Sunday, August 29, 2021


 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. 


By Wendy Graf

International City Theatre

330 S. Seaside Way

Long Beach, California 90802 

Tickets and information:

562-436-4610 or
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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


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:


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:

Evidently, that's a copy and paste deal. 

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