Monday, October 22, 2012

It's A Dilemma at ANW

The Doctor’s Dilemma
Geoff Elliott and Jules Wilcox Photo by Craig Schwartz


A Noise Within continues with its second season in its beautiful new space in Pasadena with G.B. Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma.  The biting wit and social commentary written over a hundred years ago is interestingly contemporary.  Who lives and who dies we pretty much allow the medical profession to decide.  Before the National Health in Great Britain it fell to individuals to take care of their own medical needs,  or else.  Thus, we hear Sir Coleman Ridgeon (Geoff Elliott)  who, with his cronies Sir Patrick Cullen (Apollo Dukakis), Sir Ralph Blomfield Bonington (Robertson Dean) and Cutler Walpole (Freddy Douglas),  discusses the medical issues of the day. Tended by Ridgeon's ever faithful servant (ever crusty Deborah Strang),    Walpole is a germophobe who diagnoses every symptom as blood poisoning. Bonington rants and Cullen, most likely the actual voice of the playwright,  dishes G.B. Shaw as a cynic and holds Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Scientists with disdain as they tend to deny being ill!

Slinky Mrs. Jennifer Dubedat (sly Jules Willcox)  comes to Ridgeon with a plea to save her husband, Louis (Jason Dechert) a skillful artist who is suffering from TB.  However, Ridgeon's friend, Dr. Blenkinsop, also needs his attention. How can he choose who may be more a boon to mankind?  Ridgeon is swayed by his attraction to Jennifer (as are all of his pals).  His dilemma comes down to whom to save.  The sad ethical twist takes a while to be revealed.

At two hours and forty minutes with the intermission, director Dámaso Rodriguez asks a lot from the opening night audience whose enthusiasm throughout was responsive.  Susan Gratch’s sets and again extraordinary attention to skillful scene changes by liveried stage hands is a dance that speaks to the professional approach of Pasadena’s Classical Theatre Company.

Performances are broad. Rodriguez keeps the dialogue rolling, but it’s still an evening approaching three hours in length. Grasping Shaw’s commentary, is possible, but, it could have been done by Moliere in a quick romp, leaving the audience chuckling at the final curtain.

The Doctor’s Dilemma
By George Bernard Shaw
A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107
626 356 3100
Tickets  $52 Top
In repertory through December  2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012


You Can’t Take It With You

Anteaus Theatre Company is brimming with a family of dedicated theatre people.  Certainly, many of them have done well in feature films and television, which pays the rent, but their loyalty to the Theatre is a calling that few can truly understand.  Helen Hayes was reported to have said something to the effect that ‘he gave a great performance’ pointing up that when an actor puts on a character and hits the stage, it’s a gift to the audience.  Making money as an actor is an iffy business and doing the sort of theatre that we are gifted with by Anteaus isn’t making anybody rich.  However, the rich gifts that are offered in Kaufman and Hart’s silly play currently offered up at Deaf West Theatre in NoHo are a bargain that should be savored: twice.  A tradition that Anteaus continues is a good one. Two casts, The Kirbys reviewed here and on alternate dates The Sycamores present a classic American comedy.  Imaginative director Gigi Bermingham has her hands full with over thirty actors to keep track of.  Fortunately, these professionals step up to the plate, making Bermingham’s job that of inspiring and fine tuning an excellent cast.

  The Kirbys Cast is made up of dedicated actors who jete, amble, ramble, scurry, scramble, stroll, limp and hustle on Tom Buderwitz’s gorgeous 1930s set.  From time to time we hear and FEEL (thanks to Jeff Gardner’s vibrating sound design) an explosion from the basement where the family patriarch, Paul Sycamore (Marcelo Tubert), maintains his illegal fireworks factory with his quirky assistant, Mr. Depinna (Tony Abetemarco).  Like The Munsters, we have one ‘normal’ ingénue who works on Wall Street, perfectly cast Lizzie Zerebko as Alice Sycamore.  Lithe and lovely, she’s head over heels about Tony Kirby, Jr. (Jeremy Glazer) whom she met working in Tony’s father’s firm. This is young love at its most romantic. 

As Mom Penny (Perfectly charming Julia Fletcher) knocks out plays on a typewriter (that was delivered to the Sycamore home by mistake) and daughter Essie (very flexible Linda Park) practices her interpretive dance around the living room/dining room/family room table, her husband, Ed Carmichael (Michael Hyland) ‘creates’ Moonlight Sonata on his xylophone when not printing out quotes from Trotsky and delivering wife, Essie’s candy which she creates in the Sycamore kitchen.

It’s a three ring circus with Grandpa Vanderhof (the amazing and fabulous and dedicated Joseph Ruskin) administering his avuncular wisdom: the calm center of the maelstrom.  I have to insert a disclaimer here.  Joe Ruskin is a pal.   He has been one of those actors whom we have seen for most of our lives in hundreds of edgy roles as a dedicated working actor. His success stems from his being present and accounted for.  Recipient of the Ralph Morgan Award from the Screen Actors Guild and deeply engaged in the working conditions of actors for many years, not only is his well seasoned take on Grandpa Vanderhof endearing, it reflects his dedication to the craft of acting.  Experiencing Joe bring this character to life with such grace is a pleasure that I’ll always remember.  His real life daughter, Alicia, was my agent for many years and her dedication to representing actors is a direct reflection of her dad’s professional ethic. 

We now return to our regularly scheduled review.

It’s a simple story.  A ‘normal’ daughter has emerged in the middle of a wild and crazy family. Every single character is crisp and funny. Penny wants one of her play scripts to be interpreted by a professional and hauls an actress, Gay Wellington (adorable Janellen Steininger) home to do a reading. Gay is a fabulous drunk and passed out on the couch when Tony brings his hoity toity parents, Mr. and Mrs. Kirby (straight from Central Casting in the best sense: Josh Clark and Shannon Holt) to meet Alice’s parents.  Russian dance master, Boris Kolekov (over the top and having way too much fun to the delight of everyone, Jeff Doba) who blows in from the Steppes regularly to instruct Essie in ‘la danse’ creates havoc. Ms Holt returns with a flourish as Olga, a deposed Russian Royal, currently waiting tables in Times Square.

Tech credits are all super with nods to A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s costumes and Heather Ho’s props.  Director Bermingham’s subtle hand in broad strokes has created a hit in every sense of the word. It’s a straightforward comedy that reminds us all that having a little fun is what life should really be about.  To quote a phrase, “Don’t Postpone Joy.”  Please see this show more than once.  Invest in great theatre. You Can’t Take It With You! 

By George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Directed by Gigi Birmingham
5112 Lankershim
NoHo, CA 91601
Through December 9, 2012
Tickets: $34 Top
818 506 1983
Highly recommended!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mamet + Taper = Political Romp

NOVEMBER by David Mamet

Greeted by a gorgeous replica of the Oval Office, complete with the Great Seal of the United States (the eagle should have had arrows in both claws) by Takeshi Kata, it shows once again that the Mark Taper Forum will not spare the horses when presenting top of the line theatre.  If the set is any indication of the fun to come, the audience is primed for a treat.

David Mamet’s 2008 Broadway hit comes to the Taper with no holds barred. From the first line, the playwright’s biting satire and clever images bring to mind exactly what may be wrong with the way the world works.  President Charles Smith (the wonderfully wonky Ed Begley, Jr.) rants with typical Mamet expletives aided and abetted by the excellent Rod McLachlan as Archer Brown, the President’s Chief of Staff, who matches Begley line for line.

 “Why won’t they vote for me?” 

“Because they all hate you, Chuck!” 

It’s just before the Big Election and President Smith is in big trouble. Not only can he not handle the country nor his blabbermouth wife, nor his brilliant head speech writer, Clarice Bernstein (versatile and facile Felicity Huffman), but there’s trouble with the Turkey Lobby (the bird, not the nation). Unnamed Turkey and Turkey By-Products Manufacturers’ Representative (frenetic Todd Weeks) has arrived at the White House expecting the President to exercise his executive office in the traditional Pardoning of the Turkeys (two Big Birds who must be given an opportunity to smell the President’s hands before the upcoming telecast.)  The chaos ramps up.

Mamet hits a beautiful stride with this farcical romp.  The business of Quid Pro Quo turns the tables on President Smith when he attempts to match wits with a First Nation Leader, Dwight Grackle (Gregory Cruz), who is prepared to build a 4000 room casino on half of Nantucket Island.

About the time Smith gets the Turkey Rep to cave in to his ridiculous demands for two hundred million dollars, another glitch crashes the scene.  It’s pure Mamet and pure comedy. It’s timely and echoes the suspicions that half of the country must have had about the Oval Office for most of the first decade of the 21st century.  Mamet echoes through Clarice, the lesbian speech writer, beautiful sentiments that can only be heard if Smith agrees to marry her and her partner, Daisy.

Director, Scott Zigler, has this cast rolling at first light and it never lets down in the fast paced ninety minutes.  Staging in the wordy show is punctuated with clever physical business that never misses a beat in the dialogue.  Those offended by Mamet’s fast and loose language choices may even find that it sounds natural and funny and appropriate in an Oval Office where decorum has been chucked out the window. 

This is simply brilliant theatre.

By David Mamet
Mark Taper Forum/
Center Theatre Group
Music Center 135 N. Grand
Los Angeles, CA
Tickets:  213 972 7231
$20 - $75.00
Through November 4, 2012
Dark on Monday
Click on photo for full information.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ensemble takes a look at The Troubles

Continuing with their examination of war and its effects on human beings, The Belle of Belfast is a welcome World Premiere at Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles at the Atwater Village Theater.   


How religion has divided human beings one from another is not a mystery.  When we are indoctrinated into any formal (or informal, for that matter) belief system, those beliefs become Truth.  And, if my truth trumps your truth, you lose and I win or we fight and we all lose.  Playwright Nate Rufus Edelman examines these issues in this world premiere presentation.

The Irish are a lovely lot.  In a Simpsons episode a while back the show parodied the different ‘Heavens’ where the “saved” might go.  The Irish Catholics were portrayed on a cloud that featured donnybrooks and booze.  When folks lean toward a wee drop and a dust up, this sets the scene, at least in part, for The Troubles that plagued Northern Ireland for over twenty years.  The loyalist Catholics and the Protestants had issues that divided their country in a vicious way.  Anne Malloy (effective Sarah Gise), is a ‘wild child’ orphaned when a bomb blast claimed her parents when she was just eleven. Now seventeen, she struggles with all the angst of any girl her age, exacerbated by deep feelings of abandonment and an escalating lust for the local priest, Father Ben Reilly (the excellent Daniel Blinkoff).  Blinkoff manages to capture at once the deep conviction that must hold sway for anyone taking the cloth and believably shows the struggle we imagine any man might face when confronted with undeniable urges.

In the Irish film The Magdalene Sisters, the penetrating heartbeat thrum of the bodhran narrates the first reel with genuine passion. The Irish frame drum is heard again here in the pre-show. It is 1985 in Belfast. Illustrated with projected slides of cheeky Irish kids, marches in the streets and the detritus of civil war the tension is passionate and palpable.  The music is not credited, but may have been The Chieftains or The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem who even still today share the heart of Irish music around the world. Penny whistle and fiddle skim over the resonate beat and musically set the scene. Belfast is a battlefield where there ought to be peace. The music melds well with Pablo Santiago’s lighting and spare scenic design by Hana S. Kim.

Elderly Emma Malloy (the wonderful Carol Locatell) attempts to make her confession to the amiable Father Reilly.  In fact, she is a lonely lady, the great aunt of Anne.  She is frustrated that her great niece is out of control. She steals a moment near the end of the play when she makes her final confession.

Feckin’, arse and bollocks salt and pepper the text not only through Anne, but the priests themselves as they gossip in the rectory. Bill Meleady as the elder priest, Father Dermot Behan, may be a bit too stereotypically a drunk, where moderation in the character might show not only a touch of sympathy, but decorum as well.    However, director Claudia Weill, has her actors in check for the most part and the well defined characters are sad and funny and touching.

The accents are not Ulster, thank goodness, and mostly consistent.  The women were more difficult to understand than the men.  Anne’s girlfriend, Clara Murphy (spot on Caitlin Gallogly who could easily have played Anne as well) is a handy foil. Her special moment is delivered in a tender rendition of the last verse of a haunting Irish ballad, The Parting Glass, to honor their school chum who has perished in a bomb blast which virtually rocks the theater.

Though the lesson of the play is not to understand The Troubles, per se, we do become deeply involved in the motives and ethics of the characters as their lives unfold in this time of war, well told in Edelman’s play.  

Please go to see it for yourself.

The Belle of Belfast
By Nate Rufus Edelman
Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles
At The Atwater Village Theater
3269 Casitas Avenue
Atwater, CA 90039

Through October 28, 2012 in repertory 
with Year of the Rabbit

323 644 1929

Monday, October 1, 2012

Shakespeare, et al? Cymbeline at ANW


 (l-r) Jarrett Sleeper (Guiderius) and Adam Haas Hunter(Cloten) Photo by Craig Schwartz

The story of Cymbeline as retold by A Noise Within in its season opener brings good news and bad news.  The good news is that Pasadena’s Classic Theatre Company kicks off its season with nowhere else to go but up.  The bad news follows: Director Bart DeLorenzo presents the conceit that Will himself may have taken, it’s just a play. The stage is set with an ancient work light in anticipation of the curtain’s rise.  Various props from other of Shakespeare’s plays are strewn on the steps to the stage itself.  The show begins with a flourish as we quickly are given glimpses of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and others of The Bard’s more familiar stories. It is as though with Cymbeline Shakespeare just tossed them all into a hat, pulling them out with a little narration:  a story of a girl pretending to be a boy, an old man played by a woman (for reasons that escape me) and a panoply of characters who strut and bellow… a lot.

When at the intermission (of the two and a half hour evening) one over hears a member of the audience declare that the scene changes are very smooth, it’s a sign of something missing.  What’s missing here is a company of players who are all on the same page.  Of them all, veteran actor Time Winters as Pisanio and Gaoler screws his courage to any sticking point as best he can and with decent mastery of the language he brings his characters to life.

Adam Haas Hunter plays the handsome swain Posthumus as well as the boorish fop,  Cloten.  Cleverly, at rise, both are on the stage at the same time while narrators in evening suits set up the story. King Cymbeline (Joel Swetow) sorely needs his daughter, Imogen, (Helen Sadler), to marry well, but she’s already married to a commoner, Posthumus.  Although Posthumus is uncommonly an okay guy and really in love with Imogen, he gets banished right off the bat only to return to the stage as  the wicked Queen’s (Francia DiMase who also plays Belarius) favored suitor, her son, the foppish Cloten (Hunter).  So, now we have an evil queen and poison that is switched by a suspecting chemist for an elixir that only makes one appear to be dead, a banished good guy, intrigue and mixed up messages delivered by a trusty servant.  Where have we heard that one before, Will?  I have a faint cold chill.

The up side is that there is one terrific scene with swordplay choreographed by Ken Merckx.  There’s a beheading, too. But, other than that, not only is the story disappointing, predictable and long, but the uneven performances and inability of DeLorenzo to keep his actors suiting the action to the word and the word to the action unhappily makes this production feel like a marginally interesting Masters Degree Thesis Project.  

Angela Balogh Calin’s costumes are perfect.  Sets and lighting by Keith Mitchell and Ken Booth, respectively, are just fine. 

And, the scene changes are executed very well . 

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Bart DeLorenzo
A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107
Tickets $40 -$50.00 Group rates available
626 356 3100
Through November 18, 2012