Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Love Allways by Renée Taylor and Joseph Bologna

L - R Danny Siege, Lucy Walsh, Chad Doreck, Abigail Kochunas - Photos by Mathew Caine @ Studio Digitrope

By Joe Straw

After watching the performance, I wondered; is the material by Renée Taylor and Joseph Bologna from practical experience or is this just hearsay? If it is from experience, they have had a wonderful life.  If it is hearsay, they must have had some really intimate and talkative friends. – Narrator

There’s no question, no question that I had a wonderful time at the party, the Love Allways party.  I don’t know where to begin, only that I have to begin, somewhere near the beginning. And saying too much would give so much away. You’ll just have to show up and laugh.

Jamaica Moon Prods. And the GGC Players present the Los Angeles Premiere of Love Allways by Renée Taylor and Joseph Bologna directed by Gloria Gifford at the Gray Theatre in North Hollywood through April 23, 2017.

The play is a lot of lovely nuance, cleverly disguised in vignettes, about the truth in relationships. The material by Renée Taylor and Joseph Bologna rings a comedic and sincere genuineness about life and love in intimate settings. There is a lot to enjoy from this outing.

My gosh, it seemed like there were ten thousand actors in this show! Actually, it’s 51 actors. There is a challenge of watching so many actors on a given night.  Multiple night viewings would suit the purpose of taking it all in.  One will give it my best, but no guarantees.  

The characters came down from the door, into the room, and nestled in the comfort of someone’s home. (We’ll have to talk about that opening later.) They were characters all dolled up, the men with shirts opened down to the navel and everyone, I mean everyone, was on the prowl, with hardly a decent refined character in the bunch. That uncomfortable feeling of being single is personified at the party.

So, where do we find ourselves? This is the nightly soiree we have come to know as Eleanor’s Magical Moment.

Eleanor’s Magical Moment

The pushing and moving of singles bodies is the sole objective to attract mates.  In this gathering, the pickings appear to be slim, slightly unnerving if one is looking for a sole mate.  Watching young married beings on the prowl for single encounters is always appealing because mistakes will be made.  

But the thought of hooking up with a single man or woman at this party seems as unappetizing as crackers in bed.   That’s where Eleanor (Tejaja Signori) and Herb (Danny Siegel) come in.  They are married, but not to each other, and Herb can’t get Eleanor out of his mind. He’s thinking of having that one magical moment with Eleanor, of finding the time, and then consummating the relationship.

So when their marriage partners, Betty (Cynthia San Luis) and Larry (Jeff Hamansaki Brown), suddenly leave the room, Herb makes his move.

Love of Susan’s Life

Stud-ly Nick (Nevada Schaefer) has got everything going for him except his girlfriend Susan (Raven Bowens).

“You’re not the girl for me.  It’s all over.” – Nick

To say this hits Susan the wrong way is a bit of an understatement.  And so she pleads for their relationship to continue. And in almost chameleon-like fashion, she changes herself into what he wants her to be.

Groveling is not an attractive vocation.  

Tony & Madelaine

Hollywood is a lush life lived lasciviously.  Oh but it can be so cruel, so cruel when, off the cuff remarks are made, lives are hurt, and relationships are scarred, left to fester, until they are miraculously unscarred again. 


Tony (Chad Doreck) and Madelaine (Jade Warner) are actors.  They are the finest of the fine, the cream of the crop, but now they are down on their movie luck – think Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton after Cleopatra.  Sullied words about bad acting are thrown about. But, as long as they are praised by their entourage (Joshua Farmer, Jose Fillippone, Kelly Musslewhite, and Deidra Shanell), they are like luscious crops, but instantaneously wither when criticism punctures their ballooned ego.

Naytheless, they are actors, and they can give just as they receive!

Maureen’s Gift

Two young people can have as much fun on a couch as humanly possible except when there’s some sort of conflict.  Two lovers in love, Maureen (Justine Estrada) and Eddie (Marlin Chan), have been dying to make it, to consummate their love, but something always gets in the way. Maybe they were not made for each other.

Michael Barker, Samiyah Swann

Benny and The Woman

Woman (Samiyah Swann) sits quietly on a bench when Benny (Michael Barker) approaches.  The two may have much in common, or out of common, depending on your perspective. They connect on a visceral level, neither really communicating with the other, both slightly mentally incapacitated, but willing to accept each other as they are until they don’t.

“It’s hurts to be alone. Goodbye.” Woman

Is this relationship the beginning or the end?

Biff, Dickie, Carmel & Roberta

For the last five years, these happy vacationers have been going on trips.  Biff (Danny Seigel) and Dickie (Jeff Hamasaki Brown) have been having the most fun on their vacation but their wives are getting a little tired of their antics. On the face of it, you would think the only happy couple in this resort town were the two inseparable men.  Their wives, Carmel (Lucy Walsh) and Roberta (Lauren Plaxco) are tired of not spending enough time with their respective spouses.   

The “snorting” thing is possibly one reason Biff would run into the arms of another man.
Act II plays out in a bedroom in a bungalow of a Club Med resort.  Director Gloria Gifford should find a creative way to move the actors in and out without having to make the bed each time, which becomes repetitive and unnecessary.

Bungalow 1

Steven (Haile D’Alan) and Loretta (Keturah Hamilton) are married but when Steven comes in, someone other than his wife (Tracey Nelson) is lying on their bed. (Not sure how this scene works in a bungalow but it feels like someone’s home.)

Loretta walks in with a number of bags of items she has bought. They proceed to discuss their relationship and why she is buying all those things, really a lot of things considering her source of income.

Steven then begins to lay out the rules of a successful relationship and I don’t think Loretta is getting anything of his instructions.  

L - R Irini Gerakas, Jeff Hamasaki Brown, Joe Filippone 

Bungalow 2

Possibly a reality show is being filmed in Bungalow 2 with us as a live studio audience – You Waste Your Life hosted by Eddie (Joe Filippone) featuring an unlikely couple in a role playing situation, Bill Froth (Jeff Hamansaki Brown) and his wife Mary Froth (Irini Gerakas).

I’m a little lost on why this is filmed in a bungalow and why there is a studio audience. That said there were some very nice things going on in this scene.

Bungalow 3

Mario (Nadeem Deeb) is going to get to the meat of the matter and Yvetter (Kasia Pilewicz) has other ideas.

“I’m no good.” – Mario

“I love you.” – Yvette

A man and a woman lost in a relationship, of not knowing who the other is – a “lost cause in Czechoslovakia.”

Bungalow 4

Jimmy (Sam Mansour) and Evelyn (Hayley Ambriz) are caught in bungalow 4 testing their love.  They want to know about each other’s past sexual experiences.  Jimmy, from another country, is old school and Evelyn is not a saint.

Mansour, Syrian, has an unusual and likeable face.  He reminds me a lot of Danny Thomas.  This plays well in the scene as an overbearing man trying to take control of something he really has no control over, a woman with a, slightly kinky, sexual past.  

Antonio Roccucci and Kelly Musslewhite

Bungalow 5

There is something wrong with Marilyn (Kelly Musslewhite).  She is either confused, bi-polar, or thinks this marriage is the worst mistake of her life.   The one thing this newlywed is certain is that she is not certain about anything.   Her husband, David (Antonio Roccucci), can only listen to her rants, gnaws on Twinkies and relieves her fears.

Although, mostly silent on stage, Roccucci has a very commanding presence which is half of the battle. The other half is; how can you argue with a gorgeous woman in a negligee on your honeymoon when there are other pressing matters at hand.  C’est impossible!

Bungalow 6

He (George Benedict) and She (Nancy Vivar).  What am I to make of a scene with the characters named “He” and “She”? He was attractive.  She was as well.  They were in bed having a conversation, wanting something from each other.

Bungalow 7

Intimacy is something learned over the course of a relationship between two people but there’s four people in this bed Herb (Danny Siegel), Stuart (Chad Doreck), Erica (Lucy Walsh) and Joanne (Abigail Kochunas) and Joanne is the only one who has not reached orgasm.

Joanne has got to make her feelings known, first to her husband Stuart, and then to the other married couple in bed.  

The performance featured a diverse group of actors putting it all out there, laying it on the line, and giving it their best, in tight fitting, cleavage revealing garments, in all shapes and sizes, and for all occasions.  This was truly a night for laughs.

The performances and the direction by Gloria Gifford indicate that there’s more work to be done. It would help to take some of the moments to extremes and making the endings ambiguous so the audience can think what they want to think about the way the relationship ends so we see hope for the next encounter. For example, I am not sure Eleanor in Eleanor’s Magical Moment had that moment.  If she did, I missed it.

Also, in Benny and The Woman, the scene ends without a resolution, ambiguous or not.

The “snorting” in Biff, Dickie, Carmel & Roberta scene doesn’t move the characters to react, doesn’t progress the scene, and has no resolution.

This is a play where the actors can create multi-level characters which are bold. It’s really not enough to resemble the character. The characters must be defined in the way they love always, a major through line of the vignettes.  Bring the love and give us something different, very different.

And, we really have to work on the opening to set the stage of what we are about to receive. Lights out, have the actors take a position, accentuate the character and Love Always

The actors in this production are ripe for television. Danny Siegel fits in brilliantly in his scenes and favors Joe Bologna. Others whose work was exceptional were Chad Doreck, Jade Warner, Sam Mansour, Lucy Walsh, Kelly Musslewhite, Antonio Roccucci, Michael Barker, Samiyah Swann, Tracey Nelson and Jeff Hamasaki Brown.

Also, I don’t get Jeff Brown’s middle name “Hamasaki”.  Is that a reference to a sandwich and rice wine?  Hama mean beach in Japanese.  So, is it Saki on the beach, perhaps? (Also, Jeff, new headshots are in order.  The one in the program does not look like you.  Was this a misprint?)

Other actors who were in the production but may not have been mentioned are Alyssa Brown, Billy Budinich, Aaron Burriss, Leana Chavez, Heather Compton, Yvette De Vito, Sonia Diaz, Lindy Fujimoto, Dylan George, Genevieve Joy, McKenzie Druse, Chirstian Maltez, Maya Moore, Nakta Pahlevan Benito Paje, Gershon Roebuck, Justin Truesdale, Keith Walker, Teagan Wilson and Diva Yazdian. This is certainly a diverse group of actors.

The crew are as follows:
Gloria Gifford and Lucy Walsh – Set Design
Chris Rivera – Lighting
Philip Sokoloff – Publicist
Kasia Pilewicz and Gloria Gifford – Costumes
Kasia Pilewicz – Hair/Makeup
Tracey Nelson and Samiyah Swann – House Manager
Keith Walker & Justin Truesdale – Stage Management
Tahlia McCollum – Box Office

And just a note about the outside crew.  They were marvelous in the way they were welcoming to the Gray Theatre

Run! Run!  And take someone who likes a little conflict under the sheets!

RESERVATIONS: (310) 366-5505.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Transition by Ray Richmond


By Joe Straw

The Lounge Theatre is probably one of my favorite theatres in town. There are plenty of parking spots on Santa Monica Boulevard if you get there after 7:00 pm.

Racquel Lehrman Theatre Planner, Producer, has a knack for finding the small gems.

Transition by Ray Richmond and directed by Lee Costello is now playing at The Lounge Theatre in Hollywood through April 16th, 2017.

Transition by Ray Richmond is a small gem and a delightful night of theatre. It’s not sketch comedy, pointed satire, or a caricature of famous people; rather it is a well-crafted 80-minute topical play about President Obama’s meeting with President-elect Trump to discuss the transition process. Overall, Transition is ingenious and as close to perfection, especially for a new work of art, as one can get.

That said, Ray Richmond’s play has the capacity to expand and certainly there’s plenty to add from the events becoming public on a daily basis.  We’ll never really know what the two talked about, but for this particular play, there is room for the Russian connections, double agent Mike Flynn’s payment from Turkey, Manafort’s million dollars deal from the Ukraine, and Trump’s reaction from all of those events.  But right now. the events play as a comedy, a very good comedy, and probably should remain so.

That said, Transition is at times uncomfortable, no matter what side of the fence you sit on. For me, there was the internal struggle to maintain composure. And boy howdy, wouldn’t I have loved to have been a “microwave” in the real meeting.

Pete Hickok, Set Designer, has created the Oval Office and paid careful attention to details in giving us the oval space inside the Lounge Theatre, down to the lettering on the floor, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. What a very nice touch.  

The play opens with Randall, an aide (Trevor Alkazian), showing President-elect Donald J. Trump (Harry S. Murphy) into the Oval Office for a transition meeting with President Barack H. Obama (Joshua Wolf Coleman).

Trump seeks the whereabouts of President Obama.

“What’s he doing?  Talking to ISIS?” – Trump

Trump then threatens to deport the aide, which causes concern to the young aide whose skin is not exactly white.    

Obama arrives and Trump immediately says he’s hungry and wants some KFC. Obama sets the rules straight to him, says they have world-class chefs at the White House, but they can’t do the KFC thing.

So they settle down with Cuban cigars and bottle water for which Trump says it should have his brand on it.  

Obama says the can’t do that “Self enrichment is not good.” To which Trump says the rule don’t apply to him.

Harry S. Murphy applies his own special vanity to the likeness of Donald J. Trump, always primping, thinking, and talking to himself. This Trump understands little, is profoundly disturbed by his lack on knowledge on any given subject with the exception of pop culture, and really has no aptitude for the presidency.   Also, this Trump is also slightly nasty, a button pusher, and willing to concede his own failings all in the privacy of the Oval Office. Murphy provides enough of the character, an imitation of sorts, and an indolent personality of the three dimensional character.  Murphy also shows an incredible range in his craft and portrays a different side to the character we know as Trump.  And he even makes him likeable, go figure.

Joshua Wolf Coleman does a remarkable job as President Barack Obama and even sounds like him during the course of the night. The voice is almost spot on.  But what make’s Coleman performance different from sketch comedy is the way he thinks and approaches the difficulties set before him.  Only once does he lose his cool.  That doesn’t pay off except to the appreciative audience. We see little or nothing about the Russian connection of which President Obama was certainly aware, or that he knew anything about it.  It might be something to add to his character whether it is in the dialogue or not.  

Trevor Alkazian is very appealing as the aide and manages to accept our sympathies given the circumstances he finds himself in.

There is something quite extraordinary in Lee Costello’s direction.  She allows the actors to think, to take the moment, to recover and then attack when need be. This happens throughout the play and for all the characters.  On the face of things, it looks simple, the approach she uses to move the characters along to their final destination, but those moments are dramatically appealing and the outcome is superb.

After the performance Hip Hop Artist Dylan came out to perform.  The performance was pleasant but one was not sure how it fit with the play.

Kate Bergh, Costume Designer, creates a wonderful look to the show.

Other members of the crew that gave a great look to this production are as follows:

Donny Jackson – Lighting Designer
David B. Marling – Sound Designer
Shelia Dorn – Makeup and Wig
Kiff Scholl/AFK Design – Graphic Designer
Fritz Davis – Video Editor
Misha Riley – Assistant Producer
Amber Bruegel – Alternate State Manager

Run! Run!  And take a conservative political wonk with you; you’ll have much to talk about on your way home.  

RESERVATIONS: (323) 960-4418.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer

L-R Parker Mills and Peter Schiavelli

By Joe Straw

Global situation and trends: Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 35 million people have died of HIV. Globally, 36.7 million [34.0–39.8 million] people were living with HIV at the end of 2015. An estimated 0.8% [0.7-0.9%] of adults aged 15–49 years worldwide are living with HIV, although the burden of the epidemic continues to vary considerably between countries and regions. Sub-Saharan Africa remains most severely affected, with nearly 1 in every 25 adults (4.4%) living with HIV and accounting for nearly 70% of the people living with HIV worldwide. – World Health Organization

I saw The Normal Heart at the Las Palmas Theatre in 1985 with Richard Dreyfuss as Ned Weeks and Kathy Bates as Dr. Emma Brookner, although, sad to say, I remember very little of her in that performance. But I do remember, at the end of the first half, the audience let out a huge audible gasp when we discovered something about a character, the way it was presented, and the way the audience accepted that information.  - Narrator

Every living breathing human being has a heart and that heart beats from 60 to 100 beats per minute. That is considered normal.  There is a lot of variation in heartbeats – from 60 to 100 beats – and, as in all lives, extenuating circumstances can affect that normal.

Our reactionary government abandoned the populace when AIDS emerged and, for an unconscionable period of time, ignored the “gay plague”.

Reading about it in the early eighties, it didn’t take a genius (me) to understand that if it could be transmitted from gay contact it could also be transmitted through human sexual contact. It was a very costly mistake that eventually required boots on the ground – a grassroots organization to get the word out and to have the government take action. This essentially is what The Normal Heart is about.

The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer and directed by Marilyn McIntyre is now playing at The Chromolume Theatre February 24 through March 19, 2017. Produced by Sarah Burhardt and Parker Mils.

Larry’s Kramer’s The Normal Heart is a terrific show with exceptional performance by a superb cast in the tiny black box theatre of The Chromolume.  The acting is well above par in this intimate setting and overall an enjoyable night of theatre.  I do have some thoughts that I will share later.

Kramer, in his play, sets a tone for political activism, which must be unapologetic and loud to make a difference. There was a sense of urgency back in the 1980’s of finding the answers and then finding a cure.  This required a lot of help from politicians and from grass roots organizations to make it work. To date there is not cure and the disease is manageable if you can afford the drugs.

On this particular night, the partial walls on rollers lifted almost to the ceiling, hiding the unseen, the black walls darkened the proscenium.  And on the facade, were the headlines of the day.  July 1981 is the month and the year in which we are placed.   

The stagnant dividers opened to reveal a doctor’s waiting room, normal patients anticipating the worse, Craig (Cameron Cowperthwaite) explains what he is feeling, his ragged body tells the story, the heavy heart weigh down by swollen glands already discovered.   

“I’m tired all the time.  I wake up in swimming pools of sweat.” – Craig  

Craig wails for his companion, Bruce Niles (Alan Lennick), a former Green Beret, who did not accompany him to this doctor’s appointment. He is waiting for Dr. Emma Brookner (Carole Weyers), who is examining patients in the next room.  

(Brookner is based on Dr. Linda Laubenstein an early HIV/AIDS researcher. She, along with Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien, published the first article linking AIDS with Kaposi’s sarcoma.)

That patient, now leaving Dr. Brookner’s office has purple lesions covering his face. David (Eric Bunton) walks over to retrieve his jacket and silently stares at the three men waiting to go in.  He notices that they are staring at his lesions.  

Craig hugs Mickey Marcus (Ray Barnhart), silently ignores the manifestation in front of him, and hesitantly walks away and to the examining room.

“They keep getting bigger and bigger and they don’t go away. (Changing the subject and directing his focus to Ned) I sold you a ceramic pig once at Maison France on Bleecker Street.  My name is David.” - David

I don’t remember them shaking hands, or that an attempt was even made.

Nebbish Ned Weeks (Parker Mills) who was melting inconspicuously into the furniture is suddenly called out, pulled out from the chair, from oblivion to prominence, filled with questions without answers about the 28 gay men infected, 16 who have already died.  

And as quietly as he arrived, David leaves with little fanfare.

“Mickey, what the f*uck is going on?” – Ned

“I don’t know. Are you here to write about this?” - Mickey

Two writers in the room without focus, Ned who is a successful writer of sorts and Mickey who writes a health column for the health department, each desultory, no one making the first move. Mickey says the city doesn’t have an interest in stories about gay health.

Craig comes out of the Dr. Emma Brookner’s office and says he going to die.  

Ned, with a slight call to act, rushes into the doctor’s office to ask questions.  He takes little notice that Dr. Brookner is confined to a wheelchair. She immediately tells him to take off his clothes.

“You’re gay, aren’t you? Take your clothes off.” – Dr. Brookner


Parker Mills and Carole Weyers

Through the examination Brookner has an idea she wants to share with Ned.  Brookner needs a mouthpiece, someone who will spread the word, and she understands that Ned has a big mouth, is a writer, and will somehow get the word out. She explores the possibility of asking Ned to tell men that they should stop having sex, not only the men in New York City but also all across the country.  

This call to duty is an insurmountable task for Ned Weeks, and he is not really sure that he is up for the challenge.  He approaches a writer at the Times, handsome Felix Turner (Peter Schiavelli).  Ned also tries to get his brother Ben Weeks (Dan Via), a lawyer to donate money and to sit on the board. Ben is not up for the idea, and says he will take it to his committee.

L - R Alan Lennick, Cameron Cowperthwaite (gurney), Ray Barnhart, Carole Weyers, Parker Mills

Marilyn McIntyre, the director, does a terrific job with this very small-scale production. Actors, also scene changers, were flying in and out during the sixteen scene changes, trying not to bump into each other to lay out set and prop pieces.  I’m wondering if there is an economical and efficient way of handling those duties, a way of moving actors in character so that it moves with the progression of the play.  The walls must also be moved with characters in mind; even the tables can be placed with characters in various stages of the illness.

The opening, on this night, requires attention with Ned finally speaking when he is addressed about the pigs. (About a page and a half in.) Ned needs a better introduction and how that manifests itself is the job for the director.  Ned is a frightened person, assaulted with realities, and trying to find a way to help.  It is here, in the opening moments, when he steps from the shadows and into the limelight.  One thinks of the play as a political drama, a reactionary intrusion into a life bombarded by the unthinkable, so many people dying in a short time span, and a government unwilling to take action.  This is where Ned comes in, he sees the light of humanity darkened. (Some stage lighting helping out on the dying would help.  A little symbolism goes a long way here.) From first hand account Ned takes aggressive action.  Maybe he doesn’t think it’s much but he really must be gung-ho to get this going, not stopping, even through his survival depends on the help from politicians and his friends, both who get in his way.  

Also, time is an element that must be accentuated for full dramatic play.

One other thing, this is a play where even the smallest of relationships must work to get the full effect having to do with the advancement of the events, David saying that he is dying, Craig running from the doctor’s office, Felix ignoring Ned, and Ben unwilling to help until someone reaches their eternal perdition.  

On this night, I detected a slow start, characters not really connecting, but once the butterflies went away, the production soars, taking us to unconquerable heights.  The acting is top notched, a testament to Howard Fine Acting Studio and the number of actors in this production who have gone there.

But again, I have some thoughts.

Parker Mills does fine work as Ned Weeks.  Weeks need a better introduction, stepping out of the shadows into the limelight. The conflict is that he never gets the publicity for reasons that are out of his control.  He is relegated to being a co-worker of an organization he co-founds when another is chosen to be president.  His life as a writer, and its inexhaustible privations, moves him in a way to help humanity. But, Weeks is seen as brash and opinionated and, in his indecorous ferocity, he is a man of action that very few people like.  He must overcome those obstacles to get what he wants. Mills does a fine job of giving the character many levels, acting with a sense of urgency because other characters are dying. Mills is impeccable in his craft; his movements are specific, and his objective strong.  There is more to add in the way he sees the overall picture, reacts, and then takes action.  

Dan Via is Ben Weeks and really does a fantastic job.  Weeks is a powerful lawyer that wants nothing to do with his brother’s organization and will not even accept that his brother is gay. Organized, a planner, and one who will not step into a situation that would jeopardize his career.  Via excels in this role, his manner is competent, his motives are entirely complete, and he knows his way around the stage.

Alan Lennick, as Bruce Niles, can add more to the Green Beret character that he plays.  Once a military man, especially one that carries Special Forces Tab, well, that never leaves you.  And how that manifests itself on stage is something that should be brought forward. Still it is a terrific performance, his voice is strong, articulate, the broad shoulders, and the height that carries the day. He regards himself as a leader but will not step out of the shadows to out himself, and that is an interesting conflict for someone who wants to represent a gay organization. Niles relationship to Weeks could be strengthened in the way he rebuffs him and then tries to take over the organization.

Peter Schiavelli is very angular as Felix Turner, in the way that Dudley Do-Right was drawn angular. Schiavelli has a very strong handsome presence on stage and manages to make the most of the character. What is interesting about this character is that he is hiding something from his partner until the end of the first half.  It is so subtle on stage as to not be noticeable and maybe should be a part of the character’s internal conflict about becoming involved.

Carole Weyer is Dr. Emma Brookner and played this character with an accent, sounding German at times.  One is not sure what that was about as the character is based on someone born and went to school in the United States. It was a choice that was not entirely successful.  That said, her craft, and her work presented outstanding choices, the manner in the wheelchair and the way she conducted her examination of the patients were outstanding.

Jeffrey Masters plays Tommy Boatwright, a southern belle, as it were.  The southern accent does not take him to unimaginable heights and needs work.  That said, he has a very likeable personality and does well for his limited time on stage.  But, more specifically, he needs to identify the conflict, and work for a stronger objective.

Ray Barnhart is Mickey Marcus, a man who will help but will not go beyond his limited means.  He doesn’t want to be president of the group and is satisfied with stuffing envelopes.  He works for the Health Department but is not about to risk his job writing about the gay plague.  Barnhart requires a stronger choice for his objective and the conflict that keeps him from reaching his objective. Still, there is something very likeable about this character and this actor.

Eric Bunton plays three different roles, David, Hiram, and the doctor.  Bunton has a strong voice and does something very interesting with David, the man with the lesions, he quietly enters from the doctors and quietly exits as a man who presents the disease and then quietly exits the world, as he knows it.

Cameron Cowperthwaite (that’s a name) does well as the sick friend in the first scene, who is a hypochondriac, but turns out that his fears are not mental.  One would love to see his face as he is writhing on the gurney. It sets the mood and the action that needs to be taken. 

Nicely produced by Sarah Burkhardt and Parker Mills. 

Run! Run! And take an activist.  There is more to learn and much more for which to take action.

Members of the crew who contributed mightily to the production are as follows:

David Mauer – Set Design
Brandon Baruch – Lighting Design
Chris Moscatiello – Sound Design
Liz Schroeder – Costume Design
Michael Skolnick – Props
Brandon Hearnsberger – Video Editing
Jake Moses – Original Music
Edward Vyeda – Original Artwork
Scott Marshall – Lighting Assistant
Amy Koch – Stage Manager
Ken Werther Publicity – Press Representative
Sarah Burkhardt – Associate Director

Telephone: 800-838-3006

The Chromolume Theatre at The Attic
5429 W. Washington Boulevard
(Between the 10 Freeway and Hauser Blvd.)
Los Angeles, CA  90016

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Free Outgoing by Anapama Chandrasekhar

Anna Khaja

By Joe Straw

“In England, the moon had seemed dead and alien; here she was caught in the shawl of night together with earth and all other stars.  A sudden sense of unity, of kinship with the heavenly bodies, passed into the old woman and out, like water through a tank, leaving a strange freshness behind.”  A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

I was looking for a quote about water and India and, I don’t know what happened, but something attacked my computer.  It destroyed my entire review and replaced it with unrecognizable inscriptions.  The un-do button was rendered useless. Then everything went dark. This was a sign, I believe, to chuck everything I had written, and begin again.  This manifestation was a sign, hopefully, a good sign.  

Water plays a big theme in this production.  How it all connects, I’m not quite sure. - Narrator

The story takes place in a dry and dusty flat in in a residential district of Chennai, India. 

The observed utility poles, above the flat, funnels electrical currents into multiple shelters and that is never a pleasant look for the poor. The complexity within this complex will soon be discovered.    

But in this particular apartment, the dining room, entertainment, and living room are all in one space.  The accommodations are sparse, chairs at the kitchen table, an ottoman covered in bright colors, and dazzlingly colored throw pillows on the couch, a small bookcase with very few books and equal number trophies.  The walls are festooned with magazine pictures strewn on the wall.  The late father’s photograph is adorned with a wreath, gone but not forgotten.  The Torans, an Indian traditional decoration, an honorific gateway, are above each doorway.

And dry as a bone, because water in this apartment is scarce. But a bottle sits on the floor – a third full or as can be best described as two thirds empty.

Any breeze coming into the apartment is filtered through holes in a bolted front door.  

East West Players, Artistic Director Snehal Desai presents Free Outgoing by Anupama Chandrasekhar and directed by Snehal Desai through March 12, 2017 at the David Henry Hwang Theatre at the Union Center for the Arts in downtown Los Angeles.

Malini (Anna Khaja), 38 years of age is an attractive single mother of two, a boy age 16 and a girl age 15, she invites her “colleague” over, Ramesh (Anil Kumar) to finish some work and to sell him Super Sparkler – a jewelry cleaner. 

Malini sells Super Sparkler for about five or six dollars a box to help make ends meet.  She instructs the slightly wayward and nefarious Ramesh on how to prepare the mixture using precious water for a small bath to soak fine textured jewelry.  

Married Hindu women wear toe rings but Ramesh, knowing Malini is not married, wants her to put hers in the mixture.  There is more on the mind of Ramesh than jewelry cleaner as he hovers over her to get closer look, using all his sensory sensations including making suggestive comments to lure her into his pathetic web.  

L - R Anil Kumar, Anna Khaja, and Kapil Talwalkar

Sharan (Kapil Talwalkar), Malini’s son, interrupts; he’s looking for his sister, whom he discovers is not home.

Malini tells Sharan to take off his shoes, to mind his language, and then asks him where he’s been all evening.  She then turns her attention to Ramesh.

“These boys! I tell you!...they’re busy watsapping each other, but they can’t find time to send one SMS to their mother.  Or call, though their outgoing call to me are all free.” – Malini

Ramesh can’t believe that Malini has grown children.  Whether this is flattery or another device to lure her remains to be seen. Suddenly, he is thirsty, for water, and if he has to sneak it, so be it.

Deepa, the daughter (not seen), calls on the phone. She needs to find a way home since Sharan will not pick her up.  The lorry carrying water is downstairs.  Malini is ashamed that they get water by filling buckets. She motions for her son to take the buckets down without Ramesh seeing him. And Ramesh is distracted as he pays for his Super Sparkler and leaves.

There is trouble brewing because the following morning the principal, Nirmala (Kavi Landnier), calls Malini at work and tells her to come home. Something has happened to Malini’s daughter Deepa who is now waiting in her room and won’t come out. Nirmala tells Malini that Deepa has done something at school and will be suspended from school for a month.

“Your daughter has – how shall I put it? She’s been intimate with Jeevan.” - Nirmala

There is more trouble as Santosh (Dileep Rao), father of the boy Jeevan (not seen) who is also in trouble from that same incident, confronts Malini about how to handle this predicament. But there is more trouble afoot as Santosh says there is a video of the event.

Without giving too much away, I have to stop.

Free Outgoing by Anupama Chandrasekhar is technically about a girl who has made a terrible mistake, just one, and the people who then ostracize her for that mistake.  The local community, and as well as the larger Indian society, is patriarchal and seeks to punish this girl for her misdeed. Just one misdeed. While they think nothing about the boy who has done damage. The effect on the family is sad, especially for the mother who wants nothing but the best for her family. She is struggling even within her own being.

Chandrasekhar’s play is in English with Tamil words, which makes me wonder whether anything was lost in the translation.  There is a great deal of dialogue about water that translates little in the meaning of the play, the mysticism from the water to start anew.  There is the stealing of water and the shame of dragging water up into the apartment from the lorry. The apartment stinks because of lack of water.  Water is taken from the daughter’s room to nourish a visitor.

Director Snehal Desai has the actors say the lines but does not provide a significant stamp to the production, a provocative vision that elevates the play. The stakes are not high enough for any of the players.  We lose sight of Deepa (not seen) behind the door, or that she is not really there for that matter. At one point she sings and that propels the character, but the others pay scant attention to the small girl who may be in shock at this point. We cannot lose sight of the character, the wonderful creature that made one bad mistake. Also, more has to be done with the lighting, which were both up and down without the nuance of lighting for morning, noon, and night during the course of the play. There is also a very funny moment about Malini desperately calling the United States and being confused with a call-center sales person that goes nowhere. Even Malini and her son do not see the humor in it. This is a play where the dialogue and physical action are not enough.  It is a play where the humor must be seen in great detail and the hurt must be felt from across the room. Also, water plays a central theme in the play, which seems to be discarded on purpose.

There was a point in the play where Anna Khaja playing Malini projected a stunning demeanor, a strong force with just a turn of the head.  It was a moment that turned my head as I thought there could be more to this role. Malini has to fight everyone to get what she wants, her son, the suitor, the principal and even her daughter to maintain an austere dignity. But, Malini falls into the “old school” trap of believing what men have told her rather than sticking to her guns and on the side of her daughter. Malini can never give up on her daughter, ever, and Kahaja must play to that objective. She must maintain order, get rid of the man, and pull her family together.  This is no small task.

Kapil Talwalker does a nice job as Sharan.  Sharan objective is confusing.  If his role is to help his sister then he must defy tradition and really help her.  Sharan seems to thinks that he has lost everything because of his sister’s action.  He appears to be mad at her and takes it out on her and his mother.  Those actions don’t help his sister and certainly doesn’t get him any farther in his quest for a better life.

Anil Kumar strikes a resemblance to George Clooney with a bad haircut. The bad haircut though is part of the character of Ramesh, a nefarious simpleton, who wants more than a cleaning powder.  His intentions are downright evil. But evil doesn’t work if is not completed in character from the moment he enters the apartment to the moment he is thrown out. His money must be scarce; he must dig for that money until he finds every last cent. His caliginous wants must be identified on stage, from the water, to the daughter, to the casual misdeeds of this nefarious character.

L - R Kavi Ladnier and Anna Khaja

Kavi Ladnier plays three roles Kirmala (the principal), Kokila (the neighbor), and Usha (the reporter).  Ladnier excels at all three playing three different types of Indian women from the strict disciplinarian to the feminist. Ladnier is a wonderful actress with a superior craft that brings exciting character traits to all three women. One could not believe these women were one in the same and that is a hallmark of a gifted actor.

Dileep Rao plays Santhosh, the boy’s father, who reinforces the country’s patriarchal beliefs. He cares little for the daughter.  He mostly looks after his son and doesn’t think she would ever press charges.  While Rao is believable in the role one thinks there is more to add to the character, and the conflict.

Scenic Design by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz was very satisfying.  Lighting Design by Katelan Braymer needed a projection of time, day and night. Rachel Myers, Costume Design was this short of brilliant.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Sharath Patel – Sound Design
Glenn Michael Baker – Assistant Scenic Design/Prop Master
Lauren Cucarola – Assistant Costume Design
Brandon Hong Cheng – Stage Manager
Matthew Sanchez – Assistant Stage Manager

Run!  And take someone who is fascinated with India!

David Henry Hwang Theater
120 Judge John Aiso Street
Los Angeles, CA  90012

Telephone:  213-625-7000

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Late Company by Jordan Tannahill


By Joe Straw

Maybe, I just didn’t catch it. Then again, maybe I did.  - Narrator

“Oh, shit!” - Debora

For lack of a better word. Debora Shaun-Hasting (Ann Hearn) hurries into her dining room and hammers her feelings home.  Her husband, Michael Shaun-Hastings (Grinnell Morris), follows like a wayward dog on an unwarranted mission. Their relationship is just a floating fragment of what it once was - much like the bickering going on between them now, even fighting about the choice of music.

Debora, dressing like a willful child of the sixties, scoops the ice with her fingers and releases the ice into the water glasses, on the nicely made table, slamming them, not gently, into the glass. Probably the most important day in Debora’s life and the company is late. Yes, no, they don’t get the ice tongs, just her unwashed fingers manipulating the ice, and throwing them right into the glass of water, serves them right.

Something is not right, feelings between man and wife, a sadness that tears deep into her soul?  Do you get that?  Debora’s face is weathered, masked by the element of time and tragedy. And Michael wants to put on his protective mask, not to be seen, hiding behind the circumstances of things that were and not yet to be.  

“Is she fat?” – Michael

Michael shouldn’t talk, with his perfect hair, his perfect teeth, down to the perfect way he trims his beard, slacks, shinning shoes, sweater, shirt, belt, can anything be more perfect?  Him with his loose-fitting urbanity, the fake political smile, the power of noblesse oblige of someone who calls the night, just who is he trying to unimpress?

So, it all comes down to this, her physical description, a put down, these are the guests for God’s sake.   There’s only so much one can do, set the table, once, twice, three times, check themselves in the mirror that bears down on them from the wall, complain about the lateness, and suddenly there is a knock at the door.

Is it possible to be over prepared?

And, of course it’s them, forty minutes late.  Doesn’t anyone use GPS these days, Google maps for the love of what is just plain right. 

Immediately having their coats taken, their shoes come right off so now they are in stocking feet.  (I know, that’s what they do in Canada. But, is it right?)

Tamara Dermot (Jennifer Lynn Davis) just makes herself too much at home, says she doesn’t want wine but Debora thinks, in keeping with the occasion, that she should have lots of it.  Tamara demurs once, but not twice, and then her glass is filled. Could this be a sign of an alcoholic?

Bill Dermot (Todd Johnson) wears a nasty looking sweater, something you might bring out from the back of the closet but certainly not appropriate for this night. And, not watching his weight, he’s the first one to go for the hors d’oeuvre.  Wait!!! There’s shrimp in the cocktail dip, one bite and their son, Curtis (Baker Chase Powell) well, one bite, and it’s fatal.

Eyes around the room – one can’t believe that Debora and Michael would deliberately do this? Not even Debora or Michael.  Does anyone check ahead of time? No, it turns out, they had no idea.

As long as Curtis doesn’t eat it, his father Bill is not concerned, not that he was really concerned anyway.   More for him as he drops three or four into his mouth, one hitting the floor.  No worries let someone else clean it up.

And Curtis ignores the food, the home, and the almost near-death experience because he is so inside his phone that he can’t take a moment to figure out the “why” of the why he is there. Not a young man you would suspect as having a ferocious conscience. It seems. Couldn’t he have gotten a decent haircut? They haven’t seen hair this long since the wayward sixties.  Must I repeat myself again that this is an important night.

There’s work to be done tonight, this is what they agreed to, and with all the chitchat not one thing is going to be accomplished, of any significance, not now, and maybe not ever.  But oh, you could cut the silent tension with knife and not make headway.

From the beginning, there are differences. The Shaun-Hastings, well, the last names for one should tell you those two are important enough for one not losing one or the other’s last name.  They are better educated, more accomplished. Michael is a politician (he had to move in order to win the position) and Debora is an artist.  She didn’t “steal” the sculptures sitting on her mantel, she works in steel.

The little things that throw a conversation off – steal versus steel – that makes the moments uncomfortable, as if they don’t have one more obstacle to overcome. They have little in common.  Would they finish the night in a manner befitting grown adults?

Not with Debora setting an extra place for someone who won’t be there. The pain from that action is enough to make to guests run out of the room.

I have to pause.  Bullying, in the written form, can be so tiring.

Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents the American premiere of Late Company by Jordan Tannahill, directed by Bruce Gray through February 19th, 2017, and produced by David Hunt Stafford.  

Late Company by Jordan Tannahill is a wonderful and important play about the subject of bullying, grief and forgiveness.  Its rich dialogue digs deep into the psyche of two families that are deep in turmoil.  They are in an emotional crevasse so profound they cannot see the opening.  So they battle, their warrior like conflict directed between themselves, the offending family, and their own internal struggle.   These two families, so far apart in purpose, agree to this night to find conclusion and to ease their infinite suffering. But their meeting to cure turns into an insalubrious miasma and you sometimes wonder, who exactly is the bully?

Bruce Gray, the director, wastes no time in getting into the meat of the matter.  His direction is exquisitely and brilliantly executed. This is the finest play I’ve seen this year.  Each moment is infinitively enlightening and carefully crafted, bounded together by a meticulous subtext that drives each and every character.  It doesn’t hurt that he has a solid cast of characters that defined the ordinary in extraordinary circumstances.

One thing that I had a thought about was the initial meeting, when the Dermots come through the door.  The entrance calls for a bold clarification that establishes the relationships. The one that truly counts is the relationship between Debora and Curtis.  That meeting must be bold, and it must be one that leaves a lasting impression even after you leave the theatre.

Ann Hearn as Debora Shaun-Hastings is a character that grows during the course of the night. Debora can be a cordial host, but really she is really interested in finding answers where there may be none.  Time will cure her emotional outpouring, but tonight she needs conclusion.  She refuses to use her art as a release for therapy.   Maybe one year is too early to have this confrontation, now she remains mad at everyone, trying desperately to find answers. It is a biting night for Debora in the way the outdoor Canadian weather bites the soul. Hearn is terrific as she fights her way - in the only way she knows how.   

Grinnell Morris is Michael Shaun-Hastings.  He is disappointed about what happened but what’s done is done.  He has misgivings about the unfortunate event but he was busy with his political career to put enough effort in his family life. Something had to give. In hindsight, he is lost, and trying to find his way.  How did he come this far only to be lost in his family life? Morris plays all sides in this character as all politicians might and in the end Michael wins the day. It is a small victory but one that Morris executes with passion.   

Jennifer Lynn Davis gives a wonderful performance as Tamara Dermot.  Tamara, a mother herself, is very sympathetic, but not so much that she would let another woman torment her son.  Through thick or thin, Tamara will live through the unexpectedness of this night, take what is coming, but not have her son dragged through the mud.

Todd Johnson is Bill Dermot, an educated man, but something has gone wrong with his life.  Maybe it’s the little things, the not taking care of the small details. He seconds guesses this whole night.  “Not sure if it will work.”  He does not want to take any of the blame, instead places on the other family. Dermot appears to not learn anything from this confrontation. Dermot is a needle in a sofa cushion causing pain when you least expect it. For Johnson, it is an unsympathetic role, but one that he absolutely nails.

Baker Chase Powell does a lot of remarkable things as Curtis Dermot.  It not easy being the purported heavy on this night, on his phone, melancholy, and waiting for the hammer to drop. He’s written the letter, and in this room full of adults, wondering if it is good enough to win the night and ease the pain.   This is a terrific performance with a terrific ending.

David Hunt Stafford, the producer, manages another triumph at Theatre 40 showcasing theatre in the finest details.

Jeff G. Rack, Set Designer, places the dinning table upstage center right, slightly cold and impersonal, a very uncomfortable space for characters in an uncomfortable situation.  And this allows the actors to work their magic in the space.

Other members of this terrific crew are as follows:

Michéle Young – Costume Designer
Ric Zimmerman – Lighting Designer
Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski – Sound Designer
Amanda Sauter – Stage Manager
Brian Barraza – Assistant Lighting Designer
Michele Bernath – Assistant Director

Run! Run! Run! And take someone you have not completely forgiven.

Reservations:  310-364-0535