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Monday, October 21, 2019

The Fountain Between Riverside and Crazy at Normandie!

Pulitzer Prize winning "Between Riverside and Crazy"is neither fish nor fowl. Set in a formerly posh apartment on Riverside Drive in New York City with a view of the Hudson, the play opens with a bang that reminds us of a trying too hard sitcom.  Oswaldo (Victor Anthony) is a live-in druggie who touts Ring Ding and baloney sandwiches while rattling off at hyper speed the reason why they make a meal.   He sits with Walter (Pops) Washington (Montae Russell), a retired cop who has been holding out for a big bucks settlement from the NYPD after being shot six times by a white cop but living to tell the tale.

Archie Bunker and Fred Sanford have nothing on Walter, who is now a widower but takes care of his son Junior (Matthew Hancock) and Junior's hot to trot girlfriend, Lulu (Marisol Miranda) .. all of whom live in Walter's rent controlled digs that has seen better days. 
Marisol Miranda and Montae Russell
Photo by Jenny Graham

Director Guillermo Cienfuegos, seems to have set fire to his cast as the old addage "Bigger, Faster, Louder, Funnier (or more Dramatic)"  calls the tune for the show. 

Sit-com dialogue interspersed with shouting matches involving almost every member of the cast  tries our patience.  Why BFLF comes strongly into play may be opening night adrenaline .. or just very enthusiastic acting. 


We meet NYPD Detective Audrey O'Connor  (Lesley Fera) and her fiance, Lt. Dave Caro (Joshua Bitton) who stop by for a social visit that turns ugly as Caro attempts to secure Walter's  signature to end the eight year battle for a settlement.  Audrey was Walter's rookie charge when he was a training officer and they happily recall their time working together. The thirty thousand dollar engagement ring that Caro has presented to Audrey factors in later.

We learn that being shot six times can mess you up in many ways. Walter explains that for the past eight years while waiting for the big settlement that should keep him and his little family comfortable for a long time to come, his ability to become aroused to satisfy his wife, Dolores, has vanished with his injuries.

This information factors in with moments that actually have some build and charm. The unexpectedly sexy Church Lady (Liza Fernandez), a Brazilian with exotic healing powers, stops by for a visit.  The Church Lady's arousing remedy is way too much for Walter and has it's "impossible" benefit even as he falls to the floor with a heart attack, declaring, "This is the greatest moment of my life!"

The writing waffles from comedic moments to serious drama with an ending leaving us with unanswered questions.

David Mauer's multi-purpose set and Matt Richter's lights are excellent.
Between Riverside and Crazy
by Stephen Adly Guirgis 
The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
Plays through Dec. 15, 2019
Fridays @ 8 p.m.
 Saturdays @ 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. 
 Sundays @ 2 p.m.
Mondays @ 8 p.m  
Tickets and information:
(323) 663-1525 
 
 

Monday, October 14, 2019

WORLD PREMIERE! Neil Simon's Fools The Musical Open Fist

Leon Steponovich Tolchinsky (Demitris Hartman, a ringer for Val Kilmer), is a bright young Russian school teacher. Setting out for adventure, he arrives by virtual ejection from his train, landing the dumbest village in Ukraine: The Town of Kulyenchicov! Kulyenchicov suffers from a curse by the evil Gregor (Jason Paige), turning on some problem two hundred years prior to our story. The townsfolk call bouquets of flowers by fish names and the over all silliness of Neil Simon giving in to puns and such prevails. Mr. Simon may be on a cloud somewhere, just giggling that such a bit of pure silliness would bring guffaws. It's funny.

And enthusiastic cast, accompanied by a truly delightful live orchestra (well.. four pieces) that Klezmers like anything to accompany strong singing and Luisa Kendrick Burton's really clever choreography.  As we might expect from Neil Simon, it's a love story. Poor Tolchinsky stumbles into a morass of really stupid jokes and a pantomimed door slam that got me every time.  

  Yes! The Open Fist has waded into a musical.     On Jan Munroe's brightly colored Ukranian Egg inspired  set we are treated to overly broad performances, great singing and strong dance moves. Not all of the lyrics are immediately clear, but the enthusiastic cast barrels through with an outstanding performance by the gorgeous
Sophia (operatic soprano, Clare Snodgrass) who is as dumb as a box or rocks.. or fine jewelry, as we are led to believe the local vendor, (Cat Davis) who foists rocks off as gifts.  

 The village   has been blessed with a curse that has rendered the inhabitants simply simple.  They function, somehow and are excited to have a new teacher to replace the myriad of former teachers who have come and gone over the years.  Sophia's parents, Dr. and Mrs. Zubritsky (Bruce Green and Robyn Roth) make George Burns and Gracie Allen look like Rhodes Scholars. 
Ensemble
Photo by Darrett Sanders
  The show comes in at well over two hours with a fifteen minute intermission that seemed more like half an hour.  Meta references to the audience are silly with the story taking some double twists and turns after we are conned into "liking" Paige's evil Count Gregor and even goaded to applaud his reversal of fortune only to have the plot cheat its way to a very happy ending..and then.. more of an ending than necessary..and then we got to go home. 

This review, in the spirit of Neil Simon, means to say that the laughs are cheap and well worth the time investment.  The huge cast and wonderful orchestra make the evening memorable though long. To benefit the company, Jan Munroe's artwork will be for sale after the show closes.  I support Open Fist and their dedication to new works and pushing the theatrical envelope, thus.. this pitch.

Applause for all of the Fools on the stage and those of us cavorting in the audience.

NEIL SIMON'S FOOLS THE MUSICAL
by Neil Simon
Book and lyrics by Neil Simon 
Music and lyrics by Phil Swann and Ron West
Directed by Ron West
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Through November 17, 2019
Tickets and Information:
(323) 882-6912 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

THE ABUELAS / ANTAEUS

Argentina is one of those South American countries that have always made me think of the pampas and cowboys in flared gaucho pants wearing little black hats... slinging bolos that are used to capture critters to subdue them.  Looking at a map of South America, well below Brazil,  Argentina slightly resembles a caricature of Richard Nixon. Or a sea horse.   Stephanie Alison Walker's  "The Abuelas" presents the story of political upheaval in that country and the search for disappeared children.  

It's a frigid day in Chicago. On Edward E. Haynes, Jr.'s beautiful set, we feel and experience the raging "ocean" of Lake Michigan with Gabriela (Luisina Quarleri) in silhouette, dancing madly while playing her cello. 
Luisina Quarleri
Photo by Jenny Graham
The crashing of the winter waves and her mad attack of the instrument foreshadow a story that evolves from a warm light comedy to the angst and rancor of secrets kept: secrets revealed and the consequences of how the past, when given the opportunity, informs the present and then, the future.  

Initially, Walker's powerful polemic reveals the love story of Gabriela and Marty (Seamus Deaver) who are living what appears to be a full and  artistic life. They care for their new son with the help an abuela (grandmother), Denise Blasor as Soledad. Soledad is  Gabriela's Argentine madre who came for a short visit and stayed as a caretaker.  Gabriela is the first woman to chair cello for the Chicago Symphony and Marty is an up and coming architect prepared to break the rules for art in commercial architectural design. 

We bounce along with exposition that reveals a bit of Argentina, Soledad behaving like a typical mother-in-law as the family prepares to celebrate her birthday.  Ever the drama queen,  Blasor brings the caricature to life with good humor. 

The tenor of the story begins to change as César (David DeSantos), an Argentinian who has befriended Gabriela, shows up with an unexpected guest, Carolina (Irene De Bari). Carolina emotionally gushes over the beautiful Gabriela. Why DeSantos has opted for volume blaring past ten when the rest of the cast is so much more subdued is a mystery. His shouted lines set the audience back in our seats as he careened through a  mixed bag of revelations that set the story on an awkward journey. 

The details of "The Disappeared" in Argentina as the "dirty war" comes into play are revealed as the final polemic, enhanced by Gabriela's nightmare memories are played out by Carolina Montenegro as Belén, writhing in pain,  reflecting the ravages of the dirty war.   
Adam R. Macias's perfect projections enhance and strong performances by the cast, reveal a story that sends Gabriela's life in an unexpected direction. It mostly plays well.  DeSanto's bombastic volume and over the top performance seems either totally out of place or the rest of the cast was reluctant to broadcast what seems to show in the script as more subtle exposition is on director Andi Chapman.  How she allowed this actor to overwhelm the scenes that he is prominent in might be a call for some attention.  An audience stays 'in' a performance when the players are all in the same play at the same time. This actor may have imagined himself at the Pantages where one projects to an audience of three thousand? 
Recommended. 



The Abuelas 
by Stephanie Alison Walker
Antaeus Theatre Company
Kiki & David Gindler 
Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205

Performances:
Friday Oct. 11 (opening), Oct. 18, Oct. 25, Nov.15 (dark Nov. 1, Nov. 8, Nov. 22)
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Oct. 5 (preview), Oct. 12, Oct. 19, Oct. 26, Nov.16 (dark Nov. 2, Nov. 9, Nov. 23)
Sundays at 2 p.m.: Oct. 6 (preview), Oct. 13, Oct. 20, Oct. 27, Nov. 10, Nov. 24 (dark Nov. 3, Nov. 17)
Mondays at 8 p.m.: Oct. 21, Oct. 28, Nov, 4, Nov. 11, Nov. 25 (dark Oct. 14, Nov. 4, Nov.18)
Tickets and Information: 
(818) 506-1983

 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

NEVER EVER LAND

Rider Strong's fictional approach to factual events becomes his world premiere play, Never Ever Land.  It discusses the issues of one of the most famous pop stars of the 20th Century and the stories we have all heard whispered in private or shouted in the press.  Strong, a child star with the television show Boy Meets World in the 1990s now arrives with a chilling story of celebrity and where it may take unsuspecting folks who are drawn into the magic circle. 

It's not entirely clear where 'myth and substance' may meld, but the goal, according to the author is to commingle them in such a way as to send a message to us all that when it comes to fame and greed and the seduction that they may bring, it's a red flag that must be heeded.  It's about seduction and Michael Jackson: The White Whale in tabloid parlance.



Though The White Whale is never mentioned by name, it's clear that the accusations by some families regarding time that their young boys spent with MJ at Neverland or elsewhere were never confirmed in court. Did Jacob Gable lie and  did his family come into millions for silence? 

To be literally vibrated into submission by Michael Teoli's incessant throbbing bass, heard and literally felt through the walls of the theatre on Western, was the first indication that this was not going to be easy.  How the cast will ever recover their hearing from the blasting music may become an issue later in life.. The play, of course, starts the minute one walks in off the street.   We are in audience mode and the audience for last night's performance seemed to bear up bravely.  Nicholas Acciani's Greek revival set transforms with the entire cast serving as stagehands, during punishing sound that accompanies harsh informational videos projected on the upstage wall.  Two young boys Tim and Jacob Gable (Marcello Silva and Orlando Christian)  are pressed into service as well.   

I have a bit of trouble with children on stage.  There is, to a person, a certain tone of inexperience that makes a kid difficult to believe.  It may be as simple as just major 'indicating' (and that should be fixed by the director, but Michael A. Sheppherd either encouraged it or the kids just went for it on their own).  Perhaps it seemed necessary to have the kids played by actual children, but in a recent production at The Rogue Machine Theatre, children were played by adult actors and it worked just fine.  Again, casting is on the director and the goal must have been to slap us silly back and forth in time when the kids were kids and then meeting them as adults. 

The adults playing Tim and Jacob Gable (Andrew Brian Carter and Wade E. Wilson) were under the influence, perhaps, of the demanding original music, that rocked the theatre when we were transported from 2012 to 1993 and other times back and forth, slip sliding in time as adult Tim weasels his way into an echo of  a sleazy TMZ gossip type show with Leif Vantvoort  as bombastic Vincent Hack.. the "Lawyer" who thrives on the slimy crap that ruins lives and makes him lots of money.   

The White Whale died June 25, 2009.  His legacy of transcendent music and unique style influenced a generation.  His interest in childhood and children as friends is speculated upon by Strong... as Jackson's loss of his actual childhood as the driving force in the Jackson Five may have been motive for him to regain some of his youth as an adult, as if we could ever call him an adult?   What ever actually  happened remains speculation and innuendo.  The millions paid in hush money come into play in this production with Jacob being urged, twenty years later, to "tell the truth," which may boost his half brother, Tim, into the limelight and make him rich. 

Plots and subplots being whipped back and forth in time from the 1990s to the 2012s or so, annotated by blaring music and over amped video projections is not all that difficult to follow, but the direction of BIGGER, FASTER, LOUDER, ANGRIER.. is not necessarily "Better." In fact, these poor actors, pressed to the limit, make their acting technique overly obvious to the determent of their characters.  

An odd subplot involving Jacob's fascination with the 18th Century poet/plagerist Thomas Chatterton brings the brothers to an understanding, at long last. 

A World Premiere is exciting. This one, perhaps with a respect for the hearing health of the cast and the audience with maybe a more realistic presentation of the material, as salacious as it might be, could be an idea for a slightly more subtle approach to an extremely rough subject. 
One fact check:  The Balloon Boy Hoax was not in Texas. It happened in Colorado. 

NEVER EVER LAND
by Rider Strong
Theatre Unleashed
520 N. Western
Los Angeles, CA 90004
Sept. 28-Oct. 27
Thursdays – 8 p.m.
Fridays – 8 p.m.
Saturdays – 8 p.m.
Sundays – 7 p.m.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

MISS LILLY GETS BONED

Since moving to the Electric Lodge in Venice, The Rogue Machine Theatre maintains a wonderfully creative space that flexes every which way to accommodate their vast imagination.  The last three small theatre productions I've seen  including this one are filled with Sex!  Exotic sex, carnal sex and romantic loving sex are all presented with great skill.  Is it the season?


The story of Miss Lilly (the excellent Larisa Oleynik), a virginal thirty five year old Sunday School teacher whose take on Bible stories, though slightly skewed, make a point. 
 It takes a while for Bekah Brunstetter's play to come around. Eventually we meet Miss Lilly's loose and leggy sister, naugty Lara (Tasha Ames)  in a confrontation where heretofore chaste and patient  Lilly, whose faith is unshakable, literally prays for the next step in her questo to be sexually fulfilled. She is ready! Very!

The struggle between her imagined ideal man (he must have an accent and kiss her on the neck) and where it leads her,  poses the question, "Are prayers really answered?" Can one actually get a 'sign' from above?  Well, yes, they are.. In a way. And, Yes! Be careful what you pray for! He appears: Richard, with an accent played by Nick Lee. Brady Amaya plays Jordan, Richard's son.

Previously, there has been a murder in Nairobi.  Kavi Ladnier (Vandala Shalla) an animal behaviorist, conducts interviews with the accused murderer, Harold, convinced that she might be able to save his life. Harold is an African elephant! Time loops and the story comes back to America, with issues of grief, seduction, commitment and what lies ahead. In the over all scope of the Universe, what does lie ahead? Does mankind have an actual future?

In a similar way to Brunstetter's play, The Cake, we are up against  authenticity, dealing with deep personal beliefs, ethics and being challenged to be true to one's self.  Will Miss Lilly be fulfilled?

Larisa Oleynik and Tasha Ames Photo John Perrin Flynn
The startling effect of seeing a beautifully constructed Bull Elephant (created by Sean Cawelti) who evolves into a sentient being, remorseful for his crime works. In an interesting performance Justice Quinn becomes the voice and persona of the elephant.  
The unusual effects of answered prayers and the production's final moments coalesce to fulfill what may be prophesies of Biblical proportions. 

Robin Larsen's finely tuned direction and an excellent cast mesmerizes the audience as we eventually put the whole scenario together.  Tragic and funny; poignant and sad, it's well paced and revelatory.  This is a must see for audiences who long for a spiritual and intellectual  challenge.  

Credit Mark Royston for shadow puppets which advance the story dramatically. Inside Harold: Rachel Caselli and Amir Levi.)

Miss Lilly Gets Boned
by Bekah Brunstetter
Rogue Machine
at The Electric Lodge
1416 Electric Ave. 
Venice CA 90291
Fridays 9/27, 10/4, 10/11, 10/19, 10/25 at 8pm
Saturdays at 8pm, 
Sundays at 3pm, 
Mondays at 8pm
Saturday 9/28 performances will be a 2pm matinee; no performance on Sunday, 9/29)
Closes October 28, 2019 
Tickets and Information:

Friday, September 27, 2019

LITTLE SHOP at the Playhouse

The Pasadena Playhouse, The State Theatre of California, was established in 1912.  The heavy early California architecture shouts History in its cobblestone courtyard and its interior design.  No expense was spared when the Playhouse came back from what might have been its final curtain in 2010.  Fortunately, for Pasadena and California History,  a few months after the announced closure, an anonymous angel landed;  the house was refurbished with fancy seats and a new lease on Art was extended.  This is an important historical venue.
Mj Rodriguez (“Audrey”) and George Salazar (“Seymour”) in Little Shop of Horrors. // Photo by Jenny Graham


Roger Corman's feature film, The Little Shop of Horrors, typical of his low budget and quirky style, was released in  1960. It featured the lovely Jackie Joseph as Audrey and a newcomer that Corman brought along in a small role, Jack Nicholson.  In director Mike Donohue's rendition, Little Shop, the Musicalbook and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken, we are reminded that this is a completely original take for this production at The Playhouse, turning on Corman's story via Ashman. It is NOT a regional tour.

With a nod to the growing awareness of the emerging LBGTQ culture, Audrey is played by MJ Rodriguez, who according to a bio, knew from an early age that she wanted to be an actress and has now become one.  
Scenic Designer Dane Lafferty has driven a '57 Chevy convertible off down stage left where Ronnette (Brittany Campbell), Chiffon (Tikwanya Jones) and Crystal (Cheyenne Isabelle Welles)  often retire to comment and show what a mess Skid Row, where Mr. Mushnik's (Kevin Chamberlin) Flower Shop is moldering. 

Mushnik's belabored assistant, Seymour, (George Salazar, fresh from Be More Chill on Broadway) longs for the attention and respect of Audrey and names his alien botanical find (only a dollah ninedy five!) after his fantasy love.  

One memorable tune,  "Somewhere That's Green", works beautifully. It's the lament that Audrey sings hoping for a better life than the abusive relationship she has with her mad dentist biker boyfriend, Dr. Orin Scrivello (Matthew Wilkas, whose multiple characters almost steal the show). 
The awakening of the abused Audrey to the love of Seymour with "Suddenly Semour" in Act II is bright and engaging. 

When a huge production takes a simple and amusing story to new 'heights' we expect New Heights.  The use of hard working puppeteers to create the eventually humongous Audrey II, who, thanks to greed and promotion eventually takes over the Planet Earth, is clever and laborious. This effort deserves to be mentioned. Gone is the Giant Pod that throughout Corman's film continues to exponentially grow large enough to swallow, entire human beings. Instead an imagined miasma of tendrils forms the carnivorous maw that eventually devours everyone. All the while the original Audrey II remains a tiny talking potted thing sitting in the middle of the stage.

There are moments to applaud, especially in the enthusiastic opening number with dancers Ronnette, Chiffon and Crystal who advance the plot much like a Greek Chorus. One robotic version of Audrey II draws chuckles.  

Mike Donohue's direction misses a bet by not creating a tighter and more physically and vocally engaging Audrey II. A nod to diversity, perhaps was the casting of  Amber Riley as Audrey II's voice which was more whiny and annoying than effective.  Another idea might have been to  put the whole story into one act.  The Playhouse's  awkward Continental seating design makes intermission a traffic jam at the act break.  

It's a musical, after all. It's a diversion from our daily bouts with what the 'real world' reminds us of day by day. However, Little Shop does contain a metaphorical warning of sorts. When an "alien" being is allowed to propagate:  the world .. as is shown  in the final shadow puppet play reveals... the world is devoured by evil.  Brrr. 

Sean Cawelti designed the puppets and dircted the puppeteers: Tyler Bremer, Kelsey Kato, Tim Kopacz, Sarah Kay Peters, and Paul Turbiak.

Little Shop of Horror
Based on Roger Corman's 1960 Film
Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken

The Pasadena Playhouse 
39 South El Molino Avenue 
Pasadena, CA 91101
Tickets and Information:
pasadenaplayhouse.org
626-356-7529

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Solid Life of Sugar Water

Deaf West Theatre Company holds forth in an amazing little space secreted away just south of the Arts District and east of DTLA. It's an oasis for art! 
As the audience enters the space I noted that the room was surprisingly quiet.  Then, could see hands a flutter with many of the audience using American Sign Language to communicate.. It's Deaf West, after all.  In a way the silence was calming and quite charming.
 
Sandra Mae Frank and Tad Cooley
Photo by Brandon Simmoneau
The American premiere of Jack Thorne's The Solid Life of Sugar Water opens on Sean Fanning's gorgeous set that seems to suspend the audience from the ceiling of the bedroom .. the love nest.. the battlefield.. of Phil and Alice (Tad Cooley and Sandra Mae Frank).  Phil and Alice use ASL to graphically depict their most intimate moments. On hand are Nick Apostolina  and Natalie Camunas who provide the characters' voices, interpreting the signs used by Phil and Alice. The marriage bed "stands" in the center of the room which has been cranked ninety degrees to allow us to see the actors 'lying' in bed.  Derrick McDaniel's specific lighting and Heather Fipps's projections allow us to experience the actors 'lying in bed' while they are actually presenting to the audience.  It's a device that works well and adds to the texture of director Randee Trabitz's  beautiful stage pictures. 

Thorne discusses the issues of deep love accompanied by deep loss through leaping forward and back in time, as well as breaking the fourth wall for the characters to reveal inner thoughts. We go back to see how the couple met.. at the post office while standing in line to mail parcels.  Phil's huge package (no pun)  that contained, among other goodies an inflatable sheep intended for someone to .. well...  to cavort with, to coin a phrase is wrestled with graphically.  Phil and Alice,  at this juncture never really having met, Alice wonders why Phil, seeing that her parcel is so much smaller than his huge package (no pun) might not have allowed her to go ahead of him in the queue.  As luck would have it, the inflatable sheep explodes and Phil's huge package (no pun) .. bursts all of it's contents about the post office! The lovers meet.

The obvious relevance of sex permeates the play with graphic descriptions and physicality. The couple's relationship through a short courtship and marriage and pregnancy brings complications to light.  Explicit sex is presented beautifully as we share the dance of the actors signing smoothly and deliberately with obvious enjoyment.

This is an all together professional production that shows why Deaf West Theatre has garnered accolades for the past many years.  Big River and Spring Awakening, past hits that made news in the Big Apple may be followed by this show that has every aspect of a Broadway production. Graphic sex and explicit language steer this production to an adult audience.

The Solid Life of Sugar Water
by Jack Thorne
Deaf West Theatre 
at The Rosenthal Theatre
Inner-City Arts
720 Kohler Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021
(in downtown LA, just south of Little Tokyo and the Arts District)
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 5 (preview), 12 (opening), 19*, 26*; Oct. 3, 10
Fridays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 6 (preview), 13, 20, 27; Oct. 4, 11
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 7 (preview), 14, 21, 28; Oct. 5, 12
Sundays at 3 p.m: Sept. 8 (preview), 15, 22, 29; Oct. 6, 13
*ASL Nights on Thursday, Sept. 19 and Thursday, Sept. 26: arrive at 7:30 p.m. for a 15-minute ASL workshop that teaches signs used in the play.

For reservations and information, call (818) 762-2998 (voice) or go to www.deafwest.org

Monday, September 23, 2019

BILL IRWIN ON BECKETT at the Kirk Douglas

Bill Irwin Photo by Craig Schwartz
Full disclosure!  I so loved this show that I started a review in an email to my friend who accompanied me to see this show.  Then.. I came here to get into the routine of writing the actual review.   I was well into this review when I remembered the first rave in the email.  So.. rather than edit and edit.. I'm going to leave both reviews that are somewhat similar and recommend that if you are not familiar with Beckett, that you find Waiting for Godot on line and just scan it for a taste of what the language is like.  It can be daunting.  That said.  Go and be informed, educated and entertained by this humble genius. 

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Bill Irwin's "The Regard of Flight" at the Taper, Too, many years ago ... in a way... changed my life.  His highly creative take on theatre introduced me to the type of work that has most intrigued me ever since.  

The serendipity of where we are at any particular time in our lives factors into the work of Samuel Beckett.  Irwin's scholarly and approachable style is unique in that for the season ticket holder coming along to see the production with little or no information about Beckett, they may be tutored fast and furious...  and funny! to crack the shell. The good stuff will be inside.  Irwin takes us well inside with anecdotes and recitations and the meat and potatoes and just desserts that Sam Beckett has left for us to ponder. 

With preternatural skill, abundant training and the complete joy of meta referential text, Irwin brings Beckett to life in ways that call for further exploration and at once are thoroughly satisfying and very, very funny.  

In 1984, Irwin received a MacArthur Grant.  One report tells that he thought it was a prank call.  In the thirty-five years since that honor, Mr. Irwin has shown a panoply of skills.. from turns in "Waiting for Godot"  to an about face with Kathleen Turner in  Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, not to mention a revelatory turn on the 1990 television show, "Northern Exposure."  The maturity of his Beckett exploration is undeniable.

Mr. Beckett is a heady guy.  That "Waiting for Godot" has endured after the play's being severely panned at it's 1953 unveiling (a play where nothing happens.. twice!), is now held up to theatre students of all stripes as a height of theatrical exploration. Experiencing Irwin's take on the playwright is a fundamental revelation in and of itself.  
Ranging from the obscure "The Numbered Texts"  to lessons on physicality and the body silhouette including style with baggy pants and hats, Irwin "On Beckett" will challenge the neophyte and delight the aficionado, give pause to the scholar and garner knowing nods from the fans who think they 'really understand.' 

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To say that Bill Irwin in "Bill Irwin On Beckett" is pretty good  is like saying Najinsky was adequate or that Muhammad Ali was a middling athlete.  The superlatives have all been used up.. and finding a way to describe what an appreciative second night audience enjoyed.. enthrall with not only the scholarship of the actor, clown, mime, MacArthur fellow and someone who seems genuinely humble even while levitating .. literally...  and then returning to earth!  to find a really good compliment is just silly. 

For Beckett Scholars, there are inside stories. Imagining Robin Williams literally flying through the air to subdue Lucky,  Irwin's character in the 1988 production of Waiting for Godot directed by Mike Nichols with F. Murray Abraham, Steve Martin and Robin Williams is priceless. (Irwin now always pronounces it "GOD.. oh" ).

Self referential in a good way.. Irwin charms the audience and, as an old mime pal of mine has said, this show is a "Master Class on Beckett."  The depth of philosophy that scholars may debate is up for grabs.. the text of Irwin's show is fraught with references that go well beyond the superficial stuff that most of us may have seen on stage, read or heard about. 
Not having heard of the 'Texts'  Irwin recites more of Beckett's depth and oddball humor.  He relates that a possible influence for Godot may have been Beckett settling in France in 1937. Then,  during WWII, he joined the French Resistance.. Godot was written in French:  now translated back in to English and depending on the production, may have an English tone or an Irish brogue .. but always each character shall wear a bowler hat!
Irwin does hats well.. His primer on the role of the bodily silhouette immediately shows how not only the text, the subtext and the other studious approaches to character are important, but that the profile: the physical attitude is vital.. as is the hat!  Genius is too tame a term to land in Bill Irwins's court.What comes next? We'll have to wait and see. This one is transcendent.

Bill Irwin "On Beckett"
Conceived and performed by Bill Irwin
Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Runs through October 27, 2019
Tickets and information:
CenterTheatreGroup.org
(213) 972-7376.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

DEADLY.. A World Premiere

Sacred Fools Theatre Company brings a brand new musical to the stage with Vanessa Clair Stewart's DEADLY.. Pulling out all the stops for their season opener, director Jaime Robledo with composer Ryan Thomas Johnson time travel us back to Chicago, 1893, the World's Fair and a chilling tale of murder! Murders, most foul.


How H.H. Holmes (Oil Can Harry slick Keith Allan) lured women to his dark lair, wooed them and then with the help of his drunken lackey, Benjamin Pietzel (David LM McIntyre in for the role opening night will share the role with French Stewart) is a mystery.  Stewart's premise promotes the idea that these women were bound to be 'modern' and for one reason or another struck out on their own to wind up in Holmes's Murder Castle.

DEADLY takes us forward and backwards in time.  Initially with Holmes questioned by detective Frank Geyer (Eric Curtis Johnson) as we flash back to the episodes that found Holmes meeting and disposing of what may have been as many as twenty two victims.

As each of the hapless women (Brittney S. Wheeler as Lizzie Sommers,  Kristyn Evelyn as Evelyn Stewart, Erica Hanrahan-Ball as Julia Conner, Ashley Diane as Pearl Conner, Rebecca Larsen as Anna Williams, cj Merriman as Emaline Cigrand and Samantha Barrios as Minnie Williams) is encountered we see Holmes work his smarmy spell and one by one they die. Horribly.
 
(L to R) Keith Allan, Erica Hanrahan-Ball, Ashley Diane and Brittney S. Wheeler Photo credit Jessica Sherman
Based on a true story, Stewart's script calls for tightening and some basic help with movement. Ryan Thomas Johnson's songs are all presentational and  confront the audience almost angrily in no uncertain terms. Where the show could make up time would be for Stephen Gifford's multi-tasking scaffolding that comprises the entirety of Holmes's Hotel to be more a moving part of the story.  The stop and go aspect with actors mostly providing the task of stage hands, distracts rather than adds to the dramatic structure of the play.

Make no mistake, this cast is professional to a person. They present well delineated characters who are believable in the Gothic context of the script.  High drama calls for broad acting and the acting, the presentation and the characters all meld beautifully.  The songs, however, no matter how enthusiastically presented.. and they are sung with conviction.. are difficult to understand. The parsing and meter of the lyrics is sticky at best. The tune that rings most true is the anthem sung by all the women, "Murder Castle!" Corwin Evans's projections work beautifully throughout, adding color and spice.  

In all, this massive effort is overly long and even with Linda Muggeridge's terrific costumes (the women appear initially in Victorian drag when alive and then in wonderful raggedy scraps of ghostly fabric as they greet one another to haunt the 'castle' after their unhappy demise) the show needs work. 

The opening night audience was enthrall with the two act drama. The cast took extended bows, not all together undeserved, as the effort and the excitement of presenting a World Premiere must be very heady.

This DEADLY effort deserves applause.  The show with a strong director's hand, may pick up the pace to bring it along to a well honed production. 



DEADLY
A World Premiere
By Vanessa Claire Stewart
Sacred Fools Theatre
The Broadwater
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Through November 2, 2019
Tickets and information:
323 207 5605 
http://tickets.sacredfools.org/
sfreservations@sacredfools.org