Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Bewildered Herd by Cody Henderson

L to R Trace Turville, John Getz

By Joe Straw

“Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head” – One by U2

On the set of The Bewildered Herd, there is a disorienting image upstage right.  It is a photograph by David Wojnarowicz, “Untitled (buffalo)”.  In this art piece, the buffalo appear to be jumping over a cliff, and the buffalo do it for a reason: they are bewildered.  

This perplexing art sets the mood for the dramatic and wonderful world premier of The Bewildered Herd, written by Cody Henderson and directed by Laurie Woolery at the Greenway Theatre. This as an amazing night of theatre, punctuated by head spinning dramatic action, and the birth of a very sinister character, Bingo.   This is definitively one theatrical event not to miss. It is, in short, remarkable work and an amazing accomplishment that masterfully digs deep into the art of persuasion.  

Also The Bewildered Herd is both a deeply troubling and fascinating look at the power of misdirection, persuasion, and tactical decisions that people make in order to destroy a life deemed as not suitable.    

From the moment the play starts, we as audience members are led astray. Everything is not bona fides. From the opening moment, we are bewildered and challenged to accept the information provided until the truth is proven otherwise.  

“Thanks for kidnapping me.” – Miranda

Miranda (Corryn Cummins), age 18, mysteriously steps through the front door with a somewhat older man, Todd (Derek Manson).  He is in his thirties and they met while she was attending UC Berkeley. But three rigorous months of college have forced her to make a life change. She has dropped out of school and brings her enchanting and knowledgeable boyfriend over to the house.  He plays in a rock band and still lives at home with his mother.   

And liberally minded Todd is feeding her information about the disastrous events of 9/11. That the three towers could not have fallen from the impact of two planes and the ensuing fire, and especially unlikely is the free-fall collapse of the 47-story World Trade Building Seven.  

At first glance, Todd appears uninterested in her father's intimate involvement in the local congressional race.  But upon closer inspection, Todd pays particular attention to the smallest of details of her family life.  One gathers that he wants to meet this man who supports the congressman that sent his brother to Afghanistan and then to his early grave.

Todd's actions indicate that he is quite intrigued by the success of this family.

Todd is not a wallflower, makes himself at home, and pours himself a Johnny Walker Blue.  Miranda assesses his character from his choice of whisky and specifically instructs Todd not to make the choice when her father offers him a drink.

Later as Todd and Miranda are making out on the couch, the senile grandmother, Helen (Lisa Richards), appears and interrupts them.  Helen has recently moved in with the family after the death of her husband.  In her mind, her husband is still alive and she stares out of the window waiting for her husband to return.    

Later that night, Bingo (John Getz) and Annie (Trace Turville), in cocktail attire, return home from a night at a political event. Bingo wants a moment to relax in front of the TV.  But a married man never gets a moment of peace.  His solemnity is interrupted when his wife casually accuses him of having an affair with a press writer.

“Tell me I’m wrong!”  - Annie

Bingo does not.  

Miranda descends the staircase and interrupts their argument to tell them that she has dropped out of school.  She wants to go to culinary school.  

Quietly, Helen comes down the stairs and announces:

“There is a man upstairs.” - Helen

The next day, Miranda and Annie set the table for dinner. Miranda has meticulously cooked a fabulous dinner for Todd and the rest of the family. Absent-mindedly, or maybe habit, they don't set a place for Helen. That's just not done with company attending and they set another plate.

As they eat dinner and the discussion turns to the events of 9/11, Todd denies saying anything to Miranda about that day.

Knowing her daughter, Bingo takes the initiative and starts playing mind games with Todd.  Bingo has his suspicions that Todd is not right for this family. Helen, uncomfortable with the discussion, gets up and walks away. 

But this is only the first test of many that Todd is subjected to. Fortunately for Bingo he is a willing participant.  With each test, Bingo knocks Todd back into the Stone Age.  It is a humiliating display of one-up-man-ship that has the audience feeling very uncomfortable. 

There is a gnawing hunger in Todd’s motivation with which we are not completely privy to and as the play moves along this hunger manifests itself in many ways.  Unfortunately for Todd, Bingo lives the life of having many enemies and Todd is one more outsider he will not tolerate.

The cast is exceptional in every respect.

John Getz’s performance as Bingo is incredible.  As the character, he is despicable in ways that astound us.  He is never willing to give an inch in what he believes and says.  He sizes up his prey with an aperçu of a hawk.  He is as vicious and adulterous as anyone can be but with the kindly appearance of a successful man. And in his quiet moments, watching his super-8 projections, he remembers when times weighed less upon his being and one thinks he silently schemes for new battles the next day.  He is also a man who cares greatly for his family and will stop at nothing to protect them.  

L-R Corryn Cummins, Derek Manson

Corryn Cummins as Miranda has a naiveté charm about her.  She is willing to accept the information thrown to her as gospel. She is confused about her role in life and her relationship with the other characters on stage.  Knowing the kind of man her father is, she wants to protect her boyfriend but can do little when she learns the truth. As the actor, Cummins is excellent but it seems her choices were not sufficiently definitive so that we know what she is up to.  There is a purpose to her being and with a stronger choice, it would add to the character’s objective.

Derek Manson as Todd gives a thoroughly enjoyable performance.  As the character, his challenge is to become part of the family.  He caresses the xenophilia that is this family. He hopes to become one with their lives and even their thoughts but he doesn’t have the gravitas or the mental capacity to pull it off.  But one would suggest greater emphasis on the moment when he first sells out: at the dinner table in front of his girlfriend.  At this moment, his direction changes, the focus critical and now his observations are military in purpose.  His reconnoiter of each family member has its own drive for reasons known only to him.  I suspect it is humiliation first and revenge second.

Trace Turville as Annie plays a fascinating woman who seems to take all that is being offered.  She takes her husband’s honesty.  She takes the songs that her yoga instructor compiles as the best music for relaxation.  And she takes she news of her daughter quitting school with an understated yoga calm.  (Editors note:  this calmness is typical of yoga students when the world is falling around them.)  But underneath, she is boiling over because she knows that her daughter and husband are destroying what she has come to know as the perfect family.  Perfect home, husband, daughter, etc., She fights hard to get things back to normal but she doubts herself and her sexuality when this young man steps into her household.  This is a marvelous understated performance.  Still, one would like to see more of a bite and edge that digs deeper and scores major points.

Lisa Richards

Lisa Richards does a meticulous job as Helen. This is an interesting character study of someone who is senile but, in the context of the play, still has an objective to give the character purpose.  There is a point, through her senility, when she pulls it all together and states her position.  It is a marvelous moment that makes the theatre and its participants shutter.  And maybe that is point Richards was making: No matter how senile we become we are still a living breathing human being capable of change and purpose.  

There is a lot to be learned from Cody Henderson’s play.  About love, life and the choices we make. It is a very interesting study of the people we have become given the constant barrage of advertising and 24-hours-a-day news opinion. This family goes about their daily lives knowing they are part of the problem and not the solution.  But, it’s no skin off their nose, the only lives they worry about are the lives of their immediate family, and the outsider can go straight to the dark place of ignorance and insecurity.  And when the outsider comes into their lives they take no delight in his destruction but they destroy him just the same.  The only thing that propels this family is their conquest for eudemonia.  Some folks are just a little more sinister about getting to that point.

Henderson's play is also a terrifying look at the the games people play and the power of the mind.   And the mental supremacy games that systemically creep into the daily lives of the characters who are out for their own self-interest.  In truth, those characters want to control our lives without killing anyone.  But in reality they find little satisfaction in this way of life.

The Bewildered Herd does not have that definitive moment where we are awakened to the characters’ motives.  Perhaps that’s what makes this a remarkable play.

Laurie Woolery has directed a marvelous show.  It starts with a little trepidation but then begins to roll with steam.  There are moments that take your breath away and others that are equally shocking.  There is beauty in the telling and even between scenes, when characters are preparing for the next scene, they are all in character in moments that are picturesque and enticing.  There is not one wasted moment on stage and that’s a beautiful thing.   

The production staff also played a very part in this production starting with Scenic Design - Susan Gratch, Lighting Design – Dan Weingarten, Costume Design – Ann Closs-Farley, Sound Design – John Zalewski, Prop Master – Abra Brayman, Assistant Director – Ashley Teague, Stage Manager – David Salai, Press Representative – Ken Werther Publicity – and Graphic Design by Kiff Scholl.

The Production Photos were by Joel Daavid.  Casting Director – Raul Staggs did a very remarkable job getting this very fine cast.

It is not hard to see that as a society we have become a society of truth benders.  A truth that bends so far to the right or left we don’t know the truth anymore.

Run, and take a friend who has been recently fired from law or accounting firm.  You both might have the time of your life.

EXTENDED Through May 20 2012!

Greenway Court Theatre
544 N. Fairfax Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90036

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Boomerang Effect by Matthew Leavitt

By Joe Straw

The Odyssey Theatre is so close to everything on the west side.  It is a hop, skip and a jump from anywhere north, west, east and south of Sepulveda and Pico.  They have wonderful theatre there.  I’ve seen some good things and I am always happy to return.

Village Green Productions presents the world premier of The Boomerang Effect, written by Matthew Leavitt and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez, through April 29, 2012.   It is produced by Del Shores, Linda Toliver and Gary Guidinger and is a guest production at The Odyssey Theatre.

Del Shores has been around forever and he has an eye for entertaining audiences. The Boomerang Effect is no different.  It is a crowd pleaser and something more, which I address later.

The Boomerang Effect breaks down into various chapters with five couples having assorted conflicts. One bedroom set is used for all places where our couples engage in their lively sexual pursuits.  They are connected with other couples in the course of the stories, sometimes as friends, and sometimes as relatives.  The play does not have an intermission so it flies by in a brief period of time.

Chapter 1: The Birthday Present refers to Paul’s (Luke McClure) birthday present, which is, in effect, oral sex given to him by his partner Stephanie (Kim Hamilton).  It is an act she hates to perform (this time every year) and runs to the bathroom upon a satisfactory conclusion or unsatisfactory conclusion depending upon your perspective.  

But, there is more to their relationship than meets the eye.  Paul and Stephanie are in love.  But it is not endless love because Paul works at Trader Joe’s; a job that Stephanie believes is taking him nowhere, and Stephanie wants more from their relationship.  The conflict between the two in not without merit when we find that Stephanie is pregnant.  

Chapter 2: Pillow Talk is about the small talk that Renee (Tiffany Lonsdale) gives Andrew (Will Christoferson) while they are in the throes of lovemaking.  In short, her little speaks are awful, and takes him to flaccid places where, in brevity, no man wants to go.  When he’s trying to make love, she speaks about the holes in his shirts and buying him new ones.

But there’s two side of this story.  Andrew wants Tiffany to try new things, say the right things, and even biting may be a wonderful addition to the mix.  When she does bite him she almost tears his nipple off.  Sometimes relationships have no middle ground.  It’s either one doesn’t go far enough or one goes too far in the wrong direction.  

Chapter 3:  Words with Friends is about a couple David (Jonathan Stavin) and Nick (Emerson Collins).  David is a not-too-bright man.  And to top things off he doesn’t have a job, is not really pursuing a job, and spends the day on his iPad playing an internet game with internet friend, Ian Chang.  And David always loses because Ian Chang is slightly smarter. Not a lot, slightly.  Although Nick loves David, he doesn’t like the fact that David does not have a job and is not really looking.  And for those reasons, Nick is not putting out.

But David has got this dry spell all figured out.  He wants to become an actor and wants his partner to help him with a 5-year plan to succeed as an actor.  Nick thinks his ideas are ridiculous, an actor needs money for acting classes and he doesn’t even have a job.  No job equals no acting classes.

Chapter 4: Des Moines is a wonderful place of liaisons and this is no exception for Alexander (Charles Howerton) who loves to go out on business outings and rent a hotel room.  When he asks his receptionist Julie (Kat Bailess) to take a memo, he subsequently asks her to stop and…

“Sleep with me or you’re fired” -  Alexander

But, Julie is a very headstrong southern woman.  She threatens a lawsuit against the sleazebag.  Alexander tells her to calm down.  He calmly states that sleeping with him will get her a promotion and raise, a nice corner office, and two secretaries.

Julie eventually comes around to the idea of a raise and promotion and looks at this sleazy opportunity as an opportunity gained.

Chapter 5:  The Ignoble Fate of Timmy the Rabbit is about another couple.  This is a story about an office party that got completely got out of hand when a married man Marcus (Joel Bryant) and single woman Janetta (Liza de Weerd) got drunk and sleep together. When they wake up the following morning, Janetta is extremely happy that Marcus is still in the room with him.  She bounces into the bathroom and Marcus wakes up in terror, calls his wife, and tells her that he made too much of the night and stayed at the office.  In other words, he lies, three ways to Sunday.

He gets half dressed and runs out of the hotel room only to remember that Janetta is wearing the necklace that his wife gave him.  He needs it back and then needs to leave but Janetta is not willing to give in so easily.

Later we revisit all of the couples where they settle their differences in uncordial and unsightly manners.

There is a lot to be said about The Boomerang Effect and something about the concept of the entire production and its execution.  The acting by all was well above par. The relationships were well defined and the conflicts were strong enough to keep the show moving at a brisk pace. It was an enjoyable experience for audience and performers alike.

Luke McClure as Paul has a nice name for Hollywood work.  There could have been more in the opening moments of his scene. I did not buy it for a second and if there’s one thing an actor must do is sell the performance.  Also, McClure needs to lower the pitch of, and strengthen, his voice.  That aside he did have his moments and the bathroom scene was hilarious.  It’s too bad we didn’t get to see any of it.

Kim Hamilton as Stephanie has some very nice moments on stage.  One can really feel her predicament.  She is very convincing in the role and all in all, she did some very nice work on stage.

Tiffany Lonsdale as Renee has not reached the point of maturity with the character.  On this particular night, she did not set an imaginative objective that carries her through her two scenes. As the role grows on her, possibly the character will come to her. But part of the problem is that the scene does not go far enough so that she makes sense.  She doesn’t want him to come prematurely so she throws out bad small talk.  But here’s the point, they never get to the moment where he is even out of his clothes much less near coming prematurely.  If this is a modesty issue, better to play the scene under the sheets.

Will Christoferson as Andrew is a nice looking tall statuesque leading man type from Texas who doesn’t know how to take off a woman’s boots.  Are you kidding me?  The synonym for a Texan is “Male or female, I know how to take off boots.”   Where’s the macho thing that we expect from a Texan?  Seriously, when an action on stage is unbelievable to an audience, an actor is forced to make up a lot of ground to get the pendulum swinging back into the believability factor.   That aside, as the character, he has a slight premature ejaculation problem and that problem is not fully realized.  As it is now, the relationship is too middle-of-the-road and lacking imagination. So the way to approach the scenes is have a macho Texan (or man) with a problem who needs to overcome the problem in ways that are completely out of character.  In short, he needs an inner conflict as well as having conflict with his partner.  That conflict will translate into a believable relationship and a successful scene.

Jonathan Salvin as David does a very nice job.  He has actually developed two relationships.  One offstage, with Ian (or E.N.) Chang, and the other with his partner. He understands the conflict and achieves his objectively magnificently. As the character, he is fully developed and knows instinctively where to go and where not to tread. This was a very dry and funny performance.

Emerson Collins as Nick does a fine job.  As the character he doesn’t want to have sex with his partner until he gets a job. But his imagination is lost and it leads him to pursue the other character off stage. Also his apology is a middle of the road apology when he should in fact be kissing the feet of the only one in his life he has injured.  Still, this is only minor.  A few adjustment and the moments should play out fine.

Charles Howerton is exceptional as Alexander the lusty old businessman who adds one more secretary to his life’s conquest. It doesn’t take long to see where Howerton is going, the actions he takes to pursue his prey, and the manner he goes about achieving his objective.  As the character, he is ripe as the devious manipulator, the sole proprietor of his unworthy soul.  Thinking he may be older and wiser than all of the secretaries he has come across in his lifetime, he forgets that he is physically a lot slower and he gets his.  This is a wonderful performance.

Kat Bailess is equally remarkable as Julie. She is a strong, forceful woman, who will not take anything from anyone unless there’s money involved.  And then she goes after it like bees go to honey.  She has a strong southern accent (a product of Vicksburg, Mississippi) and a wonderful way of using her voice to create a character that takes situations to extremes. It all works so wonderfully.  As the actress, Bailess makes use of her body and her mind to achieve her objective.  She goes about getting her objective in physical ways and by taking situations to extremes until fully realized.  In this type of theatrical production, these are the choices one likes to see and hers are life and death situations treated with the utmost reverie and respect.

Liza de Weerd as Janetta plays a lonely girl who thinks she has got her man.  The problem is he is married.  She figures it out but doesn’t care.  As the character, she holds on to her most prized procession, his necklace and she’s not giving it back, wife or no wife. She wants him badly. She holds onto the necklace until finally she is finally deceived. There is a moment missing in the end of that scene that should be elevated.  It is a minor flaw in a performance that was otherwise quite excellent.    

Joel Bryant did a nice job as Marcus. He was very physical on stage.  So physical in fact sweat was pouring out of every conceivable pore from his body. One must admit that Bryant was running around considerably.  As the character, his one job is to get the necklace off of her body and get out. The odd thing though is that he is a consummate liar. They both know it.  The only way he is going to get the necklace off her neck is to trick her with the sad bunny story.  That said he needs to find more imaginative ways to get closer to her to achieve his objective.  One is not sure why he never gets completely dressed during the progression of their intercourse.

Dámasco Rodriguez is a well-regarded director in town going from one project to the next.  This project is an interesting look at personal conflicts and relationship, which he handles, successfully both gay and straight with a sense of class and dignity.  But one gets the idea that things did not go far enough, that modesty was not left at the stage door, and that characters needed more development.

There are a lot of wonderful things in Matthew Leavitt’s play.  The Boomerang Effect refers to getting back what you throw out. A lot of the characters throw out a lot and they seem to get it back tenfold. The play is smartly written, the characters are engaging, there is purpose and meaning in the telling of the story.  The play has a lot more potential than the final outcome. And I keep using the words extreme to define characters and I believe some characters need to define themselves in order for the play to work in its entirety.  Once the characters are defined and the situations are believable the play will come around.

The production team includes John Iacovelli, the Scenic Designer.  Jared A. Sayeg is the Lighting Designer.   The Costume Designer is T. Ashanti Mozelle.  The Sound Designer is Doug Newell.  Judith Borne did the Publicity.  The Photographer is Ed Krieger.  Casting was by Rich Delia and the Graphic Designer was Jessica Smith.

Is Matthew Leavitt’s play is a theatrical showcase?  If it is, it is well done.  If he wants more, he needs to throw the boomerang farther.  

Go!  Take a friend who was abused in their last relationship. 

Reservations:  310-477-2055

Friday, April 6, 2012

Naked Before God by Leo Geter

By Joe Straw

“I’m fixin’ to take a trip down south in the near future because I hear tell there’s a religious man name Jesus behind the counter in Dixon, Tennessee, servin’ up hush puppies and catfish and I want to meet that Christian man.”  - The Lying Narrator

I think the prepress of this production hoodwinked me.  There was a picture of three naked bottoms looking at artwork in a museum setting and the log lines (if you will) say: “What do a porn star, a stripper and a soldier have in common with a Christian, a Muslin and a Mormon?” All right, that got my attention right away. And it was Inside the Ford, one of my favorite venues. So, why not?  I’ve seen great theatre at The Ford and this sounded like a good idea.

But Naked Before God was nothing like I thought it was going to be. One can never be sure at first glance about a title.  What does this title mean?  Are you naked before God? Or are you naked in front of God and does he really care if you’re naked? Or whenever you are naked, do you feel like you’re one with God? Or are you thinking about God when you are naked?

Circle X Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Naked Before God, written and directed by Leo Geter. It is a comedy and it is thought provoking in ways that you cannot imagine.  I was definitely hoodwinked but it was a good hoodwinked.  

Let’s look at this production.  

Kristen (Jennifer Skinner) at first glance is a chain-smoking mom who works at Dunkin Donuts.   She believes in daily affirmation but only the ones that mean something to her. And after tearing off a number of affirmations and throwing them to the floor, she pulls one and places it on the refrigerator. Forget the agley days that litter the floor, only the moment matters.  

When the right words are in place, she turns on the radio and settles in on a Christian radio talk show.  Ah, the sweet life of a good Christian woman.

But Kristen has an edge to her needy life.  Kristen steps out onto the patio and into the light of her Arizona home.  She lights her cigarette, inhales the nicotine of her cigarette, and feels satisfied.  It is a glorious respite in her kingdom. In a not-so-satisfied life, her only pleasure is a smoke that coats her throat, and sends poisonous noxious gases to her already enthused lungs.

Suddenly she remembers not everyone can take the smoke.  So she takes a couch pillow and bats away the lingering remains.  A good Christian woman has got enough sense to smoke her cigarette outside because her daughter-in-law, Carley (Jen Kays), is pregnant. Because if you’re smoking inside, with a pregnant woman, well as they say in the south “you ain’t got a lick of sense you were born with”

Kirsten’s vocal prowess is something to behold as she rustles her son, Duncan (Morgan McClellan), to get up before he’s late for his job interview. Duncan is nineteen years old, has no prospects for college, and needs to work to help support his family.  It wasn’t that long ago, that Duncan was just a boyfriend and Carley wasn’t knocked up.   This is pretty much a typical Arizona family, going through typical Arizona family problems and finding solutions.  

Only they are not that typical.  They have slight “issues”.  The stuff Kristen is boiling on the stove is not potatoes but rather dildos for Duncan’s job interview.  Job intertview?  These are the “tools” that he may need for his audition for an adult film. It’s just an interview but you never know, says Kirsten who wraps the dildos up in a plastic baggie and seals them tight.   

“I was not a star!  I was a working actress.” – Kristen

We find out that Kristen was an adult movie thespian in an earlier carnation.  (Thinking back on this line, I wondered what is more provocative in that trade: being a star or a working actress?)

But Duncan has problems of his own.  He is desperately searching for his birth certificate to prove he is at least 18 years old. But Kristen has misplaced it and doesn’t know its exact location.  And in the melee, a package arrives for Duncan from the Middle East – a present from his father which says “don’t open until your birthday” which is in another nine months.

Meanwhile, Carly, a former professional exotic dancer, is less concerned about the job interview and more concerned about their living arrangements. She wants to move to Hawaii assuming they have the money to move.

On her way out, Kristen, once everyone out of the room, gets out of her Dunkin Donut garb, and slips into in her slutty outfit.  And as she passes her son’s boyhood picture, she looks behind it and finds his birth certificate.

Later, after the filmed interview, Duncan brings home Nick (Christopher Foley) an ephebe from Kansas.  These two performers have partnered up in the audition and going all the gay way, and Duncan now is infatuated with this man. Nick asks Duncan if he could stay for a while and Duncan responds that there’s a spare bedroom and Nick can stay only if he offers to buy groceries for his mother.

Kristin is outrage when she first hears of this new boarder. But when Kristen meets Nick, she is slightly infatuated with his manly physique and agrees to let him stay.  Carly is not so infatuated with Nick; in fact she threatens him with a knife if he brings an STD into their lives.

Suddenly coming over the wall, through the back yard, and into the sliding glass door is Vinnie (Larry Clarke) and Octavio (Aly Mawji).  Vinnie is Kristen’s ex husband who is just back from the Middle East with his friend Octavio who he tries to pass off as “Mexican.”

Kristen doesn’t want Vinnie around because she is expecting an important guest. Barry (William Salyers) is a Christian radio show host who wants to do a reality Christian television show about this family involved in the adult industry.  It is a reality show with a Christian slant.

This show would not play in the south where they love Jesus to pieces and would be offended by everything in this production.  Still, the performers did some wonderful work.  

Jennifer A. Skinner as Kristen is marvelous in the role.  There is a lot of tremendous work in her character development and her performance.  Her physical life is a symposium of artful style and effect that takes her from one extreme and to another.  She moves with the grace of a former adult star living a not so modest lifestyle in Arizona.  She is not afraid to give it her all and she does with little muss and fuss.   Go see this marvelous actress showing us her remarkable craft.

Larry Clarke as Vinnie is equally funny and wonderful in the role. As the character, he is at present a soldier, working special ops, and services his country most honorably. (In this context of the play, that sounds funny.)  He formerly worked as an adult porn star with sufficient shoulders to be an excellent “top”.  He is a learned man who knows and gives advice to anyone who wants to know the “tricks of the trade”. There’s a slight problem.  According to the military, he is technically dead so as the character he brilliantly adapts.  His facial expressions are delightful and his timing is impeccable.

Morgan McClellan plays Duncan, a young man who is supposed to be confused about his sexuality. Confusion plays well when an actor knows his objective but there is never a clear sense of what the actor wanted.  Did he want the girl or the guy?  Did he want to please his mother or his father? Maybe he needs to please everyone and not get caught—that might make him more engaging.  This is a role that has many levels, the problem is that an actor needs to find those levels and not stop trying to find them until the end of the run.

Jen Kays does a nice job as Carly. She has a forceful personality, especially with a knife in her hand. She is six months along but one would think if she could make her role a little more physical, it might add more humor.  Also, she needs to find things about her husband’s relationship with another man. She also needs to compete more strongly with her mother-in-law for the starring role.  This is a good role for someone who discovers and then acts upon her discoveries.

Christopher Foley did a nice job as Nick, the boy from Kansas, who comes to stay. He has a secret in this story that is not fully realized so it doesn’t us lead anywhere.  But Nick has the opportunity to choose the best partner of his liking and play those characters off against each other—mom, dad, friend, daughter-in-law, the possibilities are endless.

Aly Mawji as Octavio sits around with an impish smile on his face the whole time.  Happy to be in America, I suppose. First, thought of as a Mexican and we later learn that he is an Iraqi translator.  He holds the keys to his fortune, a penis, no not a penis, the penis, which he protects as though it were his own.  It’s a nice job, but he needs to do a lot more with that gun in his hand. (No pun intended, it is a prop gun.)

William Salyers as Barry play a man with good intention but is slightly misguided. Where does someone get off as a spokesman for Christian radio wanting to produce a reality show based on a family of former adult stars?  Wait, a minute, it’s done all the time. Still as the character, he was very convincing and charming as someone who needs this to get done and he talks sense to everyone to make sure it gets done.  I’m not convinced that making him ill during the play works.  One thinks having a healthier man battling for a position works more efficiently.  I also love the moment where he is frightened out of his wits.  This was a wonderful job.

Leo Geter as the writer and director has done a fine job putting this all together. There are wonderful moments on stage and the actors are having a marvelous time.  Still there is a lot more to be had in this production.  The relationships could be better developed in the interactions on stage. The battle for the alpha male supremacy can take this production to another level for the men as well as the women.  A whole new world needs to open to unsuspecting characters so that they see the dollars pouring into their future and they need to fight for that future. And all of these ideas need to relate to the inherent struggles the characters have to the Christian values, Mormon values, and Muslim values to give it a little more poignancy.  Still, one can’t help but laugh when leaving the theatre.  

Tim Wright did a very nice job as Producer.  The Scenic/Lighting Design was by Brian Sidney Bembridge.  The Sound Design was by Corinne Carrillo.  The Wardrobe Design worked perfectly by Ann Closs-Farley.  The prop master was Heather Ho and those props were very suitable for this production.

The understudies were Jonathan Mareer, Elizabeth Rainey, and Casey Smith who did not perform the night I was there.

Go! And take a friend who was once an adult actor.  That actor may have many things to discuss with you on the way home.

Reservations:  323-461-3673


Monday, April 2, 2012

Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen

By Joe Straw

One can almost rest assured that Ibsen was not really thinking about ghosts as the floating paranormal images that frolic in front of the weary eyes of a half conscience person. Maybe he thought of ghosts as images that haunt the memories of someone’s reflective recollections.

The Edgemar Center for The Arts presents Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts directed and adapted by Doug Kaback and produced by Alexndra Guarnieri.  This is a fascinating production with outstanding production values.  And I'll have some reflections that haunt me about this fine productioon which I will address later. 

Upon entering the theater, one notices the beautiful set by Set Designer Travis Tuyen Thi.  It is a stunning recreation of the images Ibsen had in mind and resembles the imageries written in Ibsen’s play. It is splendid work on this small stage and nicely sets the mood of this very dark and moody drama.

As the play opens, the maid Regina (Lucy Honigman) is sprucing up the downstairs when her father, Jacob Engstrand (James Giordano), lame from a bar altercation, hobbles in from the pouring rain.  From the moment he enters, one notices their relationship is tenuous at best. Still there is a purpose for his visit today.

“I want you to come home with me, I say.” – Engstrand

“Never in this world shall you get me home with you.” – Regina

Regina says that Mrs. Alving treats her like a lady and she would never leave her current position to live and work with him.  Also, she doesn’t like the way he treats her, calls her names, and she is not fond of his excessive drinking.

Lately Engstrand has been towing the line and building the orphanage.  With the money he has saved he wants to open a sailor’s tavern.  He believes Regina, the nice pretty thing that she is, and particularly with a petticoat on, would do nicely around the sailors who will come from extended stays at sea to rest their weary bones.

But Regina thinks she has a good thing with Mrs. Alving. She is studying French on her own in the hopes that Osvald will take her to Paris soon.  Her mind is set on going to Paris and she is very ambitious maid.  Still, she has questions.

“How much money have you saved?” – Regina

“What with one thing and another, a matter of seven or eight hundred crowns.” – Engstrand.

So now Regina is slightly intrigued about getting a new dress out of the bargain but Engstrand has got his mind set on using his daughter for nefarious purposes.  This doesn’t sit well with Regina and she hustles him on his merry way out the door.     

When they hear another noise, Regina tells her father not to wake Osvald who is taking a nap upstairs. But the rustling noise is Pastor Manders shaking the rain from his umbrella and coat.  And as he comes in through the French doors Engstrand hustles himself out of another door.

Pastor Manders (Paul Stroili) hands his wet coat to Regina.  He has traveled a great distance to dedicate the opening of the orphanage and to have those papers reviewed by Mrs. Alving.  He is a self-righteous religious meddler whose order of business appears to be arranging the lives of his parishioners rather than putting his religious house in order.

“Your father is not a man of strong character, Miss Engstand.  He stands terribly in need of a guiding hand. “ -  Manders

Pastor Manders says he has spoken with Engstrand about Regina leaving Mrs. Alving and going back home to him.  But Regina will have none of this.  She feels she’s better than that, in fact she asks Manders to find her a nice place. He cuts her off and asks for the mistress of the house.

When Mrs. Alving (Michelle Danner) enters she is taken aback by the lack of Manders’ luggage.

“But where is your portmanteau?” – Mrs. Alving

“I left it down at the inn.  I shall sleep there to-night.” – Manders.

Pastor Manders is all business when it comes to their past relationship and Mrs. Alving is slightly disappointed that he is not going to be staying the night with her and Osvald.  

But Manders is a headstrong clerical businessman.  His religious views often get him sidetracked.  Seeing provocative books on the kitchen table, he scolds Mrs. Alvings’ literary readings, before he takes out “Captain Alving’s Foundations” and has her examine various papers. 

The orphanage will be run on the interest produced by the Foundation.  (So it must be a sizeable amount.) Then Manders surprises her.

“Shall the Orphanage buildings be insured or not?” – Manders

“Of course they must be insured.” – Mrs. Alvings

Manders convinces her that the building need not be insured because it will be consecrated and insured by a higher source.  And again Manders suggests to Mrs. Alving that Regina should go with her father.

Moments later, Mrs. Alving’s son, Osvald (Nate Golon) who has recently returned from Paris, enters carrying a hat and holding a large meerschaum.  The prodigal son has returned from France and together they all get reacquainted. Manders believes Osvald is there for the dedication ceremony. But later we learn Osvald has returned for another reason.

And this provides Manders with the opportunity to bring Osvald’s wicked ways in Paris to light and set him on the straight and narrow path. Osvald wants none of his lectures and leaves for a walk.

This gives Manders the occasion to turn his sights on Mrs. Alving and the complications between her and her husband in the first year of their marriage.  He accuses her of trying to desert her husband and being unwilling to bear the cross of that unhappy marriage.  Back then, Mrs. Alving ran to the arms of Pastor Manders.

“… and – nearly succeed in ruining other people’s reputation into the bargain.”  - Manders

“Other people’s?  One other person’s you mean.” – Mrs. Alving

“It was incredibly reckless of you to seek refuge with me.” – Manders

Manders then lets her have it by accusing her of being a terrible wife and mother.

After he has finished, Mrs. Alving, in a controlled manner, lowers the truth on Manders; the truth about her husband, the truth about Engstrand and the truth about Regina. She confesses to the many ghosts that have haunted her life.

After Manders leaves, we find out that something is wrong with Osvald, which is why he has come home.

“Where has the pastor gone to?” - Osvald

“I have just told you, he went down to the Orphanage.”  - Mrs. Alving

“Oh, yes, so you did.” – Osvald

Overall the acting was superb.  There are just some haunting moments I would like to address.

Michelle Danner as Mrs. Alving gives a convincing performance.  But lost on this opening night was the strong relationship she has with her counterpart, the Pastor.  They fight and tussle but only hint at the strong emotional commitment that I believe this production needed.  This commitment strengthens the characters’ objective and provides reasons for the conflict that erupt as they stand in the same room together without being able to escape.   Also, this characterization is of a kinder, gentler woman who I believe has a little more conniving tricks up her sleeve. Also, she needs to be more inquisitive.  Push at getting the truth before it’s too late for all concerned. But these are minor glitches that will be corrected as the production rolls along. Overall, this is a job well done.

Lucy Honigman has a lot of delightful moments but as the actor she needs a stronger more imaginative objective.  As the character she studies French because Osvald has suggested taking her there. But her relationship with Osvald should have more meaning and more levels.  She is a character that strives to better herself.  She tries to take control of her life, but she is stuck as a maid (of all things) unable to come to grips that she is never getting out of this predicament unless she forces the issue.  Also, she finds out her true identity in the end and takes it with a reserved modest emotion that it is inexplicable.  This is a revelation that must have her head spinning.  How could these people have treated her like a common maid!  As delightful as she was, the actor should be more precise in her movements on stage and her objective.

James Giordano was outstanding as Jacob Engstrand.  In fact his performance is worth the price of admission.  As the character, his hands are the instruments of his profession.  And as part of the developed character, his hands are used to extend his expressions of the moment. His hands work in a very artistic way to get what he needs while his legs plays upon the sympathies from those to which he seeks help.   He garners support and uses his limited but persuasive knowledge to reason with people who think he is unreasonable.  He is crude in his manner but that is the only way he knows how to get what he wants. Run to see his performance of this very fine actor.  One will only marvel at his technique.  

Nate Golon as Osvald did a fine job.  The opening moment he appeared on stage, he came out as the painting on the wall and it was this moment I noticed the hat was in the wrong hand and the pipe was as well, but was it a mirror image or a difference of the father and son characters? Golen gave us a lot of nice moments and some terrific silent emotional outburst that were fascinating to watch.  His character needs a big hidden secret.  It is there in the writing.  For example, he tells his mother he can’t work but lies about the reasons he can’t. He needs to hide the secret until he is ready to release the information. But, as the character, he is back for a reason and that reason is to convince someone give him the pills no matter what it takes.  That objective is not quite realized and once that is realized that should help in an already fine performance.

Paul Stroili as Pastor Manders was quite incredible.  As the character, he had a lot of pastoral issues in his way of thinking. Pastors cannot “always” be right. Still Manders fights for what he believes in and turns a blind eye to the obvious wrongs of the world.  His relationship with Mrs. Alving could have given us insights into his motives (whether they are sinister or not) because of what he has learned about the orphanage.  Several things we know for sure, he has had a long and tenuous relationship with Mrs. Alving, he knows about the dirty deeds of Mr. Alving, and he knows that Mrs. Alving really doesn’t care about the orphanage.  After that information is passed on to him, the orphanage burns to the ground.  One is not sure if it is coincidence or he acted out of love or self-preservation. Stroili goes after the character with vigor.  It is an unrelenting, fanatical display of spiritual coercion, and a job well done.

Dough Kuback did a fine job directing this truly fine production. There were moments in the beginning that need strengthening.  Actors were sent to various places on the set without purpose.  But, after the first the few moments, the play seemed to glide along as it should.  Relationships are critical in this play. There are deeper levels in the relationships that need to be explored, mother and son, mother and pastor (possible former lover), son and maid, brother and sister, etc. Also, some of the actors need to take those moments to the extreme, and settle on a choice that makes sense for the good of the play.

Kulback did a fine job with the adaptation.

Nate Golon, another producer, should also be commended for the very fine production values.  Alexandra Guarnieri should be commended as well. This production will only get better with each performance once things have settled down. 

The Light Designer was Rob Fritz and the wonderful costumes were by Maro Parian.

The wonderful photographs were provided by Seony Keo.

Press Representatives were Phil Sokoloff & Lori DeWaal.

One can't help but to cock the head slightly to the right and sadly ingeminate the words, "The sun.... The sun..." on the way out.

Go!  Through May 27th 2012

Reservations: 310-392-7327