Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Measure for Measure is not one of Shakespeare’s more frequently produced plays and maybe rightly so. That A Noise Within takes chances and comes out with consistently good productions is testament to the company.

Robertson Dean photo credit Craig Schwartz

The issue
with the play is that it’s essentially all exposition. To critique the Bard is risky and indeed there are moments in the piece that are bright and wonderful. The politics of the Bard’s time may have influenced him, but as I never have claimed to be a scholar, though sounding like one would really help in this case, the issues in this play resonate a bit with the times we live in. The Duke of Vienna (Robertson Dean) has lost his grip on the city and opts to take a break from his administrative duties, hitting the road, so to speak in his executive helicopter, leaving the disposition of the city to his cousin, Angelo, a righteous cleric (Geoff Elliott). Yes. It’s modern dress.

Cleaning up Vienna becomes a radical proposition. As we find our own society lumbered with paranoia and the broad strokes of enforcing the letter of the law becomes the tail wagging the dog, Angelo in his pious wisdom, decides that the death penalty for immoral behavior will curb the deterioration of Viennese Society. Unfortunate, Claudio (William Patrick Riley) in love with and father to Julietta’s (Courtney Kocak) expected child, is brought to bear and in one of the most enjoyable moments in the play is hauled before the Duke’s appointee by Elbow, (well limned by Michael Faulkner) a constable. Word play with the sincere but out of sync Elbow garners laughs as Claudio is hauled off to await his execution.

Claudio’s sister, Isabella (Karron Graves), a novice just entering the convent, is called upon to plead for Claudio’s life. Madness of lust overcomes the heretofore righteous Angelo who says he’ll commute Claudio’s sentence if Isabella will yield to his charms. Herein lies a moral issue. Meanwhile, The Duke returns to Vienna in disguise to observe while unobserved how Vienna does. The plot is a little fuzzy, but it’s Shakespeare, after all, and if you read the play and/or the synopsis before you take the plunge, it’ll be all that much more enjoyable. I enjoyed the laughs the most. Elbow’s upside down speeches and Barnardine’s (Thomas Moses in lots of hair) refusal to be executed because he’s been drinking all night are hilarious.

ANW’s founders, Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez- Elliott's direction keep the words flowing, sometimes so quickly that the intention of the text gets lost. Stage pictures are efficient in Stephen W. Gifford’s high tech set though some far downstage action is impossible to see from above the fourth or fifth row. Julie Keen’s modern dress costumes work in the solemn modern setting. Elizabeth Harper’s lighting is dramatic. Doug Newell’s sound design serves as a strong foundation for the production. As with large cast shows, some of the supernumeraries are a bit self conscious, but spears (rifles) must be carried and these young actors will mature in time.

Whatever moral lesson Shakespeare intends to teach is in here somewhere. It all works out, as most of Shakespeare’s plays do... one way or another. All’s well and ends.

Measure for Measure
In Repertory with Blithe Spirit and Great Expectations

A Noise Within
234 S. Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91204
Through Sunday December 5, 2010
Tickets $46 Top
818 240 0910 x1


The Matrix Theatre has a reputation for well tuned productions and Nick Ullett’s “Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard” is no exception. Ullett, a cancer survivor, came to the United States in 1964 with the promise of stardom. With his comedy partner, Tony Hendra, the duo worked clubs in New York as well as playing The Ed Sullivan Show in the sixties. Ullett opens the show with a somewhat bizarre bit, directing off stage chickens all clucking like anything. For what follows, the story of his forty-odd years in Show Business and dealing with the terrors of battling cancer, it’s just weird. Ullett’s delivery and timing took some warming up, but as a raconteur, singer and musician, he is sincere and charming.

Issues with projections on an upstage screen make them a little hard to see. It may have been a technical glitch. Possibly changing the lighting (which is a simple adjustment from the existing lights for the current Matrix show, NEIGHBORS) should be easy and make the projected images pop to illustrate the parts of the story he wants to emphasize.

The ninety minute show moves smoothly from Nick’s early stories of opening for Lenny Bruce at the Bitter End and watching him get hauled away for obscenities, funny interaction with Ed Sullivan trying to do a comedy bit, through four wives and two major bouts with the big C. Now in his sixties, Ullett (gullet without the ‘g’ thank you very much!) knows himself and plies his trade in a way that can only get better as the show matures. Lisa James’ direction is simple and straight forward. The possibility of a stage assistant might double Nick’s budget but the few costume changes he makes might go more smoothly with a little help. I’d lose the chickens, but maybe keep the tux.

Ullett’s closing song on the piano is a stitch and an apt climax to learning about his life… so far. This is a good way to spend a Monday evening.

Plays Mondays Only through October 25th
The Matrix Theatre
7657 Melrose
Hollywood, CA 90046
Tickets $15.00
323 852 1445

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bargain Theatre in Glendale

This from A Noise Within. An opportunity to see quality theatre at a bargain price.. Pay What You Can. These shows have not opened yet. Reviews will appear here soon.

A Noise Within, the critically acclaimed classical repertory theatre company, announces "Pay What You Can" dates for two of its fall 2010 productions, Shakespeare's stirring classic MEASURE FOR MEASURE and Noel Coward?s timeless comedic gem BLITHE SPIRIT.

"Pay What You Can" dates, which allow patrons to purchase tickets for what they can afford, are Thursday, September 23, 2010, for Measure for Measure and Thursday, October 7, 2010 for Blithe Spirit. Both performances begin at 8 p.m.

"Pay What You Can" tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis based on availability, with a limit of two per person. Tickets must be purchased in person at the box office (234 South Brand Boulevard), after 2 p.m. on the day of the performance with cash only. ($10 minimum suggested).

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE?S MEASURE FOR MEASURE, which opens Saturday, September 25 and closes Sunday, December 5, 2010 (previews begin Saturday, September 18), is one of two productions directed this season by Michael Murray. In this intricately woven play, the Duke of Vienna recognizes that through his neglect, society has become a rotted den of iniquity, so he transfers his authority to Angelo, by all accounts an unblemished, morally uncompromising servant of God. But Angelo's irresistible sexual attraction to Isabella, a novice nun seeking pardon for her condemned brother, transforms saint to beast. Penned centuries ago, Shakespeare?s timeless case study of lethal hypocrisy remains relevant today. The production is part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, a national initiative sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Arts Midwest.

BLITHE SPIRIT by NOEL COWARD opens at A Noise Within Saturday, October 9 and closes Friday, December 17, 2010 (previews begin Saturday, October 2). Damaso Rodriguez directs Coward?s masterpiece, a quintessential ensemble work, in which novelist Charles Condomine and his wife Ruth get more than they bargained for when an after-dinner seance led by local spiritualist/eccentric Madame Arcati produces an uninvited guest from the great beyond to crash the party, prompting a delightfully cosmic clash of personalities both worldly and otherwise. In this glittering comedy of the soul that ponders the eternal essence of what it is to be in a relationship, Coward?s mastery of comedy is on display with extraordinary wit, talent for crafting an exquisite story and sense of timing.

A NOISE WITHIN is located at 234 South Brand Boulevard, Glendale, CA 91204. To purchase tickets or for a full season brochure, call 818-240-0910 x1 or visit

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


In the sixties Lenny Bruce taught society about freedom of speech and the power of language. His iconic routine, especially germane to Neighbors, where he directly addressed his audience and in jazz rhythms pointed to “a spic and a wop and a kike and nigger… a mick and a wop and a honky…” defused these epithets into simply utterances that some people use to try to defame others. The defamation is in the intent, not in the words and the playground retort, “I know you are but what am I?” and “I’m rubber and you’re glue. Bounces off me and sticks on you!” seems right to me.

Michael McClure broke ground in a big way theatrically with his play, The Beard, which was busted continually in the San Francisco area and then moved to Los Angeles where similar charges for obscenity were leveled at the actors. One account says that at the performances in L.A. there were two standing ovations, one at the end of the show and one as the actors were hauled away to be booked. McClure’s poetry and other bizarre plays, including works done at The Company Theatre in Los Angeles: The Meatball, Spider Rabbit, The Authentic Radio Life of Bruce Conner and Snoutburbler and later The Beard with Dennis Redfield and Trish Soodik and Pink Helmets, pushed the envelope… rather destroyed it vis a vis what theatre is all about. McClure, along with Alan Ginsberg, who had his issues with “obscenity”, sat at the forefront of avant garde poetry in the San Francisco area. Their loopy and succinct approach to art is what, to me, is vital to bring audiences to a state of not just simply being entertained. The polemics of Ginsberg and McClure along with a host of radical artists, including the San Francisco Mime Troupe (still active after more than fifty years of politically charged satire touring parks around the country) have and had the goal of shaking the Establishment. That’s what Neighbors does.

Passing the rough language in Neighbors, the behavior of the characters, both the cartoon Crows and the straight arrow Pattersons, reflects something deeper. It has to do with living a good life. A true life. The two dimensional Crows are not simply burlesques of black actors playing black minstrels in black face. The edge of the darkness that Jacobs-Jenkins imbues in the Crows is more. It’s a call to consciousness for anyone who can sit through the barrage of stuff he discusses in the play. American Society is slowly coming around and we still find ourselves smiling because at the time we didn’t feel that we were demeaning anyone by enjoying Eddie “Rochester” Anderson on the Jack Benny Show (indeed, Rochester was never really the foil, was he?) or Butterfly McQueen’s famous line “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies!” But prejudice is not just skin deep. It’s to the bone and shall be until we become color blind. To that end, perhaps, Neighbors is divisive. As I’ve said.. we may think we are not prejudiced, but the discomfort that rises like bile as the show progresses is real and that may be Jacobs-Jenkins’ goal. Just to make sure that no matter how great we feel having elected a black President (well, half black) and even folks like Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell rising to international importance, the lines of color are still within us. Martin Luther King was a hero and a martyr for a cause, but the lines of color still mark our division.

The beauty of this play is that as soon as one accepts the stereotypes: both the Crows AND the Pattersons, the foul language becomes almost incidental. What the play points out, at least to me, is that as we define ourselves, so shall we be. Or, hope to be?

What Neighbors must do for every audience who sees it is, when it comes to the final curtain, is to shake them from complacency. To do work as an audience or as an individual is not what most of us expect to do. We like things wrapped up in neat little packages. We expect a climax and then a dénouement. In the final scenes of Act II, Richard’s explosion rocks the house and not in a good way. It becomes the catalyst for the final confrontation and unfortunately.. or maybe fortunately?, resolution is left pretty much up to the audience. It’s work. Work that needs to be done. And, that does not mean that any two audience members will have the same reaction.

Stay for the video directed by Spike Lee in the lobby.

Monday, September 13, 2010


at The Matrix on Melrose.. a tight little space with three rows and a broad stage.. The play turns on an upwardly mobile family in a sort of Stepford neighborhood.. Little boxes on a hillside that mirror one another in a perfectly bookmatched patchwork. Stage Right an empty space waiting to be occupied. Stage Left a sort of kitchen where The Pattersons live. John Iacovelli’s set, tinted in Diebenkorn pastels, announces nothing out of the ordinary, fraught with sameness. We are lulled into the notion that it’s safe here. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My lead line for this piece kept changing. “If you think you are Liberal, think again.”

“If you think you are not prejudiced, think again.”

“Led down the Garden Path, then bitchslapped… hard!”

None of these do justice to the brilliant writing the young black playwright, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, brings to the stage. It’s important that we know he’s black because white folk can’t say nigger and get away with it. They can’t portray a bawdy stereotypical Negro family of profane minstrels, ready to rub your face in the stuff of hundreds of years of struggle. But, Jacobs-Jenkins can and does. It’s poetry that ranks with Genet and Beckett.

Richard Patterson, (brilliant Derek Webster) a forty-something black adjunct theatre history professor wants… really needs, to gain a full time teaching position. His beautiful Caucasian wife (remarkable Julia Campbell) and gorgeous fifteen year old daughter (lithe Rachae Thomas) live their lives in a neighborhood where it's taken a year for them to be accepted. And now... BAM!.. the house next door is sold to a troupe of traveling players.. each and all stereotypical black folks.. “Niggers!” exclaims Richard because he’s black and he can use that word...

It’s the Crow Family: Mammy, Zip Coon, Topsy, Sambo and Jim, young Jim Crow! All in minstrel black face, they spout stereotypical black euphemisms. Loud and raucous, every member of the family wears an under taste of anger, except for Jim (talented James Edward Shippy) who, though also in black face, seems less angry and says that he doesn’t want to be just like his Daddy, now departed this fair Earth going on a year. The plan is to make a comeback with their show. It’s been a year since Daddy Crow died.

Mammy (superb Baadja-Lyne) in Aunt Jemima drag, runs the troupe with an iron hand, supplemented broadly by Zip Coon Crow’s (slick Leith Burke) slap stick and Steppin Fetchit moves. Sambo (ghetto tough Keith Arthur Bolden) reeks of rap, attitude and muscles. Naila Alladin Sanders’ costumes are works of art.

Topsy (an amazing Danielle Watts) enters, Buckwheat hair in raggity bows, dumping her box full of white baby dolls, (which may be Jacobs-Jenkins’ prediction for the future?) mooning and charming the audience with anything but innocent burlesque.

Jean looks out her suburban window and relishes the diversity that is coming, while Richard feels threatened, perhaps having overcome his blackness. With years of effort, his perfect speech and specialty in ancient Greek drama must place him on a higher social level that those people.

The plot: surreal… the issues: real and damning; profane and pornographic bracketed by frightening truths about our own prejudices and the 'race situation' in this country, sounds a wake-up call for not only our society, but for the world. As fear and antipathy insidiously provoke confrontations not only between the races, but religions; the people and the government, the military, law enforcement, the truth is that we must find a way to harmony in this current ever divisive atmosphere.

Jacobs-Jenkins’ lesson arrives on many levels. Shock for the sake of shock, not mildly profane, but deliberately pornographic becomes only slightly balanced as Topsy breaks the fourth wall to address the audience and in Josephine Baker bananas, steps into an interpretive dance that lets us know there’s more to her than silliness and mooning.

Nataki Garrett’s unobtrusive direction keeps the action moving until the final scene, the ultimate moment, that at once pits the mirror images of Zip and Richard, the nigger and the colored man, against the final tableau: the confrontation of the Crows.

Not for the faint of heart.
Publish Post

NEIGHBORS (A Play with Cartoons)
The Matrix Theatre
7657 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Thursday through Saturday at 7:30PM
Sundays at 2:30PM
Through October 24, 2010
Tickets: $25.00
323 960 7774

Monday, September 6, 2010

C A L L TO A C T I O N!!!

The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park is scheduled to be privatized at the end of 2010!

The City of Los Angeles, in an attempt to save money has sent out a request for other organizations to take over the Gallery. Current rumors indicate that MoCA may be in line for the job. The imminent firing of the current staff as well as the disturbing prospect of the somewhat elitist attitude of MoCA when it comes to exhibiting 'high art' taking charge is appalling.

LAMAG has been the refuge for new and burgeoning artists in Los Angeles for over forty years. Their egalitarian approach to showing art ranging from avant garde to more traditional works has been appreciated and taken advantage of by hundreds, if not thousands of local artists and in my opinion, this should not change.

Please take time to call or write to Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa, 200 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012 to voice your concerns and make suggestions. Councilman Tom La Bonge represents the Barnsdall area and he may be reached at the same address.

Do something!

Often I have discussions with a good friend who has issues about the world and I ask her, "What can I do?" My answer is to get involved with the things we actually care enough about and to simply do something.

If you care about the arts in Los Angeles, let your voice be heard and ask friends, artists, actors, producers, directors... everyone... anyone who may lift a voice.. to speak up and let the City know that this vital resource should remain under the aegis of the Department of Cultural Affairs and remain a bastion of hope for Art in Los Angeles. Or, at least remain a truly MUNICIPAL ART GALLERY and retain curatorial staff.

Please call or write the Mayor and Councilman La Bonge to voice support for the Gallery. Write op ed pieces and send letters to the editor of The Times. It's the People who need this space and if MoCA or some other 'high art' organization takes it over, the opportunity for local artists to show their work will be diminished in a major way.

Check the link below for your local council person.

Pass it on! Please!

Michael Sheehan