Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Dickens You Say! A Christmas Carol – Conceived & Adapted by P.D. Soinski


P.D. Soinski - Photo by Chuck Everts

By Joe Straw

In these times of ours, no need to be precise, cira 2015, and particularly this holiday time of year, we casually, if not caustically, come upon the human stragglers created from the artistic mind of Charles Dickens.

Escape is fruitless on this early December morning.  Those trapped are the residues of ordinary lives and immediately are identified as human beings who have lived in monetary and emotional squalor.  They move from place to place trying to make the best of the day despite their poverty and persistent cough.

Oh, and let’s not forget that they live in various stages of want.
Still, they have duties to perform. And in doing so they wear the ragged clothes enmeshed in loam. Oftentimes these characters are the dregs of humanity, caught here today – some say - by the victim of their own circumstances.

Amongst those wretched human beings lives a man, Ebenezer Scrooge (P.D. Soinski).  He is impeccably dressed and moving fast to avoid the masses. An unmistakable scowl is plastered on his face.  Those lines permanently etched on his face are by the passing of foul time.  And also engraved, in his forehead, are the contours of his tragedies partially committed by his own making. Something he does not care to admit.  

Scrooge passes these people as if they don’t exist and is quick to avoid them for fear of something jumping from their bodies to his, be it animal or viral.

The Dickens You Say! – Narrator

The International Printing Museum present Dickens Day Celebration produced by Mark Barbour. The Dickens You Say! A Christmas Carol was conceived and adapted by P.D. Soinski.

I had heard there was a theatre at the International Printing Museum for quite some time but really didn’t give it much thought. 

The theatre is slightly off of theatre row, well, Torrance, California to be precise, and one doesn’t usually get out that way. But, I thought, what a great holiday outing for my girls. The Printing Museum is only 22 minutes out of Culver City, next to Alpine Village. It is a jaunt for our carriage, over the river and through the woods.   

It’s interesting to know Mark Barbour sees the validity of theatre to promote the Printing Museum.   After all, when one thinks about it, theatre is an important element and valid endeavor in any capital enterprise to promote a business, non-profit or otherwise.  Oh the entrepreneurial spirit of the man.

That aside, I’m thinking we’re going to have some fun and frivolity here this holiday season and this theatre is going to be an eye opening experience.

On a personal note: I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.

As soon as the doors opened everyone greeted us like we were long lost friends. Mr. Barbour decorated the Museum straight out of the Fessiwig scene in A Christmas Carol. The entire Museum was very festive, with all the clinquant finery, and the characters, showing off the printing machines, were dressed as characters right out of a Dicken’s novel, costumes exquisitely designed by Debbie Bush.  

George Bush (Father Time) and two young patrons of the museum.

Not only that, there were a number of patrons who came dressed in wonderful period costumes just to get into the spirit of the day.  Remarkable!

L - Ken Riedel (Fagin), Keefer Blakeslee (Artful Dodger)

Fagin (Ken Riedel) immediately introduced himself asking me if I wanted to make a purchase of some fine necklaces.  Neglecting to notice the rock from which he crawled out from, I politely informed him that I wasn’t in the market.  Also, Fagin was looking for the Artful Dodger (Keefer Blakeslee) who just happened to arrive on the scene. Mr. Dodger politely asked if he would take my picture, and he did, only to run away with my iphone.  He didn’t get far.

I made a discretionary inquiry to Miss Havisham (Trish Ryan), complete with soiled wedding dress, as to the whereabouts of her husband.  A mistake I regretted immediately. Her response was boisterously brash which cause my embarrassed daughters to ask me what I had done to that poor woman.  Miss Havisham’s consoling adopted daughter Estella (Yasmin Walker) was not far behind.  

Candace Blakeslee (Queen Victoria)

Finding a quite corner, while my daughters were involved in making letterpress printing, I found Queen Victoria (Candice Blakeslee).  She motioned for me to come forward to speak.  I found our discourse to be very uncomfortable (mostly me) but she managed to make me feel right at ease.

Other performers out in the museum were Wilkins Micawber (Peter Hay), Dr. Miles (Dr. Leland Whitson), Uriah Heep (Peter Small), Betsy Trotwood (Debbie Bush) and Father Christmas (George Bush) performing a variety of functions and staying in character all the while.  Captain Jack (Jack Conway) was also there explaining the 1895 Concert Roller Organ. James Steerforth (Mark Barbour), noted for his wit and romantic charm, managed in his best tradition.  

But the highlight of the show was Charles Dickens (P.D. Soinski) performing in the black box theatre in the center of the museum.  Three shows were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.  Soinski’s wonderful performance touches all the right bases playing Charles Dickens and Ebenezer Scrooge and the presentation becomes interactive at times as he enlists members of the audience to fill out the cast, including myself.  A Christmas Carol, in this one-hour version, highlights the significant moments in the book and it was a day that touched me emotionally as the character Scrooge does.  Also, the singing and playing games added to everything that makes Christmas joyful.

The acting, by professionals, was well above par as they stayed in character throughout their inactions with the museum patrons.  This made for a terrific day.

I haven’t had this much fun in a long time. That said, The International Printing Museum is a grand outing for young and old alike wanting to make this excursion an enlightening and educational experience.

The other upcoming events are as follows:
Franklin’s Electric Birthday Celebration – January 16th, 2016
Kids Krazy Krafts Day – Saturday March 19th, 2016
Independence Day Celebration – Saturday October 1, 2016
Dickens Holiday Celebration December 10th & 11th, 2016

For more information:

The International Printing Museum
315 Torrance Blvd.
Carson, CA  90745

Phone:  310-515-7166

Friday, December 25, 2015

Garbo’s Cuban Lover – by Odalys Nanin

 By Joe Straw

Mercedes De Acosta (Odalys Nanin) reclined on her luxurious couch, comforted by the warm soft spots that caressed her aging backside while trying to forget the pain from her recent surgery. A fresh bandage was wrapped around her head.  And no doubt, this was not a style she particularly liked.  Not only that, the throbbing was so great she had trouble concentrating on the things that made her happy.   

Yet, despite her pain, there was still life in De Acosta. She closed her eyes and embraced the darkness for relief but coruscations always triggered a deep yearning to open her eyes, and see beyond the shadows.     

Tonight her mind was playing tricks on her, possibly drug induced, but she saw the things that “were”, at first a silhouette, and then the lovely form of a female dancer.   Embracing the image, appreciating it more than some could imagine, De Acosta’s eyes formed the voluptuous figure of Isadora Duncan (Jacqueline Rae), once a friend, and a lover, but now, in benevolent ecstasy, her imaginary plaything.   

Lifted by the cold fog memories, Duncan’s physical presence fluttered in an enclosed case, until that paradigm could not contain her any longer. And in step with an imaginary initiative, Isadora Duncan danced her way to De Acosta and stripped off her bandages, the emblematic implements of her impairment, and also her outer layer of clothing, leaving her wearing nothing, but a brand new tuxedo.   

And, precipitously, De Acosta’s mind became clear, her body was able to move about, and she felt as limber as if she were a child.  And so they danced until the thoughts came back, and her mind was clear once again.  

In her condition De Acosta’s memories are spoken to the muse if only to tell her stories of a reality that exist in De Acosta’s mind, the truth, the whens, and wherefores.  

And certainly the ideas of De Acosta telling her memories would lift almost any lifeless soul to dance, to once again feel the touch of another woman, the hands, the cheeks, and the hips precipitating a night of nocturnal quivering.

Macha Theatre/Films presents the re-imagined version of Garbo’s Cuban Lover and original play by Odalys Nanin, produced, directed and written by Odalys Nanin and co-directed by Laura Butler. The show had 4 performances only December 12th, 13th, 18th , and 19th, 2015.

I saw this show in 2011 (Please see the earlier review on my blog.) and came back to see it again with a whole new set of actors with one exception of Odalys Nanin who wonderfully reprises her role as De Acosta.   

Garbo’s Cuban Lover was just as marvelous as the first time I saw it.  There were little differences in the staging if there was any at all. One would have to question why only four performances this holiday season when there are so many things to enjoy about the show.  

Be that as it may one would like to address the performances, by the individual actors, and the direction of the show by Odalys Nanin and Laura Butler.  

Odalys Nanin was charming as De Acosta.  Nanin is funny and brings the best elements to the character. There is always more to add, to strengthen the conflict, and to apply elements of want to the craft.  Simply put, to win Garbo, to keep Garbo, and to then fight off the others who want to come between them.

Clementine Heath is a stunning actor with an amazing craft.  Her Garbo is inspiring, a complex character, and she brings enough of the backstory to make Garbo an exciting three-dimension personality. There is certainly more to add, especially with the bad luck component to her character and to accentuate that element only to add to the comedy.  

Jacqueline Rae has some very funny moments as Isabela and was also Isadora Duncan.  She definitely needs more to do as Isadora besides dancing and being a muse earpiece. Conflict drives a relationship on stage and Rae needs to find that conflict most particularly her relationship with De Acosta.  At this point Duncan is dead, she is a ghost, a figment of an imagination.  This should not preclude conflict; the audience (me) needs to understand why she is back, how she feels about De Acosta, and what needs to be done.  Without a clear objective an actor will flounder with no place to go.  Not picking on Rae but definitive choices need to be made to give this dancer form and acuity.  
Lianne Schirmer is Salka Viertel and brings a sinister element to the role.  Viertel is someone who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Viertel is a player, someone deeply connected into the inner workings of Hollywood.  She is a meet and greet conniver to get what she wants. It is hard to see anything likeable about the character, but there are the grand moments of her relationship with Garbo, their history, their first film together, and those moments by Schirmer hit the mark and are superb.

Margo Alison plays Marlene Dietrich a woman who wants De Acosta if only to steal her away from Garbo.  I didn’t hear much of a German accent but she made up for it with a strong objective, getting what she came for without hesitation. And, oh yes, she got it.

Gary Gunter plays Thalberg.  It is an interesting role, fast, furious, and loud.  But Gunter does not bring the element that makes him tick, the motives for his rants, the sly undertones of a man who makes it his business to be on top of everything, his hands in every aspect of production.   Still, I enjoyed Gunter’s performance but wanted a little bit more, something that would give the character an edge, something that would ring true to his motives and objective. There is an interesting scene with Thalberg shouting from the rafters at De Acosta while she is in the throws of lovemaking.  What if he were in the room doing the same thing, not caring about what they were doing, only wanting the script, now? Gunter also had the roles of the editor and Mr. Van Stein.

Chala Savino does some very nice work as Poppy Kirk and has a marvelous dance number. Also, the fight scene was marvelous.

Members of the crew are as follows:

John Toom -  Set and Light Designer
Eric Bridges – Stage Manager, Tech Operator
Chris Hume – Video and Images
Monica Orozco – Dan Choreographer
Jane Owen – Publicist

The show only had four performances this time around.  Run! Run!  And bring a friend that likes the trappings of Hollywood.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

57 Chevy by Cris Franco

Ric Salinas

By Joe Straw

I almost didn’t come to this show.

The description of ’57 Chevy” sounded too similar to Sal Lopez’s one-man show “This is a Man’s World.” The two shows take place during similar time frames and the setting of Sal’s show is down the street from the setting of “57 Chevy”.

But the performer is Ric Salinas, of Culture Clash.  Yes! Ric – Culture Clash – Salinas, sans es Latino compadres.

So, we’re in the lobby at LATC a few weeks earlier, my partner said, “Why aren’t we seeing this?  You’ve got the tickets, right?”

At this point, I’m catching the serious stare.

“Well, no, not really, we saw Sal’s and…


“I’ll try for next weekend.” – Narrator

As the play starts, Cris Franco, Jr. (Ric Salinas) is in a Hollywood office.  The furniture is break room drab, and the view is less than inspiring surrounded by objects that arouse little creativity. (No one is credited for the Set Design in the program.)

And this could be the reason that Cris is having so many problems writing the simplest of sentences for his current project.  The wadded up papers, thrown in or around the trashcan, are signs of the vertiginous thoughts and of a highly inactive imagination. 

So he just sits, stares, twists in his chair, and waits for a spark to drive his conceptual engine.

The spark, maybe that’s it, maybe there’s a story here.  A story that, at first, seems benign but a story that could grow into something substantial.  Rolling around the office on his chair, trying to get a firm grasp of his cerebral wheel, taking a breath and looking back at the imaginary stars, he rolls back in time, slowly recreating that which has not been created.  


Cris back peddles his chair around the room, in an effort to jump-start his thinking.  Suddenly a door slams shut, a quiet sound envelops the cab until the key slips into the ignition, a heavy turn, the sound of a rumbling engine, and a modicum roar of contemplation as the fins and wings of open thoughts transport him into the distant past.

This is a story of an obsequious son, an observant author, now a man, who narrates the significant moments, dreams, and visions of his father.

The story begins with the purchase of a brand new 57 Chevy – and sitting, in the back seat of a car is a boy, wide-eyed, taking it all in trundling through memory highway.    

The Latino Theater Company presents 57 Chevy, written by Cris Franco and directed by Valerie Dunlap, at the Los Angeles Theatre Center through December 20, 2015.   

Cris Franco, Sr. was only four years old in Mexico when he got his first job, painting faces on plastic toy soldiers. This was part of the family lore, a story that never goes away when the topic of hard workingmen are spoken. Yes, lore is all in the telling.

And adding color commentary to his story is a very important woman, Didi Barnes, who, on this day, visits their home in South Central Los Angeles.

“La Didi, muy importante.” – Cris, Sr.

Ahh!  Didi’s grabs her Lucky Strikes, gathers the kids around the floor, and recounts in her broken Spanglish the story of being caught in the Mexico desert with a busted car, “el caro, no go oh”.  Stuck there with no one to help until “your Papa” drove by and offered assistance. Didi is so grateful she gave Cris, Sr. the name of someone in the USA who needed help repairing automobiles.

“I take my job very, very seriously.” – Cris, Sr.

And so Cris, Sr. found his way to El Norte, and worked at Felix Chevrolet at Figueroa & Jefferson in Los Angeles, California.

Back home in Mexico, his wife had another baby, Cris, Jr.   But Cris, Sr. couldn’t go back, needing to stay in the United States because of work.

And in the following year, Cris saved $1,802 for a beautiful new 57 Chevy, chrome and wings included.  The car was the one thing that represented the idea of being an American, a brand spanking new American car, for a big American family.

But, in order for Cris to realize his dream of an American family, he had to get them from Mexico. The long arduous journey requires meticulous planning and staying awake. So he concocts a formula for staying conscious on the long trip, the “magic no-sleep recipe” of drinking coffee and eating chilies.  

Bringing everyone back into the United States proved to be slightly problematic. Particularly when a border patrol agent didn’t believe they were entering through the Bracero Program.  But the guard admired his 57 Chevy, and with the admiration dripping, like water out of a tailpipe, the agent lets them proceed. 

And away they went to their home in the culturally diverse South Central Los Angeles where it was Dad’s dream for his son to become a doctor.  Unfortunately, things did not turn out as Dad had anticipated.  

And when Dad decided to move the family out of South Central to the San Fernando Valley, he loaded up the 57 Chevy, and made things a little more interesting for everyone.

One-man shows are difficult to perform successfully.  Ric Salinas inhabits a myriad of characters while playing one character, Cris Franco, Jr. There are no actors to play off of, and there is no one to relate to with the exception of the audience.

But, Salinas is a master chameleon and is able to give creative life to all of the very different characters – the father, Didi Barnes, the daughter, Father John O’ Sullivan, and the mother—Raquel. The sisters, Luisa, Marta, Maria and Raquel, are all there in various forms. At times, the roles come out in small vignettes, rather than a collection as a whole.  This is from the remembrances and imagination of the main character, the son, Cris, Jr. And for the most part, we see the characters through the eyes of the son. Salinas could go even farther explaining what happened, before his eyes, with each individual character.

Valerie Dunlap, the director, has Salinas moving the set pieces, not out of imagination and not through the eyes of the character, but through practicality.  The imagination and life of the character should be enough to move the set pieces.  And we have to find a way to see the events played out before Cris, Jr.’s eyes, that these events could be better defined in the way he deals with his father, the car, the Mother at the door on Halloween, and the “bumper stickie” event with the oldest daughter.    

Cris Franco, the writer, is a funny playwright.  He was present at the performance that I attended. And I immediately knew it was him because he ran from person to person, hugging and kissing everyone.  The real giveaway was the 57 Chevy model he was holding in his hands.

If I had a criticism of the play, it’s that we lose sight of the 57 Chevy from time to time.  The story is best suited when the life is about, or around the automobile, in every manner, and in every moment on stage.  (Is it possible to have a model car in the office?)  Also, if there is something that should be added, in feel and characterization, is the boy’s want of the car. Want helps the character with his objective and helps in creating a dramatic conflict in the play. (Also, somewhere in this play Cris Franco, Jr. should describe the car in loving detail giving color to his memory. This play needs the bright vibrant colors of Mexico.)  Yes, the father loves the car, takes great care of it, it is in pristine condition, and the son should have those same feelings, so that when the ends comes, we feel more for each character, the father, the son, the mother, and the sisters.

Lastly, one couldn’t ask for a better tribute than to have a play written honoring a man with a dream, a vision, and a strong work ethic.   This is the story of an American Dream seen through the eyes of an admiring son.  Certainly, and on this night in particular, one could not have asked for a better honor to Cris Franco, Sr., than having his entire family—wife, son, and daughters—on stage, and on this night paying homage to a man who lived the American dream.  

Run! Run! And take your father or a mentor.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Yee Eun Nam – Projection Design
Philip W. Powers – Lighting Design
Ivan Robles – Sound Design
Pablo Prietto – Additional Sound FX
Jonathan Castanien – Stage Manager  

Somewhere, and in a my imagination, there is a prodigious pristine chrome stature of a working Dad hunched over an automobile, a wrench in one hand, and a book of dreams in the other. 

Reservations:  866-811-4111