Monday, November 20, 2017


The Company of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum  Photo by Chelsea Sutton
When Bert Shevelove, Larry Gelbart and Stephen Sondheim rolled out the idea for A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM fifty five years ago, winning Tonys and starting something that has been fodder for laugh after laugh ever since,  every Psuedolus (Paul C. Vogt... to be shared with Joey McIntyre on odd dates) since has hoped to touch the hem of Zero Mostel's toga.  Classic lines and 'Comedy Tonight' leaps at that hem currently playing at the Garry Marshall Theatre.  Taking a cue from Restoration Farce this spunky cast mounts Fred Kinney's excellent set, complete with Roman columns and flashing lights, spiral staircases and an actual dancers' pole to make us laugh.

It's a story of three houses and their occupants, a couple of slaves and some ladies at the beck and call of Licus (E.K. Dagenfield,) the guy in charge of the House of Some Repute stage left. In the peppier second act Dagenfield stops the show... literally, as Erronius, the really old guy whose children ... years ago.. were kidnapped by pirates.

But back to Pseudulos and the loosey goosey plot. Pseudulos is a slave and works for the house of Senex (Kevin Symons) who is brutally whipped .. so to speak...  by his harpy spouse, Domina (Candi Milo) whose appearance as a broken bust has one of the best lines in the show. Senex returns from a journey early to get the broken nose of Domina's bust re-sharpened! 

Stars of this production are three of the hardest working whores in Lycus's stable:  Shamika Benn, Liz Bustle and Vanessa Nichole.  These protean princesses change character at the drop of a hat and never lose a beat. Strong dance moves and excellent timing!

Pseudolus wants his freedom. Senex's son, the moony Hero ( Michael Thomas Grant) has fallen for a gal that we think might be in Licus's stable, but nooo.. She, is, in fact..  the very blonde Philia (Nicole Kaplan) whose takes to the audience rival every Disney bunny that was ever surprised. She's a virgin! And, has been sold to the Captain: Miles Glorius (Clayton Snyder) whom we meet as he bounces in to save the second act! 
Courtesans (Liz Bustle, Shamicka Benn, and Vanessa Nichole), Miles Glorious (Clayton Snyder) and Pseudolus (Paul C. Vogt) in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum at the Garry Marshall Theatre. Photo by Chelsea Sutton
All Pseudolus has to do is figure out how to wangle Hero and Philia together and collect his freedom.  

It takes a while for the team to get rolling, but thanks to familiar tunes and the brilliant script, mistaken identity, female impersonation (Ethan Cohn as Hysterium), quick changes and an attitude of Sans Souci .. just about everyone gets what they deserve. 

In his program notes Director Joseph Leo Bwarie mentions Titus Maccius Plautus, an early.. really early.. Roman playwright for the inspiration that evolved into Commedia, on into Vaudeville and Burlesque (much of which is on the chopping block right now.. but we may recover) that we recall with joy in the opening number, "Comedy Tonight!" Corny jokes and physical silliness need big, big energy to play properly.  This one will rise to Zero's toga as the run runs on. 

By Bert Shevelove, Larry Gelbart 
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim 
Through December 31, 2017
Garry Marshall Theatre
4252 W Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Tickets and information 
Apologies for the wonky way the captions for these photos show up.  Figuring out the spacing has eluded me. ms



Sunday, November 19, 2017


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




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.

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

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:

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.
By Lisa Dring and Chelsea Sutton 
and the Rogue Artists Ensemble
Secret Location: Los Angeles, CA
Tickets and Information:
213 596 9468

Saturday, November 4, 2017


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


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: