Tuesday, October 26, 2010
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.
4359 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
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
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
Saturday, October 9, 2010
By Joe Straw
“You clean up nice.” – Nicholas Burnside
Somewhere, locked away in a dusty cedar chest, is a journal. In it are the juicy tidbits, and the unpredictable innermost secrets of family life.
It is opened and gazed upon only when there is a sincere interest in family history. But then one discovers some ugly truths: that families steal from each other.
They steal not with guns but signed pieces of paper, side agreements, and notes laid out in a family journal for future generations to see. Generally, the keepers of the land keep that journal, locked away, behind closed doors, “until it’s time”.
(“We don’t talk about the dead.” is a favorite expression among my southern relatives. It’s a need to know thing: “And, you don’t need to know.”)
And by the time one is curious about one’s family history, the participants are dead. All forgotten but there in the book, for that day, the day of reckoning.
The Robey Theatre Company, Ben Guillory Producing Artistic Director in association with The Los Angeles Theatre Center presents The Reckoning written by Kimba Henderson and directed by Ben Guillory.
Set in 2005 The Reckoning is a fantastic story of a family struggling to keep a crawfish plantation running in Louisiana. It is an engaging story from the opening moment to the end, filled with wonderful characters. Spread out over countless generations with loitering ghosts who believe they are the rightful heirs and who ultimately know a day of reckoning will come. And for that reason they wait. Even in death, families never forget. Run to see this production because it closes October 24, 2010.
The play opens on a day a figurehead with a bad ticker comes home from the hospital. Nathalie Robillard (Toyin Moses) is putting up a “Welcome home Daddy” sign and Ashley Robillard (Terese Aiello) is upstairs dancing to some very loud music. Nathalie asks her to turn it down and when that happens we hear chimes and whispers and know that ghosts inhabit the home they call Rubaiyat.
Helene (Tanya Lane) is an old friend of the family and drops by to tell Nathalie, who has recently gotten her doctorate, that she will try to get her into a professional society Sigma Phi Pi. Nathalie also tells her she has applied for a job with Tulane University and wants to leave the farm.
Christophe Robillard (Tarnue Masaquoi) a former professional football player and now the official playboy of the family has ideas of taking over the farm himself much to the dislike of his father LJ Robillard (Alex Morris).
LJ wants his daughter to run the farm and so announces it to the entire family. After all she is the brains of the family and recognizes that a well though out studied process can correct any misconceptions others may have about running a successful farm. But she is conflicted because she feels her life is better suited elsewhere.
Christophe, hearing the news, is devastated and runs off with Helene for a few days leaving his wife, Ashley to fend for herself.
In the meantime a farm worker, Nicholas Burnside (Jacob Sidney) comes to the farm to look for work. LJ takes a liking to him and says he can sleep in the cabin. Later LJ invites him to live in the house.
Nicholas is immediately enchanted by Nathalie but Nathalie wants nothing to do with him because Nathalie is in love with Philipe (Dorian Christian Baucum) a doctor living nearby who wants to take a job in Atlanta and bring Nathalie with him.
Nicholas runs into the ghost of Captain Burnside (Michael Harrity) a former relative who gives him instructions to burn Rubiayat to the ground. Unfortunately Captain Burnside tried this long ago but was caught in the fire that cause his unfortunate demise.
As the story progresses and Nathalie reads the journal and the audience is transported back in history to the lives of Natty (Tiffany Boone) and Auguste Robillard (Kendrick Sampson). Auguste has taking a liking to Natty but because of her race he is forced to marry Katherine (also Terese Aiello) daughter to Captain Burnside.
Auguste unable to have children with Katherine at first has turned to Natty and as luck would have it now has two women who are with child. Katherine finds out about it leaves the marriage and Rubiayat altogether much to the dismay of Captain Burnside.
Morris as the patriarch LJ gives us another incredible, magical performance. His moments are captured effortlessly. It is also a physical role that has him falling down a small flight of stairs. His objective moving us toward the ultimate reckoning is flawless.
Massaquoi, last seen in The River Niger, gives another wonderful performance. He wears many hats, slightly off centered as he moves from being a landowner, to a womanizer, to a lion of redemption.
Moses as the sophiscated enchanting Ph.D. is a match for any man that may want to take over Rubaiyat. She fights her way through the maze of men seeking her attention. And never gives an inch in her quest for the ultimate goal.
Baucum as Philippe wears a very proper mantel. His mistake is thinking that others will blindly follow his path. It is a miscalculation that keeps him out of harm’s way.
Lane as Helene lets her hips do the thinking. Making a play for a control of Rubiayat seems to be her motive in capturing Christophe. This is a very fine performance.
Sidney as Nicholas is an amazing actor with a characterization that grows on you as the story unfolds. He is a seasoned professional with a Robert Stack like voice that keeps the audience guessing with his next passing remark. His southern trailer park trash like manners, appropriate or inappropriate, hit the mark. At one point he sits on the porch holding the shotgun, knowing family matters can sometimes get out of hand. His family or hers, it doesn’t matter. Still, he caresses the shotgun like an old family friend. It is a wonderful moment of many moments in this play.
Sampson as Auguste fills out the cast nicely with his girlfriend Natty (Tiffany Boone) playing ghosts from another time that haunts the house. These are young roles that need work on character and also needs strengthening the physical relationship.
Aiello as Katherine/Ashley Robillard offers us a fine performance but one is not sure of her objective. Is it as imaginative as it could be? There is more here in this character’s objective than witnessed on this particular night. Nevertheless, this was a very fine performance.
Harrity as Captain Burnside/Gentry plays the big bad white guy. He was serviceable in the role but not imaginative. Possibly, not that mean, not that driven, not that evil, or physical. Certainly this is a role of someone whose has seen the depths of hell and wants to recreate it here on earth. It’s a role that needs a little more exploration.
Kimba Henderson has written a play that in some respect is old fashioned, but don’t let that fool you. This is an exciting play, with clever dialogue, and characters rich in every respect. One would like to roll around it in its richness.
Ben Guillory has directed a very fine play and has done a masterful job. The after dinner scene was fantastic, subtle and beautifully choreographed. These silent moments were quite incredible and subtle in execution. There were things that were objectionable, the rubber shotgun, which bent as actors were leaning it against the fence. Also, the choreographed shootout, which had audience members laughing for reasons not quite clear, needs reworking.
One of the things I find interesting is that from another time period, men and women were quite proper. Four feet away from each other and acting all prim and proper. It’s a wonder anyone ever had babies. And yet everyone got pregnant and the relationships remained the same.
Naila Aladdin Sanders did a fine job with the costumes.
Ticket Reservation: 866-811-4111