Saturday, November 27, 2021

Ken Ludwig's "The Game's Afoot " or Holmes for the Holidays


Susan Priver and Neil Thompson                
                                               Photo by Doug Engalla


Long ago... in a far off land.. I had the unique pleasure of seeing Sir Ian Holm (Well, he wasn't knighted at the time, but he should have been) at the end of his eight hours on stage journey as Hal in Henry IV Part One in the morning and Hal again in Henry IV Part Two that same afternoon; to conclude the day in his evening performance as King Henry V.  Henry's famous speech just before the Battle of Agincourt (You know, "St. Crispian's Day .. band of brothers and all that..." includes these lines:

"I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!' 

And, so not from Conan Doyle, but from the Bard we gain the title of this play.  Ian Holm was on stage for a total of eight hours in the course of the day I faked my way into that show in Stratford Upon Avon.  Sir Ian has said good night now with Bilbo and a hundred others in his wake, but this phrase has awakened my special memory and brings him back, as Ken Ludwig's play blossoms on the Lonny Chapman stage. 

Thank you!  Cry Larry for theatre, by George!! 

There's a lot to be said about Bad Wig/ Over Acting night at one of the oldest small theatre companies in town. Lonny Chapman's Group Repertory Theatre up on Burbank Boulevard has weathered not only the "you know what" for the past almost two years, but a leaking roof and rent and other issues. The Group has held it together and why they chose this play is a question that only may be answered by this response: 

"We need a break!" 

Audiences really need some silliness: some off the wall Acting that   Larry Eisenberg's direction delivers in this loopy romp that plays like honey.  Well, maybe maple syrup, on a warm day in May.  

I'd try to discuss the plot, but as I think on it, it really doesn't matter 'whodunnit.'  Oh. Yes.. it's a Whodunnit. We never really meet Hugo, the dead gazillionaire who left Aggie a widow or Noggs, the guy at the stage door at the Palace Theatre who met his demise with a razor across his throat, but there's more murder afoot, make no mistake about that. 

At rise, we are the audience at The Palace Theatre circa 1930something, where the final performance of a play that actor William Gillette (Neil Thompson) has  held forth in for twenty years with Conan Doyle's blessing as Sherlock Holmes.  Moriarity / Felix Geisel (Patrick Skelton) ends his long rivalry with Sherlock as he takes a three story nose dive out the window. Splat!  

Curtain call..  


A shot rings out from the audience!  No.. really..  a shot and Gillette goes down! Blackout!

Lights up! And, off we go  on a high faluten Christmas Eve whoop dee doo at Gillette's expensive digs up in Connecticut.  Cast members from the Holmes play arrive for a holiday party. Portia, the unhappy pooch, barks and then stops on cue when shushed by Martha (adorable Clara  Rodriguez), Gillette's ditzy mom.  Thus, unfolds a hodge podge of sight gags and clever dialogue that fill two acts and an intermission.

When Aggie (Sascha Vanderslik) and Simon (Troy Whitaker) arrive with "Big News" and Madge (Barbara Brownell) finds out about husband, Felix's one nighter with the sharp tongued theatre critic,  Daria Chase (very flexible Susan Priver) (it didn't mean a thing)  .. something hits the fan and as resistant as I might have been going in! Laughter ensues and ensues again.

 Ludwig, the playwright, may insist thst his name be included in the title of this play to add some weight to this bit of fluff.  Ken Ludwig has written other plays we've heard of  "Lend Me A Tenor" and "Moon Over Buffalo" which lends gravitas.  Round out the cast with an odd little Local Police Inspector Michele Schultz and more laughter (in the voice of M*A*S*H's Father Mulcahy, "Jocularity!").  I rather take issue with the inspector's British presentation as a cop in Connecticut, but in a discussion with the director, they just went with it.

Chris Winfield's set serves: including a vanishing full bar that rotates heavily (sometimes).  Douglas Gabrielle's light design is simple and effective. There must be a special shout out to Angela Eads' costume designs.  She had to do costumes for the brief ending of the Sherlock Holmes play and then created some gorgeous gowns for the Christmas Eve part of the show that is.. well.. most of the show.

Full disclosure, the director, Larry Eisenberg, is an old and dear pal whose work as a director and as an actor I've admired for years.  The challenge of this play is that the marginal acting is in the script and finding actors who can effectively play marginally might have been problematic. They all succeed. The fun is in the fast pace and some really funny gags: G A G S.  

Support local theatre. Wear your mask (I really liked the woman with the polka dots) and get back into an audience. 

Be prepared to applaud!! 

"Ken Ludwig's The Game's Afoot"

Lonny Chapman's Group Repertory Theatre

10900 Burbank Boulevard

North Hollywood, CA 91601  

Monday, November 15, 2021



Brandon Bales and Justin Huen

The Atwater Playhouse (not to be confused with the Atwater Village Theatre Complex) is a well appointed jewel box: the new home of Moving Arts Theatre Company.  The World Premiere of  "@PLAYAZ" by Dana Schwartz is an ambitious melange of where our world may be headed.  

The 'dampanic'...   as I call it.. the C19 interruption of the lives of not only folks in the United States, but world wide, apparently is the source of this on line gaming idea.  Imagine Wayne's World tucked inside a stylish well appointed apartment. Charlie (Brandon Bales), Alan (Justin Huen) and Joe (Dustin Green ) rock what looks like a battle royal projected all over the walls of Justin Huen's expensive set. 

"Shit"  "Don't Cuss!!!" 

Charlie and Alan, pals from grade school,  attempt to create a video to promote their on line gaming project.  They need to keep an "E" for Everyone rating. It's not always easy when cuss words tumble like as natural as the rain in hip and natural 21st Century parlance. Schwartz lays it on thick for a reason. Have 'cuss' words become no longer taboo?

Charlie and Alan are in an odd bromance. Alan, a psychiatrist,  was married to Maddie. Charlie and Maddie were twins. Drugs and pain factor in.  Maddie is dead. Alan wrote the prescription that Maddie overdosed on.

As our 21st Century stumbles into the future, you may be sure that the Electronic Age of tweets and streaming and violent video games now advanced to real time play with killing at its core is on us. 

It may be fun, but it's a shame. 

Whether or not violent on line gaming or X Box at home adventures do a mental number on the players who are hooked on playing, may be discovered in time.  The jargon and the energy involved seems to say, dude,  "War is fun!!" .

Gone are the days of Pacman and Centipede where the only real threat was being eaten by a ghost or misfiring your laser at the critters out to get you. Once a kid had learned the pattern of the game, he could make a quarter last for a long, long time.  Maddie was a PacMan champ. Though she has died, her presence gives depth and humanity to both Charlie and Alan.  At intervals, each of these two of Schwartz's characters breaks the fourth wall to express some personal truth. These true feelings help us care about them beyond their jargon and buff exteriors.  

With one hundred thousand followers, Alan and Charlie may have an opportunity to monetize their hosting of an on line channel where aficionados of the gaming world can tune in to watch.  Or!!! On the upcoming special occasion, they invite other gamers to form teams to battle it out in real time with their crazy avatars.

Alan and Charlie have a nemesis. Joe, a great gamer, but otherwise a screw up (euphemism mine), wants to be a part of the team. In general, his situation is a sad one that messes up everything. The guys want to include him as a third member of their team, but Joe has bigger problems.  His negativity is a double edged sword.  As the story advances with more forbidden words, the language of the gamer, these forty something dudes are  totally absorbed in their gaming world. Alan's human condition rises to the surface when a cute buttinski, Joy (Amy Dellagiarino) chimes in.  Her singular female voice is, in fact.. only a voice. Joy is a gamer, too.  For widower, Alan,   the anticipation of an in person connection is foiled, but her "presence" is vital to the story.  The device of 'hearing' her on Alan's phone was fuzzy to me. 

The projections to bring the audience into the gaming world simply did not work.  A projection on the stage right wall kept blinking 'Computer... computer'.  If that was part of the show, it was distracting.

Sitting behind a guy with a big head made the experience a physical one. He'd lean one way and I'd lean the other in an attempt to catch the action (of which there is very little) on the stage. 

Darin Anthony's direction presents what amounts to a straight play with some interesting technical ideas.  Alan and Charlie may have a "bromance"  beyond their childhood friendship and being related by marriage. Joe is an odd ingredient.  Thanks to his being a pretty screwed up guy, it's that screwiness that may bump the premise just above the mundane. Projections of comments on the guys' Youtube channel as they blink up, projected on the upstage wall of the set are simply illegible. 

This first effort in their new Atwater space for Moving Arts deserves an audience.  

The cut line for this play: "Grownup gamer guys come to grips with real world challenges and ultimately realize that life, and friendship, are best lived in real time. An interactive, immersive dark comedy."


Dana Schwarts - Playwright



Directed by DARIN ANTHONY 



3191 Casitas Avenue

Los Angeles, California 90039

Tickets and information:  213 296 9274 


Monday, November 8, 2021


 Inda Craig-Galván's "A Hit Dog Will Holler" makes its world premier at the ever socially conscious Skylight Theatre on Vermont in conjunction with Playwrights Arena.  Cheri VandenHeuvel as Gina and Kacie Rogers as Dru move the two hander along, spinning off "Wordsmith" Gina's provocative socially relevant podcast that she produces in her Chicago home.  When she changes from house slippers to shoes with heels, we know this is serious business. Gina has not actually set foot out of her home for weeks.. or maybe even months?

Kacie Rogers and Cheri VandenHeuvel    
                            Photo by Jenny Graham

It's early in the year 2020. The pandemic has been poopooed by the 45th president. Gina imagines what a great year this is going to be...  for her.

An unfamiliar knock comes at Gina's door from a new food delivery person. After some negotiating through the door,  Dru, appears.  Herein begins the haunting of the pandemic served up by social consciousness, the story comes to life.  

Gina is a hetero and hip black woman.  Dru is hip and gay.  The story moves along to show how the lives of two black women  who are 'fly'; each having 'issues' that manifest to each of them comes to light.  

When Gina opens her door, a terrifying blast: an enormous screeching! invades her home. At first this does not happen for Dru. The symbolism is broad and effective.

The women form an odd partnership that  builds to their mutual decision to conquer what ever it is that has howled it's way into both of their lives.

Is this the business of Black Lives Matter? The business of, at last, justice beginning to be served on behalf of African Americans? We tumble through fear and conflict waiting to confront ..what? Something loud and threatening. "Out there."

Jan Munroe's evocative set turning on Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" gives the audience the feeling of peeking in...  intruding on the lives of Gina and Dru as they play out the angst of morality versus commerce and truth, justice and the American Way.

Time is shown to pass with the projection of newspaper headlines calling to mind actual events, including the murder of Breona Taylor in Georgia and other current tragedies. 

As the Gina and Dru get to know one another, Dru becomes (for lack of a better word?) Gina's therapist. Gina's self diagnosed case of   "extreme social agoraphobia" has kept her holed up for months, all the while using a green screen to foster the pretense of her being actually on the streets with marchers and demonstrators as burgeoning demonstrations surge. 

Dru turns out to be not only the Door Dash delivery woman, but also "Dru-C-Dru" the instagram influencer / social media rebel who strikes with graphitee and other acts of social commentary on the streets. Gina has a pending book deal that Dru can help her with, but Dru's personal ethic gets in the way when Gina wants to monetize Dru's agenda.

"Hit Dog.." is a strong political statement with contrasted and very interesting performances. Director  Jon Lawrence Rivera steers the production well on Munroe's extraordinary set. Tech credits are great, too.

Gary Grossman and the Skylight have outdone themselves with caution for the audience and the players. Careful adherence to protocols does not impinge on  the enjoyment of the show.

There's much to be said for a strong polemic that boosts the social conscience.  The message may be a bit over the top but the medium serves the message.



By  Inda Craig-Galván

Skylight Theatre 

1816 1⁄2 North Vermont

LA, 90027

 Opens at 8:30pm on Saturday, November 6th   8:30pm Fridays and Saturdays

3pm Sundays

7:30pm Mondays through December 12, 2021. 

No late seating. 

All attendees must present proof of FULL
VACCINATION against COVID-19 along with a government-issued photo ID in order
to attend. 

Face masks are required to be worn indoors at all times. 

Tickets $15 - $42.
Reservations and information
Facebook: Skylight Theatre Company and Playwrights’ Arena
Twitter: @playrenala and @SkylightThtr Instagram: @SkylightTheatre

Saturday, November 6, 2021



Elizabeth Elias Huffman, Lily Knight
and Ron Bottitta
Photo by Jenny Graham

Following in the wake of their summer hit, "The Octoroon," the Fountain Theatre returns to their indoor stage with a small cast and a lot of dialogue.  The time is about now.  Set on the eastern coast of 'that sceptered isle' where a nuclear tragedy has turned the world upside down.  Nominated for Tony Awards in 2018, after its premiere at The Royal Court in London in 2016, Lucy Kirkwood's "The Children" may be a reaction to the Fukishima disaster in 2011.   I'm unsure if a tsunami caused the issue discussed in the play or if some internal disaster created 'the ocean like boiling water' but, the business of how to save the planet lies at the heart of this interesting piece of theatre.

Rose (Elizabeth Elias Huffman), slightly in shock,  stands with her nose bleeding by the door of the cottage where her friends, Hazel and Robin now live. Having surprised Hazel (Lily Knight) by showing up unexpectedly, Hazel had a surprise reaction.  Now, Rose's nose is bleeding.  (Reminder, don't go sneaking up on Hazel.) Rose has come to visit her old pals. Surprise! (With an agenda...)

Rose, Hazel and Hazel's husband, Robin (Ron Bottitta), had all worked at the local nuclear power plant that  is now in serious trouble, cordoned off at a safe distance with few employees going in to help secure the problems there.

The farm that Hazel and Robin had 'retired' to has been irradiated by leakage from the plant. The farm is now radio active, but Robin heads back to the property daily to milk the cows and tend to basics there. Or, so he says.

Years ago.. before the problem, the three friends were engineers who kept the local nuclear power plant functioning.  Now, the disaster has the plant and surrounding area cordoned off with 'no entry' zones and unless someone who knows the ropes at the damaged plant steps up, things will only get worse.

Lucy Kirkwood's three character play has a tinge of Albee:  secrets and lies, hard feelings, an affair that is telegraphed by Rose's unusual familiarity with the cottage. She arrives with an offer for Hazel and Robin to step up to service...  and duty. Who lives and who dies? Who cares enough to wade in and who stays behind? The ethics of responsibility and considering "The Children" lies at its core. The play makes each of us ask ourselves what would we do? What would I do, if I could save the children?

Odd embellishments like smoking and which loo to use for "Number One" or "Number Two"  must mean something to Kirkwood.  They seem superfluous to me. The challenge of British accents did not deter the press night audience from enjoying much of the dark humor.  Strong performances and Simon Levy's direction keep the energy up and the minimal action plausible. An excellent set design by Andrew Hammer and lights by Christian V. Mejia are typically top notch.

The Fountain Theatre's continued dedication to challenging works and important theatre is only sullied by the most uncomfortable seats in the Entire Western World. This tiny space boasts beautifully designed and lighted sets. They hire professional actors. First cabin!  It's time to figure out a way to not pack the audience in like sardines.  Fortunately, the management has insisted on proof of health and facial coverings, which of course, is the right thing to do. The theatre does have nice new front doors, though! Now to the house!!??

The Children

by Lucy Kirkwood

Directed by Simon Levy

The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
(Fountain at Normandie)

Performances: Nov. 6, 2021 – Jan. 23, 2022 (dark Dec. 20 – Jan. 7)
Wednesday at 8 p.m.: Nov. 3 ONLY (preview),
Thursday at 8 p.m.: Nov. 4 ONLY (preview),
Fridays at 8 p.m.: Nov. 5 (preview), 12, 19, 26; Dec. 3, 10, 17; Jan. 14, 21 (dark Dec. 24, Dec. 31, Jan. 7)
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Nov. 6 (Opening Night), 13, 20, 27; Dec. 4, 11, 18; Jan. 8, 15, 22 (dark Dec. 25, Jan. 1)
Sundays at 2 p.m.: Nov. 7, 14, 21, 28; Dec. 5, 12, 19, Jan. 9, 16, 23  (dark Dec. 26, Jan. 2)
Mondays at 8 p.m.: Nov. 15, 22, 29; Dec. 6, 13, Jan. 10, 24  (dark Dec. 8, Dec. 20, Dec. 27, Jan. 3, Jan. 17)

(323) 663-1525 or
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Monday, November 1, 2021

NEVER SWIM ALONE at the Open fist


        Bryan Bertone, Emma Bruno and
    Dylan Maddalena in ‘Never Swim Alone’
                                                       Photo by Darrett Sanders 

Daniel MacIvor's companion piece to "The Soldier Dreams" is a stark little ditty that harkens here and there to Beckett, over to Mamet and maybe off to see Tom Stoppard for a minute in about thirteen rounds of wicked competition between Bryan Bertone as Frank  and Dylan Maddalena as Bill (Frank is just a smidgen taller than Bill). The guys are all watched over by the lovely Referee (Emma Bruno ). What is The Point and why will we race there? 

As with "The Soldier Dreams", the characters take moments to reveal their inner thoughts with a rhythm that makes the ensemble piece a piece of music on the beach.

MacIvor's voice reaches past the obvious into the heart of these stories.  The purporse beyond the poetry?  Director Amanda Weier, brings the subtext to the surface and the title "Never Swim Alone" though only slightly obscure, may reveal itself as the two men banter: thrust and parry and riposte to an uncomfortable conclusion.

Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" comes to mind with the competition. The often raw and rugged voice of David Mamet slices, especially as we hurtle to the end, racing to the Point. The obscurity of Beckett (unless you find Godot clear as a bell) is seasoning for the stew.  I found the rhythms and the strong ensemble feeling, even with just three characters, to be delicious and equal to the joy derived from well choreographed dance.  It is almost Pina Bausch.  

As Bill, Maddalena represents, perhaps, the gentler more thoughtful side of what may be the same person.  As Frank, Bertone, the slightly taller and ultimately more aggressive guy wearing  suspenders dishes out some heavy stuff.  

The competition between Frank and Bill dates to boyhyood when they spent terrific summers together, lusted, as boys will do and as the men they have become, they wrangle their odd relationship back and forth between the last, very last day of summer on a fateful childhood day that we find in the title of the piece and the men they have become.    Emma Bruno as the Referee and the beach beauty, Lisa, holds the piece together beautifully. From her life guard stand she keeps the boys in check with a sharp little whistle. She's spot on creating the teen Lisa for the final swim to the "Point".. 

Of course, the point is to "never swim alone" and when acting in this play,  you'd best wear a cup. 

I was asked by the director which of the two MacIvor productions I preferred.  Fact is that both plays are well written, well directed and well acted pieces of theatre. Never Swim is short and to the point with huge challenges to the men who recite in perfect cadence in some speeches winding up one upping one another. Or not.

See both plays.  This playwright's voice is strong and even though the plays are from 1991 (Never Swim) and 1997 (The Soldier Dreams) each is relevant in its own way.  Jan Munroe's simple set leaves it virtually all up to the cast to make Never Swim Alone come to life. 

Please get to The Open Fist for both MacIvors. You won't be disappointed.


by Daniel MacIvor

Directed by Amanda Wiere

Oct. 30 thru Nov. 21only:
 Open Fist Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Previews Oct. 16 – 18
Performances: Oct. 23 – Dec. 12
Saturday at 4 p.m. (The Soldier Dreams): Oct. 23 ONLY (Press Opening)

Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. (The Soldier Dreams):Oct. 16 (preview), Oct. 23, Oct. 30, Nov. 6, Nov. 13, Nov. 20, Dec. 4, Dec. 11 (dark Nov. 27)
Saturdays at 10 p.m. (Never Swim Alone): Oct. 30, Nov. 6, Nov. 13, Nov. 20
Sundays at 6 p.m. (Never Swim Alone): Oct. 31, Nov. 7, Nov. 14, Nov. 21
Sundays at 7 p.m. (The Soldier Dreams): Oct. 17 (preview), Oct. 24, Oct. 31, Nov. 7, Nov. 14, Nov. 21, Nov. 28, Dec. 5, Dec. 12
Mondays at 8:15 p.m. (The Soldier Dreams): Oct. 18 (preview), Oct. 25, Nov. 1, Nov. 8, Nov. 15, Nov. 22, Nov. 29, Dec. 6

Atwater Village Theatre

3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(FREE parking in the Atwater Xing lot one block south of the theater)

(323) 882-6912 or

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Follow us on twitter: @OpenFistTheatre

Admission to both plays is by donation.

Recommended donation to The Soldier Dreams: $20
Recommended donation to Never Swim Alone: $15
Recommended donation to see both plays in a single evening: $25

• 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.