Friday, December 31, 2010

The Last Straw Awards

By Joe Straw

By my count I saw over 40 theatrical productions last year and soon it will  be time to present  "The Last Straw Awards" part Deux (2nd Annual) given  to actors for outstanding achievement in theatrical productions in Los Angeles for the year ending December 31, 2010.

This list does not limit itself to leads so if you were a supporting player in a production, please check back in January 2011.

Also, if you were part of an ensemble, you may be eligible.

Thank you for a wonderful year!

I'll see you 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


By Joe Straw

One has to be impressed by walking into Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles. The Cathedral seems to embrace all who seek spiritual enlightenment. It is beautiful and layered with majestically stoned panels rising to the ceiling.

I gathered there to view the spectacle LA VIRGEN DE GUADALUPE, DIOS INANTZIN with four thousand of my other friends. And it is a spectacular play! Put on by the Latino Theatre Group in Spanish with English subtitles, directed by Jose Louis Valenzuela and written by Evelina Fernandez.

This manifestation has a cast of 150 dancers, singers and musicians in glorious feathered costumes of the Aztec Indians and tilmas of those who were converted and colonialized.

Slowly, the audience marches quietly into the Cathedral, men women and children waiting for the moment that takes them away from the distractions of life and places them into the center of the event. They then rejoice in song, Buenos Dias Paloma Blanca, to re-live the moment of December 9th, 1531 on a hill at Tepeyac, near Mexico City, when the peasant Indian Juan Diego sees the vision of The Virgin Mary.

Miracles come in all sizes. The visions that came upon Juan Diego may have been a moment imperceptible to others, but with eyes wide open he is receptive to the vision of a celestial being. And this being the Virgin Mary one knows there is work to be done, a message to be delivered and Juan Diego was instructed to physically carry out that mission. It was a vision to include all into Christianity, whites as well as Indians, Spaniards as well as Aztecs, rich and poor.

I go to see the genius that is Jose Luis Valenzuela and Evelina Fernandez and to watch these two take a production, that is virtually impossible to stage, and against all odds, perform a minor miracle every year.

Also it is a chance to view the remarkable talents of Sal Lopez and a wonderful Mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzman.

First one has to be supremely inspired by the voice of Mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzman. It is here in the cathedral that her voice is smooth, melodious, and fills every inch of listening space. The walls cry from the sound taking it and giving it back to the listener. So remarkable the sound one would think it was not live, but a recording, and yet this beautiful voice fills the chambers and one can only think the voice was heavenly inspired.

Sal Lopez does a fantastic job as Juan Diego. He is funny, charming, and serious when the need arises. A regular with the Latino Theatre Group his strength lies in his tenacity.

Also amusing is Fraile Jose, Luis Lopez Aldana, a wonderful friar who happens to get himself into a lot of trouble but manages to find his way out.

The wonderful hardworking cast also includes the characters Juan Bernardino, (Miguel Najera), Arzobispo, (Castulo Guerra), Fraile Martin, (Geoffrey Rivas), Fraile Joaquin (Gabriel Gonzalez), La Criada, (Esperanza Ibarra), Citlali (Lucy Rodriguez), Danza del Aguila Blanca, (Lazaro Arvizu & Jesus Espiricueta), and La Muerte, (Urbanie Lucero).

The fine musicians were Los Hermanos Herrera, Martin Espino, and Christopher Garcia all under the direction of Alfredo Lopez Mondragon.

The angels giving us light, life, and hope were Andrea Zuniga, Olivia Delgado, and Alegria Garcia.

Holding on to their culture were The Aztecs who were Marcus Castain, Carlos Leon, Carlos Barajas and Ray Porras.

Don Garza and Oliver Rayon played the Spaniards.

There were a number of people necessary to create this production, hundreds, and it all seemed to come together on this very successful night.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Blue Room By David Hare

By Joe Straw

The play “Der Reigen” from which David Hare adapted into The Blue Room was so provocative it could not be performed on any stage for many years.  It was done in living rooms, away from the prying eyes of the general theatre going public and the police.  Nevertheless, as progressive as some cities may have been, arrests were made.  People were sent to jail.  Adolph Hitler called it “Jewish filth”.

The play was written in the name of science.  Well, sort of.  Written by Dr. Arthur Schnitzler as an exploration of the profligate sex lives of the Austrian society of that time.  He also wrote this for his own voyeuristic amusement.

Roger Vadim eventually made the play into a film, La Ronde.

And now it is here at the Moth Theatre in Los Angeles directed by John Markland, and Produced by Efrain Schunior, in an intimate space, off an alleyway, away from prying eyes of the police, and in the progressive bohemian section of town. (To date, no arrests have been made.)

It is not so much, the nudity, but the message this play conveys.  It’s not so much the roundness of nude female form, or the flaccid male body parts, but the message it communicates, subtly, and without fault.

The Blue Room pays attention to the connectivity of sexual beings from ordinary people to the aristocrats.  The players communicate in a fashion ultimately to reach a goal.  Their engaging intercourse is wonderfully played out as the audience watches them plow ahead into the unforgiving vortex of infection. 

An earlier time would have suggested syphilis today it is H.I.V.

Breathless is the word to describe that moment when all things change between two sexual beings. The dramatic affect on one’s spirit, that instant connection that draws two people together. And through rough mature dialogue they communicate their instinctual animalistic proclivities. Although each case is different, one finds a similarity in all scenes. It’s as though a moth were being drawn into the flame.    

And like the moth that flutters around a light in all alleyways, two people meet each other in the night: The Cab Driver, Patrick Scott Lewis, and The Girl, Addison Timlin. In this meeting there is an attraction and revulsion all in the same moment and in a heated back and forth they make it in the passageway.  And the outcome is a demand for money.

“Next time, get the money first.” – The Cab Driver.

Unbeknownst to both parties, The Girl gives The Cab Driver a little “special” gift to take with him and he takes that gift to his next encounter with The Au Pair, Lili Bordan.  She is invited to come to his office after being seen dancing in a nightclub.  She is a stunning French woman trying to find a suitable partner but as her luck would have it this night she ends up with The Cab Driver.  She desires a meaningful relationship. His curiosity with her is limited to sex and it takes him only a few moments to slide the dress from her shoulders and move her to the floor.  Still she has hesitations.

Because of the risk.  That’s why.  Why should I risk?  That’s the reason.  It’s not safe nowadays.  I’ll only risk if… - The Au Pair

Later, The Au Pair, at the home where she is employed, has a chance encounter with The Student, Scott Dunn, whom she lives with.  The Student has a lot more than books on his mind when he entices her to come sit next to him on the bed.  The Au Pair is complicit in their relationship.  And with his parents away in the country, it doesn’t take long before these two are having an unmeaningful relationship on the table.

The experienced Student now looks for other conquests and he finds one minutes later in The Married Woman, Pamela Guest.  She, reluctant at first, cannot turn down the opportunity of a young man.  And he, filled with brandy, is experiencing a slight case of erectile dysfunction, which is quickly resolved when The Married Woman takes matters into her own hand.

I didn’t think it happened with young men, that’s all.  I thought it happened with clapped-out older men. – The Married Woman

Later, The satisfied Married Woman, enjoying a moment of contemplation, and reading a good book in bed waits for her husband The Politician, James Mendoza, to come to her.  He speaks of hygiene one moment and in the next moment he is in a hotel lying in wait for The Model, Katharine Towne. 

You taste of pudding. - The Politician

I just have sweet lips. – The Model

Really?  Have men told you that before? – The Politician

The Model, living a life of drug addiction, hands The Politician two pills as a philter for the night, but doesn’t expect to be engulfed by his uncontrollable desires.  He, in turn, rapes her, and picks at her body like a crow plucks at an appealing bag of food.  It is an exceptionally dramatic scene caught by the use of light flashes giving us a glimpse of a life destroyed.

Later, The Model meets up with a self absorbed exuberant The Playwright, Justin Huen. She is entranced by his words and his intelligence even though she doesn’t understand a thing he says and wants something that all models want.  (Note on what models want:  To date no one on the planet has figured that out.) The Playwright wants a subject for future material but most of all he wants her to have an adventure with her. 

But, The Playwright, wanting bigger prey, moves on to The Actress, Alice Fulks, a petulant prima donna, who is a giver and a taker.  She is a woman who can build a man up and then send him crashing to the mat.  She is an enticer, a deceiver, a player and a raconteur and later she uses these devices on The Aristocrat, Jan Milewicz, a man experienced with the finer things in life without having a relationship with a world renown actress.

Whatever the case may be The Aristocrat ends up in bed with The Girl completing the full circle of decadence.

The Moth Theatre has the knack of bringing a lot of very fine talent to their stage.  The actors were fantastic (some more suitable to film than the stage).  At times the dialogue is so quiet one has to strain at times to hear the discourse.

Fulks as The Actress was quite astonishing in this role, so many layers, and very physical in this demanding role.  She has the voice, trained, clear, and able to hit the mark, making her moments both precious and pernicious.

Bordan as The au Pair had a quiet intensity and put up quite a struggle in her quest to enrich her life.  She has an underlying strength in her objective. 

Timlin as The Girl was last seen in The Quarry.  She has a rough exterior but is capable of showing us her heart.

Guest, The Married Woman, was delightful, courageous, funny, ambitious, secretive and selective.  Hers was a enjoyable and courageous performance.

Towne as The Model was perplexing.  It was a role that was characterized by a woman who had a serious drug problem and is possibly raped.  One was not sure why she wanted to be with the politician or why the drug use was crucial to her objective. Whatever the case may be she continues on with life not seriously concerned with what went on in the prior scene.   Aside from that this was a very physical and demanding role.

Lewis, as The Cab Driver, was kind of creepy in a cab driver sort of way but one finds him quite engaging and a wonderful actor.  He is in the moment when he toys with the infection of his desires. A man in his prime and beautiful women to satisfy his sexual tastes.  His enthusiasm at the curtain call was contagious.

Huen, as The Playwright, while engaging needs a stronger and imaginative objective.  Not always clear and precise as this role was meant to be. The reasons why The Model and he are together are not made entirely clear.  The choice of being inebriated leads him nowhere when there are a number of better choices available. Secondly, his forced laughter must have an underlying truth associated with this action, and his objective otherwise it’s just pure folly.  Also, not being clear on his objective had caused this actor to lean into a candle he has just lit, unaware that his shirt could burn in the process. One notices the flame, his shirt, and wishes for his safety, but by that time the dialogue was lost.

Mendoza, as The Politician, created a character that was morose.  Away from the spotlight, maybe this is how politician are, but on stage, probably not a good choice.  He was idealistic with his wife, but not cautious with The Model. (Even Kennedy knew to turn away from the flashing camera when he was spotted with Marilyn Monroe.)

Dunn as The Student tries a little too hard to be controlling.  The moments don’t work perfectly, the conflict not specific, and the objective not clear.  Lost is the idea that he is expecting a lover but has another in his room, now. But he is young and will grow out of this, still there was some very nice work going on.

Milewicz, as The Aristocrat, had a very interesting perspective to his character, worldly and so profoundly intimidated by an actress who is madly in love with him and despises him all in the same breath. His performance rang true but needed more to hold his own. Nevertheless, his was a very good performance.

John Markland, the director of The Blue Room, gambles with the play using video inserts that play on the closed Venetian blinds in the background while the two onstage are having sex. The problem with the video is two fold, it repeats what we in fact have just seen: the maneuvering steps to copulation, and two, all the lights go out and one can barely see what happening on stage or how much time has elapse.  First and foremost the social intercourse was much more engaging, but the gamble of using video was a choice, one may recognize as good or bad, and the director has that right.

Also, there seems to be revisions in the play that affect the relationships on stage, particularly the one between The Student and The Au Pair.  The scene in this version of the play is violent and says nothing about the class distinction, that between master and servant, which would greatly improve the scene.

David Hare has written a wonderful script.  It is exceptional and astonishing.  The dialogue is taut, explicit, and heightens the adult sense of pleasure.  It is every fantasy one could hope to imagine or to play out.  One can gasp at unexpected dialogue or the events unfolding on stage.

Jenna Pletcher, the lighting designer, lights the show, but not being very clever with this limited budget. Both shows seen at the Moth Theatre were very dark. One really needs to see the actors’ faces through adroit lighting. Also, relationships change after sex and the fact the audience can only view glimpses of the act (via a little light) hurts the connection the audience has with the actors.

The Scenic Designer, Benoit Guerin, seems to have had a limited budget needed to build the set he wanted.  Probably a lot of money went in to produce the videos presented on stage.

In any case The Blue Room at the Moth Theatre is a production you should run to see.  Sadly only 12 performances through December 19, 2010.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris

By Joe Straw

Nicholas Brendon has a face you know.   It’s easy to compare him to… nope, not going to do that.  And forget that I’ve seen him in Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them by Christopher Durang this goes back farther than that.  It's a face with which one can relate. It is easy for him to communicate without dialogue. Just sit back and watch, he'll do the work. (And he does.)  

And it is this face that takes us through the imprisoned thoughts of a writer, doing time at Macy’s, in the cold dead winter of New York City. 

The Blank Theatre Company, Daniel Henning, Founding Artistic Director and Noah Wyle Artistic Producer presents Nicholas Brendon in The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris, adapted by Joe Mantello, and directed by Michael Matthews at the Stella Adler Theatre, “darling.”

Just in time, when we just couldn’t get enough of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and tofurkey.  If one is having a bout of depression this holiday season this might be the trick to pump oneself up for the coming holiday festivities!  And one can’t think of a better thing to do than to see Nicholas Brendon running around all night long in an elf costume:  complete with curled toed shoes in Satanland, opps, Santaland through December 19, 2010.

First of all one has to get this out of the way, Brendon is a tall man, about 6 feet, in his stocking feet.  David Sedaris is 5 feet two inches, with lifts.  (Okay, so maybe it’s a slight exaggeration.) One could look at Sedaris and think “elf”.  One looks at Brendon and the thought process might be as follows:   “against type, non elf like beard growth, it could work, a little bigger Crumpet than expected, I have no problem with this. Let’s run with this!  Let's get on this sleigh, look funny, and enjoy the ride.”

This a story about a writer, Sedaris, fresh off the boat, in New York City trying to write for the soap opera One Life to The Guiding Light in A General Hospital as The World vomits,  (No comments, please.) when he comes across an ad for a job as an elf in Macy’s at Herald Square.

“Would you be interested in full-time elf or evening and weekend elf?”

Not to be cut off with a polite “thank you”, Sedaris opts for the full-time elf and is spirited away to lollygag with the Macy’s family of Santas and elves.  He adopts the name Crumpet.

But there a problem, Sedaris has a hard time getting himself into a happy elf mode (as well as his costume). In any case, it’s a great opportunity to put those misunderstandings in a diary from pen to paper.  After all, one doesn’t get a job like this and not pay attention to the finer details of one’s co-workers characterizations. Sedaris takes a look at the specifics of human frailties and faults and maximizes them on paper to the “nth” degree. 

“You poor, pathetic son of a bitch. I don’t know what you have but I hope I never catch it.”
The story goes something like this.  Man is hungry eating soup in a restaurant and looking for work in the want ads.  Man finds job as elf.  Elf, not good at math and finding the work overwhelming, tries to ease into the job.  Elf finds out his co-workers of Santas and elves are the emotional have-nots in society. Elf falls in love with another elf, Snowball, only to have his heart broken.

“Snowball just leads elves on, elves and Santas. He is playing a dangerous game." 

And then Crumpet has to deal with the “evil customers”. It is amazing what parent will say to an Elf to make their child behave, Crumpet gladly obliges. Being pushed by customers can lead an elf to a life of crime.  And, in hindsight, it’s amazing how the wrong things said to a child can ruin their life forever. 

Brendon is really working the room as Sedaris and for the most part has everyone in stitches. He has the ability to change into multiple personalities, from a master sergeant veteran elf leading in a moral boosting chant, to a costumer with a gravely voice that smokes from a hole in her throat, to the various Santas, and the various elves.  There is an extreme focus in Brendon’s work, a concentration so intimate and so playful the audience breathes with him.  The sweat pours off him as the result of the thick polyester itchy and scratchy elf costume, the tights, and the curled uncomfortable shoes all making this a heated spectacle to behold.

“Crystal has third-degree burns covering… 90% of her body.”

Michael Matthews, the director, is very imaginative and there are a lot of clever things in this production. But there are a few minor problems that need solving. There is a point where Sedaris is sad but this sadness does not take us anywhere.  Sadness is a breathless exhaustive state of being without an action to guide the character to another point in the story.   And in particular when one is on stage, alone, being sad, well, it doesn’t work. Still they’re a lot of good things to be said of Mr. Matthews’s direction. 

Missing was the innocuous music that plays in all department stores. 

Nevertheless, there were some very nice moments under the red light that gives the audience a time frame of the coming disaster, Christmas. But, look, its called The Santaland Diaries and without this idea of diary running through the show, this becomes a show of visual vignettes rather than the idea of listening to the morbid thoughts of a man during his most ridiculous self.

A note in Wikipedia suggests this is downtown standup and not a play.  Maybe so.  The adaptation by Joe Mantello has a hard time working as a play but works in vignettes and for that reason all may enjoy the ride.  

But, look, if the adaptation means turning this into a play, why not go all the way with this?  You’ve got the nice set by Kurt Boetcher, nice costume design by Michael Mullen.  It’s a play!  A play!

"My co-workers are caught in the same predicament as me.  Some are actually quite bright including the Santa's."

With all the biting and clawing and maneuvering for position in these vignettes there is a sincerity here that I've been missing (for a few holiday seasons) that touches the heart and that’s what I like to see in a Christmas story.   It’s an incomprehensible loving truth.  It is welcomed. And it is heartfelt. 

The Blank Theatre Company is a tremendous organization, a wonderful space, and opening itself to become a regional theatre.  There’s two dollar parking.  Go have yourself a great time at The Santaland Diaries in Hollywood.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


            For years now, the Latino Theater Company has presented a holiday gift to the community, its production of “La Virgen De Guadulupe, Dios Inantzin.” Adapted for the stage by company member and playwright Evelina Fernandez from the mid- Sixteenth Century text The Nican Mopohua, it relates the story of how the Virgin Mary appeared on four occasions to the lowly peasant Juan Diego in the mountains of Tepeyac near Mexico City in 1531. Miracles attributed to her intercession included the blooming of roses during a time of frost, and the recovery of Juan’s uncle from the deadly plague. Juan’s devotion to the Virgin was a catalyst for a spiritual renewal in the area. Perhaps two decades after the events occurred, they were recorded on paper in an Aztec language by the Indian scholar Antonio Valeriano.

            Ms. Fernandez has transformed the story into a work for the stage whose themes of faith, hope and perseverance can speak to people of all backgrounds.

            The show is presented in Spanish with English supertitles.

            Reserved seating is available for $35 and can be acquired online at , or by calling toll-free at (866) 811-4111.

Reserved seating is also available for subscribers to the Face of the World season of Los Angeles Theatre Center and holders of its Season Pass.

General admission is free to the public (all are welcome to attend) at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, on Thursday and Friday, December 9 and 10, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. A goodwill donation of $5 is suggested. No one is turned away for lack of funds.

            Renowned opera singer Suzanna Guzman stars as the Virgin, and Sal Lopez plays Juan Diego, in a cast of over 100 professional actors, singers and dancers that also includes children and seniors from the community.

            The production is directed by Latino Theater Company’s Artistic Director, Jose Luis Valenzuela. Original music composed by Alfredo Lopez Mondragon.

            The famed show has been the subject of feature articles in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Man From Magdalena – Story by Patty Christiena Willis, Music By Mary Lou Prince

By Joe Straw

Friday, October 29, 2010 at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica.

Why did I go?  Fifty percent was for a fundraiser given to a good cause,, which gives micro loans to Mexico and Central America.  This organization is getting  high praise these days as it’s been as one of Oprah’s favorite things of 2010. 

Briefly, the story was based on an actual incident of a man crossing the border and being hearded at night by a coyote when he comes across a white boy, a survivor of an automobile accident, alone in the desert.  Rather than leave the boy, the man stays until help comes. And for this good deed, he is deported.

Wow!  Sounds like a great story and with music to boot. But the first thing I noticed when reading the program from this Arizona cast was there was neither a man in this production nor a little boy.  And no Hispanic actors in this cast at all. Oh, and then I remembered, they don’t have visible Hispanic people in Arizona anymore, which would explain why the cast was white.

(Sarcasm is such a wasted emotion.)

Okay, okay, okay but I think I can get beyond this. (Think Mary Martin in Peter Pan, or Marlon Brando as Sakini in Teahouse of the August Moon.)

Or can I?  Well, no I can’t.

Principal singer Patty Christiene Willis is also the storyteller. Mary Lou Prince is the composer and the pianist, Helene Benedikte on cello and the other backup singers were Marla Daugherty, Claire Coon, Suzanne Miller, and Seja Snow, a female version of the Jordanairs without the Elvis. 

This presentation was inspired by the incident but in reality has nothing to do with a man from Magdalena or the boy he saves.  It is a footnote in the life of the narrator on stage. And Willis only reads the article she pulls from a sewing basket.   Why she keeps the article is never explained.

As near as I could make out this is a story of a woman who lives in Arizona near a border crossing and that’s about as close as we come to the Man from Magdalena.  Willis struggles with the part and the many characters she plays.  Stopping the action to sit in the chair with her back to the audience as the music plays on does not move the story along.  And the same can be said for the silent costumes changes on stage. 

The music was melodious. The lyrics are forgettable.  The performers, serviceable.

In truth, this production was in need of a director, badly.

For the most part everyone sang in tune, when the lyrics were not forgotten.  But this was a one-woman show in need of a better story and objective. And if you’re going to include other people on stage, like the singers, they better darn well have a relationship with the folks on stage with them.

The Man from Magdalena should start from scratch and not mischaracterize the story about a man and a boy. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

By Joe Straw

Somewhere in Glendale lays this monolith. Seen from miles around, this white structure houses A Noise Within Theater Company (ANW). As curious as the actors are they are obliged to touch this monolith. This is done for them to gather inspiration and knowledge before they walk up the sacred steps into moments unknown.

And as patrons walk to the top floor, they cautiously reflect on their lives. They must think whether the walk up of three flights of stairs is either exhilarating or debilitating. One supposes that those thinking “death is near” at the top will only forget moments later when they remember this is Charles Dickens and the play they are about to see is Great Expectations.

One can hardly sit quietly and wait for the lights to dim, the music to rise, and the visual feast to begin. And on this night there was another full house eager to witness the magic.

The Scenic Design by Kurt Boetcher and the set pieces stand silently and wait for the actors to guide the interior monoliths around the stage to great effect. The walls are both neatly designed lavish homes and rickety walls that are pushed and pulled by the chorus of actors. The gates of lavish homes suddenly become empty cupboards and jails that hold back the unsightly population, the destitute and the ignorant. And unjustly so as these are the things we expect to see in a presentation from Charles Dickens’ life.

Beautiful costumes by Angela Balogh Calin are magnificent in design and work in moving the struggle of a lonely boy into manhood.

There seems to be a cast of hundreds but in actuality there are only eight performers doing yeoman work.

Everyone who knows the story will be delighted by this interpretation of Great Expectations because this play is both beautiful and excruciatingly painful. Directed by Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, it is hard to tell where Julia begins and Geoff ends but each are working toward the same goal.

Briefly, the story is a rag to riches story. A boy so poor yet he has aspirations of becoming a gentleman and his expectations are so great he will do anything to get there. But as always life conspires against him, and his riches seem to come upon him unexpectedly. But riches do not ensure happiness when you’re a young man in love with a woman who, exasperatingly, cannot be possessed.

Jason Dechert as Pip does an outstanding job growing into the role from a small boy to the much-distinguished Mr. Phillip Pirrip. Pips’ reflection, through narration, guides us through the many avenues of a man’s life. (Namely, his own.) But, he is stumped by truth of his mysterious benefactor. It is a notion that guides and confuses him throughout the play.

Joe Gargery, Geoff Elliott, lives life as though he were “happy dog”. And Elliott has some wonderful moments on stage as the smithy. Small moments of him reaching for more light, grabbing the light bulb to see his work, are particularly wonderful. His action, to perfect an imperfection, is a genuinely proud moment with which all audience can relate. He was also wonderful as Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer responsible for funding Pip.

Mrs. Joe, Jill Hill, is a violent character, wanting more out of life but not knowing how to get there except through cruelty to her loved ones. Her frustrations are the result of humiliating poverty and lack of clarity. The role is exceptional.

Herbert Pocket, Stephen Rockwell, teaches Pip to become a gentleman at a dinning room table. This scene was brilliantly executed and wonderfully presented. And while there may have been reasons why these two were together for the extended period this was not fully explored. And one wonders why all the fussing about money throughout his relationship with Pip. Was he aware of the funds being limited in scope?

Also, there is another dinning room scene with Mr. Pumblechook, Joe Gargery, Mrs. Joe, Jill Hill and Pip that was marvelous. Lights out, dinner finished, lights on, carry on with life.

A week later I'm still laughing at Deborah Strang's performance as Miss Havisham. Strang is a consummate actress and her entrance is as spectacular as one can get. (Her character appearance can only be described as a resemblance to Edward Sissorhands' sister.) Nevertheless, as Miss Havisham, she is stuck in an emotional time capsule and not letting any light enter her mansion while her darkened heart laments over a lost love. She finds her way in life in the wedding dress she has not taken off since that hateful day when her betrothed ran out on her. It is now in rags, and her wedding cake still preserved after, oh so many years, is displayed in a pathetic act of self-aggrandized sympathy. Strang’s performance was enormously breathtaking!

Mitchell Edmonds, as Mr. Pumblechook, and in drag as Sarah Pocket is a favorite at ANW. Always amusing, entertaining, outrageous and as subtle as any actor can be. What an outstanding performance.

Daniel Reichert as Able Magwitch the prisoner gets us into the meat of the story. He is almost the backbone of the play. Appearing in the second act was slightly confusing concerning his aoristic lifestyle but his performance in the first act was absolutely marvelous. This was a wonderful performance.

Estella, Jaimi Paige, is a guarded debutante instructed by the power hungry Miss Havisham. It is a life that does not give her satisfaction but nevertheless gives her a power over any man she desires. Paige’s performance is stunningly coy. And she is beautifully package into Pandora’s Box waiting for the next fool to peek inside.

As always one can only expect great things from the other actors in this production who are Darby Bricker, Elizabeth Fabie, Kurt Quinn, and Taylor Jackson Ross

The directing team of Elliott and Elliott always produces theatre that is specific in character and goal oriented. The show is excellent in the first half and only slightly out of focus in the second act which is not to take away from this marvelous production. Possibly the cast was ironing out problems out on opening night and those issues have been resolved.

A Noise Within production is an awakening giant for the napping Los Angeles theatre going audience. Its future new home in Pasadena surely stimulates the senses. Leave your TV’s at home, and forget about the small celluloid performances wedged in between long celluloid commercial periods. Expand your mind, get out, meet and greet and support their new home in Pasadena.

Through December 19, 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Sugar Daddy” by Fielding Edlow

By Joe Straw

Lemonade Productions is presenting “Sugar Daddy” written and performed by Fielding Edlow and directed by Paul Stein at the Lounge Theatre (Lounge 2) through November 20, 2010.

The press notes say, “Wickedly funny, incisive and hip, Fielding Edlow’s comedy chronicles one woman’s epic battle with frosty cupcakes (not vegan), breaking up with Daddy and learning to stand the sound of her own heartbeat.”

That’s sounds interesting.

So what was I doing there? Well I thought this was a good premise. After all, a woman who loves cupcakes and her father can’t be a bad person, ergo a good show. But, just the ideal of someone lusting for cupcakes doesn’t paint a pretty picture either. I had visions of someone 6’ 2”, grossly overweight, and fighting off daddy to boot. Well, okay, this is something I could sink my teeth into. (No pun intended.)

This funny one-woman show is about an hour in length. (Get off the stage before the applause ends.) It is funny, but only if you’re hip enough about pop culture, eating, therapists, and failed relationships. (Okay, so maybe that’s all of us.)

There is an extraordinary amount of truth in what she says and because of this everyone in the audience is having: a great time with certain references, a good time with other references, and a bad time with other references that does not play in this hemisphere.

Having worked with some of the people she references in this production was hysterical! I’m not sure those people would be amused. I won’t mention her name but written in the sand it would look like this K.I.M. B.A.S.I.N.G.E.R.

“…if K.D. Lange had a working vagina.”

Nevertheless, the humor is rip roaring, hip slapping, and eye watering. The ideal age to see this would be 25 to 30 and any age beyond that point would see this as an exercise in silliness.

“You are like Martha Graham if she had a cock.”

Okay, so maybe that’s what she was going for – that age range. But the silliness only carries itself for as long as you can watch a clown juggling his balls, after a while it has served its purpose and unless one is willing to introduce new element things tends to get stale.

Still, she is funny.

… drop kick my pussy…

Briefly, the show is about an actress who hasn’t had a meaningful relationship with a man in 10 years and she needs to explore that possibility with therapist. And she has a number of them. Uh, therapists.

“I’m going to terminate our relationship.”

Her father pays for the treatments because he believes that she needs them, continuously, and forever.

“I love how you take notes.”

And with no job and all this free time on her hands she studies acting and tries to have normal relationship with others who are just as sick as she is. (Not a good ideal to get together when both are equally working hard to resolve mental or addicting problems.)

Personally, I prefer actors who are having a relationship with others on stage, but Edlow is having a marvelous time up there and who am I to rain on her parade. She is witty, funny, extremely bright, pretty, knowledgeable on any topic, and does these “funny” girl things that gets her into a lot of trouble. Edlow moves in and out of these situations, easily. She is in the moment seizing the day but those moments don’t translate into a change in the attitude of the character. The character is the same from the first moment to the last with a few distractions along the way.

Still, she is funny.

Paul Stein, the director, is very able although the focus here is very intangible. Where are we going? What are we trying to say? Why does Edlow fight off her father? Where does all this go? What role does her mother play in her life with her father? There are too many unanswered questions. Also, not sure about the food reference and direction the play is supposed to go because of it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

La Victima by El Teatro de La Esperanza

By Joe Straw

I’m slightly embarrassed that I’ve lived in Southern California for over 30 years and know a small amount Spanish.

“Si usted quiere evitar la gente el sabado y domingo por favor, lave durante la semana.” – A sign in the Laundromat – author unknown.

When I first moved into Los Angeles I rented an apartment on Westmoreland. It was a singles just north of Pico complete with a fold down Murphy bed and a convenient Laundromat within walking distance. Aside from a half of a semester of 7th grade Spanish in Mrs. Castro’s class in Tennessee, the above phrase was all the Spanish I knew.

I never knew exactly what that sign meant but I memorized it. And on Saturdays I had hours to practice because it took me hours to secure a dryer, especially one that had a tennis shoe flipping in it for what seemed like an eternity. I was a man and a victim of little old ladies that had one goal in mine. “It’s either him or me. And I prefer me.” (“Es él o yo. Y me prefiero.”)

La Victima by El Teatro de la Esperanza (whew!) and directed by the incomparable Jose Luis Valenzuela was presented by Latino Theater Company on Spring Street in Los Angeles. Its closing date was October 31, 2010 in a limited 4 week run.

The Latino Theater Company is celebrating it’s 25th Anniversary by presenting its first production of La Victima. It is something one has to experience to understand and if one understands Spanish, so much the better. Subtitles are really not a way to see a production when one is looking at objectives and facial expressions.

There is an open wall running the length of the set created by Tesshi Nakagawa and it serves as a reminder that political ideology builds walls that do not stand the test of time.

Briefly, circa 1915, the Mexican revolution displaced a number of Mexicans. And to flee the violence they headed north. This is where the story begins.

They lived and loved and had children here in the United States and worked hard for a living. And then came the 1930s and along with that, the Great Depression. Like today Mexicans were used scapegoats, but unlike today half of the Mexicans were deported or “repatriated” across the border.

The tragedy of families being separated is that sometimes they never see each other again and when they do reunite, as in this play, it is a heartbreaking event.

Amparo is a tragic figure. She stands helpless as she is being deported once again. Lost in a tragedy of broken homes as she stands witness to her family’s recurring history. Lupe Ontiveros is wonderful in this performance.

Sammy (Geoffrey Rivas) is an equally tragic figure. Separated from his mother, father, and sister he is left for others to raise him. And in this bitter struggle he forgets his past, serves time in the Army and later he works for the Department of Immigration. He developes a bitter hatred of those who try to enter this country illegally and fights hard to keep “them” out.

Cita as La Cantante provides music where appropriate but her objective was confusing. The music works better when in line with the story.

The Latino Theatre Company has a very fine stable of actors most notably Lucy Rodriguez, Sal Lopez, and Evelina Fernandez who play multiple roles throughout the years from the early 1910s through 1960s that this story takes place.

Other performers were J. Ed Araiza, Luis Aldana, Alexis de la Rocha, Olivia Delgado, Oliver Rayon, and Ricardo Ochoa also in multiple roles.

Jose Luis Valenzuela, the director, lets us in on the history of the events of the Valla family. It is symbolic at times, subtle, and dramatic but one wishes for a heartfelt conclusion to the tragedy. Valenzuela’s dramatic purpose may not have been fully realized but nevertheless his staging was this side of magnificent.

The real tragedy is that we, as a nation, have not made progress on this issue and the cancer of this unresolved issue continues to grow.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Quarry by John Markland

by Joe Straw

Under a starry sky, a light, a glimmer of hope shines upon us all. At times in the darkness, and in that glimmer of light, we break down and speak a truth about unspeakable things and hope that compassionate people will listen and help guide us from that which is so painful.

At night, tears are invisible. They flow with the hopes that someone actually cares. But, now and then disaster strikes when too much information is released and the wicked heart acts on what is perceived to be a weakness and this causes the victim to turn away from the light.

People from this small New Milford, Connecticut town are brought together by mysterious circumstances only known by their creator. They are young and finding their way through the labyrinth of people they know of, but in reality, don’t know them well.

For these characters there's no need for them to ask the question: Why? They won't get an answer. They can only react and contemplate how they fit into the puzzle.

In The Quarry, a world premiere play written and directed by John Markland and presented by the Moth Theatre, the dialogue is laconic, the emotion powerful, the intent less direct and purposefully misleading that gets us cornered into a dark pit called the quarry.

The Quarry is a wonderful show for all the right reasons. It is a dark and brooding method style play that would have Stanislavski quivering with excitement. There are sublime objectives and gloomy characterizations of people trying to find answers to the important things in life only to be hammered by situations out of their control.

The story starts off late at night, or the early morning, with Pete (Zachary Shields) and Gary (Max Barsness) near the edge of the quarry, looking into the darkness of the pit below. (Google New Milford, CT quarry.) Pete grabs Gary and acts likes he’s going to heave him over the side, which scares the bejesus out of Gary. They've both have had too much to drink. It’s a great summer night and there’s still a lot of rifle shooting to do before the night’s done.

Pete, a chain-smoking teen (19), lives in a shed near the quarry. Among the garbage that litters the space, he calls this place home. “Four walls and a roof” that he built after he was abandon by his mother and father.

Gary (18) admires Pete’s freedom and his ability to handle a rifle. Gary, somewhat dorky, wants to live up to that which he finds manly in Pete. Pete is after all on his own, a year older, and a free spirit.

Pete questions Gary’s masculinity by goading him about getting laid and taking the leap off the ridge into the quarry, but Gary can’t get himself to do it. Not just yet. He’s got everything going for him, a girlfriend, and a ticket to college.

And then, Gary does the unthinkable, he jumps off the edge of the quarry, into the night, not to be seen or heard from, for what seems like an eternity. Underwater in the pitch black, his life force becomes an unresolved issue. And this was all for the sake of answering his questions on manhood.

Pete, on the cliff, seems to collapse in shocked until he hears the sounds of Gary splashing below.

When Gary reaches the top of the quarry, he is, soaked, elated, and triumphant. He tells Pete that he plunged so deep his head hurt and his ears felt like splitting. He also believes he saw a dead body in a car below.

But freezing from the plunge and with the night ending Gary is heading home and then off to college soon. He tells Peter to visit his girlfriend’s father, the minister, if he would like to talk.

Pete has an unknown emotional desire to visit the minister, RD (Nicholas Guest). RD invites him into the house for some food: a burger with a few things on it. And with the burger in Pete’s hand they sit down to speak about the important things in life, books. It is here that RD misses an important moment to connect with a teenager that is living on the edge in a make shift box.

Maybe, it’s just small steps.

Pete and Gary get together one more time before he heads off to college. They are shooting beer cans with the rifle when Gary mishandles the rifle and almost blows Peter’s foot off. Pete, the man that he is, struggles with the gun and breaks Gary’s finger in the process.

Later, Pete visits the minister again, but this time runs into his young precocious sexually charged daughter Jessica (Addison Timlin). Her sexual advances are questionable motives as she really has something else in mind, which is not revealed until later.

Pete has a second chance with RD and about the only thing that gets resolved is that RD is not to touch him. Under any circumstances. No touching! This is a second opportunity missed. Whether it’s a homophobic cause or otherwise is unclear because no one is willing to set the cards on the table.

Wow! The Quarry is an amazing play! John Markland has written a work of art that in and of itself is a story of non-communication. This is a play filled with quiet dialogue that requests your presence at every line. It is a play about people reaching out; without knowing what they are reaching for, without knowing what they want, about avoiding conflict when they should be talking about it.

The acting in this production is fascinating to watch. Audience’s members strain to hear the method like mumblings of a well tuned in cast. It is a style of acting that takes matters to the heart, multilayered and not forced. The emotions wait for the truth and the truth carries them leap and bounds beyond expectations.

Barsness is an incredible actor who holds his own with the other actors. He has a nice look for stage and film and is really doing some amazing work here.

Shields has so much depth to his character of a man trying to find his way, a loner, not able to cross his own self imposed bounds. He is also someone who is willing to go the extra mile to help others without knowing their problem. His emotions are not aggrandized because he doesn’t know how, and hasn’t been taught how. In the end his life is left to the decision he makes with the quarry. Whether it’s beautiful or tragic is left up to the audience to decide. This was a wonderful performance.

Timlin as Jessica can either be beautiful or supremely tragic as the circumstances warrant. Her motives are subtly unpredictable and not entirely sincere, but she wants something and needs a stranger to help her. This is a terrific performance.

Guest as the small town minister subtly tries to help anyway he can, but he neglects his own daughter. In the end it is a tragedy he cannot bear to witness or be a part of. He cowers in the corner of his own home unable to come to grips with the tragedy unfolding in front of him. He dedicates his life to the masses around him but neglects his daughter and others as their lives are destroyed.

This groundbreaking new play by John Markland and produced by Pamela Guest says a lot about people not being able to communicate with each other. They wait for the bombshell that never comes in the darkness and they are left to figure out their next move.

When one player jumps off the cliff into the quarry it’s as though he’s jumping to create a new beginning, but ultimately not knowing if the new beginning will be exhilarating or a painful action that leads to the unknown.

The Moth Theatre is situated in a pleasant bohemian part of town near Los Angeles City College. It's on Melrose but you are welcome to come in through the back.

Moth Theatre
4359 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chela by Dulce Maria Solis

By Joe Straw
There are a number of things one can learn on a farm:  life and death, feeding livestock, and how to chase a hungry cow out of a garden.  My brothers and I learned all about the secret life of a tadpole on my grandparent’s farm one summer in Georgia.

My mother, taking a much needed summer break from five kids, was to come get us at the end of the summer. She did not come. Our father came alone.  This had never happened.

Arriving home, I noticed some serious bruises on my mother’s head.  She said she had slipped and fallen hitting her head in the process.  She seemed okay.

Years later, long after I was an adult, I found out that my father took my mother’s head and repeatedly slammed her skull into the sidewalk; next to the roses they planted together, in the house they bought a few years earlier.  The roses died and their marriage symbolically ended there on the red soaked sidewalk. 

Spousal abuse is an obscenity and so is child abuse.  And the idea that one probably deserves it should not even play into ones thoughts.  The victim should get away as quickly as possible and as far as possible and find help. 

Chela written and performed by Dulce Maria Solis and directed by Todd Blakesley playing at the Santa Monica Playhouse and other places around Los Angeles is a brutally honest, passionate, and dramatic portrayal by a daughter playing the early and disastrous life of her mother, Chela.

The play starts off in 1992 at the Sunshine Motel in Oklahoma City moments after Chela makes love to a man she has known for a short time.  She is happy this moment but somehow this has triggered her awakening to the long disastrous nightmare that was her life. 

And suddenly we are transported to Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico watching Chela at the age of 7 who is proud to explain her job duties, working at home, and helping her mother.  It is an uplifting moment filled with innocence and youthful exuberance.

But all of this comes crashing down with the mental brutality imposed upon her by her mother, Angelita, who insists her seven year old should stop her games and help her sell tacos de carnitas to those who come into their home.

Trouble comes in small waves at first, but those waves that slowly caress Chela's life, increases with intensity when things start to go horribly wrong.

At the age of fourteen, Chela is raped by a boy who was pursuing her. (This is a defining moment in the play that desperately needs accentuation.)  While she is being raped, her mother is searching for her, thinking, not of her well being, but believing her to be a lazy daughter in another disappearing act. 

Life has suddenly changed for Chela.  Not wanting to see her younger sister Aurora gets into trouble, and in order to protect her, she locks her up in a closet. Aurora tries to find a way out only to discover Chela has fainted outside the door.  And later while having her appendix removed, the doctors have discovered that she is pregnant.

Her mother Angelita, extremely upset, sends Chela to work in another family’s home.  And after Chela has had the baby, Angelita takes the baby away from her.  Angelita has the responsibility of protecting, and educating Chela but she continues to be the antagonist in Chela’s life.

Soon afterwards Chela is sent away with her father and brother to Oklahoma.  Later Chela  is married to Finito a man she barely knows.  (Just the name Finito, Finite, implies this relationship will last only a short while.) Her new husband proceeds to repeatedly abuse her, and gets her pregnant a number of times with the abuse leading to eight miscarriages in a span of six years. 

And yet, no one is there to help her.  Her father, brother and sisters are nowhere to be found.  The social worker, the doctors, and other professionals turn a blind eye, partly supported by the laws of Oklahoma that do not protect abused women.  And when they do listen to her they throw her into an insane asylum.

Dulce Maria Solis is an incredible actress with a keen ability to step into a character and make it her own, especially the physical transformation of her face when performing the ridged characteristics of Angelita, her grandmother. Spending time with her mother, she is familiar with the characters in this play. Her accents of the Oklahoma natives ring true to form.  (Also, did I hear a Pilipino accent with an Oklahoma twang from one of the characters?)

Solis doesn’t need the costumes to change into characters.  Her face does the job.  The costumes changes take away the fluidity of the play, when she needs to relax and focus on her concentration and objective.   

Dulce Maria Solis, the writer of Chela attempts to take us in a direction that requires a substantial focus.  Is this play about abuse, finding help, or about a woman overcoming extreme obstacles and finding a way out?  If the objective of the character is to escape her hell on earth all actions should lead us in that direction. 

For example, the younger sister, Aurora, would have been better played offstage. It's cute and funny but doesn't take us anywhere. Showing Chela in trouble is critical at this point.  It would have created a great internal conflict that we could identify with and would have thrown us headfirst into the story.

Also, the action of the rape on stage needs theatrical attention.  One could think of a better way to show this, possibly being dragged off and coming back on stage as her mother looking for Chela.

Finding ways to move action seamlessly is a trick in a one-woman show and moving from Chela into another character in the same space gets a bit tricky. Movements need a cause and some things happen without reason.

The reasons for the other characters must move Chela to her final destination by showing us what effect they had on her life. 

Todd Blakesley directs this play, which includes video footage of some very disturbing images. One has to think this might be a better way to start this production with horror first, lovemaking second and history third.  Then one can clearly see the path Chela is taking.  The action can be absorbed more readily; observations felt heartily, the pauses more meaningfully.  Also, the marble thing doesn’t work yet.  One supposes that it has a larger meaning but it is not quite there.

Also, there is some kind of National Geographic voice over about “cubs” that lead the audience in a confusing direction. One supposes it has something to do with her final escape from Finito.  Others in the video cast were JC Holland & Anita Holland as Gringos, Ivan Bernal as Finito and Aaliya Mariah Magcasi as Young Dulce Maria.

Simply put, the objective is to find a way out.  And we need to see how this happens and the way we see this happening is through relationships she has with others that surround her, her sister, mother, her abusive husband, and her lesbian friend and finally ending with the joy of her life.

This play is not for the weak or weak of heart. It is heartbreaking and the video scenes of rape and beatings are just as brutal.

Dulce Maria Solis should be commended for taking on a very sensitive subject about a family member. No one should take that kind of abuse.  And no one should stand around and watch that kind of abuse.  If you are in a position of power to help, and even if you are not, help should be given.  Solis has given us a play that will have us discussing our past, forgiving others when we are ready, and placing that forgiveness in that soft place in our being.  

Monday, October 11, 2010

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

By Joe Straw

Day and Night.  

Sometimes the days can be glorious. One observes life scattered in various forms happily surviving in our oxygen rich environment.  People blissfully move around surrounded by pleasant winds and with religious values greet on soft summer days.  

And then, the day becomes the night. 

And the loitering few become lucifugous creatures, gazing with protruding eyes, absorbing signs of weakness from those around them.  Brothels, massage parlors, and drug dealers cry out to the night and suddenly become visible on every corner (think Times Square in the sixties) and eventually we become so fed up that something needs to be done. 

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare is a play that explores the corrections in life’s movements. Now presented by A Noise Within Theatre in Glendale and directed by Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez – Elliott.

Set in current day Vienna, albeit a seedier side, where human wayward consumption and corruption is the unwritten law of the land. 

The Duke, Robertson Dean, understands things needs to change.  He has become very indolent in regard to cleaning up Vienna.  He is majestic and clear in purpose but the untidiness in Vienna is more than he can tolerate and he leaves his underlings to do the dirty work.  

Lord Angelo, Geoff Elliott, plays his cousin.  A God fearing friar that takes the assignment with some trepidation at first but then takes it on with exuberance. He uses his power to facilitate corrective measures in the extreme. And with the help of God he takes his task to clean up while the Duke is away, clean up the city and its lustful ways.  He is also as sexed starved as any human being on the planet. (Present company excluded.)

Escalus, Mitchell Edmonds, a wise advisor, has been instructed to help Friar Angelo in his capacity as someone who knows the laws of the land and to help unsoiled that which has been soiled.  Although one suspects Escalus is ambivalent about this venture he accepts the job as a courtesy to the Duke.

And they both watch as the Duke’s helicopter rides off to places unknown. (After all, this is a modern day version.)

And so, as the wheels of the new government turn, it’s discovered that Claudio, William Patrick Riley, has been taken to jail to be executed because he has gotten his girlfriend, Juliet (Courtney Kocak) pregnant.

Pompey: Yonder man is carried to prison.

Mistress Overdone:  Well; what has he done?

Pompey:  A woman.

Mistress Overdone:  But what ‘s his offence:

Pompey:  Grouping for trouts in a peculiar river. 

Claudio seeks advice from Lucio (Stephen Rockwell) and implores him to contact his sister Isabella (Karron Graves) because of her connection to the convent, innocent beauty and incredible power of persuasion.

But while the Duke is away thinking, he finds that Lord Angelo has gone overboard in his powers.  He instructs Friar Thomas (Thomas Moses) to teach him to be a true Friar so that he may go back incognito, keep an eye on his kingdom, and make sure measures are handled properly. 

Lord Angelo is precise;
Stands at a guard with envy; scarce confesses
That his blood flows – The Duke 

Lucia meets with Isabella, tells him his brother Claudio is schedule to be executed and implores her to meet with Lord Angelo.

In the meantime Lord Angelo is going nuts, despite the wisdom of Escalus, Angelo is putting everyone to death.  (This is possibly an exaggeration, but you get the picture.)

So Claudio is being executed and help is on the way. Isabella speaks to Lord Angelo, make a good argument, but in the end she offers her virginal self to Angelo.  Moments later she decides against it.

Angelo: Plainly conceive, I love you.

Isabella:  My brother did love Juliet, and you tell me that he shall die for it.

Angelo: He shall not, Isabel, if you give me love.

Lord Angelo tries to have his way with Isabella but in the end she fights him off and tells him that she’s going to the authorities.  It is a response counter measure when Angelo tells her he is the authority and besides no one would believe her over him.

Isabella meets with Claudio and tells him she’s not giving over her virginal self with anyone to save his life, brother or no brother.  It is a measured response that eventually, despite future hardships, pays off in the end.

A Noise Within is without question one of the finest theatres in the Los Angeles area. Shakespeare made simple, grand characters, and stories that are always easy to follow even though it’s Shakespeare.

And it is here that there are some of the finest actors working on this stage, in town, today.  Even the supporting players are grand and glorious!

Michael Faulkner as Elbow, a police officer, was tremendous and one couldn’t help but think, Barney Fife. Still this is a marvelous role and a great characterization by a very fine actor.

Peter Larney as Abhorson, the hangman, was another character that was outstanding in this production.  He is tall, lanky, and sure-footed.  He plods away on stage with the idea that every moment is precious.  Yet he takes his job seriously and doesn’t sweat the details of someone else’s final termination or execution.   He has a powerful voice and was delightful. 

Bramhall as Pompey was another one of those outstanding characters.  Think Ron Woods of the Rolling Stones as a pimp and there you have it.  This was an outstanding performance.

Barnardine (Thomas Moses, again) was delightful.  A small and funny portrayal of a man living in the gallows, awaiting his execution, and not giving an inch to his final extermination.  Built like the prisoner cartoon character that hangs from chains on the wall, and giving his final observations on life.

Rockwell as Lucio reminds me of an agent I know, willing to say the anything on behalf of his client (Isabella) and willing to go to extremes in order to protect his client.  This is a wonderful performance.

Edmonds as Escalus was exciting.  One would think that he would and should push harder for his initiatives, for doing the right thing, and for asking for supreme forgiveness to the Duke for falling for Angelo’s laws.

Weingartner as Provost does an admirable job as a sympathetic jailer. 

Riley as Claudio did not seem distraught as one would imagine of someone just hours away from the gallows.  If this is not fully executed the reasons for everyone’s objective is not important and doesn’t give it the urgency that is needed in this production.

Dean as the Duke is a staple at a Noise Within and is always wonderful.  Subtle in his approach to Isabella one thinks, at some point, when he is the Friar, that he has to fall madly in love with her and will do anything to help her.

Geoff Elliott as Angelo is always interesting.  It’s the voice that takes you away. Rising and falling, engaging and always in the moment, but as lustful as he is he should find the moment when he is willing to get down on his knees and beg for Isabella.

Graves as Isabella was fantastic. She is strong, decisive and persuasive, but young enough to need encouragement from Lucio.  It is definitely a role that requires a closer look at the thoughts going through her head. Those defining moments need to be seen for example when she decides to give herself to Angelo, or when she changes her mind about her brother. And one is not really sure at the moment in this play when she has fallen in love with the Duke or his power and visa versa.

Rounding out the excellent cast were Jill Hill as Mariana, Matt Shepherd as Froth and in multiple roles, Friana Hodes as Francisca, Sarah Armstrong, Elizabeth Fabie, Taylor Jackson Ross, Kurt Quinn, Lindsay Styler, Eizabeth Zerebko as various aides, messengers, and others who inhabit the dark side.

Julia Rodriguez – Elliott and Geoff Elliott as directors do an excellent job with this production.  Both are instrumental in finding actors, exploring the characters, guiding them, and bringing this all to life. There were a lot of wonderful moments in this production that cannot be missed. 

In the end it is unclear that Isabella’s final steps have her walking into the darkness or the light, into the day or night.  I suppose it’s a matter of a measured perspective.

Through December 5, 2010