling the truth.  Bailey Mason deserves huge credit for being willing to open her life in this very personal and dramatic way bringing it to an audience.

Bailey Mason’s HOOKED
Spiritworks Center
260 N. Pass Avenue
Burbank, CA 91505
Sundays only at 7PM
April 27 through June 29, 2014
Tickets: $20.00
(818) 623-7408

Saturday, April 26, 2014

SJALUSI / JEALOUSY Deaf West Preents Norwegians!

We, here in the U.S., tend to be pretty regional and seldom global in our assessment of art.  We are also insular in other cultural arenas and when we step out of our comfort zone, we have opportunities to learn new things.  Most of us resist.  What happened last night at “(Inside) the Ford” where Deaf West Theatre Company sponsors Norwegian  Teater Manu's production of the full length one act, “Jealousy,” was a welcome culture shock . It is a double whammy.  First, on climbing the Cardiac Steps from the parking lot, I was aware of how quiet the evening was.  Rain was on the way.  I encountered two men who were, evidently, part of our local deaf community who seemed extraordinarily happy.  They pleasantly refreshed my memory about basic sign language for Thank You, You’re Welcome and Yes. 

Arriving at the patio, the familiar murmur of chatting was absent.  Friends were silently greeting one another and hugging and gesturing like anything.  It was just really quiet.

On arrival at the ticket counter, the attractive young woman who was in charge was completely deaf and my newly refreshed Thank you, You’re Welcome and Yes were not much help.  Thanks to a hearing interpreter, an attractive, happy young woman, tickets were obtained.  The house opened.  Again, the silence in the audience was profound.  Friends were still chatting and greeting one another, but it was just really quiet. 

The silence in the audience set the tone, as verbal reactions to the play were seldom happening.   The laughs were mostly silent. The cultural connection, not only to the deaf community, but then, to the performance by deaf Norwegian actors provides for new and interesting ways to enjoy theatre.    

Norway’s Teater Manu’s presentation of  SJALUSI (“Jealousy”) by Esther Vilar and directed by Magne Olav Aarsand Brevik, is, at once, slightly confusing and certainly dark and funny.  Olgeir J. Hartvedt’s spare set featuring Agata Wisny’s moving video projections advance the story via email and exposition while actors Mira Zukermann (the older woman) and Ipek D. Mehlum (the younger woman) and Anne-Line Kirste (the really younger woman) and Olgeir J. Hartvedt (I am almost sure he was the husband. He's mostly incidental) fill the stage with broad gestures accompanied by body language that brings the story to life. Kierste Fjeldstad provides a unique spoken English translation that is sometimes a bit difficult to understand. However, for the hearing audience it helped bring clarity to the hand signed presentation of the story.  Projected subtitles as used in foreign films might have been helpful. 

Extremely presentational, the characters’ rants supplemented by informative projections tell the story of an older woman losing her husband to a younger woman whom he has met in an elevator. She, in turn is supplanted by a younger yogi hottie who winds up with the husband.

Suffice it to say that Norway’s Teater Manu has created a successful way to share Norwegian theatre by and for the deaf in an artful and interesting way. The actors bring new perspective to what the creative presentation of a play is all about.

By Esther Vilar
(Inside) the Ford
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East
Hollywood 90068
April 24 through May 4, 2014
Thursday – Sunday 8PM
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2PM
Tickets and Information
818 762 2998

Friday, April 11, 2014

Love? Come, Go With Me EXTENDED

Nikhil Pai and Erika Soto 

Photo Credit:  Grettel Cortes

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s most available and popular tragic romance is summed up immediately in the prologue of the Independent Shakespeare Company’s current production in Atwater.  The entire cast appears, sharing the prologue; visibly shocked that the story does not end well as related in Shakespeare’s lovely opening sonnet:  “Two Houses, both alike in dignity..."

After lauding the talent and skills of Bristol Old Vic Company’s Midsummer Night’s Dream recently at The Broad, I must retreat and say that to find myself in plastic chairs and a simple playing space with this ISC cast of excellent and culturally diverse and talented Americans, that under these right circumstances, the Bard comes off Aces.  We cut immediately to the chase, eliminating the opening of the fight (no thumb biting here)  that gets the Prince’s (Xavier J. Watson who doubles as a foppish Paris) dander up.  We meet a female Benvolio (lithe Lovelle Liquigan doubling as Lady Capulet), Romeo’s confidant and pal.  No worries about how the Montegues find out about the Capulet’s soiree, we get right to the point with tres gai Mercrutio (doubling Lord Capulet joyful Andrè Martin) who encourages Romeo (excellent Nikhil Pai)  to crash the party.  Quickly is Rosaline forgotten and in the lovers’ meeting we find love at first sight with familiar lines spoken with conviction. Just charming. “Let lips do what hands do…”

Bawd(y!) Nurse (profound Bernadette Sullivan) goes to bat for Juliet (wonderful Erika Soto) remembering how she would bet fourteen teeth that she knew her charge’s birth within an hour (sadly says she, she only has four). She broadly proclaims her loyalty and love full voice.  This energy from every member of the cast was impressive.

Fantastic doubling as Friar Lawrence and Tybalt, Evan Lewis Smith commands the stage with his voice and presence.  The sword play here with Mercrutio is at once comic and frightening.  This is a highlight of the show as often there is too much care in stage combat. Even with the audience only six feet away, the actors do not flinch, but thrust and parry as Romeo attempts to stop the melee.  Mercrutio is struck under Romeo’s arm. ‘Find me tomorrow and you will find me a grave man,’ he says, condemning everyone and expires.  Romeo’s brief bout then brings Tybalt to his end skillfully without flair. 

To the credit of director Melissa Chalsma, there is no attempt at accents. It’s an American production in a tiny space with limited tech (though adequate) mounted beautifully.  Shakespeare’s Wooden “O” probably had about the same amount of technical support, allowing the words and the story to carry the day.  Designer Cat Sowa’s wooden back wall with one black curtain, a ladder and a sturdy table are all that Chalsma needs to bring her actors up to speed. Daniel Mahler’s costumes work just fine.  Kevin Rico Angulo (Lord Montague and Friar John) rounds out the cast.

It is rare to see such committed energy in a simple studio setting. The recent failure of Macbeth at A Noise Within, with their expensive professional space, costumes and lighting did not succeed because the dedication of the actors and the director were somehow sidetracked.  It is the abundant energy that the ISC ensemble brings to their tiny space that makes the play work.  I loved this production because the actors never tarried in their quest.  They whittled the text carefully, still allowing it to breathe while skillfully bringing it to life.  We buy the story because it is, after all…  Romeo and Juliet, for goodness sakes!  Creative dance movement and handling of the simple props draws the audience in and includes us as part of the drama.  The fourth wall comes and goes gently with purpose.  Who else to hear a soliloquy but the audience?

It’s an efficient evening (two swift acts) that makes one truly appreciate the beauty of the words. The words and the excellent skills of the cast are all reasons that one must see this production. It is not to be missed.  

By William Shakespeare
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30PM
Sunday at 2PM
April 11 through May 25, 2014
The Independent Shakespeare Company
3191 Casitas Avenue  #168
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Tickets and Information: 818 710 6306

Friday, April 4, 2014


When the Brits do Shakespeare it’s probably the way that it ought to be done. This includes an intrusion on the way to our seats with an ‘audition’ taking place in the audience administered by Lucy Tuck, one of the dozen ensemble members who bring the Bard to life.  A pre-show romp included the cast mingling with the audience, yelling back and forth and having a good old time.  The stage is set with a multitude of props and the Bristol Old Vic Company has, literally brought their own ‘boards’ with them creating the playing space.  Echos of the physical theatre of Grotowsky and the imagination of Peter Brook, who brought the play to the Ahmanson years ago, abound.  

Director Tom Morris in collaboration with the Handspring Puppet Company (responsible for the puppet horses in Warhorse last year) create the play in a multicultural and fantastical way. The fairies are brought to life with agitprop puppets and gusto.   We meet the Mechanicals early on, bombastically planning their Pyramus and Thisbe.  Miltos Yerolemou as Bottom, along with compatriots Saikat Alhamed (Snug), Colin Michael Carmichael (Quince), Fionn Gill (Snout) and Christopher Keegan (Flute) energize the production leading up to the their own hilarious theatrical presentation at the end of the play as the tricks on the earthly lovers by David Ricardo-Pearce (Oberon/Theseus) and Saskia Portway (Hippolyta /Titania) are resolved. 

Vicki Mortimer’s design for the stage; with the fabrication and design of Handspring is appropriately magical and ethereal.  Brilliant use of garden tools combine to create mischievous Puck (played by three actors (Lucy Tuck, Fionn Gill and Saikat Alhamed) who disassembles and reassembles magically about the stage.  The magical forest created by the ensemble, each with a wooden plank, morphingly changes scenes flawlessly.

The confused lovers, Naomi Cranston (Helena), Alex Felton (Lysander), Hermia (Akiya Henry) and Kyle Lima (Demetrius) rollick in and out of love manipulated by the fairies with physical abandon.  Only these characters remain resolute while the rest of the cast transforms smoothly at the drop of a hat. This is an ensemble piece. These actors are all trained for the stage: movement, voice and presence.  It’s the present and genuine quality of the actors that most impresses.  Almost indefinable, each person in his turn is available through the myriad of characters to bring the words and the joy of this favorite play to life. One of many memorable interludes must be Bottom’s evolution into an ass. Shades of Warhorse blossom, as well as Bottom’s bottom in a fantastical take on this unforgettable part of the play.

Renew your acquaintance with the story and then, make a promise to see Shakespeare done the way the Bard would have appreciated his story to be told.  It is a gift. It's bold and new and exceedingly well done.

By William Shakespeare
Collaborated by The Bristol Old Vic 
and Handspring Puppet Company

The Broad Stage
1310 11th St. (At Santa Monica Blvd)
 Santa Monica, CA 90401
Through April 19, 2014
Tickets and information
  (310) 434-3200