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Saturday, May 25, 2019

NOISES OFF! IS ON AT ANW

 
Photo Craig Schwartz
I think that my first review of A Noise Within's production of Noises Off! was in 2011.  The then Glendale local theatre company was still in their heart attack digs on Brand Boulevard where they'd held forth for almost twenty years.  That production rocked. Meanwhile, short sighted City of Glendale city moms and pops declined to work with Artistic Directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Roderiguez-Elliott to keep this dedicated company here in town and off they went to court the City of Pasadena.  And, they succeeded!
ANW revived their hilarious production one time since 2011, I believe and here we go again.. 
Michael Fryan's uproarious farce will romp the Pasadena stage for only one more day.  More's the pity as this ensemble is so tight and well tuned that it seems that they might run the show forever and pack the house for every performance.
As the show closes tomorrow, this is just a reminder that Pasadena's Classical Theatre Company presents professional work in a gorgeous home. 
To put a fine point on it, Actual Director Geoff Elliott as the in the play director Lloyd Dallas actually directing and as the company director putting on the slightly vanity tour to feature the delightful Dotty Otley (fantastic Deborah Strang) as Mrs. Clacket, the housekeeper.. and as the show is closing.. all we can hope for is that Fred Kinney's fantastic set will not be far away when revival time comes again.  Kudos to Apollo Dukakis who, as Selsdon Mowbray, as The Burglar announces that he, Mowbray, and probably Dukakis as well, has spent sixty years upon the stage (all the while seeking his preset flasks of pick-me-ups: Mowbray not Dukakis.. presumably).. 

See this one!
Noises Off! by Michael Fryan
Closes June 6, 2019
A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91107
Tickets and Information
626 356 3100

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Oh ... HAPPY DAYS

A FACE..

Prolific and enigmatic Samuel Beckett was an Irish playwright who often wrote in French. Most well known is his mid 20th Century play "Waiting for Godot." Beckett's HAPPY DAYS reflects even more simply and directly the futility of life and of forging on.. continuing...  regardless.  I sometimes use the phrase, "not for the feint (sic) of heart" when reviewing shows that may be a challenge.  In fact, the couple sitting in front of us took a hike after Act I.  
In Godot, nothing happens.   Happy Days moves from the awakening bell with memories and such. Very little happens. The business of nothing is the heart of something. With director James Bundy's simply staged play on Izmir Ickbal's humongous sand hill, spilling into the first row, we soldier on.  
The audience is greeted by a gorgeous red Venetian drape with sea shell footlights. 

Curtain up:  Winne (legendary Dianne Wiest) buried up to her waist in dirt, lies face down.. asleep.  Asleep on the mound where she might have been forever.  The Bell.
"Forever" is a theme in Beckett's work that only the stout of heart might have time for. How long Winnie has been buried in the dirt with her large black bag and old friend "Brownie" (a black revolver) standing by we can only imagine.  Millie is attractive. Middle aged. Loquacious. How she's managed to prattle on for what might be forever: her flowing memoir...  doesn't matter. Here we are.  Her narration is long, with thoughtful pauses..  memories .. questions.. "Did you ever find me lovable?" she asks her soul mate, Willie (Michael Rudko).. "I know you love me.. but..."  

Through Act I, Weist is a dancer: confined in dirt.  She conducts her daily routine: the 'stuff' of her existence drawn from her big black bag. Her parasol explodes and life goes on. 

Willie is seen mostly from the back: naked, victim of a tossed elixir bottle, cloth on his naked head with his jaunty boater cocked to one side. Naked and in our imagination, guided by Winnie's specific directions, he heads back into his hole.. "crawl backwards.. hands and knees, Willie" 

Poor Willie lives somewhere beneath Winnie's barren hill top. He punctuates her monologue with snippets from the news, specific page turns, producing a "French" postcard that might remind of times when the two of them were actually together.

The timely pauses and  repetitions in Act I become problematic in Act II with Winnie now up to her neck in dirt.  Her head no longer turns.  Ms Wiest's exquisite skills,  reciting long passages expressed with only her face, her little black pillbox cocked to one side... the theme of love and futility explored.  (Bring opera glasses and hope for a seat in the center of the house for Act II!) The bell.. Does Winnie have free will? Might she awaken and sleep on her own schedule? Could she go on without the knowledge that Willie is there to hear her poetic ramblings? 
Willie appears in full evening attire, slowly crawling. Top hat on. Top hat off. Gloves. Mustache. Slowly he ascends. Crawling slowly to his love.  She cheers him on! "You want to touch my face again?" 
This has been a Happy Day.

HAPPY DAYS by Samuel Beckett
Mark Taper Forum
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Opened Wednesday, May 22, 2019 at 8 p.m.
Regular Performances (May 23 – June 30): Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., 
Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m., 
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. 
No Monday performances.
Tickets and information:
(213) 628-2772
CenterTheatreGroup.org



Monday, May 20, 2019

BRONCO BILLY.. THE MUSICAL!! ROCKS!!! World Premiere!

Too many exclamation points?  Not this time..  When the energy of Bronco Billy, The Musical spills out onto Vermont Avenue, watch out!

The tiny space called The Skylight Theatre in Hollywood has been active for more than forty years: supporting what producer Gary Grossman calls "intimate theatre." I recalled the time in the seventies when the ProVisional Theatre, led by Steven Kent, formerly of The Company Theatre of Los Angeles worked their magic in this funky old room.  "Magic" being the key word here. 
Magic is happening again with this amazing World Premiere currently rocking the Skylight stage. It's a full blown Broadway hit that will soon be discovered.  It's exciting to walk down the mysterious little corridor next to Skylight Books, next to The Los Feliz Theater to see the new ultra cool Atrium Restaurant now open to the right and to be ushered into the Skylight where Bronco Billy's traveling wild west show, complete with popcorn and snacks awaits.  Cast members amble out to say hello, old pals meet in the audience and exchange hugs and greetings as a five piece band led by Anthony Luca, with Austin Chanu, Jeff Frantom, Cyrus Elia and Ryan McDiarmid warms up Up Right.
Randy Charleville, Eric B. Anthony, Amanda Leigh Jerry and ensemble Photo by Ed Krieger

Every time I have an opportunity to see a show that no one else has seen, it's chance to say "I saw it first!"..  LA locals, call your friends and bring them into town to experience this delectable  delight.  Based on Clint Eastwood's "Bronco Billy" circa 1979 movie with Eastwood himself as Billy, author Dennis Hackin has taken his own personal story and combined it with the Warner Brothers film beautifully. Chip Rosenblum and John Torres are credited with music and lyrics with additional lyrics by Michelle Bruerman. It's a magnificent plunge into musical theatre with a cast of talented performers who do not disappoint.

 Director Hunter Bird has his hands full with fast paced scene changes and a story that, though a little hard to swallow, is filled with adventure. 

Opening Night: the house is packed and as the house lights dim we meet the ring 'mistress?' of the show, Doc (lovely Benai Boyd), an elegant blonde. We are filled with the anticipation that we are in for a treat.

Wizard John Iacovelli's fantastic multi-functional set (look for more awards here) using the rolling wooden crates the traveling show is packed in, the cast deftly manipulates them as they become locations and set pieces wending us down the dusty road to fame for Bronco Billy (Eric B. Anthony) and the gang.  

The basic story turns on the soul of the show, Billy, himself, whose small time traveling show has become a family.  Every member has a job to do and though there's not a lot of money coming in, they perform from the heart.   With doubling, you can't tell who's who, even with a program.  Suffice it to say that leaving your 'practical hat' at the door and diving in head first, it will all make sense and that's the truth.  

After a spectacular introduction to Billy and the gang, we head east to learn that there's trouble afoot.  Antoinette Lilly (excellent Amanda Leigh Jerry) is heir to her dearly departed chocolate magnate daddy's fortune.  Daddy Sam Lilly (Anthony Marciona) comes back to render a touching duet with Antoinette declaring to Be Strong!  Antoinette's wicked stepmom Dee Dee (Jamie Mills) plots to gain access to the millions left to Antoinette through a murder for hire scheme that may be thin.. but funny. 
Hijinks that are allowed in musicals ensue when the hilarious Pat Towne as Sinclair St. Clair tracks down our heroine somehow missing the mark all together as the bad guys eventually get their comeuppance and the good guys win the day.

The strong ensemble cast:   Fatima El-Bashir as Lorraine, Michelle Azar as Constance,  Marc Cardiff as Lawyer Lipton, Randy Charleville as Two Gun Lefty Lebow, Kyle Frattini as Lasso Leonard James, Chris M. Kauffmann as  John Arlington, Michael Uribes as Chief Big Eagle and Bella Hicks as Mitzi are all terrific in doubling and tripling roles. 
Iacovelli's set with projections and beautifully innovative transitions makes his set an additional member of the cast. Terrific Costume Design by Ann Closs-Farley.

Producer Gary Grossman's steadfast energy to keep living, innovative and intimate theatre alive all comes together in this show.  We often don't much think of the sacrifices made by the folks who put these shows together.  Applause to this producer (with Tony Abatamarco) and thumbs up or ten stars or whatever scale seems right to you for this World Premiere that must be seen.  It's a rule. 

BRONCO BILLY: THE MUSICAL
by Dennis Hackin with music and lyrics by
Chip Rosenblum and John Torres with additional lyrics by Michelle Bruerman.
Skylight Theatre
1816 ½ N. Vermont Ave
 Los Angeles, CA 90027
Fri & Sat nights at 8:30pm
Sat & Sun matinee at 2:00pm

Closes June 30, 2019
Tickets and information
https://ci.ovationtix.com/34914/production/1007429?_ga=2.113608263.1126719228.1558390078-1293510522.1558390078
 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

THE CHRISTIANS by Lucas Hnath

The Christians!
Lucas Hnath (nayth) is a prolific playwright whose take on the theatre returns us to where it all began: The Church.  
"The Christians" Hnath's 2014 play went up at The Taper in 2015 and comes again currently to the Actors Co-op in Hollywood. The beauty of this play is that it is a broad think piece that comes from the depths of the playwright's background.
Hnath's mother, Dana, was a seminary student and in the summer he would accompany her to classes, steeping him in the work that she was called to. His bio mentions his considering as a young man that he might be a preacher but decided that he didn't want to look after people's souls.  He then went into pre-med but didn't want to look after people's bodies, so... of course...  he became a playwright. 
Hnath states, "Here’s something I believe: A church is a place where people go to see something that is very difficult to see. A place where the invisible is—at least for a moment—made visible. The theater can be that, too. "

This reminds me of a quote from Kahlil Gibran who tells us that "Work is Love made visible."  
The work of making theatre is almost always filled with the genuine excitement of putting on a show.  It's joyful work. Visible work.

In The Actors Co-op's production of "The Christians" we find not only life lessons and food for thought, but a banquet! 
Front Row L to R: Kay Bess, Townsend Coleman, Thomas Chavira, Phil Crowley. Back Row: Choir
Photo credit Matthew Gilmore

Director Thomas James O'Leary delivers the feeling of a mega church to the tiny Crossley Theatre on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church. We are greeted by a beautiful usher who hands us an authentic Sunday program.  

Pastor Paul (excellent Townsend Coleman) addresses the audience, now become the congregation of literally thousands.. to deliver two important announcements. Coleman is appropriately humble and direct. Sincerity is Pastor Paul's stock in trade. His sincere devotion to his calling is the reason that this church has grown from a storefront to a gymnasium to the edifice that echoes the success of not only Pastor Paul, but the physical body of Faith in the now paid for building that houses them today.  A deep sigh of relief comes after some rocky times, but now, the foundation of the church is solid... but as we find in Isaiah .. there's a crack.
To the surprise of everyone, including Elder Jay (attentive Phil Crowley) who chairs the board of directors and Paul's lovely wife, Elizabeth (Kay Bess) Paul will guide the church in a new direction. 

This church will no longer preach a belief in Hell!
The liturgical and ecumenical and philosophical foundation has rested on the threat of Damnation for those who have not taken Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.  The gut punch of this radical reversal of what the wages of sin might really be becomes not only the through line of the play, but the tenor of the room also changes.  The audience is now engaged in the visceral reaction to the argument of the play as a congregation as well as playgoers.  

Hnath's beautifully constructed speeches are undeniable as Associate Pastor Joshua (Thomas Chavira) rises to the pulpit to question Paul's new direction for the church.  Joshua's devotion has come from a deep reversal of fortune that brought him from the brink of destruction to his now official association with the church.

Hnath in long and thoughtful speeches with director O'Leary's lengthy stage waits .....  painful anticipations....  bring Paul's crisis in faith to a showdown.  Paul's suffering comes from his conscience by being exposed to an example of the unfair business of losing the soul of any human being who has, by belief in another religion or denial of the opportunity to be 'saved' to die and then... to be chucked into Hell.  Paul points out that the "Word of God" is a bit like the game of Telephone where interpretations of the text over time may differ. 

Joshua challenges Paul in front of the congregation and in a dramatic moment, Joshua splits from his church home, the church that has literally changed him as a person ..  taking a handful of others with him. 

The challenge of personal ethics and keeping on board a church with literally thousands, if not millions of 'faithful'  is the crisis that Paul must now come to grips with. Out of the choir we meet the cutest congregant and choir member, Jenny (Nicole Gabriella Scipione). Jenny literally owes her family's well being and current success to the outreach of Paul's ministry and indeed, to Paul himself. She's prepared a statement with serious questions that take Paul by surprise. Jenny is deeply invested in the Truth of what she believes, as was Joshua. She poses incisive and thoughtful questions that she's had to compose and write out to be sure that what the new direction of the church is now, she may really understand. How can we not accept  the Bible's "absolute directive" to believe in punishment for all who are not washed in the blood of the lamb.  Isn't the fear of Hell what keeps us on the straight and narrow path?

Depending on our upbringing: in a formal church or faith; without the guidance of religion, or left to our own devices, Paul openly wonders how his literal indoctrination into the Christian Faith might be different had he been raised with other beliefs or traditions.  His is a true crisis in that what he believes, what each of us truly believes, even the agnostic who's beliefs are unsure.. each of us must turn to either Faith or Reason: our own sacred and personal ethic in an attempt to personally resolve the question: 
"What do I really believe?"

I really believe that "The Christians" is a play that must be experienced. The beauty is in the telling and the evocative critical thinking that each of us may be called to: like it or not!

THE CHRISTIANS by
Lucas Hnath
Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre
1760 N. Gower St. 
(on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood) 
Hollywood, CA 90028
May 10 – June 16, 2019
  Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
 Sunday Matinees at 2:30 pm
 Saturday Matinees May 18 and May 25 at 2:30 pm. 
Adults: $35.00.  Seniors (60+): $30.00.  
Students with ID: $25.00.  Group rates available for parties of 6 or more.  
Reservations and information  
 (323) 462-8460

Monday, May 6, 2019

DANIEL'S HUSBAND AT THE FOUNTAIN

Tim Cummings, Bill Brochtrup, Jenny O’Hara
Photo by Ed Krieger
In the late seventies I was invited to the Circle Theatre down on El Centro in Hollywood to see a workshop production of Harvey Fierstein's first iteration of his Torch Song Trilogy, "The International Stud." Having grown up in the West: the land of heterosexuals where men were men and women were women, we were taught obliquely about homosexuals and how to disapprove of them.  It was a bit of a shock to find out that "The International Stud" was about a romance between two men.  I knew about the existence of gay people and in retrospect had been taught by at least two wonderful gay teachers, three if you count Gertrude Steinhart.  Naivete must run in my family because I just thought that my teachers were really good at teaching. Kids would use the term 'queer' to tease or denigrate another kid with no real knowledge of what the insult really meant.


Seeing Fierstein's play so long ago now brought me to an important realization that over the last many years has come to make sense to me.  As Lin Manuel Miranda famously said, "Love is love is love is love."  What Fierstein teaches us in his "Torch Song Trilogy" is that deep feelings of love and frustration and jealousy and reconciliation are human qualities. Love is universal.  The hetero world certainly holds no patent on love..nor does the homo world nor any of the other myriad of worlds we now come to acknowledge daily.  
Love is love is love is love.

Michael McKeever's play "Daniel's Husband" is not about sex. It's about love and the human experience of loving: Maternal, Romantic, even Fan love. The fact is that our currently dominant hetero world may still balk at the idea of a gay community, as we learn that Daniel's father did when Daniel came out as his gay son.  He could tolerate Daniel's lifestyle, but could not accept it. One sad lesson in the play is that tolerance and acceptance are not the same thing and the deep feelings of rejection from one's own father and the hovering helicopter of one's mother who counts herself as accepting does not make things easy for anyone.
For committed heterosexual men and maybe some women, seeing men together may be uncomfortable. On the other hand, the absolute beauty of McKeever's story rings true in a human way, a personal and loving way that makes the humanity of two guys who have found one another, certainly the essence of "opposites attract"... blossom comfortably into a tale of passions, prejudices and desires fulfilled...  and lost.  
As Daniel, Bill Brochtrup, who has aided to define the gentle well adjusted gay man with his role as John Irvin on the successful ABC -TV series NYPD Blue, brings that subtle quality expertly to the stage.  Daniel is a successful architect who has decorated his home in spare sixtes modern that includes an important abstract painting painted by his dad. Hung on the fourth wall, Daniel's partner, Mitchell (Tim Cummings), feels judged by it. Daniel's mother, open and flowing, the lovely Jenny O'Hara as Lydia, an absolutely overly supportive mom whose true love is and has been her gay son, hates her husband's painting and offers a bounty to Mitchell to make it disappear! 

Mitchell, is a writer. He has reluctantly abandoned his true love of literature for what he calls the "gay equivalent of Barbara Cartland": purple prose for a Lavender Press for a gay readership.  It makes money. He's just signed a three book deal. 

In the opening scene where we meet the boys,
Mitchell heavy handedly expresses his view that marriage is totally unnecessary for anyone. Calling a wedding a "putti-infested, Victorian-laced, curly-cue covered concept..."  his objection permeates the the scene and the lives of two otherwise perfectly matched lovers. 

Mitchell's literary agent, Barry (Ed Martin) is accused and rightly so for romancing pretty men half his age.  Snuggling on the sofa with Barry,  Trip (Jose Fernando), exposes the obvious generation gap:  fawning over Mitchell's writing and Daniel's decor, he becomes the catalyst for the unpleasant problem of the importance of marriage to Daniel and it's being unnecessary to Mitchell. 

Simon Levy's fluid direction is  subtle, allowing the progress of each of the characters room for revelations that must be indicated in McKeever's script, but enhanced by the craft of each one of the actors.

DeAnne Millais's beautiful set enhanced by perfect lights by Jennifer Edwards and Peter Baynes's complementary sound completes the picture.  The ultimate message must give pause to each of us, of any orientation, that Love is the Answer, but not always the answer that we may expect nor expect to have to live with. 


Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings
Jose Fernando and Ed Martin
Photo by Ed Krieger
 


 










DANIEL'S HUSBAND  
by Michael McKeever
Directed by Simon Levy
The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029 
Fridays at 8 p.m.
May 10, 17, 24, 31; June 7, 14, 21
Saturdays at 2 p.m.: May 11, 18, 25; June 1, 8, 15, 22 (no 2 pm perf. on May 4)
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: May 4 (Opening Night), May 11, 18, 25; June 1, 8, 15, 22
Sundays at 2 p.m.: May 5, 12, 19, 26; 
June 2, 9, 16, 23
Mondays at 8 p.m.: May 13, 20, 27; 
June 3, 10, 17 (dark May 6)
Tickets and information:
(323) 663-1525 


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

BOXING LESSONS


Susan Wilder, Stephen Tyler Howell, Luke McClure,
Eve Danzeisen, Eric Curtis Johnson, Bruce Nozick
Photo: Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin
This world premiere of John Bunzel's "Boxing Lessons" unfolds with a slightly familiar theme and lands somewhat pat: bringing together the estranged family of a famous novelist whose naked body has been discovered floating in the bay off one of the San Juan Islands. As they arrive the family is stuck with the remnants of the novelist's life and tasked with boxing it up.   That, and finding the elusive will that is vital for the estate to be settled.

Celebrated author Paul Green's major claim to fame is the Christmas classic Suck My Thumb which is read annually by millions around the world during the holiday season.  Green's reputation is now at risk. The Truth is not an ally in this family. After his divorce from Meg (lovely Susan Wilder) the mother of Ned and Judy (Luke McClure and Eve Danzeisen), the author sought refuge in a funky old cabin on an island on Puget Sound.  

For reasons that slowly emerge, Paul has, evidently, become finished with life.  He's sent a text message to his former lover, Billy (Bruce Nozick), with whom he has spent a good deal of time romantically as well as creatively. They won Emmy's for a special they produced. Paul's text announced that he planned to commit suicide. Billy has returned to the island after mysteriously vanishing years ago.  His goal is to find the Will and cash in on Paul's estate.

The family reunites opening old wounds, saddled with boxing up the remnants of Paul's life and to find the missing Will. The clutter in the cabin makes this a major challenge.  

Meg arrives with claws extended, hovering over her adopted son, Steve (Stephen Tyler Howell) the  fluttering "on the Spectrum". Meg extolls the "might have beens" in her life while jousting with her two natural kids.  Ned is a cynical and newly tenured college professor in the midwest having arrived in a tizzy only to have the situation exacerbated by his bossy sister, Judy who needs money.

Sheriff Bob (Eric Curtis Johnson) is a long time family friend and as the elected official on the island will protect Paul's reputation at any cost for personal reasons that blossom late in the argument of the play. Family secrets are revealed. 

The mystery as to why a celebrated seventy year old  author would take his own life by wading naked into fifty five degree water instead of using a shotgun still moldering in the closet is never explained to satisfaction.  

Thanks to the least likely of the six characters to emerge with answers, Steve and his eidetic memory solve the mystery and all's well that ends well... more or less. 

John Iacovelli's beautifully cluttered set fills the  tiny New American Theatre stage.  Jack Stehlin's deft direction smoothly choreographs the actors into creative stage pictures.  Personal revelations and sniping reminiscent of Albee's Virginia Woolf... reminds us of that author's demise... ending with an enigmatic footnote from the author's hand.   
Strong acting chops make the dark story work. The last word is silence.

Boxing Lessons by John Bunzel
A World Premiere
New American Theatre
1312 Wilton Place
Hollywood, CA 90028
Through June 2, 2019
Friday and Saturday @ 8 pm 
Sunday @ 3 pm
Tickets and information:
310 424 2980 
www.newamericantheatre.com 

 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Sam Shepard's BACK BOG BEAST BAIT at The Yard

In November, 2018, Actor/Mentor/Director Darrell Larson gathered together a group of actors who came to be kown as The Scavengers: a line taken from Sam Shepard's play Back Bog Beast Bait.  Through some trials and tribulations, the core group, wound up workshopping the one act, one of Shepard's more esoteric theatricals.  To call this play "esoteric" is a far cry from accurate. Bizarre. Outre. Outlandish if we are bound by words.
Cecilia Fairchild as Gris Gris photo credit Melanie Fairchild
 Shepard's energy permeates The Yard, a funky old performance space on Melrose.  The spirit of the playwright, poet, actor is palpable as the audience settles in. A golden presence appears high above the stage.  The Ghost Girl: Ren Farren Martinez's voice fills the space. It's Sam's voice really wondering how in the world to get back to Tennessee and if anyone will recognize him if he makes it.
The setting: a run down shack in bayou country where Maria  (Tali Forest-Smith) answers the bolted door with a shotgun at the ready.  In stumble Slim (Stan Mayer) and Shadow (Abe Martell) two gun totin' roughnecks who, evidently, Maria has hired to rid the neighborhood of The Tarpin, the Beast of the Back Bog, an inhuman creature who is on the road to destruction of the human race. 
The boys make themselves at home and the dialogue gets wonky.  Shadow is a young pup: a bull rider who makes the road his home and is ready for more of the vagabond life. Slim (often thought of as representing Shepard, himself) feels the gravity of time and is ready to hang up his guns before someone younger and faster sends him to Boot Hill.
A loud bang and the door's thrown open. Enter The Preacher (James Bane) torn to shreds and bleeding profusely. He babbles what may be bits of the Book of Revelation.  Incoherent and dying, the boys try to comfort him. Maria has some remedies to bring him back to life.
The story is a crazy one to say the least.  Shadow heads out into the Bog and soon returns with Gris Gris (Beautiful Cecilia Fairchild) riding on his back like a bucking bronco.. Fairchild's inescapable energy boosts the play to a new level. 
She and Shadow bring a bag of mushrooms that Gris Gris has led him to. He swears that they were strewn on the top of a mountain in a land where there are no mountains.  Gris Gris is an enchantress!   Magic mushrooms are consumed by some but not by others as each character now takes on what amounts to an individual line. Ghost Girl (Maria's dead daughter) sings another beautiful lament. 
The disparate elements of each character now roil and rumble in such a way as to practically abandon the actual dialogue as Maria, Slim, The Preacher, Gris Gris and Shadow . . either under the influence of the mushrooms or Shepard's other world sense of story.. unfold. Each actor is in their own world and after Slim heads out into the bog and returns, disheveled and missing his two gun rig, it's every man or woman for themselves.
Live instrumental accompaniment by Paul Lacques on guitar, dobro, and slide guitar subtly underscores the piece, adding to the mystery and the energy of the show.
True West and Fool for Love are more what fans of Sam Shepard have come to appreciate from the genius of the man.  Back Bog Beast Bait is none of the above and must be taken at face value and appreciated for the specific work that the six actors present. Simple lighting by Matt Richter and gorgeous costumes by Melanie Fairchild almost become additional characters in the piece. It's an abstract dance of words and rhythms that enter the mind bypassing the intellect to challenge the spirit.  

Support this new theatre company it's time for new horizons.

BACK BOG BEAST BAIT 
by Sam Shepard
Directed by Darrell Larson and The Scavengers
The Yard
4319 Melrose Ave 
Los Angeles, CA 
90029 
Seats may be reserved online






Monday, April 22, 2019

DIANA OF DOBSON'S / ANTAEUS / THE POTS

ANTAEUS continues with the tradition of partner casting allowing audiences to compare and contrast performances in Diana of Dobson's by Cicely Hamilton. This is a review of The Pots cast.

 Miss Diana Massingbred (Abigail Marks) is a poorly paid and impatient shopgirl at Dobson's Draperies in London, circa 1908.  Diana, shares quarters with other employees who stand all day to sell linens.  Casey Stangl's direction sets a break neck pace that serves the characters but races along at such speed that there's hardly time to take a breath.  In the very rapid first act, we learn that Diana makes five shillings a week: or about one pound sterling a month. She rants and raves about the poor treatment that she and the other girls must weather.   A letter comes for Diana announcing that a distant cousin has passed away.  Diana's share of his estate will come to Three Hundred Pounds! Roughly, this is the equivalent of twenty five years income at her present salary!  

An overseer of the girls, Miss Pringle (Eve Gordon, later Mrs. Cantalupe) enters to put the girls to bed and turn out the gas lights. With her new found wealth, all of the animosity that the shopgirls have kept silent about bubbles up in Diana.  In a back and forth with Pringle that liberates her from her life of drudgery, she decides to take the cash and blow it on a month of living the life of a rich widow. Diana now has the luxury of telling Pringle what she really thinks of the whole rotten situation with the line, "Miss Pringle, you are no longer in a position to bully me, so take my advice and don't try it on!" Black Out!

We have been pulled along with snapping dialogue to be dumped into darkness and the fastest first act in the west.  A stunned audience murmurs in a confused state as the house lights come up and stage hands set to work changing the scenery for Act II.  

As Stangl has arranged for fluid movements by the supernumeraries later in the play, to not use them to do a routine to transform the Dobson's dormitory into the fancy Hotel Engadine may have been a mistake. The flow of the piece has great energy and should be kept going. It's an opportnity to engage the audience with the business of what we all accept: it's a play! Let us watch the scene change.

The first act racing along showed exemplary performances by Ms Marks, Ms Gordon and the other shopgirls (Cindy Nyugen, Krystal Roche, Shannon Lee Clair, Kristen Ariza) but skidding to a complete stop is a bad choice.

Diana has taken her three hundred pound windfall and travels to the Hotel Engadine, a luxury resort in the Alps. 
John Bobek and Abigail Marks
Photo by Geoffrey Wade Photography
She enters in beautiful regalia and charms the other visitors, prompting a proposal of marriage by the business tycoon, Sir Jabez Grinley (John Apicella)  and pulls at the heart strings of the younger and probably more desirable Captain Bretherton (John Bobek).  Diana leaves behind an air of mystery. but eventually comes clean revealing her true status to Bretherton just as he dregs up the fortitude to expose his feelings of love.  That nips his ardor in the bud.

Hamilton's message, that money is power and the superficial business of putting on airs, at which all of the guests at the Hotel Engadine are perfect, is contrary to the principals of honest hard work. The guests have enjoyed the pampering of the well coordinated and excellent servants (all of the above shopgirls now in tidy maids' uniforms, joined by the excellent Paul Stanko as the Waiter and later Constable Fellowes). The choreography is letter perfect but sometimes distracting as they emulate some of the dialogue of the 'swells' in the salon of the hotel. 
Diana challenges the wealthy Bretherton to try standing with his back to the wall with pittance to live on and rushes to return to London, her wealth now dissipated.
We return to London and find two figures huddled on a cold park bench along the banks of the Thames.  Bretherton, in an effort to meet Diana's challenge has abandoned his stipend upon which he has lived for years. He is unable to find work (educated at Eton and Oxford with not a whit to show for it).  Rousted by Constable Fellowes, we find that the constable had served in the Welsh Guards under Captain Bretherton and cuts him some slack allowing him to sit a spell on the public bench. As  the Old Woman  (Elyse Mirto) sharing the bench with Bretherton awakens, she advises him to eschew the 'drink!' In fact, all he's wanted to do was to prove to himself and to Diana? that he was capable of surviving on his own. He has failed.
As dawn breaks, a disheveled Diana enters, also on the skids and the love that was just blooming until she revealed her low social status, reawakens and all is well.

Written in 1908, Hamlton's story of a woman seeking to better her life has a 21st Century tone.  The highly stylized and ever so British presentation emphasizes the hoity toity snobbery of the 'upper' classes and puts them in their place.  It's a splendid production, notwithstanding the odd scene change after the short first act. Highly recommended with The Kettles ready in the wings.

The Pots: 
Abigail Marks
John Apicella 
Kristen Ariza  
Shannon Lee Clair
Eve Gordon
Elyse Mirto 
Cindy Nguyen 
Krystel Roche 
Paul Stanko  
John Bobek

Diana of Dobson's
Written by Cicely  Hamilton
Directed by Casey Stangl 
Antaeus Theatre
Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
(between N. Brand Blvd. and Artsakh Ave. formerly Maryland Avenue)
 

Tuesday at 8 p.m.: April 16 ONLY (preview)
Wednesday at 8 p.m.: April 17 ONLY (preview) Thursdays at 8 p.m.: April 11 (preview), April 18 (opening) and May 16 ONLY Fridays at 8 p.m.: April 12 (preview), April 19, 26; May 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 13 (preview), April 20, 27; May 4, 11, 25; June 1 (dark May 18) Sundays at 2 p.m.: April 14 (preview), April 21, 28; May 5, 12, 19, 26; June 2 
Mondays at 8 p.m.: April 29; May 6, 13, 20, 27; June 3 (dark April 22)
Alternating Partner Casts 
Tickets and information
(818) 506-1983 or www.Antaeus.org