Monday, October 26, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
Three Sisters Don’t Get to Moscow
The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and Circus Theatricals present Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters directed by Jack Stehlin. The producers, Ron Sossi and Jeannine W. Stehlin, have given Los Angeles a wonderful production of Three Sisters with Zale Morris creative costumes, hair and makeup, and nicely set for the period. There are moments of theatrical brilliance (more on that later) but those moments are few and far between as these three sisters don’t get to Moscow, nor do they even try.
Which is not to say that all is lost because it isn’t. Hope springs eternal. Stanislavski was known to rehearse a Chekhov production for a year before he presented it to an audience. Sadly, the Odyssey and Circus Theatrical cannot afford that luxury.
The play opens with with our three sisters: Olga (Vanessa Waters), Irina (Murielle Zucker) and Masha (Susan Ziegler) one year after the death of their father. Olga tells us they left Moscow eleven years ago “and I wanted so much to go back home.” And so starts our journey of getting back to Moscow, the overriding focus of our play and the reason for our being.
The play begins with the celebration of Irina’s name day by inviting the local military officers: Baron Tuzenback (Jonah Bay), Solyony (Garrett McKechnie), Colonel Vershinin (Tom Groenwald), Fedotik (Alan Wells), Rode (Jace McLean), along with renter and family friend Doctor Chebutykin (Thomas Kopache).
Also invited to the party is Natasha (Cameron Meyer) a commoner and fiancée to Andrey Prozorov, the intellectual gambling brother to the three sisters. Andrey invites Natasha to become his wife at the end of act one. In act two Natasha tries to take over the household and has also has an affair with Andreys’ boss. Natasha seems angry in all her endeavors and does not take delight in her marriage, her child, or her affair but she does supply this production with a much needed boost.
Theatre can be a grand mixture of realism and fantasy. Jack Stehlin, the director, provides us with two moments of inexplicable joy. Those are when Fedotik takes the picture at the dinner table and later in the fourth act when the cast introduces us to fall and the outdoor setting. This is an extremely hard working cast in need a few additional elements.
There were two exceptional actors on stage, Ronald Hunter, the janitor Ferapont, and Shannon Welles, the Prozorovs’ eighty-year-old nurse, Anfisa. Their execution is flawless and stunning to watch. Well worth the price of admission.
Also, major pieces of the play are missing that would explain the ending and give the audience a stronger emotional commitment. This play requires an emotional commitment from each actor as well as a strong physical life. The actors seemed so far away from each other there was no emotional or physical relationship. And there was no weight given to changes in their relationships. Moments passed like soldiers in opposing trenches.
Through November 8, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The Attic Wrestles With One Act Festivals
By Joe Straw
The 18th Annual Denise Regan Wiesenmeyer One-Act Festivals features four one act plays from entries submitted from around the country. Three of the four chosen had some kind of religious theme and the other one was about going to Pluto (now considered a rock).
Cross Purposes by Frank Cossa and directed by the very talented Christine Stump is the best of the lot. The play is about an older man Tom (James Carey) who meets up with gorgeous chick Tiffany (Amber Flamminio) to talk about the fling they had the night before. Tom thinks there are a lot of reasons why their relationship is not going to work.
One is the age difference, two is he’s a professor, three is it’s a Christian college, and four he is a priest. None of that matters to Tiffany she wants him bad and creates a scene to which the waitress (Christine Stump) sympathizes with Tiffany and offers to string Tom up to the highest tree.
Cossa, Flamminio, and Stump are remarkable performers. There are quite a few twists and turns and Flamminio actually shows us there’s a lot going on underneath the California speak. Stump, the director, fills in for a missing cast member and was very convincing. Cossa had a nice ending and you get that he does not often bed alone.
Bethany/Bakol written by Wendy Graf and directed by Maria DuMont is a one-woman one-act show. Bethany/Bakol played by Ali Deyer is about a gothic overweight teenager who is sent to Israel by her adopted parents to get some structure to her life. Not entirely thrilled to go, she discovers that Israel is not such a bad place. She finds something there, structure, and decides to stay.
Deyer is very good in this and this play is wonderfully directed by Maria DuMont. This play is informative but no reasons are given as to why Deyer is telling us this story or to whom she is telling the story to.
Lessons & Carols by Demetra Kareman and directed by Craig Jessen is loaded with teenage humor and angst. Lila (Angela Ryskiewicz) is being held in detention by Sister Fleming (Terri Marsteiner) when Gloria (April Grace Lowe) interrupts to tell Sister Fleming the classroom has been infiltrated by lice.
Lila and Gloria, not the best of friends, go at each other like a pair of muskrats in heat. Lila says Gloria “is from Loserville, population you!” And Gloria is so peppy it makes your skin crawl. Lila confesses to Gloria that’s she been having sex and not only that she is pregnant. They both realize Lila cannot keep the baby to which Gloria suggest they go to Hollywood and sell the baby to the highest bidder. “They’ll be stars!” Then something happens to change all of their plans.
Ryskiewicz and Lowe have an enormous amount of fun on stage and Marsteiner as the gruff sister shows us her compassionate heart. Craig Jessen does a nice job directing this one act.
Mary and Jon Go to Pluto was written by Matthew Tucker and directed by Michelle Begley. This is a play about Commander Jon Barnes (Tom McCafferty) and 2nd Commander Mary Templeton (Marilyn Anne Michaels) flying their spacecraft to Pluto sometime in the future and their relationship aboard the ship.
The problem is they don’t have a relationship as near as I can make out. Templeton is out to become the first woman on Pluto. In order for her to do this she must use her womanly ways to convince McCafferty to give her the title of First Woman on Pluto. And Barnes must hold on to his dignity and not let this woman take everything he has worked for his entire life. This creates conflict and the drama would be much more enjoyable.
The direction by Begley doesn’t go far enough to that end and the landing seems to end in a thud rather than accomplished piece. If there is conflict in this piece it is very subtle or not noticeable at all. By all accounts the characters should be exhausted fighting for their objectives by the time they hit the rock.
McCafferty looks the role (a former West Point graduate) and Michaels is charming as the second commander and has some very nice moments. Harriette Coggs Stuckey (Voice of Houston) does yeoman work.
There’s something here for everyone. If you like one-acts this might be for you. The Attic is also having audience participation so you can vote for your favorite play, actor or director.
Helter Skelter and The New Testament by Neil LaBute
By Joe Straw
The end of Neil LaBute’s Helter Skelter is so shocking the entire audience either screamed or jumped out of their seats. Some did both. When the lights came up the audience members sat silently, composed themselves and left the theatre in a state of shock. More on this play later.
The Open Fist Theatre had the world premier of Neil LaBute's wonderful one act plays: The New Testament directed by Bjorn Johnson and Helter Skelter directed by Neil LaBute.
The New Testament is a comedy about the difficulty of producing theatre. On top of that the writer has discovered the wrong man has been cast as Jesus Christ.
The producer Jerry (Benjamin Burdick) and the writer Steve (Tim Banning) have come to fire an actor Lloyd (Peter James Smith) already under contract. The problem is that Lloyd is Chinese and the writer Steve would like to have just a touch of reality to this play and he doesn’t believe “Mr. Fuji Hama Kurosawa” with his “golden rickshaw” fits the bill.
The play is filled with racial slurs, derogatory comments and it is also very funny. In a politically correct world LaBute, a master craftsman, throws the words out of the characters mouth and has us squirming in our seats every moment of this play. It is an endless conflicting racial battle between the characters on stage as well as a conflicting delight with audience members.
The actors are brilliant in their performances. From the moment we see them to the moment they leave the stage.
Banning as the writer pushes every button imaginable to get Lloyd out of the play including offering him the role of Judas. When that doesn’t work he accuses him of being gay. (Whoever heard of a gay Chinese Jesus? I mean really.)
Smith holds his own as Lloyd. At one point Lloyd almost convinces me that he could play Jesus. But Smith has more under his conical straw hat than one would imagine, coming out on top in the end.
Burdick as Jerry (the producer) manages to side with whomever soot’s his fancy. He is a true producer who manages not to alienate anyone to benefit his future endeavors. And besides he wants to get the play produced.
Although, the performances were this side of perfection, more could have been made out of the relationship between the actor and the producer. It’s not enough for Jerry to promise Lloyd a role in his next production Flower Drum Song. (Well, then again, maybe it is.)
Helter Skelter, written and directed by Neil LaBute, is a story about a husband (Ron Eldard) and wife (Kate Beahan) who meet in a nice restaurant for coffee during a mad Christmas rush.
She is late in the third term of pregnancy and their marriage is moments from falling apart. That moment is highlighted by her husband’s refusal to let her use his phone. Moments later the man confesses to having an affair.
These two people are two bright middle-aged intelligent people whose marriage has probably run its course. They are incapable of speaking to each other and when they do they don’t have a clue what the other person is talking about.
The play fills you in on their intimate lives and gives you a false of security that in the end differences may be settled and may work out. But in that moment of security all hell breaks loose forever altering their relationship forever.
Eldard as the husband gives a very nice performance of a man who doesn’t have a clue. Beahan as the wife give a rich multi-layered performance.
Helter Skelter is mind blowing. It is subtle. It is a lovely dream that turns into a nightmare of epic proportions. LaBute's script makes you hunger for the next word and then he serves it to you on a bloody platter.
The set of a nice restaurant is minimal but satisfying. Like a nice restaurant that have small portions but the food is great.
The Open Fist Theatre Company is in the middle of an eight-week festival of plays and music.
Solitude Lost Latin Lovers
From the opening moment of this play, Jose Luis Valenzuela explores the passionate lives of lost Latin lovers. Beautifully written by Evelina Fernandez based on the writings from Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude the 1990 Nobel Laureate in Literature.
The play opens as smoke lazily wafts from the fingers of a lonely dispassionate lover. Blackbird-like dancers moves across the stage in solitude, avoiding each other. Their eyes dart from the blur of one black figure to another never making eye contact. Minds filled with thoughts of another lost love as they move slowly toward a small box, on the floor, what is left, the remains of a forgotten life, someone’s mother.
“The blind cement contains nothing but shadows.”
They wait there, silently focused on the box. The limo driver stands priest-like scratching notes as though he was writing a sermon and then waits patiently for the right moment that never comes. A man collapses with mortal sobs, remembrances, and face down with the weight of the onlookers on his back until he is pulled away. This moment is a visual feast and this play has a number of them.
In short, Solitude is about a successful businessman Gabriel (Geoffrey Rivas) who has let his business interest take him away from his wife Sonia (Lucy Rodriguez) and his mother who he has not spoken to in 20 years. Her cremated remains are now in a small box on the floor. Gabriel is sobbing into the arms of anyone who would have him. “He cries like this all the time,” says childhood friend Johnny (Sal Lopez) who invites himself and the rest of the mourners to Gabriel’s mansion. Sonia is unprepared but aquiest and everyone hops into the limo for the trip to Gabriel’s place for the “last great fiesta”.
And death is the last great party in the celebration of a life. Where old wounds are explored and examined and truths come to life. This party is no exception. Everyone gets inebriated because the housemaid, beautiful lovely charming Juanita, (who is never seen) is on strike and refuses to serve food to the guests.
The limo driver, other wise known as "The Man" (Robert Beltran) invites his cousin Chelo (Semyon Kobialka) who provides beautiful cello music throughout the show befitting the situation. The Man is enamored with Octavio Paz. He loves to quote love and lives to love but is lost when it comes to making that final leap of consummation with Sonia. He stops at the moment he should embrace, hesitant about taking her lips into his.
Ramona (Evelina Fernandez) a former lover to Gabriel brings her son Angel (Fidel Gomez) a Stanford Graduate and son to an unsuspecting Gabriel. It is Ramona’s night to speak the words she has been holding onto for the last 25 years. She is tormented between truth and pride and she allows her pride to overpower her expression of the truth.
And Angel, looking all his life for his father, denies that Gabriel is his father.
This is an inspiring ensemble with Beltran as The Man, Fernandez as the mixed up mother, Gomez as the equally mixed up son, Lopez as Johnny who sings his heart out in a delightful number, Rivas as the powerful businessman, Kobialka as Chelo who plays with heartfelt strings on his cello and Rodriguez (a Culver City resident) who plays the long suffering wife in search of a new life.
Valenzuela’s direction is very stylized. Costumes and hairstyles vary indicating a variety of periods. This was Valenzuela’s choice. It is a version of the Latino confluences over the course of generations showing us the lost world of pre-Columbian and Spanish influences. Valenzuela shows us how characters can be so lonely in a world of fiesta. Lives interrupted, intertwined, together again but so culturally alone one cannot help feel compassion.
Evelina Fernandez’s play lifts Octavio Paz’s images off the page and gives them life with words that are inspiring and beautiful. The play succeeds on many levels but actors need to be clear on commitments and a single objective. Maybe the characters were lost but need to be clearer on why they are lost.
Francois-Pierre Couture, scenic and lighting designer, offers us a challenge the moment we walk into the theatre. His use of the askew picture frame as the proscenium immediately tells us that something is wrong and invites us to come into the home and set the picture right.
Urbanie Lucero’s choreography is quite nice, fits the message, and makes its point without being overpowering.
Solitude spans generations of pre-Columbian and Spanish people living lost in Los Angeles. They are a people of lost souls trying to make sense of the forces of oppression, self imposed or otherwise. Octavio Paz’s words are not the ramblings of a mad man but the quiet observation of familia and we have that in Solitude. Los Angeles Theatre Center – September 9th – October 4, 2009.