Sunday, May 21, 2023

“No Place Like Gandersheim” at the Skylight

Editor's Note:
This review is somewhat patchwork, not unlike the backdrop for a play to be produced within the production itself.  Rather than edit for clarity, because there are still questions about this play, please read with a kind eye.  It is intended to shed light on the production, but may look a little like a chicken. 
“No Place Like Gandersheim”  by Elizabeth Dement .. with apologies to The Rocky Horror Show..  "Let's Do the Time Warp Again.." 
In three or four "scenes" the play becomes an  ambitious take on creativity. The world of theatre meets Show Biz. and then!!  (thanks  to  Buzz Lightyear: )   "To Infinity and Beyond."
Shades of Hildegard von Bingen, a German nun whose interest in music and extraordinary  talent later got her canonized, Sister Roz's (Jamey Hood) satirical play gives an historic bent to where a woman's  place.. especially in a cloistered 10th Century German convent, might be. Von Bingen was a musical prodigy with a  mystical take.  Sister Roz  is a playwright who may have learned Latin and / or Greek from the plays of a thousand years earlier by the liberated Roman slave,Terence.  Roz says that her play is a satire. She hopes to make Mother Superior Berga's (Shannon Holt) big wig Uncle Otto,  The Holy Roman  Emperor, laugh.
Jamey Hood, Lauren Gaw and Shannon Holt

Dement's dialogue flowing at counterpoint to the historical times is creatively anachronistic.    There is a sapphic spin.   Roz likes women... even more than Jesus! Madlen (Lauren Gaw)   resists the idea of playing the lacivious 'pots and pans' guy in Roz's comedy. When Otto exits the performance of Roz's play, I'm still not sure why.. Roz sees this as the imposition of the patriarchy.  "In a world ruled by men, women will never be safe," says Roz to the overly devout Madlen. 

 Theophanu (Charrell Mack)appears with her third baby at her breast and in her hip and casual way extols the virtues of Greek culture. The Greeks use masks!

Impressive effects by Shannon Barondeau blast us  forward a thousand years.  
Present day: Hollywood.
Roz is a lesbian mom, the mother of fifteen year old Thea (again, Lauren Gaw).  Roz is the showrunner for a popular network television show that may be getting Emmy buzz: "The Order", which is.. Surprise! revolves around nuns in Tenth Century Germany.   The predominance  of people with penises in power is still problematic. In this present day situation, Mallory (Shannon Holt), over the top "Queenpen  to be" of The UBC Television Network, fulfills the stereotypical personality of every network executive.. almost ever. (Tartikoff might have been a mench?) High energy abounds. . Holt does an amazing one eighty from Mother Superior Berga, the abbess of the Gandersheim Abby. Playwright Dement's exposure of how Hollywood "works" is spelled out clearly as the tables turn with secrets exposed that deep six Roz's television series. Oh Well.
As we are spun into what seems to be a happily dystopian future,  the issues of where Artificial Intelligence may be headed, especially with recent discussions regarding what Siri and her pals are up to, is chilling. In this future scenario,  the holodeck that entertains the denizens of more than one Star Trek series, the ability to interact with virtually any time, space or person  becomes Roz's final challenge as a writer.  "Have you been uploaded?" Vita (again Ms Mack), wants to know, sporting a great kiester in her 25 year old body. Immortality rocks!? 
Propaganda? Preaching to the world? To the choir?
Thomas Berger's "Regiment of Women" posits a world where women have risen to despotic ranks,   , of power, emulating the sterotypically gross male personae, while men are "assigned" to frills and makeup. What happens in this mildly pedantic theatre piece is for the audience to reckon a time when creativity and daring may begin to turn the tide.  Hello Ms Rhimes? Ms Campion? Tina Fey?
Will there be a time when men and women may stand on a level playing field? The good humor of Dement's characters and the lessons, especially from Theophanu (and interestingly, as well as from Kaya & Vita),   that victory may be reserved only for the truly bold. 
We all stand on the shoulders of others. Excellent performances by each actor (dare I say actress?) make the evening worth while. And, like it or not,  we still live in a patriarchy. 
In his Opening Night curtain speech, Artistic Director, Gary Grossman applauds, as does the audience, that this production, in development for many years, is produced in all aspects, by  women. A 'forty year marathon' has kept  The Skylight Theatre alive! with goals for forty more years. Right on !

If this show is any example of what strong and dedicated women can do, more power to the distaff. The characters in the 'present day' segment of the play are interesting stereotypes.  Recalcitrant and moody daughter, Thea, named for Tenth Century Theaphenu;  High Energy and crusty Mallory and Roz. the now modern and thoughtful and successful TV showrunner.  Toss in the next generation of successful and hard working women, Roz's excutive assistant Kaya, and we begin to see women responding with strength, as well as women reaching back to show appreciation.  
The next to final scene that spins us psychedelically into the future of being uploaded into a Cyberverse where one is happy all the time is so fraught with message that poor Roz, with the touch of a button, opts to fly  back, back, back to Gandersheim and the love of Berga with the presence of daughter, Thea,  to complete the circle game. 
I am often asked, "Was it a good show?"  
Please? Define good?  We have an excellent  set, lights and effects; erfect costumes; strong dedicated performances thanks to the keen eye of director Randee Trabitz.  The polemic of gender roles and sexual preference?  Clearly, politicized. Theme? What is the theme?  Shoot for the stars? There's no place like home:  Gandersheim? 
So? What good is, is relative.  
Should audiences plan a time to attend this production!?  Absolutely!  
Parking is a bitch, so plan ahead.  "...Gandersheim" is an excellent presentation of ideas that float  upon our patriarchal times with a message. Maybe this medium is the message?

LAUREN GAW as Madlen/Thea  

CHARRELL MACK as Theophanu/Kaya/Vita
SHANNON HOLT as Berga/Mallory

Creative Team:

DeAnne Millais (Scenic Design)
Shannon Barondeau (Lighting/Video Design)
Mylette Nora (Costume Design)
Alma Reyes-Thomas (Sound Design)
 Joyce Hutter (Properties Manager)
Victoria Hoffman (Casting)
Cedes Sifuentes (Production Manager)

“No Place Like Gandersheim”
Written by Elizabeth Dement

 Directed by Randee Trabitz
Skylight Theatre, 

1816 ½ North Vermont, 

Los Angeles, CA 90027
Opening at 8:30pm on Saturday, May 20, 2023 with reception to follow
8:30pm Saturday, 3:00pm Sunday, 7:30pm Monday through June 25, 2023
(No performance on Monday, May 22, 29)

Tickets and information

(213) 761-7061or online at

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