Thursday, January 30, 2020

UNTIL THE FLOOD at the Kirk Douglas

Polonius: "What do you read...?" 
Hamlet: "Words, Words, Words.."  

Highly decorated Dael Orlandersmith's words flow in her one person presentation of "Until The Flood." We hear a recorded police dispatch that may be the actual call between the police dispatcher in Ferguson, Missouri and Darren Wilson, the street officer who is about to shoot and kill Michael Brown, Jr.. The call is underscored with closed caption text. Brown allegedly walked out of a convenience store in Furgeson with "a box of Swisher cigars"  midday, August 9, 2014 without paying. The text of the radio exchange is projected on Takashi Kata's lush, dramatic back drop. And, so we begin.
Dael Orlandosmith photo Ed Kreger

Ms Orlandersmith presents the ethos and pathos of folks' reactions to the events of August, 2014,  when Ferguson, became an epicenter of national attention following the shooting death of Michael Brown.

What's missing here is action. As Orlandersmith, in her first characterization, a retired school teacher, slowly plumps into a worn easy chair, she addresses the audience. Ennui slowly descends.  She goes on to introduce us to a white cop, a hip teen whose rambling banter is difficult to understand: becoming other characters, culminating with the actor as herself down center sincerely addressing the audience:  the cascade of her beautiful braids unfurling.  It's all words.  

The polemic of Orlandersmith's beautifully written stories are, arguably, extremely important in these days of whiplash media: television and the internet slapping the public silly. Certainly now is truly a time to reflect. 

In fairness, it's important to note that the actor's words do, indeed, tell her stories, but the virtual dearth of movement made it difficult to stay politely awake.   Theatre requires action and interaction:   invigorated movement to advance ideas forward.  Had director Neel Keller prompted more robust action: more frequent, even  volatile projections with bursts of sounds to underscore Orlandersmith's text, this important presentation may have been elevated well beyond her words.

Do I recommend this play? Is this writer/performer a dynamic personality? Should we be aware that there's street justice afoot that is sinking our country into an abyss fueled by bigotry? Of course!  But, Please: VOLUME UP!

The impressive set and hundreds of street memorials surrounding the stage,  tributes that we see almost daily in Los Angeles, elevate the piece.  The tragedy of our times must be told.  I would have loved the opportunity to  read this play. 
To have read the words.

 Until The Flood

Written and Performed by 
Dael Orlandersmith
Kirk Douglas Theatre  
9820 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232 
Through February 23, 2020
Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m.  
Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.  
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. 
 No Monday performances.

Monday, January 27, 2020


 The Odyssey Theatre, shepherded by Ron Sossi, celebrates its fiftieth anniversary with recollections of the Early Days. Sossi's dedication to 'important' theatre and challenging productions that engage the audience allows us to go beyond an evening of simply being entertained has sustained The Odyssey since its inception in 1969.  

In an interview with Sam Shepard: 
New York in the Early Sixties: 
“On the Lower East Side there was a special sort of culture developing. You were so close to the people going to the plays, there was really no difference between you and them -- your own experience was their experience, so that you began to develop that consciousness of what was happening...
I mean nobody knew what was happening, but there was a sense that something was going on.... a community was being established. It was a very exciting time.” 
-Interview in Theatre Quarterly pg.6-8
Carl Weintraub Photo by Enci Box

The unique voice of Sam Shepard is one of the brightest and most important theatrical voices of the Twentieth Century.  His passion for the words.. the poetry of his characters circles back to finding ways to share his work from the days of experimental contemporary theatre.  

Director Darrell Larson's personal friendship with Shepard and his own avid devotion to 'relevant' theatre informs these two short pieces in a more intimate way than other directors might present them.  Shepard's words and the unusual circumstances in both pieces speak to "modern" audiences of the sixties as well as to audiences here in the 21st Century. 

Featuring  actor Steve Howey, "Killer's Head" opens the evening. Mazon sits in an electric chair. He is blindfolded.  Stark lighting. The actor's ramble  is difficult to understand as he internalizes thoughts pausing on the brink of eternity. Spheres of memory: pick up trucks and horses and cowboy stuff tumble forth. This may be Shepard looking deep into his love of the west or just a tale to test the patience of the audience. Richard Gere played Mazon forty five years ago. It would have been interesting to see his version. Various actors will limn this part through the run.

  "The Unseen Hand" lands us on a grubby roadside probably the old Route 66 Highway that runs through Azusa and Arcadia. Blue (Carl Weintraub) clambers out of the hulk of an old Chevy convertible with a no-strings guitar and other stuff.  He may live there.. if there is a there there. He may be movin' on. He may be stayin'. It may be 1969. It may be the 1880s, 
Odd rumblings and Steven Kent smoke effect produce Willie (Matt Curtin), an alien from another time, another planet, where his race has descended from baboons! The mark of an unseen hand attends his brow. 

Add to the mix the heart of the piece, Andrew Morrison as The Kid from Azuza, who after being chucked from a fast moving car, he bears the stripes of  being beaten soundly by some kids from Arcadia.  He recites with joy the wonderfulness of every landmark in Azusa: a home town tribute. From A to Z in the USA!
We meet Blue's brothers from the Old West, Cisco,  the gunslinger (Jordan Morgan), and smooth and lethal Sycamore (Chris Payne Gilbert). Getting the old gang back together ain't gonna be workin' out the way it used ta.  
In his director's notes, Larson discusses the issue of "toxic masculinity." The boys recall the fun they had "robbin', raping, and killin'". It's an acid trip that the actors launch directly through the fourth wall.  What it all means will emerge somehow to what each member of the audience takes home after this romp back and forth in time and space. 
Song Yi Park's set is perfectly strewn illuminated with Bosco Flannagan's lights bringin' it all in.

Killer's Head goes up with the following actors on the dates listed.
Chris Payne Gilbert (Jan. 31-Feb. 2)
Dermot Mulroney (Feb 7-9, Feb. 14-16)
Magnus Jackson Diehl (Feb. 20-23)
Jeff Kober (Feb. 28-March 1)
Jonathan Medina (March 6-8)

by Sam Shepard
Directed by Darrell Larson
Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. 
Sundays at 2 p.m. 
Runs through March 8, 2020
Additional weeknight performances  
Wednesday, Feb. 5; Thursday, Feb. 20; and Wednesday, March 4, 2020 all at 8 p.m. 
Reservations and information:
(310) 477-2055  

Monday, January 20, 2020

NOWHERE ON THE BORDER at the Road / Magnolia

Carlos Lacamara's strong polemic, "Nowhere on the Border," brings us face to face with the troubles that divide not only political factions in  the United States, but also depicts the exploitation of both Mexicans and Americans as we attempt to navigate the murky waters of our troubled times. Though first performed fifteen years ago, this story is a story for today.

Chet Grissom and Jonathan Nichols Photo Credit Brian M. Cole
In short concurrent scenes leaping from the present and then back in time and place,  the saga of Roberto (Jonathan Nichols) and Gary (Chet Grissom) coalesces with an earlier time where we discover a story of longing and hope. Roberto's young daughter, Pilar, (Natalie Llerena) is desperate to come to the United States to reunite with her husband, now three years absent. 

In present time Roberto has made it his business to search along the border for 'the missing' including his stubborn daughter. Overlooking a ravine close to the Mexican border, he stands a respectful vigil, waiting for the Border Patrol to arrive to collect a mutilated body he's discovered.

Opening night energies explode with the introduction of Montoya (Diana DeLaCruz) bursting profane onto the stage, high on adventure and cocaine.  The device of allowing one scene to freeze in place while scenes from aother times and places emerge, mostly works. Guitarist, Mackenzie Redvers Bryce, underscores the transitions.

Is this a 'good' play?    Are the actors 'good'?  Did director, Stuart J. Zully, do a good job? Certainly, the herculean effort that The Road Theatre puts into each of their productions I've seen in the past is undeniably 'good' when it comes to  sincerity. This play is timely and very important as we observe blatant prejudice and the exploitation of human beings by other human beings in our real world of today.  
Natalie Llerena and Jonathan Nichols Photo: Brian M. Cole

Virtually unsung bad guy, Don Rey (Thom Rivera), smoothly and without apology proceeds to bleed Pilar and others who yearn to cross the border.  The bitter undertaste of his assistance threatens harm.
Scenes in the past with Pilar and kindly Jesus (Leandro Cano) progressing as Montoya drives them across the punishing desert play concurrently with Roberto confronted by Gary, the unofficial/self appointed volunteer patrolman with two dimensional motivation until he and Roberto find common ground. The device is effective.  The humanity that the two men come to strikes an uncomfortable contrast as the travelers find their trek to the north fraught with danger. 

Paul Dufresne's scenic design with Nicholas Santiago's projections provide a perfect setting.

by Carlos Lacamara 
Directed by Stewart J. Zully 
Road Theatre 
10747 Magnolia
North Hollywood, CA 
Through Sunday, March 8, 2020