Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side by Derek Ahonen

L - Adams Brooks, Heather Merthens

By Joe Straw

There was a time I couldn’t find my keys, well at least, not right away. The morning ritual of getting out the door became a long and drawn out process, sometimes lasting twenty or thirty minutes. Near the end of my search, sweat was pouring out of every known orifice in my body and left me completely drenched.  The cats, aware of my predicament and shivering in the corner, did their best to stay out of the way.  So, after finding the right life partner, I have resolved that issue. But it took some help. – The Narrator.

There were a lot of men at the opening of this show, men who by all appearance spent a lot of time working out.  And they were kissing, hugging, introducing themselves, and greeting each other.

Three women sat in the row in front of us. Oddly, these women brought take-out to eat before the show started.  (Giving the show an extra added aroma). One thought it was, in part, an all-encompassing experience. But, a gentleman appeared and confiscated their dinner. 

“I’ll put it on the piano. You can get it there after the show.” – The gentleman.

The Pied Pipers of The Lower East Side has a program but I couldn’t find it on my messy desk.  Not in the usual spot, in the back of the note pad – instead all I could find was a green menu.   

Oh!  Wait a minute! That’s it.

of the

Organic * Vegan * Cuisine


Stanton Street (at Orchard)
New York, NY 10002

Tel (212) 662-6609
Fax (212) 662-6610


Minimum Order $15

Alex Zoppa, Henry Reno & Joey Tuccio present “The Pied Pipers of The Lower East Side” written and directed by Derek Ahonen, an RZT Production Produced in Association with Mumblecore, Todd Mendeloff and David Goldman through May 24th, 2015 at the Matrix Theatre.

Manic, is probably the best word to describe this play because it starts that way and never lets up.

When one enters the theatre, we observe a roommate setting, created by Ron Blanco, Stage Designer, that has the inhabitants living a carefree life, what with soda or beer cans all over the floor and the general feeling of unkemptness.   A sofa bed, badly worn and in need of cleaning, sits center stage. A likeness of Che is painted on the upstage right wall and the Anonymous mask is painted on the upstage left wall.  “Globalize Resistance” is spray painted two sides of the upstage wall, an “Easy Rider” poster is on one bedroom door, and spray painted on the other bedroom door is the phrase “When the rich wage war, it’s the poor that die.”  It is a sight without the effluvium one associates with a gym locker-room.  

Billy (Adam Brooks), in the opening moments appears to have a drug problem whether he is snorting, smoking, or drinking he is on task and not concerned with anyone else in the room.   

That’s not sitting to well with Wyatt (Jordan Tisdale), a man at this point in time who desperately wants Billy to give him his scratch “Cash Words” lottery tickets.  But Billy is too busy and ain’t coming clean.

So Wyatt takes Billy’s vintage records (e.g. Elton John and others) out of the sleeve and throws them against the wall missing Billy by inches and breaking some until Billy tells him the “Cash Words” are in the socks.

Billy is a revolutionary and activist organizer. Although in and out of a fog, he is trying to run a business that he seems to do offsite via the use of his cellphone.

Dawn (Heather Merthens) starts watering the plants in the apartment, barely noticing the two men. She pays scant attention to the two, one getting high, the other is scratching, until Wyatt gets very close to scratching the correct name.  But it’s no good, the last letter scratched is a disaster.  Now Wyatt is frustrated and turns his attention to Billy.

“I’m sorry, Billy.” – Wyatt

Billy has the knack to dulcify Wyatt’s explosive issues. And there’s a lot of “I love you.” thrown about. Dawn jumps into the act and all three start kissing and fondling.

Dear (Agatha Nowicki), the fourth roommate, bursts into the apartment and tells them the health inspector is downstairs inspecting The Pied Pipers restaurant. Wyatt throws on an apron and bolts downstairs to take care of business, coming back momentarily for a spoon to use as a fly swatter.  

Billy receives a call from Eugene (not seen) from Oaxaca telling him to come down and join the fight but Billy is not ready to die for that cause.  Billy gets a call from his brother who has arrived in the city for a visit and is waiting at Stanton and Ludlow.

Dear, the only levelheaded one, questions Billy about his brother, Evan (Ben Reno) – wondering if Evan knows their sexual situation and living arrangements.  Billy says he doesn’t and will break it to him gently as he goes out the door to pick him up.

Dawn is now worried about her living arrangement with her roommates and confides to Dear about her fear of being thrown out.  Dear, hot and sweaty, doesn’t want to be touched by Dawn.

“Not now Dawn, I’m sweating all over my body.” - Dear

 An undeterred Dawn, always in an amorous mood, leads the both of them to the bathroom to shower together.

Inspector gone, Wyatt is back upstairs shouting to Pepe (unseen) to hold down the fort.  Hearing the shower, Wyatt knocks on the bathroom door and asks if he can join the ladies. Wyatt eases in.  

Evan, plugged in and tuned out, enters the apartment with his brother.  He is studying journalism in college, but all that serious stuff aside, he is now looking for action, drinking and “whores”, and wants to starts the party now.  Evan tells his brother that their parents will not pay for any more rehab, that they are done. Again Evan says he wants to get the party started, to which Dawn obliges by coming out completely naked followed by Dear, and then by Wyatt, all soaking wet, and looking for a towel.  

Evan is suddenly uncomfortable with this newfound sexual expression but does not resist when Dawn, slipping on her panties, takes him into the bedroom for a quick roll.

When he comes out, Evan finds his brother and Wyatt making out which disrupts his intimate social being. Billy is uncomfortable with the information about their sexual family being revealed this way.

Then Donovan (Patrick Scott Lewis), the owner of the building, drops by for a visit bearing gifts and money.

The Pied Pipers of The Lower East Side by Derek Ahonen is an exceptional play, exquisitely absurd, with equivocal characters that have a grand sense of their intellectual selves, not aware that they haven’t got a clue.  They are an entangled mass of humanity posing as a loving family.  And in this family’s disorderly formality, they are on a precipice, two steps away from the edge that is precipitously collapsing.

The three-act play is enjoyable from beginning to end. Still I have some thoughts about the production and the actors.  

Ahonen’s opening requires patience. Manic is a term used to describe the opening, which leaves us nowhere to go. A gradual opening with highlighting Wyatt and Billy’s intention, without being maniacal, would give us a few seconds to absorb the characters and their idiosyncrasies.

Also, Ahonen’s direction lacks a definitive stamp, the message, and from his perspective. It is a tricky to have the director and writer rolled up in one neat little package. The horrible imprecation, usually expressed from those two during the rehearsals process, is part of the progression of theatre.  But because they are one, that fight is unresolved and some things are left stagnant and impotent in the wings. That aside, this is a well directed play that needs a little more and by the time you see it things will have worked themselves to perfection.  

L - Agatha Nowicki, Adam Brooks, Jordan Tisdale

Adam Brooks plays Billy and is probably the healthiest drug addict you have ever seen until he suffers from some form of alcoholic polyneuropathy then things get a little dicey. But before that he sits around in his underwear getting very little done despite the signs of him being an activist/organizer, a call here, another call there, they seemed to be real, but we never see him doing that job except for a few phone calls.   That aside, he is the one that holds the group together, or appears to, but we really never see the drugs getting in the way of what he is trying to accomplish. And while Brooks did fine job on stage, one is not really sure what the character is trying to accomplish, his objective to the end.  

Jordan Tisdale is Wyatt, a man that has many phobias including thanatophobia, the fear of dying.  That phobia devours his every waking moment and sends him to places no one wants to go.  This is one reason he stays in the relationship because there is only one person that can help him. Tisdale brings a manic energy to the character, some moments possibly forced, but there has to be a bigger meaning to his overall objective, something that requires another level from his creative channel. That aside, this is a very fine performance.

Heather Merthens plays Dawn, a person who loves the situation she is in, but ultimately knows that it has to end somewhere down the road, that it cannot last forever.  The character is young and unaware and has much to learn, her heart is in the right place, and she is capable of learning from her mistakes.  That said, Merthens really needs to play one character off another so that in the end she gets what she wants, and she really has to want it.

Agatha Nowicki is the character, Dear.  And if the group as a collective is the body, Dear is the brains, in a metaphysical, fifth dimension, weird sort of way.  Dear always has the answers.  She runs The Pied Piper Restaurant and she is reliable to a fault.  So what does she want?  Good question, hard answer from Nowicki on this night. She’s got everything she wants, two men, one woman in a gratifying post apocalyptical-like sexual relationship.  Her every need is at her fingertips, and there’s a job in the future if she accepts the married man even though it means the end of her life as she knows it. So, what fuels her fire?

Ben Reno plays the younger brother, Evan.  Evan is an arrogant, cocky college kid, majoring in journalism, who knows it all and wants to party hard while he’s there in New York visiting his older brother. He’s also there to bring a message from their parents.  Reno gives a wonderful performance of a young man who knows little, learns a lot, and then is worldly to a fault at the end. Actually the worldly part didn’t ring true to me but the other parts shows an actor who is gifted.  It is an exceptional performance.

Patrick Scott Lewis is Donovan the owner of the building and appears late in the show. Suffice to say that he comes bringing gifts and bad news.  Lewis gives the character a grand physical life of a crazy mixed up man who has one motive in mind when he comes.  The character never gives up and repeats himself until he gets what he wants.  Conflicted about what is to happen, the sweat pouring from his brow, he repeatedly dabs himself with his handkerchief to get through the moment.  The funny thing about this character is that he is as whacked out as the rest of  the characters, but he's the one with the money. So, that makes him the wisest, or the smartest person in the room? Or does he just have chrometophobia, the fear of money. This is a grand wildly comedic performance that should not be missed.

Alex Zoppa, Henry Reno, and Joey Tuccio, the Producers did a great job.

Tiffany Thomas is the Production Stage Manager.

Dan Red is the Lighting Designer and everything worked to perfection.

Amelia Gray is the Assistant Director.

David Goldman is the Associate Producer/Publicist.

And Todd Mendeloff is the Associate Producer.

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who has allegrophobia, the fear of being late.  Get there early and have a cheese sandwich at Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese.

Reservations:  www.PiedPipersLA.com

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

James O'Halloran and Amanda Correia

By Joe Straw

Sometimes, I want to see actors - on a bare stage - in just a black box theatre. I hunger for the thespian to bring the place, to live in the space, to feel Tennessee William’s imaginary “transparent jaded portieres” brush against their body.  I want the actors to listen to the wind, shiver from the imaginary morning dewdrops, and show me they are connected in time and space in that black box. And then there are other times that – I want more. – Narrator

After reading James Grissom’s

“The Follies of God
Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog” *

- the time was perfect time to see “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, in its entirety, to get a full and complete perspective of each character’s moral imperfections.  

The Renegade Theatre presents The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams directed by Wilson Better, Produced by Richard Baker, Theodora Greece & Emily O’Meara April 9th through May 17th, 2015.

There is something off in the Wingfield family what with the peculiarities of every member of that household. Tom, an aspiring writer with no girl friend to speak of, runs off nights, not coming home until late in the evening, the early morning, doing, who knows what. And Laura, well, she’s a little touched and slightly “crippled”.  And it’s a pretty sure bet that if something doesn’t happen soon with Amanda Wingfield’s family, like getting her kids married and having grandchildren, that will be the end of her line. With no husband for emotional and financial support this family is barely hanging on.  Right now, this is a family on life support.  

Tom (Wilson Better) introduces us to the Wingfield family.  He is a merchant marine now dressed in a pea coat and a skullcap, looking back at things that were, and describing a life that no longer exists.  It is Tom’s vivid recollection of events that were, or were not, depending on the days recalling abilities, or possibly his truths that have been slightly altered.   

“This play is memory.  Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” – Tom

Despite their poverty – Tom is the only breadwinner and makes little money - they sit at a sparse dinner table, in ridiculous confabulation, and just to get through it without Tom, in burning silent rage, exploding.  

Tom fed up with Amanda’s (Katherine Cortez) exquisitely obtuse dinner language, leaves to smoke a cigarette. 

Laura (Amanda Correia), in an effort to help around the house, clears the table.

“Resume your seat, little sister – I want you to stay fresh and pretty – for gentlemen callers!” - Amanda

Amanda, in story form, enlightens her children with the telling of her younger days when she entertained 17 gentlemen callers. A story she has re-told many times and still Tom humors her.

“How did you entertain those gentlemen callers?” – Tom

“I understood the art of conversation.” - Amanda

Amanda has this idea that gentlemen callers are going to rush to Laura’s doorsteps right after dinner, but there are no gentlemen callers on this night, and possibly never will be unless extreme action is taken.   

It is quite clear the objective in the first act is for all to work to get the gentleman caller into their home.  

But, there is a problem.  Laura is a loner and unwilling and unable to better herself in any capacity.  To placate her mother, she practices on the typewriter at night and pretends to go to business school during the day.

And when Amanda finds out that Laura has not attended classes, she angrily confronts her daughter.

“How old are you, Laura?” – Amanda

“Mother, you know my age.” – Laura

“I thought that you were an adult; it seems that I was mistaken.” – Amanda

Laura negotiates her way around Amanda with tiny little crippled steps, finding solace in the records her father has left her and finding comfort in her glass menagerie.

Meanwhile Amanda sets her sights on Tom’s unruly library collection in an effort to change him. 

“I took that horrible novel back to the library – yes!  That hideous book by that insane Mr. Lawrence.” – Amanda (One suspects Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence)

Amanda views Tom in a different and possibly suspicious light.  But she treads very lightly because he is the only means of support for the Wingfield family. Still Amanda thinks he is jeopardizing his job by going to the movies and staying out late nights to satisfy his crazy adventurous spirit.  

Amanda has this dreadful curiosity that all is coming to an end. 

“What are we going to do, what is going to become of us, what is the future?” – Amanda

And just when you think all is hopeless, the gentleman caller arrives, Jim O’Conner (James O’ Halloran) to give us more insight into the human condition and a lot of sub-textual life through his intercourse with the entire Wingfield family.  

Wilson Better, in his directorial debut, brings a very worthy “…Menagerie” to Los Angeles on this night, negotiating an extremely fine ensemble, to highlight Williams’s true to life foibles growing up in Missouri. There are a thousand ways to stage The Glass Menagerie, but this particular production is an actor’s venue.  One in which the actors create more than what is available on the stage.  Set pieces in this grand black box theatre indicate budgetary constraints whereas a little more imaginative symbolism could go a long way.   There is no set design, or anyone credited for that task. The title cards and the flash projections are not a part of this version.  So, we really have to rely on the actors to bring it all when they perform.  And they do for the most part.  

Part I of this play is called Preparation of a Gentleman Caller and the conflict of the first act should include not only the words but also the subtext and dramatic inner life of getting the gentleman caller through the door.  This leads us to Part II, The Gentleman calls. 

This family is dying right before Amanda’s eyes and she really has to work hard to change things fast. In the first act, the conflict needs strengthening. In the second act, the scene opening the door for the gentleman caller is meant to be humorous and filled with life – on this particular night, more could have been added. Still, these are only minor problems that would only add to a very well directed play by Mr. Better.   

Wilson Better, playing Tom, is a fantastic actor.  The words ring true; his voice is a fine instrument that promises precise poetic license, and his manner on stage quite remarkable. The lights went out on him on the night I was there, and Better recovered nicely. Still, there are moments that could have been better defined. Tom is hiding something he doesn’t want his mother or anyone else to know. This falls with inviting an unmarried man over to his place for dinner without telling that man his mother and sister will be there. However this relationship manifests itself, a richer inner life, transparent feeling, would only help to create a dramatic relationship between the two.   There is more to be made of the scene when the lights go out, especially since Tom did not pay the bill.  And there is also more to be had by the unexpected leaving of the gentleman caller. Tom is a writer, a poet, and more than likely, gay. (Reading James Grissom’s book and given the playwrights proclivities and his religious beliefs, this fits with Tom’s character.) Those small tidbits aside, Better does an exquisite job with the character in a performance that should not be missed.  

L - Katherine Cortez and Amanda Correia

Amanda Correia plays Laura Wingfield. There is more life to be had with this character. Instead the character reads tedious, lifeless, and cripple. More creative thinking is in order for a stronger physical and emotional life. In one scene, Laura falls.  There must be a reason for falling, yet the reason was not evident on this night. Laura should be in heaven dancing, having been kissed and then totally destroyed from what happens next.  There is a different life to be had, and one that will probably be changed by the time you see it.  That said Correia has a good look and does nice things on stage.

Katherine Cortez plays Amanda Wingfield and does so in fantastic fashion.  In this superb role, Cortez manages to capture the essence of Amanda and in one outstanding moment in the play, the part where she is showcasing the dress, there is a sudden realization that the dress does not do justice to her now aging body.  It is a moment wonderfully captured by this actress. Cortez also has a fine voice and a very comfortable way on stage.

James O’Halloran plays Jim O’Conner, the gentleman caller, and one would not expect that he is from Australia.  His American accent is perfect; he fills the role nicely, and manages himself on stage effortlessly.  Jim O’Conner is an interesting character.  He is a man who six years earlier was engaged.  He is unbetroth now, at least that’s what he makes himself out to be with Tom. He has a fondness for Tom.  And with his delicate raillery, has even given him a nickname, “Shakespeare” and yet, that life does not appear on stage and something O’Halloran needs to bring, however slight or accentuated.

Other members of the creative team are as follows:

Chick Vennera – Founding Director of The Renegade Theatre Group

Theodora Greece – Assistant Director

Samuels www.samuelsadvertising.com - Poster Design

Michael Healy’s Lighting Design had a few problems on this night.  The opening dinner scene was lit very softly making it hard to see the actors.  This is an extremely important scene that establishes character and creates the financial circumstances of the household that we really need to see. A little more imaginative lighting is in order.

The costumes were excellent but no one was credited in the program for that job.

Run! Run! And take a friend who is pretty and has a slight limp.

·      * A very interesting book about the women in Tennessee Williams life and how those women (Maureen Stapleton, Eva Le Gallienne, Miriam Hopkins, Lillian Gish, Jessica Tandy, Laurette Taylor, Tallulah Bankhead, Julie Harris, Kim Hunter, Geraldine Page, to name a few) influenced his writing. It also includes the men in his life.

Monday, April 13, 2015

D’ Lo: D’FunQT (defunct) by D’Lo

D' Lo - Photos by Ken Sawyer

By Joe Straw

Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center presents D’Lo D’FunQT A dedication to Queer and Trans Lives of Color written and performed by D’Lo , directed by Ken Sawyer and Produced for the Los Angeles LGBT Center by Jon Imparato, through May 3rd, 2015.  

What make D’Lo so different? Is it the haircut?  No, that’s not it. The slight Mohawk is pretty normal, and might even be a little blasé in Hollywood these days.   Is it the color of his skin?  No that’s not it either; there are plenty of brown people walking around Los Angeles who are just as dark, darker, darkest.  Pretty, in a manly sort of way, dressed up in a Dodger cap, blue t-shirt, black shirt, jeans, black adidas, and strutting around like he owns the joint.  Yep, pretty normal stuff.  

On this night, the set is eccentric.  Robert Selander’s Set Design/Scenic Artist/Master Carpenter sets the stage projecting the events of the night.  Stage right, handwritten jottings – inscribes a life – “Tamil pride” – and young photos of D’Lo as a young girl in a argyle like sweater – littered thoughts splayed out like a diary page and fulsome annotations -  descriptions of the photos plastered across the scrapped filled wall.  And small lights, improperly laid out, that illuminate the diary, placing shadows on things that were, are, and might have been. Birthday cakes, king’s crown, little red heart above “#Tamil Pride,” parents and loving family embraced in that one special moment.

D' Lo 

Upstate center, more writing, but now projections, looking like scratches on a medical professional tablet, except for

“1) folly… (Good thing I’m single),

2) …. I ≠  in 8 w Mass, I’m in.”

“? Masculinity  Beautiful  in
– Dick – Transition”

And all around there are words, thousand of words that make a life, but only for someone willing to stop a moment and read. Which leads us to stage right, of baby pictures, pictures of sisters, beautiful loving sisters, and an obtrusive mic suspended and ready to be reached, to project, and make a point.  

From the skylight above, peacefully, soft lights hang from the ceiling and burn like wickless candles, a faint flicker of something that was, that might have been, that moves on to another stage.  

These are all a marvelous accouterment to a brilliant evening of theatre of a life, from a person who will not give up to tell his part of a wonderful story – all in a somewhat linear fashion – divided by thoughts that flash from the edges of a steady stream of consciousness.

And there D’ Lo stands, telling us his life, a life, one life, of being someone special, different, but the same as you and me, all told from another perspective, his perspective.

“D’Lo is a queer/transgender Tamil-Sri Lankan-American interdisciplinary artist…” – The program.

The night starts out with D’Lo coming out like a rock star with a hoodie draped over his head, styled as an urbane hip hop artists ready to shout lyrics to this capacity crowd.

But that was not to be as D’ Lo explains: “I don’t talk like that.”

Now, D’ Lo’s voice is calm and in a higher range, his face clement, an ethereal beauty, in his manner and presentation.  He tells us this night is going to be different, here on the stage, he is going to do this, this part of the stage is slam poetry, and this part is his family.

And overall, the night is filled with rhyme, fun filled dramas, heartbreaking intense events in his life.  The night, in short, is an emotional story of color and light of how one is treated after a lifestyle is presented in full living color.  

Little is said about D’ Lo’s relationship to other women, they come, they have a relationship, and then someone is thrown out, usually D’ Lo.  One would like a few more details to even out the night.

That said, D’ Lo is a splendid performer who manages to bring his entire family to full light. The father and mother are both marvelous characters richly portrayed complete with faults of their own. One scene, with her sister, has her kissing her “girl doll” a little too long and being embarrassed by it.  

“Only bad people have sex!” – D’ Lo

Ken Sawyer, the director, does a fantastic job turning bit of pieces of D’ Lo’s life and giving it a structure, a movement, a time and a place saying don’t be alarmed this is a story of a man with a different perspective, but in another reality, normal, a new normal.

Other members of this delightful crew are as follows:

Matt Richter – Lighting Designer
Patricia Sutherland – Production Manager
Adam Earle – Board Operator
Kathleen Jaffee – Stage Manager
Caitlin Rucker – Electrics
Ken Werther Publicity – Press Relations
Norman Cox – House Manager
Jon Imparato – Director, Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center
Katie Poltz – Program Manager, Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center
Matt Walker – Coordinator, Lily Tomlin/JHane Wagner Cultural Arts Center
Norman Cox, Giorgis Despotakis, Dominic Fury, Josh Goldman, Sofia Varona – Box Office Staff

Jon Imparato makes it a point to welcome everyone to the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Arts Center and particularly to The Davidson/Valentini Theatre.  This is one of the best intimate theatres in town.  

Run!  Run!  Run!  And take someone with a wild imagination who likes to dress up.

Tickets:  www.lalgbtcenter.org/theatre or call 323-860-7300

Davidson/Valentini Theatre
1125 N. McCadden Place
Hollywood, CA 

D' Lo