Friday, September 13, 2019

To Dad with Love A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen by Kiki Ebsen and Dustin Ebsen


Kiki Ebsen (on screen L - R Buddy Ebsen, Judy Garland, and Ray Bolger


By Joe Straw

I have pictures of my daughters all over my study. The snapshots are of times remembered and hopes for the future.  After my divorce, I see less of my girls but think about them all the time. I hope it is mutual. Family – Narrator

The last time I saw Buddy Ebsen was back in the 1980’s, after a performance of Talley’s Folly by Lanford Wilson starring Ebsen’s daughter Bonnie Ebsen. (The Pilot Theatre in Hollywood?) I had known Bonnie for some time as we happily studied with the same acting teacher.

Deep in thought about the performance, hands in my pockets, head down, I found myself behind Buddy and his date as we moved east on Theatre Row until a photographer stopped him to take pictures. I stepped behind the cameraman, watched him take a few shots and then moved on into the night.  

Sometime later, I was invited to a dinner party in San Marino with Bonnie as one of the guests.

The conversation at the dining table was polite, mostly about the work, but rarely about family. I don’t remember Bonnie ever mentioning her father Buddy, her sister Kiki, or her brother Dustin. While the evening was lovely, sadly it was a lost opportunity to talk about family, everyone’s family.  

The last time I saw Bonnie was in West Hollywood. We exchanged pleasantries and spoke for a few minutes until she casually mentioned that she just given birth a few weeks earlier.  She was looking fit, and hadn’t lost a step. And, to this day, I still wondered why having the baby was not the first thing she shared in our conversation. Family – Narrator.

To Dad with Love A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen written by Kiki and Dustin Ebsen, starring Kiki Ebsen, and produced by Kiki Ebsen and Steve Wallace for StKi, LLC, through September 22, 2019 is now playing at Theatre West in Los Angeles.

Sometimes, one wants to go to theatre to enjoy the night, the performance, and to accept the performance in whatever shape or form the players have to offer.

To Dad with Love A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen is a wonderful tribute to the man.  But in hindsight, it is much more. Exceptionally directed by S.E. Feinberg, this tribute is an emotional experience and an extraordinary night of theatre.

Kiki Ebsen’s lovely vocals and piano playing are backed by Jeff Colella (piano), Kendall Kay (drums), Kim Richmond (woodwinds) and Granville “Danny” Young (bass). All are incomparable and play into Kiki’s beautiful, sultry, jazzy voice, blending song and story in one glorious night.  Most of the songs she sang are on the CD, The Scarecrow Sessions, and all are beautifully sung.

(Samplings of her songs can be heard here -  https://kikiebsen.com/store )

This is, without a doubt, a show you should not miss.  Go for the music, go for the history, or go for the tap dancing.  Take your pick because it is all a powerful night of theatre.  

Steve Wallace’s set design resembles someone’s ranch style home from the saddle far stage right to the piano layered with books, a chest languishes center stage, and stage left offers small sculptured horses on a side table.  

Here are a couple of thoughts for S.E. Feinberg, the director.  First, he is someone I have known as a writer and director since the late seventies, more specifically in 1980, and his creative spirit is alive and well in this production.  

Kiki enters the stage quite unexpectedly and moves toward the chest. Inside are the events of Buddy’s life, photos, scripts, wardrobe, and other accouterments that make up an entertainer’s life, the life’s important moments – of surrender and achievements – that concedes you to the past of her august impressions.

But, the opening, while adequate, could be strengthened. To move center stage and to open the chest necessitates another level of creative spirit – the reason to open the chest – and the need to speak to the audience.

Also, time and place are critical in the opening moments.  Is this the first discovery of the chest after her mother’s death? Is the chest now at the ranch or in Kiki’s current home? 

Whatever happens in the opening moments must be clear to give us a definitive idea of the why this is happening on this night.


Kiki Ebsen and Gregory Gast

The tap dance sequence with Gregory Gast (cast member, choreographer) was both exceptional and emotional.  The moment – the touching of the fingers – brings the father and daughter full circle.  It is in this moment where heart and memories merge, where shadows come to life and end in song.  And it is in the dance where two longing beings connect just, one, more, time.

Kiki, at times, extemporaneously moves away from the book and expresses sincere thoughts, which was wonderfully appealing as was the entire night. We get to know a little more about Buddy, and his relationship with Shirley Temple and Ronald Reagan, his conservative leanings, and the long horse ride back home.

Behind the set are screens used for projecting photos and videos.  Dustin Ebsen wonderfully created the multi-media and special effects for the night.

The Sound Design was by Steve Wallace and was pitch perfect.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Ernest McDaniel – Lighting Design/Stage Manager
Steve Moyer PR – Publicity
Dawn Lee Wakefield/TCV Media – Social Media

All in all, it is rare that one gets to see this much talent in this type of venue and every single bit of it worked.  

Run! Run! Run!  And take your daughter for a lovely night of bonding.

Theatre West
3333 Cahuenga Boulevard West
Los Angeles, CA  90068
Theatre West Box Office at 323-851-7977

Saturday, August 3, 2019

True West by Sam Shepard


L - R Johnny Clark and Andrew Hawkes - Photos by Carlos R. Hernandez


By Joe Straw

EXTENDED THROUGH SEPTEMBER 28, 2019

Austin (Johnny Clark) palms his lower jaw, elbows on the table, staring at the sheets of paper and a typewriter with pernicious lines etched on his face.  He’s not getting anything done now, whether it’s because of writers block, or the ominous blackened figure behind him, staring at him. 

As Austin thinks about his next move, the shadowy vibration becomes visible in the focusing light, like a realized figment of Austin’s imagination.

Lee (Andrew Hawkes) has shown up, quite expectedly or unexpectedly, in their mother’s house, while Mom (Carole Goldman) is off visiting Alaska.  It is “an older home in a Southern California suburb, about 40 miles east of L.A.”

Austin feels Lee’s stares, his darker self, knowing any question could trigger a tsunami of unwanted remarks or unprovoked attacks.   

Just by the looks of him, Lee is a troubled figure, a homeless wreckage of a man. Now looking like he has crawled through the Arizona desert to get here.  A blackened white t-shirt hangs from his shoulders; a trench coat, over the top of that, throws off dust and dirt at every passing turn. But, just to be fair, his worn brown shoes match his belt and he shows some semblance of flair and style.

The aesthetic impressions will last forever, and that’s just how Austin wanted it to be.  

Also, Lee is not skin and bones, a practicality of knowing how to procure an assortment of nourishment, possibly a left over pizza behind a pizza parlor, or various forms of pilfering, and a mental list of pawnbrokers at his disposals. 

But, how and why did he suddenly appear?  To be reacquainted with his long lost brother? One thinks not.

Austin can’t help but offer a little smile.

Austin, suddenly stimulated by the creative juices flowing, takes notes of his own appearance, looks to be a few years out of college wearing a summer shirt and a crisp pair of ironed jeans. Not the sort of image of a serious writer would be caught dead in like Hemingway, McCarthy, Kafka, Camus, Chayefsky, or Bukowski.  Not even Bukowski but that was something else to ponder.  

Vs. Theatre Company presents True West by Sam Shepard, directed by Scott Cummins, and produced by Johnny Clark and Andrew Hawkes through August 31, 2019.

If there’s one thing Austin did or didn’t need right now was Lee being there.  This was his time alone, away from his wife and kids up north.  Languishing in the quiet time may or may not have been just for him and his creation. Or, maybe he needed a primer.

And, as always, written conflict is created in the blink of an eye.

Lee will leave only if he can get Austin’s car keys.  Austin, under pressure, must get rid of Lee to prepare for his meeting with a producer the following day. So, Austin reluctantly agrees to the deal, turning over the keys and sealing the deal so that Lee does not interrupt their meeting. What fun is that?

Beware of the dealmaker.  Their reasoning is unjust and their end goal is not to your benefit.

So, what is the deal?

After schmoozing with Austin for a time, Saul (David Starzyk), the producer, is caught off guard by a homeless man carrying a TV into the kitchen. Introductions are made and pleasantries are exchanged.  

But, despite reservations, Saul takes a liking to Lee.  Lee invites Saul to a round a golf, and even invites himself to Saul’s club the following morning. It’s a date.

One can easily look at the play and view it from an impossible angle. For some reason I found myself thinking that Austin and Lee are the same man. It’s not far fetched thinking.  This is Sam Sheppard. The night sent me away discovering a unique perspective, and one that would excite my overactive imagination. Austin calls on his demon to get him through the day or through the screenplay.  They are never apart; they feed on one another, and even change roles to benefit their needs. Seeing the play from that perspective gives me inspiration.

So, why is Lee there? One cannot honestly say.

But, one is not sure if this was the intention of Scott Cummings, the director, visually it suggests such, but whatever his intention was just blows the roof off of this production, right from the start, on this night, and to this sold out audience. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this or thought about it with so much fervor.

Still, I have some thoughts.

First of al Vs. Theatre is a wonderful theatre on Pico.  Street parking is easy. Everyone there is warm and welcoming. Seating is in the lobby until everyone is marched around to the back entrance, through the vomitory, and to the seats.

The set, from Danny Cistone, Production Designer, is the first thing you see—a kitchen with unnerving slamming pantries, the same slammed by both brothers. And the dinning alcove is downstage right center where most of the action takes place. And, at the end of the show, the cleanup is significant.

L - R Andrew Hawkes and Johnny Clark 


Johnny Clark is exceptional as Austin.  Austin is the muse to his brother’s action. Carefully taking mental notes during the course of his observation.  Wanting to embody his brother’s successful and unorthodox ways, he becomes his brother. And, that he finds, is or is not the answer. At first, Austin seems almost terrified that his brother has appeared, and then accepting, but before turning, Austin shows little regard to moving in his brother’s stead.  

Andrew Hawkes as Lee prowls around the stage waiting for openings to strike.  Hawkes’ backstory is prevalent and his craft awe-inspiring.  He is constantly thinking and relaxed in concentration as he moves about the stage.  There is hardly a wasted movement. The pencil scene needs a slight focus. Not only is he trying to find the pencil but he is showing his brother how a desperate man behaves for the need of this one tool.

David Starzyk has always impressed me with his work since seeing him in The Closeness of the Horizon by Richard Martin. Here, as the producer Saul, he is manhandled by the creative types that surrounded him and he is able to move with the punches. Dodging and weaving to get the best deal is his motto.  Maybe, Saul should find a way to win before leaving.

Carol Goldman has her moments as Mom coming back from Alaska.  She comes back home to find a mess, and the mess is all she can see. She pays scant attention to the one or two men in the room, especially in the end when she leaves in frustration. Those relationships need to be clearer and probably will be during the course of the run. Still, Carol is very funny in the role.

Gelareh Khalioun, Costume Designer, places all actors beautifully in the 1980s.

Derrick McDaniel, Lighting Designer, gives complete focus to the director’s ideas.

I love the sound of Lindsay Jones’ (Sound Designer) crickets in this production.

This is the first time I’ve come across a “Violence Designer”. Ned Mochel was that man and the end is very graphic.  A job well done.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Justine Vickery – Assistant Stage Manager
Marcy Capoferri – Box Office Manager
Brian Dunning – Graphic Designer

Run! Run! Run! And take a writer friend with a highly active imagination!

To purchase tickets,https://vstruewest.brownpapertickets.com or for more information, please visit ww.vstheatre.org.

Vs. Theatre
5453 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

100 Planes by Lila Rose Kaplan


L - R Alani Rose Chock and Karen Harrison - Photos by Steve Rogers


By Joe Straw

The Filigree was once The Elephant Stages. Now it’s part of a whole complex, complete with The Broadwater bar on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Lillian Way.  It’s a nice bar, very cozy, probably a perfect place to drink during intermission.  And, the folks there are friendly.

But, there is not an intermission in this show.

An important piece of this show was the plane, a C-370 transport plane.  It’s mentioned time and time again. But, doing a little research about Air Force planes, jet, etc., I found nothing about this particular plane. The press release implies it’s a fighter jet.  Nope.

The Tri-Service aircraft designation system is a unified system introduced in 1962 by the United States Department of Defense for designating all U.S. military aircraft. Prior to then, the U.S. armed services used separate nomenclature systems.
Under the tri-service designation system, officially introduced on 18 September 1962, almost all aircraft receive a unified designation, whether they are operated by the United States Air Force (USAF), United States Navy (USN), United States Marine Corps (USMC), United States Army, or United States Coast Guard (USCG). Experimental aircraft operated by manufacturers or by NASA are also often assigned designations from the X-series of the tri-service system.[1]
The 1962 system was based on the one used by the USAF between 1948 and 1962, which was in turn based on the Type, Model, Series USAAS/USAAC/USAAF system used from 1924 to 1948. The 1962 system has been modified and updated since introduction.[2
Modified mission
Aircraft which are modified after manufacture or even built for a different mission to the standard airframe of a particular design are assigned a modified mission code. They are:
Possibly it’s a top, top, top-secret plane for which no one knows anything about except those that are in the know. Still, based on the above information it would have to be a transport plane.

The Filigree Theatre presents the West Coast Premier of 100 Planes by Lila Rose Kaplan, directed by Elizabeth V. Newman and produced by Stephanie Moore at The Broadwater Black Box through August 4, 2019.

Alani Rose Chock and Brennan Patrick


Kay McClure (Alani Rose Chock) is a go-getter.  Leaving her town in Iowa she is back for a class reunion.  She takes a breather, walks outside and lights a cigarette, wanting to stay away from her classmates who are satisfied with their mundane lives here in the town she grew up in.

David Greene (Brennan Patrick) sees a light on the balcony.  He calls out her name Kay McClure many times. But, alas, the light is a cigarette in her hand.  No matter, he is infatuated with Kay.

And that is a bit of an understatement.  David adores Kay and wants to get to know her better.  Also, he wants to get updated on her life and where she is going.

Kay doesn’t’ seem that much interested in him.  She’s got places to see, thing to do. She’s off tomorrow to catch an early flight to Berlin.

David says he was a weatherman but is in town to take care of his father who is dying of cancer. Again, with Kay, there’s hardly a reaction.

“Why do you like to fly?” – David

“I’m free when I fly.” – Kay

Kay mentions a time in the eight grade, of being fastest person in her class, and looking up to see 100 planes and knowing from that time that she wanted to fly.

“Don’t get stuck here.” Kay says as she leaves for her hotel to pack for Berlin.  David is not giving up that easy and he follows her to her hotel room, climbs a balcony and enters her room.

They promise to write to one another. David will write letters and Kay will write lists.  

L - R Karen Harrison and Brittany Flurry


Sometime later in Berlin Kay crashes a party to meet Major Ann Clarkson (Karen Harrison) a flight instructor, an icon in her field, who is now at the piano with her lover Monique Dupont (Brittany Flurry). Monique is not enamored with the pushy Kay as Kay’s objective is to become a pilot of the C-370.  Major Clarkson is not easily persuaded to let this Lieutenant fly her plane when there are so many others that are qualified.

There’s much to enjoy in Lila Rose Kaplan’s play, which, on second thought, seems more to be about the relationship of the players than the dream of 100 planes. Each has their own dream, their objective of what they want other than the person they are with. David wants Kay, but Kay wants to fly. Monique wants to adopt a child but Anne wants something different. 

Is the C-370 a real plane? And if it not, why use it?  

The director, Elizabeth V. Newman, plays it pretty straight and by the book.  She leaves no room for ambiguity in anyone’s relationship.   You’re in the Air Force, and you do as you are told. But, there seems to be more here in the writing than was presented on stage.  This is a scaled down version of a traveling show from Texas and the planes are symbolic of a much larger ideal. Some other things need a touch of symbolism, the city of Berlin Germany for one which is the later half of the show.

Alani Rose Chock as Kay wants little to do with David.  Or, so, that is how it appeared. And yet, Kay jumps at the chance to meet the one person that will help her in her career. Others she meets are discarded to fulfill her dream. There is more to add to this character, starting from the beginning with a cigarette in her hand, the first meeting with her friend, with the major, and so on. If flying is the thing she loves to do, we should see it in action on stage. 

Brittany Flurry has a very good look as Monique. Her partner is Anne and the two have a secret, a code name, of something they want to do together. Monique wants to adopt.  It’s the thing she dreams of during the coarse of her day.  But, she doesn’t convince her partner throughout the play.  And her partner needs a lot of convincing.  If that is her objective her actions over the course of the play should move her in that direction. Instead she is on a train, alone, that is going nowhere.   

Karen Harrison plays Major Anne Clarkson by the book. There’s not much wrong with that except that she is unduly fastidious and it leaves little room for a multi-dimensional character.  Clarkson is the center of attention.  We see little of what she thinks although she dreams of flying herself.  She sees little in the young lieutenant and yet wants to be with on her partner’s most important day of her life without giving it a thought. “I forgot,” is something you say when you’re having a better time with someone else, not to your lover on the most important day of her life.

Brennan Patrick has a lot going for him, a strong clear voice, a good look, and a remarkable presence. His craft moves him in a direction with a strong objective, never giving up on the character, and moving the character David Greene in the right direction. And for those reasons you should not miss his performance.

Stephanie Moore was the producer of 100 Planes.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Chris Conard – Lighting & Set Design; Tech. Direction
Jennifer Rose Davis – Costume Design
Eliot Gray Fisher – Sound Design
Saly Seitz – Stage Manager
Dominique Carrieri – ASM
Adam Miller-Batteau – Fight Choreographer
Steve Moyer Public Relations – Press Rep.

Shows come and go so quickly.

Run! Run! And take an Air Force Major with you with dreams of day’s gone bye.   
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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Bakersfield Mist by Stephen Sachs


Diane Cary and John Mawson - Photos by  Mia Christou


By Joe Straw

Stephen Sachs, the writer of Bakersfield Mist, was said to have co-founded The Fountain Theatre in 1990 from various sources but the theatre was there long before that.  I produced a play at The Fountain in 1986, The Gentlemen’s Club by David Michael Wieger.

Prior to that, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove by Jane Chambers played at The Fountain for in 1981 for two and one-half years.

Jerry Holland was running the operations then.

Perhaps The Fountain Theatre was reborn in 1990.  Something is awry in the printed history of Stephen Sachs and The Fountain Theatre. Something that needs investigating. - Narrator   

Maude Gutman (Diane Cary) has lived a sad life.  This is just an observation, as no one can really know what this woman has gone through.  She was a bartender, under what circumstance of her leaving that job is a matter up to interpretation.  But one thing is true, her bartending life was recently cut short and so now she resides in a trailer in Bakersville, California, baking inside this tin can like a grilled cheese sandwich in a toaster over.  Oh, the unbearable sweltering heat.

Outside are imagined trailers and the rock hard dog droppings still baking in the desert sun.  

Visible Ink and the Beverly Hills Playhouse presents Bakersfield Mist written by Stephen Sachs, produced by Mia Christou and directed by Amir Korangy through July 28, 2019.

The fruit of Maude’s labor sits on shelves, bottles of whiskey, an arcade of benign cat figurines looking out to anyone passing by.  All of these items are just trinkets, accumulated from the eight or so Good Will stores that litter the Bakersville area.  The show, the main attraction, something she bought for three dollars is in the other room, under a blanket, is waiting to be rediscovered all over again.

And so Maude waits in a skin tight red shirt, torn jeans, with muscular tattooed arms, and delicate golden nails for someone special at this point in her life and she is hoping he is prompt in his appointment, and lastly, on her side.    

Lionel Percy (John Mawson) steps out of his chauffeured driven car.  He is suddenly surrounded and chased by dogs, possibly the small garden-variety dogs with more bark than bite, still he runs, beyond the screen door, into the trailer, panting heavily, and claiming he is about to have a heart attack.

Ushered inside Lionel wheezes, and coughs trying to maintain a certain bit of decorum. He is a bit stodgy an art connoisseur from back east and an expert in Jackson Pollack’s paintings.

Diane Cary and John Mawson


Despite being disheveled, Lionel is wearing a very fine black suit, red bow tie, and blue argyle socks. With him, he carries a briefcase with precious and unusual side locks for which documents have been carefully prepared and are waiting for a signature before his work is done. Expedience, in this environment, is the nature of his game. But he has a job to do before he can get out of this god-forsaken hole.

He is reserved, lays out the rules of his employment, and presents the documents to be signed.    

But, Maude is not so eager to show him the painting, not just yet.  She wants information on the worth of an original painting by Jackson Pollack and what she could fetch if the painting is indeed a Jackson Pollack.

Lionel presents an astronomical figure if it were an original.

One supposes that Maude mentally salivates thinking how the money would get her out of the trailer and into better accommodations.

But first Lionel needs to see the painting.

One can see why actors enjoy Stephen Sachs’ play. It’s fun and has a few twists and turns in an eighty-minute show. There are critics out there who grouse about the plausibility of the play but, in reality, the play is more than the painting. It’s about two souls testing each other to the limits and for that it is a marvelous production.

Diane Cary is a physical specimen as Maude Gutman as she effortlessly moves about the stage.  Her craft is solid and backstory is significant if sometimes ambiguous. There is a tremendous life in Maude, a woman who makes the most of her situation. Diane plays Maude as a smart woman, someone who is on top of her game.  Maude will never let up until she gets what she wants including performing a sex act with the man who will give her a favorable outcome to what she wants. Really, it’s not a way to go if the proof is in the pudding. But Maude’s modus operandi is to hire an expert with a flaw, one that has a dubious past, add liquor to the mix, and viola.   Then, she uses that flaw to get what she wants, a piece of paper, or an affidavit to claim the painting is genuine. Maude is a very smart woman who is a victim of her own unfortunate luck of her own creation.

John Mawson as Lionel Percy looks too healthy to be panting at the beginning of this piece. Being chased by dogs leaves little room to notice the landscape, the trailer, and the situation where all of the negotiations take place. Once Lionel has made the decision on the painting, he should leave, but that would be the end of the play. He is captured by his dubious past, a mistake he once made, one he wishes not to repeat, and so he stays to make absolutely sure. Lionel seems steadfast in his opinion of the piece and never waivers one bit but there is a life on the other end of his opinion and one that needs another level of scrutiny and curiosity.

Amir Korangy, the director, stages a superior production. The objectives were clear, the actors knew where they were going and they worked well together.  But, in the early part of this two-week run, there was something missing.  There is another level of concentration to add, of thoughts that keep the actors engaged in a relationship that is constantly changing. Those are the moments that change the relationship and move the play to its ultimate conclusion.

The painting Bakersfield Mist (36” X 48” acrylic and varnish on canvas) was by Mia Christou and plays an important part in this production.  It is beautiful and in its own right, a work of art.

Mia Christou Set Design works well with the actors. 

Other members of the crew are as follows: 

Derrick McDaniel - Lighting Design
Benjamin Burt - Stage Manager
Ken Werther Publicity - Press Representative
Giles Masters - Poster

Run! Run! And take a friend who loves to go to the museums.

Beverly Hills Playhouse
254 S. Robertson Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA  90211


Call: 800-838-3006

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Love, Madness, and Somewhere in Between by James J. Cox


James J. Cox - Photography by Ron Scibilia


By Joe Straw

Sometime you just can’t judge the traffic in Hollywood during rush hour. And, when maneuvering through downtown Los Angeles traffic it’s best to be on your “A” game.  There are road closures on every corner when rushing to a 6:30pm show.

Despite only a few minor jams I found a spot on North Hudson Avenue with a meter (flashing a green dot) paid through seven pm. Parking is free after 7:00pm. There is enough room to parallel park, which Vilma says I can’t do, but I do just fine.

Safely inside, Hudson makes strong coffee (dark roast) an off-putting server with a penchant for truth, says the pastries are a day or so old.  I skip the pastries. Still, it is a perfect setting in the lobby with thirty minutes to spare.

Arriving at the ticket window the box office lady said the show was at 8:30pm.

No, it’s at 6:30. Doubting myself. Really?

Oh, my bad, she said, that’s right, they switched shows without letting me know.

And, then coming back at 6:22 I asked the same woman if they were letting in.

In, about 10 minutes.

That would make it 6:32. Show starts at 6:30.

Always timely, sometimes I can be a pest.  – Narrator

Altar boy + a priest in a theatrical setting = trouble

Love, Madness, and Somewhere in Between by James J. Cox and directed by Trace Oakley at the Hudson is a fascinating one-man show.  It’s about a boy. No, that’s not right.  It’s about a standup comedian. Not, right either. It’s a retrospective – a face lit - shadow of a man coming to grips with his past.

At the start of the play Trace Oakley, the director, gives a speech about the theatre and the exits when James J. Cox rushes on stage because Trace’s speech is taking away from his minutes on stage.  The moment is unpredictable, spirited, and not unprecedented but what the heck, a standup needs to have his time on stage.

This standup, receiving his light, tells us he is from is from Massapequa, New York, and he has a delivery similar to Woody Allen.  It’s wry although not as funny as he would like.

(As an aside, the town of Massapequa sits along side of town of Amityville where people go nuts and kill one another. But this show is not about that.)

Back to the play “Jimmy” is introduced as a friend.  That’s the way James gets around to safely tell the story about a young boy in an abusive relationship with his father.

Listening to your father and mother fight at night, trying to block out the noise with pillows over your head is one of the most disturbing things a young boy can hear. And then, when the father comes in, belt in hand and starts beating you - sometimes that feels better than the screaming.

Later, when the father comes down off an alcoholic high and then apologizes, the damage is done. And the relationship with his father is never the same. 

And when seeking advice from another father figure, a priest, well this presents more problems than solutions. And all of this carries over to a young man who later gets into trouble of his own, driving under the influence and almost killing someone.

Love, Madness and Somewhere in Between is a dramatic journey of self-discovery, of a want that is undelivered because of a pain that is too deep.  The journey is a way to connect the dots of understanding what went wrong and how to more forward. James J. Cox gives us that and more.

A few things need work. Sometimes the audience (me) is lost in the time of the piece, where we are in a specific moment. Trace Oakley, the director, sets a dramatic difference in the three main characters and that works effectively but we move in and out of the past, present, and future of the same character. The dark reflective self (the madness) brooding motionless, could that be the present?  And, is the comic (the love) the near past, or a continuing future?  There must be a creative way to give more to those moments, a reason for telling us the story, and some kind of self-actualization for good measure.   

There were only a few things that didn’t work. The Starbucks cups being thrown onto the stage doesn’t really work, or didn’t work on this night. And, we have to make more of the duck when telling the children stories not to stage left but downstage and to the audience.  

This can only be autobiographical. The details of his young self are tragic and can’t be given away.  But, one wonders why James J. Cox’s 20-year stint in the Navy was not included in this piece. After the accident, how does the Navy fit into the picture? And, after the Navy, why does the character become part of a children’s hospital, telling stories, and easing pain?

But, other than that, the night touches on a lot of emotions.

I met briefly with James after the performance. His voice was different, and stronger than his theatre voice.  One got the impressions that whatever haunts his life now is on a low frequency behind him, and he is in a better place now.  

Zahra Husein was the assistant stage manager.

The notes of his performance touch on many emotional chords and for that reason it is a show that is a must see.

Run! Run!  And take a friend, one that has overcome many obstacles.

This show has closed but will probably play in another venue. Watch for it.  

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Friday, July 5, 2019

The Ruffian on the Stair by Joe Orton



L - R Brian Foyster, Reed Michael Campbell, and Síle Bermingham

By Joe Straw

Mike’s (Brian Foyster) right eyelid folds over the sclera of his right eye. It is a sign of too much conflict in life  – sometimes it happens to his left eye, a sign, a woeful sign of his humanity. And it’s no wonder, this character has lived a precarious life – a peccable man, one that has caused great bodily harm – or injury – to innocent people – well let’s not beat around the bush – he kills people.

No matter. Life, for Mike, is about looking immaculate, bow tie, suit, shined shoes, and other accouterments, making it an exclamation point when venturing outside before committing an act of transgression.  

It is sad that Mike has to live this life, but he does so almost without a care in the world. He is a Catholic, an ex-boxer, and a thug from Donegal, Ireland and rarely thinks about the “what if’s”.  But, but there’s also something to be said - that he probably wouldn’t be living in a tiny bebsit if he had had a nine to five job, something that paid a little more than minimum wage without resorting to killing anyone or running them down with his van.

Mike is hiding and he is keeping a very low profile.

Today, tonight, yesterday, or some other indiscriminate time of day Mike is shaving, in the kitchen washing bowl, dressed up to the hilt to meet a man in the lavatory about something nefarious.  

Mike’s partner is Joyce (Síle Bermingham).  She has seen better days, labeled now an ex-prostitute in leisure wear befitting a lower working class Protestant in England in the year of someone’s lord 1964. 

Joyce’s home has an eclectic taste of someone who is not an experience homemaker although she gives it a good go. Stacks of dishes and saucers are scattered on a makeshift cabinet, a washbasin on another, and teakettles flounder on an old stove.  The wallpaper is crinkled, and whatever photographs are on the wall have long since faded into a chaos of shadows.   A colorful crocheted afghan lies on the couch, and the couch seat pads, lying with disdain, are torn. Face down lies a book, old, baked brown from the sun, and read too often, possibly by someone with comprehension issues.  Either way, too many of the edges are frayed and the spine is broken and wrinkled into fragile disrepair.  

Behind the wall, one suspects, is the bedroom they share. And if one listens carefully one can hear the noise of flapping water coming from a fishbowl in the next room.

Hicks Street Productions presents The Ruffian On The Stair by Joe Orton directed by Mark Kemble through 7/28/2019 at Davidson/Valentini Theatre in Hollywood.

There are a lot of little fine details in Mark Kemble staging of the play. The visuals keep your mind engaged throughout the one-hour presentation. The acting is top notched by experienced lifetime members of The Actors Studio and they were connecting throughout the evening.

That said, the ruffian, Wilson (Reed Michael Campbell) at the doorway (with hands protruding) doesn’t play well, was too excessive, and was dismissive in the introduction of an important character, his manner, and the manner in which he takes control of her flat. 
  
But, was this production theatrical? Did it go far enough? And, did Kemble give this play a viable stamp?  Originally The Ruffian On The Stair was broadcast on British radio and was later adapted for the stage. And, giving the play some thought for 1963 - a comedy with a hit man, an ex-prostitute, and a gay man in an incestuous love relationship are some pretty heavy stuff for a comedy back then.  But, this version by Kemble plays it pretty straight or it seemed that way, and some moments on stage were up for abstruse speculations.  Given it was a performance seen early in the run, things happen, but this production needs a viable edge.  What one saw was not a bad, in fact is was even good, but, there's more life to be had here.   

Tastes are always up to the observer.

Síle Bermingham is engaging as Joyce.  Certainly she gets the working class down pat. But one wonders about the backstory of this character, her life as a prostitute mixed in with her life now. She lets the ruffian get the better of her without bringing her past life of dealing with other men she has encountered. This Joyce is scattered and meek and thinks her “husband” will right all wrongs.  Also, she is still a sexual being and thinks little of an attractive man entering her flat or what he really wants.  One wonders about giving this character so little strength in a character that is an equal to the other two.

Brian Foyster is menacing as Mike.  That we get, but we get little of what he wants in the end.  He is dismissive of his companion’s story and later he even lets the ruffian into the apartment to have a cup of tea. Why he takes the second shot when little makes him do so. His interest in the ruffian doesn’t move him in the slightest, either as a sexual being, or as a collaborator in future events.  Also, he has little regard as to why the ruffian is in his place, in the first place, or why the ruffian is in the apartment alone with his companion.

Reed Michael Campbell seems to do everything right as Wilson.  The words flowing from his being is natural and has a very nice presence on stage.  He is menacing in his own way and knows what he wants. But, there is another emotional level of an incestuous heartbroken brother. There is only one objective here and how Campbell goes about it are the creative choices he must make. Wilson knows a lot about the two people he has confronted and when he explores the ways, through dialogue, he must pick those moments that lead to the finality. He is a sexual being, an ambiguous one at that, but shows little regard in the manner in which he treats his two counterparts.  Mystery plays an important part in his being.  He is omnipotent, godlike, in the ways he know he can manipulate people through his knowledge of the beings around him.

Brian Foyster did triple duty as Producer, Set Design, and Actor, which leaves little room to concentrate on a creative objective. But, sometimes that is what you have to do.  

I liked it.  I just wish..

The production team is as follows:

Brian Foyster – Producer
Adam Earle – Lighting Design & Stage Manager
Matthew Richter – Sound Design
Brian Foyster – Set Design
Dennis Peraza – Assistant Stage Manager
Ken Werther Publicity – Press Representative
Noah Torjesen – Poster Photographer
Thomas Zoeschg – Poster & Program Design

Run! Run! And take someone you haven’t thought about in a long time.
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Blade to the Heat by Oliver Mayer


By Joe Straw

In my battle to learn Spanish, I put on the boxing gloves, lift the ropes, and step into the language ring with shoes that don’t fit, and trunks that slip beyond my crack, held up con guantes de boxeo rojo, and dangling loose white strings.

Luckily, the match against Spanish is not that great on this night, and mostly Spanish that I was able to comprehend.

Hero Theatre presented a one night only benefit event of Blade to the Heat by Oliver Mayer directed by Elisa Bocanegra a stage reading as part of the Future Classics Reading Series on May 25, 2019.

In the play, one name stuck with me was a familiar one, one that I had heard before. Mantequilla Decima (Peter Mendoza).  Loosely translated Mantequilla is butter and Decima is a tenth. Yes, Mantequilla sounds like a nickname, as in he was as smooth as butter.  Or, as soft as butter. Not really something you want to say about your prized fighter.  And, Decima means a tenth.  A tenth of butter? 

Is this an entry from a recipe list? Décima de mantequilla?

What was the author, Oliver Mayer, thinking when he came up with that name?

But, in Blade to the Heat, most of the names have a poetic truth Malacara (Melinna Bobadilla) means “bad face” the woman, Alacran (Tom Sandoval) means scorpion, Three-Finger Jack (Jack Landrón) - not Spanish - sounds like a drink reference and these are all names one would find around the fringe of a grungy boxing gym next door to a dodgy bar.  

The characters in this play lend itself to a remarkable vision, moving beyond the read, a vision that can be exaggerated in a staged performance, in character, completely and also with ambiguity.

But this is a reading, played out for a cause on this night, one that celebrates a Latino writer and the Hero Theatre.

Mantequilla Decima (Armando McClain) is a Cuban prized fighter, the reining middleweight champion.  And a fighter who is just beyond his pinnacle, feeling the ravages of age, previous fights, and loosing a step or two he loses his bout to Pedro Quinn (Peter Mendoza) a younger man who relieves Decima of his belt.

Quinn doesn’t believe he deserves the belt for reasons not entirely clear.

Standing envenomed Decima wilts with questions and self-doubts about his sexuality. His girlfriend Sarita Malacara “bad face” tries to relieve some of his stress in ways the Cuban doesn’t entirely get. (Possibly too many shots to the head, or just sexually confused.)  And Decima questions the reasons his boxing opponent sends a small smile in his direction.

Decima reaffirms his manliness, his steel resolve, with a fist lovingly placed on Sarita’s chin but definitely takes the “B” and maybe the “Q” from the LGBTQ acronym banner into his inner thoughts.

Working for a rematch with Quinn, Decima prepares to fight Wilfred Vinal (Julian Joaquin), a slouching and tattered personage, where, in public, Vinal accuses Decima of being “maricon” (gay), a way of getting into his head, but little does he know. Decima’s esprit de l’escalier comes to him long after the weigh-in and way too late to have any impact on the fight.   

The managers Three-Finger Jack and Alacran manages to get their shots about their boxers.  Old school they brush aside each fighter’s sexuality.  Little do they know or maybe they want to ignore.

Quinn finds solace in friend Garnet (Dennis Renard) an entertainer that imitates popular black recording artists. But their friendship is tested when Quinn wants more from their relationship to which Garnet is entirely uncomfortable.

Nice work from Peter Mendoza as Pedro Quinn last seen in Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.  Mendoza had a lot more going as Quinn and it is the growth in the craft that one likes to see.

Melinna Bobadilla was Sarita Malacara (bad face).  Bobadilla gave the character strength and purpose.

Julian Joaquin as Wilfred Vinal has a unique presence on stage but other than creating a nuisance little is know about his objective and his purpose on stage. His underlying want is lost in his unpredictability to create havoc.

Charlie Hofheimer gives a good turn as the Referee, Reporter and Announcer.  He has a trace of a northeastern accent that seemed to stay with all of the characters he played.

Armando McClain does justice to the role of Mantequilla Decima, the Cuban who is slightly confused. There are more levels to be had given more rehearsals.

Jack Landrón is Three-Finger Jack and was funny throughout although his objective was not clear.  He had all of his digits and one is not sure what the three-finger was all about.

Tom Sandoval was another manager type who played Alacran. Both men pushed buttons to get their fighter to do what they wanted them to do. There is a little more to offer in both of the roles. But, Sandoval did well.

Dennis Renard also does a nice turn as Garnet, an entertainer looking to turn his life into something more than just an imitator. Garnet seems harsh about ending his relationship when he finds out the truth from his friend.

Elisa Bocanegra, the director, mentioned something about 12 hours putting it all together and the night was a complete success as part of the Future Classics Reading Series.  It was a success for the actors, the writer Oliver Mayer, for the director Bocanegra, and for Hero Theatre.

The evening featured musical accompaniment by Bobby Grigas.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Paul Salcedo – Fight Choreography
Letitia Chang – Stage Manager
Claire Manning – Assistant Director
Joseph Henderson – Videography


Funding for theatre in Los Angeles is very limited and everyone is blessed when that happens. So, if you want to contribute to Hero for their upcoming productions, please visit www.herotheatre.org

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