Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Mlle. God" at AVT

The Ensemble Studio Theatre / LA’s “Mlle. God” by Nicolas Kazan inaugurates a bright new space for theatre in Los Angeles.

EST/LA’s Artistic Director Gates McFadden, best remembered for her role as the alluring Dr. Beverly Crusher on Star Trek: TNG, along with Tim Wright of the Circle X Theatre Company have made a considerable investment to bring quality and challenging theatre to the community. The new Atwater Village Theatre is tucked away in a burgeoning industrial/residential/arts area located on Casitas Avenue between Glendale Avenue and Fletcher Drive in Atwater. Two waiver spaces and a smaller performance space are well appointed and look to become a magnet for the arts in Glendale.

Kazan’s play features the amazing Annika Marks as Lulu, the hot to trot “amoral but naive young woman whose insouciant eroticism inspires lust and violence in those around her.” So says the cut line of the 1929 Louise Brooks film “Pandora’s Box.” The rise and inevitable fall of Lulu is beautifully examined in Kazan’s script based on the Brooks film which was based on a bawdy German play by Franz Wedekind. [German Theatre Scholar Professor Emeritus Kenneth W. Rugg points out that Wedekind was generally known as "Frank". Kazan refers to him as "Franz" in his program notes. In any case, The Lulu Plays are well remembered by Mr. Kazan.] Kazan says in his program notes that Wedekind worked and worked to revise his early 20th Century piece (The Lulu Plays) to meet a social standard that would allow a staged production. It never happened. We are fortunate for Kazan’s vision and that the EST/LA company has dedicated itself to presenting challenging theatre. As McFadden says, “Somebody has to do it.” The playwright, son of director Elia Kazan, speaks in his own unique voice. It is succinct and worthy of an audience.

PR for the show announces “Not for the faint of trousers.” and it’s true. This is an adult piece of theatre. The expert direction of Scott Paulin guides his actors directly through what in less capable hands could become a muddy route. Casting Annika Marks as the irresistible Lulu makes the show. Her absolute dedication to this at once amoral, yet sweet and enticing young woman flows through nuance after nuance while literally flaunting her brazen sexuality in our faces. It’s wonderful, especially the Flash as Lulu turns upstage to torment her artist suitor, Melville, (excellent Keith Szarabajika in the Muses cast… double casting for this show: Muses and Models), who, in his forties, is much too old and too much in love with her for his own good.

Act I "Pleasure" explores how Lulu manipulates and enjoys the men she has seduced. She numbers her prey. Melville is Number Nine. Charles (Andy Lauer), number 36, is, at once enamored with Lulu but has found Harriet (Harvardesque Kim Chueh) whom he intends to marry. We meet other lovers and applicants as the story moves toward what may be an inevitable climax in Act I. Charles’s brother, Trib (Tasso Feldman, trying just a little too hard) arrives and falls to Lulu’s charms. Bright spot in this scene is the appearance of The Prince (almost as naked as Lulu, Kareem Fergusen) who takes stage and flaunts his own brand of seduction.

Act II “Punishment”, turns south as the theatre is, literally, transformed into a dark gray arena. Video again is used to good advantage as Lulu discusses her ‘situation’ which could mean big trouble for her. As she meets her licentious keeper, Lewis (Jon Kellam); her turncoat brother, Kip, (big old Aussie, Will Harris) and another hot suitor, Eleanor (Heather Robinson), Lulu remains the vamp, never apologetic. She is never not her authentic self. With the appearance of The Governor (tough and powerful, John Nielsen) we become afraid for our heroine. It’s all about power, after all. It’s all about how one remains true to one’s self that prevails.

Professional and appropriate sets and lights by Richard Hoover and Production Design by Jason Thompson work beautifully. Director Scott Paulin’s choices are exquisite. Strong acting for the most part. Kazan’s excellent script: provocative and poetic. Two casts: Models and Muses should entice true patrons to see both versions of the show just to compare performances. Annika Marks plays Lulu in both casts.

Mlle. God by Nicholas Kazan
The Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
LA, CA 90039
Through March 6, 2011
Thursdays through Sundays
Tickets: 323 644 1929
$25.00 Top

Sunday, January 23, 2011

FREE Inside the John Anson Ford

Neo Theatre Ensemble opens Inside the Ford with Barbara Lindsey’s quirky comedy, Free. Kurt Boetcher’s seedy motel room set becomes the stage for personal changes as Marshall “Free” Gunther (a very bearded Michael Earl Reid) storms madly in, burrowing under a mattress. “Free” is a floater. He floats. Literally.

His childlike frantic fears stoked by the embarrassment of being different have driven him to distraction as his old pal, handler, colleague, Stoney Madonna (Greg Albanese) tries and tries again to convince Free that they can make a fortune by exploiting Free’s extraordinary talent. All Free wants is to be left alone and to be ‘normal.’ He is not interested in becoming “the stuff that dreams are made of.”

Free is confronted by a loopy woman, Althea (Dagney Kerr), who longs to learn to float. Free’s no teacher and though Althea seems determined to learn and they may even get a little lighter during the scene, which flies all over the room, the ground is still their final resting place.

Patsy (Jane McPherson), the maid who cleans rooms, is a voice of reason and befriends Free (who now insists that he be called by his given name, Marshall). She gets him a job helping with housekeeping at the motel, leaving poor Stoney without a meal ticket.

Properly harnessed, the energy generated in this production would electrify a city block for a week. Director Wendy Worthington’s tight direction is consistent and the cast delivers.

The metaphor of floating may have spiritual ramifications. The actual effect that the audience anticipates pays off and the metamorphosis of Free from an anxious little guy into a new more confident person is not really discussed in the exposition, but there are changes.. the characters do evolve which may be what the whole thing is about.

by the Neo Ensemble Theatre
at [inside] The Ford Theatre
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East
Hollywood, CA
Thurs – Sat 8PM
Sundays 2PM and 7PM
Through February 27, 2011
Special Admission rates.. check
Or call 323 461 3673
$20 Top


For a very limited time audiences will have an opportunity to see ensemble work that shines. A Noise Within revives their own production of Michael Fryan’s Noises Off!
(Stephen Rockwell as Frederick Fellowes as Philip Brent.
Photo by Craig Schwartz)

Noises Off! is an inside look at the workings of a theatrical road company, all drawn together under the aegis of actress / producer Miss Dotty Otley starring as the maid, Mrs. Clackett. (Dotty/Clackett played by the ever energetic ANW mainstay Deborah Strang). Nothing’s On!!!s director, (Geoff Elliott as Lloyd Dallas), is one of those guys who is busy, busy, busy with more than one project at a time, as well as romancing more than one company member at the same time. The first act of Nothing On!!! is in rehearsal at rise. It’s the dress rehearsal, though some actors think it’s the tech as we continue to stop and start with interjections from Dallas. They have only a few hours before opening and then heading out onto the road with their fishy comedy. It’s about sardines! Sort of.

Excellent production values and solid performances combine to make for an evening of fun that will be very meaningful to anyone who has ever been in a play. Garry Lejeune (Mikael Salazar) squires the delicious Brooke Ashton (very sterotypically blonde Abby Craden) into the home of the well to do Philip and Flavia Brent (Stephen Rockwell and Jill Hill) for a quick tryst.

At this point all I can do is praise the rest of the cast and Geoff and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott’s fine tuned direction. Lenne Klingaman’s Poppy the Assistant Stage Manager is delicate and true. Shaun Anthony’s Stage Manager Tim Allgood keeps the pace moving.. and Apollo Dukakis as doughty old Selsdon Mowbray as The Burglar is just wonderful.

One has to keep referring back and forth from the program for the play within the play (Nothing On!!! in Noises Off) to keep the names straight. However, as the mayhem builds, it really doesn’t matter and keeping track of the actual plot becomes inconsequential to the fun and watching the three ring circus of events; missed cues and attempted murder evolve.

A final note to the benefit of A Noise Within’s dedication to excellence is Adam Lillibridge’s amazing set (which the audience must stay through the intermissions to watch the Run Crew: Lillibridge, Bernice Mendez, Katie Elsaesser, Dough Milliron, Stefanie Demetriades and Karla Menjivar transform like clockwork. Twice!

Soojin Lee’s costumes are perfect.

It’s just a fun show.

Playing now through January 30, 2011 ONLY
Fridays at 8PM
Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM
Sundays at 2PM and 7PM
A Noise Within
234 Brand Blvd.
Glendale, Ca 91204
$46 top
call theatre for group rates and discounts
240-0910 x1

New Season begins with Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams and Ionesco the end of February, 2011.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Noises Off Redux!

The beauty of this forum is that it is... simply.. my personal take on art and theatre in Los Angeles. I have seen four thrilling shows in my life that have made me so happy to be a part of the world of theatre. The Emergence at The Company Theatre on Robertson, Bill Irwin's Regard of Flight at the Pilgrimage (Taper, Too), Henry V at Stratford Upon Avon with Ian Holm and A Noise Within's NOISES OFF.

It's a thrill when a theatre company comes together and works as a finely tuned machine, when performances and book rise to an inspired plain.. that's what art is supposed to do: Inspire Us. That's what ANW's NOISES OFF has done for me.

The show is back for a limited run at the old Masonic Lodge on the corner of Colorado and Brand in Glendale, starting on Friday, January 21st. This link should help you find tickets. It's a short revival. Don't miss it!


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

'greedy' at The El Centro Theatre

The Red Dog Squadron is a hearty band of serious actors dedicated to profes-
sional theatre.

Playwright, Karl Gajdusek, has crafted an oddly appealing, but somewhat confusing play. Set in the middle of a 144 day deluge, the audience hears the thunder.. or is it a bowling alley above the theater, as we enter past a zombie (of sorts) (Daddy played by Kyle Hamilton) who sports an empty baby carrier.

His yellow slicker, sunken eyes and depressed demeanor: a mannequin standing sentinel at the entry to the theater. Just before the play begins, Daddy meets Momma (Gemma Levinson) on the stage. They display newspaper headlines to one another that mention a mysterious baby that has been deposited in a local hospital. Another headline mentions 144 days of steady rain.

Kurt Boetcher’s excellent set is a stark contrast of life styles. Stage right is a dingy space with hundreds of books lining the walls, even blocking a door where the father of Louis (Brad Raider), an aspiring inventor and his sister Keira (Maggie Lawson), may still be entombed? We never meet the dad. Kiera is an unwelcome guest in her childhood home. Louis is supported by his butch security guard wife, Janet (the protean Amanda Detmer). Janet tolerates Kiera's visit… barely. Kiera has come up with a scheme to hustle a hundred thousand dollars from an unsuspecting doctor, Paul (Kurt Fuller), using an untraceable email address through a woman she’s met in Russia.

Plot unfolds cinematically with action moving from the dingy home to the crisp modern space where Dr. Paul and his Bosnian wife, Tatiana (Ivana Milicevic) discuss major issues they have. She is determined to have a baby and Paul avoids the issue by saying they just can’t afford to create a family. He’s been suspended from practice because of an unfortunate Good Samaritan move he made some time ago. Kiera's greed and the basic humanity of Paul play out in a scheme that takes some twists and turns that one must pay careful attention to fully appreciate.

An interesting use of a narrow space that divides the book lined walls of Louis and Janet’s home and the doctor’s upscale digs features a rear screen projection that creates interludes that include Paul driving in his car in the rain with a muffled GPS voice instructing him where to turn and other locations where the lives of all five of the main characters meet at one time or another. Momma and Daddy, the zombies in the yellow slickers, function as ghostly parents of the baby who, evidently, dozens of couples want to claim at the hospital where Janet is a security guard. They double as yellow slickered Kabuki koken, efficiently moving props and scenery.

Gajdusek’s script may challenge the audience, but under director James Roday’s mostly steady hand, the actors are all on the same page at the same time. This is a production worth seeing. The influence of the absurdists filters in. Perhaps a bit of Kopit? We never meet the father who has collected Nazi artifacts: his legacy to Louis and Kiera. Over all The Red Dog Squadron deserves an audience up for a challenging evening and ready to confront, perhaps, our own personal issues with greed.

Red Dog Squadron at The El Centro
804 El Centro Avenue
Hollywood, CA
Plays Thursday – Sunday through January 29, 2011