Monday, August 26, 2013


Open House at the Skylight

When Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT opened in 1956 it was met with  critics mostly scratching their heads and  audience members walking out of the theatre muttering to themselves.  Over time GODOT has become beloved by imaginative directors, actors and audiences alike.  It’s a tough play because of the odd repetitive lines and the fact that no one seems to know  for sure what’s happening.  It’s an actor exercise as well as an exercise in something that challenges our intellect and, of course, nothing happens, but it doesn’t happen really beautifully.

Robert Cichinni (Chuck) Eve Gordon (Martha)
Photo by Ed Krieger


Shem Bitterman’s long one act, OPEN HOUSE, is not really Beckettian, but in some ways may be attempting to be.  Two characters on the stage (Robert Cicchini as Chuck and Eve Gordon as Martha) bring to mind the issues that Beckett’s plays have dealt with for over fifty years.  What is really going on? Who are we really? One thing for sure is that Jeff Mclaughlin’s spare but realistic set design complimented by his imaginative lighting that almost becomes another character in the piece, make a real difference. Christopher Moscatiello’s subtle sound and original music by Roger Bellon buoy the piece, as well.

Steve Zuckerman’s direction only fails toward the end of the ninety minutes with a somewhat predictable turn of events that may have the audience a bit concerned. Otherwise, both Cicchini and Gordon are choreographed to dance a dance that calls for great discipline.  It is an Actor Exercise that is more fun for the actors than for the audience.  Patience is vital for this one, as the opening scenes with Chuck waiting, black out, and waiting and waiting in the spare living room of the home for which he is conducting an Open House goes on and on... and on.  It’s a great exercise for the actors and if the audience can tune in to the energy and frustration of waiting, then the ride may be of interest.  The actors are professional and never miss a beat.  They are in tune with the writing, which is superior. The mystery deepens and the whys and wherefores of the piece may be fodder for deeper discussion.  Black out!

by  Shem Bitterman
Skylight Theatre
1816 ½ N. Vermont
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8PM Sundays at 2PM and 7PM
Tickets:  702 582 5857 or
$20 to $34.00
OPEN HOUSE   Extended through September 22, 2013

Friends of Skylight Theatre 
SAVE 50% this Labor Day Weekend
use discount code "escrow" at check out
Fri/Sat 8pm, Sun 7pm 
No performance Sun September 1, 2013

Saturday, August 17, 2013



An intrepid band of Circus performers organized by Robert (Count Smokula) Miles journeyed to the Caribbean in search of adventure.  Little did they know the impact that performing in a land seemingly stuck in the 1950s would have on each of them.  

Photo Courtesy Guantanamo Gazette

The 2013 documentary produced by Christina Linhardt and Michael Rose chronicles the lives of a handful of variety arts performers as they find their way to Cuba… well, Cuba adjacent, as Guantanamo Bay is United States soil on the edge of a land that we are still not much connected to.  The strange arrangement of detaining suspected terrorists is only the tip of the iceberg that most of us prefer to stay a bit ignorant of.  The prison, Delta Camp, is actually the main reason that Americans are deployed there. We seldom stop to think that they have families, children, lives off duty that need attention, as well as the damnable responsibility to oversee ‘suspects’ who are not arrestees, but detainees who languish in the harshest conditions in one of the most beautiful and undeveloped regions on Earth.

The opportunity to send the Vamphear Circus to entertain the troops and their families appeared to Miles via an acquaintance who was familiar with booking entertainment for Guantanamo.  After a major search, he found a group of artists who agreed to hit the road for a one week tour. (Imagine Gilligan’s theme song here.)

MC’d by Miles (Count Smokula) on accordion in bizarre clown makeup, the circus came to town featuring Balloon Man: Hillel, grinder babe/arialist: Brandy Wirtz, juggler/reluctant producer: Philip Solomon and the gorgeous opera singing clown, Christina Linhardt.  Working basically as installation artists, the troupe prepared a major outdoor venue with seating for thousands.  A special crane was commandeered for Brandy’s high flying act featuring her climbing sixty feet up long silken banners.  There were only two performances and the audience reception was extraordinary. 

Stock footage from the US Government and marginal video shot by Hillel on a cell phone combine with other images shot by the cast to create a bizarre memory of how the joy of circus intertwines with the very real situation that is ongoing at Guantanamo Bay.  Individual interviews with the participants paint a picture of these professional performers now totally out of their own comfort zones having to deal with entertaining the US Military and their families practically a stone’s throw from the most notorious prison in the world. 

Most disturbing was an account of meeting a young woman US Navy guard who was fresh from boot camp, ready to serve.  A woman monitoring Muslim men is volatile right off the bat.  Within a week, she was reported to have been the victim of a “Number Five Cocktail” consisting of every bodily refuse that one can imagine. To hear sprite-like Christina Linhardt’s checking off the list of “spit, snot, piss, poop and cum” is shocking and at once shows the contrast between the average Americans pressed into duty at Guantanamo and their lives that require education, entertainment and basic human needs.

Selected for a documentary festival later in the year, GUANTANAMO CIRCUS’s accounting of life ‘on the road’ for these gallant performers, is beautifully edited with music from Linhardt’s personal work and the dedicated spirits of each of the performers. 

Variety arts is such a special area of entertainment.  Hillel’s trapped balloon sketch comments on the political issues of the prison, while the great good humor of Solomon’s getting participants on stage to hula hoop and Miles’s being swamped by dozens of kids happy to be on stage for a sing along is wonderful.  Sadly, the requirement for the show to be G Rated, disallowed the naked body painting with Linhardt as the canvas.

Producers are hopeful for a paid public airing. Please leave a comment here if you have a connection to make that happen. It deserves to be seen. 

Produced and Directed by
Christina Linhardt and Michael Rose

Friday, August 2, 2013

ROAD TO PALOOZA at the Pasadena Playhouse Limited Engagement!

Photo courtesy  Jayne Pojawa

 What do you get if you cross La Dolce Vita with Cirque de Soleil? Well it might not be ROAD TO PALOOZA: A CIRQUE VARIETY SPECTACULAR but close.  The overly long, mish mash of madness holding forth for a very short time at The Playhouse rocks the house with genuine gasps (a guy swallowing big, big swords) and belly laughs from every corner of the stage.
Creative Director Stefan Haves introduces the show that turns out to be not quite ready, but none the less seat of the pants professional and well done.  Show Cards with names of the performers would have been a big help. However, I had already met Mat Plendl, the amazing hula hoop guy, who brought the house down with his management of a dozen hoops all at one time, so Mat gets mentioned by name.  (He donated his performance in a spectacular benefit held for a friend a couple of years ago.) 

The Fellini-esque troop of clowns and comics came and went with bump into and fall down slapstick stuff mostly as interstitial buffoonery.  Stand outs were two women singers with the stage band that totally rocked, especially with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Many of the variety acts had their own recorded music.  One juggler, obviously a long time trooper, had the lady sitting behind me completely swept away with laughter.  

Photo courtesy of Kelly Teddes
The amazing eight foot clown with balloon, Randy Minkler as “Godfrey Daniels” was really wonderful.  And, I really liked  Ekaterina Pirogovskaya's flapper with the Fellini gang a lot! 

Super Tall Paul Newman with his electronic whiz bang duplicator time machine, electric ukulele, sopranino sax, flute and blues harp really saved the day keeping the crowd happy in the courtyard and then for an extended time as the curtain act as the performers got themselves together.  

Variety entertainment kept thousands of actors and others employed in the days before television and movies.  Huge theaters ran a dozen shows a day with acts of every stripe. This show is overly long and a little pushy, but if you love to laugh, I mean laugh really hard…  please head to the Playhouse this weekend or next. 


Created and Directed by Stefan Haves
The Playhouse Mainstage
August 2, 2013 at 8:00 p.m.
August 3, 2013 at 8:00 p.m.
August 9, 2013 at 8:00 p.m.
August 10, 2013 at 8:00 p.m.
Tickets may be purchased online or by calling (626) 356-7529.
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91101