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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

PLASTICITY! At the Hudson!

Alex Lyras   Photo Credit Jessica Sherman
The Hudson Guild has taken store front (and back) theatre through its paces for many years.  PLASTICITY, conceived by Alex Lyras and Robert McCaskill featuring Lyras as a bevy of interesting characters, is the type of work that is so inventive, so present and accounted for that the extension of the show since its opening in late January, playing only on Monday nights, that one might hope that word of mouth would keep it running in The Hudson's 35 seat space for a long, long time. 

A discussion of brain injury as a topic for a one person exploration may, at first, seem like a stretch.  In fact, PLASTICITY really is about stretching and philosophy and the whys and wherefores of chance: the serendipity of our lives.  Even though Lyras is the only physical actor on the Hudson stage, featuring projections on a proscenium scrim as well as on the back wall of the stage, we meet a nine or more characters: some through Lyras and some via video projections.  The actor’s timing is crucial and thanks to brilliant projections by Corwin Evans, edited by Peter Chakos, the show comes together in a narrative that works beautifully.  Music and presumably other sound effects by Ken Rich are perfect.

DNR, the victim, engaged to the strikingly lovely, “Kate” suffers a brain injury.  We’re led to believe at first that it might be from a catastrophic rock climbing accident via opening video. We learn climbing terms and the climber's next to last resort has him praying for a ‘divot,’ a tiny hand hold to help his free climb move forward. There’s a term for a leap of faith... if missed, it’s on belay for the climber and hoping for a save. 
 Lyras portrays a wide variety of characters including a Hindu Brain Surgeon, the victim of the stroke, his twin brother,  a rapping orderly at the hospital, the psychiatrist discussing his client: Kate, the fiancĂ© of DNR,  others via skype and video with a truly effective use of lights, sound and projections.The production reminds of Chazz Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale, that first went up at Theatre West almost thirty years ago. Plasticity may have the luxury of a similar route to fame and fortune.

This production is show is literally a trip. A trip into the mind.  It questions our very being. One line that sticks is made by a consultant of questionable repute engaged by the victim’s twin trying to find a way through the tragedy:  “The brain is a brilliant liar!”  McCaskill’s direction invisibly guides co-writer Lyras through days and years of character changes.

Extended for Monday’s only! This one's for the theatre audience that longs for an artistic challenge and an undeniable performance.

PLASTICITY   
by Alex Lyras and Robert McCaskill
Hudson Guild Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
May 1, May 8, May 15, May 22 
• (323) 960-7787 or www.plasticitytheplay.com
• Facebook: www.facebook.com/alexlyras
• Twitter: @lyrasalex
TICKET PRICE:$30


Monday, April 3, 2017

Brilliant STILL LIFE at The MET

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--> STILL LIFE by Alexander Dinelaris

 

Laurie Okin and Susan Wilder 
Photo by John Perrin Flynn
 The Rogue Machine is a company of serious theatre practitioners who must stay in shape by finding places to park in their neighborhood and climbing cardiac stairs to their well appointed performance space at the MET Theater.  The space has great history with famous names and beautiful productions attached ever since Bill Bushnell (corrections are welcome) got the place going many years ago.  This is the heart of what theatre for the next generation is supposed to look like. Funky and low down. Ancient wood paneling and refreshments for a donation make for a comfortable lobby to meet other patrons before the house opens. 

Still Life will only be up for a short time longer.  If Sunday’s excellent performance with standby James Liebman (in for Lea Coco) as the artistically conflicted statistician, Jeffrey, is any indication of the dedication of this group, it’s a must see.  Director Michael Peretzian has molded Academy Award Winner for “Birdman” Alexander Dinelaris’s modern morality play flowingly into a story for our time. Dinelaris asks deep and personal questions that each of us must address but seldom do. 

Looking in the dictionary, one might see the term ‘jerk’ (for want of a broader term that has to do with pejorative body parts) and find a portrait of “Terry” depicted by Jonathan Bray, the owner of the ad agency where Jeffrey works to futurecast the wants and needs of the general public.  In a strong turn, we see both truth and beauty in this character’s approach to living the wasted life.  His brutish and blatant approach to getting things done, fraught with fear and loathing of himself and others is enough to put us all on notice to pay attention. Pay attention to how the ripples we  send into the Universe may leave others in chaos.

Central to the story is a love affair between Jeffrey and one of the most natural actors I’ve seen on any stage: Laurie Okin as the inspired photographer, Carrie Ann.  Daughter of a well known photographer, Theo (Frank Collision), she has risen to prominence for her dramatic photos, some of which depict the startling beauty of dead things.  This sets the scene for the examination of what is important to the story's characters we meet and what the true value of being alive is to each of them: to each of us.

Susan Wilder as Joanne brings to life a gorgeous no nonsense agent for the down to earth Carrie Ann.  Her life turns on how well she represents herself and her client. Exchanges between the two are tough and heart rending.

Every scene depicts some special conflict that we must, as individuals, also work out within ourselves to move forward with life… and death. 

In multiple turns, Jennifer Sorenson shines as Michaeline, the dive bar bartender,  who is challenged to examine her own personal worth by Terry's indecent proposal. She is forced to examine herself by Terry as he snorts himself into oblivion, too late becoming aware of his own distinct shortcomings.  

Tania Verafield, Nardeep Kuhrmi and Alexandra Hellquist round out the cast perfectly. Tom Buderwitz’s excellent scenic design is spare and modern; beautifully set off by Leigh Allen’s subtle lighting with what are presumably more photos by Carrie Ann projected during scene changes, depicting in an astounding way, the circle of life. 



STILL LIFE  by Alexander Dinelaris
A West Coast Premiere
Rogue Machine Theatre
In residence at The Met Theatre
1089 N. Oxford Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90029
Through April 17, 2017
Saturdays and Mondays at 8:30PM
Sundays at 3:00PM


 




Saturday, April 1, 2017

Sun Tzu’s Brother

According to Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor the credited authors of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War had a brother, (whose name was mentioned and it seems that I was laughing and neglected to write it down. Let’s call him Larry), who was the first chronicler of comedy.  The idea of condensing the entire history of funny stuff into two zany acts including cream pies is quite a feat!   
Ginsburg, Jacobson and Fazal Photo by Sasha Venola
Thanks to Zehra Fazal, Marc Ginsburg and Mark Jacobson, this idea is not all together absurd, though some of the bits in this history lesson totally are!  There in lies the rub.  It’s fast and furious with these three skilled actors embracing their inner Rambozo (the first comic?) and through him, they engender the entire audience with the permission to laugh.  Laughter is the best medicine, but that’s a Reader’s Digest thing, though a truism and now my inner Rambozo is acting out. 

What is funny to one may not be funny to another. There are guffaws and groaners and inappropriate stuff that serves up guilty pleasure.  There are popular digs and topics that to some must forever be off limits, “Aside from that how did you like the play?” That features Honest Abe as a stand up comic!   All humor by necessity must be somehow referential and in tune with the audience.  I once heard a guy on the radio try to tell the Dalai Lama the story of what the Dalai Lama said to the hot dog vendor:  “Make me one with everything.”  His Holiness didn’t get it!

To the credit of Fazal, Ginsburg and Jacobson (the latter of whom goes wonky if confronted by a strobe light!) most of the silly bits, quick changes and unapologetic schtick keep the audience in groans and titters (rim shot) throughout.  One marginal idea to draft audience members on stage to provide sound effects for a rather lame attempt at Give Me A Location improv doesn't work. It needs either ringers from the audience or to be cut.  One of the ‘rules’ of comedy is to keep it moving.  Embarrassed audience members who really aren’t into it, slow everything down and with the threat of Cream Pie waiting in the wings there was no way that I’d allow myself to be dragged onto the stage! 

Director Jerry Kernion keeps his actors hopping as we see them in and out and up and down, Stephen Gifford’s Music Hall set features a couple of Laugh In type windows put to good use with the echo of farce in mind as doors left and right open and close.   

THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF COMEDY (abridged) 
by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor
The Falcon Theatre
4252 Riverside Dr.
Burbank, CA 91505
Through April 23, 2017
Tickets and Information:

Box Office phone 818-955-8101
Box Office hours Tues-Fri noon-6pm, 
Sat & Sun 10am-4pm
www.falcontheatre.com

Friday, March 31, 2017

ANTAEUS bursts the walls with Tennessee Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF


Harry Groener and Ross Philips
Photo by Steven C. Kemp
 “There is nothing so motivated as a cat on a hot tin roof,”  the playwright reminds us through his character of Margret/Maggie the Cat (Rebecca Mozo).  There are layers of exploration that Williams creates for us to peel away; thick with the mores of the 1950s, Cold War Era, and McCarthyism that defined American society in a time when conformity was all about toeing the line and delivering what was expected of one’s self.     

That Williams drank heavily, used drugs and was gay probably meant that he had to deal with discrimination, both overt and subtle that permeated the world sixty years ago, Certainly, this made catering to theatre audiences of the 1950s a challenge.  Thus, examination of some of the ambiguous relationships in this wonderfully complex piece has waffled over the years.   Antaeus has adapted the 1974 version of the play restored by Williams from the version that was originally softened to coax Elia Kazan to direct the Broadway production in 1955. We must keep in mind that in the sixty years since this play was first mounted, though some of our society may still struggle with the fear of women’s power and the success of homosexuals that still plague world society, that those times were especially difficult times for women and gays around the world.   Layer upon layer of the characters’ motivation that emerge are fodder for intense discussion and debate.    

Cameron Watson’s direction of “The Buttered Biscuits” cast mostly attends to the same careful detail as Steven C. Kemp’s out of balance scenic design: a bed-sitting room in the mansion on Big Daddy’s 28,000 acre plantation where all of the action takes place.  When a serious theatre company leaps full on into any Tennessee Williams project, the coordination of all aspects of the play must find harmony.  Interestingly, in the three hour production, after each intermission, the set becomes more unbalanced and the story crumbles into a condemnation of ‘mendacity’… the fabric of lies and avoided truths that   creates the matrix of the play.

 Brick (Ross Philips) has broken his ankle while attempting to run the hurdles at the local high school track.  Having taken to ‘drink’ he realizes that he couldn’t  have cleared them even when sober.  One scholar defined this character as “caught in the amber of his adolescence.”    Brick’s failure as a husband and as a sports announcer must turn on the loss of his ‘true friend’ Skipper and using alcohol to bridge the gap.  Drinking heavily throughout the play Philips seems in and out of his inebriation, waiting for the ‘click’ that will bring him peace.  Rebecca Mozo as Maggie dominates the first act, ranting from first light, not really giving her character an opportunity to much build.  The inner fire that is impossible not to remember from Elizabeth Taylor’s film version of the character is an unfair comparison, but it is important for fire and nuance to build from within.  The woman is an enchantress, not a harpie.

Sex and sexuality are part and parcel of the message and it is brought to the fore with expert strokes by long time Antaeus actor, Harry Groener as Big Daddy.  The underlying issue of mortality and power burst with intrigue as the patriarch and his favorite son battle for understanding. Nuance is the key here and Groener’s performance delights.  There is stage magic in the ability of this actor to move from moment to moment with such agility.

As Big Mama, Dawn Didawick is a put upon and dismissed spouse as many submissive wives of the times were forced to be.  Her time to shine arrives at the climax of the play where forty years of frustration come to a head.

Patrick Wenk-Wolff as Gooper and Jocelyn Towne as Mae are mordant for the scrambling greed that permeates the piece.  Gooper is Big Daddy’s rejected son though he and Mae have prospered heartily with a brood of children. Maggie wonders why they were named for dogs… and a parrot: Trixie, Dixie and Polly!
It is unfortunate that the ‘no neck monsters’ necessary to the production have been included.  Many children on stage are ‘acting’ while seasoned actors do their best to maintain character.  These are moments that, sad to say, distract.

Terri A. Lewis’s costumes brilliantly reflect the times, coordinating fluidly with the whole production.   Some shadows stage left were distracting, with dramatic side lighting from time to time. 

The layers of discovery in the plot of this Williams classic emerge beautifully, in spite of any criticism here.  Opening a brand new theatre space is a challenge and I recommend that patrons come prepared with some knowledge of the play for full enjoyment.  We welcome Antaeus to Glendale and know that their arrival is now another brilliant jewel in the crown of our Jewel City.

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
By Tennessee Williams
Antaeus Theatre
Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
(between N. Brand Blvd. and Maryland Ave.)

Previews: March 16-22
Performances: March 23 – May 7
Tuesday at 8 p.m.: March 21 ONLY (preview)
Wednesday at 8 p.m.: March 22 ONLY (preview)
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: March 16 (preview), 23 (opening), 30; April 6, 13, 20, 27; May 4
Fridays at 8 p.m.: March 17 (preview), 24 (opening), 31; April 7, 14, 21, 28; May 5
Saturdays at 2 p.m.: April 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; May 6 (no 2 p.m. perf. on March 18 or March 25)
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 18 (preview), 25; April 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; May 6
Sundays at 2 p.m.: March 19 (preview), 26; April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; May 7, 2017
Tickets and Information:
818 506 1983
www.Antaeus.org




Saturday, March 18, 2017

33 VARIATIONS! YOU MUST SEE THIS PLAY!

Why? 
Why Theatre?  
In LA..  it’s about many things that include looking for work, but there are actors who, when they come together with exceptional writing and actually get the play; get the characters and the characters’ lives and loves and stories and a director gets the script and there’s music and talent and love of the moment.. the moment before the lighting booth brings the house to half, the curtain speech is spoken and then, house to dark and the stage manager calls “Places” and the cast is ready and the play is ready and the audience is ready, probably not knowing what it’s in for and that moment of breath before it all begins .. and then.. something happens.  It’s not the text or the actors or the effects, it’s some synergy that brings the people in their seats and the crew and the actors all together in an unspoken agreement that we are all here for one purpose: we abandon our disbelief and let the play begin.  Let the magic happen. This one unique moment when we leave the outside world to do what it will still be doing later..  the blinking off thank god of all the little screens.. of all the after thoughts of future to attain the moment of the play.. That time ..when it really works.. not only as the lights come up and the story unfolds and the criticism of a gait or voice or other things that critics like me enjoy or find some fault with.. it all becomes The Play.  It all becomes this time. It all becomes.
Bruce Ladd and Nan McNamara  PHOTO CREDIT:  Lindsay Schnebly

Invited as a guest to see 33 Variations by a dear pal, I had not intended to write a word.  I’d sit and let the play just be the play and the actors (with an understudy, no less) do the work and just allow it all to wash over me and the guy who attends to make a report would be well absent, down the block or back at home.  But, moments after Dylan Price strode boldly across the stage to become the heart of Moises Kaufman’s  33 Variations settled at the grand piano, the story emerged: we meet the characters who arrive from the present time and from a time long ago now and the actors disappeared as their characters came to life with focused care and individual presence that simply ascended them into our lives.

It’s rare to become so involved in a play that the deep feelings that permeate the lives of the characters truly lift the audience to the moment.  “The Moment” is what every actor strives for and in this play the moments unfold with passion and if there is a shred of ‘acting’ going on, it totally eluded me.  These lovely characters: in the present becoming echoes of the past and brilliantly melding in harmonies that flow from Ludwig Von to his champion, Katherine B., and back again explore their paradigm with dignity and humor and love in such a way we seldom see in two hours time away from where we live.

33 Variations is a must see.  Extended for only one more week (or longer if Los Angeles is lucky), it’s a play so well crafted and so well directed and so well acted that for human beings who truly love The Theatre to not find a way to First Presbyterian to become immersed in what the Art of Theatre is truly about… Well, that could be a real shame. 

I have deliberately left the stuff of reviews out of this because the real review will be the one you leave the theater with in your heart. 

Please quickly make a reservation and go. Just go.
     

33 VARIATIONS
 by Moises Kaufman
Actors Co-Op
David Schall Theatre
First Presbyterian Church
1760 N. Gower St.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Through March 26, 2017
Tickets and Information:
Phone (323) 462-8460
http://actorsco-op.org/wp3/ticket-info/

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

BEHIND THE ORANGE CURTAIN AT SCR



 ​Karthik Srinivasan, Pia Shah and Anjali Bhimani in South Coast Repertory's 201​6 ​production of ​Orange by Aditi Brennan Kapil. Photo by ​Debora Robinson/SCR


ORANGE,  a play about Orange County, California currently at the lovely Julianne Argyros Stage at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, directs us to the sights and sounds that locals and tourists have marveled at for years.  Leela (Pia Shah) arrives from India with her mother (Anjali Bhimani and all of the other females in the show) to attend a local wedding. Leela is 'on the spectrum' which means that autism or Asperger's Syndrome is a factor in the way she interprets and responds to the world.  Like a child, Leela is very literal.  Unlike a child, she is often monosyllabic and under stress filled with angst ..  Her father (Karthik Srinivasan who also plays a variety of roles as the only male member of the cast) is a very busy businessman who shunts off responsibility for 'watching' his adult.. or nearly adult, daughter to a hip and rebellious Americanized cousin.. again the quite versitile Anjali Bhimani

Discussion of 'adventure' and what it means factors well into the subsequent events that are aided and abetted by gorgeous scenic design  created by Michael B. Raiford and equally impressive projections by Mike Tutaj  which virtually become additional characters in the play.  It's not great when the most outstanding memory of this ninety minute production turns out to be the scenery.  Not that the 'adventure' of a young Hindu woman who prays to a pantheon of gods goes begging.. the energy (in spite of the choices made by Ms Shah  and/ her director Jessica Kubzansky to remain stiff and presentational... even when attacked on an Orange County beach) never lags.  This is a slice of life featuring a segment of the OC population that is at once, traditional to its Indian roots (barely) and a window into the way most folks behave when given an opportunity to slip the bonds of convention and head into the night. 

Tech credits practically overcome the stage work. All three actors turn in presumably what director Jessica Kubzansky required.  
The opportunity for more is waiting.  

ORANGE
by ​​​Aditi Brennan Kapil
​directed by ​​​​Jessica Kubzansky

​Julianne Argyros Stage
South Coast Repertory Theatre
South Coast Plaza
655 Town Center Dr
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Through ​March 5-26, 201​7
Tickets and Information:
www.scr.org
 (714) 708-5555

Sunday, February 12, 2017

FOR PIANO AND HARPO by Dan Castelleneta // A World Premiere

The Falcon Theatre finds that interesting line between the happy crowd pleaser and the avant garde that makes Garry Marshall’s comfortable venue the ideal space for this Laugh Then Think World Premiere that shall be remembered. 
Dan Castellaneta, Gail Matthius, Phil Proctor, Jonathan Stark, JD McCollum and Deb Lacusta 


Photo by Sasha A. Venola

In his own play, Dan Castellaneta, well known for famous television characters who shall remain nameless, D’oh!, plays the ever troubled and troubling Oscar Levant: the frequent guest on the 1950’s The Tonight Show with Jack Parr, where we begin our journey. The play opens with the excellent Jonathan Stark as Parr. ‘On The Air’ signs flash to draw the audience into the show.  Applause!   Levant, well known for his outrageous insults and quick wit mashed up with his virtuosity as a concert pianist, didn’t have it easy.  As an addict and a neurotic with components of genius, Castelleneta’s survey of Levant’s life and friendship with fellow virtuoso, Harpo Marx, spills onto Stephen Gifford’s simple set with speed and skill thanks to the adept direction of Stefan Novinski.  We often forget that it’s the artist at the helm who brings the actors and the script and the music (musical director David O on the grand piano and harpist Jillian Risigarsi-Gai behind the upstage scrim) together.  The ensemble creates a myriad of characters with quick changes, often presenting as ghosts from Levant’s memories. It all blends well together.

In 1935, Oscar shows up at Harpo’s rented Beverly Hills mansion to crash a dinner party and stays for a year. As Harpo (also appropriately presented as Charlie, the mute, a patient at the Mount Sinai Psych Ward where Levant finds himself) JD Cullum, transitions without a hitch. From time to time Harpo and Oscar play harp and piano together, via mime with piano and harp live upstage. 

As Harpo’s Butler (and sundry others) Phil Proctor’s diversity brings his characters to life.  Traversing time and space easily, Proctor brings pathos through the psych patient, Sidney,  as well as with his brusque portrayal of Oscar’s difficult and demanding father.

Deb Lacusta limns both June Levant, Oscar’s put upon wife, as well as another psych patient, Barbara, who, interestingly, resembles June and adds to Oscar’s state of perpetual disruption in his life.

Protean Gail Matthius, stretches from Fanny Brice to the hot to trot psych ward patient, Shirley,
Shirley
and then as Oscar’s mother, whom we learn may be at the root of many of Oscar’s issues. 











Leaps of time and space sometimes work and sometimes don’t in theatre and in film.  The easy transitions from 1962 to 1956 to 1935 in and out worked for me with Castellaneta best as the robust and acerbic pal of Harpo in the early years.  With no self censor, Levant was acknowledged as an amazing concert pianist and somehow tolerated as a drugged out nutcase rambling to a somewhat early death at the age of sixty-five.

Partnered with Laugh Then Think, the tradition of Garry Marshall’s pet project, The Falcon Theatre, will not disappoint.  Highly recommended but only for those who are active in the Laughing and Thinking Departments.

FOR PIANO AND HARPO  A World Premiere
by Dan Castellaneta
THE FALCON THEATRE
4252 Riverside Drive
Burbank, California 91505
Through March 5, 2017
Tickets and Information
www  .  falcontheatre.com
818 955 8101