Thursday, January 23, 2014

Rx by Kate Fodor

Kristen Kollender and Jonathan Pessin 

By Joe Straw

On my early morning walk in Culver City, at the corner of Overland and Washington Blvd., plugged in and practicing Pimsleur’s Spanish, I came upon a man who asked me for change. I slapped my sides, motioning “nothing in my pockets” and I said, “I don’t carry money.” 

There was something in his eyes that expressed a great anger.  “Well, give me your shirt.” I kept walking.  “Give me your shoes! Your pants!  Give me everything you’re F#$%@ wearing!”

And for a second I thought: Why do I need all of these clothes?  And suddenly I pictured myself walking back home on Venice Boulevard without a stitch on just to satisfy this man’s early morning needs. But, I kept walking.  Clearly he was in need of a drug to make him feel… I don’t know.  Something.

Strangely enough, I saw him the next morning, in Starbucks, having a cup of joe.  I walked by his table. Our eyes locked as I moved passed him.  Expecting a barrage, he said nothing.  Life was a little easier for him on this day. Perhaps he took something.  

Life’s problems keep changing and everyday there is a new drug, while not a cure will assuage a new symptom, newly diagnosed, to help you, feel better, as you manage your job, with as little confusion as possible, so you can pay for that tiny little pill.  

And why cure a symptom when you can keep on prescribing?

Won’t you join me in this moneymaking venture?  

Rx by Kate Fodor and directed by John Pleshette at The Lost Studio on La Brea is funny and zany, all in the same breath.  The writing is like watching Woody Allen on psychotropic drugs meeting or having a wacky date with Christopher Durang to see Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Lynn Pleshette, the Producer, and The Lost Studio has done a remarkable job bringing Rx to Los Angeles for its premiere with a solid cast of astonishing actors now playing through March 1, 2014.
This production is top rate, the play is fantastic, and the events in this play will make you lightheaded, without the need for medication, unless they come up with a disease for it – addiction to theatre.  

Mina Badie and James Donovan

Meena Pierotti (Mina Badie), managing editor for piggeries at American Cattle & Swine Magazine, understands she has the problem of depression in the workplace, so she has answered an ad for clinical trials for a new drug to combat that problem. In a state of torpor from this job, she understands her plight, recognizes her problem, which is the first step to recovery, placebo or no placebo.    

Today, Dr. Phil Gray (Jonathan Pessin) is interviewing her to see if she qualifies for the program.  And boy is Meena a mess!   She cries frequently at least twice in one day.  But, not at the office, she shuffles to a department store near the old-lady underwear section and weeps, fatuously.

And looking at the line item of “confusion” on his clipboard, Dr. Gray asks if she is confused and on what scale, 10 being worse.  She answers decisively “Yes. 7, 6, 5.”  

Later, Allison Hardy (Kirsten Kollender), an administrator of sorts, nicely put together, think big pharma garb of tight blue shirt, black jacket and skirt, and with stilettoes that would stop a non-medicated prowler in his tracks, has high hopes for the new drug - SP95 for workplace depression.

“It’s a disease, we hope.” – Dr. Phil Gray

Meanwhile, Meena, back at the office with her nerdy assistant Simon (James Donovan) with his pants pulled up way too high and wearing clothes befitting no one, drives Meena up the wall, telling her that Amy (not seen) was quitting to go off to write a book, sending Meena back to the underwear section of the department store.

Later during the examination, Dr. Gray tells Meena that they are looking for professional workers who earn more than $65,000 per year.  Meena has her suspicions about the whole program and asks Dr. Gray if he is a real physician.  And with his bare hands on her soft skin, slightly under the fold of her slacks, she tells him that she has got MFA in poetry, giggles at his touch, and says she ticklish.  

“We’re done.” – Dr. Gray

Later Allison walks into Dr. Gray’s office and tells him that it is not okay to break the rules.  He’s got to get his bookshelf off his floor, it’s in the memo, and she doesn’t care that he hits his head when he stands up.

Meanwhile in the underwear section, Meena meets Frances (K. Callan), an elderly woman, having trouble choosing which “old lady” underwear she wants.  Meena, feeling better, helps her decide, and the decorations on the top will do nicely.

Michael Dempsey and Kristen Kollender 

Later Allison grabs Dr. Gray and pulls him into a marketing meeting with Richard (Michael Dempsey) who finds it an unmistakable pleasure to introduce a new drug to a doctor.  Richard, now excited, brings a small boom box, an easel, and two cards to introduce THRIVEON (spelled as “thrive on” but pronounced by Richard as “thriv EEE on”) 9 to 5.  Allison is beyond excited as Richard hits the box and plays Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 as he dances about the room.

“You can Thrive from 9 to 5.” - Richard

Dr. Gray is none too pleased.

Back for a follow-up, Meena at this point really doesn’t know if she is getting the medication or the placebo. Dr. Gray, not much for rule breaking, except for moving the shelf, putting bare hands on patients, and emailing pictures of his feet, tells Meena that she is getting the drug. He also tells her that he loves her poetry and breaks another rule, the doctor-patient rule, and a romantic relationship ensues complete with photograph of naked feet in various positions.  

Kate Fordor, the writer, has written a wonderful play and something so very unusual that it keeps your interest throughout. A question came to mind during intermission: How does she know all of this stuff?  The names of drugs? The ailments? The doctors? The marketing and pharmaceutical team? Where and how did she accumulate this knowledge? It is probably better left a mystery but suffice it to say this is a wonderful play that will keep audiences enthralled.  

John Pleshette, the director, keeps things moving at an interesting pace.  It is a play about love and drugs and their effects on the human condition.  The through line here could be strengthened with the various characters that take us to the denouement. Allison, who will stop at nothing to get the drug made, Meena who needs the drug to be a better person, worker, lover, etc., Dr. Gray who really needs Meena to keep him going, and the drugs when love is just not getting it done.  Which leaves us with Simon.  Where and how does Simon fit in, in all of this?  Still, Pleshette does a marvelous job with the actors and providing us with a message about love and drugs.   It’s funny when love is lost, the characters frantically run to a drug that will relieve their symptoms, whether it is alcohol, or the orange pill that’s been effectively proven to give dogs a bad case of the runs.

Mina Badie is charming as Meena Pierotti.  It is an interesting role in that it takes her from her depressed charming self, to a loving voluptuous woman, to someone controlling herself and the others around her all the span of an hour and a half.  Things got so wacky on this particular night Badie could hardly control herself.  Still, this was a very nice job.

Jonathan Pressin is Dr. Phil Gray.  Dr. Gray is a man who has a licentious foot fetish so much so that he emails pictures of his feet to his patients – well, one patient.  Amatory speculations set aside, Dr. Gray is slightly nebbish and on the outside sticks by his guns and will not break any rules.  But outside his exterior self, he breaks all the rules continuously.  We all know he wants the girl, but does he try hard enough to get her?  Is he moving his nebbish little self in that direction? – through actions on stage? It is hard to tell with the final outcome.  Nevertheless, I did find Dr. Gray rolling all over the floor just hilarious and will remember that moment for some time to come. Pressin does a fine job with this character.

Kristen Kollender is marvelous as Allison Hardy a backslapping, happy-go-lucky worker for big pharma.  She is as gregarious as she is annoying. And never let it be said the she doesn’t love her job.  On top of all the money she is making, she is watching the pennies. Still, she is the one person co-workers do not want walking into their room, especially after something good has happened, or something bad, or anything at all. It is preferable that she just stays away.   Still you have to love Hardy’s tenacious spirit and Kollender is fantastic in the role.  

James Donovan plays Simon, a nerdy character with a foreign accent.  And an odd thing about this particular character is that he shows up at the most inopportune time, obliquely prowling around the old ladies underwear section by inadvertent happenstance.  Seems like the character has more in his being than being at the wrong place at the right time. Still I enjoyed Donovan’s performance and loved the office party scene.  It was one more moment when things felt just right.  

Michael Dempsey is a wonderful actor, plain and simple. Although he is not plain and simple, but a robust character that brings his characters to extraordinary life. His audacious gestures send the audience into fits of laughter.  Dempsey is an actor that other actors love to watch and steal. Dempsey’s Richard is a character who is slightly off kilter with many layers.  A man who is not sure of his own self worth, wishing for the day back when he decided to drop out of college or medical school.  And as Dr. Ed Morgon he creates an entirely different character, so offbeat and unique, one cannot take your eyes off the mess that is this being. And the glove scene this night was incomparable to anything thing I’ve ever seen in a doctors office.  His performance was just wonderful.

L - R,  K Callan and Mina Badie 

K Callan gives a very special performance, as Frances, a very kind elderly woman who is, in the politest sense of the word, slightly confused, but very kind.  She is ill and knows her time has come. She refuses the drugs she needs but inspires Meena to enjoy life to the fullest.  Frances gives us a chance to breath with all this lunacy going on.  And it is Callan who provides that relief and a time to step back to enjoy her character and her performance. Callan is terrific as Frances.

Karina Farah was the Stage Manager as was David Rubin.

Nicholas Davidson was the Lighting Designer and gave the cast the lighting required to be their best.

Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski was the Sound Designer and everything worked to perfection.  

Esther Rydell was responsible for the Costumes and also did a great job with actors looking and living the part in various costumes.

Ken Werther Publicity was responsible for the publicity.

Other member of the crew were Ariana Hode, House Manager, Debra Valencia DeVa Communications, Graphic Design and Cinda Jackson for The Lost Studio. 

The sign Rx is much too real hanging outside the Lost Stage on La Brea – I walked past thinking it was a pharmacy.

Run! Run! Run! Take someone who has a clear head.

JANUARY 11 — MARCH 1, 2014


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg

L - R Will Bethencourt and Barry Brisco - Photo Shari Barrett 

By Joe Straw

There is a lot of male nudity in this production. Most of the action takes place in a locker room.  If this offends you… Time out! This play is about baseball.  It’s baseball! Baseball: a game of threes and nines, which features actors playing in their prime, and coincidently it all happens in a small black box venue just west of Vine - which parenthetically - rhymes with nine.  You’ll see a lot of that in baseball.  

So think baseball, bring your heart, and bring your backstories, and all the thoughts that accompany baseball, because when it comes down to it, you are part of the game.   Come out, or don’t come out, but buy your tickets and see Take Me Out.  – Narrator.

Plus One Productions presents Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg and directed by Emanuel Millar at the Flight Theatre in Hollywood through February 2, 2014.

Take Me Out, the 2003 Tony Award Winner, is a very satisfying production, with marvelous performances by young, enthusiastic actors that will even greet you on your way out of the theatre.  And isn’t that the way it should always be.

The play starts, at home plate, with the idea that God is responsible for all of this.  And with the sun breaking through the clouds, in centerfield, a ray of sunlight shines only on the being that is Darren Lemming (Barry Brisco) and he is God, not a baseball God, just God. 

And today, in uniform, Darren is shinning his million-dollar smile, holding his golden glove as he magically spins the ball with a dramatic self-assurance just for the fans. His dark opaque luster, the color of his skin, is brown, the product of a white father and a brown mother, because God can be any color. When God came down as Darren Lemming to play baseball, some lessons had to be learned. 

Today we discover that God is gay but I’m getting ahead of myself.

“The whole mess started with Darren, I suppose.   After all, if he hadn’t done the thing, then the next thing wouldn’t have happened, or all the stuff after, …” – Kippy

Kippy (Will Bethencourt) is one of three narrators in this story about a baseball, because baseball needs announcers to fill in the gaps.  And he tells us that God, Darren Lemming, is a man who could do anything on the field and anything off the field.  And, for those kids who are struggling with their identities today, Darren will be giving a very special press briefing.  

“Any young man, creed, whatever, can go out there and become a ballplayer.  Or an interior decorator.” - Darren 

(And as night turns into morning the press has furiously tapped their keys to hammer out the story the fans eagerly want to consume.)

Darren Lemming’s teammates are understandably also caught off guard.

But Darren goes about his day undeterred knowing that he is still the smartest and greatest ballplayer on the planet, on the greatest team, and making a run for a third title in as many years.

Shortly thereafter, the temperament in the locker room suddenly shifts in a moment that changes the course of relationships forever. While Darren is having a conversation with Kippy, teammates Martinez (Gustaf Saige) and Rodriguez (Christian Harris) walk by and snub Darren, not responding to a simple “Hey.” A simple word, uttered by God, now suggests that Satan himself was in the room.  

Kippy thinks Darren’s declaration was just slightly out of the blue, and suggests the guys need time to adjust to his announcement.

“I thought it was the easiest way to..” – Darren

“You didn’t tell anybody. Dar.”  – Kippy

“No.” – Darren

“Nobody was told… I wasn’t told.” – Kippy

The only one Darren told was Skipper (PJ Waggaman), the manager, a man with personal skills who has seen it all (probably twice) and didn’t flinched when Darren came out.

A slightly miffed Kippy, Darren’s best friend on the team wasn’t told.  But that aside, Kippy is now happy that Darren is happy and has freed himself from those earthly hetero bonds.

But, just when you think things will be fine, Darren is approached by Jason Chenier (Justin Teitell), a newly acquired member of the team, a catcher, who wants to make nice.

“I’m in awe of you.” – Jason

“Sure.” – Darren

“And I just want to say:  the whole gay thing – doesn’t mean – I don’t – it doesn’t.  I’m in awe.” – Jason

And later coming out of the shower, Toddy (Peter Stoia) takes offense at Darren’s greeting.

“Hey.” Darren

“Okay, so now I gotta be worrying about this?” – Toddy

“About what is that, Toddy?” – Darren

“So now I gotta go around worrying that every time I’m naked or dressed or whatever you’re checking out my ass.” – Toddy

Darren assures Toddy that his sexuality is not Toddy’s problem and then calls him a dimwit.

But how and why did this come about, coming out, at this time?  Kippy believes it has to do with his best friend off the team, Davey Battle (Edwin Rush), a major league baseball player.

Darren is in town to play Davey’s Empire team.  And after Davey’s team gets horrendously whipped, the men go out to a local bar.  Davey thinks he’s a better player despite being on an inferior team. Davey lets it be know that he knows who he is, a loving father with three kids. He just wants to know now, today, Darren’s inclinations.   Where are his threes?

“I drink my one beer, and I cuss my two cuss words loudly, as to manifest my true nature.  I want my whole self known.  You should too, Darren.  You should, too.” – Davey

L - R Richard Sabine and Barry Brisco 

Shortly thereafter, Darren’s been thinking pretty hard about his career and he meets up with his newly acquired financial advisor Mason Marzac (Richard Sabine) who is the third narrator.  Mason brings us back to present day to discuss his financial situation and setting up a foundation for gay kids under ten years of age in a community in which neither belong.  Also, it seems that Darren has other motives for this move.

It only takes the slightest turn of events for the bottom to fall out of a team (Think Steve Bartman in Chicago.) and this team has been demoralized with Darren coming out.  They start losing bad, Takeshi Kawabata-san (Takumi Bansho) their ace pitcher starts breaking down completely in the six innings and the rest of the pitchers offer no help.  Kawabata-san who speaks no English is alone in his defeat.

But suddenly the Empires find an ace in the name of Shane Mungitt (Kyle Colton), a guy from Tennessee - and or slash - Arkansas who speaks less English that Kawabata-san, but is burning up the plate.  The Empires start winning again and things are fine until Mungitt makes a startling announcement, in front of the press, and on national TV.

Richard Greenberg, the writer, has written a play that is enjoyable from start to finish.   Baseball is not a solitary game with nine players on the field. Those nine bring their backstory to the field, and that backstory is filtered through the players, the coaches, and the audience.  And, for the few short hours, there is a devoted concentration on the game.  The game is simple but complicated, satisfying and aggravating, aggressive and passive.  And the impending calamity of a close game in the bottom of the ninth, or the race for the pennant, is heightened by someone’s cataclysmic disclosures of a personal nature.  And whether one likes it or not all of this becomes a part of baseball. And this makes for an exciting play.  

L - R 
Will Bethencourt, Christian Harris, Barry Brisco, Peter Stoia, Gustaf Saige, Justin Teitell, Takumi Bansho and PJ Waggaman

Will Bethencourt handles Kippy Sunderstrom in smart fashion. For Kippy it is all about the team and providing the backstory as one of the narrator as well as providing support for the other characters. (The Sunderstrom character will probably write a memoir after it is said and done.) But, the team is going for its third championship and there are unexpected conflicts tearing at the fabric of this team’s soul.  Kippy must be the one to sort this all out.   As the idealist he knows there is little room for conflict within the team.  And he must keep the conflict in the locker room before the players go out onto the field.  It is a tough job and a sizeable conflict plaguing this character.  And if there is anything I would like to see in Bethencourt’s performance is a reaction to that conflict which would only add to an already very fine performance.  

Barry Brisco is the perfect fit for Darren Lemming.  Brisco is charming, has a wonderful smile, and gives the character a strong core.  If God were a baseball player, he would be Darren Lemming.  And a suggestion for the actor is: what if he conducted himself as God throughout the play? We get a glimmer of that in Brisco’s performance and it might be there might be more to add to get to another layer. Darren knows where this is all going.  And only he knows from the steps he takes, in the announcement, conducting himself as a God among mortal men, persuading to have someone thrown off the team.  He doesn’t need much to do this because of his God given talent that backs him up. But then he discovers that he is not going to change someone’s mind and that must be the moment when things start to change for him, his downfall, or his discovery. Brisco as the character becomes emotional later in the play and I’m wondering if there are other choices that would make the audience cry, rather than the character. In the end, God’s world starts falling apart, but not too bad, after all, he is God. Nevertheless, this is a very fine performance by Brisco.

Richard Sabine plays Mason Marzac as a comic relief character.  Mason fills in the roll as one more narrator.  There is a tremendous amount of humor in Sabine’s performance but his actions lack a solid objective.  Where is he is taking the character?  In the end, the character must have the ballplayer.  This objective will give him all he needs to get there.   I didn’t see anything resembling vying for his affection but there is a lot of dialogue to suggest that he will do anything for this man.  Like learn the game, flirt with his gay neighbors, about the catch he has made, and even trying to get Lemmings to extend his career another 10 to 15 years, when the average career life of a major league baseball player is around 15 years. Ideally I would love to see Marzac fall desperately in love with Lemmings and I would like Sabine to add those actions that would compliment a fine performance.

Peter Stoia plays Toddy Koovitz with a lot of humor, a grand and not too bright sense of self, complimented with an unusual speech patter, which worked for this particular and peculiar character. Toddy has been on the team for a while.  He knows the ropes and is not afraid to confront the star player when he feels things need to be addressed.   He even has a beard bringing the character to modern day Boston Red Sox battle of the beards. Fear the beard. Stoia is very likeable in the role.

Kyle Colton is Shane Mungitt and has a very distinctive look with a face that absorbs light and onlookers alike.  As the character, Mungitt has a purpose but he dissimulates his true purpose.  All told he is a very mysterious character who knows how to throw a fastball, close, and win games. He keeps to himself knowing that when he speaks he will get himself into trouble. His backstory helps him when he is confronted by the other players but does not help him when he is in front of the cameras. What does he want?  More than anything he wants to pitch if only he could keep his mouth shut. Colton does a fine job with Mungitt but, like the character, he needs to close.

Edwin Rush plays Davey Battle and has a very good look.  But, there are slight problems figuring out what the character wants.  One believes the character thinks he is the superior player. No one else knows this because Battle is on an inferior team.  So what does he do?  He plants the seed for his counterpart’s destruction. As his best friend, this is a dastardly act.  Ultimately things don’t work as planned for Davy Battle.  A slight adjustment is needed for this character and his actions that convey a purpose.

PJ Waggama plays Skipper and was the third narrator of this play.  He is the man who takes care of the team while ironing out the “wrinkles” or paving the “bumps” in the road.  One believes it’s all about legacy with this coach, the opportunity to win three championships in a row and stopping at nothing to get there, even if it means telling “God” to hold on.   It’s a winning at all cost mentality.  Waggama plays the character safe and requires exploring other levels needed to coach this successful team.  

Takumi Bansho is Kawabata-san and does a fine job.  He is a baseball player that is demoralized when he loses a baseball game and comes to an understanding that baseball has a purpose and that in the end he is very fortunate.

Justin Tietell plays Jason Chenier nicely.  Tietell needs work strengthening his voice to take command of this character.  There is a lot more the character can do to gain favor of the star and this does not stop after his introduction but rather continues through the play.

Christian Harris shows a lot of promise as Rodriguez with his dark features and he played the waiter in a very dark bar scene, which I thought was very funny. A better command of the Spanish language and a more authentic accent would help his performance and possibly his career.  

Gustaf Saige played Martinez with an excellent grasp of the Spanish language.  A better grasp of the character and objective would help his performance.

Hayden Viet Lam, Oscar Pena, and Brian Perras are alternates but did not perform on this night.

Emanuel Millar, the director, does a fine job with this group of enthusiastic actors.  And the actors tell the story with certain panache. One gets the feeling this game and this play is one big allegory. And whether the director wants to make that choice is his decision. There were things missing on this night, moments that didn’t quite play out, pauses with no effect.   

The relationships between Davey and Darren needed guidance and a lot more work. Right now it hard to believe they were in love with each other or had any feelings at all toward one another.  And more than anything, this relationship must work in order for all the moments of the play to fall into place. Perhaps the pieces will fall together on another night.

But overall, it was a fantastic evening, and probably, by the time you read this, the cast will have settled down a bit when the lights come up and it’s time for another night game.

Will Bethencourt and Justin Orkin really did an excellent job as Producers of this project.

Kyle Colton did a fantastic job as Costume Designer and was responsible for the very nice Set Design in this small black box theatre.  

John Toom was responsible for the Light Design.  But, we really need to see the actors faces during the bar scene.

Shari Barrett is the Publicist.  

Brad Hodgens was responsible for the Set Build.

The Sound Specialist was Justin Orkin and things never sounded so perfect.

The Stage Manager was Vincent Amaya.

Run! And takes someone who is passionate about baseball.

The reservation link and the phone number for reservations no longer work.  I'm not sure what's going on.  Stay tuned.

P.S. Sad to say:  The show has been cancelled after 5 performances.