Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Late Company by Jordan Tannahill

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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

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Fugu by Steven G. Simon & Howard Teichman

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L - R Marcel Licera, Scott Keiji Takeda, Ryan Moriarty, David Preston


By Joe Straw

Note: Fugu is a blowfish that the Japanese consider a delicacy.  Chefs train for years to master its preparations and must be licensed because of the fish’s toxicity.  The poison when ingested kills and there is no known antidote.

To plan and prepare Fugu is the way of Fugu.

Furu ike ya
Kawazu tobi komu
Mizu no oto – Matsuo Basho

An old silent pond
Frog jumps into the water
Splash the water’s sound – narrator’s translation

I did not plan to learn Japanese this late in life; it became a necessity when my daughter enrolled in a Japanese language immersion program in grade school.    

Learning it I found that Japanese requires a different approach, of viewing and absorbing symbols that adhere to a different part of the brain – it’s almost like flipping on a light switch. Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji are elements of the language that I have not yet mastered, but hope to some day.  – Narrator

Looking back and remembering the haiku in the performance here is my link to what I imagined. (Your interpretation may vary.)

Serene moonlight glosses the surface of a pond.  A pond fairy (Kaz Matamura), dances on shallow, like a water spider, and blesses the blended noises of nature’s tranquility, north, south, east and west, unruffled and placid.  And, in the bitterest of contradictions, out jumps a frog (Matt Gottlieb), a noisy webbed disturbance that plays upon managed ringlets, creating clatter, without direction, a place to be, in and out, pushing water with webbed soaked feet, until finally there is a quiet unity.     

The West Coast Jewish Theatre presents a World Premiere production of Fugu by Steven G. Simon & Howard Teichman and directed by Howard Teichman at the Pico Playhouse in West Los Angeles through March 19, 2017.

Fugu by Steven G. Simon and Howard Teichman is a masterful, timely work of art, blending life, love, and conflict in a compelling narrative highlighting Jews in 1941 Kobe, Japan.  Teichman’s directing is superb as he captures very intimate details of life, love, and happiness.  The play, wonderfully written in Japanese, German, Yiddish, and English is unforgettable in the way that it both highlights a time and captures the small but significant moments in the lives of human beings.  


Scott Keiji Takeda and Rosie Moss

Simply put, Fugu is a love story, a not so tangled web of refugees trying to connect in life, place and political circumstances, defying tradition in the simple act of love, and managing under the harshest of circumstances.

As the play begins, Colonel Nohiro Yasue (Ryan Moriarty), Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, is in preparations for a Shabbat dinner. He enlists his top aide Setsuzo Kotsuji (Scott Keiji Takeda) to help in the arrangements. Both are considered experts in the tradition having spent time in Palestine. Kotsuji quips the guests are coming only to complain. But Yasue will gladly accept their guests all in preparation to implement a plan.

True to form when he arrives, Dr. Avram Kaufman (Warren Davis), leader of the Jewish refugee community, complains about the sirens on Friday Nights and the Rabbi Shlomo Shapira (Peter Altschuler) says it interferers with their prayers. Complaints aside, the Rabbi is concerned about the upcoming meal being kosher.  Kotsuji assures them that all the preparations are adequate for the meal.

When they leave, we learn there is more to the meal than was divulged.  Captain Yosuke Matsuoka (Marcel Licera) speaks to the Colonel about his “Fugu” plan.  The Colonel, hoping to avoid bloodshed to the people of Japan sees the Fugu plan as his only hope to save the Japanese people. But the Captain sees the plan as ridiculous and a waste of time.

Resistance to the plan takes many forms, not just from fellow countrymen and the Jewish refugees, but also from German Colonel Josef Meisinger (David Preston), a Nazi who wants to rid Japan of the Jews residing there. He is a shadow bringing darkness to an area that desperately needs light.

Also, to add diversion to the plan is an unexpected love story between aide Setsuzo Kotsuji and the very lovely daughter of Dr. Avran Kaufman, Sarah Kaufman (Rosie Moss).

At the heart of Steven G. Simon and Howard Teichman play is a love story – one that rings true to the core.  But the other side of the coin is “Fugu,” a way out that has to be meticulously planned and then implemented.   But the plan, presented on stage, is comical, and one that most of the characters believe is downright absurd; no one believes it will work, not even the audience that is gathered for a town meeting. The plan might be better left off stage, leaving us with only the end results rather than the details; this will trim the play, and the ending will be both ambiguous and mysterious. In Japanese culture, beauty lies in the things that are left unsaid and I believe that holds true for the plan.  That aside, there are a wonderful thing going on, in particular the moments when the languages shift, from German to English, from Japanese to English, etc., similar in the way Stanley Kramer does it in the film Judgment at Nuremberg. This makes for a very fine theatrical outing.

Teichman, the director, provides us with brilliant flashes of humanity that defines characters in their predicament. It is Teichman’s work of art both as a writer and a director that brings forth a play that everyone should see just to place it in its historical context and then to compare that to our present day life and watching history repeating itself.     That said, not everything works to perfection, moments and relationships need tweaking and definition.  The relationship of the Colonel and the Captain misses, lacks conviction, and fails to bring forth an intimacy of their historical past.  And it is a past when the roles, or rank, were reversed.  This gives the Captain a greater choice, a window of opportunity in achieving his objective, and creating a grander physical life on stage.

Kaz Matamura and Matt Gottlieb


Kaz Matamura gives a much-needed authenticity to the play, the language, the Japanese dance and the setting for Shabbat. Her Japanese is wonderful.

Matt Gottlieb gives a grand performance as Max Kaminsky, someone who doubts first and then speaks the truth.  He is a man that gets to the point quickly because he understands their time in Japan hangs in the balance. There is an extreme reality in Gottlieb’s performance, in his manner, and in the power of his voice. His craft is exceptional.

Ryan Moriarty plays Colonel Nohiro Yasue, the catalyst that sets the plan in motion.  But, where are the orders coming from? And, what pushes the Colonel to push this preposterous plan onto his Jewish counterparts? Yasue would work better with a tempered manner, not one that flies off the handle especially with his guests.  Insulting your guests for the sake of expediency is not the Japanese way.  Anger should not guide the character, proficiency in thought and deed should.  If time is an issue, he is fighting against the clock. If outside forces are an issue, we should see that in his manner. This character has a rich history that was not brought to the table on this night; more of that life could be added. Moriarty seems a little uneasy with the languages; his vocal requirements need conviction that would force the others to follow.  That said, Moriarty has a terrific presence on stage and is certain to get better with a few more performances under his belt.

Scott Keiji Takeda is excellent as Setsuzo Kotsuji, an emissary of sorts that helps in the preparation of the Shabbat.  Kotsuji says he speaks five languages—in addition to Japanese, he speaks German, English, and Yiddish. The manner in which Takeda speaks, speaks volumes of this craft and of the character. Rarely do you see an actor take command of the stage but Takeda is strong in his ability to create a time and a place, and he does this so exquisitely.  His work was terrific the last time I saw him but now his growth is exponential.

Warren Davis as Dr. Avram Kaufman had some very grand moments. Scared out of his wits of receiving the plan from his Japanese friends, trying to keep his daughter in line, and then revealing the plans to the his community is more than he can handle. Kaufman is caught in a trap, from which he is unable to get out. If protecting his people is his ultimate objective, then he must be stronger in the way he deals with the other conflicts that plagues his life. He must be wise, forceful, and crafty and move in the direction of his own choosing.  A stronger objective will only help his character.     

Peter Altschuler has some very funny moments as Rabbi Shlomo Shapira, a wise and noble man who seems to be the voice of reason.

Marcel Licera is Captain Yosuke Matsuoka is a Japanese soldier who has very little in common with his colonel. This role is tricky in that his objective is not very clear and needs definition. Matsuoka appears to be a soldier who has lost favor (certainly, it’s true with the colonel) but his attempts to regain a foothold to the power he once had is limited and weak. The successful path to this character is one who brings the weight and the power of the military into the room with him.  One needs to see who is pushing his buttons, the details of his own plan, and highlighted by a stronger objective.  We see Matsuoka’s faults and that is good work, but the manner in which Licera plays a Japanese soldier requires a stronger conviction.   

David Preston is very convincing as Colonel Josef Meisinger, a Nazi who comes to Kobe, Japan to spread the word of the Third Reich.  Well, there is more to it than that. He will do anything to convince the Japan military leaders to give up those that are hiding from him. Meisinger is hiding himself for crimes against humanity.  Preston’s work is exceptional and he brings a dark presence to the man who has been called in real life “The Butcher of Warsaw”.  Preston presents a powerful image on stage.

L - R Rosie Moss and Bryna Weiss


Rosie Moss is wonderful as Sarah Kaufman, a young lady that loves her father, but needs to find other interests before her time runs out. Moss plays daughter, friend, and lover with equal simplicity.  Her facial expressions light the stage and her craft is remarkable.

Bryna Weiss is Mrs. Dovitch who doesn’t appear until the second act.  Sometimes one catches exceptional work and this is true with her performance, which does not ring a false note. Weiss brings a lot of character work to Mrs. Dovitch; the manner in which she both gives and receives is funny, poignant, and caring.

Set Designer, Kurtis Bedford has created a very functional set of movable walls that reveal and hide the plan.  The set is similar to what one will find in a Japanese home, and a temple.   

Shon Le Blanc, Costume Designer, highlights the players in time and place with costumes that set a dramatic tone. It would be interesting to know, if a lesson taught came with the costume, because an actor has to fill the costume rather than just wear it.

The understudy for Kiori is Akiko Katagiri, for Setsuzo Kotsuji is Mark Labella, and for Mrs. Dovitch is Caroline Westheimer.  They did not perform the night I was there.

Other crewmembers that planned in the creation of a night of theatre are as follow:

Pricilla Miranda – Stage Manager
Ellen Monocroussos – Lighting Designer
Bill Froggatt – Sound & Presentation Designer
Hai Cohen – Choreographer (Chasidic)
Kaz Matamura – Choreographer (Japanese)
Jessica Bennett – Fight Choreographer
Phil Sokoloff – Publicity
Raul Clayton Staggs – Casting Director
Michael Lamont - Photographer

Run! Run! And take someone who is on top of current events.  You’ll have much to talk about on your way home about the similarities of the play and our current political dilemma.  
RESERVATIONS: 323-821-2449.
ONLINE TICKETING: www.wcjt.org

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Aladdin – Book by Jim Luigs, José Cruz Gonzáles, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice

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By Joe Straw

When I was a small child, my brothers and I found a lamp at the bottom of a trash heap.  It took me a while to get down to it, a slight cliff through some Georgian mud.  But I couldn’t resist the light coming from it.  And, because I was the one who got it, it was understood that I was going to do the rubbing.   

So, we sat there in tattered clothing and bare feet, (the bi-product of a broken home), in the middle of a cow pasture, with the lamp between us.

“Don’t worry, I’ll wish for something for all of us.” I said.

I glanced over to them just to see their reaction - ‘cause they never believed anything I said.   

And as I picked up the lamp we could feel the anticipation.  I moved the lamp back and forth, catching the sun and shinning it into their squinting eyes, they laughed, and pushed me along.  I made sure their fingers, toes, and eyes were crossed as I rubbed.

Well, nothing happened. I ran over to the cliff and threw the lamp back into the trash heap.

We walked away and dreamed for the next encounter, one that would, next time , bring us fame and fortune. – Narrator

The kids need some tap shoes. I said this as I watched a wonderful tap number performed without tap shoes. Well, it seemed like a tap number.  It wasn’t jazz, it wasn’t ballet, it wasn’t hip-hop, or soft shoe, and so it must have been tap.  I’ll say it again; the kids need some tap shoes. Sí, creo que sería una gran adición a la muestra.  

Casa 0101 and TNH Productions present in association with Los Angeles Councilmember, Gil Cedillo, Disney Aladdin Dual Language Edition, Book by Jim Luigs, José Cruz González, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Music Adapted, Arranged and Orchestrated by Bryan Louiselle based on the 1992 Disney Film, Aladdin. Directed by Rigo Tejeda, and Produced by Abel Alvarado, Felipe Agredano, Emmanuel Deleage, Edward Padilla, Rigo Tejeda & Conrado Terrazas.

Walterio Pezqueira manifested the lyric translations into Spanish, the language of the elite class residing in the castle. The peasantry spoke English.   The show was Musically Directed by Caroline Benzon and there were numbers in the show that were recognizable and warmed the heart. Beautifully Choreographed by Tania Possick as one eagerly waited for the next song and dance numbers – all were superb. 

Abel Alvarado, Costume Designer, did a terrific job.  The costumes were wonderful and gave this production an added boost. 

The majestic carpet ride was wonderful in execution. It confirms a specific thought that someone cared enough, and was generous enough to, one, make the carpet fly, and two, to see the production soar.
 
There is a lot to love about this production of Aladdin.  Certainly you’ve got to give it to the multitudinous actors who have put their heart and soul into the execution that will delight patrons of all ages, from the young to the young at heart.

But, this show is not without fault, which I will get to later.

Everyone knows the story of Aladdin.  Peasant boy meets girl, boy falls in love, boy loses girl, boy finds a genie, and boy gets everything he wants.

Or, another way to look at this musical, princess meets boy, princess falls in love with boy who doesn’t have a clue, princess sees the boy messing things up and getting arrested, taken into the desert, and thrown into a cave, while princess is left alone to defend herself against unsuitable suitors, the Grand Vizier, and a father who doesn’t understand her.

This particular Aladdin has a twist in that Jafar (Omar Mata) has made it so the members in the castle speak Spanish (the ruling class) and cannot communicate with the loyal subjects who speak the peasant’s English. Jafar has dreams of becoming the Sultan once he marries the lovely princess, Jazmin (Valeria Maldonado). Jafar doesn’t let anyone know of his secrets, only confiding in that wacky bird, Iago (Jason David), who doesn’t know when to keep his beak shut.

Michael Torrenueva was superb as Aladdin. In fact, he does yeoman work and has a very pleasant voice. Winning the girl as a peasant was an easy task but it was more difficult to win her as a prince.  Torrenueva played both actions with a smooth finesse.

Valeria Moldanado, as Jazmín, has a very persuasive delivery in Spanish.   There was also an underlying truth to her performance.  She was in love when she needed to be, coy when she wished, and full of vitality and strength – on top of that she has a very lovely voice.

Lewis Powell III, as the genie, sets the stage on fire with his incredible entrances and the power of his voice. He might want to add freedom to his objective starting with his entrance on stage and never giving that up. This would give the character want - whether that manifests itself physically, emotionally, or sub textually is up to the performer.

Jason David, Omar Mata


Omar Mata is the tenebrous Jafar.  On top of that wonderful height is an equally incredible voice and manner about the stage.  He is specific in his movements and his objective and appears at ease on stage.   Certainly, this is a performance not to miss.

The Royal Translators, Diana Castrillon, Blanca Espinoza, and Shanara Sanders were lovely in song and dance describing the injustices going on around the castle.

Also, the three princes, who wanted the hand of Jazmin, Alejandro Lechuga, Jesse Maldonado, and Bryant Melton, each presented a unique character, one too soft, one too hard, and one just full of himself. Lechuga and Maldonado have a terrific presence on stage and added nice touches to their roles as members of the ensemble. Maldonado always gives 110 percent.

 
Henry Aceves Madrid and Valeria Maldonado

Henry Aceves Madrid plays the Sultan and presents a fine character.

Evan Garcia played Razul.

Sebastian Gonzalez as Abu, the monkey, was fine but needs to make more of the relationship with Aladdin.  Jumping into his arms a few times is not enough to show a relationship. The relationship must be specific to give us an idea of how they work together, or don’t work together, to achieve their objective. At times, he must be the master, the slave, the ultimate thief, the caregiver, the lover, and on.

Jason David is Iago (the parrot) and has some moments that really shine.  Ironically, on this night, someone went up on his or her lines, and it was the parrot that squawked them back on track.  Iago has an objective; the problem is finding it and then building on that objective to make creative choices. Regarding the nature of using your own voice, I think it’s best to find your own voice and not an imitation of a voice heard from another medium.

Danielle Espinoza is the Magic Carpet and presents a wonderfully wicked smile as she guides the lovers onto the ultimate destination.

Rosa Lisbeth Navarrete was Rajah, the big wise cat that protects Jazmin.  There was something very sultry in her performance, a manner of inner beauty, of mysterious modus in her character. Dressed with a pieneta, an ornamental comb, like a flamenco dancer. Her craft works on a number of levels.  (I would love to see a flamenco dance from this character.)

Other members of the ensemble, which played terrific supporting roles, are Mariana Rocio Petersen, Jocelyn Sanchez, and Andrea Somera.

L - R Sarah Kennedy, Rosa Lisbeth Navarrete, Sebastian Gonzalez, Daniel Martinez

Other cast member that I did not see perform on this night are Evan Garcia (Razul), Sarah Kennedy (Jazmín), Luis Marquez (Jafar), Daniel Martinez (Aladdin), and Finley Polynice (Genie).

Rigo Tejeda, the director does a fine job with the help of a supporting crew of what seems like hundreds in this production. I have a few notes. The background scenes of the populace should flow supporting the events of the main characters rather than standing away or near the walls, which, at times, stop the action. There is too much pop culture presented rather than having the actors use their creative choices to showcase a moment, move the action, or simply sing a song.  This is possibly a perfect fit for this venue but moving it to a larger house will require additional work, especially where the actors are concerned. The execution is not clear about where the actors are at times, the cave, the desert, out of the cave, near the palace, et al., possibly because my Spanish is not that great. But overall I was able to follow the story.This show will only get better with more performances under their belt.

That said, Casa 0101 is a grand showcase for actors who have dreams, for those who want to perform, and for those who want to move a craft into a direction of perfection. The productions at Casa 0101 are moving in that direction, giving hope where there was none, breaking barriers, and encouraging diversity.

The production team played an extremely important part in having the dream come to fruition.  They are as follows:

Alysha Bermudez – Sound Designer
Jerry Blackburn – Stage Manager, Asst. Musical Director
Jules Bronola – Costumes
Ramon “Rooster” Cabrera – Assistant Stage Manager
Miguel Carachure – Sound Operator
Cristina “Crispy” Carrillo-Dono – Assistant Stage Manager
Angelique Enos – Spotlight Operator
Luis Gaudi – Photographer
Cesar Holguin – Scenic Designer
Karlo Ishibashi – Prop Master
Steve Moyer Public Relations – Publicist
Sohail e. Najafi – Lighting Designer
YeeEun Nam – Projection Designer
Edward Padilla – Casting Director
Tania Possick – Choreographer – A terrific job! (need to get those tap shoes)
Vincent A. Sanchez – Associate Lighting Designer
Soap Studio Inc. – Graphic Design/Program
Gilbert Valenzuela – Production Manager
Tony Velis – Puppet Designer
George Villanueva – Spotlight Operator   

Run! Run! And take someone who loves fantasy.

E-mail: tickets@casa0101.org or buy online at www.casa0101.org

Through February 29th, 2017

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Motherf**ker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis

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By Joe Straw

The Motherf**cker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Tony Gatto is now playing at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre through January 28th, 2017 for a very limited run in Los Angeles.

Stephen Adly Guirgis has written a masterful play of characters in dramatic intercourse – without conjugation. Set in New York, Guirgis captures the essence of these New Yorkers and adds a comedic barrage of obscenities to the mix accentuating their lives according to their own moral codes. This makes for a fascinating theatrical outing where one asks the question: if I were in the same predicament, what values would I identify with? 

Tony Gatto, the director, manages to articulate the heart, and create the physical life of Guirgis’ spoken words.  And this speaks volumes of his meticulous craft giving the audience an amazing night of precision rarely seen in a 99-seat venue. Gatto guides the characters in a way that highlights each character’s unconquerable obstinacy.      

Fayna Sanchez


Veronica (Fayna Sanchez) had three lines of coke next to her second line of offense – a bottle of gin or vodka – sitting on the small table in her dilapidated singles. An unmade mattress on the floor and a catchall love seat, all the unpleasant reflections of a life half lived.    

Today, Veronica is speaking to her mother on the phone and going a mile a minute with a Puerto Rican/New York accent – a sensory flavor that can be unquenchable when absorbed in small quantities.   When you think about it, it was probably the best time for Veronica to talk to her mother – high on coke – just to get all the words out in the least amount of time - about that man her mother is dating – asking her if she want to f*ck him or fry him.

Folding laundry, wearing only the necessities of clothing, black tights, grey sweat top, not really covering her black bra; she folds, only stopping to run back to take another snort from the neatly trenched lines on the mirror which was possibly lined with her maxed out credit card.  Bending down to take a snort, the mirror sadly reflects her eyes half shut.  Her single life, on her small table, and in her sparse apartment has got to get better.

Jackie (Jorge-Luis Pallo) appears out of nowhere, he doesn’t even knock, and one suspects a key was pulled from a lining of a forgotten pocket. But there he is, just watching, anticipating the realization of all the fantasies he had in jail.    

Oh and just from catching her eyes, there is a relationship here, a strong one, of two lovers who have not seen each other in a very long time.  Jackie brings her some flowers, a chocolate bar, movie tickets, and even pulls out a tiny fuzzy white bear for her secondary embraces.   

“Got a job.” – Jackie

“You’re sober and got a job.” – Veronica

Veronica gets a little misty-eyed knowing her Mr. man lover is employed. 

Jackie downplays his job as a porter in an apartment complex but he says there is a chance for advancement.

Any direction up is a cause for celebration.    

They embrace; well technically, they are all over each other like brown on (brown) rice.   Jackie wants to make it right now but Veronica says she’s a little gamey and wants to shower first. Veronica runs to the bathroom while Jackie starts to take off his clothes. And not short on words either Jackie shouts through the door, and the running water, so Veronica can hear him.  He undresses to his underwear until he sees a pork pie hat – a hat that is not his.

Jackie runs to the bed and smells – “dick and aqua Velvet” – on the sheets and now his mind is racing furiously. 

Veronica appears out of the bathroom in a laced bra and panties only to find the room temperature has changed.  The mood is now icy cold as Jackie inarticulately accuses, but he is unable to get the words out completely before Veronica volubly lashes out at him for making false accusations.  Jackie wants to know about the hat but the Puerto Rican rectification is flying fast and furious.

(Me thinks she protest too much.)  

It’s tough battling against her barrage, but in his squinting dumbfounderment, Veronica cuts through the mishmash of confusion, sees his slightly charming taciturn self, is somewhat hopeful, and asks him to go have pie with her.

“You’re so wrong.  Put the ghetto on hold.  Let’s go to the pie place.” – Veronica

Jackie is not much for thinking but he realizes that he has stepped out of prison and into the discomforting heat of another stockade; clearly he is out of his verbal league with this chick.

After pie, which apparently didn’t go well, Jackie runs to his AA sponsor Ralph D (Nelson Delrosario), a yeasayer, and a yoga man with a comforting health drink in his hands.  Ralph D offers Jackie a nutritional drink and shouts to his wife, Victoria (Libby Ewing) in another room to make another one.  But Victoria only shouts obscenities, a negative affirmation, something that happens a lot these days.   

“She lied to me in the pie place.” – Jackie

“Calm down.  Pray with me.” – Ralph D

And so they pray, a little, Ralph D says Veronica is an addict and maybe someone he should avoid.

From first judgment, one suspect that Ralph has got his life together – well, it’s his life, his togetherness – all except for the happy wife part.

Jackie tells Ralph D that he’s got a gun and he wants to get even with the motherf**ker with the hat. Ralph D convinces Jackie to give up the gun and Ralph D commits to stay with him until the task is done.

So, they visit Jackie’s cousin, Julio (Eddie Martinez), a funny top-heavy ambiguously gay man married to Marisol – a woman we never see. Cousin Julio has just rustled up his famous batch of empanadas and Beck’s beer for his new guest. Jackie gives the gun to Julio, who agrees to hide it, as a favor.

“Not doing this for you, doing this for your mother.” – Cousin Julio

Jackie says the gun belongs to Chuy Alvarado.  Jackie says he strolled over to the motherf**ker with the hat’s apartment, threw the hat on the floor, and then shot the hat. Jackie says he sorry about how it ricocheted into the television, and then through another man’s apartment. 

Jorge-Luis Pallo


Jorge-Luis Pallo has given Jackie a strong voice possibly to emphasize a character that is not heard.  Jackie manages to not understand the events of his life with his face constantly scrunched up in bewilderment. But, Jackie, despite going to jail for various offenses, has a newly acquired strong moral code, an unyielding rigidity of being honest and not cheating on his friend. Pallo does a tremendous job encapsulating that moral code; still there’s room for the other side of the coin when engaged with the other players who are not his girlfriend.

Fayna Sanchez is wonderful as Veronica as she gives the character a strong physical life. This is also true when she listens on stage, turning with her back to another character, deciding what she is going to do next, or how to get out of the predicament she is in. Veronica is unsure of her life, where to go, loving the one she is with, rather than the one she wants, if she wants anyone at all. This makes for emotional and conflicted woman when push comes to shove, and there’s a lot of shoving. Also, another thing, I loved the accent!

Nelson Delrosario


Nelson Delrosario is funny as Ralph D, a narcissist who believes the world and its inhabitants are there for his pleasure. He thinks nothing of hurting anyone as long as his pain is minimal. Friend, lovers, it is all a physical game to him for as long at that will last.

Libby Ewing


Libby Ewing is a very enticing Victoria.  Her performance is superb and her fluidity on stage displays a very strong craft.  At this point, Victoria’s love life is non-existent non-evident with her unreadable stare in her opening moment. Whether that is an intentional choice remains to be seen. Still, there is another choice to create a stronger relationship when she first meets Jackie, who is, after all, a single man, and possibly a future lover.  Ewing is a fascinating actor who takes risks with the character in a terrific non-stop performance.  

Eddie Martinez


Eddie Martinez is marvelous as Cousin Julio.  Martinez employs a strong craft and brings an amazing backstory to his character, Cousin Julio.  His story builds in humorous fashion taking us from his childhood to the present day. Cousin Julio is a man with strong emotional bonds and familia ties. It is a role Martinez nails exquisitely. Also, Martinez has a very strong presence on stage.  He is an actor for which you want to hear every word.

Okay, I have a couple of notes.  Don’t read any further if you can get tickets for this show.

There are times where dialogue gets in the way of intentions, which momentarily stops the action.   Those times are rare.  But, two scenes come to mind.  The first is when Jackie smells another man in his girlfriend’s apartment and when he seeks help he doesn’t notice the same smell in Ralph D’s apartment? Also, when Ralph D sees the gun, it’s unclear why he doesn’t react considering he might be the next victim. The subtext is critical when a scene is moving along.  

This show is presented in the round or rectangle.  Seating is on all four sides. Some things may have been missed when an actor has his head turned facing the opposite direction. But, the actor’s voices were strong and hardly anything was lost.

Other members of the crew were as follows:

Veronica Roy – Stage Manager
Kimber Pritts – Assistant Stage Manager
Stephanie Rios – Assistant Stage Manager

Run! Run! Run!  And take meat eater, someone who likes it juicy and raw!

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Last Straw Awards 2016 by Joe Straw

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This year’s theatrical outings have grown tenfold and are surprising in ways I could not have imagined. They made me laugh, cry, and raised an eyebrow when I saw a moment that just sent me into the stratosphere.

I’m not sure how the changes to the 99-seat rule will affect the current situation of limiting the work by AEA actors. Up until this time the work and production values kept getting progressively better, especially in the 99-seat venue, who are now competing with the big boys that want your dollars.   

What is true is that actors need to work.  The work is the instrument to their being.  They also need to be seen to validate the work.

As long as I write, I will write about the work of the writers, the directors, and the actors and keep it on the level of the work so that others may benefit. I’ll try to tell it in stories, and break some rules while I am at it, with just enough flavor for you to absorb in case you want to produce the play in your own hometown.

The Last Straw Awards 2016 are presented to the Writers, Actors, and Directors whose work I found to be inspiring, unique, and also made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention.


Writers:

Evelina Fernandez – La Olla
Bryonn Bain – Lyrics From Lockdown
Aliza Goldstein – A Singular They
Tommy Nohilly – Blood From a Stone
Carla Ching – Two Kids That Blow Sh*t Up
Robert O’Hara – Barbeque
Karen Zacarias – Mariela in the Desert
John Morogiello – The Consul, The Tramp and America’s Sweetheart
Daniel Henning – The Tragedy of JFK (As told by Wm. Shakespeare)


Actors:

Vieux Carré by Tennessee Williams – Coeurage Theatre Company – Directed by Jeremy Lelliott
Jonathan Kells Phillips
Sammi Smith

Jack & Jill A Romance by Jane Martin – Directed by Jack Heller
Tanna Frederick
Robert Standley

A Singular They by Aliza Goldstein – Blank Theatre Company – Directed by Christopher J. Raymond
Lily Nicksay

Lyrics From Lockdown by Bryonn Bain – Directed by Gina Belafonte
Bryonn Bain

La Olla by Evelina Fernandez – Directed by José Luis Valenzuela
Cástulo Guerra
Esperanza America
Evelina Fernández
Xavi Moreno

Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti – Junction Theatre – Directed by Benjamin Pohlmeir
Nicola Bertram

The Story of Alice Book & Lyrics by Michael Cormier, Music by Scott Hilzik – Directed by Gary Lee Reed
Emily King Brown
Emily Barnett

Blood From A Stone by Tommy Nohilly – LB Production – Directed by Thomas C. Dunn
Joanne Baron
Chad Brannon
Frankie Ingrassia
Jossara Jinaro
Ryan Lahetta
Gareth Williams

La Cage Aux Folles – Book by Harvey Fierstein, lyrics by Jerry Herman – Directed by Tim Dang
Jon Jon Briones  
Gedde Watanabe

The Armadillo Necktie by Gus Krieger – The Group Rep – Directed by Drina Durazo
Bert Emmett

All The Best Killers are Librarians by Bob DeRosa – The Establishment – Directed by Alicia Conway Rock
Lauren Van Kurin
Jennifer C. DeRosa

Ajax in Iraq – by Ellen McLaughlin – Not Man Apart – Directed by John Farmaesh-Bocca
Joanna Rose Bateman

Next to Normal – Music by Tom Kitt, Book & Lyrics by Brian Yorkey – Directed by Thomas James O’Leary
Isa Briones

The Two Kids That blow Sh*t Up – by Carla Ching – Artists at Play – Directed by Jeremy Lelliott
Julia Cho
Nelson Lee

Barbeque by Robert O’Hara – Geffen – Directed by Colman Domingo
Frances Fisher
Yvette Carson

Moral Imperative by Samuel Warren Joseph – Theatre 40 – Directed by Howard Storm
David Hunt Stafford
Brandee Steger

The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare) – Conceived, Adapted & Directed by Daniel Henning
Tony Abatemarco
Chad Brannon
Cris D’Annunzio
Casey McKinnon
Jacob Sidney
Time Winters

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe Revisited by Jane Wagner – Directed by Ken Sawyer
Ann Noble
Rachel Sorsa
Julanne Chidi Hill

Vonnegut USA by Kurt Vonnegut adapted by Scott Rognlien – The Next Arena – Directed by Scott Rognlien
Marjorie LeWit
Eric Normington
Paul Plunkett
JR Reed

Mariela in the Desert by Karen Zacarias – Directed by Robert Beltran
Rachel Gonzalez

Vanya, Sonia, Masha,  & Spike by Christopher Durang – Directed by Barbara Tarbuck
Michelle Danner
Nate Golon
Christine Dunford

A Christmas Carol in Prose Being A Ghost Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens – Directed by Jen Bloom  
Yael Berkovick
Mike Nedzwecki
Julianna Robinson

The Consul, The Tramp and America’s Sweetheart by John Morogiello – Directed by Jules Aaron
Brian Stanton


Directors:

José Luis Valenzuela – La Olla
Gina Belafonte – Lyrics from Lockdown
Thomas C. Dunn – Blood From a Stone
Jeremy Lelliott – Two Kids that Blow Sh*t Up
Daniel Henning - The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare) 


The Ortiz Award 2016 is given to the play that provides us with a grand presentation of diversity in a theatrical presentation. This year there are four recipients.

La Olla – The Latino Theatre Company
Two Kids That Blow Sh*t Up – Artists at Play
La Cage Aux Folles – East West Players
Barbeque – Geffen