Monday, April 20, 2015

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

James O'Halloran and Amanda Correia

By Joe Straw

Sometimes, I want to see actors - on a bare stage - in just a black box theatre. I hunger for the thespian to bring the place, to live in the space, to feel Tennessee William’s imaginary “transparent jaded portieres” brush against their body.  I want the actors to listen to the wind, shiver from the imaginary morning dewdrops, and show me they are connected in time and space in that black box. And then there are other times that – I want more. – Narrator

After reading James Grissom’s

“The Follies of God
Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog” *

- the time was perfect time to see “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, in its entirety, to get a full and complete perspective of each character’s moral imperfections.  

The Renegade Theatre presents The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams directed by Wilson Better, Produced by Richard Baker, Theodora Greece & Emily O’Meara April 9th through May 17th, 2015.

There is something off in the Wingfield family what with the peculiarities of every member of that household. Tom, an aspiring writer with no girl friend to speak of, runs off nights, not coming home until late in the evening, the early morning, doing, who knows what. And Laura, well, she’s a little touched and slightly “crippled”.  And it’s a pretty sure bet that if something doesn’t happen soon with Amanda Wingfield’s family, like getting her kids married and having grandchildren, that will be the end of her line. With no husband for emotional and financial support this family is barely hanging on.  Right now, this is a family on life support.  

Tom (Wilson Better) introduces us to the Wingfield family.  He is merchant marine now dressed in a pea coat and a skullcap, looking back at things that were, and describing a life that no longer exists.  It is Tom’s vivid recollection of events that were, or were not, depending on the days recalling abilities, or possibly his truths that have been slightly altered.   

“This play is memory.  Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” – Tom

Despite their poverty – Tom is the only breadwinner and makes little money - they sit at a sparse dinner table, in ridiculous confabulation, and just to get through it without Tom, in burning silent rage, exploding.  

Tom fed up with Amanda’s (Katherine Cortez) exquisitely obtuse dinner language, leaves to smoke a cigarette. 

Laura (Amanda Correia), in an effort to help around the house, clears the table.

“Resume your seat, little sister – I want you to stay fresh and pretty – for gentlemen callers!” - Amanda

Amanda, in story form, enlightens her children with the telling of her younger days when she entertained 17 gentlemen callers. A story she has re-told many times and still Tom humors her.

“How did you entertain those gentlemen callers?” – Tom

“I understood the art of conversation.” - Amanda

Amanda has this idea that gentlemen callers are going to rush to Laura’s doorsteps right after dinner, but there are no gentlemen callers on this night, and possibly never will be unless extreme action is taken.   

It is quite clear the objective in the first act is for all to work to get the gentleman caller into their home.  

But, there is a problem.  Laura is a loner and unwilling and unable to better herself in any capacity.  To placate her mother, she practices on the typewriter at night and pretends to go to business school during the day.

And when Amanda finds out that Laura has not attended classes, she angrily confronts her daughter.

“How old are you, Laura?” – Amanda

“Mother, you know my age.” – Laura

“I thought that you were an adult; it seems that I was mistaken.” – Amanda

Laura negotiates her way around Amanda with tiny little crippled steps, finding solace in the records her father has left her and finding comfort in her glass menagerie.

Meanwhile Amanda sets her sights on Tom’s unruly library collection in an effort to change him. 

“I took that horrible novel back to the library – yes!  That hideous book by that insane Mr. Lawrence.” – Amanda (One suspects Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence)

Amanda views Tom in a different and possibly suspicious light.  But she treads very lightly because he is the only means of support for the Wingfield family. Still Amanda thinks he is jeopardizing his job by going to the movies and staying out late nights to satisfy his crazy adventurous spirit.  

Amanda has this dreadful curiosity that all is coming to an end. 

“What are we going to do, what is going to become of us, what is the future?” – Amanda

And just when you think all is hopeless, the gentleman caller arrives, Jim O’Conner (James O’ Halloran) to give us more insight into the human condition and a lot of sub-textual life through his intercourse with the entire Wingfield family.  

Wilson Better, in his directorial debut, brings a very worthy “…Menagerie” to Los Angeles on this night, negotiating an extremely fine ensemble, to highlight Williams’s true to life foibles growing up in Missouri. There are a thousand ways to stage The Glass Menagerie, but this particular production is an actor’s venue.  One in which the actors create more than what is available on the stage.  Set pieces in this grand black box theatre indicate budgetary constraints whereas a little more imaginative symbolism could go a long way.   There is no set design, or anyone credited for that task. The title cards and the flash projections are not a part of this version.  So, we really have to rely on the actors to bring it all when they perform.  And they do for the most part.  

Part I of this play is called Preparation of a Gentleman Caller and the conflict of the first act should include not only the words but also the subtext and dramatic inner life of getting the gentleman caller through the door.  This leads us to Part II, The Gentleman calls. 

This family is dying right before Amanda’s eyes and she really has to work hard to change things fast. In the first act, the conflict needs strengthening. In the second act, the scene opening the door for the gentleman caller is meant to be humorous and filled with life – on this particular night, more could have been added. Still, these are only minor problems that would only add to a very well directed play by Mr. Better.   

Wilson Better, playing Tom, is a fantastic actor.  The words ring true; his voice is a fine instrument that promises precise poetic license, and his manner on stage quite remarkable. The lights went out on him on the night I was there, and Better recovered nicely. Still, there are moments that could have been better defined. Tom is hiding something he doesn’t want his mother or anyone else to know. This falls with inviting an unmarried man over to his place for dinner without telling that man his mother and sister will be there. However this relationship manifests itself, a richer inner life, transparent feeling, would only help to create a dramatic relationship between the two.   There is more to be made of the scene when the lights go out, especially since Tom did not pay the bill.  And there is also more to be had by the unexpected leaving of the gentleman caller. Tom is a writer, a poet, and more than likely, gay. (Reading James Grissom’s book and given the playwrights proclivities and his religious beliefs, this fits with Tom’s character.) Those small tidbits aside, Better does an exquisite job with the character in a performance that should not be missed.  

L - Katherine Cortez and Amanda Correia

Amanda Correia plays Laura Wingfield. There is more life to be had with this character. Instead the character reads tedious, lifeless, and cripple. More creative thinking is in order for a stronger physical and emotional life. In one scene, Laura falls.  There must be a reason for falling, yet the reason was not evident on this night. Laura should be in heaven dancing, having been kissed and then totally destroyed from what happens next.  There is a different life to be had, and one that will probably be changed by the time you see it.  That said Correia has a good look and does nice things on stage.

Katherine Cortez plays Amanda Wingfield and does so in fantastic fashion.  In this superb role, Cortez manages to capture the essence of Amanda and in one outstanding moment in the play, the part where she is showcasing the dress, there is a sudden realization that the dress does not do justice to her now aging body.  It is a moment wonderfully captured by this actress. Cortez also has a fine voice and a very comfortable way on stage.

James O’Halloran plays Jim O’Conner, the gentleman caller, and one would not expect that he is from Australia.  His American accent is perfect; he fills the role nicely, and manages himself on stage effortlessly.  Jim O’Conner is an interesting character.  He is a man who six years earlier was engaged.  He is unbetroth now, at least that’s what he makes himself out to be with Tom. He has a fondness for Tom.  And with his delicate raillery, has even given him a nickname, “Shakespeare” and yet, that life does not appear on stage and something O’Halloran needs to bring, however slight or accentuated.

Other members of the creative team are as follows:

Chick Vennera – Founding Director of The Renegade Theatre Group

Theodora Greece – Assistant Director

Samuels - Poster Design

Michael Healy’s Lighting Design had a few problems on this night.  The opening dinner scene was lit very softly making it hard to see the actors.  This is an extremely important scene that establishes character and creates the financial circumstances of the household that we really need to see. A little more imaginative lighting is in order.

The costumes were excellent but no one was credited in the program for that job.

Run! Run! And take a friend who is pretty and has a slight limp.

·      * A very interesting book about the women in Tennessee Williams life and how those women (Maureen Stapleton, Eva Le Gallienne, Miriam Hopkins, Lillian Gish, Jessica Tandy, Laurette Taylor, Tallulah Bankhead, Julie Harris, Kim Hunter, Geraldine Page, to name a few) influenced his writing. It also includes the men in his life.

Monday, April 13, 2015

D’ Lo: D’FunQT (defunct) by D’Lo

D' Lo - Photos by Ken Sawyer

By Joe Straw

Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center presents D’Lo D’FunQT A dedication to Queer and Trans Lives of Color written and performed by D’Lo , directed by Ken Sawyer and Produced for the Los Angeles LGBT Center by Jon Imparato, through May 3rd, 2015.  

What make D’Lo so different? Is it the haircut?  No, that’s not it. The slight Mohawk is pretty normal, and might even be a little blasé in Hollywood these days.   Is it the color of his skin?  No that’s not it either; there are plenty of brown people walking around Los Angeles who are just as dark, darker, darkest.  Pretty, in a manly sort of way, dressed up in a Dodger cap, blue t-shirt, black shirt, jeans, black adidas, and strutting around like he owns the joint.  Yep, pretty normal stuff.  

On this night, the set is eccentric.  Robert Selander’s Set Design/Scenic Artist/Master Carpenter sets the stage projecting the events of the night.  Stage right, handwritten jottings – inscribes a life – “Tamil pride” – and young photos of D’Lo as a young girl in a argyle like sweater – littered thoughts splayed out like a diary page and fulsome annotations -  descriptions of the photos plastered across the scrapped filled wall.  And small lights, improperly laid out, that illuminate the diary, placing shadows on things that were, are, and might have been. Birthday cakes, king’s crown, little red heart above “#Tamil Pride,” parents and loving family embraced in that one special moment.

D' Lo 

Upstate center, more writing, but now projections, looking like scratches on a medical professional tablet, except for

“1) folly… (Good thing I’m single),

2) …. I ≠  in 8 w Mass, I’m in.”

“? Masculinity  Beautiful  in
– Dick – Transition”

And all around there are words, thousand of words that make a life, but only for someone willing to stop a moment and read. Which leads us to stage right, of baby pictures, pictures of sisters, beautiful loving sisters, and an obtrusive mic suspended and ready to be reached, to project, and make a point.  

From the skylight above, peacefully, soft lights hang from the ceiling and burn like wickless candles, a faint flicker of something that was, that might have been, that moves on to another stage.  

These are all a marvelous accouterment to a brilliant evening of theatre of a life, from a person who will not give up to tell his part of a wonderful story – all in a somewhat linear fashion – divided by thoughts that flash from the edges of a steady stream of consciousness.

And there D’ Lo stands, telling us his life, a life, one life, of being someone special, different, but the same as you and me, all told from another perspective, his perspective.

“D’Lo is a queer/transgender Tamil-Sri Lankan-American interdisciplinary artist…” – The program.

The night starts out with D’Lo coming out like a rock star with a hoodie draped over his head, styled as an urbane hip hop artists ready to shout lyrics to this capacity crowd.

But that was not to be as D’ Lo explains: “I don’t talk like that.”

Now, D’ Lo’s voice is calm and in a higher range, his face clement, an ethereal beauty, in his manner and presentation.  He tells us this night is going to be different, here on the stage, he is going to do this, this part of the stage is slam poetry, and this part is his family.

And overall, the night is filled with rhyme, fun filled dramas, heartbreaking intense events in his life.  The night, in short, is an emotional story of color and light of how one is treated after a lifestyle is presented in full living color.  

Little is said about D’ Lo’s relationship to other women, they come, they have a relationship, and then someone is thrown out, usually D’ Lo.  One would like a few more details to even out the night.

That said, D’ Lo is a splendid performer who manages to bring his entire family to full light. The father and mother are both marvelous characters richly portrayed complete with faults of their own. One scene, with her sister, has her kissing her “girl doll” a little too long and being embarrassed by it.  

“Only bad people have sex!” – D’ Lo

Ken Sawyer, the director, does a fantastic job turning bit of pieces of D’ Lo’s life and giving it a structure, a movement, a time and a place saying don’t be alarmed this is a story of a man with a different perspective, but in another reality, normal, a new normal.

Other members of this delightful crew are as follows:

Matt Richter – Lighting Designer
Patricia Sutherland – Production Manager
Adam Earle – Board Operator
Kathleen Jaffee – Stage Manager
Caitlin Rucker – Electrics
Ken Werther Publicity – Press Relations
Norman Cox – House Manager
Jon Imparato – Director, Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center
Katie Poltz – Program Manager, Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center
Matt Walker – Coordinator, Lily Tomlin/JHane Wagner Cultural Arts Center
Norman Cox, Giorgis Despotakis, Dominic Fury, Josh Goldman, Sofia Varona – Box Office Staff

Jon Imparato makes it a point to welcome everyone to the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Arts Center and particularly to The Davidson/Valentini Theatre.  This is one of the best intimate theatres in town.  

Run!  Run!  Run!  And take someone with a wild imagination who likes to dress up.

Tickets: or call 323-860-7300

Davidson/Valentini Theatre
1125 N. McCadden Place
Hollywood, CA 

D' Lo 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Chavez Ravine an L.A. Revival – by Culture Clash

L - Herbert Siguenza, Richard Montoya, Sabina Zuniga Varela, and Ric Salinas

By Joe Straw

The sea of Latino patrons were visiting this night, Friday February 27, 2015.   

Crossing the street, I was introduced to Luis Valdez (The writer of “La Bamba”, “Zoot Suit”, and “I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges”) and his lovely wife Lupe.  Where else does this happen except in Los Angeles?

Our seats in the center, I squeezed by a standing sneering Caucasian woman to take my seat immediately to her left. And in this sea of Latino patrons, she seemed to be the only Caucasian in the crowd (a slight exaggeration). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, my mother was Caucasian. (Let’s pause for a moment on the word “bad” and “Caucasian” in keeping with the theme of the play.)

My ears pick up when this woman began to make disparaging remarks, first she commented about Fernando Valenzuela’s weight and his puffy cheeks, and then she suggested that he should go back to Mexico where he belonged. Her vitriolic gibbering and her indecorous charms were offensive and not in keeping with the respect of nearby patrons.  One was mentally tuning her out, turning her down, historically, like an old 1930s Philco radio with a busted knob.      

At one point, in the play, when the police were evicting homeowners from Chavez Ravine – “Get ‘em out of there!”  she bellowed. I let most of the distractions go.  But at the end of the curtain, a young Latina woman behind her said, “Lady, what is your problem?” “Go away! I can say whatever I want!” The man with our Latina friend said: “Honey it’s really not worth the effort. Let’s go.”  “No, I really want to know what her problem is.”  

The rows of seats kept them separated.  There were no physical thrashings. You just never know where you are going to find your drama, most of the time it’s on stage, and other times, it’s right next to you.  – Narrator.

“Chavez Ravine An L.A. Revival” by Culture Clash, which has now since closed, was a beautiful production about the insidious treatment of human beings that lived along that stretch of Los Angeles.  Beings that were forced out, with funds from the Federal Housing Act of 1949, by a process called eminent domain. The buyouts were a progression of shady backroom deals and intentions of an iniquitous nature.  

Center Theatre Group, Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director, Stephen D. Rountree, Managing Director, Douglas C. Baker, Producing Director, Gordon Davidson Davidson, Founding Artistic Director presents Chavez Ravine An L.A. Revival by Culture Clash and Directed Lisa Peterson January 27 – March 1, 2015 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

L - Ric Salinas, Herbert Siguenza, Sabina Zuniga Varela, and Richard Montoya

Culture Clash – Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Siguenza – are obsequious in their presentation – to do something unique. And I’m not so sure I want to give it a name but I might try before all is said and done. They come together in abstractionism, huddled together to go out to present a historical message, a post card of Los Angeles if you will  in their art of creation. And even if you didn’t get all of the jokes and all of the historical references, you come away an enlighten human being trying to get a grasp on man’s heartlessness to fellow man.  

The year is 1981, opening day at Dodger Stadium, young phenom pitcher Fernando Valenzuela (Herbert Siguenza) takes the mound as Vin Scully (Richard Montoya), Dodger radio announcer, watches and projects his infinitesimal colorful commentary. 

Fernando winds up, eyes reaching for the heaven, and throws his left-handed screwball, standing feet wide, perpendicular to the plate, he stares down opposing batters, or so one thinks.  

But now Valenzuela, on the pitchers mound, has a problem. Scully, along with 50,000 of the Dodger faithful observes Valenzuela staring off into space and of course Scully notices the distraction by way of his sardonic comments.  

Valenzuela’s stare is not directed to the game, the dugout, or the catcher but to the surreptitious Latinos walking toward the mound, the ghosts of Chavez Ravine as it were.     Henry Ruiz (Ric Salinas) and Maria Ruiz (Sabina Zuniga Varela), Henry’s sister, former inhabitants of the area have something to work out before they leave the earthly plain called Dodger Stadium.

Traveling back in time to 1944, Henry Ruiz is greeted by Father Thomas (Richard Montoya), complete with a welcoming brogue, embraces Ruiz for his duty to the war effort.

This is home to Ruiz for the time being.  But not for long as an unsettled Henry tells his sister Maria, and his mother, that he wants to sell the house to make way for the new housing complex, Elysian Park Heights. 

Elysian Park Heights was a grand idea of affordable housing, proposed by Frank Wilkinson (Richard Montoya), site manager of the City Housing Authority, and conceived by Richard Neutra, architect.

The inhabitants set the stage for the long protracted battle in order to keep their home on what is now Dodger Stadium.  (And you can guess who won that fight.)

L - Herbert Siguenza, Ric Salinas, and Sabina Zuniga Varela

Lisa Peterson, the incisive director, leads a show that plays into the designed disorder of Culture Clash’s delightful play. The 1940s noir setting is set around Frank Wilkinson, his predicament, and those bent on his ultimate destruction. And in this setting, neatly played, Wilkinson is a man cornered and pinned down by the worthless souls that would sell their mother for a limp cracker and a stale piece of cheese.  The action is a theatrical form of expressionism that ridicules the linear and highlights the insanity of excavating women and children from their homes and taking it a step further by discrediting people through the use of the McCarthy hearing, smearing FBI files, and bringing forth shadowy vibrations of individuals bent on throwing people out into the street. Munching on popcorn, singing “Take Me Out to The Ballgame”, and reciting Abbott and Costello’s, “Who’s on First?” is a form of Dadaism that rides and ridicules the thought that baseball, in the end, will make everything okay.  Oh say can you see.

Richard Montoya does a grand job as Frank Wilkinson as well as host of other characters.  His voice is strong, and the characterizations were powerful, each and everyone.  There was only a slight bit of forgetfulness when he was hoisted in midair, practically by his cajones, projecting a steady stream, a conscious stream of human insanities, bulging thoughts of ISIS, and laying into a local critic’s view on meretricious theater.  Montoya’s duty on this night was to make us think, to make change, and to piss off the bad Caucasian lady if only to make a difference.  And to that end, the wretched little Prometheus succeeded in dramatic fashion.

Rich Salinas projects himself as someone who practices Commedia dell’arte, always with a mask of sorts, and exaggerated physical expressions that works well for each character portrayed. He is a very physical comedian; dancing at times to make a statement.  His characters are very specific and the manner in which he breaths life into a character seems effortless.   

Herbert Siguenza inhabits a character completely in the way Constantine Sanislvaski might have.  There is a lot of depth and characterization in each role and a profound seriousness of each moment.  Siguenza appears to take pleasure in feeding off the audience - that give and take enjoyed by actors everywhere – making sure that each moment of his physical and emotional life projected out to the audience is just right.   

Sabina Zuniga Varela does a fine job as Maria, a compilation of strong Latina women that struggles in the good fight, despite their collywobbles. Certainly Maria’s role is to intenerate the backbiting hearts of the men fighting to destroy her way of life.  Varela is funny, strong, and makes her point grand in this production.

The band members and background actors are presented in a manner that works tremendously well in this production.  They are Vaneza Mari Calderón, Mandy Rodarte, Scot Rodarte and John Avila, Music Director/Arranger.  Their music was fabulous!

Rachel Hauck, Scenic Design, gave us a really nice look to the production.

Christopher Acebo, Costume Design, did a fantastic job with the costumes.  One can only imagine the changes going on backstage to back onstage.

José López, Lighting Design, was responsible for the noir lighting that gave the night a particular look and transported us back to the days of noir films.

Other members of the production are as follows:

Paul James Prendergast – Sound Design/Additional Composition
Jason H. Thompson – Projection Design
Kirsten Parker – Production Stage Manager
Brooke Baldwin – Stage Manager
Michael Ritchie – Artistic Director
Stephen D. Rountree – Managing Director
Douglas C. Baker – Producing Director
Nausica Stergiou – General Manager
Gordon Davidson – Founding Artistic Director
John Glore - Dramaturg

Also Lindsay Allbaugh, Associate Producer, who gave us brilliant work at The Elephant Stages for many years, now moves her glorious talent to The Center Theatre Group!

Virgin by Alyson Renaldo

Alyson Renaldo - Photo:  Kristin Lau

By Joe Straw

The Santa Monica Playhouse is celebrating its 50th anniversary!  Wow!  Presently, the theatre is an intimate house for eclectic one-person shows: Stogie Kenyatta’s “The World is My Home – The Life of Paul Robeson”, “Jamaica, Farewell” by Debra Ehrhardt, “A Child Left Behind” by Alan Aymie; all great nights of entertainment which have been reviewed on this blog.

Lately, there’s been a charming Caribbean crowd at the Santa Monica Playhouse.  The lovely woman to my immediate right was from the West Indies.  She yelled “Panama” to a woman in a black hat sitting near us. “Panama! (blowing three air kisses), catch you later and we talk about tings, and tings, and tings.”

Alyson Renaldo, the actor/writer of Guyanese parentage, came onstage and disrobed.  Well, she took off her shoes.  I’ve seen this before.  Now she is going to rub her tired feet, I said to myself.

But, that didn’t happen.  Instead she put on her “flip-flops” and walked over and read a couple of handwritten messages. At that moment, I could see a truth, a very simple truth, honest and forthright. 

“What are you doing here?” – Renaldo

Renaldo is a stunning statuesque woman, with beautiful teeth and a warm smile.  How she got to be thirty years old and a virgin is her emotional dialogue, her inner conflict, and the thrust of her entire emotional being that she delivers in an intimate theatrical setting.  All this makes for a delightful evening as well as funny in a most unusual way.   

The journey begins when Renaldo says she has RSVP’d to a wedding reception.

“An RSVP is an iron clad contract.” – Reynaldo

And in order for us to get the now, we must go back to the beginning and understand how this attractive, unattached, “Virginator”, and “Virgin-esque”, woman gets to the ball (no pun intended). 

In her case, consummation was an unlearned developmental skill, but by happenstance, Reynaldo was interrupted so many times in her youth, she was questioning if it was ever going to happen at all.   Forget coitus interruptus, Renaldo is a woman skilled in the art of interrupted outercourse.

What is outercourse?  Well, everything that is not intercourse, and Renaldo will take you on that journey, to that special place, where she discusses her virginity with the characters that hold a special place in her heart.  

TDN Theatre presents Virgin written and performed by Alyson Renaldo and directed by Chris DeCarlo and Alyson Renaldo at the Santa Monica Playhouse through Sunday April 19th, 2015.

“And he shall take her wife in her virginity.” – Levitucus 21:15

The journey for Renaldo starts when she’s young and kept in a state of chastity as the result of her religion, her mother, and the amusing insanity that trolls upon her synapses.

The characters in her life are specific, especially her mother, who tells her that having underage sex is like driving a Jaguar without a license.  Good idea when one thinks about it. But Renaldo uses the sage advice as a license to get her car moving on the journey to the glamorous life of youthful sex-capades and ravenous interests.

And now near the end, and at the wedding reception with Reggae music in the background, Renaldo says you don’t have to have a partner, you just dance, and eventually somebody will hop up along side of you and grind into you without asking.  (This truth played out much to the delight of the audience on this night.)

But in the end, Renaldo, the writer and actor, sends us out into the cold night air with a resounding genuineness about virginity and what that word means.  The ending strikes to the heart and gives us one more story that restores our faith in humanity.  In short, the writer takes us on an very intelligent journey and throws in a grand, funny, and physical life to boot.   

Chris DeCarlo, the co-director, finds the moments, keeps it all honest, and gives us a night of enjoyable theatre.

James Cooper is the Lighting Designer, George J. Vennes III is the Production Stage Manager and Sandra Zeitzew is the Public Relations Director.

Run!  Run!  And take someone who likes to whisper sweet little nothings in your ears. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Chorus Line – Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban, Book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante

By Joe Straw

In the late seventies, right after finishing college in Tennessee, I came to Hollywood and found work as the doorman at the Pantages Theatre.   How I got there, I’m not quite sure.   

One of the first shows playing at The Pantages was “A Chorus Line” and, on most nights, I watched from the wings, always watching.  Now that I look back on that time, well, I have great memories. Wanda Richert, Tony Teague, Scott Plank, and others - good memories - a flood of memories and one can’t help but get emotional at the sound of:

Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch...Again!
Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch...Again!
Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch...Again!
Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch...Right!

That connects with...
Turn, turn, out, in, jump, step,
Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch.

Got it?... Going on. And...
Turn, turn, touch, down, back, step,
Pivot, step, walk, walk, walk.

Right! Let's do the whole combination,
Facing away from the mirror.
From the top.

A-Five, six, seven, eight! – Zach

I have not seen a high school production of  “A Chorus Line”.  

My college professor scoffed when someone suggested we perform it, possibly because of the inherent rigorous demands of this show.  Such a production needed trained dancers, actors, and an orchestra working very hard to get this show on its feet, and he didn’t think we had the chops.  

Well, Culver City High School does a terrific job of satisfying those of us who want to relive “A Chorus Line” and get emotional. This is an excellent production with a lot of heart, exceptional performances, and that one that will have you feeling good all over again.

Culver City High School Academy of Visual & Performing Arts (AVPA) presents A Chorus Line, Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban, Book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante, directed by Jill Novick, March 6, 7, 13, 14 at 7:00 pm and March 8 at 1:00 pm at the Robert Frost Auditorium in Culver City, California.

A Chorus Line, if you are new to the planet, is about a group of hungry dancers vying for eight positions in the chorus of a major Broadway show.  The dancers chosen will be the backing the star or the leads of the show.   

A white line stretching across the stage is there to remind the dancers of their objective, to get a place on the line no matter what, using charm, voice, legs, and other accouterments.   

But Zach (Simon Johnson) isn’t going to make it easy for these dancers. He’s going to put them through the mill to see which one fits the bill.

“A, five, six, seven, eight!!!” – Zach

And so, as Zach is weeding out the dancers, everyone is giving it their all.  Through the course of the audition we get to find the dancers strengths and weaknesses. 

“Any Broadway shows?” - Zach

The weak are weeded out. The answer to that question is the death knell for a dancer trying to make it. 

Zach calls the numbers to the first dancers who have made the cut, and instructs them to get their pictures and resume out and stand on the white line.   

“Who am I anyway?
Am I my resume?
That is a picture of a person I don’t know.

What does he want from me?
What should I try to be?
So many faces all around, and here we go.
I need this job, oh God, I need this show.” - Paul

One doesn’t expect an orchestra in a high school production, but Tony Spano, Jr. the Music Director and Conductor does a remarkable job using students and a few professional musicians playing the music and making the night a glorious event.

Singular, or the collective whole one might call this group of thespians who worked well together.

Sensation is a term describing the night.

And while we’re on the subject, one initial observation is the young women have had more dance training than the high school young men. But what the men lacked in skills made up for it in character development and “personal flair”.

Emma deZarn does a fantastic job as Cassie.  Her acting is superb and her dancing is first rate.  To quote someone after the show “Emma deZarn nailed it!” “The Music and the Mirror” dance is wonderful.

Adriana Romero is tremendous as Diana and gives a lot of life to the song “Nothing”.  The song is moving in many ways and Romero is up to the task of finding a character that is fully developed.

Khamiya Terrell towers over the rest of the cast giving us the idea that she is much older as Sheila is supposed to be. She is funny and sassy all in the same breath.   “At the Ballet” is one of the highlights of the show and Terrell, Claire Skelly as Maggie, the product of an unhappy marriage, and Isabel Parra as Bebe, the unattractive daughter - all have wonderful and strong singing voices, creating a sense of being at ballet classes and dealing with their parents.   

Carly Shiever plays Val who sings Dance: 10; Looks: 3 is another highlight of the show. Shiever has a very strong voice and a nice stage presence.

Elisa Spear plays Judy one of the toughest roles of this musical to get just right.  She is kind of clumsy, forgetful, and sometimes scatterbrained, but a gifted dancer.  Spear is exquisite in the role.

Sonya Broner and Angel Salas play the husband and wife team Kristine and Al respectively as they form a duet to sing “Sing”.  Salas does a great job with the relationship and has a very nice presence on stage. Broner does well singing off key but could go even farther off key.

Courtney Lundy plays Connie to perfection and has a very nice way about her on stage.

Raegan Harris has a superior voice playing Reggie, usually the character is reserved for a male dancer Ritchie, but Harris did a fantastic job and it worked perfectly.

Others rounding out the outstanding female cast were Sarah Toutounchain as Vicki, Mikaela Barocio as Tricia, Rachel Gonzales as Rachel, Paxton Amor as a dancer, and Katy Engel as Lois who has a very nice presence and lovely dance skills.

Samuel Petersen plays Mike Costa and has a great tap number in “I Can Do That”.  I always thought this number was too short in the musical and way too long in the movie.  Still Petersen gives it the right amount of time it deserved.

Oliver Berliner is Don Kerr from Kansas City.  Berliner has a wonder face for theatre and manages his role with aplomb.

Ryan Gacula does a respectable job as Paul and manages to convince us that he has done all that he has done in his young life.

Reno Behnken is Gregory Gardener.  Reno is another actor with a great character face and appeal.  

Andrew Alvarenga is Bobby Mills a dancer from upstate New York who believes committing suicide in Buffalo is redundant.  Alvarenga is extremely amusing in the role and has a natural ability on stage.  

Ben Hilsberg is Mark Anthony, a first timer who will work very hard to get on the line.   

Simon Johnson is wonderful as Zach.  His voice is strong and he could give more emotional life to “A – five, six, seven, eight!”

Henry Farfan is Tom, Owen Jones plays Butch, Gabe Lobet is Frank and Nicholas Freeson is Roy.  

Jill Novick, the director, did a great job of getting this musical onto The Robert Frost Auditorium stage.  There is a rich history with Novick and this show and the love just comes pouring through in every singular moment. This is a tremendous job and Culver City High School is lucky to have her.  

Julie Carson, The Choreographer, also did a tremendous job with the look of the show.

Jacky Jung did a marvelous job with the Chorus Line costumes – not sure where she got them, of if they were tailored made, but they just looked fabulous in the closing number, “One”!

Members of the orchestra, and I especially love the trombones were:

Judy Gottesman – accompanist
Peter Marcus – keyboards
Patrick Gardner – bass
Josh Zucker – percussion
Bella Rivera – flute
Sadushi De Silva – flute
Alberto Cruz – clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax
Kent Seeberger – clarinet
Niko Vlahakis – flute, alto sax
Milo Bechtloff Weising – bari sax, clarinet
Paul Witt – trumpet
Mikael Nida – trumpet
June Satton - trombone
James Tingle – trombone

Other members of the creative team are as follows:

Lighting & set design – Kristen Opstad
Sound design – Will Schuessler
Stage Manager – Cricket Cary-Green

Relive the dream once again and take someone who has seen it a number of times.