Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow by John Patrick Shanley


Scottie Thompson and Sal Landi


By Joe Straw

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow by John Patrick Shanley, directed and produced by Mark Blanchard, is now playing at the beautiful Hudson MainStage Theatre in Hollywood through October 29th, 2017.

Tommy (Ade M’Cormack) is a bit off. So off he doesn’t know if he is coming or going.  One thinks that he is mostly going. He is a juvenile in a man’s body, unwilling to make the heartiest of decisions about life.  What do you expect from an artist? Or, a wannabe artist who paints like a three-old with distorted figures and eyes that don’t quite match. Is it cubism? If so, he is a Picas, without the so.  And now he is down to his bare minimum, a work of art drawn in crayon, and that is something only an inebriated artist would truly enjoy.    

Funny thing, there’s no paint anywhere, or a brush for that matter.  His clothes spotted with holes do not have an ounce of paint on them. Maybe it’s poverty that prevents him from having art supplies, what with the rent being $1,200.00 a month and no visible means of support, except the money he steals from his mother.

But what he has got is his beer, lots of beer, in a small squared refrigeration unit. He thinks out loud now, holds his beer, and crushes the can before the contents are drained.  And, at the end of the drink, the can looks like a silly fragment, the afterlife of a hearty container that has succumbed to the deranged antics of an artist, the antichrist of beer etiquette.    

Donna (Scottie Thompson) bangs on the door, wants to be let in, and has some serious issues to discuss with him, most particularly she wants to know if he has been banging her sister, Mona (not seen).

He has, but it’s not really his fault, it’s the voices, the devil in him that is driving his mechanism to do things unjustly, and it’s really not his fault that Donna’s sister is sixteen years old, either.

Donna wants Tommy to promise that he won’t do it again.

“No.” - Tommy

Tommy is a certified winner (dripping sarcasm here), a keeper, and in a world with all kinds of mysterious diseases, this guy has the plague and should be avoided at all cost.

The problem is that Donna loves him (for those of you who have unwed daughters, roll eyes here), or maybe she doesn’t love him.  In any case, she is sitting on the fence and really needs to consult her estranged father (Sal Landi), another artist who has given up the brushes.

For some strange reason, and in her own way, Donna suddenly regards her Dad as a sage, a wise man in the face of all this disturbing news that she must face.  She tells Tommy that her dad will come back and beat him up as she walks out.  

But, Dad wants nothing to do with his daughter’s predicament.  He wishes her to figure it out. Don’t ask him any questions and he’ll tell you no lies.

John Patrick Shanley writes sentences that are as poetic as you can get.  It’s in all of his writing, in this outstanding comedy, and a slight divergence of the apache dance of Danny and The Deep Blue Sea.  And it is his words, lots and lots of words, that keep the characters moving in a meaningful direction and finally to the endpoint.

Scottie Thompson and Abe M'Cormack


Ade M’Cormack is outstanding as Tommy.  He is quantifiably in the moment, in the relationship, and very protective of his own worth.  The hand gestures pushing, pulling, and protecting his body is extremely effective. A beer in one hand trying to drown out the conscience noises that plague him, and the other hand covering his groin to keep them intact from his threating girlfriend and her father’s rage. He is a character, with his English accent that excels in the deceitful act of pettifogging. As an actor, M’Cormack is always watching, observing, and reacting to the conflict before him, finding out if what he is saying rings true to his immediate companion.  There is a lot here in his craft and it is outstanding.

Scottie Thompson


Scottie Thompson is a very angular actor as Donna, in the way that Tallulah Bankhead was angular.  Thompson has a very enticing look to go along with a very viable craft.  Donna is a character who has been done wrong, by her boyfriend who cheats on her and her father who is not really a father figure. Still, she needs her father’s help to get out of this predicament.  They don’t agree on much but she demands that her father take out this hoodlum, her boyfriend. One thinks there should be more of a backstory to this character, her job, her means of support, and the necessity of the argument that propels her in a direction that is in her heart.  Love is a good start and there must be more of that. And, does her costume (circa 1985) reflex the type of person she is?

Sal Landi is very funny as Dad. Landi brings a rich history to the role, and the backstory that is required in a Shanley role. His physical motions on stage are outstanding.  He is charming, witty, and manages to secure favor with everyone.  I’m not sure about his opening, passed out on the floor, and I think that could be improved. It shows us who he might be but does nothing to progress the scene.

Mark Blanchard directs and does reasonably well in some areas, and excellent in others.  The relationships are pleasing. We get boyfriend and disgruntled girlfriend, daughter and a disgruntled father, and father and disgruntled boyfriend.  Pleasing father with pugnacious instincts and daughter’s boyfriend aiming to wrap the whole thing up. Those relationships worked great and could not have been any better.

And then there is the action on stage, which amounted to getting a can of beer from the refrigerator and physically messing around on a deserted stage. (Limited set design by Aaron Lyons)   There is not much to work with.  Tommy throws his clothes on the couch and doesn’t bother to fold them. Donna calls the apartment “a sh*t hole” but does little to make it pleasing to her tastes.  Donna moves from one side of the stage to the other, at times without purpose.  One needs to move for a creative purpose. These are the moments when creativity kicks into high gear and movement on stage has a meaning that fits with the dialogue.  And, these moments need adjusting.

This production is an actor’s showcase and, as a showcase, it is superior in highlighting the work of the actors and director. With a few exceptions, I loved every moment of it.

One moment for a conscience stream of inner dialogue about Donna’s costume and other things. We’ve almost got the period, 1985, but what does the leather (or vinyl) top represents along with the modern heeled boots, the black belt, short jeans, and ripped leggings? She is not living in the streets. Does she wear that costume to entice her boyfriend?  Does it have any effect on him? (Didn’t see any of that on stage.)

She wants this man.  She has to figure out what the costume does for her, her character, and her relationship to the man she wants. An actor should try on multiple costumes to fill a creative need. With this artistic, creative, and intelligent character the sky is the limit. 

Also, she is a woman who appreciates and knows art, part of the art culture of New York.  How does her appreciation work in securing the man? Does he get it?  Does she see that he is getting it?

Michelle G. Stratton is an understudies Donna but did not perform the night I was there.

I loved the exuberance of the curtain call. Keep it.

Run! Run! Run!  And take an actor.  You’ll take so much more with you when the night ends.

Donny Jackson – Lighting Designer
Nick Machado – Sound Designer
Sandra Kuker PR – Publicist
Andrew Flores – Lighting and Sound Board Operator
Chika Nashiki – Production Stage Manager

The Hudson MainStage Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90038

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Exit Strategy by Ike Holter

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L - R Remy Ortiz and Adam Silver - Photos by Se Hyun Oh


By Joe Straw

“Races which are petrified in dogma or demoralized by lucre are unfit to guide civilization.” – Jean Valjean – Les Miserables – Victor Hugo 

Sometime ago in my past, near the start of Mrs. Darden’s second grade class, a group of prospective assistant teachers formed a line. And having taught us a tad about democracy, the students were asked to pick the one we wanted as an assistant.

They all said a little something about their work and then walked outside while we voted.  Everyone chose the pretty one with the pretty dress (2nd graders), because the others were, in our mind, a little less attractive.

So they came back in.  The pretty one immediately took herself out of the running and said that she was already assigned across the hall, and left, abruptly. 

We were devastated.

Still, we voted again and this time chose the least attractive one. It’s funny but in her time with us, she became beautiful, funny, and warm in the manner for which she cared for us and responded when we needed her help. 

And when she said goodbye at the end of her term, everyone took a deep breath and there was a shared sigh. 

She walked to the door, stopped and looked at us one last time. And we started to cry, collectively. – Narrator

School’s out

…School's out for summer
School's out forever
School's been blown to pieces – Alice Cooper

Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center and Sixth Avenue proudly presents the West Coast Premiere of Exit Strategy written by Ike Holter and directed by Deena Selenow in the Davidson/Valentini Theatre through November 5th, 2017.

Jon Imparato with the Los Angeles LGBT Center and Adam Silver with Sixth Avenue magnificently produced the show.

Exit Strategy is presented in the square; the audience is seated on all four sides of the playing area, the actors are a nose away from the audience, and this is a perfect venue for this play.  The place is a teacher’s lounge for the most part, the set is about as minimal as you can get but, the show is not about the place, it is about the people, the teacher, administrator, and the student, most fighting for a cause, and one who is not.

There’s always somebody higher up that makes the decisions, in collogue to rid the city of a nuisance. They are always looking at the big picture, the test scores, and crimes in the area.  In this case, it is Chicago where there’s more than one death by gunshot every day, 700 in 2016. They are infused with the troublous times where two human beings die each day from gunshot wounds in Chicago, near the campus, or the surrounding neighborhood.     

Best solution?  Tear down that low achieving, rat infested, racially mixed school and save the money to hire a Spago chef for the high-achieving white school.  

But let’s look deeper, educators are working there, some are almost at the end of their career, others are not near retirement age and need to look elsewhere – a new community, a new location.

So, what’s that solution? Fight for the school until you’ve changed minds and the school remains.  But there’s a huge problem – they don’t get along, not even on their best days. Forget about working on the same page, there’s no paper, including toilet paper.  It’s enough to make everyone irritable.

June Macfie and Adam Silver

Ricky (Adam Silver) has broken the news to everyone except Pam (Jane Macfie). Ricky is polite about it all, dress conservatively, tie and all.  He is soft spoken and has the political wherewithal to release the news in his own time.

Pam is having none of it. She stalks him in a gruff and bearlike manner.   She wants him to get right to the point.  She has an unconquerable obstinacy, has seen too many years, has run into too many of his kind, and demands that Ricky get right to the point.

Pam pulls out a box of Marlboro and dares Ricky to stop her from lighting.

“A lady doesn’t light her own cigarette.” – Ricky

Nice one.

It doesn’t take much to know that Ricky is a player and smart too as Pam appreciates his gesture.  And then she opens his Starbucks cup and drops a few ashes into his drink, just as a matter of unholy politeness.  

Things go downhill from there but they come to an understanding, sort of. Ricky wants to know if she’ll be all right. He asks her to knock on the wall to let him know that she’s all right.  Pam says she will.  She does, and then she shoots herself, dead.

Arnold (Darrett Sanders) is always the first to arrive at school, has been for many years. Luce (Remy Ortiz) thought he would be the first but no such luck. Luce, with undemonstrative pity, appears to be sensitive to the pain Arnold must be feeling, with the death of Pam, and he shows it.

Sadie (LaNisa Renee Frederick) saunters into the lunchroom, unctuous pose and all, with a few shopping bags of food and rat poison with the idea that one thing needs to be taken care of at that school. What that could be, remains to be seen.  Just Luce’s luck, that in one of those bags is a juice box for his supreme enjoyment.

“How was your summer?”- Sadie

Luce jumps around happy that someone has asked him about his summer when Jania (Maria Romero) comes in and brings the whole room down with her negativity, on crime, thugs, and bullet holes in car bumpers. 

Arnold, presenting a tragic figure, walks into the room.  He has an agenda about memorializing Pam. All in the room are sympathetic to his plight but none have a way to comfort him.  

Can’t say too much about the play that would be giving it all away. It is done without an intermission and it moves along quickly with witty repartee.

Exit Strategy by Ike Holter has an exceptional cast, each providing a special brand of character, an ethic mix of educators with an altruistic sense of self and propriety. Deena Selenow wonderfully directs it in an amusing likeness of real and not-so-real school antics. There is so much detail in Selenow’s direction; it is the little things that put this production way over the top in form and execution. Every moment is a joy to watch and the acting is astonishing.

Jane Macfie plays a mean Pam.  Well, she’s not so mean under that rough exterior.  She has been in the system so long that she demands undemonstrative respect. Sadly her tenure as a schoolteacher is just about over and she has nothing to show for it. She succumbs to the advice of a man who was in diapers when she started. She sees this, doesn’t like it, and moves on.  Macfie is terrific in the role. This is one actor that I would have like to have seen from all four perspectives.

Adam Silver does a wonderful job as Ricky, a nebbish, slightly nerdy, sagacious man whose job is to fire teachers, give them a pamphlet, and send them on their merry way. Ricky gives them the school year to get their act together without actually booting them out into the streets.  But then, he has a change of heart, a way that he can work things out, save the school, and come out ahead. He is also a brainiac who has a vision and acts on unutterable impulses when the time is right.  Silver gives a brilliant performance and is an actor that is completely comfortable in this role.  And it is in the little moments that he truly shines.

L - R Adam Silver and Darrett Sanders

Darrett Sanders is Arnold, a man who has seen it, done it, read it, heard it, and smelled it all before. He’s not too keen about jumping ship to join the others plan that he thinks is a useless endeavor.  He sees their proposal as a pie in the sky, the vitreous glitter on a worthless piece of chocolate, chocolate cake, and not worth a dime of his time. Sanders is slow and methodical in his choices. The hand gestures are sublime, ambling a western motif, and a Ben Johnson style of acting. This character though needs a little refinement, something the represents the good of old, the wisdom of age, an unreadable stare that speaks volumes, and then climbing out of a ubiquitous fog to make his mark.  There is more to the sunglass and chair scene in which he must make his mark. And, that is only to add to an already remarkable performance.

There’s a lot going on with Maria Romero as Jania. There is certainly more going on underneath than we are privy to.  Romero is a stunning actor filling those moments. But, some of her dialogue is lost to the other three walls and those are moments that we need to hear clearly.  There is more to the character, her youth as a teacher is a plus and probably can get a job somewhere else.  But there must be a driving conflict in character that keeps her in this game that one doesn’t really see.

LaNisa Renee Frederick is Sadie, a giving teacher, who also understands the necessity of discipline. She plays by the rules and maybe they are her own rules but what the heck, somebody’s got to make the rules to make this school work.  Unfortunately, her help is not working, compromising productive growth, and Sadie needs to figure out why. Frederick does a lot of wonderful work in this production.  She is as natural as one can be but what is the conflict that drives this character?

L - R June Macfie, Luke Teennie, Maria Romero, Adam Silver, Darrett Sanders (seated), Remy Ortiz and LaNisa Renee Frederick


Luke Tennie presents a very tall and opposing figure as Donnie.  Tennie is very impressive in this role.  He is smart, articulate, and has an extremely viable craft.  Donnie get himself into a lot of trouble, the good kind of trouble, and in his own vainglorious mode is able to talk his way out of it.  But as powerful as he is in the first scene, he seems to lose that power being an underling in the later scenes.  Donnie becomes less powerful but must not lose the reason he is there. There must be a better balance to complete a change in character.

Deena Selenow, the director, starts the show off with a bang, two being appearing out of nowhere, engaged in verbal conflict and she never lets up on the action, which includes fascinating bodywork on the scene changes. At one time characters are stretched against the wall in an effort to hide, or as a way to present the significant moment of a character. Is this a moment that shows unity?  One is not sure. The character Pam joins the audience and we really have to see her in character throughout those moments. (Macfie seemed to be enjoying the show as much as we were.)  

Selenow’s work is combined with the brilliant Sound Design by Jesse Mandapat that keeps you there in the moment, during the scene changes.  And then there’s the blaring roar of heavy machinery that grinds the audience into a state of shock.  (The sirens in the background never stopped and I found that slightly disconcerting.)  

Ike Holter’s work is brilliant. As the writer, he manages to capture the flavor of each character and their reason for being. The fascinating thing about the characters is they are metaphorically all out of focus.  It’s like looking into a camera lens and seeing blurry figures. When things got tough those figures lacked the focus to turn things around. They’ve all been living their lives without a unified direction except Arnold who knows what he doesn’t want, but doesn’t know how to save the school. The ending lacks the emotional catharsis, the human element of longing that we must get from at least one of the characters.

All right, but here’s the thing – my one negative note, the overlapping dialogue makes it hard to hear everything, and the sound of voices, only feet away, bounce off the bare walls and at time that dialogue is lost.

The minimal but very effective Scenic Design was created by Se Hyun Oh.

Lena Sands’ Costume Design placed the actors in Chicago.

Matt Richter’s Lighting Design moved the play along in time and space and was extremely enjoyable.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Maggie Marx – Production Stage Manager
Adam Earle – Assistant Director
Ken Werther Publicity - Press Representative
Edwin Peraza - Master Electrician
Red Colegrove - Master Carpenter
Eric Babb - Prop Master/Assistant Manager
Veronica Mullins - Sound Assistant
Tor Brown, Maggie Marx, Edwin Peraza - Scenic House Crew


Run! Run! Run! And take an educator.  They will love it as much as me. Or, is it "I"?

Tickets: (323) 860-7300


 
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The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s
Davidson/Valentini Theatre
1125 N. McCadden Place
Hollywood, CA  90038