Tuesday, February 26, 2019

TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE at Sierra Madre Playhouse

Mitch Albom's best selling book, TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE has sold over 14 Million copies, having been translated into more than 42 languages around the world.  Albom's literary gifts, including "Five People You Meet In Heaven" and a dozen or so other books, focus on spiritual values including the idea that our connection to others goes well beyond the obvious. 
Jackson Kendall and Larry Eisenberg
   Photo by Gina Long

The Sierra Madre Playhouse is a prolific local theatre company that challenges and entertains with literally one production after another. Halfway professional and half  the feeling of a dedicated community theatre permeates the friendly staff.  The house is small and has the feeling of an old movie house, which it may have been.  All of this to say that a surprise awaits those who head up the road to Sierra Madre for an afternoon or evening of living theatre.

Larry Eisenberg (Morrie) noted that at the very beginning of rehearsals, the set for the show was basically together, giving him and the actor playing Mitch (Jackson Kendall) a firm foundation to create the play.  

"Tuesdays with Morrie" is what folks in the theatre call a 'two hander.'  Two actors mostly in a dialogue. The challenge is to make the story and the action more than just a discussion.  Because the play is based on Albom's book, the gravity of the work may tend to make it static. Thanks to director, L. Flint Esquerra, we see the fluctuating energies of Mitch contrast with the fading energies of Morrie and the lessons that they exchange truly come to life. 

Professor Morrie Schwartz is suffering from ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.The toll of the disease may effect him physically, but the inner man, Mitch's teacher and friend, blossoms with Eisenberg's focused work.  We meet Morrie and Mitch early in their relationship as Mitch, a student at Brandeis University, reluctantly signs up for Morrie's class in Sociology.  Eisenberg brings Morrie's charm and direct way of teaching, leaning toward the Platonic style to life.

Mitch becomes a willing student, but finds that in time, Life has interferred with his integrity.  After completing his studies at Brandeis, he neglected his promise to Morrie to 'stay in touch.'  Many years later, to his chagrin, it was only after seeing a television segment on ABC's Nightline about his former mentor,  now suffering from the disease that would consume him, that he called and went to see his old pal.  The twist comes rather quickly.  Mitch is now busy with his life as a successful sports writer and television reporter when he arrives to have his first visit with Morrie after a lapse of many years.  Morrie is forgiving and hip to the excuses that Mitch makes. This genuine quality of the mentor to his student draws Mitch back into the fold that not only brings the audience to tears, but brings Mitch to his true calling.
Dealing with the death of friends and relatives comes to everyone.  The lessons that Morrie and Mitch discuss are about how we live in the moment and appreciate the time we have Now.  Albom's writing is smooth and a little schmaltzy. Morrie is Jewish and supplies an occasional Yiddish aphorism elevating the charm of the entire piece.   

The audible sniffles from another critic sitting behind me and throughout the theatre bear witness to this delicate and well acted production. Derek Jones's lights, Amanda Knehans' set with incidental piano music on stage by Kendall, all meld to evoke a homey feeling that works. Only one technical issue that I noticed may be corrected by the time the show gets its 'legs', so your job is to see the show and report back if you see what I'm talking about.  

This is a don't miss production of a story you may well have seen or read over time. The dance that Kendall and Eisenberg perform will touch your heart, giving hope for kindness in the world. 

Tuesdays with Morrie (the play)
by Mitch Albomand Jeffrey Hatcher
Sierra Madre Playhouse
87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.
Sierra Madre, CA 91024.
Through Sunday, March 31, 2019
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00
Sundays at 2:30, except March 17, 2019  
Free  Parking behind the theatre

Monday, February 11, 2019

Yes! But is it Art? Nude/Naked/Naked/Nude

Sorel Carradine and
Bjørn Johnson
Nude/Naked by Paul Hoan Zeidler asks the eternal question: What is Art? Of course, the answer is still and always blowin' in the wind.  The winds of time are winds of change and the question asked here advances the idea, perhaps, that it's up to us to embrace or condemn what may appear as perversion: pornography or high Art. Zeidler, directing his own work, asks and answers his own questions. 

The question of morality and nude photos goes on and on with Robert Mapplethorpe's sensational black and white photos and before him Ruth Bernard's spectacular photographs. The questions that Zeidler asks are validated and hyped by the reference to Bennett Duquesnes's (pronounced Do Kane) (Bjørn Johnson) altercation with a protester at an exhibit of his work in a Pittsburgh gallery ten years prior.  In 2009, Youtube and the internet were well underway then, but in 2019 the flurry of Instagram videos and virtually instantaneous broadcast of any event where one person has an iPhone, the salacious will always take precedence over the mundane.  Trolls are standing by to hack and condemn just about anything.
Sorel Carradine and
Jonathan E. Grey
Zeidler's polemic turns to how tabloid mentality is truly rampant in the United States today. Through the device of recorded 'television and radio' shows that are broadcast with static intervals to depict the quick changing of stations: Right Wing and Religious talk radio broadcast strong condemnation of the photographer's work.  This all because of an unfortunate and somewhat inexplicable shooting of a student of Bennett's, Julian Simic (Lucas Alifano), by Addy's boyfriend, Stevie (Steven Tyler Howell).  A thin device of Julian's being an obnoxious drunk and an easily available hand gun boost Bennett and Addy back into the spotlight.
As Julian's girlfriend Darcy,  Asia Lynn Pitts, (who does double duty as a sneaky journalist) finds her way out of the melee that we eventually see in flashback, which tended to confuse the story somewhat for me. 
Because of their new notoriety, Bennett and Addy, who have been virtual partners, bringing them to attention and success in the past, the whole issue of "naked vs nude" rises and forces them to defend their relationship as well as the art that they collaborate on.  
Is Duquesne's relationship with Addy, (Sorel Carradine) his daughter 'unusual?'  Or are they dedicated artists truly collaborating as photographer and model to further the concept of the human body as worthy of capture?  Both are artists.  The visceral response collides with a rational look at the intention of the photos of Addy published ten years earlier in a book: "Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen", a nude survey of her adolescence, which, to me, makes not only the idea of the 'art photos' valid, but also exacerbates the limbic reactions by those who find "nakedness!" unacceptable, with the term 'naked' rising to the surface in a pejorative way.  Fascinating.  

An attempt by Hank (Jonathan E. Grey), Bennett's attorney, to calm things down... smoothing the waters so to speak, spins out of control because of Bennett's unwillingness to find a compromise. He repeats the phrase, "It's in the photos," over and over again when the issue is about the relationship with Addy (and referring to other less controversial photos made in Syria) and how the photos were made. 

The relationship between father and daughter is not all together clear and events from Addy's past at the age of thirteen unfold. The issue of her parents' divorce adds to the texture of the piece. Indeed, the issue of 'texture' becomes a point in their collaboration.

Clearly, Zeidler is taking aim at the under educated and less sophisticated 'Right' with the radio and television voices which were somewhat muddled and too obviously provocative, to me.   

A final scene with Bennett and Addy excitedly discovering a dagger of light that has slashed through the living room with Addy quickly stripping to the nude and Bennett doing his best to shoot her movement choices reflects the absolute collaboration of their Art Making.  

A delicate conclusion is poignant and gives pause to the relationship the two have shared for the elapsed ten years between Addy at the age of thirteen and her now adult reaction to her own world and the world of her father and their art. 

Provocative and well done.    

NUDE/NAKED by Paul Horan Zeidler
McCadden Place Theatre
1157 N. McCadden Place
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tickets and information
323 468 1008
Closing soon. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

McDonagh's Cripple of Inishmaan / Fripple Frapples

  Martin McDonagh is a man of many talents.  
I learned recently that McDonagh is not only a playwright, but an Academy Award nominated screen writer/producer/director. He has been called 'a bloody and outlandish storyteller,' witness his self referential film, "Seven Psychopaths" where the main character, a screen writer named "Marty", no less, is  pals with crooks who kidnap dogs for their reward money. His written by, produced by and directed by screenplay, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" shows his triple threat  creativity
 Director, Steven Robman,  reminds us in program notes that McDonagh and his work are an 'enormous gift.'  Indeed.

 Antaeus Theatre Company's presentation of The Cripple of Inishmaan  is substantially less bloody than McDonagh's  "Seven Psychopaths" but has its moments. The most honest moments of the play, however, turn on the quirky rural culture where survival is a day by day activity. The deep and visceral connection that each of the characters have with their community and with one another is complicated. Secrets are revealed from time to time.  

Inishmaan is a wee Aran island community off the west coast of Ireland where the local news is broadcast regularly by Johnnypateenmike (JD Cullum) for tips of food. He prefers eggs to fekkin' peas!  
Julia Fletcher and Kitty Swink
Photo by Geoffrey Wade Photography

With Antaeus tradition of  double casting, the theatre is fortunate to have depth and breadth in their talent larder so as to invite comparison, giving  audiences the opportunity to return to see how energies and attitudes may shift a bit from a Mallow to a Frapple.    

The Fripple Frapples bring McDonagh's scenes immediately to life.  Within each well honed character the engine that drives the story emerges. Robman's finely tuned direction sets the pace and rigor of the show beautifully.  There's a lilt and a flow to the language that McDonagh's Irish accents embellish.  Some nuances are subtle. Often the message is more direct.  Be honest. Stay true. Pay your debts.

My previous review tells the basic story: Billy, (Matthew Grondin) suffers from birth defects that have plagued him for all of his sixteen years. Taken in by two odd "Aunties": Eileen (Julia Fletcher) and Kate (loopy Kitty Swink) who run the general store on the island of Inishmaan. Early on, Bartley's (Joey Millin) longing for his 'sweeties' and a telescope factor in the most amusing way.  

All of his life, Billy has muddled through insults and the issues of his being deformed. In addition to his physical woes, he is all together plagued by (and smitten with Bartley's sister, the crusty russet maned rascal,  Helen (Abby Wilde). Helen makes it very clear that she'll brook no nonsense from anyone, including the local Catholic clergy whom she brags that she's pegged with eggs in retaliation for having her arse groped at choir practice!

Billy longs to escape the ties that bind him to Inishmaan and when hearing from Johnnypateenmike of a Hollywood film production on the neighboring island of Inishmore, he coaxes Babbybobby (Seamus Deaver) to ferry him across the seas, along with Helen and  Bartley to get into the movies. Billy's goal: to escape Inishmaan and to become his own person: even a famous Hollywood actor. (How hard could that be?)

Johnnypateenmike's life's goal has been to see his Mammy (Anne Gee Byrd!!) deadTo that end, he encourages her to drink... a lot. The business of his owing her a hundred pounds for many years factors in an ironic way. 
Matthew Grondin and Phil Ptoctor
Photo by Geoffrey Wade Photography

Scenes with Dr. McSherry (Philip Proctor) attempting to treat dear old Mammy are hilarious. Later, while dealing with injuries sustained by Billy, we hear that misdeeds are debts that must be paid.

Deception and emerging secrets slowly evolve to share personal revelations and a wee bit of redemption.

John Iacovelli's rustic set reflects the rugged coast of InishmaanProjections and lighting by Kaitlyn Pietras and Jason H. Thompson are perfect.   

Antaeus Theatre Company presents

The Cripple of Inishmaan by

Martin McDonagh

Directed by Steven Robman

Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center

110 E. Broadway

Glendale, California 91205  
Through March 11, 2019

Tickets and information 

818 506 5436

The play is double cast. Check the Antaeus website for information for each cast. See them both for an education in well done theatre.