Sunday, July 23, 2017

Any Night by Daniel Arnold & Medina Hahn


Marie Fahlgren and Zac Thomas

By Joe Straw

“A man must identify himself with something more tangible than his own personality…”  Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent

Open your mind to the imagination of a dream, where the unknown inhabitants of your mind are images from your REM sleep.   

Imagine the jutting image of a man who comes to you. First it is a faint fiber and then moving closer the image sharpens until He is suddenly clear. 

He busies himself in your dream, keeping a watchful eye on unsuspecting young female patients.  You are now in a sleeping clinic, or that's what the sign says that you can barely make out. 

An uncomfortable feeling surrounds you as He watches Her.  He is rankled with bestial affinities and febrile pulsations as he pursues what he wants and, in the process, you see that he manages to be entertained by her peculiarities.

Wanting more, this maintenance man spies Her medical chart.  It is all there in the patient’s file – Her phone number, address, and place of work.  It says she is a dancer and you see as much in the dream as she is dancing in the background, in the clinic.

He posts a sign, “Apt for Rent,” in Her dance studio.  She took the bait and now she is ensnared in his web, a leaking, and fetid basement apartment.

The Filigree Theatre & EVN Production Presents the L.A. Premiere of Any Night by Daniel Arnold & Medina Hahn directed by Elizabeth V. Newman and produced by Stephanie Moore through July 30th, 2017 at the Sacred Fools Theatre in Hollywood.

In light and darkness, imaginary or real, she dances on the floor in a dream state.

Anna (Marie Fahlgren) arrives to view the new apartment and it is odd. As in a dream, the images of sight, either real or imaginary, float around her like the broken spokes of a wheel, on the walls, with pipes, and a fragmented bits of life that is just as jarring as part of her life’s little slumbering nightmares. (Beautiful set sculptures by Vanessa Montano.)

Shrouded in secrecy in the basement, the apartment is made of diaphanous walls accompanied now with an unidentifiable viable clatter.  She is totally unaware they are listening, and watching.     

For her, this seems like the right place at the right time, following a breakup with her boyfriend Ben (not seen); it will do for now. She won’t be disturbing the downstairs neighbors because she is in the basement. 

Anna is aware of her sleeping disorder, and it is one that listens to the fragmented music, in complete darkness, with fictive pictures.   

Today in the rain, Anna is moving into the dank apartment.   

An obtrusive Patrick (Zac Thomas) walks into Anna’s apartment and watches her carrying a heavy box.  He then purposefully turns off the lights.  In the dark, Anna drops the box to the floor, breaking her alarm clock.  

And in the course of a few days, time being relative, Patrick slowly ingratiates himself but then he becomes totally obtrusive, breaking her window, fixing things in her apartment, putting bars on her window and just not being honest about many things.

It is a relationship that becomes tenuous at best and terrifying at the worst – worst than your worst nightmare. 

The running time is about 77 minutes so it’s better not to give too much away.

Now is a good time to speak to the craft.

The dancing:

Erica Gionfriddo, the Choreographer, gives us a stunning look of one who is embroiled in sleep disorder and how that may look to an audience. From its first moment, it is an exquisite display. But when two are involved through the dance, we lose sight of where these characters are going, the through line of reality, fantasy, or both.   What purpose does Patrick serve to be a part of that dance?  After the first dance, the dance is repetitive and not alluring, or seductive for the one doing the forced seducing.  One has to get pleasure from the dance, preferably the antagonist, and the other must be pained by abusive action and the inability to wake up. Yes, she must wake up.

Marie Fahlgren

The acting:

Marie Fahlgren (Anna) is stunning creature; a dancer well suited for the role. She is dressed in white unsexed pajama set throughout and one wonders at times if she is in a constant dream state. Something is going on in Anna’s life, she needs something to beat the predicament that she is in.  She must be thinking about how to solve her problems throughout.  The dance alone in her apartment appears to be a modern dance against the forces surrounding her.  It is worrisome, jarring, and not quiet dangerous enough for even the avid onlooker to pay coin. (Sorry for being vague here – not to give so much away.) More costumes, better suited, one that is a little more revealing would help. There should be a moment of joy in her dance, one of enlightenment, and wonder.  Fahlgren’s overall choice for the character’s objective requires definition and needs to be more creative.

Zac Thomas as Patrick is a fine specimen.  A strong man able to lift the women with the easiest of intention and move her to any position he desires.  And yet, we rarely see the desire within him, the want, and the inescapable magic of why this man wants this woman.  The dance is violent and he gets no pleasure from the way in which he moves her about. The acting demands stronger creative choices from this character. A similar type of character comparison might be Anthony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho, a creepy character with bad intentions.  Patrick is, at times, in his room, typing on his keyboard but Thomas gives the character very little movement in those moments, just his hands on the keyboard.  We don’t see his purpose, his objective, and what he is viewing on screen, especially when it involves Anna dancing alone in her room.

To understand this play, one should sets aside the now, absorb the content, and pick up the ambiguity in this play.  The director, Elizabeth V. Newman, lets the choreography go on without focus to the story, moving the dreamlike story along. The actors are not fluid in their characters moving from distrust, to like, to love and then back to hate again, a normal relationship without the terrifying build that is needed, and this is done without each character discovering, or wondering what the other one was up to.  Anna should be investigating her surroundings from the time she moves in and wondering why this guy is all over her. Patrick needs more conflict to move the story along.  He should be answering the question of his conflict  and trying to discover why things are not working and what he needs to do to make them work.

Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn, the playwrights, have written a terrific play.  But, this is a play that could be more terrifying, create greater suspense, and fly in a manner of a suspense drama. At a certain point I found myself asking, where are these characters going and for what purpose?  Patrick has done this once before with a prior tenant that did not end well. Anna confronts Patrick outside the apartment building smoking a cigarette.  She asks for a drag.  They bond a little but knowing what we all know, why wasn’t there more of a backstory to this scene? The lip-syncing scene was nice but, how did it move the story along?

A lot of work went into this production.  It is a brilliant piece but one that needs a stronger focus in character and story.

Pete (Voiced by Ben McLemore) was also in the cast.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Eliot Gray Fisher – Sound Design
Chris Conard – Lighting Design & Tech Director
Gary Thomas – Stage Manager
Karl C. Leone – Assistant Stage Manager
Steve Moyer Press Relations – Press Representative
Elena Weinberg – Social Media Consultant

Run! And take a somnambulist with you, someone you would not trust to drive your car on the way home. 

@ Sacred Fools Theatre
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA  90038

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Danny and The Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley


By Joe Straw

An Apache Dance is a violent dance for two people, originated by the Parisian Apaches.  Parisian Apaches are gangsters or ruffians. – A definition from the play.

(Apache is pronounced ah-Pahse)

This play is emotionally real, but does not take place in a realistic world.   Only those scenic elements necessary to the action should be on stage.  Only those areas that are played in should be lit. – The Style from the play.

The Rainbow Theater Company presents Danny and the Deep Blue Sea written by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Carl Weathers, and produced by Henry Jaglom, at the Edgemar Center for the Arts through September 10, 2017.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley is a wonderful play with solid performances by Tanna Federick (Roberta) and Robert Standley (Danny).  Carl Weathers (you will remember him as Apollo Creed from the Rocky films) has a critical eye that propels this version of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea into a proficient, remarkable, and pleasing night of theatre.  

Shanley, the writer, describes the play as an Apache dance. The characters bring their own strengths to the metaphorical dance floor, each pushing and pulling, twirling, wrist locking, and pulsating for a kind of self-preservation.  But rather than a physical dance, this is an emotionally charged verbal dance between two licentious characters. The dialogue is not overtly simple.  The two characters hold truths that have an underlying deeper meaning as they battle for position. Shanley leaves enough ambiguity in the play for the performers and director to make their own solid creative choices.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is a one-act play in three scenes. 

Roberta (Tanna Frederick) seemed a little bored; her attenuated body was slouched over her table and her face was almost in the red pretzel basket.  She was slightly drunk wasting away in a lonely, tight fitting, bar in the Bronx.

Danny (Robert Standley) muscled his way past Roberta, making sure his backside bumped her chair. He dropped his empty beer mug on the table and it rolled like a dancer in pirouette.  Not satisfied that he got Roberta’s attention, he slammed the pitcher of beer down on the table.  The undulating waves of foam sloshed the side of the pitcher and Danny, eyeing Roberta, slowly turned his compass, bent his knees, and straddled his seat in her direction.

Danny is battered.  Below his left eye is a deep gash and his right hand is wrapped in a bloody bandage.  

“How about a pretzel?” – Danny

“No.  They’re mine.” – Roberta

Unbeknownst to either one, the Apache dance has begun. There is a sudden awareness from Roberta as she, at first, hides from Danny but then openly regards Danny, swinging in his direction, revealing herself as an appealing but dangerous counterpart, and someone who could handle his every nuance.

Later, in a moment of irremediable idleness, and as an act to move toward closeness, Roberta asks Danny about a girlfriend.

“You gotta friend, you know, a girlfriend? – Roberta

“No.” – Danny

“No?” – Roberta

“We broke up.” – Danny

That must be a relief to Roberta who is testing his sexual predilection. Danny says he broke up with his Italian girlfriend. Roberta likes that, especially since she’s looking, divorced, and a mother of a 13-year-old son with problems.

They are both stag, cornered in a sleazy bar, and breathing in abject loneliness.   

Roberta, opening her life, says she’s got some serious issues with her father and would liked to stab him fifty times in the face.  There is a tense contraction in her being that is demonstrative and foreshadows more to come.

But this doesn’t seem to faze Danny; to one up her, he says that he might have killed a guy in a fight. He is extremely ambiguous describing that night, something about looking for twenty dollars and needing to take care of the two men.   

They move closer, a verbal spiral about whose father was the worst until Danny offers Roberta some of his beer.

He lunges toward her pouring the beer with haste and his certain brand of delicacy. It is a release of sorts as Danny goes back to his table.

“You waiting for somebody?” – Roberta

“No.” – Danny

“Me neither.” – Roberta  

Roberta finds out that Danny has not been to jail. The guy can’t be that bad if he’s never been incarcerated so Roberta shimmies up to his table but Danny abhors her moves. A jarring back and forth ensues, a verbal flea slide, until a dramatic isolation halts the conversation with a confession about her father.

Roberta needs this night to be a release or catharsis and Danny wants to further his boundaries in a meaningful relationship.

Spoiler alert: If you are intending to go see this grand production, do not continue reading the rest of this blog entry. 

Robert Standley gives the character of Danny substance, strong physical attributes, and an emotional being that is living in the now—it is a terrific performance. Still he could add to the character. Danny’s masculinity is called into question on a number of occasions—doubts about making love “I can’t do that”, playing with dolls, “I wanted to be the bride,” and being called a “beefcake faggot.” Inner doubt plays well with this character, after all he is still living at home, with his mother.  These are all elements that take the character to another dimension. In the beginning of the second scene, they have just finished making love and that must be visible, or manifest itself in some perceptible way.  Also, the second scene is still part of the dance, still dangerous, a focused back and forth, but nevertheless a coming together.  The focus should be just as intense and not waiver.  All are just minor things because Standley overall gives an outstanding performance.

Tanna Frederick is equally enticing as Roberta.  Roberta is alone, strong, and needing a validation before the night ends. The opening could be strengthened—being bored and slightly drunk does not give the momentum that this particular character needs on this night.  The first “All right” needs strength, a show of force, and the willingness to engage because that is where this character is going. Roberta can never physically lose sight of her partner. The relationship requires a supreme engagement, physically, emotionally, and mentally. The slap on the arm in the second scene is not enough to test him, to move him out of the house, and to find out what kind of man he is. It must mean something and be more dramatic.  Minor things aside, Frederick is one of the most appealing actors working in Hollywood today.  She is a master of the intangibles, and a reason for going to the theatre, and in particular, this play.

Carl Weathers has a strong sense of craft and a flair for the dramatic. His theatrical acumen was present on this night.  And, one was delighted that Weathers is not just a handsome face, but also a man with a convincing theatrical core.  Weathers creates his own official stamp on this presentation. He is strong in his craft revealing much, giving away little, and generously giving the characters strength.  It is a grand theatrical outing and one that breathes extraordinary life in this production.   

Tanna Frederick and Lauren Beck were the producers of this event for the Rainbow Theatre Company.

The Sound Designer was Christopher Moscatiello. 

The Set Designer was Mark Kanieff and even though the black box theatre was small, less space would have heighten the relationship.  Still, there were some very clever things done to turn a bar into Roberta’s closet bedroom.

The Stage Manager was Jennifer Palumbo and the Lighting Designer was Derrick McDaniel.

Other members of this crew are as follows:

Cristina Carrillo-Dono – Assistant Stage Manager
Joseph Williams – Production Coordinator
Adrian Carr – Poster Design

Run! Run! Run! And take a barfly, someone you’ve had your eye on for sometime, just to break the ice.

RESRERVATIONS: (310) 392-7327.