Sunday, December 17, 2017

Beauty and the Beast – Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.


By Joe Straw

Casa 0101 Theater, TNH Production and El Centro Del Pueblo Present Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, directed by Rigo Tejeda, and produced by Felipe Agredano, Emmanuel Deleage, Edward Padilla, and Executive Produced by Conrado Terrazas - the Broadway Musical in Association with Councilmember Gil Cedillo through January 21, 2018 in Boyle Heights.

One has reservations about opening weekend to a production of this magnitude where everything should be perfect but rarely is.  A production necessitates a few weeks to garner immaculateness – flawless in the lights, the special effects, the actors coming in on cue, and the sound, most importantly, the sound.

This production of Beauty showcases some marvelous actors and highlights incredible production value from this mostly Latino cast in this sold-out 99-seat venue.  The music has already been generated and is as perfect as one can get as long as viable levels are maintained.  

First of all, school children that see this production will get a kick out of this musical, the costumes—wonderfully designed by Abel Alvarado, the slapstick, and the wolves, yes, the wolves.

But in the best interest of speaking to the craft, there are moments that require discussion, moments to hit, and characters to further evaluate. 

How can the production be improved?

Almost everyone on the planet knows the animation film, Beauty and the Beast; the musical is slightly different, with additional songs, but follows the same pattern as the film.  

The handsome but ill tempered Prince (Jesse Maldonado) is overlooking all that he has; when an older woman, who is hungry and shivering from the cold night, desperately seeks comfort in his roomy shelter. She offers the gift of a single winter red rose, for a pay-as-you-please night’s stay in the castle.

The Prince, through first observation and possibly odorous revelation, denies her twice only to discover, moments later, that the woman is a beautiful enchantress who doesn’t look to kindly on men who refuse her first request.

She turns the prince into a Beast (Omar Mata) and tells him that, in order to break the spell, he must find someone to love and who will love him in return.  But there is a time element: the spell must be broken before the final petals drop from the stem. Ten long years have pass and things are starting to seem desperate for the inhabitants of the castle who are slowly changing into inanimate objects.  

Meanwhile back in town, Belle (Andrea Somera) has an uneasy relationship with most of the town people; they view her as peculiar because she likes to read while walking through this provincial town.   

One person has his eyes on her. It is Gaston (Andreas Pantazis), a brute of a man who squeezes into his clothes as though it were a nylon stocking.  Also, life has endowed him with being brawny while having an IQ slightly lower than the victim of his last musket round.

Belle, gracious to everyone, has no interest in Gaston.  She dodges him, outwits him, and slams the door in his face.  

Meanwhile Belle waits for her father, Maurice (Luis Marquez), an inventor of the strangest, yet practical, contraptions. Maurice, on his way to take his contraption to market, gets lost and finds his way to the castle.  There, the beast captures him.  Belle looking for her father finds him incarcerated in the castle and promises to stay with the beast forever in exchange for her father’s release.

“It’s my favorite, far off place, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise.” – Belle

Andrea Somera has a pleasant voice as Belle and moves agreeably about throughout the course of the night. Belle finally lives the life she has read about in her books. This is a role where Belle must react to the new events in her life, the talking clock, the verbose candlestick, and dresser who loves to pull things out of her drawers.  Belle should find complete joy or react in ways as she is discovering the unusual. Hunger brings Belle down to dinner only to discover a normal dinner is up for grabs as the plates, spoons and knives each have lives beyond natural course.  Belle is a character that loves to discover the intricacies of each character as though she were discovering new things in books.  But at times, Somera gets lost between the plates and dishes without fully exploring the wonderment around her. Not to take away from her beautiful voice, she should expand to round out the character.   

Omar Mata does well as the Beast. This is a role in which Mata could let loose, bring more power to the character, and use his vocal prowess.  The cape he wears could be used to instill fear and promote power. One just felt that Mata was brushing the surface of his fantastic bestiality. Tall and strapping, he is hunched over, fingers crooked as though the claws were manifesting itself, without a critical purpose and moving in unspecified directions. There’s also more to be had in emotional commitment, his moral discontent, discovering what he does right, and how he fails miserably when trying to woe the girl (the bowl of soup).  Now, the relationship between he and the love interest needs to find a stronger emotional core, one that truly tugs at the heartstrings in the final moments.  Which is not to say to start afresh, just add to whatever is needed to make the character stronger, appealing, and sympathetic.  The objective is to win the girl before the last petal falls from the stem. The time element is not fully realized and must be in the back of his mind the moment he steps out onto the stage. The Beast must call out in pain after the wolf scene to bring her to his side. The conflict is his own beastly being, the girl, and the other man.  The mask is an impediment for subtle facial expressions and growth in front of a mirror is necessary. That said, Mata’s voice is beautiful and is perfectly suited for the Beast.

Andreas Pantazis is Gaston and has a very good look for the character. The objective for Gaston is to win the girl at all costs.  The conflict is his provocative manhood, a woman who wants nothing to do with him, and a friend who is more than affectionate and would like to woo Gaston away.  This Gaston is violent when love should rule the day in the way he proceeds to win her heart. He beats his friend to bruises and welts and one cannot feel the least bit sympathetic to this character. Pantazis has to make Gaston a thinking man, limited though it may be, one that should be keeping his eyes on LeFou and letting LeFou know when he has crossed the line. Also, in reaching an end point, Gaston has to kill the Beast or else the reality is that he lives the rest of his life with LeFou. There must be some redeeming quality to the man and a way to accentuate the humor of the role.  

Maxwell Peters plays LeFou and is also the Fight Captain.  Peters, jumps, flips, and tumbles throughout the night but little is thought about character and his relationship to Gaston.  It’s not enough to be able to do the physical things, good as they were, when a stronger relationship is needed to carry the night. The slapstick fighting might work if the basis of the fight were good, clean, loving fun and one didn’t see that. The fight scenes came off as brutal, mean, and bullying to an unnecessary degree.

Jeremy Saje is impressive as the jolly and irascible Cogsworth.  It is a near perfect performance with a well-rounded character and a wonderful voice. Although, Cogsworth needs a better opening as an introduction.  

Caleb Green has a magnificent voice as Lumiere but on this particular night was slightly drowned out by the background singers and the music in the Be Our Guest number.  This is Lumiere’s song in the show and hopefully by the time you see it, the sound will be adjusted. This number sets the tone of his relationship to the other characters and needs to be spot on. Candlesticks come in all colors the red lipstick and the white face gives him the appearance of a sad clown.  (Green’s voice was one of the better voices of the night and hopefully the levels will be fixed by the time you see it.) Green’s character is believable and his portrayal is marvelous.

Allison Flanagan lit up the stage with her portrayal of Madame de la Grande Bouche.  Flanagan also has a wonderful and powerful voice and is extremely funny in this production.  Her opening on stage could be stronger.  Her eyes are closed as she is up against the wall for a long period of time.  More could be made of those moments in the time she spends alone with Belle.

Luis Marquez gives the appearance of old in his portrayal of Maurice, Belle’s father, a disheveled wig, loose fitting clothes, and fingers not fully extended. He has some very funny moments as Maurice.  The song “No Matter What” was beautiful and one of the highlights of the show.

Rosa Navarrete is enchanting as Babette looking as though she stepped from the stage of the Moulin Rogue.  Navarrete gives Babette more than enough in character and is funny in every moment she is on stage. Navarrete is a terrific actor and a scene-stealer and a personality you will never forget.  

Jacquelin Schofield is Mrs. Potts.   She has a wonderful voice, pure and simple, and was an added plus to this production. More needs to be added with her son Chip to make the relationship exquisitely tender.

Matthew Noah is impressive as Monsieur D’Arque in a very dry and humorous role. The role and his portrayal was a very pleasant surprise.

Jesse Maldonado starts off as the prince (about a foot shorter than the Beast) and does fine work in the ensemble.

Sean Vargas is cute as Chip.  Noah Dobson is also Chip but did not perform the night I was there.

Other members of the ensemble are as follows: Heather Forte (Silly Girl), Michael Gallardo (a very, very Silly Girl and hilarious too), Judith Limon (Silly Girl), Garrielle Maldonado, Angelina Rangel (who also serves as Dance Captain), and Brisia Rivera.

The understudies were Sebastian Gonzalez (LeFou), Henry Alexander Kelly (Cogsworth), Sarah Kennedy (Belle), and Andrea Ramirez (Silly Girl)

Adrian Uly Ochoa bumped up the dancing about ten notches in this production.  Only 17 years old but he put his professional heart and soul into every dance number.  Great work!

Rigo Tejeda, the director, does a lot of amazing work in bringing this spectacle to life.  The Gaston musical number is wonderful in all of its execution.  It is both exciting and creative (Musically Directed by Caroline Benzon and Choreographed by Lia Metz).  The introduction of the characters could be strengthen with the larger roles getting a grander introduction – something that establishes their character and their objectives in one fell swoop.  And the introductions should be creative to establish character no matter how small or large the character.  The smaller roles need to find a way out of enchantment. All castle characters have the objective to change back into human because, through the course of the play,  little by little they are changing into inanimate objects.  Tejeda highlights that aspect brilliantly.  If everyone’s objective is to become human again then half of the puzzle about the character's objective is solved.

Member of the production team are as follows:

Jermaine Alvarado – Costumes
Andy Ayala – Wig and Hair Designer
Jules Bronola – Costumes
Rafael Calderon – Set Construction
Angelique Enos – Stage Crew
Angel Estrada – Prop Master
Sandra Figueroa Villa – El Centro Del Pueblo
Jecole Jackson – Stage Crew
Ed Krieger – Photographer
Xol Gonzalez – Spot Operator
George Ely Herrera – Social Media
Genesis Miramontes – Light Operator
Ashley Montoya – Spot Operator
Steve Moyer – Publicist
Edward Padilla – Casting Director/Producer
Soap Studio, Inc. – Program Design
JP Torres – Stage Crew
Gilbert Valenzuela – Box Office Manager
Jorge Villanueva – Stage Crew

Run! Run! And take a friendly beast with you.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sherlock Homes and the Case of the Jersey Lily by Katie Forgette


By Joe Straw

The strangest characters show up at the most unpropitious times, and on this particular night there was no exception as I have carefully noted in my observations below.

Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily by Katie Forgette and wonderfully produced by David Hunt Stafford through December 11, 2017, and parking is free.

Perhaps this beautiful creature was minding her own business, this actor, Lillie Langtry (Melissa Collins) in her dressing room, putting on her makeup, and listening to the ambient stage noise when an intruder, face painted red, acted opprobriously in a manner meant for business, a cloth around her mouth, to silence her, to wipe her to torpor, consciousness darkening, until finally she is out.  

It was a necessary step, but, for whatever the man was looking for, he did not find it backstage among her possessions.   Nevertheless, and most importantly, a crime had been committed, a woman had been taken advantage of and, after her revival, and a noticeably clear head, she sought both help and a redress.  

Meanwhile, in another part of town, in a room of exponential experimentation with flasks and chemicals, Sherlock Holmes (Martin Thompson) and Dr. Watson (John Wallace Combs) speak to their relationship. 

An indefatigable Holmes switches from the flask he holds carefully to the topic of Watson’s money and investments simply by observing the chalk marks on his thumb and forefinger.   Dr. Watson is astounded by Holmes’ reflections, his gift of the nuance, and the delightful way he is able to comprehend any given moment through observation and induction. 

And through all this, the semi-deaf, semi-daft Irma Tory (Alison Blanchard) rolls in with a cart of silver, tea, cups and saucers.

Without pausing the conversation, Holmes pours the tea handing it to Watson. But, Watson, unaware of the scalding nature of the cup is nearly scorched within an inch of his life, and maneuvers the cup and saucer to a small table. 

Holmes is caught off guard when suddenly there is a knock at the door.

Dr. Watson asks to be dismissed into the next room but Holmes insists that he remain.

In she walks, a woman, carrying herself in a refined manner, garbed in an expensive black gown asking to speak with Mr. Holmes. Head down, and eyes covered, she states that she is looking for suitable household employment. 

Watson, staring off to the side, believes the woman’s story.  

But Holmes, politely and methodically, recognizes that aspects of her presentation, the cockney accent, her physical attributes, and her general mendacious manner are inconsistent with the matter at hand; also, he sees no evidence of a workingwoman sitting before him. Holmes proceeds to challenge her. 

Lillie Langtry drops the character and blames Oscar Wilde (Scott Facher) for misleading her into engaging the magnificent Holmes in this farce

Immediately, Watson recognizes her as the stage beauty Lillie Langtry and is flattered to meet her.  Caught up in emotion, he is now red faced and out of breath by her stunning exquisiteness, the manner in which she presents herself, and the hand she delicately places into his receiving hand.

Ms. Langtry opens the door to gather Mr. Oscar Wilde, who now has an ear to the door, and is escorted into the room.  A raconteur Mr. Wilde says he is working on a new play, tentatively titled “The Importance of Being Forthright”. Holmes is not enamored with the title and grimaces. Later, he suggests an appropriate change.   

But back to the business at hand. Wilde says Ms. Langtry is being blackmailed, she has been attacked, for her personal letters and photograph from a relationship she formerly had with the Prince of Wales. Luckily those items were stored in a safe place and the ruffians were not able to obtain them.  

Holmes muses that the story sounds familiar to one from several years ago involving a future king. But no one is being forthright, especially Langtry as she pleads for Holmes to help. Naytheless, he says he will help.  And after Langtry and Wilde depart, Holmes devises a plan to find the documents, in a clever way that will require all of his thespian acumen.

Holmes gives instructions to Watson to get to the bottom of this mystery.  That is when the mysterious Abdul Karim (Anibal Silveyra), Queen Victoria’s assistant, knocks at the door.  

Anyone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes will enjoy this tongue-and-cheek adaptation of sorts by Katie Forgette who employs fictional characters (Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson, and Professor Moriarty) with real-life actor Lillie Langtry, the Jersey Lily, royal assistant Abdul Karim, and Lillie’s friend and playwright Oscar Wilde.  For the most part, the action is from The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes, Adventure I, A Scandal in Bohemia with a few character changes and plot manipulation. Also, Forgette, introduces Moriarty into the play whereas this character possibly is a figment of Sherlock Holmes mind or someone cleverly invented by way of a drug induced state.  In the stories, Moriarty is a character we never see but is intimately describe in the tales told by Holmes to Watson.

Jeff G. Rack, Set Designer, presents a set with a tremendous amount of fun as it moves from Holmes’ home to Lillie Langtry’s home, and to a dudgeon somewhere under the city of London.

Michéle Young, Costumer Designer, has the characters looking magnificent in 1894 London, England attire. The costumes are wonderful as in most of her productions at Theatre 40.

Jules Aaron, Director, does a terrific job, but one could appreciate a little more depth in the relationship department.  All the characters were adept in the progression of the scenes but there were moments missed and characters could have been more deeply developed.  (Scratch most of that off to opening week jitters.) For example, we see little of Dr. Watson’s desire to keep tabs on Holmes and to make sure that he is off the drugs. Also, Wilde must be extremely infatuated with Lillie Langtry, so much so, that he does not let go of her physically or emotionally. To another end, Moriarty must always prove that he is the smartest person in the room. And Abdul Karim must possess the power of the Queen when he enters the room.

Alison Blanchard does some fine work as both Irma Tory and McGlynn although there is some confusion in presenting the two characters as separate.  Blanchard has a strong personality on stage and, to maintain the separate characters, she should present marked differences in personality, voice, and character choices. When she plays the Holmes household help, there must be something she wants, an objective that defines the character and moves the character beyond the conflict.

Dave Buzzotta is Professor Moriarty and has a defined white (evil) streak running through his hair.  The foil scene liven things up a bit but I am not sure about the knife. Moriarty is the evil counterpoint to Holmes and must compete on Holmes mental level.  That said, the choking scene leaves one with the feeling that Moriarty is not using his brains to get what he needs and resorts to unnecessary petty violence to prove his point. Moriarty is Holmes evil double, a man almost unbelievable to be true.  He is the image of a man only seen by one person (in the books) and that is Holmes himself. Stronger choices are in order to make this character complete. (This actor was just the victim of a hit and run incident.  Please go to his go fund me page and give what you can.

This is the perfect role for Melissa Collins as Lillie Langtry.  Each costume amplifies her character and her stunning beauty. There is a bit of mystery to Langtry character that is not entirely forthcoming in her stories to Holmes.  Describing the letters is only half of her story the rest is a mystery the others solve. Collins is an actor that provides a sincere depth to character as well as providing a solid objective.  Mystery plays an important part of the Lillie Langtry character and Collins provides that mystery in an outstanding performance and one not to miss. 

John Wallace Combs’ work is impeccable as Dr. Watson especially in the small moments when he relates to the other characters.  There may be more to add to show the ways he feels and is concerned about Holmes. Watson is concerned for his welfare and just doesn’t casually drop in on a moments notice. They are more than just friends and the audience needs to see that. There must always be a competition in which Watson gets his way or adds a significant piece to the puzzle.  It creates a stronger relationship when overcoming a small conflict.  

Scott Facher has some interesting moments as Oscar Wilde.  There must be more to the character than flitting about on stage as a comic supporting character. Wilde needs a stronger objective in order to tell us why he is in this predicament.  A stronger choice would have Wilde not letting go of the most famous actor of his time for a play he is writing. That means not letting her go and helping her in every conceivable way and standing in the way of death if need be.  Maybe Wilde should latch onto her and never let her go, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  Facher has a strong presence, there’s nothing wrong with the character, but he needs to add to his choices.

Shawn Savage supplies ample support to Smythe and Man 2 each a heavy and a muscle man to do Moriarty bidding.  But in the end, they fight amongst themselves and gets very little accomplished.

Anibal Silveyra plays real life character, Abdul Karim, Queen Victoria’s assistant, secretary, friend, and confidant. The performance was low-keyed.  It was an interesting choice because this character comes in with the power of the Queen behind him. Instead, Abdul needs to exercise more power to get Holmes to do his bidding.  He is possibly the one man that Holmes might fear.  That needs to be recognized in their scene together, to give the scene an added layer of mystery and power.

Martin Thompson is well suited as Sherlock Holmes and provides a fine performance. Yet this Sherlock Holmes needs more refinement in character, curiosity, and creativity. He needs to add to the character, not to take anything away. Lost are Sherlock Holmes’ personal problems, his drug addiction, and his lost love, Irene Adler. Lillie Langtry bears a striking resemblance to Irene Adler but this goes unnoticed by Holmes. We see little of his genuine appreciation of Dr. Watson who he needs to help solve his crimes.  Holmes must be on his best behavior and capable of sharp observations in order to solve crimes on stage.  Holmes must also have inexhaustible energy and be able to make mistakes, as he is human.

Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s work as the Sound Designer is impeccable and truly remarkable.

Judi Lewin, Makeup/Wigs/Hair Designer keeps places us in the 1894 time period and adds to the production values of this presentation.

Jessi Milestone is the fight choreographer and the fencing could use a little sprucing up in that dramatic scene.  

Ryan Moriarty will step into the role of Professor Moriarty following Dave Buzzotta's accident. 

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Don Solosan – Stage Manager
Richard Carner – Assistant Stage Manager
Roger K.Weiss –Assistant Director
Ed Kreiger – Photographer
Richard Hoyt Miller – Program Design
Philip Sokoloff – Publicity

Run! Run! And take someone mysterious, someone who loves Sherlock Holmes.

Reservations & Information:  310-364-0535
In the Reuben Cordova Theatre

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Yohen by Philip Kan Gotanda

Danny Glover and June Angela - Photos by Michael Lamont

By Joe Straw

Yohen by Philip Kan Gotanda is a metaphor for life’s little beautiful things.  

Yohen is a Japanese word that can be embraced into the English language and finds its meaning only by osmosis.  For some, the meaning hits right away, for others it takes some time.   

The meaning is not layered, or on top, or hidden beneath some dark resource, but out in the open, and caressing to a gentle fault.

The Robey Theatre Company and East West Players with Generous Support from the S. Mark Taper Foundation Endowment for East West Players present Danny Glove in Yohen by Philip Kan Gotanda and Directed by Ben Guillory through November 19, 2017.  

She explained Yohen in the middle of the play, sitting on her tender couch, holding a piece of pottery, turning it in her hand and staring at its beauty.

Yohen, is a Japanese word that describes a flaw in the process of firing a piece of pottery which leaves the ceramic work discolored or misshapen, but perhaps still beautiful.

And so it was with their relationship, their marriage, the thing that has kept them together oh these many years.  But something, in their frangible association, looking at it a new way, that she must discover him all over again, in a new condition.  Why?  Well, it is the metaphor that is examined during the course of the play.

Thirty-seven years in a marriage is a long time.  James (Danny Glover) a happily retired military man and until recently a satisfied man who had been thrown unceremoniously out of his own house, no their home. Or, maybe it was a mutual parting of a temporary nature.

And as he enters, the home he shared with his wife Sumi, (June Angela) looks cold and lifeless.

This is a two-dimensional home.  The upstage wall is compartmentalized filled with her pottery and trimmed bonsai trees decorated by a myriad of light and colors, wonderfully designed by Christopher Scott Murillo and beautifully lit by Michael Ricks, Lighting Designer.

Sumi’s place appears to be that back wall, while James’ place is the sofa and the TV’s viewing chair.  This is a picture of such diversity that one would find in suburb of a military base.

But, there is something wrong here, the place is immaculate, quiet and cold when a James, disheveled in appearance, exhales and knocks on the front door. He knocks with heaviness, a slouching and tattered personage, as though he’s lived here before, but only now visiting, hoping the occupant within will welcome him with open arms.

Such is not the case as he enters the door.  Sumi, his wife, wanted him dressed nice, perhaps she wanted to be presented with a gift, or some flowers, something viewed as an initial first date, a start from the very beginning.  At this point he is a man coming out of the kiln and into view for the first time and at first he does not present a pretty picture.

But for Sumi it’s not enough, she now wants more of James.  She wants him to go back to school. (Into the kiln again, but that process has ended.)  He says he has a nice pension and requests a beer.

The tea is on the table and Sumi doesn’t move.

“I’ll think I get one.” – James

Only to discover things have changed – Sumi has thrown out the beer.  All of it.

Philip Kan Gotanda’s play is a fascinating look at relationships and how one is perceived through another set of eyes or glasses, at another time, and through a different set of circumstances.  Each player has his or her taciturn passion, unable to speak until the final volley has been directed.  They sit with timid passions finding the heated energy to finally let loose and observe the others tremulous reaction.  They want still after all these years but maybe they want what the other does not.  Still, they see what they first saw when they first met and that in itself is the beauty of the play. 

The Yohen metaphor holds throughout the play under Ben Guillory’s direction. The play is so simple, beautiful, and heartbreaking that it takes one’s breath away at any given moment. Guillory takes special precaution in making the metaphor work with a special kind of love in this remarkable love story.

Danny Glover

Danny Glover is never going to change as James.  James is always the man he wanted to be no matter how you decorate him or add little flavors to his existing shell; he is still the man that came from the kiln. Try as he might, and he does try, he is in a no win situation. Glover is terrific in the role.

June Angela

June Angela is simply marvelous as Sumi.  Personified, she is a samurai at one moment standing in fighting position and a businesswoman in another.  She is a wife and proud to be an equal partner in this relationship, but she is at a point where she wants more than he can offer.  She bathes in his beauty, shares in his warmth, and loves in a way that is only particular to him and only him.   

Wonderful costumes by Naila Aladdin Sanders, Costume Designer.  

Other members of the crew are as follows: 

Corinne Carrillo - Sound Designer
Glenn Michael Baker - Property Master
Brandon Hong Cheng - Stage Manager 

Run! Run! And take someone who loves the idea of a metaphor in a play.

The David Henry Hwang Theatre at the Union Center for the Arts
120 Judge John Aiso Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

(213) 625-7000

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Radiant by Shirley Lauro


By Joe Straw

Going to this theatre for a 2:00 pm matinee presented challenges, mostly due to the traffic in that part of town.  Flustered because of time, I noticed parking spaces all around the building, which are designated to the businesses there. Limited parking spaces were available at an hourly charge. Slip in, slip out, pay, and slip back in with only minutes to spare.  

Time got the better of me on this date.

And, also, this place, this building, is a thriving, bustling business theatrical venue, and lordy on Sunday, parking just ain’t right.

The saving grace was Jane Edwina Seymour, the director, who greeted us at the door.  Her voice was so pleasant, so relaxing and inviting, that it was a pleasure to come into this space.  

Resource Performance Workshops and stories about human present The Radiant by Shirley Lauro and directed by Jane Edwina Seymour through November 19th, 2017 at The Other Space at The Actors Company.

The Radiant is an historical drama that makes one wants to go home and read about the characters portrayed in this dramatic interpretation. I thought I knew a lot about these historical figures, but I really didn’t, so a little more reading was in order.

The first thing you notice when entering the theatre is the impeccably authentic set, books, desks, furnishing that takes you back to 1906 Paris France.  The set was wonderfully designed and created by Karen Ipock.   

Secondly, the authentic costumes by Taylor Sandling were equally marvelous and put a significant stamp on this production.

Marie Curie (Nina Sallinen), pale and sullen, saunters into the office of the Chief Paymaster of the Sorbonne (John Moschitta, Jr.) looking for money. The money she believes is due to her in the aftermath of her husband’s, Pierre Curie, death – his skull crushed by a horse and its carriage.   

“I am Madame Curie.  I believe we had an appointment, monsieur?”- Marie

“Qui?” - Paymaster

Displaced by the element of death, Marie stands, a markedly frail woman next to the paymaster, a lecherous man, with despairing reflections.  He only wants what is best for her, and that is he. 

But all the manly devices that he has used in his past imagined fortuitous life have come to naught.

The Paymaster, knew her husband, and he knows Marie.  He hasn’t forgotten that she won the Nobel Prize in Physics. But he wants her to grovel for the money and that is something Marie will never do.

The paymaster tells Marie that she will get the pension money until she dies, or remarries, or through lingering illnesses, but if she were to get a job “All benefits cease!” Marie still not satisfied, mostly with the amount, rips up the check and storms off. 

And the paymaster gets, nothing.  

Paul Langevin (Conrad Cecil) is packing Pierre Curie’s things in his office when Marie walks in. It’s a matter of him putting Pierre in a box and shuffling Marie out of the room with his belongings. 

You – you’re looking well, Madame. Fashionably thin.” – Paul

It is a noticeably nicer approach than the paymaster’s.  There is a movement between the two - shuffling of books and polite conversation -  and one that leads to a pleasant intercourse. Paul tells her that he dropped out of the Ph.D. program and is now teaching lower school to support his wife, three children, and mother-in-law.

But Marie, possibly smitten, and decidedly French in her views, convinces Paul that she can take over the office for now with the hopes the University will offer her a position.  

Paul informs her the obvious  “the closest colleague inherits his Chair” which would be Marie and sadly, with pouting lips, he says that if she leaves no one will teach Radioactivity.

Later Marie’s niece, Katarina (Andrea Flower), is in Marie’s living room working on the samovar and arranging tea and cakes for Madame Curie to nibble on. 

Paul interrupts her, carrying roses for Marie.  (A slightly odd gift that goes unnoticed.)  Katarina is a fury of information, saying she is taking care of Madame Curie, her kids, and the household to get Madame past the grieving period, but she needs to go to the park, and wants to visit her beau in Poland. They are smitten and both are planning to study music this August in Poland. 

But now Marie has other plans for her, having been appointed by the university.  She wants Katarina to stay on until January or February much to Katarina’s disappointment.

Marie has also asked Paul to stay on as her assistant.  She confides to Paul that she is terrified to lecture.  But, with his support, she manages to fill the void and give a terrific lecture.

And to celebrate the moment, she visits Pierre Curie’s grave-site and confesses that she really wants to run away to the country with the girls and make gooseberry jam. 

“Come to Pierre’s office with me?  Science department’s deserted – they just put your name on the door.” – Paul  

Needing not much convincing, Marie walks into her office.

Shirley Lauro’s play is wonderfully written and well crafted.  But make no mistake; this play does not dwell too much on academia and that life but rather it is more of a play about relationships.  Marie interacts with her niece, her lover, the paymaster, and the colleagues who have disagreements with her. And to that end, the relationships must be spot on and have nuance, which one believes the play has.  Lauro leaves it ambiguous enough for the actors to find those moments and soar.     

There is a lot to enjoy from Jane Edwina Seymour’s direction.  The action moves fluidity, and the characters are complete. But this production needs a boost in two ways - deeper characters and a stronger through line. Also, the actor’s lines should be an afterthought; on this date, there were some problems with actors grasping for the words.  (Chalk it up to a Sunday matinee.)

First about the stronger through line—simply put, this is a story about Marie Currie overcoming obstacles to win her second Nobel Prize in chemistry. Although she is the only woman to win prizes in two different categories, she still must fight with the school and her colleagues as well as negotiate life with her niece and her lover who tug on her as she moves to those goals.   
The depth of character I will address below as I discuss the actors.

One more thing, the characters san accents, or slight accents, may have been a conscience choice by the director.  But, in this type of venue, it’s really about upping your game and stretching your chops.

Nina Sallinen is Marie Curie and through her portrayal we get the pale and sickly part but what is missing is the driving force that propels her to her final destination.  Where one wants to embrace her fortitudinous style, we have little of that. Also missing are the moments of peak intelligential thought or ideas that have her head and shoulders above the rest of the characters. It is her style of thought, the manner in which the character negotiates her way to her want.  While Marie Curie is Polish (Maria Salomea Sklodowska), there was little trace of Polish or French accents. Also, there is no sense of elation when Marie wins her second Nobel Prize. The scene at the grave has two things going for it.  The first is a recognized emotional outpouring for her deceased husband, giving her a perceived grander backstory, and a moment in which the character Paul can step in and take Pierre Curie's place, two moments that must happen if we are to continue. Certainly there’s something here to think about and add to an already fine performance.

Conrad Cecil is impressive as Paul Langevin. Cecil manages to fill the marvelous costume. He is polite, articulate, and manages to have a significant relationship in the process. But he has a wife and children and that weight must be carried on his shoulders – one additional backstory.  Maybe not thinking about it is the French way.  But, his relationship is a cause of concern in the play when it is made public. There is also the issue of having a relationship with a person of a different religion, which the French looked down upon at that time. Also, one doesn’t recall Cecil employing a French accent for Langevin who is decidedly French. Still, nick picking aside Cecil is marvelous on stage and presents a splendid figure.

John Moschitta, Jr. plays a number of characters. An interesting note in one scene, he exits the imaginary vomitorium as Lord Kelvin, and returns in just seconds as a completely different character, different costume, through another imaginary vomitorium.  Noted as “America’s Favorite Fast Talker,” the change was down right remarkable.  And the only thing that was similar in character were the beads of sweat coming from his brow.  (Bring something to wipe the brow.) The Paymaster was not subtle in what he wanted, wielding all his perceived power, he did not need to overtly fondle Marie but rather pull her in a way to accomplish his goals.  Also, as the character Lord Kelvin was posturing which is not a terrible thing just overtly obvious.  Moschitta requires a stronger objective for each of these characters, one that gives him a clearer physical life, a purpose, and one that recognizes the conflict in each scene, for each character.

Andrea Flowers shines as Katarina.  She has a number of marvelous moments and does little things in excellent fashion that provides the finishing touches to her character. That said, more could be made of her beau.  Also, her relationship with Paul, could be taken a little farther, the way she presents herself to the visitor, the manner of her dress, her position being explicitly inquisitive in the process.  All things she can add to an already outstanding performance.  

Other members of the crew I have not mentioned are as follows:

Jeanne Marie Valleroy – Stage Manager
Racquel Lehrman – Theatre Planners – Consulting Producer
Philip Sokoloff – Publicity
Ed Krieger – Production Photography
Kristine Ballard – Graphic Design

Run! Run!  And take someone who loves historical drama.
RESERVATIONS: (323) 960-7712.

Monday, November 6, 2017

An Enemy of the Pueblo by Josefina López


By Joe Straw

Casa 0101 presents An Enemy of the Pueblo by Josefina López directed by Corky Dominguez and Produced by Emmanuel Deleage & Edward Padilla.

You’ve only got one week to see this outstanding production – a modern adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. And this adaptation by Ms. López is exceptional; the directing by Mr. Dominguez sublime, and the acting will warm your soul.

From the torrid sky, the rain falls loudly on the town of Milagros, a colonial town, near the United States border.  Tourists from the United States once visited the hot springs before a drug cartel called “Los Sapos” (the frogs) infiltrated the town and people just, stopped, coming.

Magdalena Del Rio (Zilah Mendoza) is the shaman of the pueblo.  Tonight, she walks in the rain to cleanse her sorrows from the past.  She sees beyond now to that of the future, and turning her head, she listens to the woeful cries of mother earth.

“And it is done.” – Magda

Magda falls asleep in her hammock, outside her home, near the tree that has long ago died, and as the branches moan, she is confronted by the ghost of Eugenio (Javier Ronceros), her former husband, who was gunned down months ago and vows to never leave her side.  This is not something Magda is entirely comfortable with.  But one gets the impressions from him that she is still in danger from physical forces around her.

Petra Del Rio (Laura Bravatti) wants to know why her mother, Magda, is holding a conversation with no one around.  Magda says that she is speaking to her father.  Petra does not have the gift and cannot see him.  No matter, she tells him to leave anyway.

There is something wrong with Petra, her hair is falling out, she has pains, and her husband is nowhere to be found. There is a hint that the elements around her are causing her sickness (the water).  Also, she waits impatiently for her husband, Arturo (Joshua Nuñez) to return.  

Later Laura (Angiee Lombana) who is ready to give birth seeks help from Magda and Petra.  Laura holds onto the rope hanging from the dead tree.  There is a short serrated cry as the child comes with little pain, thanks to Magda.  Coming from around the bend Laura’s husband (Joshua Nuñez) presents Magda with a payment, a bottle of liquor for which Magda readily accepts.

The Ghost of El Sapo (Paul Renteria) now enters the scene, his fists tightly clenched, arms restlessly wavering, and posing like an aged body builder that cannot lower his arms any longer.  He demands that Magda release him from these earthly plains.  But, she is not so eager to do so since Sapo killed her husband and she hasn’t figured out what to do with him.   

The mortal townspeople also come to Magda for help. Elvia (Catalina Shoshan), comes next looking for her husband who left a month earlier.  Madga, working her magic, tells her that he is on the other side (el otro lado), he fell in the desert, broke his leg, and ran out of water.  She gives Elvia the co-ordinates of where she can find the body.

“Yes, Milagros will be better now that the narcos are gone.” - Madga

But now when things have settled down and the town needs a new source of revenue. Pedro Del Rio (Arturo Aranda, Jr.), Madga’s twin brother, has greedily sold the fracking rights for his own egoistic means.  

And soon after, the earthquakes come, waking Clarita (Angiee Lombana), Petra’s daughter.  She enters to find the Ghost of Eugenio staring at her.  He smiles a grandfatherly smile as they stand communicating with each other without saying a word.  

At night, Madga lets the atemporal dreams of knowledge take over, the dance of death that ravages her, in the morning she confides to O’Connor (William Jaramillo), who is smitten with her, that the water is poison and that she must warn the town. But how?

Josefina López has written a wonderful show, a delicious shiver that stays with you long after you have left the theatre.  There are similarities to Ibsen’s 1882 play An Enemy of the People mostly having to do with the poisoning of the hot springs and the water of the town. But López has made the main character a Mexican woman, a shaman, and it is her story, her fight against her brother and the men of the town who want to do her an injustice for telling her intuitive truth.  All the women fight their own little battles against the oppressive men in their community. There are surprising similarities to the current political battles against the forces of greed, corruption, and political upheaval.  Still, this show should have a longer life than its four-week run.

Director Corky Dominguez rises to the occasion in this production. There is some fantastic work going on here, characters have depth, objectives are met, relationships are believable.  Dominguez has given life to an excellent show and he does so with a fiery passion.

Some actors are familiar and the others are new but all bring a delightful surprise to Casa 0101. The actors create a core truth to every single character. 

J.D. Mata provides the music for the show including the special sound effects.  His reverberant clangour elevates this show to improbable heights.  The music and sounds create a mood by providing the special music one hears in the quiet moments of life. It was wonderful work created and composed for this show.  He also played Luis and a man in the Pueblo.

Zilah Mendoza does a lot of special work as Magda, capturing a flavor of the shaman, the liquor in her mouth sprayed around the woman giving birth, the cleansing water falling from the sky and from the dead tree all worked.  Mendoza gives a rich history to the character, and the ease of her character seemed effortless.  Magda knows everyone’s business—she feels it in her being.  She moves the town, steers it in the right direction, and fails miserably at almost every turn but manages to fight until the end.   Mendoza’s work was visually an outstanding work of art and a performance not to miss.  

Arturo Aranda, Jr. has a very good look as Pedro, a man who sells the pueblo to the highest bidder.  Pedro, previously injured by a horse, now the mayor, hobbles around.  He walks with his left leg turned inward and his arm clutches his abdomen as though he were in constant pain. Life for him, in all his adamantine glory, is about the money which has gotten him where he is today, supremely unsatisfied. There is something about the character that requires a subtle want, an unconscious objective that takes him to another level.  

Laura Bravatti brings a deeper ambiguous meaning to the character Petra.  There is something going on, in ineffable sadness, but one is not entirely tuned into her character. Perhaps Petra is ill from the water, or perhaps she misses her husband. In any case, it makes for a strong character case study as to what this woman actually wants. Not satisfied at first glance, she gets her husband, but then she doesn’t want him because of his infidelities.  What she wants remains to be seen.  Still, this is an actor who brings a rich history to the character and projects a mystery in character, one that leads to her final objective.

William Jaramillo is O’Connor, the white character in the play.  While he looks Irish, the name suggests otherwise. O’Connor moves fast as the love interest who, try as he might, never gets the girl. Maybe he isn’t trying hard enough, or drinks too much.  What would be the make or break deal to get the girl?  Jaramillo has a very interesting look and does quite well despite not getting what he came for.

Angie Lombana is incredible as Clarita. Lombana is not a child so she gives Clarita the appearance of a woman in a child’s body, clement in nature, a girl with a gift and a mental handicap.  The facial expressions turns her into that person and works perfectly.  This is just great work, all around. Lombana also plays Laura.

Joshua Nuñez inhabits a number of characters as Laura’s husband, Juan Jose, a newspaper reporter, and Arturo. Arturo is Petra’s husband who has been off in the United States making another family.  When he comes back he is a bit of a bully to his wife. Macho, macho man thinks he can come back to his wife and then have her wait on him hand and foot.  Something she is not willing to do. What we really need in this character is to find how the relationship will work, or how it has worked in the past, and how it may work in the future. Nuñez did good work in the other roles and has an outstanding craft and a very interesting look.  

One can appreciate Paul Renteria as the Ghost of El Sapo.  He has a number of moments of being a funny and an unsatisfied ghost, someone who has shaken off his mortal coil and needs help to step into the light. Also as Señor Reyes he employs a southern accent (Tennessee?).  Where and why that happened, one is not truly sure.  Still, some very good work by an actor that brings a lot of humor to the role.

Javier Ronceros brings just the right touch as Ghost of Eugenio and Eugenio (when he was alive and well).  Ronceros, with liquescent eyes, is very low key on stage and doesn’t force any moments, which makes his actions incredible to watch. All around, it was very good work.

Catalina Shoshan is a stunning actor for whom the light shines bright.  She plays Elvia and Doña Campeche and is excellent in those roles.

Marco De León, Set Designer, has created a beautifully shaded brown workable set, an indoor and outdoor space that gives us a time and a place near the border of Mexico.

All of the intangible tangibles that add to the remarkable body of the play and set were created by the follow crew members who did an outstanding job. Kevin Eduardo Vasquez, Lighting Designer, gives us exceptional moments with the lighting, time, and space, Sohail e. Najafi, was the Technical director and Special Effects person, and Masha Tatarintseva, the Video Designer.

Abel Alvarado, Costume Designer, place us in the location with an excellent defined authenticity.

Edward Padilla was the casting director and that job was exceptional.  He also served as the Producer.

Emmaneul Deleage was another producer and is the Casa 0101 Executive Director.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Laurien Allmon – Stage Manager
Gabriela Pérez – Assistant Stage Manager
Angel Lizarrago – Assistant Director
Julius Bronola – Assistant Costume Designer
Jorge Villanueva – Light Board Operator
Steve Moyer Public Relations – Press Representative
Ed Krieger –Production Photographer
Guadalupe Arellanes – Graphic Design/Casa 0101 Communications and Outreach

This show had a four-week run, which is way too short for this production. 

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who loves the mystical in all things.

Through November 12, 2017