Tuesday, November 26, 2019

SALVAGE at The Lounge

There's something to be said for Tim Alderson who, after fifteen years of fermentation,  rounded up some pals and put on a show. By his own admission, he is not a playwright. However, there's the bones of something happening here.
In my recollection, it may have been Hoyt Axton at The Troubadour  who went through a pint  of Southern Comfort while on stage. And, for sure, Janis Joplin was known for her love of that sweet spirit.  It's powerful stuff. When Preacher (David Atkinson) enters from the john, unplugs the juke box where Floyd Whitaker's "Rise from the Ruins" may have been played a hundred times or more in Johnson's dusty bar, he returns to his table where his custom Martin D-45 accompanies a mostly empty bottle of Southern Comfort.  Having watched Hoyt deal with a pint, I wondered how the man managed to stay vertical.  
Leonard Earl Howze, Christopher Fordinal, David Atkinson

There's a beauty of an old Epiphone hanging on the wall.  It may have belonged to the legendary Floyd Whittiaker?  Salvage is a dive bar where Mr. Johnson (over the top Leonard Earl Howze) grumbles in the otherwise empty joint.  Preacher's opening song "I'm So Tired of It All" won't be hitting the charts any time soon, but it is heartfelt, even if shy a notch or two from Kris Kristofferson. 

À la recherche du temps perdu, to coin a phrase, unfolds.  In search of lost times. The past.

The dust and memories of Preacher are brightly interrupted when a kid with a chipboard guitar case, Harley (Christopher Fordinale), literally bursts through the door and asks in a louder voice than either Johnson or Preacher are prepared to handle, "Is this the bar where Floyd Whittaker killed himself!?"   

Thus unfolds a tale of tragedy and hope.  Uninvited, Harley, pulls his more basic Martin out of its modest case and makes an effort to jam with the crusty old Preacher's walkin' blues  lament.  He fails. 

Undaunted, Harley manages to open to the older man and reluctantly, stories begin.  

Harley's wife, Destiny (Nina Herzog)
Christopher Fordinal, Nina Herzog Photos By Ed Krieger
shows up and learns that Harley is on his way to the pawn shop to hock his Martin (that took him three years to save up to buy) in order to be a responsible father.  Depending on your vocabulary, one might mistake Fate for Destiny.  Without making  a big deal out of it, we see that Destiny refers to following one's own pathway while Fate is more simply just what happens. Destiny, Harley's wife, is more than just a gal with whom Harley has chosen to make a life. Destiny is a sign post, the mother of their expected child soon to arrive. The turn of events discloses how the lives of Johnson, Preacher and Harley and Destiny all come together at the crossroads of the Salvage Bar. 

Preacher talks about 'redemption'.. a nickel for an empty Lone Star bottle and maybe the redemption of a soul, though the ending of this play still leaves some questions.  

Imperfect in a perfect way, I'd have moved the action of the entire show back up stage about eight feet.  Sight lines.  Fine performances deserve an audience.  This is a world premiere worth sitting in on. 

SALVAGE by Tim Alderson
A World Premiere
Directed by Damian D. Lewis
The Lounge Theatre 
6201 Santa Monica Blvd 
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Opened Saturday, November 16, 2019
Runs 8pm Fridays & Saturdays
3pm on Sundays 
Closing:December 15, 2019
Tickets and Information:

Great Bad Habits

Shoebox, hat box, store front, sardine can?  All the names of little theatre spaces that have popped up in Los Angeles come to mind as we are shoe horned into the Ruskin at the Santa Monica Airport.  This is the heart of what theatre, to me, is all about.  
Most of what I know about Catholic nuns has been through art and theatre and the movies.  Christopher Durang's "Sister Ignatius Explains it All for You" went up with "The Actor's Nightmare" years ago and that was a revelation. Amy Adams and ever lovin' Meryl Streep cast "Doubt" into the world while Whoopi Goldberg rocked "Sister Act."  The only nun I ever met was Corita Kent after she had left Immaculate Heart and her world of teaching. She may have been a living saint.  In Stephen Mazur's mostly comic play the nuns are real people, each with a story.
Alley Mills, Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield, Jacquelynne Fontaine, Mouchette van Helsdingen, Lee Garlington                               Photo by Ed Krieger
When we meet Sister Helga ( Mouchette van Helsdingen), Sister Anthea (Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield), Sister Maggie (Lee Garlington), Sister Claire (Jacquelynne Fontaine) and the Mother Superior (Alley Mills) at St. Cyril's the atmosphere is a bit relaxed (after the business with the snakes or the gas or whatever it was), but the stereotypes still ring true with a twist.  The Sisters are a mixed bag: a little nip, a little drag, a smartypants, a musician living and teaching in  a convent in trouble. 

The elementary school that the nuns maintain is in a dicey part of town.  Planning for a Christmas Pageant is on the docket but the diocese isn't much interested in forking over funds to help keep the school alive. 

In a very episodic trip from the convent to  the office of the spunky old bishop, Father Theodore (if Meryl is "everlovin'" Orson Bean is double that with a twist!) who loves the bread baked by St. Cyril's nuns daily but is not inclined to be of much help. 

Mazur's episodic script includes a few too many short scenes and an intermission. Reducing some of the 'olios' that feature cute character exposition and just getting the story told with no intermission may keep the narrative rolling.

It's a dark and stormy night when Maria (Heaven sent Kelsey Griswold) collapses at the door of the convent and melds into the Christmas plot slightly predictably She has the voice of an angel and becomes the catalyst for dealing with the cranky old bishop. 

With movie and television credits, Mazur's story is apt and fun with audience participation whether we want to or not, which may be a Catholic tradition.  Every character has a personal story to tell and the result is a charming couple of hours with a Christmas surprise.  Of course, heading out to the Santa Monica Airport is worth the journey that will send an audience into the night with a smile and a huge laugh as it all resolves, including the curtain call.
Alley Mills and Orson Bean Photo by Ed Krieger

Full   disclosure. I met Orson Bean years ago and have loved his stories and his hundreds of appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.. and maybe Jay Leno.  With his wife, Alley Mills, the two of them banter like anything as the Mother Superior and Father Theodore lock horns.  This charming couple ignites the evening.
Friday, February 7, 2020
It is with great sadness that I learned that Orson Bean has died just outside the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice. He was quintessenntially unique, present, funny and kind.  At the age of 91, he and Alley closed this show they helped to produce just two weeks ago.  Sincere condolences to all who knew him.  Flights of Angels..

BAD HABITS by Stephen Mazur
A World Premiere
Directed by Mike Reilly 
Opening at 8pm on Friday, November22, 2019  8PM Fridays and Saturdays 
 2pm on Sundays
Through January 26, 2020
 (No performances Nov 29 & 30; Dec 27 -Dec 29,2019;Jan3 -Jan 5,2020) 
Ruskin Group Theatre
 3000 Airport Avenue
 Santa Monica, CA 90405
Tickets and Information:  
(310) 397 3244


Wednesday, November 13, 2019


It has taken me a week to ponder and digest the current  production of Sam Shepard's 1979 Pulitzer Prize winning  play "Buried Child" at A Noise Within in Pasadena.  The elements are engaging and knowing some of the circumstances of Shepard's life: his childhood and his passions interfere a bit with getting a solid take on director Julia Roderiquez-Elliott's production.  I've read that this production may not be the same script as the original.

Unfortunately, I've learned that ANW company stalwart, Apollo Dukakis, who portrayed  Father Dewis, the apologetic paramour of Halie (wonderful Deborah Strang) in the play has left the cast.  In the performance I attended, Father Dewis in what may have been a missed cue, took a violent fall to the floor.  Dukakis continued and finished the show, but his tumble put him out of the play, which is a shame.

Apollo Dukakis, Frederick Stuart, Deborah Strang, Geoff Elliott Photo by Craig Schwartz
Siblyl Wickersheimer's appropriate set is seedy and reflective of the dire situation at hand.  Dodge (Geoff Elliott) is dying. For reasons that are unclear, a reading lamp shines directly into the eyes of the audience. Dodge sits, sneaking shots from a concealed bottle and shouting back and forth with Halie who is upstairs preparing for her tryst with Father Dewis. 

Shepard's symbols that lead to Dodge's unapologetic revelation of the disposal of an unwanted child, which may have been the result of an incestuous connection between his son Tilden (Michael Manuel) and Halie  are vague but revealing. Tilden has suffered a trauma: never explained,  that has returned him from New Mexico  back to the family farm in Illinois. His entrance with an armful of corn that has mysteriously appeared behind the house when Dodge declares that there have been no crops since 1935, shows both his physical and mental infirmity.  Time slips and slides.

Another brother, Bradley (Frederick Stuart) comes to cut Dodge's hair.  Bradley has, inexplicably, cut off his own leg with a chain saw, leaving him sporting a wooden prosthesis. The haircut literally wounds Dodge. Talk of a statue for a third son, Ansle, now dead, shows that the other sons have never been favored by Halie.

The depths of Shepard's issues with his own father and the symbolic destruction of Dodge, wasting away, but still the heavy handed patriarch, expand with the arrival of Tilden's son,  Vince (Zach Kenney) and his floozy girlfriend Shelley (Angela Gulner).  They have stopped by on their way to New Mexico where they expected to find Tilden. Initially, Dodge denies knowing Vince, but in time not only recognizes his grandson but as Dodge lays dying, bequeaths the house and in an eloquesnt laundry list some of the equipment to the boy. This then, anchors Vince to the land.

In an unexplained turn, Vince heads off with Dodge's money to secure a "bottle" for him. Meanwhile, Shelley declares in an obtuse way that she may belong here after all. When Vince returns, drunk and raging, the original script called for him to cut through a screen and destroy it when eventually entering the house. In Rodriguerez-Elliott's version, he climbs through a window.  

The archetypes that the Shepard provides: The patriarch, the matriarch, the prodigal son, the virgin/whore, the innocent/guilty son, the bully, the failure of religion.. are all fodder for heavy discussion. Reading the text and comparing it to the production at A Noise Within is enlightening and helpful. In all, the powerhouse performance of Strang's Halie and Dukakis's subtle approach to Dewis,  bring their characters fully to life.  Not to say the others are not doing good work, but this piece calls for a visceral commitment that Halie and Dewis project in the most committed way. 

Buried Child by Sam Shepard
A Noise Within
 3352 E. Foothill Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 
Through November 23, 2019

Sunday, November 10, 2019


Tonight I had the great good fortune to see old friends, Jenny O'Hara and her husband, Nick Ullett. Jenny is the first recipient of the coveted though never before awarded Sheehan Prize  for her outstanding work as an actor in the recent Fountain Theatre production of "Daniel's Husband" as well as creating the role of the loopy lady in Stephen Sachs' "Bakersfield Mist." Seeing the Ulletts was just a bonus to seeing this terrific show at the Broadwater. Jenny is up for some Ovation Awards, so I decided to just scoop them and laud her first! Congratulations, Jenny O'Hara!

Having reviewed Bill Irwin's "On Beckett" at the Kirk Douglas recently and being a fan of Waiting for Godot, I arrived ready to be entertained. Just the premise made me smile. Understudies on hand, in costume (more or less) andwaiting for their opportunity to shine. 

 Playwright, Dave Hanson's script, has captured the essence of the original Godot.  (Irwin pronounces it "God O"). The understudies Bruno Oliver as Ester and Joe Hernandez-Kolski as Val present pretty much as Laurel and Hardy and then chew the scenery in various ways, moving their essence of Godot along with similar angst.  These actors await The Director to show up to tell them it's their turn to go on. Val's Aunt Mary has come to every performance to support him and Val so wants to make her proud.  The actors wait. They don't go on. They should go. They stay. 
(L to R) Joe Hernandez-Kolski and Bruno Oliver. Photo by Jessica Sherman Photography
Banter and hijinx prevail without a hitch including some Buster Keaton moves with a way too small vest that vexs Ester throughout the show.  
We are taken to school by the intrusion of ASM (assistant stage manager)  Laura (deliberately low key Julie Marcino) who basically declares that actors are simply "deaf puppets" who become tools to the wonderfulness of what she does: calling the show!  To demonstrate how easy 'acting' is, Laura reads light cues to bring home the fact that backstage is equally important to those on the stage who strut and bellow.  
To demonstrate how an "actor prepares", Ester first becomes a gorilla: declaring that Brando may have prepared in a similar way,  emerging as Kowalski. then On the Waterfront, romping  through the gamut of not only many of Brando's roles, but famous lines from every movie you have ever seen in your life and then some.  Brilliant. 

I have a special place in my heart for store front theatre. The mostly grubby 'Theatre Row" area on Santa Monica west of Vine hosts speeding drivers laying rubber; honking impatiently from time to time. But!...  inside: the temple:  the exposed brick wall. The set by Aaron Francis, I was told, is the actual dressing room from the original Heliotrope Theatre that Sacred Fools used when founding the company.  Director Jacob Sidney has this essentially two hander well under control as it bustles a pace. This tight full length one act will charm fans of Samuel Beckett with familiar references and might introduce Godot to folks who may not have heard the good news.  

WFWFGodot is a must see. Parking is tough. The corner of Lillian and Santa Monica may have a number of productions going on at the same time, so plan to go early. The fancy bar on the corner looks terrific.

by Dave Hanson
West Coast premiere
Sacred Fools 
Broadwater Second Stage
Lillian and Santa Monica
Hollywood, CA 90038
Through December 14, 2019
Tickets and Information
All tickets $15.00.. period.