Monday, April 24, 2017

Where the Numbers End: A Hell’s Kitchen Love Tragedy – by Amanda Moresco

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L - R Elizabeth Regen, Alexandra Vino, Sofia Vasilieva - Photos by James Sprague

By Joe Straw

The photograph on the cover of the program gave the impressions that this was going to be a period piece. The setting of the play is 2005.  - Narrator

She was washing her clothes, who knows, probably in her sink. Now she’s on the roof on top of that drab old rundown 3rd floor walkup apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. Laying ‘em out on the clothes line, trying to get them dry.  I have to laugh ‘cause the sun wasn’t getting to these clothes today. They’d be just as wet and dirtier at the end of the day.

You see people doing the strangest thing on the roofs in Hell’s Kitchen. But, you know sister, this ain’t so, so strange. I’ve seen worse and better. But, something made me look on this day. Yeah, I don’t know, couldn't say, but maybe there was something off about her. 

The clothes, bloomers, and undies are from another period, like she was an actress cleaning her costumes for a Tennessee Williams role in a run down church in the upper westside. 

Odd that she was wearing her bedclothes.  On close inspection it looked like a burlap sack, somethin' that hints at poverty that had set in long ago. And, where were her feet?  I think it was somewhere under the coarse bedclothes, or dress, or burlap flat sheet, whatever you want to call it.  The dress  did not accentuate any part of her body.  I like to see curves every now and again.

Clothespins in her mouth, mumbling something, I couldn’t really tell with these binoculars, looking so far away.  For that matter, now that I'm thinking about it, I couldn’t tell if the person was a man (with really bad hair), a woman (who has missed many trips to the salon), or one of them other types. Nope, it’s a woman.  I’m sure of it now.  I think.  Hold on sweetie. – Spying Narrator

The Whitefire Theatre presents the World Premiere of Where the Numbers End: A Hell’s Kitchen Love Tragedy by Playwright and Director Amanda Moresco, produced by Bobby Moresco, P.R. Paul, Joy Rosenbaum, Jessica Moresco, and Bryan Rasmussen through June 10, 2017. (The show will be dark on May 6th and May 13th.)

Theatre can be ambiguous.  It’s better if it is. Where the Numbers End: A Hell’s Kitchen Love Tragedy is ambiguous, poetic, but structured enough to throw off the poetry, and real enough to throw ambiguity off the roof. Hell’s Kitchen is not tragic, nor is it a rip-roaring comedy, but it is just enough to keep you entertained in the way you want to see New Yorkers interact.

The bar, where most of the action takes place, is in a place that seems to be gentrified with a diverse group of patrons. Set Designer Chris Tulysewski creates a very modest set at the Whitefire Theatre.  Three bar stools at the bar and two tables, stage right and stage left with some kind of condiment on them.

1995

Aisleen (Lynn Sher) was headed for trouble.  (She was like the lady on the front cover of the program.)  Aisleen had more going for her, in her nightgown, and on the roof of her third story walkup. A wisp of a woman walking against the breeze holding her precious book of writings, poetry, stories and what not, basking in her neurosis, it doesn’t take much to spread the toes over the edge, breath the fine air, and then just slip.

2005

“You can’t punch people in the face anymore.  You can slap them but that’s not the same thing.” - Louise

Louise (Elizabeth Regen) is as hard as nails, the steel ones, not the frilly painted ones, as if anyone would notice the paint has long disappeared from her fingernails. She thinks her time has come and gone and now she has to babysit her female cousins who can’t keep themselves out of trouble. The men, the men, the men are all trouble, not one fit for human consumption.

Margaret (Sofia Vasilieva) turns 21 today. She is the reason for the party in the bar, the celebration of sorts, all decked out in her virtuous white dress, carrying around the book, her mother had when she jumped off the roof, if not on her, then mentally attached in spirit.  Sofia’s mother has never left nor has Sofia left her and that is part of the problem. That was 10 year ago when her mother made that faithful statement.  

In someone’s mind, Sophia’s mother, Aisleen waits the bar, a figment of Sophia’s bizarre poetic imagination, an imagination that assaults her from every conceivable angle.  That one person reminds everyone of that special person that has passed.   

Caroline (Alexandra Vino) has reached her sexual prime, or what appears to be.  She is in a tight red dress that would attract any man within a mile, or two, and she knows it.  Is it Tuesday? She picks her counterpart, indiscriminately, but she is really not that choosy with the men or with the booze she drinks.

The three ladies live in one apartment in Hell’s Kitchen so there is no bringing up men to that apartment.  The bar is across the street from where they live. No matter it is time to celebrate, or maybe not celebrate, because things are looking kind of strange on this night.

It must be a full moon on Margaret’s birthday.  After a shot to toast the birthday girl, Louise says she doesn’t shoot drinks she can’t see through.  Caroline gulps hers down in a flash.

Eddie Goines


John (Eddie Goines) interrupts the party and wants to speak to a visibly shocked Louise. But Louise is having no part of it; she wants to take care of her girls and she wants to leave the bar. John needs to tell her something about her eyes.

“Maybe it was my fate to come here tonight, to tell you that you better open them.” – John

To Louise, men have a way of presenting misguided information.

Margaret flees from the scene to speak to someone she met earlier in the morning, Samuel (Matty Daniell).  She is slightly smitten by a person who appears, albeit on the surface, slightly normal.  Samuel thinks out loud – it’s not a good idea to be living in a place where her mother jumped off the roof and where her two aunts died. He invites her to come with him to visit the Statue of Liberty.  Margaret is frightened of leaving her comfort zone. Samuel leaves her with a bit of advice.

“Please stop listening to dead people.” – Samuel

Zachary Mooren and Alexandra Vino


Caroline waits for another shot and strikes up a conversation with Guy (Zachary Mooren) a man in a nicely tailored suit. It doesn’t take long for Caroline to figure the guy out, married, just so she knows she’s on the right page with this – dare I say it, a jerk. They’ll meet in the bathroom a few minutes later.

As far as the night is concerned, things are not going well for Louise especially when a disheveled Caroline comes out of the bathroom, Margaret walks away from her boyfriend in a trance.

Jig (Dario Torres), Caroline’s former boyfriend and soul mate, comes bouncing into the bar. Louise sees him and tells Caroline not to do it, not to get mixed up with him again, but Caroline is not in the mood for anymore of her motherly advice.

Amanda Moresco wrote and directed “Where the Numbers End: A Hell’s Kitchen Love Tragedy.”  I didn’t think it was a love tragedy or a tragedy at all in the true sense of the word tragedy.  No one got hurt, just a lot of bruised egos and a couple of smacks against the face. The play is a mixture of poetry, reality, and realism all in one fell swoop.  The title refers to a people who are stuck in their location with no way out – a “No Exit ” meets “Waiting for Godot” in a manner of speaking and execution.

The men in this production appear as poetic antagonist to the women.  It wasn’t hard to find on the Internet that the four have names that are synonymous with the male anatomy Samuel, John, Guy, and Jig (Gig).  And then there’s the out and out mention of the “yoga prick.”  One is not sure the writer had this in mind when she named the male players.  Or maybe she has a highly active imagination.

There is a lot to enjoy from the antic of three surviving cousins, whose mothers left these surly bonds of planet earth long ago and in various ways.  Moresco puts it out there on the page and directs in a fashion where she knows all that is about to happen.  In the course of action, there is little room for ambiguity, there are few surprises, nasty men come and go, and the women go on with their lives.  Perfect for a one act but not pushing the boundaries of depth we need, in character, and in action that I will direct in the character analysis. There is more to be had in the strength of character choices.

Lynn Sher plays Aisleen a woman who jumps off the roof 10 years earlier and appears as the barmaid throughout the show.  Poetically speaking she is the mother overseeing the actions of her relatives, most importantly her daughter. But I’m not sure the actor made that choice in the way she treats the patrons, especially her nieces.  

L - R Alexandra Vino, Elizabeth Regen, and Sofia Vasilieva


Elizabeth Regen as Louise has nowhere to go. Strong, tough, wants to keep her cousins in line.  She stays that way with little chance to grow, or giving us a change in relationships with either of her two cousins.  Louise is angry for having lost a love she probably never had at all.  What changes in Louise and why does it happen on this night? Regen does a fine job with the character and is a really fine actor, but the catharsis is minor and little has altered from the moment we first see her to the end of the show.

Alexandra Vino is Caroline a self-destructive woman with a number of assets in her favor, great body, attractive, and has a head for problem solving.  But Caroline has a drinking and drug problems along with complications with her choice in men, which includes most men who walk into the bar.  Caroline wants to explore her boundaries for the time she has before moving on to other things. And she makes mistakes, not little ones, but great big ones on a grand scale. Vino is terrific in the role.

Sofia Vasilieva provides a great deal of confidence in the character of Margaret. Her voice was strong; the manner in which she articulates the dialogue is vibrant.  But the character needs more depth and nuance, and a stronger objective, and one that ties her visions and her actions to her mother.  Margaret is on the verge of collapse on her 21st birthday.  (Vasilieva appears to be fourteen.) She is emotionally tender, seeing things that are not there.  A grander physical and mental life is in order, a life that adds to the written dialogue.  

Sometime people come into your life to provide you with information, which you heed or ignore.  Eddie Goines as John is like that.  Maybe John wants something from his female companion, or maybe he doesn’t.  But one thing he does want is to convey a message, an important one.  Goines portrayal hits the mark and is wonderful in his sensitivity to the character. The interpretation is rich in flavor and poignant in execution.

Without giving too much away, Matty Daniell plays Samuel.  Samuel is also there to help in a strange and bizarre way.  But in that characterization, more has to happen.  A character of this type can’t be “joe normal” and expect to get away with just coming off and on stage without a profound character choice.  Samuel brings an unexpected message and that message must come in an unexpected way. Still, Daniell has a very good look on stage.

Zachary Mooren has some really grand moments as Guy.  This is a character that must come down front and center and interact.  Instead he is at the bar, which is upstage.  Still, there is some really good work going on in character.  His voice is appealing, and his manner suits the despicable personality.  

Dario Torres is terrific as Jig, a Latino knight in shinning armor. But Jig has faults of his own, a forever friend who has made a decision and has turned on his dear friend. But, he’s got to move on. He comes to the bar hoping he would not see his friend?  Right.  He is there to give finality to their relationship.  He comes in to man up and do the right thing. Torres is also terrific in the role.

One can really appreciate the fight choreography by Mike Mahaffey in this play, which had a reality of its own.

Other members of this crew are as follows:

Elle Maney – Associate Proeducer
Derrick McDaniel – Lighting Designer
David Svengalis – Sound & Graphic Designer
Nancy Santiago – Stage Manager/Wardrobe
Nora Feldman – PR

Run! Run! And take a barfly.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Sirens of Titan adapted by Stuart Gordon from the Novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

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Pete Caslavka - photos by Jessica Sherman


By Joe Straw

This show needed some wry – sandwiched between the white loaves of irony – and with just a dash of didactic time. – Narrator

He couldn’t help but want to go to Titan after seeing three of the most voluptuous ladies that would cater to his every need.  Yes, I said, every need.  

The question, for him (and for me), is how will he get there?  

When he stares at the photo he is encumbered by other thoughts and disregards the technical concerns of how.  The how is almost forgotten as he envelops their colors: white, gold, and brown.  Captured by their seductive smiles, and the perfect way their form calls.   

One can immediately sense that a particular insanity drives this being, standing there and salivating for want. In some circles, and some cultures this is a natural process of procurement.  Yes, before electronics, salivating for need was indeed a national pastime. The how, for this man, and for one brief moment is on the mental backburner.

But, why wouldn’t anyone want to go there? A little secret here: Titan is not for the peons, the uneducated, and the unduly crusted earth wanderers of this god-forsaken planet. And maybe this is all just a fanfaronade but the question isn’t “Why?” it is “Why not?” 

So, when you go to Titan, a moon of Saturn, go prepared, and take your “A” game.  No artificial stimulus required or needed.  

Sacred Fools Theater Company presents The Sirens of Titan adapted by Stuart Gordon from the novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., directed by Ben Rock and produced by Shaela Cook through May 6th, 2017 at 1076 Lillian Way in Los Angeles, CA 90038.

There is a lot to enjoy from Sacred Fools Theater Company and especially this troupe of thespians that manage a lot of frivolity in this fun filled night. The acting is superb and conveys the message that Vonnegut, Jr. may have had in mind. 

In space, things can change in a heartbeat, and so it was with wealthy New Englander Winston Niles Rumfoord (Eric Curtis Johnson) and his dog Kazak (Tim Kopacz). 

It must be said that Winston left all personal things to the wayside to have a spaceship constructed on his property.  Taking a man’s best friend, Kazak, with him was a personal option, and a message to his wife, as they blasted off into space.  The two of them shook, like the escaping images of a fifties movie, a mashed potato face, fighting the groans of speed and gravity mixed with the escape velocity, and all in the effort to reach zero solemnity.

But something goes predicatively wrong in reaching their destination, Mars.  Their rocket ship plows into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum and now they have lost touch with reality, and most importantly with ground control.  Their lives are now further complicated because they are pulsating drips that travel between the sun and Betelgeuse. Not all that complicated when you think about pulsations.  It means that Winston and Kazak will come back to earth intact every 59 days, back home to his neglected and virtuous wife, before disappearing back into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum once again.  

Eric Curtis Johnson


One of the advantages of moving back and forth in space is that Winston Niles Rumfoord can now predict, no, see the future. He is able to rattle of a series of truths, a hypozeuxis of thoughts, and mind readings, if he chooses to do so.  And that’s why everyone is trying to get a piece of Winston Niles Rumfoord.

But, Rumfoord has an ulterior motive, one that necessitates a coverup, by offering a wry sense of humor, and coyness about his actions.  

His wife, Beatrice Rumford (Jaime Andrews), doesn’t think much of those attributes. She doesn’t think much of him or his dog either and thinks less of him now that he is just a 59-day phenomenon. In her eyes, he is a rebarbative figure.

But let’s get to the now. Winston is here today to speak with the ultra rich, ultra boastful, “Somebody up there likes me” Malachi Constant ((Pete Caslasvka) dismissing all the reporters in the process. 

Winston, a predictor of the future, says that Malachi Constant will marry his wife, they will live on Mars, and they will have a child, his name will be Chronos. Chronos will find and carry a tool that is very important. Winston tells Constant that his final destination is on Titan.

“Why would I go there?” – Constant

“The climate, women.” – Winston

Winston hands him a picture of the women of Titan and Constant falls into the seat in love.   

Also, Winston says his wife is still a virgin.

Constant is not curious on that matter.  He can have any woman on the face of the earth, why would he want someone's wife?  Still, he’s inquisitive, how this will all happen. So he meets with Beatrice, to get an idea, a spark of how the future will play out.  Their brief meeting is tenuous at best, fraught with conflict, and without a meeting of the mind.  

Malachi Constant goes about his carefree life unaware of troublous times. He lies partially unclothed, next to a young maiden (Jax Ball), after a night of partying when Ransom K. Fern (Dennis Neal) informs him that his cigarette company has manufactured a product, MoonMist Tobacco, that causes sterility in men and therefore Constant has lost everything. 

Broke, Constant hops on a spaceship to join the Martian Army, Beatrice joins him and suddenly everyone forgets everything, a formula induced to all who pledges allegiance to an alien power (a metal plate attached to the head).

Now, 11 years later, they are all under the power of Boaz (K. J. Middlebrooks), a nicely dressed military man with no discernible rank, who by pressing a remote causes excruciating pain to those who get in his way.  

L - R K.J. Middlebrooks and Pete Caslavka
  

Constant, whose brain has been cleaned out by the Martian Army, goes by the name Unk now.  But that brain-wiping thing does not work that well, and especially with Unk whom has a tape recorder hidden with all of his notes, refreshing his memory that says he has a wife and kid.

There is a lot going on in this production.  I went on opening night and actors are still settling into their roles.  Still there is a lot to enjoy, and enough fantasy to lift you to that special place, into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum, that only theatre can do and do well.

If you have read the book, you’ll be able to follow the play.  But if you have not read the book, you might have some problems, albeit minor ones that I will address later.  

Still, there are a lot of wonderful things in this production. The video animation of the Mars attack by Kays Alatrakchi and the character Salo by puppet/creature designer Russ Walko, make it a wonderful evening of theatre. Jennifer Christina DeRosa also does a wonderful job as the Costume Designer.

Okay, so what are the notes?  Ben Rock, the director, requires a stronger through line. In the way that Dorothy finds her way home in the Wizard of Oz, so it must be that Malachi Constant must find what he is looking for.  And, in search of what? A suggestion might be the Sirens of Titan. The desired objective is to find a way home, wherever home may be.  In the book, it is Indianapolis, Indiana. I wasn’t so sure what it was in the play. That also holds true for the other places that Constant travels to: Earth, Mars, Mercury, all with Titan and the beautiful women in mind.  The objective to find the place is important for the actor to keep in mind.

Another thing.  There were times where the audience (me) lost sight of the locations, where the characters were, be it Mars, Mercury, Massachusetts, California, because Constant was all over the place.  The doors placed on the upstage walls were not enough to suggest another place, another planet.

Also, the crowd scenes are extremely important in his play.  It gives us a sense of being swept up in the fervor whether it is social (the reporters) or the religious (parishioners). Those scenes did not work to full effect. The reporters were dismissed with a wisp and the parishioners did not grasp the significance of the space traveler.

Pete Caslavka appears in a yellow suit with a question mark on it as Malachi Constant, a man of greed and avarice, a space traveler, and suddenly, unless you’ve read the book, the suit makes little sense.  The suit is made for him.  He is the chosen one.  It will only fit one.  We see little of the reasoning of what significance the suit plays, with the church, and beyond that. Perhaps the Rev. Redwine and church should dress him, there on stage.  That aside, Caslavka does some really fine work on stage playing the billionaire who cares for little except his own self-gratification, like someone in office right now.   

Jaime Andrews is Beatrice Rumfoord and has a solid presence on stage.  It is difficult to determine what Beatrice wants both in the play and in the book but whatever Andrews choice was, it was someone who had a strong moral code, and un-withering backbone that stood for the principle within her. The work was excellent Andrews has an authoritative presence and manages to hold her own.

Eric Curtis Johnson was Winston Niles Rumfoord, a man with an ulterior motive, and a man who knows everything, with an almost God-like religious fervor.  He has a reason for doing what he is doing.   Rumfoord’s movement is in line with his direction, his force, whether it is economic reasons or religious reasons one is not quite sure.  

Jax Ball does some fine work in the ensemble and as Young Chrono.

K. J. Middlebrooks has a very distinctive look, a calm and natural presence on stage as Boaz.  Certainly there’s more to be had with his relationship to the harmonium creatures on Mercury, the relationship with his partner, and his music, which is his reason for wanting to stay on Mercury.

Jesse Merlin plays a number or characters in the show and does extraordinary work.  His role as Salo, a tangerine looking robot with three arms protruding every which way, was the highlight. But Salo should also tie into all of the other characters on earth in some likeness or mannerism to show there is a connection. Salo is another character that has been diligently watching everyone. Merlin is an actor who appears everywhere on stage in Los Angeles.  The work is always impressive, and his craft is inspiring.



Dennis Neal


Dennis Neal is notable as The Reverend C. Horner Redwine the minister of the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent and other roles. This is a character that should embody exuberance when he discovers the space wanderer, in the way he finds him, and in the way he controls his flock.  

Tiffanie McQueen


Tifanie McQueen was Mrs. Peterson, a woman who appeared to be a lecturer, or schoolmarm who describes the Martian attack in detail.  I missed that she was a character from Boca Raton who killed four Martians with her son’s .22-caliber rifle. McQueen shows a tremendous amount of poise on stage, and she has a wonderful voice.  

Tim Kopacz is wonderful as Kazak, the dog.  Kazak doesn’t say much but gets his point across. Also Kopacz plays Stony Stevenson, a mysterious man who dies under mysterious circumstances (somebody kills him), and then is used as a tool to control another.

Stuart Gordon manages to capture the flavor of Vonnegut, Jr.’s, work, a lot of words and dialogue in the play are pulled directly from the book.  But the book goes into enormous detail that is lost in the adaptation from book to play.  But when the translation from book to play hits the right notes, it is a very beautiful thing. And so, this is a work of art that demands to be seen, and at any cost.

The understudies in the show are as follows:  Curt Bonnem, Libby Baker, Paul Plunkett, Adriana Colón, Gabriel Croom, Corey Klemow, Brendan Broms and Missy Mannila. They did not perform the night I was there, but will perform later in the run.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Bo Powell – Associate Producer
Scott Golden – Assistant Director
Maggie Marx – Stage Manager
Alicia Conway Rock – Dramaturge
Krystyna Loboda – Scenic Designer
Hillary Bauman – Key Scenic
Matt Richter & Adam Earle – Lighting Designers
Ruth Silveira – Assistant Costume Designer
Hat & Suitcase – Projection Designer
Jaime Robledo - Sound Designer
Lisa Anne Nicolai – Prop Designer
Emily Donn – Assistant Prop Designer
Michael Teoli – Score Composer
Angela Santori Merritt – Hair and Make-up Artist
Cj Merriman – Choreographer
Chairman Barnes – Military Advisor
Bob DeRosa – Marketing Associate Producer
Brian Wallis – Projection Tech
Nathan Shoop – Lead Builder
Tor Brown & Joshua Benton – Builders
Marian Gonzalez, RebeccaSchoeriberg, Maggie Marx and Anthony Backman – Electricians
TJ O/Bien, Alyson Schultz & Joshua Benton – Assistant Stage Managers
Annette Fasone – Casting Coordinator
Jessica Sherman Photography – Performance Photography
Gabe Leonard – Poster Art
Jack Townsend – Title Text

Run! Run!  And take someone who loves Vonnegut, Jr., not senior, Jr!

Sacred Fools Theater Company
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA  90038

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Cruise by Jonathan Ceniceroz

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L - R Ric Salinas and Kenneth Lopez - Photos by: Grettel Cortes Photography


By Joe Straw

(Art is about breaking rules and the only way I could write about The Cruise was to put myself on the ship.  It wasn’t hard to do, just grab my ticket, take a seat, and watch people interacting.)

I boarded the Majestic, a cruise ship, and one that moves it’s way slowly around the blue seas of the Caribbean. There was a light breeze and I wasn’t feeling all that great.

After the death of a pet, a fish found upturned in her aquarium, “they” said it would be good to just “ get away from the madness” and just “get some rest.”  The reality of the spoken word was refreshing but the cruise was an exorbitant price to pay for the exacerbated mourning of a fish. No matter, I’m here.

Grief stricken I’m here alone.  Settling down with a pad in my lap, I thought this would be a nice time to catch up on my thoughts, write about what I saw, the people on the cruise, and get a tan in the process.

Being shut in these long winter months does not look good to those who want to look brown. If I could get as brown as an Arawak, not get some kind of skin cancer, and blend in, I would decidedly be upbeat and maybe change in some significant way.  

I thought I could remain anonymous on the cruise ship. And just possibly engage in a coze or two.  – Narrator

L - R Carolyn Almos, Gary Lamb, Ric Salinas, and Kenneth Lopez


Boyd Mathiesson (Brian Wallace) greets everyone on the ship.  A peculiar man, of an uncertain comportment, slightly disheveled, who seemed to run the ship. For the life in me, I couldn’t tell where this guy was from – eerie music here “the man from who knows where” end music – he had a German, French, Dutch, and English accent – no. England is stretching it a bit – maybe a Spaniard in some cabalistic circles.  There is something inflexible about him; the acrid biting remarks as though he has been through a lot of pain. The tattered belt he wears is a noticeable giveaway of an unsustainable lifestyle. He is slightly angry and one thinks, he is a closeted gay and possibly an alcoholic. Also, the word around the Majestic is that Boyd is up for a big promotion.  

One person that seemed to have the time of his life is Ramón Diaz (Ric Salinas)—a man who wears outlandish pastels like there is no tomorrow and takes great pride in having fun even at the expense of himself.  Ramón is in hiding; actually he is traveling incognito and under an assumed name. The sunglasses hide very little. One is told that Ramón goes by another last name Garcia, but for now he is Professor Diaz, noted historian of the Arawak natives of the Caribbean. Check your program for the lecture schedule.  

James Garcia (Kenneth Lopez), a writer of sort, is traveling with his father, Ramón.  From just looking at them, one would, at first, suspect a couple, an estranged couple, but no they were father and son. They are about the same height. James didn’t come prepared, like the others, a jacket, tees and inexpensive jeans thrown in a duffel bag and tissue, lots of tissues is about all he had. Writers!

Judith Coburn (Carolyn Almos) is peculiar in the way she looks at everyone, as though she knows you, without introduction.  She is one of “those” people that prowls humanity searching for the opportunity to make a connection. Throw down the straw, and let go of that “Goombay Smash”.  It’s time to make the simplest but lovely connection. With her there is always a purpose.

Howard Thomlinson (Gary Lamb) is married to Judith?  They are together most of the time but I’m a little puzzled why they have different last names.  She doesn’t seem to be a feminist.  They are both white, rich, well not rich rich, but just rich. And he’s off about smoking a joint, any place where he can find solitude, and to talk to someone about something he inexplicably needs which one is not sure of.  He and his wife are from Arizona and reek of white privilege.

The way Boyd and Ramón get together is sinister, in a way, quiet. They have a past they need to talk about. Out in the open on the deck, and in the dark, where they feel safer. That triggers shame in one and fun times for the other.  A ravenous hunger of both - truth and bestial affinities has got one under the control the other.

Ric Salinas, Brian Wallace


In any case, Boyd has found out that Ramón is traveling on the Majestic under an assumed name and possible with a fake passport. And despite Boyd’s internal and external struggle with Ramón, Boyd now has the legal upper hand.

So, that means whatever relationship Ramón has with his son, estranged as though it may be, needs to be patched up quickly.

But Ramón is no slouch when getting the goods on someone especially when it involves his life.  Watching Boyd on the verge of vitiating his son and then calling his son “promiscuous”, well that night on the deck would turn the heartiest of stomachs.

The Cruise by Jonathan Ceniceroz is a wonderful captivating comedy that is engaging in ways that explores the human condition.  The writing is exquisite. At most, it is the examination of deeper relationships - almost excavating to get beyond the surface of simple human foibles.  Each person on board brings on their baggage both figuratively and literally, their history, with and without fault.  The cruise is, in some way, a cleansing ritual for the characters and that is what makes this cruise so fascinating to watch.   There is a deeper meaning here that has to do with the content of the character, in a constricted space, under a wide open canopy, where the characters are literally smothering each other from one moment to the next, interactively, and is decidedly brilliant in that regard.

Health Cullens, the director, shows remarkable range, in guiding the actors to their destination.  There is never a let up in action and this remarkable group of actors never let a moment slip without a reaction that rings a sincere truth. That said, there are a couple of items that need discussion.

Gary Lamb gives rise to the character Howard Thomlinson, a three dimension astute character that did not have a noticeable objective.  (Sometimes you have to hit me over the head with it.)  Thomlinson is husband number two, wants to be involved with his wife’s occupation, but would rather be off doing something else. One really couldn’t tell what that “something else” was. How does Thomlinson fit in the course of the play?  Well, the reality is he is a conservative operative that needs a Latino voice on board his ship. But, really, is that enough? That said, Lamb is an exceptional actor for which the stronger points of an objective must be made to give him a stronger credibility.

Kenneth Lopez, Carolyn Almos
Carolyn Almos breathes life to Judith Coburn, a wife now but mostly a political maven from Pleasant Valley, AZ whose only joy in life is to find her a conservative candidate and then to elect him.  She cruises the ship in the hopes of making a connection or two and then exploiting those connections. Almos is remarkable in her craft, making it look all too easy and that is the trademark of a very fine actor.

Kenneth Lopez plays James Garcia, the son.  James comes to make amends with his estranged father.  A cruise is just the ticket.  But James is much like his father, fun loving and capable of getting into a lot of trouble.  This is a supreme showcase for Lopez that highlights a performance which showed both a subtle nuance in performance and an impeccable range all in one fell swoop. These are moments when you just lift the pen from the page and take notice of a remarkable moment.  Lopez is doing a lot of downtown theatre and the work in this show was very impressive and unexpected.

Ric Salinas plays Ramón Garcia.  Ramón, a complex character, is mostly on this ride for fun. Ramón has gotten himself into trouble with the cruise line and is unable to completely hide from the one thing that he truly likes to have, fun.  Maybe it is his last fling and why not get his son to come visit on this last trip.   Salinas brings his comic genius to the stage in this go out even going overboard in the process to great comic effect. And this is a theatre where you are just a hairs breath away from one of the finest actors in Los Angeles.

Brian Wallace is extraordinary as Boyd. He plays a character where one has to step back and utter to the character, “Where are you from?”  It is a role specifically written with that characterization in mind and Wallace performs it impeccably.

There is something I did not quite get.  Sometimes one has to be hit over the head with a moment and that moment is the “apology”.  What exactly happens when the apology is made?   

Brittany Blouch, Scenic Design, is effective.  One would suggest the budget was not a grand one but this is a set where a little symbolism goes a long way.

Manee Leija, Costume Design, works on many levels.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Justin Huen – Lighting Design
Ivan Robles – Sound Designer
Antonieta Castillo – Properties Design
Jagger Waters – Stage Manager
Gabe Figueroa – Production Manager

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who is an observer and is dying to go on a cruise.

The Latino Theater Company presents The Cruise written by Jonathan Ceniceroz and Directed by Heath Cullens through April 9, 2017.

LATC
514 S. Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA  90013

THELATC.ORG
866-811-4111

Monday, March 27, 2017

An Evening of Scenes by various writers and directed by Sal Landi

By Joe Straw

He would fade into something impalpable under her eyes and then in a moment he would be transfigured.  Weakness and timidity and inexperience would fall from him in that magic moment. – James Joyce – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

On this evening, the audience coming to see the scenes was an eclectic bunch, off centered, old and young, tat’s and lace, venturing to see actors preforming.  There is an excitement in the air and you just never know who is going to show up.

Sal Landi, who directed the scenes, appeared to take the job of directing a little more seriously. On this night the direction had a strong through line, a well-defined theme, of strong women overcoming obstacles in various situations, and always having or getting the upper hand.  The performances on this night were totally engaging and it was a complete success.

The Pan Andreas Theatre is a wonderful theatre and just the kind of venue to showcase actors in their environment.  There was not much in the way of sets and props. The night was for the actors to create. The actors were outstanding on the stage, their environment, and their time.  Although the scenes were short (around 7 minutes), the actors provided a glimpse of defined and strong characters.  And seeing that makes one want to go to theatre again and again.

Cellini – John Patrick Shanley

She was beautiful but troubled. Life model, Caterina (Angelique Pretorius), was wearing an outfit that resembled playful bedroom attire.  She was a model posing for Cellini (Francisco Ovalle), an artist with a questionable reputation. 

Caterina was beautiful in a way models are not supposed to be, voluptuous and hungry, with a desire to get what she came for.  She wanted more money.

Cellini—poor and bare-footed—wanted to create art.  But without money, little was going to get done.  “Whore”, he called her, taking her head and moving it against her will. 

Touching was not part of the bargain, not now and, in Caterina’s mind, not ever.  Her strength was to find a way to live, feed herself, and enjoy life.  

Angelique Pretorius spoke her first few lines.  There was a trace of an accent from this South African native.  It was subtle at first, quiet, softly spoken, but then she moved on from there and created a startling life, a few feet in front of me, and it was there that I discovered a surprising range, of one who is sure in her moves, and capable of giving in extraordinary circumstances.  Pretorius is a marvelous actor.

There was a lot to enjoy in Francisco Ovalle’s performance. He also had an accent, Spanish, which suited the character, Benvenuto Cellini, an Italian artist known for his relationships with his models, female and male. Cellini enjoyed the chase with a touch of conflict and sometime treated his subjects unfairly and with distain.   Ovalle commanded strength in the manner he held the art stick and the way he sought to control his subject. It was beautiful work.

Before It Hit Home by Cheryl L. West

Wendal (Jahking Guillory) is lying under the blanket on his mother’s floor. He has lived his life precariously, on the edge, playing jazz in seedy dives, and mixing with the wrong kind of people.  He awakens this night sweating and takes some pills, when his mother Reba (Veronica L. Ocasio) walks out into the living room.  

Reba stares at her son in a purple housecoat and defined pink slippers giving color to her flat which is not much to look at on this given night, still it is her home.  

There is an edge to her relationship with Wendall but this moment in time reveals little. But why is Wendal there?  And why this night?

Wendal is unable to rid himself of the smell of nightly sweats. He comes home for a human anodyne and needs the comforting arms of his mother. If only he could get the words out.   

There is some good work going on here but there are things about character that could have been brought to the forefront. Taken from the 1989 play by Ms. West, Wendal is a saxophone player who comes home to tell his family that he has AIDS, despite the stigma associated with it, and the negative reaction he’ll encounter. Revealing that life, and that relationship, is what is needed in this scene.  

Dinner With Friends by Donald Marguilies

Don’t remember much about this scene with Beth (Elena Ghenoiu) and Tom (Jay Duncan) maybe it was a mental block of having gone through a similar situation.  

Tom is almost on the way out with Beth.  Beth is not forthcoming and Tom knows she is not forthcoming based on how she avoids even the simplest of questions. And the questions get harder as they get closer to their kids.

It hard to figure out who is running this show, Beth or Tom.  In the end, Beth gets her way.  I think.

This scene requires dramatic intimacy to get at the truth. It needs two actors standing toe to toe, starting in rehearsals and, once that connection is made, on to a blocked scene to keeps the connection. Ghenoiu and Duncan are fine in the roles but this should be a comedy of intimacy, of subtle discoveries, and of a hurt that tears the lining of an already broken fabric, their marriage.  

Four Dogs and A Bone by John Patrick Shanley

Shaking off the movie-making blues of the day, Colette (Sara Drust) and Brenda (Autumn Rusch) meet somewhere in the night, a trailer perhaps, a dressing room, each coming in with killer instincts, one to do the other one in in whatever form that takes.  The words sting when two of their kind come together for treacherous reasons.

But in this particular scene, there are no props, little in the way of costume and wig, just two actors going toe to toe. I found it stimulating that they were hitting their marks, making the point, and moving from one moment to the next. But for this scene, a little bit of symbolism would go a long way in terms of who they are, where they are, and how they reach their objectives.

Still, this was very fine work by actors, knowing their strengths, and completing their objectives.

Boys Next Door by Tom Griffin

Norman Bulansky (John Reno) invites Sheila (Kelley S. Park) into his home.  Norman is mentally challenged, as is Sheila.  Besides working in a donut shop, the special thing about Norman is that he is in the procession of a set of keys that he wants to give to Sheila for reasons known only to him.

Sheila is a little concerned about what might happen there.  She says she has to leave soon to catch a bus. That means Norman has to work fast to get what he wants and, if that includes flowers and chocolates donuts, so be it.  

Reno displays enormous work in character, voice, and mannerism as he parades around his home in padding that makes him look obese, the side effect of a character working in a donut shop. This gives Reno the appearance of a 3-D bop bag which works wonders when he falls to the floor and rolls in pain. Reno provides a dramatic truth in Norman Bulansky – one that rings a sympathetic chord in this observer - right down to the last kiss.

Park also provides comic timing with a neck brace and a pair of small binoculars.  (I’ve seen this woman ushering at the Pantages in the late 1970s!). Park gives a very honest portrayal of someone trying to find her way in life.

Venus in Fur by David Ives

Thomas (Yoshi Barrigas) has had it up to here trying to find someone to cast in his new production, a period piece. He needs someone with an accent and is sick of what everyone has to offer.

Lucky, or unlucky for him, Vanda (Ashley Liai Coffee) shows up. By all accounts, Vanda is the wrong woman.  Wrong in shape, wrong in size, and wrong in beauty and skin color.  Besides she is so ditsy that she doesn’t have her act together; she is frazzled, costumes in one bag, lipstick in another.

Thomas tells her to leave but Vanda will not take no for an answer.  He decides to let her read and gets a very pleasant surprise and one that may not be so pleasant at the end.

One is fascinated with Barrigas’ work, the manner in which he executes, and the voice that carries throughout the theatre.  The work is simple, concise, and shows an exciting dramatic range.

Coffee is excellent as well moving from one extreme to another and giving life to another being other than her original character. Coffee provides depth in character and a rich history to go along with that.

Four Dogs and A Bone by John Patrick Shanley

A production of a movie is extremely stressful when actors are vying for more screen time, better lines, and a longer career.  After a long day, Victor (Bryan Zampella) and Collette (Jovita Trujillo) retreat to a bar. Victor is looking for Brenda (not seen).

Collette, the actress, is certainly a mad dog looking for the bone which essentially has no meat on it.  Victor, the writer, knows it, and tries to make the best of a bad situation. He’s not in a great mood especially since his mother recently died.

“I love your script. It’s so chunky.” –Collette

Victor is not taking the bait and tries to leave, but stays just long enough to find out what Collette is up to and it ain’t pretty.  

Zampella and Trujillo work well together in this scene, their voices are fine, and the words of the play are well executed and funny.  Still there is more work to be done with character and backstory that will add nicely to what they have already done.

The Old Rugged Cross – author unknown

Sweltering Ophelia (Koda Corvette) sweeps a country porch. She is bare footed and wears a dress that outlines the shape of her young body. Ophelia sweeps the crumbs from the sugar butter biscuits, along with the dog hair, cat mess, and other stuff than manages its way onto a country porch. All is swept away into the garden except her daydreams.   

Billy (Jadon Fitzpatrick), probably a neighbor from up the street, appears while no one is home and intends to do her no good. He gets to know her, cajoles her, and wants her to go with him.

But Ophelia, says she can’t go out with him, talks a lot about her Christian values without making a negative mark on his masculinity. And then something hits home with him and he leaves her alone.

Fitzpatrick, slight and muscular, wearing no shirt and a leather jacket, is excellent as Billy, a man up to no good.  The manner in which he approaches her and attempts to convince her to go with him was really fine work.  But what are the exact words, or the emotional connection that make him leave her alone? Something had an effect but what was it?

Corvette is sultry on the porch, not paying attention, singing a song, and totally unaware of strangers approaching.  She sees him, is enticed by his good looks, projects a tremulous glow, and wants to make a connection of some kind.  There are the two sides of her passion, one that wants, and the other that doesn’t. Corvette’s acting is subtle and very effective.

Fresh Horses by Larry Ketron

Larkin (Nick Machado) has gotten himself into a lot of trouble by hooking up with a high school dropout, Jewel (Chloe Wu), a young woman who is not quite all there.

Larken has plans of being something other than a factory worker like his dad.  Jewel is so out of it, she doesn’t know if she is coming or going. Larken truly doesn’t believe the relationship is going to work.

Jewel has taken his car and doesn’t know what happened to it, or doesn’t let on that she knows. Her manner is to speak volubly without saying anything or without giving away information critical to where she was the previous night. 

There is a lot going on in this scene with Machado and Wu, possibly there’s too much information in this short scene.  We never really get into the meat of the story but are left floundering around for answers that may or may not come.  Still, I enjoyed the work and the scene.

This type of venue is a meet and greet venue.  The key things here is to have your work seen.  Secondly, it’s best to have time to meet at the end of the performance and to have a resume available just in case job opportunities comes a knocking.

Sal Landi has created a venue for an audience to see the work and what happens after that is anyone’s guess.  Hopefully, the work will lead to paying jobs and a fulfilling career. This definitely was a night for being seen.