Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Art of Dining by Tina Howe


Joey Marie Urbina and Billy Budinich


by Joe Straw

I always thought The Art of Dining would play better if meals were not part of the presentation.  The actors would act the meal and drink presented to them.

With food, the play becomes an added cost and a logistic burden with the cooking, presenting, discarding and then the cleaning up.

I’ve actually seen this done (sans eatables) successfully at a ballet and from a scene at A Noise Within Theatre in Pasadena.  – Narrator.

Cal (Billy Budinich) and Ellen (Joey Marie Urbina) are the perfect couple. Well on the outside it appears so.  She is beautiful and he is handsome and they have a lovely restaurant with everything so perfect, the exquisite dinnerware resting on three white tablecloths, candles and other table appointments quietly wait for diners that are expected to come this night.   

The Golden Carousel horse welcomes all patrons who venture into their small but quaint restaurant gently nestled in a renovate townhouse on the New Jersey Shore.

But, things aren’t always what they appear starting with the disappearing food.  And then there’s Cal overbooking every night to capacity and beyond.   And secretly Ellen is a disgruntled worker chef who would rather not cook that much.  No, that’s not right, she would rather not cook for 30 diners when 7 for the night might be just enough.

And still Cal books reservations over the telephone like there’s no tomorrow.  Where else will he get the money to payback the  $75,000.00 loan if it’s not his little overworked wife cooking her heart out?

Love, love, love.

The doorbell rings. Cal stands in front of a mirror making sure that every fiber of his being is perfect before he opens the door. Now presentable, he is engulfed in costume as the maître de and in turn, a willing participant to be their servant and always at their beck and call. Hannah (Lucy Walsh) and Paul Galt (Chad Doreck) are then received by Cal in a most impressive manner.  

Lucy Walsh and Chad Doreck


Hannah and Paul, an enchanting if not ostentatious couple, have more idiosyncrasies than humanly possible.  They can hardly believe they are, once again, engaged in a night of fine dinning.    In presentation they are impeccable and have an unquenchable desire of every thing fine and decadent, but for the moment their feelings are decidedly pointed on the dining experience. And that experience is a foretaste of an iniquitous seduction so sublime and so subliminal that it is a precursor to the ineffable ecstasies that awaits them in the privacy of their own home.

Kasia Pilewicz and Haile D'Alan


Elizabeth Barrow Colt (Kasia Pilewicz), a short story writer, and a sentient being arrives without her glasses and is, fundamentally, as blind as a bat. She is helped by Cal who has trouble taking her coat and then proceeds to empty the entire contents of pencils and notebooks from her purse onto the floor, twice. Tonight she is waiting, longing to meet a publisher, her publisher Cal (Haile D’Alan) if she can get beyond the eating part of the meal.  

L - R Samiyah Swann, Leana Chavez and Nancy Vivar


After a day of shopping three lovely enchantresses Herrick Simmons (Leana Chavez), Tony Stassio (Samiyah Swann) and Nessa Vox (Nancy Vivar) swarm the lobby, shopping bags and all.  All three are wearing gold dresses and enjoy their meals in a strepitous manner of indescribable delight.    

Jamaica Moon Prods and the The GGC Players present The Art of Dining by Tina Howe directed by Gloria Gifford, and produced by Chad Doreck, Jade Ramirez Warner, and Leana Chavez through December 8, 2019.

The Art of Dining directed by Gloria Gifford is deliciously triumphant and delectable too throughout the course of the dining night. The production is filled with extreme touches of brilliance, of manner, and of style. There are some very fine bits of idiosyncrasies beyond the dialogue, and to top it off the characters are wonderfully diverse.

Sitting on the purple chairs was just - genius!

But, I have some observations.  If you are interested in going to see this production don’t read further.

Joey Marie Urbina fits the role of Ellen and does some remarkable work in establishing her abilities in the kitchen and her relationship with her husband. She discovers something she really didn’t know about her partner and the night is almost destroyed for not only the restaurant but also her relationship with her husband. That said, the tears of that moment were not convincing possibly because her actions are not extreme. Still, Urbina has a strong presence and is also a wonderful actor to watch.  

Billy Budinich plays Cal. Cal works in the kitchen, and in the restaurant.  Budinich really has to find something to make the coat and pencil scene work. Cal worries about every aspect of the job.  One wrong move with his insatiable cravings and the restaurant could come crumbling down.  But, perfection is something he cannot control, especially with this crowd. That said, Budinich handles the role marvelously and manages to get a lot of laughs during the course of the night.    

Kasia Pilewicz is Elizabeth Barrow Colt and for the most part is fine in the role. But, she has to make a choice to find a stronger objective for this character, which will lead her to more creative actions on stage. First and foremost she has a fear of eating and we should see that the moment she walks into the diner. Instead we get funny bits without the conflict. And these are the things she has to hide in order to have a successful relationship with her would be publisher. Adding an inquisitive disposition to her character would help her find more layers to her way.

Haile D’Alan is successful as David Osslow, a publisher.  Well maybe a successful publisher, or maybe not.  Truth be told, he hasn’t had a hit since, never.  He needs this client and what a better way than to ply her with food, at the best obscure restaurant in town.  But, it’s not working out, she does not like the food, and maybe not him, and he is on the verge of loosing this client because she is rambling (a good rambling) on about her life growing up. D’Alan has to push harder for a stronger objective, with creative choices that guide him to his objective.  He must win over the short story writer no matter the cost.

Lucy Walsh is terrific as Hannah Galt - a silly and seductive partner. A woman who wants the best for her husband, but falls constantly in a trap of not doing the right thing. The work from Walsh is very playful, creative, and everything about her performance just works.  In short, it is an excellent job.

Chad Doreck is exceptional as Paul Galt.  He is a man on a mission for the perfect dining experience. When things don’t go his way, he points out his companion’s faults and rights her wrong. Doreck has an infectious smile and is extraordinary in this role.

Leana Chavez as Herrick Simmons throws in some choice Spanish dialogue during the course of the meal. Samiyah Swann is also charming in the role of Tony Stassio, as well as Nancy Vivar as Nessa Vox. This table was a little confusing.  All three were wearing gold dresses.  One would suppose they bought them on their shopping spree but little is made about their attire. They fight about everything, the pronunciation of the drink, and the order.  They screech in delight, as well as screech in fight and at times it is hard to follow what the fuss is all about.  Clearly, one woman has a problem with pronunciation and remembering what she has ordered.  One wonders if it’s because that she noticeably doesn’t remember or likes the other ladies food.  The women have a history and the actors must use that history to clean up the moments, their relationship, and define those moments by finding the right touches that work.

Tina Howe’s The Art of Dining was first presented December 1979 at the Public Theatre in New York.  The west coast premier was produced by Spectator 442 and Joe Straw at the Fig Tree Theatre in 1983.

Other member of the cast who did not perform on the night I was there are as follows:
Cal – Keith Walker, Chris Jones, Christian Maltez
Ellen – Kelly Musselwhite
Paul Galt – Danny Siegel, Dan White, Joshua Farmer
Hanna Galt – Keturah Hamilton, Cynthia San Luis, Abigail Kochunas
Elizabeth Barrow Colt – Sabrina Won, Justine Estrada
David Osslow – Benito Paje, Joe Filippone
Herrick Simmons, Tony Stasio & Nessa Vox – Jade Ramirez Warner, Raven Bowens, Irene Gerakas, Amber Dancy, Danielle Abraham, Gloria Alvizar, Rosa Frausto

Run! Run! And take a chef because there will be a lot of things to discuss on your way home.

Member of the crew are as follows:

Set Design – Gloria Gifford, Keturah Hamilton & Lucy Walsh
Lighting Technician – Teagan Wilson
Properties – Michael Barker
Show Publicist – Philip Sokoloff
Costumes – Gloria Gifford, Lucy Walsh
Hair/Makeup – Kasia Pilewicz
House Manager – Tahlia McCollum
Videographer – Gay Hauser Price
Photographer – Mathew Caine

RESERVATIONS: (800) 838-3006.
ONLINE TICKETING: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4404222
  

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Sunday, November 3, 2019

Cock by Mike Bartlett


L - R in background Caroline Gottlied, Miles Cooper, and Andrew Creer - Photos by Bailey Williams


By Joe Straw

John (Miles Cooper) isn’t much to look at.  He is thin, wiry, and slightly unkempt with a spotty three-day-old stubble.  Dressed in a jeans jacket, dark blue or black, with torn black pants and Converse tennis shoes that appear to be purple.  The best thing about him, people say, are his eyes, at least for those who venture that close.   

John is fed up with his relationship with his partner M (Andrew Creer), an always-right, smarmy sort, who is tall, built, untrammelled, with an Australian accent, and, truth be told, petulant. He is manly in appearance in the way of Errol Flynn, or Cary Elwes, but dogged in the way of a bossy Betty Davis.

Their main issues: they aren’t getting along, and their stories are getting stale.  They are always fighting like two cocks, always picking at each other, and trying to get the upper wing. In short, their dialogue is unpleasantly perverse as they go about maintaining their daily lives.

“I think we’re fundamentally different individuals you know that? – John

M, at this point, is slowly catching on, and the talk is moving towards breaking up.

“It’s not true.” – M

“It is true because I just said it so there it is”. – John

They can’t communicate without going at each other.

A few short weeks later, after the breakup, they meet again.  This time, John comes bearing teddy bears.  John says he still fantasizes about M and needs his help with a problem he gotten himself into.

The problem: John, bearing a tattered conscience, pleads (in his way) for reconciliation. He lets it be known that he has fallen in love with a woman; of course, M is not too happy about this.

“ I thought we were brothers.” – M

“You said that but I never understood.” – John

As it turns out, John tells M the graphics details of their relationship and says, “She thinks I’m straight.” And John also lets loose that she was like a “man” to soften the M(an) vs. W(oman) blow.

M retaliates and calls John everything in his book but offers a suggestion that the three of them should be one relationship short. M, in his own way, has decided to take John back but John is still uncertain as to the road he wants to pursue.

The play goes back in time – when John met W (Caroline Gottlieb) – and provides a dramatic re-creation of John’s breakup and his relationship with W.  

W was married at 23, divorced at 25, and now she is meeting John at 28 when she spills the beans on her loneliness and asks if he would consider “sleeping with a woman”. He sleeps with her, they separate, and then she stalks him. (Or at least John thinks she stalking him.)

Now, John needs help and M invites W for dinner to straighten their relationship out once and forever.  But M doesn’t want to do this alone.  He invites his father F (Robert R. Ryel) to help him at the dinner party to which all battle for their best interest.

Crimson Square Theatre Company presents Cock by Mike Bartlett, directed by Michael Yavnieli, and produced by Faye Viviana in association with Beverly Hills Playhouse and Cheshire Moon Inc., through November 17, 2019.

Cock by Mike Bartlett is a stunning work of art that rings true to its core.  It is a cockfight of two men and one woman being pulled apart in insurmountable ways. The play is a battlefield in a cock ring, poetic in manner, with characters engaged, releasing toxic words, unutterable thoughts spewed to love ones, vile words expressed that causes all to retaliate. They battle without physically touching each other as they engage through the impulses of daily sexual life – all for the sake of, and in the name of, love.

Michael Yavnieli, the director, adds an extra element to the play. It is the morning cockcrow to highlight, a moment, an awakening for mistake prone beings, or a regret, and all of these moments effectively move the action forward. Those moments are creative and give an inventive voice to the director.  Yavnieli’s work is thorough, inspiring, and manages to get the best out of each performer.  One note here, the set is bare – save for the four chairs that are used for the characters that are not in dialogue – Yavnieli makes a choice to have them face forward and in the light to witness the dialogue. The characters on the chairs seemed to be engaged at times, and at other times, not.

Miles Cooper


Miles Cooper is appealing as John.  There is a lot of backstory to his character, so his character has a lot of depth especially in dealing with his counterparts.  John carries with him a profound darkness in his loneliness, not really getting what he wants either emotionally or sexually. He can’t make up his mind and the others push him around the ring and into a hole for which he cannot escape. John dishes out as well – having his partner take off his clothes as a measure of control.  Cooper is terrific in the role and could add a little humor to the character. As confused as the character is, Cooper’s objective must be substantial, the makeup scene may not have gone far enough or creative enough to serve two purposes, getting back together, and getting much needed help. Still it was a very enjoyable performance.  

Andrew Creer is very funny as M as he relates to his counterpart in a very campy/bitchy way. M is tall and muscular and the complete opposite to his lover.  (How they managed to get together is beyond me.) M manages to have his way using his voice without resorting to his strength and size. Creer is a leading man with a strong voice and facial reactions that move the character in many delightful ways.

Caroline Gottlieb


No one says you have to be a man to be in a cockfight and W is there scratching and clawing like the rest of them. Caroline Gottlieb is W, a woman who holds her own. W finds a gay man and wants him for the rest of her life. Her biological clock is ticking and finding the man is essential. Two weeks of a relationship is enough for her to make up her bossy mind.  Certainly she thinks he is good in bed, or why would she bother? W is described as manly but Gottlieb wears something very feminine on stage.  She certainly can be feminine and dress very manly on stage. That note aside, Gottlieb has a very strong presence on stage.  She is a wonderful actor, her craft is outstanding, and her moments on stage are just marvelous.

Robert R. Ryel is F, M’s father. Ryel plays the character as a worldly sort.  He is someone who may not have liked John in the past but has grown to love him. He is measured in his approach not wanting to get physical unless he absolutely has to, but he is a voice of reason and someone who really loves his son.  There is a lot to enjoy in Ryel’s performance, his stoic manner creates a world where trouble slide from his shoulders. And, he tries to stay above the fray no matter what obstacle is thrown at him.  Ryel is terrific in the role.

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who loves getting up in the early morning light to see the cockcrow.  

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Carrie Muniak – Assistant Director
Andrew Blandina – Assistant Producer
Derrick McDaniel – Lighting Design
Ken Werther Publicity
Carrie Muniak, Benjamin Burt – Stage Managers
Jeffrey Sun, Carrie Muniak, Tania Gonzalez – Sound Design
Faye Viviana – Program Design
David Seltzer – Website Design
Ellie Schwartz – Theatre Coordinator
Marchello’s – Specialty Concessions
Tania Gonzalez – Music Arrangement
Caroline Gottlieb – Poster Design
Bailey Williams – Promo Photography
Bailey Williams, Tania Gonzalez, Emily Chapman – Social Media/Marketing
Jamie Shaverdi, Lindsay Jean Michelle, Carrie Muniak – Fundraising

Phone: 323-348-4979

Beverly Hills Playhouse
254 S. Robertson Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA  90211
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Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter



L - R London Kim and Ben Crowely - Photo by Julie Nunis

By Joe Straw

Acting and the Art of Ambiguity ©.

Ben (Ben Crowley) held the newspaper still – for an extremely long period of time – and in one position.  The print was small and the back pages appeared to be personal advertisements. On occasion, something caught his fancy; something that would necessitate sharing once his partner woke.

For the sake of appearance, there was something on Ben’s mind because one rarely reads a newspaper – just staring at the print – without turning the pages. Or, possibly, he has comprehension issues. At best, his actions are ambiguous.  

But for now, Ben was satisfied; he had every right to be.  He was physically fit, with a square, if not refined jawline, used in the way that flagitious men square up their victims.  Everything about him seemed perfect.  His perfectly combed mop, with a black strand of hair fell just below his eyebrow, his shirt – meticulously ironed, suspenders, tailored made slacks, and shoes that seemed polished only yesterday by someone with a mental gradation lower than himself.

Ben was waiting for God-only-knows-what in the basement of a dingy hotel.  But he remained cool, calm, and collected in spite of the accommodations, a room without windows, and a dumb waiter moving in an unexpected and precarious fashion under the weight of ambiguous circumstances.  

As his face turned right one could almost get a glimpse of the notorious type of man Ben was, and not so bad when he turned to his left, ravishing with almost a baby face that would keep in polite company.

Ben, in his work, is the diminishing lodestar but on this night, the other must blindly follow.  

Gus (London Kim), who was of Asian ancestry, was the complete opposite.  He slept on his bed face down with his shoes on; his clothes and the bed were uniformly disheveled in an erumpent conspiracy.  He presented himself as one with austere dignity but enfeebled from the opportunities presented to him. Languishing in the ambiguity of his own being, and the ramification from questioning authority, he was both beautiful and pathetic. He wasn’t one to follow anyone blindly and perhaps that was his downfall.    

A peculiar thing happened when Ben woke and stepped on the floor, he felt something in his shoe.  He removed the item from his shoe, perhaps something of value, a flat box of some kind, no money in it, but valuable enough to keep under this peculiar lock and key so to speak.

Honor among thieves.

Gus then tied his shoelaces in a fashion of a two year old, an afterthought, neglected in the child development stages of his life.  In any case, the tying, ad nauseam, took an excessive amount of time that would have driven anyone within a trustful distance, clinically mad.

Altogether, Gus was a sad sack of a man.  His attenuated body was weathered by life’s circumstances, by his circumstance.  And, lately, the job was getting to him, on his nerves, making him question motives of the mess they had made on their prior job.  His inquisitiveness was starting to rub someone, possibly Wilson (not seen) the wrong way.

Perhaps, on this night, Gus was using his wherewithal niceties to endear himself to Ben.   

It’s not hard to believe that the dumb waiter is not a machine, nor the title of the play, but of a man, waiting, and not being able to figure out his time is near. 

It's wonderfully ambiguous!

Sunscreen Theatricals Production presents The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter and directed by Julie Nunis at Stages LA through October 13, 2019. 

This show had a two week run, and has closed.  It’s unfortunate, because it was one heck of an outing.

Wonderfully directed by Julie Nunis who placed her own original stamp on this production and effectively made it her own. Guided by a strong cast, the production was smooth, sincere with many layers, wonderfully connected, and most of all frustratingly ambiguous so that, upon viewing, concentrated engagement with the characters was an absolute must.

The lower class English accents by the actors were riveting.  

Pinter’s plays are known for his pauses, intuitive moments in the play that changes directions or course in a relationship.  There are a few dramatic pauses in the play. Steeped in ambiguity Pinter says each performance can be about anything the actors and directors make it to be. My belief is that it is about a man desperately wanting to keep his job but he is destroyed by ineptness, his lack of nerve, and his inquisitiveness.

“Have you got any idea who it’s going to be tonight?” – Gus

“Don’t you ever get fed up?” – Gus

“Why did you stop the car in the middle of the road this morning?” – Gus

“When’s he going to get in touch?” Gus

Ben Crowley as Ben soars in this production. His craft is impeccable and the concentration is outstanding. Ben (the character) never it let it be known that he was one step ahead of his counterpart. The matches slipped under the door were the first clue Ben recognized but he did not give the message away.  Still, he knew what the matches meant.  So, he hustled his counterpart into the kitchen to “light the kettle”, knowing that is the place he was supposed to be. And then he pulled out his gun knowing it was his instrument for the day.

Yes, Ben knows because of the matches and maybe Gus knows as well.

London Kim is also exceptional Gus. Kim has a strong craft.  His concentration is superior. But, there were a few minor things that didn’t translate and those were material things, the match box in one shoe and the cigarette package in his other shoe. (From my perspective I couldn’t tell what it was.) That aside, there is something in Gus’ being that makes him ask all of the questions.  Something is off, something in the job that doesn’t sound right to him, and that he can’t put his finger on it.  And, in his investigative ineptness, he never really gets a straight answer from his counterpart until it is all over.

Stage LA is a nice venue.  The seats are comfortable movie theatre seats but difficult to view the actors down below.

It’s really unfortunate this show had only a two-week engagement.  Perhaps they can remount the show in another theatre.

If you have the opportunity to see London Kim, Ben Crowley and or Julie Nunis work, run! Run! Run!  

Other members of the crew are as follows: 
Ken Werther Publicity
Gabriel Herrera - Stage Hand
Grady Monts, Mark Nunis - Set Construction
Michelle Crispin Marketing Consultant
London Kim - Poster Design
Ross Canton Theatre Manager
Sarah Schodrof - Theatre Staff 
Isis Behar - Assistant to the Director 

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Never Is Now (NEVERISNOW) by Wendy Kout


L - R Michael Kaczkowski, Evie Abat, Adam Foster Ballard, Sarah Tubert, Joey Millin, and Eliza Blair - photo by Ed Krieger


By Joe Straw

sparks and crackle
make melancholy
where books in bonfires burned
and riots viewed through broken glass

humans scattered across the land
in abstract resistance
leaving beautiful dreams
pasted on stained faces  

senseless state of persecution
over the rioting ruckus
and now

a voice that blares
and a single man
without a shred of morality
screeching his licentious invidious doctrine,

speaks
alone in a room,
starring into a mirror
for form, smiling
and thinking highly of himself. – Narrator 


The stage at the Skylight Theatre is bare. Well, not exactly bare.  There are six portable cubes for the actors to move as they are directed and an old brown weathered suitcase that sits far stage left.

The black box theatre has a translucent screen that separates the upstage wall with another screen used for projecting images further upstage.

The setting is unremarkable right now, possibly an open space for actors to move about, get their emotional bearings before the real set comes in. Suffice it to say, it is an unadorned space for the actors to create their own external magic.

And, however that magic is inspired, one hopes that it is in a focused direction, and one that lifts the audience to their feet.  

So many things can happen during the course of the presentation. And on this night, an exciting one at that, it is a dress rehearsal, one that requires all hands on deck from all of the players, an even hand from the director, and a playwright who insists on handing out changes this late in the game.    

And all is fine except for one small thing, one actor, does not, show up.  

Skylight Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Never is Now, the past is prologue, written by Wendy Kout, Directed by Tony Abatemarco and Celia Mandela Rivera, and produced by Gary Grossman and Michael Kearns through October 27th 2019.

L - R Adam Foster Ballard, Joey Millin, and Michael Kaczkowski

 
No matter, the playwright (Evie Abat) is subjected to performing her own material. The director (Joey Millin) reports that a once reliable actor is now a no show. This is to the playwright’s consternation since she would rather be watching her work, and taking notes from a seat in the audience.  

The other actors (Adam Foster Ballard, Eliza Blair, Michael Kaczkowski, and Sarah Tubert) take it all in stride and seem to know their lines despite the playwright’s sudden participation on this night.  They will make the best of it and keep the night moving as smooth as possible.

The actors need a sprinter’s strength to get through the night. But, so close to the actual performance, emotions run deep as actors are finally finding the internal sweet spot of an emotional connection.  And, because of the subject matter—WWII, Germany, and the subjugation of the German population—there are many discoveries.   

The characters they portray fight to overcome the political rise of Nazi Germany, and they do this to keep moving forward and ultimately move in the direction of staying alive.

And, strangely enough, all of that has an eerie connection to the current events of the day.

Never Is Now by Wendy Kout is the true story of 10 survivors of the Holocaust and of the actors who portray them now. It is an exciting look of how those actors, through osmosis, learn the play and the times, and come to a realization that history is repeating itself. 

All told this is a fascinating night of theatre directed by Tony Abatemarco and Celia Mandela Rivera and a take on people who operate on two levels; as people of 1930’s Germany and as actors who are portraying the present-day roles.  We get the point loud and clear.  Quietly beautiful and wonderfully effected, it is hard to tell where Abatemarco’s directing begins and Rivera ends.

That said, there were certain elements that need refining. We get the modern day characters they are there to tell a story. But, the 1930’s characters worked as independent spirits without an emotional connection, or a relationship to each other . They are historical characters that found their own way without help from the others.   

Also, this play calls out for an overwhelming emotional catharsis, perhaps one that takes place in a train, starting with the historical characters and then finishing with the players - a moment that binds the characters to the players.   

And, as an aside, there are times when the historical characters were projected on the screen, and we knew the characters that were being portrayed and those projections appeared sporadically.  Perhaps the projections should have happened throughout as characters were coming in fast and furious and the changes were difficult to track.   

All six characters on stage played various characters and are listed in the program as Woman #1, #2, #3 and Man #1, #2, #3.

I don’t recall ever seeing an actor like Evie Abat (Playwright) who does the little things so well that the moments just jump off the stage.  Her craft is extraordinary and her work is sublime.

Adam Foster Ballard is also excellent in his craft. At one point in the play his present-day character comes to a realization and runs off stage. (Actors!) That happened out of the blue and the moments leading up that didn’t focus on that moment. That aside, his work was phenomenal especially when describing who he is today and where his family originated from.

Eliza Blair is complimented by her craft.  It is smooth, somber, and to the point.

Michael Kackowski plays a Nazi during the 1930’s period and a Trump supporter for the current period.  There’s not a love of love for these characters. Still Kackowski does a fine job for each character he portrays. He is like the obnoxious character actor one finds in the Constantine Stanislavsky books.  Still, Kackowski has a strong presence and a very good look.

Joey Millin is an actor/director for the play they are performing. As the director, he is firm, has an even hand, and knows how to keep things moving for the rest of the cast. But, his relationship to the writer required more depth.  He treats her as an actor but his relationship to her as a writer withers a bit. There is never a consultation with her as director/writer to fix that, which does, or does not work. As an aside, the sax work was great.

There is much to enjoy in Sarah Tubert’s work.  Her voice is strong; she has a strong physical presence, and brings her proficiency in American Sign Language into the performance, which has significant meaning in the course in the show. One thing that needs more clarity is her personal story, which went by too fast and needed emotional clarity.

Wendy Kout’s work cries out for an awakening, mostly for the people who turn their heads or tune out the unpleasantness around them.  Those same people that think incarcerating humans and separating families is good because they broke the law and “we are a country of laws.” She reminds us of the 400 laws against Jews in 1930’s Germany and of the 32 nations who said “No!” to refugees, including the United States.

Today and now, in the United States, the unfathomable silence is deafening.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Caroline Andrew – Scenic and Lighting Designer
Mylette Nora – Costume Designer
Christopher Moscatiello – Sound Designer
Lily Bartenstein – Video Designer
Christopher Hoffman – Production Stage Manager
Garrett Crouch – Stage Manager
Wendy Hammers – Associate Producer
Amy Felch – Associate Producer


Run! Run! Run! And take a WWII historian.  

Skylight Theatre 
1812 1/2 N. Vermont Ave. 
Los Angeles, CA 90027 

https://skylighttheatre.org/plan-your-visit/

   


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Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Heal by Aaron Posner


Kacie Rogers and Eric Hissom


By Joe Straw

The Getty Villa, and in particular the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater, is a remarkable venue to see Greek plays and the re-working or adaptations of them.    

From the parking lot, the walk to the Greek open-air style theatre is a pleasant one.  With each step, Los Angeles falls by the wayside, the trees explode into mushroom like clouds, and the greenery fills one with enough oxygen to relax and take it all in. And because this is Malibu, a breeze starts blowing in, cooling the amphitheater to bearable temperatures against the insufferable heat of the day.     

But, seeing a play on opening night concerns me.  There is never enough money for the arts, and therefore never enough rehearsal time. Naytheless, the Round House Theatre group, from Bethesda Maryland, is a professional company, and opening night should not have been a problem.

Well, there were problems, a few, mostly about character, conflict, and script. Now that I think about it, that’s almost everything.      

The Heal written and directed by Aaron Posner is a re-imagining of Philoctetes by Sophocles and it is a comedy playing through September 28, 2019 at The Getty Villa.

Heal: to bring to an end or conclusion, as conflicts between people or groups, usually with the strong implication of restoring for amity, settle; reconcile.

Truth: honesty; integrity

Philoctetes (Eric Hissom) was left alone on the island of Lemnos. Not by choice, of course. On his way to fight the Trojan War, he was a victim of snakebite, a faithful revenge from the Gods for stepping on the sacred ground on Chryse.

For Philoctetes, the pain was unbearable and the smell remarkably putrid. This did not sit well with his comrades, the other soldiers, and they could not bear to be with him, all that whining and such, so they left him on the island, with only the bow bequeathed to him by Heracles (not seen), to fend for himself or die.

Ten years have gone by without a victory at Troy. With Achilles dead, Odysseus (Lester Purry) has his mind set on winning the war.  He has captured Helenus, the Troy prophet, and Helenus confessed the only way to win the war at Troy is with Heracles’ bow.

Sounds fair enough but this adds another component, a set of improbable logistics in order to take Troy.     

So Odysseus, and his minions, returns to the island of Lemnos possibly hoping that Philoctetes (the holder of the bow) was dead. 

But, when the ship arrived on the island, Odysseus, seeing signs that Philoctetes is among the living, and needing the bow to win the war, tries to convince Achilles’ daughter Niaptoloma (Kacie Rogers) to lie and by deception take the bow from Philoctetes by any lying means necessary.

Philoctetes will never give up the bow, unless it’s from his “cold dead hands” (my quotes).  

But, Niaptoloma, in reality, and of strong character, has a hard problem with lying. She is the proud daughter of Achilles and has a reputation to uphold.  Therein lies the conflict.  

To explain the backstory and all of the essentials in remarkable detail is a Greek chorus/dancers (Eunice Bae, the spectacular Emma Lou Hébert, and Jaquit Ta’le) who were the highlight of the show and kept the show very lively compliments of a very talented Erika Chong Shuch, Choreographer.  

And while that worked, one did not get folk-blues guitarist (Cliff Eberhardt) at all or why he was there. One loved the songs, the singing, but, where was this all going? And, how did it fit into the play? Perhaps, if he had been been the character Heracles certain things could have materialized.

Philoctetes finally shows up limping around like a three-legged frog, bow in tow, using it mostly as a cane, and very cautious, of what a woman, this woman, wants on his island.   He has trouble communicating, partially because of the pain, and partially being on the island for so long. Cognitive thinking and time away from other humans have a way of causing self-invalidation.  He, at least, recognizes the idea of being rescued.

There are a lot of good things in Aaron Posner’s play.  The main ideas were one of “truth” and of course “healing”.  The truth takes precedent over all of it and healing is a secondary event in the play and therefore the confusion of the play.  The play requires a stronger through line, and for the director a viable stamp critical for us to understand his intention or objective rather than a prévenance for the playgoers. In the end “truth” sums it all up, which is almost impossible to believe.  (Sophocles version is a little more believable, if one takes stock in Greek Gods and what they are spiritually capable of doing.)

While truth is the overriding issue of the two main characters, the truth has little to do with the characters.  Odysseus flat out lies and does not give a second thought about doing so. There is very little joy in his actions, and almost no conflict in the way he tries to convince Achilles’ daughter, Niaptoloma.  And she is not weigh down by the inner conflict she must overcome and regards the truth as an annoyance rather than any kind of overriding inner conflict.

Not much was made of the place, the island, where this all takes place in Posner’s direction but it did play an important part in the play as a whole.  The symbolic setting at the bottom of the amphitheater could have been anywhere also compliments of Thom Weaver’s scenic and lighting design.

The actors were superb.  But, there is more to add to the characters and the creative choices they made. This is not to take anything away but to add to the characters. 

Eric Hissom (Philoctetes) developed a strong character with interesting choices but without a definitive objective. If the truth is the through line, he should have been searching for it in a much more creative way.  If it is healing, he does little during the course of the evening to move in that direction. Philoctetes has also been on the island for ten years alone, Hissom should find ways to communicate that to his counterpart(s). The bow is sacred.  It was Heracles bow, (mortal turned God) and the actor did not treat it with much respect during the course of the night, or use it creatively, it seemed more like a crutch than an instrument of respect. In the end one wonders if the pain was in his head, or was used as an instrument to get what he wants.

Lester Purry (Odysseus) has a strong presence, a terrific voice, and a strong manner on stage.  Odysseus must be the wisest of the wise, the strongest of the strong, and every action the root of his intention. He comes to the island to get the bow, but he doesn’t want to do it himself.  Why?  If he is there to see if Niaptoloma can do it, why doesn’t he witness the interplay, or, get satisfaction from it? One guesses that he gets great satisfaction to see others carry out the impossible. But, he is not even around to witness the interplay between characters.  

Kacie Rogers (Niaptoloma) has a very good look, and a strong voice. Rogers creates a character from a person that never existed, Achilles, a Greek Warrior, and a hero of the Trojan War. Originally written as the character Neoptolemus, who is Achilles’s young son. So Rogers is doing creating a character from the ground up. There are more levels to add to this character, one of them being of a definitive strength, both in mind and body.  Also, for Niaptoloma, telling the story seemed to be a conflict of getting the story out, rather than the conflict within herself of telling the truth. 

Run! Run! And take a beast, someone who loves mythology.

Getty Villa
Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater
17985 Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Palisades

Info: (310) 440-7300   

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Friday, September 13, 2019

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


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


By Joe Straw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kiki Ebsen and Gregory Gast

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

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

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

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

Other members of the crew are as follows:

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 3, 2019

True West by Sam Shepard


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


By Joe Straw

EXTENDED THROUGH SEPTEMBER 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Austin can’t help but offer a little smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what is the deal?

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

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

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

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

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

Still, I have some thoughts.

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

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

L - R Andrew Hawkes and Johnny Clark 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other members of the crew are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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