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Saturday, January 19, 2019

LAST CALL AT THE OPEN FIST

Open Fist Theatre Company presents a World Premiere:  LAST CALL  by Anne Kenney. Lane Allison directs. 
 
Lynn Milgrim, Laura Richardson,
Art Hall and Ben Martin
Photo by Darrett Sanders
Program notes inform us that Anne Kenney's writing credits are deeply involved in episodic television. Her 'semi-autobiographical' play has all the earmarks of that medium where it's easy to move from one time period or location to another in the blink of an eye.  Easy on television.  More difficult on the stage. Herein lies a problem. Short expository scenes and blackouts slow the pace: dramatically.
 
Kenney's basic story of how a middle aged creator/writer of a successful television series unfolds in a situation that many may face at one time or another. The notion is heart felt.  Where the heart exits is in the anger and strident performance of Jill (Laura Richardson), whose guilt and loss of just about everything returns her from Los Angeles to her childhood Ohio home in an attempt to fix things for her aging parents. 
Through 85 year old Walter (Ben Martin), the strong willed patriarch of Jill's family, we learn physical issues that will eventually do him in as he struggles with his wife of fifty five years, Frances (Lynn Milgrim). Frances is lapsing deeper and deeper into dementia.  Memory loss is an insidious disease and life threatening illness are the issues that challenge Jill, the successful distant daughter. Things are complicated by Jill's near do well brother, Ricky (Ben Martin) who has knocked up a sixteen year old girl, Jade (Bronte Scoggins), whom he met in rehab.  
Life on the doorstep.  Death at the door. 

The flow of a stage play and the episodic changes for television are pretty much diametrically opposed.   What Kenney and director Lane Allison have created is a mish mash of time and attitude that is "fish" and funny in one moment with a comedic line and "fowl/foul" the next with the complications turning on the end of lifeWe have an opportunity to see  attempted suicides, but are only exposed in marginal dialogue and unsubtle innuendo. 

Kenney admits in her program notes that she is unfamiliar with the stage and has taken on this project at the suggestion of her agent to possibly find a new direction.  Sadly, the direction of this project is stiff and predictable. Each of the actors seems to be somewhat on their own path with the difficult issue: what's to become of Frances and Walter, let alone Ricky and his pregnant girlfriend, Jade. How will Jill resolve her own personal situation?  

Jan Munroe's set is beautifully constructed. Ellen Monocroussos's lights and transitional music / sound by Peter Carlstedt set a tone that helps the laborious scene changes.  

Thankless appearances by Stephanie Crothers as Annette and Det. Mottinger (Bryan Bertone) to wrap things up are notable.  These are not small actors, but the parts are very small. 

The time line 'end credits' to the tune of NBC's "Your Hit Parade" Jo Stafford's "You Belong to Me" may be Kenney's tribute to her parents and her love of them. 

Though curtain speeches are seldom part of a play review, director Lane Allison brilliantly reminded the audience to turn off our cell phones and directed us to the emergency exits. Her admonition was perfect. 


The Open Fist Theatre 
presents a World Premiere:
LAST CALL by Anne Kenney
Directed by Lane Allison
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Thursdays through Sundays
Check website for talk backs and 
specific times. 
Closes February 17, 2019
Tickets and information 
323 882 6912
www.openfist.org

Monday, January 7, 2019

A MISUNDERSTANDING

After a quiet holiday, we start the New Year with A Misunderstanding by Matt Chait which asks, "Can we agree to disagree and still love one another?"
 
Matt Chait as Bertram Cates Photo by Ed Krieger
 With the state of the world in a bit of chaos right now, playwright Chait weighs in with what may be a tunnel with a light at the end.  Or, is it an oncoming train? 
The 'on coming train' in Chait's new play may be one of ethics, semantics and faith. Faith being the foundation of the argument of "Something Else" v. Darwin.  
"A Misunderstanding" presents the idea that a tenured teacher, Bertram Cates (Matt Chait),  a two time Nobel Laureate candidate and distinguished professor of Biology at UCLA, may be dismissed for including in his teaching that the essential ideas put forth by Charles Darwin might just have a flaw.
Cates has had an epiphany leading him to the idea that there is a 'missed' understanding in the origin of species.  Can the human mind comprehend that which passes all understanding? Lao Tzu says, "yes and no."

Though she may have been faulty in her "logic" Mary Baker Eddy has successfully convinced followers/practitioners of Christian Science that "... man is not material, he is spiritual."  Chait with his premise moves in that direction. His 'science'  proclaims that there may be a subtle essence that, in fact, might be comprehensible to human beings

Factor in the love affair of PhD candidate, Howard (Dennis Renard)  and, his betrothed, Melinda Brownstein (Amy-Helene Carlson). Melinda being the daughter of Joshua Brownstein (Bruce Katzman), the distinguished chair of the UCLA Biology department. The communication between the young man and his bride to be has been derailed by fear, which leads to another 'misunderstanding.' PhD candidate Howard  has been mentored by Cates and has secretly assisted him after Cates' dismissal. This revelation puts Howard at the risk of losing his position at UCLA. A 'coincidence' has brought professor and student together.

The tangled web of unshared information plagues everyone.   Of course,  the questions still remain.  
Who am I? Who are you? Why are we here? 

As Brownstein, Katzman holds his ground well in the 'trial' to decide if Cates will be reinstated as a fully tenured biology professor. Compromise and discussion (the essence of getting beyond missed understanding) blossoms and with a little give and take, all shall be well.

One intimate piece of the play turns on the reference to a sad suicide that the plot attempts to pin on Cates: the death of a young student, Matthew Brady.  In the back and forth during the trial, an analogy of a modern digital camera is introduced. "Does the camera actually 'see' what it photographs?"  

This brought to mind Civil War photographer, Mathew Brady Brady used his camera to record the heroes and the horror of what man can do. A simple coincidence? Or did Chait, intentionally want for his audience to make a connection?  

Dennis Renard and Amy-Helene Carlson
Photo by Ed Krieger
Todd Faux's simple set with Leigh Allen's lights bring the show to its essence.  A table, two chairs and a box to represent the scenes.  It's the argument of the play, that I would suggest, be carried into the audience either within the performance (as with Jack Grapes' "Circle of Will") or as a talk back to elevate the debate beyond the only slightly comfortable conclusion.  
 
Rubidor Productions presents
A MISUNDERSTANDING 
by Matt Chai
Directed by Elina de Santos
The Ruby Theatre at The Complex
6476 Santa Monica Boulevard
Hollywood, California 90038
Opened January 4, 2019
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM 
Sundays at 3PM
Through Sunday, February 3, 2019