Thursday, June 25, 2015

André & Dorine by Jose Dault and Garbine Iñsausti


By Joe Straw

One can look at a theatrical presentation and come up with backstory that has little to do with the actual production.  For the fun of it, here is my backstory.

Dorine (Garbine Iñsausti) loved playing the cello.  At a very young age, in an empty music room, she stumbled upon a bow, first, and the cello second.  She looked around – saw no one – and when she slid the bow across a string, well, that made her heart dance.  She also felt a strange vibration in her stomach and on her fingers.  From then on, that “C” or “G”,  “D” or “A”, or whatever it was, haunted her, in every dream.  She was almost on her hands and knees begging her mom, a strong single woman, to let her have one, even a used one would be good to start.    

From then on, Dorine was hooked; she had to know more, searched for ways until she exceled all the way through college.  Just recently, she found a four-piece jazz collective to play with for a little scratch, money. 

Oh, when she became a young adult, Dorine was hot, and the notes she played were equally hot.  The notes accompanied her body, well, they just wafted around her arms, her breast, massaging her shoulders, and curled around her legs like bean vines around a singing cornstalk.  Music was so much a part of her life; nothing was going to take her away from it.  Nothing.

Andre (Jose Dault) had very little direction in school.  Polyester was not a clothing choice.  His mother, hesitantly and under duress, bought him bell-bottoms jean.   The fit was tight, too tight, but good if you wanted the female of the species to notice, and they did.

Then something happened in college, just a footnote of someone who appreciated his work.  He had “a flair” – albeit slight praise, but very promising. A professor made a note, decided to read his paper in front of the class as he blushed, fiery red, while sweat poured out of every polyester fiber he owned.  The smelled and heat lifted from inside his shirt to his face - and his smell, on that day, was not that pleasant.  

Now André – working as a doorman in a legit musical theatre house – was befriended by a trumpet player who played in the orchestra.  His friend, a victim of a muscular disorder, walked on crutches, was nice enough to stop by and chat. And out of the blue, man gave him a typewriter to write.  And André fell in love with that typewriter, keeping it with him day and night, typing on his murphy bed.  

The theatre got him open invitations to different venues around town and that’s when he met a certain cello player, so he hustled himself, and placed him in a position to meet her. And mentally, internally, he vociferously cleped her name, again, and again, until she stepped outside the stage door.

And then André met Dorine, life happened, they got old, and things suddenly changed.

Kulunka Teatro presents André & Dorine by Jose Dault, and Garbiñe Insausti and directed by Iñaki Rikarte, which ended its three-week run at the Los Angeles Theatre Center on Spring Street.

Kulunka Teatro was created in The Basque Country in Spain in 2010.  (The Basque Country – a land mass in the shape of a heart – is the northeast region of Spain and borders France.  And, by strange coincidence, the masks are representational of characters from both countries.) 

Kulunka Teatro’s goal is to use masks to demonstrate life on stage, a type of theatrical experience that will transcend boundaries and languages in the way that music and human physicality have no barriers.

The masks by Garbiñe Insausti are twice the size of a human head, the features; the pronounced proboscis, eyebrows, and jowls are conspicuous and inspire a somber perspective. The masks are almost the same for the older selves as the younger selves except the younger ones have a tighter mask with a little more sunglow. Visually, the actors wearing the masks, looked like large puppets with invisible strings.

The eyes - the window to the souls - are behind the mask, and are dark, completely black and do not reflect the eyes of the wearer. And the color of their skin at curtain call suggests the masks were extremely hot.

“There are no words for this play.” – Jose Luis Valenzuela, Artistic Director of the Latino Theatre Company

The play is without words. Acting teachers emphasize that actors do not need the words if the intention/objective is strong.  Writers tend to disagree but, for this play, the actions define the play and confirm that the words are not necessary for a show that effortlessly travels across borders.

The actors in this production move brilliantly in the celebration of life to the end, where age robs of mental and physical faculties.  And at times the moments are so heartbreaking one want to cover one’s eyes and turn away.   

The play, presented in vignettes, starts with the older Andre working at his typewriter, still writing, as Dorine tries to play her cello in the same room.  Each in their own passionate eloquence, move as they have for many years, not otiose, but movement with a purpose, now fully aware the sound from each other’s instruments are getting on each other’s nerves. And in their wearisome repetition to complete a task neither one is able to satisfy a mental need.  

The sound of doorbell ringing, along with the punching typewriter, and the misguided notes coming from the cello, masks (no pun intended) the sounds of someone trying to get into the house.

Dorine or André pause from their work.   Their chairs squeak while competing to stay in their seat to work, for the other to get the door, and then sit back to task. Finally, when the noise of the relentless ringing becomes too much, Dorine, nearest to the door, answers it. It is their son.

The air of tension is briefly lifted as André and Dorine warmly greet their prodigy. But as that moment passes, they start fighting over him pulling him to and fro. André wants the son to read his new book, while Dorine ambles into the bedroom to fetch an egregious red patterned sweater for her son to wear.  

The son takes their action in stride but one sees a character that did not get much attention in his formative years with his mother busy with her music and his father always writing and never taking the opportunity to be with his son.

And with “no words,” the son’s character projects a fascinating life on stage.

And a simple moment – the son noticing Dorine shirt buttoned incorrectly – foreshadows her pending health issues.

In the third vignette, the son takes Dorine to the doctor’s office; when they enter the waiting room, they find a rogue patient who is sitting in the middle of three seats scratching vociferously.  Dorine has no problem sitting next to him on one end and implores her son to take a seat. But the son has a problem with catching any creative chigger that may fly off this miscreant’s body and embed itself deeply within the cavity of his own groin.

Naytheless it is in the office, the son becomes aware of Dorine’s illness.  And later, when he presents it to his dad, André, André ignores the letter and gives his son the new book he has written.

Moments accumulate as Dorine hangs her coat on the cello rack. Seeing the changes in Dorine, André reminisce about their meeting, her infatuation with his words, and their marriage.  

Jose Dault, Garbiñe Insausti, and Edu Carcamo bring a fantastic life to each character, André, Dorine, and son. There are other characters but there were never more than three characters on stage so one suspects there were only three actors in the play. The nurse seems a lot taller than the rest of the cast members and it’s hard to know how the messenger boy was done because he appeared much smaller.

The masks made the actors bigger than life and they physically rose to the occasion with aplomb.  This was a fantastical, no holds barred, whimsical expression of life that asks us to take a look at another human being and to take stock in the wonderful creation before you.

Wonderfully directed by Iñaki Rikarte with images of life that will steal your heart.

And as Dorine stares into nothingness and rubs the bow, a forgotten instrument against the back of her hand, the images on stage jump out for a dramatic impact, of the coat on the cello rack, the mess in the bathroom, soiled linens, sitting alone, hair disheveled, and wearing her clothes backwards, And after trying to overcome the obstacles, André just shrugs his shoulders and escorts her toward the door to venture out, warts and all.   

And the most important feeling that I took with me was that André really loves Dorine and would do anything to help her. And that was a beautiful feeling to take home.

The music by Yayo Cáceres, Music Composer, was very European and very divine.

Other members of this remarkable crew are as follows:

Set Design: Laura Gómez
Light Design:  Carlos Samaniego
Costume Design: Ikerne Giménez
Photographs: Gonzalo Jerez
Music Composer:  Yayo Cáceres
Assistant Director: Rolando San Martín
Technician:  Arturo López

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Paloma by Anne Garcia-Romero


Ethan Rains, Caro Zeller

By Joe Straw

Ghosts are not the visions you see, walking through doors and up staircases; they are the mental images that haunt your every waking moment, the memory of a smile, a feathery pulse of air slipping by your ear, the fragrant scent of a body, the noise of the last words spoken, the lasting images of screaming, ‘sblood on a train, and the recalcitrant history of an event never to be forgotten.   – Narrator

Paloma is a story of images – a narration of good and evil – wound tightly around a not so intense love story – an exordium of love – of love that never was – a distorted figment of a lover’s imagination – and a poetic love of two drawn together by something that could never be – a Catholic woman and a Muslim man.

Surrena Saffari

And here you sit listening to the original and pleasant music of Guitarist: Surenna Saffari, an image, a spotlight on quiet chords that fill the empty spaces of the theatre, finding their way, with no direction but bouncing to their lovingly end destination.

Ibrahim Ahmed (Ethan Rains) casually lying down with a book in hand, “The Ring of the Dove” by Tawa al-Hamámah “El Collar del al Paloma”*, as though he were in a park, listening to his lawyer, Jared Rabinowitz (Jesse Einstein) speak about the not too distant past. Ibrahim is in a lot of trouble and he needs a lawyer, this lawyer.  “Why” – is the first question?

(*“The Ring of the Dove” was written around 1022 by Ibn Hazm, a devout Muslim who wrote on the themes of love, chastity, and restraint.)

Love to fruition – an act that is impossible for these two misguided friends – their love stands at the base of a cliff attempting to reach for the peak.  And in this particular case between a chaste Muslim man and a not so chaste Catholic woman – their love might as well have started at the base of Mount Everest.

The Los Angeles Theatre Center presents the West Coast Premiere of Paloma by Anne Garcia-Romero and directed by Alan Freeman through June 21st, 2015.

Paloma, wonderfully written by Anne Garcia-Romero and is brilliantly executed by Alan Freeman, the director.  Told from a survivor’s perspective this is a story - a despairing reflection - of one who can love but remains chaste because his religion is an unyielding barrier.  And from that chaste perspective, it is at times a deeply disturbing story.

Paloma, the play, is not linear in form.  The action moves from the present to the past.  That reflection is used to define the characters, and the relationships to the end. And from the beginning the audience is presented with little information. We are privy to relationships only when they are given in tiny increments, and some so far in the play, that we are entreated to a final sense of acknowledgement, an enigmatical tranquility, which is indeed poetically painful and tragic.

The setting of the play takes place from 2003 to 2005 in New York City and in various cities in Spain.  Ibrahim Ahmed is speaking with Jared Rabinowitz, his lawyer and they appear to be in the park as he is prostrate on the ground.

Jesse Einstein, Ethan Rains

“Abe,” who prefers to be called Ibrahim, does not want to change his name while he is on the witness stand.  But Rabinowitz suggests this is best given the current nature of Americans’ feelings toward Muslims.

Rabinowitz wants all the information, of Abe and Paloma’s (Caro Zeller) relationship, from the beginning to the end.  

So, the past is revisited in the NYU library where Ibrahim Ahmed and Paloma Flores are studying from “The Ring of the Dove” and the rules on how to love. Abe is studying for his MA in Islamic Studies while Paloma is studying for her MA in World History, but only one will allow a physical relationship. 

They note that Paloma means dove.

“Is that a come on?” – Paloma
Breaking in from time to time Rabinowitz wants to know if Abe told his parents about their relationship.

“No.” – Ibrahim

Meanwhile Paloma wants to know if Abe is religious.  Abe tells her “Yes” and he prays five times a day. (Note: we never see him pray.)

“You’re like a monk...don’t drink? or f*ck?” – Paloma

“No.” - Ibrahim

It is Abe’s recollection that they both decide that Spain would be a good place to go, since it’s cheap, for their study of Islam and world history, and to consummate their love.

Meanwhile Rabinowitz offers another theory – that Paloma, when left alone in the hotel, got on the train, and that’s when the events unfolded.

“Your mother and I know.  God will punish you.” – Ibrahim’s father.

But no matter what Rabinowitz tries, visiting Mosques, trying to talk to the parents, or to church leaders, no one will testify on Ibrahim’s behalf.

Ethan Rains does a marvelous job as Ibrahim Ahmed.  Rains has a disquieting peculiarity in his character, a way about him that is completely realistic and natural on stage. But what is it about the character that appears to be so emotionally unattached after the events in Madrid? The casual lying around, in a hoodie, in the opening moments of the plays says nothing of the preceding events.   It is somewhat curious and odd. He needs to bring in the history of the Madrid bombings as well as provide a representational element, an injury, and/or her necklace, however slight or grand. Ibrahim seems to leave that all behind him, a part of his life that is now done. Rains does an impressive job showing emotions on the witness stand (much to his detriment) but presents unyielding rigidity in his emotional commitment to his true love. Still, Rains’ work is quite arresting. 

Caro Zeller is charming as Paloma, and yet one feels her frustration.  Zeller has a powerful voice and inhabits the character with aplomb. She is a stunning actress that gives a lot of life to the character. Paloma, with her urbane playfulness, is emotional when trying to have her way and getting her lover into bed proves to be her unconquerable obstinacy.  

Jesse Einstein brings a substantial life to Jared Ravinowitz, the attorney who will stop at nothing to give his client a favorable outcome. He has a strong presence on stage and is specific in action and in completing his objective. That said, more needs to be made to define the relationship between him and his client, his friend, for which he provides his service gratis. 

Alan Freeman, the director, does an incredible job with this production. The actors move with precision moving in and out of a moment, going back and forth in time.  

But the opening was slightly frustrating because of Ibrahim’s prone position.

“Got any smokes?” – Ibrahim

One is at a complete loss about the purpose of this moment, especially after Madrid, the loss of a true love, and a civil suit that could destroy his life.  Also, it says little about the relationship between the two and seems attorney/client casual. Also, the scene presented itself like a criminal in a holding cell speaking to his attorney. We don’t get the sense of the place in this scene.  

Also, if the story is from Ibrahim’s perspective, then the scene of Paloma alone in the hotel room must be a figment of someone’s imagination. It is not visibly connected on stage.  The note in the book to Ibrahim, did not play out adequately later in the play.  

One more thing, I loved the bar scene.   

For Anne Garcia-Romero, the writer, this is a very impressive work of art. One is caught off guard by its brilliance, the diverse nature of the characters, and the message it conveys. It is also a tenebrous subject matter of how religion plays a role in diminishing the love of a fully committed couple.  The play also offers a different perspective of the Madrid bombings that killed 192 people - killed for reasons that have never been satisfactorily made clear. The play is beautiful in intention and it also reminds us of the iniquitous nature of the unpleasantness around the world.

Ann Sheffield did an incredible job with the Set Design; a beautiful multi-level set that gave us the wonderful elements of humanity. Megan Hill was the Assistant Set Designer.

Trevor Norton, Lighting Design, presents us with beautiful images and lights that appeared from every direction giving us a sense of place.

Laura Wong, the Costume Designer, presented the actors in the correct time. Her work was marvelous.

Other members of this fabulous crew are as follows:

Raul Staggs – Casting Director
Matt Sweeney – Special Effects Design
Willie Mae Michiels – Stage Manager

Run! Run! And take a friend, better yet a Unitarian Universalist, someone that embraces all religions.  

Reservations:  213-489-0994

Sunday, June 7, 2015

This is a Man’s World by Sal Lopez

Sal Lopez

By Joe Straw

Leaving the theatre after watching “This is a Man’s World” by Sal Lopez I was overcome by a profound sense of sadness that nearly overtook me on the drive home. Clearly, theatre on this night had affected some kind of change, for the better or worse; I’m not sure which.  I suspect it was for the better. – Narrator

Jose Luis Valenzuela, in his introduction, stood on stage and mentioned that Sal Lopez approached him about doing a new show.

“Well, what’s it about?” – Jose Luis Valenzuela

“It’s about being a man.” – Sal Lopez

Jose Luis just stared, thinking back, remembering the image of Sal proudly standing in front of him, the final word of “man” just press forth from his lips. 

Slightly dumfounded, Jose Luis waited for more to come but then realized that that was it.  He paused and questioned the moment and speculated where all of this was going.  “…about being a man”.   He seemed to be saying, “I am a man, you are a man, and we are both men”.  The recognition factor of how being a man might be a show, at this moment, at first glance, did not seem appealing.

Instead Jose Luis just stared, a bottomless vacuous stare.


“Well, um, okay.” – Jose Luis Valenzuela

This is a Man’s World A Candid Coming of Age Story by Sal Lopez, directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela, and produced by The Latino Theatre Company will be playing through June 21, 2015 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.

There is something truly profound about Sal Lopez’s work.  The title says little of what the play is about, “This is a Man’s World”, borrowing a line from James Brown work of art, a song.   Rather it’s about Sal becoming a man and the steps leading to that exalted position in his life.  

And it’s all generated by an aggravated unfortunate event. 

The play starts out with Sal on a hospital bed suffering from after-effects of a stroke following a strenuous workout at Bally’s.  And lying in bed, allows Sal enough time to contemplate the moments, hear the voices, see the shadows, think about the time that passed.  And after losing 6 hours of his life to amnesia, the first thing he thinks is: How did I get here?

The silhouette, behind the curtain, lifted like a caliginous shadow from a corpse, a rising lifeless form, well, nearly dead.  The specter awoke from a deep sleep.

But when Sal came out and threw back the curtains, something happened—the rapport between the actor and audience felt slightly uncomfortable.  And I thought, “Was this “man” thing going to work?” 

That feeling was only temporary as the moments started to gel under Valenzuela’s direction and the night sailed on into Sal’s manhood.

And, why did the night have a dramatic effect on me?

Well, for one, the time frame is familiar to me, growing up in the sixties with the manly images of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan (Tarzan and His Mate 1934) and George Reeve’s Superman (1952) projected on screen.  Those were images that young men saw on TV and identified with at that time.

(Playing Superman and flying off the chest of drawers onto the bed until it broke was not unheard of in our house.)

Secondly, Sal had seven brothers, (all who were there in the audience that night) and with a house full of boys, someone was bound to get into some kind of trouble.    

And three, we can all identify and have an emotional attachment to the time you got your first car and the first time you fell in love, and the moment we first made contact with your forever love.    

And as life progresses, something changes when you get married and have your first child; you say the wrong thing at the very wrong time, something that you can never take back; you have let down your first born and they give you that look that you never forget, ever. 

These are the first things, the first notion, that what you say, as a man, has a dramatic effect on those around you. And these are the first steps, in a long line of steps,  of recognizing what it means to be a man.   

But just when you think you've got a lock on it all, there are the moments when you recognize what a real man was like, remembering your dad—a hard disciplinarian one day, the brave dad who saves the day when you are in trouble, or the proud dad who visits you on your set, and sadly, the dad who leaves you without saying his final goodbye.

Sal Lopez, the writer and the actor, did an exceptional job.  Lopez has an unquestionable appeal and is infinitely enlightening.  With fluidly he moves about the stage inhabiting the characters with fantastic precision. The characters are specific, each and everyone, and the moments are captivating, especially when one looks into his eyes as he pauses to think on stage. And in this very intimate space, you get Sal Lopez, up close and personal.

One cannot help but have tremendous admiration for Jose Luis Valenzuela’s directorial work and how he makes things work almost seamlessly on stage.  One can be sure; the night will be filled, not only with significant drama but, dance and music as well. 

That said, one might question how the opening and the almost-drowning scenes did not tie in convincingly to the story being told. The drowning scene took us away from the moment that had been running smoothly until then.  The opening is a little trickier in that the actor has to tie in the reason why he is speaking to us, how he wants to tell us that it is a man’s world, and how he wants to convince us of that fact.

At the end of the day, the short journey of life, one has to contemplate the journey and decide whether one has made a significant impact to those around you, that you did enough for humankind, and that you did not hurt too many people along the way.  And Jose Luis, gives us the answers, and ties it all together with a brilliant ending, a proud moment that lifts the audience to their feet.  

Yee Eun Nam was responsible for the Set & Projection Design. Ivan Robles created the Sound Design.  Phillip W. Powers did an exceptional job with the Lighting Design.  And Urbanie Lucero was responsible with the Costume Design.

The Stage Manager was Henry “Heno” Fernandez.

Run! Run! And take someone who loves comic books.  There are a lot of heroes in this one.

Reservation:  213-489-0994