Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later by Moisés Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris, and Stephen Belber

L - R Carl J. Johnson,  Ed F. Martin,  Paul Haitkin - Photo by Win Win Imaging

By Joe Straw

“Wyoming, where men are men and sheep are nervous.” - Author unknown.

My first wife was from Wyoming, and the times I’ve been to Wyoming I’ve heard this expression from her and numerous friends living out there.  Everyone says it.  The phrase may be open to interpretation of your choice. This – just in case you didn’t think the residents of Wyoming had a sense of humor.

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center proudly present The Laramie Project:  Ten Years Later written by Moisés Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris, and Stephen Belber at the beautiful Davidson/Valentini Theatre in Hollywood and is playing through November 16, 2013.

Jon Imparato, the Artistic Director and Producer, was gracious to show us around this beautiful complex, with art here, paintings there, and, in general a consortium of services for those who need help.  The entire complex projects some really good vibes and the entire staff welcomes everyone with open arms.     

The stage of the Davidson/Valentini sits in the southwest corner of the complex behind two steel gray doors.  And, as you enter the theatre doors, it’s like walking into the state of Wyoming.  The actors, already dressed in character, are sitting around the square box stage in chairs with cushions and a couple of theatre pews for good measure.  The chairs surround three sides most of which are for the audience members to sit.

One gets a down-home feel from the actors when you enter, a polite hello, a smile, and a warm greeting.   In this nice cool room – it is Laramie – the actors in their setting, inhabit their space, keep to their ways, and it feels like Wyoming, a quiet place where kids run free and everyone goes about their own business but…

The Laramie Project:  Ten Years Later is a disturbing look at how the passage of time diminishes an event of American history into a watered-down revisionist commentary to suit political ideology about the town and the people, unless there is a reminder, something, or someone to tell the story, and the Laramie Project: Ten Years Later does just that.  On top of that, the actors give the performances the dignity that this play deserves and they soar from one tragic moment to the next.

The Laramie Project:  Ten Years Later is a captivating play that truly gives you the feel of the time, place, and people that is Laramie, Wyoming.  The fine details of this outstanding production are second to none and the acting and direction leave you breathless.  

The lovely voice of singer-songwriter Johanna Chase starts us off with a very pleasant song, “Morning Comes” by Delta Rae, that brings tears and immediately transports me back to Laramie.  It is a fireside song in which the whole cast joins in and it is a great way to start the play.  

And our play starts with the Tectonic Theatre members going back to Laramie on September 12, 2008 to interview those they had spoken with the first time around from which they constructed “The Laramie Project” and to see how things have changed in Laramie since.  

“I am thinking about the anniversary a lot.  Ten years have passed … that’s a long time.” Beth Loffreda – Professor, University of Wyoming

Beth Loffreda (Ann Noble) suggests things are pretty much the same and not much has changed, and looking out of her window she can see the spot, in the prairie, past Wal-Mart, where Matthew Sheppard was beaten and left to die.

“It was painful for a lot of years.  And I think that the pain actually became so great that people didn’t want to think about it or hear about it anymore.” – Rebecca Hilliker – Theatre Professor, University of Wyoming

L - R Ann Noble, Elizabeth Herron, Paul Haitkin, Christine Sloane - Photo by Win Win Imaging

Traveling from Cheyenne to Laramie, one notices how Laramie is just a speck on the prairie and Moisés Kaufman (Ed F. Martin) notes how much Laramie has changed since October 1998 as he’s barreling down from Highway 80.

Matt Milkelson (Paul Haitkin) says Dick Cheney sold the state to Hallibuton and no one minds, and Jedadia Schultz (Paul Witten) says they have a Chili’s.  People seem to think a lot has change. But really, from the outset, little has changed.

Stephen Belber (Carl J. Johnson) finds his way into town and stops off at a rental car place and finds an agent (Paul Haitkin) with a different opinion about what went on that night.  

“Now if you ask me, I think it was a robbery and that his lifestyle was just an excuse.” – Rental Car Agent

“I’m not sure I understand.  Are you saying it wasn’t a hate crime?” – Stephen Belber

This is the first indication that the dialogue of the town has changed. Meanwhile the members of Tectonic Theatre arrive not knowing what to expect on the tenth anniversary of Matthew Sheppard’s death.   They find that little or nothing is being done to mark the anniversary.  Even Deb Thomsen (Ann Noble) of the Laramie Boomerang grows weary of the topic and says the town is “…moving on from this.”

A sad reminder is evident when only 50 people attend the bench dedication at the University of Wyoming, tucked away, outside the arts and science department with Dennis Sheppard (Ed F. Martin) giving a short speech.

“Can I asked you: did you happen to attend the bench dedication for Matthew Shepard” – Leigh Fondakowski – Member of Tectonic Theatre Project

“Excuse me.” – Boy

“For who?” – Girl

People don’t remember a national story and it doesn’t take long for the story to change to suit a different purpose.

“One thing I heard was that he was a drug dealer and did some bad deals and those guys ended up coming after him…. And then the media came in and said it was ‘ cause he was gay for their own ends.  They took this as a vehicle.” – Student

The ghost of the 20/20 interview comes back to haunt them in which producer Glenn Silber (Paul Haitkin) had an agenda to show the Matthew Sheppard’s slaying was a robbery gone wrong and not a hate crime. It’s too bad he left incriminating evidence with his interviewee.    

“Although Dave is a highly skilled investigator and was the key to solving the crime quickly, he fell into the hate crimes motivation early and our piece will ultimately discredit that flawed theory.” Glenn Silber – Producer 20/20

It’s not enough to re-interview everyone about what happened that night. Rob Debree (Paul Mitten), Lead Investigator for the Albany County Sheriffs Department, and Dave O’Malley (Ed F. Martin), retired Laramie Police Department, hammer home the point of what went on that night. (It’s good to go right to the source.)

Another source is from the prisoners themselves and the Tectonic Members take the initiative to secure those interviews.  

I’ll send Aaron a letter today asking if would be willing to meet with me.” – Greg Pierotti – Member of Tectonic Theatre Project

Both Russell Henderson (Michael Hanson) and Aaron McKinney (Dylan Seaton) agree to meet with Stephen Belber and Greg Pierotti respectively and these are moments that you do not want to miss.  

“Our view.  Laramie is a community, not a ‘project.’” - Boomerang Editor

The actors had multiple roles with the exception of Michael Hanson and Dylan Seaton who alternate playing Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson for various performances. All the characters are critical to moving the play along.

Paul Haitkin was exceptional in his roles but had the dubious honor of playing Rental Car Agent – someone you really don’t want to listen to when wanting the cold hard facts. Still, Haitkin was terrific.

Michael Hanson played Russell Henderson and was exceptional.  There was a collective calm, and composure in his character wanting to get the information to the Tectonic Member to help anyone who might want do to the same thing he did.   Though Henderson is sincere, there is a sinister side to his character, something he’s not saying, and something he wants, unsaid, and that is why Hanson’s work is terrific.

Elizabeth Herron keeps it very real with Marge Murray, Catherine Connolly and Judy Shepard.  She is very down home and reminds me of the people I know from Wyoming.

Carl J. Johnson is a very spirited actor.  His characters were very specific and I particularly liked the Stephen Belber character as he grills Russell Henderson.  And I thought I caught a glimpse of the coughing Marlboro Man from one of the characters. All in all, there’s some very good work done here.

Che Landon - Photo by Win Win Imaging

Che Landon did a fine job as Jim Osborne, Nikki Elder, Romaine Patterson, and Susan Swap among a few other characters.  Each character was unique in their way, male and female, all were well done.

Ed F. Martin plays Moisés Kaufman and gives us a variation of Kaufman’s Venezuelan accent – not quite there but exceptional nevertheless. Martin’s work is nothing short of extraordinary and it’s the little things he does that bring a character to life. Wiping the cookie crumbs vigorously from his fingers as he finished was wonderful.  It’s the little character traits in all of his collective work that makes his performance so enjoyable.  

Ann Noble also does some very fine work as Beth Loffreda, Leigh Fondakowski, Deb Thomson.  One of the interesting things about her performance of Deb Thomson, Editor of the Daily Boomerang, is that Noble is showing us a person with a lot of outside biting pressure, from the community, from the owners of the paper, political leaders with their agendas, and now from the Tectonic Theatre Company on the tenth anniversary.   Noble is a fine actor and her craft is evident.  

Dylan Seaton played Aaron McKinney to perfection.  The character is a man who has lost his way, doesn’t know right or wrong, and can only remember the past only if it suits his purpose.  Seaton is specific with his character choices, and his objective appears secretive. He can’t bother to be honest with the person interviewing him.  His eyes wander from side to side, hiding something, a truth perhaps.  He has an agenda and is not willing to disclose it.  Seaton is very convincing and shows us some really strong character work.    

Christine Sloane does a grand job in the seven characters she portrays.  Her accent was authentic and the manner in which she moved about the stage specific.  She was terrific in very complex roles.

L - R Paul Witten, Paul Haitkin -Photo by Win Win Imaging 

Paul Witten was magnificent as Greg Pierotti.  His performance soared in the interview scene.  Witten is playing an actor/writer who is interviewing a convicted murderer and he is terrified.  There are a lot of things going on here including his memory, which must be superb to remember the details of his interview with a no pen, paper, or tape record to take down the details. (Not sure how that was done in real life but would really like to know.)  

Leslie Stevens is also in the cast but did not perform on this night and Victoria Hoffman is an understudy.

Ken Sawyer, the Director, has directed a masterful show. Most everything worked. His vision seemed appropriate this night.  The one thing I didn’t understand was the set piece in the middle of the room, wooden planks were not in position and were later fitted into place. (Putting the pieces back together, perhaps?)  Maybe if it was “the fence” it would be more haunting and symbolic.

The writers have written a terrific play but the play goes a little off track with Resolution 17 and other things changing or not changing in Wyoming attributed to Matthew Sheppard’s death but oddly enough the performance played better than it read.  

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center – Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center did a masterful job getting this production here and judging from the production values, no expense was spared.  And specifically Jon Imparato, the Producer, deserves a lot of the credit as well.  This was a job well done and story telling at its finest.   

And supporting the play was a huge crew to make sure all the details were perfect. The members of the production crew are as follows:

Assistant Director/Production Stage Manager – Shaunessy Quinn
Set Designer – Robert Selander
Scenic Artist – David Burnham
Lighting Designer – Luke Moyer
Costume Designer – Paula Higgins
Sound Designer – Ken Sawyer
Casting Director – Raul Staggs
Publicity – Ken Werther Publicity
Production Manager – Patricia Sutherland
Dialect Coach – Samara Bay
Stage Manager – Kathleen Jaffe
Assistant Stage Manager – Zackry Barclift
Master Carpenter – Robert Selander
Set Construction – Allison Hill, Michael Samulon
Scenic Painters – Robert Selander, Allison Hill, Michael Samulon
Master Electrician – Adam Earle
Electricians – Adam Earle, Shaunessy Quinn, Michael Samulon
Property Master – Bethany Tucker
House Manager – Joshua Goldman
Light Board Operator – Adam Earle
Sound Board Operator – Shaunessy Quinn, Kathleen Jaffe
Box Office Manager – Katie Pomerantz
Graphics – Ken Sawyer

Run!  Run!  Run!  And take someone who loves Wyoming and its people. 




Sunday, September 22, 2013

The End of It by Paul Coates

L - R Kelly Coffield Park, Paul Coates 

By Joe Straw

“I walked out of the theatre this night and saw a man standing facing Melrose Avenue. He removed his glasses, took the palm of his hand, and wiped his cheeks. ” - Narrator

The rings sit in my top desk drawer.  And from time to time I catch myself staring at them – one on top of the other – symbols from long ago that have had a dramatic effect on me. Two rings - the first is my first wife’s ring - she died from cancer, and the second ring on top, represents the marriage that I was asked to leave.

When I looked up at the image on the marquee at the Matrix Theatre, my face fell and my shoulders slumped.  This image indicated the end of a marriage. But I was going to make the most of this night and I was determined to see how the nocturnal fury would play out.   

End of LA & Scott Disharoon present the world premiere of The End Of It, a new play by Paul Coates and directed by Nick Degruccio, now playing at the Matrix Theatre.

The End of It is a gift—a tantalizing masterpiece of bravura and substance.  It is filled with a compelling theatrical truth and provides a somber look at life, marriage, and love.  Combined this with masterful performances by an exciting cast this show may have a remarkable life after The Matrix.  

This play has so much heart, and so much passion, that I felt myself imperceptibly shaking at the end.  The audience was vigorously applauding hoping the actors would come out for a second curtain call.  But oddly enough, after the first curtain call, they left us, much like the characters leave one other, and they didn’t come back. It was the end.

Set in an upscale home in Los Angeles, magnificently designed by Scenic Designer Francois-Pierre Couture, this play examines the lives of childless exurbanites in one harrowing night multiplied by two other couples going through the same turmoil.

The play gently starts off with Louis Armstrong’s version of “Moon River”.

Moon River wider than the mile.  I’m crossing you in style some day.

Drew (Paul Coates) and his wife Joanna (Kelly Coffield Park) have thrown a party and Joanna is yelling out the door that the less inebriated guest drive while Drew is bent over his chair thinking about what needs to happen this night.  He hasn’t had that much to drink, wants a clear head to say what he is going to say.

“Thank you God.” – Joanna

Both are grateful the guests have left but slightly upset that two of their guests are no-shows. And of course they have to talk about them when they are gone.  And they do so, finishing each other’s sentences, while deriding other nauseating couples that do the same. Drew lifts his shirt out of his pants and takes off his shoes and gets comfortable. Joanna asks if they should start the dishwasher or leave it all for the morning. Drew tells her to leave it.  And they exhaust themselves on opposite ends of the couch.  Her hands caressing only cushions, patting along the cracks, for whatever physical comfort she gets these days.

They small talk about the party and what the other guest were doing in their home including the gay couple Joanna found in their bedroom.

“What is it about gays in the desert? Get a room.” – Drew

“They did.” - Joanna

Joanna suggests that one of the party guests was pawing her husband, and when she demonstrates all Drew can do is smile and move beyond the edge of the couch.

Oh dream maker, you heartbreaker, wherever you are going, I’m going your way. 

Joanna decides that she is hungry and goes offstage into the kitchen to make herself a sandwich and offers to make Drew one.  Drew says he’s got heartburn and in fact looks to be having a heart attack when he says: “I want a divorce.”

But Joanna thinking, he’s only kidding, and asks him if he wants that sandwich. Which only makes Drew say it again:  “I want a divorce.”

L - R David Youse, William Franklin Barker 

Joanna is suddenly replaced by Joseph (David Youse) who continues his discussion with Drew.  Joseph is shocked, not understanding, what he has just heard.  Drew, stands as a holographic image quietly leaves and is replaced by his partner, Andrew (William Franklin Barker).  Joseph lets Andrew have it.

Joseph and Andrew have been together almost twenty year and of that twenty they have been married two years. And now Andrew wants out because he can’t breath.  

Two drifters off to see the world.  There’s such a lot of world to see.

Andrew says he is tired.  He’s going off to bed.  Tomorrow, he’s going to London and they can talk about their relationship when he gets back.  But Joseph is having none of it and wants to get everything out in the open.

“I’ve turned into my mother.” – Joseph

L - R Wendy Radford, Ferrell Marshall 

Joseph is replaced by a female counterpart, Jo (Ferrell Marshall). Jo is younger than her partner Dee (Wendy Radford) who wants out of the relationship, most notably because Jo has not been satisfying Dee’s physical needs for a number of years.  Dee is off to London the following day and makes clear to Jo the relationship is officially over.

We’re after the same rainbows end. Waiting ‘round the bend. My Huckleberry friend.
Moon River and me.

Paul Coates has written an astonishing play and a superior satisfying Los Angeles event.  Simply put his richly defined characters, most heading into the September of their years, want personal freedom. The project, that was their lives, is finished. They are monads, wanting to live and taking in only enough life sustaining oxygen, without worrying about anyone else, mostly their partners lives.  And they want to move on before the discussion moves to the point of miserable indignities.  Each one of the characters will not let the other go to bed until they’ve hashed twenty years of their life into one long desperate life saving argument. Accusations fly until they’ve exhausted civility and accuse the other of having another lover. The ones leaving acknowledge they are not getting what they need from their partner.  Natheless, this is a slight simplification of what was to go on this night.  Coates gives us a very textured truth, a message without a false note, and a wonderful play all in the same glorious night.  

Fleeting glances at the audience this night, indicate they were listening to every word, and absorbing the motivations of the characters on stage.

And, simply put, the actors give you your heart; they place it in your hands, and ask you to carry the play with you on your way into the night. Funny that I’m a little more sympathetic to those actors who were dumped but I'll try to be objective in my assessment of this astonishing cast of actors.

Paul Coates as Drew is marvelous in the role. Drew sets the action in motion and took his time about getting there as well.  Each moment well delivered and filled with emotion until we hear those four little words – “I want a divorce.” (So disturbed in getting there I thought he was having a heart attack.) He has to leave in the quietest and simplest way possible without too much heartache.  In the end it is probably too much for him to bear.

William Franklin Barker plays Andrew and tries so delicately to end the relationship.  But he doesn’t bargain for the response, this long nightmarish onslaught of words, when all he wants is to go to bed, get up the next morning, and get on an airplane to London. The fact that his partner won’t let him go to sleep is probably the reason he is leaving. Barker is marvelous in the role.

Wendy Radford plays Dee and she is not waiting around for her partner to satisfy for her physical needs. I found Dee’s relationship with her partner puzzling because she was the most detached, didn’t care where her partner was going to go, and was cold in her approach to dissolve the relationship. That doesn’t mean that it was bad, just different and fascinating.   Radford did a fine job.

Kelly Coffield Park is Joanna and she is absolutely wonderful.  Every moment played to perfection from the moment she is screaming at the inebriated partygoers, driving away from her home, to the miserable indignities she must endure when the cab arrives.  It is one of the most captivating performances I’ve seen all year.

David Youse is also incredible as Joseph. He tries mighty hard to keep the relationship intact. His inclination to move forward with the relationship dies a disrespectful death and he quails inwardly wondering where to turn and who to turn to.  Still, he gives his censorious rant trying to find a clue as to why his partner is leaving. He finds nothing until he is an entangled mass of suffering human flesh. Wow!  What a performance!

Nick DeGruccio, the director, did a fantastic job in this very complicated show, creating magnificent relationships, and interplay between couples.  Each couple, have their own relationship, their own peculiarities, at their own time.  One can look at this and say: Well it was just one couple.  Still another one would say: it was definitely three couples going through the end of relationship and they are similar even though the three are different types of couples, a man and a woman, two men, and two women. The actors, sitting on chairs near the wings, never lost their intention as though they had to step back and reexamine the steps needed to salvage the relationship once they got back into the ring. One of the things I loved was the rectangular see through scrims that hung upstage. They looked like picture frames.  DeGruccio places the characters behind the scrim as though they were photographs, fading photographs at that. Degruccio did a remarkable job!

This show is heartbreaking.  It is so heartbreaking that you leave the theatre wanting to embrace anyone who has experienced the same thing.

Steven Young did a remarkable job as the Lighting Designer.

The Costume Designer was Morgan DeGroff.

Sound Design was by Ollie Marland and was very effective on this night.

Ken Werther is the Press Representation.

And the Production Stage Manager was Todd Nielsen.

Wonderfully produced by End LA & Scott Disharoon.

Run!  Run!  Run!  And take someone who has loved and lost.


LA 90046


Saturday, September 14, 2013

The New Situation by Carlo Allen

Joshua M. Bott - Photo by Richard Yniguez

By Joe Straw

I can’t tell you how nice it is to watch a comedy.  The previous night I witnessed countless bodies hitting the floor, thrashing in bullet-ridden agony. Fists were flying and, in one instance, women beat on a man relentlessly culminating in cutting off his…

Yes it’s nice to see a comedy!

The New Situation written and directed by Carlo Allen produced by Nora Plesent and Maria Richwine at the Promenade Playhouse is a delightful comedy where one can sit back and not worry that one person is going to do physical harm to another.  Of course there’s this thing that happens to a dog, but it’s off stage, and, it really doesn’t count. There will be no bloodshed this night, but there will be conflict, hurt feelings, and lots of laughs in this situation like comedy.

The New Situation is an anfractuous comedy that is fun for the whole family.  There is a special underlying truth of compassion between characters and their predicament and there are also tightly held secrets that carry us throughout the play.  

Francisco (Joshua M. Bott) was a former teacher, with the emphasis on former. He has just gotten his pink slip when he strolls into his home that he shares with his sister, Antonia (Susan M. Flynn).   

Antonia, a former hand model and sometimes actress, is suffering from mental depression.  She has had a hard time managing life since her double mastectomy and will not go out of the house.

And now with both out of a job and a mortgage to pay:  What are they going to do?

Luckily Antonia has Chi-Chi to keep her company. Unfortunately it’s a male plastic blow-up doll with only arms and legs as appendages.  Antonia loves to dance and is very good but Chi-Chi is a total klutz knocking over wine glasses and is also not able to stand on his own two plastic feet.  But most importantly Chi-Chi does not give her the emotional support she needs.  (And they say, “plastic is the next best thing.”)    

Francisco is the serious minded sibling.  He knows that he needs to get onto his computer, get on Craigslist, and get this household a roommate to help pay the bills. Antonio and Francisco agree there are to be no fat or ugly roommates, and no women. Just as Francisco clicks “post” on the ad, the calls start coming in.

Before the prospective roommates come into their home, Antonia and Francisco make a plan, hand signals, to indicate yes (nose), maybe (ear) no (throat) and definitely not (a combination thereof). (Those things never work but are always funny watching them not work on stage.)  

Antonia stuffs her bra with tissue before they arrive and then she runs into the other room when she hears a knock.  

Constantine (Jordan Preston) enters with his dog Vladimir but when he sees that Antonia is allergic he pushes Vladimir out the door and the dog gets killed.  Not too saddened by the event Constantine goes after the spare room. He tells them he works at LACMA, he dances, and he loves to cook.  His friends call him Connie; they may do so as well.  

While Connie is there Rudy enters looking for a room. Rudy eyes the chessboards placed in their home and says he was a champion in the Navy and offers to play Francisco who feels he is not man enough to play a “champion”, as his opponents were all seventh grade students.

Now both Connie and Rudy want the room and they don’t want to leave without having it so both start a bidding war for the rooms, and the nice neighborhood, and everything else that comes with the home.

Francisco says they have other appointments and tries to hustle them out of the house, but Connie and Rudy will not give up.  In fact, they chase other prospective renters away.

Okay, not everything went right on this particular and I have a few notes that I will gladly share.  Still the richly diverse cast did a fine job on the night I was there.

L - R Joshua M. Bott, Jordan Preston, Carlo Allen, Susan M. Flynn -  photo by Maria Richwine

Joshua M. Bott plays Francisco who is a little uncomfortable in his man skin. He is not married, doesn’t have a girlfriend or any friend for that matter, doesn’t have kids, and lives at home with his sister.  He’s middle aged. So what is wrong with this guy? What does he want? He wants his sister out of the house to pursue a glorious life so that he can get on with his life.  He can’t do this because he has been taking care of her, through her illness and through recovery. But because he’s not man enough to tell her to get out of the house the inner conflict must be “tearing him apart!” And I’m not a fan of the beard unless you’re playing Grizzly Adams or Long John Silver. Either use it or lose it. Still Bott is very funny and natural but his objective could be a bit more creative and focused.

Susan M Flynn plays Antonia, a woman who needs to get beyond her illness to live her life at its fullest.  There’s a problem in that she cannot watch the door being open.  She cannot look outside.  She seeks comfort in plastic and wine in plastic glasses.  Comedy comes from truth in human emotions and one would think fear plays an important part in this comedy.  Fear of the outside, fear of the unknown, which makes her run into the other room. And she continuously runs into the other room as though she has a bad stomach or is still on chemo. These actions need developing.  Also, Antonia needs to share.  First and foremost she needs to share her pain, and her fear with the hopes that someone will come to her rescue. And the others need to share in her emotional well being.  Flynn is very fluid on stage and a delight to watch.

Jordan Preston is an unusual Constantine.  He has lost a partner and now he starts to live with a roommate who has a lost with her disease. But the relationship does not go beyond the deep emotional connection that one get when suffering a similar fate. Once he is in, he must work harder to solidify the relationship. Preston is funny but can go a lot father in developing a relationship with his female dance partner.

Carlo Allen plays Rudy.  He also directed and wrote this delightful play.  Many hats were worn on this night and Allen is an experienced professional. Still I think his performance deserves a second eye to see the physical actions ring true.  First of all, Rudy keeps looking at his phone without purpose and it comes off as him being bored with what is going on, on stage.  Take the phone and be excited by your match on, the next date or whatever. Celebrate when you win and commiserate when the photograph is horrid. Right now it’s looking like you’re scrolling through Facebook post or twitter feeds without consequences and that takes you to actions that lead you astray.  Also, Rudy challenges Francisco’s manhood and we need to have a lot more of this, with the chessboard, with women, everything because we find out a lot of untruthful things about Rudy’s character.  Also, the 4-hour scene, Rudy is pleading for help and no one takes the action to help. Still, Allen has a good tan look and I enjoyed his performance.   

There is a lot to like about Carlo Allen’s play.  Once the actors get a little more comfortable with each other and the space the play should move along magnificently. There is a lot of warmth in this play. The characters, though no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times and are in a predicament.  The solution is they need to come together and help each other.  A little more precision and everything should work out just fine.

Wonderfully produced by Nora Plesent and Maria Richwine.

The other members of this crew are:

Kimberly Jürgen – Production Manager/Casting Director
Lauren Tyni – Stage Manager/Sound and Lighting Engineer
Argent Lloyd – Set Construction
Elizabeth Allen – Set/Graphic Designer
Phillip Sokoloff - Publicity

Run!  And take someone who has suffered a loss.  Both of you will come out loving each other a little bit more.  

RESERVATIONS: (800) 838-3006.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Light in The Darkness by Victor Tamayo

By Joe Straw

My Native American friends in the Screen Actors Guild asked me to join them at a sweat lodge they were having on a hill above the Korean Bell in Long Beach, California.

I’ve always wanted to participate in one but when I got there (early I might add), there was not one soul present. “Indian time” is an expression I’ve grown not to like.

I started to think I got the dates wrong but eventually everyone showed up in an unorganized, unorthodox, and complacent fashion, ready to do what was needed.   

The rain started to fall as they fired up porous rocks and, because of the rain, it was decided that the men and women would share one lodge to tell their stories, to throw their stories into the smoke, up and out into the cool Long Beach air, and free the demons that plagued their lives.

And in complete darkness, sitting on the muddy ground, with occasional light from a grass being thrown on the rocks, I listened to heartbreaking stories.

I must admit, I got a lot from that gathering, and I set free a few demons of my own. – Narrator

Casa 0101 and Mexika Films presents Light in the Darkness written by Victor Tamayo and directed and adapted by Ramon “Monxi” Flores.

Originally written as a play about veterans coming home from Iraq with drug problems, this Boyle Heights premiere is adapted by Flores to highlight gang problems in Los Angeles with various degrees of success. 

Light in the Darkness is about a young man – Chicano and indigenous – struggling to overcome major obstacles in his life and move away from that darkness to discover his own light.  

What I learned, in this production, is when some asks: “Where you from?” It’s best not to answer proudly with your gang affiliation, because that will get you into all kinds of trouble.

Interestingly, the play starts with people going into a sweat lodge to release their demons and Carlos Alvarado (Johnny Otiz) is the last to enter.  And it is in here the rest of the play starts to unfold as this young man thinks about the significant events of his life.

In the sweat lodge Carlos Alvarado has time to contemplate of all the wrongs that he has committed during the course of his life.  These include drug addiction, getting his girlfriend pregnant, killing a few people, and generally causing mayhem and destruction to the lives around him. At this point in his life he has not given an ounce of consideration, or a second thought to the lives he has destroyed, and yet he does not want his girlfriend to have an abortion.

This is a huge production with many cast members and a production staff that has worked tirelessly to get this show on the boards. And while not everything worked, there were some marvelous performances this night.

Johnny Ortiz plays Carlos Alvarado and it is very hard to feel sympathy for this character – he kills, gets his girlfriend pregnant, and does lots of drugs.  Carlos says goodbye to his mother in a very emotional scene but we miss much of it because his mother is upstage, looking down on him, and he has his back to the audience. Still, Ortiz gives the character a very creative physical life. But I believe the key to this role is for him to find the moments where he drops the gang characterizations and discovers the truth about what it means to be human, and connects to the truth. The reality is the character, hesitantly, commits to a change. He enters a sweat lodge to find himself, take stock of how he got there, and discover how he is going to get out and get on with the rest of his life. There needs to be a complete cleansing in his character and we need to see it.   

Sara Aceves plays Liz, the pregnant girlfriend, and the Cheerleader. The relationship to her mother needs more work and it needs to be physical and emotional.  This is an important moment in their relationship and they speak to each other as though they are fighting about who is going put away the groceries and make dinner.

Ramon Acosta does some fine work as Spanky and plays Chava as well.  Both were similar in nature and both nicely done.

Lauren Ballesteros plays Carlos’ Mom, LA Dreamer and Turtle. As the mom, the very statuesque, Ballesteros needs to find the core of the character.  She needs a rich emotional life, and needs to find the humor in her role as the mother. It is difficult to do given the sinister side to her character, but not impossible.   

Uvaldo Baltazar plays Gordo, Rockabilly and Louie.  All the characters were similar in nature and Baltazar had a smile on his face that never leaves.  Interesting.

Isaac Cruz does some very interesting work as Bandit and Cop 2.

Claudia Durán has exceptional moments as Shorty, Mellissa, and La Bambi.

Joshua Duron is a remarkable actor and he has a number of roles as Flaco, Trigger, Priest (Something happened this night when the light went out on him and the scene.), and Thumper’s Dad, Carlos’ Son the Future. Duron does some incredible work and is marvelous in his craft.

Wali Habib has a very nice on stage presence and seems to work organically on his craft. As Boxer, he has a nice quiet dignity and works well for this character.  

Angel Lizarraga plays Sleepy, Sandman’s Little Brother, and Kid.

Carmelita Maldonado plays Liz’s Mom, La Grumpy, Spirit 2, and Assistant Producer. More work is needed in the scene with her daughter.  Still the scene has its funny moments.  And there is a physical life to Liz’s mom that needs exploration, and it needs to be extreme. There’s enough in her material to do that.  

Xolo Maridueña is excellent as Young Carlos. It is interesting how he is able to react with his older counterpart and take command of the scene.  There was some nice rich, physical life displayed here.  And Xolo is a great name!

Jose Martinez plays Pancho, Joker, and Creeper and oddly enough each character falls deeper behind a hat or something similar to disguise his appearance from that in the opening moments.  Still, Martinez does some very fine work and brings a very nice reality to his characters.

Alex Miramontes plays the Assistant Direct and Cop 1.   Cop 1 was a real odd role when he gives a kid Clippers tickets to stay away from drugs and gangs.  (Drug addicts at Clipper game?  Who would have thought?)  Not that he had any interest in basketball or the Clippers.  Why not sell the ticket for more drugs?

Aurelio Yeiyotl Medina plays Sandman and Store Clerk.  The Sandman is a significant role but the character is all over the stage with wild characterizations.  It is a reality that is not ground in a cultured realism, looks more like improvisation, or just a young actor trying to find his way. Sandman needs a serious objective that somehow connects to the main character.  His objective should be in line with his character’s name and needs further development. Okay, that said, Medina has a very good look, a grand tuff of thick black hair on top of his head, and should do well in this industry.

Margarita Reyes plays Tonalli, Rockabilly, and Thumper’s Mom. Katie Ventura plays Thumper, Bandit’s Mom and Spirit 1.

I enjoyed the dancing of Victor Yebra as Tezcatlipoca. He was truly inspiring as he took the dead back into the light. Or was it the sweat lodge? In any case, his dancing gave the show a tremendous authentic magic with the expressions that sent characters into the light or further into the darkness.

Also Jaime Calvillo plays Tezcatlipoca but did not perform on the night I was there.  

I was there on opening night.  The cast got a standing ovation.

But, I have a few notes.

Victor Tamayo wrote the original play based on his accounts of veterans returning home from the first Iraq invasion. And that might have made more sense than the adaption by Ramon “Monxi” Flores. First of all, it gives the characters more of a backstory, a life they bring into their surroundings, a soldier coming home addicted, and not knowing where to turn.

Instead we have this adaptation about a young man who is lost with no direction or focus to his life, because he doesn’t have a mother, father, or any other mentor in his life. But I think there is more here if Flores can get it all together.

This is a play about a young man in a sweat lodge, telling his story and understanding his truth.  But we are taken away from his truth, because we are discovering the truth of others.  For example, the girlfriend and her mother, the girlfriend and the priest, Sandman and the woman he rapes, Spanky and his relationship with his friend and wanting out of gangs. All these things have little or nothing to do with Carlos, or his discoveries.  So we are left discovering a truth about a man with other realities going on, on stage.

How do we change the action of the play to make it more cohesive?  It is a full-scale production, rehearsed, and gone over time and time again hoping to get the right combination on the stage.

First, reduce the number of scenes – with too many scene changes; the action is broken by unnecessary darkness. Have the actors move the set pieces when needed in the light and in character.

Secondly, keep all the actors on stage the entire time and avoid the blackouts.  Make the location claustrophobic with the throngs on people on stage, all the time. This gives the audience a realistic picture of the vast amount of people who inhabit a small turf that people are battling for daily. and consistently. Also, this will ensure all of the characters will have a strong relationship with Carlos.  They will always be in his mind.   

Third, create a strong opening. Presently, what we see are five or six character going into a sweat lodge.  All are equal and none are highlighted.  Carlos is the main character he should be highlighted; we should see the problems of his entire life, in his entire being before he enters the sweat lodge. 

But most importantly highlight Carlos who is the protagonist.  It is his story, his dream, and his reality.  

Create a dramatic life with the shootings. All shots hit their intended targets when we know living in Los Angeles gets a lot of innocent people killed everyday with stray bullets.

“Where you from?” “Wrong answer.” Bang!

You’re dead.

Emmanuel Deleage the Producer and Casa 0101 Executive Director did a fine job getting this show into the theatre. As well as Josefina López who is Casa 0101 Founding Artistic Director.

Marco Deleon was the Set Designer who created a very workable set.

Sohail e. Najafi was the Lighting Designer and Casa 0101 Technical Director.

Vincent Sanchez is the Prop Master and Casa 0101 Facilities Manager

Other members of the crew are as follows:
Adam Gonzalez – Stage Manager
Estibaliz Giron – Stage Hand
Mickey Miramontes – Backstage Manager
Ed Krieger – Production Photographer – Ed has a keen eye and manages to capture the characters qualities with terrific production stills.
Nancy Ventura aka Uninanti – Key artwork Designer
Steve Moyer Public Relations – Press Representative
Mark Kraus – Webmaster Casa 0101 Administrator

Run!  And take a progressive Latina sociologist with you.

For tickets, please call the Casa 0101 Theater Box Office at 323-263-7684,

E-mail, or buy online at  Advance reservations are highly recommended.  Theatre patrons can get a $2 discount by presenting their Metro Bus Cards at the Box Office when buying tickets.  Metro bus stations are located on First Street in Boyle Heights at both Soto Street, and at Boyle Street (Mariachi Plaza), within a short walking distance to the theatre.  Like us on Facebook at