Sunday, March 15, 2020


There is a special place in my heart for high school theatre.  Before the "troubles" swept in, the double casts of Roald Dahl's, Matilda, the Musical at Providence High in Burbank worked for months rehearsing two complete casts of principal actors with a huge chorus of singers and dancers.  Last Thursday, March 12, 2020, the first cast went up on the Providence stage.  Director,  Dominic Catrambone with choreographer, Julianne Kusmiercyzk and their cast of thousands mounted one of the most consistently well done shows I've seen in a long time. 

I was invited to see this show by the parents of Sasha Camacho, a first year freshman.
Sasha Camacho as Matilda (Photo credit Ben Camaacho)
In the title role of Matilda, Sasha plays the unappreciated daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Adriano Roy and Alexis Shabun).  

The exceptional camaraderie reflected in the professionalism of Thursday's performance was far beyond the many high school productions I've seen over time.  These kids never flagged. The principals were spot on. 

The sad thing is that the crisis has forced Providence to cancel the final two performances of "Matilda." Fortunately, Providence administrators allowed each cast of principals to do  one performance of the show.  

Sasha went to the Friday performance to help with the ticket booth for the second show. Thirty minutes before curtain, the girl playing Tommy (Isabel Petty) was unable to perform. Like a trooper, Sasha donned Isabel's costume to go on for her. She learned the part during her character's off stage time!  

The Providence administration is hopeful that when the crisis passes, we will all get back to normal and the show may go up again before the end of the school year. Burbank and LA locals please keep your ears open for the new schedule.  Highly recommended.

Book by Dennis Kelly 
Music by Tim Minchin
Providence High School
Theatre Arts Department
511 S Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91505
Future performances TBA 
For information:
Call Providence High School
818 846 8141


Tuesday, March 10, 2020


 Having had the rare pleasure of seeing Joe Chaikin's Open Theatre perform and to have met some of the original members of that group, being reintroduced to The Serpent, first performed by The Open Theatre in 1968, the opportunity to see this iconic masterpiece back on the stage is very special to me.   Can we return to the sixties? Can we revist the passions that drove theatre through the political work of The Living Theatre? Through the maze of The Company Theatre's "James Joyce Memorial Liquid Theatre"?  The icoic physical work of Grotowski in Poland and the subsequent blasts from The San Francisco Mime Troupe and Ellen Stewart's La Mama? 
Director Ron Sossi approaches The Serpent 2020 as the original director, Joe Chaikin did: 
Form the ensemble. 
Work out the argument. 
Assign the roles.
Tighten things up.  

In Chaikin's original notes for The Serpent, he tells us that this is not a play, It's a Ceremony.. it's a ritual: a tribute to our past and commentary on the present and then.. what's to come.  It's prescient, though somewhat obvious.. That old silver clock that waits for us all.
The Ensemble Photo by Enci Box
As the audience enters, Sossi's cast of seven women and five men warm up on the bare stage in  rehearsal togs.   The ceremony calls for physical, mental and emotional limbering... 
Because some of the text harkens back to days well before any of the cast members were on the planet, Sossi has added announcements of tragedies more recent, recited by various cast members: chilling reminders of the times we live in. The cast assembles center stage reciting names.  It takes a minute to understand that this performance:  this unique Ritual of Theatre, includes our audience, each of us is invited as one actor after another calls out the name of someone seated before them.
We are all in this together. Now.

Each of the segments of The Serpent, turns on a singular event, also referencing  assassinations, including how Cain slew Abel. Through repetition and physical movement we relive the murder of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King as well as the murder of Abel.    Especially moving is the actors' exercise. We relive JFK and the others that awful November day in Dallas with the Zapruder film repeating in the background.  The exercise replays specific moments of the shooting. Each movement has a specific number. As one actor calls out specific numbers the actors portraying the principals assume the precise position of the stopped motions of JFK's death.  Chilling.

The title, The Serpent, turns on Van Itallie's take on the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The dialogue will have special meaning to those who wish to examine what the myth is really all about. Dialogue and movements are repeated by The Serpent (six or eight of the ensemble) as it writhes: cajoling and tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.

Over all,  this ceremony.. this ritual holds up .. Sossi's young cast impressively approaches the same energy that the original cast exhibited. Missing from the cast, The Odyssey lost one of its most dedicated actors recently, Alan Abelew, whose visceral approach to acting harkens back to those early days. He is missed.

For a trip down memory lane, especially for actors who come from the days of appreciating or working with ensemble companies like Chaikin's The Open Theatre or The Beck's Living Theatre or The Company Theatre of Los Angeles, you'll find your muscle memory responding to the movements, the organic trust that is unique to what highly stylized and politicized theatre was all about so long ago. 

Celebrate fifty years of dedication to 'important' theatre at The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. It may be a relic, but The Serpent is a history lesson and I, for one, am happy to be tutored.  Well done!

The Serpent
by Jean-Claude van Itallie
Directed by Ron Sossi
The Ensemble: Riley Rose Critchlow, Avery Dresel-Kurtz, Joseph Gilbert, Tomoko Karina, Kristina Ladegaard, Marie Osterman, Ian Stewart Riley, Anthony Rutowicz, Keaton Shyler, Ahkei Togun, Terry Woodberry, Denise Yolén, Peyton Young
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble 
Odyssey Theatre 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.  
Los Angeles CA 90025
  Runs  March 7 – May 3
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: March 4 (preview), March 25 and April 22 ONLY
Thursday at 8 p.m.: March 5 (preview), April 9 and April 30 ONLY Friday at 8 p.m.: March13, 20*, 27; April 3, 10, 17*, 24; May  1  
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 7 (opening), 14, 21, 28; April 4, 11, 18, 25; May 2 
Sundays at 2 p.m.: March 8, 15, 22, 29; April 5, 12, 19, 26; May 3
  *The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.

Tickets and information: 
 (310) 477-2055 Ext. 2

Friday, March 6, 2020

Actors' Gang! Can't Pay? Don't Pay!

These are the nuts and bolts of The Actors' Gang's wonderful production: Dario Fo's "Can't Pay? Don't Pay!" translated by Cam Deaver. 
Directed by Bob Turton. .  
Kaili Hollister (Antonia),  
Lynde Houck (Margarita), 
Jeremie Loncka (Giovanni), 
Thomas Roche (Luigi), 
Steven M Porter (Sargent, Agent, Undertaker, Old Man), 
Danielle Ray Powell (Office, Agent 2, Undertaker Assistant, Nurse).
This is the only time this cast stood still! photo by Ashley Randall

It's not often that I arrive home late at night after seeing a play and sit right down to use the energy that the show has generated to start my review.  Not being prone to gushing, I have to say that from the moment the lights shifted from the house to the stage at The Actors' Gang tonight.. the screaming and rushing and pure silliness to rival Lucy and Ethel on speed grabbed the audience and never let go.

I sometimes have to write a review like a book report.  It's what most theatre reviews are.. a guide to the reader about the plot and the production.. This show is so different and so wonderful that I just want to free associate and tell you that if you live a reasonable distance from the Ivy Substation in Culver City, you must take the information below and make a reservation  and take a friend or two and see Dario Fo's "Can't Pay? Don't Pay!"  translated from the Italian by Cam Deaver. It is skillfully directed by long time AGT member, Bob Turton, who, in his "...turn off your cell phone speech", echoes the mission of The Actors' Gang. Come together!  This play, especially for theatre folks, is one of the most energetic and entertaining shows I've seen in a long time. 

In 1997 Dario Fo won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was truly a Renaissance Man, working with his partner Franca Rame... with whom he developed theatre pieces that certainly changed the lives of all who were fortunate to see them.

There are slight problems with this production but it really doesn't matter.  The action and dialogue are so manic and over the top  that the action alone, beautifully performed by a seriously demented cast of six with Steven M Porter and Danielle Ray Powell returning again and again as different characters to the delight of everyone. It's ridiculous .. really.. just silly. 

It's rare that I find myself using the term 'brilliant'.. and now searching for superlatives after recently seeing "The Book of Mormon" I've realized that sometimes all you can do is repeat yourself: Outstandingly amazingly superbly ridiculous ... and fun!

Born in 1926, and active from an early age, Fo used theatrics to poke fun at the powers that prevailed in Italy.  He was censored and surveilled, prevented from traveling but always came down on the side of the common man.  Advocating that human beings must take charge of their lives, the play shares that message. The joy of seeing actors who are having such a good time, amping one another up beyond the limits of civil theatre, the show flies off the stage to gales of laughter.   Sometimes the pace runs away with itself:  the dialogue  swallowed up beyond understanding, but this ensemble is so in tune, the dialogue and overlapping of lines and  great physical action taken directly from Italy's own Commedia delle Arte? It really doesn't matter..

It's a romp and a hoot and a hollar.. Director Bob Turton's intimate set plops down in the middle of the huge playing area.  Lucky front row patrons are included in the action as the fourth wall is frequently broken to everyone's delight.  

This is what theatre is supposed to do.. It's supposed to gather us up and never let go: teach a lesson, promote an ideology, Engage!
Turton's direction and honorable nods to the roots of Commedia make this more than a must see.. it's an experience that will lift you up and have some fun with no time to judge or worry about anything except what the heck is going to happen next.  

Taking place in a town where working clas folks are having a tough time buying groceries, paying the rent and keeping the electricity on, we meet Antonia (Kali Hollister) and her pal Margarita (Lynde Hauck) who have to hide their stolen bounty  bundled home, "appropriated" from the local market where the manager has upped the prices of everything!   Anotonia's husband, Giovanni (Jeremie Lonka), is a conservative "by the book" working class guy. The girls can't tell him that the goods are stolen for fear of his turning them over to the cops. Things go nuts with a plot device where Margarita hides a bag of groceries under her coat, immediately becoming pregnant! Her poor confused husband, Luigi (Thomas Roche) rounds out this spectacular cast while eating something vile from a jar!

How Mr. Steven M. Porter manages to play four distinct characters (all of whom look like one another) is worth the price of admission alone. His partner in law and other stuff, Danielle Ray Powell is wonderful, too. There in lies the tale: it's a farce. We are politicized and entertained and energized. As it should be.

I've been critical of other critics in the past for using over the top hyperbole when writing about a show.  This one has earned my unflinching respect, not only for Deaver's translation whether or not I got all of the machine gun delivered text because I left the production with raves blossoming in my head on my way home.  

With all the song and dance and goings on, the play comes to a moment. This is the moment that I think Dario Fo was hoping to be heard. Deaver's translation: 
GIOVANNI (standing.. to the audience)
"We workers and employees, we’re under their heel right now. Minimum wage, temp, gig, seasonal, laid off, homeless—we find ourselves in a bit of a lowly state. So low, in fact, our asses are on the ground! But watch out—little by little, we’ll make it to our knees, get back on our feet. And we warn you: once we’re standing strong and united, we’ll be pissed off and ready to fight. Because on our feet, we always have our greatest effect!"  BLACKOUT!

When we are in the Church of Art (with a nod to Lynn Foulkes) and can actually feel our spirit move, that's a good sign that something important is happening. Tell a friend. Make a theatre party.. come back to LA from where ever you are and see what a truly great production does for you.  

by Dario Fo
Translated by Cam Deaver
The Actors' Gang
 9070 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA  
Thursdays at 8:00 pm; 
Fridays at 8:00 pm; 
Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sunday March 22, 2020 at 2 pm
Closes March 28, 2020 

Sunday, March 1, 2020


I like to arrive early when reviewing a play to watch the folks come in.  I get a feeling for what's to come. Theatre 68 in NoHo has a history of doing engaging store front theatre. Tonight's world premiere production of "The $5.00 Shakespeare Company" had an appreciative audience. This show has a message that will ring true especially for Los Angeles patrons who understand why doing a show for the love of theatre in a dinky black box is so important. 

Chatting with the box office manager, concession guy, greeter, public relations person and producer Matthew Leavitt was a real pleasure.  Oh yes.. He's also the playwright and artistic director of The 6th Act, the group that has pulled this all together! The LA theatre community is a small one and we find mutual pals in between the box office/greeting/concessions stuff.  The spirit of this play comes from Leavitt's heart. For those who love small theatre, this show will charm your pants off.  Really.. 
Carolina Espiro, Emerson Collins, Andy Robinson, Natalie Lander, Cindy Nguyen, Liza Seneca and Kenajuan Bentley

The premise is pretty straight forward:  Jacob (Adam J. Smith) is the Artistic Director of a tight little company of players who have opted to put up A Midsummer Night's Dream in midwinter on Theatre Row in Hollywood.  I couldn't quite pinpoint exactly where the space was but getting parking on Wilcox was a perk. When Chester (Andy Robinson), recounts having to walk all the way from Vine Street down Santa Monica to the theatre, Theatre Row immediately pops into view and the fact is that as in NoHo, parking can be a problem!  Chester rehearses the lines of King Lear as the cast filters in. He is, at once the old cynic and the heart of what truly makes an actor.  Fifty years in the business!
The company's staging of Midsummer has the ragtag cast assembled minutes before curtain, which always makes me a little nervous.  Randall (Kenajuan Bentley) has a habit of arriving just in time to make his entrance which makes Louis ( Luke McClure)  so hot to take Randall's part, hopeful until at last he's disappointed. 

Author Leavitt's  unfettered love of theatre shines as each of the company members bring their hopes and dreams to light in  well crafted exposition.
A spoof of a well known Hollywood "church" factors in to the benefit of bubbly and impatient Spencer (Natalie Lander). She has been in town for a whole six months and has, at last!   landed the lead in a new TV sitcom pilot! 
Lillian (Liza Seneca) stays in the company to play Hippolata and, of course, other female leads for love though hounded by Everett (busy Emerson Collins) who really really wants to crush the role of Titania just once!   

Camille's (Cindy Nguyen) father is an angel helping to financially support the $5.00 company. They appreciate his money and so she's included, but frustrated that she always plays a supernumerary.  Hunky Noel (Jamie Zwick) with bouncy pecs action has a slick idea to elevate his Nick Bottom handles it well with Titania slip sliding away in the bower. Peanut oil!
Kenajuan Bently and Carolina Espiro steam up the dressing room with what's supposed to be a 'showmance'  while the rumor that the company just MIGHT be in line to land the Shakespeare in the Park summer gig. (ISC, watch out!) 
Director Joel Zwick's take is loose and energetic. The dressing room will be familiar to anyone who has ventured into the world of Los Angeles 99 Seat Theatre.

With moments of true pathos, this one is mostly for fun and succeeds. 

Will the company survive departures and success?  This is a late report, but heading to NoHo for this show is a must for lovers of the local scene.  Don't miss it. 

A World Premiere
by Matthew Leavitt
Theatre 68
5112 Lankershim Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91601
(323) 960-5068
Through March 8, 2020