Monday, April 29, 2013

Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me – by Frank McGuinness

L - R Lloyd Pedersen, Bert Emmett - Photo Sherry Netherland

By Joe Straw

Someone acted as though this was a  - men in bondage - movie.  One patron, in particular, brought in candy with noisy wrappers.  She ate one bag, folded it, reached into her purse and started in on another. Then she twisted the cap off her beverage releasing a deafening fizz that filled the entire theatre.  

For some people, watching starving, malodorous captive men is a spectator sport.

And here I was, caught behind her, shackled in my own personal private prison. I had to find a way out.  And did.  - Narrator

He sat there, shirtless, an analogous representation of the hooded figures at Abu Ghraib, manacled with his leg chained to the floor.  A black cloth covers his head, and his hands are tied behind his back. He sits quietly, not making a sound, only moving slightly to make himself feel marginally comfortable. Odd, but he doesn’t struggle; he is resigned to his fate, he is there to stay and all the wishing about going home seems, misguided.

The Group Rep presents Someone Who’ll Watch over me by Frank McGuinness and directed by Gregg T. Daniel. “Someone…”—set in Beirut, Lebanon—is a marvelous production with very interesting characters laboring through their own private inferno.

When the play opens, Adam’s (Evan L. Smith) eyes were naturally heavy and the right side of his head was bruised as though he had been hit repeatedly with a blunt instrument.  He shares the cell with Edward (Bert Emmett), a burly Irishman, with whom he has no connection other than the simple fact:  they share a noisy cell together somewhere in Lebanon.  

The stark cell, a sand colored cramped room, and marvelous set designed by Gary Lee Reed, is a testament to overcrowding cells, a room fit for one now holds two, with just enough space for a Koran and a Bible.  

Through intercourse, in tightly confined quarters, we discover Adam, an American, is a doctor, possibly a psychologist, and Michael is a journalist with a fondness for beer and the horses. But after two months, Adam and Edward’s interaction have exhausted civility.  And in the service of passing time, Adams declares his fondness for masturbation, while Edward speaks of his moral nihilism. 

But in all due seriousness, they work not to be broken, and there is one thing they can agree on.  

“Will we get out alive? (pause)  I do get scared. I miss my home.”  – Adam

“That’s all I wanted to hear.” – Edward

“I’ve said it.  All Right?” – Adam

With just enough space to cohabitate, another prisoner Michael (Lloyd Pedersen) is thrown into the room.  A bandage is wrapped around his head, as he lies there unconscious.

Michael mumbles unobtrusively as he recovers his senses. They discover Michael is an Englishman with a fondness for making pear flan. And this, we later learn, has gotten Michael into trouble. 

The aleatory details of their incarceration are a mystery to us, possibly for doing something they were not to do in a foreign country.  In any case, for the characters, it seems like a distant perspective for which one of them will pay a big price.  

But, although he has been in there a short while, Michael has had enough and he screams for captors to release him.    

“That’s enough… Don’t ever do that in here.  I’m warning you.” – Adam

Adam, weary of the months he has already spent there, notes the jailers are listening via a speaker and it is better to laugh.

With introduction made, social graces set aside, and occupations presented, there comes a moment that defines a character, such as his unwillingness to answer a simple question.

“Who was coming to dinner?” – Edward

“I was making a pear flan.” – Michael

Michael execrates Edward’s constant references to his sexuality especially when they playfully write verbal letters to home.

“Oh, go ahead, Edward.  Start straightaway.” – Michael

“Start what?” – Edward

“Attack me for writing to my mother.  Pansy little Englishman… (to Adam) Look at him sitting there smirking.” – Michael

“I did not open my mouth.” - Edward

Michael is a tad sensitive to his sexuality. It is possibly the reason that he is in this cell (room). Caught in an obdurate moment, he defends his manly position, with his captors listening, for all to hear, and for all hours of the day and night.

And as Adam grows weary of his incarceration, his journey leads him deeper and deeper into despair as though he knows something, something he is not sharing, a secret he will not divulge.

“What are we going to do?” – Adam

“Be men.” – Edward

“And do what?” – Adam

“Face up to your fate.” – Edward

“And then what?” – Adam

“Defy it.  Defy them.  Fight them.  Never show pain in front of them.” - Edward

Such are lives of incarcerated men whose only obvious task are those of moral reflection as they pass the time of day with abiding memories awaiting an uncertain fate.  

I thoroughly enjoyed Frank McGuinness' play.  There is enough here to keeps one’s mind occupied and a lot to be said of the “silence” that is placed in the significant moments of the play.  Similar to what Harold Pinter does with his “pauses”.  These are the poignant moments that change the course of their relationship throughout the play. McGuinness never really says why they are there but he gives a lot of clues. For each character the “Someone” is obviously the other two characters, and each game they play must be view as a way of getting out.

Gregg T. Daniel has his own personal point of view in his direction.  I like Daniel’s work and I thought this was an exceptional production.  But the “silences” that move the relationships were not in the right places. But in other  places that were totally unexpected.  Not bad, just unexpected. For example, there were snapshots at the end of the scene that projected fascinating things, possibly guards coming for the men, froze the men but didn’t propel them into the following scene.  And although we never really see the “Arab guards” we really have to know they are there, right outside the door, inches away from the speakers. I also think the characters need to find a way to get home, whether they get there or not is a moot point. This adds one little truth to this production. (What is the objective of all prisoners?  To get out.) Also, I think we need to see fear.  The ending is not emotional enough even for three strong hearted men. The version of the play I read had Adam reading the Koran and I didn’t see that in this production.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe this production was a different version of the same play. Aside from those various observations there were also remarkable moments in this production.

L - R Lloyd Pedersen, Evan L. Smith, Bert Emmett - Photo Sherry Netherland

Evan L. Smith plays Adam.  We never really find out why this character is treated differently. We only know that Adam, the American, feels like he has to be strong and face up to all challenges.  Adam is given the choice between the Bible and the Koran and for the purpose of this production he makes the wrong choice. Smith also makes a choice of being sick near the end, sort of deliriously sick, which doesn’t take him anywhere. And there was a point I was asking myself where is he going?  Still, Smith, does a nice job, has a nice voice, but needs work singing “Someone To Watch Over Me.”  The song “Amazing Grace” should be sung with strong convictions to hammer home his point and it should be directed to his captors.  

Lloyd Pedersen does an admirable job with Michael, the Englishman. We know why he is captive; there are a lot of obvious hints.  I will say this; he has to find something else to do besides folding clothing ad nauseam.  Still Pedersen give a lot of marvelous life to his character.  

Bert Emmett plays Edward and is splendid in the role. He seems to be the comic foil but there are a lot of serious moments as well.  Not sure why his ending ends the way it does.  Was it his nationality or just luck of the Irish?  Emmett is funny and clever and always finds a way. I believe his relationship with his ending counterpart should be stronger.  It will only make the ending that much better.

Laura Coker did an exceptional job as the Producer for the Group Rep.

Other members of this fantastic crew are as follows:

Assistant Director:  Jennifer Ross
Stage Manager:  Emily Doyle
Set Design:  Gary Lee Reed
Lighting Design: Kim Smith
Costume Design:  Elizabeth Nankin
Sound Design:  Steve Shaw
Props:  Laura Coker & Emily Doyle
Music Supervisor:  Paul Cady
Dialect Coach:  Andrea Odinov Fuller
Public Relations:  Nora Feldman
Graphic Design:  Doug Haverty/Art & Soul Design

Run and bring someone who has a non-lethal recipe for pear flan.

Talkbacks:  After Sunday matinee May 19th
Admission: $22.  Seniors/Students: $17.  Groups 10+:  $15
Ladies Night Fridays:  Ladies 1/2 off 
Buy tickets/information or (818) 763-5990.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tamales De Puerco (Pork Tamales) – by Mercedes Floresislas

By Joe Straw

A while ago, I attended a seminar hosted by the Screen Actors Guild, which included casting directors for ABC, CBS, FOX, Disney, etc.  Concurrently in the Los Angeles Times, there was a two-page spread of their upcoming fall season featuring the 100 or so stars of the season.  And out of those actors, there were only four of color. I posed the question of “Why?” to the panelist and there was a deathly silence. No one wanted to respond.

And if my imaginary memory dis-serves me incorrectly someone mentioned they were looking for a Hispanic deaf mute actor who knew sign language.  They said they traveled the world looking for this actor.  (For the love of god!) -  Narrator

Casa 0101 presents Tamales De Puerco (Pork Tamales) – A trilingual play in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language – Written by Mercedes Floresislas and wonderfully directed by Edward Padilla.

Tamales De Puerco is a magnificent show featuring a very exciting cast that has you hanging on every word in Spanish, English, and Sign. There is no ennui here as Tamales De Puerco lifts your spirits to unimaginable heights.  

The remarkable ambiance of this show is its silence. The silence in the play is both beautiful and deafening. And in the silence, I could hear audience members sobbing around me and I admit I was moved to tears as well. There are outstanding performances that you must not miss.  (And as an aside, I would encourage all those casting directors looking all over the world to come to Boyle Heights to see this production.)  

The play starts with Tana (Miriam Peniche), a street vendor selling roasted corn, when police confront her.  Norma Morales (Cristal Gonzalez) with baby in tow tries to help her but the police are eager to confiscate the merchandise because Tana doesn’t have a license.

Reynaldo Ramirez (Arturo Aranda), Norma’s husband pulls her away and they manage to escape the long arm of the law.

Back home, domestic problems ensue as Norma and Reynaldo deal with the news that their son is profoundly deaf. Norma wants to seek help but Reynaldo refuses to believe there is anything wrong with his son.  Reynaldo is quite abusive toward Norma and their child.

Norma has had enough abuse and runs away with the baby. She pleads with her mother (Mercedes Floresislas) to take them in.  But her mother, now involved in a relationship, tells her to accept the abuse and go back to her husband.

Distraught, Norma ends up in a homeless shelter singing to her baby, much to the consternation of the other clients who tell her to shut up.  But despite their current situation, Norma caresses her baby and lovingly sings that everything will be okay.    

At daybreak, Norma and the others are told to leave and that they can return around 4:00 pm. On the street, Norma finds Tana and they begin to chat. They are confronted by a deaf person (Michael Anthony Martinez-Islas) who hands them a card— possibly requesting a donation but this is unclear.

Still Norma follows him and ends up in an AA meeting for deaf participants. There, she witnesses Kent’s (Dickie Hearts) heart wrenching story of his father and their relationship. Apparently Kent’s father thought his three strikes of alcoholic, gay, and deaf were two too many.

Years pass and the baby, Mauricio Morales (Jaden Delgado), is now six years old. Mauricio and his mother now sign fluently with each other.  Tomas (Alfredo Avila), an aspiring guitar player, hangs around Norma and Mauricio but Norma seems disinterested. Instead she focuses on working toward getting her green card.

And as Tomas is playing with Mauricio, Norma teaches Tana to sign M*ther F*cker in right in front of her preoccupied kid.  Norma and Tana with their carts of corn and tamales are approached by a cop (Mercedes Floreislas).  Tomas sees the cop and takes Norma’s cart as Norma takes Mauricio and quietly leaves.

Later Tana tells Norma that Tomas got a ticket for holding her cart.  And when Norma offers to pay for the ticket, Tomas refuses and says he did it out of kindness. This is a big hint to which Norma remains impervious.  

Tana has asked Karla (Lynn Moran), a deaf woman who attends a deaf church, to meet Norma.  But when Karla and Norma meet they have trouble communicating. Norma is interested in what Karla has to say but, at the same moment, Norma must attend to business. Karla, not understanding Norma’s spoken words, misunderstands Norma’s actions and intentions for Mauricio.

Back home Karla, concerned for Mauricio, tells her husband Cesar (Scott McMaster) that Norma does not have her priorities straight. And speaking of priorities, Cesar wants to know when are they going to have a baby.  He understands that her desire for an education but she already has two bachelors degrees and a master’s degree and he’s getting tired of waiting.

Late at night, Norma picks up Mauricio at Tana’s home and they have a quiet discussion.

“Go to the deaf church…Mauricio needs to know deaf people who aren’t alcoholics.” – Tana

Suddenly Mauricio is sick and the only relief Norma has is prayer.  She is afraid of taking him to the doctors for the fear of being deported. Tomas is there when Karla appears at her door and signs that it’s okay, the doctors will treat Mauricio and that she has nothing to fear.

The doctor treats Mauricio and Tomas asks Norma out for coffee but Norma is not giving him an inch.

Later, Detective Ramos (Antonio Perez) and his partner Detective Cohen (Ramona Pilar Gonzales) come to Norma’s apartment.  They are looking for Reynaldo who is a suspect for embezzling and possibly murder.  

We have not heard the last of Reynaldo.

Mercedes Floreislas has written a very enchanting play.  There is so much heart here it sends audiences members out in a state of exalted ubiquitous contemplation thinking about race, immigration, child rearing, gender, health care, and disabilities.   I’m not a big fan of the ending, which sends the play in another direction becoming the theatre of the absurd.  Not something you want do to when so many important issues are at play.  This is one caveat in a night filled with wonderful moments.   

Edward Padilla, the director, has put together a very exciting cast, and has done a remarkable job moving the play along with its twenty-some odd scenes.

The actors did a remarkable job signing, speaking Spanish and English. They also worked diligently at changing the set and moving the play along.  There were a number of set-ups and a lot of hard work went into keeping the action moving.

Cristal Gonzales as Norma does a remarkable job keeping her focus on realizing her objective and succeeding in the end.  Still I don’t know if she decides on a relationship in the end. (Mystery better left unsolved.)

Arturo Aranda plays Reynaldo is kind of nasty all the way through.  I’m not sure what his wife saw in him. He is like an animal you see in nature video that has had a big fight, gets away, and is killed by another predator moments later.

Lynn Moran as Karla does a fantastic job.  She is an adamant woman, never giving an inch, always thinks she is right and doesn’t fight fair—she closes her eyes when she doesn’t want to see the other side.  Discussion closed. She fills the role with a lot of humor, and is filled with confusion from the things she sees but doesn’t hear.  Very nice work.

Scott McMaster plays Cesar with a lot of sympathy but he is set in the objective of wanting a family with Karla and he will not stop until that objective is achieved.  Cesar can’t do this without being adamant in his signing while his wife refuses to watch. It was a wonderful performance.

Miriam Peniche as Tana does superior work here as I’ve seen in her other performances. She is both funny and serious.  She is an actress with considerable talent that knows her way around the set and brings an undeniable truth to her performance.  She is definitely worth the price of admission.

Dickie Hearts does a fantastic job with Kent. There are so many layers to his character, the training is evident, and the work is superior.  I wanted to go up to him and speak to him about the performance, not remembering that he is deaf.  He signed “thank you” and walked away. (Silly me.)

Brian M. Cole had a very nice role as a deaf repairman.  It was a small role in the second act but a significant one.  He excelled at his craft with a lot of humor and his character was excellent.

Alfredo Avila plays Tomas in a very understated but significant performance.  Everything about the character felt real and rich with a lot of emotional depth. He also does a nice turn with the guitar trying to woo the love of his life.

Jaden Delgado does a fine job as Mauricio.  He is very cute and signs with the best of them.

Other members of the cast include Michael Anthony Martinez-Islas, Mercedes Floresislas, Antonio Perez, Ramona Pilar Gonzales, and Maria Correa.

Olin Tonatiuh plays Mauricio Morales but did not perform this night.  He is schedule to perform April 4, 6, 12, 14, 20, 26 & the 28th.)  

Other members of this remarkable crew are as follows:

Vincent Sanchez – Stage Manager
Marco de Leon – Set Designer
Sohail e. Najafi – Lighting Designer
Geoffrey Aymar – Sound Designer
Carlos Brown – Costume Designer
Jorge Villanueva – Light Board Operator
Heriberto Solorzano – Original artwork in Set Design
Froylán Cabuto – Spanish Language Consultant
Garrett Hammond – Fight Coordinator
Miriam Peniche – Fight Captain
Estibaliz Giron – Assistant Stage Manager/Projectionist
Julio Oviega – American Sign Language Consultant
Emmanuel Deleage – Executive Director
Mark Kraus – Webmaster
Soap Design Co. – Graphic Design
Ed Krieger – Production Photographer
Steve Moyer Public Relations – Press Representative

Josefina López is Casa 0101 Founding Artistic Director.

Run and take someone who believes it’s okay to call a human being “illegal”. Maybe this play will change their perspective.    

Reservations: 323-263-7684

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Marilyn - My Secret by Willard Manus and Odalys Nanin

Kelly Mullis

By Joe Straw

Death comes
on baby feet,
soft pads to
tugs on
clinging white slips,
not seeing
parting red lips
not hearing
unexpected whispers,
and secret, tender pleads,
Death comes
on tiny moving hips
in increments,
to you,
and gone,
that’s how it comes.

“There are no secrets in Hollywood.  Everyone knows all the nasty details but they are simply not sharing.” – Narrator

Marilyn has a big secret.

Kelly Mullis does more than an impersonation of Marilyn Monroe. She is an actress of unquestionable skills and those skills are undeniable when you hear the voice and watch her move across the stage.

But when she came out for the curtain call, her eyes opened wide and slightly sad in that moment, she conveys that “things” did not go well this night.  It was here that I thought there was more to this actress than meets the eye and I was delighted to see this.  No, delighted is an understatement. (More on this later.)

Macha Theatre/Films presents Marilyn - My Secret written by Willard Manus and Odalys Nanin, produced and directed by Odalys Nanin.

The play takes place after the death of Marilyn Monroe so we venture in the non-linear route of specific points in her life.  I personally prefer linear with a beginning, middle and end.  But in this play, Marilyn is dead, and who knows what happens after you die. Still Ms. Nanin chose a different perspective, which works effectively.

And here is where the secret comes in.  Marilyn is dead.  The ingress into her French doors allows her to examine her ruination.  But how?  And why did this happen?

Projected, downstage center, the photograph of Marilyn has her lying face down in bed.  Death could not have had a better specimen. There were pills on her nightstand, and her left hand is reaching for what? Who better to explain than the spirit of Marilyn Monroe than the apparition still residing in her Brentwood home and telling us about it.  

Possibly my imagination but I thought I heard a flush of sound, a maddening crowd, waiting in anticipation.  “Marilyn…” starts off with the Happy Birthday song to President John F. Kennedy and a picture is projected of her and Kennedy facing forward. 

Is this the secret, the reason for her demise?

Marilyn speaks fondly about her relationship with Arthur Miller, her conversion to Judaism.  Certainly, this is not the reason she was found face down, in her bed.  

“I had to suck those c*cks to get all those parts.” – Marilyn

Really?  Unquestionably not enough of a tragedy for life’s short end and, to put it bluntly, it’s not really a secret.

The play takes us to Columbia Studios where she is being taught by Natasha Lytess (Monique Marissa Lukens) on how to be a woman and how to speak like a woman.  And in the process Lytess couldn’t keep her hands off of Marilyn.  Natasha quits her job and gives six years of her life to Marilyn and then Marilyn tosses her out, into the streets.

This leads Marilyn to sing Nobody Loves Me. Odd, but not enough to throw her face down on the bed.

Marilyn then falls in love with Joe DiMaggio and shares her love for Italians and Italian food.  On the set she falls for another Italian, Yves Montand, masquerading as a Frenchman.

Yes, Yves Montand (in a wanting fatherly figure mode) causes Marilyn to belt out “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”.  Again nicely done. And one questions where her heart actually resides, if with anyone at all.

Still working on her craft Marilyn travels to a nightclub to watch Lili St. Cyr (Katarina Radivojevic) perform a sensuous dance.  But there is something different here, a style, a method, about the way St. Cyr performs that has Marilyn enchanted. (St.Cyr has a video on YouTube and watching this I have to believe Marilyn was an exceptional student.)

But, is this the secret, this relationship that would be responsible for Marilyn's death?


Paula Strasberg (Monique Marissa Lukens) teaches Marilyn how to be a great actress imaging herself as a wave or a rose and while in New York plays out a fantasy of picking up a cowboy (Jamie German) and taking him to bed.

Marilyn - My Secret has a lot of good things going for it.  A lively actress playing Marilyn, some nice songs, and something we really want to see, a secret played out a few feet away from us.

But, the secret was not really the issue in this play, co-written by Odalys Nanin and Willard Manus, with songs.   Instead what we have are really fine moments interrupted by songs. The progression of the play is the tease to the secret that destroys a life, the reason that she is pulled into the vortex whether it is fictionalized or based on fact.  

Odalys Nanin gives us a lot of fantastic moments on stage. However the play needs tightening- a successful cohesion of play and music.  I’ve seen other plays that successfully include music that connect with the dramatic moments (e.g., Sylvia by A.R. Gurney is one).  The conflict must be the motivation for her to break out into song.  It must heighten the moment and tell us where the character is, now on stage. For the character, the song must be the reason. The action is lost if it’s not done just right and finding the reason and the justification is the really tricky part for the actor, director (Nanin) and the writers.  

Kelly Mullis is grand as Marilyn Monroe.  She has a fine voice and is able to replicate some very nice mannerism.  Mullis has a lot of wonderful moments in this play with words. To need and to love are very important actions for Marilyn.  The more she wants the less she gets and that possibly leads her to her demise.

Monique Marissa Lukens plays Natasha Lytess and Paula Strasberg and gives us interesting looks at these two characters.  They are similar in a lot of ways.  I wouldn’t recognize Lukens if I ran into her at the Grove, her eyes hidden behind the very wide and dark sunglasses Strasberg is said to have worn.  

Katarina Radivojevic played Lili St. Cyr and did an outstanding job. I particularly liked the dance behind the screen and the costume.

Jamie German did well as Bobby Kennedy and the cowboy.  If I had my druthers, I would have strengthened his relationship with Marilyn, more intense, and more romantic.  I believe this would have strengthened the relationship and given the audience a little something extra. German was a little too coy for my liking. Still, he did a lot of nice things. 

I love going to the Macha Theatre.  Ms Nanin has turned the theatre into a very nice venue that opens the doors and the secrets of old Hollywood. She also has an eye for talent always having exotic actresses doing marvelous things.

Other important members of the crew are:

Liz Moss – Assistant to the Director
Carey Dunn – Lighting Design, Stage Manager
Walter Tabayoyong - Photography
Nora Feldman - Publicity

Run and take a friend who likes to keep secrets. 

Reservation:  323-960-7862

Extended through May 11, 2013

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Voices by Les Wieder

L -R Inda Craig-Galván, Dave Rosenberg

By Joe Straw 

The role of race today is less than in the past when segregation and discrimination were legal. Now the role of race is more covert and hidden but still has consequences for the lives of individuals. African Americans are affected in educational, work, housing, and legal systems. For example, researchers have shown that black young men are less like to be hired than white young men with the same credentials. African Americans are more aware of racism and discrimination since they are the targets of it and witness it on a regular basis. In contrast, Whites perceive less racism since they do not experience it directly. Whites can be allies of Blacks when they recognize the role of race in the daily lives of African Americans. – Vilma Ortiz, Ph.D.

I read a wonderful book many years ago and, every time I think about it, I want to read the few pages leading up to this passage.  And it gets me every time.

“Let me tell you something:  I am a man.  A sob hit me somewhere around my ankles; it came surging upward, and flinging my hands over my face, I was just bawling, as I hadn’t since I was a baby.   “Meester Kinte!”  I just felt like I was weeping for all of history’s incredible atrocities against fellowmen, which seems to be mankind’s greatest flaw…” – Alex Haley  - Roots The Saga of an American Family

I have a couple of pet peeves.  Okay, well, not a couple, probably thousands.  But, one is theatre starting late and two is actors using microphones in small intimate theaters.

So we arrived at the Griot Theatre on the campus of Bethel Lutheran Church (and school) in Encino (a lovely campus by the way with plenty of free parking) and wait, and wait, and wait for the doors to open.

“It’s 8:07, why haven’t they opened the doors.” – I grumbled.

There was a slight technical glitch. 

One of the main objectives of Griot Theatre of West Valley is to provide a theatrical experience for the deaf and hard of hearing with the use of captioning, sign language interpretation, and/or “hearing loop” technology. 

On this night, they had a difficult time coordinating the captioning projected on a wide screen set up for those hard of hearing or those with cochlear implants.

Now, I feel bad.

“This theatre is looped for audience members wearing hearing aids with T-coils and Cochlear Implants.” – A note in the program

Griot Theatre of the West Valley presents Voices by Les Wieder and directed by Malik B. El Amin is an enjoyable night of passion, determination, and love.  It was my pleasure to witness Voices, this tiny adventure, in an intimate 40-seat theatre in the round.

Griot, pronounced GREE-oh, refers to a tribal oral historian. And griots take their jobs very seriously and throughout the night we were treated to many stories by griots, in this case, former slaves.

Theatregoers do not get many opportunities to have actors, a fingertip away, performing marvelously and in private tones that revive and awakens the senses.  No need to pull up a seat and listen, you’re already there listening to the intimate moments of their lives.  

The stage, by Set Designer Terrell Rodefer, is on a riser approximately 4 inches above the floor and the story telling usually happens in the area surrounding the stage, which have the actors almost in your lap.

Lena (Inda Craig-Galván) is a playwright who is working on her latest play entitled “Voices”.  She has been listening and reading recordings of former slaves from the Library of Congress and working to put their stories into the play.

Lena receives a call from David (Dave Rosenberg) on her message machine telling her that he can’t make it tonight.  She’s slightly disappointed but it’s just as well because she must finish her play.  

But it’s just not working. Lena is distracted from writing because she is in love, a love with a lot of conflict, mostly with her family.   The evidence is there on the floor, the wad up pieces of paper, wads of unsuccessful story ideas that litter her floor.

L - R Inda Craig-Galván, Danielle Lewis 

Val (Danielle Lewis), a flight attendant, swishes her way into the home she occasionally shares with Lena and declares the place a tragedy.  Val takes off her airline hostess uniform jackets, pulls the shirt from his skirt, slides into her slippers, pours them both a drink, and makes herself mighty comfortable.

Val lets Lena in about her romantic escapades in Rome and Italian men.

Not to be undone, Lena tells Val that she has met someone.

“He’s very nice, educated, but white.” – Lena

“What about your daddy?” – Val

Lena replies that Daddy (Thomas Silcott), Rev. Ezzra Walker, doesn’t like it. When they got together at a Thanksgiving dinner at his home, things seem to go pretty well until David called the Reverend a racist.  Since then Rev. Ezzra Walker and Lena haven’t spoken and we are well into the summer months.

Val wants to know the details of their relationship, how they met, etc., and we travel back to their meeting after a performance of one of her shows.

Hesitant at first David approaches Lena.

“I’ve seen your plays.  I teach them at the university.  You’re a big talent.” – David

“I don’t date white guys.” – Lena

But David is, politely speaking, determined, and calls every night until Lena says yes.  Still, it is not a date.

David thinks Lena has got something against white guys but Lena tell him that she dated a white guy in high school.

“We are not going anywhere.” – Lena

“Tough broad.” – David

“…I usually get tough bitch… If I do this, my life will be hell. -  Lena

“…Bullsh*t, I’m a great catch.” – David

Voices has a marvelous cast and one can’t help but be touched by the stories and the sheer determination of two people in love.   All in all, it was a wonderful night of theatre.

Inda Craig-Galván as Lena finds love in all the white places.  She is determined to have a career as a playwright, or at least get the one that she is working on, finished. Love keeps getting in the way and it’s probably the reason it is not getting done. But writers need other voices, which is probably why she has a roommate and even bothers to see someone who may give her inspiration. Craig-Galván’s work was exceptional but the reasons why others members in the cast give to her journey needs to be absorbed.

Dave Rosenberg is the white boyfriend, David. He is slight in build, hair receding and sticking straight up on top of his forehead. He had this gruff manner (possibly the character’s NY background) in the way he spoke and the way he approached love.   Off centered and with a slight edge, he had a dogged determination that was inspiring and left a lot of audience members in tears.  It was a wonderful performance.

Danielle Lewis is delightful as Val the worldly airline hostess and roommate.   Although she is gone most of the time she seems to be in the middle of everything taking the initiative of being the spoke in the wheel of life:  her roommate, the boyfriend, and the father.  She swishes from one point of the room to the next, every action specific, and every intention has its dramatic flair.   It is wonderful work.

L - R,  RJ Farrington, Sharyn Michelle, Thomas Silcott

Thomas Silcott plays the Reverend Ezzra Walker, strong and steadfast, and not too proud a parent at the moment.  He has a little problem with his daughter mixed up with a white man.  Silcott also plays Old Thomas Steele, and Mars Brooks, which are just marvelous roles.  There is simplicity in Silcott’s work that showcases his mastery of the craft.  No movement is wasted, his choices are creative, his acting sublime, and his stories are inspiring.  Run to see his performance. 

RJ Farrington has a number of different roles: Ellie Matthews, Delia Rose, Shad Cooke, Mary Finny, Matha Coolidge and Delsa Frome. Each role was handled with care, slightly different, and readily absorbable.

Sharyn Michelle also play a number of roles: Chancy Makke, Rose Stewart, Sally Fry, Hatie Williams, Bessie Lock, and Alice Mae Mason and was also very entertaining.

Les Wieder wrote a good script. But he fails to provide David with these words: “I understand what it means to be black in society.  I understand you’re going to face racism and you will need me as your ally to support you through these things.”  Instead he just says, “I love you” with the expectation that will solve their problems.  So their relationship seemed to be a dead end at the end of the play.  Not something I need when leaving the theatre.   Also the slaves stories displayed in their magnificent glory, and in ghostly apparitions, did not move the plot along, wasn’t specific to the action and the intentions of the characters working out their lives on stage in current time.  Still, I loved this show for numerous reasons, despite my grumbling or musings.

Malik B. El-Amin, the director, Artistic Director, and Co-Founder has a magnificent eye and ear for the truth and there are a lot of wonderful things in this production.  I’ve been hearing some wonderful things about Griot and it was a pleasure to witness this productions and El-Amin’s work.

Wonderfully produced by Sabah El-Amin.

Costume Designer Pat Payne dresses the former slaves in white costumes with a shear angelic covering around them and the Lighting Designer Erin J. Anderson highlights those angelic features.

Other members of this fabulous crew are as follows:

Libya A El-Amin – Sound Editor
Jerry A. Blackburn – Stage Manager
Jade Cagalawan – Assistant Stage Manager
Rebecca Turtledove – Dramaturg
Peppur Chambers – Casting Director (fantastic job!)
Nora Feldman – Public Relations
Mary Rappazzo – Graphic Designer
Leticia Rey - Photography

Run and take a friend who believes that if you are an American you should speak “Americanise”.  Maybe this show will change that person’s perspective.

Reservations:  818-703-7170

Bethel Encino
17500 Burbank Blvd.
Encino, CA  91316

If you want to listen to stories of former slaves at The Library of Congress please visit: