Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Consul, The Tramp and America’s Sweetheart by John Morogiello

By Joe Straw

Despite all conflicts, films manage to get made – providing the principals want it made – but the making of each film, a collaborative endeavor, is usually a life and death struggle with death being the operative word. – Narrator

John Morogiello has written a wonderful play that explores a myriad of social, political, and economical issues and does so in dramatic style. His dialogue is taut, specific, and leading in a way in which a play must progress.   Without giving anything away of this 90-minute drama, a character caves into the demands of an economic and political nature, and then takes it one horrifying step further.

Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents the West Coast Premiere of The Consul, The Tramp and America’s Sweetheart by John Morogiello and directed by Jules Aaron is brilliantly executed, and elegantly produced by David Hunt Stafford and unfortunately it has closed.

As a theatregoer, one can see the similarities between the characters in this play and the political theatre presently being enacted in Washington DC.  

In short, the play explores the realities of allowing politics to censor a work of art, and in this case, allowing a Nazi to goosestep his way into a 1939 United Artist lot.    

In real life, Georg Gyssling (Shawn Savage) was a former athlete (member of the bobsledding team in the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics), a member of the Nazi party and part of Hitler’s Hollywood consul, and a man who persuaded Hollywood not to make pictures that criticized Hitler and Nazi Germany. Whether he had any influence is questionable (probably not as much as the Motion Picture Production Code) but on this day and in this play, he was tenacious in his objective.

The color brown prevails in the set (Jeff G. Rack, Set Designer) and the costumes (Michéle Young, Costume Designer) are a gloomy reminder of the Brown Shirts that played a role in Hitler’s rise to power. Whether this was intentional or not remains to be seen.

The Consul, The Tramp and American’s Sweetheart is told from the perspective of an older woman, a personal secretary who, tragically, who looks back on her adventure with fondness. And yet it is Miss Hollombe’s (Laura Lee Walsh) story from which this story emanates.  Hollombe paints the picture in the fashion she desires.

Today Gyssling, in a nice brown suite, is a nuisance.  He is an Anglo European, a German behemoth with slicked back hair who has the appearance of an athlete out of a Leni Riefenstahl film, Olympia to be precise. Currently in Miss Hollombe’s office, he is a sty in the eye of the personal secretary, with his intrinsically cruel German accent, in a  provocative manner of asking questions without any sense of delicacy.    

Gyssling insists on seeing Mary Pickford (Melanie Chartoff) and he will not leave until Pickford leaves her office.  

“I’m not letting you in.” – Hollombe

“So I understand. Are you letting her out?” – Gyssling

Gyssling, breathing down Hollombe’s neck, has a slight change of tactic. He asks her the origin of her name, whether she is Christian, is a question that inflames his party’s rhetoric – a line of religious hatred. The act is both disruptive and unsettling.  Hollombe moves to complete her office duty tasks without answering the question.

But, all in all, Miss Hollombe is not having any luck getting rid of Gyssling, if that is her objective.   In fact, he is making her nervous as she tries to type and, at the rate she is going, her words per minute is a minus one.  (How did she get this job?)

Frustrated beyond comprehension, Hollombe dials Pickford who, up until this time, has not moved a muscle, quiet as a mouse, as she listened through the walls.  Pickford picks up the phone and says she is busy.

“Do your job.  He can’t stay here forever.  Even Nazis get hungry sometime.” – Pickford

“He’s daring me to call security.” – Hollombe

“Be right out.” – Pickford

Pickford, peeks out of her office door, and wastes little time in trying to dismiss Gyssling by saying that it’s Friday before Labor Day weekend. But, Gyssling stops her with a threat.

“You realize this decision could affect the distribution of all films produced by United Artists in Europe’s second largest market for American cinema.” - Gyssling

Pickford acquiesces.  Still, her altruistic impulses kick into high gear as she invites Gyssling into her office.  She tells Hollombe to interrupt her as much as possible as she slips the door closed.  

Gyssling is effusive, telling Pickford that he has admired her films but Pickford is a businesswoman and wants him to get right to the point.

“You’re threatening to withhold my studio’s films from the German market unless I do what you want. – Pickford

“Not a threat, dear me, no.  You shouldn’t feel threatened.  I merely ask that Americans be aware of what the German people find acceptable and unacceptable in a motion picture.” – Gyssling

Pickford knows that Gyssling is up to something, and has something on the studio.  And she is right, as Gyssling wants to know more about the next Charlie Chaplin (Brian Stanton) movie. Gyssling says Chaplin is doing a film about Hitler.  It’s in the trades.  Alarmed Pickford asks Miss Hollenby to ask Chaplin to come to her office.

Gyssling leaves and Chaplin charms everyone by just stepping into the room. Pickford works her magic to get the answers from Chaplin and his answer are not entirely forthcoming.

But, once Pickford finds out about Chaplin’s next film (The Great Dictator), she must make a decision about whether to green light the movie. She does so by calling D.W. Griffin (He says, “No.”) and then calling Douglas Fairbanks the other owners of the studio.  She also says she has a fiduciary duty to the shareholders.

Jules Aaron, the director, does a fantastic job with this play including throwing Keystone antics of Chaplin as part of the makeup of the play when Gyssling and Chaplin fight. It is brilliantly staged and wonderfully unexpected.  That also holds true for the quiet moments caught on stage that was also exceptional.  The action, moving in and out of Miss Hollenbe speaking to the fourth wall with the lighting and the characters freezing, worked brilliantly (Lighting Design by Ric Zimmerman.) Without getting into details “the decision” worked less effectively.  Chaplin has worked years in pre-production to have this decision come down on him and the audience must really see the emotions coming from him. The same holds true for Hollombe who has worked her entire young life to get to this position. Also, Chaplin and Pickford have owned the studio for 20 years leading up to this moment.  What must this say about someone’s true colors once the decision has been made? And, how does this change their relationship forever?

Melanie Chartoff is superb as Mary Pickford, Canadian born and America’s Sweetheart.   Chartoff brings the right amount humor to the character, which longs to be in front of the camera again, but is resigned to running a studio. Chartoff brings enough of the backstory to be totally immersed in the daily life of a movie mogul.  Chartoff is smooth and unpredictable down to the last capricious moment.

Shawn Savage is also outstanding as George Gyssling, a man of unyielding rigidity with the weight of a political power behind him.  A man who believes he can come in and proscribe a dictum - that will have a movie studio bow to his political demands. Savage, complete with German accent, is excellent in the role and the fight scene was excellent.

Charlie Chaplin, wonderfully played by Brian Stanton, is at the top of his game and Stanton plays him as such.  Stanton brings an excellent physical life to the character that practically dances on and off the stage.  The scene with the globe worked to perfection on this night and Stanton shows us a life of a man who must have been a complete physical specimen.  Chaplin is the one character of this show that stands by his values no matter the cost going so far as to not answer the question of his religious makeup. Still, at times Stanton requires a deeper emotional life in Chaplin, one that will show us his humble beginnings when things get really tough in the trenches.  

The one character I found problematic was that of Hollombe, a character resembling Mary Wickes, with a loud, lanky, and wisecracking persona. This is Hollombe’s story, however articulate she wants to make it.  Hollombe is on her second day at the office with no visible reason for being there.  She doesn’t know how to type.  She’s hired by the most successful woman ever to run a studio, and can’t find anything to do, except to eat popcorn and listen to the conversation through the office walls. To round out the character, the relationship to Pickford must be unusual, pragmatic, and unique. This character should have more on the ball, should be extremely intelligent, and should be able to multitask any time at any given moment and in any given circumstance. Hollombe’s focus is disoriented with problems involving her boyfriend who has found a job in New York. Laura Lee Walsh’s unconquerable obstinate choices require strength and, at times, she must lift her way from the wallflower status while the other three are on stage. Being young and inexperienced should not hinder this character.  Hollombe had neither the beauty nor the talent to justify the position and the relationship with her employer necessitates further exploration by the actor.  That said Walsh did some very nice things but needs to add to her performance.

Other members of the remarkable crew are as follows:

Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski – Sound Designer
Judi Lewin – Makeup/Hair/Wig Design
Don Solosan – Stage Manager
Michele Bernath – Choreographer/Asst. Director
Richard Carner – Assistant Stage Manager 
Phillip Sokoloff - Publicity

If you have a chance to see this play in another carnation, Run! Run! Run! And take someone who has a gritty side to their political leanings.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Christmas Carol in Prose Being A Ghost Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens

By Joe Straw

L - R Troy Dunn, Arlo Petty, and Julianna Robinson
A homeless black woman with untethered eyes occasionally walks down the center of my street, carrying her life in a backpack, treading carefully, one small struggling step at a time moving toward an unknown physical destination.

But on this evening, with the weight of the day on me, moments beyond sunset, I looked up at the moon, and, then glanced down the street; there, I noticed a shadow sitting on the sidewalk, a dark disconsolate asomatous figure that appeared to levitate above the cold and insincere concrete. 

This sexless figure was blackened, backlit by the streetlight, motionless in the middle of the sidewalk, legs crossed, yoga style, an indistinguishable faceless shadow, hardly moving, and as I think about the play, I attribute the image to an “undigested bit of beef” or an “underdone potato”.

Curiosity got the better of me, though, but not so much that I called out or investigated, having come across ghostly figures in the past.  Try as hard as I might, I could not tell if the silhouette was a man or the homeless woman. 

I moved to the comfort of my home steps and when I opened the front door, inquisitiveness beckoned. I turned to look again and the shadow was gone. – Narrator

The way Eric Bloom announced the title made sense; it just rolled off the tip of his tongue but it confused me – A Christmas Carol in Prose Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. This is a slightly elongated title of “A Christmas Carol”.  One might suggest the play (in prose form) is actually an adaptation of the book.

Santa Monica Repertory Theater presents A Christmas Carol in Prose Being a Ghost Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens directed by Jen Bloom through December 18, 2016.

Miles Memorial Playhouse is an excellent venue for holding the mansuetude of A Christmas Carol, a book that caresses and warms even the harshest of souls.

In reviewing, I told myself that I would not be harsh, that I would wrap myself with my woolen scarf, place it over my mouth if need be, and not utter grumblings of a disagreeable nature.  Grumpy was not on my list of adjectives this night.

And, there are times when it is better to footle, if only to let my imagination run spiritedly!  And with that,  I will give you what I heard and what I imagined I saw.  

“There is no doubt that Marley was dead.  This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” – Dickens

Poor Ebenezer Scrooge (Troy Dunn) – a fragmented man who has lost touch with all of humanity, on this Christmas Eve.  Not lost in one fell swoop, mind you, but lost over the course of time, the elements, and the circumstances of his life, lonely as it were.

Scrooge sits at his desk counting money and adding figures for his firm – Scrooge and Marley – Marley being the absentee owner – having died seven years ago - Christmas Eve - on this very night.

Scrooge, concerned with every coin, pays scant attention to his nephew, Fred (Eric Bloom), who interrupts Scrooge in his cold and unpleasant office.  Fred, in great spirits, implores his Uncle Scrooge to attend his Christmas party and meet the woman he is madly in love with, his wife Belle (Yael Berkovich), but Scrooge will have none of it.

“…keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.” – Scrooge

“Keep it! But you don’t keep it.” - Fred

“Let me leave it alone, then.” – Scrooge

Scrooge dismisses Fred with hardly a second thought to return to his solitude.

Moments later, two attractive women enter to solicit funds for the desperately poor and the overtly soiled.  One (Tanya White) is experienced while the other (Julianna Robinson) has very little training and is pushed into much-needed practice of asking for “slight provision for the poor and destitute”. .  

“Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses?  Are they still in operation?” – Scrooge

Not in the position to argue, the ladies make a hasty retreat.  Prison and workhouses rings a bell to delicate ears and those words will haunt Scrooge in the coming night.   

Watching and working at the warmth of the photocopying machine stands Bob Cratchit (Mike Nedzwecki) who moves himself to gather a modicum of warmth and to garner enough courage to ask Scrooge for Christmas day off.  Something he’s repeated for oh-so-many years! All because Cratchit wants to be with Mrs. Cratchit (Julianna Robinson), Tiny Tim (Arlo Petty), and all the assorted Cratchits – if it’s convenient.

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December! But I suppose you must have the whole day.  Be here all the earlier next morning.” - Scrooge

In a facetious mood, Scrooge leaves the office but suddenly feels the weight of time and loneliness, his shoulder are hunched, and he walks a stiffened gait through the piercing cold and deserted impious English streets. He is alone, and no one comes near just to greet him.  It’s as if he had the plague.

Arriving home and turning the key, Scrooge perceives Jacob Marley (Bart Petty), a disfigured face shadow, as the knocker in the door. Scrooge thinks nothing of the image - this once being home to Marley – but now it is his refuge – a miserable hovel – a place with little fixtures, a table which doubles as a bed, a chair, dirty bed curtains – sparse furnishing for a man who has everything, and nothing.

Certainly, seeing Marley was something to think about after seven years. One imagines the hairs on the back of his neck standing straight up and chills running egregiously down his trembling spine.

Rather than having unexpected guests, (better to be safe than sorry) Scrooge locks the doors not once, not twice, but three times.  Still, Scrooge thought of Marley, shivering as the night got colder.  The gruel he made from his minimal fire, got thick and cold. Indeed, there was more to come and everyone understood it, including Scrooge.

The darkness from the marginal candles was a cheaper alternative to light, and in that darkness, Scrooge waits for the light of disturbing images that must come. And given the nocturnal quivering on this night this might just be the time to shiver under the comfort of his stale bed coverings.   

Jen Bloom, the director, employs a variety of prodigious theatricals illusions including shadow theatre to make a point of this production and manages to throw all sorts of theatrical devices to keep the play moving at a 90-minute clip. Fezziwig’s party worked to great satisfaction.  But the production needed a stronger core with stronger relationships to tie the characters together. (There I go again.)

The shadows show us things, as they were, part of the idea of the past, a hand gesture, a sword, a finger pointing, numbers, and a lonely candle. But making it all work is something else that I will speak to later.

Thinking outside the box, one might want to come inside the box, out of the cold, and cozy up next to the fire of space and relationships. One idea, with the sword shadows, a young Ebenezer Scrooge reads a book of Ali Baba.  Separated by space, the shadows should dance from young Charles Dicken’s head, and having him near the shadows would presume the images are dancing thoughts.  

I can’t do this, a critique; it is not in my nature to deride A Christmas Carol based on the choices.

There are wonderful performances.  All of the actors have moments that shine in one character or another.  An interesting device employed in this production is the use of various characters acting as the narrator usually reserved for Charles Dickens (Ewan Chung), instead handed off to members of the ensemble. This may have worked better with additional lighting, giving the speakers a light, and the actors in a performing spotlight – e.g., a spotlight highlighting the action.

I can neither praise nor critique the tremulous light vibration that is the frangible workings of Ebenezer Scrooge (Troy Dunn), complete with his human miseries. But, then again, I can’t help myself.   

Troy Dunn employs a powerful voice as well as powerful muttonchops making his character something out of the 1830’s, while almost everyone inhabited the images of various time periods including Tiny Tim (Arlo Petty) who had a backpack with a breathing instrument protruding from it.  Gone was the lame Tiny Tim that I so enjoy.  

Also, Dunn wasn’t connecting to the other actors (on this night), which means there is a lot to overcome. (The show seemed to be moving at breakneck speed, without some actors, finding the moment to relate and establish a strong relationship). Gone were Scrooge’s monetary wicked doctrine, his behavior from being isolated, and his moral nihilism. He didn’t change much and that’s not what we want from our Scrooge. (I can’t believe I did it again!) 

The ghosts did not provide the ghastly intimacy moving Ebenezer in the right direction.   Jacob Marley’s grim exultation did not send Ebenezer fearing the next three days. There is a reason Jacob Marley’s head is wrapped. Because the kerchief is holding his jaw in place, and without it Marley’s jaw would fall to his breast and all of his teeth would fall out. The ghosts did not haunt effectively nor did they convince Ebenezer to change his ways. And you can’t have A Christmas Carol with the catharsis.

Also, the narrator’s perspective was in a constant state of flux and that was thoroughly enjoyable if not entirely effective.  

Still there are choice words for the things that did go right.  And those choice words belong to the actors.

Yael Berkovich is Belle and other ensemble characters.  She is a wonderful actor and brings much to the overall feel of the show.

Eric Bloom is Fred and is very natural on stage.  One would have preferred a Fred who was a little more cheerful trying to convince his uncle to visit him and to never give up on that objective.

Ewan Chung plays Charles Dickens and Master Peter Cratchit and was also in a fine period piece costume.

One also enjoys the play-making of Sara Mayer as Fan.  She has a grand presence on stage and is extremely enjoyable in the quiet moments on stage.

Mike Nedzwecki plays Bob Cratchit, and he is an actor who gets it, plays the moment, and is true to his objective.  He is especially true to the task when he says “Christmas Day” with the assorted Cratchits all around him. Nedzwecki, waits for that moment, and wow, this is a solid moment in this play.  Nedzwecki is a wonderful actor.

Arlo Petty does a nice turn as Tiny Tim and a member of the ensemble.

Bart Petty is also a member of the ensemble and Marley, the first ghost, who needs to scare the wits out of Scrooge.  This is a role in which an actor can find innumerable choices and there is more to add with this performance.

Juliana Robinson has a lot going on as Mrs. Cratchit and the other various roles in the ensemble.  Each role is different and Robinson adds a slight quirkiness to each character. Robinson is wonderful to watch on stage.

L - R Tanya White, Barbara Urich and Julianna Robinson

Barbara Urich is the Ghost of Christmas Present and does a fine job.  Her eyes, that radiance, projects well beyond the seats, and her quiet moments are particularly enjoyable.  Notwithstanding, a wonderful job. 

Tanya White was particularly enjoyable as the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Pleasant is a word for this ghost until she drives the point home. White has a wonderful smile and has a very natural presence on stage.

Ben Landmesser and Sara Patterson are understudies and did not appear the night I was there.

Run! Run!  And take a Tiny Tim fan! You’ll have much to talk about on your way home.

Other members of this delight crew are as follows:

Ben Landmesser – Assistant Director
Adrienne Johnson-Lister – Production Stage Manager
Leslie K. Gray – Scenic and Shadows Design
Brandon Baruch – Lighting Design
Maddie Keller – Costume Design
David McKeever – Sound Design
John Mulhern – Associate Producer/Technical Director
David & Choy Publicity, Niki Blumberg – Publicity
Damla Coskun – Assistant Stage Manager
Eric Bloom, Bart Petty, Adrienne Johnson-Lister, Sarah Gurfield, - Co Producers
Sean Kohnen – Production Photos
Yael Berkovich – Program Layout Design
Linda Larson – House Manager

Contact Information
ticket or show information: boxoffice@santamonicarep.org
general inquiries: info@santamonicarep.org

To purchase tickets by phone: (844) Hum-Bugg (486-2844)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang

L - R Nate Golon, Christine Dunford, Brian Drillinger, Michelle Danner, Remy Nozik, Tamika Katon-Donegal - Photos by Teferi Seifu

By Joe Straw

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang was my first Broadway show.  I had orchestra seats and was three rows back from the stage (see review on this blog).  It was a wonderful New York scene, a wonderful evening, and a wonderful play.  Months later, another version played in downtown Los Angeles directed by David Hyde Pierce.  I did not see it, so when the chance came to see it at a smaller theatre, The Edgemar Center for the Arts, I jumped at the chance. - Narrator

I usually don’t speak of the second act but Michelle Danner’s performance (Sonia) was breathtaking, so much so that I will remember the moment, forever, with indifference to the passing of time.  She stood silently, listening, accepting what was to come, alone in a room, the phone moving from one position of her body to the next. She spoke, now quiet, heeding, and projected a moment in theatre that plays upon an emotion so deep that it hurt, and brought joy, and carried forth unimaginable happiness, all in one unforgettable warm memory.  It is that dramatic moment when one wants to rise, vigorously applause, and say, “That’s what I’m talking about!” But for now, it’s about an absorbed moment, and one that I will remember the rest of my life, for the rest of my life!

Edgemar Center for the Arts presents Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, The Tony Award winning play written by Christopher Durang, directed by Barbara Tarbuck, and produced by Alexandra Guarrnieri is playing through December 11, 2016. (but dark on Thanksgiving weekend)

The play opens on Edvard Grieg’s – Peer Gynt – Suite No.1, Op. 46.1, and music for the morning, in a sitting area of a farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Vanya (Brian Drillinger), in his pajamas, finds his chair, sits gingerly with a perfect hot cup of coffee, and waits for the blue heron to come to the pond nearby.

Sonia (Michelle Danner) saunters from the kitchen with a coffee cup and a diet soda.

“I brought you coffee, dearest Vanya.” – Sonia

“I have some.” – Vanya

Sonia sees the cup in his hand, glares, and appears perturbed, which might be an understatement, given the proclivity of her mental state.

Vanya and Sonia have been living together for quite some time.  They are in their 50’s and are accustomed to each other’s wants and needs. Despite their somber and un-miraculous morning, trouble brews, slightly, beneath the surface of the steaming cup.

“Oh.  But I bring you coffee every morning.” – Sonia

“Well, yes, but you weren’t available.” – Vanya

Chekhovian is a term used for a Chekhov character in a mood of introspection and frustration and that is clearly evident here in this house in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, especially in this household, and in particular where coffee is concerned.  There is a dramatic weight to their inner feelings, unconsciously, each knowing where the other might be heading.

Sonia insists that Vanya take the coffee she has made especially for him.  But, before things get out of control, the docile Vanya accepts the coffee and life continues. For the moment, there is tranquility.

“Has the blue heron been at the pond yet this morning?” – Sonia

It takes just one sip of the coffee for Vanya to realize the cup he gave up tasted better, which he voices.  Well, that should not have been said – it makes Sonia feel bad, useless, and slightly pathetic all in one Chekhovian fell swoop.  

“I mean I have two pleasant moments every day in my f**king life, and one of them is bringing you coffee.” – Sonia  

Sonia then takes the non-preferred cup of coffee and smashes it somewhere near the kitchen (on this night, it doesn’t break and Sonia gives it another go) smashing it into unseen tiny pieces; she returns moments later to share the reason for breaking the cup, is that she hates her life and she hates him.

For now, Sonia has nothing, no one, so, and as a last resort she directs her attention to Vanya. She pines for Vanya. No luck again as Vanya marches to a different drummer. Besides, Sonia is related. She is the adopted sister, and has been with the family since the age of eight.   

As the moments tick away, Vanya’s coffee becomes cold again.  Politely, Sonia offers to heat it in the microwave, and with a delicate passion, and nimble feet she takes it. 

Vanya waits for the curiously inevitable as Sonia smashes that cup against the floor.

Neither one will volunteer to clean it up. They leave it for the maid, Cassandra (Tamika Katon-Donegal), who will join them later, bringing with her visions of doom and broken coffee cups.

“Beware of Hootie Pie.” – Cassandra

Cassandra tells Vanya and Sonia that her psychic powers connect Hootie Pie to them!  They will lose the house, become homeless, and they will eventually walk themselves to the poor house.

“Surely someone will give us a ride.” – Sonia

“No, you will walk.” - Cassandra

Moments later. Sonia says that Masha is coming to visit and no sooner does she say it, than Masha (Christine Dunford) and her oversexed 27-year-old boyfriend, Spike (Nate Golon), aka Vlad, arrive for a visit.

“Sweetest Vanya, dearest Sonia.  How I’ve missed you.  You both look the same. Older. Sadder. But the same.  It’s wonderful to see you, Vanya. Oh, and you too, Sonia.” – Masha

Spike ingratiates himself to the family, smothers Masha with kisses, throws off his clothes, and runs to the pond for a swim. There, he meets Nina (Remy Nozik), a lovely would-be actress, whom he invites back to the house to meet a real-life movie star.  

Barabara Tarbuck, the director, has put together a pretty amazing cast.  Each actor has moments to shine, but really, shine is an understatement, as each actor contributes mightily to a terrific night of entertainment.  Lost Chekhovian characters in search an unattainable goal.

For the record though, the first few moments of the opening scene were off in the way that Sonia and Vanya connect and establish a relationship.  And it is a relationship that fits with being a Chekhovian family; Sonya is discontent, upset, and regretful while Vanya is resigned to his lonely way of life.  It is here, in these first few moments, that one needs to see the actors connect, the relationships established, and the fury in their offbeat sense of self-pity pay off dramatically.  There is no need to rush this scene, establishing a relationship will give us a deeper connection between the characters and a stronger sense of self and place.  

Also, Vanya needs to be in a nightshirt which projects femininity, or someone who spends his time in bed with little or nothing to do, whereas pajamas give a masculine impression or of someone who has been ill for quite some time.  (Also, Durang writes that Vanya should be in a nightshirt.)

Brian Drillinger is Vanya, and is very exited about the birth of his new play. In fact, that is the only thing that excites him, well almost.  But most of the time, Vanya is a desultory character, both wry in wit and confused in purpose.  He has not had the enthusiasm to get what he wants from life.  He is content with doing little or nothing and living with his sister as long as it doesn’t cost him anything. Seeing the blue heron is the highlight of his day.  Warding off his sister and her advances is either an annoyance to him or an assault charge in some states. But what does he want aside from living in his nightshirt? He is a budding playwright and maybe he wants his words to save the world, if he only knew how to get started. Drillinger has his moments but needs something extra to complete the character – an additional mannerism or another vocal inflection – all in keeping with his objective. The monologue at the end has a purpose, trying to get your message across, and connecting to make everyone’s life better. Drillinger has a lot of fun and is a pleasure to watch.

Michelle Danner is remarkable as Sonia, a character that stepped out of a Chekov play. Sonia’s backstory is clear – she has sacrificed her life to take care of her adoptive parents.  Now, she has nothing to show for it, not even the house.  She needs her one true love before all is said and done. Without realizing it, she moves in that direction. But she is saddled with the mental problems of being bi-polar and having a self-diagnosed incipient dementia. She spends her days making references to Chekov about there being no life.   Still, there is something very lovable about this woman whose father once called her his little artichoke.

Christine Dunford

Christine Dunford is brilliant as the aging movie star, Masha, who sends zingers to her siblings and anyone within earshot.  She is highly aware of her own self-importance despite the slasher movie roles that have now becoming infrequent.  Forced film retirement due to age, Masha dreams of turning her attention to performing on the stage.   Masha brings bad news of selling the house and throwing her siblings into the street.  She fails to think about her siblings and what their lives would be like without the home. Five marriages later, she is onto her boy toy and not really finding happiness.  Finding the one thing that makes her completely happy is the reason she makes the decision at the end.  Dunford is a brilliant actor who creates an astonishing physical and comedic life on stage.  

Nate Golon

Nate Golon is superior as Spike, a man in his physical prime, if not an emotional one.  He is happy to be the boy-toy not only with his girlfriend but also with anyone that may cross his physical unclothed path, which included everyone in or around this household, male or female, gay or straight, as long as they notice, him. Spike is an actor who has not gotten past the audition stage but hopes that one day, one day, he will reach his mercurial destiny. This is a wonderful role for Golon and he fills the bill marvelously.  

Remy Nozik has an incredible presence on stage as Nina. She glides effortlessly from one moment to the next and is extraordinary in the way she handles adult conflict in her character’s youthful inexperienced life. Nozik has a very enchanting look suitable for film.

Tamika Katon-Donegal is very pleasant as Cassandra, a woman who has voodoo at her fingertips and the ability to tell the future while missing only some of the details, if anyone would listen. But Cassandra has a pretty good batting average with her predictions. Katon-Donegal has a very nice look on stage and manages to strike into the heart of the character.  One believes Katon-Donegal can take Cassandra to another extreme in character and costume and still gets what she wants which I believe is her job.

Christopher Durang, the writer, hit all the marks here and brings forth all of his knowledge of actors, writers, stars, and Chekhov in a wonderful night of entertainment.  The Sonia monologue plays to perfection; while I have seen Vanya’s scene at the end, I have yet to figure out what it is about, or what it accomplishes.  Can a character go completely Chekhovian and get what he wants?

Alessandra Manias the Production Designer has created a wonderful set, a pre-revolutionary style home with semi-modern accouterments, for which the actors can create their magic.  There is a bench upstage center that is very peculiar and not used.  One supposes it is an outside courtyard.

Other members of the crew who contributed mightily are as follows:

Carly Llewelyn-Ryan – Production Stage Manager
Anna Zak – Directors Assistant
Gianluca Zago – Production Design Assistant
Larae Mychel – Costume Designer
Kyle McAnally – Lighting Designer
DJ Medina – Sound Designer
Rob Riley – Associate Producer and Graphic Designer
Josephine Hies – Associate Producer

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who loves Stanislavsky and his ideas that Chekhov wrote delightful comedies.



RESERVATIONS: 310-392-7327

ONLINE TICKETING: www.edgemar.org

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mariela in the Desert by Karen Zacarias


By Joe Straw

Mariela in the Desert by Karen Zacarias is a beautifully written play that plays upon desperate emotions - giving life to art.  Reminding us of love, life, and death, the words are a reflection of life - like staring into a mirroring pool of faultless water and honestly seeing the words that best describe you.     

The written words of Zacarias paint both a comedic and melancholy portrait of a family living on a ranch in a Mexican desert. Their lives are similar in the way Anton Chekov’s characters in Three Sisters want to leave for Moscow.  Happily listening to the words, understanding the emotions, and feeling the want, Zacarias may be the Latina Chekov of our times.

One comes to realize after so many years that artists are not truthful.  The artist’s life is one that has to be an exaggerated actuality, moving the truth meter to the extreme, farther to the right or to the left, but never in the middle because that is left for the heart, the core of truth.

Casa 0101 and Angel City Theater Ensemble presents Mariela in the Desert, written by Karen Zacarias, directed by Robert Beltran, and produced by Emmanuel Deleage through December 11, 2016.

The year is 1951 in a rustic ranch in the Northern desert of Mexico.  There is little to show at this ranch, with no running water, and little in the way of electricity.  Art is scattered in the home in the way they move the heart, paintings on the walls, and a special easel on display.

A lone bed (stage right) melts into the rustic floor, with bed sheets that may have been white in a previous carnation but are now discolored brown.   Jose lies on that bed, drips of perspiration fall into the lines of his face as he waits for the dramatic and the inevitable.  It can’t come any sooner for him.  He is old with many ailments, and he suffers while waiting for his wife Mariela (Rachel Gonzalez) to return from her errand.  He waits for his glorious bath.  

Mariela returns and methodically takes the sponge, dips it into the cold water, and squeezes the excess water into the pan beside the bed.  She rubs the cold sponge against his aging callus desert skin.  

“Damn that’s cold.” – Jose

“The doctor said that cold water…” Mariela

“Damn the doctors.” – Jose

Mariela does well maintaining her composure as she continues to bath Jose, to take care of him, to nurture whatever life is left in him. In her small verbal mentions – she gives him life and then takes it away with another expression of doubt – but never really gives him the truth.  

Mariela tells Jose that she sent the telegram to their daughter.  Thinking – before it is too late.  She has been gone all day on ragged roads, trying to avoid the extreme heat, and making sense of it all before the expected grim reaper arrives with his scythe.  

But Jose now lives his life in a furious mode, furious that his younger wife has left him alone all day.  Who knows what she was up to.  Mariela tells him that his sister Olivia (Denise Blasor) was there to help.

“My sister doesn’t count.  You were gone so long the sun must be setting.  What color is the sky? – Jose

Impassively Mariela says, “A thin line of crimson—a smear of dirty rose.  A winter sky.”

That settles Jose’s mind as he reflects on the desert that he calls “God’s canvas.”  But Mariela has had it with the desert, the heat, the way of life, and the isolation she feels living so far away from humanity. In truth - she dreams of Mexico City.

The truth comes slowly to Jose maybe because Mariela is hesitant to tell him. Mariela says she went to town to send a wire to their daughter, Blanca (Vannessa Vasquez). The time for letting go of a small secret nears and gradually she shares.

“I told her you were dead.” – Mariela

“What?” – Jose

“I told Blanca you were dead.” – Mariela

“Mariela!” Jose

“Yes. Dead.” – Mariela

“A little premature, don’t you think?” – Jose

Jose has fun with his unpredictable wife, Mariela.  His pains are forgotten for a brief moment as he takes delight in her unpredictability.

And despite finding humor in everyday life, Mariela knows that Jose is going to die.  Things are starting to go south and the insulin she injects into his backside seem to be more of annoyance than preventative measure to keep him alive, especially when he eats what he should not be eating. She also knows that Blanca would not have come unless the word was bad, very bad.

That’s not a bad way to get Blanca home in a hurry.

Mariela and Jose had sent their daughter away after the death of their son, Carlos (Kenneth Lopez). Mariela fights with Jose about that; seemingly all of the time, but that is old news. Now they look forward to Blanca coming home and the family reuniting again if not physically, then spiritually. They wait.

“So how do I look?” – Jose

“Pale and flushed.” – Mariela

“That bad? – Jose

“There are thick grooves of gray in your cheeks.   And your eyes are so dark and bright.  To capture you on canvas right now…” – Mariela

Spoken like the true artist that she is, or was, or still wants to be, Mariela retreats to the bathroom to clean the latrine.

“I dreamt of my large house – of an elegant husband – of children of my own.  Now, I live in a dark dress at the edge of the world in a parched house that my brother owns. Forever unmarried. Forever childless.  My hands are empty.  May heart is idle. I have nothing of my own.” – Oliva

Oliva (Denise Blasor) is Jose’s sister.  She is spry but nearing the end of her life and moving slightly toward senility. Oliva has issues with her sister-in-law Mariela. It is not a close relationship. But Mariela has assured Olivia that after Jose dies she will still have a home.

They both know Jose is dying and they want to make him as comfortable as possible, even serving him a little sliver of flan, despite his diabetes.

Oliva brings up the subject of Carlos’s eighteenth birthday had he lived.  Oliva wants to celebrate but Mariela doesn’t want to upset Jose.  Oliva whispers to Mariela that the people in the town tell stories about the fire and they see a little boy running in the desert.

Mariela laments about her son Carlos. And then her mind races back to an earlier time, a time when Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Tina Modotti, and Rufino Tamao visited them in Mexico.  It is at this party Jose has thoughts of moving to the desert, building a commune, and inviting all of their artist friends to visit and work.   

“The desert is God’s Canvas,” – Jose

In the backdrop, Mariela hears her baby Carlos crying while Jose rants about ugly Diego, his ugly paintings, and the coarseness of his brush strokes. Jose fights with Mariela convincing her to pose nude for Diego Rivera.  But, Mariela has her own terms in order for that to become a reality and her terms are something that Jose does not approve.

Back to the present, Jose groans with displeasure as he accuses his sister and wife of conspiring to kill him with the flan. But Mariela says it was only a sliver as Jose moans.

“Was it good?” – Mariela

“It was sweet, Very sweet. Creamy.” – Jose

Jose goes to bed but not before stabbing his sister with a fork.  Not much of an injury but something and Mariela takes care of before sitting outside Jose’s room to wait for his death.

And as the night takes its toll the Blanca, from the painting, speaks of a horrible truth, about that night when she was sent away.  Tonight, she returns like the desert winds with her boyfriend Adam Lovitz (Randy Vasquez) as they both grieve for Blanca’s dead father.

Robert Beltran, the director, does a remarkable job with Mariela in the Desert.  There is a sense of reflective truth in the telling of a story based on lies - from the little white lies to the profound untruths.  Mariela wants to go back to Mexico City.  She lies to enlist her daughter to come home.  Whether she is telling the truth, or a case of senility, Oliva is convinced Carlos is haunting the ranch. She tells anyone who wants to listen. Prodded by her mother, Blanca lies and tells her father that she is married.  And Jose tells the most profound lie that hurts the true artist in the family.

A couple of notes. The space is huge for a play that plays for an extremely intimate gathering. The bed absorbs the room especially when it is not in use.  And, one is very grateful the scene changes were limited to a few changes on stage.

Rachel Gonzalez is wonderful as Mariela Salvatierra who employs a quiet intensity in her craft.  Her craft is simple; it is expressive, and wonderful to watch. But for one moment near the end, keep the intensity in the bottle, you hold, until it breaks.

Vance Valencia is Jose Salvatierra. There is a lot to like about his performance especially the moments when he forgets that he is too ill to express a curiosity about a given moment. This character holds onto something dreadful for a number of years and we really need to see that from him from the first moments in his bed. Valencia has a powerful voice, and moderation would be good for my ears when he bellows his hatred to those who have done him wrong. One can see his anger, and feel his fury, but in the end, how is his resolved?

Denise Blasor is Oliva Salvatierra (Jose’s sister).  There is more to this character than having her as a comic relief, which, by the way, she does well.  Oliva is also a character that falls into the nether land of truth and spiritual imagination to guide her to her destination.  Creating a stronger objective would validate her choices and that could make her soar. Also, in conflict with her present day life, Oliva worries about her welfare, doesn’t know what will happen to her, and needs to find friends real fast to straighten out that matter. Also, she realizes the desert is not her home and she must find a way out, if it’s telling lies about a boy walking in the desert, so be it.  

Vannessa Vasquez is Blanca Salvatierra. She does well as the daughter, her younger self and her present day self.  The character is lost; coming home to find out her father is dead, but not really. The relationship between her and her father requires a stronger bond. The same holds true with her mother and her aunt. Finding the “thing” the one truth that ties her to each individual would add to an already very nice performance.

Kenneth Lopez also does well as Carlos Salvatierra (the son).  Carlos presents as someone who is on the autism spectrum and Lopez does well with that character. Carlos walks around confused and doesn’t understand what is going on around him. Somehow his relationship to his aunt is non-existent especially in the after life (running in the desert).  There is a fascinating moment in the second act where Carlos discovers an extreme truth about the painting, The Blue Barn that was superb!  Lopez has a strong natural appeal on stage and finding a stronger creative objective would only add to a very pleasant performance.

Randy Vasquez as Adam Lovitz is very appealing on stage and has a remarkable presence. Lovitz, a professor, moves to calm a very artistic emotional family with a strong sensibility.  Vasquez performance rings true as a professor and he has a strong emotional commitment. And it doesn’t hurt that he has strong resemblance to Richard Gere. Whatever helps.

Casa 0101 gets better every time I go. Surprised by the talent the first time I went, the work keeps getting better and better despite my railings.  

Crewmembers – the creative team are as follows:

Deena Tover – Stage Manager
Marco De Leon – Scenic Design
Kevin Vasquez – Lighting Design
Vincent Sanchez – Sound Design
Yee Euh Nam – Projection Design
Able Alvarado – Costume Design
Jules Bronola – Costume Assistant
Alexander Cooper – Props Master
Steve Moyer – Publicist
Jorge Villaneuva – Light Board Operator
Drake Valencia – Asst. Stage Manager
Ed Krieger – Photographer
Edward Padilla – Casting Director
Soap Studio, Inc. – Key Art/Playbill Design

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who loves little white lies. 

Reservations:  323-263-7684

Email:  tickets@casa0101.org  or buy online:  www.casa0101.org

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Vonnegut USA by Kurt Vonnegut adapted by Scott Rognlien

L - R Paul Plunkett and Eric Normington

By Joe Straw

Sometimes I have a reason for going to theatre.  Maybe it’s the author, the actors, the convenient time and place, or possibly an overaggressive press rep.  Whatever the case, I go. And just know that I go, willingly, without bonds, shackles, or ropes to pull me. 

For this journey we go back to a simpler time and a narrower place, for a ride down a quiet northeastern country road.  – Narrator

As I entered the theatre there was a gentleman sitting in front of me with a box of huge white Life Savers on the seat next to him.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen Life Savers that big, that white in an open cup for someone’s enjoyment, and perhaps later a note for open discussion.

And, as I turned my attention to the projection on the upstage wall, I mentioned to my partner that the Vonnegut USA projection was “very white”, with white characters, for a whiter, simpler time. I questioned her if this was what one of the candidates was saying when he was referring to “Making American Great Again.”

The Life Saver guy cringed, every so slightly, still it was an observable cringe - like a turtle’s head going back into the shell.

Too late, the show was starting, but at intermission, the gentleman moved to another location.

The Next Arena presents the world premiere of Vonnegut USA based on five short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, produced, adapted, and directed by Scott Rognlien and produced by JR Reed, Maia Peters, and Scott Rognlien through November 20, 2016 at the Atwater Theater complex.

One is at a complete loss as to what to write about this production because there are too many wonderful moments to absorb.  The characters were engaging, the stories had a down home feel, and the writings of the short stories are the joyous bubbling and the jocular expressions of Kurt Vonnegut.    

You would do yourself a great service to run and see this new work of art. It is here for a limited time only so run, run, run! And, if you are a Vonnegut fan, run even faster.

Scott Rognlien, the director has put together five Kurt Vonnegut post war short stories and created a play that is this short of seamless, is very inventive, and wonderful in execution.  It is also very imaginative in ways that you wish all theatre could be. The remarkable cast goes beyond expectation in performance and the stories will give you an emotional lift one way or another.  

Rognlien adapts Poor Little Rich Town and Lover’s Anonymous (from Bagombo Snuff Box), Bomar and Hundred-Dollar Kisses (from While Mortals Sleep) and Shout About it From the Housetops (from Look at the Birdie) and in this productions it appears it all takes place in one small rural town, whether this is intentional or not in post war America.  

American Forge and Foundry rises from the ground of nothingness in Spruce Falls to become something a manufacturing conglomerate with hundreds of workers or so says Kennard Pelk (Eric Normington), the security guard, who gives us an overview of the characters including Newell Cady (Jason Frost) a man who knows how to save dollars by intuition or simply by common sense.

“Cady could stroll through a plant that had been losing money for a generation, glance at the books, yawn and tell the manager how he could save half a million a year in materials, reduce his staff by a third, triple his output, and sell the stuff he’d been throwing out as waste for more than the cost of installing air-conditioning and continuous music throughout the plant.” – Kennard Pelk

Just the man we need! 

Anyway,  Cady had his mitts on everything including the right way to sort mail with the rubbery thing that you stick on the thumb.  Holding back her temperament Mrs. Dickie (Carryl Lynn) scowls at anyone who thinks better than her.  

“I’d like to see anybody teach me anything about this business.  I been postmistress for twenty-five years now, ever since my husband passed on.” – Mrs. Dickie

The townsfolk do not appreciate Newell Cady’s frugalness and his way of not moving the town forward.  


“It had been made clear to both of them that they didn’t have the priceless stuff of which executives were made.”

L - R Rob Chester Smith, Carryl Lynn, and Matt Taylor

Such are the character description of Lou Sterling (Rob Chester Smith) and Bud Carmody (Matt Taylor). They are two blow hard cut ups that try to get a slightly ditzy Mrs. Dickie (Carryl Lynn) into a lot of trouble.  She has been an employee for 39 years.  But now she is newly working in the department of Stockholders Records. 

Sterling and Carmody are practical jokers that want nothing better to pry the dits out of Mrs. Dickie’s cheeky brain.  It is no surprise that Sterling and Carmody, for lack of mental capacity, have trouble tracking their tales about the fictitious Bomar Fassenden III (Robert Beddall).  But despite Mrs.Dickie’s awkward mental demeanor she is the smartest one of the three sharing the office, and she is on to them.

Poor Little Rich Town (cont’d)

There is a lot of trickery going on in this town, Spruce Falls.

Spruce Falls was known for its mineral baths.  Developers envisioned the area as a goldmine.  The well to do built lavish homes near there.  Visitors would use the falls until people suddenly came down with terrible rashes.  A Manhattan dermatologist, in his infinite wisdom, decided to call the rash Spruce Falls disease and subsequently the property values plummeted.  

This did not sit too well with the local town folks who watched banks foreclose on lavish homes.  So, the local political groups, eager to have people move into the area, were offering to waive a 3-year living requirement to join community organizations, and on this night it was the fire department.  This didn’t set too well with Harvard educated Upton Beaton (Paul Michael Nieman), who’s ornamental educated self lost a political advantage.

It wasn’t until later that Stanley Atkins (Darren Mangler), the Fire Chief, reviewing the rules, ruled that Newell Cady did not meet the qualifications. 

Hundred-Dollar Kisses

Henry George Lovell, Jr. (Paul Plunkett) has got himself into a mess of trouble by knocking Verne Petrie (Keith Blaney) out cold with the talking end part of the phone. And now he’s talking to Detective Kennard Pelk (Eric Normington).

The frowzy Verne Petrie is slightly misguided viewing his Male Valor girlie magazines in the office with naked centerfolds for all to see.  Bright red in the glow of his viewing, Petrie salivates slightly with each turn of the page.  He shows his workmates everything in the magazines, including his office companion Henry George Lovell, Jr.

“Verne would open the magazine to the picture of the girl, and he’d say, approximately, “Boy, I’d pay a hundred dollars to kiss a doll baby like that.  Wouldn’t you?”

Henry, the not-so-good Unitarian, walked in on Verne. Verne begged him to pick up line three and join in the fun. Others were in on it too, including the janitor, Harry Barker (Robert Beddall) who had an urgent physical need to speak with the pin-up doll Patty Lee Minot (Marjorie LeWitt), who at the time of the magazine shoot is wearing a cellophane bathrobe.  

Lovers Anonymous

“I offer another title for our organization, a title in all ways inferior to yours except that it’s about ten thousand times easier to say.  Gentlemen, friends, brothers, I propose we call ourselves “Lovers Anonymous.”

Everyone thinks of her, why she left, and why she came back married to that guy.

“Sheila Hinckley is now a spare whitewall tire on the Thunder-bird of my dreams.” – Will Battola

Yes, that’s what they thought of Sheila Hinckley.  Older now, this group of men, Lover Anonymous still have thoughts about her, despite the fact they are all married, as they occasionally lament in a local get together – the drugstore.  

One day a red book from the lending library peeked their curiosity.  

“Woman, the Wasted Sex, or, the Swindle of Housewifery.”

Dave Mansield (JR Reed), a storm window salesman, took notice of the book and Reva Deal (Carryl Lynn) wanted to know if she could help him. Mansield read the title and flipped it back on to her desk.

“You certainly can.  You can throw this piece of filth down the nearest sewer.” – Dave Mansfield

There is a lot more here than I can give justice but suffice to say that Vonnegut USA is wonderfully produced by JR Reed, Maia Peters, and Scott Rognlien down to the smallest detail, the books, the magazines, a working well on stage, and the films produced and projected on the backstage wall.  All of it is a wonderful delight.

Robert Beddall does incredible work as Harry Barker, the long lost husband and father.  Beddall’s work is restrained, and if the work has a truly strong objective, I didn’t clearly see it. Certainly adding a little more cause would add to an already very fine performance. Beddall is also fascinating as Lawrence Morgan, a husband trying to find his way through the mishmash of married life.

Keith Blaney

“It was my understanding that Herb’s moving into the ell was a great tragedy of recent times.” – Dave Mansfield

Keith Blaney shows us a hard side as Verne Petrie with his licentious doctrine and a softer side as Herb White living his hell in the ell. This is a great showcase for Blaney and a performance that deserves to be seen.

Jason Frost does well as Newell Cady, cool, calm, and on point.  He manages everything well but has little to show regarding his conflict, the one thing that keeps him from achieving his objective. There may be more to add in character in the way he demands compliance from everyone.  (Obey me!) Still Frost has a very good look and does well on stage.

Marjorie LeWitt

Marjorie LeWitt shines as Patty Lee Minot, a woman who has left her past behind for good. Other characters she plays is Mary Mansfield and Elsie Strang Morgan a woman who desperately want to save her marriage and will do anything to reach her goal. LeWitt presents a strong character, and she is statuesque and stunning.

The things I most appreciate about this production are the multiple roles actors play.  Just getting down to task and making great character choices.  One actor, Carryl Lynn, fills her roles with grand dedication as Miss Daily, Mrs. Dickie, and Maid, and Reval Deal.  

Darren Mangler is Stanley Atkins and has a great look, a look that would work well in television and films.  Accompanying that look is a solid craft. Mangler accomplishes a lot in the time he is on stage.

Paul Michael Nieman has a broad booming voice and is very articulate on stage as Upton Beaton.  The character Beaton wins and loses in Poor Little Rich Town and we need to see more from those choices. The voice is very accomplished as he narrates portions of the show.

Eric Normington plays the security guard Kennard Pelk and is very likeable. Pelk is the congenial rogue that roams the unfettered halls of a lonely nightshift, occasionally coming upon some lost soul that needs direction. A chore he happily obliges. Normington’s craft is excellent and his facial expressions are priceless.  

Mai Peter is Sheila Hinkley White married to a man that has just changed his disposition moving into the “ell”, an extension to the house. Sheila Hinkley was the reason the other men created Lovers Anonymous, but this beauty has to overcome a lonely existence and seek higher ground. Peter is wonderful in observation, subtle, and has a beautiful core that is also mysterious. It was very nice work.

“I knocked Verne Petrie colder than a mackerel, because it came to me all in a flash that Verne Petrie was what was wrong with the world.” – Henry George Lovell, Jr.

Paul Plunkett plays Henry George Lovell, Jr. and is grill by a detective about what actually happened. Lovell is an observer noticing the players, their faults, and the way they move about their lives.  The character he assaults needs a lesson and it must be ingrained in his head, if that’s the only way it happens.   Lovell has had enough. Plunkett recreate the scene but maybe there’s more to add in how he feels about the janitors story, the relationship between the two, the things that draws him in and that pushes him over the edge.  That aside, there is a lot to like about Plunkett’s very funny performance, very nerdish, and very Unitarian.

I see JR Reed’s face and the one thing I can think of is Monty Python.  Reed plays Dave Mansfield a storm window salesman, who by appearance sells from your local television set at all hours of the night, peeking through the windows only for the only purpose of selling you windows, or spying on you. Reed is wonderfully funny in this production.  

Rob Chester Smith has a remarkable presence on stage and does very well as Lu Sterling and Ed Newcomb.

“You give a woman a book like this and you’re gonna have a restless woman on your hands.” Al Tedler

Matt Taylor plays Bud Carmody and Al Tedler and has a grand time playing both. Taylor has a good look, brings and everyman look to this production, and is comfortable on stage.

Also, included in the live presentation, are the actors in the film cast that adds a tremendous amount to the production. They are as follows:

Blaire Chandler – Gloria Hilton
Lori Anne Edwards – Women’s College President
Jacques Freydont – FFF Chairman of the Board
James Mathis III – Know-How Voice Over
Mark McCracken – Gloria’s Husband, Vacuum Voice Over
Zoe, Beau and Tyo Normington – Gloria’s Children
Scott Rognlien – FFF Promo Voice Over

Cavaet, I’m putting on my SAG EEOC hat here, there is not a lot of diversity in the cast.  Even the maid is white.

Character study is highlighted in this production with most of the actors hitting the mark.  Still, there’s room to add to the presentation. Reading the short stories, one can imagine the conflict, internal or otherwise, but on the presentation one would like to see the conflict played out in all of it’s glory on stage; for example the moment when the town turns on Newell Cady, the exact instant when Henry George Lovell, Jr. decides to pick up the phone, and the internal reasons for Herb White moving into the ell.

This takes nothing away from Scott Rognlien’s remarkable adaptation.  It opens a world of theatrical opportunities including a musical.  Also, Rognlien’s direction is wonderful with hardly a wasted moment on stage.  The production is well thought out and the execution is near perfection.

This show is the reason I go to theatre. The 99 seat venue is a showcase for working talent who are perfecting their craft, and giving it their all.

And then there’s the other level of what makes the creative team run, the crew.  The people you don’t see on stage but have contributed mightily.  They are as follows:

Kate Leahy – Projection and Lighting Designer
Brittany Blouch – Set Designer
Kimberly Freed – Costume Designer
Becky Hefferman – Stage Manager
Justin Ryan Brown – Technical Director
Ben Durham, Brendan Haley, Kurtis Bedford – Set Builders
Scott Rognlien – Film Director
Darrett Sanders – Director of Photography
Sara Glaser, Lena Alkhatib, and Veronica Zebrocki – Film Audio
Craig Kuchne, Marjorie LeWitt, Scott Rognlien – Film Editors/Post Production
Nora Feldman – Publicist
Joe McCarthy, II, Owen Hammer, Dave Portal – Graphic Designers

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who loves Vonnegut, by gosh.  

Reservation:  323-805-9355