Friday, May 10, 2019

Brain Problems by Malcolm Barrett

Malcolm Barrett - Photos by Eugene Byrd

By Joe Straw

A brain arteriovenous malformation may not cause any signs or symptoms until the AVM ruptures, resulting in bleeding in the brain (hemorrhage). In about half of all brain AVMs, hemorrhage is the first sign.

But some people with brain AVM may experience signs and symptoms other than bleeding. In people without hemorrhage, signs and symptoms of a brain AVM may include:
  • Seizures
  • Headache or pain in one area of the head
  • Muscle weakness or numbness in one part of the body
Some people may experience more-serious neurological signs and symptoms, depending on the location of the AVM, including:
  • Severe headache
  • Weakness, numbness or paralysis
  • Vision loss
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Confusion or inability to understand others
  • Severe unsteadiness
Symptoms may begin at any age but usually emerge between ages 10 and 40. Brain AVMs can damage brain tissue over time. The effects slowly build up and often cause symptoms in early adulthood.

Once you reach middle age, however, brain AVMs tend to remain stable and are less likely to cause symptoms. – Mayo Clinic –

They are probably best friends, the best of friends on the planet.  Unusual dressers and lovely together in the way they just mesh in the apartment they share.

Donnie (Malcolm Barrett) and Emma (Kim Hamilton) love each other.  There’s no question about that. It’s obvious.  They can say the most unpredictable things to one another and neither one will be fazed by off-the-cuff or provocative remarks. Their love is amicable and happily platonic.

Emma is sometimes gnarly, which is only a slight problem and easily remedied.  But Donnie has brain problems, something he can’t help – a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM) if you must know.   

Ammunition Theatre Company presents Brain Problems, a new comedy by Malcolm Barrett – directed by Bernardo Cubría and produced by Karen Sours Albisua at the Pico Playhouse through May 19, 2019.

A big bottle of prescription pills sets in plain sight, on another level of the coffee table. When Donnie has the need, he takes the pill and chews it down, waiting until the digested medicine makes a mad dash to his withering brain.

It is a forgone conclusion; Donnie will be dead, as dead as the doorbell, deader than Jacob Marley (not seen).  But he’s not dead now. While he’s telling everyone that he is inching his way into death, he looks perfectly normal.  It’s just something he says for effect.

Well, no use crying over split milk. They have get on with their lives and try to live normally.  What little time is left must be – productive time.  

And so the friends meet, Zoe (Tina Huang), Josh (Jason Ryan Lovett), Ray (Michael Feldman), and Cynthia (Brit Manor) – all seeking to save the world. At least that’s something they can save.  

L- R Brit Manor, Michael Feldman, Tina Huang, Jason Ryan Lovett

But, even in a normal state of mind, Donnie finds this meeting – à la Robert’s Rules of Order – perplexing. It’s as if he were, or has some kind of a relapse, but not at this moment. In other moments, they become all too obvious.  

And, it’s neither here nor there, that Donnie spills the beans with a few truths. He blurts out that Ray is gay, and Ray’s girlfriend, Zoe, is having sex with their mutual friend, Josh.

And wouldn’t you know it, Ray lets everyone know that Donnie just outed him, in his living room, and in the company of his friends.  

Donnie, caught off guard, is a little surprised by the things he says, or sees in this terminal stage of his life and, at this point, visuals fly by from all different directions, including the dancing penises – happy visual projectiles that sing.

Donnie, has a friend, Malcolm (Brandon Scott), that visits him.  Malcolm is his wingman, his second, his alternative self, the parrot on his shoulder, and mostly his imaginative self. Malcolm has the ability to move among the quiet and at times frozen unsuspecting friends to impart his wisdom, in whatever form that takes. Malcolm is ultimately the taker.

One thing is sure, Emma and Donnie are so tight that Emma is the only other person that sees Malcolm.

Malcolm Barrett’s play is extremely funny!  Smartly written, and the laughs come fast and furious. The play works on fascinating levels, negotiating real time and space, where reality can also be an out-of-body experience or a fragment of misaligned cells running amok.  Either way we are placed into two realities, Donnie’s reality – and the reality of what is going only in Donnie’s deteriorating brain.

Benardo Cubría, the director, is spot on with the actors who move effortlessly in and out of reality and through the fourth wall. Cubría takes us there and asks us to take a leap of faith, into a reality within ourselves. Life, death, time, and imagination have no boundaries in theatre and this is an example of supreme art of expressive theatre. Cubría’s perspicacity and knowledge of the craft of theatre is outstanding.  

Kim Hamilton, and Malcolm Barrett

Kim Hamilton is excellent as Emma, the friend and roommate who knows her roommate so well that she brings him in and out of whatever is happening in his brain. With all the mayhem, dancing, and meetings, there is one constant person in his life, Emma.  And the ending is remarkable. It is a simple moment - of her being present and in the moment - that was astonishing and one that I will carry with me for a long while.  

Tina Huang has a lot of funny moments as Zoe. She’s in and out of a relationship in a heartbeat and where that leads us is anyone guess.  It seems there must be more to the character, finding a relationship, making it solid, and then moving on to the one who is dying.  

Jason Ryan Lovett has a lot of fun as Josh – the Dudley-Do-Right of this group. Lovett lets it all go in this romp and is having too much fun.

Brit Manor plays Cynthia a bi-sexual woman slightly attracted to the man who is ill in a bi-sexual way, neither in nor out, together or apart. Manor has an incredible presence on stage and is very watchable.

Brandon Scott has a lot of funny moments as Malcolm, the invisible consciousness, who shuffles mysteriously in the background, one suppose is waiting for his real self to croak. And what happens after that is anyone’s guess. Scott is all over the place, doing funny things.  But is he the guide to the great mysterious beyond? Certainly, an objective leading in that direction would only add to the character.     

Michael Feldman is Ray, the gay man.  That’s all.  Feldman and his facial expressions light up the room.  There is more to add to this character in terms of objective and his relationship with Donnie that progresses that relationship along. Or, perhaps we need something more in the writing.

Malcolm Barrett is excellent as Donnie. Donnie is not reticent, says what’s on his mind to get his truth out, never mind that he might be destroying someone’s life in the process. He’s dying, and he is getting away with everything.  Barrett takes us in and out of his reality effortlessly. There is probably more room to add to the characteristics of a man suffering with AVM. Small thing to add to his already outstanding performance.  

These understudies did not perform the night I was there: Ahmed Best, Alice Hunter, Nicole Pacent, Peter Pasco, Michael Rachlis, Karen Sours Albisua, and Jonathan Tchaikovsky.

Other members of the crew that make the night a special night are as follows:

Amanda Knehans – Set Designer
Mischa Stanton – Sound Designer
Masai Mitchell – Lighting Designer
Beth Morgan – Costume Designer
Stephen Rowan – Puppet Master
Brit Manor – Dance Choreographer
Ahmed Best – Fight Choreographer
Arturo de la Garza – Graphic Design
Camella Cooper – Stage Manager
Ken Werther Publicity – Press

There is something magical about the Ammunition Theatre Company.  The talent is top notched and the vibes are exquisite.  

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who loves to laugh.


The Pico
10508 W. Pico Blvd.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Working 2020 by Various Writers - Robert Mangiardi, Amamda Moresco, Thomas Polanski, Ryan Surratt, Howard Skora, Joseph Lyle Taylor, Krissy Shook, Beverly Leech, Anne DeSalvo, Pauline Schantzer, Goya Robles

WORKING 2020 Cast_Photo by Kenny Johnston

By Joe Straw

As a young actor, I sought to do more than say the lines with emotion. Rather pursuing further depth to a character, and accelerating that character with a creative physical life that intrigued me. I had to know more about the inner life, one that gives nuance and unusual mannerisms. It was important to gather that knowledge, to build a character, and to give my monster life.

Observation, as valuable as that was, wasn’t enough

Someone recommended Studs Terkel’s Working (1974 Pantheon Books) as a indispensable source of information about the inner thoughts of ordinary human beings and how they managed their working life.  Every actor should have this book in his or her library.

Whitefire Theatre in Association with the Actor’s Gym presents the world premiere of Working 2020, a new play created by Bobby Moresco and written by the Members of the Actor’s Gym through June 1, 2019.

Working 2020 is not really a play but an homage as well as a series of monologues written by the members of The Actor’s Gym. 

The idea here, one supposes, is to watch and consider how an actor can convey their truth in a realistic character.  And although there is a lot to be said of the truth, there is also the question of why.  Why are the characters telling us their story?  Because, they speak to a group from experience, giving knowledge to workers, parents, or professionals. Permit me to take a stab and imagine their audience.   

There is indeed more to this, in the presentation, naytheless. I found the night intriguing and embraced the intoxicating performances. And, of course, I have some observations.

On a blackened stage, eleven chairs were upstage waiting for the characters to appear, and they do – in almost a march – to their respective seat.

Everyone tells his or her story, alone.  There are some exceptions when other performers fill in the necessary gaps to support those front and center.

The Trucker by Beverly Leech – Directed by Robert Mangiardi

The Trucker (Maureen Teefy) fits the bill as a fifth-generation truck driver, jean jacket and pants, boots, trucker earrings, and necklace. She’s really small but what she lacks in size, she makes up in commitment to the job.

Maybe small is not the word, maybe fragile.  But she is able to handle any given situation on the road, the truck, and the truckers that she rides with.

This is a story for up-and-coming female truckers and survivors.

Tom Bower

The Orderly written and directed by Ryan Surratt

The Orderly (Tom Bower) has a moment to share and it’s mostly about his work and how he is able to cope with the job of mostly cleaning.  He is an orderly first and foremost and takes pride in his work. He can clean anything, even blood and that includes his wife’s.

Tom Bower manages to bring the background with him, be it that of the character or of his own life, it doesn’t really matter.  The life is all there, his liquescent eyes tell a remarkable story, his mannerisms creates a life now and all that has come before.

And he directs his story to the ones coming in after him.

I’ve been an admirer of Ryan Surratt’s work and he does not disappoint.  

The Mother by Amanda Moresco – Directed by Jessica Moresco

The Mother (Elizabeth Grullon) is sleek and slender and certainly someone who is caring especially to her two-and-a-half year old son.  But her son has problems – notably autism – and she struggles with finding a solution.  Almost all days, he is a constant source of aggravation. 

Being a single mother of a troubled child, she finds that just taking the moment to be with her son makes all the difference in the world.  Grullon gets to the heart of that moment and, in doing so, creates an unforgettable character. The truth is in her simplicity of character and the depth of her characterization.  Beautiful work!

She presents her story to families that want hope in their troubled lives.

Beautifully written by Amanda Moresco.  

Michael Pare

The Fireman by Robert Mangiardi – Directed by Bobby Moresco

The Fireman (Michael Pare) lives a dream, a life of being a fireman. It is an important job and one that people respect including family members. But something goes awry and the father and son lives are forever changed.

Pare gives a detail description of being a fireman almost as though he lived it. He is stout and one can imagine him moving up stairs with hoses, breathing apparatus, and other equipment.

In the end, the person receiving the story (the audience) realizes the fireman is telling us the story for a reason, but we only get a small hint of what is coming over the course of the telling.

What if he were telling his story to the families that have lost a loved one.

The Marriage Counselor by Howard Skora – Directed by Bob Costanza

Joe Pacheco is the marriage counselor, a cool, calm, and a collector of sententious rhetoric to dole out to patients.  He is also a giver of the truth in the ways that he handles those couples.

Sometimes a calm discussion and pithy saying won’t work and he hasn’t come to grips with that reality involving his wife.   She angrily confronts him as he calmly discusses their situation.  She threatens to leave him if he doesn’t throw the chair, an ultimatum for which he does not want to engage.

Pacheco gives us the character of an educated man, one who has worked hard to keep his composure.  And that character doesn’t give an inch, but in the end learns a valuable lesson. Pacheco is terrific in the role.

For people who have lost their marital way.  

The Hairdresser Written, Directed and Performed by Anne DeSalvo

The Hairdresser was one of my favorites. Lucy reared by her father, a gravedigger, teaches his daughter the importance of work. Lucy takes the advice to be the best hairdresser in Bensonhurst. Yes, that is a goal.  

Lucy gathers the courage to move up in the world and applies for a job in a very swank salon in Manhattan.  But, her roots infiltrate the very core of her Bensonhurst character and she is her own worst enemy pushing her to stay where she belongs.

Gathering the courage is for the group to which she speaks.

DeSalvo, complete with Brooklyn accent, lives this story in the way she is haunted by her past. She portrays a woman who is her own worst enemy. Her work is sublime.

Tonya Cornelisse

The Writer by Krissy Shook and Directed by Emma Barrett

This is a story of an out-of-work writer. She is an individual who will take any job as a writer as long as she is paid.   She is hired by two old porn producers to come up with something creative.  She doesn’t and they send her on her way, well almost.  She moves forward, gathering information and creatively produces words on a page that will have her producers shivering with delight.  And, of course, she gets paid.

Tonya Cornelisse is exceptional as the writer, a woman who is unfazed by the words of her new job.  Her performance abounds with courage and a never-say-die attitude.

She tells her story to the up and coming New York Times journalists.

The Actor by Thomas Polanski and Directed by Larry A. McLean

On this particular night, Thomas Polanski, as the actor, was tense and let the words get the better of him and in an explosion of thought he just let it all go.  That helped him into a better place.

Possibly, on another night, he will take a deep breath and own the performance.

The Waitress by Pauline Schantzer and Directed by Julia Hoff

Pauline Schantzer, the waitress, moved out when she was 17.  Not a wise move and she knows it, because she is working as a waitress earning $30.00 for an eight-hour shift. Self-independence is a reckless thing when little awaits you outside your home.

One really didn’t get into the details of her job or her life. This one needs more work. There is something more with a stronger objective.

Goya Robles

The Hustler by Goya Robles and Directed by Javier Molina

Goya Robles is a hustler, the hustler, a Latino, casual in his way, doing what needs to be done to help his mother so they can live without being thrown out into the street. It’s unfortunate that that thing he does leads him into jail.  

Robles is coy in the way he tells the story, leaving out enough of the particulars to be ambiguous, to put him in a favorable light, and to keep his mother off the streets. A little less ambiguous and a little more theatrical will help define and keep the truth.    

Joseph Lyle Taylor

The Welder by Joseph Lyle Taylor and Directed by Bryan Rasmussen

Joseph Lyle Taylor is exceptional as the welder, a man who understands the value of being in the middle class and working for a union. Taylor is a scrupulous actor and manages to bring an extraordinary life to the character, a simple man looking out for the welfare of his co-workers.

He is speaking to his fellow union workers, wanting you to take issue with vulture capitalists.  He wants you to get up out of your seats, proclaim solidarity, and fight together for a better life.

Bryan Rasmussen, director, hits all the right notes on Taylor’s performance. One would not be surprised if the audience rose to their feet in future performances.

Bobby Moresco, Producer, Creator, and Director, puts together an exciting night of theatre of simple people with challenges who manage to overcome adversity and rise above the fray.

Bryan Rasmussen, Producer, showcases exciting talent at the intimate Whitefire Theatre and this night was exceptional.

Others involved to make it a successful night are as follows:

Steven Christopher Parker – Producer/Assistant Director
Tor Brown – Technical Director
Larry A. McLean – Assistant Director
Derrick McDaniel – Lighting Designer
Nora Feldman – Publicist

Run! Run! Run! And take an actor - someone who loves to talk about the craft. 

Check out for show times and reservations.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Birdland Blue by Randy Ross Ph.D.

L to R - Eddie Goines, Damon Rutledge, Michael D. Ricks, Marcus Clark Oliver, Rogelio Douglas III, Jermaine Alexander - Photos Ian Foxx

By Joe Straw

“ Will you ever get married again?” – Harry Reasoner

“To who?” – Miles Davis

“To anybody.” – Harry

“ I know there’s a couple of guys I’ve been looking at but, never a woman again.” – Miles

There is a surprise upon entering the intimate theatre space. It is a club, with small round tables and a dark atmosphere with an invasion of shades of light. Take a seat, high or low, and listen to the beautiful sounds of the trio in the balcony, a percussionist (Ricardo Mowatt), a saxophonist (Randy Ross also the writer of the play), a stand up bassist (Marion Newton), soul jazz, and suddenly one is lost in the music.

They came, this date night, shoulder-to-shoulder, and dressed to the hilt, happy and spoke to greet, handclasps, and shoulder bumps, introductions, and self-salutations as the patrons rhythmically dripped into their seats and settled.

The Robey Theatre Company in association with the Los Angeles Theatre Center present Birdland Blue by Randy Ross PhD and directed by Ben Guillory through May 12, 2019.

Miles Dewey Davis (Marcus Clark Oliver) sat on the piano bench, the weight of the world on his shoulders, circles under his eyes, weathered, bent with sadness, holding his trumpet between his legs, in his dressing room now, and away from the prying eyes. The interruptions that will come from behind the wall is something he doesn’t need now.

Right now, Paul Chambers (Rogellio Douglas III), sleeps on a couch, although not an official slumber, sleeping off drugs. And, his standup bass? Man, that’s nowhere in sight. What good is a sextet without the bass? That will have to be addressed in the later state of his consciousness.  

For now, they wait for the night, to get on, and listen, yearning for the wrong note that will lead to the next right one. Not going on is not an option – always scratch – a necessity to fill the void and feed the family.

Silently with background music, the others make their way, dark suits, down from the balcony, through the seats in the club and on to their instruments, smooth in the way to that dark spot, and eventually into the light.

Jermaine Alexander, Rogelio Douglas III, Michael D. Ricks, Damon Rutledge, Eddie Goines, Marcus Clark Oliver

Birdland Blue, in its world premier, is an exquisite play that carries with it the poetic swirling sounds of one-to-one. In short, Ross’s play is superb.  In execution, the dialogue elevates in improvisation, it eliminates time, and the interchange between parties is spoken pointillism creating patterns of electrifying discourse. Framed by an outline, the improvisation carries the set, which finally gives structure to their arrangement and produces light from the darkness.

In its simplest form, Birdland Blue, through one’s imaginative spirit, is the story of Miles Davis recruiting band members for the makeup of The Miles Davis jazz sextet.

But a more complex look would be Miles Davis screaming for identity, fighting for a specific sounds, telling those who would listen, friend or foe, and fighting without question for money to feed those that have come along for the journey. 

That said, there are observations that will come later.

Mo Goldman (Charles Isen), the manager of the current club establishment, takes it upon himself, to try to swindle money from Miles Davis. Moe, himself being fleeced by Detective O’Brian (Darrell Phillip), wants Davis to play five sets but paid for only four sets. Davis wants five payments for five shows.  If Moe wants the fifth, he has to pay for it.

“Don’t f**k with my money, Moe.” – Miles Davis.

Davis then finds out that Paul Chambers, upon gaining consciousness, has hocked his double bass for drug money. Davis gives him money to bring the bass back.

Lucinda Holmes (Tiffany Coty) from Upbeat Magazine maneuvers to get an interview with Miles Davis, his journey that got him there to that night.  But, Miles wants to play, not really believing that a reporter can remember everything without taking notes or carrying a recorder.

And so she gets her story.

Telling more would give too many moments away.

Marcus Clark-Oliver is superb as Miles Davis. Torn and tattered, Clark-Oliver gives weight and incredible emotional depth to the character and strength to an emotionally drained Davis. Beyond the background of his life, he finds the wherewithal to use his métier to negotiate and get his way.  Clark-Oliver uses his instrument with sincere intelligence as Miles to convert 1959 America to move in his direction. This is a wonderful must see performance by Clark-Oliver and surely one not to miss.  

Damon Rutledge is also incredible as Julian “Cannonball” Adderly a man who has lived many lives to get to the point of his current position. The dialogue between Adderly and Miles is pure poetry and is a highlight in the show. Rutledge is smooth in all of his interactions on stage and his enthusiasm in the last scene is emotionally uplifting.

Jermaine Alexander plays Tenor Saxophonist John Coltrane aka “Trane” the man who would not stop practicing his horn despite the problems with his teeth. Coltrane has a nice interaction with Miles who offers money for medical treatment. There is more to add to this character in the manner that is Trane.  

Tiffany Coty plays Upbeat Magazine reporter Lucinda Holmes, possibly a fictional character in this world of live characters, and seems to withstand the barrage of men coming on to her throughout.  Her naiveté plays well in these circumstances because she is there for the story and she gets her story along with a solo to boot. Coty is an intelligent actor, very instinctual, and fun to watch.

Rogelio Douglas III has a very nice presence as Paul Chambers the bass player.  There is a moment in the play where he has a solo after he has retrieved his bass from the pawnshop. The character has a serious drug problem and the scene needed want to explore the reality of his predicament.  What does he love the most? And, what does he want out of this moment? The inherent conflict is embedded from what he wants the most, what he loves the most, his bass or, his drugs?  Or, is he caught in this dilemma forever?

Eddie Goines is amazing as Wynton Kelly, a Jamaican American complete with accent. Goines, as the piano player, brings a lot of style and class with his portrayal.  It is a smooth performance as smooth as though he were playing the piano.

Charles Isen is successful as Mo Goldman, the manager of the jazz club. More needs to be made of his relationship with Miles Davis.  Now it appears that Mo is a little uneasy, very tentative, as though he were walking on eggshells.  Possibly there a little more strength to be found in the character.

Darrell Phillip is Detective O’Brian a cop who steals and plays havoc with the manager of the jazz club.  The scene near the end needs work and must have a purpose whether it be poetic or purposeful.  The scene cries for a strong resolution.

Micheal David Ricks plays Jimmy Cobb and like all drummers seems to be the quiet one in the background.  A little more writing of this character should help the actor mesh with other characters on stage.  One is not sure if this character is fully developed. 

Kudos goes to Ben Guillory, the director and producer, for pushing this original work of art through workshop to production.  Guillory manages to showcase the actors playing musicians without playing a note.  The work is excellent, filled with life, vitreous glitter, unfathomable shadows, and in a manner that gives life to these musicians that rings a truthful chord. The opening is brilliant and the ending needs works and everything in between is remarkable jazz.

Shaw Jones and Jason Mimms are alternates that did not perform the night I attended.

Naila Aladdin Sanders, Costume Designer, gives life to the period.  The costumes were magnificent!

There is live music and that is an extra-added bonus! Randy Ross the Musical Director makes this night soar.

Other members of this remarkable crew are as follows:

Di Smith – Associate Producer
Ernest Gardner – Set Designer
Micheal D. Ricks – Lighting Designer
Sorlie Reeves – Production Stage Manager
Eric Taylor – Assistant Stage Manager
Jason Mimms – Graphic Artist
Curt Romany – Prop Master
Shawn Michael Warren – Set Painter

Run! Run! Run! And take a jazz aficionado, someone who has an unquenchable thirst for jazz.

The Robey Theater
514 S. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA  90013


Instagram: @robeytheatrecompany
Youtube: @robeyconnect

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

There and Back by Raul Garza

Liza Fernandez

By Joe Straw

The Company of Angels has moved from its downtown Spring Street address to 1350 San Pablo St., Los Angeles, California.  The location has plenty of free parking and their new home is an intimate theatre and an incredible space for you to venture out to see.

There and Back written by Raul Garza and directed by Michelle Bossy is now playing at the Company of Angels through April 21st, 2019.

Immigrants, especially those from the south of the United States, have been consistently treated unfairly throughout my lifetime. But, human beings move for a reason, for a better life.  And despite the injustices put upon them, they endure living here.  They are very dependable, extremely loyal, and work with so much ferocity knowing their lives depend on it.

Raul Garza has written a beautiful play about the struggles of an immigrant family living in the United States from the 1960’s up to the present. The dialogue rings a sincere truth, and an honest perspective of the human struggle.  

Gloria (Liza Fernandez) has arrived from Mexico to be with her husband, Victor (Bernardo Cubria), a farm laborer.  But she soon discovers that their home is nothing more than a smelly converted chicken coup.

Anna Lamadrid and Liza Fernandez

Gloria lights a Virgen de Guadalupe scented candle to rid the living space of the smell only to have Guadalupe (Anna Lamadrid) appear.  The saint and the sinner agree to speak English to get acclimated to the United States.

But this Guadalupe, rather than offer hope and inspiration, is rather saucy and cynical in the way she brings freedom to the enslaved Gloria, who has at this point in her life nowhere to go.

“You don’t have a choice.”  Guadalupe

Liza Fernandez and Bernardo Cubria

In Garza’s play, there are no do-overs as Gloria struggles day-to-day to make a better life for herself and her husband.  But there’s a problem, mostly her womanizing husband who never has time to come home and help with their life struggles.

Gloria has a moment, with suitcase in hand; either walk out of her current predicament, or stay.  She chooses the latter rather than listen to her heart. And, ever the optimist, in the back of her mind, she feels that she is smart enough to do better for the both of them.  

Because of that decision, she struggles with her marriage, her pregnancy, her conservative son, Rey (Bernando Cubria), and then her grandson, Max (also Bernardo Cubria).

There is a lot to like in Liza Fernandez’s performance as Gloria.  Mostly it is her strength in that character that guides her through her life and throughout her performance. Fernandez creates a character that never gives up no matter who she has to fight. In the end, she has lost some battles and they weigh her down terribly but she never gives up. This is a performance to watch multiple times in order to fully grasp the nuance. Her accent is spectacular and her actions on stage are fluid!

Anna Lamadrid is Guadalupe, a different type of Guadalupe, a spicy one with an eye on fashion of the day.  A woman not fixed on wearing robe but one who likes the finer things in life with a shot of tequila. This is the second show that I’ve seen in as many weeks that featured the Virgen de Guadalupe. And the question that keeps coming up in this character is, why is she there? What is she there to give other than solicitude?  What is the unholy impetus that moves her into a focused drive, an objective? And how does that carry us into the future? Ambiguity is nice in a character, leaving us with some unanswered questions, but the character has to move in a certain direction to give us hope, and an idea of finality.  That said, there is much to enjoy in Lamadrid’s performance and the manner in which she gives life to the character.  

Bernardo Cubria plays Victor (the husband), Rey (the son), and Max (the grandson). While they have similarities, Cubria gives each character a unique and well-defined physical life. Sadly, they are all the heavies.  There’s not much to like of the three characters since they all have conservative ideas on how the world should work.  For instance, Victor is a man who loves his freedom more than a committed relationship. He is a misogamist unfocused in his commitment to his wife and an obscurantist when explaining his whereabouts.  How do these characters move Gloria to her final destination? The ways in which they move her have to be significant moments that change the direction of the character. Those reactions must be absorbed, and then defined before moving on.  

Michelle Bossy, the director, does a find job with the material.  The actors find a way to be natural within the period of the times, the sixties, seventies, and eighties, through today.  The title of the play is There and Back and one would suggest the play is finding the way back, the through line that gets her there.  Gloria seems to get there with the help of the Virgen but the ambiguous ending is not clear on how that transpired.

Raul Garza has written a terrific play and certainly one with a lot of heart.  The characters are honest, funny, and without question all living their own lives, in dramatic form and justification.

Special notice to Lowell Bartholomee, Sound Designer, and Alina Goodman, Additional Sound Design, who did marvelous work with the radio sounds.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Alina Goodman – Stage Manager
Justin Huen – Lighting Design
Audra Ihlenfeld – Fight Choreographer

There’s more to be said but time is running short as this play has a limited run and ends this weekend.

Run! Run! Run!  And take a parent or grandparent who immigrated to the United States. 


Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Mother of Henry by Evelina Fernández

Xavi Moreno and Cheryl Umaña - Photos by Andrew Vasquez
By Joe Straw

Henry had his own special spot in this home, a bedside photo, a young man revered and cared for by a very strong woman.  But now he is grown and off to see the world, via the Navy and Vietnam.

So, throughout the course of this play, Henry is not physically there. But he seems to be nearby both emotionally and spiritually.  It is a safe assumption as to why the title of the play is called The Mother of Henry, because she’s present, all the time, and he is not.  - Narrator

The Latino Theater Company Presents The Mother of Henry written by Evelina Fernández and directed by José Luis Valenzuela through April 20th 2019.

Upon entering the theatre Yee Eun Nam, Projection Designer, slips the audience comfortably into the 1960’s with projections on the walls of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy.   The Scenic & Lighting Design by Emily Anne MacDonald & Cameron Jaye Mock effectively placed pipes gives symbolic shape to form of the Sears Tower building in downtown 1960’s Los Angeles.   The bars also form an elevator that is put to good use.

Connie (Cheryl Umaña) doesn’t have a problem with her name, Concepcion. Although others constantly mispronounce her name, she shortens it to Connie, an Americanized version from/for/of the place she calls home. She is the mother of Henry and also takes care of her Mamá (Esperanza America) a wildly puerile cantankerous woman - wheel chair bound - wrapped in colorful woolen scarves who takes no guff from anyone including her daughter, Henry’s mother.   

Gary Patent and Cheryl Umaña
On the first day of the job Connie is hustled to the upstairs offices of the Sears Tower.  She doesn’t think much of her abilities as Herb (Gary Patent) from Human Resources elevates her to the floor and then moves her to her desk of the returns department.  She muses out loud that she should be working the basement rather than in the office upstairs.

But now Connie will try to make the best of it as she meets her co-workers Olga (Mary-Beth Manning) a straight, white, Canadian motherless being, and Loretta (Ella Saldana North) who takes pride in her constant complaints.

They are supervised by Manny (Xavi Moreno) a married man, ambiguously separated, and very much on the prowl with the three ladies in his department.  When he is there, if there is a heaven for Manny, the office must be that place.

On the face of things Connie’s life is looking up, but now she has to worry about her son in the military, her mother, and Manny who won’t take no for an answer.

In the privacy of her own bedroom later that night, she asks for help from the Virgen de Guadalupe (Esperanza America) and her prayers are answered, well sort of, and with an accompaniment of an angel (Robert Revell) on electric guitar to boot.  

There is a lot to enjoy from Evelina Fernández’s play of The Mother of Henry, which is funny, magical and always inventive. What is remarkable are the relationships between family and friends, between the spiritual and human, and the harsh realities of everyday life played out in mortal silence. What seems to be missing is the end for each character, the destination, and a realization of resolution. (In some ways the ending has a Casablanca feel. “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”) Does life have a resolution? Or, does it slip into the next chapter?

This is Connie’s journey presented in a vivid colorful life, and exercised in an imaginative time  - a colorful crossing into the unknown, a death, and a welcoming back after grieving.  A lot of what you’d expect in José Luis Valenzuela’s direction, a definitive style, of comedy and drama mixed with a dash of cumin, cayenne, and crushed chilies.

The acting is top notched. One worries by coming early that the best days are ahead of the actor, with much more life, backstory, connection, and meaning.  Fernández’s play has wonderful opportunities for actors to stretch and fill in the backstory.

Esperanza America

Esperanza America (La Virgin/Mamá) timing is impeccable and her voice melts. Being a deity of sorts it is almost impossible to imagine why she presents herself. But, she must have a reason other than her perspicacity. One figures it must be for love, but love for a reason.  The only thing missing was the Heiligenschein.

L - R Mary-Beth Manning and Ella Saldana North 

Mary-Beth Manning is Olga, a woman who knows what she wants but when she gets it she doesn’t know what to do with it, how to behave, and how she moves forward from there.  That all plays well but, how has her character changed in relationship with the other two women? And, how is that resolved in the relationships with the women as well as the men?  How does she find the answer to what she is looking for?

Xavi Moreno is Manny, a married man that goes after anyone he can get including his co-workers.  Manny is not mean but appears to be slightly confused about what he really wants. He is not smart, and easily found out in many situations, but he is likeable. His vainglorious attempts at female conquest have its limitations. Moreno must find a resolution to the character, a defining moment that changes him in a significant way.  

Ella Saldana North is terrifically funny as Loretta who knows everything about everyone’s business.  She appears to be single, wears a ring, doesn’t have a significant attachment, or one she speaks little of, but she’s in everyone’s business all the time 24/7/365. She thinks she is right about everything she says. There must be a reason why everyone loves her.

Gary Patent is Herb, a closeted gay man, alone in the world of the Sears tower. He manages to come out only because of a moment and to only one person. He wants to belong but conflicted by discovery. Is there an opportunity to bond with his male counterpoint?

Robert J. Revell

Robert J. Revell seems so comfortable as Angel, an angel with a mean guitar. Revell has an incredible presence on stage. There’s room here for dialogue in the play if only for short sonorous bursts.

Cheryl Umaña is Connie, Henry’s mother and one believes Umaña loses sight of her son, possibly the backstory that she should never forget. One gets the feeling the actor should carry her son throughout the play in however that manifest itself, a military hat, a letter, whatever works to keep the son next to her throughout. Symbolism goes a long way to give Connie courage after the death of a loved one.  Also, moments are missed that could move the play along in a significant way, her discovery of the Virgen, finding out a character is gay, she seems to reflect a level of stoicism, and an unreadable stare (from my vantage point), that didn’t move the character along.  Umaña is pleasant enough and has her moments but another level is needed, to give substance to the character and life.

And just as a matter of observation, Connie’s introduction to the Virgen is lost because the Virgen is bathed in the light and we are drawn away for Connie’s reaction.  This is an important moment for both characters. We must have a reason they are both in the room and the relationship must be solid to carry forward.  Also, it helps to make the comedy work later in the play.

Also, Connie’s kiss requires a bit more attention in whatever physical and emotional output is necessary to carry their relationship forward.  The nadir of Connie’s character is a death, she lashes out, but there are other choices to get the other characters to her side.

One more thing, Connie’s relationship to the angel must carry some weight, a remembrance, the slight turn of the head, reminding her of her son in a distant land.  The angel is there for a reason and Connie must see that.

 John Zalewski, Sound Design, does an incredible job including the typewriters coming in from the other room.

Moving the desks on and off the stage required a dance of sorts compliments of Urbanie Lucero, Movement Coordinator and Choreography, but was not sure about the slow motion movements downstage and how that moves the play along.   

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Michelle A. Prudente – Production Stage Manager
Maricela Sahagun – Assistant Stage Manager
Michelle Tapia – Production Assistant
Evan Nichols – Production Coordinator

Run! Run! Run! And take a believer! No, take a true believer!

The Los Angeles Theatre Center

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Canyon by Jonathan Caren

Adam Shapiro and Christine Woods Photos by Dean Cechvala

By Joe Straw

The deck was not large enough to see the canyon in its entirety. – Narrator

IAMA Theatre Company in association with The Latino Theater Company presents Canyon by Jonathan Caren, a world premier play directed by Whitney White and produced by Patti Anne Miller through March 24, 2019.

On this night, an eclectic crowd, young/old, rich/poor, black/white/brown, a.k.a. theatre patrons filled the seats surrounding three quarters of a thrush stage – the deck – an intimate night, dressed in black, and in a passionate setting.

Canyon by Jonathan Caren is an impressive work of art that highlights the lives of ordinary compassionate human beings caught in a nightmare of their own creation. How far will human beings go to protect their self-interests?

There was something about the two cans of diet root beer that Jake (Adam Shapiro) brought out and placed near the lounge chair on his deck, outside his house, and in his area that struck me as both odd and significant.

Notwithstanding the backstory, those two items, quick grabs at a local market, were now what he didn’t want.  And, what sane person drinks diet root beer?

But, fortunately, progressive as he was, he couldn’t just discard the diet drink. Instead, he offered it to someone less fortunate than he, like the Mexican contractor, just to make a sincere point.  

But Eduardo (Geoffrey Rivas) had an ice chest with drinks to suit his purpose and an apple to keep him both fed and hydrated. A diet root beer was not for him.

Luca Oriel and Geoffrey Rivas
Today Eduardo’s helper was off doing other things so Eduardo brought his son, Rodrigo (Luca Oriel), to assist.  Rodrigo, soon heading off to college, was not impressed by his father’s situation.  And he was rebellious and vocal about how his father was being treated, working for slave wages in order to satisfy the wants of a successful young rich white guy with a beautiful home off a canyon road in Los Angeles.

It was 2016 and we were all God’s beautiful creations back then.  

Still, Eduardo had the work and had to work to pay for Rodrigo’s college. But one extra job was convincing Jake to make up his mind about extending the deck while he hung around doing odds and ends waiting for the ultimate answer and the cold hard cash.  

Rodrigo couldn’t know all this, spirited as he was looking out for his father’s behalf.  Picking up an arrowhead, the father soothes the temporal beast within his son’s being by explaining that they have been here a lot longer.

 “Know what you are looking for.” – Eduardo

So, Eduardo hangs around Jake’s home in hopes that Jake can convince his wife, Beth (Christine Woods), a physician and breadwinner, that they need an extension on the deck.  Of course this is something Jake and Eduardo want to keep to themselves until the deal is done.

Meanwhile Beth, in scrubs, arrives home after a hard day.  A few months pregnant, she nurtures their home, loves relaxing at home with her husband, and spending time on their beautiful deck. 

Jake, taking the opportunity of massaging Beth’s feet, has scenic thoughts of expansion.

Stefanie Black and Brandon Scott

A short time later, Will (Brandon Scott), Jake’s college friend and now public defender and his wife Dahlia (Stefanie Black), arrives from back east. They are an interracial couple and are clearly having problems in their relationship.

In the meantime, Dahlia enjoys a brief respite from their two children and immediately sets herself relaxing on the deck with a few glasses of wine as Beth holds the bottle.   

Later, Will confides to Jake that he wants out of the marriage, that their son has autism, and the tension between them and their unpleasant reflections has them discussing matters with a marriage counselor.  But, he’s definite, he wants out.

Without getting into details, the secret confessions are released.  And those secrets, not whispered in the night, bounce off the canyon walls, and find their mark.

The next morning is filled with tension and survival is broken down to its rustic simplicity on the deck.  Never ending love suddenly becomes a battle of survival.

And then someone gets hurt; bodies are now thrown off the deck and lives roll metaphorically down the steep canyon walls.

Jonathan Caren has written an exquisite play.  His words are masterfully relevant at time before the world turned ugly. (2016) The play is a sincere look at polite and ostensibly progressive human beings who turn when dramatic tensions have them fighting for their own best interest and bitterness usurps the eloquence once prevalent.  When tragedy strikes, a torrent of race hating falls like rain. And to that end their unaccountable indifference finally becomes accountable causing unfathomable pain. The suffering is self-inflicted, humans being hypocritical, and the progressiveness seems to be a facade easily crumbled. And one character breaks most of the principles of being a Unitarian Universalists. It ends when forgiveness becomes the only viable option.

Whitney White, the director, moves the actors in a way that paying attention is critical. She gives you enough of the relationship to question its authenticity. And then questions your involvement when taking sides in the critical moments. The blame game becomes one of acute observations in this intimate space  – almost as if the director has pulled focus away from significant events on and off stage to take the audience for a mental ride. And for those reasons, it is a wonderful achievement and worth seeing again and again.

The acting is well above par and it moves along in a fast clip, sometimes too fast as the pain in moments have little time to make their mark.

Adam Shapiro is terrific as Jake, a man who is engulfed in his own self sacrifice, giving up his life to live off the sacrifices of others, his dad and his wife.  Listening to others and accepting the information is his downfall.  But, throughout it all, his action is the saving grace. Shapiro gives a fine performance, natural and nuanced.

Christine Woods is Beth, the breadwinner in the family.  She, on the outside, is willing to have a stay-at-home husband, but when push comes to shove, she blames her only love for making unwise decisions about their lives. Beth has other underlying issues, dabbing in anti-anxiety drugs while pregnant, discussed but not witnessed. One wished to scrutinize her actions with a little more intensity.  She is wearing scrubs but we find out later that she is a physician as if the writer wanted us slightly confused. Woods is very good under the lights.

Brandon Scott is Will, a man now in fantods, has succumbed to the pitfalls of married and family life and believes there are better ways.  But, the answers to his prayers come at the misfortunes of his friend and maybe that is his way out.  Will obviously has other dreams that may not be manifested in Scott’s objective.

Stefanie Black is Dahlia, a woman who professes to be progressive because she is in a dramatic interracial relationship.  She being the more dramatic of the two. Her life is staying at home and taking care of the two children who are getting older. She seems unaware of the pressures of a one-income family and is willing to let her husband carry the burden in his low-paying public defender job. Dahlia is the Pandora’s box letting out one misfortune after another.  Black’s work is excellent.

Geoffrey Rivas is terrific as Eduardo.  He obviously knows what he is doing as the contractor but his actions are slightly ambiguous in the ways he goes about to earn more money. We get bits of information on his life, his drinking problem, and his ways of manipulation. We never see what gets him into trouble or what he does to get his son into more trouble, so during the course of the night, one is suspicious.  

Luca Oriel is Rodrigo a young man determined to help his father through these tough times no matter what price he has to pay.  And maybe he does pay a price near the end as the police come rushing up to the canyon road. Oriel is young and still learning and there is more to add to the performance, still, he has a great look and is very agreeable in the role.

Other members of the remarkable crew are as follows:

Colleen Labella – Associate Director
Holiday Kinard – Associate Producer
Robert Mahaffie – Co-Stage Manager
Lucy Houlihan – Co-Stage Manager
R.S. Buck – Lighting Designer
Michael O’Hara – Props
Melissa Trn – Costume Designer
Jeff Gardner – Sound Designer
Daniel Soule – Scenic Designer
Ryan Wilbat – Asst Scenic Designer
Red Colgrove – Set Build
Kis Knekt – Scenic Charge
Lucy Pollak – Publicity

Also, the understudies who did not perform the night I attended are: Christine Woods, Aynsley Bubbico, J. Claude Deering, Chris Gardner, Ray Oriel, Alexandra Wright, and Matt Yepez.

Run! Run! Run! And take a Unitarian Universalist with you.  You’ll have some interesting things to discuss on your deck at home.   

Los Angeles Theatre Center
Avalos Theatre
514 S. Spring Street 
Los Angeles, CA 90013