Monday, April 25, 2011


Jason Alexander and Gina Hecht

The old El Portal in NoHo is alive and well. For the next two weeks it will be available for a trip down memory lane with Neil Simon’s PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE. Gina Hecht and Jason Alexander as Edna and Mel Edison capture Simon’s serio-comic take on life in 1971 New York. It’s Neil Simon! The jokes come apace and the message, though subtle, remains. How does one survive when “the whole world is going out of business?”

Suffice it to say that a professional company in a professional set in a gorgeous theater adds up to two hours of fun. Forty years later, the issues of today are reflected in the issues of 1971 when Mel, almost 47, rants and raves about living on the fourteenth floor with noisy neighbors up, down and sideways. To add to the romp, as poor Mel loses his job and teeters on the brink of completely losing his mind, Alexander finds the nuances of comedy that would make Mr. Simon smile. Director Glenn Casale guides his cast fluidly, but it’s the text that makes the show.

In Act II the arrival of Mel’s sisters, Pearl, Jessie and Pauline, respectively: Annie Korzen, Carole Ita White and Deedee Rescher confronting and confronted by Mel’s brother Harry, the excellent Ron Orbach (who stops the show briefly to the delight of the audience) just want to help… but not too much. The only downside for me was the choice by one of the sisters, not Jessie, maybe Pauline? to smoke. It always looks contrived and this odd choice is no different. However the chorus of the three sisters, each with a separate agenda is hilarious.

Alexander will always be known for his work as You Know Who on the You Know What Show and is doing a fine job of getting beyond his impression of Larry David. Mel Edison simply wants a normal life and emotionally plummets like a stone when he’s summarily dismissed after years on the job. Alexander’s timing melds with Hecht’s (who is mercurial and gorgeous) as they fit together like... like things that fit together well! The play is a finely tuned instrument and even with all the revivals and the film made in 1975, it still holds up. It’s a professional staging. Professional actors make full use of Stephen Gifford’s New York apartment set with Jared A. Sayeg’s lights. It’s a must see for Neil Simon fans and for those who have not seen one of his plays, it’s a great way to start!

By Neil Simon
El Portal Theatre
5269 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA
Wednesdays through Sundays
Closes May 15, 2011
866 811 4111 or 818 508 4200
$55.00 Top

Sunday, April 24, 2011


For those old enough to remember Eric Burden and the Animals, it’s impossible not to hear the heavy bass arpeggio that leads into Burden’s singing, “There is a house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun. It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy and me, Oh God, I’m one.” Tom Jacobson’s House of the Rising Son echoes this theme and in his unique polemic regarding the politics of the necessity of parasites in the ecosystem, we meet four actors playing eight characters who advance the theory that even the human race is parasitic. Unfortunately, unlike parasites such as tape worms and mites who conduct their business subtly, never taking more than the host can safely supply, Homo Sapiens may suck the planet dry unless we change our ways. The play points out, however, that Nature has a way of fixing Herself and though we human beings may think of ourselves as being above ‘nature’, we are most likely simply stepping stones to the next evolutionary cycle of the planet.

At rise we meet handsome Dr. Trent Varro, (Paul Witten) entomologist, ecologist and heir to a dynasty: the House of Varros, whose lineage may go back to ancient Greece! As he lectures at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum regarding garden variety parasites, he discovers that he is being blatantly cruised by Felix Martin (Steve Coombs), fifteen years his junior, who is a fund raiser for the museum. Dr. Varro is immediately attracted to Felix who has a great interest in ghosts and past lives. In a steamy pas de deux they find themselves that night in Felix’s realm, searching for remnants of the past in local cemeteries.

Concurrently, just beyond the Katrina disaster zone in New Orleans, we meet Garrett Varro (earthy John Patrick Hurley) and the translucent patriarch Bowen Varro (Rod Menzies) who appear to be the father and grandfather of Trent. Subtly designed kittywhompus and multipurpose set by Richard Hoover reflects the Ninth Ward, which may be a metaphor for the whole story. Jacobson’s writing brings all of these characters eventually to light, which is, at once, enlightening and, at first, confusing. Bowen is ill and as head of the Varro Clan has specific feelings about Trent and his life as a gay man. When Trent calls to announce that he is bringing Felix home to meet the family, epithets fly left and right, even when the couple arrives.

Jacobson, as he has done in Chinese Massacre [Annotated] opening concurrently next door at the AVT, has done his research and done it well. We learn more about parasites and parasitic behavior directly through Trent’s lectures, than we may have ever learned. Interestingly, the metaphor carries directly through the plot and into the lives of not only the four main characters, but their seconds as well.

Witten appears briefly as Maureen (possibly a woman?), whose necessity to the plot was vague. A knock later comes to the Varro’s door to introduce Hurley once again as the blustery Lendell, a New Orleans tour guide to the haunted places of the Crescent City. Is he another parasite, taking advantage of gullible tourists? In a dangerous turn, Coombs returns as a stealthy hustler, Rod, upon whom the plot thickens deeply. Finally, we meet Menzies again as Robert, an aging fairy, who, in his cups does his best to rally the gay constituents of New Orleans.

Michael Michetti directs his cast fluidly on Hoover’s earthy three quarter thrust stage. The cloying atmosphere of oriental rugs and rococo furniture lend a feeling of stereotypically tres gay décor. Some sight lines are difficult simply because in a set like this some action will, by its very nature, will be blocked.

The discomfort that the hegemonic heterosexual community may experience in seeing this play comes directly from limbic reactions that those of us stuck in our early impressionable experiences must overcome. In her program notes, Artistic Director, Gates McFadden, says, “We might find out the thing we fear is simply different and not harmful. Evolution takes time. This play might help us to nudge forward a bit.” Certainly, Tom Jacobson has the chops to help move things along.

By Tom Jacobson
The Ensemble Studio Theatre – LA
At The Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Atwater Village, CA 90039
April 23 through May 29, 2011
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 2PM
$25.00 Top
Thursday April 28 and Thursday May 5, 2011 Pay What You Can
Tickets and information
323 644 1929


Chinese Massacre [Annotated]

Take Ken Burns’ visual imagination, add an homage to Bertolt Brecht, fold in exquisite scenic design by Sibyl Wickersheimer, lighting by Tom Ontiveros and sound by Dennis Yen, all literally bursting on the stage and here you have a Los Angeles history lesson, a lesson in human behavior and an exciting evening of theatre. Tom Jacobson’s brilliant writing under the adept vision of director Jeff Liu’s innate sense of talent, humor and history bring these elements together beautifully. Chinese Massacre [Annotated] at Circle X Theatre Co. at the Atwater Village Theatre complex literally captures the audience.

When an actor agrees to become part of an ensemble, he may at once play a lead and in the next breath a supernumerary. The play’s the thing and when all of the performers are on the same page; in the same play, having a wonderful time (especially the annotators in this one), then the captured audience is in for a ride.

Director Jeff Liu’s vision breathes life into Jacobson’s play, animating the story, painstakingly researched thanks to the playwright’s fine attention to detail. Los Angeles, 1871, is, indeed a frontier town, inherently rough and tumble. Racial tensions and struggle for power bubble to the surface of the burgeoning City of the Angels. “Companies” (read gangs or Tongs) fight for ownership of unfortunate prostitutes as well as running other illegal activities. The Massacre of 1871 erupts from this cauldron of prejudice, anger and fear.

In his nod to playwright Bertolt Brecht, Jacobson casts his ensemble in multiple roles. Some step slightly outside the actual play as “annotators” who report the factual source of a speech or a particular situation to remind the audience that this is a true history for the intellect. Even though one may become emotionally involved with the goings on (and we certainly do), it’s the ‘stuff’ of the piece that Jacobson and the ensemble want us to remember. The talented cast often executes with precision a “Chinese Fire Drill” on stage, shifting from one character to another flawlessly with the quick change of a coat or a hat (or a queue) aided by precision lighting and sound, realistically bringing the audience directly to the heart of the matter.

The outstanding ensemble features Richard Azurdia, Warren Davis, Anna Douglas, Elizabeth Ho, Ross Kurt Le, Jully Lee, Alex Levin, West Liang, Johanna McKay, Silas Weir Mitchell, Gary Patent, Jack Sochet, Lisa Tharps, Marie-Françoise Theodore and Ryan Yu.

Dianne K. Graebner’s costumes are outstanding.

The Chinese Massacre [Annotated] is a must see, especially for Angelenos and those for whom a true theatrical experience has been rare.

By Tom Jacobson
Circle X Theatre Company at the Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 2PM and 7PM
Runs April 22 through May 28, 2011
326 644 1929
$25.00 top
Sundays at 2PM Pay What You Can

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Big weekend of theatre to follow. Two new shows at the Atwater Village Theatre featuring the Circle X Company and Gates McFadden's Ensemble Studio Theatre: Los Angeles on Friday and Saturday: April 22 and 23. Prisoner of Second Avenue at the El Portal in NoHo on Sunday, 4/24/11.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Chairs, a fond adieu

Deborah Strang / Geoff Elliott Photo by Craig Schawartz

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under Heaven. A time to be born and a time to die…” So says the Book of Ecclesiastes or The Byrds, depending on your personal experience. The correlation of how things change is reflected in the anticipation of the brand new Pasadena space currently under construction for A Noise Within: ‘a time to be born’ and the death of a theatre tradition in Glendale. The third production in this final season in Glendale for A Noise Within features long time favorites, ANW founder Geoff Elliott as Old Man and Deborah Strang as Old Woman directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott. Written by Eugene Ionesco, and first produced in 1952 the play challenges the audience to discover the meaning of the story rather than simply absorbing it as we often do when attending the theatre.

Stephen W. Gifford’s rag tag peeling post-apocalyptic set borders off stage water. The Old Man hangs out the window because he likes to look at the water. A hand written sign barely visible on a chalkboard requires, “No Diving!” Indeed within the first few minutes of the play, Old Man practically violates the rule by half tumbling out the window. He is, of course, General Factotum, my darling and could have been the best of practically any important post had he only really wanted to. If he had taken some initiative, as Old Woman points out continually to her ‘darling’ he could have been anything.

Whether or not Old Man and Old Woman are indeed really a couple married for over seventy years or if they are actors simply playing at the end of the world may be an interpretation to be considered. They know each other so well (as do Elliott and Strang) and mutually subscribe to the absurd notion that they may be the last two people on earth. Or are they? They anticipate a multitude of visitors from every social station and are especially excited about the arrival of THE EMPORER for whom they prepare a virtual throne. Invisible characters arrive, brought to life by the Old Couple’s mutual acknowledgement as they prepare for The Orator (Andy Stokan) who has been employed to impart to not only the assembled throng, but the audience, as well, what may be the Meaning of Life! These are actually the Old Man’s insights, but he’s not so good at speaking, as he eloquently admits time and again.

Interesting, though inexplicable, Ken Booth’s lighting changes from time to time, climaxing with a flurry of pinwheels spinning madly, sound and fury, as more and more and more chairs and more visitors arrive until the stage is completely filled with chairs and invisible guests. At last, The Orator arrives in a grand manner. Welcomed by the Old Couple, he takes stage with authority.

The issue of who Old Man and Old Woman really are is never completely clear, probably Ionesco’s intention. We love their banter as they lovingly function smoothly and flawlessly as one. Elliott and Strang have worked together for almost twenty years. The simpatico is obvious. In an interview elsewhere, Elliott mentioned that being relieved of his often role as director of a show, simply acting in the hands of his capable wife, Julia, was a pleasure. Indeed, his focus and choices, perfectly compliment Strang’s, whose comedic versatility shines. Rodriguez-Elliott’s direction is crisp. With well seasoned actors in hand, the show simply works. What a pleasure. What fun the actors are having. And this, my darling is infectious to the audience.

As ANW departs Glendale to open this coming fall in Pasadena, it should be mentioned that the non-profit company is still slightly short of it’s $12Million fund raising goal. Contributions for this final push will be matched dollar for dollar by an Angel in Pasadena. Contact ANW for details and contribute as you may. This is regional theatre at its finest.

Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs
Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott

Opened April 9; plays in repertory with
Comedy of Errors and The Eccentricities of A Nightingale
Wed.-Fri., 8 pm; Sat., 2 and 8 pm; Sun., 2 and 7 pm; through May 21.

A Noise Within
234 S. Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91203

Single tickets: $42-$46 (discount prices for seniors, students and groups).
818.240.0910, ext. 1

Friday, April 8, 2011

Brook at The Broad Stage

Peter Brook has a brand and his brand is what drew me to The Broad Stage for two pieces directed by him. Bruce Meyers presented The Grand Inquisitor, a selection from a Dostoyevsky piece that describes the return of Christ to Spain during the Inquisition. To be read to, even very dramatically, for forty five minutes was enough to send many folks home during the interval. This is a shame because the presentation of five "Fragments" by Samuel Beckett, the best of the lot being Act Without Words II, presented by Meyers and Yoshi Oida with vigor and joy was well worth the wait. Press blurb calls them "illuminating the comedy and courage in characters who dare to face the void" which, of course, most of Samuel Beckett's work involves. Fragments features fine performances from Meyers, Oida and Hayley Carmichael.

The Grand Inquisitor / Fragments
The Broad Stage
1310 11 Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401

THU | APR 7 | 7:30 PM
FRI | APR 8 | 7:30 PM
SAT | APR 9 | 7:30 PM
SUN | APR 10 | 2:00 PM

Premier $75 |Level A $60 |Level B $47 | Level C $32 Thurs Eve
Premier $95 | Level A $77 |Level B $57 | Level C $45 Fri Eve
Premier $120 | Level A $100 | Level B $75 | Level C $55 Sat Eve
Premier $95 | Level A $77 | Level B & C $57 Sun Mat

Box Office: 310 434 3200

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Daddy O Dies Well at The Electric Lodge

Daddy O Dies Well

Murray Mednick’s continuation of his ‘Gary Plays’ holds forth at The Electric Lodge. Featuring the excellent Hugh Dane as Daddy O, this may be a Morality Play meant to bring the audience to personal insights and/or revelations. Just guessing. Daddy O has explored the otherworld via an ancient South American tea: Ayahuasca. (Google that!) Dane’s well crafted characterization is at once casual and intense which leads us to appreciate his vast experience. Daddy O is the epitome of ‘cool.’ There’s more going on here than meets the eye.

Daddy O is haunted by Antonio (protean Peggy A. Blow), the master of another world. Still and all, somehow, Daddy O seems to be able to control the inevitable. About this time the allegories and drama become somewhat hallucinatory and at once become fascinating and confusing by turns.

Is it Gary’s (Casey Sullivan) depression after a break up with ex-wife, Marcia (Melissa Paladino), that makes Daddy O want to expand Gary’s outlook? Certainly, Gary is depressed. Meanwhile, Gary’s first Ex, Gloria (Elizabeth Greer) mother of their murdered son, is in Chile reporting from her exotic location, which is present and distant at the same time thanks to the ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic that Gary has been administered by Daddy O. Enigmatic Dr. Jones (Jack Kehler) is ever on hand, reminding us that he is just a helper.

Earth Mother Strawn Bovee as Mama Bean, is peripheral and central at the same time. The deceased wife of Daddy O and mother of Gary she is present and absent. Each of the important people in Gary’s life serve in singular and multiple roles. The most impressive aspect of this show is that the actors are all well seasoned and under playwright Mednick’s direction, are perfectly focused. To a person every actor is fully engaged with the words and their role. The presentational style works well. What it all means is up for grabs. Puzzling out the argument is an individual quest as the curtain falls.

Ritual emerges as Antonio rolls in with magic and an ice cream truck. The spirits of the dead and the living commingle and though the essential argument of the play remains difficult to discern, the expert work of the actors and fine technical additions of Mark I. Rosenthal and Dan Reed combine with Mednick’s trippy script to make the evening pithy in the same way a vision quest might send us out of a long night’s vigil in the desert knowing that we’ve been privy to something, perhaps something important… even if we can’t figure out exactly what that is. Maybe it’s not a morality play after all? Rather it’s a mystery play following in the style of early mystery plays that were also produced in cycles?

By Murray Mednick
The Electric Lodge
1416 Electric Avenue
Venice, CA 90291
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 2PM
Through May 22, 2011
Tickets and Information 323 960 7724
www plays411 / DaddyO
$25.00 top