Monday, September 28, 2015

EXTENDED! Amazing Odets’ AWAKE AND SING at the Odyssey

As The Odyssey Theatre celebrates its 46th Season, Beth Hogan and Ron Sossi’s  production of Clifford Odets’ AWAKE AND SING! (coproduced with Marjie Mautner) reflects all of the professionalism and certainly important theatre of our times The Odyssey has been known for all these years.    Odets’ cast for the 1935 Broadway show at the Belasco Theatre featured Stella Adler as Bessie Berger and John Garfield as her son, Ralph.  Sanford Meisner filled a supporting role.  These greats were pals with the playwright and imagining the power of this production is wonderful. 

 Twenty years ago Marilyn Fox played the overbearing matriarch Bessie Berger.  In the play today, still echoing Odets’ cry for creativity and fairness, she returns to powerfully bring Bessie back to life.  Tour de force is too mild a term, as Fox and company roar to life and make the eighty year old play as contemporary as anything we might see today.  Odets’ handle on the human condition and even with his poetry of ancient language, the cast elevates the story straight into our hearts. 

I tried to imagine how this play, mounted in 1935 at the Belasco Theatre with the likes of Adler and Meisner in the cast, must have sounded to the theatre audience of the time.  A nickel for a haircut.  Pennies spent like dimes or more? A dollar was worth about $17.50 in today’s value.  Bringing home twenty bucks a week would come to $350.00.  Almost a living wage?  A nickel for a haircut would have been just shy of a buck. In these days after the depression, Bessie reminds her family and anyone who will listen that families are being put out of their homes right and left.  Thrift is essential.

Odets’ voice rings brilliantly in every character under Elina de Santos’ deft direction.  Pete Hickok’s brilliant set is one that David Belasco himself would have applauded. Every detail is attended to. It is the perfect canvas for this epic story to unfold.  A slight glitch in the lighting at rise is quickly forgotten as the Berger family struggles through their evening meal. The pecking order is well defined.  Excellent James Morosini as the kid, twenty two year old Ralph,  is filled with dreams and angst and love for the girl he pines for. He speaks for the new generation.  He’ll fly to California.  He’ll conquer the stars.  It is his line that echoes at the final moment.

The dance of these characters ebbs and flows with grace.  Three acts in just over two hours rush by flawlessly.  Grandfather, Jacob, Allan Miller, speaks for the past and his love of Caruso and the idea of loving one another falls to the ground.  Bessie’s cruel tirade in Act III shows the frustration that she has always harbored and brings the dramatic conclusion to the play. Jacob’s advice to Ralph, however, sticks with him.  Awake and Sing!

Beautiful Melissa Paladino’s Hennie is in trouble.  It’s telegraphed in subtle ways until the truth comes out.  Again, imagining the culture in 1935 and how the general population dealt with unwed pregnancies is a conundrum.  Bessie’s reaction says it all as she connives to quickly find a husband for her errant daughter.  Enter Moe Axelrod, (David Agranov) who has some dough and knows how to get it.  He’s hot for Hennie, but initially, she will have none of it.  Some of the most beautifully dated lines come from Moe who really loves Hennie.    Robert Lesser as the hen pecked and compliant husband, Myron Berger is mostly guided by our current phrase: “Happy Wife. Happy Life…”     Overbearing and wearing the ‘capitalist black hat’ is Bessie’s successful brother, Uncle Morty, beautifully captured by Richard Fancy.   Is it a sin to make your fortune on sweatshop schmatas? His wealth helps support the Bergers. Bessie treats him like a king.  He flaunts his success and almost succeeds in cheating young Ralph as the play winds to a close.

Enter the unsuspecting husband and ‘father’ of Hennie’s baby, Sam (Gary Patent).  English is not a first language for Sam and his bubble is about to be burst. Oy!

All together, the excellent direction of de Santos with a professional cast hitting every mark and playing in a natural style at once with what must have been the style of Odets’ era, it all comes down to doing the right thing.  A Jewish family must stick together as best they can to survive.  Jacob’s advice to young Ralph in Act One reverberates in the dénouement.  He must find his own way and Awake and Sing!

Kim DeShazo’s costumes and excellent tech credits envelop the audience and enhance the words.  This message of sadness and hope emerges, ringing as true today as it must have rung all those eighty years ago. 


AWAKE AND SING by Clifford Odets
2055 S. Sepulveda
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Through JANUARY 31, 2016
Tickets and Information:
310 477 2055 ext. 2

Saturday, September 26, 2015

ICU at The Atwater / Circle X

Circle X is a favorite company in the intimate theatre business at the Atwater Village Theatre.  They try new ideas and this new effort, “ICU” written by Fielding Edlow is a journey into not only physical intimacy, but emotional depth that is more than the sum of its parts.  If typical Jewish mothers connive to marry off their forty something daughters to doctors, we have that.  If typical Jewish fathers judge their children and tell off color jokes, we have that.  If typical middle-aged Jewish daughters constantly joust with their parents.  Again: a good dose of that.  Toss in a ringer in the waiting room, Doug Sutherland as Kevin/Kevyn? who says he must see his old friend, Brian (Tony Decarlo) who is the reason we are all gathered in the slightly grubby St Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital waiting room featuring outdated magazines and terrible coffee. 
Dagney Kerr and Ericka Kreutz photo credit Jeff Galfer

Stir in Charge Nurse Kate (the wonderful Ericka Kreutz) whose arc in this dark comedy is a catalyst that helps the story gel.  Add, handsome and overly patient Dr. Garber (Shaun Anthony) and the cast is set;  the stage is ready for a quickly paced overlapping back and forth that challenges the audience to stay apace.

Designer Amanda Knehans’ spare tennis court setting is a tiny arena no bigger than a large living room allows for only about forty audience members. Everyone is in the front row!  It’s tight and works well.  Act II in the ICU itself is equally well done. Brian Schnipper’s direction is generally effective, however, remembering site lines is lost by the actors briefly from time to time.  

 In the ICU Waiting Room in Act I, the cast hits the stage full speed ahead.  Brian, the son of Siggy (Joe Pacheco) and Ruth (bombastic Caroline Aaron), has suffered a heart attack.  The parents are in denial regarding their son’s drug and alcohol abuse.

Edlow’s play is part situation comedy and part Albee’s Virginia Woolf.  Not that that is a bad thing. But, because the play starts on a relatively high energy level, the escalation of the shouting becomes as much about the noise as where we are headed with concern for Brian. 

Kevin, who sits quietly beside his huge teddy bear and is drawn into the maw of angst shared by Brian’s worried  family,  says he’s there to offer an ‘amend’ to his former friend.  Spin class instructor Jenna (Dagney Kerr) has her own problems and becomes the guardian at the gate protecting her ailing brother.   
Ericka Kreutz, Tony DeCarlo and Doug Sutherland

Photo Credit Jeff Galfer

Caroline Aaron and Tony DeCarlo photo credit Jeff Galfer
Dark comedy that is literally ‘in your face’ though the fourth wall remains intact evolving to big laughs and major tsuris upon which  some Jewish families may thrive.   Never resolved is Jenna’s forty day menstrual period and the dénouement of the piece is a bit confusing. Excellent performances and frantic pace with attempted control by Kreutz’s wonderful Nurse Kate brought the audience to their feet.   

Excellent tech possibly by Jeff Gardner including vital statistics monitor and iPhone business is impressive.  
ICU is a theatrical whirlwind that deserves an audience. 

ICU  by Fielding Edlow

Circle X Theatre Company

Atwater Village Theater

3269 Atwater Village, CA  90039

Thursday – Saturday at 8PM

Sundays at 7PM

Through October 31, 2015

Tickets and Information: 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

AMERICAN FALLS West Coast Premiere at The Echo

The acoustics at The Echo in the Atwater Village Theatre are strange.  This is appropriate as Miki Johnson’s play, American Falls, is at once linear and also all over the map.  As the audience filed in, music playing was difficult to parse out.  The whole scene (a tableau has the actors all on stage, as they are for the entire show) is at once very ‘homey’ and foreboding and forbidding.   I was immediately transported in memory to David Lynch’s mysterious television series, Twin Peaks.  Beneath the rumble, I could hear the falls and Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting theme in my head.  There was another rumble, maybe the air conditioner that underscored the lines of the play but seemed oddly appropriate.  Chris Fields’ handling of this very odd piece leaves room for the individuals whom we meet their own time and space.  It’s a sad and disturbing story of misspent lives, angry diatribes and elements that leave an audience wondering.  Barbara Tarbuck as Samantha sits quietly in her rope swing and in her turn relates that she’s pushed eleven human beings from her body. A life a drift on oceans of beer and clouds of tobacco as she tramped  her way through high school focuses on her son, Samuel (Karl Herlinger), her surviving triplet.  We are tossed back and forth from Limbo to American Falls through time and no time piecing together Johnson’s jigsaw puzzle pieces of unhappiness. 

Billy Mound of Clouds (excellent Leandro Cano)  works at Payless shoe store and relies heavily on his shoes and his feet inside his shoes to get the sense of the goings on in American Falls, Idaho.  It’s Magic. Not “bullshit magic,” but real MAGIC… He is a Native American but he is not an alcoholic.  He’s done his time with alcohol and meth, but now.. he watches TV and loves his girlfriend, Gloria. And, he listens to his shoes.  As narrator, he engages us deeply and sincerely.  In the Q and A following the show, an audience member pointed out that everyone was “on the same train.”  I have to slightly disagree. The scene featuring Eric (Eric Hunnicutt) and his pals, Maddie (Beth Triffon) and Matt (Garrett Hanson) sitting at a kitchen table tossing back Jaegermeister shots and beer telling tales of dreams and such only slightly paid off in the end.  The play breaks the fourth wall and retains in an interesting way. The significance of the young folks off by themselves was a mystery.

Lisa (Deborah Puette) is lithe and airy and dead.  She is nowhere, but also is with us to explain how she came to die and why.  Samuel, now a widower and “not dad” to Isaac (Tomek Adler) has seen his wife go from fat and ugly to slender and pretty and then just gone from him because of Eric who swept her off her feet when they met in Algebra II in a community college in Pocatello.

Dramatic tension is palpable as Samuel’s dance of anger and hatred bubbles within him. Isaac is the recipient of this tirade as it escalates to a boiling point.

Johnson says that she didn’t consider Thornton Wilder’s American Classic, Our Town when writing this play.  Indeed the plots are very different, with her take on small town Idaho and infidelity and dead people walking carries with it more questions than answers.  Still a comparison is in order, no matter how dark.   Fields guides his actors through a virtual mine field.  The dance they do to keep their lives afloat engages and envelops us. 

With actors sharing roles from performance to performance, it was noted that the energies and ‘textures’ of the acting gives each diverse cast more to work with.  Everyone is on the stage for the full 72 minutes.  It nicely ebbs and flows. Though the dreams discussed in one portion of the play seem to be somewhat disconnected from the other scenes, there must be a reason.  It just escaped me. 

To leave a performance filled to the brim with the play, though a bit uncomfortable, is a rare and welcome occurrence. The Echo Theatre takes chances, which I applaud. AMERICAN FALLS serves up food for thought and strong emotions. When you go to see this one, your comments and insights are solicited and welcome.

American Falls  by Miki Johnson
Directed by Chris Fields
Tomek Adler  Leandro Cano Karl Herlinger
Eric Hunicutt Barbara Tarbuck 
Jessica Goldapple (Fri & Sat @ 8, Sun @ 4) / Beth Triffon (Sun @ 7)
Andrea Grano (Sat @ 8, Sun @ 4) / Deborah Puette (Fri @ 8, Sun @ 7)
Garrett Hanson (Sat @ 8, Sun @ 7) / Ian Merrigan (Fri @ 8, Sun @ 4)
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Atwater Village, CA  90039
Tickets and Information: 
310 307 3753

Monday, September 14, 2015


Los Angeles architectural history brought to life, Princes of Kings Road is an ambitious idea conceived, written and directed by Tom Lazarus.  Lazarus has been writing for a long time and his decision to tackle the estranged relationship between former architectural partners Rudolph Schindler (John Nielsen) and Richard Neutra (Ray Xifo) is a very good idea on the brink of success.  A unique performance space, the Neutra Museum in Silver Lake has serious challenges to the production.  Lazarus’s dialogue and the dramatic build of the story work just fine.  The challenge is for the audience in the seats behind the front row to see and hear the actors.

It is 1953. Schindler, now 66, is in Cedars of Lebannon Hospital for a condition that has had him there for a long time.  He has not had to share a room with anyone and is catered to lovingly by dedicated Nurse Rothstein (Heather Robinson), whom we first meet half naked as she changes her clothing in Schindler’s room.  Schindler is a notorious rogue and even in his diminished state, he has an eye for the ladies.  As a referee for the ensuing action, Robinson does well.  She has wanderlust and yearns to become a stewardess to see the world, but in the meantime she commands the boys and they fall under her charms.

Enter Schindler’s old colleague, Neutra and the sparks fly.  It’s been over twenty years since they have had anything to do with one another.  Neutra’s had a heart attack.  The only bed available is the last one...  in the room where Schindler resides.   Schindler is forced to confront his old pal and their story unfolds.  Had the play been staged in such a way as to create a more intimate connection to the audience and had black outs (literally just overhead florescents  abruptly winking out and then on again to convey a passage of time) been avoided with the device of scene changes while the audience simply watched, the flow of the piece would have worked more efficiently.  The use of projected slides on a large screen stage right supplemented the dialogue with passages of lovely cello music played by Neutra's wife, Dione, from an archived recording.  With a different set up of the hospital room the slides might have been projected directly over the actors to potentially more interesting effect.  Of course, as this space was never intended for theatre, that challenge may have been too difficult.  I discussed with a director friend the set up and we agreed that the use of a ‘tennis court’ staging with only two rows of seats might have allowed the piece a more intimate quality.

All of that said, given the limitations of the space and the only available lighting choices, the story of these two giants of architecture whose influence on World Modern Design is undeniable, is a worthy effort.  Nielsen  and Xifo (ringers for the actual men) with German/Austrian accents fulfill the needs of the characters.  The bombast of Schindler and the humility of Neutra shine through.  As the play resolves, Nurse Rothstein tells Schindler that a bed has opened up and he may be in a ‘private’ situation again. Schindler waves away the opportunity and as the men reconcile their long standing issues, in their hospital gowns, the two giants partner again to create a new project.  

It would be wonderful to see this show in a more traditional theatre setting.

Written and directed by Tom Lazarus
Neutra Institute and Museum of Silverlake
2379 Glendale Blvd.
Silverlake, CA 90039
Sept. 12-Oct. 4, 2015
Fridays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 18, 25; Oct. 2
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 12 (opening), 19, 26; Oct. 3
Sunday at 4 p.m.: Sept. 27 ONLY
Sundays at 5 p.m.: Sept. 13, 20, Oct. 4 (no 5 p.m. performance on Sept. 27)
Sunday at 7 p.m.: Sept. 27 ONLY
Tickets and Information:
Call (323) 641-7747