Wednesday, February 25, 2015

PRO 99!! The Ninety Nine Seat Issue

Currently, the Actors Equity Association, the union representing professional actors and stage managers in the United States, has come up with a 'new plan' that they think will benefit small theatre companies and actors in Los Angeles.  The irony is that the leaders of AEA, the majority of whom are in New York City, have no idea of the problems that this 'self producing idea' may bring to the Los Angeles Theatre Scene.

I use caps for LA Theatre Scene because it is unique, possibly in the world.  Hollywood is the center for film and television production.  Small theatre exists here for a couple of reasons. The primary one is for actors to have a space to work: to keep their chops up and to try new things as actors.  The next, obviously, is to showcase their talents which they may do by inviting folks from film and TV to see them on stage. 

In a nutshell, Equity wants to get more dough in the pockets of its actors and stage managers.  They propose that minimum wage be required for everyone participating as an actor or stage manager, including payment for rehearsals.  Without carrying on redundantly (this issue is bad for many reasons which have been discussed at length by the Pro99 actors. Almost 6,000 have joined the Pro99 page on Facebook)suffice it to say that for a cast of six at minimum wage: 6x$9=$54 an hour for rehearsals and shows = lots of cash! on top of rent, utilities, advertising and etc. etc.!

Lumbered by the heavy toll of paying minimum wage, theatre companies here in Los Angeles would find it impossible in most cases to continue to produce. Death is not the answer. 

I am not a direct stakeholder in this issue, though my background with The Company Theatre long ago when all the Company actors wanted to do was to be able to produce new and exciting works (The James Joyce Memorial Liquid Theatre, The Emergence, The Hashish Club) and keep their membership in Actors Equity. No one is getting rich, let alone making a living. Actors who expect to make an actual living may find that New York is a place where opportunities to do stage work outnumber stage opportunities here many fold. 

My stake in this is that I have been reviewing these small venues for many years. The comparison of the work done at The Pantages, The Mark Taper Forum and The Ahmanson is like night and day.  The large houses cater to audiences who want to see Broadway plays and musicals which are  mostly for Entertainment.   LA's small theaters span the spectrum from revivals of tried and true plays to the edgy and experimental.   Many patrons of small theatre have limited budgets.  The budgets of small theatre are also tiny compared to the big houses. 

I encourage every AEA member who lives in Los Angeles to contact your union leadership asking that this terrible idea of restructuring the 99 Seat Agreement be abandoned.  Call your fellow Equity friends and alert them to this destructive idea and encourage them to call their friends.  My guess is that any actor who has had experience working on Theatre Row or at Antaeus or The Odyssey or with DOMA at The Met or The Atwater with Echo and Circle X can attest to the wonderfulness of the experience. 
It's about the Art.  Really and truly.  It is about the ART. 

Michael Sheehan

Monday, February 16, 2015


Fugue by Tommy Smith

I was first introduced to the notion of a fugue in a creative theatre workshop led by The Company Theatre artistic director Steven Kent.  The Geographical Fugue.  “Trinidad!”  It was created as a spoken classical piece for voices by Ernst Toch, an early twentieth century German composer.  A fugue is defined (thank goodness for the internet) as  “a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase (the subject) is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts.”  A secondary definition in psychiatry goes like this: “a state or period of loss of awareness of one's identity, often coupled with flight from one's usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy.”

Playwright Tommy Smith’s Fugue currently playing at the Echo Theater Company at the Atwater Village Theatre touches on both of these definitions as the stories of three classical music composers unfold.  Two of the composers I’d heard of, Piotr Tchaikovsky  and Arnold Schoenberg.  The third was new to me, the early 17th century Italian composer, Carlo Gesualdo.    The composers’ lives intertwine. The theme of madness  of one sort or another emerges.  It’s fascinating.  

The beauty of this play is that these Echo actors and director, Chris Fields, have all agreed to come together and explore not only the words, but the subtle idea that creative individuals, in some cases, have  elements  of craziness that influence their flights of genius. Director Fields weaves his players and their stories flawlessly.

We open on a clean black stage with red draperies by Amanda Knehans, that serve as three playing areas spanning hundreds of years of time.  Mathilde Schoenberg (Amanda Lovejoy Street) stands examining a painting while Richard Gerstl (Jesse Fair) sidles up behind her.  In moments, he announces that he is in love with her!  He introduces himself as the creator of the painting.  The subject is her husband,  Arnold Schoenberg (Troy Blendell)! Richard pursues Mrs. Schoenberg and the story of the composer and his classical music evolves along with the issues of infidelity and friendship.  It does not end well. 

Concurrently, in the late 1800s, we meet Russian composer Piotr Tchaikovsky (Christopher Shaw), who has charmed his lovely student Antonina (Alana Dietze), whom he eventually marries.  However,  his true love is his nephew, Bob (Eric Keitel), so called because Americans could not pronounce Vladimir, his Russian name.  The pressures of Czar Nicholas and the repressive times combine with fear of discovery and evolve to lead us to another story.  It does not end well.

Finally, intertwined with the previous two stories, the third weaves in musical ebbs and flows beautifully. We arrive in  early 17th Century Italy to discover composer Prince Carlo Gesualdo (Karl Helinger), who is clearly detached from reality. He wields his jealousy and ultimate power with a dagger that initially his wife, Princess Donna Maria  (Jeanne Syquia), uses to fulfill his erotic pleasure.  (Christian Grey could take some lessons from this guy!) Ultimately, he puts the dagger to use to commit murder when he discovers the Duke Fabrizio (Justin Huen)  tupping his fair princess. 

The ‘music’ of FUGUE supports each story as the composers are challenged by their particular times and the travails of nature, to where we arrive at three unhappy endings. It all makes complete sense, if you subscribe to the notion that to create a masterpiece, one must have, at least,  a little madness within.  Nietzsche was once quoted as having said, "One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star."  The chaos in each of these composers is, at once, beautiful and horrible. 

In two acts, this is not for those who want all of the work done for them. Finding the subtle grace notes and the passion of the piece is available through excellent performances in a simple empty space. Appropriate lighting and sound by Matt Richter and Drew Dalzell create the scene.  Outstanding and very, very impressive costumes by Michael Mullen are flawless.  These stories must roll around a bit to be fully appreciated. Seeing this play will give the theatregoer ample food for thought.  An excellent production. It is provocative and dramatic.  Good job.

FUGUE by Tommy Smith
Echo Theater Company at the Atwater
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 7PM
Through March 22, 2015
Tickets and information
310 307 3753

JC Rocks

Extended through April 19 at the MET Theatre!!
The MET Theatre has deep roots in the land of 99 seats.  More than thirty   years ago, Bill Bushnell and his LA Actors Theatre held forth there with excellent productions using professional actors to high acclaim.  Today, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice meet Hair meets La Cage Aux Folles in Dolf Ramos and Marco Gomez’s  cracker jack production of Jesus Christ: Superstar. A superior cast rocks the house upstairs at the MET.  It’s a musical celebration in the midst of controversy about Actors Equity Association rattling sabers, ready to gut the current 99 Seat Plan.  The irony is that Ramos and Gomez, producers of high quality musical theatre in the tiny space on Oxford, actually pay their actors, hire musicians as well as top notch technical staff.  A full house for a Sunday matinee means a couple of things. One is that JC Superstar is a tried and true hit. Second is that with a cast of over twenty five actors and musicians, you can guarantee at least a few full houses who will stand to applaud. When word of mouth gets out, it’ll still rock on its own.

Fact is that this DOMA production, not without its flaws, will bring an audience of even total strangers to their feet and rightly so.  The Webber/Rice version of the last days of Jesus are seen through the eyes of Judas, (terrific Jeremy Saje), whose strong voice and dedication to the part bring chills.   One distraction, however is that our standard ‘bearded lady’ memory of the King of Kings remembers him with long flowing hair.  The hairpiece that equally strong Nate Parker as Jesus sports was immediately an issue for me.  From the leads to the ensemble, costumes by Lauren Oppelt and commitment are consistent and well done.   With the hip modern day approach to the play, real hair for Jesus would have been just fine.  Abandoning disbelief is crucial, even in a rock opera.  Excellent performances include strong vocals by Renee Cohen as Mary Magdalene and Venny Carronza as Herod.

Excessive stage fog seemed unnecessary, but the excellent stage  design by John Iacovelli and an amazing live band directed by Chris Raymond make this a truly professional production. Director Marco Gomez and choreographer Angela Todaro deserve double applause for their precision.  Over all, this is a great presentation of a classic American Rock Opera.

DOMA is dedicated to musical theatre.    It’s a must see.

Parking for the theatre is available east of  Santa Monica with a few spots in the neighborhood.   Arrive early. 

Jesus Christ: Super Star
By Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber
Performances continue through March 22:
Fridays & Saturdays @ 8 pm, Sundays @ 3
DOMA at The MET Theatre
1089 N. Oxford Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
Tickets and Information:
323 802 9181 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sesquicentennial at The Colony

by Catherine Bush

The Colony Theatre in Burbank knows its audience and Catherine Bush’s play (as well as The Whipping Man currently at the Pasadena Playhouse) each discuss the travails of the Civil War.  We meet, in particular,  Robert E. Lee (Bjorn Johnson) with his aide de camp, Colonel Walter Taylor (Shaun Anthony) as the North closes in. At the same time, Steve (call me Beau) Weeks (Brian Ibsen) has dragged his lovely wife, Dr. Jenny Weeks (Bridget Flanery), on a trip along the Civil War marker trail in search of his past. In particular, Beau wants to know about his great great grandfather Beauregard Weeks, who may have been associated directly with General Lee. 
Bridget Flanery and Bjorn Johnson star in the West Coast Premiere of the Colony Theatre Company's production of "THE ROAD TO APPOMATTOX" directed by Brian Shnipper and now playing at the Colony Theatre in Burbank.
PHOTO CREDIT:  Michael Lamont

Clever leaps of time from April, 1865 to present day Virginia on David Potts’ brilliant woodland set, bring Steve/Beau and Jenny in a parallel universe to where Lee discusses strategies to win the war, even in the face of sure defeat. 

As Steve/Beau and Jenny examine a marker along the trail, we hear a motorcycle.  Chip (a renowned Civil War Scholar) played by Taylor Pierce, finds Jenny alone in the woods and is immediately smitten.   Personal revelations emerge that get compared to Humpty Dumpty’s demise in the eleven year marriage of the young couple and also in the demise of Lee and his army.  Pierce appears in 1885 as well, as Captain Russell who, in the end pleads with Lee to reconsider his surrender. 

The problem for me with this play is that the story is interesting from an historic point of view both in 1865 as well as 2015 but holds little suspense and few surprises.  Director Brian  Schnipper is straight forward, guiding his cast in perfect costumes by Diane K. Graebner, through their paces.  The story unfolds neatly with Lee doing his best to be in command with communiqués continuing to arrive that announce that the pincers of the Enemy and General Grant are closing relentlessly.   

Bold tech lighting by Jared A. Sayeg and effects fill the stage as Lee scrambles to avoid defeat though the writing is on the wall as Richmond falls and the Road To Appomatox is inevitable. 

For history buffs and those who enjoy a professional performance of a marginally interesting evening of theatre, this is a not so challenging piece. Certainly,  dedicated actors bring the story, such as it is,  to life.  At the end, Lee appears in his full dress uniform and hopes he has dressed properly.  “I don’t know what to do.  I’ve never surrendered before.”

In this sesquicentennial anniversary of the defeat of the Confederate States, our attention brought to another era and the futility of war may be appropriate.  A fine cast and an appreciative audience made opening night one filled with energy.  The play itself is just a play. 

by Catherine Bush
555 N. Third Street 
Burbank, California
Opened February 14, 2015
Continues Thursdays  through Sundays
Closes March 15, 2015
Tickets and Information
818 558 7000 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A CARLIN HOME COMPANION: Growing up Carlin with Kelly Carlin


The Falcon Theatre in Toluca Lake is like a miniature Mark Taper Forum.  I may have commented on this in the past, but want to reiterate because the work I’ve seen here has been professional work, quality work and impressive.  No exception is Kelly Carlin’s one woman autobiography that discusses her life as the daughter of America’s premiere curmudgeon / raconteur: George Carlin.  The impressive set by Keith E. Mitchell is beautifully designed and features projections that aid and abet Ms Carlin’s ninety minute discussion of her life under the influence of her dad.
Kelly Carlin in
A Carlin Home Companion,
Growing Up With George

at the Falcon Theatre.
Photo by Sherry Greczmiel

Rolling smoothly from her dad’s early days as a wannabe comedian, partnering in at one time with Jack Burns (who later, yeh, is memorable for his work with Avery Schreiber) to television roles; meeting Kelly’s mother, Brenda and through the haze of drugs and booze and finally finding his niche to become the darling of college kids and on to Carnegie Hall. 

Wonderful projections by Fritz Davis with Nick McCord's lights with sound design by David Beaudry bring the piece to life as Kelly recalls the days of her struggle as the child of a guy whose idea of child rearing included taking the kid out to a street corner and leaving her there… like for a week.  Never literally, but in a way Kelly was sometimes left to referee fights that her parents had.  She was also called upon to shepherd her mother through tough times that included cases of Mateus Rosè, clouds of pot smoke and struggling through flurries of snow.  Ms Carlin’s timing and depiction of both of her parents as well as recreating some of the more dramatic scenes of her life “growing up Carlin” simply work.  Casually dressed, she obviously enjoys the movements and her  stories, though some are sad and thoughtful.  It’s a wonderful work of art.  Director Paul Provenza, no stranger to the lives of kids in  Show Business, guides the actress around the set with perfect timing that the technical aspects of the show demand.  It appears to be a smooth collaboration between still and video projections as well as light cues that almost become additional characters in the piece.

More applause to Garry Marshall and the staff of The Falcon for providing diverse and professional work at this unique venue.  This is a production that is not to be missed for fans of George Carlin as well as for those who may thirst for an inside peek into the life of an iconic genius who more and more told the truth in his attempt to awaken us to our own demise.

Growing Up Carlin with Kelly Carlin
The Falcon Theatre
4252 Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Through March 1, 2015
Tickets and Information
818 955 8101  or

Madwomen at Parson’s Nose

Madwomen Photo Credit Parson's Nose
Parson’s Nose founder, the charming Lance Davis, in his curtain speech, vamps awaiting the arrival of relatives of a cast member.  The store front where the theatre shares studio space is simple and straight forward. This is adult theatre. There   an air of caring and a personal approach. Davis serves refreshments to the audience!  2015 marks the fifteenth year that this hearty band of actors/artists as they advance into their new season with Davis’s adaptation of Maurice Valency’s translation of Jean Giradoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot

We meet a broad range of characters with as many degrees of skill as there are members of the cast.  Lance Davis’s direction is simple.  Nicely painted drops take us to the sidewalk café where The President (first night jitters Alan Brooks) connives with the Baron (Gary Lamb) and the Broker (Paul Perri) to create a company dedicated to fleecing anyone who may be fleeced for all their money. Across the room sits the kingpin, The Prospector, (James Calvert) in an ironically pristine ice cream suit. (Costumes by Holly Victoria Willaume are excellent!). Anything but clean, these four conspire to drill for oil in the neighborhood ruled over by title character Madwoman: Countess Aurelia (superb Mary Chalon).

In Act II perfectly underplayed Barry Gordon (Ragman) serves as a calming common denominator for the issues that Aurelia and her whacky sister madwomen (Dorothy Brooks, Jill Rogosheske and Marisa Chandler) as they plan the trial of Prospector and his cabal of greedy capitalists. Ragman serves as defense counsel to try in abstentia the rascals who will stop at nothing to secure the oil that the Prospector declares to lie beneath the Boulevard Chaillot.  Auriela has learned about the Secret Door that leads to the depths of the sewers of Paris.  After a brief trial the bad guys are all sent to their demise down the Rat Hole! 

Giradoux is and shall always be the Romantic.  A side story of true love between Phillipe and Irma: (Daniel James Clark dubbed Roderick by Auriela and Amber B. Malo), in typical fashion lock eyes and are destined to spend their lives together. Perhaps this is the playwright’s pitch for a happy future. Eerily prophetic, echoing the warning of US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the play’s message is couched in a slightly farcical French setting.  The theme of Ike’s statement,  “… we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex!” rings true.  Auriela’s kangaroo court conviction and sentence for the oil cabal may be one that many of us in the 21st Century might secretly wish for.

PN’s production is simple and straight forward.  There is a feeling of community and community theatre that permeates the space from the moment the audience comes in.  Respect for the play in this deliberately abbreviated adaptation makes it totally approachable.   A short intermission is the theatre’s way to stimulate discussion and community over Orangina and red wine. Tres Francais.

The Mad Woman of Chaillot by Jean Giradoux
Parson’s Nose Theatre
89 S. Fair Oaks Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91030
Saturdays and Sundays
Through March 1, 2015
Tickets (Pay what you will) and information
626 403 7667

Friday, February 6, 2015

THE WHIPPING MAN at Pasadena Playhouse
Adam Haas Hunter, Charlie Robinson and Jarrod M. Smith
Photo by Debora Robinson

April 13, 1865.  Late at night. The Civil War lumbers on. The South on its last legs.   Into Tom Buderwitz’s shabby southern mansion, now in total disarray, by looters or the ravages of war, Rebel soldier, Caleb (Adam Haas Hunter), stumbles through the front door accompanied by thunder claps and lightning. Caleb may be a deserter from the Confederate Army.  He is the son of the home’s owner, a Jew, who has brought all of his family and slaves into the fold.   Passover is upon the house.


The storm echoes the seventh plague of Egypt as Moses called upon God to convince Old Pharaoh to let his enslaved people go.  The correlation between the emancipation of the slaves at the heart of the Civil War and the liberation of the Jews in ancient Egypt brings to light an idea that has seldom been approached.  Playwright Matthew Lopez, in his Obie Award winning play, examines not only the influence of slave owners on their ‘property’ but how liberation affects the now free men: former slaves as they sojourn into the wide world. 

Excellent and bombastic Charlie Robinson, as Simon, the old retainer for Caleb’s family, enters to find Caleb in excruciating pain dragging himself into the large and formerly lavish living room.  Gangrene has set in.  Simon, as the slave who has been chief cook for Caleb’s family for years, along with his servant wife, Elizabeth and their daughter, Sarah, has knowledge of medicine in a rudimentary way.  An amputation must be performed.   John aka Nigger John, Jarrod M. Smith, arrives bearing the fruits of war, including much needed whiskey for the eventual removal of Caleb’s wounded leg. 

Martin Benson (founder, with David Emmes, of the South Coast Repertory Theatre where this production was developed), allows the actors to take rein and run with the action.  In Act II, April 15, 1865, the night of Passover, Simon has intended to make a seder and using whatever they can find, including hardtack for matzoh, he is deeply saddened to learn that the President has been shot and killed.  The interaction of how to deal with liberation, the death of the man who brought the Emancipation to the slaves explodes.  The aspect of ‘two peas in a pod’ describing the childhood friendship between Caleb and John, is at once conflicted as it was the custom to keep slaves in line by sending them to the Whipping Man, which was done to both John and Simon, exposes a strong ethical and personal dichotomy that permeated the country in the days of the Civil War and in a way continues today.

A beautifully staged production with excellent technical aspects gives the audience much to think about.  Highly recommended.  Special Talk Back days are listed on the Playhouse website.  A special nod to the Playhouse for, at last, installing new seating.  No longer does an audience member have to cross their fingers hoping that they would not be sinking into the exposed spring of a tattered seat. 

By Matthew Lopez
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino
Pasadena, CA 91101
Tuesday Through Fridays at 8PM
Saturdays at 4PM and 8PM
Sundays at 2PM and 7PM
Through March 1, 2015
Tickets and Information:
626 356 7529