Monday, February 22, 2016

Tempest Redux by William Shakespeare

Tempest Redux by William Shakespeare adapted by John Farmanesh-Boca. Presented by Jack Stehlin’s New American Theatre and The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.
Jack Stehlin as Prospero
Photo by Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin

The words.. it’s the words that make Shakespeare’s plays.  The “redux” in this interesting production of one of the Bard’s most revered plays refers to its re-examination with physical embellishments: challenging and a pleasure to anticipate.  *A note to the Odyssey:  Of course, we want to not be interrupted by electronic devices going off or photos flashing, however, the initial mood of Tempest Redux was totally shattered by a disembodied voice reminding us to turn off devices, etc.  What Stehlin and crew seemed to be attempting as the audience enters the theatre was to create a space for Magic.  The audience has agreed to allow this to happen, but to be virtually scolded and for this magical mood to be interrupted is just wrong. 

Christopher Morillo’s simple set with an unexplained fissure down the middle of the stage provides the roiling sea and all of the locations on Prospero’s Island of Exile.  We meet the players arriving silently one by one. They sit in meditation.  Soon the storm awakens and the castaways are Tempest tossed under Prospero’s magic spell.  Presently, we are engaged by three dancing Ariels: Emily Yetter, Briana Price and Shea Donovan.  This device employs prerecorded echoes of Ariel’s voice that slows the pace to a crawl.  The dancers each are well in sync, but the speed of the magical sprite calls for … well.. speed!  

Director / Adaptor, John Farmanesh-Boca often achieves his goal of including more physicality into the piece and does so best with the choice to cast two actors, Dash Pepin and Willem Long to portray Caliban.  With the long crack in the stage, I’d hoped to see it part and for Caliban to climb forth. This was not to be.  In fact, the physicality of Shakespeare’s comment on ‘the brave new world’ works only to the extent that it is often full of effort.  However, Pepin and Long erupt beautifully as the Moon Calf and the workout works better than the three Ariels. 

Mimi Davila as Miranda was slow to emerge.  The actors in many cases were engaged in individual ways. Stehlin, along with Pepin and Long seemed to be committed viscerally and artistically.  This is not to say that the play is not worthy of an audience. It most certainly is.  Perhaps my expectations arrived a bit high. Never a good idea when the goal is to arrive excited to see how the Bard may be reinterpreted by a troupe of well trained actors. What I love most about Artistic Director, Ron Sossi (now in his 47th year of production of classical and experimental theatre) and The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble is their commitment to bursting the envelope in exploration of what Theatre is supposed to be and what it may accomplish.  His reaching out to The Company Theatre by hosting The Hashish Club many years ago remains a wonderful collaborative gesture. 

Tempest Redux
By William Shakespeare
adapted  and directed by John Farmanesh-Boca
Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025

Feb. 20 – April 10:
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: March 9* and March 30 ONLY
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: March 3, March 17, March 24 and April 7 ONLY
Fridays at 8 p.m.: Feb. 26; March 4, 11, 18**, 25; April 1*, 8
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Feb. 20 (opening), 27; March 5, 12, 19, 26; April 2, 9
Sundays at 2 p.m.: Feb. 28; March 6, 13, 20*, 27; April 3, 10 (no 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 21)
Sunday at 5 p.m.: Feb. 21 ONLY
*Post-show discussions take place on Wednesday, March 9; Sunday, March 20; and Friday, April 1,
**The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.
Tickets and Information:
• (310) 477-2055 ext. 2

Sunday, February 21, 2016

COLONY COLLAPSE at The Boston Court

(Click on photo for full effect) 

Colony Collapse: the term referring to the disappearance of honey bees around the globe is referenced in detail in the text by the Girl (excellent Emily James) whose polemic statistics regarding the reduced bee population are staggering.  At rise we meet The Chorus: Jully Lee, Adrian Gonzales, Julie Cardia, Tracey A. Leigh and Leandro Cano: parents who recount in pantomime and dialogue .. interspersed in a chorus of ‘Breathe…’ the details of how each of their children has gone missing.  The parallel reflects the missing children and melds with the missing bees.

Enter Jason (Riley Neldam) in the middle of the night to his father’s, (Chris Conner) Mark’s, farmhouse.  Jason is confronted in the dark by Julia (Sally Hughes), Mark’s younger wife. Mark has divorced from his druggie wife, Jason’s mother, Nicky (over the top Paula Christiansen) and is attempting to make a new start as a farmer after his own issues with alcohol and drugs.  Jason then becomes a catalyst of sorts who works to compare the missing Girl and other children to the collapsing colonies of bees.  Susan Gratch’s dramatic set stylistically creates many different playing spaces with the Chorus  serving as occidental koken who move set pieces and props to facilitate the action. 

Excellent use of the space by director Jessica Kubzansky brings the show dramatically to life.  Modern theatre architecture includes tight wire grids in the flys which are used at one point to facilitate the Girl literally lying face down high above,  talking to the audience about the bee situation.    

Applause to the Boston Court for hosting this world premiere.  Exposing the audience to new and experimental theatre is commendable. Overly long and somewhat confusing, the play needs help. Perhaps, with
  judicious cutting the piece might become a very interesting play.  

By  Stefanie  Zadravec  
Directed  by  Jessica  Kubzansky
The Boston Court Theatre
70 N. Mentor Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106
February  20, 2016  
Thursdays  through  Saturdays  at  8  p.m.  
Sundays  at  2  p.m.  through  March  20
with  an  added  performance  on  
Wednesday,  March  16, 2016

Friday, February 19, 2016


When Brooke Bishop and Daniel Landberg crossed the country in search of love, it was a two fold quest.  They wanted to find couples whose love was lasting and they also wanted to explore "Moment Work" with which to create a continuing art form that uses specific dialogue from real people. Their inspiration was from the play that became The Laramie ProjectHOW LOVE LASTS  is the product of many hours of interviews that boil down to a cast of six (Claudia Crook, Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann, David Harstone, Briana McLean, Samantha Smart and Paul Weinberg), all of whom are in the ‘ensemble’ of the show as well as portraying ten different characters.

The Echo Theatre is set up for their current production, Bed, which features a huge bed in the middle of the stage with seating half way surrounding it.  Many of the seats, besides press seats, were marked "Reserved" as the audience entered the theater.  Lights up and the cast, rather like the cast of A Chorus Line, introduce themselves.  Then, the confusing part begins.  To director Brook Bishop’s credit, the actors were all in the same play at the same time with a ton of dialogue.  We have a gay couple; a couple that involved a straight married woman more or less seduced by another woman who took years to recognize the lesbian in her mirror; other couples that were, frankly, difficult to keep track of as the actors played scenes not only on the stage but while seated in the audience.    Even though there was little of real dramatic interest, except, perhaps,  for the stocky gay partner who won an aerobics championship and insisted that his partner who had not come out to his family start treating him like what he was: his partner. We see and hear Texas people, Colorado people, southern people, gay and straight all working out partner issues, but as quickly as you decided that the thinner of the two gay guys (after a juicy smooch) was whom he was, he morphed into a straight guy who was in love with a woman. 

In a book called Seven Arrows, my mother, bless her, was confused because the minute she figured out who one character was, it would evolve into another.  That’s the way I felt throughout most of this exercise in Love. To the actors’ credit, the work and natural characterizations settled in nicely after my first note “Lots of ‘acting.’”  To the playwrights’ credit (who meticulously culled the lengthy conversations they recorded on their cross country journey), the characters were well defined. 
Briana McLean and Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann
Photo by Mandy Stoller
The actor who reminded me of Gene Simmons of Kiss sat behind me and because of the relative instability of the risers, every time he and his wife who sat next to him moved, that whole section of the audience was jostled. I prefer to experience the play more from a distance.  Unlike Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, where one character trysts with another and then one goes off to have a connection to the next and so on until the last trysts with the first in the series of several scenes, these characters were in and out of the audience, changing costume pieces and challenging the audience to figure out who was whom.  

As an acting exercise this piece is a great workout for actors.  As they are all about the same age, defining characters who were older and younger was slightly problematic. 

I was interested in Ms Bishop’s discussion in the press notes about “Moment Work.”  It was as though it was a revelation that 'being in the moment' is essential to creating any sort of theatre.  It makes me impatient to see well meaning folks reinvent the wheel and call it something new

Had Ms Bishop found a way to have the actors seated or standing around the stage or to the sides instead of seated directly in the audience, the theatricality of the piece might have worked better for me.  Across from me where the gay couple sat together and worked on their lasting love, the woman seated directly next to them was clearly distressed. It was not deliberate Theatre of Cruelty, as the scene was supposedly in private, but the device simply did not work.

When emerging playwright/director/producer/actors step out to try things, that alone deserves applause.  Hopefully, How Love Lasts may be reduced to fewer changing characters and a way may be found to make following the plot lines of the several couples less of a challenge. 

*written by (Every word … verbatim… from the five couples interviews)
via Brooke Bishop and Daniel Lundberg
Thursdays at 8PM
Through March 24, 2016
Echo Theatre
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Tickets and Information
310 307 3753

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Kevin Symons, Matthew Patrick Davis,
and Thomas Hobson 

Photo by Sasha Venola
 The history of The Complete History of America (Abridged) is long and impressive.  First created by Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor in 1993, the show has played in big big houses and in London’s West End for almost ten years.  Long, with the shortest bio in the program, is also credited along with Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield for the creation of this romp which surveys history all the way back, almost... to the Big Bang.   Three amazingly talented actors, Matthew Patrick Davis as Matt, Thomas Hobson as Thomas and Kevin Symons as… Kevin!  galumph their way through two acts of rag tag wonderfulness that takes us back to the sweet success of THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS, Jay Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales, The Marx Brothers, Olson and Johnson and other ancient references that shout parody, satire and smart…  Smart…  SMART! comedy.  

Matthew Patrick Davis and Kevin Symons
Photo by Sasha Venola

For anyone who skipped American History Class, this show is a primer, sort of.   Where The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)  races merrily (and I think chronologically) through the plays of the Bard,  in  “History / Abridged,” the audience is treated to wonderful twists and turns with current topical references that must be updated constantly. Timing is everything and the actors’ timing is perfect, even when it isn’t! These three guys are having so much fun, sprinkled with subtle and disturbing “facts” (that may need checking,) that laughter explodes and along with familiar dates in our history is a great reward.

Brief memento mori reminds us of sad assassinations but, the story of Lincoln's demise is recounted by the mystery bullet to climax the first act: Kapow! 

Matt, Thomas and Kevin are consummate professionals. On Erin Walley’s imaginative set the three bring to life dozens of notables from not only American history, but, from the history of the world.  The fourth wall is seldom observed, especially when a late arrival, Greg, missed the first several minutes of the show. The guys have explained in detail at the outset what the whole show is about.  They stop and rewind to catch Greg up and then roll merrily along.   This is not unlike Peter Brooks’ MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at the Ahmanson many years ago where everything stopped as latecomers were ushered up to the front row and embarrassed by the Rustics.  It’s all in good fun. The laughs are genuine.    Two acts rush on: full throttle; outrageous and from time to time seasoned with stupid puns and questionable facts.  One slightly too long bit brought Hillary and DJT on stage for a Q and A with the audience.  The payoff was a question from an audience member who asked what DJT’s middle initial stood for?  “Jesus!”

Jerry Kernion’s direction is flawless which is no mean feat with all the rushing about and costume changes and all those words!!!

This is extraordinary good fun at The Falcon.  Do not, under any circumstances… arrive late! Unless, of course, you are up for some silly teasing.  Number One? Or Number Two?

By Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor
Directed by Jerry Kernion
Falcon Theatre
4252 Riverside Dr .
Burbank ,  CA   91505
Through March 6, 2016
(818) 955-8101

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Sheila Callaghan’s rough and tumble play, BED, currently at the Atwater Village assaults the senses from the moment the house opens.  The Echo Theatre at the Atwater is a totally flexible space. It’s a well appointed black box with the ability to move the stage area and the audience to create any atmosphere.  Callaghan has said that BED is not autobiographical, but was inspired by a traumatic event in her life. The trauma is palpable as we find our seats.  The stage, strewn with everything from a toy keyboard, sheets of musical scores and articles of clothing set the scene.  That may be blood on the floor. Seating is cramped and not all together comfortable, which is appropriate because the story that unfolds is chaotic, invasive and crude.   Kate Morgan Chadwick as Holly slithers drunkenly from the slammed door, circumnavigating the huge platform on Se Oh’s post apocalyptic feeling set.     Holly’s life is about rock and roll and sex, not necessarily in that order.   
Kate Morgan Chadwick and TW Leshner
Photo by Darrett Sanders
(Click on the photo for the full effect!)

The Bed in question is enormous.  It is disheveled, as is Holly’s life.  The abandoned care with which Callaghan has constructed Holly’s character is both tender and tough.  Enter Cliff (T.W. Leshner) who takes commands from Holly becoming slightly disoriented as he has never encountered a woman like this before.  She tells him that usually, she comes pretty quickly and in a flash we witness unabandoned fucking.  The graphics are left to the imagination, but the intensity that is commanded by Ms Chadwick proves to be the wave that crests and breaks again and again in Callaghan’s well honed story.  Cliff has been told by the friend who introduced him to Holly that he’ll fall in love with her.  Zap!

Chadwick’s performance is extraordinary.  Her raw energy and acute sense of self and sexuality is undeniable.  Personally, I hate tobacco.  Period.  At one point Holly, frustrated, shreds a pack of cigarettes into her hair.  This lays the foundation for how tobacco as a harbinger of toughness emerges in the show.  Cliff and Holly do get married and do have a baby and Holly’s music bursts into the plot.  An affair with Cliff’s hunky tattooed brother, JC (Johnathan McClain) complicates things.  A fourth “character,” Jeff Gardner’s sound design, emerges and buoys the production up throughout.

Callaghan’s earthy script reminds of Oscar Winner Diablo Cody’s brilliant 2007 film script, JUNO, which examined the adventures of another young woman and sex. Callaghan even resembles Cody a bit. The playwright’s credits include a teaching career and many produced stage productions (including an upcoming show at the Kirk Douglas). She is a writer/producer on the down and dirty Showtime series SHAMELESS.  Of course, it’s the words that get things rolling and with Jennifer Chambers’ tight direction and strong performances by Chadwick, Leshner and McClain, this one is a hit. 
Leave the kids at home.

BED by Sheila Callaghan
Directed by Jennifer Chambers
Echo Theater Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.,
Sundays at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.,
Feb. 6 through March 13.
Tickets and Information: (310) 307-3753

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

RED by John Logan SCR and Rothko

Born in Russia.  Moved to Oregon.  A maverick from the start, Mark Rothko (Mark Harelik) and his enormous ego are brought to life in  RED, John Logan’s wordy and emotional peek into Rothko’s studio (no natural light) where he has in production a series of paintings to decorate the new Four Seasons Restaurant in a monument to wealth:  the Seagram Building designed by Mies Van der Rohe and Philip Johnson.  Rothko accepts $35,000.00 (amounting to almost $300,000.00 in today’s economy) to create the series of murals.  Ken (Paul David Story), a new assistant arrives to help Rothko with the project. 
Mark Harelik and Paul David Story

Rothko announces that he is Ken’s employer and not a litany of other relationships including ‘mentor’ and ‘father’ as he launches directly into mentoring mode. Logan’s dialogue is crisp and deep.  For students of Contemporary Art, the story enlightens with insights into the rage and depth of Mark Rothko and his extraordinary works of art.

As Rothko, Harlik carries the piece in fits and starts.  Embodying the artist physically, he finds moments of clarity and moments of rage, exploding at  Story/Ken who simply answers a question that he thinks has been directed to him.  Jackson Pollock enters the discussion.  Rothko accuses Pollock of suicide.  Incredulous, Ken remembers that Pollock died in a car accident.  To which Rothko responds that the evidence of alcohol abuse and the difficulty of handling fame as an artist drove the splatter painter to his death.  “Believe me,” announces Rothko, “when I commit suicide there won't be any doubt about it!”

Rothko ended his own life with no ambiguity about ten years later. 

Ken’s evolution in the relationship with Rothko is fascinating to experience with somewhat uncomfortable blackouts that signal time change.  Rothko’s ego is so engaged with his own work that the Tigers at the gates of Abstract Expressionism: Rauschenberg, Johns, Lichstenstein, Warhol, et al, that he thinks that Johns is out to kill him!  Imagining Warhol on display in perpetuity makes him scoff.

After two years working for the artist; having absorbed Rothko’s tutelage, Ken announces that abstract expressionism is dead.  PopArt is undeniable, exploding back at the master to virtually declare his own independence. The 1960s are at the doorstep and times are changing.

Comparing the performances of Harelik and Story to Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne, the originators of these roles, is not a fair comparison, but Harelik and Story’s dedication to the words and the arcs of their characters is undeniable.

SCR Founder David Emmes direction creates beautiful stage pictures on Ralph Funicello’s highly functional set.  The absence of a work table to construct stretcher frames makes the construction of a frame that leads to a highlight of the show is a mystery. 

RED by John Logan
Directed by David Emmes
South Coast Repertory Theatre
655 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, California  92626

(Copied from the SCR Press Release)
 There are no Monday performances.
    • Evening Performances:
    • Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Jan. 30, 31, Feb. 2 and 3; Feb. 7, 9, and 10; and Feb. 14, 16 and 17, at 7:30 p.m.
    • Thursdays-Saturdays, Jan. 30, Feb. 4-6, Feb. 11-13 and Feb. 18-20, at 8 p.m.
    • Matinee Performances:
    • Saturdays-Sundays, Jan. 30-31, Feb. 6-7, Feb. 13-14, and Feb. 20-21, at 2:30 p.m.
    • ASL-interpreted: Saturday, Feb. 20, at 2:30 p.m.
  • Post-Show Discussions: Wednesday, Feb. 3, and Tuesday, Feb. 9. Discuss the play with cast members of Red during free post-show discussions led by South Coast Repertory’s literary team. Segerstrom Stage.
  • Pre-Show Lecture: Thursday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. Enjoy a half-hour pre-show lecture with Todd Smith, CEO and director of the Orange County Museum of Art, about Mark Rothko and his art, followed by a performance of Red.
  • Inside the Season: Saturday, Feb. 6, from, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Led by members of SCR’s literary staff, this lively two-hour session features in-depth interviews with cast members and artists from the production staff, revealing secrets and offering insights into SCR’s production of Red.  Segerstrom Stage. Tickets are $12 and may be purchased in advance or at the door.
Location: South Coast Repertory is located at 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa, at the Bristol Street/Avenue of the Arts exit off the San Diego (405) Freeway in the David Emmes/Martin Benson Theatre Center, part of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Parking is available on Park Center Drive, off Anton Boulevard.

Monday, February 1, 2016

"Safe At Home - An Evening With Orson Bean." Pacific Resident Theatre

Full Disclosure.  
Years ago Orson Bean took me to lunch at Musso and Frank’s in Hollywood.  We had the same voice over agent at the time.  After a chat in the agent’s office one day, he said, “Let’s go to lunch.”  This has absolutely no impact on the impartiality of my review of this genius actor, raconteur, monologist, magician and all around good guy. (Please click on the photo for the full effect.)

At the age of 87, Orson Bean is a dynamo.  Charming, full of energy with stories dating back to his childhood and early days in show business, he mounts the stage full of love.  Living in Venice has had Orson active with the Pacific Resident Theatre for years and because of the popularity of his first outing with Safe at Home, he’s back again to whatever the complete opposite of ‘polite applause’ might be.   Standing 'O!'

Even with some intimidating winds and weather, the Sunday Matinee was filled to the rafters with an appreciative audience.  The ease with which Orson takes the stage and the wonderful stories he spins with interstitials of magic tricks that start with the production of a flower from an empty vase (he did that one at the age of seven… or was it five?) he is completely and genuinely engaged with us.

With a career that spans over sixty years (probably seventy), Orson brings us up to the time that his career has started to fulfill his dreams. We then fast forward to the "big time show biz really in the circus."  His familiar face is one that certainly everyone who has watched the Johnny Carson Show or Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights long ago, will recognize.  He’s the favorite uncle who comes for Thanksgiving with a pocket full of treats and may just find a quarter behind your ear.  The man is present and lovely. 

Super stardom, it seems, has never been of much interest.  He rides his bike from his Venice canal home shared with his lovely wife Alley Mills, to the theatre; engages with the produce man at the local Ralph’s just down Lincoln Boulevard.  He is comfortable in his own skin and as the audience comes to the theatre loving him with that preconceived notion, the magic of the man glides comfortably from the stage to each one of us.  We are not a group.  We are individuals: friends, who have come to see this familiar friend who shares his life in a mesmerizing monologue of magic tricks and tears and that pure laughter that is only really experienced when we have been led down the garden path to a very nice surprise.

The light coming into your heart as Orson Bean takes his second bow is, many fold as bright for him, I’m sure.  As he says regarding being an actor, “It beats heavy lifting!”  If you haven't gone, please GO!  And, if you have, go again and share the light, bring a friend. 

Safe At Home - An Evening With Orson Bean
Written by Orson Bean
Directed by Guillermo Cienfeugos

Pacific Resident Theatre
703 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90201
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 3PM
Closing March 13, 2016
Tickets and Information:
310 822 8392