Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bitchslap! Written by Darrin Hagen

L-R Michael Taylor Gray, Therese McLaughlin, C. Stephen Foster - Chris Hume -
By Joe Straw

Bette Davis slapped a lot of people in her movies.  There are too many to count in a video-montage sendup at the beginning of Bitchslap! This production, wonderfully written by Darrin Hagen and beautifully directed by Odalys Nanin, is playing at the Macha Theatre in West Hollywood.

Maybe that was the thing to do in the old Warner Bros. movies. If you couldn’t find a mental action, try a physical one.  And if you don’t know what to do with your hands, slap something: man, woman, or beast. And generally, they were all beasts!

One could almost imagine the scenarios.  Mr. Director; I think this would be a good moment to slap him, or, slapping him would elevate the scene, or, if I slapped her during her ridiculous banter she could see how serious I am, or, you slap me again mate and I’m going to head-butt you.  

Joan Crawford (Michael Taylor Gray) and Bette Davis (C. Stephen Foster) have a love-hate relationship with Hollywood, the studio moguls, with each other, and with the press.  Well, maybe not all of the press.  They both love Hedda Hopper (Therese McLaughlin) who makes it a point to keep their names splashed in the yellow rags they called the newspapers.

Bitchslap! is a glorious instant flashbulb re-creation of an era that captures the significant moments in the press-filled lives of both Davis and Crawford.  

Bette Davis, nominated for eight Academy Awards, was all about character and noted for being “the actress” a serious actress.   

"The best boy? I'll be the judge of that." - Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford was celebrated for her “glamour puss” face.  She was also inclined to hop from bed to bed with the frequency of an amorous house cat for the sake of furthering her career.  Hollywood legend has her charming everyone, men and women alike, each wanting to lay claim to a Hollywood legend.  Joan is no wallflower, she speaks of her conquests, narrating lists the people she has slept with, right there, on stage.  It is a long and glorious list and seems to go on ad infinitum.  

We also get a glimpse of Crawford’s list of do’s and don’t.  “Rules for dating me.”, which includes, pulling out “my” chair while dining out, focusing your eyes on “me” while “I’m” eating and always be on the left side of “me” when “I’m” being photographed. There is a lot of “me”, “me”, “me” in her do’s and don’t list.

The battle seems to begin when Bette Davis wins an Oscar for her role in Dangerous sitting next to co-star, Franchot Tone.  Tone is Joan Crawford’s husband. Joan Crawford stole Tone away from Davis and married him before Davis knew what had happened.

Davis was, in fact, in love with Tone.

Davis, not expecting an Oscar win, wore a plain dress for the occasion. After the announcement Tone, jumps up and hugs Davis for her win.  Crawford looks to Davis and acidly congratulates her with the comment “What a lovely frock.”

Davis steams.

"You can lead a whore to culture.  But you can't make her think."  - Bette Davis 

After the Oscar win, Davis asks Jack Warner for more money but he won’t budge. Davis sues the company and loses. But she gets her just reward by being at the top of the favorite actress list and winning another Oscar in 1938 for Jezebel.

In 1940’s, Betty Davis is the star and Joan Crawford, previously the star at the MGM studios, is now box-office poison.  Crawford wants out of her contract and she is released to, of all places, Better Davis’s home, Warner Brothers. And to make things a little cozier Joan Crawford pitches her tent next to Davis.

While Crawford is on the Warner Brothers lot she wins an Oscar for Mildred Pierce.

"Your tear glands must be connected to your bladder." - Bette Davis

The battle is on!

But, it is a short-lived battle as the careers of both starts to wane.  Davis heads to New York to star in Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana to stretch her acting wings. Joan Crawford visits her backstage and tells her about the book, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Crawford argues that it will serve as the perfect comeback for the both of them.

Davis agrees to do the film and the fight is on.

Odalys Nanin has produced and directed a truly remarkable funfest. It was fun for the actors, and fun for the audience as well. It is one of those plays that you can leave your troubles at home and come to the theatre to watch two female characters snatch each other bald headed.  And they go at each other with the filming of Baby Jane.

L-R C. Stephen Foster, Therese McLaughlin, Michael Taylor - Joel Turrisi - Photo 

C. Stephen Foster as Bette Davis is remarkable and does a great impersonation.  True to her nature, she stays in character throughout while her counterpart breaks the fourth wall.  Foster has great comic timing.  This is a marvelous performance, funny, and wickedly charming.   And the fascinating thing about Foster’s performance is watching Davis as an “actress” who is constantly working on her craft. She is able to listen as well as take ideas. That’s what makes Foster’s work fascinating to watch. It takes a lot of acting chops to recognize this and to perform it as well.  Also, Foster is the author of the book, Awakening The Actor Within.  Please look for it at www.awakeningtheactorwithin.com

Michael Taylor Gray is equally funny as Joan Crawford. As the character, Crawford is definitely the personality and not the actress. She is always so exquisitely polite to her fans, always late, and so immaculately dressed with shoulders pads out to “there” but try as she might she doesn’t quite have the acting chops of her competitor and co-star. The things she does to get ready for a scene are really funny, particularly when she is in shadow against a blue backdrop in the scenes of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?   Another comical aspect is when Crawford, on numerous occasions, breaks the fourth wall to make her point with an audience member. It is a connect with the audience which you don’t see often and it is hilarious!

Therese McLaughlin as Hedda Hopper is wonderful as well. In character, she keeps us up to date with the goings on of these two stars.  But McLaughlin is remarkable in what she does on stage to keeps the two civil toward each other and to maintain good relationships with both. There is also a wonderful scene where Hedda has had enough and she wants the low-down on the movie and will not take no for an answer. She wants the truth and will not let go.  It is a remarkable scene by an equally remarkable actor.  

Jeanne Carr, the Hedda Hopper alternate, did not perform on this night.

There are a lot of remarkable things in Darrin Hagen’s play. It is a laugh fest from beginning to end. Drawing quotes from these two must have been a pleasing exercise.  

The lights and set is by John Toom.  The stage manager is Carey Dunn. And the publicist is Nora Feldman.

Run and take an actor who has been bitch slapped too many times to count.

Extented, once again, through July 15, 2012

Reservations:  323-960-7724

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Closeness of the Horizon – by Richard Martin Hirsch

By Joe Straw

The year nineteen hundred and sixty nine was a year of change.  Not only change for me but change in the lives of millions of people across the United States.  In hindsight, the changes in our nation seemed to have little effect in my tiny community of Clarksville, Tennessee.  But there was much going on, the moonwalk, Woodstock, the breakup signs coming from The Beatles, and Vietnam.   

Growing up in a military town in the south, it was common to hear a voice over the school loud speakers asking that we pray for a family member – a soldier, a hero, the father of six children, killed in Somewhere Nang, Vietnam.  This was a daily occurrence. And these announcements, even though we did not realize it, changed the enthusiastic mood of our day, the lives of our people, and the good hearts of a nation. And whether we liked it or not, someone was thinking that pushing us in that direction was making us a better nation.   

So, everything about attending a performance of this play seemed right: the time, the astronauts, the moon landing, Woodstock, and Walter Cronkite.

Coffeehouse Productions presents a world premiere play The Closeness of The Horizon by Richard Martin Hirsch and directed by Darin Anthony as a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre.

The first thing one notices when entering the theatre at the Odyssey is the wonderful Scenic Design by Tom Buderwitz.  The visuals of 1969 are plastered on the proscenium arch, which serves to mentally transport the observer back to that period.  The moon, upstage right center, is a focal point with the wonderful stars of the Milky Way behind the moon.   The pleasing Lighting Designer, Leigh Allen, does a very nice job conveying the mood by changing the colors of the moon.

But first, there are two sentences on the front of the program, which caught my attention.  

“True friendship is a journey.” and “There is no roadmap.” 

I believe the first sentence is true but the second one is blatantly false.   There is a roadmap but one has to open ones eyes and read the map.  And there’s no napping along the way when you’re holding the map to true friendship.

In my heart of hearts, I believe this is the point Hirsch is trying to make.  That everyone needs to open his or her eyes and recognize the truth in establishing friendships and to work hard at keeping those friendships.      

So what happens?

The play starts as a simple man stands in front of his destiny, the mirror, and contemplates the tie he should wear to his friend’s funeral. Rather than settling on the blue tie, he decides not to go.  In reality this is not a good testament to a friendship.   

Flashback to 1969 when three friends, two players of a city championship high school basketball team and one manager, embark on a trip across the country in a beat up VW van. Gary “G” (Daniel Kash), the driver of the van, Paul (Bruce Nozick) on the passenger’s side, and Stein (David Starzyk) are taking a leisurely tour cross-country. The first stop from the westside of Los Angeles is the Grand Canyon. 

But, on the way to the Grand Canyon they run out of gas.  (The gas meter is not working correctly.) G and Paul go for help and leave Stein with the van to contemplate his eating and waste habits. *

Later Stein, holding the map, falls asleep and they overshoot The Grand Canyon by a hundred miles. It is on this night, July 20, 1969 when earth is scheduled to hear the uplifting message from Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon.  This is the night they listen to the voices of optimism of a can do spirit. And it is on this journey they bond like no other friends, playing pick up basketball games, and making some change along the way.   

Cut to 1995, present day.  Paul takes it upon himself to visit G who is very ill and in a wheelchair.  His future is not at all promising.

G’s wife, Nissa (Mandy June Turpin), tells Paul not to expect much but asks him to stay with Gary while she runs out for errands.  And when she wheels him into the living room he looks worst than expected.  Nissa hands Paul a bowl of Cheetos and asks him to feed Gary.  

Paul’s interaction with G is rather awkward and he has questions for which he needs answers but G has trouble communicating.

“We were like brothers.” – Paul

Paul does not want to feed G Cheetos. He has no tolerance for helping the infirmed, best friend or not.  He is frustrated that he cannot communicate with G. Paul is mad that G did not bother to pick up the phone and call him over the years even though they lived minutes from each other!  And he’s angry that G refused to accept his business proposition. Paul’s anger builds and culminates in his kicking G’s wheelchair, which throws G into convulsions.

Paul doesn’t know what to do.  He screams for help and holds G. Then we cut to black and moments later, we learn that G has died.  Nice work Paul!

So now there are two things Paul might want to carry with him into the next scene, the mystery of why G didn’t call and his guilt for just killing his best friend.  And there is a third reason which comes later.  

But, meanwhile Paul is having a casual conversation with his wife, Annie (Shauna Bloom), about “G”’s death and there is a huge disconnect from the prior scene. When Paul wants to know why G never called him, Annie suggest that maybe the Nissa encouraged G to abandon the relationship.

 (Editor’s note: There is something else going on here.  We know it.  It’s in the writing.  We are just not seeing it.)

Annie is a very loving wife and does a lot to keep physically fit.  And she does this for Paul because she wants more of a life with Paul.  But Paul, discarding his attractive wife, only takes notice of the purple water Annie drinks for hydration and even dismisses G’s death.

Paul has a dream of an astronaut walking on the moon and not kicking up dust. (Possibly Paul should kick up a little dust.)

“People go their ways” - Stein

Later at the funeral Stein gives G’s eulogy.  It has heart but little emotion.  Paul was a no show. Again, is this the sign of a true friend?

Stein and Paul meet later in a restaurant and they discuss the reasons why G never called him.  But they quickly get off that conversation and talk about the flavored colored high-energy sports drink with which he wants Stein’s involvement. This scene is remarkable and well worth the price of admission.  

“I want my future back!” – Paul

So Paul is obsessed with the high-energy drink, feels his business life is going nowhere, and wants his business future back.  But at what cost?

There are some truly wonderful moments in Richard Martin Hirsch’s play; overall it was a pleasant experience. I’ve never been a huge fan of flashbacks.  For the most part, they are a disturbing interruption to the narrative as a whole. Also, moving back in time 25 years, and have the actors play those roles in youthful exaggerated expressions leaves a creative unsatisfied feeling. But, that’s just me. Also I found the astronaut scenes to be somewhat disconnected from the rest of the play and could not find the relationship to the play as a whole.  

But, I would really like to speak to the acting and the intentions of the actors in this write up. One could say this was opening weekend and maybe things have settled down enough in the play to be wonderful today.   For the actors, time in general, and in this setting, is very limited and one makes the best of limitations to try his or her best.   

Bruce Nozick as Paul is madly in love with a woman and it’s not with his wife.  In order for this play to work we need to see this. Instead we get a man who is ambilivant about the other woman, more concerned with his sports drink, and really doesn’t care about his best friend.  For the sake of 1969 and “free love

,” he should be tearing this other’s woman’s clothes off. (In a manner of speaking.) Then this entire play makes sense.  Still Nozick does a very nice job.

Shauna Bloom as Annie plays the loving wife.  She has everything she wants with the exception of her husband.  She wants him to drop his new business and she wants the two of them to live off the money they’ve made from their prior business ventures and fly to Africa.  They’ve worked hard and she’s earned the trip. But when she finds out of her husband’s infidelity she slips into a depression of sorts.  If she really wants him, she has to fight to the bitter end. One is not sure that happened. Also, changing the costume in the ending scene would give her a stronger look and more able to fight the better fight.

David Starzyk as Stein does some outstanding work especially in the restaurant scene. It seems to be the perfect fit for a man of his talent and works on many levels, backstory, current story and future story.  This was a remarkable job of a character that has lived this life, sees the humor, and does the best he can given his physical accomplishments. Also Starzyk as Stein recognizes the complexities of all relationships and lets those friendships run it true course in his haimish ways.

Daniel Kash as G did a fine job.  As the character, G needs more work to shore up the relationship with his best friend.  Actually he needs a moment that establishes an unbreakable friendship. As a basketball coach, this character should be better developed. But there is a reason why G does not want Paul over to his house, which we discover later. And we should know the minute that he is wheeled in what’s on his mind, the hatred he feels for someone whom he trusted and who has ruined his life and his relationship with his wife.

Mandy June Turpin is fine as Nissa.  As the character, she is a puzzling creature.  In 1969, she is G’s boyfriend but she is also infatuated with Paul and kisses him. G sees her kissing Paul. So many years later when Paul comes to her rescue, she should throw herself all over him. Instead she plays it so cool, it’s hard to determine if there was any relationship.  Also she should be pushing her husband to accept the sporting goods business opportunity that Paul is offering if only to be nearer to Paul. Because in reality, she doesn’t want G, she wants Paul and the harder she pushes for that objective, the moments work better for the play. The night I saw it, she was confused and confusion doesn’t drive a character’s motive. Still, there were some grand moments that worked effectively.  Keep those moments and get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work.

Darin Anthony as the director does a fine job. There are a lot of remarkable moments in this production.  Still the relationships need to be strengthened and defined. Paul’s relationship to Nissa, Annie’s relationship to Paul, and G’s relationship to Nissa. And while we are at it, it is extremely important to have these three guys bond in ways that cement their relationship forever.  If it means playing basketball while saying dialogue, so be it. I’m not sure those moments are defined.

Take a friend who lived these times.

*(Editors note:  Stein’s character is based on Chris Marlowe, a basketball standout from the Pacific Palisades high School 1969 basketball championship team, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist, and a play by play announcer for the Denver Nuggets.)  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

pool (no water) – By Mark Ravenhill

By Joe Straw

The Flight Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood is a second story walkup, a long pleasant walkup.  Slightly winded (I’ve got to get to a gym), the Flight Theatre is behind the brown office-like door.  Going inside the theatre, I found it to be a marvelous quaint space and very user friendly.  

As we wait for the performance to start, I examine the photographs projected onto the wall. This is a fascinating glimpse into something that could be routine: photographs that are mirrored images projected side by side.  But, as you stare at the images, the image on the right may appear beautiful while the same image inverted looks disturbing, rather freakish, and simply out of place. Fascinating! And it’s a matter of perspective.

pool (no water), written by Mark Ravenhill and directed by Dave Barton, is a very quirky show, which I enjoyed immensely.  There is nudity, profanity, disturbing images, and adult situations so don’t bring children, still there is something here for the adult family. Through June 17th 2012, pool (no water) is produced by 22 Players for Monkey Wrench Collective.

The actors are artists or characters that act on extreme emotions.  They don’t have names only perspectives of what they are feeling and how they react to given circumstances.  

The play is about The Artist (Jessica Lamprinos) who is semi-successful and has a lot of friends who are also artists (although not as successful).  They are the hangers on.  Think Andy Warhol and his minions.

“Thank you for looking after Sally”

Sally, a member of the group, was a friend to the The Artist and the rest of the group. The group watched as Sally dies a painful and horrible death.

“Sally is gone and I could do nothing.  And death is big and we are small.”

The Artist didn’t care and wasn’t there.  Sally’s carcass was stone cold before The Artist arrived.  But The Artist wasn’t like the others, she was cold and aloof.  Some say she breaths cold and aloof. Silently, the others blamed her for Sally’s death. Well okay, maybe not, but there was a stare.  There was a cold and icy stare and was directed to the one that neglected Sally.  But, they were all equals, all artists, one for all and all for one.

“We all cared so passionately.”

And as The Artist, she uses that experience to garner fame and fortune. And with this fame and fortune, The Artist manages to sell a lot of art and is able to acquire a home with a pool.   One can’t help but think there is a slight expression of jealously, that everyone cared, that everyone felt something for one of his or her own, and yet The Artist gets all of the glory.

Nevertheless, everyone wishes The Artist success but that is not enough.  She wants to wallow in her fame and fortune. And she wants to share her success with everyone, especially her dear, dear, dear small and loyal friends. She invites them over to her house.  And they get there anyway they can, just to be with her and to experience her new pool and palms tress, and the beautiful air.  And it’s all so lovey dovey.  They hug, and hug, and hug some more, and get re-acquainted.

But as the night wears on The Artist, feeling the party is getting a little boring, gets everyone to join her to skinny dip in the pool.  Everyone thinks this is a marvelous idea and they begin to take off their clothes. When everyone is completely naked, The Artist proceeds to christen the pool and dives in.  

They hear what could only be describing as a splat, a crack, and a thud.

They creep up to the edge to see The Artist lying on the bottom of the pool (no water).  And so The Artist lies there, quiet at first. Someone notices a “slight stream of piss” coming from her body. And they just look at her at the bottom of the pool, not knowing what to do, who to call. They run around like chickens with their heads cut off.

“I’m sorry that you have to suffer.  I’m sorry there’s this pain.”

Someone finally calls the paramedics and they all rush to the hospital to be with her. And they stay with her, all wringing their hands frantically; being with her is the most important thing.  After all, they are artists, if she dies with them at her bedside, then they can tell the world they were there and they might be enriched by the whole experience!

Unfortunately, The Artist survives. This is not a good thing for them. There has to be a dead body for the living to become famous.

But wait a minute.  They are artists and they know how to create.  Someone has a camera.  They start taking pictures of The Artist being unconscious in bed and in various uncompromising positions, licking, touching, inserting, breaking, tonging, feeling, opening and closing her legs and with the idea they are making art.

All of the photographs are arranged around her until The Artist awakes and she has a reaction to the art that is her unconscious self in the state of bruises and broken bones.     

This is a fantastic play by Mark Ravenhill.  The characters have an inner monologue that they express to give a definitive truth.  They express the obvious, how they feel and why they feel. It is this exploration of truth, the boldness of expression, and the willingness to say what one feels without recriminations from ballsy accusations.  Art only comes through the exploration of the unknown until it becomes known.  That is the reason that I flat out enjoyed the play.  Everyone has his or her own perspective and that perspective is creatively explored.

This plays has many ways it can be performed and the director Dave Barton has given us only a glimpse of an idea of what he needs.  There are many more layers that the characters need to flesh out to make their objectives more specific and clear. Each individual performer has an art to express, that expression needs to be clear, and not waste time getting there.  Simply put, clean up the art, make it explicit, and express the art to move the play along.

Oddly enough, in The New York Times review of this play only five characters are mentioned. This, possibly different, version of the play has 11 characters.

In any case, there may have been too many artists to allow for each artist to be specific in their own genre. Each requires a clear definition of who they are and what purpose their art moves the story or expression along.   There is a lot of truth in their dialogue but how is their dialogue expressed through the physical expression of their art?

Peter Balgoyen wears kid-like clothes. His character of choice is Pikachu, with red shorts and white suspenders.

Christopher Basile wears the small skirt and shirt that says, “Eat my Fuck”.  Don’t know what that mean, but okay, he’s an artist.

Jessica Lamprinos, The Artist, has a sincere insincerity look on her face.  The double air kiss on the non-existent cheek, the “I’m holier than thou”, I love you but keep your distance, and here I am, an artist at work, seemed to work effectively.  I loved her expressive video on the website!

Terri Mowrey did some very nice work in the black poke dotted dress.

Alexander Price is in the plaid shorts and green glasses. Not really sure what he is all about but I liked his performance nevertheless.

Keith Bennett is in the coveralls.  Farm art?  I don’t know.

Sean Engard is in the yellow pants and blue leather jacket.  His art can be defined as something to do with computers and lights and dances to the gyrations of his own self-gratification.  Not a bad thing for an artist, but how does it move the play along?  

Bryan Jennings is the fitness instructor wearing the blue spotted jacket and spotted pants.  His art is his body and the money he can make from teaching others to get their body fit, for a price of course.

Jeffrey Kieviet is wearing a shirt with a woman’s face on it that appears to say “My Ruin”.  He has a very nice look.

Melita Ann Sagar has on the black dress, with nude leggings, red shoes, and cleavage showing.  She has a very interesting look and there were a lot of sincere emotions in her performance.  I liked her work and she has a wonderful face for film and television.

Cynthia Ryanen is in the red sweater and green pants and is not afraid to give it her all. This was a terrific performance and very enjoyable.  

Heather Enriquez did the Costume Design. Angela Ann Lopez did a nice job as the Choreographer.  Jeremy Bug Ojeda was the Lighting Designer. Jody J. Reeves was the Stage Manager. David Scaglione was the Scenic Designer and Eric A. Wahl was the Video Designer.   

Go take a friend whose art is temporarily stymied.

Reservations:  800-838-3006



Monday, May 21, 2012

Café Vida – by Lisa Loomer

L-R Magaly La Voz De Orto, Lynette Alfaro

By Joe Straw

This was the night of the super moon, May 5th, 2012, Cinco de Mayo, and a wonderful night to witness a very special show, Café Vida.

I’ve had the opportunity to hear Father Gregory Boyle speak in the past.  Looking at him, you wouldn’t know he is a priest. He seems just an ordinary guy, slightly overweight, with a manicured beard, modestly dressed, and appearing to have stepped out of a Land’s End catalogue. On this particular day, he is speaking to our church about his book “Tattoos on the Heart:  The Power of Boundless Compassion”. 

Father Boyle starts slowly about the book, about his mission, and finding the way.  He has us laughing and crying before the lecture is finished. He is a simple man, with a simple message, and that message is about helping human beings in trouble, and finding the way.  This play takes its inspiration from Father Boyle, Homeboy Industries and Homegirl Cafe.

The Latino Theater Company presents a Cornerstone Theater Company production as part of The Hunger Cycle (nine world-premiere plays about hunger, justice and food equity issues.) created in partnership with Homeboy Industries and Homegirl Café.  Café Vida is written by Lisa Loomer and directed by Michael John Carcés.

Over the speakers, the audience is hushed with the soft sounds of the city, increasing in volume the closer we arrive at our opening destination.  These are the sounds we have come to expect in the city of Los Angeles. It is the awakening of a great metropolis that never really closes its eyes and rest.

There is simplicity in the stage design by Nephelie Andonyadis.  The set is three downtown Los Angeles storefronts, which, at times, are open with the jarring noise from rolling security grilles. The irritating noise is an entrance and an exit for those going to work.  And the opening of those storefronts are a constant reminder, this is something we need to do to survive.

Chabela (Lynette Alfaro) is no different as the door rolls open and she hops on the bus for a two-hour bus ride to look for work.

Behind her is her guardian angel Singer (Magaly La Voz De Oro) watching her moves and singing the song of loneliness and desperation in finding a new way of life.  And it is on this day, Chabela describes her life behind bars, the life she hopes to leave behind, and the new life she hopes to find in the city.

Chabela’s life has not been a bed of roses but she needs a job, period.  She meets with her prospective employer, Father Tim (Peter Howard). He is rather stern with his applicants.  His words to her are threefold – leave your gang life outside of the business of Café Vida, no drugs, and everyone starts at the bottom.

Chabela has ideas of immediately becoming a chef at Café Vida but gets a pleasant surprise when she is handed a broom and told to sweep.  And she is also told that she will be doing this for the next seven weeks.

Across the room, Chabela sees Luz (Sue Montoya), a girl from another gang, doesn’t like her and keeps an eye on her every move, but avoids her because Chabela wants her kids back from her aunt and her abusive uncle.  

Luz also has a guardian angel (Page Leong) that watches out and cares for her except at McDonalds where she cannot get a happy meal with a toy.

“If it ain’t got no toy, it ain’t a happy meal.” – Luz

Meanwhile Chabela, in a half way house, is visited by Eddie (Jesse Gamboa), her out-of-work and drug-addicted boyfriend, who swears that he’s getting a job, although it’s been six years since he’s had a job.  They renew acquaintances, he gives her a hickey, and Chabela is suspended from her job.  Nice work Eddie!

Shaun (Amanda Duns), the gardener, teaches Chabela, Luz and the others how to make compost, and from this compost, they are able to grow their own food to feed the patrons of the restaurant.

One gets a wonderful sensation from teaching another how to grow food and feed their families. The cumulus weight of hunger and poverty leads human beings to do the unimaginable.  Teaching the art of providing food for your family gives in so many ways.  

This is a play about taking the small steps that lead to giant leaps in helping humanity. Taking steps to provide for our families and friends is an honorable quest.

Lisa Loomer’s play has a lot of heart and one can’t help but cheer at the final outcome, not because all of their problems have been solved but, because the characters finally take the small steps.  Loomer’s play teaches and informs. The characters struggle to find a way and they overcome the obstacles in a not-so-grand fashion.  But, this not-so-grand fashion has everyone standing and cheering for the message of hope in the final scene. It is a marvelous moment and a wonderful way to end the show.

Lynette Alfaro is splendid as Chabela. She has an innate connection to the audience that is quite fascinating. There is so much to her life and she manages to bring all of that onto the stage.  There is so much heart to witness here and so little time to observe it all. It is touching to see her as a very appreciative cast member at curtain call.

Sue Montoya plays the other homegirl, Luz. Montoya brings with her an unmistakable honesty that carries her throughout the play.

L-R, Andre Hollins, Lynette Alfaro, Page Leong

Page Leong plays a variety of roles and in each she is absolutely marvelous.  She is extremely funny as the stress Facilitator, ditsy as the Tourist, and inspiring as Luz’s guardian angel. Leong was wonderful to watch and a master at what she does.

Magaly La Voz De Oro was the other guardian angel who has a very powerful voice and a very nice presence.

Andre Hollins plays multiple characters and has got a magnificent presence on stage.  His tourist had a nice southern accent, which was quite different from the character DJ, the angry guy in the group. And he did quite well in the other roles. Hollins works at Homeboy Industries but I mistook him as one of the professional Cornerstone actors in the cast.  He did a very nice job and was wonderful to watch.

Jesse Gamboa is Eddie, boyfriend to Chabela. As the character, this short stalking tattooed character is ruthless even pulling a gun in one scene, threating to kill Chabela, and then telling her: “I forgive you.”

Shishir Kurup as El Maiz was wonderful in the role.  As the character, one would suspect him as being a homeless man.  But, it is a deceptive characterization, as he is a man with a wealth of information even if his actions are slightly misguided.

Felipe Nieto as the character Rafi needs one thing, and one thing only.  And until he gets it, we will never hear the end of it from him. It is a funny and charming performance.

Peter Howard did a nice job as Father Tim. As the character, there is a backstory to his presence on stage and he brings it with him as part of that character.  This is a life that is not a bed or roses but has its rewards in moments of life that play out in grand multiple colors.    

Bahni Turpin was excellent in a number of roles: the cashier at McDonalds, Dolores, and Olivia.  These roles were very simple in nature and very well executed and keep the play moving along nicely. Turpin has a quiet calm about her and did a very fine job.

Also rounding out the cast were Maria Cano as Ines, Onna S. Cooper Jr. in various roles, Amanda Duns as Shaun, Veronica Duran as Gaby, Jeanette Godoy as Daisy, Maria Gonzales as Sandra, Bianca Molina as Jennifer, Pita Montellano, Daniel Penilla, Gloria Alicia Tinajero, and Natalie Venegas as Lola.  All were professional and contributed mightily to the night.

Michael John Garcés did a fine job with the direction. This is an ensemble of professional actors as well as actors learning their craft.  The show was not without it rough patches but maybe that’s what makes the night inspirational, engrossing, and enjoyable.

Also there are a number of behind the scenes production personnel that, without them, the production would not have come to fruition.  The are Joel Veenstra, Production Manager, Juliette Carrillo, Dramaturg, Edgar Landa, Fight Choreography, Bruno Louchouarn, Music Director, Sean T. Cawelti, Props Artisan, MC Earl, Production Assistant, Lili Lakich Studio, Cafe Vida Neon Sign Designer, Marie A. Growden, Assistant Costume Designer, April Metcalf, Tattoo and Make-Up Artist, Sara Nishida, Assistant Lighting Designer, David Crawford, Assistant Sound Designer, Wayne Nakasone, Technical Director, Marie Stair, Draper, Tanya Apuya Wardrobe Mistress, Amanda Merci FcFaline, Wardrobe Crew, Josh Greening, Light Board Operator, Ivan Robles, Sound Board Operator, Will Lidderdale, The Set Shop, Set Construction, Adrian Lazalde, Lighting Design Apprentice, Kedar S. Lawrence, Backstage Crew Lead, Orsy Jerez, Backstage Crew Member, and Laretta Young, Production Management Intern.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Re-Animator The Musical – Music and Lyrics by Mark Nutter – Book by Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon & William J. Norris, Adapted from the stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Based on the Film “H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator” produced by Brian Yuzna.

L - R Graham Skipper, Jesse Merlin

By Joe Straw

In the mid-eighties, I went into a movie theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Back then; the low-budget movie houses were near Vine Street.  This particular movie theatre showing Re-Animator had a door handle that was sticky, the carpet tattered, and the first three seats I tried had some bolt issues that made the seats, not viable.   

I knew what I was getting myself into with Re-Animator. I had seen the trailers and was ready for what this movie was going to give me.  Those were the days when I went to see many non-mainstream pictures just to get a taste of something that wasn’t “Hollywood”.  It was a quirky horror film with a wonderful score by Richard Band.  The score, by the way, was eerily familiar to Bernard Hermann’s score in Psycho.  It was a terrific experience.

Earlier last year, Re-Animator The Musical had been playing out in the valley to great reviews. I wanted to go see it then but I learned that George Wendt was no longer in it, so I let it fall by the wayside. George Wendt is back and so is the show now playing at the 300 seats Hayworth Theatre near MacArthur Park on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles.

Red Hen Productions and The Schramm Group LLC presents Re-Animator The Musical - Music and Lyrics by Mark Nutter and directed by Stuart Gordon on a limited run through July 8th 2012.

There’s plenty of street parking, if one gets there early enough, and I do.  I noticed, as I turned the corner, that La Fonda is next to the theatre.  And anyone wanting a liquid refreshment before or after the show is more than welcomed.

One of the strangest sights in Los Angeles is an extended line of patrons outside a theatre waiting to see a live presentation.  This seems to be an exciting trend these days.  There were a number of people waiting to get their tickets at the beautiful Hayworth Theatre.  And you could tell by the vibes that everyone was excited to be there.

The night starts off eerily. I get to the ticket window and something is wrong.  My name is not on the list.  The nice person at the booth checks my credentials, my press pass, measures the size of my head, and notices the length of my fingers.  He gives me two tickets and tells me to move along,  (Note: me being overly dramatic.)

As I’m waiting in the very small lobby, everyone is inching ahead of me, moving closer to the theater door, more insistent than usual. The bartender says we can take our drinks into the theatre and the guy grilling the hot dogs in the lobby has a very sinister look as he watches the dogs slowly turn.  And it all so slightly uncomfortable, bodies crammed in this tiny lobby, brushing against each other, and me discretely placing my hands on my own personal non-discreet places. Finally they let us in.

There was a mad rush for the first three rows of seats, covered (by the way) with plastic bags.  Those rows are the SPLATTER ZONE!  And if you think you’re safe in the fourth row, think again!  During the course of the show, the audience is splattered with blood, brains, vomit, various forms of body excrement, as well as the excretion of human emotions.

The audience ate it all up. (Without ingesting, of course.)

The musical is similar to the movie, except with music and no nudity in the final scene.  

The play opens in Switzerland where Herbert West (Graham Skipper), a medical student, is in the final stages of injecting Dr. Gruber (Mark Beltzman) with the re-animation formula to bring him back to life. But as luck would have it, life didn’t work out as intended. Dr. Gruber’s eyes pop out of his head, for reasons not entirely explained, and he falls dead.  Herbert West is arrested and taken away.

Back in the United States, at the Miskatonic Medical School in Arkham, Massachusetts, Dan Cain (Chris L. McKenna), a medical student, feverously tries to revive a patient. Frantically Dr. Harrod (Cynthia Carle) administers the paddles to restart a non-functioning heart.  But it’s too late – flatline.  Still Dan Cain tries until Dr. Harrod and the rest of the team breaks out into song, “She’s Dead, Dan; Dan, She’s Dead.”

Dan takes the body down to the morgue guarded by Mace (Marlon Grace) who doesn’t know why they need a guard because:

 “nobody wants in and ain’t nobody gettin’ out.”Mace

Well, that remains to be seen.

While in the morgue, Dan runs into Dean Halsey (George Wendt) who introduces him to Herbert West (Graham Skipper).  Halsey says Dan is one of Miskatonic’s brightest students but West is not impressed.

Dr. Hill (Jesse Merlin) is there as well and when Dean Halsey tells him that West worked with Dr. Gruber, Hill is immediately suspicious of the bright young student. West provocatively tells Dr. Hill that he is familiar with his work, calls it inferior, and suggests that he plagiarized a lot of Dr. Gruber’s work. 

Again, there is a nice little song about plagiarism.

Later that night, in a nice bedroom scene, Dan is making love to Megan Halsey (Rachel Avery) when his cat, Rufus, interrupts them.  Undeterred in his nightly objective, Dan wants Megan to live with him but, being Dean Halsey’s daughter, Megan has her reputation to uphold. 

We learn that Dan is having financial troubles getting through medical school and needs someone to share costs. His troubles are solved when Herbert West answers his notice for a roommate.  

The first thing West wants to know is if the house has a basement.  He desires and wishes to have a basement like all mad scientists who must have a space away from the prying eyes to conduct his experiments.  Megan thinks West moving in is a bad idea but once West sees the basement he falls in love and presents Dan with cash.  Not to look a gift horse in the mouth Dan accepts the cash.

The next day, Dr. Hill, in his altiloquent ways, instructs the class in the fine art of removing a brain.  With the contents removed from the skull, he has an assistant pass the brain to the front row of the audience.  West does not appreciate the lecture.  In fact, he breaks pencils as Dr. West makes the audacious “six to twelve minute” remarks.

“Mr. West I suggest you get yourself a pen!” – Dr. Hill

Later that night, Dean Halsey has dinner with Dr. Hill, Megan and Dan to discuss the success of Miskatonic Medical School.  It seems that Dr. Hill is deeply fascinated with Megan despite the fact that she is dating Dan.  It is all so very creepy when he breaks into song about his deep, deep, deep admiration for Megan, eyes slit and lecherous. Megan, politely, runs the heck out of the room.

Later when Dan and Megan are studying, Megan notices that Rufus is gone.  And when she finds Rufus, he is dead in Herbert West’s refrigerator. Caught in the act, West concocts a story about the cat dying and preserving it until he has a chance to tell Dan that it’s dead.  Megan accuses him of killing the cat and Dean wants to know why he didn’t call or write a note with the news.

“What would the note say: Cat dead, details later?” – Herbert West

Later, awaken by an ugly cat scream in the middle of the night Dan grabs a bat.  The noise coming from the basement is excruciating and when Dan gets there Rufus attacks Herbert West. Dan takes the baseball bat and breaks Rufus back, killing the cat once again.  

Dan is confused and wants answers, which West provides. He can bring the dead back to life with the re-animation glowing serum. Dan is excited about the discovery and reads the notes. 

So they work to bring Rufus back to life. 

“Don’t expect it to tango.  It has a broken back.” – Herbert West.

So excited are they about the re-animation discovery that Dan, West, and Rufus, with broken back and all, break into song, And although re-animated cats don’t sing well, well not really in tune, it is a hilarious number and a highlight of the evening.

This is a wonderful show with a wonderful cast, each giving 110%, in an extremely physical show.  Looking back on it, the show is a compilation of various movies.  One can see Love Story, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Dracula, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and The Bride of Frankenstein all rolled into one finely crafted musical.

L - R Rachael Avery, Chris L. McKenna 

Rachael Avery as Megan Halsey has an exquisite charm and a very capable singing voice. She bats off the suitors with unmistakable charm. Avery is quite delightful in the role as she takes everything in stride.

Chris L. McKenna plays Dan Cain.  As the character, Dan loves his job and wants everyone to live a normal productive life and, given the opportunity, he will help. It is part of his nature. When he becomes part of the re-animation process, he is excited about the idea and wants it to develop into something that will help mankind, assuming he can work out the bugs.  McKenna has a nice look and does a very nice job.  

Jesse Merlin as Dr. Hill has an extremely nice baritone voice that he uses effectively without going overboard. As the character, Dr. Hill tries his best to secure the hand of his love and he goes to extremes to get her.  Even when he loses his head, he can’t get her out of his head. It is a delightful performance and a creepy one to boot.

Graham Skipper plays Herbert West.  From the moment he steps out onto the stage, there is something very sinister and mesmerizing about him. He both provokes and cowers as situations unfold.  He is headstrong and unwilling to bend in any direction other than the direction he is going.  He is a conniving and charming man all in one breath.  His performance is wonderful.

L - R Jesse Merlin, George Wendt 

George Wendt as Dean Halsey is very charming.  He is also one heck of a trouper.  After an unfortunate turn of events, he is bludgeoned, has his fingers bitten off, carried off on a gurney, re-animated, and then placed in a straight jacket for rest of the show. You’ve got to love that commitment to the craft. He also plays the Swiss Doctor in drag. There's a lot of terrific work going on here some subtle and some very theatrical but all enjoyable.

Also the supporting characters were inspiring in bringing Re-Animation The Musical creation to life.

Mark Beltzman plays Dr. Gruber and a corpse who gets re-animated and has his insides turned inside out to the delight of the audience.

Cynthia Carle is very good as the sardonic Dr. Harrod.  She also provided the Choreography.

Brian Gillespie plays the Swiss Policeman and other characters as well.

Marlon Grace plays the guard Mace. It’s unclear if the beard adds to the character and, if it does, he should find a way to use it.  Still, he did a nice job.

Liesel Hanson plays the nurse and a member of the chorus and Tyler Milliron is also a member of the chorus.  

Stuart Gordon the director/Book/Producer does an incredible job keeping the action moving and the players doing what they need to do.  It is funny, charming, and very entertaining. Still, about three quarters of the way through, I thought the show needed one more thing to lift it to another level. What?  I’m not sure. This is a show that will delight off-Broadway audiences but is it ready to make the leap? Well, there’s always that possibility.

The Music and Lyrics by Mark Nutter were very clever, funny, and wonderful to listen to.     

Peter Adams did a fine job with the Music Direction and Arrangements. The Special Effects by John Buechler, Tom Devlin, Tony Doublin, Greg McDougall, and John Naulin were incredible, very satisfying, and at times hilarious.

Andy Garfield created the Sound Design.  The Lighting Design was by Paul Gentry. Laura Fine Hawkes was the Scenic Designer. The wonderful props were by Jeff Rack. Brian P. Kennedy and David O were the Musicians but I only saw one musician on stage.  Joe Kucharski was the Costume Designer.
Re-Animator The Musical – Music and Lyrics by Mark Nutter – Book by Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon & William J. Norris, Adapted from the stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Based on the Film “H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator” produced by Brian Yuzna is a wonderful show and fun for the whole family, especially if your family is slightly offbeat.

Gary Blumsack is the Artistic Director and Danna Hyams is the Producing Director and both are listed in the credits as Presenters at the Hayworth Theatre. 

This was a wonderful night of theatre and on the way out, there were keychain body parts for sale in the small lobby.  What a way to end the night.

Run!  Take a friend who use to love Sir Cecil Creep, your master of terrormonies, on late night TV. And when you come, don't forget to bring your head.  

Reservations:  323-960-4442

Online Ticketing:  www.plays411.com/reanimator

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Camp Logan by Celeste Bedford Walker

L - R Bill Lee Brown, Dorian Christian Baucum, Dwain A. Perry, Sammie Wayne IV, Kaylon Hunt 

By Joe Straw

Forty years ago (when I was, a kid), I was at the dedication of the “Nuts” Museum in Bastogne Belgium. And, in a particular ceremony, a man in his forties with his head down, walked to the podium to tell his story.  His hands were thick and calloused. He said he was a farmer and he told us about his farm life in 1944 before the allied invasion. His job was to plow and he was told to plow lots and lots of open fields.  One day far off in the distance he said he heard planes. Suddenly he started to break.  Unable to get the story out, he stopped to control his emotions. He heard the planes, watched the men fall, parachutes open, and they crowded the sky in a wide blanket of green.   He smiled as he watched thousands of soldiers falling and then he said he started weeping uncontrollably because he knew that liberation was near.   

The Robey Theatre Company, Ben Guillory, Producing Artistic Director in association with Sparkling City Entertainment, Ju Vee Productions, and The Latino Theatre Company present the west coast premiere of Camp Logan written by Celeste Bedford Walker and directed by Alex Morris.

This finely produced presentation of Camp Logan has a lot to say about the military, African American soldiers of the 24th United States Infantry Regiment, and the way they were treated during the onset of the Great War.

Looking at the Set Design of Camp Logan by Rodney Rincon & Phil Buono, one realizes this is a monster of a show.  A lot of work and fine details went into the recreation of the look, circa 1917. The Costume Design by Naila A. Sanders, and the Property Master and Set Furnishings by Vanessa Paul were incredible and very much worth the price of admission.

Also, upon entering the theatre, the set has a very distinctive odor of manliness, canvas, sweat, dirt and mud all drenched in the fabric of things we’ve come to know as the military.

The play begins, somewhat hap hazardously, on this particular night.  As the men are introduced to their new home in Camp Logan, the captain provides instructions to the men on how to conduct themselves according to their code of honor while on leave from the base.  But the problems on this particular night is that Captain Zuelke’s  (Jacob Sidney) dialogue is lost due to the noise and chatter coming from back stage and/or through the sound system and making it difficult to understand the introduction of the play. (Hopefully this problem has resolved itself.)

The admonished men are dismissed and fall into their bunks and get to know their surroundings, and as they do, they pour liquor and talk about the things they hope to accomplish. And they get into heated arguments about being in the military, going to France, and fighting the good fight.  They do not believe their war is with the segregated south or in Texas.  They want to earn the respect of their nation by fighting overseas and coming home heroes.

Joe Moses (Bill Lee Brown) seems the oldest of the group.  His ways are set and he challenges those who are not tolerant of colored GIs.  He is constantly crossing the racial boundaries set by white society. When he leave base, he’s reprimanded for not abiding by the racist rules of Houston Texas. When he’s on base, he’s reprimanded for confronting the white construction workers for dumping the water from the colored barrel.

Gweely Brown (Sammie Wayne) is a man who’s going to enjoy his time on earth no matter what the white man says. Pour him another and get out of the way seems to be his motto.

Boogaloosa (Dorian C. Baucum) is a military man first and an entertainer second. He holds a trumpet like it’s his baby but one is not convinced if this is his first love, second love, or 80th love.

Robert Franciscus (Dwain A. Perry) is an acting MP but the locals will not let him carry a sidearm because they don’t want the military challenging their authority and they especially do not want colored military men carrying guns in their God-fearing and racist town.

Hardin (Kaylon Hunt) is the youngest of the group.  He grew up in Minnesota and was educated there.  He has a belief that segregation will soon end and that things will work out soon as blacks take the opportunities to educate themselves.

The other guys laugh at him.

Sgt. McKinney (Lee Stansberry) catches a whiff of liquor as marches into the tent with a sack and demands the bottles from the men.  Boogaloosa pulls out five of six bottles in a moment that seems endless but still manages to keep one bottle for himself.

Sgt. McKinney will have none of this.  He practices the art of teetotalism.   His career of 22 years is riding on this deployment and he does not want anything to go wrong at this camp.  Still he defends his troops to Captain Zuelke.

Jacob Sidney

Captain Zuelke, white, is not happy with this assignment.  He wants to keep the white establishment in town happy, including sending his men out in blackface to entertain the whites. He is not a West Pointer and does not think his career will go beyond a certain level. He is crestfallen and wants to make the best of it in this dusty old Texas town. But there are problems when he finds out his men are being harassed into fights and seemingly edging into “white folks” territory but no matter he’s stolen enough liquor from his men and he’s got enough chewing tobacco to keep him numb for the duration of his stay in the pleasant town of Houston.  

After a short amount of time, the 24th Infantry Regiment has worn out its welcome and tensions in town between the white locals and the black soldiers escalate out of control.  Hardin is witness to a murder and tensions flare even higher.

The Robey Theatre Company does some really fine work and Camp Logan is a very fine production. But it could use a little tune up, a little sprucing if you will.  And while I’m at it, I might as well throw in my two-cents worth.

While the actors did fine job, I want to see the group emerge as a cohesive fighting force.  This particular group needed more training, at least in the sense of a fighting unit, and a regiment that knows what the others are thinking.  More marching, more fighting, more cleaning rifles, more of everything that a fighting unit does in order to give the show extra backstory. And while we might not agree with everything they do on stage, in the end they should be the force that watches out for each other and protect each other with all their might.

No man’s path is the same, and no man’s objective is the same, still each has a sincere want, a goal, a need in life.  So, it is my belief, that everyone wants to get to France. But they need to find a way to get there. This is no small task considering what they must endure. But France is a goal any man could relate to, fine wine, Paris, and beautiful women who grow plentiful, like grapes on the vine. The men speak about France, and getting recognition, so why not have this be the through line and make this play about an army unit getting to France.  The men’s objectives are achieved by their persistent and passionate pursuit. This may sound a little silly but with minor adjustment the play will soar beyond reasonable expectations as it should and as it is capable.

Celeste Bedford Walker, the playwright, has written a remarkable play that deep down plays like Chekov’s Three Sisters. The sisters all have the desire to get to Moscow but in the end they never get there. Maybe this is putting a simplistic tone to this wonderful play. Camp Logan is what theatre is supposed to be, to enlighten and entertain, and to give us a perspective that no one else speaks about.  This play does enlighten us on many levels and tells us there is more than one side to every story.

Dorian C. Baucum as Boogaloosa has a very distinct look about him.   His character is from Louisiana, a Creole background, and there is this thing in his character that sends him off the deep edge at times.  In a quiet moment, he goes off, in a voodoo-like sensory trance affected by some kind of stimuli, and saved by his best friend. It is a wonderful moment and a terrific performance.  But, find a way to make to the trumpet work or drop it.

Bill Lee Brown as Joe Moses was excellent. He pushed a lot of boundaries to get where he wants to be as a respected man. Unfortunately, given the circumstances, this was not going to get him to France anytime soon. Still he lets life get in the way and there’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s all the in the pursuit of an excellent characterization.

Kaylon Hunt as Hardin has a very interesting look and manner about him. He somewhat falls in line with his own personality for this performance, young and articulate, and capable of going to an extreme.  As the character, when they take him out to get “laid,” he doesn’t come back a changed man. Also, he makes a big mistake about describing the death of a soldier, and he never comes to the realization of what he has caused. And in the end, the kid must insist upon taking up the fight.  He must get his gun, his bullets, his bible, and whatever it takes until someone stops him.  There must be someone left to tell the story and he does have a story to tell in the end.  

Dwain A. Perry as Robert Franciscus does a nice job. He is a man who tries to keep the peace.  But his peace is interrupted when he tries to take control of a misunderstanding and finds himself on the other end of a beating.  Rather than being beaten, he suddenly becomes a man who wants revenge and does not think too clearly.

Lee Stansberry as Sgt. McKinney stands up for his men - plain and simple.  But when he finds out his orders, what the Captain has in store for the men, he takes the bull by the horns and adds fuel to the fire. He dreams are destroyed, his life has no future, and he’s not letting his fighting men be cut down without putting up a fight.   He loves his men so much that he is willing to die for them. Stansberry’s work was exceptional and he can add a little more military to his character without hurting his already fine performance.

Jacob Sidney as Captain Zuelke did a nice job.  This is a role that requires more mistakes—mistakes in character, in deed, and trust.  Here is a man who cares nothing for his men.  He is there to scratch out a living, do his time, and get out while the getting is good.  But it’s never going to get good, that’s why he stuck out in Bumscrew, TX, getting drunk, and harassing his men. And while he chewing tobacco, dark spit should be flying everywhere, in the can, on the desk, and on his shoe. In the end, despite his mistakes, he gets one thing right, but it’s far too late.

Sammie Wayne as Gweely Brown has a very nice moment when he stands center stage and tells his story.  It is a poignant moment and nicely done, but he needs to be clear in his objective.  At times he seems to grasp for words during the course of the performance. He's done most of the work now he needs to find his path and shoot straight through the clearing. Still, there were moments when there was a sincere truth to his performance when the words are clear and his intentions are strong and that was a beautiful thing.  

Alex Morris, the director, is a tremendous actor at The Robey Theatre Company and this is his directorial debut. There are a lot of nice things in this production. Missing in this production is a sense of one for all and all for one - us against the white world out there.  One of the men steals a sign that says “no coloreds or dogs” and brings it back to the tent. He does little with the sign. That man should stand on the bunk and hold it up for all to see and react.  This would be a moment to bring them all together make them one unit. Also, we never got a sense the town was breathing down their neck, that they were just outside the door, that our men would do anything to keep them out, and the things we do on stage right before we go offstage to meet our historical challenge. The backstory was missing, the men’s backstory, the citizen’s backstory, and the Captain’s backstory.  There is a lot of bickering and fighting during the course of the performance but when the going get tough, the men should stand together and fight. Still these are only minor problem to a wonderful production.

L-R Lee Stansberry, Sammie Wayne IV, Bill Lee Brown, Dwain A. Perry, Dorian Christian Baucum, Kaylon Hunt

The wonderful Producers were Vanessa Paul, Julius Tennon, and Viola Davis. Ben Guillory is the Producing Artistic Director of The Robey Theatre Company.  The Sound Designer was Eric Butler and the fabulous Costumer Designer was Naila A. Sanders. 

Karen McDonald the Choreographer gave us a delightful soft shoe on stage. 

Run!  And take a friend who likes to witness another version of history that is not often told.