Monday, August 20, 2018

Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang

L - R Jeffrey Sun and Alfonso Faustino -Photographs by Megumi Smisson

By Joe Straw

…I was an immigrant.  Once you’re an immigrant you’re always an immigrant… – Yo-Yo Ma - Yo-Yo Ma, A Life Led With Bach -NPR Tiny Desk Concert by Mary Louise Kelly, Tom Huizenga

The words spoken in that conversation are wonderfully appealing.  It touches an emotional chord in me that is profound and one that replenishes the human spirit. -  Narrator

Firescape Theatre in Association with The Beverly Hills Playhouse present Yellow Face written by David Henry Hwang, directed by Robert Zimmerman and Produced by Victoria Ma through September 26, 2018.

The stage, on this night, is essentially bare with the exception of nine seats, a telephone table, and two scaffoldings upstage right and left with enough room for each character to disappear upstage and come back to their seats as a completely different character. 

With the exceptions of DHH (Jeffrey Sun) and Marcus G. Dahlman (Roman Moretti) the other players play multiple roles to great satisfaction.

Marcus begins the play with an email to David Henry Hwang (DHH), an actor he has briefly known, about his time in China, a bonding of sorts with his Asian brothers and sisters.  And that charade is what angers DHH who still carries his anger on his sleeves and in his pen concerning his relationship with Marcus.  

“That was the first of Marcus’s e-mails to me.  More than a few Asian Americans still wonder what happened to him.” – DHH

(Ouch. Not even a backhanded compliment.)

Still angry DHH says Marcus was a footnote in Asian theatre.  “Blink and you would’ve missed it.”  (Still with the digs.)

“As for my own role in the story, some Asian Americans noticed, but they chose to forgive me for my mistakes.” – DHH

(During the course of the play The Announcer (John Pendergast) introduces the cast of character when called upon.)

“Playwright Frank Chin:” – Announcer

“David Henry Hwang is a white racist asshole.” – Frank Chin

Okay, so DHH is not beloved by all Americans as he takes his lumps and moves on, but he never forgets.

After his success on Broadway, and a Tony Award, for M. Butterfly DHH is at the pinnacle of his career.  In his acceptance speech he lets it be known that it will be a new day in America for Asian actors.

And just when the thought that all was well in American theatre BD Wong (Alfonso Faustino) calls DHH to tell him that Miss Saigon is coming to American with actor Jonathan Pryce, an Anglo, in the leading Asian role and that he must do something about it.

But DHH is not so sure that Jonathan Pryce isn’t Asian or a mixture thereof.

“You’re sure the actor’s white?  Maybe he’s mixed race.” – DHH

(DHH can be so dense.)

“David, it’s Jonathan Pryce.” - BD

BD enlists DHH to write a letter to Actors’ Equity to protest the casting of Pryce in the New York version of Miss Saigon to which the participants from both side of the pond raise their voices in protest, Cameron MacKintosh (Dennis Nollette), the producer, Bernard Jacobs, the President of The Shubert Theatres, and Actors’ Equity.

Alas, DHH has done his part and seems satisfied until he gets a call from Carla Chang (Jennifer Vo Le) at Actors’ Equity who wants him down at Actors’ Equity to protest. But, DHH has given up this fight and Actors’ Equity reverses its decision and allows Pryce to play the Eurasian The Engineer a.k.a. Tran Van Dinh.

One battle lost.

More on the way when DHH’s father calls HYH (Alfonso Faustino) a banker who sees nothing of the controversy other than his son getting his name in the papers.  But the next time he’s in New York he wants to get tickets to Miss Saigon. HYH also suggest he should not write about Rudyard Kipling but something more in line with his personal knowledge.

DHH is suddenly inspired by the debacle of Miss Saigon and writes the farce Face Value.

“It’s a backstage farce about a musical in which the lead actor is a Caucasian playing an Asian. On opening night, two Asian American protesters sneak in to disrupt the show – dressed in white face.” – DHH

Roman Moretti and Alfonso Faustino

Unfortunately, and here’s the funny part, they can’t find an Asian for the role.  BD is out because DHH wants a fresh new Asian face.  (And he’s not looking for John Lone either.) And after auditioning Rodney Hatamiya (Alfonso Faustino) they find Marcus who’s looks are ambiguously deceiving.

Robert Zimmerman does an outstanding job in bringing Yellow Face to Los Angeles.  Playfully iniquitous in the way humans move to achieve their rightful positions in life. Yet, it is a difficult and demanding presentation where limited rehearsals must bring out multiple characters for the six actors in the other roles. Finding a significant through line would be the ultimate test for any director.  But, overall the actors succeed nicely. Well, mostly, still one has observations.  

David Henry Hwang’s play seems like two or three different plays without a significant spine that ties it all together.  In its separate parts the play takes on the three phases of life.  One part is the fantasy of a theatrical life. The other is the madness of the theatrical life and the participants.  And the last part is about the harsh theatrical realities of real life and death. Broken down, the play is about Miss Saigon, the other part is about the play Face Value, and the other is about the relationship between DHH, his father HYH, and the banking crisis. Time, identity, and forgiveness seem to be the lessons we learn in this play. But, how does that translate in action?  And, how are those actions manifested to give it a grand through line?

Jeffry Sun (DHH) gives us some pleasurable moments.  In the opening moments he was still angered by the email, after all those years, which did not seem like a good choice. One can’t imagine anyone holding a grudge for that long. Better choices are available for this actor.  Sun just seemed mad throughout the presentation, which really doesn’t work for this character.  He was mad at his actor, mad at his father, and mad at his past relationship. Timing is also critical in this comedy. And, the relationship with his father needs a lot of work.  Could there be a moment where DHH takes pleasure in something he has done?

Roman Moretti (Marcus Gee) has a powerful voice and does well in this presentation. There’s more to add to character but overall the performance was wonderful. (Note: Yul Brynner had twelve curtain calls each night in The King and I.) More work on the curtain call would be nice if only to give Gee the power he perceives he has with his Asian “counterparts”.

Jon Pendergast is impressive as NWOAOC (Name Withheld On Advice of Counsel) as a reporter and he certainly comes off as a white racist reporter. There is a significant amount of work apparent in Pendergast’s performance, a nuance, and a backstory that eats this material up.  His work is wonderful and is brilliant in execution.  Do not miss this performance.  He plays the announcer, upstage left, and one would not have expected this type of performance as he came downstage.  Tremendous work.

L - R Dennis Nollette, Lisagaye Tomlinson, Alfonso Faustino, and Jennifer Vo Le

Jennifer Vo Le as Leah Anne Cho, also gives a performance that should not be missed as well.  This is an actor who is very physical on stage, and with expressive eyes accompanying a deep level of concentration, and an actor willing to take chances with her characters. She is wonderful to watch.

Allonso Faustino plays HYH and others.  Faustino has an Italian name but has an Asian look.  Interesting. Knowing little about this actor one can only suggest that vocal lessons are in order to give his voice the power the other actors had.  Also, work needs to be done to develop the relationship with his father, which doesn’t work to perfection at this point.  Love is crucial for the relationship to work and for the play to progress.  The father son relationship needs strengthening because it ties the whole play together.   

Dennis Nollette is a wonderful actor that provides a wide variety of characterizations to the people he portrays.  From the Frank Rich character to the adult bookstore manager all were wonderfully managed.  This is also a performance you should not miss.

Lisagaye Tomlinson is very appealing in the characters of Jane Krakowski, Miles Newman and others.  David Henry Wang’s mother is Pilipino and Tomlinson would do well to capture that accent but the other characterizations were extremely nuanced and wonderful to watch.  Tomlinson is also very funny as Miles Newman, the casting director, who gets herself in an invidious position and then tries to find her way out of it without much success.

Understudies who did not perform the night I was there are as follows: Cait Bidwell, B. Jordan Reed, Melodie Shih, and Edward Hong.  Edward Hong is also the Stage Manager.  

Publicity - Sandra Kuker PR. 

Run! Run!  And take a sociologist who will love the interactions between characters.  

Beverly Hills Playhouse - August 10 - September 26, 2018


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Famous by Michael Leoni

Foreground Christopher Dietrick, Background L - R Alexander Daly and Thomas McNamara - Photos by Genevieve Marie Photography

By Joe Straw


Those that go to see this play will see similarities to the brief life of River Phoenix – a Hollywood icon perceived to have had a squeaky clean image.  - Narrator

When first entering The 11:11 Theatre, formally the Macha Theatre, and before that The Globe Theatre, one notices a lot of changes to the theatre, in the theatre, and around the theatre. The infusion of capital is apparent.

The seats have been carefully readjusted so there is plenty of legroom now.  And what was almost a three quarter seating arrangement are now seats out in front of the stage and that is good.  

The high ceiling is covered with a reflective foil, and possibly with material to diffuse the sound.  And the lighting is up to date with the latest gadgets. This is a nice touch as well.

This is an intimate house so when the actors first appeared on stage they were all mic’d.  Oh, this must be a musical I thought - 19 songs on Side A, and 12 songs on Side B – music by Conner Youngblood.   But no, they were all mic’d to be heard above the party music and baby the party never stopped.

And as the music roared from the above speakers, my backside was vibrating by the heavy doses of base that rattled the theatre seats and the base to which they were attached, sometimes rolling as though heavy tanks were moving in.

Can this be the intimate theatre of the future?

An 11:11 Experience presents Famous A New Play by Michael Leoni featuring Music By Conner Youngblood, produced by Michelle Kaufer, Erica Katzkin, Rebecca Black and Max Feldman and directed by Michael Leoni though August 19, 2018.

Upon entrance, the set is bathed in a purple light, Lighting Design by Martha Carter; a bed sits center stage, with a sliding glass windowed outlook onto a balcony in the Hollywood Hills.   Upstairs is another bedroom and in an elevated mezzanine there is yet another bedroom upstage left.  Entryways to the small bedrooms and bathroom are by sliding glass doors. Everything is painted white, a very clean evangelical white – to match the main character’s  angelic public persona.

By 99-seat theatre standards, David Offner Scenic Designer is beautiful and a wonderful menagerie for the actors to play.

Set in 1994 (Phoenix died in 1993) the entrances and the exits are as fast and furious as they are famous and everyone attending the party wants to be famous, in their own little way.  

There are two Jasons, a young Jason (Derick Breezee) and a slightly older Jason (Christopher Dietrick) who actually have similar looks.  

The older Jason, living in the moment, is reflective of how this all came to be.  He does this two ways imagining his younger self, and two by observing his friends on cameras set up throughout the house.  

Today, the older Jason has found out that he has been nominated for an Academy Award, thereby sealing his “famous” moniker.  Unfortunately, it will be not be a good day for him.

For the moment, everyone wants a piece of him. Friends, family, tv and fans bang loudly on his door trying to get into his Hollywood Hills home.  The phone is continually ringing, his mother (Rachael Meyers) mostly - a person that Jason hangs up on every given moment – the reasons why are revealed during the course of the play.

And Jason is scared to death of what is coming but it’s nothing a little drink couldn’t fix, a little pill to take the edge off, or a shot of heroin to take away the biting edge and one that produces an inimical gaze.

Michael Leoni, director, gives us some amazing moments and strong visuals, but he takes on too much as the writer and director of the play.  And while there are fascinating things happening on stage, the play loses its focus, the through line - Harold Clurman fondly speaks to – and the nuanced story line loses its focus.

Lost in the confabulation and the music are the critical moments that define the play. What purpose are the rewind scenes? Why does Jason Mast (Christopher Dietrick) need to see those events played out again?  Can those moments be clarified?

The play is called Famous and we get that through the opening moments of the show so, how does the show progress? The main character has already reached his pinnacle. So, what is the conflict?   

Well, it’s easy to see that others want to be famous as well.  Why would they be at his home?  No one there seems to be celebrating his Academy Award nomination.

But, seeing the action of “I want to be famous” in action and dialogue is another matter.   

The famous guy needs to hold onto his fame, however that manifests itself, and the conflict is the interactions with others at the party including the producer that congers bad memories.

Everyone wants to be famous.  Few reach that goal, but they all try. One will focus the comments of the actions of the actors to enlighten.   

Christopher Dietrick (Jason Mast) has a very good look and is very believable in the role.  The character is shy and gives off a warm glow to the strangers he meets.  Underneath he is terrified to open the door.  He has an overactive imagination, highlighted by the chaos of shadows, which is why he sees his younger self and mother during the waking hours of his constant nightmare.  He moves in the direction of observation to find out who he is and why he got to be famous.  He must set aside his contemptuous feelings for the night and move toward his next big goal. While Dietrick has a very good look, the character’s objective needs to hold on to fame no matter the cost. As the actor, he can’t play the ending, because it’s a downer. But by observation, he gathers the information to stay on top, until he makes a fatal mistake.

It is through Derick Breezzee we see Young Jason. How he was manipulated and belittled by his mother, how she encouraged him to stay with male friend who were going to show him the “business”.  He takes the mental hits after these encounters but moves on with his life to reach the ultimate goal, that of becoming famous.  Breezzee (that’s got to be a stage name) does well and is very likeable in the role.

Markus Silbiger

Markus Silbiger is Dylan Mast, Jason’s younger brother. He is the no so good looking, not so talented, and the not so famous younger brother. Dylan lives, or stays with his famous brother away from their mother who didn’t’ have the same effect on his career or life. Dylan is a ne’r-do-well who really doesn’t know how anything works or how it works to become famous.  He takes a gun to his throat thinking it will be the route to immortality and famous but has seconds thoughts.

Alexander Daly is Ryan Logan a man with limited success and the best friend to Jason Mast through their ventures together growing up and in films. Ryan is bisexual with conscientious aspirations.  He has an anything goes mindset but by that same token he is very grounded in his life and what he hopes to accomplish. Does he push hard enough to get what he wants?  That is questionable. Still, Daly does some very fine work in this production.

Rosanna De Candia is Celeste Whitley a manager who loves to control all things around her, not letting her client go overboard, and she keeps the press at arms length.  Her role is to keep everything above board, legal, nice and tidy - to help her client keep his fame at all cost. But, she slips, wanting to hold on to her client, even if it means sleeping with his brother.  De Candia, need a backstory, as a way to fill in the missing gaps, things to add to a character that makes mistakes.  It is a good performance but one that she can add to.

You’re only as good as your last film and Gregory DePetro as Jack Rossi fills the bill as a sleazy producer who will take advantage of those he deems worthy of his attention.  The name Jack Rossi is loathed by the famous one and possibly hasn’t had a decent hit in some time, which is a reason, he is coming back to the well. In the party tonight he is making his comeback and destroying many lives in the process. DePetro does well in the role as he defines the sleazy part of Hollywood.

Megan Davis is Alyssa Rossi, Jack’s daughter and one who lives a cloistered existence in all that is Hollywood.  Alyssa is the icebreaker, the one who lowers everyone’s defenses by plying them with drugs and alcohol.  Her scruples are limited to the lowest rung of the moral ladder.   Davis is very watchable.

Decker Sadowski plays Heather Hayes someone who wants to move from TV to motion pictures.  She is at the party tonight to see if there is some kind of compatibility with the famous one. Heather appears to have scruples not letting the 16-year-old girl have drugs but gives in from social pressure.  At this moment, she has fallen, leaving her moral code as a footnote in her unwritten biography. Heather seems strong willed at times but falls into an unnecessary trap. Sadowski has to work harder keeping the character good, honest and in line to what is right in Hollywood.  One must also see, in the end, that all is lost from her, at least on this night.  Sadowski has room to grow but shows incredible potential.

Thomas McNamara is Brody James, a boyfriend to Heather and uninvited guest to the party.  He is a writer, like everyone in Hollywood, and manages to get a private meeting with the famous one while looking for his girlfriend.  He is unsure of his capabilities but will manage to hang in on the party until he gets his girlfriend back or a screenplay deal.
McNamara has a very good look and should do well in this industry providing the breaks come his way.    

Jacqi Vene is Caley Miller a 16-year-old girl who also wants to be famous but is in way over her head.  Finding a physical partner this night has been a troublesome adventure until she meets a man with no scruples at all. Vene has her moments.

Kenny Johnston has multiple roles as Paulie Sinclair, a man who preys on young boys promising them the world.  Also, Johnston plays Lawrence Michaels, a director who will not have any of his actors inebriated on the set. He defines what is right in Hollywood and Johnston is terrific as that character and in this role. It is actually one of the bright spots from a host of characters with less than ideal traits.  Johnston also plays the TV Host.

Rachael Meyers plays Jason’s mom and does some really fine work with the character.  She works on his behalf but takes his career to extremes by plying him with pills to keep him thin, calling him fat, and giving him to suspicious men to further his career.  Ultimately, she wants some of the money he is making now, she wants to be part of his life, and she lets nothing get in her way. If only Jason would pick up the phone, or let her into his home she could make things right again. Meyers is also terrific in the role though hardly sympathetic.

Other members of the crew are as follow:

Larae Wilson – Costume Design
Matt Rumer – Prop Master
Scott Casillas – Sound Design
Nick Hurtado – Sound Engineer
Linda Michaels – Hair & Make-up Design
Kristin Bolinski – Stage Manager
Avery Reagan – Assistant Lighting Design
Joseph Cervantes – Audio Technician

Run! And take someone who loves the Hollywood glitz and glamour to show them another side of the business.


Reservations:  323*378*6969

The 11:11
1107 N. Kings Road
West Hollywood, CA  90069


Saturday, August 4, 2018

…meantime at HoJo’s by Christian Levatino

L - R - LQ Victor and Michael Franco

By Joe Straw

Politicians feel the need for political operatives – to get the dirty deeds done – those dirty stinking rotten deeds – all in a quest for not soiling one’s own linens.

But, inevitably, a dangling thread emerges.  When one is caught in an illegal act, there is a thread so fine, that if one looks closely, it leads to the original incriminating garment wearer.   

Sixth floor Watergate Complex/DNC Office – Saturday June 17th, 1972 – 2:07 am

Once the door is jimmied, entry for all five shadowy figures was relatively easy.  They came in with their faces down, crumpled in manner, in a way not to be noticed. A morass of men jumbled in conflict and purpose.

This was the second go-around, as they were unsuccessful in the first. The not-so-easy part was the searching, and in complete darkness too.

But, now an immediate and not-so-savvy fix was in order. And this was their initial instantaneous screw-up – the flashlight – projecting out the window like a lighthouse – beaming out beyond the political storm clouds – all the way across the street to the Howard Johnson’s hotel.  

The watchers at the Howard Johnson, muttered something across the walkie-talkie about that darn light source. The shadows, simply annoyed, pulled out a cigarette lighter illuminating little as a token bit of sarcasm to those on the lookout.

(But, the HoJo lookouts were not the only ones observing!)  

Now, the third-rate burglars started taking photos of everything. Working fast, knowing that if caught in the Watergate complex, they would lose their amour-propre forever.  They were each doing what needed to be done for another life, a better life.

(Note: Nixon only lost one state against McGovern in the 1972 election, Massachusetts.  So, why he would risk his Presidency by ordering the break-in is beyond comprehension.  Paranoia tethers a worn garment; perhaps this was the significant thread?)  

The gangbusters theatre company presents the fully staged workshop production of  …meantime at HoJo’s by Christian Levatino, produced by Leon Shanglebee & Darrett Sanders, co-produced by Daniel Coronel, associate produced by Andy Hirsch at The Flight Theatre Sunday July 15, 2017.   

Patrick Flanagan and Hector Hugo 

Christian Levatino has written and directed an absurdist comedy, or a realistic story, based on what happened on Saturday June 17th, 1972 with the break-in of the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. 

Given today's political discourse, both the realistic and absurd flavors are both on life’s menu today. And Levatino manages to tie in the politics of yesterday to the absurdity of today in a way that seizes your attention.

The best way to live this fast and furious theatrical event is to absorb it.  And there are some remarkable moments in this play, particularly with the Cubans as they play chess and discus God’s creation.  The language in Spanish and English speaks a loud and clear message of want, of unostentatious courage, of getting mixed up with the likes of people you wouldn’t want fixing the plumbing in your own home.

Understanding this is a workshop performance, there are certain things could be made clearer.  For example, this show needs a strong “McGuffin,” the one thing that moves the men in a clear direction.  The convincing reason they go into the Watergate complex.

But Levatino creates diversion in each character’s objective.  And the diversions in the writing are interesting elements in this play.  Everyone is breaking-in for his own reason, which is probably why the burglary was doomed from the start.

For me, the “McGuffin” is the Howard Hughes and Donald Nixon papers that drives these men into that office. But, that is the objective of the President, to his pleasure, who we never see.  And, despite the diversions created in the writing, there should be that one strong push that can satisfy the President’s objective before moving on to their own objectives.

Scene One – Howard Johnson’s Room 214 (419?) – Friday, June 16th 1972, 10:03PM

After the initial scene in darkness where the arrests are made, we venture back in time to witness Bernard Barker aka Macho Barker (Patrick Flanagan) eating popcorn and staring out the window of the Howard Johnson hotel. He says he loves “Oriental woman” munching kernels out of a movie popcorn box, dropping popcorn and making a complete mess.  As an afterthought, he says he loves Cubans too, blondes, but mostly Orientals.

Around him are his accomplices – Eugene Martinez aka Rolando Martinez (Leo Oliva) and Virgillo Gonzales aka Villo Gonzalez (Hector Hugo) – two Cubans who enjoy talking about life, playing chess, and waiting out the night for the last remaining office worker to leave the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate complex. They are moving in to find a way back home to Cuba.

Frank Angelo Fiorini, a no-nonsense guy, who later changed his name to Frank Sturges (Gregory Littman), reads a newspaper and waits for the inevitable.

The Cubans remind everyone that no one is as crazy as the whites – who by the way started World War I and World War II.

They wait for G. Gordon Liddy (LQ Victor), el jefe, and E. Howard Hunt (Darrett Sanders).  Hunt  wants to be called Eduardo probably because he doesn’t want to be connected with this group and because he carries the thread from the President’s office.

E. Howard is the first to arrive. in the hotel room in a bad disguise; a wig that looks likes a blond cat covering half of his head.  It is a disguise that would immediately draw suspicion from any guard with an IQ of seventy-two or lower. E. Howard doesn't think clearly.

 “I have it on good authority O’Brien’s got something in there pertaining to Castro.  I we can find any evidence that that c*cksucker is helping fund the Democrats, then we’ll have a pretty good argument to knock him the f*ck out. – E. Howard Hunt

Interesting that E. Howard Hunt would use this line to get the Cuban's blood boiling. In hindsight it seems a diversion of sorts.    

G. Gordon Liddy finally arrives.  He tells the burglars that they are looking for information on Dick’s brother, Donald, who received a huge loan from Howard Hughes (even back then, sigh) and they do not want that information leaked to the press.

James ‘Jimmy’ McCord (Michael Franco) arrives in the room with the electronic equipment and Gordon takes him out to the balcony to have a serious talk with him. G. Gordon is unhappy about the first go round, the failed bugs, and now the batteries that need charging.  It’s just not going the way he wants it to go.

“You look tired.  Are you tired?” – G. Gordon

I’m good, Gordon.  I’ll grab a coffee downstairs before I head out.” – Jimmy

“Maybe you grab two? – G. Gordon

Scene Two – Secrecy’s The Thing – Howard Johnson’s Room 723 Friday, June 16th 1972 9.17pm

Room 723 is where the electronic equipment is kept and where Alfred is to keep an eye and an ear tuned to everything.  Unfortunately, Alfred has his mind on other things.  After this job, he has his mind set on being on the Tonight Show speaking to Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon.

Jimmy interrupts Alfred and Alfred quickly goes back to the spying task at hand.  But Alfred’s a little freaked out when he learns the crew is going back in and he’s on surveillance.  Suddenly, that’s news to him.

G. Gordon comes in, bringing Jimmy and Alfred two coffees to keep them awake on this night. Jimmy shows Gordon the fancy and expensive equipment he bought with the money.

L - R Andy Hirsch and LQ Victor

The acting is well above par and solid. But there are things that could be added to make stronger character choices, to make a character soar. These traits are needed to identify and witness a character’s belief in his mission and where those traits are are taking the character.

Patrick Flanagan (Macho Barker) has a nice natural way about him on stage.  He is definitely a lot younger and has a little less life experience than the character he portrays.  A stronger character is necessary to carry the weight of Macho Barker and we really have to find the reason for the character being so sloppy and how that fits in the big screw-up in the end.  That said, there was some really nice work going on here.

Leo Oliva plays the Cuban Rolando Martinez, a man who knows his way.  Oliva gives the character some really nice touches in his natural way on stage.  Rolando expresses a non educated reality, one that doesn’t sit too well with his atheist amigo. Still it is his belief, a tattered conscience, wanting to make his truth whole. The Cuban accent from both actors were terrific!

Hector Hugo plays the other Cuban, Villo Gonzalez, a pick man, and a man who figuratively carries his education in his back pocket.  He is also incredible in the role as he presents his way of life in line with his education. He is a humanist with no religion or country and now he is in a no-win situation when it comes to his counterpart - but he keeps trying nevertheless. There are a lot of fine details in his work and this is a performance not to miss.

Gregory Littman as Frank Sturges is almost perfect in the role.  He is the right age and is specific in the manner in which he conducts himself. He will not take anything from anyone because he knows where all the skeletons are buried. We know his place in the pantheon of this group but not really sure how he contributes in the overall piece of the production.  He is the Luca Brasi without the payoff.

Darrett Sanders is E. Howard Hunt.  One is not quite sure where the character is going.  He is the contact-man for the administration and has worked with the men before, somewhere in Dallas 1963.  There is a threat from one man who wants the world to know what went on that day and Howard is a little upset by it all. But how does he fit in the overall through line? At times, he seems like an underling, other times, the boss, and still other times a dofus with the pants scene.

LQ Victor is G. Gordon Liddy.  There are times when G. Gordon’s feathers are ruffled into a look of a disgruntled parrot with feathers flying and beak banging against a desk. G. Gordon is on top of everything, a man with a mission who moves men to their doom. He is stone cold when he wants something done, right. Someone needs to say that Liddy does not like to say the word “pants”.  G. Gordon, has peculiarities, particularly with Jeb MaGruder which is why he can't get his meetings with the biggies.  There is a lot of good physical work on stage but LQ needs another pairs of eyes to smooth out the edges.

Michael Franco is mysterious as James “Jimmy” McCord a man who gives the go-ahead when thing go awry.  Somehow McCord’s alliance lies elsewhere.  He is sketchy when it comes to his loyalties, like he’s not on their side. There is a moment when he needs strength beyond recognition when everyone wants to jump ship. His logic must be presented as a reasoning beyond questioning and that is his strength.

There’s not that much difference in Andy Hirsch’s character of Lee Harvey Oswald in Sunny Afternoon and his portrayal of Alfred Baldwin in this production.  Baldwin has many dreams of having a successful career.  One of them is finishing law school. The other is being on the Tonight Show explaining what went on this night. (The imitations need to be spot on.  One hears it in the dialogue but not in the performance.) He never made it to the Tonight Show but he was in California giving an interview to the Los Angeles Times.  Interesting work but there is more to add to the character and also to the role.

I’ve seen Sunny Afternoon, King Dick, and …meantime at HoJo’s by Christian Levatino and can’t wait for the next go round. All three shows will all be playing sometime in October 2018.

Run! Run! Run! And take a political wonk.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Road-Trip Monologues Raw bites ’18 – Various writers.

By Joe Straw

Theatre is a business.  That’s plain and simple.  The idea is to be seen and connect to an audience.  If there is no one in the audience, with the exception of the two reviewers and their dates, has everyone done their job?

Phillip Sokoloff (publicist) got the reviewers in and, at least for this night, that job was accomplished. Ed Krieger, the photographer, did his job.

Jane Edwina Seymour curated, produced and directed the monologues.  That, in and of itself, was an accomplishment.

But, what about an audience? Unless every actor is new in town, has no friends or acquaintances, or everyone they know has suddenly gotten the plague, there is no excuse for each actor not to have two or three “friends” filling up the seats. Eight scenes, eight actors, mean that there should be 24 patrons in the audience at the very least, every night, that is if they want to be seen.

Inviting no one, on a Saturday night, is an exercise in futility for the actor.  Not blaming anyone but one part of this endeavor, this job, is for the actor to be seen, to get people into the theatre, because in reality, no matter the venue, actors need an audience to find a connection, to give, and to get feedback.   

RPW & stories about humans present The Road-Trip Monologues Raw bites ’18 new writing for stage, curated, produced and directed by Jane Edwina Seymour at The Zephyr Theatre through July 22, 2018   

For the most part, the monologues are about travel, which interested me having traveled across the country twice in my youth.  But some were not and that was rather odd, or maybe it was the travels in their lives.   The actors’ character names were also not in the program, and that was odd as well.

The play, on this night, starts with a woman reminiscing with travel slides projected on a small screen far upstage left.  But the slides on a carousel were too small to make out, other than each travel photo is in a different time and place. It must have been part of the show because the “old skool” projector screen got a credit in the program. The projector and screen left when Jane Edwina Seymour presented the night.  

Hypocrites & Stripper by Kem Yaged

Laura Walker (actor) is thrown out by her live-in stripper girlfriend, shoes and all, and, with nothing but her car, decides to travel across the country to start anew, only to end up with another self-infatuated stripper who takes pleasures in self-gratification in Los Angeles.  Walker's focus should be on the character. The character doesn’t seem too bright and we need to see how that trait always gets her into trouble.   Also, in terms of character development, the best thing she could have done was to wear the shoes thrown at her and then play out the scene.  (Or, at least, do it in rehearsal to figure more about both of those characters.) Also, the whys of how she gets pulled into these relationship must be explored. Walker should also relax. Most of her action was pushed, hard, leaving little room for character exploration and development.  We get that she is mad (angry facial expressions) but we don’t see what is carrying her to her objective, whatever that objective was.

There are some interesting things in Yaged’s writing and they are mostly about relationships and what people expect when engaged in relationships.

The Weary – Michael G. Hilton

Schafer Bourne (actor) brings in a Coke, a 20 oz. coffee container, and a bottle of Evan Williams Whiskey.  (Funny, with all those props, he never mixes the drink. Probably best to use it or discard it if it is not useful in the scene.) He takes a few drinks from the whiskey bottle, calls his friend (or brother) Mikey, and leaves a very long message about the trip they took with his or their father long ago when they were nine.   He asks Mikey why he hasn’t called and that is never resolved during the course of the monologue.  A bit farouche he never manages to express what is truly on his mind. Bourne brings enough of his natural self onto the stage but he really should decide about his objective and where the monologue is taking him. Defining the relationship is critical in determining where the character is going.

It seems like there is something missing in Michael G. Hilton’s work mostly having to do with the relationship between the character on stage and Mikey, why they fell apart, and why they don’t see each other anymore.  

Boot’s Vacation – by Rex McGregor

Emma Chelsey plays Boots, a skateboarder, and makes an unforgivable mistake in her entrance onto the stage.  She doesn’t skateboard on stage, she doesn’t show us what she can do, and that is absolutely essential for us to see.  It is a defined truth that gives life to all she speaks about on stage.  Also, everything is described in degrees, and slopes, until the character reaches the Guggenheim museum when things didn’t necessarily change in the mind of the character.  But the Guggenheim museum appears to be the answer, the eye-opening moment, where children put away their toys.

Rex McGregor gives us some interesting moments about a person growing up and understanding there is more to life than skateboarding across the world.

Roller Coasters – by Lesley Asistio

This is a story about a woman, Juliet Ladines (actor), whose childhood abruptly ended after the divorce of her parents.  Her dad was cheating on her mom and her mom was involved with another woman. Ladines is sensible in her approach to the role but more is needed in character to define the character and her objective.

Lesley Asistio has written a monologue with characters that are clearly defined in the mind of the character, the cheating father, the lesbian mother, the girl who wakes up in adolescence to discover things are different in the world she now observes.   

Medea by Chas Belov

Medea (Nina Sallinen) has committed four homicides, including her kids, and is certifiably nuts.  Not sure what this has to do with traveling. More character work is needed to convince us she is in a medical lockup situation and, even though she is nuts, she needs a stronger creative choice to carry her objective.

One did not get Chas Belov’s story, or where it was going.  There must be a reason the character is telling us the story but at the end of it, what does the character learn?

New Girl by Roger Vickery

This is a story about a woman (Kenlyn Kanouse) who has escaped a Nazi concentration camp and is mentoring another woman who may not be right for her grandson.  The road she has traveled has been difficult and one supposes she is preparing the “new girl” and her difficult road ahead.  The character needs an objective and a life with exigency for purpose.

There must be a point to Roger Vickery’s story.  It is Kafkaesque in purpose but without the bond that cements her peculiarities.  If there was a purpose, I didn’t get it.  Not in this carnation.

Crossing the Bridge by James Balian

Henry Kemp (actor) was a father with a young son who has suddenly become ill and a decision is made to put him into the car and rush him to the hospital when his temperature spikes to 108 degrees (not sure if that was a slip by actor Kemp – 108 degrees is usually fatal.). The conflict is one of a race against time. He is driving over a bridge during rush hour with his child in the back seat as son’s life hangs in the balance.  Kemp does a fine job and manages to live the monologue throughout.  There is more work to be done in character but it is a fine job nonetheless.

James Balian writes descriptively, the story moves seamlessly, and the visuals play upon deep emotions that all parents go through when their child is burning up with a fever. This was the most enjoyable scene with a very loving ending.   

Hope for Us All by Doe Andersen-Bloomfield

Sonya Wallace (Shanqua) has a two-hour wait for a train.  She meets Amorose (not on stage), a bartender in the train station.  Shanqua and Amorose strike up a conversation when a nearby person is seen on television having a racist diatribe against African Americans. Shanqua is meek when confronting the man while Amorose is not and Shanqua must stand for what she believes.

Doe Andersen-Bloomfield fills in the empty space with differing lives, a bar, and wonderful relationships of real people who inhabit this world. The title is Hope for Us All but one did not really see how the character reaches that point.

Zephyr Theatre

7456 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046

Run! And take someone you would like to take across the country. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes

L - R Keren Lugo and Sean Carvajal

By Joe Straw

He left the war
and the military.

And on this day the only thing he wore,
besides his skivvies,
were his dog tags. 


Leaning hot head
against arm
clink's the sliding glass door,


he listened to his tags
and the jarring “clicks”,
memories of killing another human being.


as droplets of sweat
run down his face,
to his tags,


and soundlessly dropped
like blood to his knees,
and then


Living beyond that day,
over and over again,
was not easy for him.

The easy part
was the other guy


A man
haunts him,

him to
away. – Narrator. 

Center Theatre Group, Michael Ritche Artistic Director, Stephen D. Rountree Managing Director, Douglas C. Baker Producing Director, Gordon Davidson Founding Artistic Director presents Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz.  This show ran from January 31 – March 11, 2018 and has closed.

Upon entering the Mark Taper Forum, one is struck by the unusual set design, the Scenic Design by Adam.  The sets walls were thrown up against the upstage wall, lit like office cubicles lacking aquariums (Lighting Design, Yi Zhao), and the stage was relatively bare.  Chairs and desks moved in and out, but mostly downstage, when needed.  

And along the upstage parapet and on the second level were green plants, lots and lots of plastic plants encrusted against the palisade representing El Yunque in Puerto Rico a place were the water never stops falling and is green all year around.  El Yunque plays an important part near the end of the play.  

The entire cast avoided center stage.

The look was unusual to say the least.  When the time came, what was going to happen middle center stage? More on this later.

Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes and direction by Lileana Blain-Cruz has some remarkable moments in it.  Hudes writes beautifully in the way information is release, by the spoonful, until audiences are satiated. 

The characters themselves are awash in rivulets that splash and are suddenly defined all under pressure and in critical moments in the play.  Those moments burst like a flower absorbing the morning dew and it happens in full slow motion glory. 

But the falling cascade had actors reacting, at times, without absorbing those moments, similar to the falls, which brush harshly against the rocks with seemingly no effect.  

Were the characters feeling the same thing to that which I was listening?  Did the words hit them as it hit me?  Were those moments defined, and did they change the relationships?  

Water by the Spoonful was my second favorite of the trilogy.  Odd.  Possibly, one is not to judge quality on the venue.  Grand things come in small packages and The Latino Theatre Company’s show was remarkable, especially the acting.

So, what happened on the night I attended?

The time is 2009. Six years after Elliot left for Iraq.

The end comes, but first comes  – a divorce.

Elliot (Sean Carvajal) meets a woman Yazmin (Karen Lugo) on a bench in a university setting.  Elliot is looking for a man, and he’s not waiting too much longer – a rendezvous Yaz has set up. But first there are other things to settle.

“Yaz, you gotta help me with my mom.” – Elliot

His mom is in deep water, and not doing too well – cancer – and she’s eating the unhealthiest things on the planet.

“That’s Ginny.  The more stubborn she’s being, the better she’s feeling.” – Yaz

(Hudes is not giving away anything, until…)

Yaz interrupts him to say that she has gotten a divorce; they fell out of out of love.

(Interesting moment. these two young adults, sitting together, and we are still not sure about their relationship although there’s brief hint. One likes ambiguous moments to enlighten or confuse – one of the two. But, the actors were letting go of very little. )  

A man enters (Elliot hardly flinches).  His name is Aman (Nick Massouh).  (Cute name.) A man.  He is a professor, of Arab background who grew up speaking English, and who also looks a lot like the ghost chasing Elliot around. Elliot needs an Arabic phrase translated.

“Eh, your sister’s cute.”- Aman

“Cousin.” – Elliot

Now we get the definitive answer to Yaz and Elliot’s relationship. But there’s more to the relationship that has not been defined. (Hudes is brilliant at letting the information come out with a wavy lustrous finish.)  

Aman throws a dash of cold water onto Elliot’s face by asking a simple question about his dog tags. He’s also curious about Elliot’s background and is hesitant about translating a Iraqi phrase until his help is reciprocated in kind.

But Elliot is hard pressed to help the professor who is, technically, trying to hire him for a movie his friend is filming. (What is it that you don’t understand? Making money on a movie is more than making subways sandwiches?)

“… And you seem not unintelligent.  For a maker of sandwiches.” – Aman

Spoken like a true hardnosed disparaging professor.

Scene Two

Odessa (Luna Lauren Vélez) is on the computer – her computer name is Haikumom and she greets the day on her computer with a haiku.

Orangutan (Kylvia Kwan) enters the chat room and types.

Ninety-one days.  Smiley face. – Orangutan

Odessa Haikumom is seriously relieved that Orangutan is chatting again.  Why? We don’t know as of yet.  Little spoonfuls.

Chutes&Ladders (Bernard K. Addison) signs on and is also relieved the Orangutan is back.

Orangutan, originally named Yoshiko Sakai, was adopted by an American family and was living in Maine.  Her parents got her URL and password and found out what Orangutan was all about.  They summarily gave her a one-way plane ticket to Japan. (Nice folks!)

The three speak by chatting on a computer and, little by little, their relationship becomes clearer but not really defined.

“I’m sitting in an orange plastic chair, a little view of the Hokkaido waterfront.” – Orangutan

“Japan has a waterfront?”- Haikumom

“It is an island.” – Chutes&Ladders

The dialogue says a lot about the mental capacity of Haikumom, that maybe she is not too bright about certain things.  She is also the administrator of the chat room, the mom, who deletes provocative language.

And still we go on and talk about water, Chutes&Ladders almost drowning, a lifeguard who pulls him out, and one more clue about “OD’s” and about starting to live again.

“Sober air toast. To lifeguards.” - Orangutan

Back at the university, we still don’t know the relationship between the chat group and Yazmin.

Little by little we find that Yaz is a music professor, infatuated by jazz and particularly, John Coltrane.  She starts from her beginning, how her obsession started, and how she came to love the intricacies of Jazz.   

“I never really heard dissonance before.” – Yaz

She will now, now that there’s trouble.  Elliot phones Yaz and tells her “Mom” is dying and Pop texted that “Your mom is on a breathing machine.” This sends Elliot into chaos, heightened by PTSD from the war. And there’s an Iraqi ghost chasing him all around Philadelphia.

On the other side of the spoon, and into the chat room, we are introduced to Fountainhead (Josh Braaten), a man who has it all but also has a serious problem.  This is why he decided to join this particular chat room.  And this is when we find out what the chat room is all about.

“I’m taking my wife out tomorrow for our seventh anniversary and little does she know that when we clink glasses, I’ll be toasting to Day One.” - Fountainhead

There is much to enjoy in Quiara Alegría Hudes writing.  The diverse makeup of people in the cast showcases a huge range of humanity, Japanese, Puerto Rican, African American, Iraqis, and white. It is a realistic view of Americana, especially of the people who reside in the city.

Sean Carvajal was a most remarkable Elliot especially his North Philadelphian accent that was impeccable and poured though his emotional being. Elliot is fleeing a ghost from another country and tormented by self-reflective pain. The ghost is real but only speaks Arabic.  After he finds out what the ghost wants, that should lead the character. If I had to pick the best Elliot of the trilogy, Carvajal was the best. This Elliot sees things both real and imaginary.  But he is never caught off guard by the seeing the same person in various roles. If this is a conscience acting choice, it is unremarkable and leads nowhere. Also the scene in the flower shop does not move us in the direction of the through line.

Keren Lugo was impressive as Yazmin. Yazmin is the brilliant but can hardly manage her affairs. She seems detached in the way she cannot be emotionally attached to her parents.  People live, people die, and life moves on.

Nick Massouh did a fine turn as Professor Aman.  Actually the professor was spot on in manner and character.  Portraying the Ghost on stage is another matter, this wasn’t as creative as it could have been.  Interesting the Arab character had the composition of sand and is the opposite of water.  He is the sand, the foundation of mother earth, and the core for which all water lies upon.

Luna Lauren Velez plays Odessa.  In her home, Odessa was the queen of her castle but out of her element she was lost in her role as a parent and a comforter. A character of fire and water that leaves a child behind because of her drug addiction and is never able to reconcile that relationship, ever.  The pain is clearly evident in Odessa’s eyes but does that pain translate into any kind of reconciliation, or a purpose want that.

Sylvia Kwan is Oangutan and is pleasant enough. But, there’s a little something going on here between her and another member of the group. A strong relationship develops on paper but little of emotional attachment is seen on the stage and it is perplexing as to why those two people ever got together. Kwan really needs to find those moments, the physical way they are attached, and develop that relationship.

Bernard K. Addison is Chutes&Ladders, an IRS  ‘GS4 paper pusher” on the verge of retiring.  He is alone, too alone, and needs to find someone or his time is over.  But just when he thinks that all is lost, there is something tangible, something around the corner, a possibility, someone who he cares deeply for, fear takes over.  It is his overriding factor and something he must overcome.  This is indeed a very nice performance.

Josh Braaten is Fountainhead, a very successful man who has the strong urge to go after the drug of his choice.  He is a golden boy who has a nice family, a great business, and a very nice car.  Too bad, he’s a drug addict. Everyone comes to the chat room for a reason, Fountainhead desperately want to be there to find the answer.  Guilt seems to be the reason he is there, but what do you do with guilt? The action leads nowhere.  Braaten needs a stronger choice in is objective and one that gives him a favorable, humanistic outcome.

Lileana Blain-Cruz, the director, creates a number of interesting moments on stage. Some moments are so subtle as to be almost invisible.  The effect of the center stage was a mist of water pouring down in the jungle of El Yunque.  It did not add to the piece, made theatre a little cooler, but did enhance the theatrical experience.  Some things were lost in the dialogue as the ashes were scattered.  Also, the scene in the florist shop didn’t go anywhere as we lost sight of where they were during the course of their examination of life, their lives. And the scene needed a strong emotional commitment of Puerto Rican intensity. Also, the scenes with the characters on the computers lacked creativity the stage needs.  It might be fine for television, but this is the theatre and needed an additional boost.

The understudies in this show were Maria Costa, Marcus Cruz, Faqir Hassan, Fiona Rene, Anny Rosario, and Montae Russell. The new understudy was Gabrielle Madé.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Raquel Barreto – Costume Design
Jane Shaw – Sound Design
Hannah Wasileski – Projection Design
Rosalinda Morales and Pauline O’Con – Casting
Amy Christopher and Marcia DeBonis – New York Casting
David S. Franklin – Production Stage Manager
Michelle Blair – Stage Manager

Run! Run! The play is available on Kindle.