Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to the Forum – Book by Burt Shevelove & Larry Gelbart – Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

By Joe Straw

A few months ago I kept thinking that I’ve always wanted to see A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart with Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Okay, well, I didn’t say that aloud to myself or mentioned the names. 

So here I am wishing to see this show and, wouldn’t you know it, the opportunity comes up twice this season, once at Theatre Palisades and the other at Long Beach Playhouse.

While I try not to make a comparison, art being as it is, I will say this.  The two shows performed were almost unrecognizable as being the same show. (More on this later.)

The Long Beach Playhouse presents A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum directed by Michael Ross through September 3, 2011. 

I can only write about the night I was there, a week into the run of the show.  Nevertheless, a week is more than enough time to discover what works and what doesn’t.  So it’s a safe bet to come a week later and witness the magic.  

Larry Gelbart, the writer, is funny.  He always was.  The original “A Funny Thing…” in the early ‘60s didn’t come easy as the show struggled to make it to Broadway.  They worked it until it worked.

And this is a musical that still runs on Broadway.  It is a proven crowd pleaser.  Nathan Lane did this show recently and YouTube has a video of the opening number on the Letterman Show.   On that small stage it was fantastic!

So in this rendition of “A Funny Thing…” the ad-libs and the improvisations (of which there were many) should have been left at the rehearsals. The lesson here is: don’t try to improve a musical that has already proven itself.  Stick to the book.  Also, songs that were previously thrown out, because they didn’t work, should not be put back in.  They didn’t work then, they’ll not work now.

Briefly, the musical is about a slave Pseudolus (Scott K. Ratner) who will do anything in his power to gain his freedom from his master Hero (Matt Riggle).

Hero’s oversexed mother Domina (Eloise Coopersmith) and his father Senex (Karl Schott) are off on a journey to visit relatives.  They ask their slave, Hysterium (Floyd E. Riggle) to look after the boy.

But Hero gets into trouble the moment they leave by going to the pimp’s house Marcus Lycus (Greg Nicholas).  Hero is lusting after a very beautiful girl he has seen there.  

Testosterone getting the better of Hero, he enlists Pseudolus to help him get the girl.   Pseudolus will only help if he can gain his freedom.  It’s a hard bargain but the deal is struck and both cocks strut to the house of Marcus Lycus.

Pseudolus, with a tempting bag of coins, and “acting” citizen of Rome wants to see, taste and feel all of the girls in the house, on Hero’s behalf (of course).  And as each girl is paraded in front of Pseudolus, each unveils a unique mysterious charm, Tintinabula (Angela Asch), Panacea (Vashti Emigh), The Geminae (Victoria Baker and Phie Mura), a meowing Vibrata (Laura Rensing) and Gymnasia (Jacqueline Case).  They dance into the lusting arms of Pseudolus.   Unfortunately, none of these girls are the one Hero desires.

Moment later Hero spots Philia (Katherine Waisanen) as the one he is looking for.  But Marcus says she is a virgin promised and sold to Captain Miles Glorious (Russell Montooth) a vain Roman soldier.  

Quick thinking Pseudolus asks Marcus Lycus of her origins.  Marcus tells him Crete.  Pseudolus covers his mouth and tells Lycus there was a plague in Crete! And the first signs of the plague is a smile.  He tells Lycus he will take the girl (he’s already had the plague) and keep her in the safety of Hero’s home.

They hustle the “sickly smiling” Philia into Hero’s house and ask her not to answer the door until she hears three knocks.  Philia has not had the pleasure of counting to three and does not know how to do it, or there is something in her character makeup that is missing.  One is never sure.

Pseudolus wants to keep her quiet and in order to do that he has Hero steal Hysteria’s potion book because he wants a sleeping potion to make it look like Philia is dead.

For sleep - main ingredient: mares sweat.

Just when you think things will settle down, Senex (Dad) comes home.  When he sees Philia he lusts for her in his heart and in other places.  He is as naughty as the next neglected Dad and he wants his Philia! 

But, Pseudolus arrives just in time, breaks them up, and tells him that she’s the new maid.  And, by the way, he tells Senex, because of his travels, he smells like the backside of a mare. 

Pseudolus tells Senex to freshen up for the maid by using the bathroom of the house of Erronius (Jerry Loeb) who, by the way, has been away looking for his two children who were stolen by pirates some twenty years ago.

And, as faith would have it, Erronius (Jerry Loeb) comes home.  But he is sent away by the soothsayer (Pseudolus in disguise) to walk the seven hills of Rome to bide for more time.

Later, Miles Glorious shows up looking for his bride, and that’s when everything starts to fall apart, or come together, depending on your perspective.

One is not in the habit of giving recommendation but here goes.  What this show needs is a good foundation of lust.  And this breaks down into a couple of mathematical formulas.

No lust = No comedy. 

If no lust, then no sex, and therefore not funny.

Lust (good, bad, misguided, or naughty) = Good comedy.

Maybe this is not a provable math formula but there’s a point to be made here.  Without pure unadulterated maniacal lust this show has a long way to go to make up for the lost laughs.

But, on the other hand, the audience in Long Beach seemed to have a very good time and maybe this interpretation is suited to those patrons.

Scott K. Ratner as Pseudolus and Prologus needs to leave the improvisations at home, trust the material, and seek a higher truth in his objective.

Karl Schott, Nathan Stanton, and especially A.J. Salas all did fine jobs as the Proteans.  They were all over the place and kept the show moving.

Karl Schott as Senex was fine as Hero’s Dad.

Domina also did a good job as Hero’s mother.  One is not sure if the choice to lip lock her son was a good choice or a disgusting one but she went after it anyway.  For the most part she was convincing and quite good.

Matthew Riggle had some very nice moments as Hero.  Still, the role requires a stronger choice than being a mere bystander.  There are a number of things that a young man can do when one is in lust or love.  There are stronger choices to be made in this musical and Riggle should find them.  

Floyd E. Rigle Jr. as Hysterium could make stronger choices in relationship to his name.  There is a reason he is called Hysterium.  Also, leave out the ad libs.  The book works better.

Greg Nicholas as Marcus Lycus has a name that gives his character away.  He likes to sell you what you want. He likes what you like and he likes what you want.  He likes to please his customers.  Nicholas did a fine job and had a nice voice.

Angela Asch did a very nice job as Tintinabula.  Also, Vashti Emigh was tantalizing as Panacea, someone who would cure your temporary ills. Victoria Baker and Phie Mura were nice as The Geminae.  (It’s too bad you can’t break up the twins.) Laura Rensing, as Vibrata, let out a meow that had the audience in stitches and Jacqueline Case was fine as Gymnasia.

Katherine Waisanen as Philia was fine but needs work on her objective and character development.

Jerry Loeb, as Erronius, was too young to be old.  Also, with the name Erronius, the character needs to make many mistakes in his quest of his objective.

Russell Montooth as Miles Gloriosus did a very good job and was very suited for that role.  

Michael Ross, the director, should pull on the reins with the off book banter.  It increases the length of the show and often times send it in other directions.  More could have been made of the space.  The actors were well in the background or too far upstage and the chase scene went on for an eternity.  Also, he needed to give focus on the characters name.  There are reasons the characters are called Erronium, Vibrata, Hysterium, etc., and there is a purpose for those names.

Bill Wolfe was the musical director and Marie Madera Gleerup was the choreographer.  

The one thing that I thought was absolutely wonderful was the closing number, A Comedy Tonight.  The choreography worked, the singing was beautiful, and the actors, in that brief moment in time on stage, all worked together to give the audience a great ending and that’s worth the price of admission.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stones in His Pockets by Marie Jones

By Joe Straw

“What is the Blarney Stone?” - Me

“It’s something stupid Americans come over and kiss.” – My Irish Friend

Go see this production!

Stones in His Pockets by Marie Jones is a wonderful show that is brilliantly directed by Zeljko Djukic.  It is now playing at the Zephyr Theatre, presented by TUTA Theatre West Production, and playing August 19 through September 17, 2011.

Exciting from the opening moment when two characters get into the moment. This is a show that I flat out loved! And days later I’m still laughing. Performed by two actors who are very physical and emotionally connected and who breath an absolute fire into this rendition of Stone In His Pockets.

Go see this production!

This is what I’ve wanted to see for a long time. Visualize a bare stage, a white backdrop, a coat rack, some chairs, and a chest that serves as various pieces of furniture. Also visualize two great actors (playing both men and women) who with little or nothing on stage create these great characters in a setting that is thousands of miles away.

This is the last time I will say this:  Go see this production!

There is a delightful start to this play.  The lights are on.  The patrons are milling about, chatting about mundane things, and one actor appears on stage, staring at the folks around him.  The audience members are figuratively stepping over him getting to their seats.   He stares at them, their shoes, and dress, looks back a couple of times and goes back to his script. Moments later another actor appears.  Mind you, they are in costume, Irish dress, and still the audience is chatting away not realizing the show had started a few minutes earlier.

Getting into the moment. So wonderful when it happens!

The play is about a picturesque small Irish village and the filming of a big budgeted film, The Quiet Valley. And to give the film that extra Irish flavor it most certainly needs, extras are hired from the community.

The story starts as the extras are waiting to be called to the set.  Charlie (Andrew Friedman) has another purpose in being there.  Charlie is not really part of this particular village.  Nevertheless, he comes with a screenplay in hand, nervously waiting to give it to the right person who will help him realize his dream and help him produce it.

Jake (Jerry Richardson) is seated a few chairs away.  He tosses his hat into the air and waits to be noticed. 

Uncomfortable with introductions, Charlie finds a common enemy in the catering truck.  Charlie fights for another piece of pie from the caterer and his request is summarily denied.  (Another humiliating defeat for the sorry plight of extras).

Immediately Jake commiserates with his dilemma and Charlie, in turn starts to tell him his story.  But Jake knows his story because Charlie, not immune to the ways of the Irish, was drinking gin in a local bar and spilling his guts to the patrons all of whom were related to Jake.    

“Run like the hammers!” – To run very fast.

Charlie tells Jake he had to get out of the place he was living because his video store was going under and one gets the impression he owed a lot of people a lot of money.

Quick change in character!  (This is marvelously done through the use of scarfs.  Green is Friedman and Blue is Richardson.)   

Simon (Friedman) and Aisling (Richardson) are the first and second assistant directors.  They call the extras into position and tell them to look “dispossessed”.  You’ve never seen a sight as these two looking “Irish” and “dispossessed” in front of a camera.  

Between “dispossessed” takes Jake introduces his cousin Mickey as the “only surviving extra” from the John Wayne movie “The Quiet Man”

“John Wayne called him Wee Mickey!” – Jake

Quick change!

Mickey (Richardson) struggles to walk, feeling old, looking old and bowlegged but he has one thing the others don’t have, “experience”.  Mickey advises them to lay low because that is how one survives as an extra.

On the set Jake and Charlie sees Caroline Giovanni, a famous American actress.  To say there were slightly infatuated with her would be an outright lie.  They went nuts.

Quick change!   

Caroline Giovanni (Friedman) pouts about not being able to speak with an authentic Irish accent with her dialogue coach, John (Richardson). 

And in the commotion Charlie reveals to Jake that he has written a script for a movie and tries his best to give it to the airhead Aisling, the second assistant director. Aisling, with her head in Nirvana, flits away.

Later that night Charlie and Jake are at a local pub when (Quick change!) Sean (Richardson) approaches him, out of his mind, and lamenting that he didn’t get a part in the movie.  Charlie dismisses him as someone he doesn’t want to associate.

Quick change!

Jake sees Fin (Friedman) and asks him to try to help Sean.  Fin with his head sunken below his shoulders doesn’t think this job is for him.   He says he can’t do it.

Caroline Giovanni enters the bar and Charlie notices that Caroline is eyeing Jake.

“Caroline Giovanni is mixing with the Plebs!” - Charlie

This is Charlie’s chance to get his script to her via Jake.

Charlie then gets plastered with the crew.  He wakes up the next morning on top of the bar in his underwear. Slightly embarrassed he gathers his clothing and speaks to Jake about his encounter with Caroline.  It seems that it didn’t go well with the throngs of people surrounding Caroline and also Jake made a big mistake trying to pass himself off as a poet.  Caroline caught him in the lie.

Later Jake is called into Caroline’s trailer. But before he gets there he is grilled by Jock (Friedman).  Jock gives instruction to go in and get out in ten minutes.  (Yes, that’s enough time.)  When Jake arrives Caroline is in a yoga pose (downward dog) and flashing herself as a young nubile temptress.  Jake decides he’s not going to accommodate Caroline with her accent problems or her sexual proclivities.

Later that morning Jake and Charlie find out Sean has committed suicide by filling his pockets with stones and walking into the sea.

This is a wonderful production with a wonderful cast and a wonderful production crew.  What a wonderful way to spend the night knowing that all involved put a lot of time and effort into this production.

Andrew Friedman is a delightful comedic actor and nails each character with ease. There are so many funny moments one would need to go back again and again to catch them all. There are many accents in these roles and Friedman gave it his all. But, just as an observer, one notices a concentration and an objective in him that is never lost from the moment he enters the stage to the moment he leaves. This is a dedication to the craft that is unsurpassed.

Jerry Richardson is wonderful as well.  He is a gifted physical performer and he fits in nicely against his darker counterpoint. His footle ways give one to pay special attention to his craft. He also plays by his own rules, sticks to his guns, and manages to get what he has been searching for, a longtime collaborator. He does so many things wonderfully that one will remember and laugh for a long time to come.

Keljko Djukic, the director has done a marvelous job with these two actors. He moves them about with superior ease and uses the space to such an effect one believes that one is on a set.  The use of the scarves, well I’ve never seen that done before, quick change, on stage, right before our eyes.  Genius!  The ending also has a great moment that sends the audience out with a huge smile.  Stones in His Pockets was enjoyable from beginning to end.

Marie Jones, the writer, didn’t have a credit in the program and I wondered if she existed. She does, thankfully.  I found her in Wikipedia and all over the web.  Just a note to say that it is a delightfully written play, it pushed all the right buttons, was performed brilliantly, and was hilarious to boot.  

Natasha Djukic did a marvelous job with the costumes and set design. Keith Parham, the Lighting Designer also did a fantastic job, one particularly enjoyed the bar scene.  Mark Schultz the Sound Designer did a nice job; everything seemed to fit the happenings on stage.

Samara Bay was the dialect coach and did a marvelous job.  The accent wasn’t so thick you couldn’t understand it.

Take a friend and see this production. 

By the way, take a friend who hasn’t had a job in a while and enjoy the moments.

The Zephyr Theatre, Hollywood, August 19 through September 17, 2011.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Moby Dick Rehearsed written by Orson Welles

By Joe Straw

They sat in the quiet shade on a dedicated park bench in Lindberg Park, father and daughter. Sitting so close together.  Enjoying a quiet moment.  And as I walked past them there were words, softly spoken, slightly above whispers.  They sat peacefully, looking into infinite space.   Still, something was missing.  She was not there.  Strangely enough, there appeared to be a light encircling them in their private moment.  It was a soft, loving light. There was a purpose in their silent serenity.

The bench in the park is dedicated for all the right reasons.  It is sacred ground to those who want to remember.

I had not been this excited to see a play since I can’t remember when. Moby Dick Rehearsed written by Orson Welles playing at The Lyric Theatre presented by Whitmore Eclectic and directed by Aliah Whitmore through August 28, 2011.

The night was filled with fascinating impressions and was a visual delight.  This is a fine production so much so that one was thinking about the production: ad infinitum. There are so many thoughts about rehearsals, the craft of acting, and intentions one cannot possibly get it all out on paper.

Moby Dick, the book, was written by Herman Melville and published in 1851, but this is a play about the rehearsal of the play, Moby Dick.

The Whitmore Eclectic group placed this particular setting around 1860, a very interesting choice. It was a time of great division in our nations history and so near the Civil War one would think it would be a consideration in this presentation.  But, that does not appear to be the case.

And how is it possible to see Moby Dick without seeing the whale? With an overactive imagination, one could imagine the white one rising from the watery surface, gripping the whaling boats in its jaw, and dragging the unfortunate God fearing whalers down into their watery grave.  One, without this kind of imagination, will also be able to enjoy this marvelous presentation.

The play starts with The Young Actor playing Ismael (Dustin Seavey) alone on a stage, waiting, softly speaking his lines.

"Call me Ishmael
Some years ago – never mind how long –
I though that I would sail about a little
And see the watery part of the world…
…The image of the un-graspable-the phantom of life;
and this is the key to it all…"

The sudden rise of thunder interrupts Ishmael. The Stage Manager (Aliah Whitmore) inquires about the effectiveness of the sound.

"It’s fine." – The Young Actor

The other actors make their entrances known at varying times.  Each has a personal agenda and mindset: A Middle-Aged Actor (Michael G. Welch), A Serious Actor (Richard Cox), An Old Pro (Tim deZarn), The Cynical Actor (Andrew Patton), The Young Actress (Kate McManus), Actor With The Newspaper (Steve Madar) and The Governor (James Whitmore, Jr.).

“As I understand it, this is to be a sort of reading - or rather a dress rehearsal without costumes or scenery.”  – The Young Actress

And each actor, in their specific ways, gives us an idea of what they are all about and who they are in terms of their style, their status, and their attention to their craft.  The core of their character is practically written on their sleeves.  

The Governor controls the action on stage. He is the leading thespian of the day and always helpful to the young actors who approach.  He is a chameleon who blends in naturally in every environment.  He sets the course of events and creates an atmosphere of calm in a natural calamitous setting. He even has time to run a few lines of King Lear for the young and desperate actress willing to learn the craft.  

And as the professional actors prepare the run through of Moby Dick they are curious about the feasibility of creating the white monster.

The Young Actor thinks that Moby Dick should be given a go and seems to be the driving force behind the reading. He has the advantage, being college educated, and related to The Governor.

The Cynical Actor doesn’t think this whale “thing can be acted”.  Each actor is willing to give it his all, and they do but, still, this is a rehearsal.  (It says so in the title.)

The Governor turns to the audience and instructs us to:

“Piece out the imperfections with your mind;
Think-when we speak of whaleboats, whales and oceans,
That you see them – For ‘tis your thoughts
That now must deck our stage; jumping o’er time;
Turning the accomplishments of many years
Into an hour-glass…”

The Serious Actor, throws this aside, places himself into front of The Governor and…

“…but what I mean is – since we’re playing it together, what exactly do you want me to do?” – The Serious Actor

“Do? Stand six feet away and do your damndest!” – The Governor

(This sounds like a page taken from the Orson Welles’ playbook!)

And as the story continues Ishmael becomes acquainted with Peleg (Tim deZarn), the owner of the Pequod. Peleg discourages him from signing on because Ishmael “wants to see the world”.  He implies that Captain Ahab is moody ever since he came home on that “bloody stump”.

“What is it that so draws me now
To put down for a whaling voyage?” - Ishmael

Father Mapple (James Whitmore, Jr.) sends the men off on their whaling expedition with a sermon about Jonah and The Whale, about sin, devotion, and dying. Surely it is his intention to gather the flock, holus bolus, and warn them about the inherent dangers of the whaling profession

“Beloved shipmates, clinch the last chapter of the first verse of Jonah – “And God has prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah.” – Father Mapple

Uh, Oh.  Not a good sign.  In fact, Father Mapple is foreshadowing the hazards of shipping out on the Pequod and that man with the “bloody stump”. 

And as Ishmael becomes further immersed in the community and ready to board he is confronted by Elijah (Michael G. Welch) a runic “old sailor” who has (at one time) engulfed too much seawater and is seemingly not right in the head.  Elijah warns Ishmael about Ahab and the Pequod.

Ishmael:  I’ve just now signed the articles.  Good morning, sir.

Elijah: Anything down there about your soul?

Ishmael: About what?

Elijah:  Mebbe ye haven’t got any. No matter though. Many young feller haven’t got any.

How many signs to you need, Ishmael?  But it is one more warning not heeded as Ishmael gets on the ship for a three-year tour of duty.

All, filled with optimism, the men imitate Ahab and move into position to receive words from Peleg who gives them a pep talk starting with:

"Now then ye misbegotten whale butchers!" - Peleg

It is a talk about being careful, about money, and fornication. 

Still, Ahab remains secluded in his cabin.

Peleg jumps ship before the crew shoves off.  And stranded on the ship without having seen the captain is Starbucks (Richard Cox), Dagoo (Michael G. Welch), Stubb (Steve Madar), Queequeg (Robert Fabiani) Flask (Andrew Patton), Black Pip/Tashtego (Kate McManus) and the carpenter (Tim deZarn).

And as they ship out, there is still no word from the captain. They go on about their jobs under a dark cloud of uncertainty.  And while they work Ahab suddenly appears in the darkness, smelling the sea.

"There are whales hereabouts-I smell ‘em.
Look sharp for whales, all of ye!   And if ye see
A white one - split your lungs for him!" - Ahab

Later, a one mast Ahab struggles to walk across the deck to greet his men.  His intention is clear.  He wants the white whale and will do any thing, a saint or sinner would do, to get him.  He passes the grog and convinces the men to see his perspective. They don’t buy it until he hammers a 16 dollar gold piece into the mast.

"Whoever of ye raises me that same white whale – he gets this big gold ounce, my boys!" – Ahab

This is a fine ensemble cast of an Orson Welles play. Still, one is not sure if the acting was exaggerated because they were “working it out” with each other or the director. If it is actors in a rehearsal the audience must have a truer sense of the rehearsal.  

But, there is a point where an actor calls out for a line (not written in a version I have) but makes this moment clear; this is a rehearsal.  And while this may have happened once, there were other times this point could have been driven home.  In any case, in retrospect, it’s enough to keep your mind going for months.  

To break character into a character from 1860 can be maddening. 

James Whitmore, Jr. gave an inspired performance as The Governor/Father Mapple/and Ahab. He is very stout, and has the use of both legs.  The use of a cane is an interesting choice but visually doesn’t cause one to feel sympathetic to his plight, his anger, and his need for revenge. He is the spitting image of his father with the voice of George C. Scott. Not a bad combination.  This was a marvelous performance.

Dustin Seavey (The Young Actor/Ishmael) is a wonderful actor.  He is very serious in a wonderful role that has him stretched to the core of his foundation.  He is, in effect, telling a story that has already been written.   He must be a writer of sorts and something that he could add to the character.  Seavey is a remarkable Ishmael and tells a story that would make one shiver under the blankets. 

Tim deZarn as The Old Pro/Peleg/Carpenter makes the most of the roles he plays.  His performance as The Old Pro and Peleg is a study in character development and he has a significant understanding of the craft of acting.   As an entrepreneur and the owner of the ship Pequod, drunk and asleep is a choice one should forgo, for a more active choice because there’s a long way to go to make a point, achieve his objective, and keep his sanity all in one breath. But is it a rehearsal choice that will be discarded?  In retrospect, his performance, tells me he has a superior understanding of the material. And he is wonderful to watch in all of his physical self.

Steve Madar as Actor with the Newspaper and especially Stubb gave a very fine performance. He is a hearty actor with many layers of subtext; Madar fits nicely with Stubb as Stubb tries to get Ahab not to clop around on deck with his peg leg. It’s a wonderful scene and a nice performance.  

Robert Fabiani as Queequeg does a fantastic job and has a very good look.  This is his first production with the Whitmore Eclectic and it is a nice fit.

Andrew Verderame, as the assistant stage manager, doesn’t have a lot to say but he makes up for it with the special effects this rehearsal needs.  Off and away in the background he is not very noticeable.  Still he should probably make a mistake along the way to let the audience know it’s only a rehearsal.

Andrew Patton as the Cynical Actor, is not as cynical as he could be, he should take the moment, establish the character and push that button to an extreme.  

Richard Cox as the Serious Actor and as Starbuck is quite wonderful in both roles. He establishes himself in that time and space (1860s) with ease. He understands the craft, sees the conflict, and goes after his objective.  It is a masterful performance.  

Michael G. Welch as the Middle Aged Actor and Dagoo did a fine job and one was particularly enamored with his take on Elijah.  

Kate McManus was the Young Actress, Black Pip and Tashtego.  These are all roles that are critical in this production.  McManuf has a fine voice, singing a couple of numbers, and playing the tambourine to boot! There is more to the scene with her, the carpenter, and Ahab that one is not getting and possibly needs a stronger choice.  Still, I found McManuf to be charming and full of Pip life.

Director Aliah Whitmore has done a remarkable job putting this all together.  She even has a role as the Stage Manager.  These are interesting jobs and the fact she’s on stage the entire time she can observe and take mental notes.  As the director she can physically place actors, during the course of the show and also have actors bound ideas off of her.  

One believes it is Orson Welles intention to highlight and showcase the rehearsal process of material that is practically impossible to perform on stage.  This is the challenge of the material.  Moby Dick - Rehearsed requires an immeasurable focus and a willingness to go all out.

Here are some of my notes about this production. These are only opinions.  (These are dangerous weapons to use only at your discretion.)

The opening with the actors seemed hap hazardous, too fast without letting time to focus and establish each character.

Although this is a rehearsal, orchestrate your whaling vessel boats; let us see the reaction of the men's face (the fear, the excitement, the bravery) before they turn their backs to the audience to pull the oars in chase of the white one. And have your vessels move in alliance with the dialogue. Keep Ahab, Stubb, and Ishmael moving with the whaling vessel.  There should be an orchestration of sorts, move like a dance, or the ballet and choreographed to get the whale.

Also, this particular audience did not know the performance had ended.  They were either mesmerized or waiting for the “actors in the rehearsal” to grab their stuff and leave. There is an ending in the play that was cut out.

“You can take down the curtain.” – The Governor

Also, the sermon, should give us a reason for being there. The objective of Father Mapple should be clear; the parishioners need to find a reason for being in church.  It can be subtle but must be active. It must be more than remembering those who have died in whaling accidents. It may be the last time anyone of them steps into a church. 

Their meeting has a purpose - like the father and daughter on the bench – let us see the action that carries it forward, let us feel it, and breath.  

Grant Dunn was the lighting Designer and Jacob Whitmore was the Production Designer.  The photographs and the program were fantastic.  

The Lyric Theatre is a beautiful theater on LaBrea and the Whitmores are gracious host. One feels quite at home here witnessing this production.

Go see it.  Won’t you?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rose Cottages by Bill Bozzone

By Joe Straw

During the early 70's our family was in turmoil.  My oldest sister was rebelling for her freedom and my newly adopted father was at war with her, my mother, and the rest of us. 

The fights were so tumultuous that at times I would find a small corner of the house and place a pillow over my head until the threat of physical violence had passed.  One night that threat did not stop until my mother, screaming and crying, started throwing dishes against any hard surface she could find.  That night all five of us kids stepped in.

Still, there were times when we could all sit down and watch TV in peace. But, it was a temporary peace that could be shattered by any accidental slip of the tongue.  

One of the shows watched was All In The Family. My adopted father wanted to be Archie Bunker and I could hardly watch when the Bunkers and Stivics were yelling at each other. It drove me out of the room because those episodes hit too close to home.

Comedy is always funnier when it’s somebody else’s problems.   

Rose Cottages by Bill Bozzone and directed by Heidi Helen Davis is playing at Theatricum Botanicum through October 2nd and playing mostly on Saturdays and Sundays.

Rose Cottages sounds so inviting. The first thing one thinks about is the drive down the Florida Interstate were there are all these signs imploring folks to “Stay at the beautiful Rose Cottages.” Rose Cottages - it all sounds just so wonderful!  

But, the first thing one notices about Rose Cottages is that there is only one cottage.  Also, there is no rose.  None whatsoever.  Not even a hint of a dead rose bush, anywhere.  All right, no rose and no cottages.  What is one supposed to think?

This place is a dump – and while one is thinking of 70’s sitcoms while viewing the stage one thinks of Chico and The Man (without the man) meets Sanford and Son (without the dad) and that’s what you got here.

The sequences of events in this play are as follows.

Rose (Earnestine Phillips) has gotten herself into a mess of trouble.  She is without a partner.  She says he’s on vacation but in reality he has left her, for good. And she is left to run Rose Cottages, which is off the beaten path, somewhere in Central Florida.

Up the road, a piece, Rose spots Ricky Knoll (Maurice Shaw), an inspector who wants to shut the place down. He is also a man who can’t be bought.  (Not that Rose has any money, because she doesn’t have any customers.)

But, while Ricky inspects, a boy, Lydell (Graco Hernandez) appears out of nowhere looking for a job.  Rose tells him to beat it but Lydell won’t take no for an answer.

And then Ricky hits Rose with the bad news:  She has 72 hours to get the place in tip top shape or he’s going to shut it down.  

Rose, seeing no other choice, decides to keep “the boy”, Lydell on to help spruce up the place.

Later, as luck would have it, a newly married couple, Vince (Aaron Hendry) a New Jersey State Trooper, his teenaged wife Ginger (Brynn Ann Kerin), and Vince’s mother Jesse (Ellen Geer) celebrate their honeymoon at the “lovely” Rose Cottages and are immediately enchanted (disgusted) by the looks of the place and the $75.00 a night price tag.  They are trapped to stay in the same room, with a broken air conditioner, under suffering conditions.  It is a torturous set of circumstances both physical and mental.  

“Them people are perverts.” - Rose

After they have settled in Ginger and Vince speak of a plan of doing something to dear old mom when mom, returning from the car, pulls a gun on them.  The gun turns out to be not loaded and Vince takes it away.  As they say in the south, “Mom’s getting old and is a little touched.”

Later, the newly married couple ditches Jesse in search of greener pastures in Miami.

The next morning Jesse, not realizing that she has been abandoned, helps Rose fix the air conditioner in her room.  Jesse is almost electrocuted and lies unconscious for a while.  When Rose and “the boy” revive her, Jesse believes that Rose is her long dead husband and Lydell is her son.

Jesse also lets it be known that she has socked away eight thousand dollars and they can use that money to spruce the place up. Okay, so now Jesse is a little more “touched” and Rose plays along to get her hands on the eight thousand dollars.

The Rose Cottages is a play that seems better suited for an intimate space, a 99-seater, not on the grand stage of Theatricum Botanicum that seems suited for Richard III, The Merry Wives of Windsor, A Midsummers Night’s Dream, and Tartuffe with casts of thousands.

The Rose Cottages is a comedy (and can be expected to be an exaggerated comedy) that can go in many directions. This particular comedy needs more focus paying special attention to characterization and specific moments that drive the play and strengthen the relationships.  

One needs to take a couple of specific moments to highlight as examples.

Ricky, the inspector, needs to shut Rose Cottages down. Period. Rose needs to save her paradise no matter the cost.  Whatever the cost may be, be it humor, theft of money, or gulp her own attractive self.

Lydell needs to find love as well as a place to live.  He must find a way to ingratiate himself to Rose, the breadbasket of his soon to be life. He needs to bring in a prior life with his arrival.  (This is not an easy task for a 14 year old new to the craft.)

Abandoning Jesse and getting away from the Rose Cottages, was way too easy for Vince and Ginger.  There is a lot of comedy left to be found from their stealthy exit.  

Jesse needs to be devastated by being abandoned in a broken down motel in Nowhere Ville, Florida. One is almost certain the audience would feel more for her predicament and would follow her throughout her difficult journey.   

Also, it is intimated that Rose and Jesse had a physical relationship but none of this was explored on stage.  Certainly, this would make the comedy that much better. Two women in a physical relationship with one woman thinking the other was her dead husband.

In addition Rose and Lydell (the boy) have to find a way to make their relationship more physical.  And there has to be the threat that at any moment Rose could throw Lydell out into the street (dirt road).  In fact, Rose should probably do that at some point.

Ellen Geer is a very physical actress and also a wonderful director.  As Jesse, one is amazed by her youthful physical appearance in this play. Still there are moments that need clarification.  Not such a difficult task. This was opening night and I’m sure opinions were expressed from the various marvelous actors in this company watching opening night.

Aaron Hendry, as Vince, played a ditsy New Jersey State Trooper complete with accent. It’s a fabulous performance and shows a wonderful range against his brilliant performance as Tartuffe also playing in repertory here.  

Brynn Ann Kerin as Ginger has a very nice voice and gave a very nice performance.  There were things that didn’t quite work this particular night.  One of the things unresolved was a missing element in her character (in the motel room) that would lead one to believe that she is the kind of person who would jump out of a speeding car onto the pavement.

Earnestine Phillips as Rose has a very nice presence.  One is always touched by her sincerity and truth on stage. But missing are the desperate moments, the inner dialogue, where she will do anything to keep her precious Rose Cottages.  It is a minor quibble and probably one that will be worked out during the course of the run.

Maurice Shaw, as Ricky Knoll was, not bad, still this opening night performance was not as imaginative as he could be.  Nevertheless, there is a lot of potential here. He has come to shut down the Rose Cottages, so one would suspect he takes great pleasure in giving Rose her final notice.  He seems ambivalent about his job.  (Not a good choice.) Close her down Ricky Knoll! Give Rose something to think about, her 72 hours, and when you come back make a stronger choice in that ending.

Graco Hernandez as Lydell was fine.  But a note to you and other young actors:  you have a lot to learn.  It’s easy to say the word “subtext” but at this point in your life you do not have a lot to draw from.  That’s okay. Pay attention to the voice, train the voice, next the physical life, concentrate on the human emotion last, and finally relax and concentrate. (There’s a reason Ellen has chosen you.  And she’s not wrong about many things concerning actors.)

There’s something here is Bill Bozzone’s play, clever dialogue, nice physical action, the 300 people who were here on this opening night seemed to enjoy this.  The West Coast premier of Bill Bozzone’s script has made some changes since its run in 1986.  In this version Rose is a woman and Lydell was played by an eighteen year old man who has gone AWOL from the army.  Having a fourteen year old explain Three’s Company is a bit of a stretch.  Still there were a lot of funny moments in this play. 

Director Heidi Helen Davis needs a screwdriver to tighten the moments and physical action. (Rose was cleaning the chair for what seemed like an eternity.)  Look, a little tweaking here and there and the play will do just fine.  But since you asked me I’m going to throw my two cents worth.

The set doesn’t look that bad enough to be condemned.  (There is no set designer credit for this job.) Certainly there are a number of sleazebag motels along Sepulveda that one can use as a reference.  And it wouldn’t hurt to have a dead animal carcass laying about in the first scene just to give it the flavor it needs.  

Secondly, the relationship, between Vince, Ginger, and Jesse could be a little tighter.  All three could share the same bed until the newly married couple skips out into the dead of night.  There’s got to be more to this scene.

Thirdly, Lydell could have a greater inner conflict about leaving his father and his mother who abandoned him all in the name of God.  This could be taken to extreme until a truth is found. And Lydell needs a grand entrance.