Sunday, February 1, 2015

Clean Start – by Kathy Fischer & Josefina López

By Joe Straw

Normally, there’s a sizeable crowd at Casa 0101, but on this particular night, there were oodles of patrons.  In fact, the lobby was almost bursting shoulder-to-shoulder, and suddenly, in the theatre, it became standing-room-only. This was the opening weekend of a world premier play. Rarely do you get a packed house - so something was a little out of the ordinary. The tarot cards could not have predicted this outcome.  

Am I out of the metaphysical/witchery loop here?   

Casa 0101 Theater presents the world premiere of Clean Start, a new comedy written by Kathy Fischer & Josefina Lopez and directed by Kathy Fischer through February 15, 2015.

This is Casa 0101 at its best. There is so much fun in this presentation of Clean Start, a raucous, snappy, and fast-pace comedy. You had better run fast and reserve your tickets because Casa 0101 shows do not have a long theatrical run.   

In a very modest home, where the tile does not meet the grout, somewhere in East Los Angeles, are the incessant sounds of helicopters flying overhead, police sirens, and Chihuahuas barking angrily.   

Doña Maria Rodriguez (Marina Gonzalez Palmier) sits actively, watching a novela, and is getting downright upset by the smooth dialogue from a charming gigolo-like male on the show.  Her forward inclination means to take it out on this terribly despicable character. To that end, she pulls out a reasonable facsimile, a Ken doll, lays him on a mocajete bowl, and chants for his blond hair to fall out, in clumps. (She has some male issues!)

Rosario Rodriguez (Ingrid Oliu), Maria’s daughter and homeowner, comes home early from her job secretly holding a plant while she puts her stuff away.  Something has happened at her maid cleaning job in Beverly Hills and she was told to go home.

“Never trust a gringo.” – Doña Maria Rodriguez

Rosario responds that Mrs. Parker Reed (Kim Chase) has been good to her and that it has been all a terrible misunderstanding. In the meantime, she can work a swap meet or something to earn money.
And while she is out of work, Blanca (Maria Russell), her sister, can get a job and help the family out, the way some families do. 

Maria, with little regard to her daughter’s active slumber, says that Blanca hasn’t even gotten out of bed yet.  She needs her fourteen hours of beauty sleep.  

Rosario has had it and starts the vacuum cleaner. 

“Ma, you woke me!” – Blanca Rodriguez

Blanca, an out-of-work aspiring model/actress, runs into the living room and, looking in the mirror, checks for any wrinkles in, on, or around her face.  Nope.  Enchanted by her reflection, the stunning creature stares at her voluptuous beauty.  Not a wrinkle anywhere, upstairs good, downstairs even better.

Maria asks Rosario if she got her last paycheck.  No, because as it turns out -  and here is where she is living in her own novela -  Mr. Reed (not seen) was the mastermind of a Ponzi scheme and the authorities have taken swift action to freeze his accounts.  In a gracious bit of action, Mrs. Reed told her employees to take anything out of the house as payment of their last paycheck.

Rosario opted to take a plant – and not even the kind you can roll and smoke – groused her mother.

“Mrs. Reed was good to me.” – Rosario   

So now there’s a problem. Blanca has been waiting for her Quinceañera party for twenty years and she wants it, despite being thirty-five years old. This former Miss Rosarita Bean model is on the edge of the age precipice, in a time where nothing has dropped or cracked, she definitely needs her Quinceaña, and the husband can wait, but not too much longer.

Vladimir (Robert Jekabson), a Russian, wearing socks, underwear, and a utility belt, emanates from the basement where he lives to plug a leak in the bathtub. Blanca ogles his half naked body and  molds herself into a half dozen provocative poses.

Maria looks at Vladimir with distain. She’s decided that Vladimir is not a good match for Blanca.  She had this dream that Blanca would marry a “Juan”.  And just like “no I in team” there’s no way you can get Juan from the name, Vladimir.  But there is no Juan within a suitable marriageable range on the horizon, or even in this universe.

And aside from Vladimir, there is no man within a puffy dress range for all of these ladies.   Rosario is divorced from her French husband, Blanca is looking, and Doña Maria Rodriguez has given up entirely.

Every single moment at this point is turning into a disaster for this family so Maria is forced to go to the tarot cards to foretell their future.   She pulls one and up, and just their luck, the devil appears.

And wouldn’t you know it, the doorbell rings and in walks Mrs. Reed, a gratuitously impertinent rich woman, with her suitcases in tow.  Mrs. Reed, who does not travel east of Robertson, tells Rosario she needs a place to stay until things around her home settles down. And this quaint little home, reminiscent of a third world country home, fits the bill.  Rosario, true to her spirit, offers her the master bedroom, draws her a bath, and a Tanqueray to calm Mrs. Reed’s raw nerves.

Vladimir steps back into the living room now that the bathroom is unplugged.  He is introduced and has a private conversation with Mrs. Reed, speaking in his native Russian tongue, emphasis on the tongue.   Now Blanca wants Mrs. Reed out!

The Quinceañera is not looking too good for Blanca right now.  With no money, she will need to put her Quinceañera dress back in the box, ship it back, and have Rosario make her a dress from the used picnic tablecloths.

Casa 0101 has pulled out their A-List actors for this one. They blend and work magnificently with each other. The actors are true to the spirit and their objectives.

Kim Chase as Parker Reed provides us with a very physical character on stage.  She is slightly despicable, commanding the house as though she owned it, and she does so very well. There is a turn in character when we find out who and what she is and what she is made from.  Chase is wonderful in the role.

Ingrid Oliu as Rosario Rodriguez is the older sister and, for the most part, the straight woman to everyone else’s character. The words did not come easily on this night, possibly due to opening week jitters. Still it was a wonderful performance by a woman who really cares for her family and will do anything for them, and anyone else who walks in, so that they have a home. The plant, especially its role at the end, reminds me of “A Raisin In The Sun”. 

Maria Russell as Blanca Rodriguez does a fine job with her character that desperately wants a Quinceañera.  Russell is an extremely funny and gifted actor who pulls no strings to get what she wants. Gambolling playfully seems to be the order of the day for Blanca and all of it is all in good fun.

Marina Gonzalez Palmier plays Doña Maria Rodriguez, the matriarch of the family.  She has got a sharp quip for anyone who ventures within her earshot. Maria’s relationship with her two daughters appears the same and could use additional treatment. Palmier is a wonderful actor who is always in the moment.

Robert Jekabson is Vladimir and does a nice job as an unsuspecting, or suspecting, love interest.  There is more fun to be had with this character, in his manner, and his off stage antics.  Jekabson, a former golden gloves boxer and personal trainer, totally fills the bill for this character.

Josefina López and Kathy Fischer, the writers, must have had a great time writing this play, which is filled with humor throughout. No laugh track needed as the actors gave a lot of life to the characters. The dialogue is supremely filled with a discourse that rings true to both east and west of Robertson Boulevard. And there’s just enough social conscience in a humorous way to give regular theatregoers that which they have come to see. That said, the Quinceañera scene needs work. The offstage antics, possibly because of the character’s costume changes, is a bit odd and does nothing to further the play along. It might work better to have the dressed-up actors walk out of the door to the party, change lights, then walk back in.

Kathy Fischer, the director, has done a marvelous job keeping the pace moving briskly along.   There is a lot of strong physical comedy work here.  Because of Fischer’s background as a situation comedy writer, the play looks and feels much like a situation comedy. Nothing wrong with that, in fact this a very strong beginning for possibly a new show, and for more Latinos working in television. The dancing maids work wonderfully during the scene changes.

Dandi Dewey does a delightful job with the costumes and props.

Celina Lee Surniak is the Stage Manager.  

Sergio Leal is the Choreographer.

Other members of this crew are as follows:

Vincent Sanchez – Sound Designer & Casa 0101 Facilities Manager
Kay McCarthy – Associate Sound Designer
Chris Clary – Graphic Designer
Suzanne Linares – Co-Producer
Rees Pugh – Set Designer
Sohail e. Najafi – Lighting Designer & Casa 0101 Technical Director
Catalina Adragna – Stage Hand
Julius Bronola – Stage Hand
Emmanuel Deleage – Casa 0101 Executive Director
Mark Kraus – Webmaster, Casa 0101 Administrator
Jorge Villanueva – Casa 0101 Maintenance
Ed Krieger – Production Photographer

Steve Moyer Public Relations

Run!  Run!  Run!  And takes someone who loves to have a good time! 

Reservations:  323-263-7684
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