Tuesday, February 27, 2018

THE ALAMO: a world premiere

Bobby Costanzo and Eileen Galindo

                                                      Photo by Ed Krieger

Ian McRae’s THE ALAMO, currently at The Ruskin Group Theatre at the Santa Monica Airport; directed by Kent Thompson was inspired by an op ed piece in the New York Times that sparked McRae's response to the “lies about WMD” and the subsequent war in Iraq. McRae’s strong polemic evokes the past and what seems to be an inevitable future for the long established Alamo Bar in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.

Through the fourth wall, Joey (Bobby Costanzo) recalls his days of being a New York City cop and the subsequent hate that overwhelms him from time to time. He spouts angry alt-right rhetoric as we get to know the sundry denizens of The Alamo. Having lost his brother in Vietnam, Joey laments the drug bust that he eventually acknowledges led to his brother's service in the army instead of serving a couple of years in the slammer.  “He shoulda done the time.” More wounds are revealed as we meet the cast and dig deeper into neighborhood lore.

Munce (Tim True) and  Carmen, his wife (excellent Eileen Galindo) own The Alamo. Carmen reminds,  “It’s a business!”   Time for some changes: a new paint job and the revision of the name to suit the new neighbors: hipsters, poets and artists. She is considering The Poplar Tree (which refers in a gentrified way to what “Alamo” translates to in English.)  Plans for entertainment and fancy drinks are waiting in the wings.

In a parallel story we meet Mary (Milica Govich) and her rebellious daughter, Micaela (spot on Kelsey Griswold).  Munce and Carmen are long time friends of Mary and god parents to Micaela. Micaela’s dad, was lost that terrible day, September 11, 2001. The wounds are closing... but very slowly.  Mary volunteers at the 9/11 Memorial which Micaela denounces as a "sewage treatment plant."  Guilt drives Mary to do her best to keep some memory of her husband alive. Micaela plans to move forward with her own life and encourages her mother to do the same.  A beautifully moving “chat” with her dead father reveals that it’s not such a bad idea.

Joey rants and notes his brother’s picture has been removed for repainting the interior of the bar to change the atmosphere to welcome the gentrified tide on the horizon. 

An unnecessary third story involving the lone Mets fan (in heavy Yankees territory),  Tick (Jack Merrill) and his frantic wife, Claudine (over the top Nancy Georgini) expands their personal tragedy onto a side track that might be better examined in another story all together. 
John Lacey appears as Dominic, another long time pal and patron of The Alamo.

We return again and again to Joey’s story; rubbing away his hate, polishing his "worry stone" given to him by a therapist to help deal with his anger issues that entwine with the unwelcome changes at The Alamo.  His contrary feelings expand to his hatred of John Lennon and all that John and Yoko stood for: celebrated, while his brother and American soldiers were falling in Vietnam.  Highlights of his drunken encounter with the “Imagine” mosaic in Central Park and later, his heroic actions on December 8, 1980 at The Dakota in Manhattan are perfectly delivered and ultimately make Joey a Human being: worthy of our appreciation in spite of his angry reaction to the way the world is turning. 

John Iacovelli's multi-functional set brings the play home simply and realistically.   

More moments of irony and levity might better balance this somewhat over written piece. The world is changing, whether we like it or not.   

THE ALAMO by Ian McRae
A World Premiere
The Ruskin Theatre
3000 Airport Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Opened Friday, February 24th
Continues Fridays – Saturday at 8pm,
Sundays at 2pm through March 31, 2018
Tickets are $30 ($25 for students, 
seniors, and guild members)
(310) 397-3244
Ample free parking available on site

Thursday, February 8, 2018


Edward Albee (1928 - 2016) states that he was a long time pal of the American sculptor, Louise Nevelson.  The heady connections that we imagine in the world of the arts comes to life, more or less with his play, OCCUPANT.  Friends had told him that his imagined interview with Nevelson thirty years after her death, now on stage at The Garry Marshall, pretty much captured "her essence, her ambivalence, her sense of self."  The conceit that "Man" (James Leibman), who seems to have done his research very well on the long dead Nevelson (Martha Hackett), makes no bones about arguing the fine details of her life, conducting the interview and correcting her recollections from time to time.  
James Liebman and Martha Hackett
 Originally planned to star Anne Bancroft in 2002, that production was scrubbed due to Ms Bancroft's ill health. 

Nevelson was a 'self made' woman who says in the play that when she was a tiny baby that the great Shalom Aleichem lifted her to his eye level and declared, 
"... she is destined for greatness!"  From humble roots and hard working parents, Louise (nee Leah Berliawsky) grew up feeling that the prophesy would some how come true. 

Director Heather Chesley's choices for Liebman and Hackett have either been co-opted by the actors or she may have had a reason to allow the huge gaps of time and space to elapse between the characters as the play progressed.  Albee's style of having the characters address the audience from time to time is charming. The only impression left is that the energies of both actors seemed to be somehow compromised each by the other.  Liebman as a somewhat cynical interviewer works slowly and deliberately.  Ms Hackett misses opportunities to move things along with a change of pace. 

Ms Hackett presents Nevelson as a strong and capable woman in the words but less so in the performance. Who's in charge of the interview and where does its ultimate power lie?  In the text, it feels as though Nevelson herself is coming back from the dead to expansively share her story.  The premise must be of interest to anyone who loves her work, as she relates that she spent a better part of her life struggling for recognition. For the play it seems that in her inimitable style she would be presenting her life with vigor and panache.  The energy is lacking.

Nevelson discusses how the "eyes" are the most important part of her presentation, (though Paula Higgins' signature headscarf and flowing garments are perfect)  saying that she never went anywhere without two pairs of 'sable eyelashes.'  "Did you ever try three," the Man asks.  She did, she said,  but couldn't keep her eyes open and everyone thought she was going around asleep!

The strong statements of Nevelson's sculptures, an example of which looms over the second act, are impossible not to recognize.  She fell in love with wood and it's the wood that she'll always be remembered for.  The energy of the discussion between the living and the dead must come to life with passion and enthusiasm on behalf of the woman and for her art. There is a palpable energy when confronted by one of Nevelson's huge black sculptures in any art museum in the world.  For the play to work, that energy must be present.  It seems to be in the text and, hopefully, may be on the stage as the production moves along. This somewhat static 'two hander' is physically lethargic which no noe would ever have thought about the artist herself.  "Don't smoke!"

OCCUPANT by Edward Albee
West Coast Premiere
The Garry Marshall Theatre
4252 W Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Through  March 4, 2018
Tickets and Information 
818 955 8101