Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lone Star by James McLure

L - R Christopher Parker, Brian Foyster, and Christopher Jordan - Photos by Elephant Stageworks

By Joe Straw

The Elephant Theatre Company presents Lone Star by James McClure and directed by David Fofi at the Zephyr on Melrose through May 7, 2017.

The first time I saw Lone Star was in Michael Shurtleff’s class back in the early ’80 with Judson Vaughn, Ray Powers, and someone else whose name escapes me.  Naturally, it was the actor who played Cletus. Can you fault me for that?

This was Shurtleff’s first class of the session, and the actors did the entire one act.  It was “as funny as all get out”, as my first wife use to say, and she knew funny.  She was a Lutheran from Cheyenne, Wyoming.

They have a saying up there – “Cheyenne, Wyoming, where men are men, and sheep are nervous”. - Narrator

But, here we are in Maynard, Texas, the year of, well the writer James S. McLure never said. (By the way, the Set Design by Elephant Stageworks is a work of art and is a magical space for actors to do their magic.)

Well, in this version by David Fofi, the director, it’s been a while since Roy (Christopher Jordan) has seen anything that resembles the military.  This particular Roy is a little older, more than a few years out of “Vit Nam”.  But take it to heart that he’s been there, Vietnam, and done that, his military duty. Drafted no doubt.  But now, it’s a Friday night and he always said that after he got out of “Vit Nam” he wanted to sit outside the bar, watch the traffic, eat, and drink beer, the only kind of beer that’s known to man and God, Lone Star Beer.

The trouble is that Roy has been doing that for years.

So, Roy sits outside the bar satisfied he has done all he needs to do, his duty, plops him self down on a busted up car seat on cinder blocks back behind the bar. His coolness has worn off with age, the pounds have accumulated on his gut, and the boots are dusty and dirty.  Still, there’s a touch of James Dean cool in him, and he still has that 1959 pink Thunderbird chick magnet, just enough to draw a smile from anyone of the female persuasion.

Roy plops the top off a beer bottle with the claw of a hammer he’s found out back and, should anyone come visit him back there, he is still sharing his war stories.  

Ray (Christopher Parker) is Roy’s younger brother.  He is a man who is not all there and proves it at every opportunity.  

“Did you take my wife home for me.” – Roy

“I did.” - Ray

(The key word here is wife.  And, it is not a question but a declarative statement.)

Ray’s come back after driving Roy’s wife home in Roy’s 1959 pink Thunderbird convertible and returned back to the bar to fetch Roy, leaving the keys on the bar inside. 

Ray enlists Roy to come back into the bar and talk to women.

“Look.  I’m a married man.” - Roy

One imagines this hits Ray like a ton of bricks - on his conscience - and he needs to tell Roy something about that but instead talks about his car.

Ray says there a few things wrong with Roy’s car, it’s running rough, needs points looked at, and plugs, and a new radiator cap, low tires, a new block, and a bunch of other stuff that needs repair.  In other words that chick magnet is a pile of pink masquerading as a car and has seen better days, which doesn’t sit too well with Roy.  

Tonight Ray has something to tell big brother Roy, something really important and Roy has something to tell Ray, something he’s on to him about.  

But before either one can say anything Cletus T. “Skeeter” Fullernoy (Brian Foyster), nervously walks back to talk to Ray, alone, and in private.  Roy is accommodating because he can’t stand Cletus who has been a thorn in his side since he don’t know when.

The best thing about this production is that David Fofi is back; doing what he loves doing best.

This is a production where I want to sit down with the creators and speak to what worked and what didn’t over a nice cold brew.  I think I caught this show early in the run so most of the things have probably been corrected by the time you see it.

For this production the comedy has to be played to extremes.  The actions on stage can be as broad in emotions and physical movements as can be to emphasize a point.  And, for the most part, this will this work if there are strong objectives. Strong character choices are required to carry out objectives.  Roy, Ray and Cletus are three very different people. 

Also, comedy works best when the hurts are accentuated. The performers in this play are members of The Actors Studio but the method of acting is not in full display here.  Maybe it was an off night for everyone. The lines didn’t come together easily, the relationships were not solid, and somewhere the broad comedy was lost.

This is not to say that all was lost.  There were funny moments, some poignant moment, but the actors lost their objectives, struggling on this night. And maybe it was just this night.

From the first moment when Ray enters the back of the bar, the audience needs to know they are brothers.  They need to witness the hierarchical relationship between the two men.  Aside from one being daft, there was hardly a difference. Ray has a reason for being there on this night and he is there to come clean. That should be something we feel the very first time Ray comes out the back door.

Roy thinks he is the smartest one, the master thinker, the one who thinks deep thoughts, and if he doesn’t believe it he is a lost soul. On top of his brains, is his brawn and amazing good looks.  When he wears his boots John Wayne has got nothing on him.

Ray’s got something going for him or else he wouldn’t have had the women he’s had, and for one woman in particular.  He’s got some brains too, just not his brother’s brains.  He looks to his brother, mightily.  But, he’s got something weighing on his conscience, something that he has to get out, and something he has to say to Roy to clear his name once and for all.  (I didn’t see any of that.)

L - R Christopher Parker, Christopher Jordan

The relationship between Ray and Roy did not gel the night I was there. They were across the stage from each other and this night looked like a normal night in their lives. But, this night is different. There were very little hints of one character wanting something from the other and that is something every actor must have, strong choices and a strong objective.

Also, Cletus has got to have an entrance, and a dramatic one at that considering what he has just gone through.  (Sorry, I can’t give this away.) That also should have been presented in deed and thought, perhaps a car part. And Cletus has to look up to Roy.  Roy should be a God to him.  He should, in a manner of speaking, lick his boots in praise of his idol to give us more of that relationship.

The night I saw Lone Star the actors appeared to have limited rehearsal time, more was needed for this production, and for the comedy.  The timing was off, and the relationships were tenuous at best.

Christopher Jordan

Christopher Jordan plays Jordan and on this night seemed to be grasping for lines, incorporating dramatic pauses where possibly none should be. Emotional intention is the key for this character. Most of the work is done if the intention, or objective, is clear.  Still there was a moment near the end that rang a solid truth and Jordan was terrific in that moment.

“How can you mistake an old woman from a bowling alley?” – Ray

“It was dark.” – Roy

“Oh.” - Ray

Christopher Parker is Ray, the younger brother. Ray should fear God and his older brother and maybe in that order.  Ray (I believe) has come to fess up.  That is his job. So when he first sees Roy he should make sure that his brother is alive, or cognizant to hear what he has to say. Ray has done a lot of things that he should not have been doing.  Parker did not establish a clear relationship with his brother or with God for that matter. He has done something that would have him in the clutches of the devil, paying an awful price, but we did not see that fear, or that comedy, and that is what we need to see.

“… I saw people without heads.” – Roy

“Were they dead?” – Ray

Brian Foyster did more things successfully as the character Cletus. But, the entrance needs work, and the relationship with Roy also needs a little work. Cletus needs a small injury on his entrance and he should come in with a dramatic purpose. The keys should be part of his arsenal coming out the back door.  

“He hit me in the head with a hoe.” – Ray

“He was probably trying to teach you something.  Probably had a moral to it.” - Roy

Lone Star is a play where one must define the moments in order for the comedy to work.

Pam Noles is the Stage Manager. 

Run! And take someone who has emotional issues.

Monday, April 24, 2017

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


L - R Elizabeth Regen, Alexandra Vino, Sofia Vassilieva - 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.


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.


“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 Vassilieva) 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 willful statement.  

In someone’s mind, Margaret’s mother, Aisleen waits the bar, a figment of Margaret'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 Bartender 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 Vassilieva

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 Vassilieva 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.  (Vassilieva 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 Producer
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.

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

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.

514 S. Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA  90013