Sunday, May 26, 2019

Actors' Gang Redux.. Violence!

The Misadventures of Spike Spangle, Farmer emerges after a long hiatus. 

In 1986.. Regan in the White House..  times were tough and somehow, we get the feeling that the themes of yesteryear are on us once again. Tim Robbins' and Adam Simon's brilliant take on the issues and politics of the eighties and the current sinking of the country into a morass of morassity seems current and through satire examines in such a way as to spark response. 

The Ivy Substation is a cavernous hall with exposed brick walls.  Spike Spangle (Tom Syzmanski), a farmer, lies in bed with his beautiful wife, Flora (Andrea Monte Warren), heavy with child.  The TV set illuminates the scene and as the national anthem plays, the TV set explodes and the future lies before us as Spike and Flora look up into the sky:  a shooting star.  Make a wish star. 

For those who may remember.. consider the San Francisco Mime Troupe, The Bread and Puppet Theatre and a nice dose of Commedia del Arte all mixed nicely with a strong polemic that we all should heed but probably won't. This is political theatre, make no mistake and though painted with a very broad brush, the issues ring true.  The Rich call the shots, the Military will do what the military will do (with beautiful choreography this gang of six "chiefs" in full dress uniforms and appropriate commedia masks prevail. ) 

Max Enormous (Will Thomas McFadden) appears, his blonde pompadour an homage to another mega billionaire? Just enough white face to make a point. In a brilliant introduction, he commands the stage as stock margins flicker: Buy buy buybuy  buy sell sell.BUY!  with the charging Bull of Wall Street projected on the walls.. Then..  exhausted.. he laments his lonely situation.  And, then with a burst of social fantasy, imagines success from golf to basketball to boxing.. Pow! He's ready now to put his R and D team on his supreme personal project: IMMORTALITY.. 

Our story progresses with terrific renditions of characters that scamper and fret and become the essence of a nightmare for Spike.   Director Bob Turton (who limns both Numb, the bank loan officer and Superman) keeps the ensemble rolling at a super sonic pace that puts Spike (and Superman!) into space... with the world in chaos  while mega Max continues his never ending quest for Immortality!
Turton's madcap though focused pace creates a frenzy that reflects, perhaps, the current issues of our times: the uncertainties and the overwhelming angst that modern folks live with day by day.  To summarize the plot is tough, but suffice it to say that this ensemble is a dedicated gang of actors and others who bring  mondo bizzaro to life.  
I've not seen such impressive ensemble work for a long time and the dedication of this cast to this play, now over thirty years old, but as relevant as it was in 1986, is worth the drive to Culver City!  This is beyond entertainment, though the work is entertaining.. the subtext and up shot of it all ends in the war that the 'Chiefs' have all promoted as the future of our country.. of the world...  hangs in an awkward balance. Our awkward state. These awkward times. A strong polemic.

The Misadventures of Spike Spangle, Farmer
MAY 2 – JUNE 22
Written by Tim Robbins and Adam Simon
Directed by Bob Turton
The Actors' Gang
The Ivy Substation
9070 Venice Blvd
Culver City, CA, 90232 
Through June 22, 2019
Tickets and information:

Saturday, May 25, 2019


Photo Craig Schwartz
I think that my first review of A Noise Within's production of Noises Off! was in 2011.  The then Glendale local theatre company was still in their heart attack digs on Brand Boulevard where they'd held forth for almost twenty years.  That production rocked. Meanwhile, short sighted City of Glendale city moms and pops declined to work with Artistic Directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Roderiguez-Elliott to keep this dedicated company here in town and off they went to court the City of Pasadena.  And, they succeeded!
ANW revived their hilarious production one time since 2011, I believe and here we go again.. 
Michael Fryan's uproarious farce will romp the Pasadena stage for only one more day.  More's the pity as this ensemble is so tight and well tuned that it seems that they might run the show forever and pack the house for every performance.
As the show closes tomorrow, this is just a reminder that Pasadena's Classical Theatre Company presents professional work in a gorgeous home. 
To put a fine point on it, Actual Director Geoff Elliott as the in the play director Lloyd Dallas actually directing and as the company director putting on the slightly vanity tour to feature the delightful Dotty Otley (fantastic Deborah Strang) as Mrs. Clacket, the housekeeper.. and as the show is closing.. all we can hope for is that Fred Kinney's fantastic set will not be far away when revival time comes again.  Kudos to Apollo Dukakis who, as Selsdon Mowbray, as The Burglar announces that he, Mowbray, and probably Dukakis as well, has spent sixty years upon the stage (all the while seeking his preset flasks of pick-me-ups: Mowbray not Dukakis.. presumably).. 

See this one!
Noises Off! by Michael Fryan
Closes June 6, 2019
A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91107
Tickets and Information
626 356 3100

Thursday, May 23, 2019



Prolific and enigmatic Samuel Beckett was an Irish playwright who often wrote in French. Most well known is his mid 20th Century play "Waiting for Godot." Beckett's HAPPY DAYS reflects even more simply and directly the futility of life and of forging on.. continuing...  regardless.  I sometimes use the phrase, "not for the feint (sic) of heart" when reviewing shows that may be a challenge.  In fact, the couple sitting in front of us took a hike after Act I.  
In Godot, nothing happens.   Happy Days moves from the awakening bell with memories and such. Very little happens. The business of nothing is the heart of something. With director James Bundy's simply staged play on Izmir Ickbal's humongous sand hill, spilling into the first row, we soldier on.  
The audience is greeted by a gorgeous red Venetian drape with sea shell footlights. 

Curtain up:  Winne (legendary Dianne Wiest) buried up to her waist in dirt, lies face down.. asleep.  Asleep on the mound where she might have been forever.  The Bell.
"Forever" is a theme in Beckett's work that only the stout of heart might have time for. How long Winnie has been buried in the dirt with her large black bag and old friend "Brownie" (a black revolver) standing by we can only imagine.  Millie is attractive. Middle aged. Loquacious. How she's managed to prattle on for what might be forever: her flowing memoir...  doesn't matter. Here we are.  Her narration is long, with thoughtful pauses..  memories .. questions.. "Did you ever find me lovable?" she asks her soul mate, Willie (Michael Rudko).. "I know you love me.. but..."  

Through Act I, Weist is a dancer: confined in dirt.  She conducts her daily routine: the 'stuff' of her existence drawn from her big black bag. Her parasol explodes and life goes on. 

Willie is seen mostly from the back: naked, victim of a tossed elixir bottle, cloth on his naked head with his jaunty boater cocked to one side. Naked and in our imagination, guided by Winnie's specific directions, he heads back into his hole.. "crawl backwards.. hands and knees, Willie" 

Poor Willie lives somewhere beneath Winnie's barren hill top. He punctuates her monologue with snippets from the news, specific page turns, producing a "French" postcard that might remind of times when the two of them were actually together.

The timely pauses and  repetitions in Act I become problematic in Act II with Winnie now up to her neck in dirt.  Her head no longer turns.  Ms Wiest's exquisite skills,  reciting long passages expressed with only her face, her little black pillbox cocked to one side... the theme of love and futility explored.  (Bring opera glasses and hope for a seat in the center of the house for Act II!) The bell.. Does Winnie have free will? Might she awaken and sleep on her own schedule? Could she go on without the knowledge that Willie is there to hear her poetic ramblings? 
Willie appears in full evening attire, slowly crawling. Top hat on. Top hat off. Gloves. Mustache. Slowly he ascends. Crawling slowly to his love.  She cheers him on! "You want to touch my face again?" 
This has been a Happy Day.

HAPPY DAYS by Samuel Beckett
Mark Taper Forum
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Opened Wednesday, May 22, 2019 at 8 p.m.
Regular Performances (May 23 – June 30): Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., 
Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m., 
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. 
No Monday performances.
Tickets and information:
(213) 628-2772

Monday, May 20, 2019


Too many exclamation points?  Not this time..  When the energy of Bronco Billy, The Musical spills out onto Vermont Avenue, watch out!

The tiny space called The Skylight Theatre in Hollywood has been active for more than forty years: supporting what producer Gary Grossman calls "intimate theatre." I recalled the time in the seventies when the ProVisional Theatre, led by Steven Kent, formerly of The Company Theatre of Los Angeles worked their magic in this funky old room.  "Magic" being the key word here. 
Magic is happening again with this amazing World Premiere currently rocking the Skylight stage. It's a full blown Broadway hit that will soon be discovered.  It's exciting to walk down the mysterious little corridor next to Skylight Books, next to The Los Feliz Theater to see the new ultra cool Atrium Restaurant now open to the right and to be ushered into the Skylight where Bronco Billy's traveling wild west show, complete with popcorn and snacks awaits.  Cast members amble out to say hello, old pals meet in the audience and exchange hugs and greetings as a five piece band led by Anthony Luca, with Austin Chanu, Jeff Frantom, Cyrus Elia and Ryan McDiarmid warms up Up Right.
Randy Charleville, Eric B. Anthony, Amanda Leigh Jerry and ensemble Photo by Ed Krieger

Every time I have an opportunity to see a show that no one else has seen, it's chance to say "I saw it first!"..  LA locals, call your friends and bring them into town to experience this delectable  delight.  Based on Clint Eastwood's "Bronco Billy" circa 1979 movie with Eastwood himself as Billy, author Dennis Hackin has taken his own personal story and combined it with the Warner Brothers film beautifully. Chip Rosenblum and John Torres are credited with music and lyrics with additional lyrics by Michelle Bruerman. It's a magnificent plunge into musical theatre with a cast of talented performers who do not disappoint.

 Director Hunter Bird has his hands full with fast paced scene changes and a story that, though a little hard to swallow, is filled with adventure. 

Opening Night: the house is packed and as the house lights dim we meet the ring 'mistress?' of the show, Doc (lovely Benai Boyd), an elegant blonde. We are filled with the anticipation that we are in for a treat.

Wizard John Iacovelli's fantastic multi-functional set (look for more awards here) using the rolling wooden crates the traveling show is packed in, the cast deftly manipulates them as they become locations and set pieces wending us down the dusty road to fame for Bronco Billy (Eric B. Anthony) and the gang.  

The basic story turns on the soul of the show, Billy, himself, whose small time traveling show has become a family.  Every member has a job to do and though there's not a lot of money coming in, they perform from the heart.   With doubling, you can't tell who's who, even with a program.  Suffice it to say that leaving your 'practical hat' at the door and diving in head first, it will all make sense and that's the truth.  

After a spectacular introduction to Billy and the gang, we head east to learn that there's trouble afoot.  Antoinette Lilly (excellent Amanda Leigh Jerry) is heir to her dearly departed chocolate magnate daddy's fortune.  Daddy Sam Lilly (Anthony Marciona) comes back to render a touching duet with Antoinette declaring to Be Strong!  Antoinette's wicked stepmom Dee Dee (Jamie Mills) plots to gain access to the millions left to Antoinette through a murder for hire scheme that may be thin.. but funny. 
Hijinks that are allowed in musicals ensue when the hilarious Pat Towne as Sinclair St. Clair tracks down our heroine somehow missing the mark all together as the bad guys eventually get their comeuppance and the good guys win the day.

The strong ensemble cast:   Fatima El-Bashir as Lorraine, Michelle Azar as Constance,  Marc Cardiff as Lawyer Lipton, Randy Charleville as Two Gun Lefty Lebow, Kyle Frattini as Lasso Leonard James, Chris M. Kauffmann as  John Arlington, Michael Uribes as Chief Big Eagle and Bella Hicks as Mitzi are all terrific in doubling and tripling roles. 
Iacovelli's set with projections and beautifully innovative transitions makes his set an additional member of the cast. Terrific Costume Design by Ann Closs-Farley.

Producer Gary Grossman's steadfast energy to keep living, innovative and intimate theatre alive all comes together in this show.  We often don't much think of the sacrifices made by the folks who put these shows together.  Applause to this producer (with Tony Abatamarco) and thumbs up or ten stars or whatever scale seems right to you for this World Premiere that must be seen.  It's a rule. 

by Dennis Hackin with music and lyrics by
Chip Rosenblum and John Torres with additional lyrics by Michelle Bruerman.
Skylight Theatre
1816 ½ N. Vermont Ave
 Los Angeles, CA 90027
Fri & Sat nights at 8:30pm
Sat & Sun matinee at 2:00pm

Closes June 30, 2019
Tickets and information

Sunday, May 12, 2019


The Christians!
Lucas Hnath (nayth) is a prolific playwright whose take on the theatre returns us to where it all began: The Church.  
"The Christians" Hnath's 2014 play went up at The Taper in 2015 and comes again currently to the Actors Co-op in Hollywood. The beauty of this play is that it is a broad think piece that comes from the depths of the playwright's background.
Hnath's mother, Dana, was a seminary student and in the summer he would accompany her to classes, steeping him in the work that she was called to. His bio mentions his considering as a young man that he might be a preacher but decided that he didn't want to look after people's souls.  He then went into pre-med but didn't want to look after people's bodies, so... of course...  he became a playwright. 
Hnath states, "Here’s something I believe: A church is a place where people go to see something that is very difficult to see. A place where the invisible is—at least for a moment—made visible. The theater can be that, too. "

This reminds me of a quote from Kahlil Gibran who tells us that "Work is Love made visible."  
The work of making theatre is almost always filled with the genuine excitement of putting on a show.  It's joyful work. Visible work.

In The Actors Co-op's production of "The Christians" we find not only life lessons and food for thought, but a banquet! 
Front Row L to R: Kay Bess, Townsend Coleman, Thomas Chavira, Phil Crowley. Back Row: Choir
Photo credit Matthew Gilmore

Director Thomas James O'Leary delivers the feeling of a mega church to the tiny Crossley Theatre on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church. We are greeted by a beautiful usher who hands us an authentic Sunday program.  

Pastor Paul (excellent Townsend Coleman) addresses the audience, now become the congregation of literally thousands.. to deliver two important announcements. Coleman is appropriately humble and direct. Sincerity is Pastor Paul's stock in trade. His sincere devotion to his calling is the reason that this church has grown from a storefront to a gymnasium to the edifice that echoes the success of not only Pastor Paul, but the physical body of Faith in the now paid for building that houses them today.  A deep sigh of relief comes after some rocky times, but now, the foundation of the church is solid... but as we find in Isaiah .. there's a crack.
To the surprise of everyone, including Elder Jay (attentive Phil Crowley) who chairs the board of directors and Paul's lovely wife, Elizabeth (Kay Bess) Paul will guide the church in a new direction. 

This church will no longer preach a belief in Hell!
The liturgical and ecumenical and philosophical foundation has rested on the threat of Damnation for those who have not taken Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.  The gut punch of this radical reversal of what the wages of sin might really be becomes not only the through line of the play, but the tenor of the room also changes.  The audience is now engaged in the visceral reaction to the argument of the play as a congregation as well as playgoers.  

Hnath's beautifully constructed speeches are undeniable as Associate Pastor Joshua (Thomas Chavira) rises to the pulpit to question Paul's new direction for the church.  Joshua's devotion has come from a deep reversal of fortune that brought him from the brink of destruction to his now official association with the church.

Hnath in long and thoughtful speeches with director O'Leary's lengthy stage waits .....  painful anticipations....  bring Paul's crisis in faith to a showdown.  Paul's suffering comes from his conscience by being exposed to an example of the unfair business of losing the soul of any human being who has, by belief in another religion or denial of the opportunity to be 'saved' to die and then... to be chucked into Hell.  Paul points out that the "Word of God" is a bit like the game of Telephone where interpretations of the text over time may differ. 

Joshua challenges Paul in front of the congregation and in a dramatic moment, Joshua splits from his church home, the church that has literally changed him as a person ..  taking a handful of others with him. 

The challenge of personal ethics and keeping on board a church with literally thousands, if not millions of 'faithful'  is the crisis that Paul must now come to grips with. Out of the choir we meet the cutest congregant and choir member, Jenny (Nicole Gabriella Scipione). Jenny literally owes her family's well being and current success to the outreach of Paul's ministry and indeed, to Paul himself. She's prepared a statement with serious questions that take Paul by surprise. Jenny is deeply invested in the Truth of what she believes, as was Joshua. She poses incisive and thoughtful questions that she's had to compose and write out to be sure that what the new direction of the church is now, she may really understand. How can we not accept  the Bible's "absolute directive" to believe in punishment for all who are not washed in the blood of the lamb.  Isn't the fear of Hell what keeps us on the straight and narrow path?

Depending on our upbringing: in a formal church or faith; without the guidance of religion, or left to our own devices, Paul openly wonders how his literal indoctrination into the Christian Faith might be different had he been raised with other beliefs or traditions.  His is a true crisis in that what he believes, what each of us truly believes, even the agnostic who's beliefs are unsure.. each of us must turn to either Faith or Reason: our own sacred and personal ethic in an attempt to personally resolve the question: 
"What do I really believe?"

I really believe that "The Christians" is a play that must be experienced. The beauty is in the telling and the evocative critical thinking that each of us may be called to: like it or not!

Lucas Hnath
Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre
1760 N. Gower St. 
(on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood) 
Hollywood, CA 90028
May 10 – June 16, 2019
  Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
 Sunday Matinees at 2:30 pm
 Saturday Matinees May 18 and May 25 at 2:30 pm. 
Adults: $35.00.  Seniors (60+): $30.00.  
Students with ID: $25.00.  Group rates available for parties of 6 or more.  
Reservations and information  
 (323) 462-8460

Monday, May 6, 2019


Tim Cummings, Bill Brochtrup, Jenny O’Hara
Photo by Ed Krieger
In the late seventies I was invited to the Circle Theatre down on El Centro in Hollywood to see a workshop production of Harvey Fierstein's first iteration of his Torch Song Trilogy, "The International Stud." Having grown up in the West: the land of heterosexuals where men were men and women were women, we were taught obliquely about homosexuals and how to disapprove of them.  It was a bit of a shock to find out that "The International Stud" was about a romance between two men.  I knew about the existence of gay people and in retrospect had been taught by at least two wonderful gay teachers, three if you count Gertrude Steinhart.  Naivete must run in my family because I just thought that my teachers were really good at teaching. Kids would use the term 'queer' to tease or denigrate another kid with no real knowledge of what the insult really meant.

Seeing Fierstein's play so long ago now brought me to an important realization that over the last many years has come to make sense to me.  As Lin Manuel Miranda famously said, "Love is love is love is love."  What Fierstein teaches us in his "Torch Song Trilogy" is that deep feelings of love and frustration and jealousy and reconciliation are human qualities. Love is universal.  The hetero world certainly holds no patent on love..nor does the homo world nor any of the other myriad of worlds we now come to acknowledge daily.  
Love is love is love is love.

Michael McKeever's play "Daniel's Husband" is not about sex. It's about love and the human experience of loving: Maternal, Romantic, even Fan love. The fact is that our currently dominant hetero world may still balk at the idea of a gay community, as we learn that Daniel's father did when Daniel came out as his gay son.  He could tolerate Daniel's lifestyle, but could not accept it. One sad lesson in the play is that tolerance and acceptance are not the same thing and the deep feelings of rejection from one's own father and the hovering helicopter of one's mother who counts herself as accepting does not make things easy for anyone.
For committed heterosexual men and maybe some women, seeing men together may be uncomfortable. On the other hand, the absolute beauty of McKeever's story rings true in a human way, a personal and loving way that makes the humanity of two guys who have found one another, certainly the essence of "opposites attract"... blossom comfortably into a tale of passions, prejudices and desires fulfilled...  and lost.  
As Daniel, Bill Brochtrup, who has aided to define the gentle well adjusted gay man with his role as John Irvin on the successful ABC -TV series NYPD Blue, brings that subtle quality expertly to the stage.  Daniel is a successful architect who has decorated his home in spare sixtes modern that includes an important abstract painting painted by his dad. Hung on the fourth wall, Daniel's partner, Mitchell (Tim Cummings), feels judged by it. Daniel's mother, open and flowing, the lovely Jenny O'Hara as Lydia, an absolutely overly supportive mom whose true love is and has been her gay son, hates her husband's painting and offers a bounty to Mitchell to make it disappear! 

Mitchell, is a writer. He has reluctantly abandoned his true love of literature for what he calls the "gay equivalent of Barbara Cartland": purple prose for a Lavender Press for a gay readership.  It makes money. He's just signed a three book deal. 

In the opening scene where we meet the boys,
Mitchell heavy handedly expresses his view that marriage is totally unnecessary for anyone. Calling a wedding a "putti-infested, Victorian-laced, curly-cue covered concept..."  his objection permeates the the scene and the lives of two otherwise perfectly matched lovers. 

Mitchell's literary agent, Barry (Ed Martin) is accused and rightly so for romancing pretty men half his age.  Snuggling on the sofa with Barry,  Trip (Jose Fernando), exposes the obvious generation gap:  fawning over Mitchell's writing and Daniel's decor, he becomes the catalyst for the unpleasant problem of the importance of marriage to Daniel and it's being unnecessary to Mitchell. 

Simon Levy's fluid direction is  subtle, allowing the progress of each of the characters room for revelations that must be indicated in McKeever's script, but enhanced by the craft of each one of the actors.

DeAnne Millais's beautiful set enhanced by perfect lights by Jennifer Edwards and Peter Baynes's complementary sound completes the picture.  The ultimate message must give pause to each of us, of any orientation, that Love is the Answer, but not always the answer that we may expect nor expect to have to live with. 

Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings
Jose Fernando and Ed Martin
Photo by Ed Krieger


by Michael McKeever
Directed by Simon Levy
The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029 
Fridays at 8 p.m.
May 10, 17, 24, 31; June 7, 14, 21
Saturdays at 2 p.m.: May 11, 18, 25; June 1, 8, 15, 22 (no 2 pm perf. on May 4)
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: May 4 (Opening Night), May 11, 18, 25; June 1, 8, 15, 22
Sundays at 2 p.m.: May 5, 12, 19, 26; 
June 2, 9, 16, 23
Mondays at 8 p.m.: May 13, 20, 27; 
June 3, 10, 17 (dark May 6)
Tickets and information:
(323) 663-1525