Monday, April 30, 2018

Casa 0101 Needs Your Help

By Joe Straw

Many years ago, I traveled to Boyle Heights to see a show; actually, it was more like I was dragged there from the Westside.  

Getting out of the car was difficult.  An old ficus tree’s root stopped the car door from opening all the way, and concrete sidewalks lifted and turned making it difficult to walk upright from the car. 

Pedestrians and other small creatures were having trouble as well. Still, families strolled into a bodega and church goers sauntered hand-in-hand to a place of worship.

And I wrote: “Can you take a moment to feel your life?”

Casa 0101 was a small black-box theatre with an equally small elevated stage, hardly enough to comfortably squeeze three people onto the playing area.

The seats were hard metal folding chairs, crammed into the tiny dark room. We sat on the floor level and looked up at the players, which was somewhat uncomfortable but manageable.  Still, this was just the kind of venue that I thrived in. It was an intimate theatre space, where we watched actors, personal and up, up close.  

I was not expecting much when the actors appeared on stage but then something magical happened. I put down my notepad and noted the acting was decidedly different.  The moments on stage projected beyond the lights of the rostrum and into my conscience being.  Yes, the performances put an enormous smile on my face.

It has been eight years since that first encounter with Casa 0101.  And as I have come to understand over the years, visiting Casa 0101 on the weekends makes the rest of my week decidedly better.

Boyle Heights is not home, but when Casa 0101 moved to their new location, across the street and just a few doors east, it was the closest to feeling at home.

The new Casa 0101 is bigger and brighter. The moment one enters the theatre, one feels the artistry at play, in the hall, on the walls, and in the theatre.  And as Casa 0101 grew, the community grew.  The trees were removed, the sidewalks were fixed, and families flocked to see theatre here.

Los Angeles theatre needs a Latino voice, and Boyle Heights is the heart of that voice. Casa 0101 is an open space of creativity for writers, actors, and directors and for those who have small dreams of being that source of creativity.  Casa 0101 is more than a theatre, it is a place that gives a creative heart to the community.

The theatre is seeking warm hearts and kindred spirits. They need 350 patrons donating $25 a month to keep the theatre running. They are about half way toward reaching this goal and there is only a couple of months left to go - until the end of June 2018.

Or, let’s look at it another way – the daily cup of coffee at Starbucks costs you $50.00 per month. Support Casa 0101 – it’s only half that amount and EVERYONE is welcomed.  

Please keep this premier community-based arts program in Boyle Heights open and serving the community.

Fortitude pays off and it is something everyone at Casa 0101 has, starting with Josefina López, Emmanuel Deleage, and Edward Padilla in the video above.

Josefina is a quintessential theatrical shaman, who in her colorful regalia holds a special key to unlocking the box that sits center stage.

The key, in her hand, is translucent, and it moves like a sparkler.  The words follow her as she writes in the air, suddenly absorbed through the keyhole.

Inexhaustible, she reaches center stage, and nightly at 8:00 pm she turns the key in her hand, mystically and magically the box opens and from the entangled mass - out floats the words, the fierce whisperings of conflict, accompanied by the spirits, and the floating fragments of dispirited lives seeking a truth.  

The players, now in a cloistered existence, manage to find a way out of the box to create a character, and find an objective like the remarkable actors that have graced the stage, Miriam Peniche, Rocio Mendoza, Andrews Rey Solorzano, Javier Ronceros and the beautiful and talented Zilah Mendoza. 

The imaginative spirit runs wild in Boyle Heights.  Josefina López is the catalyst and Casa 0101 is the venue.

Take a moment of your time and visit Casa 0101 if you love theatre and find it in your heart to help keep the magic alive.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, Story by Theresa Chavez, Louis Pérez and Rose Portillo

By Joe Straw

About Productions present Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe, story by Theresa Chavez, Louie Pérez and Rose Portillo, written by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, directed by Theresa Chavez, and featuring the music of David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez at The Plaza de la Raza, 3540 N. Mission Road, Los Angeles, CA  90031 and closed April 8th, 2018.

It’s easy to get to Plaza de la Raza Theatre from the Westside if you don’t follow the directions of your iPhone’s map app since it will get you about 90 percent there; the rest of the way you need to figure it out for yourself.

The parking lot is small for the theatre so it fills up quickly.  Fortunately, street parking is plentiful.

The setting of the play Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe is in 1968 Los Angeles.

In the comfort of her home, in the barrio, no one can hold Evangeline Ibarra (Ashley Diane) still. She is always flitting about her home with enough energy for three people. Aside from dancing as she cleans the house, she makes sure her brother Ray Ibarra (Moises Castro) has on a clean shirt and eats breakfast before shuffling him off to high school.  She does many little things to keep the household running and to help her brother and mother; all of this under the watchful eye of her deceased father in a military photograph from the mantel.   

Alicia Ibarra (Blanca Araceli), Evangeline’s mother, moves slowly this morning. She knows she has to find work to pay the bills. These are now crammed in a box that she keeps by the door, a box whose contents are stacking up beyond closure.

Evangeline sends her off, wishing her the best of luck. Then she daydreams herself to be a dancer.  Moments later, she is interrupted by her cousin, Rita (Keyla Monterroso Mejia), made-up with foot-long eyelashes. Rita doesn’t use the front door; instead she struggles to crawl in through the kitchen window.  

Evangeline shares that she has an interview for a dancing job at a club in Hollywood. Rita offers to drive her there in her brother’s car. He left the car in her care when he was shipped off to Vietnam. Evangeline gets the job!

Alicia comes back home and shares that she got a job.  She is ashamed because it is at a sweatshop for little money but whatever is better than nothing. Alicia tells Evangeline that her father always wanted her to go to college but this isn’t in the cards for the young Evangeline.

So Evangeline must improvise.

Evangeline sees the life around her and it is not good. Desperate to free herself, she slips out of the house in a Norms Diner uniform to go to her job in Hollywood.  There is “something” about being on stage, the moment with singer Edgar (Adrian Brizuela) and his backup dancers in go-go motif that translate into ecstasy.  Sandy (Kye McCleary), and the ensemble (Michael”Naydoe” Pinedo, Natalie Polisson) dance, keeping their eyes on a moment that works on stage.

Part of the fantasy of the whole night was Gaby Moreno as lead vocalist and guitarist playing effortlessly with her long strident fingers hitting all of the right notes.  Moreno was an extra-added bonus to the night and it was wonderful to see her in this venue.

Moreno plays as part of “The Neighborhood” Band featured Sebastian Aymanns on percussion and Kimon Kirk on bass.

That said:  On to the criticism.

The night was successful. The story by Theresa Chavez, Louie Pérez and Rose Portillo hasn’t changed much from the 2012 production at The Bootleg Theatre, as indicated by the reviews of that production. They mention of tackling too much in a short period of time, which is fair to say.

There are many good things that can be said of Theresa Chavez’s direction. It is wonderful in moments but lacking focus in other moments. The title suggests Evangeline, the queen of make-believe, had an over active imagination but, with the exception of the first scene, there was little in the way of make believe throughout the course of the show. Dancing gets her where she needs to go but the imagination must propel her to get what she wants.  And, once she gets the first thing, she must never lose that sense of make-believe to get more. She must always be dreaming.

The perspective of “make-believe” is an idea or the through line that must be accentuated throughout the play. But, then again, make-believe is who the person was as, and throughout the night; she gets a cold dose of reality every step she takes. Either way, a stronger choice in either direction would make the night a little more successful.

Diane Ashley does a fine job as Evangeline.  She is a bubbly actor.  The make-believe doesn’t stop when dealing with her mother, her brother, and her cousin. They are part of the conflict when trying to pursue her dreams. Evangeline needs to find a way to put back the hem of her Norm’s skirt back before she leaves the stage.  The pain of the unpaid bills must be enormous and a pain that leads her on all in keeping with the through-line The Queen of Make-Believe.  Still, Ashley does a fine job and is wonderful to watch.

Adrian Brizuela does terrific work as James, a hippie crooner, trying to make it big and discovering that he may have neared the end of his artistic life. Brizuela also plays Edgar, a completely different character, a Chicano activist and rebel rouser, who’s slightly confused of where his actions are taking him and his cause.  Both roles are well executed showing Brizuela off in very fine form.  

Moises Castro is Ray, Evangeline’s brother. Castro has a good look but may need to find better choices to make the character engaging.  Ray seems to follow rather than make conscience choices so it is left to the other characters to make choices for him.  There must be something this character wants, something that excites him to move in his own direction.  He is young but must have an idea of what he wants, what stops him from getting what he wants (conflict), and how he is able to reach his goal.      

Blanca Araceli is a wonderful actor who lights up the stage when she enters.  Her craft is extraordinary and her dancing is exquisite. Alicia is a broken woman who finds her dreams only to lose it once again. Araceli’s performance is heartbreaking. Do not miss her performance!

Keyla Monterroso Mejia is Rita, the cousin with the big heart. Mejia could add more to strengthen the character. Her strength lies in her relationship with her brother, his death, how she deals with it when confronting Evangeline. The anger is understandable but the pain must go deeper when giving the news to her cousin.

Kye McCleary does good work as the understanding dancer, Sandy.  McCleary is statuesque, stunning, and knows her way around the dance floor.  She shows some terrific work in her relationship to the other characters that indicates strong training. She is wonderful to watch.

Michael “Naydoe” Pinedo appears to be just another hippie 60’s dancer but then has a terrific dance number that was just amazing.  It was the beating heart, the soul of the play that made it so astonishing.

Natalie Polisson is another member of the ensemble that needs a slight definition of character and objective.  But the dancing was very fine.

Abel Alvarado, Costume Designer, transports the audience back to 1968.  It is terrific work.

Michele Bachar, Choreographer, also takes us back to 1968 and the dance number with the mother is spot on wonderful.

Gerardo Davalos, Set Designer, give us a workable set and is simple in execution.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Davey Donaldson – Sound Designer
Ginevra Lombardo – Lighting Designer
Gabriela López de Dennis – Graphic Designer
Claudio Rocha – Video Designer
Angela Sonner – Stage Manager

Run! Run! And take someone who loves the sixties music and dancing the next time it comes around.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Cowboy Mouth by Sam Shepard & Patti Smith

L - R Adam Navas and Joey Bothwell

By Joe Straw

The Hotel Chelsea in New York City was a fashionable place to create art.  If one was inspired enough to enter, one was inspired to manner art in any fashionable form.

Arthur Miller moved into #614 after his divorce from Marilyn Monroe. Bob Dylan wrote “Sara” in #211; Janis Joplin fellated Leonard Cohen in #424, an act immortalized in “Chelsea Hotel #2” (“you were talking so brave and so sweet/giving me head on the unmade bed”); Sid Vicious stabbed Nancy Spungen to death in #100. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Chelsea, William Burroughs wrote The Third Mind, and Jack Kerouac had a one-night stand with Gore Vidal.  By Nathaniel Rich in Vanity Fair October 8th 2013 – 12:00 AM

Somewhere I read that Sam Shepard and Patti Smith wrote Cowboy Mouth passing the typewriter back and forth until they created a play.  They wrote the play in the Hotel Chelsea during a significant fling. And, after mounting a production, Sam Shepard performed it once and walked away from the production and Patti Smith. Somewhere I read.

Girl Trip proudly presents Cowboy Mouth by Sam Shepard & Patti Smith and directed by Harrison James at the Broadwater Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard through March 31, 2017.  (Four performances, a very short run.)

Upon entering and seating at The Broadwater Theatre, I noticed the circle A, the anarchist symbol that was noticeably and dramatically painted on the wall and perhaps in a few places. It is a symbol that brings attention to the ideal of the anarcho punk lifestyle that played out in a dramatic setting on this night. 

Cavale (Joey Bothwell) had her reasons for kidnaping Slim (Adam Navas). Maybe it was because he was young and handsome.  And, if he wasn’t willing, she had an ace in her pocket. It was just a little gun, with a long barrel, something that looked like a 45.  Oh, he put up a fight at first but no one even noticed him going into the room at the “notel motel” (my quotes) with all the crazies milling around.

Really, Slim wasn’t dragged into the room, he was intoxicated by her voice, heeding to every word, every little “if”, “and”, and “but” before he mentally floated into the room.  The words to him were something like following a pleasant whiff of an intoxicating perfume.  

But that’s about all Slim saw in Cavale.  Her manner just didn’t cut it with him, the look in her eyes, her way about the world just seem at least, peculiar, and at worst, dangerous.

This dirty room, had spray-painted walls, books on the floor, instruments in the corners and a cot that served as a bed.  If this was living then they both had hit rock bottom. (Set Design by Kenton Parker)

That Slim was there indicated the bitterest of contradictions. He had a wife and kid, he didn’t much care for, and now he was stuck in the room with, her.   

But Cavale thought he was the one, Slim, a rock and roll Jesus with a cowboy mouth, who could perform and charm the pants off of any unrespectable woman ready to drop trou for any half way decent looking man.  And that’s just what Cavale wanted 'cause that’s what she thought. Her thinking made no sense unless one were to see it through her eyes, and then stare and squint a certain way.

No one needs to talk about her mental status, but Cavale was slightly misguided, and mentally unstable, to put it politely.  But,  she thought of herself as a beautiful crow trying to convince this coyote that he was the one.   She saw it in his audacious gestures, the way he beat the drums and strummed the guitar, (proving to himself not to be the master musician she thought he was), with only three chords under his belt.  

How does one connect when your opposite is making love to a crow, a stuffed one at that, kissing his beak and stroking his thinning feathers? How do you know she’s the one?

They were both in trouble—Cavale getting out of a mental institution and Slim having a wife and kid back in Brooklyn.  That ain’t the stuff dreams are made of. And neither was the Lobsterman (Marland Burke), just a dream away, a phone from infinity.

Harrison James, the director, does an exception job with this production.  In short, her version is pleasing to the senses and elevates this production with a brazen sincerity and barbarous amusement.  The play is ambiguous enough to be interpreted many different ways.

Just an observation with the play and this version with these actors:  What keeps them in the room together?  The gun?  No, that seems to be an afterthought whenever she needs it.  Slim only threatens to leave once.  He is not afraid of her.  They have a romantic physical relationship but we never see the deep connection—the “I can’t live without you” connection.

Why does Slim threaten to leave? One reason is because he is exasperated by her peculiarities.  He wants to be infatuated with her stories but when Cavale tells him, he seems only interested in the flesh.  Is there a way to absorb the tale and partake the flesh with equal abandon?

The physical life between the two lives is there, no need to change that, but we really need to find out why they are both there, that one moment that keeps them passionately together, in that room.  

Cavale really doesn’t throw herself down upon his feet.  She says he’s the one but maybe she needs to show an ecstasy that encompasses that action.  

Joey Bothwell is a stunning actor and also the choreographer of the dancers in this show.  She is physically fit and perfectly captures the physical life of Cavale. Bothwell is able to move with grace and present a quiet dignity.  Although a physical specimen she requires a little more work on the mental part of this woman.  Ay, there’s the rub, the mental characteristics of the character that are open to many ideas.  Cavale is the one mentally unstable, and that part of her character must keep her partner off balance. Her eyes, at the right time, must give away her complete lunacy. And that lunacy must keep Slim in that hotel room and her prisoner.  Also, Cavale is not far from living on the street, the only thing she’s got going for her is the money that supports her now which will probably not last long.  She needs a partner to save her from the life she is living. But her mental problems and exasperation runs deep when trying to get it her way.  That may be what we need to see.

Adam Navas presents a young strong figure as Slim.  Slim threatens to leave at one point, one really didn’t get the reason he stayed.  It wasn’t the gun that held him back, but it could have been.  Curiosity brings him back and that is her voice, and her story.  But, what is the strong action that makes him crawl back?  Slim plays the drums well, that’s a feather in his cap.  But after the few chords on the guitar, he loses confidence, or appears to, that he is not the man she wants.  He is not Jesus with the cowboy mouth. Navas presents a strong craft where little out of the ordinary phases him. (see Lobster Man) Curiosity is the key here. Navas does some really good work.  His craft is strong and his physical abilities are his strength.

Marland Burke must have had the time of his life presumably shaking the can of beer backstage as Lobster Man and then presenting it to Slim before leaving the room. The beer exploded in Slim’s hands foaming the contents onto the stage.  The actors took it all in stride before moving on.  Lobster Man, dressed in what appeared to be orange like prison garb, had claw-like hands and a mask over his face.  He did not speak; rather he had a muffling cry of some sort. Interesting.  Burke has a promising look and was fine in the role.

Joey Bothwell - Foreground, Background L - R Kandace Hurdle, Chelsey Morris, Marland Burke and Sarah Polednak

The three dancers Kandace Hurdle, Chelsey Morris, and Sarah Polednak provided some nice dance moves during the love making scene, each missing what was left of the beer on the floor.  Terrific work.  They also sat in the audience, in costume, and were very pleasant.  One note for the dancer: the dancers need to make a choice when they confront Slim. They either need to love Slim, or hate him.  Either way, that emotion must be conveyed to Cavale.

Sam Shepard & Patti Smith’s play is open to many interpretations and this was a good one, in this venue, and on this night.  The show had a short run of four dates March 23, 24, 30 and 31st and has now closed.

Partial proceeds from the production went to Write Girl, a creative writing and mentoring nonprofit promoting critical thinking and leadership skills amongst teenage girls globally.

The Executive Producers of this show were Joey Bothwell, Steve Harrison, Harrison James and Kenton Parker.

Other members of this delightful crew are as follows:

Mel Ciaravino – Associate Producer
Alex Pepel – Costume Designer
Alonzo Tavares – Stage Manager
Joe Morrissey – Lighting Design
Crash Richard – Music
Nicole Balin – Publicity
Ian O’Phelan, Shannon Burke - Graphic Designers