Monday, June 24, 2019


As luck would have it.. and it was a lucky mistake.. I arrived for the aforementioned Loose Underware at the New American Theatre two hours early!  Who should appear, but 6th Act artistic director and all around good guy, Matthew Leavitt.  He invited me to his 'time-killer' "The Scorpion and The Frog" that was just about to go up in the NAT's black box. What the heck? 
Alex Parker and Christine Sage 
The beauty of the Hollywood Fringe Festival is that it's a shotgun blast for theatre that makes no bones about its simple approach and out of the dozens of little shows popping up with pals and afficianados lining up to pay a couple of bucks with the hope of finding a diamond in the rough, I joined in. It's tough to review these shows fairly because they seldom present fully produced work.  "The Scorpion and The Frog" is no exception. 
Picture, if you will.. a blank space. A cardboard sun shines on a 'river' of blue flowing from a cardboard river bank. 
Oh wait.. there's this big guy (Thomas Bigley.. imagine that coincidence!)  with an eye patch playing a cardboard ukulele while Matt plays an actual guitar and the Big Guy sings a sea chanty.. sort of.  Stuff happens. 
If playwright, Spencer Green, had been recently to see Waiting for Godot or the terrific Happy Days at the Taper, he may have come under the spell of Samuel Beckett and thus, taking the story of the frog and the scorpion or the scorpion and the frog to heart as an exercise in futility to create what he calls a 'time-killer' seems reasonable.  The beauty of this piece, directed by Matthew Leavitt is it's complex simplicity.  As the Scorpion we meet the cuter than cute Christine Sage.  Playing the cute card.. well, cute and a little hot, actually. Scorpion encounters Frog (Alex Parker) wearing a bowler hat that immediately made me think of Godot.. He may be cute to girls, but not so much to me. 
However!! the familiar story that Green unfolds though we know the story well, as it unfolds, is really fun to watch. "I can't help it. It's my nature." Glub, blub, glubbb.

Lights out. 

Lights up.. Christine now appears as Frog in her cute little hat while Scorpion/Alex goes all smooth and cool: denim sport coat sleeves rolled up and cool...  coaxing a ride to the other side of the river. The sometimes existential exchange as we go back and forth a couple of more times is, indeed.. a "time-killer" but totally enjoyable as the inevitable story unfolds ... again.  Watching the actors manipulate and in finality succumb to the nature of Scorpion and the inevitable naivete of Frog is food for thought as well as focused and dedicated timing and fun. 
Bigley has a deal with Penny Peyser.  Now, just forget I mentioned Penny.. Okay? 

Dedicated performances with slight tongue in cheek that will make you laugh and nod in accord as we witness the sinking of the good ship ScorpiFrog or FroPio. I loved it. I can't help it...  well, you know.  
Parking can be a hassle. Arrive early and schmooze with the folks who love new theatre.

World Premiere! 
The Scorpion and The Frog: A time-killer
by Spencer Green
Final weekend:
June 27, 2018 and June 28, 2018 at 7:15PM
June 29, 2018 at 2PM
New American Theatre
1312 N. Wilton
Hollywood, CA 90028
Tickets and information 
Michael Sheehan

Sunday, June 23, 2019


Complete disclosure.. 
I'm not one much for solo performances.  Mostly, they are way too self indulgent and more fun for the performer than for an audience.  Had it not been for my director pal, Debra DeLiso's invitation and an open slot in this busy time of year and because I like Debra and recalled meeting Dagmar Stansova at one of Debra's directed performances, I might have not gone to see Ms Stansova and her Loose Underware.  She is not actually wearing loose underware... as far as we know. 

The New American Theatre has two spiffy spaces on Wilton that are well appointed, even if parking is sometimes problematic.  That's probably the only criticism that this review will have. 

Stansova takes stage.. literally owns the stage, in the simple black box side of  the theatre  that was running a little like a Chinese Fire Drill with one show out and the next one in, Zip Zap.  The beauty of this space is that the no frills staging leaves it all up to the performer.  Her program has a few simple lighting cues and sound that rocked with Dagmar's love of James Brown as she grew up in Czechoslovakia. Her love/hate relationship with her mother, her love of family and the joyous way Stansova recalls her grandfather who recommended Loose Underware so that the 'boys' could swing free all underscore her eventual move to the United States and...  Adventure!

The most interesting thing is this actor's performance was her ability to effortlessly switch from one character to another, bringing them  all to life in voice and attitude.  The full joy and respect, even in the tough relationships she's shared, is present and as the piece advances, she relaxes and has more fun that is probably legal in Czechoslovakia.

Anecdotes are the key to the success of any great story teller. Ms Stansova, working with director De Liso, finds  nuance and romance; loss and resolution.. redemption, even.. all in her autobiographical presentation. With only one performance remaining, the house will probably be sold out soon, so.. for insights and delightful stories, don't miss this one. Ride, Dagmar, Ride!

Written and performed 
by Dagmar Stansova
Directed by Debra De Liso
The New American Theatre
1312 N.Wilton 
Hollywood, CA 
Final performance
Saturday, June 29, 2019
Tickets and information
Leave time for finding parking. 


Director Mike Reilly's staging of Arthur Miller's 1949 "Death of a Salesman" on the tiny Ruskin Stage with Rob Morrow as Willy Loman is a mixed bag. Starting with Lee J. Cobb starring on Broadway as the downtrodden sixty-something salesman at the age of 37, Morrow, not yet sixty misses the mark.  He is well known for his role as Dr. Joel Fleischman on CBS's "Northern Exposure" and more recently as FBI Special Agent Don Eppes on "Numb3rs". And,  so in memory he is still the youthful leading man. The challenge of overcoming his dewy past with a cast of mostly strong stage actors might work if the business of 'acting' took a back seat to allowing the character to simply come to life. 

The Ruskin stage is tiny. Forty nine seats in the audience. Arthur Miller's notes imagine the City of New York looming threateningly over the Brooklyn home where Willy  and his adoring wife, Linda Loman (charming and letter perfect Lee Garlington), have raised their two sons. Biff is the older one.. (Robert Adamson) and Happy, the younger:  (Dylan Rourke). 
Lee Garlington and Rob Morrow Photo by Ed Krieger
Garlington accomplishes in a subtle gesture, a sigh.. her devotion to her husband with moments perfectly timed and seasoned to buffer the rants and over the top reactions that Morrow brings to his character. 

We hear the dejected ring of failure as Morrow clumps in,  burdened with the weight of the entire story. Instead of building a foundation, this entrance  only calls attention to itself. 
Charley (spot on Jack Merrill), is the Loman's perky next door neighbor, a caring relentless tease.
In memory, Willy's older brother, Ben (Donovan Patton) boosts the energy level with appropriate bombast. Bernard (Lucas Alifano), amazingly transforming from youth to successful attorney, impresses with succinct moments that, in this intimate space, rebound beautifully.

Director Mike Reilly, pares what was a fully staged Broadway play, winning both the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize, down to the Ruskin's tiny arena, but the scope of the story demands more than the playing area can deliver. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's bare bones set is angular and difficult.

However, the poetry of Miller's well delineated characters is not altogether lost in the small venue.  The text speaks to the desolation of what may have been the loss of the American Dream of many men post WWII. We see the undercurrent of what small time cheats and big time lies radiate into Willy's family.  Only Galrlingon is straight and true: long suffering and supportive in the face of failure; perhaps deluded or in the times simply playing out the hand that she was dealt and may have anticipated all along?  As Willy brags about his popularity and imagined multi-gross sales, the ennui of never really getting started rears its head as in memory he begs big brother, Ben, to tell him the secret of success. Ben walked into the jungle at the age of seventeen and by god,  at twenty one, when he came back out:  He was rich!  
Long ago, Willy pawned the watch fob set with a diamond, gifted from Ben.

Lee Garlington's performance is worth the trip to The Ruskin all in itself alone.  If Morrow finds his way and allows Willy to emerge, we may be pleasantly surprised. His success as a screen actor is extensive. We can appreciate his giving himself a challenge to go against type and hope that there's a happy compromise that will bring Willy Loman from caricature to life.
Nicely rounding out the cast, Kerry Knuppe (The Woman), Sara Young Chandler  (Ms. Forsythe) and Emily Anna Bell (as Letta/Jenny).

by Arthur Miller
8pm Fridays and Saturdays
2pm on Sundays 
Through August 4, 2019
No performances July 12 - 14
Ruskin Group Theatre
 3000 Airport Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Tickets and Information
(310) 397-3244

Sunday, June 16, 2019


Bestseller by Peter Quilter fits nicely into the long time home of producer / Artistic Director caryn desai's Long Beach International City Theatre, in the Beverly O'Neill Theatre. 

Eric M. Myrick, Wendy Worthington,
Alexandra Ruth Wright and Ian McQuown
Photo by Tracey Roman

Christopher Scott Murillo's well appointed 'Sprawling living room' features a wonderful clickety clacking manual typewriter wielded by   Damien (Ian McQuown) who has come for a stay by the lake in search of inspiration for his noirish and bloody tales.  Maureen Sprawling (the ever lovely Wendy Worthington) maintains her home alone after the strange disappearance of Mr. Sprawling years ago. It's a retreat for writers.  Bodice ripping romance writer, Shelley (Alexandra Ruth Wright) is unabashedly sexy and appreciates Alex, the newcomer (Eric Myrick) who arrives soaked to the skin and somewhat unprepared for his visit.
The use of the conceit or the 'device' in theatre is always interesting... when it works. Thanks to Male Ensemble and Female Ensemble (Sam Spanjian and Julie Davis) who appear to literally bring to life some of the stories written by  the visiting authors, we have High Drama within the drama, which director Jane Page stages in ways that are painful to the necks of the audience. The ensemble actors are tasked to outact the characters within the context of the play. Given the conceit that it's all just a roaring farce, it's acceptable, but is sometimes difficult to bear. Histrionics as the writers' characters come to life is  appropriately over the top. The choice for the setting to be somewhere that folks have English accents is a choice that  made some of the dialogue difficult to understand. But, the show moves a pace and there are moments of pure fun. 

BESTSELLER A World Premiere
by Peter Quilter 
Directed by Jane Page
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
330 East Seaside Way
Long Beach, CA 90802

• Thursdays at 8 p.m
June 20, June 27
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: 
June 14, 2019 (Opening Night), 
June 21, June 28
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: June 15, June 22, June 29
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: June 16, June 23, June 30 
Tickets and information: 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

INDECENT at The Ahmanson

Before I leap onto the growing bandwagon lauding the wonderfulness of this play, I have to take a step back in time to when the Center Theatre Group actually built The Ahmanson in about 1967. The seating capacity at the time was 1,600 seats, a relatively intimate space.  In the nineties, the space was expanded to emulate the size of a 'Broadway' house to seat 2,000 plus.  LosAngeles Times theatre critic, Dan Sullivan, noted at the time that this was probably a mistake and that dividing the space horizontally to create a smaller venue upstairs where the balcony was and to make the lower half still capable of 'Broadway' style/sized plays might have been a better idea.
Whomever makes the decisions to create spaces like The Ahmanson and The Pantages where figures on the stage become tiny little people on great big platforms must have a reason. It escapes me. What these huge venues do for playgoers is to challenge us to sit in a barn with marginal acoustics, but we may be lucky to have our opera glasses to bring the action into focus.  

I favor intimate theatre. All of this to say that had Sullivan's idea been implemented, we'd still have a sixteen hundred seat space downstairs which would be adequate for an amazing show like "Indecent" and another space where more intimate shows like the upcoming Leguizamo " Latin History for Morons" might play.

My soapbox is a tiny one and I don't expect any changes in the future for Center Theatre Group to the current physical facilities which are gorgeous.  Being overwhelmed entering the Ahmanson is part of the experience of what the Arts may do for us. From Row Q, the ten actors, are all listed in the program  as "Actor" with the exception of Richard Topol, Lemml, the Stage Manager.  It's a relatively bare stage. The actors seated silently: waiting.. as the audience enters. This is an ensemble.

This is "Indecent" by Pulitzer Prize winnng playwright Paula Vogel; directed by Tony winner Rebecca Taichman. It dramatizes the true story of how Sholem Asch’s play, “God of Vengeance” made it to Broadway in 1923 — and the controversy that surrounded the play, which originally contained a love scene between two female characters. . .   in the rain.  We won't be disappointed.

Returning to the roots of Yiddish Theatre and Tradition now emerges in a spectacular presentation that echos appropriately during this month of our celebration of Gay Pride.

"Indecent" ushers us through the stage door and into the world of brave artists who knew that 'art changes lives.'  With only the basic introduction to the players: no character names in the program, it's difficult to credit most of these moving and protean performances by the cast of seven and three musicians.. also included in the cast.. Taichman's direction moves us gently utilizing  projected dates and locations through the history of God of Vengeance from Asch's first reading in the salon of a local producer..  His first play! through the European tour to the issues of 'indecency' that arise when hoping to move the play to Broadway. It's a long journey, including the rain scene and the joy and love that floats the story across the footlights and into our hearts. 

The 'dust of Poland' literally filters to the stage as Lemml introduces the players. We are introduced to the beginnings of Asch's play and with music and dance and rain, are drawn to a story that needs telling again, both in "Indecent" and maybe with another production of "God of Vengence?" 
As Yekel (wonderful Harry Groener)
we see the beginnings of the play. He runs a brothel.  The Jews are a proud people. thus Yekel and Sarah, his wife, keep their 'respectable' lives separated from their business that functions in their basement. 
Through out we see the show in stages with the actors becoming dozens of different characters all the while musicians, Matt Dariau, Patrick Farrell and Lisa Gutkin double and triple on various instruments. We dance. 
Including Topol and Groener, the actors are:
Elizabeth A. Davis, Joby Earle,  Mimi Lieber, Steven Rattizzi and Adina Verson who is also credited with choreography which moves the ever changing scenes that include costume changes becoming a major part of the show.

Ricardo Hernandez's set and Christopehr Ackerlind's lighting: perfection.. 

For all my grousing about The Ahmanson, this play fills the gigantic space to the rafters. The energy of the cast sends us back to reality with a new appreciation for Tradition and the importance of Art!  Bring opera glasses and if you have any issues with hearing, free listening devices bring the story intimately to life. 

INDECENT by Paula Vogel
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
The Ahmanson Theatre
135 N. Grand Avenue  
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Through July 7, 2019
Tickets and information:
(213) 972-4400

Friday, June 7, 2019

DANA H.. World Pemieree

"DANA H"  a world premiere at The Kirk  Douglas Theatre in Culver City is unique. 
In a discussion with the Center Theatre Group's Jason Martin, director Les Waters and playwright Lucas Hnath discuss the idea of a 'mind meld' when the two men are working on a play.  Synergy in this unusual show pays off. 
Diedre O'Connell
The mystery of Dana Higginbotham, Hnath's mother, turns on her being kidnapped by a client whom she had come to know when working with criminal patients in Florida.  Taken from hours of interviews conducted by Steve Cosson, Hnath has assembled his mother's harrowing story into a tight and heartfelt rendering, evoking gasps and laughter from the audience.  Cosson sat for hours with Hnath's mother allowing her to tell of five months as a literal captive more or less on the run in Florida more than twenty years ago.  The many hours of recorded dialogue were edited by Hnath to become a full length one act that actor Dierdre O'Connell, presents by lip syncing Dana's actual voice telling the fantastic story of her abduction. 

As Dana's story develops, we learn that while working as a counselor, she and her husband opt for divorce. Somehow this leads to the loss of Dana's position in the facility where she had been working with patients. 

Hnath mentions in the interview that he likes the idea of the audience coming into his 'black box recording' as the story unfolds 'on its own terms.' This is artistically accomplished by O'Connell with prerecorded audio.. literally in Dana's own words.  

The stage is set as a typical inexpensive motel room somewhere in Florida.  Andrew Boyce's design is functional: even sterile. A brief interlude with the room being made up by an unnamed maid punctuates the arc of the play in an appropriately uncomfortable way. O'Connell becomes Dana H as she lip syncs and interprets physically her harrowing story. I like this device of having an actor interpret the dialogue of a real person. After the first few minutes of the show, O'Connell draws us to the character with deep emotional and physical involvement, punctuated by quick sound blips that seem to indicate edits made by the playwright and cues to help with pacing for the actor become a natural part of the production.  

I learned a new term in the discussion after the show: "Documentary Theatre," taking real people and real events to condense them into theatrical presentations.   Hnath's device of presenting his mother's interview verbatim and in her own voice adds a personal authenticity.  It works. 
As with "Happy Days" currently filling The Taper, opera glasses, especially to see snapshots that Dana made to record her ordeal, will be helpful. 

"DANA H" by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Les Waters
The Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
Through June 23, 2019
Tickets and Information: 

Monday, June 3, 2019


READY, STEADY, YETI GO by David Jacobi lights up The Electric Lodge with shades of Megan Terry's "Comings and Goings" mixed with "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown!" It succeeds.  

We enter the sacred hide out of a hearty band of seventh graders who meet ... like in a shack in a forest or something..  ready to  put on a play.  Adult actors playing at being kids seems a bit odd at first, until something happens.. The 'kids' come to life in a cosmic Chinese Fire Drill! We adjust to their energy as they drag us directly into their own special world. 

Jacobi's "Ready, Steady, Yeti, GO!" hits us with social issues, ethics, silliness, puppy love and a roundabout of excellent theatre that I defy anyone who appreciates the stuff of taking chances to not fully appreciate and enjoy.
Photo John Perrin Flynn /  Rori Flynn and Jasmine St. Clair

           It is clear from the opening curtain speech by Shades (Morgan Wilday) played on her boom box that figures again and again in the presentation, that we are in for a good time:  a roller coaster ride. Seatbelts! 
For most of us who have actually been in the seventh grade, the awkward physical energy and stereotypical characters with basic moving set pieces by David Mauer are immediately recognizable.. 

Goon (Ryan Brophy) and Gandry (Kenny Selvey) are twins.  Goon presents as the typical attempted bully and Gandry so sweet that the stage might just get a little sticky. Rori Flynn rocks as Katie and a couple of other characters, including Mrs. Apples who rocks: Namaste. I had a bit of trouble sometimes understanding Jasmine St. Claire as Carly who also plays both of her parents.  She has a Dutch name which confounds folks because she is a beautiful African American.  
The N Word spray painted on her home becomes the hub around which our story turns.
Randolph Thompson as Barry is  the most protean of the crew, pulling off quick changes as a nerdy kid and the super Nerd: Wikipedia Jones.. worth the price of admission alone.

This is a brightly told though somewhat sad story of prejudice that steps up to the plate to try to fix a problem that remains a mystery to the very end. The show is a lesson in 'doing the right thing' and turns our own perceptions slightly on their ear because it's impossible not to have an opinion about prejudice and camaraderie, loyalty and love and stereotypes and what most of us have already weathered in one way or another, though my memory of my seventh grade love is one that will remain forever. 

This tight ensemble ... Chinese Fire Drill and all is well contained by director Guillermo Cienfuegos who seems to understand that casting a great bunch of actors and finding what binds the story together is essential to a great show.  It's a 'show' make no mistake...  and the pleasure is in the telling.

The Rogue Machine Theatre continues to challenge itself and succeeds with this one. Parking at The Electric Lodge can be an issue, so come early and find a snack or dinner walking distance near by. 
Be careful sliding your chair back on the risers! 

ReadySteadyYetiGo  by David Jacobi 
Rogue Machine Theatre
at The Electric Lodge
1416 Electric Ave. 
Venice CA 90291
8pm on Saturdays & Mondays, 
7pm on Sundays(in June)
Sundays in July will be at 3pm only 
Added performance at 8pm, Friday June 14 
No performances Monday June 10 or July 8 Closing July 29, 2019
Tickets and information:
855 585 5185

Saturday, June 1, 2019

HERLAND by Grace McLeod

 "Herland", the play,  takes its name from a 1915 novel "Herland" by feminist writer, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In the novel, Herland  is a failed attempt by women to come together communally completely without men.  McLeod's play, set in Holland, Michigan, gets along  without men, except for snarky pejoratives regarding 'Bob', Jean's (Lisa Blake Richards) former husband now shacked up with 42 year old Brenda.
Gladys Bautista; (center) Lisa Richards, Laura James, Judith Scarpone; and (back) Victoria Ortiz
Photo credit: Philicia Endelman
Jean, is now in her seventies, ensconsed behind a deliberately locked door in her 'office',  the former garage band/rehearsal studio for her husband Bob
(whom we hate) and his Springsteen cover band. She interviews Natalie (Gladys Bautista), a lovely eighteen year old, who is nervous about a lot of things, including her own sexual orientation.  Jean has back up: her old high school pals from the sixties: gossipy Louise (Judith Scarpone) who has never married and has a secret,  and Terry (Laura James) who has been out of the closet for years and longs to be 'handsome.'  
 As the clock ticks for these three women,  with the help of Natalie (whom Jean doesn't have to pay because, she's an 'intern' right?).. these old pals begin to embrace the idea of moving in together as their golden years become undeniable.  Tick Tock...

This production is the final stop in development for McLeod's play, having enjoyed a "rolling premiere" in two former venues with different directors and casts.  Thanks to the National New Play Network, the show has had two previous openings with opportunities for McLoed to fine tune the show from one production to the next.  Staged on a radical thrust platform at the Greenway Court (built in 1942 The Greenway has all of historic feeling of the era), Renè O. Parras, Jr.'s functional set and Tiffany Moon's deft direction bring the story to life. This is a 'straight' play that speaks to the inevitable stuff of aging, though the theme of Natalie's self discovery and a somewhat awkward but really hot tryst with Becca (Victoria Ortiz), a sisneutralish gender female, represents new beginnings.  Actually, Becca presents as unabashedly butch. 

The melding of the generations with Jean's desire to be 'cool' and her tutelage of Natalie .. who in turn tutors these Golden Girls to find themselves,  is expectedly 'cute.'  Not to use the term as a negative, these older women will not go gently anywhere.. and that is .. at least.. endearing if not.. well... cute.  

Natalie's extensive research into the business of how to move into old age by women supporting one another brings a Powerpoint demonstration showing mostly the demise of communal enterprises that have failed for one reason or another. The most important thing to Louise is to have a Jacuzzi and crunchy veggies! 

Moon's production is cinematic in nature with slight difficulty in understanding the passage of time from scene to scene, though it's clear that time is moving on.  Somewhat awkward scene changes and a loopy dream sequence are all taken in stride as we advance to the business of mutual support while avoiding co-dependency.

In these: our times of #MeToo and Jean's telling Natalie she had been groped by a prospective employer when applying for a typing job, brings Natalie's feminism to the surface to remind Jean that she had actually been assaulted. This points up the gap in our generations.  As the tide turns to women feeling assaulted from even an  unappreciated 'glance' they perceive from a man, it's clear that the balance may not any time soon return to center. To attempt to define a 'center' is not the goal of this play, but it's clear things are way out of balance.

New beginnings and the radical dismissal of men by women for cause or "just because" lies in the future for Natalie as she embraces her Lesbianism and as Jean, Louise and Terry advance into their twilight years being supportive of one another leaving men in the dust. Rock On!

HERLAND by Grace McLeod 
Through June 23, 2019 
Greenway Court Theatre 
544 N. Fairfax Avenue
 Los Angeles, CA