Sunday, March 25, 2018


April Fritz as Helena de Narbonne

Los Angeles's Independent Shakespeare Company  consistently mounts high quality theatre including their free  productions: Shakespeare in Griffith Park in the summertime.  ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL  inaugurates the opening of their brand new digs just down the hall from the tiny theatre in Atwater where they staged shows for years. 

What  director Melissa Chalsma (who also plays the Countess de Roussilon) co-founder of ISC has managed to do very well is to make this play come to life.  The new ISC space features comfortable chairs and a flexible arena with a functioning grid.  Bosco Flannagan's lighting design illuminates a simple chess board: basically an empty space that Ms Chalsma's stage pictures fill beautifully. 

Melissa Chalsma and Kalean Ung
PHOTO CREDIT: Grettel Cortes Photography

April Fritz as Helena, the love sick daughter of a recently deceased doctor appears, she bemoans the fact that though she is nuts about the countess's son, Bertram (Evan Lewis Smith), she will never be able to wed him because of the distance in their social situations.  Catalyst for much of the story is the excellent Daniel Jimenez as Parolles whose chops on his 12 string guitar expand the story in Act II. 

Clad in Rouxuan Li's funky more or less contemporary costumes and a casual approach that sometimes dissolves the fourth wall, Ms Chalsma's cast, doubling in some roles delivers the goods with perfection.

As LaVache, le Clown, Kalean Ung in Act I, is particularly adroit with eye rolls and timing that punctuates the narrative. In Act II, as the temptress, Diana, she becomes a beautiful courtesan who facilitates the demand by Bertram.. Oh wait.  We have to go to the Court of the King of France (Rene Thornton, Jr.), allow that Helena, having followed Bertram there has learned enough about medicine to cure the King of an ongoing ailment.  Cured and thankful, he then decrees that Helena may have her pick of any man in his kingdom!  THEN.. she chooses Bertram.  Bertram says he'll only confirm their marriage if she shows up with his ring on her finger and his child in her womb! Bertram heads to Italy to fight in a war!

THEN.. after some shenanaigans and schtick that involves finding out that Parolles will say and do anything to boost his own stock, we are treated to a wonderfully sensual scene often referred to as the "Bed Trick." At Helena's bidding, the lovely Diana lures Bertram into her boudoir and with the lights down low, Helena then exchanges places with Diana, lying with Bertram to fulfill the demands that he has made.  It's a little complicated. My suggestion is to head to the ISC and see it for yourself! 

All's well in the final scene as we gather in the court of the King of France and Helena presents her baby bump and Bertram's ring and as promised:  All's Well That Ends Well!

Excellent performances by Kendell Byrd and Ata Farhadi keep the play moving. The language is never an issue, with an occasional contemporary reference that draws the audience further in.  

I love the artwork representing the journal of Helena from the home of the countess to the King's court and then to Italy and back again. They are all beautifully presented in the lobby in a series of collages made by Helena (the artist is Janet LĂȘ) to document her travels and travails.  This one is highly recommended.  Familarize your self with the plot and it'll be even more fun. 

by  William Shakespeare
Directed by Melissa Chalsma
Independent Shakespeare Company
3191 Casitas Avenue #130
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Through April 22, 2018
Tickets and Information:
818 710 6306

Saturday, March 24, 2018


Max (Pat Towne), Val (Roland Rusinek), Milt (Ty Mayberry), Helen (Jessica Joy), Kenny (Cornelius Jones, Jr.), Lucas (Jason Grasl), Ira (Jeff Campanella), Carol (LaNisa Renee Frederick), and Brian (John Ross Bowie) in Laughter on the 23rd Floor at the Garry Marshall Theatre. Photo by Chelsea Sutton.
Attending opening night at The Garry Marshall, brings together two groups.  The subscribers who are familiar faces and the friends of the cast.  As the audience settled, the lovely companion of a guy I see at the openings regularly, stopped momentarily as they crossed to their seats third row center. "Once you hear 'Neil Simon' all the rest fades away," she said.  Having a working knowledge of the playwright, it's hard to not agree.  The beauty of Neil Simon's plays is that through the slick and easily approachable characters we expect to simply be entertained

For those old enough to remember Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" with Imogene Coca and the amazing Howard Morris, long before SNL, the simplicity of the sketches, from the urbane to the bizarre, were pure and simple comedy. 

Simon was about twenty-six years of age in 1953. The United States was slipping into the maniacal  rants of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the cold war was upon us and Your Show of Shows was ninety minutes of mayhem that had television audiences enthrall.  Laughter On The 23rd Floor, written forty years later is Simon's recollection of his early experience through his doppleganger,  Lucas Brickman played by Jason Grasl,  the new kid in the Writers' Room. The show flies out of the gate warm and silly.

To quote another member of the audience, "Faster, Louder, Funnier is not necessarily better." Director Michael Shepperd employs schtick (a go-to for most of Ceasar's sketches) with frantic delivery of lines and over the top performances.  In the Writers' Room we meet the crazies.  The real life writers were Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkin, Selma Diamond and others whose work has stood the test of time. 

As Brickman, Grasl presents a handsome Native American kid whose squeaky clean presence is charming. In the interests of 'diversity' it may have been a casting choice that flies in the face of the recollection of the playwright. Zany Ty Mayberry plays Milt rolling in, complete with costume changes and site gags. Natty Kenny Franks, (Cornelius Jones, Jr.) is the business oriented and practical member of the team. Brian (John Ross Bowie) has Hollywood aspirations. Completely berserk, Ira (ranting Jeff Campanella) is always late to the Writers Room.  As the head writer, Val, Roland Rusinek slips in and out of his Russian accent that is vital to some of the gags.

Max Prince (bombasitc Pat Towne) offers a cross between Jackie Gleason and elements of Caesar, himself, neurotic and  discumbuberated. Of course, we don't expect to see impersonations of the original fifties writers, thus, this diversity casting should be able to take the dialogue and with skill just have the characters say the words.  Director Shepperd's hand is well on display and not always to the best result. Schtick. 

Show stopper, the delightful Jessica Joy as Helen, finds her own way as the ditzy blonde secretary.  With all the frantic goings on, Ms Joy provides a breath of fresh air (to coin a phrase..) that moves from her perfectly pitched introduction in the opening tableau to revealing humor that mitigates the pace of the show now and then before the boys, and the lone woman writer, Carol (Lanisa Renee Frederick) step on the gas again. 

Ideally, all the 'work' of an evening with Neil Simon is on the stage. The job of the audience is to sit back and allow the laughter to just roll along. With the Marshall Theatre policy of encouraging crunchy snacks to be brought into the theater, I wonder if the actors can see and hear the munching?  I could.

Theatre etiquette is changing. Evidently, to some, it's like going to the movies, loading up with a bag of popcorn and a Coke instead of coming to appreciate a live performance where the subtlety and nuance of the play requires respect not only for the actors, but fellow audience members, as well.  Though this show is not in the least bit subtle, abandoning disbelief is still the rule of the day and when respect for the performance is ignored, well.. it's just not nice.

by Neil Simon
The Garry Marshall Theatre
4252 W Riverside Dr.
Burbank, CA 91505
March 23 – April 22, 2018
Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm
Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Added show Sunday April 8 at 7pm
No Show Sunday, April 1
Tickets and information:
818 955 8101

Friday, March 9, 2018


Unemployed Elephants by Wendy Graf 

This poster was irresistible! 

I cannot remember ever leaving the production of any play, in the literally hundreds of plays that I’ve reviewed, feeling angry.  Tonight is a night to remember and then forget.  The tiny Victory Theatre in Burbank has spared no expense to mount the World Premiere of Wendy Graf’s play, Unemployed Elephants. It’s a two hander that I’ll get to in a minute, but I must mention the pristine setting, a beauty of a set by Evan Bartoletti supplemented nicely by Carol Doehring’s lights and nice projections by Nick Santiago. 

Perhaps the most vital thing when we attend the theatre is to abandon the reality outside and come to the reality of what’s on the stage.  As the house lights dimmed two old biddies and I use the term specifically because their behavior was not only extremely rude, but through out the entire presentation they schmoozed, chatted and compared notes, using the white pages from their press kits illuminated by the stage lighting to bone up on one bit of information or another.  I was told that the biddy with the dyed brown hair was a woman named Pat Taylor who writes for the local weekly, The Tolucan.  I did not find out the other biddy’s name, but as they whispered during the scene changes and sometimes in the middle of a scene, inches from Marshall McCabe (Alex) as he brought one speech down toward the edge of the stage, the biddy on the right had the gall to lean in with her program to check some obscure information that most experienced reviewers might have checked before hand.

The nerve of folks who pass themselves off as theatre critics to so blatantly disturb the play is inexcusable.  It’s rude. If I knew the name of the blonder big hair biddy, I’d publish her name, too.  A fellow critic whose writing I admire said that I should have just told these old biddies to shut up.  I considered it, but as they were literally three feet from the stage in this intimate little space, and I directly behind them, five feet away from the action,  I silently fumed and made rude comments in my notes. I hope that the collaboration that Ms Taylor and her pal come up with become an interesting take on Wendy Graf’s World Premiere. Ms Graf and her collaborators deserve more respect than these women gave them. 

In press notes and in the text of the play, the plight of the elephants of Myanmar is spelled out sadly with information that because of the depletion of lumber and other political issues in the country, the elephants are falling into despair for lack of work. They are intelligent and productive critters who thrive when kept busy.

Episodic and fruitful, Graf’s long one act provides fodder for a marginal love story that Jane (Brea Bee) declares more than one time is ‘not real.’  Clever dialogue and the inevitable connection between two attractive twenty somethings, Alex and Jane, both lying through their teeth may or may not fall in love.

The meeting of the lovebirds in a distant airport is rocky.  Conflict is the fruit of drama and though it’s mostly banter, McCabe, a ringer for Harry Anderson of Night Court, persists to win favor and companionship as the coincidence of their bumping into one another from one scene to another progresses. 

To this progress, I must protest.  The play is written in twelve disparate scenes that call for the actors to provide scene changes for themselves. This made me wish that director Maria Gobetti, might have employed at least one silent koken, whom the actors may or may not acknowledge, who would facilitate the mostly simple scene changes. This would allow the actors to stay in character shifting from one situation to the next. Students of Kabuki Theatre will recall Kuroko who appear ‘invisibly’ on stage to change scenery or even provide props for the actors.  The audience cooperates by dismissing these black clad stage hands as an "invisible" part of the presentation. I felt sorry for the actors as they diligently moved scenery and props, staying in character I suppose, but it’s hard to keep the illusion going with the donkey work of changing the scenery.  To me, a koken (or two?) in the guise of a servant who worked at the various locations, even subtly changing costumes from scene to scene might have kept the flow of the play moving more smoothly. 

Unemployed Elephants is very cinematic in nature and though settings are nicely portrayed by Santiago’s projections, seeing this story as a Movie of the Week with actual locations might be very interesting. 

Aside from being distracted by the old biddies, this show deserves an audience who might behave and enjoy the clever dialogue with laughter in all the right places.  It gets a little heavy toward the end with Alex disclosing secrets that were a bit difficult to follow.  Ms Brea’s voice was not easy to take from time to time, but I think that young women in their twenties may be falling in to some kind of vocal thing, infected by one another, like Valley Talk (but this is NOT Valley Talk) that makes some of her dialogue difficult to handle. Acting chops are solid and Ms Gobetti’s direction is letter perfect (except for my koken idea..).

Brea Bee and Marshall McCabe
Photo by Tim Sullens

A World Premiere
by Wendy Graf
Directed by Maria Gobetti
The Little Victory Theatre
3324 W Victory Blvd
Burbank, CA 91505
 March 9 – April 15
Fridays at 8 p.m.: March  9 (Opening Night), 16, 23, 30; April 6, 13
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 3 (preview), 10, 17, 24, 31; April 7, 14
Sundays at 4 p.m.: March 11, 18, 25; April 1, 8, 15 
Tickets and Information:


Andrew Perez as Kinski

 (written and performed by Andrew Perez)

Theatre Row is home to experimental theatre unlike almost any other area of Los Angeles. Many years ago, actor/mime Richmond Shepard, became a visionary by purchasing store fronts in the 6400 Block of Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. Recently, thanks to the efforts of Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, the area, including The Complex, Second Stage, Sacred Fools and The Hudson Guild officially became "Theatre Row!" The Hollywood Fringe Festival centers in the area.  It's a funky stretch of Santa Monica, no glitz or glamor here, but some of the plays coming along are enterprising and "take chances." I use that term a lot when reviewing new works: taking chances. Pushing the envelope of relevance and art is not for the faint of heart. Thanks to playwrights, actors, directors, producers with vision like these, we move to new heights. Hopefully.

Having just learned of this piece by Andrew Perez that premiered in the Hollywood Fringe Festival last year, I was invited to come to review it. Parking can be a major challenge in this neighborhood. Not impossible, but.. if you come to see a show here, plan ahead! 

Pre-show brings Klaus Kinski to life with a chronology of his life including reproductions of paintings and video that shows the volatile spirit that fought tooth an nail with German director Werner Herzog. In this 'reliquary' of information we learn that Kinski may have been addicted to sex by his own admission having had sex with more than 130 women over his life time.  

The energy that permeates Mr. Perez's performance fades in and out of the manic episodes that Kinski was famous for. Part of the story tells of the two performances of Kinski's one man show that took him ten years to create, announcing that he, Kinski, was Jesus Christ. He was heckled off stage and abandoned it during the second performance.

Perez's presentation takes us on a ninety minute tour of the life of this irascible and outrageous personality whose ragged vocabulary and vomit of epithets was par for the course, especially, if he was challenged regarding his work. Frightening at times and perhaps confused at others, for those who are familiar with Herzog's films that starred Kinski, it may be an evening of enlightenment. Perez's performance was somewhat uneven, but, knowing the back story by reading the time line of Kinski's life and understanding the psychological hardships that the man experienced in his life, including the death of his mother during WWII by Allied forces, along with his voracious appetite for sex, that may explain deliberate moments of pause

Anyone who rents a tiny little space on Theatre Rowwell, Studio C just east of the Comlex entrance, and gathers an audience deserves to be seen. It's an education and though rough around the edges, it's clear that Kinski himself would most likely have a love/hate relationship with the man as seen through the eyes of Andrew Perez.  

(written and performed by Andrew Perez)
Directed by Eric G. Johnson 
Studio C - 6448 Santa Monica Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90038
Thursdays at 8PM
Through March 29, 2018 with possible extensions.
Tickets and information:

Friday, March 2, 2018


After enjoying the "Ducks" cast for the opening of Harold Pinter's The Hothouse at Antaeus, I was delighted to see the "Pelicans" cast to compare and contrast. 
Steve Hofvendahl, Melanie Lora,
John Bobek, Leo Marks, Josh Clark,
Gregory Itzin, Adrian LaTourelle
Photo by Geoffrey Wade Photography

On the page, the words of Harold Pinter don't really have a voice.  The intention and the severity of the characters is there, but unlike the poetry of Williams or the starkness of Beckett, the words are more suggestions and it takes a director like Nike Doukas with an excellent cast, actually two excellent casts at The Antaeus, to bring this very odd story of an asylum / rest home /convalescent home to life.  It's Christmas!  The eclectic cast of characters each have a story to tell, more or less through the eye of Griggs (crisp and present Leo Marks), whose actual job is a bit unclear until we figure out that he stands smartly out of the danger zone and may be the shadow government in charge of the whole shebang!  

In the first scene, setting the pace, the contradictions all insisted upon by Roote (Josh Clark) ricochet at a dizzying pace.  Roote's complete incompetence is obvious, yet he's managed to attract the very attractive Miss Cutts (cool in red Melanie Lora) to dally and dilly and folderol while she, at the same time charms sweet Lamb (to the slaughter Steve Hofvendahl)  and finds that Mr. Griggs is also someone to snuggle up to.

Enter  brash and forceful Adrian LaTourelle as Lush, matching Roote's alcohol consumption one for one and then some.  His job... (the actual job of anyone seems to have only to do with shuffling papers as well as the inmates/patients/guests?) is unclear.  Guests are never referred to by a name because that's the way it must be done.  "6457" is dead but Lush convinces his mother that he's off to another facility.  Roote thinks that he has had a chat with him on a date AFTER the patient's death!  Impeccable Griggs points out that the diary/calendar of Mr. Roote is sticking poorly in his memory and shows that "6457" indeed has passed away. A clerical error by Roote:  a '7' for a '9', shows that 6459 is, in fact.. a woman who has just given birth!  Hilarity ensues. 

John Bobek as the modest Tubb brings a Christmas cake from the under-staff with a bit more English accent than necessary and after a severe interval and much commotion, we meet Lobb  (Gregory Itzin), the new chap in charge of the facility accompanied by the ubiquitous Griggs and life goes on, pretty much as always with the inmates in charge of the store.

The Pelicans bring a totally different energy to Pinter's play and the effect is funny and chilling. Director Nike Doukas has the luxury of a  company roster deep with excellent actors to fill Pinter's imagination.  The ability to allow the actors to bring their own energy to each of these roles is the sign of a director who really understands the business of collaboration in the theatre.  Julie Keen's costumes, especially for Miss Cutts, reflect to a "T" the style of the fifties. Written in 1958, Pinter shelved the play for twenty years with the first production in 1980.  Doukas has captured the fifties and the voice of Pinter with aplomb.  With only a few more dates for performance, I highly recommend this show with either cast, but seeing both will be a revelation and the second time, with anticipation, the audience will not be disappointed. 

THE HOTHOUSE by Harold Pinter
Antaeus Theatre
Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
(between N. Brand Blvd. and Maryland Ave.)
Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 8PM Fridays at 8 p.m March 2, 9 Saturdays at 2 p.m.: March 3, 10  Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 3, 10 Sundays at 2 p.m.:  March 4, 11, 2018
Tickets and information: (818) 506-1983 or