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Saturday, October 23, 2021

THE SOLDIER DREAMS

 

 
Stevie-Jean Placek, Amy Moorman,
Casey Sullivan and Conor Lane
(Ethan Niven in bed)
Photo by Frank Ishman 
 
THE    SOLDIER DREAMS  
BY
Daniel MacIvor
 
This will be an odd post unless I figure out how the alignment can be  justified.  "Justice?"  Redemption? The former may not factor into MacIvor's play, but redemption might.
The way that  Open Fist presents a play is always unique and a joy to review.  Live theatre is personal and invigorating and worth while. We must be with others. To be with the audience.  This gives us perspective.  There are laughs and ironies that really must have a response. We were a small audience. The applause at the dancing climax was hearty. Deservedly so.
 
 The  odd hour (4PM) for the opening of this play (which will combine later with MacIvor's "Never Swim Alone".. good advice) puts us at a sort of matinee.  It really doesn't matter because we enter into the dark: 
The lights come up. 
We're in another land. 
In fact, we are in Dreamland and the land of the deathwatch. 
In her curtain speech, Carmelia Jenkins as Nurse Nancy the Nurse quietly relates C19 reminders and directions to quick exits : "just in case.'  
Mostly, I can do without a curtain speech. 
This one made me feel like I was on a Frontier Airlines quickie where the passengers mostly attempting to open a bag of peanuts, instead of learning how to save our skins should we 
crash into the ocean. 
David (David Shofner, the dreamed David) introduces himself and his situation. We meet his two sisters, Judy (Stevie-Jean Placek) and Tish (Amy Moorman) and Tish's husband, Sam (Casey Sullivan) and David's lover Richard (Conor Lane in a strong turn)  on deathwatch at dying David's bedside. The family dynamic is highly charged.  This is a good thing. Charged is good when waiting for a loved one to die in a play written perhaps for the eighties;  the looming spectre of AIDS 
and those sad times remembered.
Jan Munroe's simple set and Matt Richter's lighting (which almost becomes another character in the play) serve well. Director Amanda Weier has chosen to make  Munroe's  wide playing area into a sort of tennis court where the audience must  swivel  back and forth from time to time to take in all of the visuals.This was distracting to me.
"The Soldier Dreams" comes from a quote in the text where, in a flash back/memory, a younger David has encounterd the Student / German Doctor (Schuyler Mastain, whom I shall call Fritz). The sexual tension  in the expository scenes return us to, perhaps, how David  may have come to such an end. Fritz's German accent made much of his dialogue difficult to understand, but the quote, "The Soldier Dreams..  but the war goes on," sticks.  
Of dying David (in bed Ethan Niven) we see only a tuft of hair just above the headboard allowing the dynamic of his family to relate to him and to one another easily. Now and then we hear a moan and the words "Ottawa" & "German Doctor" from the mostly comatose  David: clues to his demise?
More exposition comes with MacIvor's beautiful monologues from each of the death watch players: Tish explaining her bond with her younger brother using ASL finger spelling to communicate and do an end run on their strict father's 'rule' about talking at the dinner table. 
Hip kid sister,  Judy, relates her bond with her gay brother: having fun. David's lover Richard's discussion of the open relationship he shared with David is heartfelt. Sam's well played discomfort and ethos surrounding the whole of the time that is coming, each expertly rendered.
 
A couple of performances need assistance. Make no mistake, however,  this is a moving and well executed piece that plays smoothly. It really needs an audience to inform the players where the funny stuff is. Today's audience was small.  Sometimes I'll be asked, "Was it any good?" and for this one I need my somewhat stock answer, 
"I'd see it again."
Apologies for this odd format.  In editing, I'm finding that I kind of like it.
Please see this play.
Tell the Open Fist that onstagelosangeles recommended it to you. 

 

The Soldier Dreams

by Daniel MacIvor 

Directed by Amanda Weier

The Open Fist Theatre Company

Atwater Village Theatre 

3269 Casitas Ave.

 Los Angeles, CA 90039

On-site parking is free. 

For tickets, reservations and information, 

Please call (323) 882-6912 or go to www.openfist.org.

The Soldier Dreams opens with two performances on Saturday, Oct. 23 at 4.p.m. and 8:30 p.m., with performances continuing thereafter on Saturdays at 8:30 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m.; and Mondays at 8:15 p.m. through Sunday, Dec. 12 (dark Saturday, Nov. 27).  

Required caveat: 

• Proof of vaccination required of all patrons.
• Admittance limited to ages 12+.
• Masks required throughout the performance.
• Open Fist Theatre Company ensures that theater ventilation systems are up to the
recommended standard for COVID-19 protection.
• As long as the rate of COVID transmission in Los Angeles County remains “substantial,” household groups will be separated by six feet on all sides.
 


Thursday, October 7, 2021

Echo Theatre.. A S C E N S I O N

Fifty years ago this month, October, 1971, a shape shifter by the name of Werner Erhard released upon the world Erhard Seminars Training:  est (sic), employing a smattering of zen and North Korean brainwashing techniques, adherents were 'trained' to become better people: Better Human Beings. The 'training' only lasted for two weeks, but the shiny eyed emerged ready to change the world. Shades of Scientology (L.Ron Hubbard, 1953) and the subsequent iterations of est: the quest for 'answers' to our lives: spiritual, physical and mental, even eternal,  may lie just beyond that 'sign post up ahead' as we enter.. The Twilight Zone. (Cue musical sting..)

Anna voiced by Elise DuRant

Thank goodness for Chris Fields and the Echo Theatre's ability to defy convention and bring theatre to this threshold of inquiry.  

"Ascension: Noun

The act of rising to an important position or a higher level" 

D.G. Watson's world premiere inquiry into the Beyond or even the Great Beyond, presents a vague answer to what to do to advance the culture: to ascend.  I think. The play delivers attendees (please leave your phones on!) to  a roller coaster ride with opportunities for audience participation.  This part fails.

Dr. Monica Traver (Karen Sours Albisua) awakens to find herself in something of a "state."  Her computer assistant realized 'self' (perhaps): Annana (voiced by Elise Durant) has failed to awaken her. Annana is an AI (Artificial Intelligence) personality with all knowledge who is at Monica's beckon call. 

Somewhat shaky technical issues parallel the acting glitches in an attempt to involve the audience to participate with sort of Call & Response.   Rebel  (Charrell Mack) is discovered trapped inside a 'pod' for reasons later to be revealed. After Rebel establishes contact with the audience, she has someone actually call Dr. Traver in an attempt to obtain the code for Rebel to escape from her pod. (It's 6252774)  The over all  premise, solipsystic in nature (I had to look it up, you might, too), is a fascinating notion: to spend time in suspended animation and essentially dream your troubles away.  The incredibly slow evolution of the argument of the play, combined with a cast that may have ditched their elocution class a time or two, makes this an evening too long and hesitant to be fully enjoyed.. UNLESS.. you have the patience to cull the kernels of the notion from the old nursury round 

"Row Row Row Your boat 

Gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily merrily

Life is but a dream.. (repeat.. again and again)"

Can you dig it?

"Ascension" was developed in the time of dampanic. The technical apsect, though rocky in tonight's performance are impressive.  Projections, especially the graphics for the AI genius Ananna, have great potential. 

The Echo literally tries stuff. Standing applause for this experiment, that with time, the intended sense of other worldliness may emerge. Have you heard of the 'Second Sun?' A huge problem is the pace and actors failure to enunciate to bring their characters fully to life.  Audience participation slows things.   Some stage waits are interminable.

Elio Oliver's detailed tech, with Pod Design by Bill Voorhees; sound by Black Music the Avatar!! drive  Watson's slowly paced vision from presentation to  confusion to lucidity. This adventure will leave the audience either transformed or thoroughly confused as they exit into the cool October evening.  It's a trip.

Sami Cavestani plays Evan. Steve Hofvendahl is Raithmore. Only Leandro Cano as The Caretaker rises to the ocassion with not so veiled threats from time to time. And, just what time is it, anyway? Are we only just watching a play? What year is it? Really??

ASCENSION 

by D.G Watson

Directed by Ahmed Best

Echo Theatre

Atwater Vilage Theatre 

3269 Casitas Ave,
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Performances: Oct. 6 – Nov. 18
Tuesdays at 8 p.m.: Oct. 5 (preview), Oct. 12, Oct. 26, Nov. 2, Nov. 9, Nov. 16 (dark Oct. 19)
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: Oct. 6 (Opening Night), Oct. 13, Oct. 27, Nov. 3, Nov. 10, Nov. 17 (dark Oct. 20)
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: Oct. 7, Oct. 14, Oct. 28, Nov. 4, Nov. 11, Nov. 18 (dark Oct. 21)

Tickets and information:
310-307-3753    www.EchoTheaterCompany.com
 


 

 



Saturday, September 25, 2021

THEATRE WEST!! OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO

Thanks to an anonymous Angel, Theatre West, the long running playhouse theatre collective on Cahuenga lives. The dampanic and hard times have taken a toll on us in a myriad of ways. Art survives.

 Mark Wilding's World Premiere "Our Man in Santiago," is a stinging indictment, with laughs, of republican foreign policy.  Jeff G. Reck's wide and imaginative stage design has been up and ready for over a year.  Keeping a show alive for such a long time is no mean feat, but the hearty gang on Cahuenga has succeeded.

Preshow compliments are in order: Friendly members of Theatre West greet us, vet our health, make sure we are hydrated, guide us to our seats, start the show almost on time. It's a total experience.  

Nick McDow Musleh plays Baker, a miscast CIA agent fresh from his "tough" assignment in New Zealand, where he was never in danger, never learned Spanish and leaned on his Comp Lit degree to succeed. How he was transferred to Santiago, Chile (CheeLay) to aid in the overthrough of Salvador Allende (uncredited in the program) thanks to Richard Milhouse Nixon shows us that fuckups are probably SOP, especially when a republican cheater is in charge. 

Baker, at rise, stands in a pin spot to testify before a Senate committee post Allende coup and we then flash back to 1973 on the threshold of the military coup in Santiago. The swank Cararra Hotel sits directly across from Allende's Presidential Palace in Santiago. So unfolds the twisted tale of American meddling in a foreign country where.. doggone it, the Pepsi Bottling Company is about to be nationalized by Allende. Nixon is a Pepsi guy. Baker likes Coca Cola. So do I.

Melding the ridiculous with the sordid facts of what happened in Chile in '73 simply works... for the most part.  The stage at Theatre West is wide. Charlie Mount's staging .. maybe for safety from the dreaded Covid? turns the audience into spectators at a tennis match where the strokes are sometimes long, high lobs. The pace suffers.  Opportunities for movement are lacking.  Acting styles are divergent. George Tovar as Jack, the seasoned and rightfully paranoid CIA agent, swaggers in and blusters about as he pours Cuba Librés preparing to send Baker to his doom. Baker is unaware of the plot against him.

Who is the gorgeous maid, Maria (Presciliana Esparolini), whose basic English and curtsies may be those of a Mata Hari? Jack wants to know. Leave no toilet paper unfurled. 

Presciliana Esparolini, George Tovar, Nick McDow Musleh
Photo by Charlie Mount


The clever device of long distance orders direct from the White House, with Kissinger's (Michael Van Duzer)   feet propped up on Nixon's (Steve Nevil) desk, as the merits of Coke and Pepsi are debated, as well as the burgeoning coup by Pinochet and the Chilean army,  create some semblance of ironically imagined truth.

Charlie Mount's direction, keeping our heads swiveling back and forth, with the imagined situation and the foreshadowing of times to come returns us, at last, back to the post coup times.  Baker has survived his trial by fire, emerging bloodied but unbowed.. more or less. Mostly more.

Greeted by enthusiastic Theatre West members with their own brand of protocols is a pleasure.  Parking is a minor issue, but close by. This fully professional offering deserves attention.  The pleasure of sitting in an audience and sharing the laughter is worth the price of admission.  Theatre West lives and it' is this long standing company's dedication to the work that matters. Did Chile survive the Pinochet regime? Was Allende such a bad guy? Are CIA agents arrogant fools? Does God make Little Green Apples? Answers to these questions.. well, possibly,  except for the apples part. I just made that up.. may be revealed with laughs at Theatre West. 

Go!


OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO

World Premiere

by Mark Wilding

September 24 until October 24, 2021

Theatre West
3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West
Los Angeles, CA 90068

Tickets and Information: 

326 851 7977

www.theatrewest.org
(Located between Barham and Lankershim - north of the Hollywood Bowl and south of Ventura Blvd. in Studio City -  across the 101 freeway from Universal Studios)


Sunday, September 19, 2021

THE WOLFE & THE BIRD

Depending on the edition of the OED that you have collecting dust on a walnut bookstand in your paneled library, if you crack it open to "Adorable", you may see Mary Tyler Moore as Happy Hotpoint or Rory Flynn from Rogue Machine and sandwiched right there between them the wonderfulness of Ms Rachel I. Parker. 

I did not make note of her actual middle name, but recall that her parents may have wanted to call her Rip? She, like Helen Hayes, is taller on the stage than she is on the ground floor but can strut the catwalk like a six foot lynx and has dance moves that rival Margot Fonteyn on a good day. 

Rachel Parker
Photo by Joshua Stern

Parker, in this well timed audition piece for every medium, has  employed the voice talents of friends to depict her mom and dad and others. It's a showcase.

Director Alina Phelon has been conservative in Ms Parker's guidance.  There are opportunities  beyond the actress's ongoing character embodiments through her growing up years that might have employed slicker costume  and attitude changes. I envisioned a koken assistant who would physically bring more color and variety to the talky business of her exposition supplying more energy that is  lacking in this current version. Why Parker has opted for her closely cropped hair style may be for a part she's playing elsewhere or just the convenience of what short hair can do for anyone in these dark days. 

Vanity performances that work are sometimes vital for the advancement of an acting career. Christmas carols are not a long suit for Ms Parker, but the opening night audience (who insisted on a second curatain call) was up for the singing. 

Rachel Parker
Photo by Joshua Stern

My personal experience with the success of monologues, turns back years to the reason a great monologist, Paul Linke, who had been story telling for a very long time, put up his cathartic "Time Flies When You're Alive" with an eye to find a TV series. It worked! (There was also an HBO boost!)

Ms Parker, if she finds a way to pump up the volume, add color and lose the off stage voices,  digging more deeply into her heart felt discussions with those phantoms (her mother was a friggin' haradan!) with faster pacing and intensity,  becoming even more intimate:  it might bring her more work and certainly a broader audience. There is someone at home. Turn more lights on! 

She really is adorable.

The Wolfe and the Bird

Rachel Parker

The Matrix Theatre
7657 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046

Saturdays and Sundays 

8PM

Through October 10, 2021

Six more shows

Brownpapertickets

Parking is interesting .. plan ahead. 

 


Saturday, September 18, 2021

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike!.

 There's something to be said for the love of the theatre: for the love of community: the dedication to the craft, the art and the substance of the thrill of opening night: another opening ...  another show. The Kentwood Players were all set to open Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" in March, 2020! The set was up. The rehearsals all rehearsed. The fancy Footlights programs (John Finlayson's fine addition) printed: glossy! and then, the dampanic and the history that we have all existed through, with the psychological trips that continue and the losses many of us have suffered, the Kentwood Players have endured.  Kentwood and the Westchester Playhouse have soldiered on with a certain joy that we maybe see only in community theatre.  Joy. 

,
Valerie Sullivan, Chris Morrison,Sarilee Kach, Giovani Navarro

 

 

   

 

 

Christopher Durang has been knocking out plays for years with a special love for odd ball characters (Sister Mary Ignatius and The Actor's Nightmare) who are so theatrical that abandoning disbelief is a pleasure. In "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," theatre folks will recognize familiar Chekhovian names and themes.  We learn that the parents of Vanya (Chris Morrison) and Sonia (Valerie Sullivan),  reference Uncle Vanya, middle aged siblings (Sonia was adopted)  who survive in the lovliness of their Bucks County, PA family home buoyed by  the angst that often serves as the undercurrent of the well known Russian playwright. They are depressed.  Will the Blue Heron visit the lovely pond? Sister Masha is coming.

The tone of Durang's text serves up levels of irony and word play for broad comedy and some subtle stuff as well.  For those who are familiar with "Three Sisters" or "The Cherry Orchard," the Chekhov comes through. 

Enter!  Rich and successful movie star sister Masha (Sarilee Kahn) arriving with her boy toy, Spike (Giovani Navarro) in tow. Stir in Cassandra (we slip off into Homer here) played by director Susan Stangl,  whose loopy predictions all seem to come true.   Chekhovian angst, over the top hilarity and then.. the lovely and sweet Nina (Isabella Petrini) reference The Seagull, whose naiveté  sparkles: a delightful seasoning to Durang's  broad story. 

 Sonia, decries her sad state of being a fifty something frump living with her  frumpy 'brother' Vanya. Sonia suggests that they might make a go of it as a couple, save for the fact that Vanya is gay. How much Durang and his personal angst from being gay is invested is anyone's guess. Vanya does confess that he has been inspired by the character, Trigorin, in The Seagull to write his own play.  It turns on the days when the Earth no longer exists.  Pretty star struck Nina (ingenue from The Seagull) enthusiastically encourages Vanya to   read the play to the assembled gang. Spike has the temerity to respond to a text while pretending to listen.

Durang's personal feelings may be invested in  Vanya's explosive diatribe about "modern conveniences". It is at once sad and  funny.

There's a costume party that reaps some hope for Sonia and a turn of events regarding the sale of the family home, a change of heart on Masha's part and we all live Happily Ever After.

Director Susan Stangl has kept physical movement to a minimum with the humor mostly coming  in exposition. Stangl's Cassandra enjoys moments of romping, but the humor and biting wit of Durang's words and well defined characters win the day. 

This is theatre for the community: a gift that is given from the hearts of the volunteers and their love of the craft and the art and the joy of putting on a play. 

Masks and C19 vax cards are a big deal. There is a mask monitor! The spacious house holds about 120 with spacing for the comfort and safety of all. 


VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE 

By Christopher Durang

Directed by Susan Stangl
Kentwood Players

Westchester Playhouse 

 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A. 90045

September 17 through October 10, 2021

on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm 

 

Reserved seat tickets are $22 with a $2 discount for seniors and students. To purchase tickets, please email the box office at boxoffice@kentwoodplayers.org or call (310) 645-5156

 

 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

CLOSELY RELATED KEYS

 Thirty years ago, give or take, a MacArthur genius and all round good guy, Bill Irwin, brought his "Regard of Flight" to what was then the dinky little Taper, Too, located in the underbelly of The John Anson Ford Theatre.  Irwin's clowning and great physical skills tell a somewhat discombobulated story that really doesn't matter. It's the bits that kept the audience in stitches and the show moving at a good clip.  For some reason.. and my memory is a bit hazy here, Bill's character is being chased relentlessly by another guy, the Nasty Critic, (M.C. O'Connor) wielding a huge pencil to take a swing at Bill if he can catch him.  The chase leaps off the stage and around the audience and back up onto the stage and round and round.  There is a small trampoline at the apron of the stage that both Bill and the Critic do not see or choose to ignore.  Someone shouts "Use the Device!! Use The Device!!!" and theatre folks know that a device is anything that helps to move the plot along no matter how obvious it might be. The chase continues and then, Bill discovers the 'device' and bounces like anything onto the stage and the Critic follows in Hot Pursuit. Bouncing!  The bouncing device works and the audience is in stitches and I can't remember how the chase ends, but later the same guy sang "Home in Pasadena," which I really enjoyed.

Wendy Graf's "Closely Related Keys" in its debut at the International City Theatre in Long Beach opens with a "device" that troubles me. Strains of Rimsky- Korsokov's Scherhezade Suite rise from a shadowy figure "playing" a violin in head scarf and draperies perhaps to remind us that Bagdhad used to be the home of magic, jin and the Thousand and One tales of the Arabian Nights.  This device is clearly not produced by the figure on the stage. The moment quickly comes and goes but is a device that simply fails in the first moments of the production. For me, it set a tone that continued throghout the play.

 A skyline rising above the beautiful set is enhanced with abstract Twin Towers: an echo of the tragedy of September 11, 2001.  

This modern apartment is  the abode of  Julia, (Sidney A. Mason) a gorgeous young black woman attorney whose escalating cries of ecstacy are heard at rise.  Julia's partner in this morning sexual romp is Ron (Nick Molari), who, surprisingly emerges from the covers in his skivvies  He is also an attorney who not only shares Julia's bed but is also a rising star in their big New York law firm. 

Julia's phone rings. It's her dad, Charlie (Oscar Best) who insists that he has news that can't wait.. Here we discover the argument of the play. How the term Closely Related Keys is a factor must be explained in the text.  The music we hear as the play begins reflects the story of a Love Child:  Nylo, (Mehmaz Mohammadi)  whom Julie's father, created in Iraq when stationed there twenty or so years ago.  Nylo is coming to the United States ostensibly to audition to study at Julliard. She found Charlie on Face Book! Certainly, Charlie insists, Julia must embrace her Muslim sister whom she has learned about two minutes ago and here in lies the rub. Julia is busy.  Very. And, has Muslim issues.

Mehrnaz Mohammadi and Sydney A. Mason
Photo by Andrew Hofstetter
Playwright Graf's story illuminates a problem that many soldiers and foreign mothers have faced in the long years that there have been foreign wars and lovelorn men and the inevitable: children of one union or another. My generation recalls Vietnam. Graf's story recalls Iraq. 

Charlie, is an African American in his sixties who did a tour in Iraq. He left his American family and in Iraq found Iraqi love.  Julia and her African American mother were left to fend for themselves.  When Julia was  eighteen, her mother was working in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  She did not survive.  

Julia was then left to pull herself up by her own bootstraps, eventually, to become an attorney: a dedicated and rising star. Her passionate lover we meet with her in bed is a senior attorney in the same law firm. Here is a minor conflict that becomes a side note to the essence of Julia having to deal with her unwelcome and stressful family situation.

Nylo arrives earlier than expected to find Julia totally unprepared for a house guest, especially a new sister who is wrapped in Muslim trappings; speaking acceptable but marginal English.

We are now confronted with mixed feelings that include knowing it was Muslim terrorists who murdered Julia's mother and Charlie's sincere and isistant pressure for Julia to open her home and her busy life to Nylo, her fleshandbloodsister. 

Guilt trip 101.

The sisters eventually come to know each other. One moment of great energy comes through music? Closely Related Keys?  Julia  recalls singing along with the Supremes and her mother."Stop in the Name of Love..." Mason is momentarily transcendent! Then, Nylo bursts forth with Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean." 

A serious side issue with Nylo adds mystery.

The divided story of Julia achieving her goals as an important attorney and the conflict of being part of  a family that she never knew existed roll out somewhat predictably. Julia's career as an attorney becomes a marginal grace note, while the family story emerges clumsily with effort.  The actors are  committed, but tentative: the men more unsure than the women. A final scene and predictable resolution at Ground Zero wrap up the introduction of the women and allow us to hope for a family future.  

Stephanie Karley Schwartz's set with lights by Donny Jackson serve seamless transitions. Direction by Saundra McClain lacks imagination. 

CLOSELY RELATED KEYS

By Wendy Graf

International City Theatre

330 S. Seaside Way

Long Beach, California 90802 

Tickets and information:

562-436-4610 or

 www.InternationalCityTheatre.org
Visit us on facebook: www.facebook.com/ICTLongBeach/

• Follow us on twitter:  

@ICTLongBeach  

instagram: @ICT_LongBeach

Traffic to Long Beach may be avoided by checking train schedules from Union Station to Downtown Long Beach. It is a pleasant walk to the theatre from the end of the line.  Islands at Pine and Seaside Way serves a decent burger a couple of blocks from $15.00 on site parking.

Friday, August 13, 2021

STAND UP IF YOU'RE HERE TONIGHT

Jim Ortlieb as Jim Ortlieb, evidently

It is such a pleasure to see an audience. A real live audience and David Elzer, the PR guy, with an actual press kit and people lining up to prove they are vaxed and to go inside a  teeny-tiny black box and sit behind a pre-eminite Los Angeles theatre critic who declares that he is short in the torso, but in reality I still can't see through his head and then the house fills up and a guy named Johnny introduces himself and is friendly and I like that a lot and learn that he is John Kolvenbach, the author & director of this thing that we are about to not only see, but participate in, even though I'm not much one for immersive theatre, the houselights dim and come up on one Mr. Jim Ortlieb, who has credits as long as your arm and immediately takes charge of the proceedings by thanking the audience for coming into the world and paying money and putting themselves into this one of a kind, one night only (well, for us) arrangement that is not really that risky because we all had to have proof of vax and be ready to play. 

What a pleasure... sort of.

Take one part Spaulding Gray and add a dash of Beckett and maybe a smattering of Werner Erhard, only more sincere:  with the fourth wall now toast and a really great set by Danny Cistone & Zane Stein (with lights by Derick McDaniel) that features some ladders and a jumble of furniture from the courtyard of The Atwater Village Theatre, Mr. Ortlieb gathers us all together: We of the "F" tones and We of the "A" tones who, when softly sung create the exact sound of the old fashioned telephone dial tone: that warm and fuzzy dial tone inviting us to dial a friend, back in the days when we actually called one another  or to hear our mother's voice or order pizza. 

While dodging Mr. Stanley's head and struggling to catch all of the dialogue that made everyone in the opening night audience laugh, the challenge was to anticipate being able to see AND hear Mr. Ortlieb at the same time. Part of the actor's charm was his ability to softly intone many of the punch lines that I, from the back row of the tiny black box space could hear but not completely understand.   That is probably on me.. but still...

Notwithstanding the dead spots in the acoustics of the space, the audience was totally on board, standing at the appropriate times and only sitting if you did not play the trumpet as a child.. or something.

Ortlieb dominates the stage with nary a hint of acting, the program feels totally spontaneous with not a whit of effort until .....

Jim again & No Peggy

Until, there toward the feeling that a climax may be coming; another random member of the audience is invited to assist with the program.  It is, in fact.. a plant! Not Rhodo Dendron.. but Peggy Goss!  Who, when she removes her dowdy mask, blossoms as one of the loveliest plants I've ever seen.  Unfortunately, for me.. her voice matched Ortlieb's in tone and volume, still dodging Stephen's head and her response to Ortlieb's call.. their really funny (evidently) call and response... got a great chuckle from the audience and this note from me. "Please speak to the back of the house, no matter how close it might seem."  

Of course, Johnny was enthrall with his own work and I applauded at the end, too. He seemed like a really nice guy and the audience had a great time and I hope to goodness you have been vaxed and will go to see this play and sit close and participate and know that Theatre lives. 

Theatre lives and breathes and sighs.. (sighing is part of the deal, so come prepared to sigh, okay??)  I loved the ladders and the occasional lighting changes and there was a part with maybe the actor taking poison, but I'm not too sure. I probably should have stood on my chair to see that part.  This is  a positive review that turns on loving the total command that Ortlieb had of the audience from his first breath and the cadance and the flow and  the perfect timing that was signaled to me from behind the other critic's head by a genuine feeling of togetherness and good will emanating from the full house.  

It deserves an audience. There is clapping and singing and drama and something about the four of clubs.  It's a sweet two hander that made me fall in love with a plant.

Vs. Theatre Company & 
Circle X Theatre Co. Present:

STAND UP IF YOU'RE HERE TONIGHT 

written and directed by John Kolvenbach 

Atwater Village Theatre

3269 Casitas Avenue

Los Angeles, California 90039

Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays @ 8PM

Through Saturday, September 25, 2021

Proof of Vaccination will be required and seating will be socially distanced.  Performance is 70 minutes, no intermission.

Tickets and information:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/stand-up-if-youre-here-tonight-tickets-161947454195

Evidently, that's a copy and paste deal. 

It's seventy minutes. Easy and fun. Go! 

 





 

 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Performance ART: Bec & Col at The Gas Station in Adams Hill

 Saturday July 24, 2021

The Gas Station in Adams Hill was saved from the wrecking ball by a team of dedicated neighbors who thought that a parking lot was not a good idea for our little corner where a Richfield Gas Station and then a funky mechanic's shop were standing. In the early 2000s after Mr. Stone had vacated his garage (where I took my Karmann Ghia for repairs for years) it took major efforts by what was then the Adams Hill Homeowners Association to step up to defend the history and tradition of this Streamline Moderne Gas Station. 

I had the first art installation in The Gas Station in 2008. 

http://gasstationinstallation.blogspot.com/ 

(please copy and paste) 

It took the powers that be from February until August to cross their 'ts' and dot their'is' to figure out that filling this space with balloons would be okay. I was determined to have the first installation in The Gas Station.  Little did I know that days before the installation date I'd be asked if I was insured.  My budget tripled with buying an insurance policy for the installation. There was no stipend from the City of Glendale. It was my gift.. Balloons, installation, insurance and all.  

To piggy back on the success of the gasstationinstallation,  in 2012, The City had come around to actually providing (apparently) insurance for the space and I curated sixty artists: local and from across the country to participate.  Still at my own expense. Please copy and paste.  http://july4thgasstationproject.blogspot.com/2012/08/heres-to-art-in-gas-station.html

Which brings us to today:  a nice day in July where two energetic performance artists, Bec & Col, have imagined "Installation Lumpen Station" which features a lumpy display of brightly colored lumpy stuff that is echoed in the costumes that the artists used to...  apparently...  dedicate their work to The Gas Station. 

I applaud the City of Glendale for coming up with funding for Bec & Col. Their brief presentation consisted of a somewhat obscure circumnavigation of The Gas Station : round and round, first by the character in a costume that was slightly reminiscent of the hot Martian in Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks!"  


He/she/non-binary? strode, sped, limped, careened around the four sides of The Gas Station for a while and then the silver gray Other who looked very remotely like "Mother" in Ridley Scott's "Alien" followed along. 

Both critters were definitely out of this world. The accompanying sound consisted of escalating shrieks and screams with some sort of musical accompaniment. There was a relationship between the Silver character and the pinkish one, but exactly what it was is unclear .. it was, evidently, revealed  in the front of the Gas Station. 

Both performers circled the Gas Station with something happening out of sight from where I was sitting. They had chosen the front of the space for their finale. There had been an unsuccessful chalking of the route around the Gas Station by the character reminding me "Mars Attacks!" There was then some major activity out of my sight. By the time I got up to see what was happening, the forty or so folks in the audience were applauding and the artists had retired to their portable dressing room.  The dressing room is a pop up one person pod that is pretty cool.


For the rather conservative City of Glendale to invite these 21st Century artists and their performance piece is impressive. The installation is provocative. It consists of lumpy organic stuff that hangs from the interior of The Gas Station as well as what looked like.. sort of intestines (not in a bad way)  stuffed into the bottom of The Gas Station. 

What I loved about the performance as well as the installation (that will be  up until August 20, 2021) , is that that the City paid Bec & Col to do their piece.  That is very impressive.  I've tried to find out what the stipend is and so far have not been successful.

There were three curtain speeches by the president of the Adams Hill Neighborhood Association and a  politically appointed representative of the Library / Arts and Culture Commission. I'm not sure who   the third woman


was. She may have had something to do with hiring these artists. The poor Mars Attacks ! performer had to stand by with his/her/their staff/wand/thing and patiently wait for the speeches to be over, while the audience stood in the sun and time went by. Slowly.

 

Had these artists been able to convince the City that an evening performance  with appropriate lighting might have been a good idea, the audience would have come in the cool of the day and maybe with a minimum of hype from the curtain speakers; could have maneuvered themselves and their audience around The Gas Station in such a way as to present the entire performance to the whole audience. There was nothing to prevent the audience from moving but propriety seems to make us need to sit still while the show is going on. 

It doesn't matter to me that the relative obscurity of substance in this piece is up for grabs.  It doesn't matter 'what it means' or what the artists were wanting to convey. What does  matter is that they were given a venue and paid, as art and artists should be compensated, for hours of work and developing ideas to express what is mostly an abstract/organic/far out experience. 

If there's a polemic here, I missed it. Had Ken Roht been involved, the grandeur of the costumes and the installation and the performance may have taken on an even more organic and provocative glow. 

Speaking of glowing.. had this performance been presented after dark or even at dusk, with lights from the interior of The Gas Station, the effect would have been amplified just by the drama of the moment. 

I have had my two installations in The Gas Station and now because of bureaucracy and hoops and hurdles that are necessary to fulfill the rules of being vetted to show in The Gas Station,   actually earning pittance for the opportunity, chances of being invited to show again are slim. 

That I've been a neighbor in Adams Hill for many years and supportive of the efforts on behalf of The Gas Station and, today, was not acknowledged by one of my neighbors, speaks to how being sometimes critical of the administration of The Gas Station pays off in shunning.  That is on me. Criticism is what gives any art form an objective point of view. As in this web site, I critique theatre.

 Fact is that I appreciate the efforts of Bec & Col. It is on me that working in a committee is contrary to my basic aesthetic.  To call my neighbors snobs or members of a clique would be unkind.  They seemed to be quite pleased to see one another. 

There were refreshments probably courtesy of the Adams Hill Neighborhood Association.

 

 


Friday, June 18, 2021

At last.. AN OCTOROON at The Fountain


 As the dreaded plague fades, the theatre emerges.  Takes a breath.. and builds a stage. 

Two Planks and a Passion? 

The Fountain Theatre launches into the brave new world with what may be a wonderful experience.  

In discussing what theatre must do for us, 19th Century Irish playwright Dion Boucicault in The Art of Dramatic Composition writes:  

“If such an imitation of human beings, suffering from their fate, be well contrived and executed in all its parts, the spectator is led to feel a particular sympathy with the artificial joys or sorrows of which he is the witness. This condition of his mind is called the theatrical illusion.
The craft of the drama is to produce it, and all its concerns conduce to, and depend upon, this attainment.”

Vanessa Claire Stewart and Matthew Hancock Photo by Jenny Graham

 

When you make reservations to see Branden Jacobs -Jenkins' play, staged in the former parking lot at The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, pack a sweater. Be prepared to not only sit with your bubble, but to feel actual others there with you: challenged by what can only be described as a successful fulfillment of Boucicault's conceit of what the theatre is supposed to do. 

'Engage the 'theatrical illusion.'

The importance of live theatre with an audience in attendance is fulfilled with director Judith Moreland's steady hand and a cast that doubles and triples to keep us guessing. In The Prologue of An Octoroon,  we meet 'the playwright, BJJ,  (amazing Matthew Hancock)  as he pretends to have a 'session' with his therapist (just kidding he can't afford a therapist), he begins to transform into the hero of The Octoroon: George. Lurking stage left is a drunken white guy, Rob Nagle, The Irish Playwright. Boucicault, himself. He faces down Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and in an exchange that takes a page or two right out of Michael McClure's The Beard, we see Hamlet's Advice explode as the two 'hold a mirror up to Nature' as the aggressive and dynamic duo blast one another with a fuscilade of "Fuck YOUs!"  

Keeping in mind that BJJ tells his imaginary therapist that his favorite playwright, Boucicault, the now obscure author of the original melodrama, The Octoroon, circa 1859, we hear from Boucicault through Nagle bragging that he invented copyright and matinees!  

There's disparity in the actors' approach that is mostly forgivable.  We shift from The Prologue that sets the scene for the author's take on the original romp. As the acting style shifts, we meet Dido and Minnie, ( spot on Kacie Rogers & Pam Trotter). They are life long slaves on the plantation that may fall into possession of the cheater, the rotten to the core McCloskey(again Hancock!). The exposition is expository. The characters, including Old Pete (Hazel Lozano doing triple duty including Paul and the Assistant) carry on in broad strokes that waffle between hip modern language and the language of the darkies. Extensive use of terms that are forbidden turns us back to confront our own polite society. We sit...  too passively, inured to the words as we are drawn into the sad story of love and loss.

In The Prologue, BJJ challenges himself to discuss his deconstruction and/or appropriation of African Folk Tales to create his work.  Now and then, in a beautiful and silent entrance, we meet Brer Rabbit (extraordinary Leea Ayers, also effective as Grace: a grace note to the slavery experience with grit).    How this matters is still a bit of a mystery. But, it works.  I like the rabbit.

As The Playwright Boucicault / The Red (literally) Indian: Wahnotee as well as the auctioneer, Nagle brings the characters home without skipping a beat. 

Vanessa Claire Stewart as Dora is the spoiled white girl who has set her cap to capture George and emerge as the Lady of the Plantation because George is back from Paris and is supposed to fix everything.  But!!  He is blindsided by Love. Enter the lovely Zoe (gorgeous Mara Klein) .. The  Octoroon (one drop of Negro blood in eight). Society forbids the marriage of any white person to anyone with any hint of colored blood and here in hangs the tale, well sort of.  

As the melodrama unfolds with some sticky wickets to unravel, the dark purpose of Jacobs-Jenkins to force (or guide?)  the audience  to confront our own biases comes down. The Truth be told, every privileged white person in the audience must deal with it in no uncertain terms.  Like BJJ's play Neighbors, reviewed at The Matrix in 2010, Boucicault's edict for the audience to have an honest and visceral reaction to the play emerges.

It is an opportunity to engage with one's deep nature held up to the mirror of our times. It's a lesson not taught in school but engages an overhead projector and is inescapable.  

We attend the theatre for many reasons. The social aspect is vital and that The Fountain has moved to be able to do a play as it's meant to be done is wonderful.  We need live theatre. Really.

Innovative set design  by  Frederica Nascimento. Projections by Nicholas E. Santiago echo the silhouettes of Kara Walker, certainly with effect, using amazing video that The Fountain has gained a reputation for. It's professional theatre with a strong polemic that demands our attention. 

 

AN OCTOROON  

by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins


The Fountain Theatre 

 5060 Fountain Avenue  

Los Angeles, CA, 90029

Tickets and information:

https://ci.ovationtix.com/34420 

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