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

Monday, April 30, 2018

Casa 0101 Needs Your Help

By Joe Straw

Many years ago, I traveled to Boyle Heights to see a show; actually, it was more like I was dragged there from the Westside.  

Getting out of the car was difficult.  An old ficus tree’s root stopped the car door from opening all the way, and concrete sidewalks lifted and turned making it difficult to walk upright from the car. 

Pedestrians and other small creatures were having trouble as well. Still, families strolled into a bodega and church goers sauntered hand-in-hand to a place of worship.

And I wrote: “Can you take a moment to feel your life?”

Casa 0101 was a small black-box theatre with an equally small elevated stage, hardly enough to comfortably squeeze three people onto the playing area.

The seats were hard metal folding chairs, crammed into the tiny dark room. We sat on the floor level and looked up at the players, which was somewhat uncomfortable but manageable.  Still, this was just the kind of venue that I thrived in. It was an intimate theatre space, where we watched actors, personal and up, up close.  

I was not expecting much when the actors appeared on stage but then something magical happened. I put down my notepad and noted the acting was decidedly different.  The moments on stage projected beyond the lights of the rostrum and into my conscience being.  Yes, the performances put an enormous smile on my face.

It has been eight years since that first encounter with Casa 0101.  And as I have come to understand over the years, visiting Casa 0101 on the weekends makes the rest of my week decidedly better.

Boyle Heights is not home, but when Casa 0101 moved to their new location, across the street and just a few doors east, it was the closest to feeling at home.

The new Casa 0101 is bigger and brighter. The moment one enters the theatre, one feels the artistry at play, in the hall, on the walls, and in the theatre.  And as Casa 0101 grew, the community grew.  The trees were removed, the sidewalks were fixed, and families flocked to see theatre here.

Los Angeles theatre needs a Latino voice, and Boyle Heights is the heart of that voice. Casa 0101 is an open space of creativity for writers, actors, and directors and for those who have small dreams of being that source of creativity.  Casa 0101 is more than a theatre, it is a place that gives a creative heart to the community.

The theatre is seeking warm hearts and kindred spirits. They need 350 patrons donating $25 a month to keep the theatre running. They are about half way toward reaching this goal and there is only a couple of months left to go - until the end of June 2018.

Or, let’s look at it another way – the daily cup of coffee at Starbucks costs you $50.00 per month. Support Casa 0101 – it’s only half that amount and EVERYONE is welcomed.  

Please keep this premier community-based arts program in Boyle Heights open and serving the community.

Fortitude pays off and it is something everyone at Casa 0101 has, starting with Josefina López, Emmanuel Deleage, and Edward Padilla in the video above.

Josefina is a quintessential theatrical shaman, who in her colorful regalia holds a special key to unlocking the box that sits center stage.

The key, in her hand, is translucent, and it moves like a sparkler.  The words follow her as she writes in the air, suddenly absorbed through the keyhole.

Inexhaustible, she reaches center stage, and nightly at 8:00 pm she turns the key in her hand, mystically and magically the box opens and from the entangled mass - out floats the words, the fierce whisperings of conflict, accompanied by the spirits, and the floating fragments of dispirited lives seeking a truth.  

The players, now in a cloistered existence, manage to find a way out of the box to create a character, and find an objective like the remarkable actors that have graced the stage, Miriam Peniche, Rocio Mendoza, Andrews Rey Solorzano, Javier Ronceros and the beautiful and talented Zilah Mendoza. 

The imaginative spirit runs wild in Boyle Heights.  Josefina López is the catalyst and Casa 0101 is the venue.

Take a moment of your time and visit Casa 0101 if you love theatre and find it in your heart to help keep the magic alive.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, Story by Theresa Chavez, Louis Pérez and Rose Portillo

By Joe Straw

About Productions present Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe, story by Theresa Chavez, Louie Pérez and Rose Portillo, written by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, directed by Theresa Chavez, and featuring the music of David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez at The Plaza de la Raza, 3540 N. Mission Road, Los Angeles, CA  90031 and closed April 8th, 2018.

It’s easy to get to Plaza de la Raza Theatre from the Westside if you don’t follow the directions of your iPhone’s map app since it will get you about 90 percent there; the rest of the way you need to figure it out for yourself.

The parking lot is small for the theatre so it fills up quickly.  Fortunately, street parking is plentiful.

The setting of the play Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe is in 1968 Los Angeles.

In the comfort of her home, in the barrio, no one can hold Evangeline Ibarra (Ashley Diane) still. She is always flitting about her home with enough energy for three people. Aside from dancing as she cleans the house, she makes sure her brother Ray Ibarra (Moises Castro) has on a clean shirt and eats breakfast before shuffling him off to high school.  She does many little things to keep the household running and to help her brother and mother; all of this under the watchful eye of her deceased father in a military photograph from the mantel.   

Alicia Ibarra (Blanca Araceli), Evangeline’s mother, moves slowly this morning. She knows she has to find work to pay the bills. These are now crammed in a box that she keeps by the door, a box whose contents are stacking up beyond closure.

Evangeline sends her off, wishing her the best of luck. Then she daydreams herself to be a dancer.  Moments later, she is interrupted by her cousin, Rita (Keyla Monterroso Mejia), made-up with foot-long eyelashes. Rita doesn’t use the front door; instead she struggles to crawl in through the kitchen window.  

Evangeline shares that she has an interview for a dancing job at a club in Hollywood. Rita offers to drive her there in her brother’s car. He left the car in her care when he was shipped off to Vietnam. Evangeline gets the job!

Alicia comes back home and shares that she got a job.  She is ashamed because it is at a sweatshop for little money but whatever is better than nothing. Alicia tells Evangeline that her father always wanted her to go to college but this isn’t in the cards for the young Evangeline.

So Evangeline must improvise.

Evangeline sees the life around her and it is not good. Desperate to free herself, she slips out of the house in a Norms Diner uniform to go to her job in Hollywood.  There is “something” about being on stage, the moment with singer Edgar (Adrian Brizuela) and his backup dancers in go-go motif that translate into ecstasy.  Sandy (Kye McCleary), and the ensemble (Michael”Naydoe” Pinedo, Natalie Polisson) dance, keeping their eyes on a moment that works on stage.

Part of the fantasy of the whole night was Gaby Moreno as lead vocalist and guitarist playing effortlessly with her long strident fingers hitting all of the right notes.  Moreno was an extra-added bonus to the night and it was wonderful to see her in this venue.

Moreno plays as part of “The Neighborhood” Band featured Sebastian Aymanns on percussion and Kimon Kirk on bass.

That said:  On to the criticism.

The night was successful. The story by Theresa Chavez, Louie Pérez and Rose Portillo hasn’t changed much from the 2012 production at The Bootleg Theatre, as indicated by the reviews of that production. They mention of tackling too much in a short period of time, which is fair to say.

There are many good things that can be said of Theresa Chavez’s direction. It is wonderful in moments but lacking focus in other moments. The title suggests Evangeline, the queen of make-believe, had an over active imagination but, with the exception of the first scene, there was little in the way of make believe throughout the course of the show. Dancing gets her where she needs to go but the imagination must propel her to get what she wants.  And, once she gets the first thing, she must never lose that sense of make-believe to get more. She must always be dreaming.

The perspective of “make-believe” is an idea or the through line that must be accentuated throughout the play. But, then again, make-believe is who the person was as, and throughout the night; she gets a cold dose of reality every step she takes. Either way, a stronger choice in either direction would make the night a little more successful.

Diane Ashley does a fine job as Evangeline.  She is a bubbly actor.  The make-believe doesn’t stop when dealing with her mother, her brother, and her cousin. They are part of the conflict when trying to pursue her dreams. Evangeline needs to find a way to put back the hem of her Norm’s skirt back before she leaves the stage.  The pain of the unpaid bills must be enormous and a pain that leads her on all in keeping with the through-line The Queen of Make-Believe.  Still, Ashley does a fine job and is wonderful to watch.

Adrian Brizuela does terrific work as James, a hippie crooner, trying to make it big and discovering that he may have neared the end of his artistic life. Brizuela also plays Edgar, a completely different character, a Chicano activist and rebel rouser, who’s slightly confused of where his actions are taking him and his cause.  Both roles are well executed showing Brizuela off in very fine form.  

Moises Castro is Ray, Evangeline’s brother. Castro has a good look but may need to find better choices to make the character engaging.  Ray seems to follow rather than make conscience choices so it is left to the other characters to make choices for him.  There must be something this character wants, something that excites him to move in his own direction.  He is young but must have an idea of what he wants, what stops him from getting what he wants (conflict), and how he is able to reach his goal.      

Blanca Araceli is a wonderful actor who lights up the stage when she enters.  Her craft is extraordinary and her dancing is exquisite. Alicia is a broken woman who finds her dreams only to lose it once again. Araceli’s performance is heartbreaking. Do not miss her performance!

Keyla Monterroso Mejia is Rita, the cousin with the big heart. Mejia could add more to strengthen the character. Her strength lies in her relationship with her brother, his death, how she deals with it when confronting Evangeline. The anger is understandable but the pain must go deeper when giving the news to her cousin.

Kye McCleary does good work as the understanding dancer, Sandy.  McCleary is statuesque, stunning, and knows her way around the dance floor.  She shows some terrific work in her relationship to the other characters that indicates strong training. She is wonderful to watch.

Michael “Naydoe” Pinedo appears to be just another hippie 60’s dancer but then has a terrific dance number that was just amazing.  It was the beating heart, the soul of the play that made it so astonishing.

Natalie Polisson is another member of the ensemble that needs a slight definition of character and objective.  But the dancing was very fine.

Abel Alvarado, Costume Designer, transports the audience back to 1968.  It is terrific work.

Michele Bachar, Choreographer, also takes us back to 1968 and the dance number with the mother is spot on wonderful.

Gerardo Davalos, Set Designer, give us a workable set and is simple in execution.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Davey Donaldson – Sound Designer
Ginevra Lombardo – Lighting Designer
Gabriela López de Dennis – Graphic Designer
Claudio Rocha – Video Designer
Angela Sonner – Stage Manager

Run! Run! And take someone who loves the sixties music and dancing the next time it comes around.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Cowboy Mouth by Sam Shepard & Patti Smith

L - R Adam Navas and Joey Bothwell

By Joe Straw

The Hotel Chelsea in New York City was a fashionable place to create art.  If one was inspired enough to enter, one was inspired to manner art in any fashionable form.

Arthur Miller moved into #614 after his divorce from Marilyn Monroe. Bob Dylan wrote “Sara” in #211; Janis Joplin fellated Leonard Cohen in #424, an act immortalized in “Chelsea Hotel #2” (“you were talking so brave and so sweet/giving me head on the unmade bed”); Sid Vicious stabbed Nancy Spungen to death in #100. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Chelsea, William Burroughs wrote The Third Mind, and Jack Kerouac had a one-night stand with Gore Vidal.  By Nathaniel Rich in Vanity Fair October 8th 2013 – 12:00 AM

Somewhere I read that Sam Shepard and Patti Smith wrote Cowboy Mouth passing the typewriter back and forth until they created a play.  They wrote the play in the Hotel Chelsea during a significant fling. And, after mounting a production, Sam Shepard performed it once and walked away from the production and Patti Smith. Somewhere I read.

Girl Trip proudly presents Cowboy Mouth by Sam Shepard & Patti Smith and directed by Harrison James at the Broadwater Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard through March 31, 2017.  (Four performances, a very short run.)

Upon entering and seating at The Broadwater Theatre, I noticed the circle A, the anarchist symbol that was noticeably and dramatically painted on the wall and perhaps in a few places. It is a symbol that brings attention to the ideal of the anarcho punk lifestyle that played out in a dramatic setting on this night. 

Cavale (Joey Bothwell) had her reasons for kidnaping Slim (Adam Navas). Maybe it was because he was young and handsome.  And, if he wasn’t willing, she had an ace in her pocket. It was just a little gun, with a long barrel, something that looked like a 45.  Oh, he put up a fight at first but no one even noticed him going into the room at the “notel motel” (my quotes) with all the crazies milling around.

Really, Slim wasn’t dragged into the room, he was intoxicated by her voice, heeding to every word, every little “if”, “and”, and “but” before he mentally floated into the room.  The words to him were something like following a pleasant whiff of an intoxicating perfume.  

But that’s about all Slim saw in Cavale.  Her manner just didn’t cut it with him, the look in her eyes, her way about the world just seem at least, peculiar, and at worst, dangerous.

This dirty room, had spray-painted walls, books on the floor, instruments in the corners and a cot that served as a bed.  If this was living then they both had hit rock bottom. (Set Design by Kenton Parker)

That Slim was there indicated the bitterest of contradictions. He had a wife and kid, he didn’t much care for, and now he was stuck in the room with, her.   

But Cavale thought he was the one, Slim, a rock and roll Jesus with a cowboy mouth, who could perform and charm the pants off of any unrespectable woman ready to drop trou for any half way decent looking man.  And that’s just what Cavale wanted 'cause that’s what she thought. Her thinking made no sense unless one were to see it through her eyes, and then stare and squint a certain way.

No one needs to talk about her mental status, but Cavale was slightly misguided, and mentally unstable, to put it politely.  But,  she thought of herself as a beautiful crow trying to convince this coyote that he was the one.   She saw it in his audacious gestures, the way he beat the drums and strummed the guitar, (proving to himself not to be the master musician she thought he was), with only three chords under his belt.  

How does one connect when your opposite is making love to a crow, a stuffed one at that, kissing his beak and stroking his thinning feathers? How do you know she’s the one?

They were both in trouble—Cavale getting out of a mental institution and Slim having a wife and kid back in Brooklyn.  That ain’t the stuff dreams are made of. And neither was the Lobsterman (Marland Burke), just a dream away, a phone from infinity.

Harrison James, the director, does an exception job with this production.  In short, her version is pleasing to the senses and elevates this production with a brazen sincerity and barbarous amusement.  The play is ambiguous enough to be interpreted many different ways.

Just an observation with the play and this version with these actors:  What keeps them in the room together?  The gun?  No, that seems to be an afterthought whenever she needs it.  Slim only threatens to leave once.  He is not afraid of her.  They have a romantic physical relationship but we never see the deep connection—the “I can’t live without you” connection.

Why does Slim threaten to leave? One reason is because he is exasperated by her peculiarities.  He wants to be infatuated with her stories but when Cavale tells him, he seems only interested in the flesh.  Is there a way to absorb the tale and partake the flesh with equal abandon?

The physical life between the two lives is there, no need to change that, but we really need to find out why they are both there, that one moment that keeps them passionately together, in that room.  

Cavale really doesn’t throw herself down upon his feet.  She says he’s the one but maybe she needs to show an ecstasy that encompasses that action.  

Joey Bothwell is a stunning actor and also the choreographer of the dancers in this show.  She is physically fit and perfectly captures the physical life of Cavale. Bothwell is able to move with grace and present a quiet dignity.  Although a physical specimen she requires a little more work on the mental part of this woman.  Ay, there’s the rub, the mental characteristics of the character that are open to many ideas.  Cavale is the one mentally unstable, and that part of her character must keep her partner off balance. Her eyes, at the right time, must give away her complete lunacy. And that lunacy must keep Slim in that hotel room and her prisoner.  Also, Cavale is not far from living on the street, the only thing she’s got going for her is the money that supports her now which will probably not last long.  She needs a partner to save her from the life she is living. But her mental problems and exasperation runs deep when trying to get it her way.  That may be what we need to see.

Adam Navas presents a young strong figure as Slim.  Slim threatens to leave at one point, one really didn’t get the reason he stayed.  It wasn’t the gun that held him back, but it could have been.  Curiosity brings him back and that is her voice, and her story.  But, what is the strong action that makes him crawl back?  Slim plays the drums well, that’s a feather in his cap.  But after the few chords on the guitar, he loses confidence, or appears to, that he is not the man she wants.  He is not Jesus with the cowboy mouth. Navas presents a strong craft where little out of the ordinary phases him. (see Lobster Man) Curiosity is the key here. Navas does some really good work.  His craft is strong and his physical abilities are his strength.

Marland Burke must have had the time of his life presumably shaking the can of beer backstage as Lobster Man and then presenting it to Slim before leaving the room. The beer exploded in Slim’s hands foaming the contents onto the stage.  The actors took it all in stride before moving on.  Lobster Man, dressed in what appeared to be orange like prison garb, had claw-like hands and a mask over his face.  He did not speak; rather he had a muffling cry of some sort. Interesting.  Burke has a promising look and was fine in the role.

Joey Bothwell - Foreground, Background L - R Kandace Hurdle, Chelsey Morris, Marland Burke and Sarah Polednak

The three dancers Kandace Hurdle, Chelsey Morris, and Sarah Polednak provided some nice dance moves during the love making scene, each missing what was left of the beer on the floor.  Terrific work.  They also sat in the audience, in costume, and were very pleasant.  One note for the dancer: the dancers need to make a choice when they confront Slim. They either need to love Slim, or hate him.  Either way, that emotion must be conveyed to Cavale.

Sam Shepard & Patti Smith’s play is open to many interpretations and this was a good one, in this venue, and on this night.  The show had a short run of four dates March 23, 24, 30 and 31st and has now closed.

Partial proceeds from the production went to Write Girl, a creative writing and mentoring nonprofit promoting critical thinking and leadership skills amongst teenage girls globally.

The Executive Producers of this show were Joey Bothwell, Steve Harrison, Harrison James and Kenton Parker.

Other members of this delightful crew are as follows:

Mel Ciaravino – Associate Producer
Alex Pepel – Costume Designer
Alonzo Tavares – Stage Manager
Joe Morrissey – Lighting Design
Crash Richard – Music
Nicole Balin – Publicity
Ian O’Phelan, Shannon Burke - Graphic Designers

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Alik by Julio Vera

L to R Colleen Greenhalgh, Ryan Hughes, and Justin Powell

By Joe Straw

EXTENDED!!  Culver City Players at AmVet Post 2 House.

Saturday, April 21, at 8:00 pm
Sunday, April 22, at 7:00 pm
Saturday, April 28, at 8:00 pm
Sunday, April 29, at 7:00 pm

Elysium Conservatory Theatre in association with Wende Museum of the Cold War presents Alik by Julio Vera and directed by Cassandra Ambe is now playing through March 30, 2018 in Culver City.

Some things happen by happenstance, free parking at the Vets center to see a musical, turns into an unexpected turn, a discovery, and an unanticipated focus on the new Wende Museum of the Cold War. In that moment of curiosity there was a dogged determination to collect bits of information that caused me to look through the window. 

The museum appeared to be closed, but the doors were open, the staff provided a friendly greeting and asked if  “I was here to see the play”.  I wasn’t aware there was a play in this building where observable Stalin sculptures glowered and Russian paintings were absorbed in mental limitations. 

This is a place to study a particular time and place, a polemology of the Cold War. It is a natural venue for those who necessitate the gathering of information and disbursing it for consumptive purposes or otherwise.

And this is a perfect venue for this play.

Emerging from the darkness, a soft-spoken writer, Julio Vera introduced himself. He shares that the play, Alik, is a drama about Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife Marina living in an apartment in Minsk in 1961 and 1962.  Curiosity runs deep of that time and place where in hindsight governments had little to share.  

“This play is a work of fiction.  Names, people, places and incidents are the creation of the playwright and used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events, locations or people (living or dead) is coincidental.” – a note in the program – Author Unknown

The actual playing space in the museum is probably the size of your living room. At first one wonders how they will manage to create an apartment in Minsk in 1961 with nothing visible.  The audience sits in two sections facing each other about fifteen feet apart.

One imagines the theatre patrons are the observers of that apartment in Minsk.  This darkened utopian socialist world is one where we are all gathering information. Intentional or not, we are the KGB, the CIA, and any other spy entity you care to mention -  eavesdropping by any conventional means or otherwise.  

Alik by Julio Vera is a wonderful play performed by a magnificent company, the Elysium Conservatory Theatre.

The equally magnificent Cassandra Ambe, the director, has a critical eye of character, moments, movement, and relationships that tie the entire night together.  She moves the actors through time and space without missing a beat and it is a wonderful journey of story and craft. 

The actors give depth and meaning to their performances. Only a few moments into the play, we observe that they have had extraordinary training.   

Suddenly, the minimal set pieces move in quietly, small walls interchange, and turn an empty space into a viable arena, Set Design and Construction by Julio Vera and Gerard Moore.  

Marina (Lauren Fordinal) walks into the apartment with a bright red summer dress and matching seductive lipstick.  In comparison to other apartments in the area, this apartment is a penthouse with a great view. She is excited to be there.

Justin Powell, Lauren Fordinal

Following Marina is Alik (Justin Powell) who has managed to bring her up to the room. Alik, 23, is infatuated with her, her red lipstick, and lets it be known that he would like to kiss her.

“I must touch your lips.” – Alik

But Marina is cautious. She doesn’t know this man, although she would like to, and there are many unanswered questions about his history and reasons he has the apartment.  

Alik, an American, with his southern accent, and Robert Mitchum eyes, is not exactly forthcoming.  He tells her that he is an orphan, he’s from New Orleans, he loves classical music, and he leaves out a lot of information before he gets to the part that his real name is Lee Harvey Oswald and that he is 21 not 23 years old.

Ryan Hughes, Colleen Greenhalgh

They know who he is.  Pavel (Ryan Hughes) is a “friend” who is happy to be with him as he negotiates his way around Minsk.  Pavel tells him to be careful about what he says in his new apartment, where to speak, because they are always watching. (Little does he know.)

Larissa (Colleen Greenhalgh) is Marina’s friend. She is there with Pavel and they are a couple of sorts. Marina lived with Larissa and Valentin (not seen) for a brief time.

Later, they celebrate Lee’s and Marina’s wedding but in the middle of a toast, Lee gets distracted grabs the wine glasses and takes them back into the kitchen, spilling the wine on the floor in the process. 

Beyond the circumferential wall of their apartment, Oswald’s head is filled with demons from his past.  The empty wall presents shadows of his past life and animates the room with traumatic moments that expose his psyche. We see his brother Robert (Ricardo Diaz), his therapist Evelyn (Mariah Kirstie), his former Soviet girlfriend Rimma (Tory Castillo), and most of all, his mother Marguerite (Michele Schultz) who chases him like a roach on a wall, banging incessantly with her shoe, until he either surrenders or is squashed.

Vera’s play is wonderful heightened reality, august in it’s flow, and breathes at times like Chekov. (Oh, the boundless melancholy of suffering Russians waiting in long lines for cutlets now missing as they finally reach the barren shelves.)  It is amazing in its simplicity and movement that explains two lives struggling in Minsk.  There is an extraordinary amount of work here, fine details about the participants’ lives, things we knew and things that ring a dramatic truth despite being a work of fiction. The references to Eartha Kitt and jazz plays beautifully with the struggles they all endure.   

Lauren Fordinal (Marina) is a stunning creature who is grounded in character and in place. Marina holds her own position to get what she wants from her husband, never letting go of her own dream. Her performance is wonderful and her craft is amazing.

Justin Powell is Alik, the title of the play.  He is actually Lee Harvey Oswald who has to overcome the demons brought on by his mother, brother, wife, and his former girlfriend. Powell’s actions are measured, letting little go until the right time. In his internal pain he is craving for help but little is given.   His performance is remarkable.

Ryan Hughes does good work as Pavel and friend and co-worker to Oswald. Hughes has a strong presence and in character is a man that you don’t want to mess with.

Colleen Greenhalgh is Larissa, Marina’s friend.  She is the open eye and an instigator of sorts, one minute saying Oswald is a good catch, the other minute saying Marina should leave him. Larissa never gets in the way of others but that doesn’t stop her from trying.  Greenhalgh is another remarkable actor that brings an incredible truth to the character.

Ricardo Diaz plays Robert, Oswald’s brother. There is much to his performance that rang a sincere truth, simplicity of desire, of want that needed something from his younger brother.  But what that was was so deep to be incomprehensible, or at least, ambiguous. In any case, fascinating to watch.  Re-thinking the costume for this character would be the only thing to change, as it looked too modern.  

Michele Schultz is Marguerite (Oswald’s mother) and comes on really strong in the beginning.  This is a character that grows on you during the course of the play.  The scene with the therapist perhaps lingers on and could use some work.  Marguerite is a woman who wants to become famous and in any way possible.

Mariah Kirstie as Evelyn, a therapist to a younger Oswald, who tries her best to save him but loses out to his mother.  Kirstie does an admirable job playing to a young Oswald and a younger mother.

Tory Castillo has some wonderful moments as Rimma, Oswald’s former “friend” and tour guide. Much is brought to the forefront about Oswald’s current past when he first entered Russia.  Castillo comes in late in the show but shows a remarkable relationship with all who are in her scene. 

This was a play with massive costume changes by Cassandra Ambe, also was responsible for the lighting design and the direction.  But, rather than stop the action, the fellow actors changed the costumes on stage with hardly a break in the action. In fact, everyone chipped in to keep the play moving marvelously.   Larissa is wearing a wedding ring in the opening moments of the play, and it is a nice one.  (One suspects that ring is not coming off for the purposes of the play.)

There is much more to write about this play.  I may come back to it.  (Check in from time to time.) The show is closing this weekend and something must be said before it does close.

Run! Run! Run!  And bring a mysterious comrade!

Wende Museum of the Cold War – 8:00pm in Culver City- 310-216-1600


I had the opportunity to see this remarkable production two weeks later at the AmVets Post 2 house just a door away from the Wende museum.  I wanted to see how the cast settled into the roles and also to witness three new cast members.    

The moments in this version were heightened and the relationships worked marvelously.

Sam Flemming played Pavel and was quite different from the earlier Pavel.  In this version, Pavel was much more imposing, the beard gave a great look to this Russian, and his relationship to his girlfriend added an extra flavor to the role.  Flemming moved seamlessly into his role and gave the character another essence and one more dimension.

Melissa Ortiz plays Evelyn with a stronger New York presence and a strong accent (Brooklyn?).  There was a quiet dignity in Ortiz’s performance as a character that wanted to get to the bottom of the child’s problem but she was conflicted by the law that ultimately ruins her work.

Monica Ross is outstanding as Rimma, a Russian woman, a Muscovite that has had a previous relationship with Oswald. This Rimma was flamboyant, vivacious, and a little coy in her brilliant scene near the end of the play. Ross used the space remarkably well as though Rimma had known Oswald’s apartment inside and out.  

Charlotte Spangler also plays Rimma but did not perform the night I was there.

There was so much more to get viewing Julio Vera’s play the second time around, subtle moments that are jarring.  Vera doesn’t come right out and say “this is what happened” rather, he explains events, not in one moment, but over the course of the play. 

Alik is a remarkable play, with an equally remarkable cast, and has an outstanding director, Cassandra Ambe making her directorial debut.