Saturday, February 10, 2018

Sapo by Culture Clash (Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Siguenza) adapted from the play Frogs by Aristophanes.

-->
Richard Montoya and Maryjane Santamaria - Photos by Craig Schwartz Photography

By Joe Straw

He sat there with the green and brown excrescences protruding from his body, camouflaged, eyes wide open, and his tympanic membranes listening for the germinal. 

Quietly on pads, nostrils open, smelling the green liquid mucus scum that slightly covered his hind legs. The smell was less malodorous than he, and, judging from his simile,  that is exactly how he liked it.

Waiting, his watchful body projects a lifeless calm in the unexpected and breathless night air.

He croaks by happenstance an Otis Redding tune figuring singing was something he wasn’t equipped for but he felt fine just the same.

Tonight, he was the guardian of the gate, a ritual that comes with age and strength ––only his harsh groans opens the doors as one, a conduit to heaven by way of the stars, or two, a burgeoning pathway to hell. 

But tonight it was going to be the netherworld because that gateway was open; the path for which he was the guide. Heaven could wait another night. And it is in that sound, the croak of this being, the right note, and the right tune that transports anyone with a purpose into the iniquitous show of the underworld.

For on this night, the pond frog was the star, the path, and the guiding light into the known.  - Narrator

…Aristophanes, is quintessentially zany, fantastic, scurrilous, and larger than life. It’s treatment of both character and action shows slight concern for consistency, plausibility, or coherence.  And it tends to rely on a mentality which is physically reductive and crudely cynical.” – Stephen Halliwell – Aristophanes, Clouds, Women at the Thesmophoria, and Frogs.

The Getty Villa is a wonderful place to see theatre.  Having forged my way out of the hospital the prior weekend, I thought it would be too chilly for this venue but then I discovered the show would take place indoors at the wonderful Villa Theatre, an inauguration for the theatre and a perfect setting for this show, I was happy.  The quiet walk from the parking lot has a very calming affect for those recently infirmed.  

There are some similarities between Sapo, a musical theatrical presentation now playing at The Villa Theatre, and The Frogs by Aristophanes (405B.C.). The noticeable similarities are taken almost verbatim from the original play.  The major differences are the addition of two characters, the father and daughter.

A question remains, how much material is needed from the original source before it becomes an adaptation?  Is it a percentage? Or is it that the objective of the main character is fully realized?

Josefina Lopez’s An Enemy of the Pueblo, at Casa 0101, takes Henrik Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People, adds a feminist slant to the play, and follows the basic outline of the play. And it is an adaptation that works in grand fashion.  

But what is it about the “slight concern for consistency, plausibility, or coherence” that necessitates the dramatic push of an Aristophanes’ play that moves away from its original intention? 

Culture Clash (Montoya, Salinas, and Siguenza) starts in a modern day setting with Dad (Richard Montoya) and his ten-year-old daughter Dreamer Dionysus (Maryjane Santamaria). No mention is made of the mother of the little girl.  These characters were not part of the original production. 

Papi is an artist and a dreamer.  But in the small course of this night, he is watching his dreams for him and his daughter slip away.  The words, he writes in a large book, are no longer coming, and he feels the weight of living outside, and off the beaten path.

Let’s not mince words, they are homeless, with just the basic necessities, and this home is only a tent under the guideless stars.

Papi feels the weight on his shoulders; he longs to place his head, successfully, and securely.  Now, home  is only a dream that Papi is not able to realize, at least not this night, as he tries to create his way out of poverty.

But Dreamer, not understanding her predicament, implores her Dad to tell a story, the madeleine that sends her up into the stars and back in time to her dreamscape of the life of Dionysus.

There is an emotional connection here not fully realized between the dream of a small girl and the man, Dionysus (John Fleck), as he travels to Hades with his slave, Xavier (Ric Salinas), to get Euripides and to save the known world, Athens.

L - R Ric Salinas, John Fleck and Seth Millwood


And Dionysus, a Greek God employs his brother, Hercules (Seth Millwood), to give him directions to get to Hades, in ways that are not fortuitous. 

This version of Sapo becomes a night of Prairie Home Companion with Buyepongo providing the musical accompaniment and the sound effects, while other characters on their journey step up to the mic to provide a respite for travelers that endeavor to take their purpose down the road.

The intention of Frogs is evident in this adaptation of Sapo by Culture Clash. The one exception is the ending which moves in another direction altogether.  The comedic writing titillates and moves so fast that one is clubbed quickly with references to current events in our current fragile democracy.

The night opens the mind to breathing colors of art that mixes the sophistication of art with the vulgarity of the current political climate by means of screen projections.  One visual of the sea of sh*t are the blazing rivers of Nazi tiki torches that flow from protest in college campuses into an already wasteful tributary. It is a message that is broadcasted clearly.  

But, in this version of the play, the route of Culture Clash’s Sapo is circuitous.  It doesn’t move forward in the direction of saving a city, finding the man, and having a contest to see who is escorted back to save the world.  

Vaneza Mari Calderón strolling on stage with her guitarrón provides wonderful music for the night as well as Andrea Sweeney who sings a couple of numbers as Adele, and as Selana all in grand fashion and Sweeney also speaks a flawless Spanish. Sweeney is a gifted actress but her role leaves one confused as to how this meets the end of the play.

John Fleck gives a backbone to the story as Dionysus, providing marvelous moments as the opprobrious and not so intelligent Greek God. There is more to add to the master and slave relationship insomuch as to show who is really in control in their relationship.

Seth Millwood as Lefty and Hercules has so much presence on stage and is impossible to miss with his size and voice.

Ric Salinas is Xavier and Aristophanes (in a mask).  Xavier is the witted slave, a slave with profound energy and a will for surviving comfortably. He is dressed as a cholo and moves in manner that I’ve seen in various productions from this actor. But there was something about Aristophanes that caught my attention, his manner of execution, behind the mask that was thoroughly enjoyable.

Maryjane Santamaria played Dreamer Dionysus and had a very lovely and strong voice. Elise Rodriguez also plays Dreamer Dionysus but did not perform the night I attended.

Richard Montoya plays both Papi and Ceasar.  One has to be a genius to keep up with his take on the antics of humanity in Sapo. The barbs fly so fast and furiously that one occasionally has to take a breath to take it all in. At times it feels improvisational that one wants to grab the brass ring of structure to move the play out of the hands of the audience laughter and focused on building the play’s structure that will stand the test of time. Still, it is a very enjoyable night of theatre.

Sean San José, the director, keeps the pace moving remarkably well, the performances are exceptional, and the night move along quickly. One has a hard time figuring out why this production is call Sapo, when frogs have so little to do with the title and the conclusion of the play. How does this connection work?   Also, how does the band work in getting the characters to their final destination?  One can only use this ambiguity to tie the pieces to the collective whole only through our imaginative choices.

Angel Hernandez, Jorge Vallego, Edgar Modesto, and Vaneza Mari Calderon


The music by Buyepongo was superb.  Edgar Modesto was Sapo but one wished they were all given the appearance of being frogs as an extra added touch. The rest of the band members are Randy Modesto, Jorge Vallego, Angel Hernandez, and Eduardo Valencia.

Other members of this delightful show are as follows:

Michael Roth - Music Director
Richard Montoya - Lighting Design
Tanya Orellana - Scenic Design
Culture Clash - Sound Design
Benita Elliott - Costume Design
Zoa Lopez - Costume Supervisor
Yee Eun Nam - Projection Design
Giselle Vega - Stage Manager

Run! Run!  And take a childhood friend.  One that liked to hang out at the pond and watch the bullfrogs jump into the water.

Through Saturday February 17, 2018.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Last Straw Awards 2017

 
By Joe Straw

I saw some incredible plays last year with equally incredible performances.  Just when you thought you couldn’t see any better, along comes another one.

And maybe a sad note, this may be it for the Last Straw Awards.  But, time will tell.

Art should never be a competition and it’s not here.  So, I’d like to recognize the writers, directors, and actor who put their best foot forward on the night I attended. It’s all about the craft, baby.

All right that said, I’d still like to give the credos where the credos are due. It doesn't matter if you are a lead or supporting player, if I though the work was excellent, then a mention was due.

First, the writers for without them there would be no play.

Writers:
Stephen Adly Guirgis -  The Motherf**ker with the Hat
Steven G. Simon & Howard Teichman - Fugu
Jordan Tannahill - Late Company
Ray Richmnod - Transition
Jonathan Ceniceroz – The Cruise
David Lindsay-Abaire – Rabbit Hole
Clare Coss – Dr. Dubois and Miss Ovington
Giovanni Adams –Love is a Dirty Word
John Pollono – Rules of Seconds
María Irene Fornés – The Conduct of Life
Lin-Manuel Miranda – Hamilton
Josefina Lopez - Enemy of the Pueblo

Actors:

The Motherfu*cker with the Hat By Stephen Adly Guirgis -  Lyric Hyperion Theatre– Directed by Tony Gatto
Jorge-Luis Pallo
Fayna Sanchez
Nelson Delrosario
Libby Ewing
Eddie Martinez

Aladdin – Book by Jim Luigs, José Cruz Gonzáles, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice
Omar Mata

Fugu by Steven G. Simon & Howard Teichman – Pico Playhouse – Directed by Howard Teichman
Scott Keiji Takeda

Late Company by Jordan Tannahill – Theatre 40 – Directed by Bruce Gray
Ann Hearn

The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer – The Chromolume Theatre – Directed by Marilyn McIntyre
Carole Weyer

Transition by Ray Richmond - Lounge Theatre- directed by Lee Costello
Harry S. Murphy
Joshua Wolf Coleman

The Cruise by Jonathan Ceniceroz – Latino Theatre Company – directed by Health Cullens
Rick Salinas
Kenneth Lopez

Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington by Clare Coss – Robey Theatre Company – Directed by Ben Guillory
Ben Guillory
Melanie Cruz

The Awful Grace of God by Michael Harney – The Other Space – Directed by Mark Kemble
Tim DeZarn – Surrender
Janine Venable – Surrender

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire – The Lounge Theatre – Directed by Eric Hunnicutt
Jordana Oberman
Toni Christopher
Michael Yurchak
Darcy Shean
Rocky Collins

The Foreigner by Larry Shue – Miles Memorial Playhouse – Directed by Sarah Gurfield
Julianna Robinson
Mike Niedzwiechi

The Sweetheart Deal by Diane Rodriguez – Latino Theatre Company – Directed by Diane Rodriguez
Ruth Livier

Separate Tables by Terrance Rattigan – Theatre 40 – Directed byJules Aaron
Susan Priver
Michele Schultz

The Conduct of Life by María Irene Fornés – Hero Theatre – Directed by José Luis Valenzuela
Elisa Bocanegra

Nicky by Boni B. Alvarez – Coeurage Theatre Company – Directed by Beth Lopes
Ted Barton

Love is A Dirty Word by Giovanni Adams Vs. Theatre – Directed by Becca Wolff
Giovanni Adams 

Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez – Mark Taper Forum – Directed by LuisValdez
Brain Abraham
Matias Ponce
Demian Bircher
Daniel Valdez
Stephanie Candelaria

Emilie:  La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight by Lauren Gunderson – Greenway Court – directed by Julianne Donelle
Kiri Lee Cartwright
Kim Reed

Blackbird by David Harrower – Met Theatre –Directed by Don Bloomfield
Michael Conners
Cali Fleming

Frida Stroke of Passion Odalys Nanin – Macha Theatre – Directed by Odalys Nanin and Co-Director Nancy De Los Santos-Reza
David Lavid
Ebony Perry
Marilyn Sanabria

Exit Strategy by Ike Holter – The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural ArtsCenter –Directed by Deena Selenow
Adam Silver
Darrett Sanders
R. Remy Ortiz

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow by John Patrick Shanley – Directed by Mark Blanchard
Sal Landi
Scott Thompson

The Daughters of the Kush by George Corbin – Stellar Adler Theatre – Directed by Veronica Thompson
Allisa Murray
Mack Miles

En Enemy of the Pueblo by Josefina López – Casa 0101 – Directed by Corky Dominguez
Zilah Mendoza

Sherlock Homes and the Case of the Jersey Lily by Katie Forgette – Theatre 40 – Directed by Jules Aaron
Melissa Collins

Rules of Seconds by John Pollono – Latino Theatre Company – Directed by Jo Bonney
Joshua Bitton
Ron Bottitta
Amy Brenneman
Leandro Cano
Fedor Chin
Matthew Elkins
Jamie Harris
Josh Helman
Damu Malik
Jen Pollono

Beauty and the Beast – Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Aahman and Tim Rice – Casa 0101 – Directed by Rigo Tejeda
Jeremy Saje
Caleb Green
Allison Flanagan
Rosa Navarrete

Hamilton – Book, Music, and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda – Inspired by the book Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Mathenee Treco
Rubén J. Carbajal
Amber Iman
Rory O’Malley
Ryan Vasquez
Jordan Donica
Isaiah Johnson

The Little Mermaid – Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, Book by Dough Wright - Directed by Dolores Aguanno
Sophia Martin-Straw as Ursula

Directors:
Tony Gatto - The Motherfu*cker with the Hat
Howard Teichman – Fugu
Eric Hunnicutt – The Cruise
José Luis Valenzuela – The Conduct of Life
Jo Bonney – Rules of Seconds
Becca Wolff – Lover is a Dirty Word
Luis Valdez – Zoot Suit
Thomas Kail – Hamilton

The Ortiz Award 2017 is given to the play that showcases an outstanding presentation of diversity and art in a theatrical presentation.  This award is named in honor of Vilma Ortiz, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology at UCLA and a champion of diversity in the arts and in her academic field of study. This year there are three recipients.

Hamilton – The Pantages
Zoot Suit – The Mark Taper Forum
Enemy of the Pueblo – Casa 0101

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Small Mouth Sounds by Bess Wohl



Ben Beckley


By Joe Straw

The Broad Stage in Association with Eva Price, Stacey Mindich, Betsy Bernstein, Ars Nova, Catherine Adler/Sean Hudock, Burnt Umber Productions, Amanda Dubois, Rebecca Gold, Sally Horchow, Iris Smith, Craig Balsam/Kurt Deutsch, and Eric Cornell/Jenna Segal present The Ars Nova Production of Small Mouth Sounds written by Bess Wohl and directed by Rachel Chavkin.

I’m not even going to ask about the mouth full in the opening credits of the program.  Suffice it to say it’s a small mouth full.

One can’t give too much away of Small Mouth Sounds, which would probably be giving away the whole thing. So I thought I’d throw out some observations and not mention the full frontal and extreme back-tal nudity.  (Now physically holding my hand to my mouth.)

No one speaks in this show, well, hardly anyone.  Okay, I take that back, they all speak but not a lot, except the teacher (Orville Mendoza) with a heavy Tagalog accent masquerading as a Tibetan monk, one is not really sure if this was by choice, or design.  

But one must step back, and walk in the projected rain, a heavy rain at that, to find meaning in being engaged, and what? Saved? Heightened? Cured? Enlightened? Redeemed? Peace? What?

It all started in a quiet room, a campground place of sorts, a place to get away while that rain poured ferociously outside.   

Jan (Connor Barrett) is the first to arrive.  A lumberjack?  Tall, a quiet a man with established height, a full scraggly beard, and large calves as he enters enters a sterile room, not really sterile, a clean room with a row of chairs. He takes a seat and immediately looks like his surroundings, the outdoorsy type, and one with nature.  He waits.

Rodney (Edward Chin-Lyn), a tall Asian athletic man finds his spot, the perfect place for him to do his thing, on his spot.  He takes off his shoes, rolls up his pants, neatly, and takes little notice of Jan sitting near him.  But from where I sit, Jan takes a good whiff of his wet feet, and it’s not a pleasant experience, while both try to find a connection.   

Ned looks out of place as he comes in wearing an assortment of outdoor wear and a skull cap. For, what reason?  The rain?  Wouldn’t a hat have been a better choice to keep the drops off? Things seems new to Ned.  His eyes are wide open, in amazement, absorbing everything, but he is also lost in his surroundings.

“You said… What did you think I said?”

It could have been Joan (Socorro Santiago) or Judy (Cherene Snow) who said that. I think it was Joan.  Well, Judy was dragging a bag, a brown suitcase, and Joan had an assortment of bags and draped accouterments.   They were friends, a couple, wanting to experience this thing they were going to try out, not a bucket list thing, but just a thing. To find, what?  Happiness? Together in this place? Why not somewhere else?

And so they sat quietly, waiting for the inevitable, the voice, in the room, coming in God-like, via a projected microphone. Teacher (Orville Mendoza) spoke in quiet, calming tones welcoming those who had decided to attend. 

Little was said about the one empty chair.  

Teacher, moved on to a story about two frogs, a green frog in a well, and a traveling frog.  The traveling frog said (because they were talking frogs) to the well frog “Your well is nice, but you should see what I see.”

Well, that story did not end well; the well frog suffers in heightened agony, on the final leg of his journey, opening his eyes to see what he could not imagine.

The group, not getting the relevance, stares in perplexity as the Teacher moves on to explain the practice silence the group must endure throughout their stay there. Then he follows that with a litany of the “no” rules in camp.

Before they are dismissed latecomer, Alicia (Brenna) walks in and expects Teacher to start from the beginning. He doesn’t.  Alicia, dressed from head to toe in snow gear, is left to decide her next move to progress into the program.  She resorts to using her phone to communicate to near dead silence.   

In the truest sense of the art form of acting, dialogue is not needed.  One reality is - the actor must creatively communicate the idea of what he/she wants, without words, and this is true from Shakespeare to Sam Shepard

But what makes Bess Wohl’s play so intriguing is a singular moment in the play that elevates the art into the stratosphere.  It is a moment that won’t be revealed. And perhaps it was my moment, the one thing I got, that put a pinpoint in this work of art. And yet, I’m not sure the characters got it, which may have been Wohl’s intention. Still, this is what I live for, to find a work of art that is peculiar and something out of the ordinary. (Still, the ambiguity of that particular moment was enough to drive me mad.)

Rachel Chavkin directs this group of thespians.  There are oblong morsels of delightfulness, but one is not sure how creative it could have been.  The characters appear to be so ordinary in not so ordinary circumstance and they act in a way real characters would react to strangers.  In the beginning they try to ignore each other.  Later, communicating is a must, and it is very minimal at first with simple hand gestures creating action, until finally they warm up to one another. (In real life we experience this in our daily interaction with strangers.) But how much can a character give before it’s over the top and unrealistic? That is usually settled in the rehearsal. I had an insatiable craving for more creativity, even in the simplest of form and movement.   

All of the characters have conflicts that need wordless resolutions. From the moment of their first night together, that nocturnal quivering of uneasiness, of one in a room alone, combined with the heighten feeling of want, begs for some kind of social interaction. Some get it, and some don’t.


Brenna Palughi (Alicia), Ben Beckley (Ned), Edward Chin-Lyn (Rodney), Connor Barrett (Jan), Cherene Snow (Judy), Socorro Santiago (Joan) 


Brenna Palughi (Alicia) gives us many different sides to the character.  The performance is three-dimensional and furnishes us an extreme view of a woman in a crisis of sorts. One likens her to having attention deficit disorder, not knowing where she is at half of the time.  (And, she has time management issues.)  Still, I thought Alicia was the most complete character, someone who gives, and someone who learns from her mistakes. This is a performance not to miss because Palughi is excellent in her craft and she is someone who gives us a beginning, a middle, and an end to her character.  
 
Ben Beckley (Ned) provides us with the most information about his character. His monologue explains almost his entirety. Ned is lost and wants to be found.  He blames his feelings on his physical handicap but he is there to find something, or someone. The sense of being lost is in the moment he has the bowl and the match and not being able to figure out what to do.  For the actor, there is more to do, more to play with while he is left there in the silence.

Connor Barrett (Jan) plays an interesting character.  On first look, he appears to be homeless with his long beard and his unkemptness.  But his clothes tell another story, of someone who has money, enough money to take on this journey. But the journey is not completely thought out.  And, what is it about the bug bites and his maladroit ways that garners little in his relationship to his fellow traveler.  Also, what is his objective?  What does he want from these people or this place? One would like the actor to make a definitive choice as to why he is there. These questions were not answered.

Edward Chin-Lyn (Rodney) seems to have ulterior motives in the camp.  He is athletic, loves to show off his body and appears to be in the mood for one thing only.  His libidinous craving was temporarily satisfied animalistic with the assistance of a bear. Rodney seems to have it all together, his health, his body, and his manner of togetherness.  What is moving him in the direction he chooses?

Cherene Snow (Judy) has a very pleasant smile on stage.  Judy finds humor in a lot of things that happen in camp.  But Judy has a physical problem with her kidneys, her back, or her liver while her friend has problems of her own. Something happens in that relationship and it has to do with what that person wrote in her intention. The smallest of things can destroy the best of a relationship, in a matter of a moment, and Snow gives us all of that and more. Spoken words are not the only the silent killers. (One more note: is there a more creative way to deal with someone’s nudity?)

Socorro Santiago (Joan) plays a woman dying of cancer.  She appears to be letting the disease run its course, trying different things, and enjoying life before she passes.  But she harbors a big secret and the secret is in the note that she loses - which her partner reads. It is a mistake that she is unaware of and she is unable to convey her meaning because of her code to silence.

Orville Mendoza is excellent as Teacher. Teacher is widely known through various media, which is why these people are here living temporarily in an area of seclusion.  Teacher, from the Philippines, is masquerading as a Tibetan monk so one is not sure if he is legitimate or not. Things don’t sound right; stories don’t add up, people don’t get their money’s worth. The frustration levels of the group are tantamount to rebellion with Teacher because he has all the appurtenances of home while they have the miserable indignities of sleeping on the floor. He slips them a sympathy card they all buy and an easier life slowly moves on.

It’s a funny thing about the written note of intention in this play; words don’t have to be verbal to cause moral discontent and moral discontent is extremely painful to the receiver when it is projected without words.   

Laura Jellinek, Scenic Designer, provides a workable set for the space.  The set moves in and out, a breathable object that brings life to action and right into our laps.

Tilly Grimes, Costume Designer, gives us a grand sense of reality with modern day characters dressed in a fashion of belonging in that camp, and playing a role.

Mike Inwood, Lighting Design, perplexed me a bit, especially during the night scene where we move from one situation to the next by projecting the light on the action. Everyone is in the room and using the space. All have small lanterns.  Movement of the action on stage would have focused our attention.  So, why the light?

Sound Design, by Stowe Nelson, placed us there right in the action and gave us a sense of time and place.  One wasn’t too sure about the bear mixed with the sex noises and how that all worked in the context of the play.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Andrew Schneider – Video Design
Noah Mease – Prop Design
Henry Russell Bergstein, CSA
Lauren Z. Adleman – Associate Director
J. Michael Stafford – Production Supervisor
James Steele – Production Stage Manager
Maximum Entertainment – General Management
Eva Price – Producer

Run! Run!  And take a misfit. This will be the place where you will both fit in. 

Through January 28, 2018

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hamilton – Book, Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda – Inspired by the book Hamilton by Ron Chernow

-->
L - R Michael Luwoye and Isaiah Johnson


By Joe Straw

Moments before the start of this production at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, there was a peculiar disquieting moment as the lights dimmed, followed by a slow rising reverberation, a grumble, a settling rumble, and then finally a vocal roar of anticipation was heightened as the slow fade continued into darkness.

And on this sold-out night, as the stage lights came up, the audience let loose a spirited roar to the sounds of the orchestra’s DAN, DA, DA, DA, DAN DAN DAN!

How does a bastard, orphan
son of a whore and a Scotsman,
dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot
in the Caribbean by providence
impoverished, in squalor
grow up to be a hero and a scholar?  - Aaron Burr

Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and directed by Thomas Kail, is a brilliant musical love story that uplifts the human spirit while giving birth to an awakening populace. It is a mosaic of diversity, inlaid, and hand painted, carefully placed in the foreground that bequeaths new life to independence. The beats, all in glorious sounds, bring forth a sincere inner existence of human foibles, love, and jealously that moves tortuous souls to a tragic endpoint.  

Created characters in this play, both men and women, have far-reaching political objectives that move through a spirited maniacal fight all with the foresight of building a new nation.   

And, yet, only one is fuelled by a personal lust, a hidden jealously, the nemesis, and the antagonist Aaron Burr (Joshua Henry).  But, abjectly, and subjectively, through the course of their relationship, Burr is bested by Hamilton (Michael Luwoye) at every conceivable turn. And yet Burr stays in the game much longer than he has a right to.   

Why is explained in Burr’s philosophy. 

Talk Less
Smile more
Don’t let them know what you’re against
Or what you’re forBurr

Unfortunately for Burr, this would be his undoing as his philosophy and language placed him persona non-grata in a bar among the likes of fashionable orators and doers like Marquis de Lafayette (Jordan Donica), Hercules Mulligan (Mathenee Treco) and John Laurens (Rebén J. Carbajal); each of them knowing what they want—liberty.

Burr, check what we got
Mr. Lafayette, hard rock like Lancelot
I think your pants look hot
Laurens, I like you a lot
Let’s hatch a plot blacker than the kettle callin’ the pot. – Hamilton

(Just a side note:  Ron Chernow, the writer of Hamilton the book, suggests that Hamilton may have had a complicated relationship with Laurens. The letters written by Hamilton were suggestive and indicated a desire for intimacy; in contrast, it appears that Laurens was unable to return, either emotionally or in writing, similar feelings.)

Hamilton, not immune to physical purity, is opened to liking Laurens but is pulled away by Angelica (Sabrina Sloan), who, from across the room sees a coruscation, a sparkle emanating from this man who was going up the stairs with another man. She approaches him and pulls him away from his endeavor.  






Angelica asks him about his family. She gathers much from that single pause, and instance, brief though it may have been, of Hamilton’s modest background and unspoken pains.  And so Angelica inaugurates Hamilton to her sister, Eliza (Julian K. Harriman).

And although Angelica knows her relationship with Hamilton cannot happen, she remains deeply in love with him. Peggy Schuyler (Amber Iman), a clement judge of nature, is there to keep her sisters in line and everyone else honest.  

Soon, everyone’s attention turns to the war currently raging.  Aaron Burr is in the room with George Washington (Isaiah Johnson); moments later, Hamilton enters the room.

As I was saying, sir,
I look forward to seeing your strategy play out. - Burr

Burr?Washington

Sir? - Burr

Close the door on your way out. – Washington

Ouch! 

Wrong words, chosen carefully, eliminates Burr from any position with Washington during the un-winning stages of the Revolutionary War.   Hamilton, 22 years old at the time, still in the room, waits, immediately apologizes, and thinks he’s in a lot of trouble.

But Washington wants Hamilton as his right-hand man, which he offers with the simple giving of a pen. It is a strong symbolic gesture that’s given to a man whose strength is in the use of his words. Although not fully satisfied and still wanting to be out on the battlefront, Hamilton takes the position.

All the political operatives in this story, mostly Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison have an agenda, which falls within their political thinking and motivation for higher office. 

Hamilton had a temper to go along with his beliefs and he shows it at times.  It’s especially evident when Major General Charles Lee (Daniel Ching) goes after Washington, and Lee and Hamilton’s best friend, John Laurens, have a duel.

Washington learns of the duel after the fact and sends Hamilton home.

Scenic Designer, David Korins, provides us with a magnificent dark set. The base is of wood and ropes, a metaphor of ships and people coming to the Americas in the 18th century who settle into the places of commerce, businesses, bars, and other venues of social gathering. The huge revolving stage accentuates the people moving in the direction of building a new nation.



Paul Tazewel, Costume Designer, places a lot of symbolism on the dress of the ensemble dancers, with tightfitting undergarment and the women wearing a light bustier. All are draped in a light brown, a wash of color of Dutch hemp paper or other parchments of the day. The purpose to showcase the unsettling times, of paper and words flying. The black boots, worn by the men and women, are symbolic of the black ink – the method in which Hamilton, and others of the day, created galvanized thoughts on paper. The main characters are adorned in colorful hues that represent their station in life and the way life came to them. The work is magnificent, inspired, and wonderfully creative. 

Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is genius and is inspired by the music that moves the choreography toward an overall objective. Along with being revolutionary (pun), it is evolutionary in the way it incorporates different styles of dance to complete this history, 18th century waltz, to ballet, swing, contemporary, hip hop, and a popping dance. At times, the revolving stage moves the characters back in time.  

Michael Luwoye as Alexander Hamilton was completely blocked by another actor downstage left when he said his name. Struggling to see the actor one waited to get reacquainted during the words of  “In New York you can be a new man.” Hamilton’s egalitarian beliefs stop short of freeing men of color in order to placate the south. Luwoye presents an impressive figure in the strength of the character and in voice and manner.

Julia K. Harriman, a standby for the many leads, went on as Eliza Hamilton on this night and did well. Stretching over the body of her son, Phillip, holding whatever life is left in his body, she takes Hamilton’s hand and thrust it away, a wonderful moment. That said, her overall intention, her objective, was subjective, which is the key for gathering the emotional support that an audience craves. (This is also a woman who had eight children with Hamilton.)  

Joshua Henry plays Aaron Burr. Burr has misgivings after he shoots Hamilton.  It is an interesting choice, full of fear, of killing a man so many admired.  But Burr has been trying to get rid of Hamilton since he met him; he is sinister and envious. In that pivotal moment, one wonders if there are other choices he should have employed. Henry gives the character heart and a kind of warmth despite the fact that Burr was indirectly responsible for killing Phillip Hamilton and then killing Hamilton.

Sabrina Sloan does a fine turn as Angelica Schuyler. Still it would have helped to see the moment when she realizes that she made the wrong choice.  We hear it in song but we don’t quite see it on stage. Sloan’s voice is spectacular and we get the truly emotional moments on stage through song.

Isaiah Johnson comes on strong as George Washington and never lets up.  His voice is superb; his manner expresses an inner as well as an outer strength. Overall, his work is a work of art that should not be missed.  

Jordan Donica plays both Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson and does admirably well in both roles. Donica towers above the rest of the cast and the fro, as Jefferson, appears to place him another foot higher. He is impish as Jefferson, dancing when he has the goods on Hamilton. He is truly delightful in both roles with a commanding presence and a strong voice.   

Mathenee Treco has a grand time as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison both characters. He comes off as a bowling ball of a man knocking down the revolutionary pins with the easiest of discretions.  Acting, singing, and rapping should not be this much fun for one man.  

Rubén J. Carbajal is John Laurens and Philip Hamilton. There was a lot of truth to the portrayals of both roles.  Philip Hamilton came off as very small and very much a boy while John Laurens was a character different in complexity and manner. The work was inspiring.

Amber Iman was very sultry as Maria Reynolds, her voice has an underlying want, a dark opaque luster, accompanied by her delicate raillery, to get into a discomforting intimacy, played for whatever she wanted, and that was Hamilton.  She also portrayed Peggy Schuyler and was remarkably different in that role.

Rory O’Malley shines as King George.  His vocals were magnificent; he also provided the funniest highlights to the show. The King, who is out of touch, in England, wants his subjects to toe the line, all with the wave of his scepter.

Ryan Vasquez brings a nice touch to the characters he portrays—Philip Schuyler and the Doctor.  James Reynolds is also a fascinating character, costumed in dark brown colors and oddly dressed in a manner that stood out from the rest of the cast—18th century pimp perhaps?  There he stood, holding out his hands near his head, waiting for the money to come gently to him, without even asking. Nicely done.

Andrew Wojtal is Loyalist Samuel Seabury, American Episcopal, and not a big fan of Alexander Hamilton. Seabury was imprisoned in Connecticut for six weeks and by 1778 became loyal to the new government. But here he is, on top of a box, reading from a scroll although we did not know the man or his relationship to Hamilton. (Farmer Refuted, written by Hamilton, was a rebuttal to A.W. Farmer letters “A View of the Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies” Seabury’s nom de plume.)

Daniel Ching plays Charles Lee and Raymond Baynard plays George Eacker the man who shoots and kills Phillip Hamilton.

Other members of the ensemble who gave spirit to the populace of the day are Dan Belnavis, Jennifer Geller, Sabrina Imamura, Lauren Kias, Jennifer Locke, Raven Thomas, and Keenan D. Washington.

Lin-Manuel Miranda woke up one night to the sounds of an American lullaby, haunting melodies, urging the words of freedom.

Raise a glass to freedom
Something they can never take away
No matter what they tell you.

Even in the dream, the plot suddenly begets personal nightmares, hardships, and people’s struggle to unify a nation.  Freedom comes at a price.  They sing about it with color: and fling the ideas that only a few whites were responsible that save the day for their kind.  This is an all-inclusive dream, an examination of what the world could be.  It is a never-ending quest for the colorful reality of one nation. Miranda provides us with that idea, that narrative.   

Thomas Kail’s direction is impressive.  There is never a moment where the space is not filled with activity.  Actors bring in props and set pieces and the action keeps moving, continuously, sometimes in slow motion, and without pause.  There is very little dialogue and most of the words are rapped or sung which leaves characters little time to develop a strong physical relationship, e.g. Hamilton with Laurens, Angelica, Eliza.  If you’ve read Ron Chernow’s book, you get glimpses of the relationships on stage as they whisk by in a matter of seconds. Time is a matter of an announcement, and it passes quickly without guessing that Hamilton had eight children with Eliza. 

And, as a side note, there seemed to be an emotional component missing of want which was physically and emotionally lacking on this night as characters moved about in song: Hamilton’s primary want is to help the nation.  There is also Angelica’s strong physical want for Hamilton, which one didn’t see, a reluctant want Hamilton has with Maria Reynolds, and a natural want for not losing Eliza.

Emotional clarity is also important: Angelica Schuyler immediately dumps Hamilton “looking for a mind at work” simply because of his station in life. (He was the mind, not the money.)  And then pawns him off on her unsuspecting sister, Eliza.  Angelica, still in love with Hamilton, marries John Barker Church (not in show), rich from selling goods to the Continental Army, and moves her, with his money to England with him.  

That said, the essential element is the driving force of Kail’s direction, one that reinforces Miranda’s vision by the diversity in casting.  It is one that conspicuously changes the narrative - that only stodgy old white men in powdered wigs, with their seditious cries, created this new nation. Change sometime comes in small increments, but that change is coming, and it is excitingly reinforced in this musical.

Lighting Design by Howell Binkley was remarkable as well as the Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg.

Charles G. LaPointe was responsible for the modern Hair and Wig Design, which at times forgets about time and space and wonderfully creative.

The Orchestra these days seems to minimal compared to the orchestras from the days I was employed at the Pantages but nevertheless they put out a great sound. They are as follows:

Julian Reeve – Conductor/Keyboard 1
Andrew Cerullo – Associate Conductor/Keyboard 2
John Mader – Drums
Kathleen Robertson – Violin
Adriana Zoppo – Concertmaster
Jody Rubin – Viola/Violin
Paula Fehrenbach – Cello
Trey Henry – Bass/Electric Bass/Key Bass
Paul Viapiano – Electric Guitar/Acoustic Guitar/Banjo
Wade Culbreath – Percussion/Keyboards
Brian Miller – Orchestra Contractor
Julian Reeve - Contractor

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who is on the cusp of political thinking.  Now playing in San Diego Civic Theatre through January 28, 2018.

If you like this, or hate it, or disagree with this - write a comment below.  Thank you.