Tuesday, November 15, 2016


By Bryan Davidson

The creative team at the 24th Street Theatre near USC is an embedded member of their community.  Their community outreach may bring in ten thousand kids  in a year’s time to learn about what the magic of theatre can do for us.  This week, in light of the tragic events that may create frightening changes in our country, they have invited all audiences to attend the performances of Hansel and Gretel Blue Grass free of charge. 

The play, in development for three years, turns on the familiar Grimm’s fairy tale, but has been updated to the sad 1930s in Depression Era Kentucky.  We learn that Butcher’s Hollar is a small coal mining community where the mines have become “dead ground.”  Narrated in a clever video appearance, Bradley Whitford as radio personality The Duke brings the story to life as The Get Down Boys blue grass band underscores the story in music and projections.
Angela Giarratana and Caleb Foote
with Bradley Whitford on video
Photo by Cooper Bates

Whitford becomes the voice of the father of Hansel (excellent Caleb Foote) and Gretel (equally excellent Angela Girratana) who declares that all a man needs in this world is a “cord, a blade and an iron.”  Shades of Survivor, the kids are left alone in the woods to fend for themselves.  At first we think that their dad might return for them, but we know the story and right on cue the Mountain Woman (frightening Sarah Zinsser)
Angela Giarratana, Sarah Zinsser, Caleb Foote
Photo by Cooper Bates
hampered by poor eyesight and endowed with magical powers, gathers the children in and proceeds to fatten them up.

Mountain Woman exacts songs from Gretel and familiar tunes emerge: Amazing Grace, Will the Circle Be Unbroken and I’ll Fly Away, with occasional accompaniment by the Get Down Boys.   Keith Mitchell’s scenic design enhanced with video by Matthew G. Hill and Dan Weingarten’s lights become almost like an additional character in the production.

The three year development of this World Premiere production and how it came to the playwright, Bryan Davidson, and the producers emerged slowly. The sad business of children being sent away as in the fairy tale is happening even today as parents, unable to take care of their kids in countries south of our borders are putting them on trains unaccompanied with the hope they find help as they travel north.

Director Debbie Devine runs the actors through their paces: three excellent performances: in and out of the audience through drops depicting depleted coal mines that, with projections, become the forest and the enchanted home of Mountain Woman as well as a window into The Duke’s ten thousand watts of radio power narration.

24th Street has a long reputation for excellence and trying new things, especially to the benefit of the neighborhood and theatre aimed at children, but with an eye to have a story for adults at the same time.  This is a show for the entire family and deserves an audience. I am unsure how long free admission will be offered, but donations to the theatre are always welcome.

The 24th Street Theatre
1117 W 24th St, Los Angeles, CA 90007
Tickets and Information:
 (213) 745-6516

Sunday, November 6, 2016


William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline opened on Friday to an enthusiastic audience and unfortunate sound issues.   This is one of The Bard's more complicated stories with plot points that play out just because the playwright says so. Maybe this was one of Marlowe's?    

A severely  whipped King Cymbeline (William Dennis Hunt), his contrary daughter, Imogen (Olivia Buntaine),
Olivia Buntaine and William Dennis Hunt
his second wife, a domineering
Queen (Christine Avila), the Queen's spoiled brat, Cloten (Jordan Klomp).. who enters at one point with a 'boule' that may have been a murder weapon? .. and poor low born Posthumous (Dane Oliver) who loves Princess Imogen and she loves him back, but he gets banished, and what's more is challenged by Daniel Ramirez as Iachamo in a macho bet that makes little sense...  and then there's the issue of the kids in Wales: rather interesting women (sons in the original): Michelle Wicklas as Arviraga and Celia Mandela as Guideria who capture their moments with considerable skill; kidnapped twenty years earlier by the banished and vengeful  Gerard Marzilli as Belarius and then, some business that leads to war because of Britain's refusal to pay tribute to the Romans and some mens' parts played by women and some distracting scene changes while another scene is going on and how the language must be spoken trippingly on the tongue but sometimes isn't and some broad strokes sword play in a small strokes playing area and, of course, after almost three hours of goings on with doubling and probably some tripling in costumes that represent "Then, and Now" we bid a fond adieu to the kind of theatre that really, really, really ought to inspire us ... in a storefront with forty or fifty vintage seats where magic may occur, but, sadly, did not this time.

I may be losing patience. These tiny companies who come together in search of craft and Art in remodeled little spaces must earn support.  Daniel Henning's 2nd Stage and the Independent Shakespeare Company's really dinky spaces are good examples of how it can work beautifully. With a grateful nod to William Dennis Hunt, founder of one of LA's premiere and most prestigious and ground breaking store front theatre companies in the United States, The Company Theatre, I must suggest that this show needs judicious cutting and some even more serious work on staging. Brand new director Frank Weidner's "first full production as a director" shows if nothing else, his enthusiasm. Hopefully, experience  may be a good teacher. 

Granted, this room is very 'live' and that may have something to do with having trouble with understanding the dialogue, but still, three hours is much too long a time to wade through a story that with imagination might be told in two or less with no ten minute intermission that turns into twenty. Could it  be told with flowing choreography and charm?  The Play's the Thing! 

Cymbeline by William Shakespeare

 The Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center
11006 W Magnolia Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601 
November 4-20, 2016
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8pm
Sunday Matinees @ 3pm  


Christine Avila* as The Queen

Olivia Buntaine as Imogen

William Dennis Hunt* as Cymbeline

Jordan Klomp* as Cloten/Cornelius

Kathleen Leary as Lucia

Celia Mandela as Guideria

Victoria Martinez* as Pisania

Gerard Marzilli* as Belarius

Dane Oliver* as Posthumus

Daniel Ramirez as Iachamo

Michelle Wicklas as Arviraga 
*Indicates a member of Actors Equity Association, the actors union that has been working like anything to ruin this important type of theatre in Los Angeles.  

Full disclosure:  I was a member of The Company Theatre. That association has been wonderful influence in my life. My gratitude to Bill Hunt and his vision long ago is endless.