Saturday, September 29, 2018


Ronnie Marmo directs Sam Henry Kass's 
A FLOCK OF MACAWS: A World Premiere

Theatre 68 has taken over the space warmed up for years by Deaf West and then by Antaeus Theatre Company (now holding forth on Broadway in Glendale) and the result contiues to be exciting and innovative theatre.

Cast (L-R):  Deborah Geffner, Mercedes Manning and Julia Valentine Larson

What Sam Henry Kass has constructed in his 'full length' one act is a sort of Twilight Zone with self referential and topical asides with  Mother (excellent Deborah Geffner) and  Daughter (Mercedes Manning) and Actress (Julia Valentine Larson) and her wonky counterpart Actor (Hansford Prince).  

What I love about storefront theatre is that it is, by nature, a mythical animal perhaps, a sort of chimera and then some. Los Angeles Times critic, Dan Sullivan, used the term "a few dollars and a book of Green Stamps" when referencing the ingenuity of how small theatre gets produced.  Of course, no one knows what Green Stamps are these days.. but it is clear that ingenuity and passion are the keys to telling a great story. Making theatre on a shoe string (Macaws' simple set is not credited) presents a chain link fence and concrete park bench where all of the action takes place. Not cheap or cheesy,  but precise and appropriate to the action of the play. 

The few technical aspects of the show are simple and flawless. The premise:  Daughter comes seeking her Mother, all the way from Idaho. Ms Manning is intense and determined, a bit over the top from the get go, but, after a threatened suicide, locks horns with  slippery Ms Geffner who is wonderful in her deflection: rising to the character and at the same time exposing the actress inside who's in it for the lines. "I think I was promised another monologue later in the play.." 

As Actress, Ms Larson simply wants to get her Equity card (if she knew what the AEA was doing to small theatre in Los Angeles, she might want to reconsider) and plays a handful of different characters with intentionally bad accents.  She's most impressive as Daughter's date to the prom. 

Actor, Mr. Prince, first appears in drag as surrogate for Mother (or is it Mother's Mother?) to play a scene with Actress to help figure out what happened to Mother early in life.. I think.  

Kass's references to his life as a creative consultant/writer for Seinfeld (the TV series) and other current and topical references are inside jokes (I did not know that writer Carol Liefer did stand up!). His reference to Nat Bernstein was a shocker! The TV business is tough! 

The beauty of "Macaws" is that the device of playing to the audience, the comic bombshells and the energy of these four actors is undeniable.  It's off the wall.. almost sketch comedy, moving apace through scenes that attempt to find Daughter's daddy and to confirm that Mother is, in fact, her mother. A slower build might be an idea for director, Marmo, (whose very successful Lenny Bruce turn at his Theatre 68 will head to Off Broadway soon) to incorporate a steady build for Daughter and find crisper diction for Actor.  The energy for Opening Night is always high which may account for this note.  

This wonky tale may incorporate more topical bits as it goes along, which would be totally appropriate. The play invites us in and we feel included and welcome. 

Support storefront theatre!  Take a leap of faith!

A FLOCK OF MACAWS  by   Sam Henry Kass
World Premiere
 5112 Lankershim Blvd.,
North Hollywood, CA. 91601.  
Fridays and Saturdays 8:00PM  
September 28 – October 20, 2018
Sundays at 3:00PM 
(Sunday matinees on Oct. 7 and 14)
General admission $25.00.  
Tickets and information

Sunday, September 23, 2018


TENOR BY NIGHT  by James Chiao

Businessman entrepreneur James Chiao, a successful Orange County Chinese immigrant, who with his wife, Lily and family has created what amounts to a store display dynasty providing  mannequins of every shape and size world wide. "Tenor by Night" is an autobiographical musical that charms.  Chiao's dream has been to follow in the footsteps of his parents, both musicians in China before the Cultural Revolution. He partially succeeds. To come from the life of a farmer / fisherman in rural China; develop a successful American business and then...  in his sixties, complete a Masters in Fine Arts at Cal Arts is a major accomplishment. For professionals with years of musical and theatrical training to write the book, compose the lyrics and the score to create a fully staged musical  and then opt to produce and helm the production with a full orchestra and a cast of more than twenty actors, singers and dancers and to succeed in actually mounting the show is, in a word: Incredible!

Chiao's autobiographical story, though somewhat convoluted; featuring bits of recognizable operas as well as his own musical compositions has its ups and downs.  

The logical progression of the passion that Chiao professes through his doppleganger character James (excellent tenor Kevin Gino) is recounted in the program. While on vacation with his family in Yosemite, Chiao stood on a big rock, singing an aria in full voice into the forest.  From down below a voice filtered up to him, "Don't quit your day job!"  An ensemble number "Keep Your Day Job" comes early in the show where Chiao's romance with music, art and dance are exemplified by a fireman who paints, a nurse who dances and others who extol the virtues of working to keep the wolf from the door, while finding time to  pursue the thing that truly makes their lives  worth living. I was especially impressed with the fireman's outfit that featured a huge paint brush emerging from his fire hose! The entire cast's theatrical skills, buoyed by conductor Charles Fernandez and a full orchestra are totally professional.  As James's wife, Lily, Lauren Han, exhibits a full vocal range. 

"Tenor" is, essentially, charming. Though over produced with excellent tech design by daughter Amy Chiao. In total the show is simply too long with some musical moments included that do not advance the  the plot.

At one point we travel back in time to experience the meeting of James and Lily in China with an overlong dance number that includes James accompanying dancing women in coolie hats, possibly in a rice paddy. He plays a traditional one string instrument, the erhu.. and then doubles on an accordion.  This introduces James and Lily to one another with Lily boldly announcing her family intentions and taking James by the hand.
Lauren Han and Kevin Gino  Photo credit: Ed Krieger

The story line becomes complicated  with the introduction of a Mephistopelean  visitor to the Chiao's home, Mike the Magician (Stefan Alexander Miller), who blatantly comes on to Lily. Through some Faustean 'magic' James is convinced to virtually abandon his family in favor of repairing to his warehouse full of mannequins who... thanks to Mike's "magic",  come to life to provide him with an appreciative audience! In an odd twist, Lily is magically transformed into a mystical mannequin: "Lady Yoga" played by the gorgeous Junru Wong who appears in other parts of the play as an amazing contortionist. 

If a native born westerner went to China,   studied the language faithfully,  graduated from university in any traditional Chinese art, including music and theatre; wrote, scored, produced and directed their own production, the translation would, by necessity, be influenced by the author's  Western roots.  Many of the lyrics of Chiao's musical numbers have the feeling of elementary translations.  The poetry does not scan well.

Should "Tenor" find legs and be mounted again, judicious cutting and an experienced director will improve it considerably. The unintentional camp aspects of this production (including "living" mannequins with plastic breasts and hunky Chippendales clones with shiny six packs) considering a satirical approach might hone Chiao's story to one with genuine humor and still retain his  fundamental message:  
Pursue the dream.  
With a nod to Joseph Campbell:  
Follow your bliss.

Written, produced and directed by James Chaio
El Portal Theater
5269 Lankershim Blvd. 
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Opened September 22, 2018
Runs Sunday, September 23 at 2PM and 7:30
Monday, September 24 at 7:30
Tuesday, September 25 at 7:30
Wednesday, September 26 at 7:30
Tickets and information:

Friday, September 21, 2018


Eric Ulloa's 26 PEBBLES is a   thoughtful and tender survey of the community deeply affected by the tragic events of December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.  

Jules Aaron directs six actors: Jennifer Lee Laks, Joe Lorenzo, George Villas, Jeanne Kauffman, Michele Schultz and Roselyn Cohn, who, with subtle costume adjustments bring to life nineteen residents of Newtown. One can't but think of   Thornton Wilder's classic play "Our Town."

Gabrieal Greigo's excellent projections combined with elementary chalk board drawings that illustrate the layout of the town and in conclusion, the Hope that the community has for the future. 
26 pebbles represent twenty children and six adults who died by gun violence on that fateful day.  The allusion is to how the ripples in a still pond expand when even one pebble is dropped. The presentation is straightforward story telling not always easy to figure out who is who, but, in the end, the gentle polemic is presented with sincerity and love.
It is June, 2013. The time to heal presents itself  as Jennifer Lee Laks enters to include the audience, all with appropriate name tags, to discuss coming to grips with such a senseless act.  She is an attractive young mom who lays out the groundwork for the many stories that emerged that day, December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School where  20 children and 6 school workers died. The goal is to simply tell the story, preach to what will undoubtedly be a receptive choir that gun violence is epidemic and that, with a community of reason coming together, that we survive with Hope and Love.  We do get a little overly patriotic with the unfurled Stars and Stripes waving majestically across the entire stage at the end. This refers back to the center of Newtown where an imposing flagpole stands. As a symbol of 'moving on' the residents of Newtown insist that the flag be restored from half staff to full staff.

Beautifully staged and sincerely presented at Theatre 40.  
26 PEBBLES by Eric Ulloa. 
Directed by Jules Aaron. 
Produced by David Hunt Stafford.
Theatre 40 is in the Reuben Cordova Theatre 
241 S. Moreno Drive 
Beverly Hills, CA 90212. 
Ample free parking beneath the theatre. 
The parking area can be accessed from the intersection of Durant Ave. and Moreno Drive Through October 14, 2018
Thurs.- Fri.-Sat. at 8:00
 Sunday at 2:00
Monday at 8:00. 
The performance on Friday, September 21 begins at 7:00.
RESERVATIONS: (310) 364-0535.

Monday, September 17, 2018


 Director Jan Munroe, in discussing playwright John O'Keefe's ALL NIGHT LONG states,
“What John does in the theater is a lot like what Robert Rauschenberg does in painting.” And, with the reference to Rene Magritte in this poster, the term 'surreal' certainly comes into play.  In O'Keefe's interview with Tracey Paleo, her take is that O'Keefe is "... an old school free-thinker, passionate about ideas and testing them to ‘whatever’ effect on live audiences for the pure thrill of engaging and shifting human consciousness."  This bizarre tale of the family of Jack (Phillip William Brock) and Jill (Alina Phelan) twists and turns in and out of reality and surreality.. if that's a word.  Three kids, Eddy (John Patrick Daly), Tammy (Caroline Klidonas) and Cat Davis as little sis, Terry, morph in this truly bizarre saga.  
Phillip William Brock, Caroline Klidonas,
John Patrick Daly, Alina Phelan, Cat Davis
Photo by Darrett Sanders
Figuring out what's real and what's going on in
some colossal time warp may leave the audience in a tizzy, which may be O'Keefe's plan all along. This is absurdist nonsense that making sense of may be a fool's errand. 

Munroe's hand is all over the place with his set design and amazing prop construction. His relationship with O'Keefe has been a long one with his recent direction of another of O'Keefe's plays also at The Open Fist: "Don't You Ever Call Me Anything But Mother!" 

I was fortunate to have as my "plus one" for the opening of this show, Los Angeles poet, Peggy Dobreer. With her permission I share her take on ALL NIGHT LONG.
"(ALL NIGHT LONG is...) a piece of poetic brilliance you won’t want to miss. This play will cause your head to tilt and spin. As ribald and zany as poignant and sad, this look deep into the soul of the ‘nuclear’ family, will have you laughing out loud and running home to hug your children. Jan Munroe’s execution of O’Keefe’s language is some of the best I’ve seen. With a real old-fashioned and utterly brilliant verve for set and prop design (which Munroe executed himself,) commedia style action on the set, and a clear respect and energy for O’KEEFE’s vision, Munroe delivers a rare and authentic telling of this timeless and timely play. Bravo!!!" 

ALL NIGHT LONG by John O'Keefe
Directed by Jan Munroe 
The Open Fist Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre 
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Through Oct. 21, 2018
 Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. 
 Sundays at 7 p.m. (dark Saturday, Oct. 6).
Reservations and information
 (323) 882-6912 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Pasadena Playhouse NATIVE GARDENS

(L-R) Bruce Davison, Frances Fisher, Jessica Meraz and Christian Barillas in Native Gardens at Pasadena Playhouse. // Photo by Jenny Graham

NATIVE GARDENS  by Karen Zacarías

Costanza Lives!  You can take the actor out of the sitcom, but you can’t take the sitcom out of the actor. Since bringing the character of Larry David to life through his off the wall character George Costanza in the never ending sitcom “Seinfeld,” Jason Alexander has gained prominence for his work as a director for the stage.  The feeling of a situation comedy in Native Gardens, having dramatic twists and turns, is amplified by a chorus of guys: The Gomez Bros (Richard Biglia, Julian Armaya, and Bradley Roa II) who greet the audience as we enter. They are gardeners who dance.  Set changes and presenting the passage of time is their responsibility and even after the curtain call, they’re still rocking the Playhouse.

There is a warm subtext to this important theatre piece that does its best to show how culture and prejudice… and success: both nouveau and landed success.. may find a way to middle ground.  Herein lies the tale.

Virginia and Frank (Frances Fisher and Bruce Davison) are a mostly retired couple who have lived for forty years on a comfortable plot of land where Frank has raised his prize petunias.. (I can’t remember if they were actually petunias but the flowers are competition ready and there’s the rub).  New next door neighbor  Pablo  (Christian Barillias... doing a 180 on his turn as Reynaldo on ABC’s Modern Family) is an aspiring attorney, born in Chile, anxious to make partner in his law firm. Tania, a New Mexcan, (Jessica Maraz) is expecting a little visitor soon.  Even though they are still moving forward with remodeling the interior of their home, Pablo has foolishly agreed to have the law firm partners over for a BBQ! Soon! The pregnant missus will have to engineer a lot in the few days they have to make ready for the party. In preparation of the yard, Frank and Virginia have surprisingly and happily agreed to a rebuild of an ivy covered wire fence that has stood between the two properties for years. Pablo and Tania discover that the property line  has been improperly drawn and that THEY own an additional twenty-four inches into the prize petunias of Frank!

One issue that I take with Alexander’s directorial choices is that this cast of heavy hitter actors has been pumped almost into a frenzy from the get go. “Bigger, Faster, Louder” is not necessarily Better.  The play is well written and  with David Meyer’s gorgeous set and Thomas Ontiveros's effective lighting (the Playhouse puts the money on the stage, for sure..) all is in place for a lesson in tolerance … which we eventually get to, but Alexander's somewhat presentational style gives the characters a two dimensional quality. 

As Virginia, Ms Fisher comes on strong as a successful engineer!  She’s worked her way into leadership at Lockeed-Martin regardless of her being a woman. Of this she’s very proud.  Fisher's privileged/entitled quality along with Davison’s over the top approach to gardening and the loss of his precious petunias are all appropriate given Alexander’s specific direction.

Pablo and Tania are excited for the birth of their baby and the rush job to create a yard for the Bar-B-Que with plants native (Native Gardens) to the area plays to stereotypes. Depending on one's political point of view, we may be at odds with ourselves trying to decide which family to support! Unexpected and clever maneuvering by Frank and Ginny may be the key to fixing things, but as the story gets hot, deus ex machina and the stork fly in to save the day.
(L-R) Richard Biglia, Julian Armaya, and Bradley Roa II 
Photo by Jenny Graham 

Native Gardens is a crowd pleaser with the Gomez boys after the curtain call dancing the audience out the door.   This is a show that brings audiences in. With the strong new leadership at the Playhouse, we can expect more of the same. 

NATIVE GARDENS by By Karen Zacarías
Directed by Jason Alexander
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101
Through September 30, 2018
Tickets and information:

Monday, September 10, 2018

American Saga Gunshot Medley: Part 1

Playwright Dionna Michelle Daniel dedicates  her play to three anonymous slaves whose graves are marked only by their first names:  
Betty: May 2, 1860
Alvis: April 2, 1860
George: Nov 26, 1850 

Brought to life, Betty (Cherise Boothe), Alvis (Derek Jackson), George (Donathan Walters) awaken the story of violence and discrimination set  in the "Hereafter" ...  the aforementioned's final resting place scenic design created by Priti Donde with lights by Tom Brown

Sounds of gunshots ring out with bright flashes  driving Betty to her knees only to rise up and continue to scrub the stage floor again and again.  Somehow she recovers and resumes her scullery. 
Jackson's high spirited young Alvis tries and tries again to lift Betty into a happier life, but life in these times is not much fun.  Musically underscored by the beautiful High Priestess (Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield), she  greets the audience as we enter.  
Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield and Cherise Boothe Photo by Cristian Kreckler

Three musicians play in silhouette, reminiscent of 19th Century profile portraits crafted by expert scissors artists: Gerald C. Rivers on bass, Ann Polednak on banjo and Crissy Joyce on violin underscore the movements of the play and of the gospels sung by the High Priestess

Daniel's play is a strong polemic to underscore the fact that even today, prejudice and attempts by society to keep African Americans underfoot unfolds as present day martyrs appear.. Martin Luther King  and Trevon Martin .. gunned down in silhouette. It's a sad reminder of our American saga still on the road to freedom. Directed by Desean Kevin Terry, the story gives hope that we may  still maintain our goals: for all to rise equally with  mutual respect for one another in the United States of America.  
Rogue Machine Theatre presents 
American Saga    
Gunshot Medley: Part 1
by Dionna Michelle Daniel 
MET Theatre
1089 N. Oxford Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Opened  Saturday September 8, 2018
Plays Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays at 8pm
Sundays at 2pm 
additional performance 
added on Thursday, September 20 at 8pm
Through September 23, 2018

Continuing at the WLCAC Theatre
10950 S Central Ave 
Los Angeles, CA 90059
From October 5, 2018
 Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm 
Sundays at 2pm through October 14th
Tickets and information:
Group discounts:  855-585-5185