Sunday, May 19, 2013

On Tidy Endings by Harvey Fierstein and TransMe by Rod Bramback

By Joe Straw 


California State University Los Angeles and Theater Insomnia present Transfiguration a compilation of two one-act plays “On Tidy Endings” by Harvey Fierstein and “TransMe” by Rod Bramback at The Los Angeles Theatre Center.

There are a couple of reasons why I went to this play.  Number one, it is Harvey Fierstein and who or what could go wrong with a Harvey Fierstein play.  And if it’s Harvey Fierstein in the first act then the second act must be an equal compliment to the first act. (That’s what it says in the playbook.)  Also, it’s The Los Angeles Theatre Center known for its cutting edge theatre and always a delight to go there.

On Tidy Endings by Harvey Fierstein

“On Tidy Endings” starts with Arthur (Ricardo Salcido) getting his things together in his 1980’s motif Upper West Side New York apartment and is ready to move out.  He’s been living there three years with his AIDS infected partner until his partner’s death.  Now he is being forced to move.  

“I can still smell you.” – Arthur

Arthur leaves the apartment and Marion (Renée Kelly) comes in with her son Jimmy (Nick Ikovic-Frick).  Jimmy looks around and says this place gives him the creeps but Marion tells him to go into his bedroom to check and see if he’s got everything we wants.

Marion calls a neighbor and asks if Jimmy can come for a visit.

“Get a real life.” – Jimmy  

Marion has got some real work to do starting with the lawyer June (Heather Holli Oliver) who brings the documents for her ex-husband’s partner to sign. And as her legal representative June suggests that Arthur is entitled to nothing.  (Spoken like a true lawyer.)

But Marion wants to do right by Arthur.  Sure she’s throwing him out his home but at least she’s giving him half of the money.  And not mentioning the insurance money she’s getting. (How generous.)

Jekyns Peláez directs this fun little comedy with serious overtones.  But there were a lot of problems on stage this particular night. Arthur meanders on stage without an entrance, without focus, or an objective. Did Arthur really take a bite of a flower petal?  The opening moments provided little life and I immediately thought, we are in trouble here.  And generally, throughout the play, the actors moved from point a to point b without justification letting the words do all of the work. And that’s just not enough.

The performers all had some nice moments and I particularly liked Heather Holli Oliver as June the lawyer.  But this is Harvey Fierstein and actors need to rise to the occasions of his words and take creative actions from the words, from actions, and in character choices.  For one example, the teapot, Arthur and Marion should be tearing each other’s hair out to keep that teapot!

Renee Kelly as Marion has a nice look still a lot more work to be done.

Richard Salcido as Arthur has his moments.  Not bad but can go a lot farther.

Nick Ikovic-Frick plays Jimmy and not bad at all.

I realize this is college but there is enough experience here to give more thought to direction and choices, and taking those choices to the very extreme in rehearsal, using what works and throwing out the bad. 

TransMe by Rod Brumback

TransMe By Rod Brumback is a play about a transgender man Chris (Alain Thai) living in New York and disclosing to his friends that he is going to his family in Georgia to come out.

When he gets there, his family and friends are just as wacky as he is and, in the end, the play ends happily.

Even theatre of the absurd makes a point. What starts out fine in Rod Brumback’s play about a man coming to terms with his sexuality ends in disaster.  I don’t know if Mr. Brumback has ever been to Georgia but I can assure him that Georgians don’t throw plates of food on the ground so their adopted kids can eat from them, nor do Georgians behave at a dinner the way these people behaved. (I had to turn away at one point when an actress was taking a fork and… never mind.)  Even theatre of the absurd makes its point.

Actors should really consider the material before they decide to take a part in a production that will compromise their career.  And the fact this is a professional venue should not matter in this equation

Whitney LaBarge, the director, takes us to new uncharted territories.  I would suggest she venture to Santa Monica Boulevard, the theatre district, and look at what other directors are doing.  Thursday nights are pay-what-you-can nights in most places.  She has a lot to learn.

That said Alain Thai, as Chris, does a nice job. Christina Estrada, as Mika, and Melanie Reese (Kai) turn in respectable performances.  

Rebecca Laurel plays Clementine.

Alicia Tycer plays Blanche the matriarch with a Georgian accent (unknown to me) but did a respectable job.

Evan Tamayo plays Big Daddy and what’s not to like about this actor.

Patrick Mac as Uncle Sky seemed to have his act together and knew exactly what he was doing the entire time he was on stage. It’s unfortunate he was in this play but maybe he will learn from this experience.

Michael LeRoy plays Beaumont and it’s probably wise not to let people know that you gave up a “career as stockbroker to pursue acting full time.”  There’s too much ammunition there.  Just being mean on stage doesn’t get you anywhere.  But, being mean with an objective gets you everywhere.

Borna Shokat Moghaddam (that will never fit on the billboard) plays Mango the butler.  I loved his voice and quiet manner and he did very well this night.

Kristina Price, Janessa Floyd, and Sommer Zetter play Child 1, Child 2, and Child 3 respectively.

Other members of the production crew are as follows: 

Susie Castillo - Stage Manager
Heather Fipps - On Tidy Endings, Scenic Designer 
Bob Runningfox Gurule - TransMe Scenic Designer
Jessica Morataya - Lighting Designer 
Ted Greenberg - Sound Designer/Operator 
Kimberly Mendez - TransMe Costume Designer
James Yi - Porp/Light Board Operator
Tony Bracamonte - Assistant Costume Designer
Mike Alva - Assistant Costume Designer 
Ya Gao - Assistant Scenic Designer 


  1. Joe,

    Actually I have been to Georgia! And they do throw plates there! However, they don't throw plates, or eat food off the floor in my play. That scene, as written, has the orphans (not feral wildlings) climbing into Beaumont's lap during a bonding moment. It's sweet. The "fork" was mine, however. So I'll take that hit. I actually wanted to write it out of the play, but was pleaded with not to by people at my readings. But lots of things were different at my readings. The songs, the Hee Haw characters, the campy drag queens .. none of them are in my play. Do you think changing the setting of On Tidy Endings to a sex dungeon, or putting the dead husband in a chair on stage might change Firestien’s piece a bit? With Firestein you assume the material to be excellent (for good reason) and the production to be flawed. With me, you find the play to be the problem. OK. Fine. But career killing material? Really? If you’re going to go that far, then you really need to go beyond just watching the performance. Being accurate should be on your agenda somewhere. You saw the show, so talk about the show. But Joe, if you want to review a play, as opposed to a performance, you need to read the play. The Artistic Directors didn’t even go see the play. They loved it when they funded it and set it for LATC. Didn’t bother to see the performance of it. That should tell you something. So here’s me and my friends from Georgia throwing a plate of macaroni at you! Don’t slam the material if you haven’t even taken the time to read it! :) Sheesh!


    Rod Brumback

    1. Hi Rod,

      Thanks for the comments!

      If you want to send me the play I'll be happy to read it. Private message me on Facebook and I'll send you my email address. I send you notes if you like.

      I'm curious, where were you during the rehearsal process? And why would you let unproven actors and director do that to your play that you hold in high regard? Finding the truth is what writers want and the moments that don't ring true should be cut, changed, or formed to fit the title “Tans Me”. For this particular venue the writer should be there every night working for that truth. (I hope you were.)

      The best thing about your play was the young man coming to terms with sexual identity and getting the courage to tell his folks. And there were exceptional performances by others in the cast. That was the play as I saw it.

      I can't do much about the review. This is what I saw on this particular night. The director didn't have a point, needs incredible seasoning, and a lot of the actors (some slapping each other around) were not very good.

      By the way I grew up in Tennessee and Georgia and my grandmother threw the meal scraps out the back door - to the dogs and cats - but never to human beings.

      And I think I said compromise their career not career killing.

      And, FYI I generally read the plays when there are copies available.

    2. Hi Joe,

      For full disclosure I was not the one who penned the original response - that was the work of a well meaning friend/girlfriend - which was an approximation of my feelings and frustrations. But not necessarily worded the way I might have chosen. I did know they responded, but should have looked it over/deleted it/responded myself. Something. Either way, I do appreciate your kind response.

      I agree that you could only review what you saw and that the play was awful. I attended on opening night and was numb for most of it. I shuddered to think my name was down as the playwright. If it gives you any sense of how different my play was to be, when conceived, Kelly and Ricardo from On Tidy Endings were to play the Mother and Butler roles in TransMe. The parts were written for them. Also, it was essential that the main character be someone who we simply couldn't believe, during the entire course of the play, was male. We spent a great deal of time in preproduction talking about that element. I had no role in casting.

      As for your question about my involvement, there was a "fork in the road" moment early on where I needed to pull the play, or pull myself. I decided to do the latter. There are a lot of people who would have been affected if I had pulled it, but most of them weren't very nice to me when I started to raise questions about the production, so it was probably my selfish interest in seeing it staged. TransMe was my first play and I wanted to see it in 3D. It is supposed to be a sweet tale about a trans girl who goes home and learns that the acceptance she needs is really self-acceptance. It's supposed to be about family and love. The director/producers thought it should be a farce. I was thinking Adam Sandler and they were thinking Jackass. Just two different views of the material. But I didn't expect changes to the material itself - dialogue, characters, sets - like I saw on stage. Live and learn.

      Anyway, thanks again for the kind response. I did send you a message on Facebook and would be happy to send you a copy of the script. Any feedback would be much appreciated.

      Hope you are having a great holiday,