Monday, April 30, 2018


 World Premiere:  ICE by Leon Martell

Tony Dúran and Jesús Castaños-Chima
Photo by Cooper Bates

Full disclosure.   I've been pals with playwright, Leon Martell for a long time.  I've also been a fan of The 24th Street Theatre that celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year. Debbie Devine and Jay McAdams not only keep the doors open at their beautifully restored garage near USC, just off Hoover in a highly eclectic neighborhood, they also provide education in-house as well as opening their doors to literally hundreds of school kids annually producing theatre with messages that send the kids back into their own worlds with food for thought. This, to me, is an important  goal that makes the art of theatre vital.  Tell a story. Send a message. Food for thought.

 As our fragile planet Earth continues to simmer with prejudice and the United States under highly questionable leadership making  provocative statements and rude gestures toward our neighbors to the south, now comes ICE, playwright Leon Martell's commission for The 24th Street Theatre.  Martell's story, may have subtly taken a cue from Steve Martin's 1991 movie "LA Story." Nacho's Taco Truck doesn't actually talk, but the messages are loud and clear. With Keith Mitchell's beautiful set featuring huge television sets that blurt out the news of 1988,  as well as presenting confrontations that Chepe (Jesús Castaños-Chima) has with sundry cheating labor contractors (all well played on video by Davitt Felder who also plays the blind Catholic priest) the story of Chepe's immigration unfolds.   Presented in both English and Spanish, with supertitled translations, Chepe is joined by his friend Nacho (Tony Dúran) also seeking the good life in Los Angeles.  The brilliant use of projections on Chepe's former ice cream truck, a 1971 GMC!.. along with el camion spouting the old melody that in its former life attracted kids in search of el helado, we learn the story of Mexican pals who have sneaked across the border in search of new and prosperous lives.  Resisting Chepe's intention to make gourmet tacos, the truck's willfull personality becomes an additional character that through the brief argument of the play has a few comments of its own with messages projected on the side of the GMC.
Bringing the issue of immigration to light and exposing the challenges of making a successful life in the USA is well delineated as Nacho and Chepe find their way around an occasional intrusion as ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) comes cruising by.

Directed by Debbie Devine,  ICE and The 24th Street Theatre continue to not only present theatre that generously reflects their neighborhood, catering to the locals with outreach to the community  they succeed in their in search for harmony with educational projects and after this particular show an ice cream treat! 

The message is clear: finding our way in spite of being pulled in one direction we may find that heading down another route, eventually, we may find our true and welcome pathway.

ICE by Leon Martell
Directed by Debbie Devine
The 24th Street Theatre
1117 W. 24th ST
Los Angeles, CA 90007
(24th ST  at  Hoover)
Through June 10, 2018
Tickets and information: 
(213) 745-6516

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


BELLEVILLE by Amy Herzog 

Thomas Sadoski and Anna Camp in Belleville at Pasadena Playhouse. Photo by Philicia Endelman
  The Parisian neighborhood of Belleville, is about three miles to the east and bit north of The Louvre via Rue de Rivoli.  Just to orient us to the "City of Light." It is a really big city. 
The story:  an attractive ex patriot couple  Abby and Zach (excellent Anna Camp and Thomas Sadoski) have found their way from the east coast of the United States to Paris for reasons that are only marginally clear. And, there by hangs the tale

Abby and Zach's charming apartment is managed by Alioune (Moe Jeudy-Lamour), a handsome and easy going young black man. He is well spoken and an occasional 420 pal with Zach whose only problem is not pot. Alioune and his beautiful wife, Amina (Sharon Pierre-Louis) are parents of two small children. Zach has not paid the rent. His entire story that Abby has believed all along is coming undone.  They are coming undone. 

Press information for BELLEVILLE announces a "Hitchcock stylethriller.  Un piece de theatre par dramaturge Amy Herzog. (French is spoken occasionally as the story reveals itself.)  An hour and forty five minutes into the overly talky production with letter perfect acting by the actors: refreshingly American Sadoski and Camp and Juedy-Lamour and Pierre-Louis with what might be Carribian accents also avec les accents Francaises, the delivery of the mystery remained a mystery.

Promised twists and turns with what felt to me like Neil Simon taking a sharp turn to the left down a one way alley were only slightly forthcoming.  Subtle sex scenes and why Zach, who supposedly is in Paris to do his work as a medical doctor with les enfants avec les AIDS is at home and caught in a compromising activity when Abby arrives unexpectedly has moments, but the story all together is mostly inconsequential.  

As the final strokes of the play come to a climax, the entire charade perpetrated by Zachunravels. Abby gets sloppy drunk. Quelle domage! Then, revelations that include Abby's concern over her pregnant sister at home in New Jersey with contractions coming every five minutes, overdue rent;  Zach's probable pot addiction and, Abby being off her 'psychiatric meds' to keep her on an even keel, it's a lot to gather in!  The unfolding  revelations for the couple are burdened with the real shame of coming all the way to Paris and living with and loving someone for all the wrong reasons.  

David Meyer's gorgeous  set is stunning, featuring a familiar winding staircase leading up to the flat.   Director Jenna Worsham has not taken into consideration that on the traditional Playhouse stage, there are areas that may be visible for the first few rows of the audience, but to stage what was, apparently, a vital scene almost to the down right apron is lost to the entire house.  Lighting issues that involve a glass top coffee table create reflections and shadows outside the proscenium. 

BELLEVILLE is one of those traditional stage plays that leads its audience down the garden path with well experienced actors, an expensive professional set and all, but the "Hitchcockian" payoff was momentary and was then extended with a denouement that made no sense at all

BELLEVILLE by Amy Herzog
Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101
Continues through May 13, 2018
Tickets and information 
626 356 7529

Friday, April 20, 2018


Noel Arthur and Jon Chaffin                                  
Photo Credit Geoffrey Wade Photography

 Richard Wright's pithy novel, "Native Son", adapted to the stage by Nambi E. Kelley and directed by Andi Chapman for Glendale's Antaeus Theatre Company examines the story of Bigger Thomas (Jon Chaffin) and the struggles of black folks in 1930's Chicago.  With slavery only a few generations in the past (Wright's grandparents had been slaves), African Americans have few choices for survival. For Antaeus to tackle this piece shows grit and courage as the United States, slogging past the last election with bigotry and half truths still dogging those caught in the uncomfortable bonds of prejudice continues to degrade and embarrass our country. 

What Ms Kelley, does by culling dialogue and difficult settings from Wright's classic novel challenges the audience to examine its own prejudgements and social priorities in the harsh mirror of the times both then and now.  No one escapes prejudice.  Kelley has transformed the novel to a level of introspection and interpretation that, had I not been slightly familiar with the book itself, I might have found her choices difficult to understand. In the novel, twenty year old Bigger Thomas, living in virtual squalor, is attacked by a 'black rat' that the playwright transforms into a reflection of Bigger as he struggles with himself in the mirror of his own mind to rise above the limitations imposed on him by society in 1939. The personification of The Black Rat (Noel Arthur) reflects Bigger becoming a dual force in the play. Bigger and The Black Rat act as a single unit, informing one another in an odd dance that director Chapman sometimes has a handle on and at others we are not so sure. In notes she states that the play 'takes off like a runaway train' which she presents literally.  

Heavy handed but appropriate effects by Adam Macias and Jeff Gardner greet the audience filing into Edward E. Haynes, Jr.'s charred bare bones set.  The Chicago El thunders through, literally shaking the entire theater, as we discover Bigger Thomas at the end of his story. Time and place waft in and out as in a dream with the scene that sets the story afire,  which occurs later in Wright's novel

Bigger has been hired to do handyman work and becomes the driver for the rich owner of the building where he and his family live.  The odd out of place sequence of his attempt to deliver Mary (Ellis Greer), the spoiled and rebellious daughter of the family, drunk from an evening of carousing to her bed, evolves from her drunken state  to seduction of the boy resulting in the murder that begins to crumble the foundation of the young man's efforts to make something of himself.

Perhaps it was opening night adrenaline or a strong director's hand that accelerated the actors to shouting and a break neck pace to tell the story. Special effects to accentuate some of the pantomimed physical business distracted me a bit. In order for a theatrical piece to work, there must be an opportunity to build, not only the plot, but the motivations and actions of the actors.  Costumes by Wendell C. Carmichael are perfect.

Outstanding as Bigger's put-upon mother, Hannah, Victoria Platt finds important moments.  Doubling as sister Bessie and Bigger's lover, Vera, Mildred Marie Langford nailed the two entirely different characters. Brandon Rachal plays brother Buddy.

The story of Bigger being more or less recruited to communist ideas by well meaning Matthew Grondin as Jan, the forbidden boyfriend of Mary puts our hero more in peril. Through Mary's blind mother, Mrs. Dalton (Gigi Bermingham), we hear the angry voice of Wright as she demeans and denigrates the boy, prejudice oozing smoothly from her essence. 

Many attendees to the theatre these days may embrace progressive ideas and ideals. "Native Son" creates an opportunity to examine our own basic instincts and limbic reactions encountering  what may be even surprising and unexpected deep emotions. 

The strong polemic draws upon the sad state of affairs that informed the United States as the Jim Crow era slowly began its march to freedom for African Americans. The lesson here is that we still have a considerable road ahead of us.  Criticisms notwithstanding, the story of "Native Son" is a story worth telling Antaeus has taken a bold step to bring it to the stage. 

NATIVE SON by Nambi E. Kelley 
Antaeus Theatre Company
Kiki & David Gindler
Performing Arts Center
110 E. Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
Opened April 19, 2018
Continues through June 3, 2018
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 2PM
Mondays at 8PM
One additional performance 
Thursday, May 31, 2018
No performances
 Monday 4/23 or 5/28/2018
Tickets and Information