Monday, October 31, 2016


 UNBOUND by D.G. Watson
Michael (Chris Gardner) and Kate (Laila Ayad) Photo: Dean Cechvala

Kate (Laila Ayad) and Michael (Chris Gardner) awaken in a strange hotel room with no memory of how they got there and with no idea who the other person is.  Sprayed radical slogans on the walls and the growing kinship of the two young people lead to some helpful exposition; some rough sex and totally unexpected violence.  Rebellious Kate is a self declared revolutionary. Michael is duty bound to aid in the reformation of the Black Panther Party. Excellent acting does all it can to bring the piece to life.  The quick pace devolves to explosive action.

Kate’s mother, Dana (Gates McFadden),  a potential Presidential candidate, arrives in Act II where we learn that she is the product of far Right Wing politics.  Her confrontation with Ellis (Ellis E. Williams), the Black Panther Party leader who has just been released from prison after being incarcerated for 36 years,  becomes a confusing dance of power.  Mr. Williams has trouble with lines from the beginning, struggling to keep up as the surreal collaboration of these two former enemies grows more and more unbelievable. 

The character of Ellis may be a take on Eldridge Cleaver and the work the Black Panthers did on behalf of their community in the 1960s.  The ridiculous notion that Dana would go to such extreme lengths to protect her daughter, includes an odd discussion of demonic possession and Ellis’s notion that the dead return to haunt us, takes the argument of the piece into the absurd. Prop failures lead to unexpected laughs. Indeed if some of this idea had been presented as a dark comedy, the laughter might have saved it.

Director Jennifer Chambers, whose direction of the beautifully absurd Bed at The Echo Theatre, impressed me to no end, has her hands full with a completely unmanageable text.  Ahmed Best, who choreographed fights for The Echo’s brilliant Blueberry Toast, creates strong physical moments but it’s not enough to make this world premiere anything but an overly long disaster.

I love Gates McFadden.  How she got involved with Unbound is a mystery and a travesty.  How IAMA Theatre Company wrangled these talented actors to participate in this thing is a question that will go unanswered.

IAMA Theatre Company presents
 UNBOUND by D.G. Watson
A World Premiere
6539 Santa Monica Blvd at Hudson
Hollywood, CA 90028
October 29, 2016 8pm   
Through Sunday, November 27, 2016
 Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm 
 Sundays at 7:00pm.
Tickets $30.00  

Monday, October 24, 2016


A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (Including a tedious scene of Pyramus and his Love, Thisbe) holding forth in the tiny space where the magic of the Independent Shakespeare Company radiates its work from is.. well, tiny.  The beauty of this company is that they don't let these bare minimum circumstances hold them back.  Producing A Midsummer Night's Dream with quarter a ton of fairies is no small task, however with doubling and enveloped in the spirit of Shakespeare's magical comedy, they make it happen. 

Having first experienced this play on stage at The Ahamnson with the Royal Shakespeare Company under the direction of Peter Brook the bar is set pretty high.  The stage is configured in 'tennis court' style with the audience on opposite sides of the action. Oberon (Sam Breen) and Titania (Kalean Ung) conduct their magical business from enormous golden thrones while mere mortals (and some of the fairies) create the mixed metaphors of the ancient time as well as a modern mix of men and women who compose The Rustics center stage.   Though the lovers are wonderful, it seems that Bottom (the very actory actor Faquir Hassan) and his cast for Pyramus and Thisbe: April Fritz (Flute),  Tatania Louder (Snout), Evan Lewis Smith (Snug), Erwin Tuazon (Quince) are modern day actors in their individual ways called to create their characters.  Silencing iPhones falls into the mix as well as a surprise for Oberon! 

The lovers, Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius (doubled by the Rustics  get a program!) are lithe and to figure out who is in love with whom and why...  must take us to the text again and I always get confused.  Suffice it to say that they bring sensuality to the mix no matter who is sleeping with whom.
April Fritz, Evan Lewis Smith, Erwin Tuazon and Tatiana Louder Photo Credit
Grettel Cortes Photography

A major shock to the  system for those expecting a light weight Puck (Jose Acain who also limns Theseus) are in for a big surprise.  Puck literally attacks the stage and brings to the role the stuff of magic and even a bit of frightening power.  Of course, he's subject to the whims of Oberon (Breen) and Titania (Ung) both extraordinarily powerful as they struggle for power over one another. These physical aspects pumped on sterioids by director David Melville is a major work out for the entire cast.  The quarter ton of fairies I expected turn out to be a bevy of puppets manipulated by even the sleeping lovers.  It's fun. 
Doubling Hippolyta and Peaseblossom lithe Martha T. Newman,  fills the bill to the point of checking the playbill to make sure we are on top of who's who. Ditto for Egeus (Hassan) and the entire gang.  Sixteen plus characters by nine dedicated actors makes for another take on   Shakespeare's gorgeous play. I missed the moon when the Rustics got to their performance, but the play within a play will always be a favorite of mine.  

True to the text; for those who love the play, to see this dedicated cast bring it to life is pure pleasure.  

by William Shakespeare
Independent Shakespeare Company
3191 Casitas Avenue #168
Atwater Village/Los Angeles, CA 
Through Sunday November 20, 2016
Tickets and Information:
(818 508 1754) 
Limited Free Tickets Available!!
(818) 710 6306
No one is turned away for lack of funds.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Tanna Frederick, Stephen Howard. Credit: Lia Pearson Photography
Tanna Frederick bounces off the walls as  the lovable pup, Sylvia, for the third time, this time directing herself in the popular show shining forth  at the Odyssey. 

A.R. Gurney's lively story premiered Off Broadway in 1995 and has ever since pleased hundreds of audiences, the Sunday Matinee at The Odyssey: no exception. 

Beege Barkette (l.), Tanna Frederick, Stephen Howard
 The manic energy of Ms Frederick is contagious from the get go as Greg (Stephen Howard) arrives in the townhouse he shares with the mother of their children, Kate (Begge Barkette). The kids are out of the house (though still in college) leaving the empty nest and time for the parents to enjoy the 'stuff' of life.  Greg is dissatisfied with his job with no substance (currency trading) and Kate is finding ways to bring the classics to middle school kids.  Middle age crazy and middle age crisis go hand in hand as Greg arrives home with a wayward pup: Sylvia (director Tanna Frederick).  The upscale set by Mark Kanieff is seasoned with interesting tiny dioramas that depict life in the Manhattan  neighborhood.  I mention these because they are essentially invisible to the audience except for the park bench area where Greg takes Sylvia to romp in a dog park.  This full sized scene is duplicated by a tiny model which is also duplicated again by a teeny tiny model.  The significance of these embedded scenes is not referred to, but add a beautifully artsy flair tothe setting.

As Sylvia, the articulate and hyperactive doggie, Ms Frederick directs herself over the top, literally chewing the scenery with elaborate costume changes as she gallumphs through the lives of Greg and Kate, bringing the energy of the piece to fever pitch.  

A grand triple turn by Matthew Marcy as butch dog owner Tom, Kate's enormous friend, Phyllis and  the androgynous therapist Leslie adds to director Frederick's well timed project.  Whether we are supposed to accept Phyllis as a woman or a transgender is not clear, but her mere physical presence reminded me of Charles Ray's gigantic mannequin!  The wisdom of his ambiguous role as Leslie, deliberately making Kate and Greg deal with their own identities is productive.

The odd conceit of  humans having dialogue with a dog works.  I have issues with the end of the play itself, all neatly summed up through the fourth wall with much too tidy speeches from Greg and Kate, but Fredrick's given herself the lion's share of the schtick and makes us better understand how we may turn our pets into people, not always to the benefit of the family.  Gurney's salting his text with classic references from English Literature shows his scholarship through Kate and adds knowing nods from English majors in the audience.  

High energy and highly entertaining, Sylvia is worth a trip to the Odyssey. It should be on the must see list for folks who are ready for two hours of just plain fun, with some thoughtful provocation driving it at a break neck pace.

by A.R. Gurney
A Guest Production at The Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Through December 2, 2016
Tickets and Information: 800 838 3006  


Saturday, October 15, 2016


Jai Rodriguez as Alex Moore
Photo by Sasha A. Venola

Buyer & Cellar currently at the Falcon is a tour de force performance of a near flawless script by  Jonathan Tolins, directed expertly by Dimitri Toscas.  It's Jai Rodriguez holding the stage for an hour and a half with a roller coaster ride that is, simply, a Must See. 

Inspired by Barbra Streisand's book "My Passion for Design,"  whether or not Tolins' story is true or not, the story comes to life with a nudge and a wink as Rodriguez (as Alex Moore) enters from the house making sure the audience understands that this is a "work of fiction."  That said, the checkered career of Alex Moore, including employment at The Magic Kingdom!.. unfolds with a cast of at least five other characters smoothly brought to life with precision by the actor. Adam Flemming's spare but versatile set becomes, with easy lighting changes by Nick McCord, various locations, most notably the downstairs 'shopping mall' created by Alex's Malibu employer to pretty much enjoy on her own.  Alex's job is to literally mind the store: the yogurt machine, the popcorn popper and to dust the myriad of collectables that reflect the exquisite and very expensive tastes of the actress, director, singer and interior designer  who has enjoyed seven decades of her career:  Barbra!
As Alex settles into his employment in Streisand's cellar, a "perceived" friendship develops with the star.  Transitioning easily from one character to another, from storyteller to the supporting players with a simple gesture and change of voice, we find ourselves adoring the character and feeling sorry for her as she confesses that all she has ever really wanted was "to be pretty." 

Rodriguez never drops a stitch as the story flows along.  

It must be noted that even with the standard request by the preshow announcer to turn off all electronic devices, a phone lit up in the lap of the woman seated directly in front of me.  As we are, all of us??, becoming slaves to our electronic leashes, the days of courtesy in public seem to be dwindling away. It may be cruel to call this woman a 'jerk!'  Who knows what the emergency might have been, but had she done as we were asked, the phone would not have intruded. 

When we go to a movie or a play, I think it's to escape the 'real world' briefly to abandon disbelief and immerse ourselves in the play or the film.  If we find it not to our liking, then we are free to excuse ourselves. I hope the woman felt a bit of shame as I leaned forward and asked her to turn her phone off.  

To be dragged out of the play by rude behavior is simply wrong.  I hope that we never become a society of rude "jerks" constantly linked to the ever intruding iPhone or other devices which ruin a performance for an entire theatre full of folks who have paid admission to suspend our disbelief and immerse ourselves in the the argument of the play.

Buyer & Cellar is a well constructed, funnier than anything: poignant and kind tour de force: an evening to remember.  Don't miss this one! 

Buyer & Cellar 
by Jonathan Tolins
Falcon Theatre
 4252 Riverside Drive
Through November 6, 2016
Tickets and additional information  
Burbank, California