Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd - Book, Music & Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

L - R Alec Medlock and Sean Smith - Photos Sherry Lynn 

By Joe Straw

I told myself that if I started crying, if the tears started flowing, it means this is a very good production. About a minute and a half into the show, my eyes were gushing, torrents of waters running down my cheeks, from every kinds of wonderful imaginational connection to my very being. – Narrator

There is a grand similarity between The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd (1965) and Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1953).  Godot has Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo, Lucky, and a Boy – similar to what we have in this musical and likely a coincidence. 

Legend never gets it right and one supposes, leaning into the grapevine, the team of Newley and Bricusse, during out-of-town tryouts, kept introducing new things to make the book relevant to the times.  The allegorical sense of the book, if you will, conveys the setting of the place and time where something drastic happened somewhere in the character’s distant past – possibly an imaginative nuclear war (1965), or a disastrous end to the Civil Rights Movement – one can only guess.  

One notices, in the stills from the earlier production, the characters were all dressed in exquisitely absurd and tattered rags, made up of pieces of unwashed and unmatched clothing giving the audience the impression that something has indeed gone horribly wrong. But in this production, we have something slightly different.    

The Children’s Theatre Group of Southern California presents The Roar of The Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, Book, Music, and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley and directed by Kay Cole at the Eclectic Company Theatre through November 23, 2014.

Run!  Run!  Run to see this production!  The children are adorable, the singer marvelous, and the music, performed by Emily Cohn, is incredible.

On a wonderful day like to today
I defy any cloud to appear in the sky
Dare any raindrop to plop in my eye
On a wonderful day like today

In this small intimate theatre, one is startled by the brilliant voices of Sean Smith, Alec Medlock, Caitlin Gallogly, and Marc Antonio Pritchett who, separately and together, make one feel that we are at the Pantages.  The music jumps off the stage and into our hearts – a marvelous thing when this happens.

Front: Lola Michele Brown (l.), Vera Wheatley. Rear: Tess Cooley (l.), Liam Daniels, Alec Medlock, Alexa Druyanoff, Langdon James.

The Urchins (Lola Michelle Brown, Tess Cooley, Alex Druyanoff, Langdon Janos and Vera Wheatley) opened the musical with the opening number The Beautiful Land with wonderful Musical Staging by Kay Cole and highlighted with some superb lighting by John Dickey, the Lighting Designer.

Who can I turn to when nobody needs me?
My heart wants to know and so I must go
Where destiny leads me.

In any case, the characters, in this version, move from one advantageous place to another with nice luggage in tow and no set place to go until they find themselves in a park already prepared with chalk on the sidewalk. This is possibly a place near a food source. One character, Sir (Sean Smith), is corpulent and has all the food and wine he could want, and the other, Cocky (Alec Medlock), is skinny and hungry all of the time.   The large one controls the food and wine and the Urchins, those panivorous creatures, hold out for the scantily pittance of bread that may or may not be bestowed on their very being.

Bird flying high, You know how I feel.
Sun in the sky, You know how I feel.
Breeze drifting by, You know how I feel.
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
Feeling good

All of the characters have no place to go so they pass the time playing games with no real purpose and with only the perception there is a winner – a game in life that no one really wins.

And when observing, one is unsure whether the ontological sound of crackling thunder snaps us out of a dream or a nightmare, or whether they are real or imagined.  One is unsure whether the characters, each in their constructive bit of art, are in a timeless limbo or placed in their own post apocalyptic setting where things never go the way expected or intended. That’s the only way I can make allegorical sense of the book.

Bonnie Hellman directs the delightful production and overall the night is wonderful and the singing is absolutely incredible.   But that said, one wonders if the musical has her aesthetic mark with a continuous through line that makes sense of the entirety as a whole. Who are these characters?  Why are they there?  What has happened to get them into this predicament?  Why don’t they leave?  Why are Corky and Sir dressed so nicely?  Why do they need each other? What keeps the characters together? All right, these are too many questions for only a few minor problems.  Hellman’s touch requires a few simple moments to give the book a continuous flow of great songs with dialogue that moves us to the apex.  Love says a lot about why these characters are together and love is the question answered in the song “Where Would You Be Without Me?” 

Kay Cole, the other Co-Director and responsible for the Musical Staging, adds some very nice touches to the dance numbers, which one normally doesn’t see in 99-seat houses and which at times caught me off guard with her inventiveness.   Cole delightfully manages to capture each character and presents the remembrances and life experiences of the characters in a wonderful adventurous artistry. In short, her work is exquisite.

John Dickey, Lighting Designer, provides a very grand light show in the opening number “The Beautiful Land” that sends this production into skyrocketing territory.

The Urchins of Lola Michelle Brown, Tess Cooley, Alexa Druyanoff, Langdon Janos, and Vera Wheatley were exceptional and kept things lively on stage. The dancing was warm and incomparable.

Sean Smith plays Sir and has an exceptional voice and also gives the character a full, rich life.  His movements on stage are impeccable and he plays the game with finesse and with a supreme confidence. There is something about Sir’s character that gets it wrong when he mentions “The roar of the greasepaint – The smell of the crowd” as though he has forgotten the correct way to say it – even though he is the smartest person in the park. It’s like forgetting the lyrics of a song over time. The execution of this one line alone is an exceptional clue about the character and the character’s motives.  Also, Sir is impeccably dressed – making him not particularly different from his counterpart who is also nicely dressed.

Alec Medlock is Cocky and has an exceptional voice and also a commanding presence on stage.  His gingerly little wretched everyman approach is very appealing and there is a lot of good work going on, on stage.  Still, there is more room to manage the songs, more life to give, and depth to the characters emotions. Cocky is asking his creator for the world in “Who can I Turn to” and not getting it.  That must be so frustrating.  Still, Medlock’s performance is a lot of fun and not to be missed.  

Liam Daniels is The Kid and does some very nice things on stage. Still The Kid needs a stronger objective and one that will take the character to greater heights and farther along to get where he is going. One needs to give the character more to do to establish a greater relationship with Sir. Finding the core of the character takes a lot of work. Nevertheless Daniels has a very good look and a very nice presence on stage.

Alec Medlock, Caitlin Gallogly

Caitlin Gallogly is The Girl and has an amazing voice. She is a stunning creature that plays a slightly offbeat character.  At times, one is not sure if she is a real person, a figment of an imagination, or a dream of sorts. The character Gallogly provides is slightly offbeat, shy, and moves in a direction motivated by the thoughts and actions of others. One wonders if there are other unexplored avenues for this particular character to use rather than being frightfully harassed by the other characters on stage.  That aside Gallogly has a beautiful and commanding voice on stage.

Marc Antonio Pritchett plays The Stranger who inadvertently wins the game and sings the splendid song “Feeling Good”, marvelously.  Pritchett also doubles on Percussion and Sound Design, which I can’t help but believe added a great deal to the impressive numbers in this show. The music and sound were outstanding.  

Phil Biedron plays the Bully.  He appears on stage wearing a dress, a gown of sorts, and asked to put on a wig.  He then seduces Cocky, with help from the others, takes him off stage and later brings Cocky back, unconscious, and throws him a few feet away from the game board.  One can only imagine what happened in the other area of the park.

Tricia Berry, Costume Designer, has Sir and Cocky dressed impeccably and I’m not sure if that really worked as to the makeup of the character and the book moves the show.

Emily Cohn is the Musical Director and I was able to see the outline of her face at the keyboard and watched as she flipped the pages of the score in time with the music, which altogether made the night incredible.

Robert Briscoe Evans and Sherry Lynn served as Producers of the show and really brought together the elements to create a fantastic night of theatre.

Dan Mailley, Set Designer, created a park from which our players could play.  It was functional and creative.   

Michael Riney was the Stage Manager.

Philip Sokoloff was the Publicist.

Scott Wheatley was responsible for the Poster Layout. 

Run!  Run!  Run!  And take someone who is not stingy about giving love and sharing love.

The Eclectic Company Theatre
5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
Valley Village, CA  91607

Reservations:  818-508-3003

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

By Joe Straw

This is a play in which I believe the characters, with all in their moral imperfections, should be thinking about the ultimate conquest, that is of becoming Caesar, Emperor, or King of Rome in whatever form it takes. If each character is not thinking along those lines then something is amiss. - Narrator

This presentation has been work shopped since the beginning of the year and features some exciting performers and some exquisite action on stage. It is a different kind of cast one you would not normally find doing Shakespeare.  

What the heck does this mean?

Well, if you think about it for one minute, it means that Josephina Lopez’s Casa 0101 Theatre company is giving Latino actors the opportunity to grow and stretch their creative beings by performing Shakespeare, which, if you think about it for another minute, have normally been roles reserved for white male actors with traces of an English accent, playing Italians.  Harumph! 

All right, I got that out of the way.

Not so fast, Cassius. 

Casting Latino actors does not happen in Los Angeles where Latino actors would not even be considered to fill the roles of Shakespearean characters. Casting directors forget that Shakespeare is performed all around the world with brown actors from Spain, South America, Mexico, and other Latin American countries. So why is it so odd in Los Angeles with a population of 4 million Latinos, about ½ of the total population, that so few Latinos are cast in any kind of medium in Los Angeles at all much less Shakespeare?

I’ll step down from my soapbox for now.

Casa 0101 Theatre presents Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare through November 16, 2014 directed by Robert Beltran with an all Latino cast in the beautiful renovated downtown Boyle Heights as part of enuentro 2014 A National Theatre Festival.

There are exceptional moments in Robert Beltran’s oeuvre of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  First, and most importantly, it is easy to follow and easy to understand.  Secondly there are some remarkable performances in this production, which I will get to later. There are also moments that need work, minor improvements, and I will direct my comments to that regard.

First of all life does not begin when an actor, in character, appears on stage for the first time.  That character has a life and the elements of that life accompanies the character.  That life is the backstory the actor brings with him, the history of the character, real or imaginary but creative.

The backstory to the events enfolding on stage is critical.  Without the backstory we lose sight of the actors history with Julius Caesar.  So while reciting the lines, projecting and what not, if we do not see in the presentation of the backstory, we lose historical measures. The actors must bring the history with them the moment before they step on stage and that history guides them in the aftermath with a creative truth.   

Caesar has just returned from Spain after ruthlessly vanquishing the enemies of Italy, which is at this point in time, an inner struggle of Romans against Romans. In Caesar’s eyes, and his eyes alone, he is the supreme ruler of Italy. This is important to know for other events to fall neatly into place.

The play opens on a Roman street celebrating the return of Julius Caesar.  The stage is darkened as the actors take their places with tribunes Flavius (Ray Rios), Marullus (Uvaldo Baltazar), center stage.  Tribunals are there to protect the interest of their citizens.  Following them are certain commoners as they enter in darkness and align themselves on each side of the audience.

(This director’s choice here may be slighted in scope and does not move the play along. If the purpose is to include the audience as citizens then more work needs to be done. Certainly having the players in the audience might help. )

The citizens have come to celebrate Caesar’s victory in Spain while Flavius and Marullus grouse there is no real victory as Italy’s generals are fighting Caesar, and paying a fair price for their treachery, their lives.  All await Caesar, the supreme charismatic leader, who marches into Rome as a military genius. But citizenry believed that Caesar had greater ambition and some do not believe in what he is doing, including Flavius and Marullus who give us a hint as to where events are taking us.

“Wherefore rejoice?  What conquest brings he home?
What tributaries follow him to Rome,
To grace in captive bonds his chariot wheels?” – Marullus

The idea of this celebration after the enemy was vanquished was to have the captured enemy paraded along the streets of Rome while the commoners celebrated with food and drink.

And while the commoners are there, there is no hint of a celebration, no vanquished enemies, because the Romans are fighting each other.  

But that doesn’t stop Caesar’s (Vance Valencia) celebration when he enters he has his wife Calpurnia (Christine Avila) and followers trailing him, most notably Antony (Lauren Ballesteros), Portia (Linda Lopez), Decius (Ray Rios), Cicero (Emmanuel Deleage), Brutus (Rachel Gonzalez), Cassius (Fidel Gomez) and Casca (Danny Mora).   

Caesar throws his weight around, on the feast of Lupercal (February 15th), and orders Antony to strike Calpurnia with the goat-hide thong to well –

“The barren, touched in this holy chase
Shake off their sterile curse.” – Caesar

This is an embarrassing statement for Caesar to make in front of his barren wife and from the party that accompanies him there is little reaction from those within earshot. Caesar is looking for an heir.  

(As a historical note Calpurina was Caesar’s third wife.  She married Caesar at 16 years of age and would have been 31 years old at this time, 44 BC)

Antony jumps at the opportunity to help Calpurina and if it means striking her with the goat-hide thong in the hopes of her bearing children so be it.   In fact, Antony would bleed for Caesar, but this is hardly noticeable in this moment and on this night.  

But, near them, and in the background the Soothsayer (Miguel Roura) yells something to Caesar.

“Thay say’st thou to me now?  speak
once again.” – Caesar

“Beware of the ides of March.” – Soothsayer

“He is a dreamer; let us leave him:  pass.” – Caesar

Caesar leaves and it is here Brutus and his brother-in-law Cassius, the soldier, convinces the pragmatic stoic Senator to join him to save Italy as they now know it.  Away from them, in the throngs of the Roman citizens, Brutus hears the cries from the populace wanting Caesar to take the wreath, or throne we later learn offered by Antony, and place it on his head. 

(But in actually the populace do not want him to be king and they fear Caesar will take ultimate power and destroy Rome’s way of life.)

Naytheless, Brutus is very curious.

“Another general shout!
I do believe that these applauses are
For some new honours that are heap’ed on Caesar.” – Brutus

Brutus blood boils and Cassius will not let up.

“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world.
Like a colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” – Cassius

(The Romans at that time hated kings and being good republicans meant warring and destroying a way of life, kingdoms that did not sit well with the Romans.)

Caesar was in a predicament because he wanted to reform the government, which was, in effect, unworkable and the only way to do that, after his Spanish triumph, was to become a dictator for life, by decree. This would only be a temporary solution in route to a kingdom for which Caesar heirs would benefit.

Cassius was not having any part of that, and there was already something in the works, but they needed someone of Brutus’s reputation to implement the job.

Caesar enters to find Cassius and Brutus in a shadowy discussion.

“Youd Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much:  such men are dangerous.” – Caesar

Cassius has not completely convinced Brutus.  Brutus seeks more information from Casca about what went on from the crowd.  Casca, it would seem, is on the side of the Republicans, says that Caesar refused the crown three times from Antony and then fell with the sleeping sickness. Casca mocks Caesar’s dilemma with a virtuous complacency.  

To help implement the conspiracy Cassius asks Casca to dine with him. It is here that Cassius says that Brutus, well three parts of him, is on board.

“O, he sits high in all the people’s hearts;
And that which would appear offence in us,
His countenance, like richest alchemy,
Will change to virtue and to worthiness.” – Casca

In the ominous thundering night before the ides of March (March 15) Brutus is still not on board.  The skies burn and spew forth a notion of impending doom.

Casca meets with Cassius about the urgency of the assassination.

“Indeed, they say the senators tomorrow
Mean to establish Caesar as a king;
And he shall wear his crown by sea and land,
In every place save here in Italy. - Casca

Calpurnia, a pale ghostly figure, incessantly warns of her husband of darker days and in particular this day.

But Decius comes to take Caesar to the senate.  And Caesar says he will not go because of his Calpurnia’s dreams.  Caesar describes the dream but Decius says otherwise.

“This dream is all amiss interpreted;
It was a vision fair and fortunate; - Decius

Caesar falls for it and runs to the Capitol to be crowned king and that’s where events start to change.

A funny thing happened when watching the performances, all of the performers at one point suddenly turned into Robert Beltran, slightly miniature versions of the man himself, the movements on stage, the looks, the square jaw, the characters with the rapacious beaks.  That’s never happened to me before and possibly I recognize it as Beltran’s strong influence.   

Christine Avila provided a tremendous amount of life to Calpurnia, one in which she brings a great historical background to the character.  It is a wonderful characterization with a dramatic devotion to Caesar.

Lauren Ballesteros does some fine work as Antony.  But, the character needs an undying attentiveness to the will of Caesar, which was not apparent, as well as a life of a authoritative military figure. The pinnacle of Antony’s life is the “Friend, Romans, Countryman” speech, and Antony finally seals his doom with “This was the noblest Roman of all:” with Octavius looking on no less. Relaxing and work on breathing are the order of the day as Ballesteros is heard taking in air between each line of dialogue.  (Hopefully, it’s not that “thing” that going around.)  Ballesteros has some very fine moments.

Uvaldo Baltazar plays Marullus, Messala, Metellus and 4 Citizen. Marullus needs more of a purpose.  Marullus is a man who needs to convince to citizens that all is not right with Rome and when that fails he has his own way of protesting which we do not see.  

Emmanuel Deleage plays Cinna The Poet, Cicero, Artemidorous and Citizen and gives us some fine characterization in each of the characters.

Evan Garcia is satisfying as Titinius, Lucillius, Antony’s Servant, Publius, Cobbler and 3rd Citizen and overall creates some satisfying characters with his vocal strengths.  

Fidel Gomez is Cassius and is instrumental in convincing his brother in law Brutus to join the rebellion and to assassinate Caesar all for the good of the republic. Cassius words are used to persuade.  He is the germ of an idea, to right Rome, where things are wrong. His fatal flaw is giving Brutus his power and then trying to rule from the back of the chariot. Gomez conveys Cassius as a man, convincing with anger rather than persuasion, and for a purpose one is not sure. Cassius is instrumental in putting the pieces of the conspirator’s puzzle together leaving no stone unturned to get Caesar to the right place.

Rachel Gonzalez is Brutus and also does a fine job. Brutus is the instrument of others desires.  Brutus is the last holdout not recognizing this should be done, until Brutus is finally captured in their web of ruin.  In reality Brutus has gotten into matters way over his head.  And when he takes control he makes one bad decision after another rebuking Cassius every step of the way. But there is more to be had with the relationship between Brutus and Cassius, how they work and fight to provide a more perfect republic.  Brutus, in effect, is not smart and very stoic in the decision making process.  One would like to see Gonzalez offer a slightly different approach to liven the character, live the mistakes made, and move to a better position.  Also, nothing is made of Brutus’ cryptesthesia, that chthonia moment of the apparition of Julius Caesar, the prediction of Philippi, and then the reaction from that terrible moment.  Still there is a lot of good work here from which Gonzalez could add.

Jasmin Iraheta is Lucius, a servant to Brutus, and is fine in the role.

Karlo Ishibashi is Octavius, the sickly nephew to Julius Caesar, who comes to ultimately take the crown.  Ishibashi has an outstanding presence on stage.  In the end we know Octavius, the scrupulous one, seeks power. He plays his thoughts closely to his chest until the time is right.

Angel Lizarraga is Caesar’s Servant, Popillius, Octavius Servant, Messenger and Carpenter.

Linda Lopez is Portia and try as she might she is not getting anywhere with Brutus. Lopez does a nice job but there is more to the physical makeup to the character.  Portia makes light of being a woman but she knows there is something wrong with Brutus.  Finding the ways to get the information from him with a grander physical life would help the character.

Danny Mora is Casca and does a remarkable job.  There is a lot of humor in the role and Mora captures it in exciting fashion. Perhaps, in other roles, I have underestimated this actor.

Miguel Roura is excellent as the Soothsayer.  (Funny but I always think the Soothsayer is blind.  Not sure where I got that.) Roura also plays Ligarius and Volumnius.

Ray Rios does a fine job as Decius.  He is the man who job it is to convince Caesar to come to the Senate chambers despite Caesar’s and his Calpurnia’s objection and he does so in grand fashion.

Moises Rodriguez is 2nd Citizen, Cinna, The Conspirator, Poet and Strato.

Mario Valdez is Trebonius, Lepidus and Citizen, is dark a foreboding, and has his moments.  

Vance Valencia is Caesar, a fine Caesar at that, full of life, strength, and optimism, a baleful sneer for those surrounding him.  Caesar is always on guard, the eyes darting back and forth, searching for the treasonous soul who would wish him harm, excepting Antony. Valencia brings the historical history of Caesar to life.  He is a man who has killed many including the relatives of Brutus and Cassius. And he has killed many men to get to his position in life.  

Ted Lange IV will play Cassius November 7, 8, 14, 15, and 16th but did not perform the night I was there. 

Jeremian Ocanas is an understudy.

Robert Beltran, the director, offers us a wonderful look at the play.  This is a new and different kind of Julius Caesar, and it is slightly truncated but overall a very satisfying night of theatre. I attended the near opening night of the show and I suspect by the time  you run to see it, the play will have settled into a remarkable show.

The characters have little problems convincing others to join their ranks but when they are in the processing of convincing they are shouting as though beating a nail that will not go in. It is an unconquerable obstinacy unless there is recognition that someone’s mind has been changed during the process.     

Some moments could have worked to better effect, the assassination for one in which the blood spews forth from a motionless Caesar, but could have been produced on a standing writhing Caesar.  This journey of Julius Caesar would do better to riddle itself with obstacles and conflict in this moment.  (The poetic reality is that the dagger does not so easily enter when obstructed by bone.) (With a little help of some Velcro and dramatic movement from the actors the blood spewing forth begs for a heightened dramatic action.) There is only a movement to conclusion with only the slightest of deferential action - rather than the extreme dramatic expression of death Julius Caesar needs.

Josefina Lopez, Casa 0101 Founding Artistic Director, has done another wonderful job of bringing Julius Caesar to life here in Boyle Heights.

Abel Alvarado is the Costume Designer.

Christina Carrillo is the Stage Manager.

Sylvia Cortez is the Social Media Manager.

Mark Kraus is the Webmaster

Sohail e. Najafi is the Technical Director.

And, as always, Ed Krieger, does a wonderful job as the Production Photographer and who always manages to find a lot of life in the production stills.

Steve Moyer Public Relations is the Press Representative.

Cesar Retana-Holguin is the Set Designer.

Vincent Sanchez is the Sound Programmer.

Jorge Villanueva is the Light Board Operator.

Angel Perez is the Set Builder.

Run!  Run!  And take someone who likes to say Hail Caesar all of the time.

Reservations:  323-263-7684


Friday, October 24, 2014

Affluence by Steven Peterson

By Joe Straw

I’m sorry if this offends.  I had to do it this way. After all, this is a blog, and you know it’s all about growing.   – Narrator

“Robert Woodley, Jr. (Lloyd Pedersen) and Jean Woodley (Rhonda Lord) have been residing there since God knows when.  No, well, since they got married, twenty somethin’ years ago.  He didn’t make his money, the way his father did, and they were given the house by his father and his mother, Namoo (Nan Tepper) - funny name.

“And, funny, I can’t remember the father’s name.  He was about a decent as a fellow could be though.   

“Robert Jr.’s folks moved down the road a piece, as they say in the south, into a little poke of a place, a little poke filled with money.   And Robert, Jr., with his job at the bank, made waves wanting to establish the family as someone with affluence.

 Affluence – Noun - abundance of money, property, and other material goods; riches; wealth –

“Things were going fine until they had their son, Arthird (Justin Huff), well that’s what everyone called him.  His real name is Robert III, carrying down the legacy, if there was one to carry down, ‘cause, truth be told, I doubt there’s going to be a IV. He’s kind of slow, and there’s no female prospects on any kind of horizon you can think of, land, sea or air, if you cared to think about it, which I don’t. About the only thing he can do is play with them video games.  He hardly looks up to talk to you when you pass him on the street.

“Arthird is only there to annoy his sister, Beanie (Ilona Kulinska). They call her Beanie because one, no one remembers her name, folks included, and b, that’s what Arthird called her when she came home from the hospital: ‘She looks like a bean.’ Cute.

“But I know it’s really Barbara.

“In any case, Beanie is graduating high school and wants to go to a very nice college and waiting for that very letter of acceptance on this Boxing Day.  That’s the day after Christmas, in case you didn’t know. She’s kind of stuck up and never says hi to you at Starbucks, especially when she’s with her stuck up friends. That’s what money ‘ill do to you.

“I’ve smelled trouble in that house for some time now. Robert, Jr. lost his job, no wait a minute; I think the Feds came in and took his bank away, is what I think.  

“Namoo moved back in after her husband died.  I’ll still can’t remember his name. She’s been feeling ill for some time now and just got out of rehab or assisted living where I heard Jean, her daughter-in-law, got in trouble stealing her pain medication, or the medication that was in the assisted living space.  In fact, there’s a lawsuit against Jean and I don’t know but I hear they will settle or she will go to jail.  But you know, white folks don’t go to jail.  Ha, ha, ha.

“Would you push up the glasses on my nose?  My hands are all tied up. Scratch, right there. Thanks.

“Jean claims she’s all innocent and Robert, Jr. says their legal bills will be astronomical. They may have to sell the house, lose their affluence, and live like normal people, like you and me.  Ha. Ha. Ha.

“In the meantime Jean, who suffers from severe migraines, has to stay out of drug trouble. Lawsuit.  I seen her with a frozen bag of corn slapped to the side of her head from the window.  That’s the funniest looking thing but, bless her heart, she can’t help it she’s in so much pain.

“Because of the lawsuit, Jean cannot help her mother-in-law with her pain medications.  For that, they have hired Inez (Christine Uhebe) who lives with them taking care of Namoo and other things around the house. Probably folding laundry like I’m doing now.

“And one other thing, Inez takes care of is that big lug, Arthird. There’s something about love being said there but I don’t believe it.  She’s one of them “illegals”.   And I don’t see anything good coming out of that.  Scandalous.

“One last thing, I don’t know if this is true or not, because of the change in the tax law, Namoo has to die before New Years Day if they are to save the inheritance tax money they would otherwise pay out, and she ain’t looking too healthy right now.  It wouldn’t surprise me if something terrible would befall on her, by accident, before the year’s up.

“That’s about all I know.”

“ I’ll give you my card.  If you have more information please don’t hesitate to call.”

“Hmmm, what do I call you? Agent, detective, Mr.?”

“Any title will do.”

Affluence by Steven Peterson is/was extremely tantalizing.  This wonderful new comedy, winner of The Beverly Hills Theatre Guild’s 2013 Julie Harris Playwrighting Award, is a fantastic play that has unfortunately closed October 20, 2014 at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills.   

Larry Eisenberg, the director, has gathered one of the finest ensembles of the year. One can only marvel at listening to the private conversations of characters, the day after Christmas, mind you, who whisper and conspire to dastardly deeds?  The superior actors leave you breathless as you move from one intense moment to the next.  This is a testament to the Eisenberg’s skillful direction in one of his finest works to date – one in which intimacy, from this venue, plays an important role.    

This show was wonderfully Produced by David Hunt Stafford.  And the celebration begins when one enters the theatre and appreciates Jeff G. Rack’s Set Design, which is marvelous and sets the tone for this particular point in time – Boxing Day 2010.  

Lloyd Pedersen plays Robert, Jr. and is wonderful in the role.  Robert has lost his job and has little prospect of getting another because of his age. He hopes someone dies before midnight so there will not be huge lost in estate taxes, which kick in after midnight.  Ultimately, the character is a scoundrel – only hoping for the best, meaning the best for him, including having his sights on the help.  It is because of his seditious wants that he incites the members of the household to do his bidding.

Rhonda Lord is brilliant as Jean.  Jean has a lot of problems and one of them is her addiction to pain medication, which has gotten her into a lot of trouble, as well as her family.  Jean is ruthless, kind, despicable, loving, and in a lot of pain.  She stops at nothing to get what she wants.  Lord is an actress with impeccable skills and truth on stage.  There is a supreme naturalism to her work as she glides effortlessly from one moment to the next for which you cannot take your eyes off her for one single moment.  

Justin Huff is exceptional as Arthird. There is more to this character than meets the eye. Arthird still lives at home and has no job prospects. He is a sad lot. Despite the fact he has his head in video games, things in life come naturally to him, like the help.  He keeps that relationship under wraps until he is caught.  And when he is caught, he tries to hide the relationship until he feels the time is right to release the information, what with grandma dying upstairs, and the lawsuit, and the people who are in pain throughout the house. Huff’s relationships with his sister and grandmother are impeccable but one hopes for a stronger bond with his mother and father. Still it is a fantastic role and one in which Huff fills with exceptional viva.

Ilona Kulinska, who plays Beanie, is an exceptional actress. She has a natural charm that translates well to the stage.  Beanie hopes to get into the college of her choice and because of her family’s influence, she believes she is entitled.  She is the smartest sibling and the hopes of her family rides on her getting into a reputable school.  Also, Beanie is a bit of a pest about getting things the way she wants while there are other pressing family problems that need to be addressed. This is a wonderful role for Kulinska who excels in dramatic fashion.

Nan Tepper has a wonderful role in Namoo and does a great job with the role.  She is perfect for this role and one hopes that, in the theatrical sense, she “breaks a leg” during the course of the run.  One hopes that after the run she is still in one piece.  But kidding aside, she was marvelous.

Christine Uhebe is Inez and is perfect for the role.  There is a lot going on with Inez.  She has to fight off the dad, fight off the mother, take care of the grandmother, and please the son, and then keep it all under her hat. That’s a heavy load to carry but Uhebe carries the roll in remarkable style. The scene with the “patches”, done with so much sincerity and naturalism had me on the edge of my seat.

Richard Garner as plays Arthird but did not perform on the night I was there.

Larry Eisenberg, the director, does an excellent job.  This is the finest work I have seen from him to date. There is a moment, near the end, where a voice calls down from upstairs, which requires impeccable timing and was probably missed on this night and maybe requires a little misdirection so that we are absolutely not sure who is calling from upstairs.    

Steven Peterson, the writer, has written a magnificent play with the grand theme of affluence, caring for the aging, and of the unparalleled perfidy of those left in charge all in the name of keeping a certain lifestyle.

Instead of a “Who done it?” it’s more like a who’s going to do it?”  As all of the characters have a steak in the game of affluence. 

While the characters in this play are all part of the fait accompli, they are just not all moving in that direction or at the same pace.  This makes the play all the more enjoyable.  Not on the surface, but underneath, each person is striving for a favorable resolution to their own personal problems caring little for how that gets resolved.  Some characters are more despicable than the others.  Robert Jr. pleasantly throws out the ideas without having the audacity to be a physical partner to his thoughts of crime.   The others are silent but secretly willing to physically implement his ideas into action. At the end of the first act, they watch silently as Jean slowly dials 911. And one can only look to see if the children are really innocent bystanders.  Arthrid dancing with the grandmother seems like an innocent thing, at first glance. But, looking back, maybe that act was helping things along.

One of the interesting things about the ending is that the children don’t come to a resolution.  They are missing from the final conclusion from a reaction we desperately need  (I need.)  Certainly one needs a reaction of how things fell in their favor, or did not fall in their favor at all. That’s just me.  I need a little more closure.

But this takes nothing away from the show, which I thought was marvelous.

Michele Young did a marvelous job as the Costume Designer.   

Ric Zimmerman Lighting Design cast a very somber mood for this comedy but one which worked tragically well, all things considered. 

Other members of this marvelous crew are as follows:

Vesna Tolomanoska – Assistant Director

Don Solosan – Stage Manager

Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski – Sound Design

Michele Bernath – Dance Choreographer

Tanya Wilkins – Fight Choreographer

If you ever get a chance to see a production of this play – Run! Run! Run! – And take someone nearer to God than thee.