Friday, August 24, 2012

All Your Hard Work by Miles Brandman

Michael Grant Terry and Amy K. Harmon
By Joe Straw

After parking near Gold’s Gym I walked over to the place that is the Lillian Theatre.  I noticed the sign up above a garage door or loading dock-looking thing. It was closed and there was no entryway.

Am I in the right place?  Well I must be, there’s somebody sitting on a stoop, who is, by appearance, waiting for something to happen, or open, or do.  There is a latch on the door so the darn thing must flip up like a garage door. It must. It must. But, is this the theatre?

Coming early to theatre one sees the most unusual things.

And when the door rolled open, The Lillian Theatre was showcased in all of its glory and was quite charming.  Reminds me of Grandma’s home – in a way – nice and cozy with a porch like setting.  

Time to get to work – twitter – Facebook, etc., but there’s no AT&T access there.

I’m told if I move my phone doing figure eights I get something. I end up looking foolish. All this hard work and nothing’s working.

And now the porch is slightly uncomfortable.  I’m constantly moving my six foot six frame so that others can walk around me.  Taping on the keys, moving and sending without success is driving me up the wall.

And it seems those who love the theatre smoke cigarettes, and they love to smoke outside, near the porch, and that smokes waifs into the lobby. My eyes start watering and I can’t see to type.  So, I’m hot from the heat, coughing from the smoke and water is pouring out of my eyes.  I’m working really hard to stay calm. (And why do smokers all wear black?)

Brimmer St. Theatre Company presents All Your Hard Work by Miles Brandman and directed by Michael Matthews.  It is a World Premiere Play running through August 25, 2012 at the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood.

The play is a smooth extended ninety minute one act, polished and glossy, with just enough sex and tight fitted clothing to keep a person extremely interested and stimulated.   

Mary Ellen (Amy K. Harmon) is a stunning creature with feathered earrings, tan high heel shoes and a salmon see through skintight dress, which stops mid-calf on her smooth legs.  She has decided to meet a man she had known in college nine years ago, Jim (Michael Grant Terry).  (That makes them in their late twenties or early thirties.)

Before Mary Ellen lets Jim into her studio apartment, she tells him to wait outside.  Jim anticipates in the darkness, while Mary Ellen scurries around her apartment neatening things, not just a few things but lots of things, clothes, food, books, magazines, takeout, everything.

One suspects that she did not anticipate him coming back to her apartment at all.

When things are tidied up she allows him to come into her studio.

Right off the bat they are extremely nervous.  Jim purposefully has a ring on his finger.  And Mary Ellen purrs about the apartment offering Jim a drink and taking mental notes of his casual body language.

Their conversation drifts back to the days when they worked for the school newspaper.  He was the editor and she a staff writer. Each had dreams of becoming famous reporter. Their journey, in that direction, was not satisfied.   

Jim is working a job in a place he likes a lot.  He has an American Express Sky Blue card (with an $85.00 annual fee).  And Jim has a modest home that required a $50,000 down payment, a wife, and a small son.

Mary Ellen is working 12 hours a day for Urban Outfitters.  And she is a little jealous that he has a home, and a ring on his finger, and a wife.  Still they remember a wonderful moment in the stairwell, at school, without a condom.

“So the wife is in house, and you’re here.” – Mary Ellen

Jim tells her he travels to 15 cities and he was in this town (not Atlanta) and decided to call her and get reacquainted.

“Fifteen cities. Girls in 15 cities? You could get into trouble for this.” – Mary Ellen

“I want to be married.” – Jim (emphasis on the want as in I like the commitment of being married)

“Am I the kind of girl men don’t want to marry? – Mary Ellen

Still he is there, he takes off his shoes and doesn’t appear to be leaving.  And she has something on him, something painful, something that will cause much distress in his life and his marriage. He is not aware of the information she is about to divulge, but appears to be slightly curious.

By that same token Jim has some information he would like to share with Mary Ellen.

By the end of the night their conflict takes the life out of this emotionally exhausted couple until they are a mass of quivering flesh and mixed up human passions.  And yet he leaves hoping she will take the final step. Hoping the spark of this night lights a flame of action.  Love and desperation play funny games.

Michael Grant Terry and Amy K. Harmon

Amy K. Harmon does some very nice things on stage. She is an exquisite creature that has this slight quirkiness about her. She listens and is reactive to the ongoing conversation that turns into a battle at times. As the character, Mary Ellen, she is forgiving and she wants him but only on her passionate terms. As a former school newspaper reporter, she still hasn’t forgiven him for censuring her piece on the school cafeteria scandal.  She will never forgive him but she will have him in the worst possible way. Or best depending on your perspective. Harmon has a lot of magnificent moments on stage and it is hard to take your eyes off of her.  There was a glimpse of something extra in her character that was unique, totally unexpected, and fascinating to watch during her performance. And she never gives up being a reporter, never. All in all, it was a terrific job.   

Michael Grant Terry as Jim did an exceptional job. He has an all American look that works for him. But, there was something more in his character, an uneasiness, a slight trepidation, and an objective that wouldn’t be known until the final moments of the play.  It is all so fascinating. His character is also not truthful or forthcoming for that matter. He holds onto things (his inner life) until food or liquor pulls it out of him. Terry has this casualness about him and a spirit of unpredictability.  His scene in the kitchen, finding the food, and cutting the vegetables with extreme precision while being menacing was quite spectacular. And there were some very humorous moments coming out of the bathroom as well. All in all, a very nice intrepretation of a complicated character.

Michael Matthews, as director, did an exceptional job in this production. The early going was very predictable.  But, as the one act moves, the cat and mouse game reached a serious fever pitch.  And as this was theatre in the round, square or octagon, the director had the actors almost in your laps listening to their very private conversation. Matthews made use of the stage and gave the audience an intimate extreme close up of their concatenate lives. 

Emilia Richerson and Dan Gordon are understudies playing Mary Ellen and Jim respectively.

I enjoyed Miles Brandman’s play.  The simplicity and the complexity of the play were delightful.  The players each have a motive that is both mysterious and exciting.  Mary Ellen wants Jim, plain and simple. But she is jealous of his wife, and house, and son.  After all, on closer inspection, her life hasn’t turn out so great living in the studio apartment working twelve hours a day and conflicted about not having those things and worse yet having a married man in her apartment.  And yet Jim is there because he wants, what? Her? Well, maybe he does want her. Or maybe he doesn’t.   Maybe he wants to leave his wife.  I think she thinks so. But, he just wants her for the night. That’s it.  He wants her one night, in the bed on the couch, or on the floor, and then he’s out the door. Love is so cruel. But, he doesn’t want. He wants one thing and one thing only.  This play has a lot of fun to getting to that point.

Stephen Gifford has created a beautiful set.  It is one that actors die for when they work hard to create a beautiful moment.  The set is a beautiful accessory to the moment.

Tim Swiss also does a wonderful job with the lighting.  It is very moody and creative.

Christian Svenson was responsible for the Costume Design.

Cricket S. Meyers did a fine job with the Sound Design. His website is

Other members of this successful crew are Tyler Jenich (Assistant Director), and Rebecca Eisenberg (Stage Manager).

Ken Werther was the Producer of this very fine detailed production. His website is  And Michael Bulger was the Co-Producer.

Run to see this production and take a long lost friend.

It ends tomorrow night but this is a kind of play that actors love.  Go out and buy it (when it becomes available) and have fun performing it in your acting classes.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Elmina’s Kitchen by Kwame Kwei-Armah

Terrell Tilford and Tracey A. Leigh - Photo Ed Kreiger

By Joe Straw

“Bad luck is always just around the corner.” - Deli

From the opening moments of this play, I found myself emotionally caught up in the lives of these exceptional characters.  They are British blacks, of West Indian background, with hopeful dreams but stuck with no way out.

It is, in fact, one of the finest emotional experiences I have had in a long time. The breathtaking dialogue of Kwame Kwei-Armah and the acting from some of the finest actors working in Hollywood today will take you out of your seat and place you right in the middle of their ill-fated concatenate lives. This is a theatrical experience you should not miss.

Also, the start of the second act is heartbreaking.  So, if you like the ride of an emotional roller coaster, this production is for you.

The Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble presents Elmina’s Kitchen written by Kwame Kwei-Armah and directed by Gregg T. Daniel.  This marvelous production is running through September 9th, 2012 and is wonderfully produced by Racquel Lehrman of Theatre Planners at The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles 90036.

“The name Elmina itself is a reference to the infamous Elmina Castle in Ghana, where slaves were bought and sold in the 17th century.” – Dylan Southard (Dramaturg)

The play begins with a mysterious man, in costume, holding a gurkel (a one-string African guitar famed for possessing the power to draw out spirits) in his hand. He spreads a powder onto various places of Elmina’s kitchen and suddenly disappears.

Moments later, the lights open revealing Elmina’s Kitchen, a “one-notch-above-tacky” West Indian restaurant in “Murder Mile” Hackney.  (Hackney is a deprived borough of London noted for being low rent and very creative.)

Digger (Noel Arthur), a putative thug of questionable integrity and daily patron, is reading a British tabloid and making comments not appropriate in Elmina’s dinning room.

Deli (Terrell Tilford), sitting at the counter, turns around and gives us a glimpse of his battered and bruised head.  Still sore, he wants none of this bad language in his fine establishment.   

Digger wants none of his chastisement.

“…why I don’t boo you down and tek my business dere.  Gemme fritter and a Ginness punch.” – Digger

“Please.” – Deli

“What’s wrong wid you today?” – Digger

“Cos I ask you to say please something must be wrong with me?  See my point? You’re ignorant.” – Deli  

After being served, Deli asks for money and there is a slight disagreement.  Digger claims he doesn’t have it.  Deli calls him a low-life.  

“See me and you, we go fall out one-day, you know! I not no low nothin’.” - Digger

Not a good ideal to call “a legitimate businessman” a low-life when that person carries around a gun in his waist and a tech nine in his bag.  And suddenly, Digger pulls out the tech nine and flaunts it as though it were an extension of his lower appendage.

Deli tells him to put it away and answers the phone to take an order.

After the phone call, Digger has some words of advice on how to improve this fine eating establishment starting with the nasty fritter he tried to eat.  Suddenly he gets a call from “rude bwoy,” a sub-contractor from his legitimate business of thuggery.  

Digger operates his business out of a table at Elmina’s Kitchen and Deli lets him stay there because he serves as protection and because he wants to keep up with the sorted lives of the people living in his community. 

Deli and Digger have an interesting relationship. Their verbal exchanges are not a phatic interaction. Mostly they exchange business information. For example, Deli is very intrigued with Spikey’s hair salon across the street that went from one station to 12 in very little time.  Digger implies that Spikey was dealing. 

Digger tells Deli that Spikey was way over his head and that he wanted repayment of his twenty thousand.  He approached Spikey, put a gun to his head, and astonishingly, the man offered his fifteen-year-old daughter as payment.  But Digger nixed that idea as he has his reputation to uphold.

“I told him I’d kill his family across the whole world.  He had my money in five days.” – Digger

Shortly thereafter, Ashley (Aaron Jennings), Deli’s son, comes in with a hoodie and his pants below his “arse”.  Deli frowns upon that sort of style when his son is delivering food. Also, Deli doesn’t like Ashley’s recent haircut, which looks like Zorro took a blade across his head.  Ashley comes back with a banner for Dougie (Deli’s brother) who is being released from prison soon.

But there is tension underneath, Ashley is angry that Roy roughed up his Dad.  And Digger is surprised that Deli, a former boxer, didn’t defend himself.  

When Deli leaves the room, Ashley asks Digger if he can join his ranks.  Digger says, no. Dejected, Ashley, pulls up his pants, takes the food, and makes a delivery.

Moments later, Baygee (Leon Morenzie), an older upscale street vendor and an old family friend, dances into the room after informing everyone that he won ten pounds on the lottery.  To celebrate, he orders a shot of rum.  In his arms, he carries bags of knock off clothing at reduced prices.  He wants little to do with Digger nor does he like Deli’s cooking. He leaves to deliver merchandise with plans to return later.

Shortly thereafter, Anastasia (Tracey A. Leigh) comes into the restaurant.  She looks around, hesitates for a moment, and then blurts out that she is looking for a job. Nevertheless she says the place is a mess and insults Deli’s mother Elmina and her name.   She offers a macaroni pie, a sample of her cooking, as reason to hire her.  

“Cos, girl, you got brass balls coming in here and tell me about my mudder!  People have died for less.” – Deli

Anastasia’s questionable characteristics and her motives for working at Elimina’s Kitchen are also under scrutiny. Digger thinks he’s seen her around the community running with a crack gang.

Suddenly Ashley comes in and reports that Roy is opening up a West Indian restaurant across the street, possibly financed by Digger. Deli is pissed but lets it slide.  In any case, he has forgotten to buy Dougie’s favorite food, plantains, and he rushes out to purchase them.  

While Deli is gone, Ashley tries to cozy up to Digger when he orders a Brandy.

“Na, man.  Dis one’s on da house.” – Ashley

“Did your father authorise you to give anyone anything on da house?” – Digger

“No, but you ain’t any old anyone.” – Digger

“Did your father authorise you to give anyone anything on da house?” – Digger

“No.” – Ashley

This doesn’t stop Ashley from trying to get something going with Digger but Digger knocks him down and tells him if he wants to be a bad man go back to school and learn. Anastasia sees Ashley on the floor and tries to help but Ashley tells her that if she tells anyone that she’s dead.

Deli comes back from shopping and with news that Dougie was killed in prison.

Clifton, their father, returns home to bury his son and the rest of the story becomes the tale of three generations coping with life in England.   (And this is a simplification as their lives are dramatically altered by the miscalculations of their actions in the second act.) 

Noel Arthur and Terrell Tillford - Photo Ed Kreiger

Noel Arthur as Digger gives an incredible performance. Digger is a multi-layered character who is tough, funny, and incredibly smart.  He is a man of moral principles.  He keeps a layer of respectability so that he can manage daily life in England. He is someone you don’t want to cross but he seems to respect the people who stand up to him. It is a character that actors die for and Arthur’s performance soars. This is probably one of the finest performances I’ve seen all year and a performance that no one should miss.   

Terrell Tilford is very mysterious as Deli and that mystery remains until the end of the play. Deli has no loadstar with the exception of the money that he hides in mysterious places. He doesn’t fight back.  He is weary of a woman coming into his life. He lets the problems in his life find him and not the other way around. And problems do find him and it ain’t pretty. So in the end when he does take the initiative, it backfires on him in the worst possible way. Tilford gave a terrific performance but I would love to see more of the boxer in him and would also like to see that part of his life that he carries with him from his time in prison. Still, this was an exceptional job.  

Basil Wallace and Leon Morenzie - Photo Ed Kreiger

Leon Morenzie as Bagee is a wonderful performer. He is a singer and dancer, a bon-vivant task master.   As the character, his work is the way they use to do it in England.  He is a salesman that carries the merchandise wherever he goes. To him, it is an honest living and that living keeps him on the straight and narrow path, aside from the drinking part, and the womanizing, and other things.  Morenzie understands the craft.  He is an actor with an amazing instrument and gives an extremely delightful performance.

Tracey A. Leigh as Anastasia has a wonderful presence and does all the right things to give an incredible performance. I whispered to my partner that she was after the money. “No, she loves him.”  Well, it was a little bit of one and a lot of the other.  As the character, Anastasia has skeletons in her closet and not completely void of trouble. This job may be the only thing she’s got going, aside from making delicious macaroni pie. She is going to make a go of it and get herself on the right path. Her truth lies well below her surface. At this point of her life she does not want to hurt anyone still she searches for the money.  This was a wonderful performance and mysterious in many ways.

Aaron Jennings plays Ashley looking for the easy way out and a nice crisp BMW. He even goes so far to recite incondite rap. He gets in way over his head doing all the wrong things.  Maybe going back to college is not such a bad idea after all. I needed a little more heart in the final scene to add to a very nice performance.

Basil Wallace plays Clifton the patriarch who comes back home to bury his son, Dougie.  Deli calls him “Clifton,” not Dad, and wants to hustle him out the door.  But Clifton has some explaining to do and he feels his son should understand the reasons why he left. Also he wants to make amends and get a little piece of the money that seems to be floating around. Try as he might, he is not successful so he takes another route to destroy things in his son’s life.

June Carryl and Willie C. Carpenter understudy Anastasia and Clifton respectively.

This is the second show I’ve seen in a few months directed by Gregg T. Daniel, Artistic Director of The Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble (See Cobb write-up).  His direction is marvelous and spot-on and the emotions of the night will carry you away to another land with ostentatious satisfaction.  The actors manage a number of accents with incredible dexterity; Jamaican, Grenada, English black and they were all well done. There is a motorcycle written into the play.  I saw the motorcycle near the restrooms (how they got it up to the second floor is another discussion) but didn’t see it during the performance. The Dougie character was not seen but should be strengthened to give us a grand presentation before his early demise.  Possibly the accents threw me in introducing other characters that we also do not see including Roy, Spikey, et al.

This is a wonderful play by Kwame Kwei-Armah, having its West Coast premiere in Los Angeles.  One can just sit back and enjoy the marvelous action and the wonderful characters on stage. The dialogue is so descriptive that it defies comparison.  It rings a special kind of truth to people who are just trying to survive the only way they know how.  This play will take you into the heart of “Murder Mile” Hackney and leave you breathless.

Other founding members of The Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble who are instrumental in bringing this production to Los Angeles are Veralyn Jones, Yvonne Huff and Jason Delane.

Gary Lee Reed, Scenic Designer, did a fabulous job and I especially liked the phone, which made a nice sound when hanging up.

Michael Gend did a great job as the Lighting Designer.

A. Jeffrey Schoenberg was the Costume Designer did a fabulous job.  It just worked.

David B. Marling was the Sound Designer.  A very important job for a lot of the things that are taken for granted.  His website is

Other members who made significant contributions to this production are:

Ameenah Kaplan – Choreographer
Edgar Landa – Fight Choreographer
Deborah Ross-Sullivan – Dialect Coach – Wow!  Was this a tough one?  Wonderful job!
Dylan Southard – Dramaturg
Victoria Watson – Production Stage Manager
Eileen Mack Knight – Casting Director – One of the finest jobs all year.  Simply wonderful!
Nora Feldman – Publicist – Job well done.
Karen Lascaris – Graphic Designer
Sydney A. Mason – LDTE Intern

Run!  And take someone who hasn't gotten their (post Olympic) fill of Jolly Old England.

Reservations: 323-960-4451

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Servant to Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni adapted by Lee Hall

By Joe Straw

Sunday is the day to take my girls to church, and then to lunch, pick up the dry cleaning before they close, do some odds and ends, and then take them home to their mother.

My suggestion, after lunch, was to walk in one of Culver City’s nice shaded parks. But Sophia always grumbles about any form of physical exertion. I convinced her that it would be nice to amble through the park and get some badly needed exercise.

“Only if there are no bugs.” she groused.

Unexpectedly, we came upon Free Theatre in the Park at Dr. Paul Carlson Memorial Park (10400 Braddock Drive in Culver City) where actors were in the second half of "The Odyssey" by Blake Anthony Edwards.  (This show starts at 12:00 noon on the weekends and runs through August 19, 2012.)

My girls and I sat down on the grass, in the cool shade, to watch Ulysses flail his body about on and off the stage.  Not bad and fun.  There were approximately 150 people, mostly in comfortable lawn chairs, and they seemed to enjoy themselves.

I asked the girls if they wanted to see the next show.  They said yes.  The next thing I knew - I had a problem. "A Servant to Two Masters" started in 30 minutes.  And in order to get there (on time) we had to cram a lot of personal stuff in a very short time span.

So, running to the car was the first order of business.  

Overly careful not to get photographed by the Culver City’s automated traffic tickets we zipped over to Cinema Cleaners where there is never a line but on this day tons of people. 

One elderly lady was actually going through each piece of clothing and pointing out the bloodstains on multiple shirts.  The man behind the counter was slowly putting red tape near the blood spots.   

After the lady serial killer was finished we ran to the car, hopped onto Jefferson, to Overland, and over to Yogurtland.  Only enough time to grab the yogurt, and a few (and I mean few) toppings with the assortment of gummy bears, M & Ms, and every other unhealthy thing a child can put to healthy yogurt.

But Yogurtland was crammed with people.  Time was running short.  With little time left we ran a full sprint past L.A. Fitness (weren’t they impressed) through the parking lot to Robeks for the juice that will give you brain freeze on really hot days if your are not careful.  And generally I am not.  

With tops on the juice, and into the hot car, we fly to Braddock, park a block away from the park (always crowded on theatre days) and with two minutes to spare we make it.

L - R James Clark, Christine Breihan, Eric Bilitzer, Faith Streng

Culver City Public Theatre’s Free Theatre in the Park presents A Servant to Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni in a new adaptation by Lee Hall directed by Ron Geren.

The play is set in Venice, California to give it that familiar setting we know and love with the action-taking place in a single day in a room in the house of Pantaloon.

Silvio (Stephen Steelman) is offering his hand in marriage to Clarice (Jessica Plotin).  Clarice, shy at first, has her hand taken by Pantaloon (Eric Billitzer) and presented to Silvio.  Each promises their undying love.

Dr. Lombardi (Dean Figone), Silvio’s father, muses that there is no going back on it.

Smeraldina (Faith Streng), the maidservant, to Clarice wishes her the best and Brighella (Carol Vandergrift) an innkeeper is told that she will have the honor of being a witness to the wedding.

Silvio doesn’t want much only to be near his love Clarice. (Sweet.)

“Yes, that’s the best of all foods”. – Smeraldina

Pantaloon thinks Clarice wedding will be a match made in heaven and it happened rather suddenly.

“…for had it not been for the death of Federigo Rasponi, my correspondence at Torrance, I had promised my daughter to him.”

Uh Oh. Problems.

Clarice was not even introduced to Federigo but she would have married him in obedience to her father. (Even in modern day Venice, CA, go figure.) Perhaps it was better that the groom to be, Federigo, got himself killed. 

His death was a terrible misunderstanding between his sister and another man.  

Brighella knows Federigo and his sister as well.  She spent time with them in “Torrance.”  She says his sister dressed as a woman and rode horseback like a man.  And Federigo loved her more than anyone could love a sister.


Suddenly, there is a knock at the door.  Smeraldina says there is a gentlemen’s servant “who desire to give you a message”.

Truffaldino bursts into the house and says that his master, Federigo Rasponi of Torrance, is downstairs and would like to have a word.

“Away!  You must be mad.  Signor Federigo Rasponi of Torrance is dead.” – Pantaloon

It seems that Truffaldino has recently taken the job of servant all in the hopes of getting food. He is a man of insufficient means and he is hungry. He uses this time to delay the entry of his master in the hopes of acquiring something to eat first and secondly a maiden.

Beatrice swaggers in natty dressed as her brother Federigo Rasponi of Torrance.

Immediately Brighella recognizes her as Beatrice (as does the entire audience for gosh sakes) but no one else on stage does. (Bad eyesight or maybe just being too polite. See Dustin Hoffman reference as Tootsie in earlier reviews.)

So Brighella and Beatrice try to keep things under wraps while Beatrice squeezes the dowry money from Pantaloon and gets away.

Silvio says that Clarice is to be his wife.

“But Frederigo will never consent to take a bride who has given her hand to another.” – Silvio

“Oh, I am not so fastidious.  I will take her in spite of that. (Aside) I mean to have some fun out of this.” – Beatrice (as Federigo)

Meanwhile Truffaldino is outside waiting for his master to come and get him.  By this time he is starving and waiting for someone to give him some money or food, whichever comes first.  He comes upon Florindo (Michael Hovance) wearing a “villain” t-shirt who is unsatisfied with his present servant (also Eric Billitzer), refuses to pay the going rate, and kicks him face first out the door. (Sounds like Romney and Bain Capital.)

“Have you a master now?” – Florindo

“At the moment – to tell the truth, I have not.” -  Truffaldino

“You are without a master?” – Florindo

“You see me, sir.  I am without a master. (Aside) My master is not here, so I tell no lies.” – Truffaldino

So for the sake of getting food Truffaldino hopes to get two salaries and enough money to buy food. But because he is none too bright and has two masters he is constantly at odds with others asking to speak with his master.

Beatrice tries to swindle money, which she thinks is rightfully hers to help her lover.   Silvio fights for his love, Clarice.  Florindo searches in vain for his true love, Beatrice.

There are a lot of wonderful things in this production, a lot of misdirection, and just a whole lot of fun.  The actors worked hard to overcome the noise of planes flying overhead, helicopters, wind, sun, noisy squirrels, and manage to succeed on many levels.

And just because actors are working in plays in the park doesn’t mean they are away from prying eyes.  We’ll find you here too and make notes of your talents and throw them to the winds.

L- R Dean Figone, Eric Bilitzer, Jessica Plotin, Stephen Steelman

James Clark plays Truffaldino.  He has a marvelous voice and an English or Cockney accent that does him well. As the character he is funny but sometimes loses sight of his objective, the food.  The dinning scene needs a lot more work.  Overall, it was a very good performance.

Christine Breihan plays Beatrice/Frederico.  As Frederico she swaggers in as though she has an appendage between her legs and the “reality factor” is at a new low.  But, that said, as Beatrice she was very engaging and committed to her craft, and has a lot of creativity that brings the show to life.  I especially liked the fight scene between her and her antagonist. Overall it was a fantastic job.

Michael Hovance was very capable as Florindo.  He has a nice voice that carries throughout the park. But as the character he was wearing a “villain” T-shirt. This is probably not a good idea as the first reference of a character with which we are not familiar. Oddly enough, from my vantage point, I saw him behind the stage, scrounging for food and water.  He was padding across the grass, going here and there, quietly thinking about his next morsel. Seeing his quest for food backstage I thought he would have made a great Truffaldino.  

Eric Bilitzer plays Pantaloon.  As the character he had a cane, which didn’t do much for the character, didn’t add, probably subtracted from his objective. (What does having the character’s inability to get around have anything to do with his objective?)  Glasses would have been the better crutch, because he couldn’t tell that Frederico was in fact a woman. Possibly an exploration of that character to get to the truth would have served him better.  Also, he is a man of considerable wealth and I didn’t get that at all. There is a lot going on with this character that needs further exploration that involves money, wealth, lawsuits, and so on.

Dean Figone did a good job with Dr. Lombardi.  It worked on a number of levels, the doctor, in a golfing or summer outfit standing up for his son and demanding the marriage be consummated. (Okay, he could have been more demanding.) But also there is something in his character that doesn’t want to take this action to an extreme.   Get the job done but don’t hurt anyone in the process. I liked the performance as the first waiter, a slight Latino or Italian accent?  I couldn’t tell.   Overall, this was a job well done.

Jessica Plotin does a nice job as Clarice.  This is a character one can go to extremes.  She’s in love with Silvio but is betrothed to Federigo.  She has an extremely hard time justifying her love for her future husband and honoring her father. It is a tug of war of sorts, being pushed and pulled ad infinitum. She gave a nice performance but needed a stronger conflict.

Stephen Steelman did a very nice job as Silvio. There were a lot of good things one can carry away from his performance: the fight scene, the argument, the hurt, the loss of a beautiful maiden was all part that made a wonderful characterization. On this particular day a bug, the size of small wallet, flew in front of his face, causing him to improvise.  Still, he did a nice job.

Carol Vandergrift plays Brighella.  Oddly enough the innkeeper was written as a man. Still, she keeps Beatrice a secret for a personal gain.  I’m not sure that gain was realized in the end.

Faith Streng did a nice job as Smeraldina although it is a slightly odd characterization.  She, in fact, is a housekeeper but in actually a servant to Clarice to do Clarice’s bidding.  But didn’t see much of that in her characterization. On stage, she seemed slightly annoyed of having to do anything related to her job.  Still that is her job.  A pouty characterization doesn’t take her anywhere.  Waiting in the wings to come on I notice a vastly different person, beautiful, confident, stunning creature that was somehow diminished the moment she stepped on stage. If marriage is her objective so that she can leave this household she better do everything she can to get herself married to whomever will benefit her in life, the doctor, the master, or any other male worthy of her exciting looks.

Ron Geren directs this play and overall it is a lot of fun. Still with all of the improvisations going on I get the feeling this play takes place over four days and not the one day it is intended to be. The dinning scene was a mess and did not work.  Perhaps this was cleaned up on the following days. The asides work to a degree but what was missing was the depth of the characters, the hurt, the strong objectives, and a stronger focus of the directors through line. The point he wanted to make. It’s not enough to have characters run around on stage they all must have a purpose and a strong desire to carry out purposeful objectives.

Heidi Dotson the President of Culver City Public Theatre and producer says the players have a six week rehearsal period and are required to help out in the mantling and dismantling of the set. They do yeoman’s work for little in return just to work on their craft and possibly have their names mentioned.  

Actors do what they need to do to keep their creative spirit alive.  The Culver City Public Theatre keeps that exciting process going and in turn provides the Culver City community with excellent family friendly theatre.

To date Culver City Public Theatre’s Free Theatre in the Park is terribly underfunded and needs your support.  For more information go to their website at and give generously. 

Also, in The Matchmaker by Thorton Wilder, I saw some terrific performances by Michael Hanna (Cornelius), David Narloch (Malachi Stack) with a wonderful characterization, and Jason Rector (Barnaby) who has a marvelous voice and a very nice look. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I, Caligula an Insanity Musical – Book & Lyrics by Kai Cofer. Music & Orchestrations by Cody Gillette

L to R Dory Schultz, Josh Shaw, Kelly Derouin

By Joe Straw

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to perform in a remount of a musical “Dogfight” written and directed by James Kennedy and produced by Don Grenough at the Fig Tree Theatre in Hollywood.  I had seen Kennedy’s production of “Van Gogh” with Sally Kirkland (it was not bad) so I decided to audition.  The music was pretty good, the tunes were catchy, and Edward James Olmos had originated the role I took, so I thought, why not. (Good for Olmos, good for me.) The cast featured Robert Miano, Kevin Major Howard, Angel Salazar, and an additional cast of wacky characters. This was a musical based on the crazy life of Howard Hughes.  It ran for a couple of months but overall it was not a success.  Some things are not musical material. – The Editor

Nouvelle Adaptation Productions in Association with the Secret Rose Theatre presents the world premier of I, Caligula: an Insanity Musical - Book & Lyrics by Kai Cofer, Music & Orchestrations by Cody Gillette and directed by Kai Cofer. It is playing at the Secret Rose in North Hollywood through August 26, 2012.

First thing I noticed was the singing.  The voices were strong, some better than others, but they were strong.

The musical goes something like this; we are in an insane asylum (Is this politically correct?) or a mental institution with a cast of characters who are completely loony, batty, crazy, and good looking. (Throw in the good.)  There is very little in the way of book and most of the actions are musical tunes that are conducted by someone in his underwear (Cody T. Gillette).

The Director of the Institution tells us they are doing this play as a form of therapy,  (always good), and introduces the cast.  

Caligula (Dory Schultz) looks at himself in the mirror and sings “Don’t call me crazy, don’t call me a loon, All I ever wanted was the moon, the moon.” And strangely this keeps repeating itself throughout the show.

Caligula is dissatisfied with his wife, Cesonia (Elizabeth Harmetz), and wants to marry his sister, Drucilla (Kelly Derouin), who likes to run around almost naked.  So Caligula banishes his wife off to somewhere while he and his sister kill Tiberius.

But the actor playing Tiberius doesn’t make it (typical actor) so the Director (Kevin Dalbey) plays Tiberius.

The Director, in sash and suit, falls into position on the couch and Caligula and Drucilla kill him.

Now Caligula is crowned Emperor of Rome. 

But Cesonia, unhappy with the way things went, resolves to kill Drucilla by feeding her poison grapes. Drucilla dies, very dramatically, I might add, at the ripe old age of 21 and they carry her carcass off to where they bury important Roman people.

“Poison is the most effective weapon in an arsenal of love.” – Cesonia

Distraught Caligula does his best to take over and gets caught up in an orgy much to the dismay of the Director who suggest this is not actually part of the show. As people are undressing, caressing, and molesting each other, the director takes a syringe and injects the actor playing Caligula into reality.  The actor playing Caligula has gone too far.

In theater, you try things and hope for the best. Kai Cofer, the director, gives us an interesting setup, the insane asylum, and hopes the actors and singers call pull this off.  What is missing is the demarcating of reality versus play-acting.  For example, the Director looks and acts like one of the crazies so we are not really sure if he is staff or one of the loonies.  Better to give him a true position of authority and put him in the audience complete with table applauding the actors and blocking their movement on stage. The Director’s time may be better suited off stage.  Also, this play needs more humor  and a lighter touch. 

Cody T. Gillette, as the Composer, Music Director, and lastly a character—the Orchestrator did a nice job keeping the night going.  Some things may need to be (or not to be) cut.  His Orchestrator character was effective and wacky. More gel on the hair, please.

Elizabeth Harmetz, Carissa Gipprich, Josh Shaw, E. Scott Levin

Dory Schultz plays Caligula.  He has a very nice voice.  As far as characterization, this is a difficult one.  He is a man in an asylum, playing a man who is certifiably crazy, but there is not a grand distinction between the two.

Elizabeth Harmetz plays Cesonia.  She also has a terrific voice and has a better feel for the character.

Josh Shaw play Skipio.  I was confused about his purpose in the play but again he has a nice voice and a nice look. 

E. Scott Levin plays Marco.  He has a very nice baritone voice, a rich character, and a very nice presence on stage.

Kelly Derouin as Drucilla ran around the stage in a bikini all night, partially because her character likes to wear little clothing or no clothing at all.  She has a wonderful smile and a beautiful voice. But looked liked her face was sunburned so I wasn’t really sure if it was part of the character or if she is rehearsing someplace where there is a lot of sun. Still she did a terrific job.

Kevin Dalbey plays the Director and Tiberius has got to give us two defined characters.  The Director must be in control.  He should get off the stage and when off stage, he must do something that actively directs this production.  We must know that he is a doctor first and a director second.

Carrissa Lynn Gipprich plays Nurse.  She was funny.  I liked the scene where she hops out on stage completely tied up.  Nice job.

Meredith Overcash plays Halicon also has a nice voice, a very nice look, and looks the part of a very pale, almost white, person in an insane asylum.

A lot of hard work went into this production.  Still, there’s room for improvement.  

The crew member were:

Heather Lipson Bell – Choreographer
Kelly Derouin – Dance Captain
Nora Feldman – Publicity
Laura Coker – Box Office
Florence Canicave – Graphics Design
Chris Canicave – Website Design

Go and take someone who likes bugged out whacky musicals!

Reservation: 323-822-7898

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Paris Letter by Jon Robin Baitz

Dan Sykes, Alex Parker - Photo Sherry Netherland 

By Joe Straw

“My story is of Sandy Sonnenberg.  He is my subject.  Sandy, son of Judah, grandson of Sholem, Isaac, and so on; an ancient family of money lenders going back hundreds of years to the very beginnings of eastern European ghettos.  The line ends with him.  And I am going to tell the story as if we were great, good, old friends.” – Anton

And yes, Anton Kilgallen (Lloyd Pedersen) does tell the tale as though they were great friends, or does he?

The Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre presents The Paris Letter by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Jules Aaron. It is a terrific show for adults with adult themes.  This well-written play seduces us to appreciate the complexities of the human mind when it is tormented by accumulated years of personal treachery.

The story begins in February 2001. A thirty-something Burt Sarris (Alex Parker) and a sixtyish Sandy Sonnenberg (Larry Eisenberg) are kissing in a hysterical embrace. It is one last fling of kissing, or fighting, and/or tearing at each other’s clothes.  But something is wrong.

Through dialogue, we learn that Sandy is completely confused about the where-a-bouts of the money he invested with Burt’s “boutique” investment house. Hundreds of million of dollars are lost in Enron-type trades.  Sandy is responsible to his investors and he feels betrayed by a “three-card-monte hustling, arriviste faggot”.

Burt tells Sandy that the money lost is in Burt’s name and that his name will be ruined in the press. 

Sandy, so infatuated with Burt, he forgets to hew to the ways of the previous money-lenders in his family. Still, he has a plan to pay back his investors.  As for Burt, Sandy suggests that his only way out is to kill himself, which he does. Sandy then gets on a plane for France on a “quick fiduciary recovery mission” leaving his wife and friend behind.

Walking out from the shadow of this tragic event and into a light, Anton tells us a little something about his life and how he befriended this sordid cast of characters.

Anton’s life has been his restaurant business.  And through his connection with Sandy and his wife, this life is now in shambles.   

“I put my life savings into the place, and it seemed safe enough, there was a solid and loyal clientele and a bottom line. (Beat) I lost my life savings in the debacle.” – Anton  

But how did this happen?

Moving back and forth in time, we venture back to 1998 where everyone is sitting down to a late night dinner discussing the President’s involvement in a very nasty extra-marital affair.

“He had a weakness.  Which was exploited by unscrupulous people; yes.  But. Acting on those appetites made him terribly vulnerable, and therefore made us less safe.” – Sandy

It is a line that comes back to haunt Sandy.

Katie Arlen—Sandy’s wife (Julia Silverman), Sam—Katie’s son (Dan Sykes), Burt, Sandy, and Anton seem to agree that if the President had just said “I’m sorry,” the story would have been over.

As the night of heavy drinking takes its toll, Sandy’s wandering eyes envelops every inch of Burt’s alluring physique. Sandy reaches across the table to caresses Burt’s hand in remembrance of a moment not so long ago. 

The wine or Sandy’s predilection blurs the division of a sexual partner and/or an investment partner.    Natheless, Sandy is wary of moving hundreds of million of dollars to someone that he has known for a few short Monday nights.  But when Burt mentions “The Sonnenberg Fund for Education,” Sandy is hooked.

Lloyd Pedersen, Larry Eisenberg - Photo Sherry Netherland

Later that week, Anton meets his compeer and trusted friend Sandy for dinner to discuss the millions Sandy is responsible for, his infatuation with Burt, and his wife.

“Do you discuss this with Katie ever?  Our shared history?” – Sandy

“That we had an affair in 1962?  Please?  It’s a joke, it’s an actual joke, really, and an old one.  Why do you ask?” – Anton

“Oh come on – it was not an affair, it was too brief to be an affair, it was somewhere in the vicinity of a minor blip on the Kinsey scale.” - Sandy

“So to speak.” – Anton

Anton seems to understand Sandy.  And Anton knows Sandy’s history with therapy did not turn out well and reminds Sandy that his life is spinning out of control.  But Anton’s apotropaic words of wisdom lead Sandy in the opposite direction and into the young arms of Burt Sarris.

Going back in time to November 1962, Young Sandy (Dan Sykes) enters the apartment of Young Anton (Alex Parker).  Young Anton bides his time but is clearly the aggressor in this relationship.  Young Sandy is confused about his sexuality and waits for the inevitable sexual encounter.  And after the small talk, they begin a relationship that lasts four months – just four months, November 1962 through February 1963.

Anton muses that Young Sandy was in love with him and Young Sandy was living in hell.

Later, a mystified Young Sandy seeks the help Dr. Moritz Schiffman (also play by Larry Eisenberg) about turning his sexuality around.  In his first session, Young Sandy describes a sexual encounter with an older camp counselor.  Young Sandy believes that should anyone find out about the encounter, it would shut the door to his life.  When Young Sandy tells Dr. Schiffman about the money, power and influences of his father, Dr. Schiffman believes Young Sandy needs to see him five times a week.

Dan Sykes, Paul Cady, Julia Silverman - Photo Sherry Netherland

Young Sandy has a problem of paying for these treatments so he has lunch with his mother, Lillian (also Julia Silverman), at Anton’s restaurant, Le Singe D’Or. As she consumes her multiple “Old Fashions” with umbrellas, Lillian observes the flamboyant things on the wall and the men who visit the restaurant. It is obvious that Lillian understands Sandy’s persuasions.

“Darling.  I want you to be happy, I don’t care what you do, be happy.” – Lillian

To help Sandy in the quest for happiness, Lillian gives him jewelry to pay for psychoanalysis. And with enough money in hand and an excited psychoanalyst in tow, Sandy leaves Anton for greener pastures.

This is the second time I’ve been to The Lonny Chapman Theatre and I am impressed by the actors’ commitment to the craft. This is a marvelous ensemble in a wonderful play.

There are a lot of things to discuss when leaving the theatre and plays like this are open to interpretation. Right or wrong, I’ll toss my interpretations out there and you can give your reactions below.

This production has one tiny problem; it is a character trait, a choice created by the director or actor, an action that takes over siginificant moments. Perhaps it is a minor point and maybe I’m making a big deal about this one.  But I will get to this later.

Sandy Sonnenberg and Dr. Moritz Schiffman are both played by Larry Eisenberg.   Sonnenberg, even as an adult, is still confused about his sexuality. He has worked on this his entire life and his confusion leads him in terrible directions and to disturbing actions. It is a part of life for which he is never able to reconcile and causing a state of breathless confusion when confronted with challenging issues.  Eisenberg does a fine job as Sonnenberg although he seems too physical at times yet without making a dramatic physical connection, a connection that changes the relationship. Eisenberg also plays Dr. Moritz Schiffman, a doctor who is excited to learn about young male’s sexual awakening. Eisenberg is terrific, as Sandy, but the Schiffman character needs further exploration.  It is open to too many interpretations considering the character’s objective. Obviously money is one objective but this doctor wants to change a gay man into a straight man for his book.  He must be very excited about this prospect and the prospect of documenting his findings.   

Lloyd Pedersen as Anton Kilgallen has an interesting characterization. Think Jack Benny in drag, no, just think Jack Benny. He says he will tell the story as though they were great friends but telling us doesn’t mean he must stick to those words. Throughout this piece, he is constantly battered by the emotions of his friend who is gay one minute and straight the next. In the end, he has lost so much that he doesn’t blink and yet he must be a very tortured soul.  With that background, he has a reason for doing what he feels he must do and taking what he must to get back his life. His actions are horrific but he doesn’t bat an eye.  He tells his story with flair and nuance but without the pain of those moments that cumulatively lead him to do the dastardly deed.  Still Pedersen does a lot of good work.

Alex Parker does a fine job as Burt Sarris.  As the character, he is so young and so sure of himself while doing things he knows he must not do.  He will stop at nothing to take your money and give it to the rich.  As the character Young Anton, Parker shines.  His voice is strong and his physical movements are precise.  As the Young Anton, he literally takes the bull by the horns and plows his way into his misguided partner’s life. Parker gives an excellent performance as Sarris and as Young Anton.

Dan Sykes has dual roles as Sam and Young Sandy. As Sam the stepson, his performance is very nuanced and wonderful to watch especially the dinner scene when his stepfather slights him by not pouring him wine. As Young Sandy, his nerves are completely on edge.  He is ambivalent about having a long-term sexual relationship with another man and suddenly finding himself in his apartment without clothes and filled with shame. Sykes gives a tremendous performance.   

Julia Silverman is fantastic as Lillian Sonnenberg.  The scene in the restaurant is just terrific as the mother to Young Sandy.  She is loving and gentle, giving, and understanding of her son’s plight.  She is specific in her desires and gets what she wants for the sake of love. As Katie Arlen, she has many wonderful moments but is missing the pain of having to endure the philandering ways of her husband. The hurt does not appear to be that great, or deep, and it must be. Also, I believe (in the giving away scene) that the information she receives should be the first time she has heard it. Still, Silverman creates a fantastic physical and emotional life in both characters.  She is wonderful to watch.  

Paul Cady as the waiter was a crowd pleaser.

Jules Aaron, the director, did a fine job with production and there are a lot of great things in this presentation. The problem I mentioned is of a character trait, an inhaler that was used to help Sandy when he was out of breath.  The inhaler takes over a scene when we should be concerned with the words and how those words change or affects the relationship. Dramatic social intercourse should not be interrupted by the use of a crutch (the inhaler). Sandy says some really hateful things and the inhaler becomes the reactor and not the actor.  When we see him pull out the inhaler, two things come to mind: does the actor physically need this? And is it specific to the scene?  The inhaler throws things slightly off in the play. It is said the inhaler ties the two characters as one in the same person but we already know it’s the same.  Sandy is not a hard name to forget.

Also, the scene with Sandy and Schiffman at the end of the first act needed work to propel the audience into the second act.  It doesn’t lead us anywhere and, on this night, it did not move us in a specific direction.

One more thing we need to know definitively is that Anton has witnessed the murder.  It makes things clearer.

John Robin Baitz, the writer, did not the write the inhaler in his play. But what he did write is pretty awesome and deserves your undivided attention. I generally do not like flashbacks but this play gained momentum as we journeyed back and forth in time in a way that was fascinating.  

Chris Winfield’s Set Design is very effective with sliding doors that give us a peek at the nicely decorated rooms.  The sets could have been a little more downstage and a little more connected with the audience.

Other members of this crew are:

Sherry Netherland – Assistant Director & Program
Patrick Burke – Producer For The Group Rep
Matias Ponce – Stage Manager
J. Kent Inasy – Lighting Design
Liz Nankin – Costume Design (Also a very nice job with the costumes.)
Steve Shaw – Sound Design
Max Kinberg – Original Music
Jimmy Ogburn – Lightboard
Michele Bernath – Prop Mistress
Emily Doyle, Heliana Martinez – Running Crew
Nora Feldman – Public Relations
Dough Haverty art & soul design – Graphic Design

Run to see the production and take someone who thinks they may be misguided.

Through September 2, 2012

Reservations: 818-763-5990