Sunday, July 21, 2019

Legends, Movement and Memories / LA Womens Theatre Festival

Hosted by Ms Marla Gibbs and Ms Florence LaRue, L.A.WOMEN’S THEATRE FESTIVAL presented an evening of entertainment diversity to bring attention to the good works of women in theatre.  An air of casual serendipity prevailed as raffle tickets were sold and a display of crafts greeted the audience at The Greenway Court tonight.  
Full disclosure.  This is not the type theatre that onstagelosangeles usually reviews.  An invitation came in from LA PR guy Phil Sokoloff that mentioned the dancer/performer Juli Kim.  

Juli is from a Korean background.  I have recently purchased a zither that looked like one that Korean musicians were playing on Youtube. So.. I contacted Juli to see if she could help me get information about my new Korean zither: a gayaguem.  Are you with me so far?
Juli connected me with Korean masters of the gayaguem who told me that the zither I have is NOT a gayaguem!  But, Juli was so nice in our email exchange that I wanted to see her performance and meet her in person. 
Tonight's program was hosted by two legends in the world of entertainment: Ms Florence LaRue, formerly of The Fifth Dimension, who opened the show with singing that raised the roof. Ms Marla Gibbs, best known for The Jeffersons and her own series, 227 bantered with marginally written information that both ladies were seeing for the first time.  Introductions were totally charming as they credited LAWTF for the good work the organization does. Our patient audience took it all in with good humor.

Following Florence LaRue's opening number, my connection, Juli Kim, presented a beautiful  Korean dance  accompanied by her son on cello and daughter on piano. 
The grace and fluidity of her dance was beautifully  engaging.
Scene changes by stage manager Ms Brandi Johnson and her crew were somewhat tentative, but the entire time, the audience was totally engaged.  
Amy Milano's "Dancing With Crazies" began with an energetic dance routine that led to a somewhat labored one woman presentation that chronicled events in her life evolving into a tap dance routine! 
We skipped momentarily the scheduled intermission with an additional song by gorgeous Florence LaRue who, after being a part of the Fifth Dimension so long ago showed that she has only improved with age.. 
Then..  intermission and the hawking of more raffle tickets! Florence predicted that she'd win something! AND.. she did!  Hmmmmm....
After intermission we were treated to an amazing display of rhythm with Juli Kim and a five drum dance.   Ms Kim exhibited the elegant calm of her introductory dance enhanced by acrobatic percussion using five decorated frame drums that came to life with her expert drumming. 
The beauty of this evening's diversity was the professional presentations seasoned with our beautiful hostesses weathering through the required dialogue.  I was fortunate to reconnect with actress Dagmar Stansova whose "Loose Underware" show I reviewed recently as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.  Her shared insights as the program progressed pointed up the spontaneous quality of the evening.   
With an onstage musical trio: Rahan Coleman: keyboard, Michael Saucier: bass and Quentin Denard on drums,  Ms Freda Payne paid tribute to her childhood idol, Ella Fitzgerald. Ms Payne presented Fitzgerald's personal history with familiar tunes with some scat mixed in.  
Such diverse entertainment was well received with my personal surprises brought by Ms Kim.  This was a one time only event, but should opportunities to see Ms Kim perform, her bringing the Korean culture to the western stage is truly impressive. 
I've learned that the zither that I have come into is probably NOT Korean, so if anyone knows anything about a Chinese zheng or guzheng, please contact me. 
This zither has sixteen strings, with friction pegs and sixteen triangular bridges that the strings are strung on, any information shall be appreciated. I need more bridges! 
Thanks to producer / LAWTF co-founder Adilah Barnes for a most unique evening of theatre. For more information about the workshops and activities of LAWTF go to and support these dedicated artists. 
Michael Sheehan

Monday, July 15, 2019


It's a long way to go to tell the old Bible story of the wisdom of Solomon. What Bertolt Brecht has done in one way or another with most of the many plays he's written has been to set a standard for production that makes the show itself not just a play.. not just a few hours in a dark space with a story, but a polemic .. the undercurrent of the times.. the strong cast of characters.. and Anteaus's cast of thousands.. well.. a few dozen played with aplomb by sixteen protean professionals... starts with a preshow that sets the tone for putting on a play! 

"We'll put on a play!" exclaims John Apicella as an Expert who is responding to a situation in a mythical village in the Caucasuses.  The play will be called..  "The Caucasian Chalk Circle!"
Liza Seneca, Alex Knox, Turner Frankosky,
Gabriela Bonet, Steve Hofvendahl,
Claudia Elmore and Troy Guthrie
Photo by Jenny Graham

Brecht's telling   of the chalk circle reportedly goes back to an ancient Chinese tale that echoes the Bible telling of Solomon and the two mothers.  What Brecht does and has done and Antaeus does  beautifully is to expand the idea of positive political action as well as revealing wrong doing in nations and in courts with a polemic that speaks directly to what the United States is experiencing today. Corruption and rule by force all come to light with a slight tongue in cheek while our sixteen actors interchange  characters on the fly. 

The ever moving basic set pieces by Frederica Nascimento and Erin Walley's props work beautifully. Scenes evolve smoothly as the characters all change,  accompanied by actor/musicians on a multitude of odd instruments to uplift each scene. I particularly liked Apicella's banjolele.

Brecht drops the fourth wall and makes no bones about keeping us informed that this is not just a show but an examination of ideas dramatically expanded.  The acting is sometimes deliberately slightly off kilter or maybe that actor has not fully engaged with his role? Regardless, it's a play: a theatrical. It's transformational and current. Stephanie Shroyer's direction is so smooth that the ensemble seems to guide itself through the paces!

Played with a particularly casual quality, Steve Hofvendahl as The Judge (having attained his position with no qualifications whatsoever!) reveals that 'the law is the law!" and his rulings are final, adding an ironic twist to how the law might work. La Dee Dah..
Steve Hofvendahl
Photo by Jenny Graham

The ensemble:   
John Apicella Noel Arthur Paul Baird
Gabriela Bonet Claudia Elmore
Turner Frankosky Troy Guthrie
Steve Hofvendahl Connor Kelly-Eiding
Michael Khachanov Alex Knox
Mehrnaz Mohammadi Madalina Nastase
Liza Seneca Janellen Steininger George Villas

Caucasian Chalk Circle by
Bertolt Brecht
Antaeus Theatre Company
Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
(between N. Brand Blvd. and Artsakh Ave.)
Performances: July 11 – Aug. 26

Thursdays at 8 p.m.: July 11 (opening) ONLY
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: July 5 (preview), July 12, 19, 26; Aug. 2, 9, 16, 23
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: July 6 (preview), July 13, 20, 27; Aug. 3, 10, 17, 24
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: July 7 (preview), July 14, 21, 28; Aug. 4, 11, 18, 25
• Mondays at 8 p.m.: July 22, 29; Aug, 5, 12, 19, 26 (dark July 15)

(818) 506-1983 or


 Playwright Brian Friel's reputation as the Chekov of Irish drama seems deservedly so. Open Fist's "Dancing at Lughnasa" (Loo nasa) poetically invites us into his 1936 memory play narrated by Michael (David Shofner)
David Shofner, Ann Marie Wilding, Lane Allison
Photo by Darrett Sanders
who returns in memory to his childhood: his loving sister/aunties more or less governed by elder sister Kate (Martha Demson) who rides herd on family fantasies. Michael's mother, Chris (Caroline Klidonis) has had her 'love child' with the rascally Gerry (Scott Roberts) who stops by now and then with promises that are seldom kept, but an Irish charm that is irresistible. Maggie (Lane Allison) is the tease whom Michael remembers for her wit. Agnes (Ann Marie Wilding) and beautiful Rose (Sandra Kate Burck) with their sisters all want to attend the Harvest Dance that's on the horizon.  Dancing shoes are constantly being changed and we get a little dancing in the mix.  
Martha Demson, David Shofner, Caroline Klidonas
Photo by Darrett Sanders

Father Jack (Christopher Cappiello) has returned from his service as a Catholic priest in Africa and slowly emerges to his old self and with a mighty monologue extols the virtues of the natives with whom he celebrated a religion more true that the one that sent him there.

Set in the mythical Irish town of Ballybeg, Friel poetically envelops us in the love he renders probably from his own childhood.  Born in 1929, Friel wrote the play in 1990, recounting his poetic tale from a considerable distance in time. The depth and distinct personalities of his characters all ring with a gentle kindness that reminds of Martin McDonaugh's "Cripple of Inishmaan." 

Set in Donegal: Northern Ireland: Ulster...  the accents that director Barbara Schofield has chosen are more Limerick than Donegal. Stage pictures and the easy flow of the work are well done.

A beautiful set design by James Spencer was solidly constructed by Jan Munroe.

Dancing at Lughnasa  by Brian Friel
 Opened Friday, July 12 
Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 4 p.m. 
 Mondays at 8 p.m. through Aug. 18. 
One additional Friday performance 
Aug. 16 at 8 p.m.   

Atwater Village Theatre  
 3269 Casitas Ave  
Los Angeles, CA 90039
On-site parking is free. 
For reservations and information
 (323) 882-6912 

Friday, July 12, 2019


Ironically. .. my first attempt to load in a photo for this review is hanging up.  
Cast of The Play That Goes Wrong / Photo by Michael Sheehan

Well. on with the show, so to speak.
For those of us in the theatre, we have had moments of forgotten lines, missed cues, a prop gone missing,  or an exit or an entrance that happened, should have happened, happened too soon.. happened too late,, didn't happen at all..  well you get the picture.  And, the darned picture is still loading!  
(I tried again and there we are.)
 "The Play That Goes Worng"  a masterwork of theatrics, comes to life deliberately over the top while tasking the audience to actually read their programs, should they want to know who's who in the cast.   See above.

Of course it's silly to attempt to out silly amazingly silly stuff.  However, when art inspires us, well... then...   there you go.  
The Cornley players of The Cornley University Drama Society are a somewhat ragtag band of players under the mostly unsteady hand of Chris Bean (Evan Alexander Smith) who also plays Inspector Carter in the play within the play.  

By turning your program pages past the ads for Merrill and Mission Tile, we find the cast list which may then be coordinated with the characters playing the characters who then, on another page may be coordinated with the actual actors playing the actors who limn the characters in this evening's performance of "The Murder at Haversham Manor!" 
Light cue! Sound/Sting!  
I was going to make a reference to Great Expectations with a clever aside, but a Dickens pun seems somewhat of a stretch.  

Sketchilly "written" by Susie H.K. Brideswell, (in fact by Henry's Lewis and Shields and Jonathan Sayer) Society President, Chris Bean, is credited with scenic design and every other credit including voice and dialect coach. Mr. Bean's  amazingly complicated set (actually the incredible design is by Nigel Hook)  becomes another character in the show enhanced by Ric Mountjoy's lighting design and Andrew Johnson's sound.

Pre-show antics engineered by the Stage Manager, Annie Twilloil (Angela Grovey) aided and abetted by production lights and sound guy, Trevor Watson (Brandon J. Ellis) include audience participation with Annie hiding behind Trevor in attempts to secure the crumbling set before the play begins. 

After Director Chris Bean's curtain speech laying the groundwork for the mayhem to come, lights up as the dead body of Charles Haversham (as Jonathan Harris played by Yaegal T. Welch) almost makes it to the chaise lounge and the beautifully acted bad acting ensues.  
From this point on, the uncomfortable silliness escalates with broad physical moments that defy explanation. There are more sight gags than a litter of Golden Retrievers. It's delicious. 

In his attempt to steal the show, Ned Noyes as Max Bennett playing both Cecil Haversham, the cad!  and  Arthur the Gardener in Act II may think that he gets away with it, but we know it's you, Max. 

Timing, physical gags that make the audience gasp and truly terrible acting make this production out perform Noises Off! at every turn. Noises Off! used to be the standard for really silly theatre but! No longer! TPTWG is now at the top of my list and as the promo that suggests that "Monty Python meets Sherlock Holmes" isn't far from worng! For another silly reference, I mention  the very silly Firesign Theatre just to see if this gets a mention in another on line venue.  See this show!!

“The Play That Goes Wrong”
Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields
Tour Directed by Matt DiCarlo
Original Broadway Direction by Mark Bell

Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre
The Music Center

135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m.  
 Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.  
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.  
No performance on Mondays.  
Exceptions: Added 2 p.m. show 
Thursday, August 8. 
No 6:30 p.m. show Sunday, August 11, 2019