Sunday, September 29, 2019


Since moving to the Electric Lodge in Venice, The Rogue Machine Theatre maintains a wonderfully creative space that flexes every which way to accommodate their vast imagination.  The last three small theatre productions I've seen  including this one are filled with Sex!  Exotic sex, carnal sex and romantic loving sex are all presented with great skill.  Is it the season?

The story of Miss Lilly (the excellent Larisa Oleynik), a virginal thirty five year old Sunday School teacher whose take on Bible stories, though slightly skewed, make a point. 
 It takes a while for Bekah Brunstetter's play to come around. Eventually we meet Miss Lilly's loose and leggy sister, naugty Lara (Tasha Ames)  in a confrontation where heretofore chaste and patient  Lilly, whose faith is unshakable, literally prays for the next step in her questo to be sexually fulfilled. She is ready! Very!

The struggle between her imagined ideal man (he must have an accent and kiss her on the neck) and where it leads her,  poses the question, "Are prayers really answered?" Can one actually get a 'sign' from above?  Well, yes, they are.. In a way. And, Yes! Be careful what you pray for! He appears: Richard, with an accent played by Nick Lee. Brady Amaya plays Jordan, Richard's son.

Previously, there has been a murder in Nairobi.  Kavi Ladnier (Vandala Shalla) an animal behaviorist, conducts interviews with the accused murderer, Harold, convinced that she might be able to save his life. Harold is an African elephant! Time loops and the story comes back to America, with issues of grief, seduction, commitment and what lies ahead. In the over all scope of the Universe, what does lie ahead? Does mankind have an actual future?

In a similar way to Brunstetter's play, The Cake, we are up against  authenticity, dealing with deep personal beliefs, ethics and being challenged to be true to one's self.  Will Miss Lilly be fulfilled?

Larisa Oleynik and Tasha Ames Photo John Perrin Flynn
The startling effect of seeing a beautifully constructed Bull Elephant (created by Sean Cawelti) who evolves into a sentient being, remorseful for his crime works. In an interesting performance Justice Quinn becomes the voice and persona of the elephant.  
The unusual effects of answered prayers and the production's final moments coalesce to fulfill what may be prophesies of Biblical proportions. 

Robin Larsen's finely tuned direction and an excellent cast mesmerizes the audience as we eventually put the whole scenario together.  Tragic and funny; poignant and sad, it's well paced and revelatory.  This is a must see for audiences who long for a spiritual and intellectual  challenge.  

Credit Mark Royston for shadow puppets which advance the story dramatically. Inside Harold: Rachel Caselli and Amir Levi.)

Miss Lilly Gets Boned
by Bekah Brunstetter
Rogue Machine
at The Electric Lodge
1416 Electric Ave. 
Venice CA 90291
Fridays 9/27, 10/4, 10/11, 10/19, 10/25 at 8pm
Saturdays at 8pm, 
Sundays at 3pm, 
Mondays at 8pm
Saturday 9/28 performances will be a 2pm matinee; no performance on Sunday, 9/29)
Closes October 28, 2019 
Tickets and Information:

Friday, September 27, 2019

LITTLE SHOP at the Playhouse

The Pasadena Playhouse, The State Theatre of California, was established in 1912.  The heavy early California architecture shouts History in its cobblestone courtyard and its interior design.  No expense was spared when the Playhouse came back from what might have been its final curtain in 2010.  Fortunately, for Pasadena and California History,  a few months after the announced closure, an anonymous angel landed;  the house was refurbished with fancy seats and a new lease on Art was extended.  This is an important historical venue.
Mj Rodriguez (“Audrey”) and George Salazar (“Seymour”) in Little Shop of Horrors. // Photo by Jenny Graham

Roger Corman's feature film, The Little Shop of Horrors, typical of his low budget and quirky style, was released in  1960. It featured the lovely Jackie Joseph as Audrey and a newcomer that Corman brought along in a small role, Jack Nicholson.  In director Mike Donohue's rendition, Little Shop, the Musicalbook and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken, we are reminded that this is a completely original take for this production at The Playhouse, turning on Corman's story via Ashman. It is NOT a regional tour.

With a nod to the growing awareness of the emerging LBGTQ culture, Audrey is played by MJ Rodriguez, who according to a bio, knew from an early age that she wanted to be an actress and has now become one.  
Scenic Designer Dane Lafferty has driven a '57 Chevy convertible off down stage left where Ronnette (Brittany Campbell), Chiffon (Tikwanya Jones) and Crystal (Cheyenne Isabelle Welles)  often retire to comment and show what a mess Skid Row, where Mr. Mushnik's (Kevin Chamberlin) Flower Shop is moldering. 

Mushnik's belabored assistant, Seymour, (George Salazar, fresh from Be More Chill on Broadway) longs for the attention and respect of Audrey and names his alien botanical find (only a dollah ninedy five!) after his fantasy love.  

One memorable tune,  "Somewhere That's Green", works beautifully. It's the lament that Audrey sings hoping for a better life than the abusive relationship she has with her mad dentist biker boyfriend, Dr. Orin Scrivello (Matthew Wilkas, whose multiple characters almost steal the show). 
The awakening of the abused Audrey to the love of Seymour with "Suddenly Semour" in Act II is bright and engaging. 

When a huge production takes a simple and amusing story to new 'heights' we expect New Heights.  The use of hard working puppeteers to create the eventually humongous Audrey II, who, thanks to greed and promotion eventually takes over the Planet Earth, is clever and laborious. This effort deserves to be mentioned. Gone is the Giant Pod that throughout Corman's film continues to exponentially grow large enough to swallow, entire human beings. Instead an imagined miasma of tendrils forms the carnivorous maw that eventually devours everyone. All the while the original Audrey II remains a tiny talking potted thing sitting in the middle of the stage.

There are moments to applaud, especially in the enthusiastic opening number with dancers Ronnette, Chiffon and Crystal who advance the plot much like a Greek Chorus. One robotic version of Audrey II draws chuckles.  

Mike Donohue's direction misses a bet by not creating a tighter and more physically and vocally engaging Audrey II. A nod to diversity, perhaps was the casting of  Amber Riley as Audrey II's voice which was more whiny and annoying than effective.  Another idea might have been to  put the whole story into one act.  The Playhouse's  awkward Continental seating design makes intermission a traffic jam at the act break.  

It's a musical, after all. It's a diversion from our daily bouts with what the 'real world' reminds us of day by day. However, Little Shop does contain a metaphorical warning of sorts. When an "alien" being is allowed to propagate:  the world .. as is shown  in the final shadow puppet play reveals... the world is devoured by evil.  Brrr. 

Sean Cawelti designed the puppets and dircted the puppeteers: Tyler Bremer, Kelsey Kato, Tim Kopacz, Sarah Kay Peters, and Paul Turbiak.

Little Shop of Horror
Based on Roger Corman's 1960 Film
Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken

The Pasadena Playhouse 
39 South El Molino Avenue 
Pasadena, CA 91101
Tickets and Information:

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Solid Life of Sugar Water

Deaf West Theatre Company holds forth in an amazing little space secreted away just south of the Arts District and east of DTLA. It's an oasis for art! 
As the audience enters the space I noted that the room was surprisingly quiet.  Then, could see hands a flutter with many of the audience using American Sign Language to communicate.. It's Deaf West, after all.  In a way the silence was calming and quite charming.
Sandra Mae Frank and Tad Cooley
Photo by Brandon Simmoneau
The American premiere of Jack Thorne's The Solid Life of Sugar Water opens on Sean Fanning's gorgeous set that seems to suspend the audience from the ceiling of the bedroom .. the love nest.. the battlefield.. of Phil and Alice (Tad Cooley and Sandra Mae Frank).  Phil and Alice use ASL to graphically depict their most intimate moments. On hand are Nick Apostolina  and Natalie Camunas who provide the characters' voices, interpreting the signs used by Phil and Alice. The marriage bed "stands" in the center of the room which has been cranked ninety degrees to allow us to see the actors 'lying' in bed.  Derrick McDaniel's specific lighting and Heather Fipps's projections allow us to experience the actors 'lying in bed' while they are actually presenting to the audience.  It's a device that works well and adds to the texture of director Randee Trabitz's  beautiful stage pictures. 

Thorne discusses the issues of deep love accompanied by deep loss through leaping forward and back in time, as well as breaking the fourth wall for the characters to reveal inner thoughts. We go back to see how the couple met.. at the post office while standing in line to mail parcels.  Phil's huge package (no pun)  that contained, among other goodies an inflatable sheep intended for someone to .. well...  to cavort with, to coin a phrase is wrestled with graphically.  Phil and Alice,  at this juncture never really having met, Alice wonders why Phil, seeing that her parcel is so much smaller than his huge package (no pun) might not have allowed her to go ahead of him in the queue.  As luck would have it, the inflatable sheep explodes and Phil's huge package (no pun) .. bursts all of it's contents about the post office! The lovers meet.

The obvious relevance of sex permeates the play with graphic descriptions and physicality. The couple's relationship through a short courtship and marriage and pregnancy brings complications to light.  Explicit sex is presented beautifully as we share the dance of the actors signing smoothly and deliberately with obvious enjoyment.

This is an all together professional production that shows why Deaf West Theatre has garnered accolades for the past many years.  Big River and Spring Awakening, past hits that made news in the Big Apple may be followed by this show that has every aspect of a Broadway production. Graphic sex and explicit language steer this production to an adult audience.

The Solid Life of Sugar Water
by Jack Thorne
Deaf West Theatre 
at The Rosenthal Theatre
Inner-City Arts
720 Kohler Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021
(in downtown LA, just south of Little Tokyo and the Arts District)
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 5 (preview), 12 (opening), 19*, 26*; Oct. 3, 10
Fridays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 6 (preview), 13, 20, 27; Oct. 4, 11
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 7 (preview), 14, 21, 28; Oct. 5, 12
Sundays at 3 p.m: Sept. 8 (preview), 15, 22, 29; Oct. 6, 13
*ASL Nights on Thursday, Sept. 19 and Thursday, Sept. 26: arrive at 7:30 p.m. for a 15-minute ASL workshop that teaches signs used in the play.

For reservations and information, call (818) 762-2998 (voice) or go to

Monday, September 23, 2019

BILL IRWIN ON BECKETT at the Kirk Douglas

Bill Irwin Photo by Craig Schwartz
Full disclosure!  I so loved this show that I started a review in an email to my friend who accompanied me to see this show.  Then.. I came here to get into the routine of writing the actual review.   I was well into this review when I remembered the first rave in the email.  So.. rather than edit and edit.. I'm going to leave both reviews that are somewhat similar and recommend that if you are not familiar with Beckett, that you find Waiting for Godot on line and just scan it for a taste of what the language is like.  It can be daunting.  That said.  Go and be informed, educated and entertained by this humble genius. 

Bill Irwin's "The Regard of Flight" at the Taper, Too, many years ago ... in a way... changed my life.  His highly creative take on theatre introduced me to the type of work that has most intrigued me ever since.  

The serendipity of where we are at any particular time in our lives factors into the work of Samuel Beckett.  Irwin's scholarly and approachable style is unique in that for the season ticket holder coming along to see the production with little or no information about Beckett, they may be tutored fast and furious...  and funny! to crack the shell. The good stuff will be inside.  Irwin takes us well inside with anecdotes and recitations and the meat and potatoes and just desserts that Sam Beckett has left for us to ponder. 

With preternatural skill, abundant training and the complete joy of meta referential text, Irwin brings Beckett to life in ways that call for further exploration and at once are thoroughly satisfying and very, very funny.  

In 1984, Irwin received a MacArthur Grant.  One report tells that he thought it was a prank call.  In the thirty-five years since that honor, Mr. Irwin has shown a panoply of skills.. from turns in "Waiting for Godot"  to an about face with Kathleen Turner in  Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, not to mention a revelatory turn on the 1990 television show, "Northern Exposure."  The maturity of his Beckett exploration is undeniable.

Mr. Beckett is a heady guy.  That "Waiting for Godot" has endured after the play's being severely panned at it's 1953 unveiling (a play where nothing happens.. twice!), is now held up to theatre students of all stripes as a height of theatrical exploration. Experiencing Irwin's take on the playwright is a fundamental revelation in and of itself.  
Ranging from the obscure "The Numbered Texts"  to lessons on physicality and the body silhouette including style with baggy pants and hats, Irwin "On Beckett" will challenge the neophyte and delight the aficionado, give pause to the scholar and garner knowing nods from the fans who think they 'really understand.' 


To say that Bill Irwin in "Bill Irwin On Beckett" is pretty good  is like saying Najinsky was adequate or that Muhammad Ali was a middling athlete.  The superlatives have all been used up.. and finding a way to describe what an appreciative second night audience enjoyed.. enthrall with not only the scholarship of the actor, clown, mime, MacArthur fellow and someone who seems genuinely humble even while levitating .. literally...  and then returning to earth!  to find a really good compliment is just silly. 

For Beckett Scholars, there are inside stories. Imagining Robin Williams literally flying through the air to subdue Lucky,  Irwin's character in the 1988 production of Waiting for Godot directed by Mike Nichols with F. Murray Abraham, Steve Martin and Robin Williams is priceless. (Irwin now always pronounces it "GOD.. oh" ).

Self referential in a good way.. Irwin charms the audience and, as an old mime pal of mine has said, this show is a "Master Class on Beckett."  The depth of philosophy that scholars may debate is up for grabs.. the text of Irwin's show is fraught with references that go well beyond the superficial stuff that most of us may have seen on stage, read or heard about. 
Not having heard of the 'Texts'  Irwin recites more of Beckett's depth and oddball humor.  He relates that a possible influence for Godot may have been Beckett settling in France in 1937. Then,  during WWII, he joined the French Resistance.. Godot was written in French:  now translated back in to English and depending on the production, may have an English tone or an Irish brogue .. but always each character shall wear a bowler hat!
Irwin does hats well.. His primer on the role of the bodily silhouette immediately shows how not only the text, the subtext and the other studious approaches to character are important, but that the profile: the physical attitude is vital.. as is the hat!  Genius is too tame a term to land in Bill Irwins's court.What comes next? We'll have to wait and see. This one is transcendent.

Bill Irwin "On Beckett"
Conceived and performed by Bill Irwin
Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Runs through October 27, 2019
Tickets and information:
(213) 972-7376.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

DEADLY.. A World Premiere

Sacred Fools Theatre Company brings a brand new musical to the stage with Vanessa Clair Stewart's DEADLY.. Pulling out all the stops for their season opener, director Jaime Robledo with composer Ryan Thomas Johnson time travel us back to Chicago, 1893, the World's Fair and a chilling tale of murder! Murders, most foul.

How H.H. Holmes (Oil Can Harry slick Keith Allan) lured women to his dark lair, wooed them and then with the help of his drunken lackey, Benjamin Pietzel (David LM McIntyre in for the role opening night will share the role with French Stewart) is a mystery.  Stewart's premise promotes the idea that these women were bound to be 'modern' and for one reason or another struck out on their own to wind up in Holmes's Murder Castle.

DEADLY takes us forward and backwards in time.  Initially with Holmes questioned by detective Frank Geyer (Eric Curtis Johnson) as we flash back to the episodes that found Holmes meeting and disposing of what may have been as many as twenty two victims.

As each of the hapless women (Brittney S. Wheeler as Lizzie Sommers,  Kristyn Evelyn as Evelyn Stewart, Erica Hanrahan-Ball as Julia Conner, Ashley Diane as Pearl Conner, Rebecca Larsen as Anna Williams, cj Merriman as Emaline Cigrand and Samantha Barrios as Minnie Williams) is encountered we see Holmes work his smarmy spell and one by one they die. Horribly.
(L to R) Keith Allan, Erica Hanrahan-Ball, Ashley Diane and Brittney S. Wheeler Photo credit Jessica Sherman
Based on a true story, Stewart's script calls for tightening and some basic help with movement. Ryan Thomas Johnson's songs are all presentational and  confront the audience almost angrily in no uncertain terms. Where the show could make up time would be for Stephen Gifford's multi-tasking scaffolding that comprises the entirety of Holmes's Hotel to be more a moving part of the story.  The stop and go aspect with actors mostly providing the task of stage hands, distracts rather than adds to the dramatic structure of the play.

Make no mistake, this cast is professional to a person. They present well delineated characters who are believable in the Gothic context of the script.  High drama calls for broad acting and the acting, the presentation and the characters all meld beautifully.  The songs, however, no matter how enthusiastically presented.. and they are sung with conviction.. are difficult to understand. The parsing and meter of the lyrics is sticky at best. The tune that rings most true is the anthem sung by all the women, "Murder Castle!" Corwin Evans's projections work beautifully throughout, adding color and spice.  

In all, this massive effort is overly long and even with Linda Muggeridge's terrific costumes (the women appear initially in Victorian drag when alive and then in wonderful raggedy scraps of ghostly fabric as they greet one another to haunt the 'castle' after their unhappy demise) the show needs work. 

The opening night audience was enthrall with the two act drama. The cast took extended bows, not all together undeserved, as the effort and the excitement of presenting a World Premiere must be very heady.

This DEADLY effort deserves applause.  The show with a strong director's hand, may pick up the pace to bring it along to a well honed production. 

A World Premiere
By Vanessa Claire Stewart
Sacred Fools Theatre
The Broadwater
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Through November 2, 2019
Tickets and information:
323 207 5605

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Echo Takes A Risk HANDJOB

Echo Theater's artistic director Chris Fields who directs Erik Patterson's World Premiere production of  HANDJOB was seated in front of me during the opening night of one of the most brilliant pieces of theatre I have ever seen. Cognitive Dissonance notwithstanding.. and you'll understand why I bring that up when you go to see this show... Is an important part of the experience.  Watching Chris so enjoy this  play was a delight. 

The problem with reviewing a play like HANDJOB is that even though the performances are letter perfect bringing to life Patterson's amazing script... to discuss particulars would be unfair.
Steven Culp and Michael Rishawn
Photo by Darrett Sanders
We open on Amanda Knehan's cluttered set: It's Keith's (Steven Culp) apartment... with books to the left, books to the right.. piles of New Yorker magazines.. and just enough clutter to hire a topless cleaner. That would be Eddie (Michael Rishawn.)  Keith is a writer who has had success, but it's 'feast or famine.'  Keith is gay. Eddie is not. Eddie's six pack abs were probably a feast for the gay men in the audience and certainly they seemed  to be a banquet for Keith.  I thought I heard a woman behind me gasp. 

It's enough to know that the story starts with Keith and Eddie.  Suffice it to say that the rest of the cast: (Stephen Guarino, Ryan Nealy, Tamarra Graham and Gloria Ines) is extraordinary. The beauty of Fields's direction is that it's virtually flawless.  I did have a bit of trouble with the hilarious machine gun delivery of one of the characters.  Try to figure out which one.  

Bring your own personal sexuality to the play and see how it stands up... darn it. innuendo is almost unavoidable in the face of Patterson's tight and eloquent script.  This is a play dedicated to drawing the audience in, making us laugh a bit uncomfortably and putting us on notice that there are issues to be discussed. 
It's about how liberal we, the audience .. well. the heterosexual audience, anyway... may think we are. It's about the discomfort of being faced with our own prejudices, no matter how hip and happening we may be.  

HANDJOB is somewhat reminiscent of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins's play, NEIGHBORS.. that pitted stereotypes of African Americans  against what we might call just average African Americans in startling dialogue nine years ago, almost to the day at the Matrix Theatre in Hollywood.  (Copy and paste to compare after you've seen HANDJOB.)
As with NEIGHBORS, which insisted that we come to individual conclusions, Patterson wants us to head out of the theatre with opinions about where the line is drawn. Who draws the line? Can a theatre piece go too far?  
This is an adult program. Period. The issues discussed are hot button issues. The ethics, philosophy and cultural challenges of HANDJOB are complex. Be prepared to look directly into the face of the homosexual culture to draw your own conclusions about 'the line.'  

HANDJOB by Erik Patterson
Directed by Chris Fields
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave,
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Through October 21, 2019
Tickets and Information
310 307 3753