Monday, April 23, 2012

Is Love an Illusion? Corneille says Maybe

Deborah Strang and Nick Ullett Photo Credit Craig Schwartz
Pasadena’s A Noise Within’s dedication to bringing the ‘classics’ to life is well played this season.  This third entry for the season is a winner.  Pierre Corneille’s The Illusion, adapted from the French by Tony Award Winner Tony Kushner, moves smoothly exploring the difference between Reality and Illusion.  In Margery Williams’s  story The Velveteen Rabbit asks “What’s Real” to learn that Love may be the answer.  Corneille is more cynical, saying that “Love is an Illusion: a demonic black disease.” The story would argue the contrary, however, as the splendid Nick Ullett (“Uh Lut” s’il vous plait) as Pridamant goes to a lot of trouble to try to find and reconcile with his son, Calisto/Clindor/Theogenes (broad strokes by Graham Hamilton).  We learn that all of the conjurings by the sorceress Alcandre (brilliant Deborah Strang, Deborah Strang!  Deborah Strang!!  Deborah Strang loves to pose and her theatrics are delightful here) that make up this sweeping chronicle may be themselves simply Illusions.  The scenes conjured by Alcandre are reminiscent of The Fantastiks where the boy, Matt, is bounced through the rigors of the world every which way through El Gallo’s vision “I Can See It.”

You can’t tell Corneille’s characters without a program and even then, keeping track of who’s who playing whom and when and where may be a bit of a challenge.  Effervescently rising to the top is a dark haired beauty, the exquisite Abby Craden as Elisa/Lyse/Clarina, somewhere along the line more or less swapping social stations with the equally impressive Devon Sorvari as Melibea/Isabelle/Hippolyta.  Action is magical and well paced.  The audience’s keeping up is almost as much fun as the actors are having on the stage.

Alan Blumenfeld in a complete 180 from his recent turn in Baby Doll, is funny and charming as Matamore.  Multiple turns by Freddy Douglas and Jeff Doba are impressive. Ensemble members beautifully facilitating scene changes are the able Katherine Lee, Alex Parker and Michael Sanchez.

Major kudos to the ANW tech staff:  Keith Mitchell’s verdant drops and Jeremy Pivnick’s ever shifting lighting design combine with impressive sounds from Doug Newell, Zipline Sound. Julie Keen’s lush costumes are… well.. lush.

Casey Stangl’s direction kept things moving, but stage pictures were sometimes off by just a hair.

When all is said… and done…  to mount three shows with major scene and lighting shifts necessary night after night is a gift.  A little culture is good for us.  That ANW culls these somewhat obscure plays from theatre history and makes them work is to their credit.  

The Illusion by Pierre Corneille adapted by Tony Cushner

A Noise Within
3352 East Foothill
Pasadena, CA 91107

Runs in repertory with The Bungler and Antony and Cleopatra
March 18 – May 19, 2012  See website for specific dates
Tickets and information
626 356 3400 Ext. 1
$46 Top

Friday, April 20, 2012

Second Annual High School Theatre Fest @ The Playhouse

As a former High School Drama teacher, I highly recommend seeing these kids in action. The camaraderie that holds these young actors together is like nothing you've ever seen. I count the participation of my students in the High School Drama Festival at Cal State Long Beach produced by Professor Ken Rugg as life changing.

It's happening early in the day, but it will be worth the effort to make it to Pasadena to see Theatre at its best.

Michael Sheehan

This from Patty Onagan and Joel Hile, Publicists for The Playhouse:

The Second Annual High School Theatre Festival is on Saturday, May 12, 2012, at The Pasadena Playhouse (39 S. El Molino Avenue).

The event is from 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and the doors open at 8:30 a.m.

All tickets are $5.00 general admission, and are available for purchase online at, by phone at 626-356-7529 or by visiting The Pasadena Playhouse Box Office.

For more information, contact The Pasadena Playhouse Development Office at or 626-921-1156. Information on all current Outreach and Development events is available by visiting

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tennessee in the Summer: Hot Stuff

Joe Besecker’s dramatic romance with the life of playwright Tennessee Williams directed with a fluid hand by Sal Romeo currently comes to life at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre in Toluca Lake. I have not vetted how accurate Besecker’s research has been, but the creative effect of showing Williams as the boozy egomaniac he might have been and simultaneously as a sexually charged barefoot nymphet clad only in a slip lends electricity and insight to Tom’s journey.

Lacey Anziec’s simple set with empty picture frames, shabby furniture and mottled gray walls is strewn with discarded pages; well illuminated by Paige Selene Luke’s simple lighting design. The pages, ripped from his old Remington, are rejected attempts by Williams (powerful Jack Heller) and his alter ego, The Woman, (lithe and sexual Tamara Braun) to continue to work as he struggles with drugs and alcohol; success and failure. The pressure of Williams coming from a family of lunatics at once gives insight into possible sources for Amanda, Blanche and Maggie the Cat: each of whom appear here in other forms. Rose (Williams’ psychotic sister) is portrayed gently by Louise Davis who also limns the Nurse and Tennessee’s mother, the equally batty Edwina.

Set initially in 1972, Williams struggles with issues of bad reviews of his Small Craft Warnings and is taunted by his alter ego, The Woman, posing seductively in a window facing out from a New York hotel room. She lures a boy to come up to play. The voice of Williams seems to be channeled by Besecker using phrases like “my writing is the universe” and “I want to get my goodness back” which may have been direct Williams’ quotes. Romeo’s pacing and stage pictures, especially the image of the crucifixion of The Woman confined in a mental hospital for his over indulgences ties the work together.

Robert Standley finds three strong attitudes with his Youngman, Frankie (Merlo) and Dakin, Tom’s brother. Frankie and Tennessee meet at a party where the young Sicilian hunk offers himself to the writer on a silver platter. They stay together for fourteen tumultuous years with Frankie at once a trifle and also the Love of Tennessee’s life, though shared with a myriad casual lovers who never seemed to quench the writer’s insatiable sexual appetites.

Not for the prudish, the work in this production is professional and deserves an audience. The closeness of the seating to the stage allows for subtle and moving moments as well as literally feeling the heat of the characters as they smolder and occasionally burst into flame.

Whether or not to take the story literally is optional. For any student of Classic American Theatre, even the casual mention of “Streetcar” or “Menagerie” are enough to become immediately enveloped in the larger than life characters who, at once, are familiar and completely honest and truthful to their stories. It’s about the drama of the Drama, after all, and Tennessee Williams will remain, himself, a Classic American Dramatist.

The turmoil suggested in Tennessee in the Summer is testament to where the Drama must have come from. The play presents an equally fervent illustration of the passions, not always uplifting, that created its tragic hero.


By Joe Besecker

Directed by Sal Romeo

Sidewalk Studio Theatre

4150 Riverside Drive

Burbank, CA 91505

Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM

Sundays at 3PM

April 13 – May 20, 2012

Tickets: $20

For information and tickets: 800 838 3006


818 558 5702

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Bungler! What a Farce!!

(l-r foreground) JD Cullum (Mascarille) and Michael A. Newcomer (Lelie) PHOTO CREDIT: Craig Schwartz

A Noise Within, it seems, has to the Restoration been and dedicates two plays: this Bungler by Molière and coming up Illusion by Corneille which sadly does not rhyme, but in good time will be revealed that couplets rule The Bungler and not unlike George of the Jungl(er) swings in farce, some Commedia tossed in for which director Julia may try to fool ya with some fair tricks, the outcome of the which may leave her audience in stitches, if not rolling in the aisles as her company beguiles.

Richard Wilbur’s translation of Molière’s The Bungler begins sans mots justes with Tuba Guy (could it be David O Composer/Musical Director??) on his tuba heralding what’s to come: French farce and then some. A nod immediate must be bowed to John Iacovelli (design quite swelly and Ken Booths lights, forsooth.) Their festive scenery that sets the stage with silly moving greenery and quick unsubtle tech works by Andrew Ellis whose many cues he never shirks . I just now found a credit for the tuba man. With Mr. O I'm now engaged and have became a fan.

The argument’s impediments are few. The actors are not new to farce and Wilbur’s sentences all parsed with couplets carry on quite well of course.

Okay.. The Bungler, Lelie (Michael Newcomer plays the part) is a fun play with all the elements of farce that made Molière a star. Costumes, lights, mixed up stuff all folderol with rhymes and fine use of the somewhat Brechtian approach moves apace. You can’t tell the characters without a program and even then, remembering who is whom may be a challenge. It’s all tied together by charming and conniving valet Mascarille (fluid and funny J.D. Cullum) whose every scheme to help his master, Lelie, find his way to love and happiness is thwarted one way or another by the poor Lelie himself.

For the life of me I cannot put the other actors with their characters, but encourage lovers of Molière to make their way to Pasadena (where the grass is greener) to applaud this romp. If the original play in French was in rhyme, translator Richard Wilbur has captured that essential element beautifully. Director Roderiguez-Elliott keeps the flow flowing flowily and a good time is had by all!

The Bungler

By Molière (Translated by Richard Wilbur)

In Repertory with Antony and Cleopatra and The Illusion

Through May 27, 2012

A Noise Within

3352 East Foothill Blvd.

Pasadena, CA 91107

Tickets and Information: 626 356 3100 Ext. 1

$46.00 Top