Tuesday, April 30, 2019


Susan Wilder, Stephen Tyler Howell, Luke McClure,
Eve Danzeisen, Eric Curtis Johnson, Bruce Nozick
Photo: Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin
This world premiere of John Bunzel's "Boxing Lessons" unfolds with a slightly familiar theme and lands somewhat pat: bringing together the estranged family of a famous novelist whose naked body has been discovered floating in the bay off one of the San Juan Islands. As they arrive the family is stuck with the remnants of the novelist's life and tasked with boxing it up.   That, and finding the elusive will that is vital for the estate to be settled.

Celebrated author Paul Green's major claim to fame is the Christmas classic Suck My Thumb which is read annually by millions around the world during the holiday season.  Green's reputation is now at risk. The Truth is not an ally in this family. After his divorce from Meg (lovely Susan Wilder) the mother of Ned and Judy (Luke McClure and Eve Danzeisen), the author sought refuge in a funky old cabin on an island on Puget Sound.  

For reasons that slowly emerge, Paul has, evidently, become finished with life.  He's sent a text message to his former lover, Billy (Bruce Nozick), with whom he has spent a good deal of time romantically as well as creatively. They won Emmy's for a special they produced. Paul's text announced that he planned to commit suicide. Billy has returned to the island after mysteriously vanishing years ago.  His goal is to find the Will and cash in on Paul's estate.

The family reunites opening old wounds, saddled with boxing up the remnants of Paul's life and to find the missing Will. The clutter in the cabin makes this a major challenge.  

Meg arrives with claws extended, hovering over her adopted son, Steve (Stephen Tyler Howell) the  fluttering "on the Spectrum". Meg extolls the "might have beens" in her life while jousting with her two natural kids.  Ned is a cynical and newly tenured college professor in the midwest having arrived in a tizzy only to have the situation exacerbated by his bossy sister, Judy who needs money.

Sheriff Bob (Eric Curtis Johnson) is a long time family friend and as the elected official on the island will protect Paul's reputation at any cost for personal reasons that blossom late in the argument of the play. Family secrets are revealed. 

The mystery as to why a celebrated seventy year old  author would take his own life by wading naked into fifty five degree water instead of using a shotgun still moldering in the closet is never explained to satisfaction.  

Thanks to the least likely of the six characters to emerge with answers, Steve and his eidetic memory solve the mystery and all's well that ends well... more or less. 

John Iacovelli's beautifully cluttered set fills the  tiny New American Theatre stage.  Jack Stehlin's deft direction smoothly choreographs the actors into creative stage pictures.  Personal revelations and sniping reminiscent of Albee's Virginia Woolf... reminds us of that author's demise... ending with an enigmatic footnote from the author's hand.   
Strong acting chops make the dark story work. The last word is silence.

Boxing Lessons by John Bunzel
A World Premiere
New American Theatre
1312 Wilton Place
Hollywood, CA 90028
Through June 2, 2019
Friday and Saturday @ 8 pm 
Sunday @ 3 pm
Tickets and information:
310 424 2980 


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Sam Shepard's BACK BOG BEAST BAIT at The Yard

In November, 2018, Actor/Mentor/Director Darrell Larson gathered together a group of actors who came to be kown as The Scavengers: a line taken from Sam Shepard's play Back Bog Beast Bait.  Through some trials and tribulations, the core group, wound up workshopping the one act, one of Shepard's more esoteric theatricals.  To call this play "esoteric" is a far cry from accurate. Bizarre. Outre. Outlandish if we are bound by words.
Cecilia Fairchild as Gris Gris photo credit Melanie Fairchild
 Shepard's energy permeates The Yard, a funky old performance space on Melrose.  The spirit of the playwright, poet, actor is palpable as the audience settles in. A golden presence appears high above the stage.  The Ghost Girl: Ren Farren Martinez's voice fills the space. It's Sam's voice really wondering how in the world to get back to Tennessee and if anyone will recognize him if he makes it.
The setting: a run down shack in bayou country where Maria  (Tali Forest-Smith) answers the bolted door with a shotgun at the ready.  In stumble Slim (Stan Mayer) and Shadow (Abe Martell) two gun totin' roughnecks who, evidently, Maria has hired to rid the neighborhood of The Tarpin, the Beast of the Back Bog, an inhuman creature who is on the road to destruction of the human race. 
The boys make themselves at home and the dialogue gets wonky.  Shadow is a young pup: a bull rider who makes the road his home and is ready for more of the vagabond life. Slim (often thought of as representing Shepard, himself) feels the gravity of time and is ready to hang up his guns before someone younger and faster sends him to Boot Hill.
A loud bang and the door's thrown open. Enter The Preacher (James Bane) torn to shreds and bleeding profusely. He babbles what may be bits of the Book of Revelation.  Incoherent and dying, the boys try to comfort him. Maria has some remedies to bring him back to life.
The story is a crazy one to say the least.  Shadow heads out into the Bog and soon returns with Gris Gris (Beautiful Cecilia Fairchild) riding on his back like a bucking bronco.. Fairchild's inescapable energy boosts the play to a new level. 
She and Shadow bring a bag of mushrooms that Gris Gris has led him to. He swears that they were strewn on the top of a mountain in a land where there are no mountains.  Gris Gris is an enchantress!   Magic mushrooms are consumed by some but not by others as each character now takes on what amounts to an individual line. Ghost Girl (Maria's dead daughter) sings another beautiful lament. 
The disparate elements of each character now roil and rumble in such a way as to practically abandon the actual dialogue as Maria, Slim, The Preacher, Gris Gris and Shadow . . either under the influence of the mushrooms or Shepard's other world sense of story.. unfold. Each actor is in their own world and after Slim heads out into the bog and returns, disheveled and missing his two gun rig, it's every man or woman for themselves.
Live instrumental accompaniment by Paul Lacques on guitar, dobro, and slide guitar subtly underscores the piece, adding to the mystery and the energy of the show.
True West and Fool for Love are more what fans of Sam Shepard have come to appreciate from the genius of the man.  Back Bog Beast Bait is none of the above and must be taken at face value and appreciated for the specific work that the six actors present. Simple lighting by Matt Richter and gorgeous costumes by Melanie Fairchild almost become additional characters in the piece. It's an abstract dance of words and rhythms that enter the mind bypassing the intellect to challenge the spirit.  

Support this new theatre company it's time for new horizons.

by Sam Shepard
Directed by Darrell Larson and The Scavengers
The Yard
4319 Melrose Ave 
Los Angeles, CA 
Seats may be reserved online

Monday, April 22, 2019


ANTAEUS continues with the tradition of partner casting allowing audiences to compare and contrast performances in Diana of Dobson's by Cicely Hamilton. This is a review of The Pots cast.

 Miss Diana Massingbred (Abigail Marks) is a poorly paid and impatient shopgirl at Dobson's Draperies in London, circa 1908.  Diana, shares quarters with other employees who stand all day to sell linens.  Casey Stangl's direction sets a break neck pace that serves the characters but races along at such speed that there's hardly time to take a breath.  In the very rapid first act, we learn that Diana makes five shillings a week: or about one pound sterling a month. She rants and raves about the poor treatment that she and the other girls must weather.   A letter comes for Diana announcing that a distant cousin has passed away.  Diana's share of his estate will come to Three Hundred Pounds! Roughly, this is the equivalent of twenty five years income at her present salary!  

An overseer of the girls, Miss Pringle (Eve Gordon, later Mrs. Cantalupe) enters to put the girls to bed and turn out the gas lights. With her new found wealth, all of the animosity that the shopgirls have kept silent about bubbles up in Diana.  In a back and forth with Pringle that liberates her from her life of drudgery, she decides to take the cash and blow it on a month of living the life of a rich widow. Diana now has the luxury of telling Pringle what she really thinks of the whole rotten situation with the line, "Miss Pringle, you are no longer in a position to bully me, so take my advice and don't try it on!" Black Out!

We have been pulled along with snapping dialogue to be dumped into darkness and the fastest first act in the west.  A stunned audience murmurs in a confused state as the house lights come up and stage hands set to work changing the scenery for Act II.  

As Stangl has arranged for fluid movements by the supernumeraries later in the play, to not use them to do a routine to transform the Dobson's dormitory into the fancy Hotel Engadine may have been a mistake. The flow of the piece has great energy and should be kept going. It's an opportnity to engage the audience with the business of what we all accept: it's a play! Let us watch the scene change.

The first act racing along showed exemplary performances by Ms Marks, Ms Gordon and the other shopgirls (Cindy Nyugen, Krystal Roche, Shannon Lee Clair, Kristen Ariza) but skidding to a complete stop is a bad choice.

Diana has taken her three hundred pound windfall and travels to the Hotel Engadine, a luxury resort in the Alps. 
John Bobek and Abigail Marks
Photo by Geoffrey Wade Photography
She enters in beautiful regalia and charms the other visitors, prompting a proposal of marriage by the business tycoon, Sir Jabez Grinley (John Apicella)  and pulls at the heart strings of the younger and probably more desirable Captain Bretherton (John Bobek).  Diana leaves behind an air of mystery. but eventually comes clean revealing her true status to Bretherton just as he dregs up the fortitude to expose his feelings of love.  That nips his ardor in the bud.

Hamilton's message, that money is power and the superficial business of putting on airs, at which all of the guests at the Hotel Engadine are perfect, is contrary to the principals of honest hard work. The guests have enjoyed the pampering of the well coordinated and excellent servants (all of the above shopgirls now in tidy maids' uniforms, joined by the excellent Paul Stanko as the Waiter and later Constable Fellowes). The choreography is letter perfect but sometimes distracting as they emulate some of the dialogue of the 'swells' in the salon of the hotel. 
Diana challenges the wealthy Bretherton to try standing with his back to the wall with pittance to live on and rushes to return to London, her wealth now dissipated.
We return to London and find two figures huddled on a cold park bench along the banks of the Thames.  Bretherton, in an effort to meet Diana's challenge has abandoned his stipend upon which he has lived for years. He is unable to find work (educated at Eton and Oxford with not a whit to show for it).  Rousted by Constable Fellowes, we find that the constable had served in the Welsh Guards under Captain Bretherton and cuts him some slack allowing him to sit a spell on the public bench. As  the Old Woman  (Elyse Mirto) sharing the bench with Bretherton awakens, she advises him to eschew the 'drink!' In fact, all he's wanted to do was to prove to himself and to Diana? that he was capable of surviving on his own. He has failed.
As dawn breaks, a disheveled Diana enters, also on the skids and the love that was just blooming until she revealed her low social status, reawakens and all is well.

Written in 1908, Hamlton's story of a woman seeking to better her life has a 21st Century tone.  The highly stylized and ever so British presentation emphasizes the hoity toity snobbery of the 'upper' classes and puts them in their place.  It's a splendid production, notwithstanding the odd scene change after the short first act. Highly recommended with The Kettles ready in the wings.

The Pots: 
Abigail Marks
John Apicella 
Kristen Ariza  
Shannon Lee Clair
Eve Gordon
Elyse Mirto 
Cindy Nguyen 
Krystel Roche 
Paul Stanko  
John Bobek

Diana of Dobson's
Written by Cicely  Hamilton
Directed by Casey Stangl 
Antaeus Theatre
Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
(between N. Brand Blvd. and Artsakh Ave. formerly Maryland Avenue)

Tuesday at 8 p.m.: April 16 ONLY (preview)
Wednesday at 8 p.m.: April 17 ONLY (preview) Thursdays at 8 p.m.: April 11 (preview), April 18 (opening) and May 16 ONLY Fridays at 8 p.m.: April 12 (preview), April 19, 26; May 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 13 (preview), April 20, 27; May 4, 11, 25; June 1 (dark May 18) Sundays at 2 p.m.: April 14 (preview), April 21, 28; May 5, 12, 19, 26; June 2 
Mondays at 8 p.m.: April 29; May 6, 13, 20, 27; June 3 (dark April 22)
Alternating Partner Casts 
Tickets and information
(818) 506-1983 or

Monday, April 15, 2019

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS / Pasadena Playhouse

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS is a dynamic story of letters... epistles...  from folks in need to an anonymous "Dear Abby" who embraces  the job through revelations from her own life: her strengths and foibles. 

Author Cheryl Strayed,  through the serendipity of the world of authors, inherited an on line advice column.  As an anonymous listener, she was able to respond sincerely to those who needed 'someone to talk to.'  Strayed's book "Tiny Beautiful Things" touched the heart of Nia Vardalos, unforgettable as the creator of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, who adapted  Strayed's book to the stage. Wisely she cast herself as Sugar.

The Land of Phosphors may now have overtaken our lives.  Love affairs, arguments, family reunions and the heavy hand of politics have us on the ropes or the battlements, depending on the depth of our involvement. Until the lights go out, instagrams and tweets  will continue to invade and govern our lives. The trap of anonymity is that we can love or lash out almost immediately, more often than not, misunderstood by whomever may be the recipient of a text or email.  What Tiny Beautiful Things brings us back to is the warmth and civility that we may recall from the days of Dear Abby, when it took extended time and snail mail and a printed newspaper to complete the cycle of reaching out for advice. 
Epistolary in nature, the play brings the letter writers into Sugar's home in an odd osmosis that allows them to sit on her furniture and snack from the fridge. Dialogues ensue:  taken from actual letters that Strayed received as the advice columnist, Sugar. 

Director, Sherri Eden Barber, imagines a magical setting, though overly cluttered,  where we accept that the connection between Sugar and her seekers of advice are presented in conversation. From time to time, Vardalos lapses into dialogues reflecting some element of Sugar's life making a point by responding to a seeker's question.  

Highly theatrical, Strayed's lyrics of care sweep the play along in individual episodes. They touch the heart. Sugar responds in what she reveals in one scene as Unconditional Positive Regard.  She is harnessed to her own truth.

When the writing in an adapted story stays with the 'fist' of the story teller, poetic and honest, it's a tribute to the original author.  Evidently, these stories are true. Thus, Strayed's voice rings true as well.  The great good humor of the writing and the sincerity in her "voice" make this an exercise in reaching out and gathering in and turning around.  A treat!  

 Some of the language is tough and raw. No pussyfooting around for Sugar.  Vardalos brings the nuance and the joy and the pain of Sugar's own life, pastpresentfuture to the Letter Writers ( Teddy Cañez, Natalie Woolams-Torres, Giovanni Adams) as they motor through  a myriad of different characters and questions. Cañez breaks us up with his pushy sincerity and "WTF!s" 

Kudos to Jeff Croiter's lighting that keeps stays with the very talky show as it shifts about the stage.  Rachel Hauck's set is over the top.

by Cheryl Strayed 
Co-Conceived by Marshall Heyman, 
Thomas Kail, and Nia Vardalos  
Adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos
Pasadena Playhouse
39 S El Molino Ave, 
Pasadena, CA 91101
Tuesday, Wednesday, 
Thursday and Friday evenings at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m
Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Tickets and Information

Please note that Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris  will replace Nia Vardalos in the role of Sugar for the following performances: April 13, 2 p.m.; April 20, 2 p.m., April 21, 2 p.m., April 27, 2 p.m., April 28, 2 p.m., May 4, 2 p.m., and May 5, 2 and 7 p.m.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Edward Tulane at The 24th Street Theatre

If you have children, know someone who has children, know a child or have ever been a child or aspire to be one, I encourage you to take The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane at The 24th Street Theatre.  
Carlos Larkin, Brady Dalton Richards,
Rachel Weck and Jennifer Hasty
Photo by Cooper Bates
 The theatre is a shared experience and the energy that director Debbie Devine and her enthusiastic cast: Edward, a porcelain rabbit ( Carlos Larkin), Woman (Rachel Weck), Traveler (Jennifer Hasty), The Man (Bradley Dalton Richards) and in the shadows on keyboard, Bradley Brough bring together on what amounts to a bare stage to share is a story of survival...  and Love.

 Adapted for the stage by Dwane Hartford from the novel by Kate Decamillo, unfolds a gentle tale the reminds a bit of "Pinocchio" (if you read the Collodi book). The journey that the wooden puppet makes through trials and tribulations turns, as does The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, on loss and redemption.   "Edward" is a floppy toy: a juegete..  with porcelain features and furry ears.  The story assembles to relate the importance: the sustenance of Love.

After a sincere curtain speech by Executive Director, Jay McAdams,  the lights dim and from the audience we hear the voice of  The Traveler (Jennifer Hasty).  Unfortunately, the spotlight intended for the actor blinded me for a few minutes.  The choice to have her enter from the audience is certainly dramatic, but put me on the defensive from the get go.  

Traveler becomes many characters throughout the play, as do the other players. Initially, she becomes Pelligrina, the grandmother of Abiline (Rachel Weck). Abiline is gifted a fabulous toy, a porcelain rabbit whom she immediately names "Edward" because he is an elegant rabbit: a juguete! (The theatre provides Spanish supertitles to benefit the neighborhood patrons on a high up stage left area that unfortunately splits the focus from the action on the stage.) And, with this encounter, we are on our way.
As the voice of and the embodiment of Edward, Carlos Larkin, is a ringer for actor Billy Connolly and accompanies the movements of the juguete as he careens through his adventures: his miraculous journey.    

Director Debbie Devine's choices for the ever shifting scenes are facilitated by simple moving props: a tall ladder, a rolling construction platform and a simple box. Her split focus is enhanced by upstage projections that become locations and expository images that make the story unfold somewhat like a tennis match. Musician Bradley Brough is tucked away stage right punctuating mostly with incidental music, though the cast comes through with a mighty chorus to start the show and then to wrap things up.

Each episode of Edward's Miraculous Journey gives the three protean players opportunities to shine.  As Lucy, the Dog, Bradley Dalton Richards is off the charts with physical antics that brings the story of finding the discarded Edward to life.  

As we come full circle, we find that Abiline has now become an adult and a mother. She shops for a special present for her daughter. And! Lo and behold, there's Edward, who has been sitting in the shop for ever so long... at last to be reunited with his former love. The power of Love blossoms anew.

Regardless of the technical issues, the story enchants us through strong performances. Given an opportunity, we can overcome adversity and with hope, find ourselves right where we belong.  

Adapted by Dwayne Hartford 
from the book by Kate Decamillo
Directed by Debbie Devine
The 24th Street Theatre
1117 24th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90007
Performances: April 6 – May 19
• Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Apr 6 (opening night), 
Apr 13, Apr 20, Apr 27; May 4, May 11, May 18
• Sundays at 3 p.m.:   Apr 14; May 5, May 12, May 19 (dark Apr 21, Apr 28)
Tickets and information:
(213) 745-6516 



Sunday, April 7, 2019

Arthur Miller's ALL MY SONS

An idea that I've had for a long time was boosted by Peter Finlayson, the publisher of Footlights, the slick theatre program used by many local theatre companies.  Footlights is professional with ads directing us to other shows in town and an opportunity for Finlayson to make editorial comments about the theatre. He points out that when we go to see a play.. we are not just seeing a play. We become a part of a one time only community who has arrived in time for the curtain to go up, to be swept away from the 'reality' that we face from day to day. We can abandon disbelief to interact with the text, the cast on the stage and our fellows in the audience. This tradition is never the same twice.  This is living theatre. This is literature and art and science and community activity all rolled into one.  We all agree to be civil and participate. Good things.

I mention this because the opening night audience for ALL MY SONS presented in the tiny Lounge Theatre #1 on Santa Monica Boulevard was ready for the experience. Wasatch Theatrical Ventures has pulled out all the stops to present this melancholy American Classic in an intimate setting bringing the ethos and pathos of the story close to the audience. Every nuance, every outburst, every stitch of costume, even the kid (either Jack Heath or Beckett Wilder as Bert) who makes a brief appearance, arrive with authenticity.  
 The rhythms and language of Arthur Miller's 1947 play toll the post war feelings of the day: the issues of ethics and how deceptions and their revelations shape our lives. 
Jack Tynan, Alexis Boozer Sterling, and James McAndrew Photo by Ed Krieger

WWII is over.  Chris Keller (Jack Tynan) has, sadly, "lost too many" under his command in the war and is now in middle management of his father, Joe's (Mark Belnick) manufacturing business. Big brother Larry Keller has been missing in action for over three years. His mother, Kate (Francesca Cansale) is beside herself having decided to wait for Larry because it is vital to her that he return to make their lives complete. 

Ann Deever (Alexis Boozer Sterling) was Larry's girl, but Chris has always had deep feelings for her. The complications of Ann's father's partnership with Joe turn the story, then turn and turn again.  Chris is ready to share his feelings and Ann has arrived anticipating that they will, at last, be together.

Where do personal ethics truly lie? What does a father do for a son?   Eventually, we hear through Joe's tears that all the boys lost in the war were all his sons.

Arthur Miller's contribution to world theatre and especially American drama is a huge foundation block for what has come to follow. His well honed real life dramas, including Death of a Salesman (whose tone and language are present in this play) and the extraordinary The Crucible are undeniably important to all theatre.  

Wasatch Theatrical Ventures is and has been dedicated to producing an American Classic once  a year in an intimate theatre setting with the goal of allowing audiences to feel the vibrations of the text and experience the intimate expressions that often escape us in large venues.  It works here, though somewhat over the top from time to time with histrionics that must be vital to the telling of the story. 

Director Gary Lee Reed has purposed his cast well and guided them all to bring their characteres to life within the boundaries of what we might call 'hyper' life that settles into fine tuned portrayals. 

Shon LeBlanc's costumes are 1940s to the last nylon stocking seam and silly hat. Pete Hickock's set is expensive and well done.
Opening night tech skipped a beat a time or two. 
It's an important play and maybe like Brussels sprouts or broccoli .. experiencing this classic is good for us. Eat your vegetables and support this fine production. 

ALL MY SONS  by Arthur Miller
Wasatch Theatrical Variations
Lounge Theatre 
6201 Santa Monica Blvd.
Hollywood, CA
Opened April 6, 2019
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 3PM
(No performances April 19 - 21)
Through May 12, 2019 
Tickets and information
323 960 5570