Sunday, February 24, 2013

Black Women: State of The Union, Taking Flight by Tanya Alexander-Henderson, Kellie Dantzler, Sigrid Gilmer, Penelope Lowder, and Lisa B. Thompson

by Joe Straw

"Police officers should be taught controlled breathing from day one in training to the point where it becomes so automatic they do it without thinking. They should be given the opportunity to practice it during stress-inducing reality-based training scenarios. If we don't provide officers with this type of stress-inoculation training, we are not adequately preparing them to perform well in an actual situation." Alexis Artwohl, Ph.D. -

By Joe Straw

She sat there, an iconic figure in a rocker, old and decrepit, with a quilt over her tired legs. She was born a slave, a beautiful smiling girl.  Now she rocks as an aging free woman with a sharp mind.  She has forgiven but she has not forgotten.

Her brown fingers hold on to the quilt covering her legs. And that quilt is a patchwork of faces, dedicated to those that have died through appalling inequalities.  To lessen the pain in her conscience being, and her legs, she rocks, and rocks, all the while singing a song of lament.  Each year, the quilt gets larger and heavier.  And at times, the emotional weight is too much for her legs to bear, so she lifts, with all of her might, covering the tears that stream down her face and muffling the anguish of her sobs.

There is a lot of imagery in the short play, “I Don’t Want To Be,” by Lisa B. Thompson and directed by Ayana Cahrr.  For me, theatre is a visual connection and there is a lot of visual imagery in Cahrr’s vision to hold onto.

The short play starts with the mothers of the fallen, wearing hoodies; waking up in the night screaming from the nightmare that is their life. Their son’s names deserve repeating.

Oscar Grant – shot by an Oakland Bart police officer.

Sean Bell – shot multiple times by plain-clothed and undercover NYPD officers.

Amadou Diallo – shot 19 times by NYPD plain-clothed police officers.

Trayvon Martin – shot by George Zimmerman.

“No one wants to be a part of this circle. I don’t want to belong.  I wanted to be just like you, laughing.  I dream just like you.”

The visible ray of hope comes through dialogue.  The everlasting wounds are deep, and though time heals wounds, no one ever forgets.

Michelle Flowers, Kila Kitu, Lonyé Perrine, Lee Sherman, and Tamika Simpkins make up this terrific ensemble. My one suggestion is to make the ending stronger as to stamp an indelible impression on the viewer.

Black Women State of The Union Taking Flight by Tanya Alexander-Henderson, Kellie Dantzler, Sigrid Gilmer, Penelope Lowder, and Lisa B. Thompson is taking this particular show on the road.  Produced by BWSOTU and Gary Grossman and this time it is downtown at the Company of Angels but by the time you read this it will have moved on, hopefully, to a theatre near you.

The Follicle Prison War – by Penelope Lowder  

The Follicle Prison War by Penelope Lowder and also directed by Ayana Cahrr is lighter fair, a comedy, with serious undertones.

The play takes place in an area of civil unrest, police or national guards patrolling the neighborhood and helicopters flying overhead. Dawn Fantasta (Lee Sherman), a racially ambiguous movie star, is skirting from door to door, hiding behind the cover of her sunglasses and scarf.  She wants owner, Melanie Harker (Kila Kitu), to open her wig shop so that she can get extensions that her admiring public want to see her wearing and which have made her famous.  But Melanie sets a high price that must be paid before letting the items go and will not part with the extensions until that price is paid.

But is that it? Or is there more here? Is it that Melanie needs her price or that she wants Fantasta to come out and not be racially ambiguous? Tell us who you are and be proud, she seems to be saying, especially during these trouble times, and then you can buy the extensions.

One aspect that doesn’t quite work is the note because the time is short and it is too much to grasp in this short play.   Still, the acting from Lee Sherman and Kila Kitu is incredible and the work was very nice.

Evolutionary by Kellie Dantzler

Directed by Ayana Cahrr, this short play tells the story of a mother (Kila Kitu) and a daughter (Lonyé Perrine) in the last days of the mother’s life, an activist in the Civil Rights Movement.  In all honesty, the mother was probably the Civil Rights Movement from the way she is treated by her daughter. And while her mother’s time is near, her daughter believes it is the end of an era, her mother’s era, and she weeps at the thought of losing an important member of her family.   But her mother has another lesson to teach; she has brought her daughter a gift, which she cannot open until the time is right and the lesson is taught.  

Kila Kitu is very funny in this short play and Lonyé Perrine holds her own in this wonderful short.

15 Min. by Penelope Lowder

Sometimes relationships begin in a nicely timed moment, a peek into the soul of loveliness, a desperate attempt to grasp the moment and not let go.  Nicely directed by Kila Kitu, “15 Min” is about two people, brought together for 15 minutes, in the hopes they may become a couple.   The couple does not seem to get along at the start.  Samantha (Lonyé Perrine) is up for the meeting, while her counterpart Colin (Hari Williams), an investment banker, thinks it is a mistake. He is not into black women and prefers Anglo women, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, German, Irish, Norwegians, Cuban, Serbian, anything but black. But his inflexible preference has the inconsistency of sand and this makes for a very comedic encounter and a very nice ending.

The work by Hari Williams and Lonyé Perrine is superior.

Austen Jaye an alternate cast member who plays Colin was not there the night I came.

Black Simulacra by Sigrid Gilmer

Nataki Garrett directed Black Simulacra—in a story of people/actresses. Woman 1 (Tamika Simpkins) and Woman 2 (Michelle Flowers), possibly two professionals, who are trying to work out a scene or processing an emotional issue. In any case, simulacra is a made up name—part simulation, part Lycra—a fabric worn about the head as a wig cap.

This seems to be a scene from The Help, adapted.  Sigrid Gilmer has a very offbeat sense of humor, some things I get and others, well um, I don’t.  Lucille (Lee Sherman) enters wearing a lab coat at the end of the exercise as though this were an experiment that needs some slight adjustments.

I enjoyed this short play as it was filled with a lot of humor, conflict, and specific characters that only want the best, for themselves. Ironically enough, it’s the blond wig that sets the conflict going in different directions.

Ritual by Tanya Alexander-Henderson

There are times when waking up that the slightest variance of daily life becomes a sign.  My day is regimented to the nth degree, so mistakenly running into a wall becomes a significant sign of the foreshadowing events to follow.   

Director Ayana Cahrr tells the story of a woman (Michelle Flowers) who needs to say the right thing to get out of bed and start her day. Two angels, Woman 1 (Lee Sherman) and Woman 2 (Tamika Simpkins)—who are strong, smart, and beautiful, prod her out of bed to face the day.  But the words are not right and the head goes back to the pillow until a substitute can be found.  

Ayana Cahrr, the director of “I Don’t Want To Be”, “The Follicle War”, “Evolutionary”, and “Ritual” really does some magnificent work.  The women are strong, intelligent, and focused in their objectives and are guided marvelously.

Kila Kitu, the director of “15 Min.” shows a strong hand in directing two wonderful actors.  There is this constant battle that never lets up until there is a resolution.  Nicely done!

Nataki Garrett, the director of “Black Simulacra”, did a fine job with Sigrid Gilmer’s words. One would need to get into Gilmer’s mindset to completely understand her perspective, but Garrett succeeds.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Production Stage Manager – Christopher Hoffman
Lighting & Set Design – Justin Huen
Costumes – Lee Sherman
Sound Engineer – Kila Kitu

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Love Bites – Volume XI – An Evening of Dysfunctional, Not-So Romantic Short Plays – When it doesn’t kiss, suck, or blow, it bites! - By Various Writers.

By Joe Straw

Elephant Theatre Company presents Love Bites Volume XI February 7th through March 2, 2013.

It is wonderful to see that The Elephant Theatre Company has opened their doors once again after a brief hiatus. And when you go, you are bound to see the proverbial elephant in the room, something so different, it will knock your socks off.

The night starts off wonderfully when patrons bring a photo of their ex for a five dollar discount.  Then the folks at Elephant present those pictures on stage to talk about the relationships that went sour.  The photos are then torn in dramatic fashion into tiny pieces much to the delight of the audience. 

In Love Bites there is something for everyone.

There’s No Place Like Home by Nikki McCauley and nicely directed by Tony Gatto is the story of a man, Jake (Corby Griesenbeck) a southern man, pants down, sitting on a toilet in a ladies restroom when Stella (Etienne Eckert) finds him there and asks him to leave so that she can smoke her crack. Jake has quite a bit of fun not leaving and the ending is unexpected and superb.

Superhero by Mark Harvey Levine and directed by Marisa O’Brien is a very interesting play about Rachel (Tara Norris) who ties herself up in the hopes of roping a man, Leonard (Colin Day), when a superhero intrudes upon her life.  Of course the superhero (Leonard) wants nothing to do with her.  It is cute and fun with nice performances by Norris and Day.

"Stay strong citizen!" - Superhero

Circle Dance by John C. Davenport and directed by Max Williams is the story of a sexually charged man (Ben Belack) and an equally charged woman (Laura Harman) dancing their way to happiness with a slight conflict along the way.  

Jinxed by Alex Mavromatis and directed by Lindsay Allbaugh and David Fofi was one of my favorites of the night.  In an end of the world scenario Meatloaf (Amy French) a Ph.D. games specialist from Brandeis University and Stringbean (Darryl Armbruster) a geek who hoards food, especially Whoopee Pies, are the only two people left on earth and they have a hard time getting along.  They are able to survive only on their wits, weggies, and indian burns, despite the fact both are jinxed. There are a lot of wonderful back and forth moments and a lot of physical action wonderfully directed by Allbaugh and Fofi. Amy French is an incredible actress who makes the most of the simple moments on stage with an unsurpassed level of concentration. Darryl Armbruster is equally impressive and creates a grand physical life onstage.  Wonderful to watch!

Splitting Hares by Brett Hursey and directed by Chris Game is a marvelous story about a couple seeking help from a marriage counselor.  Annie (Cheryl Huggins) is upset that her husband Ron (Salvator Xuereb) likes to dress up in bunny ears and bounce around the room all the while eating carrots.  It is up to Dr. Harvey (Eric Bunton) to get them to see each other’s point of view.

“Look at Ron and reassure him that you are not laughing.” – Dr. Harvey

It is hard not to laugh.

Humpty Dumpty by Deana Barone directed by Lindsay Allbaugh is the story of He (Marco Naggar) and She (Nikki McCauley) telling a story using an egg to complete the narrative. There are a lot of wonderful moments in this play, but it is dark and one can hardly see anything. But the things that are visible are wonderful.

The Name Game by Gloria Calderon Kellett directed by Brendan Farrell is a sexually free for all  story of Paul (Nelson DelRosario) and Sarah (Maya Parish) role playing in bed without playing in bed.  Trouble is the only thing that arises when Paul lets slip the name of Sarah’s friend Jenny.  Sarah lets it be known that she has a fascination for Seth Rogen.

“Why do you think of unattainable celebrity?” – Paul

Studio Head by Louis Jacobs and directed by Amelia French is a devishish and wicked story about Carrie (Patricia Rae), a studio head, and her current male prostitute, Adam (John Charles Meyers) ,who wants to walk around in his briefs and convince his lover to put him in a film.

The night is kept going in between scenes when all of the actors chip in and change the settings for the next play.  They dance the set away as they dance the night away.  Wonderfully done!  Marvelous, simply marvelous.  

The Elephant Theatre Company has a knack of providing quality and refreshingly new entertainment.  And it’s always a pleasure to go there.  I'm glad they are back.

Artistic Directors - David Fofi and Lindsay Allbaugh
Producing Director - Greg Borrud
Managing Director - Rick Bernstein
Produced by - Tara Norris and Cheryl Huggins
Press Representative - Ken Werther Publicity
Production Design - Elephant Stageworks
Stage Manager - Caitlin Rucker
Technical Directors - Matt Richter and Adam Hunter
Musical Director - Ben Caron
Asst Director/Propmaster - Danielle Ozymandias
Lighting Designer - Daniel Trostler
Graphics - Holler Morris
General Manager - Tony Foster
Lead House Manager - Caryl West
Program Design - Brad Steinbauer,

If you've ever had a love, wanted a love, needed a love, ran away from a love, or couldn't find a love, run to see these shorts!  You'll discover your love life might not be all that complicated.

To subscribe go to

Reservations:  1-855-NO - FORGET (because Elephants don't)

I Don’t Have To Show You No Stinking Badges – by Luis Valdez

By Joe Straw

In theatre, the stage is always now, a place in a conflicted moment, of life and death decisions. Actors on stage bring their past and that makeup is the essence of the character’s conscious being.

An actor is a creature that is divinely driven by demons.

Creative satisfaction is a myth, and yet actors must be ruthless in their attempts to get there. - Narrator

Different casts and directors have various interpretations of the same play - intentions are changed - actors and directors make their own choices - but generally it’s the same play, in another format. Luis Valdez might have had another version of the play in mind when he wrote it 25 years ago.

All of which leads to the question: Is this a real family or a TV family?  And after reading the play (available at, I’ve come to understand: they are not a real family, but rather actors playing in a sitcom.  I will focus my comments with that perspective in mind.

Casa 0101 presents I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges written by Luis Valdez, and directed by Hector Rodriguez. This show was produced by Emmanuel Deleage & Frances E. Chang under Casa 0101 Artistic Director Josefina Lopez.

The play, superbly written by Luis Valdez, has a sitcom family, the Villa family, acting on a stage within the three walls of a TV studio, with a live studio audience—us.  But Hector Rodriguez, the director, has clearly made a choice to not accentuate the sit-com aspect of the play, and by the time we understand what’s going on, it is too late.  This is not a vision I am enamored with but I’ll let the theatre-going public make their own determination.

It’s pretty simple; Luis Valdez has written a sitcom within a play about a modern American Latino Family—mom, dad, and kid off to college.

I think, in order for us to understand the play, we have to go to the fictitious preproduction meeting, - the seed that created this life…  


An Anglo creative dream team comes together to develop the next Sanford and Son for their growing Latino television market.

 “…The Latino dad’s got to have a problem. Wait a minute, I’ve got it; he drinks, because all Mexicans drink. And he’s had that problem for years, but now he’s cutting back. He’s trying to be good; he only has twelve beers every night. That’s funny! And he’s got to be funny! What kind of job does he have, anyone? 

(timidly) He was in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre? He is the last extra, camera left, right behind the horse?

Extra! That’s funny!  

And, well, later he works for Spielberg.  He’s the first extra eaten in Jaws.

Wasn’t that the girl? 

No, it was before her. 


And he has these crazy ideas of being a Mexican filmmaker in Hollywood?

Fun knee! 

He’s got to be doing something else; he can’t support himself as an extra.  Anyone?

He owns a Mexican restaurant.

My eyes are getting heaaavy!

A Chinese restaurant?


A Chinese-Mexican restaurant!  

Perfect, dim sum and then some, frijoles! Funny! What about the mom?  Anyone?

Well, she’s an extra too!  No, no, no, she’s a real actress who doesn’t do equity waiver theatre because she likes getting paid for working.  And she doesn’t like sex. 

A Mexican who doesn’t like sex?  I’m not following you.

No, no, no, no, she likes sex but not with her husband?

Ohhh, now that’s funny!

She’s trying to move up in the movie business from playing housemaids to something more substantial?  A madam with beautiful sex workers all around her! 


And she’s a strong woman. She has to be in order to keep her husband’s drinking in line, one, and B; she wants a career of her own because they can’t live on his extras salary. She sells real estate, because everyone does that in California.  

Funny!  What about their kids?

They have an older daughter. 


And she’s different. 


She’s a pediatrician.

Nice!  And the boy? 

He’s got to be smart too.

I’m listening. 

He’s a precocious 16 years old who is studying at….?  Harvard! PRE LAW! But, he’s kind of goofy, shows up back home, and has a bizarre idea about being in the movies. 

Fun neee!

What about the love interest, for the kids? 

He’s just sixteen.

He’s Mexican right?  

Goes without saying.  And he’s got an Asian girlfriend!

Exotic Japanese market, uh hum, uh hum, uh hum.   

Only she’s twenty-six, a Valium addict, (Valley of The Dolls) and… doesn’t know he’s sixteen.

Ohhhhh, I think we’ve got it.  I smell a hit.  All right you knuckleheads, get out there and write it!

Wait a minute.  Are there any Latino writers on staff?  

What do we need them for?  

We don’t need no stinkin’ Latino writer. What was I thinking?  Will somebody shoot me?” 


My apologies for getting carried away, but you get the picture.

The play, set in 1985 and in Monterey Park, California, starts with this marvelous opening. Buddy Villa (Daniel E. Mora) is asleep watching Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  He dreams that someone—his son, Sonny (Alex Valdivia)—steps into the room in a directors outfit, plans out shots, and when Buddy reaches out to him, Sonny kisses him on the forehead and leaves.

The following morning, Connie Villa (Carmelita Maldonado) is on the phone with her agent trying to negotiate jobs for the both of them but she secretly wants to go alone to Costa Rica for a film role.

Buddy comes in after a morning run and heads straight for the refrigerator for a beer.

“Beer, hombre? It’s still morning.” – Connie

“Gotta replace my body fluids.  Would you believe I just ran five miles?” – Buddy

“No.” – Connie

“Okay.  Would you believe three miles?” – Buddy

Buddy, feeling exceptional, wants a little from the señorita but she’s not having any of his amorous advances.

Quickly changing the subject, Connie says that she’s gotten a letter from their daughter, Lucy (not seen), a pediatrician who lives and works in Phoenix.

Buddy tells Connie about the dream that Sonny is home and directs them in a film.  And Buddy has these wild story ideas about a sombrero looking spacecraft in a star wars picture with Space Migras chasing the sombrero back to earth.

Connie thinks his stories are trash and as a symbolic gesture gives him the trash to take outside so he can throw both away.  She also lets it slip that Costa Rica is a perfect place to shoot.

“Okay.  Then let’s talk about the Nicholson movie.” – Buddy

“So that’s what eating you.” – Connie

“I know damn well you really want to do it.” – Buddy

“Betty says I still have a good chance at the part of the madam.” - Connie

“Another Mexican whore?” – Buddy

“Of course not, she’s Costa Rican!” - Connie

Buddy is adamant about working together when the work is out of town, either they both are offered jobs, or neither goes alone.  That argument is put on hold when Betty calls and they are offered a job as a maid and a gardener.  The self-proclaimed “Silent Bit King and Queen” hustle themselves out of the house and over to MGM studio for a Dallas taping.

While they are gone their son, Sonny, makes a grand entrance, turns on his taping device and starts recording.  Caught in his own imaginative world, he is unaware of Anita Sakai (Elizabeth Pan) coming into the house.

Anita tells Sonny, the long trip from Cambridge has left Peugeot terminally, dead. She has a brother, a turf doctor, living in Pacific Palisades who will pick her up, so it is the end of the road for them.  But when Anita calls her brother, he is out of town.  Sonny doesn’t want her to leave and offers her a room for the night. Anita doesn’t like the idea.

“Symbolically, you’re the distillation of everything beautiful in my life.” – Sonny

“Symbolically? – Anita

Still, she accepts his offer and goes upstairs to take a shower taking a Valium or two in the process to take the edge off of her life’s predicament. Sonny has not told Anita that he is 16 years old.

Meanwhile Sonny takes out his recorder and makes notes about the dilemmas in his life and the events he has gone through at Harvard when his parents drive up.

The rest of the story, about life in a sitcom, is about the relationship of the four and the reasons why Sonny has left Harvard.  Valdez’s play under Rodriguez’s direction gets a little too serious with the events that unfold in the second act.

I have some notes.

No matter how many times an announcer says, “turn off your cell phones”, they still keep going off. On this particular night, when the actors were hitting their stride a xylophone ring went off on an iphone. “Dink, dink, dink, dink dink da dinka dink, dink dink dink dink dink da dinka dink” before it was turned off.  What little momentum the actors had at that moment was now completely lost. I think the actors should stop rather than continue.  (I would like to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.)  

The actors, on this night, brought little of the rich characters that are the makeup of Luis Valdez’s play.  There were moments that were exceptional but overall the characters were not fully realized and actions were not taken to the level they need to be.  A few more rehearsals and more stage time under their belts and the show should do just fine.

Luis Valdez has a lot to say about Hollywood and the lack of Latino representation.  Maids and gardeners of 1985 are now gangbangers and single unwed mothers living on welfare. Not much has changed since 1985.  This play takes a look at the business aspect of a sitcom and how things can go horribly wrong when things are not kept light.

Hector Rodriguez, the director, doesn’t make it clear that we are watching a sitcom and that a character in that sitcom has gone overboard to give a dramatic portrayal of the life as a cholo in Monterey Park.  Situation comedies have dramatic elements but are usually not dramatic. Rodriguez does little to have us believe this is a TV studio, symbolically or otherwise. Rather, we have to accept that this is real life, that the gun being fired at the police is real, that the trouble the boy gets into is real, etc. This is not appropriate if we are to believe this is a sitcom.   This play has to have characters that are TV actors in a sitcom, as well as real people performing in a play. All directors have choices, and some choices are better than others.  The director has to put his mark, the through line, on this production. With directors, theatre is about breaking rules with your own perspective, but if you are breaking those rules, your choices must be emphatic and specific.  

Alex Valdivia as Sonny Villa has a good look but doesn’t grasp the character or the meaning of the play.  He has not found the core of the character.  He is well beyond the 16 years old that he is supposed to be playing and usually, in theatre, this is not a problem.  His problem is finding the elements of the character that make him sixteen. And in the confines of a TV show, there are a number of elements that make up the character. Instead, there is a lot of primping and posing without the character having a clear objective that he desperately needs. Using Stanislavski’s “what if”, what if he is the producer of the show, as well as the star, and the written material is not working.  He starts taking the material in another direction.  The other actors would either follow along or rebel.  This seems to fit with the written material and might give him a little more to work with.   

Carmelita Maldonado as Connie Villa has some very fine moments on stage and I think she was hitting her stride when the phone went off.  Maldonado has a better understanding of the sitcom within the play.  Still, her character can go a lot farther, in her sexuality, her love for her son, and the jealously of an intruder. There is a lovely moment when her son is lying dead on the floor after being riddled by police gunfire, and Connie steps over him. I guess she got tired of his bad sitcom acting and is playing it as she rehearsed it, in character, of course.

Daniel E. Mora as Buddy Villa also has some fine moments on stage.  The imitations on stage are quite good, the Chinese voice, Nigel Lopez, and others.  But his relationship with Sonny, Connie, and especially Anita really don’t go far enough or are sufficiently believable for this type of venue. Buddy does not have a clear objective.  Mora’s character choices are fine, but there is no delineation of the actor on stage and the real person having to deal with another actor who is out of control.  Also, it is not a good idea to speak dialogue with Shirley Bassey singing Goldfinger in the background, Shirley Bassey wins every time and the dialogue is lost.

Elizabeth Pan as Anita Sakai has a very nice technique on stage and knows her craft. Her entrance needs a lot of work. When she enters she seems to be just a neighbor dropping by rather than Sonny’s lover.  As the character, Anita has unlimited possibilities and can go farther in her relationship with the other men in this production.  Why shouldn’t she make more of her relationship with Buddy?  He is infatuated with Asian women. And Sonny is another matter.  After all, she has just had sex with a minor, and when she finds out, nothing happens. And what in her character makes her take Valium? As the character, Anita needs to find what drives her in the final stages of the show, how she deals with Sonny, rather than sitting back and letting things happen.

Joe Camareno was exceptional as the reporter.  The newscast was exceptional and modern day in appearance and execution.

It’s funny, not one of the actors, took a moment to look at the director and ask for his help in moments that were not rehearsed.  It happens all the time in Hollywood.

Other members of the staff were:

Set Designer – JR Bruce
Lighting Designer – Sohail e. Najafi
Sound Designer – Bill Reyes
Costume Designer – Carlos Brown
Prop Master – Matthew Sanchez
Video Specialist – Claudia Duran
Casting Director – Edward Padilla
Stage Manager – Jennifer Perez
Assistant Stage Manager – Mario Alvarado
Webmaster – Mark Kraus
Graphic Design – Soap Design Co.
Poster Painting – Francisco T. Norzagaray
Production Photographer – Ed Krieger
Press Representative – Steve Moyer Public Relations

Go and take a friend that loves the movie business.

Reservations:  e-mail

Box Office:  323-263-7684