Monday, February 28, 2011

A House Not Meant to Stand / The Fountain

A House Not Meant to Stand / The Fountain Theatre

Tennessee Williams may be the most notable American playwright in the twentieth century. His Streetcar and Glass Menagerie flow like honey and salt from the troubled spirits emerging from Williams’ rich imagination. He had an ear for the language of lost souls, at once poetic and pithy. In the current production of this last of the playwright’s plays mounted in the West Coast Premiere, by Simon Levy, long time artistic director of The Fountain, we meet more gothic characters who are sick with grief, filled with bombastic hubris, sexually frustrated and bigger than life. The poetry is not as rich as what we’ve heard in the more well known plays, but none the less, in the Fountain’s presentation, we are immersed in trouble and strife. The moldering home of Cornelius and Bella McCorkle is literally falling down around their shoulders.

Jeff McGlaughlin’s grubby living room and dining area extend to embrace the audience; reflecting ages of neglect that, for reasons not really explained, the leaking roof has not been fixed; the peeling wall paper exposes lath and one can almost smell the mildew and the mold. We expect to see vermin racing through the living room, but there are only memories.

Chips McCorkle is dead and Cornelius (Alan Blumenfeld) and his wife, Bella (the excellent Sandy Martin) slog in from Memphis where they have just attended Chips’ funeral. Upstairs, Chips’ near do well brother, Charlie McCorkle (Daniel Billet) can be heard in a sexual romp with his soon to be Baby Momma, Stacey (literally moist and fecund Virginia Newcomb). Cornelius is in bombast mode that seems to permeate the cast from his very first entrance and stays there for most of the play. In a small theater, shouting at the top of one’s lungs with little variation becomes strident and must be a burden for all of the actors. Only Stacey whom we don’t really meet until the second act attempts some variation as she eludes the horny Emerson Sykes (equally bombastic Robert Craighead) as he pursues her around the living room furniture.

Whenever a plot discusses hidden money and a shotgun is produced, dramatic tension level rises considerably. In delusions of grandeur Cornelius has aspirations to run for public office. If only he could get his hands on the Dancey money (perhaps a family myth from Bella’s side?). He is convinced his pre-dementia wife is hiding the stash from him. When elected he could become influential and give Charlie a cushy job and grant favors to his cronies.

This is pure Williams. Occasional asides break the fourth wall. Jessie Sykes (perfectly cast Lisa Richards) explains her recent cosmetic surgery and imagined fears regarding a sex fiend loose in the area, whom we suppose she would feint directly toward as she sighed “no no..”

Program notes discuss the business of the “Southern Gothic” of which Williams was a past master. These archetypical creatures, the blustery patriarch, the faded Southern mother, the ambitious but ineffectual son, delusional others, are all here. As in The Glass Menagerie when Tom’s father is mentioned, his photograph glows with memory, Bella has Charlie hang a family photograph in the scrimmed off dining area where, when examined with lighted candles, the family appears in ghostly black and white, fading as the candles are taken away. Later, as Bella’s failing mind runs her out the door to collide with a car in the rain and then comes back inside, she imagines her three young children projected into the dining room, taking their places at the dinner table, through her demented vision.

Williams’ ability to create strong characters is at work in this piece. My issue is mostly with the direction… or the actors seizing their own lead to shout the dialogue and keep the action at an almost fever pitch from the get go. Though no one would allow that Williams is ever very subtle, it seems that finding the peaks and valleys of this play would make it more enjoyable to watch. Director Levy’s ability as a director is well known. If it was his intention that the energy of the cast to be dialed up for much of the play, perhaps finding a few subtle moments might be an idea. The entrance of Emerson Sykes matched McCorkle’s bombast line for line, exhausting any chance for understatement.

Sandy Martin’s Bella virtually stops the show with her description of being in the room with her grandfather at the moment of his passing. This is a show that deserves an audience and as a Williams play that has been only marginally explored, takes the notion of Southern Gothic to the wall with all its might. Uncredited shady characters come looking for Sykes that seem a little out of place. One of whom we meet again as a tall bearded cop we might not expect to see in Mississippi in 1982. Chip Bent’s Officer “Pee Wee” Jackson adds a nice touch in the second act.

Over all this is a show to see and judge for one’s self. If you love southern accents (collectively all just fine) and Williams’ strong archetypes and a well mounted production, except for some highly accentuated volume... see it.

A House Not Meant to Stand
by Tennessee Williams
The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90029 (East of Normandie on Fountain)

February 26 through April 17, 2011
Thursday through Sunday
Tickets and information 323 663 1525
$30.00 Top

The Adventures of Pinocchio / Deaf West

The current Deaf West production of Carlo Collodi’s classic is neither fish nor fowl. Director Stephen Rothman and the talented members of Deaf West Theatre Company, renowned for such presentations as Big River and A Streetcar Named Desire, have ventured into the land of children’s tales with mixed results. Admirably, deaf and hard of hearing actors present the story with one actor playing and signing the physical character and a hearing/speaking actor presenting the character’s voice. Signing Pinocchio, played by Amber Zion, is in a colorful costume while Pinocchio’s voice (Darrin Revitz) is in an almost identical costume in subdued colors. Not all the actors are doubled in this way. Some sign and also speak. Some sign as another actor speaks. Over all, the device pretty much works.

Walt Disney’s 1940 animated movie has indoctrinated many generations of us with a somewhat homogenized version of Collodi’s original story. The dark side is present in Deaf West's version from the outset. After being created from a rather imaginative tree branch, the puppet is just about as naughty as a kid can be. When Talking Cricket (Vae, who doubles as other characters as well) bounces in to tell Pinocchio that he needs to get an education and be respectful of Geppetto (Matt Henerson), the puppet chases her out the door and kills her with a big old mallet! In Act II the Ghost of the Cricket comes back to give more advice and gets the boot again.

Announced as a Commedia dell’Arte version of the story, I found traditional archetypes from Commedia lacking. Certainly, Puppetmaster (Henerson), the owner of the Magical Puppet Theatre is bombastic enough to be a Pantelone and Pinocchio himself a trickster like Harlequino. However, Commedia is an art form that calls for specific gestures and postures. In the entire production there was only one attempt (by The Puppetmaster) at a lazzi: a broad set theatrical piece that defines and expands the character.

It may be a trifle unfair to expect a full on Commedia presentation, but this is the issue of what this show really wants to be. The actors are all on the same page, in the same production, so to speak and some particularly outstanding. To benefit the deaf audience, the music (by Joe Cerqua) is wonderfully cranked with heavy bass that literally vibrates the entire audience. The issue, for me, is that this story is slightly lightweight for an adult audience and may be too heavy for kids.

Some outstanding performances may be worth the effort to go to see this show. My favorite was THE RABBIT OF DEATH (James Royce Edwards, also multicast) who rabidly explodes onto the stage in the second act, after a couple of bad guys (Lexi Marman and Vae) have literally hanged the puppet from a tree, effectively almost killing him. The Blue Fairy (also dead / also Lexi Marman) is wonderful. She wants him to take his medicine and the puppet refuses until menaced by the RoD!

Sets by Evan Bartoletti are flexible. James L. Moody‘s lights work very well. Show glides smoothly through many scenes. Shadow and lighting effects are professional.

As a fan of this company and appreciative of the hard work they have produced for twenty years, I want to applaud their effort, but would have liked to see the production presented either more in a classic Commedia style, and even darker. Or, even lighter if intended for a younger audience.
The Adventures of Pinocchio
Adapted from Carlo Collodi’s story by Lee Hall
Deaf West Theatre
5112 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601

Runs Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday
through March 27, 2011

For tickets and information:
Voice: 818 762 2773
Video Phone: 866 954 2986
$25 Top

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Models Cast "MLLE. GOD"

In Nicholas Kazan’s “Mlle. God” Lulu, (Annika Marks) the mademoiselle in question, worships at the Church of Sex. Kazan’s tribute to early 20th Century “Lulu Plays” by Frank Wedekind via the 1929 silent film “Pandora’s Box” with Louise Brooks directed by G.W. Pabst is, if nothing else, poetry in motion.

On the way into the theatre, as I walked by Scott Paulin, director of Mlle. God. I heard him describe the severe black bob and bangs worn by Louise Brooks, the star of Pandora’s Box. Born in 1906, Brooks was a product of early show business whose real life as a dancer and show girl who went on to become an actress in the twenties may have paralleled the life of the fictional. Marks makes no attempt to channel Brooks’ performance or look. This is a modern play set in “Not Quite Here” and “Not Quite Now” but has all the makings of a 21st Century time and place with video projections and cell phones.

The fascinating thing about this performance of Mlle. God and the characters in it on my second viewing is coming to the conclusion that Kazan is a poet. Not in the traditional sense, but in the sense that Steinbeck or Saroyan or more recently, John Irving are poetic in the way they capture the flow of language. Paulin’s direction makes use of fluid movements to echo the text. However, in this “Models” cast, it is hard to tell what makes some of the characters so difficult to capture.

As the artist, Melville, Robert Trebor’s efforts show. He is the first victim of Lulu’s charms we meet in his fifth floor studio (again kudos to the sets and lights design realized by Richard Hoover). The age difference between Melville and Lulu is too great, though it echoes Pabst film’s Doctor. Lulu is, at once genuinely enamored with the artist yet toys with his affections when he presents a beautiful sapphire ring with his marriage proposal. His request elicits “Can I keep it?” Lulu understands his intent and rejects the proposal. Even so the artist caves in offering even his soul if only she will agree to be with him on any terms. He threatens to leap from a window. To which Lulu casually reminds him that they are on the fifth floor.

Marks’s Lulu is wantonly sincere and at the same time a literally bouncing flibbertygibbet. She is sensual, sexual, awake, aware and guided by her own untraditional ethic. She communes at the Church of Sex. She attends unabashedly. She takes responsibility for her self and her own actions. She is free.

In Pandora’s Box, Louise Brooks as Lulu leaves a path of emotional and eventually physical destruction as she vamps her way reluctantly into a marriage with an older doctor. He has married her in a fit of passion, knowing that she will either be the death of him.. or he, in his drunken state of love may take his own life. Kazan morphs this moment in the film and transfers it to "Number 26" Charles (Lulu numbers her conquests), (William Duffy), who attempts to escape Lulu’s charms by proposing to the Harvard Legacy, straight laced, up tight Harriet (Laura Beckner). Lulu spirits Charles off to her bedroom for one last romp. Poor Charles, succumbing to the thought of Life without Lulu, defenestrates himself, leaving Lulu not only devastated, but possibly guilty in the eyes of the law, though we know that it’s only lust that has yanked Charles out the window to the street below.

We have met Charles brother, Trib (Gary Patent), whose character may be the most difficult to play. Na├»ve and shy, he quickly becomes intoxicated with Lulu’s allure. He swoons with the sweet, soft nectar of her lips. Later in this scene, we see the blue nosed Harriet fall victim to Lulu as she declares, “You were right about the nectar!”

Giving more actors time on stage is an admirable gesture. Paulin has his hands full coordinating blocking and timing with two casts. The actors who play only half of the time must work in such a way as to allow the full time players, Lulu/Marks, (The Prince) Kareem Furgusen, Will Harris (Kip) and John Neilsen (The Governor) to meld well. For the most part, it works. To compare the performances would be unfair. I missed seeing the Models cast's Eleanor (Jacqueline Wright) who comes to see Lulu in jail and noted that the ease with which the Muse cast’s Heather Robinson played Eleanor was notably different from the energies in other half timers in the Models cast.

Lewis (Keith Arthur Bolden), the tough jail guard has a totally different take on his role than Jon Kellan in the Muses cast. Again unfair comparison, leaving it up to a savvy audience to invest in seeing the show more than one time to make their own comparison.

The beauty of what EST/LA is up to here is that they produce Theatre. They are dedicated to putting actors on the stage in a professional setting, with challenging scripts and they succeed. Gates McFadden and her company seem willing to take chances and bring important theatre to Atwater. "MLLE. GOD" is not for the faint of heart. This is a place for new and exciting theatre. Pleasure and Punishment await.

See former review for performance dates and ticket information
Plays through March 6, 2011.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

James Cromwell and Ed Harris Perform

It's the goal of onstagelosangeles to boost theatre and the arts when ever we can, mostly through reviews of local theatre. However, the upcoming event at the LA Theatre Center sounds pretty exciting.

This from Philip Sokoloff - Publicity for the Theatre:

On Friday, February 25, 2011 at 7:30 p.m., the Global Theatre Project will present a staged reading of a play, “Being Harold Pinter,” in support of the Belarus Free Theatre. The cast of “Being Harold Pinter” is toplined by famed actors James Cromwell and Ed Harris. It will be directed by Artistic Director Bari Hochwald.

The February 25 event begins with a brief presentation by Amnesty International on the situation in Belarus followed by the performance of “Being Harold Pinter” with a reception, catered by downtown’s Church & State Bistro, to follow.

Reservations for this event are available through suggested donation. More information can be found at or by calling 818 823 0891.

At Los Angeles Theatre Center, in its 320-seat Theatre 3, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013. (Parking is available in several facilities immediately south of and also to the rear of the theatre). Friday, February 25, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.

It is recommended that reservations be made by February 22.