Friday, October 26, 2012

Vincent by Leonard Nimoy

Jean-Michel Richaud - photo by Yana Gorskaya

By Joe Straw

“My dear Theo,” – Vincent van Gogh

In the past, I shuttered as I drove passed the theatre.  It had a dark name. Without saying the name, I can only verbally demonstrate:  submerge a dahlia into black ink.  

I had seen photographs of the crime scene, black and white, so dark and repugnant. I cowered when I drove by, something always felt ominous.  With a quick glance, I saw the name, and felt, time decelerated.  It was a section of Los Angeles that, for just one block, and for one moment, turned back to the era of black and white 1947 storefronts of Pico Boulevard.  

But it is the now the VS Theatre.  It is wonderful space, full of delicious life, and a colorful thirty-seat black box theatre.  The seats have a lot of character.  They are old with wooden backs.  Fragments of the wood are chipped off in some places but the seats are remarkably comfortable, the theatre is cool, the setting is delightful—all more than one can expect.  

The Next Arena and Mistral Productions presents Vincent by Leonard Nimoy and directed by Paul Stein.  Vincent is a night of dark moods, which are released by a symphony of captivating colors showering the audience in a dazzling display of words and colorful projections. In short, it is a splendid production.  

This is the story of the troubled and fascinating life of Vincent van Gogh as told by his surviving brother, Theo (Jean-Michael Richaud).   

On this particular night, Leonard Nimoy sat behind me.  So close in this intimate theatre, I could hear him breath and clearing his throat from time to time.  It is rare when a writer of a play, takes the time to enjoy and take notice of the yellow and blue moments in another actor’s enactment of the work that he himself performed over a hundred times.     

As the play begins, Theo van Gogh enters through the vomitory with suitcase in tow.  His back is to the audience, not even providing a glimpse of his recent hurt, the pain that must accompany a heartbroken man at the loss his sibling.  Theo ignores us (the mourners) for a moment while he gathers his thoughts.  

Theo, suffering from the weight of life, waits. He hesitates to begin, and struggles to find the words.  Theo’s back is slightly bent from the encumbrance of a small suitcase. Gingerly, he places the suitcase on the table. Slowly, he turns to the mourners, and explains why he did not speak at his brother’s funeral.

Theo tells us he buried Vincent last week. He had lots to say then but could not muster the courage. But now he wants to turn on the lights and open the doors to Vincent’s tormented life and enlighten you, of this aphotic life.  With that thought, he opens the suitcase that contains the multihued letters of Vincent van Gogh collected over a span of many years complete with drawings.

"A meadow full of very yellow buttercups, a ditch with iris plants with green leaves, with purple flowers, the town in the background, some grey willow trees — a strip of blue sky...” – Quote from Vincent’s letter to Theo.  

The passing of an artist must not go unnoticed particularly when there are numerous oil painting left unsold. Theo suggests Vincent’s life, the good and the bad, must be celebrated if only to show how his suffering led to the magnificent colorful works of art.  These letters, tucked away, are the letters Theo uses to detail the story of Vincent’s passionate life.

“Vincent was a lover of God, love, and art.” - Theo

Vincent told Theo, he failed at all three.  And in order to understand his art, Theo tells us it is important to know about Vincent’s God, his loves, and his art.     

Starting with the love of God Theo lets us know that Vincent was a minister for 13 years.  He was an evangelist in a mining town and brought the word of God to the unfortunate miners. It was during this time Vincent started drawing the miners, watching the eyes of the men wasting away, coming home from the black and white caverns of the earth, lungs blackened with soot, coughing so hard, that sleep was impossible.

(Life begins at the creation of a thought and it is not a mystery where Vincent’s images came from.  They came from the poor and disillusioned.  Oddly enough, looking at the eyes of Vincent’s subjects one can see a hunger, a detachment to life, an odd stare, a bewilderment, and a supreme insight to the struggles of life, all in the stare of his subjects.)

Vincent was hopelessly in love with the wrong women, hoping that he could save them.  He fell in love with his cousin and proposed marriage, and later was seen in company with an alcoholic prostitute. These relationships didn’t last. Theo was hesitant about sending money, and their family was becoming impatient with his way of life.

Theo covered a lot of ground in Vincent’s short and tragic life.  Leonard Nimoy, through the use of a chronological narrative in his play, wants to tell us, to convince us, these brilliant pieces of art are not the work of a madman, but a man who was plagued by a disease. It’s all there in the letters, the work, and in Vincent’s passionate desire to get the work done. After seeing the play, I wanted to run home immediately, get on my computer, and learn a lot more about his troubled life.  Life could not be much richer than this.

Jean-Michel Richaud - photo by Yana Gorskaya

Jean-Michael Richaud as Theo had opening night jitters, which was noticeable at times. More could have been made of the colors that come and go, the opening of the suitcase, and his depression that drags him down only to be brought up from the colors of Vincent’s painting. That aside, Richaud had an incredible emotional attachment to his character. He submitted to the moment, letting go of the hard work and melting into the character’s emotional life with a graceful execution.  And with eyelids reddened by the demonstrative weight the final moments, Richaud’s performance was nearly on the brink of ecstasy.  It was a night to absorb.

There is a lot to be said of Paul Stein’s directions. It is finely tuned with words and projection.  And with the weight of the moment submerging Theo into the depths of depression we fly to the projections upstage right that takes us out of the dark moments and lifts us into the stratosphere with Vincent’s color and life. Some moments missed their mark and I think color should play an important part with the progression of the play. The suitcase plays an important part.  Lights should pour from the suitcase the moment it is opened. The play is about color and a man severely depressed because of the loss of his brother.  Also, Theo, ill with syphilis, died six months after Vincent died.  This is not part of Nimoy’s play but could be incorporated as part of a character’s choice, somehow, somewhere.   

I felt right at home at the VS Theatre.  The crew also credited in this marvelous production are as follows:

Tommy Dunn – Stage Manager
Steve Pope – Lighting Design
Nora Feldman – Publicist
Scott Rognlien – TNA Artistic Director

“I’ve been a failure at so many things in my lifetime. I hope I haven’t failed at this as well.” – Vincent

Run to see this production.  Take someone who loves colorful juicy gossip about artists who have passed but remain with us in their work.

Extended through December 16, 2012!

Or: 323-417-2170

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Flipzoids by Ralph B. Peña

Maxwel S. Corpuz & Becca Godinez

By Joe Straw

I few years ago, my young daughters and I were watching a Lakers game. There was a small earthquake, really a moderate one, and the ground shook for longer than I would have liked.   Watching Kobe in the shoot around, I noticed that he took little notice as the Staple Center rattled.  And for most Southern California residents, these events are just observed and ignored. 

But, for me and my imagination, things play out a little differently. I imagine this as the first seismic wave in an upcoming series of waves.  I need an escape route and need to get away from the bookshelves so that A. L. Rowse’s “The Annotated Shakespeare” does not crush me.

Suddenly there was the emergency alert warning flashing across the screen indicating a tsunami was on the way.  This does not happen. With two small girls under my care, my radar went way up. Higher ground was the first order of business.

So to higher ground, I went. Next door (about two inches higher), I pounded on Tony’s door,  (He is the neighborhood co-captain watch guy.), and roused him from his couch and the Laker game. I told him there was an alert on TV that a tsunami was on the way.  He, originally, from the Philippines, said in his beautiful Filipino accent “I did not hear such a thing.  I will make some calls to the police and let you know what I find.”

I went back home somewhat relieved but still planning an escape route and waited for the forty-foot wall of water to come.

“They said they did not know anything about it.” Tony said. “I guess we’re okay.” He laughed three short bursts. “Kobe is playing good.  I’ll get back to my game now.”

PAE Live! and The Latino Theater Company present Flipzoids by Ralph B. Peña and directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera is a fantastic odyssey of three Filipino lives connected in a magical, and often mysterious ways.  Like island waves, this is a show that sweeps you away into another life, and into another culture. 

One can’t help being swept away when entering the theatre.  The sounds of breaking waves bring you in to the cool theatre and immediately the magnificent and beautiful Scenic Design by John Binkley strikes you. The sand is the lower level, followed by a pier or small house on the beach and upstairs is a men’s room completely covered with graffiti and a hole in the wall.

It is here that three lonely souls, in a 1985 Southern California beach setting, find a meaning to their present-day life. They are as different as humanly imaginable.  Their only means of existence is to make it though the day the best way they can and come out smiling in the end without too much heartache.  

Aying (Becca Godinez) sits in the sand slowly gliding her hand across the soft surface of water in a water sculpture.  She contemplates the meaning of her life, the next step of her known life coming to an end. There is something wrong with her thoughts, and like the waves on the beach, each time the waves recede they take one more memory away from her.  

Meanwhile Evangelina (Ellen D. Williams), Aying’s daughter, is plugged into her MP3 player and repeating complicated English words.  She is fluent in the English language but she is trying to grow as a person.

Evangelina has traveled from the Philippines and has come to work as a nurse in Orange County. Her mother, getting older, has followed to live with her daughter.  She is not keen on the idea but knows it must be so.

“My daughter, I think she is going to hell.” - Aying

Upstairs is Redford (Maxwell S. Corpuz) sitting in a men’s room at the beach and trying to connect with any man who comes into the next stall.  He is gay and gothic, spiked bleach blond hair, and heavily made up.  Oddly enough he is not there for the sex. He wants to find a kindred soul to explore the complexities of the human race.  (Probably not a good place to do this.)   

“Mothballs. That is what old people smell like.” - Aying

Redford spies Aying on the beach and tries to communicate with her.

“You there, in the period costume.” – Redford

Aying hides under her umbrella, moves over to her water sculpture, and floats her hand across the edge of the water in the hopes this odd young man will leave her alone. And just as Redford is about to leave she says, howdy.  She explains that she is touching her home.

“Charming.” – Redford

Aying asks for Redford’s hand.  She looks at it, tells him to close his eyes, places his hand in the water while she describes a small town, the bread market, next to the bus, where the people eat mangoes, near small rivers, when the rains come, the rivers come out.

“Do you see?” – Aying

“Yes.” – Redford.

“Never forget. I need to go to the bathroom.” - Aying

Redford, knowing the conditions of the stalls, tells her that she can’t go to the bathroom. Aying finds a corner of the sand, hoists her dress, uses the beach, and covers her water with sand like a compliant cat.

Seeing a need for introductions, Redford introduces himself.  Aying says her name is Rosario.  Aying eyes Redford and mentions that Redford doesn’t look Filipino. 

And in their intercourse, with a softness overcoming his emotions, Redford hugs Aying.  Aying screams and calls him a rapist moving as far away as humanly possible.  Redford is puzzled by her actions.

Something comes to light and Aying corrects herself.

“You can call me Aying.” – Aying

And then Aying orders Redford to leave dismissing him with a wave of her hand. Not getting her at all Redford goes back to his bathroom stall.

Moments later, Eva checks up on Aying.  Aying wants to go back to the Philippines but Eva doesn’t want to play that game. Eva works hard to provide for them and knows that Aying is losing her mind and, to that end, cannot help her.  She tunes out and goes back to her MP3 player.  

Ralph B. Peña, the writer, has written a magnificent play where the words lead each character to their splendid and specific objective. The three actors in this extended one act play are truly marvelous.  And, in the end, you take those moments and leave the theatre knowing that life is an experience, that you should take notes, and remember those moments that make a difference to the heart. 

L to R - Ellen D. Williams, Becca Godinez, Maxwel S. Corpuz 

Ellen D. Williams as Eva uses her words to increase her vocabulary.  They are for her and her only.  When spoken out loud, they are not used for a call to action, not to communicate, but in a singular objective to help her as she navigates being a nurse.  She knows there will come a time where she will use those words for those who have the ability to recover.  And she also knows that her mother is not one of those people. So she tries to make her mother’s life as comfortable as possible without trying to totally ignore her.  Williams captures the spirit of Eva wonderfully.

Maxwel S. Corpuz as Redford uses his words to the point that he is overly expressive.  He envelops the other character with exuberant language as though he were smothering them. But this expressive stream of consciousness, used to get him closer, sometimes gets him in a lot of trouble, to no fault of his own. Corpuz is wonderful as Redford and brilliant in the execution of his craft. The simplicity of tying the knots on a string to relieve his anxiety is explained wonderfully.   

Becca Godinez as Aying, is reaching the end point of her life, has trouble with finding the words, and even remembering them. Try as she might, she hold onto memories until they are not available any longer. The early signs are there.  She asks for the time frequently and cannot remember her own name. She wants to go home to the Philippines because those are the memories that are ingrained into her being, but even those memories are slowly moving away. Godinez finds the humor in this role and uses it to her utmost.  She is delightful in so many ways and gives a grand life to this character.

Jon Lawrence Rivera, the director, does a marvelous job.  His vision is simple, his characters complex and lyrical. It is a magical play about a journey home with no one having a solution to get there.  Or maybe they are home, they just don’t know it. In any case, Rivera brings to life a wonderful play that will lift your spirits and swathe your life in the color of blue, the color of the sea, of those days when you think life could not get any better and you take joy in the unexpected and exquisite beauty of the moment.   

Bob Blackburn did a wonderful job as the Sound Designer.

Gerry Gregory Lisangan, the Lighting Designer, provided a mysterious marine layer over the set.

Mylette Nora, the Costume Designer, did a wonderful job. Alan del Rosario did the costuming for Becca Godinez.  (It’s wonderful, when an actor can have that.)

Joe McCormac Estrella was the Stage Manager.

I saw Ted Benito, The Producer, outside the theatre nervous as a cat.  His work is exceptional and he takes great pride in putting up very fine productions in Los Angeles.  This was just marvelous work.  And the execution to details is second to none.    

Run! Take a friend that hears the sound of the waves as a call to come home.

Reservations:  866-811-4111

Online ticketing:

Through October 28, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sideways – The Play by Rex Pickett

By Joe Straw

“He treated her with his chaffing deference, roused, but very unsure of himself, afraid to death of being too forward, ashamed lest he might be thought backward, mad with desire yet restrained by instinctive regard for women from making any definite approach, feeling all the while that his attitude was ridiculous, and flushing deep with confusion.  She, however, became hard and daring as he became confused, it amused her to see him come on.” – D. H. Lawrence – The Rainbow

I loved the movie Sideways and the outstanding performances of Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church (Oscar nominated performance), Sandra Oh, and, in it, some of Virginia Madsen’s finest work on screen.

When the opportunity to see the world premier of Sideways – The Play by Rex Pickett and directed by Amelia Mulkey at The Ruskin Group Theatre Co. in Santa Monica came along, I jumped at it. Well, jump is not really an effective word.  After all, it’s been running for over twenty weeks. (Nice jumping.)

Judith Borne, the publicist, jarred my memory.   And it was a pleasant wake up call.  I grabbed my pad and marched to the theatre. But, when I got there, nobody knew who I was, or where I came from.  (It’s not the first time.) When this happens to me I can actually feel the blood moving to my face, the heat rising to the surface, and everything in my body just gets a little tense.  And I thought: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice glass of Pinot noir right now?

Lucky, Michael R. Myers, managing director of the Ruskin Group Theatre Company, came to my rescue.   

Other than having a few glasses from time to time, I know little about wines. In fact, picking out the right wine for the right occasion terrifies me. It is almost as horrific as beginnings of a new relationship.

And learning about a wine is like developing and experiencing the first intimate moments of a relationship. A great start is the pouring of the wine, by gently caressing the bottle, and ending the pour with a twist.  Next, take a cotton cloth and wipe the liquid from the mouth of the bottle.  Then, hold the stem of the wine glass with two fingers and a thumb.  Slowly, swirl the wine on a flat surface, like a slow dance, to stoke the wine’s innumerable aromas. Notice the color. And then, still caressing the stem, place the round glass bowl to your nose and inhale deeply to get the aromatic gratification.  After the sip, roll the wine around in your mouth and make sure it coats all surfaces so that you can pick up the textures and flavor sensations in the various parts of your mouth.  

Rex Pickett, the author of the novel and the play, is at the theatre every night pouring the wine, telling stories, and supporting the play. And what a better way to learn about wine than to go right to the source, ask him a few questions, and see his play, Sideways The Play.  

Miles (John Colella) is a down on his luck writer, recently divorced, depressed, and is not getting laid. (It is, by all measures, a very unhealthy combination.)

His best friend Jack (Jonathan Bray), a Mar Vista resident, is getting married in a week to a very rich woman, Babs (not seen on stage, but presence, heavily felt).  So Jack decides to finance a trip to San Ynez wine country with his best friend Miles. This is a slight ruse, as Jack wants a bachelor party, have his last fling, and get laid by someone other than his fiancée. (Fair enough.)

There’s a problem; Miles wants the trip to be about the wines, the Pinot noirs and nothing else.  But Jack isn’t having any part of his semi reclusive, soul-searching, deprecating venture. Jack wants to have fun.  

Chris (Paul Denk) greets them at the first winery and asks Miles about his book. They all seem to know Miles in this part of the country and they all know that his book is unpublished.

After Chris pours, Miles demonstrates the steps of wine tasting. Miles notes the Pinot noir has a kiwi flavor and is “pornographically good”. They like the wine and Jack buys a case for $450.00 but grumbles about the price.

When Chris runs off into the back, Miles and Jack empty the remains of the bottle, drink, and run out of the winery.

In their next stop, Miles takes Jack to The Hitching Post Bar. Charlie (Carl Kocis), the bartender, questions Miles about his unpublished book. (These guys seem to have fantastic memories. Or, maybe Miles, talks about himself a lot.)  Anyway Miles tells Charlie that Jack is getting married next week, much to Jacks dismay that wants all of this to be a best-kept secret.

“Pinot?” – Charlie

“Nice to be out.” – Miles

Maya (Julia McIlvaine) enters the room, doing her job, and immediately Jack thinks she’s a good fit for Miles. But Miles knows her.

“She’s married to a lit professor from Santa Barbara.” – Miles

Jack, sensing a separation.

“She’s probably divorced.” – Jack

Suddenly Maya sees Miles.  There is an immediate sensual connection and she tells him that she is reading Jung. She lets it known that she divorced her husband because he is a “fornicating deconstructionist”.

Maya, sensing an opening and magnetism, invites Miles out dancing.

“You told Maya we’re going back to the motel and crash?” – Jack

As they are driving back to the motel Jack, blood rising to his surface can’t believe what Miles has just done.  Suddenly Jack gets a call from Babs, hangs up, and calls her “f**cking b**ch”.  Jack has to break the bad news that Babs does not want Miles to be his best man nor does she want him at the wedding.

Jack says he will talk to Babs to get her to change her mind.  In the meantime Peter, the other best man, is waiting in the wings.  

At the Foxen Winery the next day Miles and Jack meet Tara (Cloe Kromwell). Jack is immediately smitten with Tara. And Miles is miles away thinking about his ex-wife, Vicky and wishing her well on her new marriage. It is a lonely conversation he carries on with himself.

Nevertheless Jack is on a mission of his own.  He tells Miles they have been invited out to dinner and asks Miles not to sabotage his mission and not to speak French.

“They’re beautiful.  Let them order.” – Jack

“No Merlot.” – Miles

“No Babs. Pace yourself.” – Jack

So the four of them are having dinner when Miles steps away and calls his ex-wife. She tells him not to come to the wedding sending Miles plane on a tailspin. Jack finds him and tells Miles that they are all going back to Tara’s house for wine and other things.

Jack and Tara find the back room and start making out like wild chinchillas. Meanwhile Miles and Maya are getting acquainted about wines and books and having a nice time.  But Miles is still hurting about his ex getting remarried.  And soon, with all the noise going on in the next room, Miles, rather awkwardly, leaves for his motel.

The next morning Jack tells Miles he fallen in love with Tara and wants to move up here. Jack tells them they have a hot tub date that night and they are going.  Miles is falling in line, wants to see Maya again, and they have a great time until the next morning when Miles spills the beans.

John Colella as Miles is delightful as the presumptuous wordsmith and wine connoisseur.  As a writer he demonstrably uses the adjective to its nauseating utmost. He gives us words to wet our pallet and shares his knowledge to fill our glass. But he is kind of corny as well. He is the master teacher and uses his skills to refine the Neanderthal that accompanies him. Miles is very unassuming when it comes to love, not sure of himself, and presumes to be a loser of love. Colella captures the right spirits of this self-deprecating character.

Jonathan Bray plays Jack, the man who accompanies his friend to the wine country with only one thought on his mind, and it ain’t the wine. He is getting married to someone who has a lot of money. And he wants his last bit of freedom with someone who is not going to be his wife. Bray hits all of the right notes.

Julia McIlvaine as Maya is quite good and I enjoyed her performance. As the character she is into romance, plain and simple, books and wine are just the one added accouterment to the mix. McIlvaine is very strong in her quiet moments.  Victories won and battles lost are moments that are not lost to the audience.  It is all part of the quiet actor’s craft that you take home with you. All in all a very nice performance.

Cloe Kromwell as Terra really falls head over heels with her counterpart.  One never really knows if it is true love, or the wine.  I suspect true love.  But she falls so fast. Kromwell speaks with a slight accent.  There is a reference to speaking French so it was probably a French accent. I thought I heard an Italian accent as well. Still Kromwell gives a delightful performance.

Kristelle Monterrosa as Libby is very cute and does a nice job in-between all of the scenes. But there is more here that is slightly enticing of her performance on stage, it is the way she moves, the dance that entices, the wink, the nod, the movement of her hands and feet that take her from one position and completes her objective.  Very nicely done.  She makes most of her moments on stage, getting on and getting off, and doing it wonderfully.

Carl Kocis as Charlie also did a lot of fine work on stage.  Kocis has a very nice stage presence and seems to enjoy every moment on stage. His enthusiasm was infectious.  

The same holds true for Hamilton Matthews as Brad.  Actually he has a picturesque quality of a Hatfield or McCoy and would fit fine for work in those roles.   He struts on stage as though he were stomping on dirt clods in the family garden.  But he does this for a purpose when he is moving around set pieces.  Matthews has some wonderful moments as Brad and a terrific gun scene.

The alternates who did not perform the night I was there were Ashley Love (Maya), Ashley Noel (Terra), Elizabeth Mulkey (Libby), Bram Barough (Brad), and Kevin Wyrauch (Chris)

Amelia Mulkey, the director, did an exceptional job and I particularly liked the action between scenes when the supporting characters were changing the scenes. It work and no momentum were lost during those changes. Simply put, this is a story about relationships.  The wine is an integral part and in Mulkey’s direction and the wine never leaves our sight. It is the aroma, the bite that stays with us and is part of the life of these characters.

(And just a small note.) There is a reason Miles takes Jack to The Hitching Post.  Miles is there to see Maya. It is a moment that needs definition between the three of them when Maya steps into the room.  Maybe it was there, but I didn’t see it on this night.  But, it was funny to see how Jack immediately sees the connection and Miles doesn’t.

Rex Pickett does a fine job converting his novel into a play. There are a lot of differences between the movie and the play and most of the differences in this play worked.  There is a boar-hunting scene, which represents the foolish things men do when they’ve had more than enough.  

CJ Strawn did a magnificent job with the Set Design.  It is such a small, intimate stage, to have a number of locations represented, was very good work.

Run to see this fantastic play before it closes on October 28th, 2012. You can fall in love with the characters all over again and spend the night thinking about the wines and wonderful relationships.

This fine production would not have been possible without the crew behind the curtain.  And those people are:

John Ruskin – Artistic Director
Michael Myers – Producer/Managing Director
Mike Reilly – Producer/Production Manager/Lighting Design
Jason Matthews – Producer
Nicole Millar – Assistant Director
Dan Speaker and Jan Bryant – Fight Choreography (Nice fight scene.)
Lola Kelly – Costumes

Run!  And take someone with a nice aroma.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The 2nd Annual Brown & Out Theater Festival

By Joe Straw

On the Main Stage, Casa 0101 presents, The 2nd Annual Brown & Out Theater Festival – Celebrating the Latino / A LGBTQ experience.  It's more than a showcase, it's an experience. 

The first thing I noticed is the initial LGBTQ.  Okay, here goes Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, and Q.  What is the Q? I know, or I think I know LGBT, it’s been that way for a long time and then they had to go and add another letter, Q.  Google: LGBTQ.  Answer: “queer or questioning”.  Done. 

If they add another I will go completely mad.

The best thing about Casa 0101 Theatre is the work gets better and better each time I go.  It’s always been surprisingly good but this theatre endeavors to grow significantly by immeasurable increments. It is a testament to Josefina Lopez, the Artistic Director and also Miguel Garcia, the Producer of this festival.

This night is broken into two acts with various dramatic and comedic stories.

The Foundation for a Better Gay Brown Life by Miguel Garcia

Shut away in a back room somewhere is a secret organization that helps LGBTQ Latinos and Latinas come out and accept themselves.  The organization, The Foundation for a Better Gay Brown Life, is run by the saucy administrator, Dr. Valdez (Miriam Peniche).  On this particular night a Campaign Manager (MJ Silva), working for the Republican Party, comes to recruit Gay Latinos for his party. He has a choice from three different gay categories:  The Gay Mex announcer (Andres Rey Solorzano), Grand Master Cholo Guru (Martin Morales) and Gary The Gaytino (Henry Alberto).  Along the way the Campaign Manager discovers some things about himself not to mention being found out by a Gay app on Dr. Valdez’s phone. Nina Harada splendidly directed this play.

Follow the Rainbow by Evelyn Lorena  

This is a story of a quiet young woman, Rainbow Gonzales (Evelyn Lorena) growing up in Alabama and moving to West Hollywood to follow a dream.  What she finds is an unruly boyfriend and later decides this man is not for her.   Walking into a store she meets the “man” of her dreams and follows that rainbow.  Nina Harada also directed.

The Baby Cries by Mario J. Novoa

This is a play about two men, Marco (Andres Rey Solorzano) and David (MJ Silva) living a blissful domestic life, folding laundry, and cleaning house, while neatly tucked away is their baby girl, who cries, all the time, and never lets up. Marco says they need help and wants to call his mother (Miriam Peniche) and his father (Martin Morales).  David doesn’t want that because Marco’s mother hates him because “two men cannot raise children.” Marco calls anyway.  (One note, Mama go to the baby first, make sure everything is okay and then deal with your boys.) This was one of my favorites directed by Corky Dominguez.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving:  The Untold Story by Natalie Camunas

Okay, we all know “the story” about Charlie Brown but do we know “the untold story”. Does anyone know has anyone ever had any doubts about Peppermint Pattie (Evelyn Lorena)?  This play takes a satirical look at the backstory of the goings on in the lives of the Peanuts characters. And beside Peppermint Pattie, they are all there, Lucy (Natalie Canumas), Charlie Brown (Andrew Villarreal in a very delightful and unusual characterization), Linus (Henry Alberto) Sally (Blanca M. Melchor), and Marcie (Miriam Peniche) doing what the Peanuts characters does best.  Directed by Hector Rodriguez.

Three Rooms written by Miguel Garcia

Three Rooms written and directed by Miguel Garcia is loosely based on story of the college student that committed suicide when he found out that he was filmed having sex with another man. Ricky (Hector A. Garcia) is the student, while the man he had sex with is Jacob (Andrew Villarreal). The suicide has an effect on the lives of others and while this is in interesting concept with interesting possibilities it slightly misses in execution.  Also in Three Rooms were Evelyn Lorena, Blanca M. Melchor, MJ Silva, and Andres Rey Solorzano as the roommate, John  

The Gay Ghost Whisperer by Josefina Lopez

This short play by Josefina Lopez is very funny and involves two lovers, Gay Latino Ghost Whisperer (Henry Alberto) and Partner (Martin Morales) who are constantly being interrupted in session by gay teens who have committed suicide, who need to give information to the Ghost Whisperer, and be shown the light.  These ghosts are Gay Latino Teen Ghost 1 (Hector A. Garcia), and Gay Latino Teen Ghost 2 (Andrew Villarreal).  The director was Hector Rodriguez.

Miercoles Loves Luna by Monica Palacios

This is a funny short about two lovers Miercoles (Evelyn Lorena) and Luna (Natalie Camunas) having an anniversary party of sorts when jalapenos sort of get in the way.  The play is directed by Corky Dominguez.

Frankie and Johnny by Henry Alberto

Frankie (Andrew Villarreal) and Johnny (MJ Silva) who have a brutal relationship.  Johnny is physically larger and has a problem with liquor.  He is vicious to his one time partner.  They try to manage their affairs and sort out their lives with brutal consequences. This is probably the toughest play to watch of the night but very dramatic with some very fine acting on stage. Directed by Corky Dominguez and a very nice job by the writer, Henry Alberto, who speaks a truth of the realities of relationships that try to work but don’t. (When there is physical violence the injured party should immediately leave and seek help.)   

There are a couple of more shorts The Morning After Part 1: New Hopes by April Ibarra, adapted by Miguel Garcia, and directed by Hector Rodriguez featuring Girl 1 (Blanca M. Melchor) and Girl 2 (Natalie Canumas).  This play is about a Girl who has woken up in a strange apartment and worrying about the partner she has recently slept with.

Forever Young

Forever Young directed by Corky Dominguez is the story of three young LGBTQ men from Jovenes, Inc., a non-profit organization in Boyle Heights, California which provides services and stable housing options to transitional age (18-24 years-old) homeless and displaced youth. The actors words were based on the writings of the people who were a part of Jovenes.  The words were simple and had a quiet uniqueness of their own - thoughts on a page - performed on stage - and trying to find a way to make a trying life,  manageable.  Performed in masks by Henry Alberto, Hector A. Garcia and Andres Rey Solorzano. 

And the other one is very similar The Morning After Part 2: Happy Endings written by Miguel Garcia and directed by Hector Rodriguez with Blanca M. Melchor, Natalie Camunas, Evelyn Lorena, Miriam Peniche, and Martin Morales. It has the same ending as the first but with a lot more people waking up next to each other.  

Casting directors say they have a hard time finding good Latino actors.  Casa 0101 is the place they should come and explore the pickings of those who do really fine work.

Miriam Peniche does some incredible work here playing various roles and giving her all for the cause. Marcie was just delightful. I enjoy her craft every time I come to Casa 0101.

Someone new that I haven’t seen is Martin Morales who did excellent work as Papa and Ground Master Cholo. I certainly got the impression that he lived each moment on stage.

MJ Silva was also a pleasure to watch as Campaign Manager and showed a range with his brutal portrayal as Johnny.  Some really nice work.

The same hold true with Andrew Villarreal.  The Charlie Brown was so unusual it took a while to grasp the character.  I enjoy watching the unusual come to fruition.  Villarreal did some very nice work as Frankie in Frankie and Johnny.

Henry Alberto has a sturdy voice and does some very strong character work on stage. He also wrote Frankie and Johnny.  Gary the “Gaytino” was very convincing as was Linus. Alberto understands the craft and doesn’t appear to be hampered by going all out in character.  Very nice work.  

Evelyn Lorena has a very nice sincerity about her with Rainbow Gonzales and has a lot of fun imitating Peppermint Patty.

Other members of the cast doing fine work are Natalie Camunas, Hector A Garcia, Blanca M. Melchor, and Andres Rey Solorzano.

Corky Dominguez, one of the directors,  does some fantastic work with The Baby Cries and Frankie and Johnny. Nina Harada nicely directs The Foundation for a Better Gay Life.  And Hector Rodriguez  brings a lot of imaginative spirit to A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: The Untold Story and The Gay Ghost Whisperer.

This could not be possible without the help of people who are not on stage they are:

Alexander Aguila - Associate Producer
Vimmi Jaggi - Associate Producer
Marco De Leon - Set Designer
Carlos Brown - Costume Designer
Maura McGuinness - Lighting Designer
Matthew Sanchez - Assistant Stage Manager
Bianca Estrada - Stage Manager
Jorge Villanueva - Lighting Operator
Vincent Sanchez - Stage Hand
Mark Kraus - Webmaster
Ed Kreiger - Photographer
Steve Moyer - Public Relations
Emmanuel Deleage - Casa 0101 Executive Director

Run to see this production and take a friend who doesn’t get out much but wants to get out.

Through October 21, 2012.

Reservations:  323-263-7684

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Circle by W. Somerset Maugham

By Joe Straw

A family circle being torn apart by outside forces, or inside forces for that matter, is devastating especially when there are children involved. My family circle is broken and it is not something I’ll get over in a matter of days, weeks, months or even what’s left of my life. For me the pain is all too real, enduring, and never eases, not for one minute, not one minute.    

I read somewhere the British get a kick out of watching their fellow countrymen in misery, family squabbles, and politicians in a pickle go to the front of the line.  All that stuff just sends them over the edge with delight.

The Circle by W. Somerset Maugham directed by Jules Aaron and Produced by David Hunt Stafford at Theatre 40 is a delightful comedy.  It has a magnificent set created by Jeff G. Rack.  And it is a marvelous place to showcase actors in all their environmental glory.

This play opens at Aston–Adey, Arnold Champion-Cheney’s (Scott Facher) house in Dorset, England in the early 1930’s.  Aston–Adley is not a house, but a place nurtured by Arnold, the present homeowner and caretaker, and a current Member of Parliament.

Arnold Champion-Cheney scampers about his home searching for his wife Elizabeth (Shelby Kocee) but runs into his footman George (Fernando Aldaz).  Arnold asks George to find his wife.  But, before the footman leaves Arnold scolds the household lot for the dust that has accumulated in his otherwise perfect home.

Moments later a sumptuous houseguest, Anna (Dionne Jones), runs into Arnold.  She tells him that Elizabeth is going to have a single (tennis) with the dreamy Teddie (Ross Alden) and she is now upstairs putting on her shoes. Arnold doesn’t understand why putting on her shoes is taking so long.  Anna suggests she has other things to do (like powdering her nose).

(Thinking about love takes up a lot of time.)

Elizabeth enters wearing a beautiful summer dress (possibly not suitable for tennis).

“Damn!” – Elizabeth

“I wish you wouldn’t say that, Elizabeth.” – Arnold

“If you’re not going to say ‘Damn’ when a thing’s damnable, when are you going to say ‘Damn’? – Elizabeth

“I should have thought you could say, “’Oh, bother!’ Or something like that.” – Arnold

This is a precursor of a troubled relationship where a husband and his wife are not ever going to get along, ever.

And then Teddie enters a short while later and it looks as though something is going on between him and Elizabeth. There is casualness about their relationship that is very noticeable.     

“I think Teddie and I had better make ourselves scarce.” – Anna

Anna, sensitive about relationships around the house, is a little anxious about being there when they are expecting family relations.  

“Nonsense!  You’re both in it.  If there’s going to be any unpleasantness we want your moral support.  That’s why we asked you to come.” – Elizabeth

Arnold, in a tither, enlightens the small gathering with the news that his father, Clive (Lloyd Pedersen), has unexpectedly arrived the previous night and is now in his cottage next door.  And to make matters worse Arnold is anxious that his mother Lady Kitty (Rhonda Lord) and her husband, Lord Porteus (David Hunt Stafford) are arriving by motorcar in a few short minutes.

For Arnold this is an unexpected and unfortunate turn of events.  

This is when we learn Arnold’s backstory.  At the tender age of five, Arnold’s mother deserted him and his father.  She left them with a note pinned to her pillowcase. (Critical decisions are always made in bed.)   Arnold is now 35 years old, has not seen his mother since, and doesn’t know if he will recognize her or visa versa.  The whole situation seems rather absurd, comical, and uncomfortable, in only a fashion that is typically British.  

When Clive gets there, Elizabeth has taken the responsibility of informing Clive that she has invited Arnold’s mother Lady Kitty, and her husband Lord Porteus.

And, speaking of the devil, Clive opens the windows and threatens to jump in, but strolls through the French doors instead.  

And while pleasantries are made, Anna, Teddie, and Arnold manage to slip out of the room.  Clive notices that all have scattered to the winds and they are left alone.

“You have evidently something very disagreeable to say to me.” – Clive

“You won’t be cross with me?” – Elizabeth

“How old are you?” – Clive

“Twenty-five.” – Elizabeth

“I’m never cross with a woman under thirty.” – Clive

“Oh, then I’ve got ten years.” – Elizabeth

“Mathematics?” – Clive

“No. Paint?” – Elizabeth

Pretty, she may be, and her low mathematical reasoning is now, confirmed.

Elizabeth breaks the news Lady Catherine (Kitty) is coming, that she is staying in town, that she has been invited for lunch, and that she has also invited her husband Lord Porteus.

Elizabeth wants Clive to fill her in on the juicy tidbits of Lady Kitty’s personal life.  Clive says that in his day she was very dainty, a pretty nose, and very light on her feet but that was long ago.

“I imagine her slight and frail.” – Elizabeth

“Frail, certainly.” – Clive

And to garner further information Elizabeth asks about Lord Porteus. Clive says that he liked him and he could have been Prime Minister if he had stayed in politics.  He is also Arnold’s godfather.

“I wonder if he ever regrets.” – Clive

Clive retreats to his cottage as Teddie, who has been skulking around, enters the room. Teddie tells Elizabeth about his life in the tropics, his beachfront home, and other enticing things of his life.  And as their intercourse continues, Teddie blurts out.

“Do you know that I’m awfully in love with you?” – Teddie

Okay, so now the cats out of the bag, but there is no time because Arnold excitedly scurries into the room and tells them Lady Kitty is coming up the driveway.

And as they wait with anticipation, Lady Kitty enters.  She is heavily painted with mounds of makeup to hide the unfortunate business of age. Her grand and heavily assuming entrance with arms out stretched, as though she was parting a great-crusted salt lake is non-inspiring.  Her dress is superiorly outlandish and suited for a younger woman one-third her age.

Right away she mistakenly reaches to embrace Teddie as her son Arnold.  But, Elizabeth turns her around to the son she has not seen since the age of five.  

“And what do you think of Arnold?” – Clive

“I adore him.” – Lady Kitty

“He’s grown, hasn’t he? But then you’d expect him to do that in thirty years.” – Clive

Ouch. Sometimes subtle verbal jabs are not so subtle in Jolly Old England.

Later, after an excruciating game of cards with Lord Porteus and bickering back and forth Elizabeth finds herself alone with Teddie.

Teddie finds it hard to express his love for Elizabeth.  His tardigrade passes miss their mark.  And when he finally discovers the courage to tell her how he really feels, it is a muddled expression of love.

Notwithstanding, Elizabeth expresses her love for Teddie, and wants to run away with him.  But, she can’t leave without an explanation.  She is resolved to go to Arnold and break the news.  

Moments later Arnold rings for a cup followed by Kitty in the living area.  

“Shall I pour it out for you?” – Lady Kitty

“Thank you very much.” – Arnold

“Do you take sugar.” – Lady Kitty

Mother and son get a quiet moment together.  Lady Kitty explains she was but a small girl when she left. Clive joins them making a nice small family reunion. And later they are joined by Porteus.

Arnold is infatuated with his house and in particular Sheraton chair and wants to prove to everyone there, especially Porteus, the chair is a Sheraton.  He runs off to find a drawing in a book while Porteus enters.

Porteus say he hates Clive.  He has always hated him, and will hate him in the future.  Clive says he loves Porteus, has always loved him, and will love him in the future.  Lady Kitty calls Porteus disagreeable.

Clive tells Lady Kitty that Porteus would have been Prime Minister if she hadn’t run off with him to Italy. Kitty says that she’s the one who made the sacrifice for that man, Porteus.  She didn’t even have a bathroom.

“I’ve had to wash in a tub.” – Lady Kitty

“My poor Kitty, how you’ve suffered!” - Clive

The three of them Clive, Kitty, and Porteus battle back and forth as Arnold is flipping through the pages of the book to find an illustration of a Sheraton chair.

Porteus tells Clive that if he were Prime Minister he would have given them Western Australia or Barbados.

“Barbadoes!  Barbadoes can go to Barbadoes,” – Lady Kitty

In the argument Porteus’ teeth fall out and he runs from the room.

Lady Kitty is so mad she wants to end her relationship with Porteus and move back in with Clive.  Clive tells her he was good as a young man but is very wicked as an older one.

All right, so there is a lot going on here in this three-hour play.  Elizabeth and Arnold’s relationship is going nowhere. Teddie is having a hard time explaining to Elizabeth why she should run off with him. Lady Kitty wants to leave Porteus and move back with Clive.  Proteus fights to get back into the good graces of his wife Lady Kitty.  And Clive wants to hang out with women 25 years and younger. All of these predicaments make for a fun filled evening.

And, as is my nature, I want to speak about performances, character, and motivation.  

Scott Facher as Arnold has interesting character choices.  He is upwardly mobile as a Member of Parliament but his character seems to be stuck in the same circle as his father.  Stuck in a marriage that is going nowhere. Arnold’s hamartia is that he cares only for his stuff, his home, and has very little regard for sex.  In fact, he regards sex as an unnecessary part of his married life. Facher firmly holds on to his character choices while letting his objective fall to the wayside. There is a lot of downstage center primping and postulating without moving the character in a focused direction. His relationship with his houseguest is almost non-existent and should be examined.  Otherwise what is the point?  If his wife leaves, who’s left? Also Arnold blew enough dust off the figurine as though he were living in a mausoleum and not his clean stately manor.  Some of these were minor mistakes of opening night and hopefully things will change as the performances run its course.

Shelby Kocee plays Elizabeth with a soft manner and charm, but I think she may be giving the store away from the silent moments at the table with the puzzle. There is a reason Elizabeth invited the houseguests and the in-laws.  She’s got something up her sleeve that has yet to be discovered. Still Kocee gives a lot of deep emotional work in her performance and she is wonderful to watch.

Ross Alden plays Teddie a man how works offshore but comes back to see his true love and only her. As the character Teddie is befuddled.  He knows what he wants but he cannot come out and say it. So he is stuck until the moment he finds that his love and can tell her that he cares for her. He is slow and methodical when approaching but tests her in many ways to find if she cares for him.  Alden has a nice look and does a fine job. Sometimes his actions are “out there” when a little could go a very long way.

Lloyd Pedersen plays Clive Champion-Cheney and does a very nice job. Pedersen seems to go from one show to the next and has a delightful charm about him. But, I believe there is a lot more bite to the character.  Clive is the reason things happen they way they do.   He purposefully comes back early to see his former wife and her husband.  And, then, for no other reason to get back at the woman who cause him great pain to not only him but his son as well.  He uses his wit to get back at his former wife and the man who took her away. Charming everyone in the process.  It’s what the British do so well.

Rhonda Lord is fantastic as Lady Kitty.  She carries a certain charm about her.  She has a deep emotional commitment to the role and is delightful in many ways. She knows how to love and fight and then make up again. She is very comedic and filled with delightful expressions. I believe she needs to find a way to say "I'm sorry" to her son.  Maybe it isn’t written but should be expressed someway, somehow.  It is a very minor point in probably one of the finest and honest performances I have seen this year.

David Hunt Stafford does an admirable job as Lord Porteus. He is very funny and has an extreme emotional commitment even during his quiet moments.  He absorbs the communication given to him and releases a very fine truth, mostly love, but a very fine truth.

Fernando Aldez plays George the footman.  Each time he enters the rooms he brings something different.  It may not always work but there is a lot to be said about exploring the character, finding what works, and toss the stuff that doesn’t work. Also Aldez has a very likeable quiet charm and should do very well in this industry, with luck.

Dionne Jones plays Anna.  First of all she is stunning and has a quiet dignity about her.  As the character her objective is not clear, could not even guess as to what she wanted.  One suspects she wants Arnold but hasn’t the wear with all to take him.  The script gives clues and they are slight, so one has to make the best of those cues.  She is the first to come in contact with the man of the house. Anna rats on her female equivalent.  She digs at her unkempt character (powering her nose). She suggests the tennis player is dreamy and suggest a possible intimacy. Also, Anna is single.  She knows how to flirt and must make that obvious. In the end, she manages to get her fiddle player so she must be heading in that direction. Her actions must support the end result and doing this creatively will only add to a very nice performance.

I keep running into plays directed by Jules Aaron.  I enjoyed The Paris Letter and I enjoyed The Circle. I only have a few minor quibbles.  The relationships, in the beginning were a bit bewildering. The opening needs work to find a better way to establish the physical relationships.  We get Arnold and the footman. (Man/Servant.) But, when we have other people running about Anna, Teddie, and Elizabeth we are waiting for the relationships to develop and that takes too long.  The front of the program of The Circle shows characters in masks.  It suggests all of these characters have a secret and something to hide before they are ready to express it. (All of the characters.) So each character must have that painful bite in order to get their point across.  The words are like daggers to change the relationship or make them better.  I’m not sure having Arnold in the room looking for the drawing of the Sheraton chair while other members in his family are fighting serves a purpose.  And I think Anna’s moments should be strengthened to solidify the relationship between her and everyone else. These are only small quibbles and they have probably been corrected by the time you get there.

Michele Young did a fabulous job with the Costume Design.  And Judi Lewin also did a great job with the Hair & Wig Design.

Others members of this crew were.

Brigid O’Brien – Assistant Director
Michael Frank – Stage Manager
Ric Zimmerman – Lighting Designer
Bill Froggatt – Sound Designer
David Reynolds – Property
Philip Sokoloff – Publicity

Run!  And take a family member you haven’t seen in a long time.

Through October 28, 2012

Reservations:  310-364-0535