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Friday, September 21, 2018

THEATRE 40: 26 PEBBLES


Eric Ulloa's 26 PEBBLES is a   thoughtful and tender survey of the community deeply affected by the tragic events of December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.  

Jules Aaron directs six actors: Jennifer Lee Laks, Joe Lorenzo, George Villas, Jeanne Kauffman, Michele Schultz and Roselyn Cohn, who, with subtle costume adjustments bring to life nineteen residents of Newtown. One can't but think of   Thornton Wilder's classic play "Our Town."

Gabrieal Greigo's excellent projections combined with elementary chalk board drawings that illustrate the layout of the town and in conclusion, the Hope that the community has for the future. 
26 pebbles represent twenty children and six adults who died by gun violence on that fateful day.  The allusion is to how the ripples in a still pond expand when even one pebble is dropped. The presentation is straightforward story telling not always easy to figure out who is who, but, in the end, the gentle polemic is presented with sincerity and love.
It is June, 2013. The time to heal presents itself  as Jennifer Lee Laks enters to include the audience, all with appropriate name tags, to discuss coming to grips with such a senseless act.  She is an attractive young mom who lays out the groundwork for the many stories that emerged that day, December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School where  20 children and 6 school workers died. The goal is to simply tell the story, preach to what will undoubtedly be a receptive choir that gun violence is epidemic and that, with a community of reason coming together, that we survive with Hope and Love.  We do get a little overly patriotic with the unfurled Stars and Stripes waving majestically across the entire stage at the end. This refers back to the center of Newtown where an imposing flagpole stands. As a symbol of 'moving on' the residents of Newtown insist that the flag be restored from half staff to full staff.

Beautifully staged and sincerely presented at Theatre 40.  
26 PEBBLES by Eric Ulloa. 
Directed by Jules Aaron. 
Produced by David Hunt Stafford.
Theatre 40 is in the Reuben Cordova Theatre 
241 S. Moreno Drive 
Beverly Hills, CA 90212. 
Ample free parking beneath the theatre. 
The parking area can be accessed from the intersection of Durant Ave. and Moreno Drive Through October 14, 2018
Thurs.- Fri.-Sat. at 8:00
 Sunday at 2:00
Monday at 8:00. 
The performance on Friday, September 21 begins at 7:00.
ADMISSION: $35.
RESERVATIONS: (310) 364-0535.
ONLINE TICKETING: www.theatre40.org

Monday, September 17, 2018

O'KEEFE'S ALL NIGHT LONG / OPEN FIST



 Director Jan Munroe, in discussing playwright John O'Keefe's ALL NIGHT LONG states,
“What John does in the theater is a lot like what Robert Rauschenberg does in painting.” And, with the reference to Rene Magritte in this poster, the term 'surreal' certainly comes into play.  In O'Keefe's interview with Tracey Paleo, her take is that O'Keefe is "... an old school free-thinker, passionate about ideas and testing them to ‘whatever’ effect on live audiences for the pure thrill of engaging and shifting human consciousness."  This bizarre tale of the family of Jack (Phillip William Brock) and Jill (Alina Phelan) twists and turns in and out of reality and surreality.. if that's a word.  Three kids, Eddy (John Patrick Daly), Tammy (Caroline Klidonas) and Cat Davis as little sis, Terry, morph in this truly bizarre saga.  
Phillip William Brock, Caroline Klidonas,
John Patrick Daly, Alina Phelan, Cat Davis
Photo by Darrett Sanders
Figuring out what's real and what's going on in
some colossal time warp may leave the audience in a tizzy, which may be O'Keefe's plan all along. This is absurdist nonsense that making sense of may be a fool's errand. 

Munroe's hand is all over the place with his set design and amazing prop construction. His relationship with O'Keefe has been a long one with his recent direction of another of O'Keefe's plays also at The Open Fist: "Don't You Ever Call Me Anything But Mother!" 

I was fortunate to have as my "plus one" for the opening of this show, Los Angeles poet, Peggy Dobreer. With her permission I share her take on ALL NIGHT LONG.
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"(ALL NIGHT LONG is...) a piece of poetic brilliance you won’t want to miss. This play will cause your head to tilt and spin. As ribald and zany as poignant and sad, this look deep into the soul of the ‘nuclear’ family, will have you laughing out loud and running home to hug your children. Jan Munroe’s execution of O’Keefe’s language is some of the best I’ve seen. With a real old-fashioned and utterly brilliant verve for set and prop design (which Munroe executed himself,) commedia style action on the set, and a clear respect and energy for O’KEEFE’s vision, Munroe delivers a rare and authentic telling of this timeless and timely play. Bravo!!!" 

ALL NIGHT LONG by John O'Keefe
Directed by Jan Munroe 
The Open Fist Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre 
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Through Oct. 21, 2018
 Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. 
 Sundays at 7 p.m. (dark Saturday, Oct. 6).
 
Reservations and information
 (323) 882-6912 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Pasadena Playhouse NATIVE GARDENS



(L-R) Bruce Davison, Frances Fisher, Jessica Meraz and Christian Barillas in Native Gardens at Pasadena Playhouse. // Photo by Jenny Graham


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NATIVE GARDENS  by Karen Zacarías

Costanza Lives!  You can take the actor out of the sitcom, but you can’t take the sitcom out of the actor. Since bringing the character of Larry David to life through his off the wall character George Costanza in the never ending sitcom “Seinfeld,” Jason Alexander has gained prominence for his work as a director for the stage.  The feeling of a situation comedy in Native Gardens, having dramatic twists and turns, is amplified by a chorus of guys: The Gomez Bros (Richard Biglia, Julian Armaya, and Bradley Roa II) who greet the audience as we enter. They are gardeners who dance.  Set changes and presenting the passage of time is their responsibility and even after the curtain call, they’re still rocking the Playhouse.

There is a warm subtext to this important theatre piece that does its best to show how culture and prejudice… and success: both nouveau and landed success.. may find a way to middle ground.  Herein lies the tale.

Virginia and Frank (Frances Fisher and Bruce Davison) are a mostly retired couple who have lived for forty years on a comfortable plot of land where Frank has raised his prize petunias.. (I can’t remember if they were actually petunias but the flowers are competition ready and there’s the rub).  New next door neighbor  Pablo  (Christian Barillias... doing a 180 on his turn as Reynaldo on ABC’s Modern Family) is an aspiring attorney, born in Chile, anxious to make partner in his law firm. Tania, a New Mexcan, (Jessica Maraz) is expecting a little visitor soon.  Even though they are still moving forward with remodeling the interior of their home, Pablo has foolishly agreed to have the law firm partners over for a BBQ! Soon! The pregnant missus will have to engineer a lot in the few days they have to make ready for the party. In preparation of the yard, Frank and Virginia have surprisingly and happily agreed to a rebuild of an ivy covered wire fence that has stood between the two properties for years. Pablo and Tania discover that the property line  has been improperly drawn and that THEY own an additional twenty-four inches into the prize petunias of Frank!

One issue that I take with Alexander’s directorial choices is that this cast of heavy hitter actors has been pumped almost into a frenzy from the get go. “Bigger, Faster, Louder” is not necessarily Better.  The play is well written and  with David Meyer’s gorgeous set and Thomas Ontiveros's effective lighting (the Playhouse puts the money on the stage, for sure..) all is in place for a lesson in tolerance … which we eventually get to, but Alexander's somewhat presentational style gives the characters a two dimensional quality. 

As Virginia, Ms Fisher comes on strong as a successful engineer!  She’s worked her way into leadership at Lockeed-Martin regardless of her being a woman. Of this she’s very proud.  Fisher's privileged/entitled quality along with Davison’s over the top approach to gardening and the loss of his precious petunias are all appropriate given Alexander’s specific direction.

Pablo and Tania are excited for the birth of their baby and the rush job to create a yard for the Bar-B-Que with plants native (Native Gardens) to the area plays to stereotypes. Depending on one's political point of view, we may be at odds with ourselves trying to decide which family to support! Unexpected and clever maneuvering by Frank and Ginny may be the key to fixing things, but as the story gets hot, deus ex machina and the stork fly in to save the day.
(L-R) Richard Biglia, Julian Armaya, and Bradley Roa II 
Photo by Jenny Graham 

Native Gardens is a crowd pleaser with the Gomez boys after the curtain call dancing the audience out the door.   This is a show that brings audiences in. With the strong new leadership at the Playhouse, we can expect more of the same. 

NATIVE GARDENS by By Karen Zacarías
Directed by Jason Alexander
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101
Through September 30, 2018
Tickets and information:





Monday, September 10, 2018

American Saga Gunshot Medley: Part 1



Playwright Dionna Michelle Daniel dedicates  her play to three anonymous slaves whose graves are marked only by their first names:  
Betty: May 2, 1860
Alvis: April 2, 1860
George: Nov 26, 1850 

Brought to life, Betty (Cherise Boothe), Alvis (Derek Jackson), George (Donathan Walters) awaken the story of violence and discrimination set  in the "Hereafter" ...  the aforementioned's final resting place scenic design created by Priti Donde with lights by Tom Brown

Sounds of gunshots ring out with bright flashes  driving Betty to her knees only to rise up and continue to scrub the stage floor again and again.  Somehow she recovers and resumes her scullery. 
Jackson's high spirited young Alvis tries and tries again to lift Betty into a happier life, but life in these times is not much fun.  Musically underscored by the beautiful High Priestess (Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield), she  greets the audience as we enter.  
Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield and Cherise Boothe Photo by Cristian Kreckler


Three musicians play in silhouette, reminiscent of 19th Century profile portraits crafted by expert scissors artists: Gerald C. Rivers on bass, Ann Polednak on banjo and Crissy Joyce on violin underscore the movements of the play and of the gospels sung by the High Priestess

Daniel's play is a strong polemic to underscore the fact that even today, prejudice and attempts by society to keep African Americans underfoot unfolds as present day martyrs appear.. Martin Luther King  and Trevon Martin .. gunned down in silhouette. It's a sad reminder of our American saga still on the road to freedom. Directed by Desean Kevin Terry, the story gives hope that we may  still maintain our goals: for all to rise equally with  mutual respect for one another in the United States of America.  
 
Rogue Machine Theatre presents 
American Saga    
Gunshot Medley: Part 1
by Dionna Michelle Daniel 
MET Theatre
1089 N. Oxford Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Opened  Saturday September 8, 2018
Plays Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays at 8pm
Sundays at 2pm 
additional performance 
added on Thursday, September 20 at 8pm
Through September 23, 2018
 
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Continuing at the WLCAC Theatre
10950 S Central Ave 
Los Angeles, CA 90059
From October 5, 2018
 Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm 
Sundays at 2pm through October 14th
Tickets and information:
Group discounts:
AmericanSagaGroupTix@gmail.com  855-585-5185 
 https://www.roguemachinetheatre.net

   

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Terrific SWANSONG

Swansong by Conor McDermottroe
"Occi, Occi, Occi!! Oi Oi Oi!!!"

Austin "Occi" Byrne  (André de Vanny) stands before us, half in and half out, the fourth wall merely a suggestion.  He shouts for Agnes, his favorite swan.. shoos the others off with curses and begins his meandering tale of life.  
A struggle.  
A simple Mick, Occi's story is one of being fiercely alone ... the streets of Dublin... the make do of a guy on the fringes of society.. the fringes of sanity. The fringe...even the precipice of life.  Occi loves his Mammy but is sorely deficient in a way to help her.  A moment in McDermottroe's excellently crafted piece brings Occi through the fourth wall to a woman in the front row where gently takes her hand. The sadness and mystery of life and death through the eyes of a guy just trying to get by brings tears. 
It's tough to do a fully scripted piece all on one's own. Actor Vanny, whose credits are deep and wide, with only the aid of some subtle lighting changes and director Greg Carroll's suggestions, without skipping a beat nor losing a moment... from one situation to the next brings "Occi" (ahki) to life as he glides and stumbles through finding a way to redeem himself as a human being with probably no real notion that it is his goal...  as we all strive to do our best...  to simply carry on. 
André de Vanny
Tour de force is an oft used cliche. Any time an actor becomes totally absorbed in his role, remembering the words of a playwright (unlike  self written memoirs performed by their authors) for 75 minutes...  holding his audience in thrall, that's something.  Vanny's deft physicality, choreographed almost as dance moves, brings to mind an Irish American actor who did well on stage and in the movies: James Cagney.  
Produced by Australian Theatre Company, this west coast premiere is another feather in the cap of Skylight Theatre's Gary Grossman. His eye for provocative work is still as keen as ever. 
Go see "Swansong." 

SWANSONG  by Conor McDermottroe
Skylight Theatre
1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Opened Saturday, September 8, 2018
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30pm
 2:00pm on Sundays
 8:00pm on Mondays 
Through October 7, 2018
 Tickets  $15 - $32. 
Reservations: (866) 811-4111