Monday, June 24, 2013


Genocide is seldom a welcome topic. Of course, our first thought is of the six million murdered by Nazis at the mention of the word.   “WE ARE PROUD TO PRESENT A PRESENTATION ABOUT THE HERERO OF NAMIBIA, FORMERLY KNOWN AS SOUTH WEST AFRICA, FROM THE GERMAN SUDWEST AFRIKA BETWEEN THE YEARS 1884-1915” by Jackie Sibblies Drury is a very ambitious take on genocide and theatre and acting and not acting and what constitutes a worthy topic.  As confusing as that might seem, the title alone of Drury’s ninety minute exercise is equally problematic.  Joseph Stern’s Matrix Theatre is a well established Ninety-nine seat venue on Melrose that has featured some dynamite productions in the past. Dynamite in the sense that the shows have been explosive, thought provoking and professionally presented.  WE ARE PROUD falls short: it’s a bit like quicksilver: difficult to get a handle on.  

Director Jillian Armenante, an old friend of Stern’s, has her hands full with six entirely different actors.  If it was her intention to have each of these actors present as though they were not in the same production, she’s succeeded.  This is a harsh criticism, in that there are moments when the ensemble is an ensemble in the best sense of the word. The problem, for me, is that any competent actor who pretends to be incompetent or is ‘acting at acting’ is just a nuisance.  There is no curtain on John Iacovelli’s essence of rehearsal space set. I love the bare bones, the brick wall that becomes an opportunity for projections and chalked on chronology of the events of the Herero massacre:  a holocaust before the well known one.   Thousands of the Herero were murdered by the Germans; lost to antiquity now awkwardly brought to the stage.
Julanne Chidi Hill (Actor 6/Black Woman) announces that she is the ‘artistic director’ of this experiment.  The experiment being an attempt by four men, two black: Joe Holt and Phil LaMarr and two white: John Sloan and Daniel Bess and the two women, one black and one white: Hill and Rebecca Mozo to create a piece for the theatre. The conceit rolls on to discuss horrific events of over a hundred years ago. 
The issue of how to present the massacre of these obscure Native Africans in a dramatic way is a problem.  The sticky wicket of how each actor, three white actors who have little relationship to black culture and three black actors who have a connection, but defining it beyond the color of their skin, may be met.   Attempting to bring facts and evidence into an arena where there is little to go on is sticky.  As in any acting exercise, it is much more fun and interesting for the process being discovered by the participants than for a hapless audience.  The Sunday matinee audience was made up of twenty very diverse patrons.  This set up an interesting dynamic vis a vis how African Americans relate to a stage production compared to how I react.  When something is funny, laughter is a good thing.  When the laughter explodes into hooting applause and banging on the seat in front of you because you relate to the line… that can be distracting.  It brought me out of the play. However, had I been the director, I might have planted that kind of activity into the piece and exploited it beyond the fourth wall.  Unhappily, this audience was just my bad luck of the draw for this particular performance.
Whether it’s fair to review the audience or not is a moot point.  The point, for me, was that the technical aspects of this ‘exercise’ to discover the Herero genocide were excellent.  Hill told the audience straight out that this was a “lecture” and it was.  The dates logged in chalk on the upstage wall with the four directions chalked down, up, left and right:  North, South, East and West worked just fine.  The dramatization of some of the events that led to the eventual decimation of the peaceful Herero worked in a few instances, but mostly the actors were playing at being actors with agitprop props: devices that made the “improvisations” more interesting for the acting exercise than for what the play was attempting to say.  Real emotions percolated to the surface toward the end of the full length one act, as certainly they do for actors working towards a difficult goal.  The personalities of the actors playing actors are scripted to the conflicts and the intense moments leading to a terrifying climax may have worked better if we had known the actual actors by their names instead of their character names which were no names at all. Quicksilver.
The challenge of doing ‘important’ theatre is to draw the audience in.  From the first line of this play, I was wishing that it was over.  Hill’s feigned fumbled instructions regarding cell phones and where the exits were could have been a terrific introduction to the piece, but it became all about the artifice, the pretending, instead of about the horror of conflict and the virtual destruction of thousands of simple agrarian people who believed that keeping a fire constantly burning in the back yards of their homes would keep their ancestors with them always. 

The Matrix Theatre
7657 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Parking advisory: street parking available.  Meters may be problematic
Thursdays through Sundays through August 11, 2013
Tickets: $30.00
323 852 1445

Sunday, June 23, 2013


The Spolin Players Spot On!

Viola Spolin is, without question, the Grande Dame of Improvisation and the go-to source for Theatre Games.  Her book, Improvisation for the Theatre, first published fifty years ago, has  literally been the Bible for actors and others to find truth and clarity in performance. Spolin’s son, Paul Sills, used her improv techniques via The Compass Players to bring Story Theatre and Metamorphosis to main stream theatre.  Hers is an important legacy.   

Photo Courtesy of Danny Mann, the man, man.
The Spolin Players are a hearty band of actors, most of whom you already know from their wide experience and depth of their resumes. They were the lucky ones who drew Ms Spolin out of retirement to guide them in Theatre Games and Exercises that were enjoyed by The Committee, Second City and our local Groundlings, as well as workshops for actors around the world.

In celebration of The Hollywood Fringe Festival, Donna Dubain, Danny Mann, John Mariano, Anna Mathias, David McCharen, Edie McClurg, Pat Musick, Casey Campbell and Gary Schwartz (absent at this performance Gail Matthius and Jim Staahl) come together making the art of making it up on the spot look easy. With Second City’s Fred Kaz at the keyboard and various sound effects supplied by the players on microphones, a quick sixty minutes of sheer entertainment will be available for only two more performances at the Elephant on Santa Monica as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Seeing these seasoned performers having such a great time reminds us that the spirit of the Theatre is the ‘Gift’ of a great performance.  Fast paced and filled with energy, this is a must see, especially for the jaded patron of ‘give me a location, a character and an occupation’ to see these simple basics of Spolin’s Theatre Games blossom into great fun.  Every single actor is having a ball.  Ten bucks. Limited seating.  Such a deal!  

If you don’t laugh out loud, there is something seriously wrong...  with YOU!  Smart and Hilarious, this is a must see.

The Spolin Players
Hollywood Fringe Festival
Friday 6/28 @ 7 PM
Sunday 6/30 @ 4 PM
All shows are one hour at:
Theatre Asylum / Elephant Space
6320 Santa Monica Blvd LA 90038
(E. of Lillian Way / W. of Vine)
OR CALL:  (323) 455 – 4585   

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Lee Melville was a guy who cared about and loved the theatre.  That's TheatRE.  The few times I met him (boy was he tall!) we chatted about our mutual interests and I almost wrote an article for his LA Stage Times.  

Lee's memorial will be held at The Colony Theatre,  555 North Third Street in Burbank.  Reception at 6PM, service at 7:30.  

Michael Sheehan


Monday, June 10, 2013


“Bob” was born in the bathroom of a White Castle, abandoned and then almost immediately rescued.  I think it was  in Kentucky.  His life is then born out in Five Acts and many Scenes, but first:

The courtyard of the Atwater Village Theatre is cooling as the sun sets behind the box office.  Santa shows up in cargo shorts with his legendary bowl full of extra jelly.  Theatre types schmooze at a table under a big green umbrella as one of the Millenials creates a piece of art on a small Etch-A-Sketch. It’s all captured on an iPhone by another friend.  Comrades on a Sunday afternoon.  There is a slightly grungy feel to the Atwater, though the work that I’ve seen here has been superior.  It’s not so funky as some other 99 seat venues in town and the two spaces there lend themselves to flexible and interesting ways to mount a show.  It was not a deliberate pre-show event, though it seemed a little like one.

As the audience enters the theatre space, red spotlights sweep the stage and the attendees. Angel Herrara’s imaginative set featuing  hundreds of boxes, bottles and other pristine detritus flank both sides of the stage reminding us that we are a consumer-based society.  A basket of tennis balls, an old fridge and a washer are part of the two mountains that would constitute a conceptual art installation anywhere else.  Center stage a moving wall becomes the backdrop for the Life of Bob (personable Jeff Galfer).

The play’s presentational style directed by Chris Fields reminded me perhaps of "Jules Feiffer comic panels meets Paul Sills’ Story Theatre." It is at once informative and informal as the five actors, including Bob, narrate directly to the audience the stages of Bob’s life.  His adoptive mother, Jeanine (Hutchi Hancock) has opted for a life on the road in her Chevy Malibu, educating Bob by experience.  He quickly absorbs bits of history and geography with some philosophy tossed in for good measure. After experiencing Mount Rushmore he yearns to be someone who “deserves a plaque:” someone important. He wants to make a difference in the world. 

Sadly Jeanine passes away on the steps of the Chicago Art Institute where she is cremated by Bob.  

Fields’ ensemble cast brings the story directly to the audience, morphing casually from one character to another as we discover Bob’s history via playwright Peter Sinn Natchtrieb’s obvious enjoyment of his own voice with broad cultural references.  This play is a personal story that plays tongue in cheek at once with deeper meaningful insights.  We all want to make our mark upon the world.  Finding our own "ringertraum" and exploiting it is a goal.

In this double cast production   we meet The Chorus:  Hancock, Rich Liccardo, Tara Karsian and Michael McColl who are having a great time every step of the way. Galfer plays Bob in both casts.  It’s casual. The acting may be secondary to just being present and laying out the story.  It’s a naturalistic style that blends perfectly with Natchtrieb's writing.  Scenic Designer Herrera’s mountains of commercial trash become the wings and mountain tops from which occasional interjections are made as we march and meander through the Life of Bob.  Like Garp, Bob has named himself after Bonnie (Karsian), his birthmother, drops him while taking a pee at the White Castle. She then runs away, literally slicing the umbilical, leaving him to be discovered by Jeanine (Hancock) who adopts him on the spot and asks him what his name is.  A deceptively workable two dimensional approach to the material is promoted by Keirstin Fernandes’s clever cut out props that are conveniently velcroed to the movable wall.  I especially liked the 'feedback' on the fake microphone. The highly unlikely serendipity of events leading Bob to discover his birth father  (Licarrdo) and other adventures is a little like the adventures of Forrest Gump.  It’s all totally plausible within the silly and very funny context of the piece.  Big laughs and some poignant insights make for a well paced two acts by the Echo Theatre Company.

Bob  by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb
Echo Theatre Company
At the Atwater Village Theater
3269 Casitas Avenue
Atwater Village, CA 90039
Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays through June 30, 2013
Tickets and Information:
 877 369 9112

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Finale of A Man with the cast
Photo by Shirley Hatton

In 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor at Reading Gaol for unspeakable crimes.  Seventy years later we meet , Alfie Byrne (spot on Dominic McChesney),  a man in a box.  Alfie’s a conductor on a Dublin bus.  He enlightens his passengers to their delight by reading from the poetry of Oscar Wilde with sincere abandon.  It’s 1964 in Terrance McNally’s A Man of No Importance, five years before The Stonewall Riots in New York City. Prejudice against ‘poofters’ in Dublin, as in most other parts of the world, abounds. Catholic guilt bumps heads with Alfie’s love of the Theatre:  ART and... the love that ‘dare not speak its name.’ 

Creative Director of Good People Theatre Company, Janet Miller, is in it for the love of theatre.  Her initial production beams with the dedication of the cast in the rustic Lillian Theatre that doubles for the community room at Dublin’s St. Imelda’s Catholic Church. St. Imedelda’s is overseen by newcomer to the cast Terrence Evans as Father Kenny.  Evans’ last minute entry into the established company was a bit iffy at the start, but the play must go on and as it rolled along, this pivotal role became his. 

Corey Hirsch’s almost Irish band keeps the flow consistently through out two acts.  The only missing element is the throbbing bottom of the bodrhan, the throaty Irish frame drum that is significant in the music of the Emerald Isle.  Hirsch and his professional crew whose names I am unable to find in the program, are consistent and supportive.  As a fan of Boys of the Lough and  The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem, the true spirit of Ireland, is off only by a hair. Score by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens is filled with energy and the ensemble brings it all to life.  For some reason, we have no signature tune that sticks with us to send us humming out the door.  Grand moments include the rich tenor of bus driver Robbie Fay (swarthy Keith Barletta) especially with “The Streets of Dublin” and Alfie’s self exploration in “Man in the Mirror” (not the Michael Jackson song) that is at once a lament and a seed of inspiration that takes root and later blossoms.

It’s a love story in many ways.    Alfie’s love of Oscar Wilde and his passion for the theatre is primary.  His new project will introduce the cast of locals to Salome, a truly passionate piece of Wilde’s.  His discovery of the very pretty ingénue, Adele Rice (very pretty Audrey Curd), who is new to the bus route is perfect for the role of Salome, even though the more senior Mrs. Grace (Mary Chesterman) would really like to shed the seven veils herself.  Underlying is Alfie's personal exploration of love with “Love Who You Love” that brings the story around to him personally.

The ensemble doubles from time to time with stand outs Matt Stevens as Baldy O’Shea singing a melancholy but also happy tune, “The Cuddles Mary Gave.”

The ensemble: Marci Richmond Herrera (perky Miss Crowe), Gail Matthius (Mrs. Curtin stops the show when she  suggests that Salome might tap dance her veils away), Corky Loupé, Michael P. Wallot, sexy Malina Kalomas, Bret Shefter, Matt Franta, elegant Shirley Anne Hatton (Lily Byrne) and imposing David Gilchrist, all, are a troupe of True Thespians who, within and without the context of the piece act as one. 

This impressive initial offering by Good People is a signature for strong productions to come.  Professional from first to last, those who love the Irish and know McNally’s strong characters will find this one endearing.

A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE by Terrance McNally
Music Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Aherens

Good People Theatre Company w/ M.B. Players
Lillian Theatre
1076 Lillian Way (at Santa Monica Blvd.)
Hollywood, CA  90028
Through June 30, 2013
Call for information and tickets
323 455 4585

Monday, June 3, 2013

SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, THE MUSICAL! It's a hit at the Playhouse!

In 1993 Nora Ephron’s film Sleepless in Seattle with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan   garnered lots of attention from Oscar and the Golden Globes. Sleepless in Seattle, the Musical in its World Premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse shows what a sweet simple story with genuinely magical moments can do. 

Artistic director of the Playhouse, Sheldon Epps, directs his cast adroitly around John Iacovelli’s multilevel set populated with projections and moving wagons.  It’s a Broadway musical, after all and this is one that the Playhouse will be proud of for a long time to come.

JOE WEST and Ensemble  Photo by Jim Cox

It’s the early ‘90s.   Sam, a widower for a year, (Tim Martin Gleason) and his ten year old son, Jonah (spectacular Joe West) have lost the most important woman in their lives.  Sam says that it’s too soon to move into the social realm, but Jonah needs a mom and others would really like for Sam to move forward to begin their next chapter.  Plot follows Ephron’s story beautifully, introducing Annie (charming Chandra Lee Schwartz) concurrently with Sam and Jonah.  She, too, is looking for something/someone, but is close to winding up with Walter (Robert Mammana), whose klutzy proposal and allergy to mohair make him a case for settling, instead of being a passionate life partner.    

The magical moment when Jonah decides to call Dr. Marcia (Cynthia Ferrer), a radio advice broadcaster, to ask for her guidance for his dad, coincides with Annie’s hearing the broadcast and having the feeling that this kid and his dad may be the answer to her prayers.   References to An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr abound as they met romantically at the top of the Empire State Building. 

Story evolves as we remember in the film. Becky (wonderful Sabrina Stone), Annie’s boss, assigns her a story about the kid who is sleepless in Seattle.  She resists but writes to Sam with baseball references and including his son, which convinces Jonah that Annie is the perfect mom for him and his dad.  The energetic and protean ensemble double and triple with ease, knocking out the tunes and adding texture to the story. The only slight glitch in the mix is that we don’t leave the theater humming a tune or singing one of the signature songs.  In context they all work and the live orchestra supervised by Larry Blank and directed by David O is terrific.  After the first number, my friend, turned to me and said, “It’s a hit!”  and I agree.  It’s a human story that touches the spirit and as Sam overcomes his mourning, prompted along by his amazing son, we all feel the magic and know that with all the missed ‘opportunities’ for Sam and Annie to meet, that in the predictable/magical/mystical end, this new family was meant to be. 
Watch for Tonys in the future!

Based on Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle
Book by Jeff Arch  Music by Ben Toth  Lyrics by Sam Forman
Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino
Pasadena, CA 91101
MAY 24 – JUNE 23, 2013
Tuesday through Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 4PM and 8PM
Sunday @ 2PM and 7PM
Tickets:  $64 -$107
626 356 7529