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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Roald Dahl's MATILDA, THE MUSICAL

There is a special place in my heart for high school theatre.  Before the "troubles" swept in, the double casts of Roald Dahl's, Matilda, the Musical at Providence High in Burbank worked for months rehearsing two complete casts of principal actors with a huge chorus of singers and dancers.  Last Thursday, March 12, 2020, the first cast went up on the Providence stage.  Director,  Dominic Catrambone with choreographer, Julianne Kusmiercyzk and their cast of thousands mounted one of the most consistently well done shows I've seen in a long time. 

I was invited to see this show by the parents of Sasha Camacho, a first year freshman.
Sasha Camacho as Matilda (Photo credit Ben Camaacho)
In the title role of Matilda, Sasha plays the unappreciated daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Adriano Roy and Alexis Shabun).  

 
The exceptional camaraderie reflected in the professionalism of Thursday's performance was far beyond the many high school productions I've seen over time.  These kids never flagged. The principals were spot on. 

The sad thing is that the crisis has forced Providence to cancel the final two performances of "Matilda." Fortunately, Providence administrators allowed each cast of principals to do  one performance of the show.  

Sasha went to the Friday performance to help with the ticket booth for the second show. Thirty minutes before curtain, the girl playing Tommy (Isabel Petty) was unable to perform. Like a trooper, Sasha donned Isabel's costume to go on for her. She learned the part during her character's off stage time!  

The Providence administration is hopeful that when the crisis passes, we will all get back to normal and the show may go up again before the end of the school year. Burbank and LA locals please keep your ears open for the new schedule.  Highly recommended.

ROALD DAHL'S MATILDA, THE MUSICAL
Book by Dennis Kelly 
Music by Tim Minchin
Providence High School
Theatre Arts Department
511 S Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91505
Future performances TBA 
For information:
Call Providence High School
818 846 8141
 

 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

VAN ITALLIE'S THE SERPENT.. @ THE ODYSSEY

 Having had the rare pleasure of seeing Joe Chaikin's Open Theatre perform and to have met some of the original members of that group, being reintroduced to The Serpent, first performed by The Open Theatre in 1968, the opportunity to see this iconic masterpiece back on the stage is very special to me.   Can we return to the sixties? Can we revist the passions that drove theatre through the political work of The Living Theatre? Through the maze of The Company Theatre's "James Joyce Memorial Liquid Theatre"?  The icoic physical work of Grotowski in Poland and the subsequent blasts from The San Francisco Mime Troupe and Ellen Stewart's La Mama? 
Director Ron Sossi approaches The Serpent 2020 as the original director, Joe Chaikin did: 
Form the ensemble. 
Work out the argument. 
Assign the roles.
Tighten things up.  

In Chaikin's original notes for The Serpent, he tells us that this is not a play, It's a Ceremony.. it's a ritual: a tribute to our past and commentary on the present and then.. what's to come.  It's prescient, though somewhat obvious.. That old silver clock that waits for us all.
The Ensemble Photo by Enci Box
As the audience enters, Sossi's cast of seven women and five men warm up on the bare stage in  rehearsal togs.   The ceremony calls for physical, mental and emotional limbering... 
Because some of the text harkens back to days well before any of the cast members were on the planet, Sossi has added announcements of tragedies more recent, recited by various cast members: chilling reminders of the times we live in. The cast assembles center stage reciting names.  It takes a minute to understand that this performance:  this unique Ritual of Theatre, includes our audience, each of us is invited as one actor after another calls out the name of someone seated before them.
We are all in this together. Now.

Each of the segments of The Serpent, turns on a singular event, also referencing  assassinations, including how Cain slew Abel. Through repetition and physical movement we relive the murder of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King as well as the murder of Abel.    Especially moving is the actors' exercise. We relive JFK and the others that awful in Dallas with the Zapruder film repeating in the background.  The exercise replays specific moments of the shooting. Each movement has a specific number. As one actor calls out specific numbers the actors portraying the principals assume the precise position of the stopped motions of JFK's death.  Chilling.

The title, The Serpent, turns on Van Itallie's take on the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The dialogue will have special meaning to those who wish to examine what the myth is really all about. Dialogue and movements are repeated by The Serpent (six or eight of the ensemble) as it writhes: cajoling and tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.

Over all,  this ceremony.. this ritual holds up .. Sossi's young cast impressively approaches the same energy that the original cast exhibited. Missing from the cast, The Odyssey lost one of its most dedicated actors recently, Alan Abelew, whose visceral approach to acting harkens back to those early days. He is missed.

For a trip down menory lane, especially for actors who come from the days of appreciating or working with ensemble companies like Chaikin's The Open Theatre or The Beck's Living Theatre or The Company Theatre of Los Angeles, you'll find your muscle memory responding to the movements, the organic trust that is unique to what highly stylized and politicized theatre was all about so long ago. 

Celebrate fifty years of dedication to 'important' theatre at The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. It may be a relic, but The Serpent is a history lesson and I, for one, am happy to be tutored.  Well done!

The Serpent
by Jean-Claude van Itallie
Directed by Ron Sossi
 
The Ensemble: Riley Rose Critchlow, Avery Dresel-Kurtz, Joseph Gilbert, Tomoko Karina, Kristina Ladegaard, Marie Osterman, Ian Stewart Riley, Anthony Rutowicz, Keaton Shyler, Ahkei Togun, Terry Woodberry, Denise Yolén, Peyton Young
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble 
Odyssey Theatre 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.  
Los Angeles CA 90025
  Runs  March 7 – May 3
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: March 4 (preview), March 25 and April 22 ONLY
Thursday at 8 p.m.: March 5 (preview), April 9 and April 30 ONLY Friday at 8 p.m.: March13, 20*, 27; April 3, 10, 17*, 24; May  1  
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 7 (opening), 14, 21, 28; April 4, 11, 18, 25; May 2 
Sundays at 2 p.m.: March 8, 15, 22, 29; April 5, 12, 19, 26; May 3
  *The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.

Tickets and information: 
 (310) 477-2055 Ext. 2

Friday, March 6, 2020

Actors' Gang! Can't Pay? Don't Pay!

These are the nuts and bolts of The Actors' Gang's wonderful production: Dario Fo's "Can't Pay? Don't Pay!" translated by Cam Deaver. 
Directed by Bob Turton. .  
Kaili Hollister (Antonia),  
Lynde Houck (Margarita), 
Jeremie Loncka (Giovanni), 
Thomas Roche (Luigi), 
Steven M Porter (Sargent, Agent, Undertaker, Old Man), 
Danielle Ray Powell (Office, Agent 2, Undertaker Assistant, Nurse).
This is the only time this cast stood still! photo by Ashley Randall

It's not often that I arrive home late at night after seeing a play and sit right down to use the energy that the show has generated to start my review.  Not being prone to gushing, I have to say that from the moment the lights shifted from the house to the stage at The Actors' Gang tonight.. the screaming and rushing and pure silliness to rival Lucy and Ethel on speed grabbed the audience and never let go.

I sometimes have to write a review like a book report.  It's what most theatre reviews are.. a guide to the reader about the plot and the production.. This show is so different and so wonderful that I just want to free associate and tell you that if you live a reasonable distance from the Ivy Substation in Culver City, you must take the information below and make a reservation  and take a friend or two and see Dario Fo's "Can't Pay? Don't Pay!"  translated from the Italian by Cam Deaver. It is skillfully directed by long time AGT member, Bob Turton, who, in his "...turn off your cell phone speech", echoes the mission of The Actors' Gang. Come together!  This play, especially for theatre folks, is one of the most energetic and entertaining shows I've seen in a long time. 

In 1997 Dario Fo won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was truly a Renaissance Man, working with his partner Franca Rame... with whom he developed theatre pieces that certainly changed the lives of all who were fortunate to see them.

There are slight problems with this production but it really doesn't matter.  The action and dialogue are so manic and over the top  that the action alone, beautifully performed by a seriously demented cast of six with Steven M Porter and Danielle Ray Powell returning again and again as different characters to the delight of everyone. It's ridiculous .. really.. just silly. 


It's rare that I find myself using the term 'brilliant'.. and now searching for superlatives after recently seeing "The Book of Mormon" I've realized that sometimes all you can do is repeat yourself: Outstandingly amazingly superbly ridiculous ... and fun!

Born in 1926, and active from an early age, Fo used theatrics to poke fun at the powers that prevailed in Italy.  He was censored and surveilled, prevented from traveling but always came down on the side of the common man.  Advocating that human beings must take charge of their lives, the play shares that message. The joy of seeing actors who are having such a good time, amping one another up beyond the limits of civil theatre, the show flies off the stage to gales of laughter.   Sometimes the pace runs away with itself:  the dialogue  swallowed up beyond understanding, but this ensemble is so in tune, the dialogue and overlapping of lines and  great physical action taken directly from Italy's own Commedia delle Arte? It really doesn't matter..

It's a romp and a hoot and a hollar.. Director Bob Turton's intimate set plops down in the middle of the huge playing area.  Lucky front row patrons are included in the action as the fourth wall is frequently broken to everyone's delight.  

This is what theatre is supposed to do.. It's supposed to gather us up and never let go: teach a lesson, promote an ideology, Engage!
Turton's direction and honorable nods to the roots of Commedia make this more than a must see.. it's an experience that will lift you up and have some fun with no time to judge or worry about anything except what the heck is going to happen next.  

Taking place in a town where working clas folks are having a tough time buying groceries, paying the rent and keeping the electricity on, we meet Antonia (Kali Hollister) and her pal Margarita (Lynde Hauck) who have to hide their stolen bounty  bundled home, "appropriated" from the local market where the manager has upped the prices of everything!   Anotonia's husband, Giovanni (Jeremie Lonka), is a conservative "by the book" working class guy. The girls can't tell him that the goods are stolen for fear of his turning them over to the cops. Things go nuts with a plot device where Margarita hides a bag of groceries under her coat, immediately becoming pregnant! Her poor confused husband, Luigi (Thomas Roche) rounds out this spectacular cast while eating something vile from a jar!

How Mr. Steven M. Porter manages to play four distinct characters (all of whom look like one another) is worth the price of admission alone. His partner in law and other stuff, Danielle Ray Powell is wonderful, too. There in lies the tale: it's a farce. We are politicized and entertained and energized. As it should be.

I've been critical of other critics in the past for using over the top hyperbole when writing about a show.  This one has earned my unflinching respect, not only for Deaver's translation whether or not I got all of the machine gun delivered text because I left the production with raves blossoming in my head on my way home.  

With all the song and dance and goings on, the play comes to a moment. This is the moment that I think Dario Fo was hoping to be heard. Deaver's translation: 
GIOVANNI (standing.. to the audience)
"We workers and employees, we’re under their heel right now. Minimum wage, temp, gig, seasonal, laid off, homeless—we find ourselves in a bit of a lowly state. So low, in fact, our asses are on the ground! But watch out—little by little, we’ll make it to our knees, get back on our feet. And we warn you: once we’re standing strong and united, we’ll be pissed off and ready to fight. Because on our feet, we always have our greatest effect!"  BLACKOUT!

When we are in the Church of Art (with a nod to Lynn Foulkes) and can actually feel our spirit move, that's a good sign that something important is happening. Tell a friend. Make a theatre party.. come back to LA from where ever you are and see what a truly great production does for you.  

CAN'T PAY? DON'T PAY! 
by Dario Fo
Translated by Cam Deaver
The Actors' Gang
 9070 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA  
90232  
Thursdays at 8:00 pm; 
Fridays at 8:00 pm; 
Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sunday March 22, 2020 at 2 pm
Closes March 28, 2020 







Sunday, March 1, 2020

THE $5.00 SHAKESPEARE COMPANY

I like to arrive early when reviewing a play to watch the folks come in.  I get a feeling for what's to come. Theatre 68 in NoHo has a history of doing engaging store front theatre. Tonight's world premiere production of "The $5.00 Shakespeare Company" had an appreciative audience. This show has a message that will ring true especially for Los Angeles patrons who understand why doing a show for the love of theatre in a dinky black box is so important. 

Chatting with the box office manager, concession guy, greeter, public relations person and producer Matthew Leavitt was a real pleasure.  Oh yes.. He's also the playwright and artistic director of The 6th Act, the group that has pulled this all together! The LA theatre community is a small one and we find mutual pals in between the box office/greeting/concessions stuff.  The spirit of this play comes from Leavitt's heart. For those who love small theatre, this show will charm your pants off.  Really.. 
Carolina Espiro, Emerson Collins, Andy Robinson, Natalie Lander, Cindy Nguyen, Liza Seneca and Kenajuan Bentley

The premise is pretty straight forward:  Jacob (Adam J. Smith) is the Artistic Director of a tight little company of players who have opted to put up A Midsummer Night's Dream in midwinter on Theatre Row in Hollywood.  I couldn't quite pinpoint exactly where the space was but getting parking on Wilcox was a perk. When Chester (Andy Robinson), recounts having to walk all the way from Vine Street down Santa Monica to the theatre, Theatre Row immediately pops into view and the fact is that as in NoHo, parking can be a problem!  Chester rehearses the lines of King Lear as the cast filters in. He is, at once the old cynic and the heart of what truly makes an actor.  Fifty years in the business!
The company's staging of Midsummer has the ragtag cast assembled minutes before curtain, which always makes me a little nervous.  Randall (Kenajuan Bentley) has a habit of arriving just in time to make his entrance which makes Louis ( Luke McClure)  so hot to take Randall's part, hopeful until at last he's disappointed. 

Author Leavitt's  unfettered love of theatre shines as each of the company members bring their hopes and dreams to light in  well crafted exposition.
A spoof of a well known Hollywood "church" factors in to the benefit of bubbly and impatient Spencer (Natalie Lander). She has been in town for a whole six months and has, at last!   landed the lead in a new TV sitcom pilot! 
Lillian (Liza Seneca) stays in the company to play Hippolata and, of course, other female leads for love though hounded by Everett (busy Emerson Collins) who really really wants to crush the role of Titania just once!   

Camille's (Cindy Nguyen) father is an angel helping to financially support the $5.00 company. They appreciate his money and so she's included, but frustrated that she always plays a supernumerary.  Hunky Noel (Jamie Zwick) with bouncy pecs action has a slick idea to elevate his Nick Bottom handles it well with Titania slip sliding away in the bower. Peanut oil!
Kenajuan Bently and Carolina Espiro steam up the dressing room with what's supposed to be a 'showmance'  while the rumor that the company just MIGHT be in line to land the Shakespeare in the Park summer gig. (ISC, watch out!) 
Director Joel Zwick's take is loose and energetic. The dressing room will be familiar to anyone who has ventured into the world of Los Angeles 99 Seat Theatre.

With moments of true pathos, this one is mostly for fun and succeeds. 

Will the company survive departures and success?  This is a late report, but heading to NoHo for this show is a must for lovers of the local scene.  Don't miss it. 

THE $5.00 THEATRE COMPANY
A World Premiere
by Matthew Leavitt
Theatre 68
5112 Lankershim Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91601
(323) 960-5068
Through March 8, 2020




Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Book of Mormon ROCKS..

Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone's The Book of Mormon has been around for a long time.  If the energy disseminated by the bus and truck company now at The Ahmanson through March 29, 2020 could be captured, it might light up The City of Los Angeles for days.  Directed by Parker (remember South Park and Team America: World Police?) and Casey Nicolaw with spectacular choreography by Nicolaw, at rise, the audience is blasted with Heavenly Light to reveal the origins of the Mormon Church. Pow!
 
Accepting the idea that Jesus (blonde and beatific, but not credited in the program) came to the North American continent in ancient days and left a record of his visit is 'gospel' to the Mormons. They are duty bound to convert the planet to share their joy. Meet the Elders, specifically Gordon Matthew Brown  and Liam Tobin as Elders Cunningham and Price whose luck of the draw deports them on their Mormon mission to Uganda!
 Jordan Matthew Brown, Alyah Chanelle Scott and Liam Tobin Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Research reveals that every superlative in the English language has been written to describe this show. It's also  Profane. Uncouth. Perverse and Perverted. Every bad word you were instructed never to  utter? All get uttered! Wonderfully staged and surprisingly not the total put down of the LDS church that one might expect, all of the honors that this show has collected from Broadway to Timbuktu.. around the world (did it play in Uganda?) are well deserved. 
It's Fan effing tastic!

Meeting the rural Ugandans we are taught that when adversity strikes, there's a song to sing that makes everything all better! 
These Ugandans  simply throw their hands up to the sky and shout

"HASA DIGA EEBOWAI!" 
Seeing The Book of Mormon will reveal why this phrase holds so much power.  

Superlatives and hyperbole have not been my style in the many reviews I've written over time. All the hype for The Book of Mormon had me reluctant to find brilliance in it,  but from first blush where we meet Mormon (Steven Telsey), Moroni (Andy Huntington Jones) and Joseph Smith (Ron Bohmer), it's a romp! A joy filled extravaganza!  

Tobin as Elder Price is a ringer for "Toy Story's"  Cowboy Woody while his mission partner, Brown as Elder Cunningham brings a touch of Olaf from "Frozen" with his unbridled optimism. Cunningham's arc from prevaricating dingbat to somewhat eventual maturity saves the day.  The ensemble cast doubles, triples and takes on dozens of other personas as the tale of the Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints unfolds.  Scott Pask's incredible scenic design is hampered a bit by the Ahmanson's huge speaker system above the proscenium, but no matter as the show unfolds.  

The Book of Mormon is a show that one may opt to see again and again regardless of what your religious beliefs might be.  
Biting satire? Yes! 
Guilty laughs? You bet!
For sure, it ain't Hakuna Matata!
  Hasa Diga Eebowai!

THE BOOK OF MORMON 
by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone

The Ahmanson Theatre
Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m.  
Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. 
 Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.  
No Monday performances  
Added 2 p.m. performance on Thursday, March 26.   
Tickets and information:
www.centertheatergroup.org
 


 

Measure for Measure at Antaeus

William Shakespeare's  Measure for Measure goes up in Glendale.  As a major fan of Glendale's professional theatre company, Antaeus, it's difficult to report on a production that falls short of expectations. 
What possessed Antaeus to choose this play and decide to double and triple cast with actors who come on board with ranges from professional experience to what feels like no experience at all is a mystery.  

Paul Culos and Bo Foxworth
Photo by Jenny Graham
Paul Culos as The Duke of Vienna (after a curtain raiser that rivals Sodom and Gommorah) decides to take a leave of absence and hands the keys to the kingdom over to his 'trusted' pal, Angelo (Ramón de Ocampo).  Almost immediately, it comes to Angelo's attention that Claudio (Ramón de Ocampo) has  dallied with Juliet (not THAT Juliet, but Bo Foxworth! ready to deliver any minute!) his true love with whom...  unfortunately, he has not yet tied the knot. Premarital sex flies in the face of laws of the land. 
Naturally,  Claudio must die! It's in the book!

The interesting casting choice for Ramón de Ocampo to play Angelo as well as the miscreant Claudio is simply confusing.. Though some of the cast in this production possess protean skills enough to pull off more than one character, for the most part, not only do they not fool us, but even with a program, gender pronouns bouncing all over the place like anything,  keeping everyone straight is really no fun at all.  Paul Eiding's gorgeous full beard as Elbow, also playing a number of other guys, leaves us to  attempt to abandon our inner critic and dive right in to follow the story.  When it comes to iambic pentameter the marginal skills of some players just don't make it.  To his credit, looking a bit like Stephen Colbert, Paul Culos (disguised as a holy father) manages to pull off some couplets. 

I so want to report with joy the work that Antaeus does. Sadly,  ten minutes into the show I had the feeling that the best was probably not to come. Duty bound, I made an effort to follow the wonky plot and character challenges.  

Fredrica Naciemento's stark rectangular set features the scales of justice in The Duke's office illuminated in red, a harbinger of what's to come. No kidding.

Certainly, co-director Armin Shimmerman is well schooled and scholarly when it comes to the Bard. However, squeezing the text out of this cast was only occasionally clear and communicative.  Why co-direction with Elizabeth Swain was an idea is an unknown.  

The odd somewhat modern dress costumes by Allison Dillard are terrific. 

Thank goodness Antaeus's next production is such an American classic that unless we wind up in a drag bar in Lauguna Beach in the year 2525, The Time of Your Life, an all time favorite of mine by William Saroyan, will deliver to us a San Francisco waterfront bar in the 1930s with denizens to match.  It's a great opportunity for strong character roles via Saroyan's love for the common man.

Measure for Measure by
William Shakespeare
Antaeus Theatre Company
Kiki and David Gindler 
Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
Performances: Feb. 21 – April 6
 
Thursdays at 8 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.:
February, 28; March 6, 13, 20, 27; April 3
Saturdays at 8 p.m.:  
Feb. 22, 29; March 7, 14, 21, 28; April 4
Sundays at 2 p.m.: , Feb. 23; March 8, 15, 22, 29; April 5(dark March 1)
Mondays at 8 p.m.: March 9, 16, 23, 30; April 6 (dark Feb. 18, Feb. 24 and March 2) 
Tickets and Information:
(818) 506-1983 or www.Antaeus.org


Saturday, February 22, 2020

IMAGINARY INVALID.. VALID!

 A quick shout out to Lance Davis and his fertile imagination with Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid currently at Parson's Nose in Pasadena. 

A strange missed understanding put me in touch with an old actor pal, Barry Gordon, who is alive and kicking ... so to speak.. with the delightful and down home Parson's Nose Ensemble.  In the show, he doubles as a cafty notary and a doctor with a big nose (it's a mask). 

What's going on up there is an amalgam of a gang of theatre professionals teamed up to distill classical theatre:  charm the audience for an hour and a half, serve a glass of wine or a cup of tea and simply enjoy the good parts of the plays we revere from the past.
Mary Chalon's direction with artistic director and hubby, Lance Davis as Argon, the Hyped up Hypochondriac... simply makes for a great show.   The secret? Take the essence of a classic piece of theatre.. dissect it a bit, mix in some contemporary schtick, season to taste, then toss lightly in a former Pasadena funeral chapel ...  
and...Voila.. Moliere Light. 

With the entire cast having a great time in Michael Mullin's excellent costumes and keeping the pace moving like anything, it's simply great fun.
Kristin Igermeier as Angelique flutters like a butterfly not much interested in Thomas Diaoiforus (James Calvert) coached by his crafty doctor dad (John Rafter Lee) who has  eyes on Mrs. Argon (Marisa Chandler) who has eyes on Argon's stash of cash.
Enter Cléante (Colin Thomas Jennings)  as the true love suitor for Angelique, whose first appearance to the Pink Panther theme is one of the subtle nods to the present.. or recent past, anyway!  The story is bumped along beautifully with the expertise of Jill Rogosheske as Toinette, Argon's maid,  who takes no prisoners, keeping the story line active.
Davis and crew (notably stage managed and  tech directed by Jake Perri) invite you to Pasadena to have some fun.  Do. 

The Imaginary Invalid by
(mostly) Moliere and Lance Davis
The Parson's Nose
85 North Marengo
(Enter on Holly)
Pasadena, California 91101
February 8 – March 1, 2020
Fridays @ 8pm
Saturdays @ 3pm and 8pm
Sundays @ 3pm
Tickets and information:

626-403-7667
https://www.parsonsnose.org/buy-tickets/


Monday, February 17, 2020

GHOSTS!

Thanks to the Open Fist Theatre Company at The Atwater Village Theatre, challenging and moving theatre still lives.  In their current presentation of ROHRSHACH FEST starting with INKBLOT 'A' we encounter John O'Keefe's Ghosts directed by O'Keefe. The audience is in for ..well.. challenges. 

Featuring Bryan Bertone, Cat Davis, Jan Munroe, Tina Preston,  Elif Savas and Janine Venable emitting sound collage and voices from the dark .. voices from the early days of Bay Area avant garde theatre. They are undeniable. 
Written by O'Keefe and first produced at The Magic Theatre in San Francisco in 1981, the beauty of this piece, rather, these pieces, is the dedication to the process.  Six Ghosts speak to the audience, a chorus in the dark and then, one by one tell their stories, confront the audience as each of us must contemplate: 
The end. Death. 
O'Keefe remains alive and relishes the telling in the play and in his philosophical persona. Being in the moment.  Alive and contemplative. 

Jan Munroe's laughter is at once contagious and chilling. 
Jan Munroe Photo Elif Savas
Tina  Preston's operatic voice fills the space.
Tina Preston Photo Elif Savas





 The cast is listed as an ensemble. Preston and Munroe are performers whom I've known for years.  Every single actor is exactly where they are intended to be.
What the text demands from the ensemble is more than heavy acting chops.  The opening in the dark delivers a vocal sound collage/montage that transports the audience into another realm.  

O'Keefe's Ghosts is more than a play, going back to the days when experimental theatre asked the audience to participate, not necessarily directly, but to allow that the experience is visceral as well as being sight and sound. 
Applause to Martha Demson and The Open Fist for this ongoing exploration of the type of theatre that informs and inspires us to look beyond an evening's 'entertainment' to the art and craft of experience that calls for discussion and an exchange of ideas. 

Do NOT miss this show!  Brilliant text and brilliant performances! 
Check the Open Fist Website for the additional plays: a series of "Inkblots" to be presented.

John O’Keefe’s GHOSTS (Inkblot A)
Open Fist Theatre’s ROHRSHACH FEST  Atwater Village Theatre 
3269 Casitas Ave. 
Atwater, Ca. 90039  
Continues through April 5, 2020
Performances on Fridays at 8 p.m.
 Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
 Sundays at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Mondays at 8 p.m.
For reservations and information
(323) 882-6912 or  www.openfist.org

 

HUMAN INTEREST STORY

Stephen Sachs's world premiere of Human Interest Story at the iconic Fountain Theatre follows in the tradition of reaching out into the community. When you decide to see this show, round up some basic items that might help anyone whose luck has left them homeless. There are bins at the venue for depositing these donations. 
Directing his own play, Sachs celebrates the 30th anniversary of the theatre he and Producing Director Simon Levy have kept active with revivals and new works in their same funky venue.

With a lively cast (Tarina Pouncy, Rob Nagle, Aleisha Force, Richard Azurdia, Matt Kirkwood, James Harper and Tanya Alexander) Sachs imagines Frank Capra's 1941 movie, Meet John Doe, bringing it to life in a modern day metropolis.  Sachs mentions in his program notes that driving to the theatre, seeing unfortunate folks living on the streets of Hollywood reminded him of the Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck movie.  In Sachs' version, Andy Kramer (excellent Rob  Nagle), a well established columnist for the City Chronicle, (truly amazing projections by Matthew Hill) finds himself  downsized: virtually booted out the door.  In desperation Kramer 'invents' a homeless woman, Jane Doe, whose plight is dire. He composes a manifesto, attributing it to her. The old phrase "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive" comes into play as Kramer in a final column recounts Jane Doe's story and her plan to commit suicide on the Fourth of July in a final act of frustration.  A convenient meeting in a park with Betty Frazier, the woman with the cardboard sign, a jobless teacher with an MA in education, evokes a partnership that lays in the course for the story.
Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander
Photo by Jenny Graham

Sachs's strong polemic and over wrought acting by a few of the cast members scrambles the pace, but the message is clear. James Harper as Harold Cain, I suspect a deliberate ringer for Alec Baldwin's parody of the 45th president on SNL, blossoms and fades with way too much effort.  When the balance between parody and reality falters, the point is less likely to be taken seriously.  A nod to Orson Welles's John Foster Kane may be afoot.

The perplexing cross purposes of The Jane Doe Foundation, funded by mayoral candidate Cain and public donations to bring the issue to light makes ethical decisions by Jane thought provoking. Do we make a deal with the devil? Crosstalk on the wide, wide stage contrasts happy talk TV with gushing hostess Aleisha Force's Good Morning, St. Louis, with the tough approach by the Oakland BTV's (Tarina Pouncy with attitude!)  counterpart splits focus, but makes a point. A woman with a cardboard sign declaring "I AM NOT INVISIBLE" is parlayed into an examination of a very real issue that effects us all. It plays out dramatically and emotionally, leaving us with our own personal and perplexing questions. 

Human Interest Story is a must see World Premiere. Hopefully, as with Sachs's earlier efforts, his message flies beyond its comfortable nest on Fountain.


HUMAN INTEREST STORY 
Written and directed by Stephen Sachs 
Through April 5, 2020
 The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
(Fountain at Normandie)
Tickets and Information:
(323) 663-1525