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Monday, October 15, 2018

REAL WOMEN AT THE GARRY MARSHALL

Real Women Have Curves by Josephina Lopez

It's 1987 in East L.A. Teen angst in transition puts Ana (Juliana Stephanie Ojeda)
Ana (Julianna Stephanie Ojeda) Photo by Chelsea Sutton.
in the dilemma of clinging to traditional Mexican family values while the siren song of the future calls her to her own life which she documents in her private journal hidden in the tiny bathroom of her sister's sewing 'factory'.  
Similar to Fionnuala Kenny's "Elvis's Toenail" that turns on the sewing trade in Dublin, we find cultural transition center stage as changes in the role of women in society and in the family emerge. 
Estella (Sherry Mandujano), Carmen (Blanca Araceli), Ana (Julianna Stephanie Ojeda), Pancha (Jackie Garcia), and Rosali (Claudia Duran)  Photo by Chelsea Sutton.
Ana's older sister Estela (Sherry Manujuano) has created a small sewing shop where her mother, Carmen (Blanca Araceli) and workers, Pancha (Jackie Garcia) and Rosali (Claudia Duran) secret themselves behind locked doors to finish a big, big order of dresses that will wind up on the backs of 'skinny white women' for four hundred dollars a piece.  Originally presented as a stage play in 1990 (and later as a film), Lopez's naive polemic promotes somewhat stereotypical archetypes with Ana, the aspiring writer, who sneaks into the tiny bathroom to narrate the story that will become her play as it becomes her life. A recent high school grad with high aspirations (that we learn in a final curtain speech do come true!) she emulates Sally Field in Norma Rae by standing on a chair to coach the others in how to say NO! Well before what has become the somewhat hysterical #MeToo movement, we see Estela charmed by an unseen Latin lover who slides poetic billets doux under the door: "How do I love thee, let me count the ways..."

As an homage to their curves.. each of the women in the second act strips to give us the idea that weight is just number, except for Rosali who tells the girls that she's on a diet "from China", which must include dehydration as she faints from the heat in the tiny sweat shop. 

All's well as the overlock machine is figured out and the hundred dress quota is fulfilled with Estela then dismissing with extreme prejudice the demanding client for whom the fancy dresses have been made. Director Mary Jo Duprey creates stage pictures in an odd split focus from time to time, but over all the play... such as it is...works fine. A feel good story from the barrio, Tanya Orellana's realistic set announces in big letters No Chisme!!! reminding us that gossip is verbotten! 

Real Women Have Curves by Josephina Lopez

Garry Marshall Theatre
4252 W Riverside Drive 
Burbank, CA 91505
Through November 18, 2018
Thursday – Saturday at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Select Performances on: 
Wednesday October 17 at 8pm
Saturday October 27 at 2pm
Sunday November 4 at 7:30pm
Wednesday November 7 at 8pm 

Post show discussions with playwright 
Josephina Lopez:
Wednesday, October 17 after the 8pm show
Sunday, October 21 after the 3pm show
Saturday, October 27 after the 2pm show
Wednesday, November 7 after the 8pm show
 
Tickets and Information:
818 955 8101

Monday, October 1, 2018

GLORIA.. Echo Theatre

Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins's Gloria directed by Echo Theatre Company's artistic director Chris Fields brings to life the playwright's reported early days in New York coming up with dialogue and characters that sizzle. 

 
Steven Strobel, Alana Dietze,
Devere Rogers, Jenny Soo,
Michael Sturgis
Photo by Darrett Sanders
GLORIA tells the story a young and ambitious writer who, at the age of almost thirty is still an assistant to an editor and his encounters with fellow staffers in the publishing world. Pecking order is well established: the quiet intern, Miles (versatile Devere Rogers later as Shawn, a barista and Rasheed, a TV producer) runs errands at the whim of others in the office. Pretty Alana Dietze (Ani, then Sasha, then Callie) answers phones and Jenny Soo (sharp tongued Kendra later as Jenna). Central to the drama is the writer, Dean (Michael Sturgis.. later as Devin). Lest we forget the overworked fact checker Lorin (Steven Strobel) whose moments charge his scenes with heart felt angst.

To define Jacobs-Jenkins's play is difficult, but on the whole it paints a picture of young professionals all attempting to move off the dime and into the world of publishing one way or another.  Basic plot describes how long time staffer, Gloria (Jessica Goldapple, later as Jan), has invited the entire editing team to her special party that only Dean winds up attending.  When Gloria shows up the next day, there's not a lot of dialogue, but the air is charged and thick with disappointment.

Amanda Knehan's simple set, creates the magazine office, a Starbuck's and later a TV production office in California.. The switch from coast to coast and how the story of a story unfolds, actually co-opted by one of the characters, to name would spoil the plot.. works. Eventually, it's clear that as life goes on, we all have our own versions of any story, witness the current Kavanaugh maelstrom rocking Washington right this minute.  Who was there and what really happened and who gets to tell the story?

I became intrigued with this playwright when reviewing a production of his earlier play "Neighbors" presented at the Matrix Theatre in 2010.  His ability to juxtapose personalities and fill out characters in that play was fascinating. 

http://onstagelosangeles.blogspot.com/2010/09/neighbors-neighbors.html  

His take on his characters in GLORIA is not quite so dramatic as Neighbors; more subtle, but Fields helps bring them to life by giving them moments.. some with rushed and angry dialogue.. and some in silence. It gets the job done.  

The play ends with a bit of ennui, but with the practical realization that even though the action we have witnessed has been somehow turned on its head, it may be only natural that life.. such as it is.. goes on. 

GLORIA 
by  Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Chris Fields
Echo Theatre Company 
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Performances: Sept. 15 – Oct. 21
• Fridays at 8 p.m. Oct. 5, 12, 19
• Saturdays at 8 p.m. 22, 29; Oct. 6, 13, 20
• Sundays at 4 p.m. Oct. 7, 14, 21
• Mondays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 17, 24; Oct. 1, 8, 15

• Call 310-307-3753 or go to  www.EchoTheaterCompany.com
 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A FLOCK OF MACAWS

Ronnie Marmo directs Sam Henry Kass's 
A FLOCK OF MACAWS: A World Premiere

Theatre 68 has taken over the space warmed up for years by Deaf West and then by Antaeus Theatre Company (now holding forth on Broadway in Glendale) and the result contiues to be exciting and innovative theatre.

Cast (L-R):  Deborah Geffner, Mercedes Manning and Julia Valentine Larson




What Sam Henry Kass has constructed in his 'full length' one act is a sort of Twilight Zone with self referential and topical asides with  Mother (excellent Deborah Geffner) and  Daughter (Mercedes Manning) and Actress (Julia Valentine Larson) and her wonky counterpart Actor (Hansford Prince).  

What I love about storefront theatre is that it is, by nature, a mythical animal perhaps, a sort of chimera and then some. Los Angeles Times critic, Dan Sullivan, used the term "a few dollars and a book of Green Stamps" when referencing the ingenuity of how small theatre gets produced.  Of course, no one knows what Green Stamps are these days.. but it is clear that ingenuity and passion are the keys to telling a great story. Making theatre on a shoe string (Macaws' simple set is not credited) presents a chain link fence and concrete park bench where all of the action takes place. Not cheap or cheesy,  but precise and appropriate to the action of the play. 

The few technical aspects of the show are simple and flawless. The premise:  Daughter comes seeking her Mother, all the way from Idaho. Ms Manning is intense and determined, a bit over the top from the get go, but, after a threatened suicide, locks horns with  slippery Ms Geffner who is wonderful in her deflection: rising to the character and at the same time exposing the actress inside who's in it for the lines. "I think I was promised another monologue later in the play.." 

As Actress, Ms Larson simply wants to get her Equity card (if she knew what the AEA was doing to small theatre in Los Angeles, she might want to reconsider) and plays a handful of different characters with intentionally bad accents.  She's most impressive as Daughter's date to the prom. 

Actor, Mr. Prince, first appears in drag as surrogate for Mother (or is it Mother's Mother?) to play a scene with Actress to help figure out what happened to Mother early in life.. I think.  

Kass's references to his life as a creative consultant/writer for Seinfeld (the TV series) and other current and topical references are inside jokes (I did not know that writer Carol Liefer did stand up!). His reference to Nat Bernstein was a shocker! The TV business is tough! 

The beauty of "Macaws" is that the device of playing to the audience, the comic bombshells and the energy of these four actors is undeniable.  It's off the wall.. almost sketch comedy, moving apace through scenes that attempt to find Daughter's daddy and to confirm that Mother is, in fact, her mother. A slower build might be an idea for director, Marmo, (whose very successful Lenny Bruce turn at his Theatre 68 will head to Off Broadway soon) to incorporate a steady build for Daughter and find crisper diction for Actor.  The energy for Opening Night is always high which may account for this note.  

This wonky tale may incorporate more topical bits as it goes along, which would be totally appropriate. The play invites us in and we feel included and welcome. 

Support storefront theatre!  Take a leap of faith!

A FLOCK OF MACAWS  by   Sam Henry Kass
World Premiere
Theatre68
 5112 Lankershim Blvd.,
North Hollywood, CA. 91601.  
Fridays and Saturdays 8:00PM  
September 28 – October 20, 2018
Sundays at 3:00PM 
(Sunday matinees on Oct. 7 and 14)
General admission $25.00.  
Tickets and information www.Theatre68.com



Sunday, September 23, 2018

TENOR BY NIGHT

 A WORLD PREMIERE
MANNEQUIN MAN BY DAY
TENOR BY NIGHT  by James Chiao

Businessman entrepreneur James Chiao, a successful Orange County Chinese immigrant, who with his wife, Lily and family has created what amounts to a store display dynasty providing  mannequins of every shape and size world wide. "Tenor by Night" is an autobiographical musical that charms.  Chiao's dream has been to follow in the footsteps of his parents, both musicians in China before the Cultural Revolution. He partially succeeds. To come from the life of a farmer / fisherman in rural China; develop a successful American business and then...  in his sixties, complete a Masters in Fine Arts at Cal Arts is a major accomplishment. For professionals with years of musical and theatrical training to write the book, compose the lyrics and the score to create a fully staged musical  and then opt to produce and helm the production with a full orchestra and a cast of more than twenty actors, singers and dancers and to succeed in actually mounting the show is, in a word: Incredible!

Chiao's autobiographical story, though somewhat convoluted; featuring bits of recognizable operas as well as his own musical compositions has its ups and downs.  

The logical progression of the passion that Chiao professes through his doppleganger character James (excellent tenor Kevin Gino) is recounted in the program. While on vacation with his family in Yosemite, Chiao stood on a big rock, singing an aria in full voice into the forest.  From down below a voice filtered up to him, "Don't quit your day job!"  An ensemble number "Keep Your Day Job" comes early in the show where Chiao's romance with music, art and dance are exemplified by a fireman who paints, a nurse who dances and others who extol the virtues of working to keep the wolf from the door, while finding time to  pursue the thing that truly makes their lives  worth living. I was especially impressed with the fireman's outfit that featured a huge paint brush emerging from his fire hose! The entire cast's theatrical skills, buoyed by conductor Charles Fernandez and a full orchestra are totally professional.  As James's wife, Lily, Lauren Han, exhibits a full vocal range. 

"Tenor" is, essentially, charming. Though over produced with excellent tech design by daughter Amy Chiao. In total the show is simply too long with some musical moments included that do not advance the  the plot.

At one point we travel back in time to experience the meeting of James and Lily in China with an overlong dance number that includes James accompanying dancing women in coolie hats, possibly in a rice paddy. He plays a traditional one string instrument, the erhu.. and then doubles on an accordion.  This introduces James and Lily to one another with Lily boldly announcing her family intentions and taking James by the hand.
Lauren Han and Kevin Gino  Photo credit: Ed Krieger

The story line becomes complicated  with the introduction of a Mephistopelean  visitor to the Chiao's home, Mike the Magician (Stefan Alexander Miller), who blatantly comes on to Lily. Through some Faustean 'magic' James is convinced to virtually abandon his family in favor of repairing to his warehouse full of mannequins who... thanks to Mike's "magic",  come to life to provide him with an appreciative audience! In an odd twist, Lily is magically transformed into a mystical mannequin: "Lady Yoga" played by the gorgeous Junru Wong who appears in other parts of the play as an amazing contortionist. 

If a native born westerner went to China,   studied the language faithfully,  graduated from university in any traditional Chinese art, including music and theatre; wrote, scored, produced and directed their own production, the translation would, by necessity, be influenced by the author's  Western roots.  Many of the lyrics of Chiao's musical numbers have the feeling of elementary translations.  The poetry does not scan well.

Should "Tenor" find legs and be mounted again, judicious cutting and an experienced director will improve it considerably. The unintentional camp aspects of this production (including "living" mannequins with plastic breasts and hunky Chippendales clones with shiny six packs) considering a satirical approach might hone Chiao's story to one with genuine humor and still retain his  fundamental message:  
Pursue the dream.  
With a nod to Joseph Campbell:  
Follow your bliss.


MANNEQUIN MAN BY DAY
TENOR BY NIGHT  
A WORLD PREMIERE
Written, produced and directed by James Chaio
El Portal Theater
5269 Lankershim Blvd. 
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Opened September 22, 2018
Runs Sunday, September 23 at 2PM and 7:30
Monday, September 24 at 7:30
Tuesday, September 25 at 7:30
Wednesday, September 26 at 7:30
Tickets and information:
www.tenorbynight.com

Friday, September 21, 2018

THEATRE 40: 26 PEBBLES


Eric Ulloa's 26 PEBBLES is a   thoughtful and tender survey of the community deeply affected by the tragic events of December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.  

Jules Aaron directs six actors: Jennifer Lee Laks, Joe Lorenzo, George Villas, Jeanne Kauffman, Michele Schultz and Roselyn Cohn, who, with subtle costume adjustments bring to life nineteen residents of Newtown. One can't but think of   Thornton Wilder's classic play "Our Town."

Gabrieal Greigo's excellent projections combined with elementary chalk board drawings that illustrate the layout of the town and in conclusion, the Hope that the community has for the future. 
26 pebbles represent twenty children and six adults who died by gun violence on that fateful day.  The allusion is to how the ripples in a still pond expand when even one pebble is dropped. The presentation is straightforward story telling not always easy to figure out who is who, but, in the end, the gentle polemic is presented with sincerity and love.
It is June, 2013. The time to heal presents itself  as Jennifer Lee Laks enters to include the audience, all with appropriate name tags, to discuss coming to grips with such a senseless act.  She is an attractive young mom who lays out the groundwork for the many stories that emerged that day, December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School where  20 children and 6 school workers died. The goal is to simply tell the story, preach to what will undoubtedly be a receptive choir that gun violence is epidemic and that, with a community of reason coming together, that we survive with Hope and Love.  We do get a little overly patriotic with the unfurled Stars and Stripes waving majestically across the entire stage at the end. This refers back to the center of Newtown where an imposing flagpole stands. As a symbol of 'moving on' the residents of Newtown insist that the flag be restored from half staff to full staff.

Beautifully staged and sincerely presented at Theatre 40.  
26 PEBBLES by Eric Ulloa. 
Directed by Jules Aaron. 
Produced by David Hunt Stafford.
Theatre 40 is in the Reuben Cordova Theatre 
241 S. Moreno Drive 
Beverly Hills, CA 90212. 
Ample free parking beneath the theatre. 
The parking area can be accessed from the intersection of Durant Ave. and Moreno Drive Through October 14, 2018
Thurs.- Fri.-Sat. at 8:00
 Sunday at 2:00
Monday at 8:00. 
The performance on Friday, September 21 begins at 7:00.
ADMISSION: $35.
RESERVATIONS: (310) 364-0535.
ONLINE TICKETING: www.theatre40.org

Monday, September 17, 2018

O'KEEFE'S ALL NIGHT LONG / OPEN FIST



 Director Jan Munroe, in discussing playwright John O'Keefe's ALL NIGHT LONG states,
“What John does in the theater is a lot like what Robert Rauschenberg does in painting.” And, with the reference to Rene Magritte in this poster, the term 'surreal' certainly comes into play.  In O'Keefe's interview with Tracey Paleo, her take is that O'Keefe is "... an old school free-thinker, passionate about ideas and testing them to ‘whatever’ effect on live audiences for the pure thrill of engaging and shifting human consciousness."  This bizarre tale of the family of Jack (Phillip William Brock) and Jill (Alina Phelan) twists and turns in and out of reality and surreality.. if that's a word.  Three kids, Eddy (John Patrick Daly), Tammy (Caroline Klidonas) and Cat Davis as little sis, Terry, morph in this truly bizarre saga.  
Phillip William Brock, Caroline Klidonas,
John Patrick Daly, Alina Phelan, Cat Davis
Photo by Darrett Sanders
Figuring out what's real and what's going on in
some colossal time warp may leave the audience in a tizzy, which may be O'Keefe's plan all along. This is absurdist nonsense that making sense of may be a fool's errand. 

Munroe's hand is all over the place with his set design and amazing prop construction. His relationship with O'Keefe has been a long one with his recent direction of another of O'Keefe's plays also at The Open Fist: "Don't You Ever Call Me Anything But Mother!" 

I was fortunate to have as my "plus one" for the opening of this show, Los Angeles poet, Peggy Dobreer. With her permission I share her take on ALL NIGHT LONG.
///
"(ALL NIGHT LONG is...) a piece of poetic brilliance you won’t want to miss. This play will cause your head to tilt and spin. As ribald and zany as poignant and sad, this look deep into the soul of the ‘nuclear’ family, will have you laughing out loud and running home to hug your children. Jan Munroe’s execution of O’Keefe’s language is some of the best I’ve seen. With a real old-fashioned and utterly brilliant verve for set and prop design (which Munroe executed himself,) commedia style action on the set, and a clear respect and energy for O’KEEFE’s vision, Munroe delivers a rare and authentic telling of this timeless and timely play. Bravo!!!" 

ALL NIGHT LONG by John O'Keefe
Directed by Jan Munroe 
The Open Fist Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre 
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Through Oct. 21, 2018
 Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. 
 Sundays at 7 p.m. (dark Saturday, Oct. 6).
 
Reservations and information
 (323) 882-6912