Monday, February 21, 2011

Firehouse by Pedro Antonio Garcia

By Joe Straw

February 19, 2011. Rain is pouring on the Westside of Los Angeles.  It is five thirty in the early evening, just enough time to get dinner and then on to the Whitefire Theatre on Ventura Blvd.  The 405 (never a grand trip on nice days) is going to be hell and there will be a price to pay if we arrive later than eight.  (I’m never late and I take great pride in that fact.) 

The traffic was moving along at a grand pace of three miles per hour until we make it over the hill.  And the rain continues to pour down.  On oil soaked freeways, driving is always treacherous.  The nicer cars fly past, not fearing the wrath of meeting their maker, and the space to move over to the Ventura exit lane is at a premium.

Then turning right on Ventura Boulevard, one notices the south side of street is flooded.  A broken water main? Nope, just flooded. A torrent of water moving fast and furiously low to the ground along the boulevard with not quite enough force to move cars but enough to cover the wheels halfway. 

Running late, a quick stop at Poquito Mas for a veggie burrito.  Visibility zero.  Coming back outside to get my iPhone, my car is being ticketed, $58.00, by a very nice Asian parking enforcement officer.  “After six” on the Westside, is “after eight” in the valley. 

So much water, we could not walk near the sidewalk and the theatre was only a step away from the flood. Tennis shoes soaked, we ventured into the quiet confines of the Whitefire. After two and a half hours, a nice cozy seat in the theatre with minutes to spare.  Hopefully your trip will be better and your mileage varies.

Didn’t expect to see a lot of theatre patrons there in this weather, but the theatre was packed!

Was it worth the venture?  Yes, and then some!  What a magnificent show!

Firehouse by Pedro Antonio Garcia presented by Laura Coker in association with The Dramatic Question Theatre Company and directed by Bryan Rasmussen at the Whitefire Theatre is a wonderful show and well worth the effort it took to get there.  It is riveting and genuine and speaks to an inner voice so deep one needs to see it again and again to make sure one gets it all. 

The play is thought provoking. It is about love, honor, duty, trust and everything that is manly about men.  

The story takes place in Firehouse 61 in the South Bronx.   It seems like another casual day when we discover that one of the men has made a rescue and has saved the life of a fellow firefighter, Mitch (not seen).

Valentino (Ed Morrone) and William Salerno “Breaker” (John Southwell) are waiting while their new hero firefighter brother Brian Boyle “Probie” (Gerald Downey) is being questioned by the station fire chief, Charlie McGowan “Cap” (Bryan Rasmussen).  It is only a formality.

Or is it?

Boyle enters and is humbled by the attention directed at him by his fellow firefighters saying he would only do what anyone of them would do for him.

Amidst the jovial times, Breaker has to initiate Boyle because he is a newbie.

Breaker: You wrestled in high school (holding him in a wrestling position). What’s this?
Boyle: That’s a half nelson.
Breaker: What’s this? (again, holding him)
Boyle: That’s a full nelson.
Breaker: What’s this? (pumping his back side)
(Boyle breaks away)
 Breaker: That’s Father Nelson!

When Boyle leaves, Valentino mentions that Boyle was the cop who shot Vales 36 times and now people are starting to talk about this particular rescue.  They question Boyle’s character in leaving a civilian in the building.

Robert Miranda “Perry Mason” (Kamar de los Reyes) is retiring after 20 years and although he has loyalties to his fellow fire fighters, he has lingering questions about the rescue.  Boyle, who is a rookie, is white and will be his replacement. Why didn’t Boyle first rescue Clara, the twelve-year-old little girl, and then the unconscious Mitch?

Boyle claims he didn’t see the girl because there was too much smoke.   He went “for the grab”.  But, there were rumors going around that it was a racially motivated grab.  He got the white guy out, but left the twelve-year-old Puerto Rican “crack addict” girl in there to die.

No one died.  We did our job, old school. – Breaker 

Breaker is the union boss and someone who wants to go along and get along with his fellows brothers at the stationhouse.  He wants everyone on board and he is adamant that everyone does precisely that.  So much so that he is willing to break bones to get that job done. 

It only takes a look outside the window to see the rumors staring back at you.  It is a stare of contempt. And as the crowd gathers they demonstrate their outrage at the unfolding events.

“Boyle was supposed to save that girl first!” - Miranda

They all agree that Boyle should have gotten the civilian first and the firefighter second, if he had seen the girl but the point is mute because there was too much smoke.  

Miranda has heard word from the street that Boyle left the girl.  Congressman Diaz wants a full investigation and the Captain lets it be known they should all stick together until the investigation has run its course.

But first, the Cap wants Miranda to be the spokesman for the firehouse. Miranda doesn’t want to do this because he has questions about Boyle’s veracity.

Breaker says he better get his act together and stand together with the firefighters.

Miranda meets with his girlfriend Aida Rojas (Jossara Jinaro), a defense attorney for Clara, and tries to put a brave front for the men who go out and save lives everyday. He stands together with his fellow fighterfighters much to the dismay of his girlfriend who demands action from a racially uncaring segregated fire department. (More than ninety percent of the firefighters in New York City are white.*) 

Later, the girl dies.

Miranda visits his brother Pito (Elvis Nolasco) who is living in an abandoned building to discover what really happened that fateful night and the answers are very troubling.  

This is a wonderful cast in this “vertical repertory” production through April 2011 on Friday nights only.

De los Reyes, as Miranda, was a firefighter through and through.  Conflicted by his loyalties to his men, his love for his girlfriend, and his commitment to his community, he finds himself torn apart by his loyalties.  Isolated in his loneliness and his steadfast resolute, he knows why the little girl was there and he fights for his community and for the sake of an innocent little girl.  It shakes his foundation to his core and sets in motion his actions for a final resolution. 

Southwell as Breaker give a heartfelt performance. Steadfast and strong in his objective to keep his loyalties to the fighterfighters he loves so dearly.  With him it’s either hard love or tough love and it’s all in a matter of moments and glorified perspective.  He cares so deeply it creates deep emotional scars. What an amazing performance!

Downey as Boyle is very sympathetic as he fights for his job that he knows he is close to losing.  He has a wife and a little girl and, in his love for them, he fights for his life and his job.  He knows this is his second strike.  He has made a choice that, once again, takes him on a downward spiral, one in which he may never recover.

Morrone as Valentino lives the life as a firefighter.  With him, it is always civilians first, so although he has his loyalties to the firefighter, he entrusts himself to find the truth. A very nice performance. 

The truth lies in here! – Aida 

Jinaro, as the attorney first and girlfriend second, was very nice in the role.  One has a couple of issues about the role being portrayed by a very feisty and physical Latina, so much so she was beating on Miranda throughout.  One would believe that after college, securing her JD, and then passing the New York bar she would let her words sting rather than letting her fists do the talking.  Still, she brings love to a man to soften the hardened edges created by the many current conflicts in his life.

Rasmussen, as the Captain, wants this all behind him.  He wants to close this chapter of his life and move on.  He takes the corrective measure to ensure stability and cohesiveness to a profession he loves.  But, he can’t do this with his house in turmoil.

That shit ain’t gonna be easy bro.  You’ve been killing my community…  You bitched up. – Pito

Nolasco, as Pito or Miranda’s half brother, is quite charming.  Forget the fact that he is a crack addict and squatting the only way he knows how. Despite all of his faults he is a man who lets it be known that he knows the truth and is willing to share it to those who want to listen.  A funny and charming performance.

One goes to theatre in search of something like Firehouse by Pedro Antonio Garcia.  It is a play that speaks to the heart and shares a compassionate spirit with fellow human beings. The works stings with its truth and its love for humanity.  It is a blessing in a world that needs more light and honesty. 

Bryan Rasmussen does a grand job directing this play.  Some moments are brilliant while some need a bit more tweaking.  The revelation is too easily revealed, 2B and not 2C that is the question.  (One would need to see this play to get the reference.)  Still there is a lot to be said of a number of beautiful moments in this play and the execution of those moments.

Also, these are important roles for Latino actors who can play more than what is offered on network television these days.  The days of playing street vendors and crack addicts are over.

Go see this play!

* Synposis of U.S. vs. City of New York, a class action lawsuit against FDNY of discriminatory hiring practices: at the end of 2010, the percent of black and Latino firefighters was 7.4 percent. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Berlin Dig by John Stuercke

By Joe Straw

The Berlin Dig by John Stuercke

Born in Germany, and living there as small children, my brother and I played among the piles of bricks scattered through the city. The piles were like large anthills that littered the landscape.  

It was years later that I came to a realization those piles were the result of The War thirteen years earlier.  It’s funny how the mind absorbs those pictures with the passing of time.

The Berlin Dig produced, directed, and written by John Stuercke and playing at the El Centro Theatre in Hollywood is a play that one thinks about long after one sees it. It’s like visiting a memory and being captivated by those recollections later.

If one swings left, one will have a good time with this production.  If one swings right, grab one of the shovels hanging on the wall and dig deep, step in, and bury yourself up to your ears because listening to these truths may be the source of extreme pain.  Nevertheless, all of the dialogue has the makings of some very fine theatre.

The black box stage is bare with the exception of four chairs, a couple of small tables, and a glass of Riesling wine in a large white wine glass. And one gets the feeling; this is a play about human expressions and the indictments about to be displayed. 

Placed on the back wall are the shovels which we later learn are symbols of human atrocities, the 1.5 million Armenians in 1915, the 17 million Russians who died at the hands of Stalin, the emaciated bodies of the remaining Jews left in the concentration camps and the disasters of situations in the Middle east.  

A man, Deiter (Roy Allen), sits alone with his thoughts, washed away in misery and sliding deeper from drink, the wine either the source of his enlightenment or a fractional diversion from the sadness that is the passing of his 83-year old mother. A glass of wine is a solemn comfort but still his misery abides.   

“I’m all alone. I suffer.” – Deiter

Spoken like a true German.  In fact Germans like doing three things.  Suffering is on the top of their list, drinking is second and having spirited conversations is third.

Dieter’s friends, Peter (Irwin Moskowitz) and Rolf (Markus Obermeier), arrive to offer their condolences to the passing of this dear sweet remarkable woman, his mother, 10 years after the death of his equally remarkable father both who were not sympathetic to the Nazis cause.  His friends looked up to the family and they are concerned about Deiter who is on the verge of the unthinkable.

“Euthanasia seems like the most logical answer.”- Dieter

But, before he kills himself, Dieter offers them a drink because drink and heated conversation is the cornerstone of a German life.  Death or no death, their arranged meeting is routinized and something of a men’s group: a therapy that cannot be ignored.

"There’s a point where no one wants to hear from a German."  - Deiter

Still, they are all German. Dieter and Peter are like-minded; Rolf has a more conservative approach to life.  Although each was born in 1945, Rolf seems younger in his views. And he speaks of German pride, excellent engineering, and keeping the blood pure kind of talk.  No foreigners are allowed his country, kind of talk, especially the Turks.

But there is someone missing from this group.  It is Dieter's best friend, Ali (Adam Shahinian) who happens to be a Turk.  Ali arrives late saying he had work to do in the restaurant and could not get away.  As part of German life, this seems to be bad form. Ali feels Rolf unnerving hostility but tries to ignore it.

"Now I know they were not my family." -  Dieter

Dieter finds himself alone and miserable again.  The source of his misery this time is the official documents he holds in his hands. From these documents Deiter is shocked to learn a secret about himself: that he is adopted and the son of a Nazis storm trooper and for the time being holds this information from his friends.

But as a German writer, respected and known for fictional historical novels, he finds his fathers relatives, now living in the United States. Dieter tells his friends that his young cousin is coming for a visit.  His name is Robert (Brett Fleisher) and he is from Newport Beach, California. 

"How does a God fearing man defend slavery?" - Rolf 

When the American cousin, Robert, gets there his “German friends” leave no disastrous American policy stone unturned.  They all get into a heated conversation before going out to dinner and really getting plastered.

This play is something one has to experience to get the true feelings of this theatrical experience.  One could sit and mull over the dialogue many times, can agree or disagree, love or hate the dialogue, but ultimately one realizes that these things need to be brought out into the open.  Like an Egyptian one needs to jump into the light, and take corrective measures whenever necessary.

This play may not change lives.  It may not make a dramatic difference to your ideology but demands to be seen.  One must acknowledge past events for history not to repeat itself.

Allen as Deiter plays this writer as humble being.  Complete with understanding everyone’s perspective whether he likes it or not.  He is rail thin and perfect casting for someone who is looking for a mad German scientist. Still, there should be more in his character to indicate that he is a renowned German writer. 

Moskowitz as Peter has a lot of things going for him.  His lost lines are the source of a risible characterization but he remains still, holding a glass, and in the moment.  At times one is concerned because it looks as though he's having a heart attack on stage. Although on this particular night, fraught with missed cues and dropped lines, the other actors jumped in to cue him with “Tell him about the…”

Obermeier as Peter probably should have played his age rather then trying to be someone older, a lot older.  The makeup doesn’t work but his relationships worked on stage with Peter, Deiter and Ali.  Deiter can have younger friends and it wouldn’t hurt this production in the least.

Shaninian as Ali has an interesting role in this.  Not only is he one of the friends but he also informs the audience about historical atrocities through countless generations with the inclusions of current events.  The shovels are a source of speculation:  Is he unearthing and bringing to life, or is he burying history?  

Fleisher as Robert comes off as an arrogant Newport Beach know it all who in fact listens to only one person, himself.  It is a nice role but I’m not sure he learned anything hanging out with his liberal cousin or if he did it was very subtle. 

One could argue that each character needs to go through a catharsis to really give this piece the dramatic impact it needs, or the actors need to tighten the moments (remember their lines) to give focus to their objectives.

"Germans live to work, the French work to live."- Peter

The focus on The Berlin Dig should be on remembering and then burying or perhaps like an anthropologist, digging out and revealing a truth.   In fact bringing the shovels from off stage and then giving them a dramatic placement on the stage would make the moments more dramatic and give it the power it deserves!

Daedal director, writer, and producer, Paul Stuercke has written a script enjoyable from beginning to end.  It re-emphasizes a lot of miscues in world history and gives us information the main stream media would not dare touch.  This play indicts a lot of players on the world stage.  Could this play be a call to action?  Will indictments for war crimes follow?

Eventually, there will come a time when each of us will take action in pursuit of justice and call out the line from Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. 

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” - Howard Beale

Go see this production for your own sanity.

February 4th through March 6th, 2011

El Centro Theatre
804 North El Centro Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 230-7261

Sunday, February 6, 2011


by Joe Straw 

Fearful Symmetries (2010) by Jacques Heim.

They come.  Like children.  Playing with a cube that has suddenly appeared in their conscience being.  Curiosity gets the best of them and they cautiously climb, examining it, children on the monkey bars to quote a memory from a scene long ago, so long ago. 

But it is not enough.  They must take it apart, and move the pieces.  And they do.  This as childlike partners in crime, to do a child-like crime.  Children, a consortium of criminal free thinkers, tear apart a form in a quest for a meaningful life lesson.

But, it is not enough as they grow.  The pieces move, and the children stretch their limbs, each, mind you, moving to a beat of their own making.  All are little knowledge seekers moving to create a significant place in this world.    

And as they grow they discover their bodies. They are immune to pain as their bodies fly uncontrollably through the air.  Flying so that others may catch the once childlike flesh.  And in a moment their bodies become a form of curiosity.  And they laugh with the uncomfortable knowledge they have touched that which was untouchable, yesterday.  Still it is a catch of comfort and protection as they fall into each other’s arms.    

But they get older, they hold the flesh that attracts them and after finding a mate they love and grow, some loving and growing more than others.  And some are more passionate than others as their lips and bodies are engaged in a dramatic physical amalgamation.

And as life progresses, work becomes a detriment to their creativity and they slide into the rut of family life.  The same dinner night after night. The same moving and pulling the same instruments at their jobs.  Something they do this while holding the family together.

But, no matter how hard they try to get ahead, how far they push the rock up the hill, their life is Sisyphus and a gain is sometimes two slides back.  For some it is a slide completely down the hill.

And then suddenly the players become prisoners of their own makings.  The women stand above them and chain the men to that which securely binds them. 

And death is not far behind.

Trajectoire (Section 1: 1999, Section 2: 2001)

The pamphlet describing death:  think of a passing life as a ship leaving until it disappears beyond the horizon.

Time life is fleeting.  Broken down, it is a singular timeline with highlights.  Click and illuminate to read the historical significant points in one’s life. 

All timelines have a beginning.  Why not start one on a singular remarkable journey on a ship and hope for a remarkable passage.

One looks at the opening set piece and sees half a clock with second hands, the few small hands and a large hand and of course lovely ladies who prim before their biological clock expires.

And off they go on a ship to distance places all in the hopes of finding something or someone for the experience they have been lacking in their lives.  New people, new places, and new friends all the making of an exciting journey.  Throw in lovers and you’ve got a party for those seeking similar excitement.  

It starts out as something smooth, a mild journey, that lets them happily glide along the deck peacefully until it ends in it’s something they never could imagine. Little did they know they were on the Titanic, or the vein of something similar that presses the panic buttons in their lives.  

Still, they go for the thrill, survive the best they can, and hope things turn out in their favor.  But rough seas throw them about and off the ship and yet they manage to climb back on holding on for a life so dear, their own.

There is this curious sense of elation and freedom in artistic interpretation culminating in a self-perceived dramatic change in one’s life.

The above, for both pieces, are probably the musings of a madman or of a self interpretation of the two acts in Diavolo, directed by Jacuqes Heim at the The Broad Stage in Santa Monica as witnessed by this writer. Diavolo is a stunning achievement of dance and acrobatics on top of moving set pieces. 

Precision on stage is a key element, trust is imperative as bodies fly through the air with the thought there will be someone at the end of the jump to catch you.  There can be no more or less.

Mike McCluskey & Tina Trefethen McCluskey Ltd were the set engineers and construction personnel that were responsible for the ship and the boxes that were moved and fitted into various pieces to give meaning to actions on stage.

The company was comprised of extremely hard working dancers doing backbreaking work for one hour, thirty minutes for each presentation.   The dancers are Ashley Hannan, Trevor Harrison, Jennifer Huffman, Clinton Kyles, Shauna Martinez, Omar Olivas, Anibal Sandoval, Chisa Yamaguchi, Lindsey Young and Seth Zibalese.

Discover Diavolo, let your mind go, and enjoy the ride.

The Broad Stage is in Santa Monica and the parking is free!  And that is refreshing!