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Saturday, May 26, 2018

FOREVER BOUND : A World Premiere at The Atwater

Steve Apostolina's  Forever Bound drops directly into the heart of Los Angeles to tell the story of love.  Well, sort of.  

French Stewart and Steve Apostolina Photo by Kathy Flynn
Book lover, Edmund (thoroughly put upon French Stewart) is hounded by creditors. 
His tiny apartment / office / book store has been invaded by Periplaneta brunnea, those unwelcome crunchy critters that move with the speed of sound and scatter when the light's turn on!  The book business is not going well for Edmund as we learn when his buddy Shep (crafty playwright Steve Apostolina) stops by to see what's what with Edmund.  In production notes we learn that Apostolina has had a long relationship with books, having lucked into selling a first edition of "Interview with a Vampire" helping him survive as an artist come to make a name in LA. His script reflects his love of reading. Occasional references to Shakespeare and other classic writing bring the story to a question for survival and Shep's shady past.  Shep has not always been in the book seeking business. Apostolina admits to several literary influences, one of which is David Mamet's American Buffalo where things get out of hand.

At rise we meet Rosalind (turn of the last century Emily Goss) and, later, her mentor, Thomas (precise and sonorous Rob Nagle) both of whom, at first seem to be in another play all together. 

Rob Nagle and Emily Goss Photo by Kathy Flynn

Fancying himself a sort of Prospero, Thomas calls her Miranda. They eventually bend the trajectory of the story into a dark and nicely played mystery.  Suffice it to say that Apostolina's homage to classic writers and his ability to meld them into these twists and turns...  that may or may not be revealed... is considerable.  Forever Bound is foreboding and funny and leaves us pretty much asea. 

Ann Hearn Tobolowsky directs with a generous hand.  In fact, to her credit, it doesn't show.

Hillary Bauman's  functional set works nicely with Kevin Orellana's uncomplicated lights. 
Michael Kalisz's poster.. and we rarely rate the posters... is perfect and carries the spirit of the play in a notable way, asking the pertinent question: "Are we all savages?"  

World Premiere: Forever Bound
by Steve  Apostolina
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Tickets and Information:
(323)960-4429   www.plays411.com/foreverbound
Performances: May 11 – June 16
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: May 11 (Opening Night), May 18, May 25; June 1, June 8, June 15
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: May 12, May 19, May 26, June 2, June 9, June 16
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: May 13, May 20, May 27; June 3, June 10
• Mondays at 8 p.m.: May 14, May 21, May 28; June 4, June 11

Friday, May 25, 2018

WORLD PREMIERE: THE CULT OF LOVE

The Cult of Love by Leslye Headland


 
Graham Sibley, Tom Amandes, Keliher Walsh,
Christine Woods, Christian Durso, Sarah Utterback,
John Lavelle and Tina Huang
Photo by Dean Cechvala 

It's Christmas in Connecticut.
 Leslye Headland's  ten year project to examine the interchanges between members of the Dahl family culminate in the "Cult of Love." After dealing with six of the deadly sins in her The Seven Deadly Plays, we now conclude with "Pride." 

We meet the Dahl parents Bill and Ginny (Tom Amandes and Keliher Walsh) who, in observance of family tradition host their four grown children Mark (John Lavelle), Diana (Christine Woods), Evie (Melissa Stephens) and Johnny (Christian Durso) as they have for years in the past.  The Dahls  have deep roots in their Christian faith, exhibited by brother Mark's attending seminary before bailing out to take up law and speaking in tongues evangelical sister Diana, married to failed Episcopal priest James  (Graham Sibley).  Add to the mix, daughter Evie's (Melissa Stephes) wife, Pippa (Tina Huang) and a gathering that anyone who has ever been at the core of a strong family tradition will at once warmly embrace while sometimes regarding it with horror.  Headland's writing, which includes some beautifully performed and deeply meaningful singing reflecting the Christian holiday and deeper: family time that exudes from each member of the family and extended family and one surprise guest Laurel (Sarah Utterback) in a literally palpable way.  Strong traditions stick with us.. as they do with the Dahls and reach into the depths of the audience in such a way as to bring us to the heights of the good memories and laughter until the 'truth' comes out and deep feelings scatter to the four winds. 

The beauty of this full length one act is the clear and well limned performances from every one of the characters.  Director Annie Tippe allows her ensemble cast to function as a perfectly tuned machine while each character being, at once, a part of a strong family tradition, presents a well honed individual. Each  character's arc demands our full attention.  The sin of Pride underlies each of the Dahls in a unique way.   Unintentional slights, patriarch Bill's call for Peace and Love, an occasional meltdown when Ginny can't fix things, the love of a pregnant lesbian couple, the need for mind calming drugs and the success of AA all combine to completely enchant ... Yes, this is an enchanted evening that belongs on Broadway. Broadway comes to Atwater!

It's tough to enjoy the players without a program, so I hope that this highly recommended show will be attended well and that those who want to know who the actors are will print this out for their convenience.  Here's a link to the IAMA program with all the basics that one usually finds in one's lap as the curtain goes up.

http://www.iamatheatre.com/program (copy and paste, please)

 Perhaps IAMA wants us to see the play as a truth made whole by the characters and to discover the actors later.  It's a bit of a nuisance, trying to credit everyone from memory, but rest assured, this is a memorable memory play, with onstage music that obviously is a complete pleasure for the cast to engage in.   
Co-Lighting Designers Josh Epstein and Ginerva Lombardo add nuance on a beautifully  functional set by Jeff McLaughlin.

If professional writing and performances are reasons for coming to the theatre, The Cult of Love is a show that must not be missed. 

The Cult of Love by Leslye Headland
Directed by Annie Tippe

IAMA Theatre Company  
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039 
 $30   
Thursdays through Sundays
Closes June 24, 2018
Tickets and information: 
323-380-8843 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

WOOD BOY ROCKS

Wood Boy Dog Fish 
created by Chelsea Sutton and Rogue Artists Ensemble

The Fire Eater (Paul Turbiak) and Puppet (Rudy
Martinez, with puppeteers Lisa Dring and Mark Royston).
Photo by Chelsea Sutton

Carlo Collodi's 1883 timeless tale of love and wood frozen in our minds' eye by the ubiquitous figures of the 1940 Walt Disney animated version of Pinocchio, takes a sudden and spectacular turn to the left under the direction of  Sean T. Caweldi and the Rogue Artists Ensemble.  Using the theme of love and loss with puppets and effects, the audience is engulfed in a transcendental miasma of sights and sounds. 

After my first introduction to the Rogue Ensemble with Kaidan : Walls Grow Thin  (with East/West Players)  in a spooky old storage facility somewhere almost off the map in Los Angeles, I've been a fan. To me the spirit of theatre has many modes: traditional and classic, modern and contemporary, experimental; political and then, the plays that are produced to simply entertain.  Finding a category for this show is impossible, which is the very reason for embracing it. It's a  trip that puts the audience at the precipice of adventure and directly into the experience fully engaged. 

Since 2001, ignoring their limits and pushing the envelope seems to be the goal of the Rogue Artists'  actors, directors, playwrights and troublemakers.  It's the troublemaking part that makes Wood Boy special.  The underlying message of love and devotion: 'becoming' as we recall in the Disney version and somewhat in the original is now turned on its ear by the Rogues. 

Entering the world of the Rogue Imagination starts as one approaches the theatre.  There's a lot of junk.. a lot of stuff...  and as we enter the courtyard and the lobby of The Garry Marshall, our senses are bombarded with the low down and mysterious world of carnival and side show with a fortune teller and an extensive museum of the world to come. The sheer energy of the space, slightly dangerous and intimidating,  prepares us for the adventure waiting at Shoreside: a crumbling resort frayed at the margins but still making a go of it.  

Gepetto (Ben Messmer), the local puppet maker has acquired a special log that has expectations.  We learn that a bulbous tyrant, the Fire Eater, (Keiana Richard) has a huge appetite for new puppets for his Shoreside puppet show. His henchmen: Cat (Tyler Bremmer) and Fox (Amir Levi) pounce upon Gepetto with threats, demanding a quick turn around with their new puppets order.  Bereft of the loss of his true love, Gepetto longs for another bottle of Dogfish whiskey, but agrees to make the new dolls. 

Playwright Chelsea Sutton has borrowed generously from Collodi's Pinocchio story with some dark and dangerous overtones.  Director Cawelti brings the ensemble together with a strong hand, proven by the excellent use of props and special effects. These, combined with the absolute feeling of dedication from the entire ensemble, keep the story movingAs the show blossoms it becomes more a presentation of performance art than any typical theatre experience an audience may have had in the past.  Some of the gags work better than others, but the narrative moves forward with Wood Boy strong willed and ignoring the advice of the poor cricket who is killed with in a few minutes of his first appearance!  Hand puppets and marionettes are expertly manipulated in what becomes Bunraku meets Commedia d'elle Arte! Three puppeteers (Sarah Kay Peters, Mark Royston and Rudy Martinez) manipulate Wood Boy (Martinez) with precision.

Wood Boy meets Wick (Lisa Dring) with whom he foolishly conspires to run away with to Funland where they are promised an everlasting paradise of no school and candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Little do they know that the trade off is to become pinanta donkeys, all to benefit The Funland MC (Miles Taber)! Excellent performances with broad gestures become adjuncts to the over all effect of the spectacle make the show irresistible.    

The Dogfish Ride, Gepetto's thrill ride, sits closed after an industrial accident that killed Gepetto's lady love (Blue) Tane Kawasaki.  Blue haunts the story and factors into the long awaited business of the magic that makes Wood Boy become real.   

Who or what the Dogfish represents may be arguable, but the ride itself is designed to thrill"Fear makes you feel real!"

Rouge Artists Ensemble flirts with the edge of something...  something dangerous: something alive, something real.  Excellent video and other spectacular devices by Dallas Nichols and Hardly Human FX are wonderful.
Shackle your disbelief to your bed post and come for an adventure to Shoreside  

Wood Boy Dog Fish by 
Chelsea Sutton and 
The Rogue Artists Ensemble
Directed by Sean T. Cawelti
Original music by Adrien Prévost
Garry Marshall Theatre
4252 W. Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
 
Opened Friday May 18, 2018
Performances continue
Through June 24, 2018
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 p.m. 
Sundays @ 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

SEX AT THE HUDSON


"SEX" Mae West's impudent 1926 theatrical, rears its hoary head with a somewhat imaginative resurrection by Buzzworks Theatre Company at the Hudson in Hollywood.  Revisiting the show that put the playwright / actress in jail for more than a week emerges ninety years after its premiere at Daly's 63rd Street Theatre in  New York City.


At the age of 33, Ms West, writing as "Jane Mast" literally brought the term Roaring Twenties to life.   The diminutive blonde, who would capture Hollywood a few years later, knew that her sultry sui generis  style would be her ticket to ride.  

"Imagine, if you will..." (in the voice of Rod Serling) "... a low down brothel in the Red Light District.  It's 1920's Montreal.  Stage right, a funky old upright piano with Hoagy Carmichael, a hand rolled butt hanging from his pouty lower lip,  plays a Honky Tonk tune that fills the air.  The 'girls' all lounge on velvet sofas as a couple of equally sleazy 'johns' stand uncomfortably across the room.  A smokey haze hangs in the air.  A blousy blonde undulating to the music moves behind the bar secretly watering drinks as the girls gesture alluringly to the fellas.    The party atmosphere is tired.  It's an office for the oldest profession. And, business is not booming."

At rise, however, none of the above.  We see a tableau. Rocky ( Davey Johnson ... who was never a baseball hero) brags that he's about to 'score' big time with a society dame.  Later as the story moves forward, Rocky returns to his brothel with Clara Stanton (versatile Susan Edwards Martin) who, as a somewhat 'mature' society lady from Connecticut, allows herself to be seduced!  And, then, when slipped a 'mickey' is robbed and abandoned by Rocky! The cur!

Exposition with various characters, discusses their unhappy situations.   As Margy LaMont, Andrea Hutchman, in a poorly chosen blonde wig, declares that she's "gettin' out."  Rocky has other plans and declares that he owns her! 

Introduction of the players lays out the polemic of how a woman in difficult circumstances yearns for a 'normal' life.  One of Margy's favorite customers, Lt. Gregg (Wayne Wilderson), a dashing naval officer who genuinely loves her,  after arriving for a 'session' asks her out on a real date!  

With doubling, we meet a gaggle of hookers, low lifes and talented musicians as a musical number intrudes. Margy hooks up with a 'swell' guy, Jimmy Stanton (Ryan Phillips) who is immediately smitten and plays his guitar in tribute.  Not knowing about Margy's past and profession Jimmy makes his move. Gregg demurs to allow Margy to marry into a wealthy family and escape the life that has held her captive.

It is difficult to judge from our early 21st century mores how West's take on Sex might have been received.  Reports tell that the show ran for many weeks before being raided In this Buzzworks production, director Sirena Irwin has created a situation that is neither fish nor fowl.  Opportunities for broad comedy with takes to the audience  and over the top presentation vary from scene to scene and character to character.  All are talented players. Kudos to versatile David Errigo playing six including the French maid, Marie, presenting an amazing full splits in the tropical  club scene!    

Andrea Hutchman (l.), Wayne Wilderson, Susan Edwards Martin   Photo credit: Rich Hutchman





Opportunities for staging and broad action, possibly with strobes to create a nickelodeon effect from time to time have not been realized.  An interesting highlight is Michael Flannery's imaginative set changes with the dramatic release of a variety of colored curtains to indicate new locations, leaving the previous scene rumpled on the stage floor.  Michael Mullan's appropriate costumes bring the Twenties to life. 


SEX by Mae West
Hudson Main Stage Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Opens May 12, 2018
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM
Sundays at 7:00 PM
Through Sunday, June 17, 2018
ONLINE TICKETING: 
Tickets may also be purchased at the Hudson box office.