Saturday, September 23, 2017

So Long Falcon.. Hello Garry Marshall: McNally's MASTER CLASS

The old adage about change: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" does not ring true as we enter the newly redesigned Garry Marshall Theatre in Toluca Lake.  All of the posters that reminded us of twenty years of thoughtful theatre produced by Mr. Marshall are gone.  The Fortune Teller from the feature film "Big" (directed by Garry's sister Penny) is gone. It's stark and new.  As upsetting as change may be, something tells me that if Garry was sitting there where he used to sit, by the entry to the lobby of his theatre, that he would nod and put his hand on my shoulder and tell me that change is a good thing and this change is what he approves of.  All of the nostalgia of twenty years at The Falcon gives way to memories of the man who changed all of our lives. Memorabilia from Garry's early TV writing days to a Happy Days cast jacket to dozens of other collected memories now grace the space.

Sitting a couple of seats away from me was the charming Marion Ross: Mrs. Cunningham, Richie's mom on Happy Days. She extolled the virtues of how Garry "gave me my life" and made me think of the gifts that this guy gave to all of us. Simple laughter that turned on something good.

Carolyn Hennesy (Maria Callas) Roy Abramsohn (Accompanist)

                                                    Photo by Chelsea Sutton
 We are here  for the inaugural production introducing the neighbors to The Garry Marshall Theatre: Terrance McNally's MASTER CLASS.   First produced at The Mark Taper Forum and other theatre companies in 1995, praise for the performances on Broadway garnering Tony Awards continues. And, it's no wonder. On Francois-Pierre Couture's elegant wooden set with grand piano, masterly attended  by Manny (Roy Abramson), we are met by La Divina:  Maria Callas. Somewhere in there is the gorgeous Carolyn Hennesy, but the woman on the stage is Callas! And, make no mistake about it, she, and only she is in charge. The delicate balance of humor and power washes over the audience. We are here to observe! Not to participate.   Ms Hennesy takes the stage and for two full acts of the play, ranges from complete control to tears. She brings Callas to life. The arc of the character is palpable. I heard someone at the reception use the term "tour de force." Yes.

Director Dimitri Toscas's collaborative hand has brought six actors together, each of whom with a gift of extraordinary talent: undeniable stage presence... to share the hope for opera and the love that Callas most certainly had for The Art. 

A divine Diva, Hennesy suffers no fools. Her First Soprano Sophie de Palma (lovely Megan McConnell) arrives a bit late and through constant interruptions brings Lady Macbeth to life. 

There is something grand in McNally's writing that is natural and moving. Meeting the Second Soprano, Sharon Graham (feisty Aubrey Trujillo-Scarr) La Divina finds a challenge and the connection is electric.  Ditto as Tenor Anthony Candolino (Landon Shaw II) turns a casual approach (You can call me "Tony") to a confrontation, to singing that, as with the two sopranos, fills the studio with sound that is, to me, astounding.  It is an inspiring piece of theatre where not only have the aspiring singers learned lessons, but, we, the audience must go away with an appreciation for 'Art' as defined by Callas: "What we do matters!" 

Ms Hennesy's total absorption of her character and her complete focus on the arc that McNally provides is a must see.  For artists, it may be a recollection of why we have chosen Art.  For the theatre audience, it must be a moment of appreciation. 

Every aspect of what happens on the stage is important and the seasoning that makes the moussaka so tasty is the Stage Hand: Jeff Campanella. He embodies what Callas teaches:  An Entrance! and an attitude. 

Francois-Pierre Couture's exquisite set, JM Montecalvo's lights and Michele Young's costumes enhanced by Laura Camponera's wig design bring McNally's words to life.     

Master Class
By Terrence McNally
Directed by Dimitri Toscas
September 22 – October 22, 2017
Previews: September 20 and 21, 2017
Opens: September 22, 2017 at 8pm 
Saturday September 23 at 2pm
Thursdays, Fridays at 8pm
Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Garry Marshall Theatre
4252 W Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Box Office: (818) 955-8101
Twitter: @GMTheatre_org
Instagram: @garrymarshalltheatre

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

FIXED! a new play at The Echo

               Allen Lucky Weaver, Chris Aguila
         and Tonatiuh Elizarraraz
           Photo by Darrett Sanders
 Echo Theatre Company's World Premiere of playwright Boni B. Alvarez's FIXED under the direction of Rodney To is cinematic in scope and leans heavily on the mosaic ethnic cultures of Los Angeles.  It carries us from 'lady boys' in a Filipinotown massage parlor: unrequited love: exposing a story teetering on shame and at the same time an important political election.  

Los Angeles has hosted transgendered beauty pageants for many years.  Emperess LaRay's annual Queen of the Universe Pageants at the Mayflower Ballroom paralleled the East Coast subculture of Houses of Beauty Pageants as witnessed in the 1991 film Paris Is Burning.  That film defined the sub-culture in New York City as did The Queen, an early cult classic that nudged drag and drag queen beauty pageants into the spotlight. FIXED brings a tough, no nonsense approach to the Los Angeles scene. Rivalries, evidently, are fierce.

Alvarez, has written a plum part for himself as Gigi, the owner of the House of Malacanang, a massage parlor that features the talents of masseuses who also 'walk' in pageants representing Gigi's House. Bursting in on his first entrance, Alvarez embodies the complaint that his character later rails on about: too much drama!  Gigi is a  strict martinet whose over the top ambitions are all about winning trophies and controlling his 'girls.'  

Curtain up on Gigi's FilipinoTown massage parlor where we meet Miracles (Chris Aguila), Jenny (Alan Lucky Weaver) and Carmie (Tonatiuh Elizarraaz), Filipino "lady boys" preparing for an upcoming drag beauty pageant.  Loud and insistent technopop music sets the mood.

Momentarily, Alvarez whisks us across town to Echo Park where Dana  (Renee-Marie Brewster)
Joseph Valdez and Renée-Marie Brewster
Photo by Darrett Sanders
  is currently  campaign manager for her husband Hudson (Joseph Valdez), a Los Angeles under sheriff, who has a serious shot at being elected Sheriff of Los Angeles County.  AJ (Adrian Gonzalez) is on board and attempts to help rein in Hudson's wild brother, Mariano
(Wade-Allain Marcus)

When Mariano, with  slip shod social skills, is exposed regarding  his dalliance with  Miracles by over the top Latin bombshell, Lizette (Anna Lamadrid), also nuts about Mariano, in spite of AJ's doing his best to let her know that he cares truly for her, it threatens Hudson's campaign for sheriff. The plot though already somewhat burdened, becomes more of a problem than expected.  Miracles is madly in love with Mariano, thinking that having 'the operation' will "fix" everything and they can live happily ever after.  Immature and denied a psychological sign off by her doctor to move forward with a full transition, Miracles is obsessed by the idea and longs for the operation, in spite of derision and the strong advice of her colleagues. Vernacular that embraces the term "trans" comes into play with the others understanding that they are males who crossdress and may even live as women, but would never consider themselves 'trans.'  The argument of self diagnosis and immaturity regarding being trapped in the wrong body is never fully discussed.

Oddly, the casting of Aguila as the beauty of the story seems to be a part that Weaver might have played differently.  The term 'fish' is used to delineate who is most feminine and though each of the actors attains a degree of femininity, Weaver's Jenny seemed very comfortable in her own skin. Her religious devotion has moments of comic relief that are welcome.

The story cross cuts from one location to the next with  questions as to why Mariano can't admit his true character and whether or not Miracles will ever be enough for him, or any man as long as she remains a boy.  A gratuitous sex scene leaves Miracles having been taken advantage of as Mariano seduces her by coming to the massage parlor just for a 'massage.' 

Heavy vernacular and high drama keep us guessing. Rodney To's  direction  is spotty with actors often finding their own way to all being on the same page at the same time. 

FIXED by Boni B. Alvarez 
A World Premiere
Directed by Rodney To
The Echo Theater Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Sept. 15 through Oct. 22, 2017
Fridays at 8:30 p.m.
Saturdays at 8:30 p.m.
Sundays at 4 p.m.
Mondays at 8:30 p.m.
Tickets and Information: 

Sunday, September 10, 2017


The American premiere of Oliver Cotton's Daytona, directed by Elina de Santos, features veteran actors Richard Fancy, Sharron Shayne and George Wyner.  
George Wyner and Sharron Shayne

Having enjoyed Ms de Santos' Awake and Sing at The Odyssey two years ago, I looked forward to seeing a new play with her at the helm A conscientious director can suggest the thread of the play and together with the professionals, they find the way.    
Ms de Santos employs a subtle hand. Over hearing her comment at the intermission, 'Evidently, I am no longer in control,'  may have been an indication that my earlier observation might have been a little off?  However, the depth and breadth of the story in, perhaps, an abbreviated version might have been more appealing.  Designer Hillary Bauman's mid-eighties New York City apartment reflects the simple tastes of Elli (Shayne) and her husband of forty years, Joe (Wyner).  At rise, they skillfully rehearse for a seniors' dance competition, bickering lightly, they show  that their relationship has passed the test of time.  

Oliver Cotton's play moves slowly and deliberately The phone rings: no one there and then, a buzz on the buzzer announces a visitor.  
"Who is it?" 
"It's Billy." 
"Who Billy?" 
"Billy the kid!.. Billy! I'm your brother!"

Billy  (Fancy) arrives at the door shivering with the winter cold.  Joe is shocked to see him. It's been many years since the camps and their younger days in 1945.  At 72 and 74 Billy and Joe have a history .. a complicated history that involves some business dealing that is in question, as well as their mutual connection to Elli.  

Joe's reluctance to see his brother warms as Billy removes his coat to reveal an Aloha shirt and eventually a long, long, long story about a sleazy hotel in Daytona (thus the name of the play) as well as where he has been for all these years... with a new non-Jewish name, living in Ohio with a wife and two kids and doing well in real estate. Now, things have taken a turn for the worse.

Billy's extended monologue is slow to reveal that while in Daytona, he is positive that he has discovered a familiar face: Gruper (Gruber?) a sadistic Nazi guard who killed Jews in the camp for sport.  How Fancy has committed this monologue to memory is laudable.  That director de Santos has done her best to keep the story moving is something that seems close to impossible because the over wordiness has us slogging step by step with Billy as he recounts in minute detail the discovery of the Nazi guard and, finally his solution to his grim discovery. 

The tension created by Billy's arrival and confession to his brother of what happened in Daytona, as well as Act II revelations as to how Elli factors into the mix may work by the actors having somewhat overcome the script.  Ms Shayne, absent for most of the first act, returns to the surprise of encountering Billy after many years to reveal their own intriguing connection.  
Sharon Shayne and Richard Fancy

Act II has uncomfortable bumps now and then with uneven performancesTensions rise and fall.The outcome is fraught with moral dilemma.  Cotton breaks the dramatic rule about a gun on stage. 

Cotton, a British actor, may have stepped outside his comfort zone to pen a story about Jewish immigrants in New York City.  Accents are difficult, at best, to bring off on stage and with Billy's chosen seclusion in Ohio, "you always sounded like a Yank," Joe says; Joe's indeterminate voice and especially difficult to decipher, Elli's German, Jewish sound, getting all of the dialogue was not easy. With a couple of Opening Night mix ups, pace and length factored in. 
Daytona by  Oliver Cotton
Directed by Elina de Santos
The American Premiere
Rogue Machine Theatre
Opened September 9, 2017
Saturdays and Mondays at 8:30
Sundays at 3PM
Through October 30, 2017
No performances 9/25 and 10/2   
The Met
1089 N. Oxford Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Tickets and information:
855 585 5185