Tuesday, April 25, 2017

PLASTICITY! At the Hudson!

Alex Lyras   Photo Credit Jessica Sherman
The Hudson Guild has taken store front (and back) theatre through its paces for many years.  PLASTICITY, conceived by Alex Lyras and Robert McCaskill featuring Lyras as a bevy of interesting characters, is the type of work that is so inventive, so present and accounted for that the extension of the show since its opening in late January, playing only on Monday nights, that one might hope that word of mouth would keep it running in The Hudson's 35 seat space for a long, long time. 

A discussion of brain injury as a topic for a one person exploration may, at first, seem like a stretch.  In fact, PLASTICITY really is about stretching and philosophy and the whys and wherefores of chance: the serendipity of our lives.  Even though Lyras is the only physical actor on the Hudson stage, featuring projections on a proscenium scrim as well as on the back wall of the stage, we meet a nine or more characters: some through Lyras and some via video projections.  The actor’s timing is crucial and thanks to brilliant projections by Corwin Evans, edited by Peter Chakos, the show comes together in a narrative that works beautifully.  Music and presumably other sound effects by Ken Rich are perfect.

DNR, the victim, engaged to the strikingly lovely, “Kate” suffers a brain injury.  We’re led to believe at first that it might be from a catastrophic rock climbing accident via opening video. We learn climbing terms and the climber's next to last resort has him praying for a ‘divot,’ a tiny hand hold to help his free climb move forward. There’s a term for a leap of faith... if missed, it’s on belay for the climber and hoping for a save. 
 Lyras portrays a wide variety of characters including a Hindu Brain Surgeon, the victim of the stroke, his twin brother,  a rapping orderly at the hospital, the psychiatrist discussing his client: Kate, the fiancĂ© of DNR,  others via skype and video with a truly effective use of lights, sound and projections.The production reminds of Chazz Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale, that first went up at Theatre West almost thirty years ago. Plasticity may have the luxury of a similar route to fame and fortune.

This production is show is literally a trip. A trip into the mind.  It questions our very being. One line that sticks is made by a consultant of questionable repute engaged by the victim’s twin trying to find a way through the tragedy:  “The brain is a brilliant liar!”  McCaskill’s direction invisibly guides co-writer Lyras through days and years of character changes.

Extended for Monday’s only! This one's for the theatre audience that longs for an artistic challenge and an undeniable performance.

by Alex Lyras and Robert McCaskill
Hudson Guild Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
May 1, May 8, May 15, May 22 
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Monday, April 3, 2017

Brilliant STILL LIFE at The MET

--> STILL LIFE by Alexander Dinelaris


Laurie Okin and Susan Wilder 
Photo by John Perrin Flynn
 The Rogue Machine is a company of serious theatre practitioners who must stay in shape by finding places to park in their neighborhood and climbing cardiac stairs to their well appointed performance space at the MET Theater.  The space has great history with famous names and beautiful productions attached ever since Bill Bushnell (corrections are welcome) got the place going many years ago.  This is the heart of what theatre for the next generation is supposed to look like. Funky and low down. Ancient wood paneling and refreshments for a donation make for a comfortable lobby to meet other patrons before the house opens. 

Still Life will only be up for a short time longer.  If Sunday’s excellent performance with standby James Liebman (in for Lea Coco) as the artistically conflicted statistician, Jeffrey, is any indication of the dedication of this group, it’s a must see.  Director Michael Peretzian has molded Academy Award Winner for “Birdman” Alexander Dinelaris’s modern morality play flowingly into a story for our time. Dinelaris asks deep and personal questions that each of us must address but seldom do. 

Looking in the dictionary, one might see the term ‘jerk’ (for want of a broader term that has to do with pejorative body parts) and find a portrait of “Terry” depicted by Jonathan Bray, the owner of the ad agency where Jeffrey works to futurecast the wants and needs of the general public.  In a strong turn, we see both truth and beauty in this character’s approach to living the wasted life.  His brutish and blatant approach to getting things done, fraught with fear and loathing of himself and others is enough to put us all on notice to pay attention. Pay attention to how the ripples we  send into the Universe may leave others in chaos.

Central to the story is a love affair between Jeffrey and one of the most natural actors I’ve seen on any stage: Laurie Okin as the inspired photographer, Carrie Ann.  Daughter of a well known photographer, Theo (Frank Collision), she has risen to prominence for her dramatic photos, some of which depict the startling beauty of dead things.  This sets the scene for the examination of what is important to the story's characters we meet and what the true value of being alive is to each of them: to each of us.

Susan Wilder as Joanne brings to life a gorgeous no nonsense agent for the down to earth Carrie Ann.  Her life turns on how well she represents herself and her client. Exchanges between the two are tough and heart rending.

Every scene depicts some special conflict that we must, as individuals, also work out within ourselves to move forward with life… and death. 

In multiple turns, Jennifer Sorenson shines as Michaeline, the dive bar bartender,  who is challenged to examine her own personal worth by Terry's indecent proposal. She is forced to examine herself by Terry as he snorts himself into oblivion, too late becoming aware of his own distinct shortcomings.  

Tania Verafield, Nardeep Kuhrmi and Alexandra Hellquist round out the cast perfectly. Tom Buderwitz’s excellent scenic design is spare and modern; beautifully set off by Leigh Allen’s subtle lighting with what are presumably more photos by Carrie Ann projected during scene changes, depicting in an astounding way, the circle of life. 

STILL LIFE  by Alexander Dinelaris
A West Coast Premiere
Rogue Machine Theatre
In residence at The Met Theatre
1089 N. Oxford Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90029
Through April 17, 2017
Saturdays and Mondays at 8:30PM
Sundays at 3:00PM


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Sun Tzu’s Brother

According to Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor the credited authors of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War had a brother, (whose name was mentioned and it seems that I was laughing and neglected to write it down. Let’s call him Larry), who was the first chronicler of comedy.  The idea of condensing the entire history of funny stuff into two zany acts including cream pies is quite a feat!   
Ginsburg, Jacobson and Fazal Photo by Sasha Venola
Thanks to Zehra Fazal, Marc Ginsburg and Mark Jacobson, this idea is not all together absurd, though some of the bits in this history lesson totally are!  There in lies the rub.  It’s fast and furious with these three skilled actors embracing their inner Rambozo (the first comic?) and through him, they engender the entire audience with the permission to laugh.  Laughter is the best medicine, but that’s a Reader’s Digest thing, though a truism and now my inner Rambozo is acting out. 

What is funny to one may not be funny to another. There are guffaws and groaners and inappropriate stuff that serves up guilty pleasure.  There are popular digs and topics that to some must forever be off limits, “Aside from that how did you like the play?” That features Honest Abe as a stand up comic!   All humor by necessity must be somehow referential and in tune with the audience.  I once heard a guy on the radio try to tell the Dalai Lama the story of what the Dalai Lama said to the hot dog vendor:  “Make me one with everything.”  His Holiness didn’t get it!

To the credit of Fazal, Ginsburg and Jacobson (the latter of whom goes wonky if confronted by a strobe light!) most of the silly bits, quick changes and unapologetic schtick keep the audience in groans and titters (rim shot) throughout.  One marginal idea to draft audience members on stage to provide sound effects for a rather lame attempt at Give Me A Location improv doesn't work. It needs either ringers from the audience or to be cut.  One of the ‘rules’ of comedy is to keep it moving.  Embarrassed audience members who really aren’t into it, slow everything down and with the threat of Cream Pie waiting in the wings there was no way that I’d allow myself to be dragged onto the stage! 

Director Jerry Kernion keeps his actors hopping as we see them in and out and up and down, Stephen Gifford’s Music Hall set features a couple of Laugh In type windows put to good use with the echo of farce in mind as doors left and right open and close.   

by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor
The Falcon Theatre
4252 Riverside Dr.
Burbank, CA 91505
Through April 23, 2017
Tickets and Information:

Box Office phone 818-955-8101
Box Office hours Tues-Fri noon-6pm, 
Sat & Sun 10am-4pm