Saturday, November 30, 2013

In The Heights – Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes

By Joe Straw

Casa 0101 and Teatro Nuevos Horizontes present In The Heights Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes and directed by Rigo Tejeda as Casa 0101 Theatre in Boyle Heights through December 22, 2013.

I’ve seen this show three times in four years, once a spectacular show at the Pantages, and twice at Casa 0101, all very enjoyable. The set at Casa 0101 is almost the same as last year but has a new coat of paint and looks tremendous.

I want to do something different with this write-up and talk about the actors from the original production first, and then the remaining new cast member from this extremely diverse cast in case Hollywood is listening (or reading).  

Vivian Lamolli plays Daniella one of the owners of the beauty shop who is being forced to leave her salon because the rent is going up.  Lamolli is a stunning actress with a very nice voice giving it her all on stage. All of her numbers work well on stage. There is an element missing.  And that is she is being forced from her home away from home, the salon, and the emotions that accompany that departure.

Chrissi Erickson plays Carla and has shown tremendous growth in the year since I’ve seen the show. Her relationship with her counterparts is solid and she makes the most of her appearance on stage.  She is not the totally ditsy woman from last year but a character with a much stronger objective and her creative choices are superior.   

James Oronoz plays Benny and has also grown into the role. He is much improved, his voice sounding stronger and is maturing into the role. Oronoz has a very good look and does a tremendous job.

Michael Torrenueva reprises the role of Usnavi DeLaVega and is very funny throughout.  But, Torrenueva has lost sight of his objective, or possibly this was an off night for him. The objective is to get home and in the grand scheme of things there should be no diversion from reaching his objective.  Every action on stage should lead him there, starting with the graffiti, the broken refrigerator, the love lost, the blackout, and the lottery ticket.  Also, because he is the storyteller he should make note of all the things going on around him and make most of those moments.   The ending was not a grand moment and like last year I could not hear the final song because the other singers and the band overpowered his voice.  

The newer members of the cast brought fresh life into the show and most were exceptional.

Martica De Cardenas plays Camila Rosario, Nina’s mom. De Cardenas role in this musical is to establish her role in the family as an equal participant and she is heartbroken that her husband has decided to sell the family business without her knowledge. But for De Cardenas she is as angry in the beginning before she finds that her husband has sold the business and therefore her character growth does not take her anywhere. De Cardenas requires additional work to establish a better relationship with her husband during the opening moments of the play.  Still, I did enjoy how it all ended for her and her family.

Valeria Maldonado plays Vanessa this year and had a lot going on. Maldonado has a strong voice and does a great job with her on stage relationships.  But the relationship with her mother, and the people on the phone, needs strengthening because it is all about finding a home, or the opposite, living in the streets.

Luis Marquez plays Kevin Rosario, Nina’s dad, and does a great job. His voice is spot on, and his relationship with his father, his wife, and especially his daughter were all emotionally satisfying and moving.

Veronica Rosa plays Nina and it is the quiet singing moments that show her off best. When she really belts the numbers, competing with the band, or with other singers, it doesn’t work as well. But, her relationship with her mother and father, when she tells them that she quit Stanford, must come as a shock to her, that she is getting this all out in the open.  The back-story is that everyone in the family put in all the hard work to get her to Stanford, and then this? It must be emotionally draining.  And that’s not what we see on stage. Still she is tiny, cute, and adorable and for the most part does a great job.  

Anastasia Silva is too young to be playing Abuela Claudia an elderly woman suffering from age and heat prostration. Still she does a fine job.

Rehyan Rivera plays Sonny and does a nice job but needs to find a stronger and creative objective.  He’s young and doesn’t know where he is going and is asked to do a lot for which he is not qualified.  But how does this all fit with the theme of finding his home?  Well it does, and he must find it to find home. The cute stuff only works when it is line with his objective.

Michael David Romero does a really nice job with Piragua Guy.  He has a lovely voice and is right at home on this stage.  Romero has a strong presence and his work is terrific. But take a little more pleasure in making all of those sales during the blackout. 

Santos Hemenway plays Graffiti Pete and his character is very peculiar, a graffiti artist at night, and someone who hangs around the neighbor during the day.  All the locals know who he is and what he does and they’ve all established a different kind of relationship with him during the day, Usnavi is barely able to have him in the same room. Still, Graffiti Pete should not take his eye off his art the entire time he is on stage.  A blank wall, art, the bridge, art, an awning, art, tennis shoes, art, coffee shop, art, and so on.  And the imaginary paint cans should be his invisible guns in his non-existent holsters as he strolls Washington Heights.

Other member so the cast are Andreas Pantazis (Domingo), Iselle Peña (Yolanda), a very tall Eric Stanton Betts (Jose), Shay Louise (Ensemble), Fernando Nuñez (Ensemble), Jesse Ortiz (Ensemble) Taya Possick (Ensemble) Andrea Somera (Ensemble), Katherine Washington (Ensemble, Oreo).  Olin Tontiuh plays Kevin Rosario as a child as well as Yocani Tonatiuh.

Chala Savino is the alternate for Daniella and did not perform the night I was there.

Rigo Tejeda has some very clever things in this version of In the Heights.  The dancing by Choreographer Daniel Lazareno is better; the little bits on the subway were clever.  But this version loses sight of the strong through line inherent in this musical of going home.  In this version, home seemed to be an afterthought.  “Oh yeah, I get it now.  I’m home.” – Usnavi seems to be saying very casually.  Rather than an accumulated realization that Usnavi is finally home! Home! This is the place I know and this is home! These are the people I know and this is the story I will tell.  Home!  I’m home! Those moments throughout require strengthening to get Usnavi there.

Also, the man sleeping (laying) on the street before the show opened, and at intermission, did nothing for this musical and was a distraction. Nobody wanted to help him, they just thought he was smelly and wanted him off their streets.  It doesn’t work.

The singing in which most of the cast was involved lacked the harmony of last year’s cast and needs work.  The last number needs a lot of work, which requires the co-ordination of the band, the singers, and someone honest enough to hear that it is just not effective, and I think that would be Andrew Orbison, and Rigo Tejeda.  

The purpose of coming back is not to rest on your laurels but to put more into the work into your job and make it that much better.  Also strive to do better than your best and then take a moment to enjoy it when you are finding your way home.  

Run! Find a friend who really loves this show and go.   

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Josefina López  - Founding Artistic Director, Casa 0101 Theater
Abel Alvarado - Artistic Director and Costume Designer
Emmanuel Deleague - Executive Director, Casa 0101 Theater
Edward Padilla - Board President, Casa 0101 Theater
Andrew Orbison - Musical Director
Peter Kirkpatrick - Conductor and Keyboard leading a four-piece live band consisting of a Trumpet, Bass Drums/Percussion
Daniel Lazareno - Choreographer
Tanya Possick - Associate Choreographer
Alysha Bermudez - Sound Designer
Joshua Cuellar - Lighting Designer
Marco De Leon - Scenic Designer
Sohail j. Najafi - Technical Director
Carol Solis - Stage Manager
Gilbert Valenzuela - Production Coordinator
Zoyla Cruz  -Production Assistant
Eric Babb - Prop Master
Vincent Sanchez - Facilities Manager, Casa 0101 Theater
Mark Kraus - Webmaster, Casa 0101 Theater
Gabriela López de Dennis, Soap Design Co. - Graphic Designer
Ed Krieger - Production Photographer
Steve Moyer Public Relations - Press Representative

For tickets, please call the Casa 0101 Theater Box Office at 323-263-7684
E-mail, or buy online at

Friday, November 29, 2013

Light Up The Sky by Moss Hart

By Joe Straw

Allegory:  a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another.

I worked with Yul Brynner on the “King and I” at the Pantages and boy did that guy have a lot of superstitions.  

Me, practically straight out of the backwoods of Tennessee and working backstage, I was caught whistling as I walked to the backstage door. 

Yul stuck his head out of his dressing room door and screamed, “Stop whistling!”

And I thought to myself, “Was that Yul?” 

I found out moments later that whistling backstage was considered back luck and actors are sensitive to these omens of doom.  - Narrator

Light Up the Sky by Moss Hart, directed by David McClendon, and produced by David Hunt Stafford at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills has a very predictable story and is a heck of a lot of fun. And if you’ve ever been attached to theatre in some form or another you will get the predictability.  All the more reason to love Theatre 40’s presentation with some terrific acting and the finest wardrobe, by Costume Designer Michéle Young, you will ever see on any actor, on any stage, bar none.  

David McClendon’s direction was almost flawless.  But there were two scenes on this opening night that cause a stir, a borborygmus of sorts, a mingling that caused me to question the intentions of those actors in the scenes.  I have more to say on that later.  

The play takes place in 1948 at Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts.  It is Miss Irene Livingston’s (Stephanie Erb) room, a leading actress, and wouldn’t you know it but the only sounds you can hear is a parrot, Orson who injects glib theatrical sayings, and Miss Lowell (Cathy Diane Tomlin) banging on a manual typewriter typing a manuscript.

“S. R. O.!  No seats till January.  Bless you, darling!” – Orson, the parrot

Miss Lowell doesn’t like the goings on from this parrot and she covers him.  And in this theatrical world of luck and fortune, this was not a very good thing to do.

Carlton Fitzgerald (David Hunt Stafford), the director, enters the suite and cries about the magic hour and the show going on in a few hours. In fact he cries at “card tricks”.

“I bought a ticket.  I’m going to see what good that does.” – Miss Lowell

Carleton tells her of the restricted rehearsal last night.  He had to move back because he was crying and he didn’t want the cast to hear him sobbing.

“I’m sitting in the balcony.” – Miss Lowell

Undeterred by Miss Lowell’s monetary misfortunes.

“I saw them all from the balcony, Miss Lowell – all the great ones.” - Carleton

Enmeshed in his story, Carleton cares little for this little, young woman, and gives diminutive thought that she bought her own ticket and is sitting in the nosebleed seats. Instead, he recounts the emotional wonderful story of his youth, when as a small boy he pressed his tiny boyish chin against the rails, staring at each performance. But, looking out the window, his mood is suddenly transformed.

“That sign’s not lit yet, Goddamit.  Well, they’re not going to save current while we’re here. “ – Carleton

Not the sweet little cherub we thought, Carleton says he’s going to come back later with a talisman for Irene and asks Miss Lowell to call the theatre to have “those bastards” turn on the lights. (How quickly we turn from joyful childhood experience to a triggered adult angst.)

Meanwhile Francis Black (Meredith Thomas) former ice-skating star turned the producer’s wife enters dressed to the nines.

“If Sidney can sink three hundred thousand bucks into a play, I can shop – and when I say shop, honey, I ain’t kidding.” – Frances

Later, former playwright to Miss Livingston, Owen Turner (Martin Thompson) arrives and Miss Lowell introduces herself. She is aware of his reputation and gloats that she is “that repellent literary invention – a ghost writer.”

“Is a new play of yours opening up here, Mr. Turner?”  - Miss Lowell

“No, I have no new play this year.  Thank God.” – Owen Turner

“Oh?” – Miss Lowell

“Are you very new to all this, Miss Lowell?” – Owen Turner

“Very.  The literary world is my bailiwick.” – Miss Lowell

“I’m afraid you wouldn’t understand then.  It’s almost like trying to explain music to someone who was born deaf.”- Owen Turner


Moments later Stella Livingston (Flora Plumb), a fresh breath of foul air, enters and immediately sets her claws into Owen.

“Not fifteen minutes ago I walked into the Ladies’ Room downstairs and your name was on the tip of my tongue.”  Stella

Leave it to Stella to say the wrong things at the right time but she is stopped in her tracks when she sees Orson covered. Bad luck. Miss Lowell, realizing her mistake, apologizes.

“Oh, it doesn’t matter.  Nothing can hurt this one.  Just the curtain going up is enough.” – Stella

And Stella knows because on the previous night, in sleuth mode, she confides to Miss Lowell and Owen she saw the performance at a rehearsal, dressed as a cleaning woman watching from the balcony.  She recommends seeing this show on an empty stomach.

“Well, it may be that I’m crazy, but it may also be that this is the biggest bunch of crap ever put on any stage.” - Stella

Peter Sloan (Nick Denning), the wide-eyed optimist and writer of the play, arrives for a good luck toast.  He speaks to Owen about being as sick as a dog because of his show going on later that night. 

Sidney Black (Arthur Hanket), the good natured and anxious producer, arrives for the toast.  But, Sidney thinks he has interrupted something important: two writers who make prodigious words work.  

“Me, I’m just a crepe paper moon over the Taj Mahal, waiting for Scheherazade to start the entertainment.” – Sidney

All this commotion and no one have seen Irene. Sidney figures she’s asleep but Sven (William Murphy), the masseuse, suddenly slithers out of her room, as though he was caught doing something he should not have been doing, says “Good evening.” and makes a hasty retreat through the front door.

Irene, the star, comes out crying and everyone wants to know why.  She says she fell asleep during the massage and in the dream she started saying everyone’s lines in the first act for which she has no lines.

But Irene is over that for now, but not over her superstitions. Owen, slightly stricken, by what Irene has just said has one gnawing question.  

“I’m mulling over the fact that you don’t speak a line for the first act.  What do you do, my dear-bark?” – Owen

Moments later Carleton comes back with the talisman for Irene.  He presents to Irene the necklace worn by Eleanora Duse.

“Mother, look!  The necklace Duse wore on opening night!” – Irene

“How long did the show run, dear?” – Stella

Others filled with optimism for opening night proposed a toast including Carleton who thanks the scrubwoman, the harridan, with greasy hair, and hapless bag of bones who witnessed the performance the previous night.

“To an unknown and unforgettable bit of human wreckage, who found beauty and a moment of rapture in out play.” – Carleton

Later in the night, and after the performance, Stella said she heard a patron say: “This play is either an allegory or the biggest joke ever played on the City of Boston.”

And now the fun really starts and the blame games gets really dicey when the characters go to vast extremes to blame each other.

By all accounts this is a remarkable cast, doing a job well done on opening night and wonderfully directed by David McClendon.

Bryan Bertone plays Tyler Rayburn a stockbroker who is Irene Livingston’s husband. Not a bad job in a supporting role, and takes a pop in the face in the second act to boot, but one thinks there must be more to this role than staying out of the way.

John Combs does a wonderful job as Shriner/Businessman once a former amateur actor now wanting to be involved with the wonderful world of entertainment if only he would stay out of his own way and demand a piece of the action with his money.

Nick Denning plays Peter Sloan, the writer and former trucker is strong and steadfast in his resolve.  Denning has a very nice voice and a very committed objective that suits his purpose and does a splendid job.  So determined is Peter Sloan that he has them crawling back to him on their hands and knees as it should be for any writer.  

Stephanie Erb plays the star Irene Livingston and does a marvelous job with the role.  Irene handles her relationships with her compatriots and her mother with a grand uniqueness and with great distinction.  Walking around in a negligee in the first act begging all men to love her, to come to her, and to love her for who she is and who she will become, despite her minuscule dramatic faults.  Erb gives a terrific performance.  

Arthur Hanket gives a remarkable performance as producer Sidney Black.  It is one of those rare performances you hope to see when going to theatre. His mastery, technique, and voice were impeccable as he figuratively danced crossed the stage floor, giddy and with a delightful manner. Oddly enough, I heard a trace of an accent, an accent from the Deep South, Louisiana, or possibly Atlanta, Georgia, and that accent, came through his wonderful dialogue in an amazing tour de force.  This is a performance not to miss.

Flora Plumb, the prognosticator of doom, does a nice job as Stella Livingston and because of this her relationship with her daughter is not as strong as it could be.  But she has her daughter’s best interest at heart. She also believes in good luck.  The character could take it up a notch when she sees the parrot Orson covered which one believes is the ultimate kiss of doom. Also, the start of the second act needs more umph!  Stella must tell her counterpart that she is in a lot of trouble when discussing the realties of failed theatre ventures and she needs to do it with conviction.

William Murphy is delightful as Sven, Shriners and Cop.  Each role was decidedly different and each performance was on the mark. Murphy is a marvelous actor.

David Hunt Stafford plays Carleton Fitzgerald with a simple elegance and a lot of tears. There is a lot of good work going on here.

Meredith Thomas is Frances Black and plays her with a lot of pizzazz.  The start of the second act needed work, because her life is falling apart, the vast amount of her wealth is threatened and possibly all those clothes she bought and the Topaz ring will have to go back.  That should give her enough of a reality to jump-start that scene. This is a character that can go to extremes believing her husband one minute and doubting him the next and acting on those extremes to reach her objective.  

Martin Thompson plays Owen Turner and while he did a marvelous job smoothing things over for all of the characters in the cast, he is in fact, an out of work writer and it is at this point in life, everything bothers him to some degree.  Obviously he is there to see that the writer fails miserably.  He goes so far to usher him out of town in the third act.  Why?  Because he is hungry. Also, I did not see this character with a lot of conflict, emotionally, or physically.  I saw a lot of people criticizing him but he passes that off as a casual remarks.  These are not choices with a lot of strength, conflict, or character conviction.  Still the manner with which he presents himself is more than adequate, one wishes a little more from this character. How is he affected by the word bailiwick? Also, the dialogue suggests he has a biting tongue, and he is not afraid to use it.    

Cathy Diane Tomlin plays Miss Lowell and has a very good look for this type of comedy. But as the character Miss Lowell makes a lot of mistakes.  Covering the parrot is one mistake, a big one. Trying to gain sympathy from the director is another with the ticket thing. (You’ll get not sympathy from him.) Also, digging at an out of work writer is another.  Despite these mistakes Miss Lowell really needs this job.  Her job is on the line and entertainment people are the first to throw you out on your butt. But there’s never a reaction from any of these mishaps.  Which is not to downplay the work but to add to an already delightful performance.

Elain Rinehart will be playing Miss Lowell December 19 – 22, 2013 but did not perform the night I was there.

David McClendon, the director, does an amazing job with cast, especially with the supporting players (the Shriners, the masseuse, and the cop).  The opening scene with Owen and Miss Lowell needs a fine adjustment as well as the opening scene in act II.  Problems are possibly the result of opening night jitters.  These two scenes gives us a flavor of what we can expect, they carry us forward, letting us know what kind of people we are dealing with and what we can expect. Also the work between Frances and Stella should give us an idea of how desperate and grave the situation is in Act II.  But, overall, a terrific job.

David Hunt Stafford, the producer, has done a remarkable job putting this all together.  It is his finest work, that I have witnessed, to date.

From my perspective, my seat, the press section, the gin game was lost and the action on the couch facing forward was lost. Hearing was fine during those times but the facial expressions were nonexistent.

Jeff G. Rack, Set Design, has created a beautiful set with which the actors can perform their magic.

Other members of the crew are Don Solosan the Stage Manager, Ric Zimmerman, the Lighting Designer, and Bill Froggatt, Sound Designer.

Run! Run!  And take someone who makes an exceptional effort to cut off a black cat before it's too late. 

In the Reuben Cordova Theatre

WHEN: November 21- December 22, 2013. Thurs.- Sat. at 8:00, Sun. at 2:00. The performance on Friday, November 22 is by invitation. Dark on Thanksgiving Thursday, November 28.
ADMISSION: Thurs. & Fri. $24. Sat. & Sun. $26.
RESERVATIONS: (310) 364-0535.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

St. Jude by Luis Alfaro

Luis Alfaro 

By Joe Straw

Here’s a good one. 

The Center Theatre Group Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum Kirk Douglas Theatre, Michael Ritchie – Artistic Director, Edward L. Rada – Managing Director, Gordon Davidson – Founding Artistic Director presents the World Premiere of St. Jude written and performed by Luis Alfaro. (Always, the Latino guy gets the final credit.)

Kirk Douglas Theatre is the classiest theatre in Culver City and I have a have a wonderful time every time I go there. The spacious lobby makes conversations intimate.  And on this night, because I was the first one through the door (as is mostly the case), the staff gave me a complimentary drink. First rate service with a smile.  

Those who go to the theater are familiar with the “guy” who comes out on stage saying where to exit in case of an emergency.  Over there blah, blah, blah, and over there blah, blah, blah, stretching his thick brown fingers out on opposites sides of the theatre, to Exit signs I can read, in English and Spanish, gracias.

Then, I recognized the hat.  “Isn’t that Luis Alfaro?” And of course I pronounced it as – Loo-is Al-fare-o – instead of like my Spanish teacher, Señor Pimsleur, would “Lu-ess Alfarrrrro.”

Yes, it was him. Looking slightly older than the guy with the three-day-old stubble on the one sheet outside. This means something.  Perhaps this is a show about looking back – a personal history if you will.

And it kind of was.

The stage was relatively bare. Alfaro and his male assistant casually walk up stage and brought items downstage.  A podium with a thick notebook for Alfaro, a desk for the assistant with an overhead projector downstage right, a small table downstage left, on top of that a green bowl with little tiny square bandages circling the inside of the bowl.  

Luis Alfaro majestically speaks with his hands.  His thick fingers spread out from here to there. His fingers hold and flip the notes before him, an omnimum-gatherum, a collection of tidbits, a panoply, from his life’s moments, not in linear form but stuffed in a notebook form to commix.  These are ideas and are not tangible, or read, but spoken using those thick brown fingers. There is a through line to an end, but we must go back to get to the now.

And in the sacredness of the overhead projector projecting California’s west coast onto the back wall, Alfaro pricks his fingers, stamps on his feet so the blood will run, saunters to the projector, and places a dab of blood on the map.  The bright red dot is a place he has lived, a place that has a part of him now, now baking on the glass.   

Do Lord, O, do Lord, O do remember me
Do Lord, O, do Lord, O do remember me
Do Lord, O, do Lord, O do remember me
Way beyond the blue – Moses George Hogan

Death has its own silent roar, a burning soaring hissing sound, hard putting pieces together, unless you’re tuned in to the sound, and the sound is not exclusive without images, like the Bay Bridge, “skin as dark as dirt”, “Fresno work” and “summer vacation”, “Pentecostal Mother”, praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit one minute and speaking in tongues the next, and brother munching, crunching, smacking – “…a bag of communal wafers” and getting sicker than the dog with the mange.  

Drawing blood and father splayed out on a gurney. And isn’t that the worst sight and sound known to any human being. And, to top that off, as always, blankets that barely cover your brown Mexican ass, left in the hallway, alone – the miserable indignities of modern day health care.  

Moments ago, 80 years old and playing in a senior’s soccer league, and let it be said that you were just living moments ago.

“Catholics don’t read revelations.  It’s a bummer.” – Alfaro

But now it’s time to control sobs, but can’t.   Something has to be done as he runs to St. Jude, to get out that final “We love you, Dad” before he can’t hear it anymore. And in his entire life when thing never worked right, the only thing that feels right, right now, is his hand slipping into his fathers hand while he waits for the inevitable.   

And who’s to show you, what’s what, or what’s up at St. Jude but the fourteen-year-old looking Iranian doctor.  

In a constant flux of everything changing – Things have to got to change.  

“We’re Mexi Cans not Mexi Can’ts.” – Alfaro

I saw the light I saw the light
Nor more darkness no more night
Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light – Hank Williams

Thick and brown, self-described as a picker of the “wrath of grapes”.  Everywhere you go you leave blood, a piece of yourself, in time and space.  

And all Alfaro can think while his father is dying is that he lived longer than Whitney Houston and that life-changing incident on the hill, and the one in the pool, the abusive uncle, in that time period after Vietnam and before his death. And does his father deserve the truth this close to his death while he is whispering, and praying in Spanish?

And where the hell is McFarland, California? “ otel”, “motel”, “hotel”, “notel”.

He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

Luis Alfaro, the writer and performer, of this performance like art, recounts a recent journey of his life in this tenebrous subject matter.  The pictures jump out at you and become part of your awakening conscience.  Where it all lands? I’m not sure.  And it is a story, albeit, non-linear, with large gaps left out after his seditious rebellious 16-year-old self.  But suffice to say there is a message, about home, dying, a son’s solicitude, and the preparations of going through the process caring for his dying father. 

And, strangely enough, even the Pentecostal speaking in tongue wasn’t enough to heal the sick but made me feel a lot better.

Robert Egan directs this presentation.

Scenic Design by Takeshi Kata.  Lighting Design by Lap Chi Chu.  Sound Design by Adam Phalen.  And Production Stage Manager is Elle Aghabala.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Love on San Pedro by James McManus

Anthony Tate 

by Joe Straw 

“Who can I turn to
When nobody needs me
My heart wants to know and
So I must go
Where destiny leads me
With no star to guide me
And no one beside me
I’ll go on my way
And after the day
The darkness will hide me…”

 - Who Can I Turn To - Written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse from the musical The Roar of The Greasepaint The Smell of the Crowd.

You just never know how things are going to go when traveling downtown. The freeways are always crowded. Time is eternally a factor.  Will I find the designated parking area? How much is it going to cost?  And venturing into Skid Row to see a play adds another element to a possibly perilous journey. 

But the freeway traffic was relatively smooth, there was free parking at the Downtown Women’s Center, 442 S. San Pedro Street, and a van was available to take you to the theatre or an escort was prepared to walk you to your destination, depending on your preference. 

The night was pleasant so we decided to walk and as we crossed San Pedro onto Winston St., our escort left us as he was helping others in the crosswalk.  Some of the homeless were bedding down for the night and managed to say “Hello” as we passed by. 

Not knowing where I was going, I turned out to be the leader of the walk, and everyone was happy to follow. We turned into a gate, passed a security checkpoint, and walked into the back entrance of the Los Angeles Mission.  Someone from the kitchen yelled out “I hope you like the play”.

At the back door, we were greeted by a pleasant Cornerstone crewmember showing us where to go.

The chapel, on your immediate right, is the first room you see when walking into the backdoor, crowded with hundreds of men listening to someone speaking and one would surmise these were the fortunate ones that got a bed on this night.

We walked to the elevator and went up to the fourth floor and tottered outside.  And the view of the city’s skyscrapers, to your right, was nothing short of breathtaking. 

But looking over the edge, through the windows of a large room on the third floor, are hundreds of beds bunked and crammed into a large room. In a city where impossible dreams are realized, this would be, on this night, the final resting place to dream for a better life.  

Cornerstone Theater Company Presents Love on San Pedro written by James McManus and directed by Shishir Kurup at the Los Angeles Mission in downtown Los Angles through November 24, 2013.

Love on San Pedro is an exceptional work of art that implores the audience to participate in a very unusual way, anyway that is beneficial to this community.  Cornerstone also wants you to know that the people living on San Pedro form a community of people who give, who love, who forgive, and who will share their last piece of bread. 

Upon entering the theatre, I notice that it is an indoor basketball court.  One hoop is visible on one side contiguous to the entryway, while the other side has a serrated wall built out of corrugated cardboard; in fact the actors stand on a floor made of three layers of a very strong corrugated cardboard.  Shannon Scrofano, the Scenic Designer, has designed a set with many meanings.   And for me, the key is the cardboard, the discarded refuse of businesses.  This cardboard, I frequently see downtown, serves as the foundation of many homes for unfortunate human beings. 

As we enter the theatre, the play is underway and we watch street people doing their thing.  A man gives a haircut to a man with little hair, a group of people are singing and giving out sandwiches. The police mix among the bodies along the street and the day passes into night.

And as dusk turns to nocturnal endeavors, screams pierce the sacred night, of unspeakable menaces, that of someone trying to find the light, preferably that of morning, or a friend.   

“I am strong.  I am not weak!  Things gonna be alright.” - Marjorie

And Marjorie (Bahni Turpin) sits there trying to find light, hope, a kernel of inspiration, only to find herself late at night, outside on a basketball court, watching Sky Hook (Anthony Tate), brown bagging it and trying to impress Marjorie with his version of Kareem’s skyhook. But Marjorie is savvy enough to know that Sky Hook has just walked.

“What you got in the bag?” – Marjorie

“Medicine.” – Sky Hook

Sky Hook asks Marjorie to get “hitched”.  But the delicacies of that operation seem farfetched, as she grabs the brown bag from him, and takes a drink of his “medicine.”

So Love on San Pedro has a couple, a hook, two strangers finding love in the strangest place, on a basketball court.  And together, this unlikely couple moves from the darkness into the light of the morning.

Pastor (Olusheyi Banjo) a squinty-eyed rotund man of God-giving-life has lots to say when he speaks to the homeless because it’s all about finding God, and then finding a home, or visa versa. Pastor brings along his wife (Marla Howard) who doesn’t look too happy living this life. And yet she stays hoping to give someone relief, food, or whatever comfort is necessary.  

Pastor’s got to find song and he brings Cowboy (Eljie Alexander) to lead the group in whatever harmony they can muster.  (And, as an aside, the singing is marvelous.)

But, after it’s all over, Cowboy and Trucker (Darrin Wilkerson), make their way to the street and talk about their lives.  Cowboy mentions he was a roadie for Ozzie Osborne for nine years, and Trucker ask the question we all want to know:  “Did Ozzie bite the head off a bat?”  (It’s funny, no one ever really answers that question.  And you’ll get no answer here.)  But Trucker’s been eyeing that PBJ sandwich the whole time they’ve been speaking and he convinces Cowboy to give it to him.

They bed down for the night and just as their eyes are closed, the cops wake them and tell them it’s time to move on.

Lorinda Hawkins

Becca (Lorinda Hawkins), a social worker, meets with Henderson and gives him a pep talk to (Alonzo Phoenix).  Becca, sympathetic to his cause, wants Henderson to find a job.  But Henderson, who is 42 years young, is skeptical if he will ever find a job again. He is dressed appropriately despite his ill-fitting suit. Still, Becca compliments him on his choice of wardrobe.

“Classic is the soul of classy.” – Henderson

Meanwhile former prostitute, Mamie (E Vet Thompson), comes to Marjorie to have her hair fixed and with little or no fuss, she gently takes off her Mamie’s wig and methodically and with precision fixes the hair that is underneath, at no cost. Marjorie promises to bring her some stilettos.

Skyhook is outside working on his own special kind of project and when Man With the Plan (Marcenus “MC” Earl) asks him what he is up to.  Using little scraps of refuse, Skyhook creates a hugging machine. This amuses Man With the Plan but he also sympathizes and tries to help Skyhook finish his hugging machine.

“Some folks get no hugs.” – Skyhook

Cynthiaanne Cofell

Meanwhile Queen (Cynthiaanne Cofell), Jade (Nisha Bordeaux), and Mamie attend some kind of educational religious exploration with Father Mac (Peter Howard), the local priest, and they get into some personal questions which leads them to a better understanding of life around them.

Shirshir Kurup does a wonderful job in directing experienced actors as well as actors of the community. It is an insurmountable task controlling this many actors in one production.  But you’ve got to give credit to Shirshir for offering Los Angeles a fine production using actors who are living or have lived on skid row. The production moves along splendidly and has a strong emotional bite. The production also offers Los Angeles a first hand account of the people who live here.  

James McManus, the writer, has given us a marvelous play that touch on emotions deep inside us where we felt our deepest pain of our own lives, when we thought things were hopeless and had given up.  But, in the telling of this story (which includes the collaborations of skid row occupants), he provides us with a ray of hope that things are going to get better providing one has to will not to give up.

Elzie Alexander plays Cowboy and does a very fine job, has a nice voice, and a very good look.

Olusheyi Banjo plays Pastor and has some nice moments. His objective needs work but pleasant nevertheless.

Brian Beasley played the Cop Bible and Janine Betts played Russell Muscle.

Nisha Bordeaux was Jade and was very strong in the role and has a very lovely voice.

Cynthiaanne Cofell plays Queen with great aplomb.  She has a very specific look and handles her instrument with extreme delicacy. Cofell is excellent in the role.

Marcenus “MC” Earl is very likeable as Man With The Plan and seems to float easily across the stage.  But missing are the specific traits of the character.  He’s the man with the plan, but there’s no plan at least that I saw.  He is taking other people’s plans and making his own. (e.g. the hugging machine) but considering his name then, he should be that character the moment he enters the stage.

Lorinda Hawkins plays Becca and does an excellent job.  Her voice is strong and the manner in which she controls her physical life is superb. As the character, she cares for her clients and wants the best for them. This was really wonderful work.

Marla Howard plays Pastor’s Wife and has a good look.  It is interesting to look at the face of the character and tell what the character wants. I got that the wife did not want to be there, which is not bad, but it is a choice that doesn’t lead her far. Still, she has enough pleasant moments on stage.  

Peter Howard plays Father Mac and has a very nice look, a strong voice, and a way about the stage. I didn’t see much conflict in his portrayal of this character, inner or outer.  Surely, a man must have demons when he is on stage.

Lee Maupin plays Hags a man with strong convictions and a strong voice to back it up.  Also, he has a very good look. More performances in this role will have him settle down and be fine in the role.  What I find fascinating about the character is that he has the capacity and desire to chain himself to a garbage can for the sake of getting a voice in the community.  

Alonzo Phoenix plays Henderson someone who cannot find a job. But it is more than that.  It is about his confidence in his abilities.  Henderson comes across as someone who is physically able but needs a lot of help to get him through.  Phoenix’s performance was nicely played but requires finding a stronger core to the character and he needs to find a creative objective.  He will do fine when he settles into the role.

Alan Richer is Colonel and does a fine job. If the Colonel is a man who has had military service, and may have been a Colonel, then we need to see this.  If that is just his name then it must invoke the manner of a military office and we must see this.  In either case the moment he steps on stage he should take complete control of his surroundings, order his men about, and use his physical life to express actions in keeping with the character’s name.

Anthony Tate is Sky Hook and I enjoyed his performance.  Sky Hook is a mild-mannered man with a drinking problem.  And he is a man with marriage on his mind with a woman who needs strong medication to cope with life.   What he has is a hugging machine that he has invented for his future wife and which he really wants to keep it a secret.  But when she finds out he is totally destroyed and throws her pills all over the floor. When he sees her in pain, the character must crawl to her begging for forgiveness.

L - R Cynthiaanne Cofell, E' Vet Thompson, Nisha Bordeaux

E’Vet Thompson plays Mamie and gives an exceptional performance. She has a marvelous presence and a unique way of communicating with her counterparts, simple, to the point, and very conversational.  Good work all around.

Center:  Anthony Tate, Bahni Turpin

Bahni Turpin plays Majorie and does a marvelous job.  Majorie is a woman who has a cancer and is dying.  She must know the end is near and she bides her time by helping others.  But, she will also steal your last beer if your not looking.  Turpin has grand manner on stage; she has a lovely voice, and helps her counterpart to get over the rough spots.

Darrin Wilkerson is Trucker.  And I suppose there a reason he is called Trucker.  Maybe he is a trucker, drives a 16 wheeler, or used to drive one.  Trucker is down on his luck and I don’t think his luck is changing. Wilkerson needs to find in his objective in the desire to change his current circumstances.

Other members of the delightful cast were members of the chorus and they were Adelina Martinez, Fannie Mayfield, Peaches Parker, and Suzette Sullivan.

Megan E. Healey was responsible for the Costume Design. The characters all looked nicely dressed.

Geoff Korf did a fantastic with the Lighting Design

There were some great sound effects by John Nobori who is the Sound Designer.

Nikki Hyde is the Production Stage Manager.

Other members of the production crew are as follows:

Production Manager – Lester Grant
Technical Direcctors – Alec Cyganowski, Jeff Williams
Assistant Directors/Choreographer – Nicole Gabriella Scipione
Musical Director – Dornelius Kincy
Assistant Stage Managers – Ash Nichols, Marcela Robles
Assistant Costume Designer – Blanca Honigstein
Production Coordinator/A2 – Douglas Rosenberg
Production Coordinator/A1 – Joey Rodriguez
Props Artisan – Samira Idroos
Master Electrician – Dean Wright
Light Board Operator – Nickolas Gomez
Wardrobe Supervisor – Rosalie Alvarez
Wardrobe Assistants – Mario Rodriguez and Larie Russ
Production Assistant – Tiger Moon
Scholar in Resident – Melissa Govea

And the Front House Team members are as follows:

Creative Seeds & Partner Night Assistant – Cesar Ortega
Press & Communications Intern – Jacqueline Rosas
Front of House Manager – Andrea Nelson
Box Office Associate – Brian Pracht
Front House Assistants – David Gomez, Richardo Medina, Elton Richardson,
Alma Velasquez, Ivery Wheeler

Props & Set Construction Crew are as follows: 
George Anderson, William D. Angle, Ricardo Beltran, Ree Biemingham, Paul Buire, Patrick Birdson, Kenneth Bryant, Michael Cherry, Lloyd Colquitt, Tim Cormier, No’e Gomez, Tepper Harris, James Hayes, Charlie Marlow, Eldon Millett, Miguel Ramirez, Chris Ricks, Carl Robles, Robert Shields, Daryl Stringer, Gergory Taylor, Anthony Wiley, James Williams, Michael Willians, T. Nathan Woods.

Run! Run! See this production and take someone who was once homeless, like me.

NOVEMBER 7 – 24, 2013
Wednesdays & Thursdays @ 6:00 PM
Fridays & Saturdays @ 7:30 PM
Sundays @ 2:30 PM
LOCATIONParking is at Downtown Women’s Center at 442 South San Pedro St. There will be a shuttle and walking guides to escort you to the venue.