Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Small Mouth Sounds by Bess Wohl

Ben Beckley

By Joe Straw

The Broad Stage in Association with Eva Price, Stacey Mindich, Betsy Bernstein, Ars Nova, Catherine Adler/Sean Hudock, Burnt Umber Productions, Amanda Dubois, Rebecca Gold, Sally Horchow, Iris Smith, Craig Balsam/Kurt Deutsch, and Eric Cornell/Jenna Segal present The Ars Nova Production of Small Mouth Sounds written by Bess Wohl and directed by Rachel Chavkin.

I’m not even going to ask about the mouth full in the opening credits of the program.  Suffice it to say it’s a small mouth full.

One can’t give too much away of Small Mouth Sounds, which would probably be giving away the whole thing. So I thought I’d throw out some observations and not mention the full frontal and extreme back-tal nudity.  (Now physically holding my hand to my mouth.)

No one speaks in this show, well, hardly anyone.  Okay, I take that back, they all speak but not a lot, except the teacher (Orville Mendoza) with a heavy Tagalog accent masquerading as a Tibetan monk, one is not really sure if this was by choice, or design.  

But one must step back, and walk in the projected rain, a heavy rain at that, to find meaning in being engaged, and what? Saved? Heightened? Cured? Enlightened? Redeemed? Peace? What?

It all started in a quiet room, a campground place of sorts, a place to get away while that rain poured ferociously outside.   

Jan (Connor Barrett) is the first to arrive.  A lumberjack?  Tall, a quiet a man with established height, a full scraggly beard, and large calves as he enters enters a sterile room, not really sterile, a clean room with a row of chairs. He takes a seat and immediately looks like his surroundings, the outdoorsy type, and one with nature.  He waits.

Rodney (Edward Chin-Lyn), a tall Asian athletic man finds his spot, the perfect place for him to do his thing, on his spot.  He takes off his shoes, rolls up his pants, neatly, and takes little notice of Jan sitting near him.  But from where I sit, Jan takes a good whiff of his wet feet, and it’s not a pleasant experience, while both try to find a connection.   

Ned looks out of place as he comes in wearing an assortment of outdoor wear and a skull cap. For, what reason?  The rain?  Wouldn’t a hat have been a better choice to keep the drops off? Things seems new to Ned.  His eyes are wide open, in amazement, absorbing everything, but he is also lost in his surroundings.

“You said… What did you think I said?”

It could have been Joan (Socorro Santiago) or Judy (Cherene Snow) who said that. I think it was Joan.  Well, Judy was dragging a bag, a brown suitcase, and Joan had an assortment of bags and draped accouterments.   They were friends, a couple, wanting to experience this thing they were going to try out, not a bucket list thing, but just a thing. To find, what?  Happiness? Together in this place? Why not somewhere else?

And so they sat quietly, waiting for the inevitable, the voice, in the room, coming in God-like, via a projected microphone. Teacher (Orville Mendoza) spoke in quiet, calming tones welcoming those who had decided to attend. 

Little was said about the one empty chair.  

Teacher, moved on to a story about two frogs, a green frog in a well, and a traveling frog.  The traveling frog said (because they were talking frogs) to the well frog “Your well is nice, but you should see what I see.”

Well, that story did not end well; the well frog suffers in heightened agony, on the final leg of his journey, opening his eyes to see what he could not imagine.

The group, not getting the relevance, stares in perplexity as the Teacher moves on to explain the practice silence the group must endure throughout their stay there. Then he follows that with a litany of the “no” rules in camp.

Before they are dismissed latecomer, Alicia (Brenna) walks in and expects Teacher to start from the beginning. He doesn’t.  Alicia, dressed from head to toe in snow gear, is left to decide her next move to progress into the program.  She resorts to using her phone to communicate to near dead silence.   

In the truest sense of the art form of acting, dialogue is not needed.  One reality is - the actor must creatively communicate the idea of what he/she wants, without words, and this is true from Shakespeare to Sam Shepard

But what makes Bess Wohl’s play so intriguing is a singular moment in the play that elevates the art into the stratosphere.  It is a moment that won’t be revealed. And perhaps it was my moment, the one thing I got, that put a pinpoint in this work of art. And yet, I’m not sure the characters got it, which may have been Wohl’s intention. Still, this is what I live for, to find a work of art that is peculiar and something out of the ordinary. (Still, the ambiguity of that particular moment was enough to drive me mad.)

Rachel Chavkin directs this group of thespians.  There are oblong morsels of delightfulness, but one is not sure how creative it could have been.  The characters appear to be so ordinary in not so ordinary circumstance and they act in a way real characters would react to strangers.  In the beginning they try to ignore each other.  Later, communicating is a must, and it is very minimal at first with simple hand gestures creating action, until finally they warm up to one another. (In real life we experience this in our daily interaction with strangers.) But how much can a character give before it’s over the top and unrealistic? That is usually settled in the rehearsal. I had an insatiable craving for more creativity, even in the simplest of form and movement.   

All of the characters have conflicts that need wordless resolutions. From the moment of their first night together, that nocturnal quivering of uneasiness, of one in a room alone, combined with the heighten feeling of want, begs for some kind of social interaction. Some get it, and some don’t.

Brenna Palughi (Alicia), Ben Beckley (Ned), Edward Chin-Lyn (Rodney), Connor Barrett (Jan), Cherene Snow (Judy), Socorro Santiago (Joan) 

Brenna Palughi (Alicia) gives us many different sides to the character.  The performance is three-dimensional and furnishes us an extreme view of a woman in a crisis of sorts. One likens her to having attention deficit disorder, not knowing where she is at half of the time.  (And, she has time management issues.)  Still, I thought Alicia was the most complete character, someone who gives, and someone who learns from her mistakes. This is a performance not to miss because Palughi is excellent in her craft and she is someone who gives us a beginning, a middle, and an end to her character.  
Ben Beckley (Ned) provides us with the most information about his character. His monologue explains almost his entirety. Ned is lost and wants to be found.  He blames his feelings on his physical handicap but he is there to find something, or someone. The sense of being lost is in the moment he has the bowl and the match and not being able to figure out what to do.  For the actor, there is more to do, more to play with while he is left there in the silence.

Connor Barrett (Jan) plays an interesting character.  On first look, he appears to be homeless with his long beard and his unkemptness.  But his clothes tell another story, of someone who has money, enough money to take on this journey. But the journey is not completely thought out.  And, what is it about the bug bites and his maladroit ways that garners little in his relationship to his fellow traveler.  Also, what is his objective?  What does he want from these people or this place? One would like the actor to make a definitive choice as to why he is there. These questions were not answered.

Edward Chin-Lyn (Rodney) seems to have ulterior motives in the camp.  He is athletic, loves to show off his body and appears to be in the mood for one thing only.  His libidinous craving was temporarily satisfied animalistic with the assistance of a bear. Rodney seems to have it all together, his health, his body, and his manner of togetherness.  What is moving him in the direction he chooses?

Cherene Snow (Judy) has a very pleasant smile on stage.  Judy finds humor in a lot of things that happen in camp.  But Judy has a physical problem with her kidneys, her back, or her liver while her friend has problems of her own. Something happens in that relationship and it has to do with what that person wrote in her intention. The smallest of things can destroy the best of a relationship, in a matter of a moment, and Snow gives us all of that and more. Spoken words are not the only the silent killers. (One more note: is there a more creative way to deal with someone’s nudity?)

Socorro Santiago (Joan) plays a woman dying of cancer.  She appears to be letting the disease run its course, trying different things, and enjoying life before she passes.  But she harbors a big secret and the secret is in the note that she loses - which her partner reads. It is a mistake that she is unaware of and she is unable to convey her meaning because of her code to silence.

Orville Mendoza is excellent as Teacher. Teacher is widely known through various media, which is why these people are here living temporarily in an area of seclusion.  Teacher, from the Philippines, is masquerading as a Tibetan monk so one is not sure if he is legitimate or not. Things don’t sound right; stories don’t add up, people don’t get their money’s worth. The frustration levels of the group are tantamount to rebellion with Teacher because he has all the appurtenances of home while they have the miserable indignities of sleeping on the floor. He slips them a sympathy card they all buy and an easier life slowly moves on.

It’s a funny thing about the written note of intention in this play; words don’t have to be verbal to cause moral discontent and moral discontent is extremely painful to the receiver when it is projected without words.   

Laura Jellinek, Scenic Designer, provides a workable set for the space.  The set moves in and out, a breathable object that brings life to action and right into our laps.

Tilly Grimes, Costume Designer, gives us a grand sense of reality with modern day characters dressed in a fashion of belonging in that camp, and playing a role.

Mike Inwood, Lighting Design, perplexed me a bit, especially during the night scene where we move from one situation to the next by projecting the light on the action. Everyone is in the room and using the space. All have small lanterns.  Movement of the action on stage would have focused our attention.  So, why the light?

Sound Design, by Stowe Nelson, placed us there right in the action and gave us a sense of time and place.  One wasn’t too sure about the bear mixed with the sex noises and how that all worked in the context of the play.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Andrew Schneider – Video Design
Noah Mease – Prop Design
Henry Russell Bergstein, CSA
Lauren Z. Adleman – Associate Director
J. Michael Stafford – Production Supervisor
James Steele – Production Stage Manager
Maximum Entertainment – General Management
Eva Price – Producer

Run! Run!  And take a misfit. This will be the place where you will both fit in. 

Through January 28, 2018

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hamilton – Book, Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda – Inspired by the book Hamilton by Ron Chernow

L - R Michael Luwoye and Isaiah Johnson

By Joe Straw

Moments before the start of this production at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, there was a peculiar disquieting moment as the lights dimmed, followed by a slow rising reverberation, a grumble, a settling rumble, and then finally a vocal roar of anticipation was heightened as the slow fade continued into darkness.

And on this sold-out night, as the stage lights came up, the audience let loose a spirited roar to the sounds of the orchestra’s DAN, DA, DA, DA, DAN DAN DAN!

How does a bastard, orphan
son of a whore and a Scotsman,
dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot
in the Caribbean by providence
impoverished, in squalor
grow up to be a hero and a scholar?  - Aaron Burr

Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and directed by Thomas Kail, is a brilliant musical love story that uplifts the human spirit while giving birth to an awakening populace. It is a mosaic of diversity, inlaid, and hand painted, carefully placed in the foreground that bequeaths new life to independence. The beats, all in glorious sounds, bring forth a sincere inner existence of human foibles, love, and jealously that moves tortuous souls to a tragic endpoint.  

Created characters in this play, both men and women, have far-reaching political objectives that move through a spirited maniacal fight all with the foresight of building a new nation.   

And, yet, only one is fuelled by a personal lust, a hidden jealously, the nemesis, and the antagonist Aaron Burr (Joshua Henry).  But, abjectly, and subjectively, through the course of their relationship, Burr is bested by Hamilton (Michael Luwoye) at every conceivable turn. And yet Burr stays in the game much longer than he has a right to.   

Why is explained in Burr’s philosophy. 

Talk Less
Smile more
Don’t let them know what you’re against
Or what you’re forBurr

Unfortunately for Burr, this would be his undoing as his philosophy and language placed him persona non-grata in a bar among the likes of fashionable orators and doers like Marquis de Lafayette (Jordan Donica), Hercules Mulligan (Mathenee Treco) and John Laurens (Rebén J. Carbajal); each of them knowing what they want—liberty.

Burr, check what we got
Mr. Lafayette, hard rock like Lancelot
I think your pants look hot
Laurens, I like you a lot
Let’s hatch a plot blacker than the kettle callin’ the pot. – Hamilton

(Just a side note:  Ron Chernow, the writer of Hamilton the book, suggests that Hamilton may have had a complicated relationship with Laurens. The letters written by Hamilton were suggestive and indicated a desire for intimacy; in contrast, it appears that Laurens was unable to return, either emotionally or in writing, similar feelings.)

Hamilton, not immune to physical purity, is opened to liking Laurens but is pulled away by Angelica (Sabrina Sloan), who, from across the room sees a coruscation, a sparkle emanating from this man who was going up the stairs with another man. She approaches him and pulls him away from his endeavor.  

Angelica asks him about his family. She gathers much from that single pause, and instance, brief though it may have been, of Hamilton’s modest background and unspoken pains.  And so Angelica inaugurates Hamilton to her sister, Eliza (Julian K. Harriman).

And although Angelica knows her relationship with Hamilton cannot happen, she remains deeply in love with him. Peggy Schuyler (Amber Iman), a clement judge of nature, is there to keep her sisters in line and everyone else honest.  

Soon, everyone’s attention turns to the war currently raging.  Aaron Burr is in the room with George Washington (Isaiah Johnson); moments later, Hamilton enters the room.

As I was saying, sir,
I look forward to seeing your strategy play out. - Burr


Sir? - Burr

Close the door on your way out. – Washington


Wrong words, chosen carefully, eliminates Burr from any position with Washington during the un-winning stages of the Revolutionary War.   Hamilton, 22 years old at the time, still in the room, waits, immediately apologizes, and thinks he’s in a lot of trouble.

But Washington wants Hamilton as his right-hand man, which he offers with the simple giving of a pen. It is a strong symbolic gesture that’s given to a man whose strength is in the use of his words. Although not fully satisfied and still wanting to be out on the battlefront, Hamilton takes the position.

All the political operatives in this story, mostly Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison have an agenda, which falls within their political thinking and motivation for higher office. 

Hamilton had a temper to go along with his beliefs and he shows it at times.  It’s especially evident when Major General Charles Lee (Daniel Ching) goes after Washington, and Lee and Hamilton’s best friend, John Laurens, have a duel.

Washington learns of the duel after the fact and sends Hamilton home.

Scenic Designer, David Korins, provides us with a magnificent dark set. The base is of wood and ropes, a metaphor of ships and people coming to the Americas in the 18th century who settle into the places of commerce, businesses, bars, and other venues of social gathering. The huge revolving stage accentuates the people moving in the direction of building a new nation.

Paul Tazewel, Costume Designer, places a lot of symbolism on the dress of the ensemble dancers, with tightfitting undergarment and the women wearing a light bustier. All are draped in a light brown, a wash of color of Dutch hemp paper or other parchments of the day. The purpose to showcase the unsettling times, of paper and words flying. The black boots, worn by the men and women, are symbolic of the black ink – the method in which Hamilton, and others of the day, created galvanized thoughts on paper. The main characters are adorned in colorful hues that represent their station in life and the way life came to them. The work is magnificent, inspired, and wonderfully creative. 

Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is genius and is inspired by the music that moves the choreography toward an overall objective. Along with being revolutionary (pun), it is evolutionary in the way it incorporates different styles of dance to complete this history, 18th century waltz, to ballet, swing, contemporary, hip hop, and a popping dance. At times, the revolving stage moves the characters back in time.  

Michael Luwoye as Alexander Hamilton was completely blocked by another actor downstage left when he said his name. Struggling to see the actor one waited to get reacquainted during the words of  “In New York you can be a new man.” Hamilton’s egalitarian beliefs stop short of freeing men of color in order to placate the south. Luwoye presents an impressive figure in the strength of the character and in voice and manner.

Julia K. Harriman, a standby for the many leads, went on as Eliza Hamilton on this night and did well. Stretching over the body of her son, Phillip, holding whatever life is left in his body, she takes Hamilton’s hand and thrust it away, a wonderful moment. That said, her overall intention, her objective, was subjective, which is the key for gathering the emotional support that an audience craves. (This is also a woman who had eight children with Hamilton.)  

Joshua Henry plays Aaron Burr. Burr has misgivings after he shoots Hamilton.  It is an interesting choice, full of fear, of killing a man so many admired.  But Burr has been trying to get rid of Hamilton since he met him; he is sinister and envious. In that pivotal moment, one wonders if there are other choices he should have employed. Henry gives the character heart and a kind of warmth despite the fact that Burr was indirectly responsible for killing Phillip Hamilton and then killing Hamilton.

Sabrina Sloan does a fine turn as Angelica Schuyler. Still it would have helped to see the moment when she realizes that she made the wrong choice.  We hear it in song but we don’t quite see it on stage. Sloan’s voice is spectacular and we get the truly emotional moments on stage through song.

Isaiah Johnson comes on strong as George Washington and never lets up.  His voice is superb; his manner expresses an inner as well as an outer strength. Overall, his work is a work of art that should not be missed.  

Jordan Donica plays both Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson and does admirably well in both roles. Donica towers above the rest of the cast and the fro, as Jefferson, appears to place him another foot higher. He is impish as Jefferson, dancing when he has the goods on Hamilton. He is truly delightful in both roles with a commanding presence and a strong voice.   

Mathenee Treco has a grand time as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison both characters. He comes off as a bowling ball of a man knocking down the revolutionary pins with the easiest of discretions.  Acting, singing, and rapping should not be this much fun for one man.  

Rubén J. Carbajal is John Laurens and Philip Hamilton. There was a lot of truth to the portrayals of both roles.  Philip Hamilton came off as very small and very much a boy while John Laurens was a character different in complexity and manner. The work was inspiring.

Amber Iman was very sultry as Maria Reynolds, her voice has an underlying want, a dark opaque luster, accompanied by her delicate raillery, to get into a discomforting intimacy, played for whatever she wanted, and that was Hamilton.  She also portrayed Peggy Schuyler and was remarkably different in that role.

Rory O’Malley shines as King George.  His vocals were magnificent; he also provided the funniest highlights to the show. The King, who is out of touch, in England, wants his subjects to toe the line, all with the wave of his scepter.

Ryan Vasquez brings a nice touch to the characters he portrays—Philip Schuyler and the Doctor.  James Reynolds is also a fascinating character, costumed in dark brown colors and oddly dressed in a manner that stood out from the rest of the cast—18th century pimp perhaps?  There he stood, holding out his hands near his head, waiting for the money to come gently to him, without even asking. Nicely done.

Andrew Wojtal is Loyalist Samuel Seabury, American Episcopal, and not a big fan of Alexander Hamilton. Seabury was imprisoned in Connecticut for six weeks and by 1778 became loyal to the new government. But here he is, on top of a box, reading from a scroll although we did not know the man or his relationship to Hamilton. (Farmer Refuted, written by Hamilton, was a rebuttal to A.W. Farmer letters “A View of the Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies” Seabury’s nom de plume.)

Daniel Ching plays Charles Lee and Raymond Baynard plays George Eacker the man who shoots and kills Phillip Hamilton.

Other members of the ensemble who gave spirit to the populace of the day are Dan Belnavis, Jennifer Geller, Sabrina Imamura, Lauren Kias, Jennifer Locke, Raven Thomas, and Keenan D. Washington.

Lin-Manuel Miranda woke up one night to the sounds of an American lullaby, haunting melodies, urging the words of freedom.

Raise a glass to freedom
Something they can never take away
No matter what they tell you.

Even in the dream, the plot suddenly begets personal nightmares, hardships, and people’s struggle to unify a nation.  Freedom comes at a price.  They sing about it with color: and fling the ideas that only a few whites were responsible that save the day for their kind.  This is an all-inclusive dream, an examination of what the world could be.  It is a never-ending quest for the colorful reality of one nation. Miranda provides us with that idea, that narrative.   

Thomas Kail’s direction is impressive.  There is never a moment where the space is not filled with activity.  Actors bring in props and set pieces and the action keeps moving, continuously, sometimes in slow motion, and without pause.  There is very little dialogue and most of the words are rapped or sung which leaves characters little time to develop a strong physical relationship, e.g. Hamilton with Laurens, Angelica, Eliza.  If you’ve read Ron Chernow’s book, you get glimpses of the relationships on stage as they whisk by in a matter of seconds. Time is a matter of an announcement, and it passes quickly without guessing that Hamilton had eight children with Eliza. 

And, as a side note, there seemed to be an emotional component missing of want which was physically and emotionally lacking on this night as characters moved about in song: Hamilton’s primary want is to help the nation.  There is also Angelica’s strong physical want for Hamilton, which one didn’t see, a reluctant want Hamilton has with Maria Reynolds, and a natural want for not losing Eliza.

Emotional clarity is also important: Angelica Schuyler immediately dumps Hamilton “looking for a mind at work” simply because of his station in life. (He was the mind, not the money.)  And then pawns him off on her unsuspecting sister, Eliza.  Angelica, still in love with Hamilton, marries John Barker Church (not in show), rich from selling goods to the Continental Army, and moves her, with his money to England with him.  

That said, the essential element is the driving force of Kail’s direction, one that reinforces Miranda’s vision by the diversity in casting.  It is one that conspicuously changes the narrative - that only stodgy old white men in powdered wigs, with their seditious cries, created this new nation. Change sometime comes in small increments, but that change is coming, and it is excitingly reinforced in this musical.

Lighting Design by Howell Binkley was remarkable as well as the Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg.

Charles G. LaPointe was responsible for the modern Hair and Wig Design, which at times forgets about time and space and wonderfully creative.

The Orchestra these days seems to minimal compared to the orchestras from the days I was employed at the Pantages but nevertheless they put out a great sound. They are as follows:

Julian Reeve – Conductor/Keyboard 1
Andrew Cerullo – Associate Conductor/Keyboard 2
John Mader – Drums
Kathleen Robertson – Violin
Adriana Zoppo – Concertmaster
Jody Rubin – Viola/Violin
Paula Fehrenbach – Cello
Trey Henry – Bass/Electric Bass/Key Bass
Paul Viapiano – Electric Guitar/Acoustic Guitar/Banjo
Wade Culbreath – Percussion/Keyboards
Brian Miller – Orchestra Contractor
Julian Reeve - Contractor

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who is on the cusp of political thinking.  Now playing in San Diego Civic Theatre through January 28, 2018.

If you like this, or hate it, or disagree with this - write a comment below.  Thank you. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Beauty and the Beast – Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.


By Joe Straw

Casa 0101 Theater, TNH Production and El Centro Del Pueblo Present Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, directed by Rigo Tejeda, and produced by Felipe Agredano, Emmanuel Deleage, Edward Padilla, and Executive Produced by Conrado Terrazas - the Broadway Musical in Association with Councilmember Gil Cedillo through January 21, 2018 in Boyle Heights.

One has reservations about opening weekend to a production of this magnitude where everything should be perfect but rarely is.  A production necessitates a few weeks to garner immaculateness – flawless in the lights, the special effects, the actors coming in on cue, and the sound, most importantly, the sound.

This production of Beauty showcases some marvelous actors and highlights incredible production value from this mostly Latino cast in this sold-out 99-seat venue.  The music has already been generated and is as perfect as one can get as long as viable levels are maintained.  

First of all, school children that see this production will get a kick out of this musical, the costumes—wonderfully designed by Abel Alvarado, the slapstick, and the wolves, yes, the wolves.

But in the best interest of speaking to the craft, there are moments that require discussion, moments to hit, and characters to further evaluate. 

How can the production be improved?

Almost everyone on the planet knows the animation film, Beauty and the Beast; the musical is slightly different, with additional songs, but follows the same pattern as the film.  

The handsome but ill tempered Prince (Jesse Maldonado) is overlooking all that he has; when an older woman, who is hungry and shivering from the cold night, desperately seeks comfort in his roomy shelter. She offers the gift of a single winter red rose, for a pay-as-you-please night’s stay in the castle.

The Prince, through first observation and possibly odorous revelation, denies her twice only to discover, moments later, that the woman is a beautiful enchantress who doesn’t look to kindly on men who refuse her first request.

She turns the prince into a Beast (Omar Mata) and tells him that, in order to break the spell, he must find someone to love and who will love him in return.  But there is a time element: the spell must be broken before the final petals drop from the stem. Ten long years have pass and things are starting to seem desperate for the inhabitants of the castle who are slowly changing into inanimate objects.  

Meanwhile back in town, Belle (Andrea Somera) has an uneasy relationship with most of the town people; they view her as peculiar because she likes to read while walking through this provincial town.   

One person has his eyes on her. It is Gaston (Andreas Pantazis), a brute of a man who squeezes into his clothes as though it were a nylon stocking.  Also, life has endowed him with being brawny while having an IQ slightly lower than the victim of his last musket round.

Belle, gracious to everyone, has no interest in Gaston.  She dodges him, outwits him, and slams the door in his face.  

Meanwhile Belle waits for her father, Maurice (Luis Marquez), an inventor of the strangest, yet practical, contraptions. Maurice, on his way to take his contraption to market, gets lost and finds his way to the castle.  There, the beast captures him.  Belle looking for her father finds him incarcerated in the castle and promises to stay with the beast forever in exchange for her father’s release.

“It’s my favorite, far off place, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise.” – Belle

Andrea Somera has a pleasant voice as Belle and moves agreeably about throughout the course of the night. Belle finally lives the life she has read about in her books. This is a role where Belle must react to the new events in her life, the talking clock, the verbose candlestick, and dresser who loves to pull things out of her drawers.  Belle should find complete joy or react in ways as she is discovering the unusual. Hunger brings Belle down to dinner only to discover a normal dinner is up for grabs as the plates, spoons and knives each have lives beyond natural course.  Belle is a character that loves to discover the intricacies of each character as though she were discovering new things in books.  But at times, Somera gets lost between the plates and dishes without fully exploring the wonderment around her. Not to take away from her beautiful voice, she should expand to round out the character.   

Omar Mata does well as the Beast. This is a role in which Mata could let loose, bring more power to the character, and use his vocal prowess.  The cape he wears could be used to instill fear and promote power. One just felt that Mata was brushing the surface of his fantastic bestiality. Tall and strapping, he is hunched over, fingers crooked as though the claws were manifesting itself, without a critical purpose and moving in unspecified directions. There’s also more to be had in emotional commitment, his moral discontent, discovering what he does right, and how he fails miserably when trying to woe the girl (the bowl of soup).  Now, the relationship between he and the love interest needs to find a stronger emotional core, one that truly tugs at the heartstrings in the final moments.  Which is not to say to start afresh, just add to whatever is needed to make the character stronger, appealing, and sympathetic.  The objective is to win the girl before the last petal falls from the stem. The time element is not fully realized and must be in the back of his mind the moment he steps out onto the stage. The Beast must call out in pain after the wolf scene to bring her to his side. The conflict is his own beastly being, the girl, and the other man.  The mask is an impediment for subtle facial expressions and growth in front of a mirror is necessary. That said, Mata’s voice is beautiful and is perfectly suited for the Beast.

Andreas Pantazis is Gaston and has a very good look for the character. The objective for Gaston is to win the girl at all costs.  The conflict is his provocative manhood, a woman who wants nothing to do with him, and a friend who is more than affectionate and would like to woo Gaston away.  This Gaston is violent when love should rule the day in the way he proceeds to win her heart. He beats his friend to bruises and welts and one cannot feel the least bit sympathetic to this character. Pantazis has to make Gaston a thinking man, limited though it may be, one that should be keeping his eyes on LeFou and letting LeFou know when he has crossed the line. Also, in reaching an end point, Gaston has to kill the Beast or else the reality is that he lives the rest of his life with LeFou. There must be some redeeming quality to the man and a way to accentuate the humor of the role.  

Maxwell Peters plays LeFou and is also the Fight Captain.  Peters, jumps, flips, and tumbles throughout the night but little is thought about character and his relationship to Gaston.  It’s not enough to be able to do the physical things, good as they were, when a stronger relationship is needed to carry the night. The slapstick fighting might work if the basis of the fight were good, clean, loving fun and one didn’t see that. The fight scenes came off as brutal, mean, and bullying to an unnecessary degree.

Jeremy Saje is impressive as the jolly and irascible Cogsworth.  It is a near perfect performance with a well-rounded character and a wonderful voice. Although, Cogsworth needs a better opening as an introduction.  

Caleb Green has a magnificent voice as Lumiere but on this particular night was slightly drowned out by the background singers and the music in the Be Our Guest number.  This is Lumiere’s song in the show and hopefully by the time you see it, the sound will be adjusted. This number sets the tone of his relationship to the other characters and needs to be spot on. Candlesticks come in all colors the red lipstick and the white face gives him the appearance of a sad clown.  (Green’s voice was one of the better voices of the night and hopefully the levels will be fixed by the time you see it.) Green’s character is believable and his portrayal is marvelous.

Allison Flanagan lit up the stage with her portrayal of Madame de la Grande Bouche.  Flanagan also has a wonderful and powerful voice and is extremely funny in this production.  Her opening on stage could be stronger.  Her eyes are closed as she is up against the wall for a long period of time.  More could be made of those moments in the time she spends alone with Belle.

Luis Marquez gives the appearance of old in his portrayal of Maurice, Belle’s father, a disheveled wig, loose fitting clothes, and fingers not fully extended. He has some very funny moments as Maurice.  The song “No Matter What” was beautiful and one of the highlights of the show.

Rosa Navarrete is enchanting as Babette looking as though she stepped from the stage of the Moulin Rogue.  Navarrete gives Babette more than enough in character and is funny in every moment she is on stage. Navarrete is a terrific actor and a scene-stealer and a personality you will never forget.  

Jacquelin Schofield is Mrs. Potts.   She has a wonderful voice, pure and simple, and was an added plus to this production. More needs to be added with her son Chip to make the relationship exquisitely tender.

Matthew Noah is impressive as Monsieur D’Arque in a very dry and humorous role. The role and his portrayal was a very pleasant surprise.

Jesse Maldonado starts off as the prince (about a foot shorter than the Beast) and does fine work in the ensemble.

Sean Vargas is cute as Chip.  Noah Dobson is also Chip but did not perform the night I was there.

Other members of the ensemble are as follows: Heather Forte (Silly Girl), Michael Gallardo (a very, very Silly Girl and hilarious too), Judith Limon (Silly Girl), Garrielle Maldonado, Angelina Rangel (who also serves as Dance Captain), and Brisia Rivera.

The understudies were Sebastian Gonzalez (LeFou), Henry Alexander Kelly (Cogsworth), Sarah Kennedy (Belle), and Andrea Ramirez (Silly Girl)

Adrian Uly Ochoa bumped up the dancing about ten notches in this production.  Only 17 years old but he put his professional heart and soul into every dance number.  Great work!

Rigo Tejeda, the director, does a lot of amazing work in bringing this spectacle to life.  The Gaston musical number is wonderful in all of its execution.  It is both exciting and creative (Musically Directed by Caroline Benzon and Choreographed by Lia Metz).  The introduction of the characters could be strengthen with the larger roles getting a grander introduction – something that establishes their character and their objectives in one fell swoop.  And the introductions should be creative to establish character no matter how small or large the character.  The smaller roles need to find a way out of enchantment. All castle characters have the objective to change back into human because, through the course of the play,  little by little they are changing into inanimate objects.  Tejeda highlights that aspect brilliantly.  If everyone’s objective is to become human again then half of the puzzle about the character's objective is solved.

Member of the production team are as follows:

Jermaine Alvarado – Costumes
Andy Ayala – Wig and Hair Designer
Jules Bronola – Costumes
Rafael Calderon – Set Construction
Angelique Enos – Stage Crew
Angel Estrada – Prop Master
Sandra Figueroa Villa – El Centro Del Pueblo
Jecole Jackson – Stage Crew
Ed Krieger – Photographer
Xol Gonzalez – Spot Operator
George Ely Herrera – Social Media
Genesis Miramontes – Light Operator
Ashley Montoya – Spot Operator
Steve Moyer – Publicist
Edward Padilla – Casting Director/Producer
Soap Studio, Inc. – Program Design
JP Torres – Stage Crew
Gilbert Valenzuela – Box Office Manager
Jorge Villanueva – Stage Crew

Run! Run! And take a friendly beast with you.

Reservations: www.casa0101.org

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sherlock Homes and the Case of the Jersey Lily by Katie Forgette


By Joe Straw

The strangest characters show up at the most unpropitious times, and on this particular night there was no exception as I have carefully noted in my observations below.

Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily by Katie Forgette and wonderfully produced by David Hunt Stafford through December 11, 2017, and parking is free.

Perhaps this beautiful creature was minding her own business, this actor, Lillie Langtry (Melissa Collins) in her dressing room, putting on her makeup, and listening to the ambient stage noise when an intruder, face painted red, acted opprobriously in a manner meant for business, a cloth around her mouth, to silence her, to wipe her to torpor, consciousness darkening, until finally she is out.  

It was a necessary step, but, for whatever the man was looking for, he did not find it backstage among her possessions.   Nevertheless, and most importantly, a crime had been committed, a woman had been taken advantage of and, after her revival, and a noticeably clear head, she sought both help and a redress.  

Meanwhile, in another part of town, in a room of exponential experimentation with flasks and chemicals, Sherlock Holmes (Martin Thompson) and Dr. Watson (John Wallace Combs) speak to their relationship. 

An indefatigable Holmes switches from the flask he holds carefully to the topic of Watson’s money and investments simply by observing the chalk marks on his thumb and forefinger.   Dr. Watson is astounded by Holmes’ reflections, his gift of the nuance, and the delightful way he is able to comprehend any given moment through observation and induction. 

And through all this, the semi-deaf, semi-daft Irma Tory (Alison Blanchard) rolls in with a cart of silver, tea, cups and saucers.

Without pausing the conversation, Holmes pours the tea handing it to Watson. But, Watson, unaware of the scalding nature of the cup is nearly scorched within an inch of his life, and maneuvers the cup and saucer to a small table. 

Holmes is caught off guard when suddenly there is a knock at the door.

Dr. Watson asks to be dismissed into the next room but Holmes insists that he remain.

In she walks, a woman, carrying herself in a refined manner, garbed in an expensive black gown asking to speak with Mr. Holmes. Head down, and eyes covered, she states that she is looking for suitable household employment. 

Watson, staring off to the side, believes the woman’s story.  

But Holmes, politely and methodically, recognizes that aspects of her presentation, the cockney accent, her physical attributes, and her general mendacious manner are inconsistent with the matter at hand; also, he sees no evidence of a workingwoman sitting before him. Holmes proceeds to challenge her. 

Lillie Langtry drops the character and blames Oscar Wilde (Scott Facher) for misleading her into engaging the magnificent Holmes in this farce

Immediately, Watson recognizes her as the stage beauty Lillie Langtry and is flattered to meet her.  Caught up in emotion, he is now red faced and out of breath by her stunning exquisiteness, the manner in which she presents herself, and the hand she delicately places into his receiving hand.

Ms. Langtry opens the door to gather Mr. Oscar Wilde, who now has an ear to the door, and is escorted into the room.  A raconteur Mr. Wilde says he is working on a new play, tentatively titled “The Importance of Being Forthright”. Holmes is not enamored with the title and grimaces. Later, he suggests an appropriate change.   

But back to the business at hand. Wilde says Ms. Langtry is being blackmailed, she has been attacked, for her personal letters and photograph from a relationship she formerly had with the Prince of Wales. Luckily those items were stored in a safe place and the ruffians were not able to obtain them.  

Holmes muses that the story sounds familiar to one from several years ago involving a future king. But no one is being forthright, especially Langtry as she pleads for Holmes to help. Naytheless, he says he will help.  And after Langtry and Wilde depart, Holmes devises a plan to find the documents, in a clever way that will require all of his thespian acumen.

Holmes gives instructions to Watson to get to the bottom of this mystery.  That is when the mysterious Abdul Karim (Anibal Silveyra), Queen Victoria’s assistant, knocks at the door.  

Anyone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes will enjoy this tongue-and-cheek adaptation of sorts by Katie Forgette who employs fictional characters (Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson, and Professor Moriarty) with real-life actor Lillie Langtry, the Jersey Lily, royal assistant Abdul Karim, and Lillie’s friend and playwright Oscar Wilde.  For the most part, the action is from The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes, Adventure I, A Scandal in Bohemia with a few character changes and plot manipulation. Also, Forgette, introduces Moriarty into the play whereas this character possibly is a figment of Sherlock Holmes mind or someone cleverly invented by way of a drug induced state.  In the stories, Moriarty is a character we never see but is intimately describe in the tales told by Holmes to Watson.

Jeff G. Rack, Set Designer, presents a set with a tremendous amount of fun as it moves from Holmes’ home to Lillie Langtry’s home, and to a dudgeon somewhere under the city of London.

Michéle Young, Costumer Designer, has the characters looking magnificent in 1894 London, England attire. The costumes are wonderful as in most of her productions at Theatre 40.

Jules Aaron, Director, does a terrific job, but one could appreciate a little more depth in the relationship department.  All the characters were adept in the progression of the scenes but there were moments missed and characters could have been more deeply developed.  (Scratch most of that off to opening week jitters.) For example, we see little of Dr. Watson’s desire to keep tabs on Holmes and to make sure that he is off the drugs. Also, Wilde must be extremely infatuated with Lillie Langtry, so much so, that he does not let go of her physically or emotionally. To another end, Moriarty must always prove that he is the smartest person in the room. And Abdul Karim must possess the power of the Queen when he enters the room.

Alison Blanchard does some fine work as both Irma Tory and McGlynn although there is some confusion in presenting the two characters as separate.  Blanchard has a strong personality on stage and, to maintain the separate characters, she should present marked differences in personality, voice, and character choices. When she plays the Holmes household help, there must be something she wants, an objective that defines the character and moves the character beyond the conflict.

Dave Buzzotta is Professor Moriarty and has a defined white (evil) streak running through his hair.  The foil scene liven things up a bit but I am not sure about the knife. Moriarty is the evil counterpoint to Holmes and must compete on Holmes mental level.  That said, the choking scene leaves one with the feeling that Moriarty is not using his brains to get what he needs and resorts to unnecessary petty violence to prove his point. Moriarty is Holmes evil double, a man almost unbelievable to be true.  He is the image of a man only seen by one person (in the books) and that is Holmes himself. Stronger choices are in order to make this character complete. (This actor was just the victim of a hit and run incident.  Please go to his go fund me page and give what you can. https://www.gofundme.com/help-dave-after-horrific-hit-run.)

This is the perfect role for Melissa Collins as Lillie Langtry.  Each costume amplifies her character and her stunning beauty. There is a bit of mystery to Langtry character that is not entirely forthcoming in her stories to Holmes.  Describing the letters is only half of her story the rest is a mystery the others solve. Collins is an actor that provides a sincere depth to character as well as providing a solid objective.  Mystery plays an important part of the Lillie Langtry character and Collins provides that mystery in an outstanding performance and one not to miss. 

John Wallace Combs’ work is impeccable as Dr. Watson especially in the small moments when he relates to the other characters.  There may be more to add to show the ways he feels and is concerned about Holmes. Watson is concerned for his welfare and just doesn’t casually drop in on a moments notice. They are more than just friends and the audience needs to see that. There must always be a competition in which Watson gets his way or adds a significant piece to the puzzle.  It creates a stronger relationship when overcoming a small conflict.  

Scott Facher has some interesting moments as Oscar Wilde.  There must be more to the character than flitting about on stage as a comic supporting character. Wilde needs a stronger objective in order to tell us why he is in this predicament.  A stronger choice would have Wilde not letting go of the most famous actor of his time for a play he is writing. That means not letting her go and helping her in every conceivable way and standing in the way of death if need be.  Maybe Wilde should latch onto her and never let her go, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  Facher has a strong presence, there’s nothing wrong with the character, but he needs to add to his choices.

Shawn Savage supplies ample support to Smythe and Man 2 each a heavy and a muscle man to do Moriarty bidding.  But in the end, they fight amongst themselves and gets very little accomplished.

Anibal Silveyra plays real life character, Abdul Karim, Queen Victoria’s assistant, secretary, friend, and confidant. The performance was low-keyed.  It was an interesting choice because this character comes in with the power of the Queen behind him. Instead, Abdul needs to exercise more power to get Holmes to do his bidding.  He is possibly the one man that Holmes might fear.  That needs to be recognized in their scene together, to give the scene an added layer of mystery and power.

Martin Thompson is well suited as Sherlock Holmes and provides a fine performance. Yet this Sherlock Holmes needs more refinement in character, curiosity, and creativity. He needs to add to the character, not to take anything away. Lost are Sherlock Holmes’ personal problems, his drug addiction, and his lost love, Irene Adler. Lillie Langtry bears a striking resemblance to Irene Adler but this goes unnoticed by Holmes. We see little of his genuine appreciation of Dr. Watson who he needs to help solve his crimes.  Holmes must be on his best behavior and capable of sharp observations in order to solve crimes on stage.  Holmes must also have inexhaustible energy and be able to make mistakes, as he is human.

Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s work as the Sound Designer is impeccable and truly remarkable.

Judi Lewin, Makeup/Wigs/Hair Designer keeps places us in the 1894 time period and adds to the production values of this presentation.

Jessi Milestone is the fight choreographer and the fencing could use a little sprucing up in that dramatic scene.  

Ryan Moriarty will step into the role of Professor Moriarty following Dave Buzzotta's accident. 

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Don Solosan – Stage Manager
Richard Carner – Assistant Stage Manager
Roger K.Weiss –Assistant Director
Ed Kreiger – Photographer
Richard Hoyt Miller – Program Design
Philip Sokoloff – Publicity

Run! Run! And take someone mysterious, someone who loves Sherlock Holmes.

Reservations & Information:  310-364-0535
In the Reuben Cordova Theatre

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Yohen by Philip Kan Gotanda

Danny Glover and June Angela - Photos by Michael Lamont

By Joe Straw

Yohen by Philip Kan Gotanda is a metaphor for life’s little beautiful things.  

Yohen is a Japanese word that can be embraced into the English language and finds its meaning only by osmosis.  For some, the meaning hits right away, for others it takes some time.   

The meaning is not layered, or on top, or hidden beneath some dark resource, but out in the open, and caressing to a gentle fault.

The Robey Theatre Company and East West Players with Generous Support from the S. Mark Taper Foundation Endowment for East West Players present Danny Glove in Yohen by Philip Kan Gotanda and Directed by Ben Guillory through November 19, 2017.  

She explained Yohen in the middle of the play, sitting on her tender couch, holding a piece of pottery, turning it in her hand and staring at its beauty.

Yohen, is a Japanese word that describes a flaw in the process of firing a piece of pottery which leaves the ceramic work discolored or misshapen, but perhaps still beautiful.

And so it was with their relationship, their marriage, the thing that has kept them together oh these many years.  But something, in their frangible association, looking at it a new way, that she must discover him all over again, in a new condition.  Why?  Well, it is the metaphor that is examined during the course of the play.

Thirty-seven years in a marriage is a long time.  James (Danny Glover) a happily retired military man and until recently a satisfied man who had been thrown unceremoniously out of his own house, no their home. Or, maybe it was a mutual parting of a temporary nature.

And as he enters, the home he shared with his wife Sumi, (June Angela) looks cold and lifeless.

This is a two-dimensional home.  The upstage wall is compartmentalized filled with her pottery and trimmed bonsai trees decorated by a myriad of light and colors, wonderfully designed by Christopher Scott Murillo and beautifully lit by Michael Ricks, Lighting Designer.

Sumi’s place appears to be that back wall, while James’ place is the sofa and the TV’s viewing chair.  This is a picture of such diversity that one would find in suburb of a military base.

But, there is something wrong here, the place is immaculate, quiet and cold when a James, disheveled in appearance, exhales and knocks on the front door. He knocks with heaviness, a slouching and tattered personage, as though he’s lived here before, but only now visiting, hoping the occupant within will welcome him with open arms.

Such is not the case as he enters the door.  Sumi, his wife, wanted him dressed nice, perhaps she wanted to be presented with a gift, or some flowers, something viewed as an initial first date, a start from the very beginning.  At this point he is a man coming out of the kiln and into view for the first time and at first he does not present a pretty picture.

But for Sumi it’s not enough, she now wants more of James.  She wants him to go back to school. (Into the kiln again, but that process has ended.)  He says he has a nice pension and requests a beer.

The tea is on the table and Sumi doesn’t move.

“I’ll think I get one.” – James

Only to discover things have changed – Sumi has thrown out the beer.  All of it.

Philip Kan Gotanda’s play is a fascinating look at relationships and how one is perceived through another set of eyes or glasses, at another time, and through a different set of circumstances.  Each player has his or her taciturn passion, unable to speak until the final volley has been directed.  They sit with timid passions finding the heated energy to finally let loose and observe the others tremulous reaction.  They want still after all these years but maybe they want what the other does not.  Still, they see what they first saw when they first met and that in itself is the beauty of the play. 

The Yohen metaphor holds throughout the play under Ben Guillory’s direction. The play is so simple, beautiful, and heartbreaking that it takes one’s breath away at any given moment. Guillory takes special precaution in making the metaphor work with a special kind of love in this remarkable love story.

Danny Glover

Danny Glover is never going to change as James.  James is always the man he wanted to be no matter how you decorate him or add little flavors to his existing shell; he is still the man that came from the kiln. Try as he might, and he does try, he is in a no win situation. Glover is terrific in the role.

June Angela

June Angela is simply marvelous as Sumi.  Personified, she is a samurai at one moment standing in fighting position and a businesswoman in another.  She is a wife and proud to be an equal partner in this relationship, but she is at a point where she wants more than he can offer.  She bathes in his beauty, shares in his warmth, and loves in a way that is only particular to him and only him.   

Wonderful costumes by Naila Aladdin Sanders, Costume Designer.  

Other members of the crew are as follows: 

Corinne Carrillo - Sound Designer
Glenn Michael Baker - Property Master
Brandon Hong Cheng - Stage Manager 

Run! Run! And take someone who loves the idea of a metaphor in a play.

The David Henry Hwang Theatre at the Union Center for the Arts
120 Judge John Aiso Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

(213) 625-7000