Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Road-Trip Monologues Raw bites ’18 – Various writers.

By Joe Straw

Theatre is a business.  That’s plain and simple.  The idea is to be seen and connect to an audience.  If there is no one in the audience, with the exception of the two reviewers and their dates, has everyone done their job?

Phillip Sokoloff (publicist) got the reviewers in and, at least for this night, that job was accomplished. Ed Krieger, the photographer, did his job.

Jane Edwina Seymour curated, produced and directed the monologues.  That, in and of itself, was an accomplishment.

But, what about an audience? Unless every actor is new in town, has no friends or acquaintances, or everyone they know has suddenly gotten the plague, there is no excuse for each actor not to have two or three “friends” filling up the seats. Eight scenes, eight actors, mean that there should be 24 patrons in the audience at the very least, every night, that is if they want to be seen.

Inviting no one, on a Saturday night, is an exercise in futility for the actor.  Not blaming anyone but one part of this endeavor, this job, is for the actor to be seen, to get people into the theatre, because in reality, no matter the venue, actors need an audience to find a connection, to give, and to get feedback.   

RPW & stories about humans present The Road-Trip Monologues Raw bites ’18 new writing for stage, curated, produced and directed by Jane Edwina Seymour at The Zephyr Theatre through July 22, 2018   

For the most part, the monologues are about travel, which interested me having traveled across the country twice in my youth.  But some were not and that was rather odd, or maybe it was the travels in their lives.   The actors’ character names were also not in the program, and that was odd as well.

The play, on this night, starts with a woman reminiscing with travel slides projected on a small screen far upstage left.  But the slides on a carousel were too small to make out, other than each travel photo is in a different time and place. It must have been part of the show because the “old skool” projector screen got a credit in the program. The projector and screen left when Jane Edwina Seymour presented the night.  

Hypocrites & Stripper by Kem Yaged

Laura Walker (actor) is thrown out by her live-in stripper girlfriend, shoes and all, and, with nothing but her car, decides to travel across the country to start anew, only to end up with another self-infatuated stripper who takes pleasures in self-gratification in Los Angeles.  Walker's focus should be on the character. The character doesn’t seem too bright and we need to see how that trait always gets her into trouble.   Also, in terms of character development, the best thing she could have done was to wear the shoes thrown at her and then play out the scene.  (Or, at least, do it in rehearsal to figure more about both of those characters.) Also, the whys of how she gets pulled into these relationship must be explored. Walker should also relax. Most of her action was pushed, hard, leaving little room for character exploration and development.  We get that she is mad (angry facial expressions) but we don’t see what is carrying her to her objective, whatever that objective was.

There are some interesting things in Yaged’s writing and they are mostly about relationships and what people expect when engaged in relationships.

The Weary – Michael G. Hilton

Schafer Bourne (actor) brings in a Coke, a 20 oz. coffee container, and a bottle of Evan Williams Whiskey.  (Funny, with all those props, he never mixes the drink. Probably best to use it or discard it if it is not useful in the scene.) He takes a few drinks from the whiskey bottle, calls his friend (or brother) Mikey, and leaves a very long message about the trip they took with his or their father long ago when they were nine.   He asks Mikey why he hasn’t called and that is never resolved during the course of the monologue.  A bit farouche he never manages to express what is truly on his mind. Bourne brings enough of his natural self onto the stage but he really should decide about his objective and where the monologue is taking him. Defining the relationship is critical in determining where the character is going.

It seems like there is something missing in Michael G. Hilton’s work mostly having to do with the relationship between the character on stage and Mikey, why they fell apart, and why they don’t see each other anymore.  

Boot’s Vacation – by Rex McGregor

Emma Chelsey plays Boots, a skateboarder, and makes an unforgivable mistake in her entrance onto the stage.  She doesn’t skateboard on stage, she doesn’t show us what she can do, and that is absolutely essential for us to see.  It is a defined truth that gives life to all she speaks about on stage.  Also, everything is described in degrees, and slopes, until the character reaches the Guggenheim museum when things didn’t necessarily change in the mind of the character.  But the Guggenheim museum appears to be the answer, the eye-opening moment, where children put away their toys.

Rex McGregor gives us some interesting moments about a person growing up and understanding there is more to life than skateboarding across the world.

Roller Coasters – by Lesley Asistio

This is a story about a woman, Juliet Ladines (actor), whose childhood abruptly ended after the divorce of her parents.  Her dad was cheating on her mom and her mom was involved with another woman. Ladines is sensible in her approach to the role but more is needed in character to define the character and her objective.

Lesley Asistio has written a monologue with characters that are clearly defined in the mind of the character, the cheating father, the lesbian mother, the girl who wakes up in adolescence to discover things are different in the world she now observes.   

Medea by Chas Belov

Medea (Nina Sallinen) has committed four homicides, including her kids, and is certifiably nuts.  Not sure what this has to do with traveling. More character work is needed to convince us she is in a medical lockup situation and, even though she is nuts, she needs a stronger creative choice to carry her objective.

One did not get Chas Belov’s story, or where it was going.  There must be a reason the character is telling us the story but at the end of it, what does the character learn?

New Girl by Roger Vickery

This is a story about a woman (Kenlyn Kanouse) who has escaped a Nazi concentration camp and is mentoring another woman who may not be right for her grandson.  The road she has traveled has been difficult and one supposes she is preparing the “new girl” and her difficult road ahead.  The character needs an objective and a life with exigency for purpose.

There must be a point to Roger Vickery’s story.  It is Kafkaesque in purpose but without the bond that cements her peculiarities.  If there was a purpose, I didn’t get it.  Not in this carnation.

Crossing the Bridge by James Balian

Henry Kemp (actor) was a father with a young son who has suddenly become ill and a decision is made to put him into the car and rush him to the hospital when his temperature spikes to 108 degrees (not sure if that was a slip by actor Kemp – 108 degrees is usually fatal.). The conflict is one of a race against time. He is driving over a bridge during rush hour with his child in the back seat as son’s life hangs in the balance.  Kemp does a fine job and manages to live the monologue throughout.  There is more work to be done in character but it is a fine job nonetheless.

James Balian writes descriptively, the story moves seamlessly, and the visuals play upon deep emotions that all parents go through when their child is burning up with a fever. This was the most enjoyable scene with a very loving ending.   

Hope for Us All by Doe Andersen-Bloomfield

Sonya Wallace (Shanqua) has a two-hour wait for a train.  She meets Amorose (not on stage), a bartender in the train station.  Shanqua and Amorose strike up a conversation when a nearby person is seen on television having a racist diatribe against African Americans. Shanqua is meek when confronting the man while Amorose is not and Shanqua must stand for what she believes.

Doe Andersen-Bloomfield fills in the empty space with differing lives, a bar, and wonderful relationships of real people who inhabit this world. The title is Hope for Us All but one did not really see how the character reaches that point.

Zephyr Theatre

7456 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046

Run! And take someone you would like to take across the country. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes

L - R Keren Lugo and Sean Carvajal

By Joe Straw

He left the war
and the military.

And on this day the only thing he wore,
besides his skivvies,
were his dog tags. 


Leaning hot head
against arm
clink's the sliding glass door,


he listened to his tags
and the jarring “clicks”,
memories of killing another human being.


as droplets of sweat
run down his face,
to his tags,


and soundlessly dropped
like blood to his knees,
and then


Living beyond that day,
over and over again,
was not easy for him.

The easy part
was the other guy


A man
haunts him,

him to
away. – Narrator. 

Center Theatre Group, Michael Ritche Artistic Director, Stephen D. Rountree Managing Director, Douglas C. Baker Producing Director, Gordon Davidson Founding Artistic Director presents Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz.  This show ran from January 31 – March 11, 2018 and has closed.

Upon entering the Mark Taper Forum, one is struck by the unusual set design, the Scenic Design by Adam.  The sets walls were thrown up against the upstage wall, lit like office cubicles lacking aquariums (Lighting Design, Yi Zhao), and the stage was relatively bare.  Chairs and desks moved in and out, but mostly downstage, when needed.  

And along the upstage parapet and on the second level were green plants, lots and lots of plastic plants encrusted against the palisade representing El Yunque in Puerto Rico a place were the water never stops falling and is green all year around.  El Yunque plays an important part near the end of the play.  

The entire cast avoided center stage.

The look was unusual to say the least.  When the time came, what was going to happen middle center stage? More on this later.

Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes and direction by Lileana Blain-Cruz has some remarkable moments in it.  Hudes writes beautifully in the way information is release, by the spoonful, until audiences are satiated. 

The characters themselves are awash in rivulets that splash and are suddenly defined all under pressure and in critical moments in the play.  Those moments burst like a flower absorbing the morning dew and it happens in full slow motion glory. 

But the falling cascade had actors reacting, at times, without absorbing those moments, similar to the falls, which brush harshly against the rocks with seemingly no effect.  

Were the characters feeling the same thing to that which I was listening?  Did the words hit them as it hit me?  Were those moments defined, and did they change the relationships?  

Water by the Spoonful was my second favorite of the trilogy.  Odd.  Possibly, one is not to judge quality on the venue.  Grand things come in small packages and The Latino Theatre Company’s show was remarkable, especially the acting.

So, what happened on the night I attended?

The time is 2009. Six years after Elliot left for Iraq.

The end comes, but first comes  – a divorce.

Elliot (Sean Carvajal) meets a woman Yazmin (Karen Lugo) on a bench in a university setting.  Elliot is looking for a man, and he’s not waiting too much longer – a rendezvous Yaz has set up. But first there are other things to settle.

“Yaz, you gotta help me with my mom.” – Elliot

His mom is in deep water, and not doing too well – cancer – and she’s eating the unhealthiest things on the planet.

“That’s Ginny.  The more stubborn she’s being, the better she’s feeling.” – Yaz

(Hudes is not giving away anything, until…)

Yaz interrupts him to say that she has gotten a divorce; they fell out of out of love.

(Interesting moment. these two young adults, sitting together, and we are still not sure about their relationship although there’s brief hint. One likes ambiguous moments to enlighten or confuse – one of the two. But, the actors were letting go of very little. )  

A man enters (Elliot hardly flinches).  His name is Aman (Nick Massouh).  (Cute name.) A man.  He is a professor, of Arab background who grew up speaking English, and who also looks a lot like the ghost chasing Elliot around. Elliot needs an Arabic phrase translated.

“Eh, your sister’s cute.”- Aman

“Cousin.” – Elliot

Now we get the definitive answer to Yaz and Elliot’s relationship. But there’s more to the relationship that has not been defined. (Hudes is brilliant at letting the information come out with a wavy lustrous finish.)  

Aman throws a dash of cold water onto Elliot’s face by asking a simple question about his dog tags. He’s also curious about Elliot’s background and is hesitant about translating a Iraqi phrase until his help is reciprocated in kind.

But Elliot is hard pressed to help the professor who is, technically, trying to hire him for a movie his friend is filming. (What is it that you don’t understand? Making money on a movie is more than making subways sandwiches?)

“… And you seem not unintelligent.  For a maker of sandwiches.” – Aman

Spoken like a true hardnosed disparaging professor.

Scene Two

Odessa (Luna Lauren Vélez) is on the computer – her computer name is Haikumom and she greets the day on her computer with a haiku.

Orangutan (Kylvia Kwan) enters the chat room and types.

Ninety-one days.  Smiley face. – Orangutan

Odessa Haikumom is seriously relieved that Orangutan is chatting again.  Why? We don’t know as of yet.  Little spoonfuls.

Chutes&Ladders (Bernard K. Addison) signs on and is also relieved the Orangutan is back.

Orangutan, originally named Yoshiko Sakai, was adopted by an American family and was living in Maine.  Her parents got her URL and password and found out what Orangutan was all about.  They summarily gave her a one-way plane ticket to Japan. (Nice folks!)

The three speak by chatting on a computer and, little by little, their relationship becomes clearer but not really defined.

“I’m sitting in an orange plastic chair, a little view of the Hokkaido waterfront.” – Orangutan

“Japan has a waterfront?”- Haikumom

“It is an island.” – Chutes&Ladders

The dialogue says a lot about the mental capacity of Haikumom, that maybe she is not too bright about certain things.  She is also the administrator of the chat room, the mom, who deletes provocative language.

And still we go on and talk about water, Chutes&Ladders almost drowning, a lifeguard who pulls him out, and one more clue about “OD’s” and about starting to live again.

“Sober air toast. To lifeguards.” - Orangutan

Back at the university, we still don’t know the relationship between the chat group and Yazmin.

Little by little we find that Yaz is a music professor, infatuated by jazz and particularly, John Coltrane.  She starts from her beginning, how her obsession started, and how she came to love the intricacies of Jazz.   

“I never really heard dissonance before.” – Yaz

She will now, now that there’s trouble.  Elliot phones Yaz and tells her “Mom” is dying and Pop texted that “Your mom is on a breathing machine.” This sends Elliot into chaos, heightened by PTSD from the war. And there’s an Iraqi ghost chasing him all around Philadelphia.

On the other side of the spoon, and into the chat room, we are introduced to Fountainhead (Josh Braaten), a man who has it all but also has a serious problem.  This is why he decided to join this particular chat room.  And this is when we find out what the chat room is all about.

“I’m taking my wife out tomorrow for our seventh anniversary and little does she know that when we clink glasses, I’ll be toasting to Day One.” - Fountainhead

There is much to enjoy in Quiara Alegría Hudes writing.  The diverse makeup of people in the cast showcases a huge range of humanity, Japanese, Puerto Rican, African American, Iraqis, and white. It is a realistic view of Americana, especially of the people who reside in the city.

Sean Carvajal was a most remarkable Elliot especially his North Philadelphian accent that was impeccable and poured though his emotional being. Elliot is fleeing a ghost from another country and tormented by self-reflective pain. The ghost is real but only speaks Arabic.  After he finds out what the ghost wants, that should lead the character. If I had to pick the best Elliot of the trilogy, Carvajal was the best. This Elliot sees things both real and imaginary.  But he is never caught off guard by the seeing the same person in various roles. If this is a conscience acting choice, it is unremarkable and leads nowhere. Also the scene in the flower shop does not move us in the direction of the through line.

Keren Lugo was impressive as Yazmin. Yazmin is the brilliant but can hardly manage her affairs. She seems detached in the way she cannot be emotionally attached to her parents.  People live, people die, and life moves on.

Nick Massouh did a fine turn as Professor Aman.  Actually the professor was spot on in manner and character.  Portraying the Ghost on stage is another matter, this wasn’t as creative as it could have been.  Interesting the Arab character had the composition of sand and is the opposite of water.  He is the sand, the foundation of mother earth, and the core for which all water lies upon.

Luna Lauren Velez plays Odessa.  In her home, Odessa was the queen of her castle but out of her element she was lost in her role as a parent and a comforter. A character of fire and water that leaves a child behind because of her drug addiction and is never able to reconcile that relationship, ever.  The pain is clearly evident in Odessa’s eyes but does that pain translate into any kind of reconciliation, or a purpose want that.

Sylvia Kwan is Oangutan and is pleasant enough. But, there’s a little something going on here between her and another member of the group. A strong relationship develops on paper but little of emotional attachment is seen on the stage and it is perplexing as to why those two people ever got together. Kwan really needs to find those moments, the physical way they are attached, and develop that relationship.

Bernard K. Addison is Chutes&Ladders, an IRS  ‘GS4 paper pusher” on the verge of retiring.  He is alone, too alone, and needs to find someone or his time is over.  But just when he thinks that all is lost, there is something tangible, something around the corner, a possibility, someone who he cares deeply for, fear takes over.  It is his overriding factor and something he must overcome.  This is indeed a very nice performance.

Josh Braaten is Fountainhead, a very successful man who has the strong urge to go after the drug of his choice.  He is a golden boy who has a nice family, a great business, and a very nice car.  Too bad, he’s a drug addict. Everyone comes to the chat room for a reason, Fountainhead desperately want to be there to find the answer.  Guilt seems to be the reason he is there, but what do you do with guilt? The action leads nowhere.  Braaten needs a stronger choice in is objective and one that gives him a favorable, humanistic outcome.

Lileana Blain-Cruz, the director, creates a number of interesting moments on stage. Some moments are so subtle as to be almost invisible.  The effect of the center stage was a mist of water pouring down in the jungle of El Yunque.  It did not add to the piece, made theatre a little cooler, but did enhance the theatrical experience.  Some things were lost in the dialogue as the ashes were scattered.  Also, the scene in the florist shop didn’t go anywhere as we lost sight of where they were during the course of their examination of life, their lives. And the scene needed a strong emotional commitment of Puerto Rican intensity. Also, the scenes with the characters on the computers lacked creativity the stage needs.  It might be fine for television, but this is the theatre and needed an additional boost.

The understudies in this show were Maria Costa, Marcus Cruz, Faqir Hassan, Fiona Rene, Anny Rosario, and Montae Russell. The new understudy was Gabrielle Madé.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Raquel Barreto – Costume Design
Jane Shaw – Sound Design
Hannah Wasileski – Projection Design
Rosalinda Morales and Pauline O’Con – Casting
Amy Christopher and Marcia DeBonis – New York Casting
David S. Franklin – Production Stage Manager
Michelle Blair – Stage Manager

Run! Run! The play is available on Kindle.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Mr. Pim Passes By by A. A Milne

By Joe Straw

De mortuis nihil nisi bonum – Of the dead nothing but good is said.

soft white  
toddler pig,
the barn and

small boys
Throwing corncobs

Laughter as
away - Narrator

Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents Mr. Pim Passes By by A.A. Milne produced by David Hunt Stafford.

A.A. Milne, was a playwright but is famously noted for writing about animals in other mediums.   

One thinks wistfully about the Winnie the Pooh books, but there’s also that gnawing realization that the commercialized bear gets his name above the title, his own movies, TV shows, merchandise, theme park, and the slight Mr. Pim gets very little notoriety despite being just as forgetful as Winnie was, is, and will be.  


So, Set Designer Jeff G. Rack creates the beautiful setting. One can look at the living room and definitely call it home, but in an old, old fashion way, with light coming in from God’s knows where.  The ancestral family thought it was enough, to bring in the sun during the day or the starlight at night.  And leaving the windows without curtains was part of the reason for this day.  Still, it was nice to bathe in the beautiful blues from the sky.  

Olivia Marden (Roslyn Cohn) wants to spruce the place up a bit with some interesting curtains.  But, these curtains are not to the liking of George Marden (John Wallace Combs), a stanch conservative, who likes his abode unchanged, just the way his great-great-grandfather left it.  

But please, let’s not mince words; the place was looking rather timeworn and obsolete and by all accounts, it needs some sprucing up, new life, and new blood.  

And there’s no piano.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Narrator (Laura Lee Walsh) introduced us to the home, a fine character in the plot of the story, and later becomes Ann, the household help, when she meets Mr. Caraway Pim (Jeffrey Winner), a bird of a man who is as forgetful as the metaphor that escapes me.

Mr. Pim flits about the room in abject puzzlement latching on to nothing in particular until an excessively happy and naïve Dinah finds him to explain the household relationships.

George is Dinah’s uncle and her legal guardian since she was two years old. (No mention is made of her parents.) And they lived on this pig farm in a New England community. Five years ago, George married a widow, Mrs. Telworthy, now Aunt Olivia.  

Dinah’s strong urging at the moment is to tell Mr. Pim that she got engaged last night but really hasn’t enough fortitude to do that right away.

Mr. Pim is confused by all the attention he is getting. Mistaking cues, Mr. Pim wants to make a fast getaway.

“…You’re a very kind little girl.” – Pim

“I want to know if you’re married” – Dinah

“Oh, no, I’m not married.” – Pim   

Brian (Troy Whitaker), her secret betroth, enters the home, from his meeting with George. Dinah casually greets him and introduces Brian to Mr. Pim.

“Brian, this is Mr. Pim!  Mr. Carraway Pim.  He’s been telling me all about himself.” – Dinah

“I haven’t said a word.  I never opened my mouth.” – Pim

(Interesting dialogue that says quite a bit about the makeup of the mysterious Mr. Pim, his relationship to a young woman, and his relationship to a young strong virile young man in that brief meeting.)

In the course of discussing their matrimony…

“We shall never be rich,…” –Brian

(That should have sent red warning flags of conflict but passes like ships in the night.)

Soon Olivia enters the living room and hears the news.  Dinah and Brian enlist Olivia to break the news to George.

George, comes back from viewing the pigs, but doesn’t find Mr. Pim, doesn’t know who he is, or what he wants (perhaps that is a diversion). That is when the happy trio proceeds to break the news to him.

George is not pleased.

Later Mr. Pim shares more information (or what could be considered misinformation). When Mrs. Julia Marden (Casey Jones) George’s aunt finds out, she wants George and Olivia’s marriage annulled.

This version of Mr. Pim Passes By by A.A. Milne is a two-act play rather than the three act as had been written.  Overall, the truncated and altered version of this play is charming and has its moments, but there is more work to be done.  Not so much for the leads but rather the supporting players who don’t give it enough punch to carry it along.

Nathalie Rudolph is Dinah and physically slides into the role without much problem.  But there are the emotional moments that slide by, and are not accompanied by much of a backstory.  Dinah wants to get married desperately and, at first, she so wants to tell the world that, including Mr. Pim.  But, that really doesn’t happen.  When her betrothed enters the room, she greets him like an old boyfriend twice removed.  When her guardian tells her that he won’t allow the marriage, she appears largely unaffected. When she finds out her future husband wants to remain poor throughout their marriage, she hardly flinches. Rudolph needs to find a stronger objective, followed by a creative physical life to get what she wants, and an emotional core that powers her though her perceived conflict.  Rudolph would do well to creatively define the relationships to her uncle, her aunt, her boyfriend, and to Mr. Pim.

Troy Whitaker is Brian Strange.  Whitaker has a strong speaking voice and that works in his favor.  But, there’s not a lot of depth to his character.  Shirttail out of his pants and ruffled hair does not make an artist. Also, he’s not affected by the criticism of his artwork, which he passionately loves. The artwork, however, looks like crayon on paper rather than something that is aesthetically pleasing. Whitaker needs to find the makeup of this character, his strength and weakness. One weakness is his virility—he’s unable to make his point in his first meeting with George.  The second is bringing in that history to his first appearance.  After not telling George, he has to confront his betrothed and tell her that he has failed. But his objective should be to find his strength for the purposes of marrying the girl!

John Wallace Combs is George Marden and does well for the most part.  There is a great deal of strength in his character especially in the latter half of the show, where his reality plays a crucial part in the play.  This part of his performance was tremendous. And if I could make a point about his costume; the costume for this pig farmer is immaculate, not a speck of dirt on his clothes, shoes, or anywhere. He must have been a supervisor, someone who doesn’t touch the pigs, the pen, or the food.  That aside, Combs gives the production a lot of vitality.

Roslyn Cohn plays Olivia Marden with so much heart it is heartbreaking when she doesn’t get what she wants.  As Mrs. Telworthy, she had a checkered past but now she is committed and she wants to be with this man the rest of her life.  The warmth presented in her smile goes beyond a simple gesture.  It has life and substantial meaning. Cohn is an outstanding actor and presents a persona and a character one loves to see in intimate theatre.   

Casey Jones plays Mrs. Marden. In this production, she seems to be George’s sister although the relationship is ambiguous enough to be anyone’s guess. That aside, Jones does well as Mrs. Marden, a woman who appears to have money and power.  In the original play, she is George Marden’s aunt, Lady Marden and she wields a kind of power that comes with the title.  Truth be told, Jones is too young for the original version of the role. But in this version, she appears to be a wealthy New Englander wanting to rid herself of her pesky sister-in-law.  Jones’ brings a lot of maniacal power to the role, in her beagling outfit, in the way she wants Olivia out of the picture.   

Laura Lee Walsh presents an impressive figure as Ann/Narrator.  She is very tall and has a wonderful voice.  While there is not a lot of meat to the role of Ann, Walsh would do well to find a stronger objective and recognize conflict inherent in the role of the character.  

Jeffrey Winner is Mr. Caraway Pim a man filled with so many mannerisms, it is difficult to determine to know what he wants. The mannerism, wonderful in construction, takes over the objective of the character. Relationships are the key to this character; his relationship to Dinah, to Anne, to Brian, Olivia, and George must be dramatically different for reasons known only to his being. The bottom line is his objective, how does he get it, and what gets in his way, the conflict.

Jacob Osborne will be playing Brian Strange from June 2nd through June 17th, 2018 but did not perform the night I was there.

There is little to fix with this production that Jules Aaron, the director, can fix. It mostly has to do with the relationships, the conflict, and the timing of what characters get what they want.  And these are moments that define the changes in relationships, boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, outside relative/unexpected guest, those relationships need defining, and change must somehow be profound and creative.  Through the course of this play – life-changing moments happen all of the time, and at inopportune moments – those moments must be realized.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Michéle Young – Costume Designer
Ric Zimmerman – Lighting Designer
Gabrieal Griego – Sound Designer
Betsy Paull-Rick – Stage Manager
Richard Carner – Assistant Stage Manager
Susan Mermet – Assistant Director
Phillip Sokoloff – Public Relations

Run! And take someone who love A.A. Mile’s work.

RESERVATIONS: (310) 364-0535.
ONLINE TICKETING: www.theatre40.or

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Giant Void in My Soul by Bernardo Cubría

Top: Kim Hamilton, Bottom: Karla Mosley

By Joe Straw


Sometimes something comes along that is, at first glance, startling and then manages, by the very nature of theatre, to capture the imaginative spirit.  It is rare when you come across a new play that is breathtaking, breathtaking in the way that it fills the senses and settles the intellectual beast within.

There is a dramatic intimacy in Bernardo Cubria’s work of art, a fire breathing, soul searching familiarity that leaves one delightfully lightheaded when stepping out into the cool night air.  

The Ammunition theatre company presents The Giant Void in My Soul, written by Bernardo Cubría, and supremely directed by Felix Solís, is now playing at the Pico Playhouse through June 3, 2018.

Cubría has written a play that respires the human condition and defines it exquisitely, all for the benefit of understanding the human kind.  This play is a major work of art that veers off from heightened realism to highlight the struggles of humanity - all realized in a clown costume.   

Solís, the director, has overseen and has executed a show that is almost flawless. The moment the performers step onto the stage their eyes reflect a deep objective and a history of the character.  Solís is a master craftsman and what we see is the craft, brilliantly implemented, and exceptional in every conceivable way.

Let it be clowns to help us understand the deeper meaning of life.

But what is it about this particular play that touches so many humanistic chords? Simply put, it is the story of the human condition, and the searching of a salvation that will fill the void.

Funny, but, when we enter the theatre we are face to face with a red curtain, blocking our view, that bathes us in an eerie red shadow.  Cramped behind the red cloth, knee to keen, elbows to elbows, there is unusual feeling of wanting out, or wanting more until the curtains slowly open.  

Fool 1 (Karla Mosley) and Fool 2 (Kim Hamilton) are the best of friends.  In real life, they don the articles of comic entertainers, in white clown suits, in clown makeup, and painted faces – the works. They are inseparable juvenile clowns excited to be making their place in the world.

They speak to create an original thought or the one thought that would change the world.

On two grey sawhorses they sit, one sawhorse with fur fabric and the other with a plain leathery fabric that one might find in a three-ring circus to hold back the humanistic throngs of indulgent fans or wild animals.

Tonight, they grow tired of the banter that leads them into cavernous pit of self-doubt until a red bow falls from the sky and that “falling star” sends them into a tizzy.

Seriously, clowns take life exponentially, which is why they are clowns.

The bow unfolds – a tattered piece of red cloth – but, exponentially now, a small red curtain. But, what does it all mean?  

And through a ceremonious inclination Fool 2 places the red curtain in front of Fool 1’s eyes and lifts it as Fool 1 immerses herself.  And through the act of mental inertia Fool 1 feels a strong need to fill a giant void that is now in her soul.

So, they sally forth on an incredible clown journey, with copious resources in hand, to that place, in a faithful act of fulfillment and gratuitous suppostions.  

This would be, beyond a doubt, the finest cast ensemble I have seen in intimate theatre. 

L - R Claudia Doumit, Kim Hamilton, Karla Mosley

Karla Mosley is Fool 1 who rides the sawhorse of naivety, grows up, has a child, and is still a clown, always searching for something to fill the void. Mosley is terrific in the role, a clement clown that wants only one thing. Mosley gives an outstanding performance.

Kim Hamilton is Fool 2, a clown that has aged wisely and leisurely seeks to discover something that is not.  But she takes the journey for the sake of her friend.  It is a crash and burn journey, still things turn out well because she waits and listens. Hamilton conveys the strength in this character nicely. She also presents a deep concentration while in her character, one that sends a delicious shiver down one’s spine.

Claudia Doumit has a number of roles as the Bartender/Woke 1/Deep Thinker/Partner; in each role, she is decidedly different.  Doumit has a very sultry look, (despite the wonderful clown makeup) and is incredible in each role.  She has a level of concentration one rarely finds in intimate theatre and her physical performance was inventive and joyous to watch.

Top: Liza Fernandez, Bottom: Claudia Doumit

Liza Fernandez was also outstanding as Drunk/Woke 2/ Coworker/Baby/Parent.  Her round face works perfectly as the Drunk and as the crying Baby.  But there is more to her than just the look as she glides effortlessly throughout the night in her performances.

There are three actors who did not perform the night I was there.  Xochitl Romero (Fool 1 understudy), Malorie Felt (Bartender/Woke1/Deep Thinker/Partner understudy), Karen Sours Albisua (Drunk/Woke 2/Coworker/Baby/Parent understudy) and Liza Fernandez will move into the Fool 2 role on May 27th 2018.

The extraordinary Producer on this project were Julie Bersani, Michael Feldman, and Bernardo Cubría.

Sami Rattner, Costume Design, and Lighting Design by Lauren Wemischner paint a brilliant chiaroscuro as the white clown costume blend in with the natural colors of their mood in yellows, blue, and reds. It is mesmerizing in its effect.

Mischa Stanton’s Sound Design takes us through another time and place.  It places the audience in the void and helps us to come out.

Erica Smith’s Makeup Design, the clown makeup, highlights the individual characteristic of each clown that helps to send us on a delirious journey.

Arian Saleh was the Composer, and Brian Nichols was responsible for the Projection Design.

Run! Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who likes to explore the intimate details of all things.

The Pico
10508 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90064

Saturday, May 12, 2018

SOLO MUST DIE: A Musical Parody Book by Jordan and Ari Stidham Music and Lyrics by Hughie Stone Fish and Ari Stidham

L - R Hughie Stone Fish, Jordan Stidham, Ari Stidham - Photos by Aaron Tocchi

By Joe Straw

Hugh (John Ryan) has a highly active imagination as he waits for his friend, who is always late, Colm (Jordan R. Coleman).  The purpose of the meeting is for Colm to read his script - a musical parody of the movie Star Wars.

But when Colm arrives late he is not too interested, says he doesn’t read English, and really wants no part of it until he does. After all, Colm implies he’s done it, read it, heard it, and smelled the Star War stories inside out, outside in.  There’s nothing much left in the genre. 

Sitting and reading the script Colm doesn’t see the light, feel the action, or hear the John Williams music.  

But, that doesn’t deter Hugh.  Not one bit as Colm is handed the script and characters suddenly appear on stage.

Grand Moff Levine (Ari Stidham) loves to break the fourth wall and interact with the audience mostly urging them on to applaud his being onstage. (A little less of this would work.) Grand Moff Levine is the good guy or likes to think of himself that way.  

(This Moff is a healthier version than the pale; sickly looking Peter Cushing who played him in the films.)

Grand Moff Levine is the protagonist, but how good can you be when you want to kill Han Solo (Jordan Stidham) who has just crash-landed on the planet in Cloud City?

Well you sit down, or something, talk to your second wife Galaxia (Selorm Kploanyi) and your daughter Annie (Kaitlyn Tanimoto) and come up with a plan to rid the galaxy of Han Solo in order to gain favor from the dark side of the force.  

Jordan Stidham, Keenan Montgomery

Han, in another location, needs a place to crash (pun intended) and he meets with Lando (Keenan Montgomery) to see if he can hang at his pad while he gets the Millennium Falcon together.  Lando says okay and goes to sleep, cape flowing behind as he escapes to his bedroom.

Meanwhile everyone wants something from Han, and Han, with time management issues, wants to cram his life with adventures, every single moment until the end, until Han Solo is dead, dead, dead.  

SOLO MUST DIE: A Musical Parody book by Jordan & Ari Stidham, Music & Lyrics by Hughie Stone Fish & Ari Stidham, and Directed by Ari Stidham through May 27th, 2018 at the Hudson Backstage Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard on theatre row in Hollywood.  

“Solo…” is a musical parody and in that aspect one must have a familiarity to the films to get most of the jokes but it is not a necessity.  The music by Hughie Stone Fish is enjoyable, keeps the night moving at light speed, and overall the show is entertaining from top to bottom.  

Tevyn Cole keeps the night lively with his choreography that is enjoyable and manages to give light to the parody.

Ari Stidham, director, co-writer, stagehand, makeup artist, and as Grand Moff Levine has a lot on his plate, but seems to be having the time of his life. (One would suggest that he wear a belt to keep things up nice and tidy.)  One get’s the mustache, but not the beard for this character.  Grand Moff Levine has his reason for wanting Han dead and he moves in that direction for the most part. A parody is something that accentuates a trait of a character to an extraordinary degree and one is not sure how this is a Grand Moff parody. Also, the show needs a better ending.

Jordan Stidham, Co-Writer, and plays Han Solo takes a while to get used to but then manages to capture the night in wig and song. Stidham has a charm and is funny throughout the night. If adventure is what Han wants, Stidham should be searching and finding creative ways to find it every moment he is on stage.

Alex Lewis plays a number of characters Greedo, Kylo Ren, Postmate and others and has a nice presence on stage and manages to keep the action moving with those characters.

Jordan R. Coleman does some nice work as Colm, mostly stage right with expressive facial expressions.  It is difficult to determine what Colm’s objective is in the manner he is dismissive of his friend’s work. Coleman also plays Rogue One Leia.

Luke hasn’t got much to do played by Sean Draper in this musical parody mostly because he is not the lead in a musical that is called “Solo Must Die”. He also plays the real Darth Vader (not the one with a bucket over his head) and Priest.

Zach Green plays Jabba The Hut and as strong as the character is on film, I don’t remember the parody of this particular character.  Possibly, more needs to be added.

Cooper Karn has a very nice look and presence as Chewbacca and a definitive charm on stage.

Selorm Kploanyi is exceptional as Galaxia.  She is an excellent actor with a wonderful voice and also a character that needs more time on stage, and one more song preferably a solo that highlights her voice.  The lipstick was space age and wonderful.

Keenan Montgomery as Lando is smooth.  The character Lando is a shade seedier than Solo and is ambiguous enough for the audience to never get a handle on what he wants.  Lando would sell his mother for a cracker and a nice slice of Brie. There is much to like in Montgomery’s performance and in his singing voice.  

John Ryan is rather impish as Hugh, a character who thinks like the thousands living in Hollywood today that think they have created the next Star Wars.  His beliefs are bigger than his imagination and we never get a final resolution to the character as Ryan also hops into the C3P0 and J. J. Binks roles.

Kaitlyn Tanimoto is enjoyable as Annie, Grand Moff’s daughter, who is never satisfied with her life or the things that her father is trying to accomplish. (A typical daughter).  Tanimoto is enjoyable as an actor and singer.

Selorm Kploanyi, Ari Stidham

Michelle Wicklas has a strong presence on stage and is a trouper when it comes to operating BB8 (A white ball with duct tape and a pasta sieve).  She also plays Smart House and Yoda.  But, whenever she is on stage her craft is prevalent and the force is strong with this one.  

There is no credit for costumes but the costumes were just enough to give flavor to the characters on stage.

Steven Brandon, Producer, Ashley Tavares, Co-Producer, and Alex Lewis, Co-Producer give life and support to a large cast and musical accompaniment to the singers on stage.

Jimmy McCammon was the Tech Director/Stage Manager. Nora Feldman was Public Relations.

While there is really no one particular song by Hughie Stone Fish that a person sings on the way out of the theatre all is not lost. (Cats only had one song.) The singers are remarkable, personable, and give strength to the genre and that’s more than half the battle.

The Act One Finale parodies Les Misérables and was wonderful.

B - L to R - Michelle Wicklas, Alex Lewis, Cooper Karn, Sean Draper, 
F - Jordan Stidham, Keenan Montgomery

Telephone: 323-960-7788

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Intimacy Effect by Jeff Tabnick

Jordana Oberman and Tim Fannon

By Joe Straw

Extended through May 13th, 2018

Appel: noun – a tap or stamp of the foot, formerly serving as a warning of one’s intent to attack, but now also used as a feint. –
Amy Appel (Toni Christopher) was crying, alone, at her dinning room table, in a cozy—more like confining—apartment. 

Tonight, the severity of her tears is astonishing. It was just a quiet gathering of family, (the gathering probably caused it) and a sense of loneliness possibly aggravated her sense of being.

Across the table from her was an empty baby’s high chair, which is probably the saddest sight known to human kind but this is not the reason for her tears, or maybe it was.

(And for the love of God, what was that noise out in the lobby of the theatre?) 

No, that’s not right. 

There was noise of people talking and it is in the hallway of Amy and Matt’s apartment building. Matt Appel (Tim Fannon) welcomes his brother, Doug Appel (Robert Bella), and his wife, Merrily Appel (Jordana Oberman), as they arrive for a visit.

Doug remarks the apartment might be 800 square feet but a somber Matt tells him that it’s only 600 square feet. A bit of downsizing here, I wonder why?

Matt instructs them to take off their shoes before walking around.

There is something offsetting in Matt’s manner on his 40th birthday, his jaw is clenched, and his head bolted upright.  It is his birthday and his wife is drawing attention to herself, yet again, and it’s really not his fault, nothing is really ever his fault, whatever that fault may be.

Anyway, Matt is cooking and doesn’t want to discuss Amy’s problem. Still he’s rather perturbed by the discussion in the dinning room as he bangs pans and dishes in the kitchen.  A diversion perhaps?

L - R Jordana Oberman, Cassidy Schiltz, Tim Fannon and Toni Christopher

And Merrily goes to the source of the problem—to Amy’s side, offers a solicitude, and then stares at everyone to get a sense of what is happening.

Baby Jesse (now two and not seen) is all right. She is with Amy’s mother, so she is not the immediate cause of concern.  There’s something else and it will come out later.  There are important adult things to discuss, so the baby needs to be out of the way.

JTK Productions presents the West Coast Premiere of Jeff Tabnick’s new drama The Intimacy Effect directed by Eric Hunicutt at The Lounge Theatre.

The Intimacy Effect by Jeff Tabnick is an exceptional night of theatre that explores the harshest moments of reality in the most intimate way.  It is a production that deserves more than one viewing, if only to catch the nuances as characters receive and dispense the information during the course of the evening.

L - R Robert Bella, Cassidy Schiltz, Tim Fannon, Jordana Oberman, Toni Christopher

Toni Christopher is outstanding as Amy Appel a woman who has an insatiable craving for one thing from her husband but is unable to find the right words to make him understand.  The conversation moves in a direction for which she will have no part in.  There is only one thing she is after and she will not let go, not tonight, and not ever.  Christopher is solid in this outing and gripping in her determination to leave no stone unturned.

Tim Fannon as Matt Appel is offbeat, living on the downbeat of life because of his temper.  His anger is a mistake and one that cost him dearly and probably the reason for downsizing in this apartment barely fit for three.  Tonight, Matt can’t face his wife, the discourse that needs to be addressed and resolved.  The odd thing is that Matt doesn’t think that he has done anything wrong and rather than talk to his wife about the problem he shifts the conversation to another significant topic one that threatens to destroy his brother’s life.  One doesn’t see much of the anger or temper in this character but rather a man that wants to move in the right direction.  The hit comes way too late and then comes off as things boys do.

There is something sinister in Robert Bella’s portrayal of Doug Appel.  Bella gives a performance that would be ideal to see more than once to gage if his reactions are sincere to the action on stage. His inner dialogue suggests a man of indecorous ferocity, a moral discontent, and one who cares little about who he hurts, whether it’s his brother or his sister-in-law, not to mention his wife. And, in the end, he seems not to care who he harms.  When the truth is presented to him, in small increments, his mendacious manner suggests he was not the slightest bit concerned.  Maybe there are better choices to be made for this character.

Jordana Oberman is wonderful as Merrily Appel.  The name Merrily suggests the person is kind and willing to go along with what the others have to offer. Merrily has the intrinsic quality of being a happy homemaker with a wonderful family and a giving husband, but little does she know.  The downside to Merrily is that she is slightly daft in not seeing the truth before her eyes and the truth keeps getting bigger and bigger until it is finally blurted out, and in black and white. That is when she finally grasps the reality of the night.  Oberman is an actor that displays a tremendous craft, and just enough nuances to keep one guessing the entire night.  It’s just terrific work.

Cassidy Schiltz plays Jennifer as a somber pregnant woman who invades the household without having any idea of knowing anyone in the room (can’t give away too much here). Jennifer is a woman who enters with a position of strength and purpose.  She should not lose that purpose but she becomes confused by the players and the outcome before she wanders off.

Jeff Tabnick’s play is fascinating starting with the last names of four of the characters, Appel, a fencing term.  And looking back at what happened it almost falls in line with what the character are doing.  The characters are constantly attacking and engaging in ways one would conceive a fencing match. But, instead of foils, their words cut deep, as all tattered personage barely survive the night.

The director Eric Hunicutt manages to showcase the actors in all of their glory.  The production is layered with intimate details, shadowy vibrations, and sideway feints to protect the least guilty.

Matt and Amy have a secret, and their inscrutable intentions are difficult to understand. What are their motives for inviting the other couple when they require a dedicated and meaningful night’s discussion about their own family?

Matt Appel doesn’t think he has a problem and wants to avoid the discussion at all costs.  So he employs a diversion.  He’s angry that he doesn’t have a significant job and he takes it out on his successful brother.  Doug must pay the price.  This seems to be the direction; the dialogue is ambiguous enough that the characters engage in hiding secrets from their significant others and used diversion tactics to steer the conversation in another direction.

The inner dialogue moments – where one character speaks while the others are frozen - works for the most part - but there are other similar moments where the non-speaking characters are not really frozen.  Those moments need to be clearly defined and performed in a way that is unique to the purpose at hand and character objectives.    

Also, the movement in dialogue, should be clearly defined in the ways the characters respond to information.  As an example, the dialogue at the table with the three at the table and Matt in the kitchen making a bunch of racket, wanting to move the infelicitous conversation in another direction.

Doug Appel is a successful lawyer on his way to securing a judgeship but his costume does not suggest that.  (Costume Design by Serena Duffin) It might have worked better to have this character in a coat and tie to give him the advantage of appearing to be the most successful of the gathering.

The Intimacy Effect gives us another reason to venture out to see intimate theatre in Los Angeles. Given the stormy vicissitudes over the course of the night the production is ambiguous enough to wonder if any of the relationships will survive. And, that is the mark of great theatre.

Michael Fitzgerald’s Set Design looked eerily familiar to The Rabbit Hole and was effective.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Jesse Baldridge – Lighting Design
Jason Whitton – Sound Design
Darren Bailey – Fight Choreographer
Schuyler Helford – Assistant Director
Mark Gokel – Stage Manager
Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio – Associate Producer

Run! Run! Run!  And take the person you most admire, with plans to speak about that person’s one little fault.

The Lounge Theatre
6201 Santa Monica Blvd.
Hollywood, CA  90038

Reservations:  800-838-3006