Sunday, December 23, 2018

Dixie’s Tupperware Party by Kris Andersson

Kris Andersson (Dixie Longate)

Why would anyone woman marry a man named Absorbine and then call their kid Absorbine, Jr., (Walmart $10.99)?  Well, Dixie Longate (Kris Andersson) did just that.

Down South LLC, in association with Louise Hall Beard and Joe Everett Michaels, presents Dixie Longate in Dixie’s Tupperware Party by Kris Andersson and directed by Patrick Richwood at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City through December 30, 2018.

Absorbine is now dead along with her other two husbands, due to no fault of Dixie. (But, thinking about it, is she entirely faultless?)

As my Georgian grandpa use to say: “Well, sometimes people just ain’t no count.”

After the death of Absorbine, the husband, Dixie had to do something besides drinking, her one guilty pleasure in life, and it was something that was getting her nowhere, fast.  

She had three kids to raise (one with each husband). After attending her first Tupperware party, she was hooked. Not in the drugged or fishing kind of hooked, she just gravitated to a life that set a fire under her, that gave her some gumption within her loins.  

So Dixie, gussied up in a ‘50’s housewife motif, bouffant red hair, blue eye shadow, luscious red lips, and earrings down to her clavicles, she was ready to put on her very own Tupperware party in voluminous grandeur.  


Not to spread rumors because that’s not me, but, Dixie hasn’t entirely given up drinking. During this Tupperware party, she takes a sip here and there, one sip to take the edge off, and the next sip she was off sashaying into a dancing motif slapping her backside. After all, it ain't a party until Dixie's up on the table doing something.

She is especially driven to drink while watching a man, Orion (who appeared to have never set foot into a kitchen), open a can of soup. Though from a man’s perspective, I believe that Dixie’s directions were not that clear, possibly because of the drink, or the inability of a man ever understanding the sincere directions of a woman.

Oh, and let’s not forget about the lesbians.

Dixie’s Tupperware Party is too much fun! You live the experience if you are of the mindset that you are there to buy Tupperware and listen to the presentation (catalogue provided).  It just flows to incredible heights.

Not all of it is a wacky comedy; there are moments that ring a solid truth, truths about abuse and pain that shakes the house into a buying frenzy.  It is sincere but probably part of the plan.  

Dixie’s song is one of resilience, of a woman who has overcome many troubled periods to provide for her family and succeed at every level.  Still, she can’t shake the past and she brings that life with her to sell the heck out of those bowls, that are multicolored, last forever, and can be willed to many future generations

And it is probably why Dixie’s Tupperware Party has been running for eight or more years all across the country.

Kris Andersson (Dixie) is quick witted and the night is filled with glorious improvisational moments. So fast, one just lets things go because the next interesting thing quickly comes along. The jokes are a little blue and has this audience member saying, she said what?

Speaking of saying things, Christopher K. Bond’s Sound Design was a little off as the sound was not as clear as other productions witnessed at the Kirk Douglas.

Patrick Richwood, Director, leaves a lot of room for improvisation.  What is not clear is the progression of events, of Dixie getting more intoxicated as the night wears on, of a changing of character so profound that participants should be rushing the stage to buy the product. (Figuratively, of course.)

The night is filled with all sorts of goodies in a poke.  There is also a nice tribute to Brownie Wise the woman who started it all and who got women all across the country hosting, meeting, and getting to know their neighbors  

After the show, Kris Andersson marches into the lobby of the Kirk Douglas for a meet and greet, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact it has a lot of southern charm.

Other members of this delightful crew are as follows:

Richard Winkler – Lighting Design
MicheleHelbert – Tour Manager
K L Management – General Management
Patty Onagan Consulting – Marketing Director
Kristin Humphrey – Grass Roots & Promotions
Davidson & Choy Publicity – Publicity

Run! Run! And take your second cousin twice removed, the one who lives in a trailer park, not far from the creek.   You’ll both get a kick out of this.


Sunday, December 16, 2018

Tryst by Paul Coates

By Joe Straw

As a young boy
he noticed the changing of the light

as cumulus clouds moved
between him and the sun,

patterned billows diffused the light swiftly
from left to right

bringing light to darkness
darkness to light

and through the opaque window,
highlighting her hair,

her apron,
the sink,

the dark brown of the walls
turned a lighter shade,

and the inferior tiles in the kitchen
showed visible strains of children. 

Each light
another surprise and

a discovery
in the making - Narrator

Theatre is like this  - finding a moment in the light, discovering something new, an opening to a better understanding of the human condition.  – Narrator

The small stage at the Hudson’s Guild theatre was bare, except for four white chairs, and four black music stands on this Tuesday night December 11, 2018. 

One sign of humanity was a green backpack nestled against the wall, stage right. And, off to the side, a fancy white water bottle with a twist top that nourishes a human being.

Upstage against the wall hung an olive-green curtain that languished in the light – that held back darkness – and kept prying eyes from entering.

The particles of light emanate off the black box stage; walls and white chairs give the appearance of a purple fog and certainly a beginning to something new.  This would be a reading to “virgin ears.” This is where all theatre starts, from the very beginning.

Tryst: an appointment to meet at a certain time and place, especially one made somewhat secretly by lovers.

Tryst by Paul Coates, directed by Nick DeGruccio, was on stage this night. I really hadn’t come to write a review.  I thought I would just write notes and present them to anyone who would gratefully receive them. So, these are my observations.

About halfway through the second act, I looked at the audience, a sideway glance if you will, and noticed everyone in rapt attention, no moving, no phones, no drinking, or taking out candy. And although this was a reading, one could not have asked for a better performance.

Charlie (Paul Coates) and James (David Youst) are a couple who have been together for quite a while although they have never been married.

Charlie is in the television business, a producer/writer, who is trying to get a project with Mylie Cyrus off the ground. He does not want to leave his beautiful home on Mulholland to wrestle with traffic and fight with people at the studio.  

Charlie is on the phone negotiating deals and fighting with other people about who should be in his program.  He is an ex-patriot from England but has managed to keep his petulant English accent. (Think of his character as a cross between Elton John and Michael Shurtleff.)  Could his petulancy be the result that something is not quite right with his relationship at home?

James, his partner, seems to be the level headed one.  He is a corporate executive, a creative director of a department store who does not like the entertainment limelight and really wants to be as far away from that life as possible.

On the surface and together, they are open and share everything.

After finishing the pilot, they plan an extended three-month trip to Paris. They have been searching around for a dog sitter, when Devon (Alex Best) enters their life.

Devon is a good-looking 25 year-old man with a striking resemblance to Paul Rudd.  (That resemblance plays well into the play.)  He is a homeless actor, a fatherless young man, who has acted in a few things and is desperately looking for any kind of work.

Devon ingratiates himself to Charlie first.  In fact, Charlie, despite all the bad things in his life right now, will not leave for work until he gets to know the intimate details of Devon’s life.  

Meanwhile James is pushing Charlie out the door so that, one, Charlie makes his appointment and, two,  he can have Devon all to himself while he explains the job.

With Charlie gone, levelheaded James explains the rules of the house to Devon, gushing all the while, explaining his age and getting mixed messages that Devon may be coming on to him.

Devon lands the job and becomes a valuable assistant in the process. Both Charlie and James want more so they invite him to Paris.

But, Devon wants even more. Overhearing that “Shane” (not seen) is not working out with the new Mylie Cyrus project, “He just not funny enough,” Devon puts on a southern accent and takes a go at the script.

Charlie is blown away by the reading and invites Devon to read for the part and then fights for him to secure the role.

Soon thereafter, they invite Devon to move in and be part of their family

Without giving away too much, there is a lot to enjoy of Coates work. It gives light to the human condition and highlights not only the words but the pauses as well. It is Coates finest work to date, as an actor and as a writer, and one that ingratiates itself to intimate theatre, the closer, the better the experience. It is exceptionally beautiful and rings a solid truth.

The fascinating part of this experience is the characters never really reveal their intimacy, reflective of their own emotions; they drill in order tell the other what exactly is on their mind. It is remarkable in the way two men are able to communicate with each other on the surface, and move on about their lives, without saying what they mean or want, and each wanting the intimacy they cannot articulate.

It is difficult to determine if a threesome is sustainable, that level of maturity needs a tremendous amount of work.  Twosomes are difficult enough to maintain, but in this work of art the exploration of the relationships, given all of their problems, makes for fascinating theatre.

In my imagination, I saw the home as open, white and sterile, no matter where the characters were.  There are a number of creative choices the director Nick DeGruccio can take this marvelous play.

David Youst was tremendous in this reading.  Sympathetic, slightly aggressive, and hiding feelings the he would normally express.

Alex Best, not quite the spitting image of Paul Rudd, but had some remarkable moments as well. The Character Devon is not willing to give up his secrets so easily but once he is secure he shares those moments.

And in the end, still not able to articulate their feelings, the ending is pleasing and totally unexpected.  


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Bus Stop by William Inge

L - R Jack Sundmacher, Kaitlin Huwe, Gary Ballard, Niko Boles, Mani Yarosh

By Joe Straw

Bus Stop, by William Inge and directed by Ann Hearn Tobolowsky, is now playing through December 16, 2018 at Theatre 40 on the campus of Beverly Hills High School.  And as always, parking is free!

In this dingy dinner, the donuts are what you’d expect, hard, under glass, and a couple of days old.  Two for a nickel sounds right for a hard swallow and a nice cup of joe.

There are slightly stained swivel chairs, Formica countertops, and duct tape patches on the holes of the diminishing dining chairs. About the best thing you could say about this eating establishment is that it is clean. Which is remarkable because there’s a privy outside in the back, and everyone must scrape every scrap of mud off his or her shoes before coming in.

The dining establishment’s floor is so clean that you could almost eat off it.

It says a lot about Jeff G. Rack Set Design that although everything is somehow not quite right in this diner, things can surely get better.

For the time being, this one-horse town is a rest stop for weary bus travelers. It is a slight respite from the malignant odor of a much-travelled Topeka bus heading for destinations unforeseen and places forgone to the west.

Kansas never had it so good, or so bad for that matter. A little diner tucked away about thirty miles west of Kansas City, Missouri, or Kansas City, Kansas whichever you prefer.

The time is one A.M, sometime in the early ‘50’s, a blizzard has hit, snow has accumulated on the window seals, and the waitresses are preparing for a bus coming in because of a road closure west of the diner.

As Grace (Michele Schultz), the owner, and Elma (Mani Yarosh), high-school aged waitress, await the bus riders, they chat about all kinds of things, like Grace’s missing husband, Barton (not seen), her loneliness, and Elma’s good grades in school.

Sheriff Will Masters (Shawn Savage), mackinaw and all, without a gun, comes into the shop to tell them the bus is almost there and wondering if he could get a fresh cup of coffee.   

“It just went through, Will. Fresh as ya could want it.” – Grace

And just after the bus stops Cherie (Kaitlin Huwe), a nightclub singer with questionable abilities, runs in, suitcase in tow, asking to be hid. Will, always wanting to help anyone in trouble hears Cherie’s plea, “I need protection.”

“What from?” – Will

“There’s a cowboy after me.” -- Cherie

Will gets the story – about her abduction to Montana by a mean cowboy – and he says he will protect her.

And as Elma talks up Will’s ability to take on any man, a man comes into the diner.

Not the cowboy, it is Dr. Gerald Lyman (Jack Sundmacher), slightly inebriated.

“Ah! ‘This castle hath a pleasant seat.’” – Dr. Lyman – (Macbeth by William Shakespeare – Act I scene VI)

Dr. Lyman, somewhat ignorant about geography, seems slightly confused as to where he is at the moment. Carl (David Datz), the bus driver, explains exactly where he is. 

Undeterred, Dr. Lyman warms himself by the heater. Then he sees Elma and his eyes light up at this young high school student.

“’Nymph in thy orison, be all my sins remembered.’” – Dr. Lyman (Hamlet by William – Act 3 scene 1)

Elma is a little confused by Dr. Lyman’s rattling off Shakespeare at any given moment and doesn’t know how to respond.  The doctor orders a rye whiskey on the rocks.

That ain’t going to work in this diner that only serves sandwiches, soft drinks, bakeries, and coffee.

Will, takes a look around at the patrons and asks Carl if that’s it.  No, and Carl warns him about two cowboys sleeping in the back of the bus – Bo (Niko Boles), the young mean cowboy, and Virgil Blessing (Gary Ballard), his companion.

“I’d jest as soon they stayed where they’re at.  One of ‘em’s a real troublemaker.  You know the kind, first time off a ranch and wild as a bronco.  He’s been on the make fer this li’l blonde down here.” – Carl

L - R Niko Boles, Gary Ballard, Shawn Savage, Kaitlin Huwe

There are exceptional performances in this production of Bus Stop.  It is slow to start but manages to gather steam and then soars.  And, as the performance end, one is wrap up in the humanity of it all and sent out of the theatre bundled in the warmth of empathy.

Ann Hearn Tobolowsky, the director, defines the humanity of each character in ways that allow us to zero in on an expression and also a defining moment in the character’s arch.  Those moments ring beautifully, soulfully, and capture a feeling of not wanting this night to end.

Still, I have some observations to share. Take what you like, discard the rest.

Gary Ballard as Virgil Blessing.  The name Virgil implies a philosopher which he is as he tries to reason with Bo and teach him the ways with women.  The relationship between these two could have been stronger, almost a father and son but came off as sidekick, which he is not.  The ending between these two should have us all in tears but the relationship never got to that point.  Ballard’s guitar playing was magnificent and worked beautifully with the song All or Nothing at All (1939 Music by Arthur Altman, lyrics by Jack Lawrence). How can we have an effective ending for Virgil?

Niko Boles had his moment as Bo, a young man who is not really that mean.  He walks in with his legs spread like he’s been riding horses all day and takes a drink of a quarter of a gallon of milk in two gulps, dripping some down his chin as he finishes it. But during those moments he took his eyes of the prize, which he should never do.  Inquisitiveness was one thing lacking in the way he approaches his romantic interest when things aren’t going his way. One would like to see an emotional ending to his relationship to Virgil, torn between his girlfriend and the man that took care of him after his parents passed away.  Although the character of Bo could be a little more refined, still some very good work.

Michele Schultz, David Datz

David Datz also had his moments as Carl. Datz has a natural presence in a defined character.  His objective was clear in words but not necessarily in action. He takes his eyes off the prize during the quiet moments before leaving the diner to go for a supposedly long walk.  The imaginary rope must be tied to his love interest before he leaves.

Kaitlin Huwe presents a grand figure as Cherie.  The song, All or Nothing at All, was just superb.  It was interesting that they chose the song to be pitch perfect.  If she is that good, she should dump the guy and go straight to Hollywood.  And maybe it is one reason she goes to Montana, not entirely because of the charm of the cowboy.  That aside, Huwe does some amazing work as the night progresses and as she decides to stay with Bo.  Her entry on stage needs work, more to highlight of who she is and what she is.

Shawn Savage as Sheriff Will Master also does a terrific but is pretty much low key in his character. One wonder if there is any more to this character, the sheriff without a gun. Is there is more to the man than his fists?  The young waitress praises the sheriff on his strength and virility but that goes by like ships in the night. One wonders if there is a stronger choice for this character, his objective, and how that relates to his interactions with the other characters.

Michele Schultz gave just the right touch to Grace.  She was very funny and gave the character a lot of strength and resolve.  Was there a point where she invites the bus drive up to her place?  If there was, one didn’t see it.  And, is there more to the ending and the relationship with the other man before she closes the door on him?  The ending is very sad and leaves us with little to know that more is coming.

L - R Mani Yarosh, Jack Sundmacher, Gary Ballard

Jack Sundmacher plays Dr. Lyman.  The rumbled suits fits, the inebriated self gives him a façade, but the core of the character needs a little work. It needs definition to give him a stronger center. Once he sees the young waitress, nothing should stop him, except perhaps his inner demons. Professors are unique, each one, in their way of action and expressions.  Let’s find some ways to give this character life.  The relationship to the waitress should be stronger, almost to the point of being unhealthily close. The collapse is a moment that needs highlighting. It could be presented in many different ways, it could even be ambiguous, but it has to involve her, his life, and what he chooses to be at this point.    

Mani Yarosh does some fine work as Elma, squinting eyes and a broad smile plays into her naivety.  The scene where she finds out that someone loves her is as beautiful a moment as one could have on stage.   Some wonderful work.  

David Hunt Stafford wonderfully produced this production.

Don Solosan was the Stage Manager.

Michéle Young, Costume Designer, did a beautiful job with the costumes.

Brandon Barush was responsible for the Lighting Design.  

Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski was the Sound Designer and provided original music.

Richard Carner is the Assistant Stage Manager, and Susan Mermet is the Assistant Director.

Ed Kreiger as the photographer and Philip Sokoloff did the publicity.

Richard Hoyt Miller did the program design.   

Run! Run! And take a lascivious professor!

Reservations and information:  310-364-0535

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Fairy Tale Theatre 18 & Over: The Musical by Michael J.Feldman, Music by Jason Currie

L - R Sheila Carrasco, Greg Worswick, Michael J. Feldman, Burl Moseley, and Tina Huang - Photos by Jeff Lorch
By Joe Straw

When my girls were young, I recited a made-up bedtime story that started something like this.

Once upon a time, in a land, not very far from here, lived Tina, the tiny bunny.  And Tiny was a precocious bunny; she knew everything there was to know about anything, and what she didn’t know, she just hopped on her bunny pads to the computer and Googled the answer.

She spoke perfect English and only a few knew how she got like that.

Rapscallion and discerning she was and when things got under Tina’s fur, her ears started vibrating, her eyes turned green, her teeth began to rattle, and she would just cut loose.  

Billy Bear said she had a mouth like a sailor. This is why Billy is now outside her tree house looking in, just begging to come inside. – Narrator

Step inside of The Pico Playhouse to witness a few fairy tales.  They won't play long but they will stay with you forever.

Fairy Tale Theatre 18 & Over The Musical written by Michael J. Feldman and directed by Annie McVey with music by Jason Currie, and produced by Kim Hamilton and Bernardo Cubría is playing through October 7, 2018.    

Noriko Olling Wright, keyboardist, offstage right, waited patiently, slowly watching with her hands to her side.  Her right leg rested on something so that her right knee was curved slightly, as she patiently waited for the multitudes to enter the theatre. She blinked slowly, confident of the material in front of her, and paid scant attention to the few patrons that entered.  

With only moments before show time, one observed a smallish crowd in the intimate Pico Playhouse.  Not what I imagined given Ammunition Theatre last smash hit A Giant Void In My Soul by Bernardo Cubría. 

And then something quite nice happened; theatre patrons poured into the theatre.  All the seats were suddenly taken and more seats had to be brought in from the back, black folding chairs to be precise on this sold out night.

The onlookers waited patiently, some hugs were exchanged, and as the lights dimmed the narrator (Michael J. Feldman) walked through the red curtains, a mollycoddled man treated to a kingly chair right next to a chest of treasure.  He read from a fairy tale book before breaking into a song and dance about turning off your – ahem – “motherf**king phone”.

Yes, this is an adult fairy tale – polychromatic tales of barbarous amusement that is sure to delight.

One supposes that everyone got the point about the phone and noise, except the woman sitting next to me with a cup of wine and her audacious insistence of foraging through her raucous bag of chips.

Michael J. Feldman has written an anodyne musical, something that relieves the pain of our political undercurrent, while providing poignant life lessons in a number of comedic sketches.  Now in its simplest form it is an exordium of finer things to come. The sketches are topical that touch an emotional chord. So, if you are venturing out to see fairy tales, go for the tales and leave with the life lessons.

Gone are the Michael J. Feldman locks, (from previous photos), replaced with a short crop and three-day-old stubble. It is unclear how that works for this character and for the multitudes of characters he plays, except perhaps the dog and um maybe the gay cat, but the star? No way.     

Amusement aside, there is a tremendous amount here to enjoy – a big bang for the buck – music by Jason Currie, Musical Director, adds to the sketches with animals frolicking and dancing on the stage floor courtesy of Meghann Lucas choreography for wry actors who can move and nicely costumed by Stephen Rowan’s wonderful creations and prop designs.  

Annie McVey’s direction gives all of the actors the chance to shine.  The puppets were marvelous! But a little more character work would help this production

Some character choices need focus. For example, the penguin (Jason Rogel), although incapable of flying, should try to fly throughout the sketch. He just seems to stand there watching the other characters achieve their goals. By the way, penguins are Antarctica/Galápagos animals far away from the likes of Caribou (Matt Cook), Eskimo (Jess McKay), and the Snow Owl (Sheila Carrasco).

One is not sure how “the silent P” (Sheila Carrasco) works or how it is connected to the body of the work but it was funny.  These are minor quibbles for a show that will only grow after a few performances. Keep the good; throw out what doesn’t work and give Carrasco more to do as she lights up the stage. 

Writing about the sketches probably gives too much away but one that I found fascinating was the creation of the universe, with a man dressed up in the black hole costume (Jason Rogel) looking much like a North Korean dictator. So, there is an effective and wonderful topical connect.  The message was one of good versus evil.  What is good and what is evil? Or, is “it” just what it is? Despite the other silly characters with asteroids on their heads (the things that actors have to do), this particular sketch was profound in identifying good and evil and was completely satisfying.

And while some things need work (as all shows do), there is a sense of kindness that radiates in the work and one that presents a dramatic truth. The characters personified present a grand realization that touches the theatregoer to the core and sends us out smiling into the colorful night.

All of the actors, ten of them to be exact, had multiple roles.

Jess McKay,  Tina Huang

Jess McKay (Master Harold/Eskimo/Groundhog/Ensemble) is funny as the Eskimo wanting to become a podiatrist. McKay does well and has a nice look on stage.

Tina Huang (Mastress Denise/Glacier/Rabbitt/Daisy/Gov. Cluster) was a glacier that wants to be more than a stoic and solid piece of ice.  She has a nice baritone voice.

Matt Cook, Jason Rogel, Jess McKay, Tina Huang

Matt Cook (Master Peter/Penguin’s Friend/Caribou/Capt.), hiding behind the caribou puppet, is another appealing actor that slides into all roles effortlessly.

Jason Rogel (Asshole/Penguin/Black Hole) is the hapless – wanting to fly – penguin that has managed to get himself up into the artic and he has his moments in other roles.

 Sheila Carrasco, Greg Worswick, Burl Moseley, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Jess McKay, Michael J Feldman

Sheila Carrasco (Snow Owl/Red Super Giant/Grandma Penguin) is effective in all roles and has a wonderful presence but one would like to give her more in do in the Service Dog scene.  

Greg Worswick (Unicorn/Francois/Moon) presents different characters in all of his roles, the unicorn, Francois, the service dog, and the moon.  In all cases, the work is taken to playful extremes and is exceptional.

Sheila Carrasco, Greg Worswick, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, and Burl Moseley

Burl Moseley (Fox/Straight Cat/Max Beefy Cluster) is terrific as the Straight Cat, a cat that manages to blur the line of his sexuality. Moseley is exceptionally comfortable in all of his roles.

Cloie Wyatt Taylor (Sparrow/Gale/Red Dwarf) has a terrific voice and maybe one that could be pushed to another vocal level. We only get a test of her terrific voice in this outing.

Jason Currie leaves his Musical Director job to perform as an opera singer and Cpt. Buttersworth.  He has a fine voice.

Kudos to Michael J. Feldman.  He put a lot of work went into this show, writing, singing, and acting are all a part of a very successful night of theatre.

Brit Manor, Emerson Collins, Chris Gardner, and Brandon Scott are understudies who did not perform the night I attended.

Dalmar Montgomery, Sound Design, came off without a hitch and worked effectively.

There a lot to enjoy from Andrew Schmedake, Lighting Designer and Helton Najera, Asst Lighting Designer work, especially the Universe Scene.

Spencer Saccoman was the Stage Manager and with all the costumes and props one would imagine a very busy person.

Judith Borne was responsible for the press.

Run! Run! And take an inquisitive new adult!

The Pico Playhouse
10508 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90064


Monday, August 20, 2018

Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang

L - R Jeffrey Sun and Alfonso Faustino -Photographs by Megumi Smisson

By Joe Straw

…I was an immigrant.  Once you’re an immigrant you’re always an immigrant… – Yo-Yo Ma - Yo-Yo Ma, A Life Led With Bach -NPR Tiny Desk Concert by Mary Louise Kelly, Tom Huizenga

The words spoken in that conversation are wonderfully appealing.  It touches an emotional chord in me that is profound and one that replenishes the human spirit. -  Narrator

Firescape Theatre in Association with The Beverly Hills Playhouse present Yellow Face written by David Henry Hwang, directed by Robert Zimmerman and Produced by Victoria Ma through September 26, 2018.

The stage, on this night, is essentially bare with the exception of nine seats, a telephone table, and two scaffoldings upstage right and left with enough room for each character to disappear upstage and come back to their seats as a completely different character. 

With the exceptions of DHH (Jeffrey Sun) and Marcus G. Dahlman (Roman Moretti) the other players play multiple roles to great satisfaction.

Marcus begins the play with an email to David Henry Hwang (DHH), an actor he has briefly known, about his time in China, a bonding of sorts with his Asian brothers and sisters.  And that charade is what angers DHH who still carries his anger on his sleeves and in his pen concerning his relationship with Marcus.  

“That was the first of Marcus’s e-mails to me.  More than a few Asian Americans still wonder what happened to him.” – DHH

(Ouch. Not even a backhanded compliment.)

Still angry DHH says Marcus was a footnote in Asian theatre.  “Blink and you would’ve missed it.”  (Still with the digs.)

“As for my own role in the story, some Asian Americans noticed, but they chose to forgive me for my mistakes.” – DHH

(During the course of the play The Announcer (John Pendergast) introduces the cast of character when called upon.)

“Playwright Frank Chin:” – Announcer

“David Henry Hwang is a white racist asshole.” – Frank Chin

Okay, so DHH is not beloved by all Americans as he takes his lumps and moves on, but he never forgets.

After his success on Broadway, and a Tony Award, for M. Butterfly DHH is at the pinnacle of his career.  In his acceptance speech he lets it be known that it will be a new day in America for Asian actors.

And just when the thought that all was well in American theatre BD Wong (Alfonso Faustino) calls DHH to tell him that Miss Saigon is coming to American with actor Jonathan Pryce, an Anglo, in the leading Asian role and that he must do something about it.

But DHH is not so sure that Jonathan Pryce isn’t Asian or a mixture thereof.

“You’re sure the actor’s white?  Maybe he’s mixed race.” – DHH

(DHH can be so dense.)

“David, it’s Jonathan Pryce.” - BD

BD enlists DHH to write a letter to Actors’ Equity to protest the casting of Pryce in the New York version of Miss Saigon to which the participants from both side of the pond raise their voices in protest, Cameron MacKintosh (Dennis Nollette), the producer, Bernard Jacobs, the President of The Shubert Theatres, and Actors’ Equity.

Alas, DHH has done his part and seems satisfied until he gets a call from Carla Chang (Jennifer Vo Le) at Actors’ Equity who wants him down at Actors’ Equity to protest. But, DHH has given up this fight and Actors’ Equity reverses its decision and allows Pryce to play the Eurasian The Engineer a.k.a. Tran Van Dinh.

One battle lost.

More on the way when DHH’s father calls HYH (Alfonso Faustino) a banker who sees nothing of the controversy other than his son getting his name in the papers.  But the next time he’s in New York he wants to get tickets to Miss Saigon. HYH also suggest he should not write about Rudyard Kipling but something more in line with his personal knowledge.

DHH is suddenly inspired by the debacle of Miss Saigon and writes the farce Face Value.

“It’s a backstage farce about a musical in which the lead actor is a Caucasian playing an Asian. On opening night, two Asian American protesters sneak in to disrupt the show – dressed in white face.” – DHH

Roman Moretti and Alfonso Faustino

Unfortunately, and here’s the funny part, they can’t find an Asian for the role.  BD is out because DHH wants a fresh new Asian face.  (And he’s not looking for John Lone either.) And after auditioning Rodney Hatamiya (Alfonso Faustino) they find Marcus who’s looks are ambiguously deceiving.

Robert Zimmerman does an outstanding job in bringing Yellow Face to Los Angeles.  Playfully iniquitous in the way humans move to achieve their rightful positions in life. Yet, it is a difficult and demanding presentation where limited rehearsals must bring out multiple characters for the six actors in the other roles. Finding a significant through line would be the ultimate test for any director.  But, overall the actors succeed nicely. Well, mostly, still one has observations.  

David Henry Hwang’s play seems like two or three different plays without a significant spine that ties it all together.  In its separate parts the play takes on the three phases of life.  One part is the fantasy of a theatrical life. The other is the madness of the theatrical life and the participants.  And the last part is about the harsh theatrical realities of real life and death. Broken down, the play is about Miss Saigon, the other part is about the play Face Value, and the other is about the relationship between DHH, his father HYH, and the banking crisis. Time, identity, and forgiveness seem to be the lessons we learn in this play. But, how does that translate in action?  And, how are those actions manifested to give it a grand through line?

Jeffry Sun (DHH) gives us some pleasurable moments.  In the opening moments he was still angered by the email, after all those years, which did not seem like a good choice. One can’t imagine anyone holding a grudge for that long. Better choices are available for this actor.  Sun just seemed mad throughout the presentation, which really doesn’t work for this character.  He was mad at his actor, mad at his father, and mad at his past relationship. Timing is also critical in this comedy. And, the relationship with his father needs a lot of work.  Could there be a moment where DHH takes pleasure in something he has done?

Roman Moretti (Marcus Gee) has a powerful voice and does well in this presentation. There’s more to add to character but overall the performance was wonderful. (Note: Yul Brynner had twelve curtain calls each night in The King and I.) More work on the curtain call would be nice if only to give Gee the power he perceives he has with his Asian “counterparts”.

Jon Pendergast is impressive as NWOAOC (Name Withheld On Advice of Counsel) as a reporter and he certainly comes off as a white racist reporter. There is a significant amount of work apparent in Pendergast’s performance, a nuance, and a backstory that eats this material up.  His work is wonderful and is brilliant in execution.  Do not miss this performance.  He plays the announcer, upstage left, and one would not have expected this type of performance as he came downstage.  Tremendous work.

L - R Dennis Nollette, Lisagaye Tomlinson, Alfonso Faustino, and Jennifer Vo Le

Jennifer Vo Le as Leah Anne Cho, also gives a performance that should not be missed as well.  This is an actor who is very physical on stage, and with expressive eyes accompanying a deep level of concentration, and an actor willing to take chances with her characters. She is wonderful to watch.

Allonso Faustino plays HYH and others.  Faustino has an Italian name but has an Asian look.  Interesting. Knowing little about this actor one can only suggest that vocal lessons are in order to give his voice the power the other actors had.  Also, work needs to be done to develop the relationship with his father, which doesn’t work to perfection at this point.  Love is crucial for the relationship to work and for the play to progress.  The father son relationship needs strengthening because it ties the whole play together.   

Dennis Nollette is a wonderful actor that provides a wide variety of characterizations to the people he portrays.  From the Frank Rich character to the adult bookstore manager all were wonderfully managed.  This is also a performance you should not miss.

Lisagaye Tomlinson is very appealing in the characters of Jane Krakowski, Miles Newman and others.  David Henry Wang’s mother is Pilipino and Tomlinson would do well to capture that accent but the other characterizations were extremely nuanced and wonderful to watch.  Tomlinson is also very funny as Miles Newman, the casting director, who gets herself in an invidious position and then tries to find her way out of it without much success.

Understudies who did not perform the night I was there are as follows: Cait Bidwell, B. Jordan Reed, Melodie Shih, and Edward Hong.  Edward Hong is also the Stage Manager.  

Publicity - Sandra Kuker PR. 

Run! Run!  And take a sociologist who will love the interactions between characters.  

Beverly Hills Playhouse - August 10 - September 26, 2018


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Famous by Michael Leoni

Foreground Christopher Dietrick, Background L - R Alexander Daly and Thomas McNamara - Photos by Genevieve Marie Photography

By Joe Straw


Those that go to see this play will see similarities to the brief life of River Phoenix – a Hollywood icon perceived to have had a squeaky clean image.  - Narrator

When first entering The 11:11 Theatre, formally the Macha Theatre, and before that The Globe Theatre, one notices a lot of changes to the theatre, in the theatre, and around the theatre. The infusion of capital is apparent.

The seats have been carefully readjusted so there is plenty of legroom now.  And what was almost a three quarter seating arrangement are now seats out in front of the stage and that is good.  

The high ceiling is covered with a reflective foil, and possibly with material to diffuse the sound.  And the lighting is up to date with the latest gadgets. This is a nice touch as well.

This is an intimate house so when the actors first appeared on stage they were all mic’d.  Oh, this must be a musical I thought - 19 songs on Side A, and 12 songs on Side B – music by Conner Youngblood.   But no, they were all mic’d to be heard above the party music and baby the party never stopped.

And as the music roared from the above speakers, my backside was vibrating by the heavy doses of base that rattled the theatre seats and the base to which they were attached, sometimes rolling as though heavy tanks were moving in.

Can this be the intimate theatre of the future?

An 11:11 Experience presents Famous A New Play by Michael Leoni featuring Music By Conner Youngblood, produced by Michelle Kaufer, Erica Katzkin, Rebecca Black and Max Feldman and directed by Michael Leoni though August 19, 2018.

Upon entrance, the set is bathed in a purple light, Lighting Design by Martha Carter; a bed sits center stage, with a sliding glass windowed outlook onto a balcony in the Hollywood Hills.   Upstairs is another bedroom and in an elevated mezzanine there is yet another bedroom upstage left.  Entryways to the small bedrooms and bathroom are by sliding glass doors. Everything is painted white, a very clean evangelical white – to match the main character’s  angelic public persona.

By 99-seat theatre standards, David Offner Scenic Designer is beautiful and a wonderful menagerie for the actors to play.

Set in 1994 (Phoenix died in 1993) the entrances and the exits are as fast and furious as they are famous and everyone attending the party wants to be famous, in their own little way.  

There are two Jasons, a young Jason (Derick Breezee) and a slightly older Jason (Christopher Dietrick) who actually have similar looks.  

The older Jason, living in the moment, is reflective of how this all came to be.  He does this two ways imagining his younger self, and two by observing his friends on cameras set up throughout the house.  

Today, the older Jason has found out that he has been nominated for an Academy Award, thereby sealing his “famous” moniker.  Unfortunately, it will be not be a good day for him.

For the moment, everyone wants a piece of him. Friends, family, tv and fans bang loudly on his door trying to get into his Hollywood Hills home.  The phone is continually ringing, his mother (Rachael Meyers) mostly - a person that Jason hangs up on every given moment – the reasons why are revealed during the course of the play.

And Jason is scared to death of what is coming but it’s nothing a little drink couldn’t fix, a little pill to take the edge off, or a shot of heroin to take away the biting edge and one that produces an inimical gaze.

Michael Leoni, director, gives us some amazing moments and strong visuals, but he takes on too much as the writer and director of the play.  And while there are fascinating things happening on stage, the play loses its focus, the through line - Harold Clurman fondly speaks to – and the nuanced story line loses its focus.

Lost in the confabulation and the music are the critical moments that define the play. What purpose are the rewind scenes? Why does Jason Mast (Christopher Dietrick) need to see those events played out again?  Can those moments be clarified?

The play is called Famous and we get that through the opening moments of the show so, how does the show progress? The main character has already reached his pinnacle. So, what is the conflict?   

Well, it’s easy to see that others want to be famous as well.  Why would they be at his home?  No one there seems to be celebrating his Academy Award nomination.

But, seeing the action of “I want to be famous” in action and dialogue is another matter.   

The famous guy needs to hold onto his fame, however that manifests itself, and the conflict is the interactions with others at the party including the producer that congers bad memories.

Everyone wants to be famous.  Few reach that goal, but they all try. One will focus the comments of the actions of the actors to enlighten.   

Christopher Dietrick (Jason Mast) has a very good look and is very believable in the role.  The character is shy and gives off a warm glow to the strangers he meets.  Underneath he is terrified to open the door.  He has an overactive imagination, highlighted by the chaos of shadows, which is why he sees his younger self and mother during the waking hours of his constant nightmare.  He moves in the direction of observation to find out who he is and why he got to be famous.  He must set aside his contemptuous feelings for the night and move toward his next big goal. While Dietrick has a very good look, the character’s objective needs to hold on to fame no matter the cost. As the actor, he can’t play the ending, because it’s a downer. But by observation, he gathers the information to stay on top, until he makes a fatal mistake.

It is through Derick Breezzee we see Young Jason. How he was manipulated and belittled by his mother, how she encouraged him to stay with male friend who were going to show him the “business”.  He takes the mental hits after these encounters but moves on with his life to reach the ultimate goal, that of becoming famous.  Breezzee (that’s got to be a stage name) does well and is very likeable in the role.

Markus Silbiger

Markus Silbiger is Dylan Mast, Jason’s younger brother. He is the no so good looking, not so talented, and the not so famous younger brother. Dylan lives, or stays with his famous brother away from their mother who didn’t’ have the same effect on his career or life. Dylan is a ne’r-do-well who really doesn’t know how anything works or how it works to become famous.  He takes a gun to his throat thinking it will be the route to immortality and famous but has seconds thoughts.

Alexander Daly is Ryan Logan a man with limited success and the best friend to Jason Mast through their ventures together growing up and in films. Ryan is bisexual with conscientious aspirations.  He has an anything goes mindset but by that same token he is very grounded in his life and what he hopes to accomplish. Does he push hard enough to get what he wants?  That is questionable. Still, Daly does some very fine work in this production.

Rosanna De Candia is Celeste Whitley a manager who loves to control all things around her, not letting her client go overboard, and she keeps the press at arms length.  Her role is to keep everything above board, legal, nice and tidy - to help her client keep his fame at all cost. But, she slips, wanting to hold on to her client, even if it means sleeping with his brother.  De Candia, need a backstory, as a way to fill in the missing gaps, things to add to a character that makes mistakes.  It is a good performance but one that she can add to.

You’re only as good as your last film and Gregory DePetro as Jack Rossi fills the bill as a sleazy producer who will take advantage of those he deems worthy of his attention.  The name Jack Rossi is loathed by the famous one and possibly hasn’t had a decent hit in some time, which is a reason, he is coming back to the well. In the party tonight he is making his comeback and destroying many lives in the process. DePetro does well in the role as he defines the sleazy part of Hollywood.

Megan Davis is Alyssa Rossi, Jack’s daughter and one who lives a cloistered existence in all that is Hollywood.  Alyssa is the icebreaker, the one who lowers everyone’s defenses by plying them with drugs and alcohol.  Her scruples are limited to the lowest rung of the moral ladder.   Davis is very watchable.

Decker Sadowski plays Heather Hayes someone who wants to move from TV to motion pictures.  She is at the party tonight to see if there is some kind of compatibility with the famous one. Heather appears to have scruples not letting the 16-year-old girl have drugs but gives in from social pressure.  At this moment, she has fallen, leaving her moral code as a footnote in her unwritten biography. Heather seems strong willed at times but falls into an unnecessary trap. Sadowski has to work harder keeping the character good, honest and in line to what is right in Hollywood.  One must also see, in the end, that all is lost from her, at least on this night.  Sadowski has room to grow but shows incredible potential.

Thomas McNamara is Brody James, a boyfriend to Heather and uninvited guest to the party.  He is a writer, like everyone in Hollywood, and manages to get a private meeting with the famous one while looking for his girlfriend.  He is unsure of his capabilities but will manage to hang in on the party until he gets his girlfriend back or a screenplay deal.
McNamara has a very good look and should do well in this industry providing the breaks come his way.    

Jacqi Vene is Caley Miller a 16-year-old girl who also wants to be famous but is in way over her head.  Finding a physical partner this night has been a troublesome adventure until she meets a man with no scruples at all. Vene has her moments.

Kenny Johnston has multiple roles as Paulie Sinclair, a man who preys on young boys promising them the world.  Also, Johnston plays Lawrence Michaels, a director who will not have any of his actors inebriated on the set. He defines what is right in Hollywood and Johnston is terrific as that character and in this role. It is actually one of the bright spots from a host of characters with less than ideal traits.  Johnston also plays the TV Host.

Rachael Meyers plays Jason’s mom and does some really fine work with the character.  She works on his behalf but takes his career to extremes by plying him with pills to keep him thin, calling him fat, and giving him to suspicious men to further his career.  Ultimately, she wants some of the money he is making now, she wants to be part of his life, and she lets nothing get in her way. If only Jason would pick up the phone, or let her into his home she could make things right again. Meyers is also terrific in the role though hardly sympathetic.

Other members of the crew are as follow:

Larae Wilson – Costume Design
Matt Rumer – Prop Master
Scott Casillas – Sound Design
Nick Hurtado – Sound Engineer
Linda Michaels – Hair & Make-up Design
Kristin Bolinski – Stage Manager
Avery Reagan – Assistant Lighting Design
Joseph Cervantes – Audio Technician

Run! And take someone who loves the Hollywood glitz and glamour to show them another side of the business.


Reservations:  323*378*6969

The 11:11
1107 N. Kings Road
West Hollywood, CA  90069