Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Peter Brook at The Broad! April 7 - 10, 2011

Director, Peter Brook, brings two pieces to The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. His seminal Midsummer Night's Dream years ago at The Ahmanson lives in my memory as a wonderful experience. Seeing his work at The Broad should be equally inspired. Contact The Broad for details:

An Evening of Peter Brook:
The Grand Inquisitor and Fragments
From Beckett to Dostoevsky
The Broad Stage

April 7 - April 10, 2011

The West Coast premiere of two of Peter Brook's most revered recent works in one extraordinary theatrical evening. It all begins with The Grand Inquisitor. Starring Bruce Meyers, the one-man show imagines Christ's return to earth during the Spanish Inquisition. Following intermission, Brook stages a quintet of Beckett's Fragments illuminating the comedy and courage in characters who dare to face the void.

TICKETS: $120 -$32 310 407 3083 for information

Monday, March 21, 2011


Several definitions of “mercy seat” come up in a Google search. In Neil LaBute’s play now on stage at [Inside] The Ford, I’m having difficulty relating the title to the play itself. One definition has to do with a ledge where the faithful may rest during a required long stand in church. Another relates to the covering on the Ark of the Covenant where God met man in the Holy of Holies. I have not vetted this quote, but it may give us a clue to LaBute’s angle on what is going on with the two lovers who make up the cast of the play.

“…and I will commune with thee from above the Mercy Seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things..." Exodus 25:17-22

Does this definition have relevance to Ben (VS. founder Johnny Clark) and Abby (Michelle Clunie)? Was the 9/11 Attack a message from Above that drove them to face each other (two cherubim?) in a moment of Truth? Abby and Ben (he is unhappily married with children) have been lovers for more than three years as they rendezvous the day after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. Abby Prescott’s apartment, a stylish loft in lower Manhattan, is lushly decorated in Danny Cistone’s expensively appointed set. In fact, everything about the VS. Theatre Company’s West Coast Premiere of The Mercy Seat shouts First Cabin. Pre-show the audience is surrounded by projected images of the New York City skyline. A sound montage includes sirens and news reports of the aftermath of that terrible day. At rise, a small television set upstage recounts the ongoing problems in the city. A lot is going on all at the same time.

Ben sits with the dust of the tragedy on his pants legs, seemingly in shock. Abby enters in a whirlwind. She is full of anger. The two are colleagues in an office in the World Trade Center. She is Ben’s boss. In the relationship, defined and redefined in the almost two hours of dialogue, the struggle for some common definition of what the relationship is, has been and may be emerges. Power shifts back and forth, but mostly lands with Abby as the two of them play tug of war with emotions and the ultimate decision for Ben to “make the call.” They avoided being at Ground Zero the day before. But no one knows that they were not there.

LaBute is not Edward Albee. Ben and Abby are nowhere near the peaks and valleys we find with George and Martha in “Virginia Woolf.” Clark and Clunie create believable characters and steer them through the morass of emotions and ethics, already compromised for three years with their on-going affair, but it’s more of an acting exercise than a conceit that makes us much care about either of the characters. As an exercise in stage discipline, the two deserve applause. At Sunday’s matinee, Clunie, at the curtain call, was obviously exhausted. It was, indeed, hard work!

So.. An urban morality play? What is the ‘right thing’ to do? Who’s in charge? Two cherubim face one another at the Moment of Truth? An acting exercise well played? Mostly, the latter.

Director Ron Klier keeps the pace up and working, but has little opportunity for action with the exception of a moment of passion which inexplicably turns the blue sky crimson red; then fades as the dénouement arrives. Even so, the production values are excellent.

Applause to The Ford Theatre Foundation and the L.A. County Arts Commission with support from the National Endowment of the Arts for making [Inside] the Ford available for challenging new theatre. The venue lends itself to one set productions and I, for one, commend VS. Theatre Company as well as The Rogue Company's production of HYPERBOLE: origins and Theatre Neo's FREE produced there this season.

The Mercy Seat by Neil LaBute
VS. Theatre Company at
[Inside] the Ford
2580 Cahuenga East
Hollywood, CA 90068
Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 2PM
Through April 24, 2011
$20.00 Top
Tickets and Information
323 461 3673

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Eccentricities Of A Nightingale at ANW

L to R: Jason Dechert (John Buchanan), Deborah Puette (Alma Winemiller) Photo: Craig Schwartz

The Eccentricities of a Nightingale

The centennial anniversary of Tennessee Williams’ birth is cause for celebration. Theatres across the country are reviving his pithy gothic take on Southern Society. Everyone who has seen The Glass Menagerie has met the dominating southern matriarch. Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof may be the archetypical patriarch, Stanley Kowalski, the domineering Alpha Male. The delicate flowers of Laura and Stella. These are elegant archetypes sometimes reflecting one another from play to play.

Director Dàmaso Rodriguez stages the early 20th Century piece reconstructed from Williams’ earlier Summer and Smoke nicely employing supernumeraries in costume to facilitate scene changes and populate the story. Magic Lantern slides announce the scene and an imaginative use of silhouette illuminates off stage action.

Set around the time of World War I in a small town in the South we meet Alma Winemiller (Deborah Puette), upon whom the story turns: the Nightingale who sings with great passion and laughs too loudly and too often. Reverend Winemiller (Mitchell Edmonds) curses the fact that he’s sent her to the music conservatory. The Reverend’s treatment of women is immediately evident as he orders around his mentally failing wife played with demented distinction by Jill Hill in a delicate turn,

Independence Day fireworks and festivities are in the air as the Winemillers stroll the small town plaza. Alma’s childhood friend, John Buchanan (very natural Jason Dechert) has now returned to his hometown, having graduated cum laude from Johns Hopkins. He, like his father, is now a doctor. Over protective and class conscious, his doting mother, Mrs. Buchanan (sultry Christopher Callen) practically vamps her own son. John defends his friendship with Alma by saying he finds her ‘gallant.’

Alma mistakes John’s attention for a romantic interest and invites him to a meeting of a group of artsy cronies in an attempt to draw him closer and show him off to her friends.
The uncomfortable meeting of geeks and freaks played by Dave Kirkpatrick, Jacque Lynn Colton, Darby Bricker and David LM McIntyre attempts to codify their own importance by adopting a manifesto. The ennui is thick and echoes Alma’s lonely reaching out in her over zealous search for love.

Performances are top notch with Puette slightly over the top in the first act, moving comfortably into the character as Alma realizes the truth about her relationship with John. From prim and proper and trying too hard to please, to a woman of experience is a nice arc for the actress.

Rodriguez keeps the action moving smoothly on Joel Daavid’s Joseph Cornell inspired set which beautifully frames the story. Leah Piehl’s period costumes are luscious with a pink plume for Alma that may repeat through the entire ANW season from play to play. A nice touch.

by Tennessee Williams
A Noise Within
234 Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA
Opened Saturday, March 19 plays in repertory
through Saturday, May 28, 2011.
Tickets and information
818-240-0910 x1
$46.00 Top

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Frybread Queen / Native Voices at The Autry

Kimberly Guerrero (as Annalee), Shyla Marlin (as Carlisle)
Photo by Tony Dontscheff

Native Voices has for many years held forth at the Wells Fargo Theater at The Autry Western Heritage Museum in Griffith Park. “Theater” is a slight misnomer, as the space is basically an auditorium where it’s difficult to mount a professional looking production. This is not to say that the company doesn’t do the best it can with what it has to play with. Playwright Carolyn Dunn’s The Frybread Queen has been in development for several years and has, at last found its way to The Autry. It is directed in a very straightforward way by Robert Caisley.

A mixture of ghost story and family competition unfolds as three generations of one family come together to bury Paul, the son of Navajo matriarch Jessie Burns (Jane Lind), Frybread Queen the first. We meet Jessie, who breaks the fourth wall to announce her traditional recipe for Navajo frybread. (Her finding a loaded pistol under the sink has nothing to do with frybread.)

Two daughters-in-law appear, Carlisle Emmanuel Burns (Shyla Marlin) Frybread Queen #2 and her ex-sister-in-law, Paul’s former wife, Annalee Walker Hayne (powerful Kimberly Norris Gurrero), Frybread Queen #3. Their connection to Jessie and Lily Savannah Santiago Burns: Paul and Annalee’s 17 year old daughter (punked out Elizabeth Frances) is by marriage. Annalee is her mother.

As the story unfolds, the rivalry turns on who deserted whom and why and what drove Paul to suicide… or was it? Lind’s heavy declamatory style is probably a creative choice worked out with her director. This style is not echoed so much by the other women. The whole presentation is certainly heavy on the dramatic with ghostly possession and strong physical performances presented throughout. The supposed rivalry of whose frybread is best is only an excuse for a deeper story. Carlisle, now living with Jessie's younger son in California, uses self- rising flour. Jessie calls it “Hollywood frybread." The audience enjoyed this reference a lot. For me, Jessie’s recipe was the one my Aunt Carolyn used and I’d eschew the self-rising flour, too. Annalee’s recipe using buttermilk sounds like one I’d like to try. I’d have been very happy to see these recipes come to fruition on stage with the aroma of bacon grease and frying dough wafting over the audience. However, it is not about the frybread at all. The frybread is simply a matrix for the issues plaguing these four women on many different levels.

NATIVE VOICES at The Autry speaks to and for the Native American Community. The Frybread Queen’s actors are strong, though the production values are marginal. At the intermission it would have been great to have samples of Jessie’s, Carlisle’s and Annalee’s frybreads for sale.

I just love fried bread!

By Carolyn Dunn
Thursdays through Sundays
March 12 through March 27, 2011
Wells Fargo Theater
The Autry National Center
4700 Western Heritage Way
Los Angeles, Ca 90027
Tickets and Information:
323 667 2000 Ext: 354
$20.00 top (discounts for students, seniors, military and Autry Museum members)

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Young Man From Atlanta

Producer/Director August Viverito of The Production Company opened Horton Foote's The Young Man From Atlanta tonight at The Lex Theater on Lexington at McCadden in Hollywood.

Because a good friend is in the cast, I agreed to not review the play. It was nice to sit back and just enjoy the show. It deserves an audience.

The Lex Theater
6760 Lexington Ave.
Los Angeles
, CA 90093

Opened Friday March 11, 2011
Closes Saturday April 16, 2011
$25.00 Top
800 838 3006

Sunday, March 6, 2011


(l-r) Gwenmarie White (Ensemble), Lauren Robyn (Courtesan), Christine Breihan (Ensemble) Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz


That’s what my friend, Jeannie, called it: William Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors now playing at A Noise Within. It’s always nice to have company when reviewing a show. Of course, I’d have said zany or outta sight or whacko… and eventually “madcap” would probably have popped up. Heck, it doesn’t take PhD to grab the ideal word right out of the air and have it fit just perfectly. But “Madcap” is just about perfect!

“Burlesque on Brand,” the ANW tribute to Shakespeare’s nutty comedy of mistaken identity, may be a sly tip of the hat to what the City of Glendale is really interested in: The nearby Americana’s glitzy faux-Disney kitch. After a short honky tonk piano serenade by David Bickford on the upright, who also provides sound effects (the “chain” being the most fun!) we literally meet the cast. Director Michael Michetti’s wonderfully mounted burlesque (the show is presented as a play within a play), introduces the actors individually as members of the Burley Q: the cast of the play. Ostrich plume fans deftly wielded by chorine cuties set the scene. Angela Balogh Calin’s costumes rock.

Reading the synopsis of A Comedy of Errors will do its best to just confuse. So, the thing to do is to simply follow the silly romp and once you ‘get it’ that the twins Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus, both and each played effectively by Bruce Turk (sons of Egeon, the well seasoned Michael Stone Forrest) are twins separated shortly after birth as explained in a terrific silent movie. The slaves: Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus are both played by Jerry Kernion, who, for a big guy takes some major pratfalls and takes them beautifully. Egeon, the Antipholuses delinquent father, is sentenced to death by the Duke (Ever eloquent Mr. William Dennis Hunt founder of The Company Theatre of Los Angeles) for crossing the border into Ephesus illegally! Evidently, they were tougher on immigration than even the folks in Arizona are today! Egeon narrates the silent film that explains his journey and desire to find his long lost twins. He has only hours to prove himself to the Duke. The hours are marked on set designer Kurt Boetcher’s cheesey clock that hangs over the doorway of the home of Adriana and Antipholus of Ephesus. A Laugh In window above opens for some additional fun.

You can’t tell the players without a program and even then, you may find yourself referring back time after time to try to figure out who’s who. It really doesn’t matter though because the slapstick routines and The Bard’s couplets (along with a few contemporary references tossed in for good measure) round out the fast paced show. Vampy Adriana (gorgeous Abby Craden), married to the successful Antipholus of Ephesus is jealous and suspicious (rightly so!) of her spouse. Equally beautiful Luciana (Annie Abrams) plays her sister who is vamped by the other Antipholus (her brother-in-law’s twin!) After a dozen mix ups, each one funnier than the last including some missing money, a rope and a golden chain (bling!), the boys of Ephesus are given sanctuary in the Abby of Syracuse and guarded by angelic nuns (made up of some of the ensemble: Andy Stokan, Christine Breihan, Douglas Rory Milliron, Gwenmarie White and Sara-Lucy Hill?). About the middle of the first act I lost track of a couple of the characters. The actors are all are notable and mentioning the great ensemble work of the entire cast is a must. Paul D. Masterson as Balthasar and the 2nd Merchant.. (was he the ventriloquist?); P.J. Ochlan as Angelo/Doctor Pinch; Rene Ruiz as First Merchant and Lauren Robyn doing her best Judy Holliday impression as the Courtesan are all so much fun.

The Duke orders that the Abbess be summoned and the cry “Heyyyyy Abbessssss!” time travels a couple of decades from the twenties to the forties and briefly stops the show with the Abbott and Costello reference. Dragalicious Gibby Brand plays The Abbess as well as the randy Nell whose cap is set for one of the Dromios (oh wherefore art thou, Dromio?)

The eventual problem, of course, is how to present the final scene to reunite the twins of Syracuse and the twins of Ephesus all at the same time. Needless to say that in ANW’s Burlesque on Brand, this is not a problem. Twins are reunited, families reconciled and all’s well that ends well. Applause!

A Noise Within takes the company off to Pasadena in the fall of 2011 (they are still about a million bucks shy of their entire budget, but ground is broken and construction has begun.) A fund raising campaign is on to sign folks up for the “50/50 Coffee Club” ($50 a month for 50 months which will fulfill a matching donation) which will garner each donor free coffee at the theater for life! Coffee anyone?

A Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
Plays in repertory with Eccentricities of a Nightingale and The Chairs
Wednesdays through Sundays

A Noise Within
234 South Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA 91204
P: 818.240.0910
F: 818.240.0826
$46 Top