Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Misanthrope by Moliere - Adapted by Tony Tanner

Rebecca Lincoln and Christopher Salazar  - Photos by Garth Pillsbury

By Joe Straw

Misanthrope:  noun

1.) a hater of human kind –

2.) One who hates mankind – Urban dictionary.

3.) A person who hates or distrusts humankind. – Merriam-Webster

I prefer the first definition from 

“A hater of humankind.”  Alceste (Christoper Salazar) says it in no uncertain terms. Well, maybe in certain terms.

The City of West Hollywood presents The Classical Theatre Lab production “The Misanthrope” by Moliere, directed and adapted by Tony Tanner through August 16th, 2015 at 4pm in the lovely Kings Road Park.

The time is the 1930’s in Paris France - for really no other reasons than the very lovely costumes by Natalie Shahinyan - giving an ambiance of aristocracy.  

Céliméne’s (Rebecca Lincoln) lovely home has a beautiful view of a park.  And all the men who visit her seem to know every nook and cranny of her home as well as they know their own bedrooms.  And one must say, in a manner of speaking, that this does not bode well for Céliméne.

And we open in Céliméne’s home in a time where Philinte (Mike Bingaman) and Alceste are in an impassive discussion about Alceste not being introduced to Philinte’s friend.

Alceste wants to cut ties with Philinte immediately for treating him so poorly—in keeping with his austere contempt for humanity.   

“Leave me, I pray.” – Alceste

Alceste judges that Philinte is too affable with the masses, a confoundedly grotesque way of life that he is not willing to tolerate.

“I like to be distinguished; and, to cut the matter short, the friend of all mankind is no friend of mine.” – Alceste

Alceste’s intention is to break with all mankind.

“But do you wish harm to all mankind?” – Philinte

“Yes, I have conceived a terrible hatred for them.” – Alceste

(Polar opposites attracting.)

In this opening scene, directed by Tony Tanner, the manner in which objectives are achieved are slightly confusing with the disagreements not really matching the characters’ mannerism or intentions.  (Shake this to an off afternoon.) The characters are politely speaking, a persiflage, rather than making the moments count. 

The opening should define both characters. And as the scene progressed, the esthetic impression suggested only a slight difference in character. The characters need defining so that we are not perplexed about the manner in which the conflict of this scene resolves itself and are clear in the direction the play is heading.

Again, the fatuous jostling does not weigh in on the characters’ heart, which is infinitely important, and a dramatic change in their relationship is necessary.

Finally one reveals a trump card, with a smile of course.  

“Upon my word, you would do well to keep silence.  Rail a little less at your opponents, and attend a little more to your suit.” - Philinte

A change in their relationship is evident, possibly apparent, with neither side winning, nor a clear-cut knockout with Alceste’s head on the canvas, like the mentioning of the nasty lawsuit.

Still, in spite of hating everything and everyone, Alceste tells Philinte that he loves Céliméne.

“…I confess my weakness, she has the art of pleasing me.  In vain I see her faults; I may even blame them; in spite of all, she makes me love her. “ – Alceste

(And if I may politely cut to the quick; Jeez, how’d you like to hop in the sack with that?)

Philinte, a very agreeable sort with anyone within earshot, claims that he loves Éliante (Christina Jacquelyn Calph).

L - Michael Faulkner, Rebecca Lincoln, Christina Jacquelyn Calph, Christopher Salazar

And while both beauties are out of the house, Oronte (Michael Faulkner) barges in to speak with Alceste and to make friends.

Okay, bad move, because Alceste hates everyone and in fact ignores Oronte as though he were not even in the room. But Oronte doesn’t give up.

Your hand, if you please.  Will you promise me your friendship? – Oronte

“Sir…” – Alceste

“What!  You refuse me?” – Oronte

“Sir, you do me too much honor; but friendship is a sacred thing, and to lavish it on every occasion is surely to profane it.” – Alceste


But, never mind.  Oronte says he has the King’s private ear in the event of an emergency and should Alceste need it, he will gladly help.   But in the meantime, Oronte will use the moment to read a sonnet he has prepared for Alceste entitled “Hope”.  

Oronte reads and Philinte, of course, loves it, every line, every turn of phrase, the conclusion, all lovely.

To bear no malice with Oronte, Alceste shares his experience with writers who do not have a gift. And with dreadful curiosity, Oronte wants to know if he is like those other writers.  Alceste does not dislodge as Oronte presses for an answer, until…

“Candidly, you had better put it in your closet.” – Alceste

This scene needs a hearty stretch, to be taken to another creative level, between characters that are extreme in their loving, hating, and begging for love, real love, not the whimsical gnarly love, but the creative love that sends the hearts soaring out of the theatre.  

Later, not to give up in his unyielding attempts to make Céliméne his, Alceste sees fit to quarrel with her.

“Oh, I see! It is to quarrel with me, that you wished to conduct me home?” – Céliméne

“I do not quarrel.  But your disposition, Madam, is too ready to give any first comer an entrance into your heart.  Too many admirers beset you; and my temper cannot put up with that.” - Alceste

And this is true, Céliméne has men crawling around her house like common house cats.  She tries to assure Alceste by arranging houseplants as though his feelings about her infidelities should not be of great concern and really nothing to worry about.

But really, she doesn’t like his method of loving.

“Your method, however, is entirely new, for you love people only to quarrel with them; it is in peevish expression alone that your feelings vent themselves; no one ever saw such a grumbling swain.” – Céliméne

This beauty has a point and she does it in with kindness.

(This production has eliminated Céliméne’s manservant, Basque. Pity because the role adds much.)

L - Thomas Anawalt, Jeffrey Scott Basham

Alceste leaves, not wanting to watch the ensuring carnage, of the two marquis seeking to woo Céliméne heart.  They are Acaste (Thomas Anawalt) and Clitandre (Jeffrey Scott Basham).  And while their intercourse speaks of current events, their physical desires are manifested in other subtle sophisticated surreptitious ways with hardly a glance given to the beautiful Éliante (Christina Jacquelyn Calph), Céliméne’s cousin.

This scene presents some interesting challenges because it requires the two men to complete for the hand of Célinéne while almost ignoring the very beautiful Éliante, who stands alone beside them, at a loss for words, while they fight for the other woman.  

Naytheless, Alceste does not approve of these gatherings, and he also does not approve all the men in her home!

“No, Madam, no, though I were to die for it, you have pastimes which I cannot tolerate; and people are very wrong to nourish in your heart this great attachment to the very faults which they blame in you.” – Alceste

“As for myself, I do not know; but I openly acknowledge that hitherto I have thought this lady faultless.” - Clitandre

And while Acaster and Clitandre proclaim their love for Célinéne and vow to step out of each other’s way should one win her heart, Célnéne plays very hard to get.

“What!  Here still?” – Céliméne

“Love, Madam, detains us.” – Clitandre

“I hear a carriage below.” – Céliméne

This is an emotional moment that should leave the two men feeling like carcasses under the carriage.  

L Kathy Bell Denton, Rebecca Lincoln

Arriving in the carriage is Arsinoé (Kathy Bell Denton), a woman who has her sights on Alceste and who brings a lot of worrisome thoughts into Céliméne’s home. Arsinoé is an equivocal untangled mass of urbanity and single to boot which makes her a very unpleasant person to be around.  She’s trouble.

Despite my railings, I loved this show.  By the time you see this, some nuances may be worked out.  The men were fantastic and funny, and the women were beautiful and kind.  And the setting couldn’t have been any better, in the park, and under a shady tree.  What a pleasant afternoon!  And it’s free!

There are a few more things one would like to address. As a friendly observation from a criticaster, a man can just hate human kind only if he is madly in love with himself.

Which lead me to Christopher Salazar, as Alceste, an actor with innumerable skills and making moments work to great satisfaction. Everything about his character was perfect, except his shoes, which were layered in dust.  And I asked myself, was this on purpose?  Does it say something about the character or was it a mistake? Certainly Alceste thinks he is the best at everything, smarter than everyone, a better writer than anyone, lover, etc., excepting his shoes shine.  There’s more to be had here but nevertheless, an exceptional job.

Mike Bingaman, as Philinte, needs to find the core of the character. Bingaman takes his time to get to the point, his intention, but his objective should be evident when he enters the room. Still Bingaman has a very good look.

Michael Faulkner is very funny as Oronte, a sort-of the comic relief with the beret and the appearance of a low budget film director, a very low, low, budget. The Hope scene was hilarious and I detected a little improvisation on the day I was there. Still there’s more to be had during his first scene between the other two gentlemen. Faulkner has found his niche in these roles but one would like to see him in something more dramatic the next go around. Still, it is a very remarkable job.

Rebecca Lincoln is very impressive as Céliméne.  She is a stunning creature that creates riveting moments of desperation in the character.  Up close in the park, one can get a lot starring into her eyes only to watch her maneuver out of a predicament to a gracious resolution.  

Christina Jacquelyn Calph does an exceptional job as Éliante.  One believes there is more to the character and it is in her quiet moments, wanting to attract the right man, so that he does not get away.  The scene where she is alone with her counterpart needs the action of desire to be with her man before the word are actually said if only to add to an already very fine performance.

Thomas Anawalt fills the role of Acaste perfectly and has some very nice moments with the letter. These are the little intangibles that you love to see in an actor’s work. Nice job!

Jeffrey Scott Basham is also exceptional as Clitendre.  Basham has a strong voice and a commanding presence and if I would add anything to the role it would be of one-upmanship for the lady of the house.

Kathy Bell Denton is impeccable as Arsinoe. Arsinoe is perfectly coiffed and arranged with a wonderful wardrobe. Denton presents us with a three-dimensional character from the inside out. Certainly her performance is a jolt to the acting senses and one that should not be missed.

This is a very impressive job by director Tony Tanner.  There is very little in the way of a set and Tanner guides the actors effectively. The play works in this fashion, in the time, and place.  Still, all in all, this was a very pleasant afternoon.

And as an obtuse observation—the characters are peculiar in that they think they are better than the other characters.  One character is smarter and has a strong vocabulary but no one ever questions an unknown word, in thought or an indolent inquisitorial silence.  One character is extremely affable but the other character does not react to his over the top affability.  One character is a better lover but does not prove it to his companion in manner or deed.  

Alexander Wells was an Oronte/Alternate but did not perform the day I was there.

Also, Suzanne Hunt and Alexander Wells finely produced this production.

Other members of this delightful crew are as follows:

Susan Deeley Wells – Assistant Director and Set Coordinator
Natalie Shahinyan – Costume Design
Terry Tocantins – Stage Manager
Nora Feldman – Publicity

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who is infatuated with himself.

King Road Park
1000 Kings Road
West Hollywood, CA  

Monday, July 20, 2015

Little Red – Book by Anthony Aguilar & Oscar T. Basulto – Music by Quetzal Flores – Lyrics by Anthony Aguilar & Quetzal Flores

Valeria Maldonado as "Rosa", Mia Xitlali as "Little Red"

 By Joe Straw

Dear Diary,

Once upon a time, in a land, not very far from here, actually south of Boyle Heights, lived a little girl (me) that wasn’t so little, but still they called me “Little Red”. 

Medium Red is more like it. I can hold my own, I got muscles—squeeze and see—and I can use them if I want to, too? Tu?

What I really like is getting away from my mother Rosa and watchin’ my slam in the mirror.  

My Ama—her nomenclature, not mine—is always busy in the kitchen.   And those traditional Mexican songs, she sings are driving me up the pared!!!!!  When she sings these songs, there is a hint that she wants me to do something; it’s a ritual that drives me B na, nas.

Ama individually wraps food in a picnic basket for her mother, my abuela, Magenta.  They call her Magenta now ‘cause I guess she is some kind of withered out “Red”. Ugh. 

I blame it on the prescription drugs that turn her almost white.

I’m Latina, and can you believe it, the retched smell of frijoles or tortillas make me want to barf.

I’m a brat.

Scarlett, my big sister, is not here anymore.  She deserted us. So, that means I’m delivering the basket.  I know, I know, I know it’s something I got to do. Tradition. Isn’t this a happy fairy tale?  

Jack B Nimble is? are? playing in the Holly Woods.  It’s on my way.  Yes, I’ve got tickets.  No, I really don’t have tickets but a few dollars saved up from God-knows-what.  So maybe I’ll get the ticket when I go by, watch a little bit of the show, and then run over and deliver the goodies to abuelita, before she keels over and croaks.   

Look at me, little me slammin’ to the punk rock band, Jack B Nimble.

I don’t like taking the bus, or the metro, and I don’t like walking alone. The gothic look was ages ago, just like the red cape.  But, the red cape is tradition. I’ll think about tradition, tomorrow.

Until my next Red post. 


Casa 0101 presents Little Red, Book by Anthony Aguilar & Oscar T. Basulto, Music by Quetzal Flores, Lyrics by Anthony Aguilar & Quetzal Flores, Produced and Directed by Edward Padilla through August 2, 2015.

First things first, one can’t help but enjoy this delightful show, a Latino version of Little Red Riding Hood, entitled “Little Red”.  This one is filled with the characters you’ve have come to love over the years. The realities are that everyone has put their two cents into this fairly tale so why not Casa 0101.

If you love punk rock, or a mild version of punk rock, you will definitely love the show. 

My preferences are rock n roll, hip-hop, and Broadway show tunes and not so much punk rock.  And while the tunes do not stay long after the performances, the songs inside the performance work well and are done with fascinating precision.   

Edward Padilla has done a wonderful job directing and producing the show.  The show moves along quite nicely and the dances by Choreographer Blanca Soto give the show a very nice feel.  If only I could remember the tunes after the show.

Someone said that remembering the tunes was the hallmark of a great show.

“Red in Me” was the only one that stuck with me and I guess I understood what it meant as Little Red (Mia Xitlali) was bouncing all over the place.   

Rosa (Valeria Maldona), Little Red’s mother, was going to send her on the way to give a basket filled with food and medicine for a vibrant abuelita, Magenta (Blanca Soto). But first she has to convince Little Red to go.

Little Red puts up a fuss but eventually storm out the door basket and all. Little Red stomps over the Holly Woods, hither and yon, to grandmothers house, but, her way, in her own boots.

Xolo Mariduena as "Corky", Ray James Steward-De La Fuente as "Don Coyote", Mia Xitlali as "Little Red"

Along the way, Little Red runs into Corky (Xolo Mandueña), a boy scout with a lot of patches, and an owl named Paz (Reggie De Leon), who is metaphorically perched on his shoulder asking all of the questions. Corky is quick with the answers, sometimes too quick, but his solutions pop out like Pez with manifest dexterity.  This is probably why he has all those badges on his uniform. 

(“Who”, “what”, “when” and “where” are all answered by Corky in rapid succession and was sometimes rushed, providing little action for the character. If only Corky could keep Little Red on the straight and narrow path.)

But wouldn’t you know it, Corky and Little Red run into the nasty Don Coyote (Ray Steward-De La Fuenta), a rock guitar tottin' coyote with a charming English accent and enough appeal to capture Little Red’s mixed up heart.  Mother would not approve of his thieving and maniacal hungry ways.

Nobody likes Don Coyote, creeping around the forest, except Little Red, and maybe abuelita.

Edward Padilla does a fine job directing the show and like anything else there’s always room for improvement.  But, that aside, this show features a solid cast with strong voices and funny moments throughout.

I have a few notes. No charge.

Corky’s character, in the writing by Anthony Aguilar and Oscar T. Basulto is slightly confusing, and ambiguous, because he just appears out of nowhere to help Little Red on her trip. Corky is not really a friend to Little Red but may be a friend of the family, Rosa, her mother, but we do not get a hint of his relationship to the mother in the beginning of the play or the end of the play.   Why does he take her, for a scout badge?  The relationship to Corky, Little Red, and Paz must be strengthened.

Mia Xitlali does a fine job as Red. There’s a lot more to explore with the character.  Inquisitive would be a great trait for this character.  One loved the touching relationship with her sister at the end.

Valeria Maldona also does a pleasant job as Rosa.  Rosa relationship with her daughter falls into the mundane and average mother/daughter relationship when there could be more.  Rosa never questions her daughters peculiarities, the punk rock, her manner of dress, sending her daughter out into the dark, alone, a tearful goodbye as part of tradition. There is more to be had here, but, really not a bad outing.

Xolo Maridueña is remarkable as Corky and brings an abundant amount of talent on stage. This is as fine as a performance from someone this young that I have seen in quite a while. Nice job.

Another standout is statuesque Ray Steward-De La Fuenta as Don Coyote with a powerful voice and a very nice way on stage.  The objective is to get the red cape at all costs and after that Don Coyote must used the cape for his evil endeavors.  If there is anything to add to his performance it is that. Also, I loved the blue hair.

Blanca Soto does a funny turn as Magenta.  One would prefer this character to be almost blind which would help with her relationship to Don Coyote coming into her home.

Reggie De Leon played Paz the night I was there. Paz means “peace” in English and I don’t get the significance of the name because the actions on stage don’t move in that direction.  This character needs work in the writing.

Overall, the show puts a smile on your face throughout.  And that is a good thing.

Other members of the cast who did not perform the night I was there was Brenda Perez, Katie Ventura, Ryan Vo, Amir Levi, Oscar T. Basulto, Ramon Rios, and Natasha Sanchez.

Other members of this fantastic crew are as follows:

Mercedes Floreislas – Associate Producer
Felix Hernandez – Associate Producer
Abel Alvarado – Costume Design
Elizabeth Calvillo – Hair & Makeup Design
Willy Donica – Light Design
Richardo Soltero – Set Design
Jerry Blackburn – Production Stage Manager
Miguel Carachure – Assistant Stage Manager
Elizabeth Uribe – Assistant Stage Manager
Nicole Celaya – Supertitles
Jorge Villanueva – Light Board
Sohail E. Najafi – Technical Director
Vaneza Calderon – Musical Director
Liane Schirmer – In Other Words – Translation
Vaneza Calderon (Bass), Angelica Mata (Guitar), Toni Santoyo (Drums) – The Jack B Nimbles – Loved the work and the tunes.

Run!  Run!  And take someone who loves to watch sheep cavorting.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo – adapted by Jonathan Holloway

L - Sophia Lilinoe Cesario, Lonni Silverman, Angel Castellanos, Eric Myles Geller, Ellyn Stern Epcar,  & George Almond

I started reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo a few weeks ago. Yes, I did. – Narrator

George Almond has taken on the monumental task of producing Victor Hugo’s 2,783-page novel “Les Misérables”.  And with the help of Jonathan Holloway’s adaptation, Almond brings forth this epic novel in a form of a three-hour play.

Somehow I didn’t think this was possible much in the same way that I didn’t think it was possible to make a musical of this book.  In retrospect, I was misguided.  But the overwhelming immensity of turning the novel into a play, well, I’m getting ahead of myself.   

Planta Genista Productions presents Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables adapted by Jonathan Holloway and directed by Jed Alexander at Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, California through July 26th, 2015.

Hilletje Moller Bashew, a violinist, provided the entertainment on this night. Two lovely women dressed in 1930s wardrobe tangoed across the stage, bodies together, and barebacked.  The heat rising from their bodies, a risqué moment observing legs intertwined as two women danced within a smoke filled tavern.  And they danced without a care in the world.

Slowly, the characters came out, fatuously jostling, one by one, and interacted with the audience. Little Cosette (Sophia Lilinoe Cesario) sang a little ditty while her poor mother Fantine (Savannah Crafton) looked on. Thenardier (Eric Myles Geller), an obstreperous bum, was caught digging through the trashcans and being annoying to onlookers who might have change to give him. And one character (Lonni Silverman) juggled a ball, one ball. These actions added an interesting flavor to the night and gave credence to the period of 1936 Paris. But, one naturally loves to see character development on stage after the lights go up.

Happily, this adaptation followed the book and was easy to follow.  The first act stayed true to the novel and felt like a homecoming of sorts, reaffirming what I remembered.

In this version, M. Madeleine, also known as Jean Valjean (George Almond), is a successful nightclub owner of the Le Caveau de la Jazz nightclub.  He is a suave, articulate, sophisticated man about town.  He is also hiding from his terrible past, that of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister and her seven hungry children, and then escaping from prison for his petty crime.  He is now, technically, a fugitive.  

That aside, the actions inside his nightclub, gives us a feel of the time and the place. And shortly thereafter, a microphone is placed center stage and we are entreated to a version of “Embraceable You” (a 1928 song by George and Ira Gerswhin), sung beautifully by Fantine (Savannah Crafton).

Savannah Crafton

But the song only carries Fantine slightly beyond her hardened heart.   She is desperate to have someone care for her daughter, Little Cosette. 

Fantine, at this moment, lacks judgment possibly because of her hunger and alcohol abuse.  She has little skills in judging character and selects the first person in her line of vision—Mme. Thenardier, the innkeeper.  

Giving Cosette away to strangers is an act worst than throwing her to a pack of the wolves, and yet Fantine, exhaling life, and in a miserable act of desperation, releases Cosette’s tiny little fingers into the rapacious claws of Mme. Thenardier.   

M. Thenardier (Eric Miles Geller), drinking at the bar, hears the conversation and jumps in on his wife’s moneymaking venture to squeeze the last 57 sous out of Fantine.  Fantine reluctantly agrees and off the Thenardiers roll with little Cosette to abuse her as they see fit.   

So, as almost an afterthought to better her life, Fantine thinks she will settle herself, work hard, earn some money, then gather Little Cosette, and finally bring her home.  

Only a short time later, M. Thenardier and Mme. Thenardier write Fantine demanding more money.  

Meanwhile a letter comes for M. Madeleine asking him to become mayor of the town. He is ambivalent because of his past.  He reflects on his past to reach behind the bar to pull out the candlestick and his prison uniform. He has a solid reputation now, is a perfect gentleman, a loved pillar of society, and he wants his past to remain hidden, a secret forever.

But just as it seems that everyone has forgotten the prisoner, a moment passes to bring his past back to life.  A cart has fallen on Fauchelevent (Donald Wayne). Frightened men gather around the cart but their physical insufficiencies aren’t enough to save the poor man’s life much less his soul. M. Madeleine is hesitant, not wanting to give away his secret, his strength, but Fauchelevent is in such a terrible position that M. Madeleine cannot refuse to help.  

Inspector Javert (Joe Hulser) who knows that there is only one man who has the strength to lift the cart waits nearby and observes M. Madeleine lift.  

Quink (Eric Myles Geller) approaches Fantine, as she cleans tables in the bar, and indicates that he wants more from her than her work time.  And Fantine now feels the pressure from all sides as Mme. Thenardiers demands more money for Cosette.  And as the pressure mounts she is suddenly fired from the jazz club for her impudence and not giving in to his sexual advances.   

Now on the streets, Fantine resorts to selling her hair to support Cosette and then selling her two front teeth, for forty sous, yanked out by the sleazy demon barber (Donald Wayne).  All she has left is to sell her body.

And later, on the streets, Javert arrests a toothless Fantine for prostitution, a misunderstanding, due to a miserable man, Bamatabois (not seen), shoving snow down her back. 

When the mayor, M. Madeleine, finds out, he orders Javert to release the prisoner.

Fantine spits in M. Madeleine’s face for having her fired at the jazz club. M. Madeleine sees beyond Fantine’s frustration and takes her to his home to care for her and promises to bring Little Cosette home.   

Later Inspector Javert visits M. Madeleine to say that he had reported him to the French authorities - that M. Madeleine was in fact Jean Valjean - but he says the he was mistaken, that the authorities have told him they found Valjean, in another town parading around as a man name Champmatheiu (not seen).

In reality M. Madeleine knows him to be an innocent man.

Javert then asks for M. Madeleine’s forgiveness and asks to be dismissed from his position but M. Madeleine refuses.

Later M. Madeleine travels to get Cosette but sympathetic matters divert him to Jean Valjean’s trial. Fed up with the injustice M. Madeline confesses in the courtroom that he is the real Jean Valjean and flees to Fantine, without Cosette, empty-handed. (This is not seen in the play but intimated in the following scene.)

Now that M. Madeleine has revealed that he is the real Jean Valjean, Inspector Javert shows up to arrest him.  With the help of Sister Simplice (Lonni Silverman), Jean Valjean flees and finds Little Cosette and both escape in the cover of darkness to find sanctuary.  

Opening night presented some challenges, mostly to the actors settling down and feeling comfortable on stage.  By the time you read this, the actors will have taken a deep breath, advanced into the roles, become more comfortable with the lines, and hit their marks.

Jed Alexander, the director, places these events from 1936 through 1945 in Paris, France and overall the play works nicely.  If you have read the book, or seen the musical, the characters and the events fall into place. With intermission, the play, approximately 3 hours, needs trimming. At times, actors were without lights, behind the bar, or downstage right (the cart scene).  Also, Alexander requires a stronger hand to take tighter reigns with the various styles of acting if only to smooth out the edges that were very prevalent on stage.  Also, Jean Valjean’s getaway from Javert after Fantine’s death was not clear. A stage knife was downstage left three scenes after it originally appeared until someone noticed and took it away. Also, with some creative staging, one could see this play without any set pieces or moving walls with the actors on stage the entire time. Each character in this play is fighting for a piece of the action, and a better life.  When they don’t get it the conflict is heightened, the tension is real, and they play will garner more emotional support.  

But, that said, I enjoyed the night and have more to say about the terrific performances on stage.

George Almond presents an impressive figure as Jean Valjean.  As M. Madeleine, the suit makes the character and gives him a level of sophistication.  Almond requires a little more to give us Jean Valjean’s backstory, more of how he left that life to become M. Madeleine, and how he will lose everything he has worked for if he is ever found out. Also, he needs to make more of the moment when he discovers Cosette. One would like to see the guitar work, or left behind, because now it serves as a distraction and does not progress any of the scenes. Almond has a wonderful voice, sweet and melodic, gentle and passive.  Still, there is more to be had here.

On interesting thing about Joe Hulser’s performance as Inspector Javert is his tenacity at getting his man.  With his leather jacket and Gestapo look, he just keeps coming.  Javert is miserable in his own right trying to be right in a world shaded in various tones of grey. There is a point in the play where he confesses to the fourth wall about finding the real Jean Valjean that does not heighten the tension.  That scene needs all the conflict one can muster. (Perhaps nose-to-nose downstage with Valjean facing upstage. That aside, Hulser is an impressive actor with a very commanding presence on stage and each entrance is one to regard and to take note.

Savannah Crafton plays Fantine and I loved her version of “Embraceable You” that puts us in her corner right away.  The song was performed to the nightclub audience but could also include Cosette in the audience.  Also desperation is important for this character to work, each action a desperate attempt to save her daughter until she is beaten down so bad that she can no longer fight.  Crafton must find a way to develop that desperation. And her costume must be more tattered each time she appears on stage.  She must also find a way to dress her pulled teeth rather than hide them. Crafton also plays the older Cosette and a storm trooper.

Eric Myles Geller has a very strong voice and physical presence as M. Thenardier, Quink, Gribier, Enjolras, and Baron Thenard.  And while there was some very good work going on here, the work was not varied, the costumes were all slightly similar, and audacious gestures with wrists on the hips, hands projected out, or arms flailing should find a way to progress his scenes.  Still Geller provides a very physical presentation for each character but still must find a creative objective for each of those characters, especially M. Thenardier.  

Ellyn Stern Epcar, as Mme. Thenardier, was as nasty as they come but also brought much needed humor to the play. Epcar was delightful in many ways despite being the heavy.  Epcar also played Abbess, Charwoman, and Partisan.

Lonnie Silverman gives an impressive performance as Eponine all in the name of love.  She is stunning on stage and gives a lot of heart to the character striving with every breath to get the man she cannot have.   Silverman also plays Sister Simplice and a Partisan.

Angel Castellanos is Marius and Paul.  Castellanos has a strong voice and a nice way about the stage.  As Paul, he seemed to be the presenter of the facts and there was a lot of information to say and absorb. But, we are given this information with little reason for why he is saying it. If the actor is unsure then he should make up the reason that is creative and related to the progression of the story and the characters.  One believes it is all in the name of telling us why the French are so French.  

Sophia Lilinoe Cesario plays Little Cosette and she is very cute and does well on stage.

Donald Wayne does a nice job as M. Fauchelevent, the man who was almost crushed under the cart and later to returns to provide sanctuary to Jean Valjean and Cosette.  Wayne also plays the confoundedly gross Barber who was slightly lost in his action and moments on stage on this night with this character.  Wayne also plays the Beggar and Nazi Commander who kills, well, I can’t say.

Jonathan Holloway’s adaptation stays true to the book except he moves it to 1936 Paris.  The second act includes the Nazi influences.  It works to a limited degree, the confusion of the time after Waterloo vs. the confusion of war torn Europe.  But whether it was confusion of the actors saying the lines or some other thing that had one of the characters 123 years of age. One suspects it was a mistake on this given night. And what was the purpose of expressing the times and dates of the history of France unless it leads us somewhere? There are a number of themes going on in Victor Hugo’s novel. Number one is all of the characters are miserable in their lives but each striving, no hungry, for a better life.  And in the end only Cosette manages to escape the horrors of poverty and in reality it took all of the characters, through their actions, to get her there.

Other members of the crew and some serving as members of the cast are as follows:

Sophie Gana – Production Stage Manager/Associate Producer
Ian Hyde – Assistant Stage Manager
Michael Kozachenko – Lighting Designer – The flashing lights in the audience eyes was a bit obtrusive during the gun firing scenes.
Brandon Molnar- Projection Specialist – There were some very nice shots of Paris projected onto the walls.
Matt Franta – Fight Choreographer – Very nice job.
Danielle O’Neill – Artistc Consultant
Melissa Shain – Assistant to Danielle O’Neill
Philip Sokoloff – Press Representative

Run!  And take someone downtrodden, who has lost his or her home, but is being helped and is on the road to recovery.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

King Dick by Christian Levatino

By Joe Straw

“A while ago, on a sunny afternoon, in a restaurant next to Book Soup, I saw Prince strutting his way and obliquely prowling the magazine rack outside the store. 

Prince was traveling in incognito.  Well, sort of, he had on a bright orange suit and was traveling with his bodyguard who was approximately 10 times his girth.  

Well, you know, Prince is very angular and slight. 

Anyway, I wanted to shout out  “Hi Prince”, but my bad luck because that’s when he had changed his name to a symbol you couldn’t pronounce, so I didn’t say anything.

Side note: Does someone really go out in a bright orange suite if they don’t want to be noticed? – Narrator

I don’t get invited to the Hollywood Fringe Festival, except on Facebook and 2015 was no exception.  In any case, the Hollywood Fringe is just something you go and experience, because, metaphysically, it’s like an out-of-body experience.

There was one show I wanted to see.  And while trying to find a parking space, I noticed a man, who looked like Elvis, walking south on Lillian Way, engaged in an animated discussion with someone who must have been his bodyguard. 

“Dis must be de place!” This was exactly the show I wanted to see, “King Dick”.

At Theatre Asylum where it was playing, no one was around. “Where’s King Dick playing? Where is the ticket office?  Where do I go?”  No one had answers.  Finally I checked the log sheet outside the theatre.  It said: “King Dick – Lab”.

What does that mean?

Finally, I saw Elvis (Christian Levatino) strutting west on Santa Monica Boulevard.  He introduced himself and very graciously directed me to the right spot.

King Dick written by Christian Levatino, produced & directed by Leon Shanglebee, which I suspect is also a Levatino alias, had a wonderful run at the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2015.

The Gangbusters Theatre Company makes terrific use of the Lab Theatre, a small black-box venue.  The Lab is extremely suitable for both the imaginative spirit and the spirits of a drug-induced character working for the benefit of mankind.  

King Dick, a fully staged workshop production, is a marvelous play that is brilliant in imaginative ways. Levatino’s historical farce plays upon emotions that one yearns for in theatre where reality, character eccentricities, and absurdity are thrown together in a madcap soup of theatrical madness. And by way of the Elvis’s moral discontent, one is treated to a message with a strong social significance. This is a wonderful work of art by an artist who is finding his niche as a playwright and certainly one to seriously consider.   

I am a true fan of Elvis, and, have read about it, seen the pictures, and well, you really can’t make this stuff up.

Blame it on Mercury in retrograde, an excuse Elvis used as justifications for his insanity because he had a serious problems with drugs and guns.  How he got in to see Nixon in less than a day defies comprehension.

The play takes place sometime in December 1970, a year after the Tate–LaBianca murders. E (as he is known in the play) is horrified by the direction the country is taking due to drugs and drug murders.  He has a solution but it requires obtaining a badge from a Federal Drug Enforcement agent. The badges he proudly holds now are honoree badges and therefore useless. His vision is to get that badge from some legitimate law enforcement agency in Washington D.C., so that he can serve the greater good.

So E is off to Washington D.C. to take care of business, meet with whomever he needs to meet, and get the required badge.

E gets on the plane using an alias as Jon Burrows. The problem is the costume, the jewelry, the cane, the sideburns, the black hair, sunglasses, and the face immediately gives him away. Dottie Stevens (Corryn Cummings), the stewardess, is willing to keep a secret for the time being, but that secret lasts the length of Tootsie Pop between them.  

E sits next to Mancini Moore (Ian Verdun), a soldier who is coming back from Vietnam and who is visibly affected by the war. He looks up to see E and smiles.

“…plane ain’t going down with your ass on it.” – Moore  

E wants to know more about what went on.  Moore lets off a stream of consciousness sympathetic to the anti-war movement and E, by all appearances, does not comprehend the true meaning of his message.

Still, E wants to help Moore.  He runs to Schilling, demands the expense money Shilling is holding and then gives Moore some Christmas money.

That out of the way, E racks his brains in pursuit of the badge.

Next the stewardess introduces Senator George Murphy (Darrett Sanders) to the King and Murphy offers E his opinions about the direction of the country, about the war, and the badge.  

E does not get the war, but given his mission to get a badge, he takes Murphy’s advice to pen a letter to the President of The United States, Richard Milhouse Nixon (John Combs).

Dwight Chapin (Patrick Flanagan), a P.T. Barnum bi-curious government official, receives the letter E dropped off at the White House’s front gate and takes it to his supervisor, Bud “Egil” Krogh (Andy Hirsch), a play-by-the-book government official (later imprisoned in the Watergate scandal).  Krogh puts ethics aside to see if he can get E a badge.  

Meanwhile Sonny West (Andrew Dits) visits E’s hotel room and talks to Schilling about the unholy madness E is getting himself into. E, coming into the room dressed in a robe and bathing cap, is hurt to see that West is without his gift, the TCB necklace.

“You make me want to spontaneous combust.” - E

Later we learn that Nixon has gotten himself into a little trouble with Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers and a trickle of the downward spiral starts here. But, hoping to plug the drain, Nixon wants to meet with E.

“King Creole” was spectacular!” – Nixon

L - Christian Levatino and John Combs

This was a very exciting cast that brought a lot of backstory to the lives presented on stage.  Still, I have a few observations.

Matthew Hudacs filled the role of Jerry Schilling and did a fine job.  Hudacs has a good look and is natural on stage, but needs to make more of the relationship with E.  His backstory needs an added element as to adequately define the relationship. This is not to take away from anything on stage but to add.

Christian Levatino was fantastic as E, bringing with him a grand physical life of the character, karate moves and all, along with mental complexities of being a pharmaceutical poster boy for the drug industry.  And because of the drugs E is constantly asking for help from his friends, but when something goes wrong in the Oval Office, and he may lose his badge, he begs the President to help.

“Dick! Help me!  Dick!  Help!!!” - E

Corryn Cummins does a delightful turn as Dottie Stevens, the stewardess. Bright and cheery, Dottie gives E a run for his money right outside the lavatories, a discomforting intimate moment, on the plane, and confusing E with her brilliance, just a bit.  Amatory speculations abound in her effort to join the mile high club with a celebrity but E was on a mission. Cummins was remarkable in the role.

Ian Verdun does some really nice work as Mancini Moore. Verdun is natural on stage. But, he needs to be make more of the conflict with his counterpart, if only to say:  “I didn’t get the cushy job in Germany, I went to Vietnam where there was a lot of killing and dying going on.”  Moore should convince E to add his voice to the inequities going on in the nation and thus introduce more conflict into the scene.   

Darrett Sanders was impressive as Senator George Murphy, a down-to-earth guy who speaks the truth to anyone willing to listen. Sanders is a fantastic actor who makes it all look so easy.  His delivery is sharp and focused and his characterization is this side of brilliant. (In reality, George Murphy was a former song and dance man, and the president of the Screen Actors Guild, before his foray in Republican politics.)

Andy Hirsch plays Bud ‘Egil’ Krogh and the character was solid to the craziness around him.  He was outstanding in his office, bedrock in motive. Still there has to be more to this character. (In real life Krogh went to jail for the Watergate conspiracy and then later became a Senior Fellow on Ethics (Ethics?) and Leadership at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.)  On top of what Hirsch is already doing, he should incorporate something to give the character an added dimension, one of larceny, and possibly non-ethics.

Patrick Flanagan is delightful as Dwight Chapin, the slightly disheveled, bi-curious, do anything, speak your mind, kind of guy. (In real life Chapin, Special Assistant, was convicted of lying to a grand jury for perjury during the Watergate Scandal and served nine months at the Federal Correctional Institution, Lompoc) This is a performance not to miss and a marvelous one at that.

Andrew Dits plays Sonny West and had some nice things going on.  Dits is tall, muscular, and very angular (a model).  As the character, West speaks of E as out of control but does little to help him get on the right path. More is needed to help the character West dulcify his relationship to E.  Still, Dits has a very strong presence on stage.   

John Combs brings a lot of laughs into the Oval Office as Richard Nixon.  One has to wonder who was the crazier of the two.  Combs does a tremendous job of creating a character that is coming undone, of giving us a glimpse of Nixon’s ultimate downfall, of blaming others, and showing us the famous peace sign outside of Marine I. Combs is very funny and wonderful in the role.

Sean McSweeney is the still photos man Ollie Adkins.  McSweeney has little or no dialogue but is very clever on stage with a very nice stage charisma.

Levatino’s play is a lot of fun and works as a stand-alone project.  On a side note Levatino looks at honesty and politics and finds the bitterest of contradictions as part of the presentation as a whole.  He also incorporates absurdity into a real life situation, which makes this performance a very pleasant outing. 

Produced and Directed by Leon Shanglebee which one suspects is also a Levatino alias. This production has minimal props and set pieces and Shanglebee has the actors do most of the work.  The moments hit their mark and the precision with which this was done was exquisite.

Nicely produced by Mary Kelsey and LQ Victor.  Co-Produced by Daniel Coronel.  Associate Produced by Margo Rowder & Corryn Cuminns.  Sound Design by Mohane Sebastion.  The Elvis Costume was by Mimi Chong.   Wigs by Kim Ferry.  Stage Management by Deacon Waiver and the Social Media was covered by Corryn Cummins and Margo Rowder.

Kevin Spacey has a film in postproduction now with “Elvis and Nixon”, and another film  “Elvis Meets Nixon” with Rick Peter was released in 1997 so Elvis still holds a viable fascination with the public many years after his death.