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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

YELLOW FACE COMES HOME

 
 (Forefront) Jeffrey Sun, John Pendergast, and (Background):  Alfonso Faustino, Lisa Gaye Tomlinson and Jennifer Vo Le

Henry David Hwang’s autobiographical treatise on race and the definition of just what exactly is an ‘Asian’ was first produced through East West Players in conjunction with the Mark Taper Forum in the spring of 2007. After a run at the Taper the play went to The Public Theatre in New York City and more recently to San Francisco.  On the page, Yellow Face has moments that made me laugh out loud. On the stage, a slightly different story.  HDH’s reputation as a playwright expands in this wonky presentational production to be true to “proper casting” ie. Asians in Asian roles. 

Jeffrey Sun as HDH and Roman Moretti as Marcus retain their singular roles while the rest of the cast takes on the remaining supporting parts. The play guides us step by step through the business of the bruhaha in 1990 regarding Cameron McIntosh's production of Miss Saigon and the casting of an Anglo actor, Jonathan Pryce, in that show which HDH reacted to with strong criticism. It then evolves in time to the troubles that he, himself faces when casting for his own production of a comedy, Face Value, a farce  that is a comic take on the casting of Anglos in Asian roles. Reference to this failed show is noted by presenting two of the actual stars, Jane Kazmerick (Lisagaye Tomlinson) and Mark Linn Baker (possibly Dennis Nolette) who comment on the social aspects of success.

Strong presentations by Jennifer Vo Le, Nollette, Tomlinson and especially John Pendergast as the Announcer / “Name Withheld On Advice of Council” are commendable, if somewhat over the top from time to time. I loved the tete a tete between HDH and NWOAC: a dance of power with the reporter saying he has all he needs to write a story about the playwright and HDH smiling that he has enough of the reporter to write his play that includes him!  The reporter threatens to sue, thus.. his name is withheld on 'advice of counsel.'

Director Robert Zimmerman sets the stage efficiently with seven bentwood chairs and actors to fill them.  The play moves off and on through the Fourth Wall with pace taking a nose dive  when Alfanso Faustino has his turn as HDH’s father, HYH, and other characters including BD Wong.  Though Faustino’s characterizations are heart felt, the play grinds to a snail’s pace, making the rest of the cast struggle to move things up to speed again.

Yellow Face by Henry David Hwang
Beverly Hills Playhouse
254 S. Robertson Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Through September 26, 2018
Friday and Saturday at 8PM
Sundays at 2PM 
Tickets and information:
www.plays411.com/yellowface

Friday, July 27, 2018

What Happened When

Echo Theatre Company and artistic director Chris Fields take chances. The beauty of the space at the Atwater Village Theatre complex is that it's extremely flexible. Over the years I've seen very creative work done there with the arrangement of the audience to the stage changing all the time.  Daniel Talbot's short one act emerges on Amanda Knehan's intimate set: Jackson Pollock splatters and a huge iron bed. The audience sitting practically on the stage sets an uncomfortable scene. 
Joey Stromberg, Ian Bamberg
and Libby Woodbridge
Photo by Darrett Sanders

Chris Fields directs three characters: Will (Joey Stromberg), Jimi (Ian Bamberg) and Sam (Libby Woodbridge) all shiver in a huge iron bed.  Jimi plays with a flashlight that must represent something, though I have no idea what it might be nor why one of the production stage lights flickered indiscriminately.  A long rambling speech by Will reminded me of some of the stories we've heard George tell Lenny in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.. however my impression after wading through the interminable "F Word" salted liberally throughout each of the actor's lines (which seems endemic in the speech of many folks today), I was reminded of Michael McClure meeting Sam Shepard, but only in passing and though quite natural, after a while just annoying.  When I asked another patron after the show if he knew who McClure was.. or if he'd heard of The Beard, he just shrugged his shoulders, I knew that my references might be a bit obscure. To his credit, he had heard of Shepard! These are gritty characters, related and deeply committed to the ideas of the play. There's a touch of David Mamet in the mix as well.

On the up side, the actors were totally absorbed in the text:  who is alive and who is not. Maybe Jimi is the soul survivor? Details are  painted in such subtle strokes that much of the exposition is lost.  I saw another theatre critic cupping his hand to his ear and he was closer to the stage than I was.   Another reviewer with a huge tablet seemed to be transcribing the entire text of the play, an unintentional distraction as she was taking notes in the front row a few feet from the action. 

The playwright calls this piece "a prayer" which is not intended to do anything but relate his memories. He imagines the audience sitting in the dark, absorbing the angst, the fears and foibles of his characters as they struggle with their lives.  Jimi is a kid, there's been parental abuse. The slacker older brother, Will, has gotten 'Amber' pregnant .. that outcome is sad.  How Sam factors in was not clear to me. It's dark and cold and frustrating and deep and wide and because the author has offered a disclaimer, asking that we simply observe, here we are. As an acting exercise, this is a wonderful workout for these actors. As a play that  intends to have meaning, it's important to remember that exposition only enlightens if it's all coherent and understood. "It's not going to try to entertain," writes Daniel Talbot.  In this aspect, the play succeeds. 

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN
By Daniel Talbot
Directed by Chris Fields
Echo Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
8PM Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
through August 23, 2018
Tickets and information: 
310 307 3753
www.echotheatrecompany.com

Monday, July 23, 2018

TURGENEV REDUX: THE BLUNDERERS

Patrick Marber's thoughtful reduction of Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country emerges with The Blunderers: the partner cast of Three Days in the Country and does not disappoint.  Having enjoyed Antaeus partner casting in the past, this opportunity to remark on The Blunderers vis a vis The Assassins is welcome.  Marber's script echoes the familiar 19th century Russian tone that those who have enjoyed the works of Anton Chekhov will recognize.  Melancholy mixed with warmth and good humor enlivens each character.  It's about love: passion.   In the opening scene we see what must be a game of Hearts with the German tutor, Herr Schaff (Marcelo Tubert) engaged with Lizaveta (Lily Knight) and Arkady's mother Anna (Lorna Raver) that slightly opens the door to romance. 
Lily Knight, Marcelo Tubert and Loran Rover

It's the middle of the 19th Century and the formality of a household: staff, tutors and visitors is light: even casual.  Natalya's "friend" Ratikin (Leo Marks), who also happens to be a best friend to her husband, Arkady (Antonio Jaramillo) has been invited for a visit for reasons that are not entirely clear but his being in the mix helps to define as well as confuse the romantic issues that we discover with the wandering eye of Natalya (Nike Doukas).
Leo Marks and Nike Doukas
Ms
Doukas brings a strong performance as the over sexed wife of the over wrought ArkadyArkady has come to the country estate from the city with misgivings and in somewhat typical Russian style, the family, the visitors and the staff of the estate all have a stake in who loves whom and why. 
Servant Matvey (Jay Lee) loves the lovely Katya, a lusty maid, (Lila Dupree) who is enamored of the new hunky German tutor Belyaev (Peter Mendoza), who in turn has given the wrong impression to Natalya's adopted ward Vera (Jeanne Syquia) who is sought after by the old guy next door, Bolshintsov (Gregory Itzin) who, like John Alden, has been promoted by the good doctor Shpigelsky (Armin Shimerman), who at what may be described as approaching his twilight years, engages  Lizaveta in a hilarious exchange of requirements if these two,  may, indeed, become a couple. Poor Natalya is over whelmed when engaging with Raitkin, frustrated with her marriage and struggling with her adoration of Belyaev.  

Each individual performance is well tuned by director Andrew Paul, who has allowed the individual actors to carve out specifics for themselves.  The broad histrionics of one actor's approach may be more subtle than the performance of his or her counterpart. This, of course, leads to texture and the beauty of timing and nuance.  The ensemble works. 
A nice turn as Kolya by Elijah Justice as the spoiled son of Natalya and Arkady, share the final scene with his German tutor, Schaff, which becomes a sort of recap of the comings and goings of the other star crossed characters as the two of them sit...  alone on the stage...  as Kolya learns the game of hearts! 

The Blunderers do not Blunder. This tight show works thanks in part to excellent costumes by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg.  Warning for attendees! There is still an over amped thunder clap to introduce the second act. Much too loud.   Ouch!

Three Days in the Country by Patrick Marber
Based on A Month in the Country by Ivan Turgenev
Antaeus Theatre Company
Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
Through August 26, 2018
Tickets and Information:
818 506 1983
To view cast schedule.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE AT THE FOUNTAIN

 ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE
by Stephen Sachs
A World Premiere

Based on the 1945 David Lean film Brief Encounter featuring  Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, Stephen Sachs ventures into not one romance, but three.  The coincidence that Sam (Troy Kotsur) and Emily (Deanne Bray):  Sam being completely deaf and Emily hard of hearing, the term “you don’t listen” takes on a broader context.  Sachs moves us from post war England to present day New York where counter girl Mya (Jessica Jade Andres) plays hard to get with subway security guard, Russell (Shon Fuller).  Russell teases Mya as he attempts to woo her with heavy duty street slang. Foreshadowing of suicide is subtle as Russell recounts saving a 'wall street type' from stepping into the pathway of an arriving subway train. 
Jessica Jade Andres, Shon Fuller,
Stasha Surdyke, Troy Kotsur, Adam Burch,
Brian Robert Burns and Aurelia Myers
Photo by Ed Krieger
Dunkin’ Donuts: DAY:
Enter Emily, who has gotten a fleck of something in her eye. Sam, sits quietly in a corner, he is completely deaf.  Their arrival has begun.

Nicholas E. Santiago’s wonderful projections and helpful supertitles in the form of text messages and projections mostly work.  The deaf and hard of hearing audience is keyed into the spoken dialogue (Stasha Surdyke provides the spoken voice of Emily as well as a crusty turn as Emily’s obnoxious pal Marjorie). Sam’s voice, Adam Burch, is perfect. Excellent acting and strong voice performances are vital.

The challenge of this type of production as we have been taken to school about by Deaf West Theatre, is to at once accommodate three types of audiences: the deaf audience who can read ASL (American Sign Language), the hard of hearing audience who can read the titles and ideally hear and understand the spoken dialogue and, of course, the hearing audience aided by the voices provided when the deaf actors are speaking only with ASL.

Santiago’s projections help with this with the exception of the times when we rely only on the voice actors to interpret the signing characters' dialogue. Often the voice actors are facing upstage or in the dark and for hard of hearing folks, not being able to see the faces of those actors, the challenge of ‘hearing’ and understanding becomes a problem. 
As Sam and Emily fall in love, Emily has the issue of communication with her hardworking and slightly jealous evangelical Christian husband, Doug (Brian Robert Burns).  Doug is a  hearing person having failed his own dream to become an airline pilot after meeting Emily and quickly marrying and having their daughter, Jule (Aurelia Myers). Jule is normal thirteen year old girl filled with teen angst.  Oddly, we don’t see Jule using ASL to communicate with her mother. Frustrated, Emily confronts Doug with his apparent lack of interest in communicating with her in the personal way of signing.

At her husband, Doug’s instance, Emily will be baptized: becoming a true Christian.  She questions her faith and is criticized by Doug for ‘discussions’ that she’s been having with her pastor/mentor who has been prepping her for her baptismal day.  To complicate matters not only is Emily unsure of her plan to commit her life to Christ, but her teenage daughter, Jule, suffers her own weighty personal issues. Jule has 'met' a boy on line and fallen for him. This brings Jule into her own E-romance that has uncomfortable complications.  Meld male chauvinism, teen angst exacerbated by texting, the “brief encounter” of Sam and Emily and a somewhat superfluous “B” story of young love (Russell and Mya) with supertitles, text messages and American Sign Language and here we have Arrival & Departure.  Virtue and doubt. Honesty and love.  When is acknowledgement of a mature attraction a betrayal? To whom must we each be loyal? 

“And, this above all….? “

Having discovered Stephen Sachs with his beautifully mounted Bakersfield Mist a few years ago, I had high expectations for this important play to discuss hearing issues as well as the ideals of commitment and scruples. What does one do when lightning strikes us directly in the heart? Arrival & Departure does not disappoint. It is a kind and insightful story of love.

I highly recommend this production. If you are in the middle of the hearing issue: hard of hearing: not deaf and do not sign, ask for seats close to the front and middle of the house.

ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE
Written and directed by Stephen Sachs
The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Fridays and Saturdays 8PM
SUN 2pm · MON 8pm
Every Monday Night is Pay What You Want
Tickets and Information:
 (323) 663-1525
fountaintheatre.com