Friday, March 31, 2017

ANTAEUS bursts the walls with Tennessee Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF

Harry Groener and Ross Philips
Photo by Steven C. Kemp
 “There is nothing so motivated as a cat on a hot tin roof,”  the playwright reminds us through his character of Margret/Maggie the Cat (Rebecca Mozo).  There are layers of exploration that Williams creates for us to peel away; thick with the mores of the 1950s, Cold War Era, and McCarthyism that defined American society in a time when conformity was all about toeing the line and delivering what was expected of one’s self.     

That Williams drank heavily, used drugs and was gay probably meant that he had to deal with discrimination, both overt and subtle that permeated the world sixty years ago, Certainly, this made catering to theatre audiences of the 1950s a challenge.  Thus, examination of some of the ambiguous relationships in this wonderfully complex piece has waffled over the years.   Antaeus has adapted the 1974 version of the play restored by Williams from the version that was originally softened to coax Elia Kazan to direct the Broadway production in 1955. We must keep in mind that in the sixty years since this play was first mounted, though some of our society may still struggle with the fear of women’s power and the success of homosexuals that still plague world society, that those times were especially difficult times for women and gays around the world.   Layer upon layer of the characters’ motivation that emerge are fodder for intense discussion and debate.    

Cameron Watson’s direction of “The Buttered Biscuits” cast mostly attends to the same careful detail as Steven C. Kemp’s out of balance scenic design: a bed-sitting room in the mansion on Big Daddy’s 28,000 acre plantation where all of the action takes place.  When a serious theatre company leaps full on into any Tennessee Williams project, the coordination of all aspects of the play must find harmony.  Interestingly, in the three hour production, after each intermission, the set becomes more unbalanced and the story crumbles into a condemnation of ‘mendacity’… the fabric of lies and avoided truths that   creates the matrix of the play.

 Brick (Ross Philips) has broken his ankle while attempting to run the hurdles at the local high school track.  Having taken to ‘drink’ he realizes that he couldn’t  have cleared them even when sober.  One scholar defined this character as “caught in the amber of his adolescence.”    Brick’s failure as a husband and as a sports announcer must turn on the loss of his ‘true friend’ Skipper and using alcohol to bridge the gap.  Drinking heavily throughout the play Philips seems in and out of his inebriation, waiting for the ‘click’ that will bring him peace.  Rebecca Mozo as Maggie dominates the first act, ranting from first light, not really giving her character an opportunity to much build.  The inner fire that is impossible not to remember from Elizabeth Taylor’s film version of the character is an unfair comparison, but it is important for fire and nuance to build from within.  The woman is an enchantress, not a harpie.

Sex and sexuality are part and parcel of the message and it is brought to the fore with expert strokes by long time Antaeus actor, Harry Groener as Big Daddy.  The underlying issue of mortality and power burst with intrigue as the patriarch and his favorite son battle for understanding. Nuance is the key here and Groener’s performance delights.  There is stage magic in the ability of this actor to move from moment to moment with such agility.

As Big Mama, Dawn Didawick is a put upon and dismissed spouse as many submissive wives of the times were forced to be.  Her time to shine arrives at the climax of the play where forty years of frustration come to a head.

Patrick Wenk-Wolff as Gooper and Jocelyn Towne as Mae are mordant for the scrambling greed that permeates the piece.  Gooper is Big Daddy’s rejected son though he and Mae have prospered heartily with a brood of children. Maggie wonders why they were named for dogs… and a parrot: Trixie, Dixie and Polly!
It is unfortunate that the ‘no neck monsters’ necessary to the production have been included.  Many children on stage are ‘acting’ while seasoned actors do their best to maintain character.  These are moments that, sad to say, distract.

Terri A. Lewis’s costumes brilliantly reflect the times, coordinating fluidly with the whole production.   Some shadows stage left were distracting, with dramatic side lighting from time to time. 

The layers of discovery in the plot of this Williams classic emerge beautifully, in spite of any criticism here.  Opening a brand new theatre space is a challenge and I recommend that patrons come prepared with some knowledge of the play for full enjoyment.  We welcome Antaeus to Glendale and know that their arrival is now another brilliant jewel in the crown of our Jewel City.

By Tennessee Williams
Antaeus Theatre
Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
(between N. Brand Blvd. and Maryland Ave.)

Previews: March 16-22
Performances: March 23 – May 7
Tuesday at 8 p.m.: March 21 ONLY (preview)
Wednesday at 8 p.m.: March 22 ONLY (preview)
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: March 16 (preview), 23 (opening), 30; April 6, 13, 20, 27; May 4
Fridays at 8 p.m.: March 17 (preview), 24 (opening), 31; April 7, 14, 21, 28; May 5
Saturdays at 2 p.m.: April 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; May 6 (no 2 p.m. perf. on March 18 or March 25)
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 18 (preview), 25; April 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; May 6
Sundays at 2 p.m.: March 19 (preview), 26; April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; May 7, 2017
Tickets and Information:
818 506 1983

Saturday, March 18, 2017


Why Theatre?  
In LA..  it’s about many things that include looking for work, but there are actors who, when they come together with exceptional writing and actually get the play; get the characters and the characters’ lives and loves and stories and a director gets the script and there’s music and talent and love of the moment.. the moment before the lighting booth brings the house to half, the curtain speech is spoken and then, house to dark and the stage manager calls “Places” and the cast is ready and the play is ready and the audience is ready, probably not knowing what it’s in for and that moment of breath before it all begins .. and then.. something happens.  It’s not the text or the actors or the effects, it’s some synergy that brings the people in their seats and the crew and the actors all together in an unspoken agreement that we are all here for one purpose: we abandon our disbelief and let the play begin.  Let the magic happen. This one unique moment when we leave the outside world to do what it will still be doing later..  the blinking off thank god of all the little screens.. of all the after thoughts of future to attain the moment of the play.. That time ..when it really works.. not only as the lights come up and the story unfolds and the criticism of a gait or voice or other things that critics like me enjoy or find some fault with.. it all becomes The Play.  It all becomes this time. It all becomes.
Bruce Ladd and Nan McNamara  PHOTO CREDIT:  Lindsay Schnebly

Invited as a guest to see 33 Variations by a dear pal, I had not intended to write a word.  I’d sit and let the play just be the play and the actors (with an understudy, no less) do the work and just allow it all to wash over me and the guy who attends to make a report would be well absent, down the block or back at home.  But, moments after Dylan Price strode boldly across the stage to become the heart of Moises Kaufman’s  33 Variations settled at the grand piano, the story emerged: we meet the characters who arrive from the present time and from a time long ago now and the actors disappeared as their characters came to life with focused care and individual presence that simply ascended them into our lives.

It’s rare to become so involved in a play that the deep feelings that permeate the lives of the characters truly lift the audience to the moment.  “The Moment” is what every actor strives for and in this play the moments unfold with passion and if there is a shred of ‘acting’ going on, it totally eluded me.  These lovely characters: in the present becoming echoes of the past and brilliantly melding in harmonies that flow from Ludwig Von to his champion, Katherine B., and back again explore their paradigm with dignity and humor and love in such a way we seldom see in two hours time away from where we live.

33 Variations is a must see.  Extended for only one more week (or longer if Los Angeles is lucky), it’s a play so well crafted and so well directed and so well acted that for human beings who truly love The Theatre to not find a way to First Presbyterian to become immersed in what the Art of Theatre is truly about… Well, that could be a real shame. 

I have deliberately left the stuff of reviews out of this because the real review will be the one you leave the theater with in your heart. 

Please quickly make a reservation and go. Just go.

 by Moises Kaufman
Actors Co-Op
David Schall Theatre
First Presbyterian Church
1760 N. Gower St.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Through March 26, 2017
Tickets and Information:
Phone (323) 462-8460

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


 ​Karthik Srinivasan, Pia Shah and Anjali Bhimani in South Coast Repertory's 201​6 ​production of ​Orange by Aditi Brennan Kapil. Photo by ​Debora Robinson/SCR

ORANGE,  a play about Orange County, California currently at the lovely Julianne Argyros Stage at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, directs us to the sights and sounds that locals and tourists have marveled at for years.  Leela (Pia Shah) arrives from India with her mother (Anjali Bhimani and all of the other females in the show) to attend a local wedding. Leela is 'on the spectrum' which means that autism or Asperger's Syndrome is a factor in the way she interprets and responds to the world.  Like a child, Leela is very literal.  Unlike a child, she is often monosyllabic and under stress filled with angst ..  Her father (Karthik Srinivasan who also plays a variety of roles as the only male member of the cast) is a very busy businessman who shunts off responsibility for 'watching' his adult.. or nearly adult, daughter to a hip and rebellious Americanized cousin.. again the quite versitile Anjali Bhimani

Discussion of 'adventure' and what it means factors well into the subsequent events that are aided and abetted by gorgeous scenic design  created by Michael B. Raiford and equally impressive projections by Mike Tutaj  which virtually become additional characters in the play.  It's not great when the most outstanding memory of this ninety minute production turns out to be the scenery.  Not that the 'adventure' of a young Hindu woman who prays to a pantheon of gods goes begging.. the energy (in spite of the choices made by Ms Shah  and/ her director Jessica Kubzansky to remain stiff and presentational... even when attacked on an Orange County beach) never lags.  This is a slice of life featuring a segment of the OC population that is at once, traditional to its Indian roots (barely) and a window into the way most folks behave when given an opportunity to slip the bonds of convention and head into the night. 

Tech credits practically overcome the stage work. All three actors turn in presumably what director Jessica Kubzansky required.  
The opportunity for more is waiting.  

by ​​​Aditi Brennan Kapil
​directed by ​​​​Jessica Kubzansky

​Julianne Argyros Stage
South Coast Repertory Theatre
South Coast Plaza
655 Town Center Dr
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Through ​March 5-26, 201​7
Tickets and Information:
 (714) 708-5555