Sunday, September 23, 2012

Collected Stories by Donald Margulies

Natalie Sutherland & April Lang

By Joe Straw

Pat Conroy is a great American novelist.  And his fictionalized novels have upset quite a few people, mostly members of his family, and others surrounding him. (Okay, everyone he knows.) 

After Conroy published The Great Santini, his grandmother cut ties. For her, the truth hit too close to home. She was offended by the portrayal of her son—Conroy’s father, even though it was toned down and fictionalized.

Nevertheless, the collected truth smarts like the sting from a yellow jacket.  

There is something about Collected Stories written by Donald Margulies, directed by Terri Hanauer, and presented by Langland Productions at the Odyssey Theatre,  that is richly satisfying.  Watching two intelligent people discussing the craft of writing, and observing these writers grow after each lesson, is something to behold and fascinating to watch.    

But, with all the love displayed about the room, I believe there is deeper level to this play.  Something very sinister emerges involving a devious character that has an underlying subconscious objective.  This objective is eventually realized resulting in a very tragic emotional ending.  

The play begins in September 1990 in Greenwich Village.   Ruth Steiner (April Lang), a noted novelist and professor, is quietly having a piece of mondel bread and sipping on a cup of tea.  She waits for a sound outside her apartment knowing that it will be a student arriving for a tutorial. Amid the sounds of the noisy street below, she hears that student yelling.  Lisa Morrison, (Natalie Sutherland), is three floors below looking for a way into Ruth's apartment building.

Ruth opens the window, tells her the buzzer doesn’t work, and throws down her key so that Lisa can let herself in.

Unfortunately there is a problem now. Ruth cannot close the window and the cold September air breezes into the room.

In the meantime, Lisa runs up the three flights of stairs, lets herself in, and takes over the job of closing the window.  And like a makeshift surgeon, Lisa asks for a screwdriver but is handed a spatula to get the job done.   

“You’re Lisa? – Ruth

“Yes…? – Lisa

“Lisa Morrison?” – Ruth

“Uh-huh?” – Lisa

“You wrote “Eating Between Meals”?” – Ruth

Ruth stares at her believing this can’t be the person. She expects someone different: a mousy brunet with bad hair. She says Lisa doesn’t look like her story and she is hardly ever wrong.  

In any case, Ruth offers her something to drink.  Lisa says she would love a cup of coffee.  The trouble is there is only tea and only one choice, English Breakfast.

As the tea is being made Lisa looks at Ruth’s library and finds a story collection by Delmore Schwartz “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”.  In the book, she discovers an envelope from Delmore Schwartz.

“Oh my God!  Is this letter really from Delmore Schwartz himself?” – Lisa

“Put that back, please.” – Ruth

Suddenly, the phone starts to ring and Ruth doesn’t bother to pick it up which drives Lisa bonkers as they sit down for tea and mondel bread, (“Jewish biscotti”).  Lisa is sheepish and cowers under the scrutiny of Ruth Steiner’s stare, in her home, having tea, and carrying on an adult conversation.  She heaps on the praise of her work, her apartment and even remembers the vistas the characters observed in her books.

“Being here?, studying with you?  It’s like a religious experience.” – Lisa

Also, Lisa tells her she couldn’t get enough of her literature.  She even went so far as to look up her “uncollected stories” at the library.

With all the praise Ruth can take (and wanting more), she asks Lisa a few questions.

“Where’d you do your undergraduate work?” – Ruth

“In New Jersey?” – Lisa

“Uh, huh.  Where in New Jersey?” – Ruth  

“Princeton?” – Lisa

“Yes, I think I’ve heard of it.” – Ruth

Ruth tells Lisa that it is getting late and they need to work on her story, “Eating Between Meals”.  But Lisa interrupts and asks if she needs a new assistant. Ruth responds that if she’s really interested, she can apply.  But, she warns Lisa that she is a very despotic employer.

Ruth starts the lesson and as a test she asks Lisa to tell her about the character, Jessica in the supermarket. After Lisa’s expressive thoughts, Ruth believes that Lisa has the makings of a promising writer.  She just needs to find her voice.  And speaking of voice Ruth has a problem in the way Lisa communicates. 

“Why do you talk like that?” – Ruth

“Excuse me?” – Lisa

“You have a tendency to add question marks to the ends of declarative sentences. Do you know that?” – Ruth

“Oh, God.” – Lisa   

Eight months later, Lisa is in Ruth’s apartment late one night sorting papers when Ruth comes back from testifying before a house committee for the National Endowment of the Arts. Lisa watched the testimony on C-Span.

Lisa says she heard Ruth tell the story about nearly giving up writing to work for a plumbing company. Ruth confesses to exaggerating for a cause and that startles Lisa. Then, looking around her apartment, Ruth notices that everything has been moved. Ruth is furious that Lisa has moved her stuff and answered her phone calls. Lisa says she is sorry and threatens to leave and actually walks out the door. But Ruth convinces her to come back and have dinner with her.

The play continues over the span of six years as the two exchange stories about their work and the intimate details of their lives. One giving away far too much of her life.

There are marvelous moments in this production of Collected Stories.  The actors did some very fine work and overall the director did a fine job of capturing specific moments in this play. But I have some notes.

Natalie Sutherland & April Lang

April Lang plays Ruth Steiner and does a marvelous job.  She is a beautiful woman with exquisite charm that brings her life experiences to fill the role.  She moves about the stage with great ease and fluidity living in the place that is her home.  (But there was a problem with the first ten minutes of the play as she had her back to me, and others, while speaking to her counterpart. I believe the actor should make an effort to be seen if only to establish the character.  And the actor in rehearsals should emphasize this point.) As the character, Ruth Steiner makes a terrible mistake.  She is so absorbed in her own self-importance that she doesn’t realize that she is giving away the store, that is her life’s experiences. The sharing of ideas is critical in academia and when mentoring someone.  But one should not be giving away a glorious life experienced, especially if that life is to be published. As part of the subconscious life of the character, she should be suspicious of things going on around her. Still, all in all, Lang did a wonderful job in bringing Ruth Steiner to life.

Natalie Sutherland plays Lisa Morrison and brings a nice schoolgirl charm to the role.  As the character she should jump for joy when she finds Delmore Schwartz’s envelope written to her counterpart. Lisa is very ambitious but keeps that ambition mostly under wraps, at least away from the eyes of her mentor. She is also not very forthright in her answers.  She is evasive when she speaks about going to school in New Jersey.  She is cautious and cagey when talking about the piece she published without informing her mentor. Lisa is there under false pretenses grabbing all she can get until she is found out. She is overly ambitious, ruthless, and driven and nothing will stop her from reaching her goal.  Still all this sinister stuff is subject to interpretation (and exaggeration) and one can add extra elements to reach her objective.  Overall Sutherland’s performance was very good and she did some very nice things including a cartwheel. But this performance needed a closeness that was not here on this particular night, a love so close, unbreakable, physically and emotionally.  The final conclusion will be that much more heartbreaking.   

Terri Hanauer directs this fine cast of actors. There was a bit of a problem with the opening and the actor’s back to me.  This is something I don’t quite understand especially considering the professional backgrounds of all involved.  I’m not sure all the bases were covered in this production.  I believe there is another level of deception even if the conflict is somewhat imperceptible. Also, there were moments where intentions and objective did not propel the actors forward toward their goals. This may have been an anomaly on this particular night. Also, a grand opportunity was missed when Lisa did not move the props from one place to the next looking for certain documents or papers.  Instead there are staff that move props between scenes (papers and files) back and forth. (She’s already discovered the book and the letter.) Maybe she is looking for more things.  She certainly seems to be very ambitious and showing us one extra time would not have hurt. Still, despite a few problems, there are a lot of marvelous moments in this production. I could sit and absorb the moments of this play over and over again. 

I loved Donald Margulies’ play.  It is very good read and very clever.  The two characters are in a constant battle, but for what? Superiority?  Supremacy?  The characters battle all night long and the conflict never lets up.  It is not a love fest.  One writer has the youth and ambition to write the great American novel, while the other is possibly running out of steam. Still, both have dreams to build and worlds to conquer.

The show was wonderfully produced by Executive Producer Diane Ladd and Thalia Buitron. Also, Lean Kram served as Executive Producer as well.

Josh Shaw did a tremendous job as Set Designer giving the set a look of a writers enclave. Frida Kahlo half hidden on the bookshelf, Low Dose Bayer aspirin bottle on the desk, the book holding open the window to hear the intruder, and the two chain locks on the door. There are too many details to describe but wonderful items that make up a writers studio. 

Other members of this fantastic crew are as follows:

Carey Dunn – Sound & Lighting Design
Carlos Moreno, Jr. – Production Stage Manager
Jennifer Palumbo – Sound & Lighting Operator
Tom Connolly, Roberto Montesinos, and Will Bowers – Props
Numa Perrier – Publicity & Press Photography
Brian Ali Harding, and Daniel Marin – Graphic Design

Run!  And while you are at it take your professor.

Through October 14th, 2012
Reservations:  310-477-2055

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Bellflower Sessions by Andy Bloch

Stephanie Erb and Rob Nagle - Photo:  JD Murray

By Joe Straw

In the novel “The Stranger” or “The Outsider (l’Etranger)” by Albert Camus, the protagonist Meursault is mentally perceptive of the inner and outer moments of his own lackluster life.  His mother dies (it’s not his fault), he wishes he could love his girlfriend but he doesn’t.  And in the dramatic moment of his life, spot lit under the bright light of a scorching sun, he, indifferently, shoots and kills an Arab man and then, without emotion, fires four more bullet into his lifeless body.

And even in the outrageous act, Meursault is rather indifferent to the life he has just taken.  No, that is not a fair statement.  He is not reacting in the way others want him to react. And, to observers of life, that is just, unethical.

In The Bellflower Sessions we have a man, with idle hands, who is living in the devils' playground.  (Severe unemployment will do that to a man.) And with that idle time he recognizes he needs help.  Unfortunately, because of a chain of events, his life ends behind the bars of an insane asylum after a dramatic crime of passion.  (This is the beginning of the play so I’m not giving this away.)

The world premier of The Bellflower Sessions by Andy Bloch and directed by Bryan Rasmussen at the Whitefire Theatre, in repertory, is a comedy, which left me feeling very disturbed. It is tough to watch the male species in all of his inglorious imperfections, surviving in an insecure environment, and making his way through the precarious unchartered territories of life.  But, it is also a lot of fun and very funny. 

As the play begins, in the bright light of a scorching spotlight, we meet Jack Calvin (Rob Nagle) decked out in a white prison jumpsuit trying to explain how he got there.  He is mild mannered, has control of his wits, and is such a pacifist that it is hard to believe he is in there because he, mistakenly, connected some dots and killed an acquaintance. But, oddly enough, he seems to be the only sane character in this play, the only one with a modicum of decency, of trying to understand the difference between right and wrong. And yet, there is an edge to this being, not quite mollified with prescription drugs.  

“I don’t know about you but I’m tired of standing in lines fifty deep at he bank with three tellers on the job.”

Jack is frustrated.  He is frustrated with the bank, frustrated with his life, and even frustrated with parking signs in Los Angeles that no one can decipher. He is going off the deep end; and is an emotional waking volcano, rumbling, and ready to explode.

His wife, Molly (Marshelle Fair), interrupts his complaining letters time at the computer and tells him they are going to dinner with Derrick (Kevin Benton) and his wife.  She tells Jack to get ready even though his spirits are just not into this event and he doesn’t see the point. That doesn’t stop her from telling him what to wear, and when to be ready, down the minute detail.

“That in addition to checking the classifieds you were going to make an effort to not be such an overwhelming prick.” – Molly  

These things haunt Jack as he commiserates with his drinking buddy and friend, Grant Lerner (Michael Monks).  Jack tells Grant that he is thinking of being single again.  His marriage with Molly is not working.  She is blaming him for all of their financial troubles. But it is a desperate call for help.  He needs help.  His life is falling apart. And this dinner with Derek and his wife did not go well.  

“Have to hear all about Derek and his promotion.  I wanted to stick my shrimp fork in his larynx.” - Jack

Meanwhile at home Molly tells Jack that she is not getting many catering jobs and he has to get out and support the household rather than sitting around writing angry letters to companies that annoy him.  She tells him that he has the smarts and ability to get a good job despite his age. (While she waits for someone to call her to do some catering. The hypocrisy!) Molly tells him her college friend Derrick will help and she is going to call him.  Jack does not like the idea or charity for that matter and he has suspicions about Molly’s friend.

Later Jack and Grant are at the bar again.  Jack recalls a conversation of a therapist Grant used.  Jack has decided to see a shrink. Grant says it will cost him one hundred dollars.  Jack, boiling, is ready to explode and screams for the name.   

Seeing that Jack is desperate, Grant gives him the name with one condition.

“Bellflower.  Don’t mention my name.” – Grant

Jack discards “the name” thing and mentions Grant twice for the record. And right away Dr. Wendy Bellflower (Stephanie Erb) jumps into Jack’s problems in a rather acute fashion, that is, straight to the point.

“They say seventy percent of marriages go south when the sex bites the dust.  So, wink wink, what’s your contributions?” – Wendy

Jack is caught off guard.

“I don’t sugarcoat it, friend, not here you want a ‘lolly and a pat on the back join the Special Olympics.” – Wendy

Jack tells Bellflower how he met Molly, at a ski lodge.  Both of them hated skiing so Jack caught Molly putting on makeup under the mounted moose head on the wall.  And scaling the glittering heights of the lodge to meet Molly he sealed the relationship.

Bellflower suddenly ends their meet and greet, when she asks how he wants to pay for the sessions.  Jack doesn’t want the bills to be sent to his home.

“Counseling under the cover of dark, eh?” - Wendy

Later, at the bar, Grant is pissed because Jack tells him that he has mentioned his name.

Now Grant feels it’s imperative to explain why he had to see Bellflower.  It was because he got into trouble with someone who was underage.  And somehow he thinks his actions were justified because of what his wife told him about herself: how many men she slept with during the course of their engagement, acting in porn films, and doing the mailman all while the wedding cake was still moist. Grant says that Bellflower may have saved his marriage.    

“An affair is the easy answer. What’s hard is doing nothing.” - Grant

This information sends Jack straight to the couch.

“Forgive me for saying this, but it doesn’t appear you’ve made a lot of swell decisions in your life.” – Dr. Wendy Bellflower

“I have my moments.” – Jack

“Debatable.” – Dr. Wendy Bellflower

Dr. Bellflower pours Jack and herself a drink.  Jack tells Wendy his wife’s friend, Derek, is coming over that night to offer him a job.

And, at home, Molly thinks the assistant V.P. job, selling drugs to clinics and hospitals, is a great opportunity.  But Jack is not having any part of it.  Still this doesn’t stop Jack for asking for a starting time, and company car with a satellite radio all of which Derek has agreed to. But in the end Jack says he will think about it and leaves.

“He doesn’t want to work for me.  It’s not the end of the world.” – Derek

“It’s ludicrous, isn’t it, the things we allow ourselves to put up with?” – Molly

Molly and Derek are a couple that seem to be comfortable talking about very private issues including divorce. Derek convinces Molly to step around the corner to the local bar while Jack is away.   

Jack tells Dr. Bellflower that Derek is married to Beth who is a drug addict.  Gin and OxyContin are her drugs of choice.  Jack does not completely understand Derek and Molly’s relationship and he is suspicious.

Suddenly Wendy asks if she can smoke and while she is rummaging through her purse, she pulls out tons of prescription drugs and a gun.

“Want to hold it?” – Wendy

“Is it loaded?’ – Jack

“What good’s an empty gun?  Go on, Jack.  Give me your hand.  Touch my pistol.” – Wendy

The moment sounds so magisterial, rigid, and sexual.

Later Jack meets with Grant, which culminates with Jack accusing Grant of messing around with his wife.  But, who can blame Jack?  Grant sleeps with everyone, or at least he says he does.

Things are getting a little trickier, Jack calls Wendy, who is alone and drunk lying on her desk, and tells her that he doesn’t want to see her anymore.  Wendy thinks it the “gun” thing and as they are speaking Molly calls and tells Jack that their relationship is over.

And so, Jack walks meditatively, a lonely rage burning within, looking for an outlet to release his frustrations whether it is with his hands or some other weapon.   

The Bellflower Sessions is thoroughly enjoyable with a very fine cast.  Andy Bloch’s play is so offbeat the moments are like a wakeup from a glass of cold water.

Rob Nagle as Jack Calvin does a fine job. Nagle has a very nice voice and captures Jake’s sardonic way of life.  Depression and unemployment make nasty work of his emotional life.  The foundation of happiness is crumbling around him and eats at him like a cancer.  Jack knows he needs help. He finds it. But the kind of help he finds is not what he needs.  In fact he should run away. But he finds something he needs in those relationships, some bond, or bondage that keeps him coming back for more. There is more depth to this character especially as the out-of-control events accumulate in his life. And his attempts, to keep from losing what he has, doesn’t go far enough, is not menacing enough, and does not give us clues as to the final outcome. Nagle could add this connection.  And I would not fault him if he brought more humor into the role. Also, as his life spirals out of control, I believe we need to see the element of danger in his being.  And it needs to build.  One can only take - hands to the face in disbelief – so many times.  Still, there were a lot of nice things in this performance.

Stephanie Erb as Dr. Wendy Bellflower does a fantastic job. Her moments are specific and her objective is clear. As the character she believes in a non-traditional approach to therapy.  But it is so out there one would have to understand (in the first meet and greet) that she is certifiably insane.  Not only is her therapy unorthodox, with dramatic expressions, she would like her patients to respond in kind, sexually, and violently. It’s no wonder she carries a gun. Bellflower has a softer and gentler side and Erb gives it to us in a very dramatic fashion.  Her performance is whacky, humorous, and a lot of fun to watch.

Marshelle Fair as Molly Calvin is a stunning creature that does an equally nice job.  As the character, Molly, her objective is to convince her husband to find or take a job given to him so they can be enormously happy.  But there a problem, she doesn’t have a job, or children for that matter.  She runs a catering business out of her home but because of the economy is bad no one is calling and she expects her husband to carry the load.  She enlists her college “friend” to give her husband a job that he doesn’t want and that is exasperating.  Her relationship with Derek could go farther if only to give us one more element. Fair did a very good job but needs a little work in strengthening her stage voice.

Michael Monks plays Grant Lerner.  Monks does a fine job of bringing truth to a character that is despicable and does an amazing job justifying his existence.  Monks is fascinating to watch because you simply do not know what outlandish thing is going to come out of his mouth. As the character Grant finds it fascinating to live a kind of existence where sleeping with everyone is exciting and fixing those problems even more satisfying.  It is very interesting to watch but very uncomfortable. Monks does an outstanding job with the characterization and breaths life into a very demanding role.

Kevin Benton is the college friend, Derek Coles, and is very expressive in the role. As the character Derek manages his life with the confidence befitting his role in life.  But there is this oddity.  He is not the confident man he appears. His wife is a drug addict and he is looking for other amorous avenues.  He has kids to support but he manages to find time to find someone on the side including his relationship with his college “friend”.  In the end, I’m not sure why he confesses.   He wants “things” to be clear and he makes those things clear to send Jack on his way. Maybe because he feels threatened? Benton gives a very enjoyable performance.

Overall, I like Andy Bloch’s play. And I believe I would go insane if I met up with any of these characters. The characters manipulate just for the sake of watching the others react. Jake never says to Molly: Why don’t you get a job?  And while scoffing at Dr. Bellflower’s ideas he keeps coming back.  But with no job, how in the world is he able to afford therapy?  And, with so much time on his hands, he accuses all male acquaintances of sleeping with his wife until he cannot take it anymore.  And why does Derek confess all of his deep dark secrets when there is little conflict to make him do so?  Also, there are a lot of off stage characters we don’t see and sometimes that gets to be confusing when wrapping this all up.

Bryan Rasmussen, the director, does a nice job in finding the material for part of his 2012 repertory season at The Whitefire.  And like Firehouse by Pedro Antonio Garcia, The Bellflower Sessions is very satisfying.  From the opening moments of the play we know one thing: Jack is incarcerated for murder and it is up to us to discover whom Jack has killed during the progression of the play.  So the play is made up of moments that lead us in that direction.  There is not an accumulated moment; a frenzy that takes Jack to do the unspeakable, in fact there is the opposite.  The frenzy is somewhat dissipated when Jack gets information that leads him into another direction. It confuses at times by leading us in other directions until moments are explained.  Still, some moments, need further exploration.  All in all Rasmussen did a incredible job.

The Whitefire Theatre has a fantastic production crew that has given a life to this creation.  They are as follows:

Set Design: John Burton (A very fine job of three separate settings.)
Light Design: Derrick McDaniel  (Effective, although I believe lighting could play and important role in this play when going from scenes that bring him out of a celadon fog into a reality where life is just not that wacky.)
Sound Design: Ryan Vig
Costume Design: Paige Russell
Casting:  Ricki G. Maslar CSA
Fight Choreographer:  Brian Danner (The choking and fight scene were fantastic!)
Stage Manager: Carole Ursetti
House Manager:  Neda Gajeh-Tabe
Graphic Designer: Lexilu

Run!  And take a great friend you know who is only taking mild sedatives and is not dangerous to you or the community.  


Info: 818-990-2324

Whitefire Theatre
13500 Ventura Blvd
Sherman Oaks, CA  91423

Monday, September 3, 2012

Annie Junior – Based on “Little Orphan Annie” – Book by Thomas Meehan, Music by Charles Strouse and Lyrics by Martin Charnin

By Joe Straw

I have not heard of Annie Junior but I was given tickets to see this production at the Grace Lutheran Church on Overland in Culver City.  It is a part of the Broadway Junior Collection that camps, like this, are allowed to do with the permission of The Tribune Media Services, Inc., and directed by Marina Tidwell.

As it turns out this was a two-week camp for kids and their sole objective was to get this up on the boards at the end of the two weeks.  And why not give them a helping hand and put this write-up to print, for the camp, for the kids, and for this type of production.

Okay, so it was not Annie the musical in its three hour entirely.  Annie Junior was a little over one hour long but there is a lot to be said the heart these actors put into this production and giving it their all in 11 musicals numbers.  

My girls and I loved it for various reasons.  And as I looked around the performers were playing to packed houses for two performances. (about two hundred people)

The leads were miked.  (Boy, everyone needs a mic these days.) But, they were all very capable of using their voices and projecting to the end of the sanctuary.

In this version of the musical Annie (Bailey Clark) is a little tough orphan who believes her mother and father are alive. She tries to run away but is stopped by Miss Hannigan (Sarah Moss) before she is able to make her escape.  But that doesn’t stop Annie from trying again, this time through a trashcan.

Oliver Warbucks (Gabe Danko), a very rich bachelor, wants to have an orphan over for the Thanksgiving holidays and sends his secretary Grace Ferrell (Claire Skelley) to find one.

Grace Ferrell approaches Miss Hannigan and suggests she want Annie to come and stay with them. Miss Hannigan, who has just chewed out Annie on her return, tries to talk Miss Farrell out of it but relents and hands over Annie to stay with Oliver Warbucks, his secretary, and his maids (Sara Paris, Lulu Trevino, Serafina Trevino, Katie Garner, Gabby Schwartz, and Gabby Fuentes-Daley.)

Warbucks is shocked.  He says he wanted a boy.  Grace tells him that he requested "an orphan"and that's what she has done.  But Warbucks falls in love with Annie nevertheless.  And at the end of the two week period he wants to adopt her.  Annie tells him that she has parents, she just can’t find them.

Warbucks, slightly heartbroken, tells Annie he will use his wealth to find them and puts out an announcement on the radio for a fifty thousand dollar reward to the parents that can rightfully claim her.

That’s where the sinister Rooster Hannigan (Simon Johnson), Miss Hannigan’s brother, and his wife Lily (Lara Gabrich/Gabriella Cornejo) make up a scheme to get Annie and the fifty thousand dollars.  The three are very sinister.

Can anyone think of anything worse than a child without parents?  It is such a heartbreaking thing to try to understand.  And when the child believes his or hers parents are still alive,  and then desperately searches for them,  it adds an sad element to an already tortured soul.

Bailey Clark held her own as Annie.  Gabe Danko as Oliver Warbucks has a very nice voice and did a nice job.  Sarah Moss had a very fine character as Miss Hannigan, wonderfully over the top and funny. Claire Skelley as Grace Ferrell was very graceful and funny.  Simon Johnson as Rooster Hannigan was a total ham and very comical. Also, I did notice one orphan, Molly played by Grace Basom who seemed to have a fine handle on her craft and had a very nice manner in her character.  She certainly seemed well above her years in spirit and in the details of her craft.  It was a very nice job!

Tiny Luke Basom was wheeled in and played Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The audience got a kick out of this. Bridget Padilla did a nice job as Sandy the whimpering dog.  

Also, other member of the supporting cast contributed to this very fine production they are: Hannah Beighey, Violet Comer, Annie Jewel Foxworth, Hannah Gamble, Natalie Glassman, Shavit Melamed, Evalie Rehor, Kayla Walden, Merrick Padilla, Isabel Cortes, Bram & Paul Skelley, Luke Basom, Lara Gabritch, Gabriella Cornejo, Allie Sisk, John Maines, Georgia Wehbi.  

There were a lot of fine touches in Marina Tidwell direction of this musical.  I can’t help but have a lot of admiration for someone who can wrangle so many kids and do a very nice job in so little time. 

Choreography was by Kelsey Harrold that presented N.Y.C was cleverly done.  The additional crew was Madeleine Krueger, Skylar Lima, Mariko Rooks, Thomas and Robert Tidwell, Grace Elliott, Ken Smith, Lisa Skelley and Joanie Maines.  

This is the seventh year of the Musical Theatre Camps at Grace Lutheran Church and the purpose of the Ministry is to offer a healthy venue in support of performers, nurture young talent, and outreach to the community with wholesome entertainment. 

Love Struck by Odalys Nanin and co-written by Marie Barrientos

By Joe Straw

“She had to extract a kind of personal advantage from things, and she rejected as useless everything that promised no immediate gratification – for her temperament was more sentimental than artistic, and what she was looking for was emotions, not scenery.” – Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary

The Macha Theatre is centrally located in West Hollywood on Kings Road just north of Santa Monica Boulevard.  Parking is always available across the street for $5.00 if you arrive after six.  

Arriving early, we hop on over to Hugo’s for a rich chocolate desert and an herbal tea. (This is West Hollywood.)  I could have done without the aftertaste from the herbal tea. Hugo’s and Macha Theatre have a symbiotic relationship, as there is a “Love Struck” poster above the urinal.  

Macha Theatre/Films presents Love Struck, written and directed by Odalys Nanin, a story about two women who fall in love.  No, they are love struck, embraced by overpowering feelings of love and fantasies.  These are the thoughts that linger long after the person leaves your sight, which evolves in a certain part of the brain, and causes one to lose focus of the simple day-to-day tasks of living.    

As the play opens, Laura (Odalys Nanin) and Rachel (Tricia Cruz) have had a relationship that has lasted a while.  In fact, this is their third anniversary.  They are going to celebrate!  

But, there is a caveat; gunshots and police sirens are heard just outside their door. If they can gather enough courage and unhinged themselves, they will be able to leave.  (Typical Los Angeles scene.)

Locked in a fearful embrace, they question whether they should go out or not.  Venturing out may cause them to see disturbing images and wouldn’t that put a damper on their anniversary. But they do go because, one, they have rehearsed a dance number. Two, the party is being thrown for them.  And three, they can’t miss a party.

“This is a toast to my ex who said we’d last three months.” - Rachel  

They dance a lovely spin to a Latin beat and thank Juliana for throwing the party and providing the “chuchas (vaginas) and lemonada”.

Be that as it may, no party can be complete without backstory and our couple are asked to explain how they met, who was attracted to whom, and so on.

And so we travel back in time to explore their relationship of their first sighting, when they were with other people, their second sighting, and a power lunch.  Both are actresses, going up for the same Latina roles, and both are trying to make their way through the segregated maze that is Hollywood.

Neither Rachel nor Laura wants to fall in love and, when they first meet, they try to keep their relationship platonic.  Meanwhile, both are burning with desire. So hot, they can hardly be in the same room together, their eyes accepting lusting thoughts, but not doing anything about it.  

Rachel, in burning confusion, calls later to suggest that they rehearse a scene and, as the scene progresses, Rachel slaps Laura.

“What are you, a Method actress?” – Laura

They kiss a long lugubrious kiss which brings them back to present day and immediately we see signs of a breakup, an unexpected moment that sets in motion a change in their relationship.

“It’s been a while.” – Laura

“You’re getting heavy.” - Rachel

As struggling actresses, their relationship moves to the stale column. Laura wants to renovate the garage in the back allowing them to live there and rent the house so they don’t have to work.  It seems like an ideal plan for Laura but Rachel doesn’t like the idea.

Odalys Nanin plays Laura and is the writer, director and producer of this fine production.  Her sumptuous plate is filled with many jobs. Nanin does a fine job as Laura and, at the end of the night, sweat is pouring from her pores from singing, dancing, and playing the bongos.  In any case, she is a very natural, precise, and physical actor.

I’ve noticed in a couple of plays, Nanin wears a particular vest—that must be her lucky vest.  (Lucky charms are a necessity in theatre.)

“¿Qué pasó?  ¿Qué pasó?” (What happened?) I can’t let this go.  This is a term I hear everyday.  It is just so natural when Laura says it. However, on stage, this term must mean more.  It is in response to someone who wants to change the relationship. It is a moment where all things change, particularly this relationship.  Possibly it is not as dramatic as one may think but I believe it is a response that can give more meaning to the moment. Rachel is turning the relationship inside out, so “¿Qué pasó?” on stage must mean more. To be tender, to be loving, to want to know of what’s on her mind, are choices I want to see. “¿Qué pasó?” is a call to creative action.  

Also, I’m going to pick on a moment: the phone call to her mother.  We got to have a lot more going on than what was presented. Rachel’s mother is conservative Cuban.  (Is there another kind?) And she hasn’t come to grips with her daughter being a lesbian.  Well, we have two loving lesbians in the room and a chance to see a lot more action if only to solidify the relationship or move the relationship in another direction.

I’m nit picking here.  Odalys Nanin gave a wonderful performance and her direction is marvelous.  Also, this is a show for everyone, adults especially. The play says something about connection, compassion and passion. Oddly enough, listening to the words, I can visualize straight and gay couples playing the roles as well.  

Tricia Cruz is equally talented and was very engaging as Rachel. She brings a grand physical Latina life to the role.  On top of that she adds heat to this exceptional exploration of her character. Her comedic timing is right on and she does a grand impersonation of Lucille Ball complete with red wig and does a fine impersonation of Desi Arnaz for that matter.  Adding Desi’s laugh would be a plus.    

I enjoyed and had a lot of fun viewing Odalys Nanin’s play, which was also co-written by Marie Barrientos.  But, on this particular night, it was difficult to determine how everything ended.  Did they split up?  Did they reconcile? Were they able to overcome the obstacles of their own independent spirits?

No one lives in a state of ataraxia but I believe both characters want to keep their emotional lives as simple as possible while having as much fun as possible before they decide to move on.  

I liked the quote from Madame Bovary.  It says a lot about both characters.  But I’ve read it over and over again and am not able to determine which character it applies to the most.  Perhaps it was both.  Both need immediate gratification but time placed a damper on their lust or love for each other that toys could not cure.

The Stage Manager is Carey Dunn.  He also served as the Lighting Technician.

The show ran for one hour including intermission.  I’m told that there were some video problems so perhaps it is a little longer.

Run! And take someone whose eyes take you away into unchartered territories.  You’ll have a great time.

Reservations:  323-960-7724 – Through September 23, 2012