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Sunday, November 19, 2017

BLED FOR THE HOUSEHOLD TRUTH

Thank goodness for John Perrin Flynn and the hearty band of true theatre folks at The Rogue Machine Theatre who are unafraid to move the envelope .. sometimes from within and sometimes outside, in harness, to drag it along, kicking and screaming.   Whether "bled for the household truth," a play by ruth fowler (note the lower case?), may fall within or without the envelope of dramaturgy is a question that seeing the play may answer.  I'm guessing that it's still inside and doing its best to make a comment that is rather cloudy but has moments of clarity. We are now in the age of 'pussy grabbing.'

Program notes tell us that playwright fowler saw an ad on Craigs List that prompted the creation if her idea for this play.  Deliberately leading us out of the comfort zone is accomplished in spades, though mostly gratuitously.  Director CAMERON WATSON (note the caps) is well known for 'creative' takes on the shows he directs. Most recently for me, was his use of full frontal male nudity in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Antaeus.  In that play, Brick gratuitously displays himself for no apparent reason.  
Alexandra Hellquist and Benjamin Burdick   
 

  Photo Credit John Perrin Flynn

In fowler's play, inappropriate sexual behavior is high on the list of what happens when the premise that may underlie the whole idea is framed around an abandoned child; when sexual boundaries are murky; when respect and love are waiting somewhere just out of our grasp.   

Lonely and possibly 'on the spectrum' we meet Keith (Benjamin Burdick), a successful liar who works too much and because of his eclectic proclivity for watching porn on his computer and his need for companionship (even though he declares he has lots of friends), advertises for a live in woman. His inability to touch or be touched introduces us to the brassy Pen (Alexandra Hellquist) who virtually forces herself on Keith to occupy his extra room with private bath and all she has to do is be there.  Mostly.  

Playwright fowler is not Edward Albee. That bar is one that is way too high for most writers to approach.  However, the conflicts that arise with the duplicitous Pen, breaking a 'rule' (no male visitors!)  by having studly Billy (Nathaniel Meek) over for a bit of telly and titillation that gets out of hand with a condom absent rape is just the beginning. Billy exits, leaving her ragged on the floor with an abrupt "I've gotta go." This leads Pen to 'douch' with a left over slice of pizza. 

The dance of fowler's play disappoints somewhat with what at first light is a gorgeous New York City high rise apartment by accomplished scenic designer, John Iacovelli: Irving Place between 18th and 19th. Pen's and Keith's rooms are stage right and left respectively, fully furnished and luxuriously appointed with full windows obscured by mini-blinds. Iffy sight lines and the rooms' interiors well obscured is a sad truth here.  A program caveat revealing that this play includes 'nudity' puts us on notice, but there are no shades of Oh, Calcutta.  Pen is an attractively thin Brit (Manchester, England, England, across the Atlantic Sea) who occasionally appears in bra and panties.  Her Manchester accent charms, but makes understanding most of her dialogue difficult at best, though her "shits" and "fucks" are impossible to ignore. 

If rape, masturbation, something to do with the scent of previously worn panties, masturbation, again... and fondling of an unconscious woman are stepping stones to 'love,' then "bled for the household truth" has a long way to go for any kind of honesty, though the effort may be appreciated.  Every single character is a liar and in one way or another, with the exception of a short encounter with Monica (Rachel Brunner) who has a brief party with Billy and Pen. Pen overdoses on cocaine. When Pen passes out, Monica has the good sense to reject Billy's advances and hit the trail. 

Program notes declare that it is the play's intention to take the audience out of our comfort zone.  The discomfort of Mr. Burdick's waffling behavior between his unusual shyness butted up against outbursts of rage for a broken rule and his love and disgust for his mother who abandoned him as a child, contrasts with the difficulty in understanding Ms Hellquist's Manchester accent. The kernels of 'truth' here may be only beginning to pop as the curtain falls on the final scene.  

The World Premiere of
bled for the household truth 
a play by ruth fowler
Rogue Machine  Theatre
1089 N Oxford Avenue, 
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Opened November 18, 2017 
Plays at 8:30 pm on Saturdays & Mondays 3:00pm on Sundays 
Closes December 18, 2017
Tickets and information:
855 585 5185
www.roguemachinetheatre.com

 

 

 

Monday, November 13, 2017

BIG BIG FISH at Pepperdine

Full disclosure.  
I don't often review college productions.  The grandmother of one of the actors in Pepperdine's production of John August and Andrew Lippa's Big Fish: the Musical is a dear friend. It  was an opportunity to see old pals and to see a show I had a great curiosity about.   


How could Tim Burton's film "Big Fish" written by John August, who also wrote the script for this musical, translate all of the amazing effects onto the stage.  The biggest surprise. literally,  is Karl. You may remember him as the giant whom the residents of Ashton, Alabama were ready to take up torches and pitch forks against. Played by Noah Archibald, Karl towers over the rest of the cast in excess of eight feet in height!

Taken from Daniel Wallace's book, "Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions" and made into a wonderful film in 2003 by director Tim Burton using August's script, with Mr. Lippa pushes the envelope by creating a musical that takes elements of both the original book and the movie to create two acts with pathos and love. Emphasis on Love. 

The Smothers' Theatre on the Pepperdine Campus sits on a gorgeous campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Malibu.  It feels expensive because there's a lot of dough here.  Appropriately, this production, creatively realized with Cathy Thomas-Grant's sharp direction; exquisite scenic design by DT Willis, it all works.  The show has major over tones of a full on Broadway production.  A live orchestra sits in full view stage left. Cast, orchestra, all: these kids nailed it. 

The basic plot delivers us into the lives of Edward Bloom (Evatt Salinger) and his often over the top and fantastical stories.  His son, Will (toe headed Ryan Robinson age seven and later as an adult Angelo Silva) absorbs his gusto and exaggerated version of the truth at face value as a child and later with some embarrassment as a grown man about to be married.  The beauty of Bloom's character is that his loving and lovable outlook permeates everyone who meets him.

As Edward's wife, Sandra, Audry McKee shines, especially with I Don't Need a Roof. 

As Jenny, Natalie Leonard, Edward's teen love, shows both strong voice and strength of character. 

One can't help but think of the Burton film as the show unfolds.  The lesson of love and joy and a little larceny shared by Amos Callaway of the Calloway Circus (Fernando Grimaldo) reminds us that "Secrets are the backbone of society!" as he employs Edward for years. 

Outstanding moments include the introduction of Kate Klimist as the Witch who predicts Edward's death and shines with "I Know What You Want!" Sandra and the Alabama Lambs rock in their audition for the circus. 

Heaping praise on a show built on the idea of peace and love and reason is easy. That these college kids spark to the text and are totally professional with the music is a tribute to a program that Pepperdine should be very proud of.  I collected one autograph after the show, with the idea that it will be famous not long after this actor graduates.

BIG FISH: THE MUSICAL
The Luciene and Daniel Forge Fall Musical
Book by John August 
Music/lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Smothers Theatre on the 
Pepperdine University Campus
24255 Pacific Coast Hwy
Malibu, CA 90263
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30
Sunday at 2PM
Closes Sunday, November 19, 2017
Tickets and information:
310 506 4522
arts.pepperdine.edu

KAIDAN: An immersive, site specfic, multi-sensory experience

Kaidan Project:!  WALLS GROW THIN

From Wikipedia: 

Kaidan (怪談) (sometimes transliterated kwaidan) is a Japanese word consisting of two kanji: 怪 (kai) meaning “strange, mysterious, rare or bewitching apparition" and 談 (dan) meaning “talk” or “recited narrative.”

Photo credit Chelsea Sutton

Rogue Artists Ensemble's extraordinarily expansive and creative journey with stories  inspired by Japanese folk tales (kaidan) is unlike virtually anything you, as a theatre goer may have ever experienced.  Environmental and existential, small groups of "searchers" are guided (more or less) and sometimes herded through a secret warehouse where their goal is to find  a missing woman: Kana Mori, played with extraordinary skill by Tane Kawasaki.  This is a visceral play that reaches into the actors as well as the audience.

Kana has been the victim of possession by a fox spirit, Kitsune. As she tells of her unfortunate experience, we are exposed to fantastic video projections, inventive puppetry and individual scenic designs that include one-on-one encounters that both frighten and inspire. 

A large foreboding freight elevator delivers audience members high up into the spooky narrow passageways of this industrial space creating a literal disassociation from reality all watched over by director Shawn T. Cawelti. Strong performances and dedicated ensemble members create an other worldly experience. Amazing tech and design credits are all listed on the company's page: 

https://www.rogueartists.org/about-the-artists-kaidan-project-walls-grow-thin

Because there are many actors playing the same parts, it's impossible to list individual performers. It is also impossible to try to explain the episodes that the audience is let to, with the exception of what seems to be simply magic as we come to the final ceremony with Kana.  And, that is really something! 


This is not a sit down and observe a performance  production.  Totally immersive, it is not, not, NOT! for the faint of heart.  

Required: comfortable shoes and being okay in confined spaces and total absolute darkness. The complete absence of a fourth wall makes this show very personal.   No fooling. The list of caveats is long and will be included in an email confirming your interest in seeing this production. 

Written by Chelsea Sutton and Lisa Dring along with the Ensemble, this ambitious project deserves an audience ready to explore beyond our imaginations... Imagine that!  Highly recommended.
KAIDAN: WALLS GROW THIN
By Lisa Dring and Chelsea Sutton 
and the Rogue Artists Ensemble
Secret Location: Los Angeles, CA
Extended
Tickets and Information:
213 596 9468
tickets@rogueartists.org



Saturday, November 4, 2017

DANGEROUS TIMES AT ANTAEUS!

 
Henri Lubatti and Reiko Aylesworth
Photo by Geoffrey Wade Photography

Playwright Christopher Hampton's adaptation of the 1782 novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons Dangereuses comes to Antaeus midst a 2017 firestorm of sexual accusations, innuendo and Hollywood intrigue.   Sex is the catalyst for this production, make no mistake.

Director Robin Larsen's "Libertines" cast confronts the audience in tableau at rise as if to include us in the unsavory goings on.. perhaps we are accomplices?  Set in the years just preceding the French Revolution, we meet the  extraordinarily sensual Reiko Aylesworth as La Marquise de Merteuil in her sinuous form fitting gown by Joycelyn Hublau Parker (whose unique costumes beautifully serve the production). And, as complicated as that sentence might be, the intrigue, also complicated, moves forward apace with the entrance of Le Vicomte de Valmont  (Henri Lubatti), a true rake with a reputation to uphold.  


The tangled web of revenge and sexual deceit sparkles with Yee Eun Nam's somewhat austere scenic designs and spectacular projections that announce the progress of the story supported beautifully by the meticulous orchestration and sound designs by  Jeff Polunus.  The affluent aristocracy embodied in Merteuil and her former lover,  Valmont, blossoms in a plot to take revenge!  The novel written as epistles to and from the principals in the story come to life in Hampton's play.  One needs a program to keep the characters straight. The younger lover,  Le Chevalier Danceny (Josh Breslow) who tends to slightly resemble Valmont in some of the under lit scenes fooled me for a minuteHowever, mistaken identity is never really an issue as the dance of intrigue plays out over the course of the weeks that transpire.

Excellent as Valmont's valet is Aaron Lyons as Azolan.  When a relatively small part shines, it's because the director, Robin Larsen, understood that sometimes it's the seasoning that really makes the repast terrific.  The over all direction in concert with the truly incredible tech that moves the plot along is spot on.  Another bright spot, Nadege August as Emilie, Valmont's courtesan, shamelessly steals her moments ...  as she should

The tangled web of deceit and revenge and switchbacks along the length and breadth of the play are unpredictable, though not a surprise. 

This excellent Antaeus production maintains their own reputation for fine theatre. Nam's stark scenic design helps to bring the story, dark and oddly rich in color to life.

 Les Liaisons Dangereuses
by Christopher Hampton
Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
Thursdays and Fridays @ 8 p.m.
Saturdays @ 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays @ 2 p.m. 
Performances continue through Dec. 10, 2017
Tickets and Information:
818 506 5436
info@antaeus.org

 
 

Friday, November 3, 2017

WOKE : A Revolutionary Cabaret CSULB

Once committed to the agreement to review a play, I do my best to meet that agreement.  I only met it half way tonight.

The ensemble for WOKE: A Revolutionary Cabaret was conceived by director Joanne Gordon in collaboration with Theatre Arts Students at Cal State University Long Beach. It is set in the Studio Theatre. It's a fairly flexible space, with an eye for experimentation and exciting productions. With Alexandra Billings and the ensemble, on a thrust stage that features what may be deigned 'bars': long pieces of channel steel hanging from a steel matrix, they become a background for the many aspects of WOKE.  

A live band is under used but nicely backs up the opening number cribbed from Les Miserables. 

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

The term "woke": evidently derived from African American slang meaning "a state of awareness" propounds to share the diverse stories of members of the ensemble while projections of their faces or activities appear on the walls of the theatre above the audience.  With about fifteen women and a handful of men in the cast,  the audience is subjected to total immersion in a polemic that seemed designed to let Alexandra Billings shamelessly outshine the kids who were all #Me Too or black or mentally ill or lesbian or gay or abused or otherwise victimized by society. This project, totally self indulgent and in some cases uncomfortably raw, has evolved from input from students workshopping with Ms Billings and director Gordon with the goal of exposing the underbelly of angst and anger that many  have been experiencing, especially in today's society whose disregard for those minorities has become intolerable. Now, through what may be loosely described as psychodrama, the ensemble  rises to declare that it is time for a change.  

We cannot argue with that!
Members of the cast in torn cutoffs and raggedy black Tshirts, rise to tell their stories. A little like the musicals Rent and A Chorus Line, it's hit and miss with some strong performances and personal revelations that are all coalesced in a final number at the end of the first act by Ms Billings. 
Credit to Ms Gordon for the effort to create WOKE with an extremely diverse cast. There is even an "Advisory" to the audience that some of the material might be so disturbing that counseling would be available on campus for students overwhelmed by the content of the show.
 I was, at once, impressed and repulsed by one section of the show where a rapping black woman declared herself a M*****F***er. 
Photo Credit: Keith Ian Polakoff.
Nicole Royster.
Powerful and disturbing. Not that this language is not heard every day, but ... being hit over the head is probably what the "Advisory" was all about.
Some of the actors are better than others. Each was sincere and focused on keeping the loosely woven fabric of the show moving. The individual stories of each member of the ensemble are more angry than poignant with the goal, of course, to keep the energy of the Revolution alive. Indeed, the inmates of the asylum at Charenton, may have had a song in the second act, which I opted to allow to go on without me. "...  We want a Revolution.... Now!" 

The heavy polemic of WOKE might have worked better for me, had the ensemble been half the size and the issues thereby reduced.  To be overwhelmed by the troubles of these artists may be worth the experience, keeping in mind that forewarned is forearmed. 

WOKE: A Revolutionary Cabaret
Devised by The Ensemble
Part of the Devising Democracy Series
Department of Theatre Arts
Cal State University / Long Beach
Parking $8.00!
Seventh Street and East Campus Road
Long Beach, California 90840
Through November 12, 2017
Tickets and Information:
 





Friday, October 20, 2017

STEPPING LIVELY! THE 39 STEPS

 Now and then an unabashed rave is fun to write.  For LA locals and near by or those who love to travel to be amazed and laugh..  The Actors' Co-op has mounted a gem.  We are not talking a 'diamond in the rough' this one is perfectly cut and laser sharp and more fun that you can do something fun with.

Townsend Coleman "Mr. Memory" and many others
An old Voice Over pal, Townsend Coleman, along with a cast of thousands: Carly Lopez, Lauren Thompson and Kevin Shewey bring Patrick Barlow's adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps to life with quick changes of characters and costumes and carryings on that defy gravity.. maybe once?

What Theatre is supposed to do.. well, what Art is supposed to do, I think.. is to take us to new places where we abandon whatever our current issues might be,  to just be somewhere else.. Richard Hannay (Shewey) is out of his flat. Suddenly, at the Palladium, being entertained by Mr. Memory (Coleman) things take a turn for the dramatic. Enter Lauren Thompson as a raven haired femme fatale and we are off to the races.  Racy races and silly stuff! Director Kevin Chesley has whipped his cast into a virtual frenzy that leaves the audience in tears!  Or breathless .. or both.

As Clown, Ms Lopez .. Coleman is listed as Clown, also.. because the two of them, along with Ms Thompson take on a myriad of characters .. too many to list and immediately the fun begins.  

How author  Barlow imagined Hitchcock's noir classic as a stage romp is explained in the program.  Go to the Actors' Co-op, read the program and enjoy the show.  

Kudos to cast and crew for blasting the headlines and current hew and cry that rocks our world with little interest in decency and for a couple of hours marvel at the Theatre at its best.  Keep in mind that the old addage (I can't remember where this addage came from.. so.. ) that when watching a British detective show on PBS, no matter how much you turn up the volume, you may not be able to understand the dialogue.  If fact that may be true in this production, but it really doesn't matter!  Not at all!!

No holds barred.  Great fun.  Don't miss it! 

THE 39 STEPS
Actors Co-op
1760 N Gower St.
 Hollywood, CA 90028 
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm 
Sundays at 2:30 pm ... 
Closes Sunday Oct. 29, 2017 
Tickets and information 
323 462 8460
Closes October 29, 2017

Friday, October 6, 2017

STEVEN KENT: FRIEND, MENTOR, DIRECTOR, GENIUS

October 6, 2017

Steven Kent: 1943 - 2017..  
Steven Kent..  If you are the photographer or know who he/she is.. please credit here.

Some of the best 'shows' I've ever attended were memorials for folks who were so loved that lots of people came to tell stories and to be with one another. The ritual of Theatre is partly this.. especially when it works.  Playwright/Poet Deena Metzger, who collaborated with Steve many times over the past forty or more years talked about magical happenings when working on a project.  Anyone who was a part of The James Joyce Memorial Liquid Theatre or The Emergence, two of The Company Theatre's amazing productions directed by Steven will understand that what the Theatre is supposed to do and did do in a few bright shining years of transformation on Robertson Boulevard changed people's lives, figuratively as well as literally for some of us. 
This leads me to say that what Steve Kent did was more than direct plays and work with actors to mount a production.  What he did was transform people into a place where whatever the production was, it was an ensemble of actors, musicians, designers and the text. always.. the text .. and that left an audience in a special contract with the production that sent them away changed. Better or at least with ideas that did not lead to going directly on to the next thing.  There was spirit and heart in every production.. And, I realized again that what Theatre is all about must be about transformation.  Not just an evening diversion.. or a matinee..  but, the importance of Theatre is living human beings interacting in an intimate way with other humans with the goal of the live performance melding their spirits.  

Of course, some shows are just a diversion. and some are better than others.. but every single audience that attends live Theatre is in a holy place... where something may happen that reaches deep into our hearts and fills it with something. Steve Kent's goal was to give colleagues, students, friends, actors and all.. the opportunity to make a difference in our lives.  

So.. about a hundred friends of Steven Kent's came to La Verne University today and there was a sort of show.  I was warned off the lengthy parts of eulogies and there were some, but we all sat and remembered a man who touched every person with whom he came in contact in a magical way. 

Today's event reminded me of those early days of The Company and how I, as a hanger on.. was involved in a very special way.  Working in Steve's workshops, I stole dozens of his theatre games to share with my students at Long Beach State.  

 There were many heart felt stories .. personal stories of working with Steve and lists of his accomplishments.  Members of The Company Theatre:  Jack Rowe, Don Harris, Barry and Don Opper, Candy Laughlin, Louie Piday, Bob Walter, Nancy Dannevik and Wiley Rinaldi were in attendance.  Tina Preston, Michael and Roses Pritchard were there, too. 

I met Steve's  neighbor, Martin Cox, who told me the story of going over to check on Steve and say hello.  In the end, Steve was sometimes coherent and sometimes not.  Martin came in, greeted Steve and was holding his hand and speaking to him.  Steve did not respond.  This was not all together unusual, but Martin was concerned. Then he thought that maybe Steve had died, but he didn't want to touch him inappropriately.. So.. he took a break and went back to his apartment and put his clean dishes away. Then, he got a text from a hospice worker who was on his way and asked how Steve was doing. Martin didn't want to text back that he thought that Steve was dead because the guy was on the road, driving.  Finally, he did arrive and Steve was taken care of.. Martin and I decided that the story would make Steve laugh .. and we did.

The kids.. the students who had Steve as a teacher and graduates who loved him gave eulogies.  Tom Moose, talked about meeting his wife in the very space where this gathering was held. He played his version of "I'll Fly Away" on his mandolin. Really touching. 

Our host was a twenty year old junior who had been Steve's student for only two years.. He was filled with emotion and charm. Cherubic. He summed up the memorial with lines from Hamlet. Act I, Scene Two:  "He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again." 

Yes. yes indeed..  
take care, michaelsheehan.