Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dorothy’s Adventures in Oz – Book, Words and Music by Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo


By Joe Straw

“Those horrid things they call men, whether black or white, seem to me the lowest of all created beasts.” – Miss Chim – The Woggle-Bug Book by L. Frank Baum

My daughter and I, needing a diversion after church, decided to go to the Santa Monica Playhouse to find a live theatrical presentation.

The Santa Monica Playhouse, located near the 3rd Street Promenade, has three or four theatres and there is always something for everyone, adults and children alike, so I suggested we go and see a happening. Life imitates theatre, or the other way around, but this time she was in agreement, and there was no grousing.

When we got there, we discovered a children’s show and being fans of the Wizard of Oz we settled on “Dorothy’s Adventures in Oz” by Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo, directed by Chris DeCarlo with Serena Dolinsky.

I’m not sure what that means: “directed by Chris DeCarlo with Serena Dolinsky.”  Did Serena direct it or have a hand in directing it?  Why doesn’t it say directed by Chris DeCarlo and Serena Dolinsky for the love of God?

(Credits can sometimes be a painstaking endeavor with someone always getting the short shift.)   

The play takes place in 1905 on a small farm in Kanasa (This is the name as it appears in the program and I’m not sure if this is a typo.) and on the road to Oz.

Uncle Henry (Aaron Burns) has lost the farm, once again, or is about to lose it, because there is no water; no rain, not a drop, and the crops are dying. And it is up to an energetic Dorothy Gale (Kate Burleigh Huerta), from Kanasa, to go back to Oz and save the drought stricken farm.

(Funny that it has a theme we can all identify here in California at this given moment, given our drought situation.)

This Dorothy is a little long in the tooth….

(Hold on a minute Toto, this is a children’s show. Don’t belittle the actors.)

(Later we find that she is indeed supposed to be older, she is an adult now. But still wearing the same dress?  How does that happen?)

Look, I’m a little fed up saving the crops, the chickens, the horses and the farm.  I’m an adult now and have little to show for it, except this run down farm, a geezer for an uncle, and also, my biological clock is ticking and there is not a man on the horizon!

But now, given the drought situation, Dorothy is on a mission to go back to Oz where it all happened and try to bring water to the desolate landscape. An electrical storm (somehow) throws her back into the land of, well on the road to Oz, and some rather peculiar misfits.

The consortium of characters, a mix-up of Oz characters from various L. Frank Baum books, will either help her or hinder her.  And isn’t that always the case.

And then she meets Shaggy Man. A man, shaggy.

Not even a healthy lookin’ man.  Why can’t I have a normal boyfriend?  Someone who sees me for me? Likes me for me.  That sounds ridiculously redundant, anyway.

The love magnet does not play an important role here where love is concerned.  (We definitely need more love in this production.)  

Shaggy Man (Aaron Burns), covered in tattered cloth, is a single man who, unattached and available, appears as dry as a bone.  His threadbare clothes have seen little water.  His worn clothes, in need of a good washing, are now in just shreds, tatty, and clipped. And all pieces are hanging on by the strangest of strands. It’s a bit peculiar, but he looks awfully like Uncle Henry.  Still,  he promises to help her on her quest. And the only thing he has is a jeweled crown to give to Dorothy, to protect her? Or, bring the rain? One is not sure.

Polychrome (Megan Combes) helps out in her fashion as well as a mixed up Queen Ann (Lauren Holiday).  H.R. Wogglebug (Casey Maher) is also along for the ride as well as Ping (Mary Ann Pianka) who has very long fingers with very little to touch.

Queen Coo-ee-oh (Adya Mohanty) presented a fine figure and has a very lovely voice.

This show is for children, very small at that.  It is a diversion and a good one for very small children.

But, saying that, this show needs clarity and mostly clarity of objectives because in the end no one gets anything and that’s not something you want in any show, including a children’s show. And what this show needs is a perspective so that the kids are glued to their seats in rapt attention.

But what does this all mean?

Well, the characters need somewhere to go, each fighting for their own piece of the pie. For example, and for comparison, the Scarecrow needs a brain, Tin Man needs a heart, the Cowardly Lion needs the courage, and Dorothy needs to find her way back home.

But in this version of “Dorothy…” Shaggy Man needs what?  He is a character whose philosophy of life is love, love, love, and he also has a strange repugnance to material possessions. One saw little of that in Aaron Burns interpretation.  

One is not sure what Polychrome needs, or how she goes about getting it. She is a fairly who dances to keep warm, and uses her magic to help, but little of this is seen in this rendition.  Her father left her at the end of the rainbow stuck on earth. But given that, how does she use this to help Dorothy on her journey?   

H. R. Wogglebug (Casey Maher) is a bug.  Wogglebug wears colorful clothes, and has a rather distasteful view of anything human, and is looking for what? And, how does she get it. And how does she help Dorothy on her journey?

And what in the world could Queen Coo-ee-oh (Adya Mohanty) be wanting? 

And what about the girl with the long fingers Ping (Mary Ann Pianka) who is under some kind of evil spell but manages to get out?  What in the heck does she want? 

And what has all of this got to do with rain in Kanasa?

That said, there are some very lovely voices in this show Kate Burleigh Huerta has got a wonderful voice as does Adya Mohanty, well beyond her young years, beautiful and earthly. They are well worth the price of admission.

But the key to making this show work to greater satisfaction is for the actors to define the relationships and to creatively strengthen their objectives, guided by the directors “Chris DeCarlo with Serena Dolinksy”.  

The road, in this production, was not hard to travel, and the conflict was not that great. Still, my 11 year old enjoyed herself and got a great deal from watching the production.

Other members of the cast that did not perform the day I was there are as follows:

Molly Gillman – Auntie Em/Patches/Ozma
Rachel Galper – Queen Coo-ee-oh
Cydne Moore – Swing for everybody
Gray Silbert – Uncle Henry, Shaggy Man

The songs by Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo are lovely.

Ashley Hayes did an incredible job as Costume Design.  George J. Vennes III was the Technical Director.  James Cooper was responsible for the Lighting and Set Design.  The Attic Room was responsible for the Graphic and Sound Design (I’m sure there are names responsible for that work.) Sandra Zeitzew is the Public Relation Director.  

This show will be running through Halloween 2015.

Santa Monica Playhouse® 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401
p: 310.394.9779; e:
a 501(c) (3) non-profit educational corporation

Monday, August 24, 2015

Disney Beauty and the Beast Jr. – Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, Book by Linda Woolverton

L - Austin Carney, Samantha Spector, Marabel Armstrong

By Joe Straw

During the production of Xanadu I walked into the Veterans Auditorium and waited and for my daughter’s rehearsal to finish.  I found a seat in the back part of the auditorium, pulled out my iphone, and mindlessly browsed Facebook.

Above the ruckus of the children’s chatter - getting final instructions - someone announced, a birthday!  And a few flashes later, the kids broke out into song.

I raised my eyes from the phone because the song was as though the heavens had parted.  Never had I heard “Happy Birthday” sung this way.

I believe the best sound in the world is the sound of children singing.  Tender on the ears and with so many beautiful harmonies it touched a chord within that stays with me today.

And I wondered to myself: Are these dee-Lightful performers that exceptional?  Or, and, am I witnessing a once in a lifetime event? Time will tell.  – Narrator.  

The summer is officially over for dee-Lightful.

And don’t tell anyone but there’s a lot of little theatres who would have loved to have had the multitudes that come to see a dee-Lightful production.  The lobby was incredibly packed for each performance and there’s hardly any room to breath.

The first show produced was Into The Woods, Jr., by James Lapin, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, based on classic fairy tales, which was showcased May 14-16th 2015, and hundreds came.

Into The Woods cast

Then there was Xanadu, Jr., Book by Douglas Carter Beane, Music and Lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, Based on the Universal Pictures Film with a screenplay by Richard Danus and Marc Rubel. That show took place July 9 – 11th, 2015, and again hundreds more.

And finally Disney Beauty and the Beast, Jr., Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, August 12th – 15th, 2015. There seemed like thousands.

The performances were held at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in collaboration with the Culver City Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Service.  And the Music Theatre International, Broadway Jr. Division, made all of the performances possible.

All the shows were directed by the multi-talented Dolores Aguanno and each show, in their own special way, found a special place in my being.

But, my favorite was Beauty and the Beast. 

L - Ben Hilsberg, Samantha Spector

Of course, Ms. Aguanno doesn’t do it alone; there are a number of people on board to wrangle fifty or so small performers that range in ages from 8 to 15 years old. And the end result is just remarkable; beautiful voices, wonderful harmonies, and movement on stage that is second to none.

This is a craft learned and sometimes it is in small increments.  And those fine folks instrumental in helping small children learn the art of singing and dancing are Christine Barocio, Giana Bommarito, Cindera Che, Chris Clark, Chloe Cohen, Natalie D’Amico, Lily Fanali, Nick Freedson, Ben Hilsberg, Merrick Padilla, Carly Shiever, Mila Tigay, Mica Williams and Allegra Williams who is the Choreographer.

And, you would not believe the results.

(There are also a lot of volunteers working behind the scene making sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible. And anyone with a moment to spare is welcome to help)

One of the amazing things about a Dolores Aguanno production is that everyone gets stage time, and even the smallest role is featured, if only for a brief moment. (A star under the lights.)   And being a perfectionist Ms. Aguanno is there every performance, offstage center, directing – making sure things go as effortlessly as possible.

I saw two casts in Beauty and The Beast, the Crepes cast and the Croissants cast, and I loved both shows. And there was something about the individual performances as well as the performances as a whole that would take you by the heart and leave an indelible impression.

And I can’t let you get away without saying something about each cast member. 

L Arden Malsin, Sarah Hager, Evyn Armstrong, Nick Freedson

Bella Veale and Samantha Spector, as Belle, each have a special appeal and did remarkably well.

Eli Rahamim and Nick Freedson were very funny as Gaston and each provided glorious strengths in their portrayal. Zoe Alamillo and Evyn Armstrong did some marvelous work as Lefou, Gaston’s trusty, or untrusted sidekick.

Aidan Nascimento had a marvelous characterization of Maurice, Belle’s father, and Mika Stambler, with her hair pulled back, gave a strong portrayal.

Misha Reiss was the Beast and was very exceptional at the dinner scene, providing everyone with a number of laughs.  Ben Hilsberg, as the Beast, was a more athletic Beast as he pounced from one end of the stage to the other in another exceptional effort. I just wished the hair was away from their face so that I could see the eyes.  

There was much to laugh about Socorro Park and Jules Henderson’s effort in playing Cosworth each giving their all for that reticent character.

Lumiere was played by Eden Tigay and Austin Carney and each were wonderful in the “Be Our Guest” musical number.  Austin Carney has a tremendous voice and did a marvelous job selling the song. The song was certainly one of the highlights of the show and both sang it to perfection backed by the marvelous dishes, knives and forks wonderfully choreographed by Allegra Williams.  

Katelyn Coon and Mirabel Armstrong, as Mrs. Potts, are two terrific performers, each with their strengths, Coon has an extremely lovely voice and Armstrong is a wonderful actor to go along with a simply splendid voice.

Both Ayla Moses and Cate Schilling were very cute as Chip.

(Funny, I didn’t see a “Mr. Potts”.  His fall from the cupboard must have proved fatal while Chip only suffered minor injuries.)

Babette was played by Brooke Rosenbloom and Mica Williams and both did extremely well but the costume was such that we were at a loss to what household item she was.  More feathers for the feather duster please! Both were very funny in the role.

Mila Tigay and Sophia Martin-Straw both demonstrated a lot of poise in the role of Madame de la Grande Bouche and both were grande throughout.

The Narrators were excellent, each with their own brand of storytelling.  The Narrators were Malia Reiss, Arden Malsin, Elena Hilger, Grayson Lee, Bella Hilger, Makena Reiss and Sarah Hager.

I particularly liked the enchantress Kacey Oschack and Mira Saville coming out of their old costume and into their beautiful dresses, and each having their own dance to break the spell.

Monsieur d’ Arque was played by Sam Jassim and was funny, a little offbeat, and mysterious all in the same breath.

Doing a delightful job as the Bookseller was Madisen Matsuura and Anna Kite was the baker.

This was a huge cast and the other members of the ensemble who lifted the show into the stratosphere are:  Evangelia Garza, Sara Herscovitz, Sam Jassim, Anna Kite,Grayson Lee, Spencer Lee, Madisen Matsuura, Annelise Reilman, Caelyn Salzmann, Ben Sanderson, Reese Schiffman, Layla Starr-Weiner, Sasha Framularo, Sarah Hager, Eva Hooten, Arden Malsin, Malia Reiss, Mira Saville, Sadie Tlusty, Josie Winkel, Olivia Andrews, Bella Hilger, Elena Hilger, Maya Matsuura, Colette Miller, Cosette Okker, Kacey Oschack, Makena Reiss, Natalie D’Amico, Ben Hilsberg and Misha Reiss.

I enjoy going to as many dee-Lightful Productions as possible but sometimes I miss a few performances. I did not see the Baguettes Cast but they do deserve a mention.  They are by order of cast member first then actor:

Belle – Hazel Cupp
Gaston – Merrick Padilla
Lefou – Cali Kimura
Maurice – Nick Freedson
Beast – Ben Hilsberg
Cogsworth – Jessie Grimaldo
Lumiere – Lily Fanali
Mrs. Potts – Isabel Parra
Chip – Josie Hooten
Babette – Piper Samuels
Madam de la Grande Bouche – Julia Smith
Villagers – Mira Saville, Kacey Oschack, Ben Sanderson, Reese Schiffman
Enchantress – Malia Reiss
Monsieur d’Arque – Sam Jassim
Bookseller – Madisen Matsuura
Baker – Anna Kite  

Ms. Aguanno has been doing dee-Lightful for many years.  It sure would be nice for this company to have their own home.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Richard III by William Shakespeare

Jon Mullich

By Joe Straw

Shakespeare’s Richard III was written for Sigourney Weaver, a strong woman, like the character Ripley in Alien, a woman who would take all comers, and would use her mind to her advantage at the most opportune moments. (Yes, I believe that is true.)

Certainly, the women in this particular play, are wise, and they are that way if only to competely handle the likes of Richard III.  

But, are they strong? Well, in this version, not as strong as one would like them to be.

Natasha Troop’s version of Richard III, with its grey tones and black somber mise en scéne, explores the play from a benevolent perspective without seeing the other side, her side.

Still, Troop’s version of Richard III is good, bordering on brilliant.  There’s no question about that. And it seems to fall in line with the bits and pieces I’ve seen over the years, including Mark Rylance’s performance at the Tony’s.

(Yes, I was waiting for that scene for a comparison.  That, I should not do. Forgive me. )  

All, in all, there were some marvelous performances in this production of Richard III and yet marvelous is too casual a term to use.  It is a production one doesn’t expect from a 99- seat theatre venue, especially for this type of play.  But, there it was, in all its glory, all three hours of it.   And despite the utmost gravity of this drama, the despicableness of the characters, there was a lot to smile about at the end of the production, a lot.  

Richard III is a play about his struggle for power.  The other characters know that about the Duke of Gloucester, and yet, few have the power to stop him.

But why don’t we see the grasp for power in this production, the alliances forged, the money, the greed, and the indelible impression of lust for power forged on the blade? Why?  

The Eclectic Company Theatre presents William Shakespeare’s Richard III, directed by Natasha Troop, produced by Natasha Troop and Marni Troop through August 30, 2015.  

The Play.

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Richard, Duke of Gloucester practicing heliolatry much in the same way the ancient druids did at Stonehenge but changes a moment later to lament on his features and his ability in bed…

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days
I am determined to prove a villain.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Richard (Jon Mulich), Duke of Gloucester is not the King of England, now, but in order for this villain to reach his objective he must get rid of those in his way.  Simple enough.

Richard has matured into a powerful man, a military man, with wealth beyond his imagination.  His holding in Northern England make him very authoritative and it is his plan to move in the direction of the crown, but first he must get rid of Clarence (David Pinion), his older brother, who is second in line to the throne. 

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, deceptively lugubrious, bemoans as George, Duke of Clarence is being led off to cozy confines of the Tower of London under the orders of their brother King Edward IV.  King Edward had been mislead in believing that someone with “G” in their name would take over his crown.

“Meantime, this deep disgrace in brotherhood
Touches me deeper than you can image.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

“I know it pleaseth neither of us well.” – Clarence

“Well, your imprisonment shall not be long;
I will deliver you, or else lie for you: 
Meantime, have patience.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

The first part of Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s plan is set in motion; Richard knows that Clarence will never leave the Tower of London alive.

“Clarence still breathes; Edward still lives and reigns;
When they are gone, then must I count by gains.” – Duke of Gloucester

L - Rachel Kanouse and Jon Mullich

No sooner this has been said then King Henry VI, the former King of England from the House of Lancaster, mysteriously dies in the Tower of London.  (Or was murdered by Richard).  His body is accompanied by the beautiful Lady Anne (Rachel Kanouse) former daughter-in-law, now a mourner, who sees the devil that is Richard, Duke of Gloucester.  She accuses him of having something to do with his death.  

“Say that I slew them not?” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

“Why, then they are not dead:
But dead they are, and, devilish slave, by thee.” – Anne

“I did not kill your husband.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

(This is a reference to Edward, Prince of Wales, son to King Henry VI, who was once the only surviving heir to the throne of the House of Lancaster.  But he was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury, some years earlier 1471, commanded by none other than Richard, Duke of Gloucester.)

“Why, then he is alive.” – Anne

“Nay, he is dead; and slain by Edward’s hand.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester  

Cute and so it is that the House of Lancaster is finished, forever.  Richard, The Duke of Gloucester, in poor timing, uses this moment to woo Anne. And despite the animosity bantered about, Anne says yes, in her fashion.  

“Bid me farewell.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

“Tis more than you deserve;
But since you teach me how to flatter you,
Imagine I have said farewell already.” – Anne

This scene presents some problems in that the presentation of King Henry VI’s corpse is brought on a stretcher as though he were a casualty on the battlefield rather than a King, and there is a slight confusion as to the identities of the players. The words tell us what is happening but the actions, and setting, convey a different meaning. A little symbolic pomp and circumstance to compliment the grey barren walls, and to present the former King with dignity, would do well here.

Also, Anne is finished.  The House of Lancaster is done.  So Anne, in her way, must maneuver her way into position to be Queen of England once again. And as much as she hates the idea of being with Richard, Duke of Gloucester, she accepts his love.  

One of the fascinating things about this scene is that Richard seems to be asking for some kind of forgiveness for the killing of Edward, her husband, at the Battle of Tewkesbury.  This shakes Anne to the core, a moment understood, between the two that may not have been totally realized on this night.  

In the meantime Queen Elizabeth is concerned about her husband dying, King Edward IV (Tim Polzin), knowing that her overly petulant son Edward V (Micah Watterson) is waiting to take the throne.

“The heavens have bless’d you with a goodly son,
To be your comforter when he is gone.” – Grey

“Oh, he is young, and his minority
Is put unto the trust of Richard Gloucester,
A man that loves not me, nor none or you.” – Queen Elizabeth

Queen Margaret (Janie Steele) suddenly appears as an unfathomable shadow, as someone who predicts the fall of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. She is the prognosticator of future events. But Richard, seeing her as a dimming star, dismisses her like an overly worn codpiece, all in his quest to gain control.  This doesn’t sit too well with Queen Margaret.  

“Thou slewest my husband Henry in the Tower,
And Edward, my poor son, at Tewksbury.” - Queen Margaret.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, cannot be bothered by trivialities in his quest to wrangle his position of power, and manages to dismiss her with the menacing brush of his cane.  

“We follow’d then our lord, our lawful king:
So should we you, if you should be our king.” – Rivers

“If I should be!  I had rather pedlar;
Far be it from my heart, the thought of it! – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Right now Richard, Duke of Gloucester is laughing on the inside.

Jon Mulich is Richard III in this production and does a marvelous job playing a man who has one thing on his mind, the crown. Mulich’s portrayal does not emphasize the physical deformities one reads about, but rather he has a slight limp and walks with the help of a cane. There is much to like about his lurid glares and shifty-eyed performance and the casual way he moves from one predicament to another. On the night I witnessed there were problems with lines (a few) but by the time you see it Mr. Mulich will have evened out his performance.  

L - Jesse Merlin and Jon Mullich

Jesse Merlin is incredible as Buckingham.  Merlin makes Shakespeare look easy with an astonishing voice and is a natural on stage.  Merlin is very meticulous and measured.  Certainly this is an amazing performance and one not to miss for actors and theatergoers alike.   

L - David Pinion, Gary Tremble, Christian T. Chan

Another remarkable performance is that of David Pinion as George Duke of Clarence, brother to King Edward IV, and Richard III, and there’s the rub. Clarence is easily convinced to march to the Tower of London per the commands of the King who has ordered his death. Clarence is sure that Richard III will use persuasive powers to get him out and if that is not enough he has enough wit about him to find other ways out. The gullible Clarence, who in real life was just as lustful as Richard III, is not even a match in wit to secure the crown.

“O, he hath kept an evil diet long,
And overmuch consumed his royal person:” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester – speaking of King Edward IV

Tim Polzin, as King Edward IV is another wonderful performer who seems to create King Edward as a character who is in ailing health, because of the bottle and his diet.  As it is, the performance rings true, the slow gait of death, preceded by ordering acts of kindness to his fellow humans beings. There is not one false note in his performance.

Just a note here, this production was set circa 1930’s, and maybe it was of choice of the director, but the treatment of the King seemed very indolent, no bows, and with very little respect.  History says that Richard was a very big fan of King Edward IV but in this production Richard treated him like an ordinary Joe instead of his brother, the King.   

Micah Watterson does some excellent work as the petulant Prince Edward.  Watterson provides us with some very strong character work and has an extremely nice presence on stage. Still, in his minority, Prince Edward was led away to comforting rooms of the Tower of London, unable to fight off his despicable uncle and was never crowned.  

Jessica Neufeld is delightful as Queen Elizabeth who laments that her time is near and tries to find a way to hang on to the powers she possesses as long as her husband, King Edward IV is alive. And as long as she has powers she will try her best to rid herself of Richard, Duke of Gloucester forever.  This is a terrific performance.

Janie Steele is Queen Margaret.  Well, one would say former Queen from the House of Lancaster, widow of King Henry VI.  She was the mother of Edward of Westminster who was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury.  It is said that she ruled in place of her husband who had frequent bouts of insanity. Now, she has lost all, her son, her husband the King, and England.  Still Margaret moves in this play to present a curse, a device used by Shakespeare to tell us where this will all lead, and to some other end of which I am not entirely sure, and there is the rub. I suspect the only way to play this role is for the actor to get her power back by all means necessary.  Queen Margaret is still a queen and I’m wondering if there is a creative way to be stately, where the words, said in such a way, would sting and not come out as wickedly screeching insults.

“A husband and a son thou owest to me;
And thou a kingdom; all of you allegiance;
The sorrow that I have, by right is yours,
And all the pleasures you usurp are mine.” – Queen Margaret

Again, a note about the direction, we have Queen Margaret move onto the stage, she is dressed nicely, and a woman who appears to have power, once a queen, but no one treats her like a former queen, especially those on the side of the House of Lancaster.  As it appears on stage, she could be anyone in a nice dress. (In reality Queen Margaret was living in France at this time, in obscurity, and penniless.  Shakespeare uses her here as plot device.)

Rachel Kanouse does a nice turn as Lady Anne but there more to had with this relationship with Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Henry VI and Edward all presented in this one scene. Defining the relationships and being clear on her objective would only add to an already fine performance.  Anne hates Richard so much she could kill him but finding a way to be the Queen would give the character a motive to stay in the scene and overcome her hatred. Lady Anne requires more strength to an already fine performance.

Gary Tremble shows a lot of promise as one of the murderers.  Tremble brings a lot of humor to that scene.  He also appears again as Ratcliffe.

Randi Tahara plays Duchess of York, the mother of Richard, Duke of Gloucester.  She has her hands full with that one.  But, we never get a sense that she would treat her sons equally, or unequally for that matter.

Glenn Simon plays Brakenbury and others and is quite commanding on stage. He has a wonderful voice and is in the moment throughout.  

Also, Nate Werner shows a very nice range as Lord Rivers.  He provides a substantial characterization of Rivers and has a very nice voice.

Eliot Troop plays York and does a credible job for his tender young age.

Christian T. Chan plays Catesby.  He has a nice commanding presence on stage, with a lovely voice, and also provided the Fight Choreography.

Alon Dina shows promise as Dorset.

Melody Doyle played Hastings. In reality, Hastings was a procurer of fine women for King Edward IV but I did not see this in her portrayal but this may be something that would give her character a little something extra.

Laura Lee Bahr is the understudy for The Duchess of York, and Carissa Gipprich understudies Lady Anne and Queen Elizabeth.  They did not perform the night I was there.

Wow, Natasha Troop the Director/Set & Lighting Designer had a lot on her plate for this show. One can only admire her tenacity for doing all of these things usually performed by three different people who are usually paid for their services. The set and lighting is very cold and hard, castle like, without the castle.  The actors in many cases make great use of the set with a guiding hand by Troop and that is the best part of the show, the actors who manage to capture living breathing idea of Richard III.  

Wendell C. Carmichael, Costume Designer, gives us a wonderful 1930’s look of her vision of the aristocracy for the time.

Other members of this wonderful crew are:

“MZ” Runyan – Stage Manager
Michael M. Miller – Videographer
Marni L.B. Troop – Photographer  

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who loves revisionist history.

Reservations:  818-508-3003

Online Ticketing:

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Orphans by Lyle Kessler

L - Kjai Block, Bill Voorhees

By Joe Straw

“F**king A**hole.  God damn you!” – A voice heard from backstage before the performance last Saturday night. - Artist unknown. (If you’re saying it loud enough for me to hear it, I just might print it.)

It used to be in Hollywood you could find a side street off Cahuenga and park anywhere. Now, there are a lot of restrictions and you have to move like a snail to read all of them.  

Not finding any parking, I drove passed Theatre of NOTE on Cahuenga and was heading north toward Hollywood Boulevard to make a right when I heard a car horn. 

I drove upon a Prius, the culprit, all because a man was standing in the crosswalk and he wasn’t moving.  In fact, his arms were outstretched begging the Prius to run him down.

The Prius, caught between the light and pedestrian walkway, was blocking the east flowing traffic on Hollywood Boulevard, trying to inch his way through the humanity.   

But, that one defiant man, feeling he had the right of way, stood in his path while the horn continued to blast. And suddenly, an inexplicable impulse,  the man collapsed onto the hood of the car, lifted both hands, and flipped the horn blower off. 

Priusman stared impassively throughout the whole situation keeping his hand affixed to the horn.  
But, and, as I was making my right on Hollywood Boulevard I noticed, about fifty people, on the corner, filming everything, making their own movie, recapturing the Midnight Cowboy scene.  

And, with just a quick glance, I witnessed the perfect picture of a crowd scene you only see in art photography books, an edging tsunami of happy photographers, capturing a brilliant moment.  

Hollywood, you just never know what you’re going to see when you get there.  – Narrator.

Dollar Bill Productions presents Orphans by Lyle Kessler at the Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood through August 22, 2015.  This production was directed by Bill Voorhees and produced by Rebecca Light, Sigi Gradwohland and Bill Voorhees.

Orphans has been around since, well it was first performed in 1983 to great reviews at the Matrix in Los Angeles, and then on to Chicago, and even in England, not to mention a stop Off Broadway at the Westside Theatre in 1985.

This “Orphans”, at it’s brightest core, is bare bones and with not a lot a frills, but from the opening moments this production soars and never lets up.

The play opens with Phillip (Kjai Block) blowing bubbles in front of the window of his dilapidated apartment, a miserable hovel, with papers and shoe tossed about.  

Phillip is finding happiness blowing one bubble at a time, watching it float, and getting a tremendous amount of satisfaction sticking his dirty finger into it. It is a remarkable moment that defines his innocent childlike persona, the disquieting peculiarity of a boy-like man who moments later will become a very frightened adult.  

Phillip waits for his brother Treat (Bill Voorhees) to come home.  Phillip is aware that Treat has been scrounging the neighborhood for people to fleece and knows that Treat preys upon the weak and weak minded. 

Phillip cannot augur the mood of that person walking through the door.  He waits like a nervous dog, and suddenly becomes preoccupied when he hears the sounds of Treat coming into the apartment. Phillip throws things into the window seat, or behind the cushions of the couch, things he does not want Treat to know about.

Treat, opens the door, and immediately rushes to the window to see if he is being followed.  When the coast is clear Treat unloads the goodies, sorting first and then putting the money and merchandise into empty Hellmann’s mayonnaise jars for safe keeping. Treat’s robbery is done in the name of love, but it’s a bizarre twisted love.

Phillip, in chaste ignorance, doesn’t think robbing someone is a bad thing if no one gets hurt.  A knife, a little blood is okay, heck they’ve got to eat.

But tonight Treat has made a killing and is going to go out and celebrate his thievery.

“I had a real good day today, Phillip. I’m gonna go out, tonight, gonna celebrate!” Treat

“We all outta mayonnaise, Treat. You go out, will you bring home an extra-large bottle of Hellmann’s mayonnaise?” – Phillip    

“We all outta mayonnaise, Treat” is one of my favorite lines from this show but I didn’t hear it on this night. (This happens.) The line is a definitive moment of Phillip’s character.

Treat tells him his day that a man put up a struggle and kicked him in the shins.  Startled, Phillip runs to get the hydrogen peroxide to clean his wound. And while Phillip is cleaning him up Treat asks for the Philadelphia Inquirer and discovers there are words underlined in the paper.

“Here’s a word, dispensation.  You underline this word? – Treat

“I didn’t touch that word.” – Phillip

“You read this word?” – Treat

“No.” – Phillip

“You got a dictionary, Phillip?” – Treat

Treat is catching on that Phillip is not a reliable reporter.  Or maybe he’s known that all along. But what worries Treat more is that Phillip is giving himself an education and that will interrupt his way of doing business, providing for the family, and who knows what else. 

Still, somebody’s got to be the scapegoat for underlining the words so Treat says it’s probably someone upstairs.  Treat gives Phillip a knife and tells him to go up there and take care of him.  And wouldn’t you know it, after a ruckus Phillip comes down the stairs bleeding. Treat wants to take care of him.

“Come here, Phillip.  Let me help you.  Let your big brother Treat take of you.” – Treat

With love comes a little pain.

Later that night Treat brings home a stranger, another orphan, Harold (Darrett Sanders). Harold has on an expensive suit and is carrying a briefcase.  Harold is from Chicago. Harold sees Treat as a Dead End Kid, from the movies, and longing for the taste of corn beef and cabbage.

Meanwhile Treat is eying the briefcase and tries to hide it.

Harold wants to know what they have to eat in the house.  And when he finds out that it’s Star-Kist tuna he wants to take his briefcase and leave.

But Treat, not willing to give up the briefcase, says he in no condition to leave. 

Harold sits or falls, depending on whose foot that was, and tells his story of the orphanage in Chicago, the deaths, and spitting up blood. 

Phillip comes downstairs to listen.

“Orphans crying out.  You know what they were crying?” – Harold

“No.” – Treat

“Mommy!”  - Harold

Harold passes out and Treat starts relieving him of some of his valuables, opens his briefcase, finds stocks and bonds, and decides to tie him up for some kind of ransom.

L - Kjai Block, Darrett Sanders

But when Harold wakes up, he’s got a few tricks up his sleeves, along with an encouraging squeeze, a discomforting intimacy for both boys.  While Treat thinks he has the better of Harold, it is Harold who now holds the cards. 

Bill Voorhees does a remarkable job directing this production.  There are not a lot of frills in this production with minimum lights and set decorations. One might consider this a bare bones production, but the acting is one step short of amazing and there are a lot of beautiful things going on, on stage. It is a production to be proud of and a marvelous work of art.

I loved the opening of this show with Kjai Block as Phillip tackling the role with finesse. Block has a baby face and handles the role exceptionally well. Trapped in this prison like apartment with a scarf to cover his face when he ventures out. And he has ventured out before, making it back before his face swells and the air kills him. But, more could be made of his fear of the outside and then coming back into life and wellness.

Darrett Sanders is very funny as Harold. This is a wonderful role for Sanders who takes his time to make each moment count. When the character is sober Sanders brings an indescribable grandeur to the role, the orphan, who, in his own way, has made it.  This is a physically demanding role and Sanders handles the job with aplomb. One would like to have a better impact from the “mommy” scene.  I would want Harold to say the line that would frighten both men up the stairs.  This moment cries for a greater emotional impact. 

Bill Voorhees has played Treat in other productions and by now he has a great understanding of the role and the play. Voorhees never loses focus and is in the moment from beginning to the end. I particularly liked the blinking eyes, the inexplicable impulse of a moment when there was the possibility of him striking as part of the characterization.

Orphans by Lyle Kessler is an exceptional play and on this night had an exceptional cast making the moments count.   When you go to Hollywood, you never know what you’re going to see, but when you go into the Theatre of NOTE to see Orphans everything works this side of perfection.   

L - Bill Voorhees, Darrett Sanders

Members of the Production Team are as follows:

Matt Richter –Lighting Design
Lauren Thomas – Costume Design
Richard Werner – Prop Design
Bill Voorhees – Graphic Design

Members of the Crew are as follows:

Kelly Egan – Board Operator
Maggie Blake, Suzanne Voss and Alysha Brady – Front of House
Garett Maggart – AMC Liaison
Dan Wingard – Program Design

Run! Run!  Run!  And take an orphan with you, preferably one with a lot of money.

Twitter: @OrphansPlay

Theatre of NOTE
1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90028

Reservations:  323-856-8611

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Great Divide by Lyle Kessler


L - Adam Haas Hunter and Brandon Bales

By Joe Straw

The Elephant Theatre Company presents the World Premiere of The Great Divide by Lyle Kessler, directed by David Fofi, and Produced by Bren Coombs and Shannon McManus through August 29, 2015.

Well, it’s over.  Almost over, August 29th, 2015.  “The Great Divide” will close and The Elephant Theatre Company, in its present form, will shut their doors for good. 

Damn, but, it’s been a great run! And, I hate to say this, but, all things must come to an end.  We can shed a tear in remembrance, and rejoice for new beginnings. But, still, damn it!

David Fofi, the Artistic Director, is on to parts unknown, just him and his dog with enough energy to move on to the next adventure. I wish him the best.

The Play

This has been the second time I’ve entered the Lillian Theatre only to find a body lying somewhere near center stage.  And, but, it took me a while, sitting there, waiting for the show to start, to notice there was an actor lying motionless, on the couch.

The Body On The Couch.

Our play begins in Fishtown, Pennsylvania, along the banks of the Delaware River, in a solid working class neighborhood.

Old Man (Richard Chaves), yes that’s the character’s name, is dead on the couch.  His son Dale (Brandon Bates) is a loner, and a reticent writer who keeps his stories locked up in the house safe.  Dale is a misfit with no amorous prospects. And if it weren’t for the dead body on the couch, he’d probably still be up there writing instead of waiting for his brother to come home.  

Dale, somehow, has gotten in touch with his brother Coleman (Adam Haas Hunter) to tell him that the old man died right were he lies (pun intended). 

And when Coleman arrives, looking homeless, he enters the house with little regard to anyone alive or dead. 

He’s not clean, but he’s not filthy either, as he discards a few items off his being. His body is attenuated, shaken from a reality. He stares toward the couch - a situation that he doesn’t entirely believe.

Coleman finds that coming home is an imposition.  He doesn’t have much in common with his brother or his father; still they need to figure out what they are going to do with the body.  

Dale says he’s dead.  Not really convincing, but also, Dale’s not really that right in the head. Blame it on his mind that is overtaxed and thinking about other things.

Dale tells Coleman the tale, that he heard a gurgling sound right after Old Man ate a ham and cheese on pumpernickel sandwich. The details! And now, the Old Man hasn’t moved in two days – stiff as a board – hard as a carp. 

Coleman thinks it’s one of his tricks and asked Dale to pinch him. Dale does and that gets the Old Man to jolt up, and grab Dale in a headlock.

Coleman is not amused.

This scene presents challenges in asking us to believe that Old Man is dead.  (We as an audience know this can’t be true.  Old Man is one of the characters.)  Could this possibly play as a ruse between Old Man and Dale in order to get Coleman home?  That much is accomplished, he’s home.

As it is now Dale is not selling the product creatively, the ruse, to go all out to convince Coleman that Old Man is in fact dead.  Dale is the storyteller and has the ability to paint a dead picture. For this adjustment the scene gets everyone off the hook, the actors, and the audience, so we don’t need the excuse about playing dead for two days, which no one believes.  

Can We All Get Along?

“Who are you?  Coleman?” - Old Man

“Good to see you, Dad.” – Coleman

The air is suddenly dripping with an extreme un-comfortableness.  No one is willing to give anyone a hug ten years in the making, gone or not.  They all just inhabit the space, not knowing what to do, and talk as though they have not been out of each other’s sight.

Dale lets it slip that he is writing stories and the Old Man is not, or doesn’t seem to be too enthusiastic about it.  

But now the Old Man has got what he wanted, his boys together again.

“Sucking at my breast” – Old Man  

Okay this is a bit odd. But Old Man says their mom was dried up and they sucked at his breast until they were vibrant and happy.

Not feeling clean right about now…

“Can I take a shower?” – Coleman  

Old Man tells him nothing has changed and he can go upstairs and take the shower.

And now Old Man turns his attention to Dale.

“What about the newsstand?” – Old Man

“Closed for a death in the family.” – Dale

It’s liked something clicked in Dale’s mind as he puts on his winter wear and heads out the door to help his Old Man in the family business, a newsstand.  

Meanwhile Old Man fixes Coleman a ham and cheese on pumpernickel with a touch of dark mustard. (Those were the days.) Something for him to break the ice with Coleman on account of being gone for ten years.

Old Man confesses that he faked his death to lure Coleman back home but there’s another part of his two pronged attack.  He is concerned that Dale is spending too much time alone in his room doing nothing but writing stories.  Old man wants Coleman to get into the safe, read the stories, and see if they are any good.

“We’re together again, Coleman, we’re together, we’re a family!” – Old Man


Later Dale comes back from the newsstand and says that Aunt Millie died.  Coleman not having the least bit of sympathy for her death lets it go.

“I missed you.” – Dale

“Sorry I wasn’t in touch… I couldn’t save you” – Coleman

Coleman reveals to Dale that he was all over the place, that he was jailed for public intoxication, and that he couldn’t stay in one place. Besides he was trying to lose the Old Man.  

Coleman casually slipping into the meat of the matter asks about girlfriends, but Dale says he fought in his own way, that he wrote in his room.  Coleman then asks to read his stories but Dale says that he hasn’t been around for 10 years and now Dale feels that Coleman wants to judge him?  Dale is rather indignant about it all.

Spoken like a true Albanian, and it’s a trait in this family to fly off the handle at any given moment.  

I believe there’s more here, a creative venue that hasn’t been explored.  The brother wants something out of the relationship and it has something to do with their overbearing Dad.  But we don’t really get to the meat of the matter, the subtext that is killing both men.

Next on the agenda is baseball.  Old Man wants to go out and play with his boys and have fun like they used to. And so they leave.

L - Kimberly Alexander and Mark McClain Wilson

Someone’s Knocking At My Door

A short time later, banging on the door is Noah (Mark McClain Wilson), a one-armed character straight out of a Charles Bukowski novel and with a striking resemblance to Tom Waits to boot.  His sister Lane (Kimberly Alexander) is in tow. She looks like someone who crawled out of the 60’s intact. And she can hear voices from distant past of people singing from another dimension.   The voices can’t tell them how to get through the front door, so they find an open window and crawl through. 

Noah, tip toeing around the living room, opens his nostril wide and smells money - money, money, money. And just to even things out, on account of his missing arm, Noah carries a gun.  From here on out, things change.   

David Fofi, the director, goes out with a bang on this production. And, with the exception of the first scene not really finding its way, it is a glorious night of theatre.  

Richard Chaves fits the bill as Old Man. Old Man sees the end of his line and that scares him to death.  He wants a grandson or granddaughter.  But his miscreant sons don’t have it in them; there are no girlfriends or prospects.  The only thing Old Man can hope for is getting them out to play baseball, meeting someone, and getting lucky, for them, but especially for him.  Chaves is likeable and very peculiar in the way that he manages the character.  But the objective is simple and finding actions to achieve the objective would keep the character focused.

Adams Haas Hunter has as very good look as Coleman, a ne’er-do-well, always into trouble, and does not want the responsibility of home and family.  Yes, some people live this dream. Coleman has no visible means of support, lives off other people, and why he decides to come home at this time is not fully explored. Coleman enters the house, alone, defeated by life, his father dead on the couch and could care less about anyone.  So why is he there? Is he running from someone, or to someone? Not to pick on Hunter but I’m wondering if there are other choices to give the character another viable perspective.   

L - Kimberly Alexander, Brandon Bales, Richard Chaves

Brandon Bales does a fine job with Dale and has a very good look on stage.  It is a portrayal, almost childlike, wide-eyed and always on the lookout.  Dale is a sensitive person, extremely sensitive, part of that Albanian upbringing.  His father keeps him under wraps and Dale seems okay with that, sometimes. He doesn’t want anyone reading his stories, anyone.  That’s why he keeps it in the safe. There’s more to be had with the relationship to his brother and what he needs from him. There’s more comedy to add to this character. Also, this character may work if his emotional commitment to circumstances in his life is played in the extreme, especially in the beginning so that we are not waiting for it at the end. This is just something to add to an already fine job.

Kimberly Alexander plays Lane, the girlfriend who is infatuated with Coleman and follows him to his house.  She desperately wants him and she will do anything to entrap him into a relationship, anything.

Mark McCain Wilson plays Noah, a one-armed tough guy, with a black leather jacket held together with safety pins.  His hair is spiked and pushed up by a hair band.  And he casually parks his right thumbnail between the spaces in his lower teeth while he takes his next calculated step.  Wilson is a fantastic actor who approaches this character with all the finesse he can muster. This is a wonderful exploration of a character that thinks about the what ifs in life, despite his angry demeanor. What if he went to school? Played baseball? Had his other arm? What if?

Lyle Kessler is an extraordinary writer with characters inhabiting the fringe of life. ‘bout the nearest thing I can remark about the characters is an old southern expression like “something ain’t right in the head with these folks.”

This doesn’t mean I didn’t like this World Premier play.  I did. A lot. But whatever Great Divide separates this family would be better said, if articulated, if only briefly, rather than relying on the subtext to get an approximation of the divide.

Be that as it may, the characters are off in their own journey, Kessler never letting on, until the right time.  But, things here need a slight tweaking to get moments to move into a direction that makes sense to all of us. 

Noah is the character that worked best to my satisfaction. He is a criminal with an addiction to the truth and a smell for money. He weighs his options, but dreams his own dream, much to his detriment of this one armed bandit.  

Old Man is cagy, full of facts and fiction, and where it all leads, no one really knows just yet. One thing is genuinely true.  He wants a grandchild and it doesn’t matter how this gets done but it needs to be done.  The actions of this character would be more memorable if he was moving in that direction.

Lane is an interesting character but knowing her circumstances, her predicament, she puts an end to the Old Man’s dreams.  But dreams change, and relationships change, and one can see a relationship between her and Dale, a continuation of life, a part of a real family. Somehow I see that.

Kate Huffman plays Lane as well.  She did not perform the night I was there.

Bren Coombs and Shannon McManus were the Producers on this delightful project.

Bren Coombs also served as the photographer.

Dianna Leanne Wilson is the Stage Manager.

Shannon Simonds is also the Stage Manager.

The wonderful Set and Sound Design are by Elephant Stageworks and I am sure there are people behind this name.

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who has been missing from your life for ten years.

Reservations:  855 – No - Forget