Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter

L - R London Kim and Ben Crowely - Photo by Julie Nunis

By Joe Straw

Acting and the Art of Ambiguity ©.

Ben (Ben Crowley) held the newspaper still – for an extremely long period of time – and in one position.  The print was small and the back pages appeared to be personal advertisements. On occasion, something caught his fancy; something that would necessitate sharing once his partner woke.

For the sake of appearance, there was something on Ben’s mind because one rarely reads a newspaper – just staring at the print – without turning the pages. Or, possibly, he has comprehension issues. At best, his actions are ambiguous.  

But for now, Ben was satisfied; he had every right to be.  He was physically fit, with a square, if not refined jawline, used in the way that flagitious men square up their victims.  Everything about him seemed perfect.  His perfectly combed mop, with a black strand of hair fell just below his eyebrow, his shirt – meticulously ironed, suspenders, tailored made slacks, and shoes that seemed polished only yesterday by someone with a mental gradation lower than himself.

Ben was waiting for God-only-knows-what in the basement of a dingy hotel.  But he remained cool, calm, and collected in spite of the accommodations, a room without windows, and a dumb waiter moving in an unexpected and precarious fashion under the weight of ambiguous circumstances.  

As his face turned right one could almost get a glimpse of the notorious type of man Ben was, and not so bad when he turned to his left, ravishing with almost a baby face that would keep in polite company.

Ben, in his work, is the diminishing lodestar but on this night, the other must blindly follow.  

Gus (London Kim), who was of Asian ancestry, was the complete opposite.  He slept on his bed face down with his shoes on; his clothes and the bed were uniformly disheveled in an erumpent conspiracy.  He presented himself as one with austere dignity but enfeebled from the opportunities presented to him. Languishing in the ambiguity of his own being, and the ramification from questioning authority, he was both beautiful and pathetic. He wasn’t one to follow anyone blindly and perhaps that was his downfall.    

A peculiar thing happened when Ben woke and stepped on the floor, he felt something in his shoe.  He removed the item from his shoe, perhaps something of value, a flat box of some kind, no money in it, but valuable enough to keep under this peculiar lock and key so to speak.

Honor among thieves.

Gus then tied his shoelaces in a fashion of a two year old, an afterthought, neglected in the child development stages of his life.  In any case, the tying, ad nauseam, took an excessive amount of time that would have driven anyone within a trustful distance, clinically mad.

Altogether, Gus was a sad sack of a man.  His attenuated body was weathered by life’s circumstances, by his circumstance.  And, lately, the job was getting to him, on his nerves, making him question motives of the mess they had made on their prior job.  His inquisitiveness was starting to rub someone, possibly Wilson (not seen) the wrong way.

Perhaps, on this night, Gus was using his wherewithal niceties to endear himself to Ben.   

It’s not hard to believe that the dumb waiter is not a machine, nor the title of the play, but of a man, waiting, and not being able to figure out his time is near. 

It's wonderfully ambiguous!

Sunscreen Theatricals Production presents The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter and directed by Julie Nunis at Stages LA through October 13, 2019. 

This show had a two week run, and has closed.  It’s unfortunate, because it was one heck of an outing.

Wonderfully directed by Julie Nunis who placed her own original stamp on this production and effectively made it her own. Guided by a strong cast, the production was smooth, sincere with many layers, wonderfully connected, and most of all frustratingly ambiguous so that, upon viewing, concentrated engagement with the characters was an absolute must.

The lower class English accents by the actors were riveting.  

Pinter’s plays are known for his pauses, intuitive moments in the play that changes directions or course in a relationship.  There are a few dramatic pauses in the play. Steeped in ambiguity Pinter says each performance can be about anything the actors and directors make it to be. My belief is that it is about a man desperately wanting to keep his job but he is destroyed by ineptness, his lack of nerve, and his inquisitiveness.

“Have you got any idea who it’s going to be tonight?” – Gus

“Don’t you ever get fed up?” – Gus

“Why did you stop the car in the middle of the road this morning?” – Gus

“When’s he going to get in touch?” Gus

Ben Crowley as Ben soars in this production. His craft is impeccable and the concentration is outstanding. Ben (the character) never it let it be known that he was one step ahead of his counterpart. The matches slipped under the door were the first clue Ben recognized but he did not give the message away.  Still, he knew what the matches meant.  So, he hustled his counterpart into the kitchen to “light the kettle”, knowing that is the place he was supposed to be. And then he pulled out his gun knowing it was his instrument for the day.

Yes, Ben knows because of the matches and maybe Gus knows as well.

London Kim is also exceptional Gus. Kim has a strong craft.  His concentration is superior. But, there were a few minor things that didn’t translate and those were material things, the match box in one shoe and the cigarette package in his other shoe. (From my perspective I couldn’t tell what it was.) That aside, there is something in Gus’ being that makes him ask all of the questions.  Something is off, something in the job that doesn’t sound right to him, and that he can’t put his finger on it.  And, in his investigative ineptness, he never really gets a straight answer from his counterpart until it is all over.

Stage LA is a nice venue.  The seats are comfortable movie theatre seats but difficult to view the actors down below.

It’s really unfortunate this show had only a two-week engagement.  Perhaps they can remount the show in another theatre.

If you have the opportunity to see London Kim, Ben Crowley and or Julie Nunis work, run! Run! Run!  

Other members of the crew are as follows: 
Ken Werther Publicity
Gabriel Herrera - Stage Hand
Grady Monts, Mark Nunis - Set Construction
Michelle Crispin Marketing Consultant
London Kim - Poster Design
Ross Canton Theatre Manager
Sarah Schodrof - Theatre Staff 
Isis Behar - Assistant to the Director 


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Never Is Now (NEVERISNOW) by Wendy Kout

L - R Michael Kaczkowski, Evie Abat, Adam Foster Ballard, Sarah Tubert, Joey Millin, and Eliza Blair - photo by Ed Krieger

By Joe Straw

sparks and crackle
make melancholy
where books in bonfires burned
and riots viewed through broken glass

humans scattered across the land
in abstract resistance
leaving beautiful dreams
pasted on stained faces  

senseless state of persecution
over the rioting ruckus
and now

a voice that blares
and a single man
without a shred of morality
screeching his licentious invidious doctrine,

alone in a room,
starring into a mirror
for form, smiling
and thinking highly of himself. – Narrator 

The stage at the Skylight Theatre is bare. Well, not exactly bare.  There are six portable cubes for the actors to move as they are directed and an old brown weathered suitcase that sits far stage left.

The black box theatre has a translucent screen that separates the upstage wall with another screen used for projecting images further upstage.

The setting is unremarkable right now, possibly an open space for actors to move about, get their emotional bearings before the real set comes in. Suffice it to say, it is an unadorned space for the actors to create their own external magic.

And, however that magic is inspired, one hopes that it is in a focused direction, and one that lifts the audience to their feet.  

So many things can happen during the course of the presentation. And on this night, an exciting one at that, it is a dress rehearsal, one that requires all hands on deck from all of the players, an even hand from the director, and a playwright who insists on handing out changes this late in the game.    

And all is fine except for one small thing, one actor, does not, show up.  

Skylight Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Never is Now, the past is prologue, written by Wendy Kout, Directed by Tony Abatemarco and Celia Mandela Rivera, and produced by Gary Grossman and Michael Kearns through October 27th 2019.

L - R Adam Foster Ballard, Joey Millin, and Michael Kaczkowski

No matter, the playwright (Evie Abat) is subjected to performing her own material. The director (Joey Millin) reports that a once reliable actor is now a no show. This is to the playwright’s consternation since she would rather be watching her work, and taking notes from a seat in the audience.  

The other actors (Adam Foster Ballard, Eliza Blair, Michael Kaczkowski, and Sarah Tubert) take it all in stride and seem to know their lines despite the playwright’s sudden participation on this night.  They will make the best of it and keep the night moving as smooth as possible.

The actors need a sprinter’s strength to get through the night. But, so close to the actual performance, emotions run deep as actors are finally finding the internal sweet spot of an emotional connection.  And, because of the subject matter—WWII, Germany, and the subjugation of the German population—there are many discoveries.   

The characters they portray fight to overcome the political rise of Nazi Germany, and they do this to keep moving forward and ultimately move in the direction of staying alive.

And, strangely enough, all of that has an eerie connection to the current events of the day.

Never Is Now by Wendy Kout is the true story of 10 survivors of the Holocaust and of the actors who portray them now. It is an exciting look of how those actors, through osmosis, learn the play and the times, and come to a realization that history is repeating itself. 

All told this is a fascinating night of theatre directed by Tony Abatemarco and Celia Mandela Rivera and a take on people who operate on two levels; as people of 1930’s Germany and as actors who are portraying the present-day roles.  We get the point loud and clear.  Quietly beautiful and wonderfully effected, it is hard to tell where Abatemarco’s directing begins and Rivera ends.

That said, there were certain elements that need refining. We get the modern day characters they are there to tell a story. But, the 1930’s characters worked as independent spirits without an emotional connection, or a relationship to each other . They are historical characters that found their own way without help from the others.   

Also, this play calls out for an overwhelming emotional catharsis, perhaps one that takes place in a train, starting with the historical characters and then finishing with the players - a moment that binds the characters to the players.   

And, as an aside, there are times when the historical characters were projected on the screen, and we knew the characters that were being portrayed and those projections appeared sporadically.  Perhaps the projections should have happened throughout as characters were coming in fast and furious and the changes were difficult to track.   

All six characters on stage played various characters and are listed in the program as Woman #1, #2, #3 and Man #1, #2, #3.

I don’t recall ever seeing an actor like Evie Abat (Playwright) who does the little things so well that the moments just jump off the stage.  Her craft is extraordinary and her work is sublime.

Adam Foster Ballard is also excellent in his craft. At one point in the play his present-day character comes to a realization and runs off stage. (Actors!) That happened out of the blue and the moments leading up that didn’t focus on that moment. That aside, his work was phenomenal especially when describing who he is today and where his family originated from.

Eliza Blair is complimented by her craft.  It is smooth, somber, and to the point.

Michael Kackowski plays a Nazi during the 1930’s period and a Trump supporter for the current period.  There’s not a love of love for these characters. Still Kackowski does a fine job for each character he portrays. He is like the obnoxious character actor one finds in the Constantine Stanislavsky books.  Still, Kackowski has a strong presence and a very good look.

Joey Millin is an actor/director for the play they are performing. As the director, he is firm, has an even hand, and knows how to keep things moving for the rest of the cast. But, his relationship to the writer required more depth.  He treats her as an actor but his relationship to her as a writer withers a bit. There is never a consultation with her as director/writer to fix that, which does, or does not work. As an aside, the sax work was great.

There is much to enjoy in Sarah Tubert’s work.  Her voice is strong; she has a strong physical presence, and brings her proficiency in American Sign Language into the performance, which has significant meaning in the course in the show. One thing that needs more clarity is her personal story, which went by too fast and needed emotional clarity.

Wendy Kout’s work cries out for an awakening, mostly for the people who turn their heads or tune out the unpleasantness around them.  Those same people that think incarcerating humans and separating families is good because they broke the law and “we are a country of laws.” She reminds us of the 400 laws against Jews in 1930’s Germany and of the 32 nations who said “No!” to refugees, including the United States.

Today and now, in the United States, the unfathomable silence is deafening.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Caroline Andrew – Scenic and Lighting Designer
Mylette Nora – Costume Designer
Christopher Moscatiello – Sound Designer
Lily Bartenstein – Video Designer
Christopher Hoffman – Production Stage Manager
Garrett Crouch – Stage Manager
Wendy Hammers – Associate Producer
Amy Felch – Associate Producer

Run! Run! Run! And take a WWII historian.  

Skylight Theatre 
1812 1/2 N. Vermont Ave. 
Los Angeles, CA 90027



Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Heal by Aaron Posner

Kacie Rogers and Eric Hissom

By Joe Straw

The Getty Villa, and in particular the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater, is a remarkable venue to see Greek plays and the re-working or adaptations of them.    

From the parking lot, the walk to the Greek open-air style theatre is a pleasant one.  With each step, Los Angeles falls by the wayside, the trees explode into mushroom like clouds, and the greenery fills one with enough oxygen to relax and take it all in. And because this is Malibu, a breeze starts blowing in, cooling the amphitheater to bearable temperatures against the insufferable heat of the day.     

But, seeing a play on opening night concerns me.  There is never enough money for the arts, and therefore never enough rehearsal time. Naytheless, the Round House Theatre group, from Bethesda Maryland, is a professional company, and opening night should not have been a problem.

Well, there were problems, a few, mostly about character, conflict, and script. Now that I think about it, that’s almost everything.      

The Heal written and directed by Aaron Posner is a re-imagining of Philoctetes by Sophocles and it is a comedy playing through September 28, 2019 at The Getty Villa.

Heal: to bring to an end or conclusion, as conflicts between people or groups, usually with the strong implication of restoring for amity, settle; reconcile.

Truth: honesty; integrity

Philoctetes (Eric Hissom) was left alone on the island of Lemnos. Not by choice, of course. On his way to fight the Trojan War, he was a victim of snakebite, a faithful revenge from the Gods for stepping on the sacred ground on Chryse.

For Philoctetes, the pain was unbearable and the smell remarkably putrid. This did not sit well with his comrades, the other soldiers, and they could not bear to be with him, all that whining and such, so they left him on the island, with only the bow bequeathed to him by Heracles (not seen), to fend for himself or die.

Ten years have gone by without a victory at Troy. With Achilles dead, Odysseus (Lester Purry) has his mind set on winning the war.  He has captured Helenus, the Troy prophet, and Helenus confessed the only way to win the war at Troy is with Heracles’ bow.

Sounds fair enough but this adds another component, a set of improbable logistics in order to take Troy.     

So Odysseus, and his minions, returns to the island of Lemnos possibly hoping that Philoctetes (the holder of the bow) was dead. 

But, when the ship arrived on the island, Odysseus, seeing signs that Philoctetes is among the living, and needing the bow to win the war, tries to convince Achilles’ daughter Niaptoloma (Kacie Rogers) to lie and by deception take the bow from Philoctetes by any lying means necessary.

Philoctetes will never give up the bow, unless it’s from his “cold dead hands” (my quotes).  

But, Niaptoloma, in reality, and of strong character, has a hard problem with lying. She is the proud daughter of Achilles and has a reputation to uphold.  Therein lies the conflict.  

To explain the backstory and all of the essentials in remarkable detail is a Greek chorus/dancers (Eunice Bae, the spectacular Emma Lou Hébert, and Jaquit Ta’le) who were the highlight of the show and kept the show very lively compliments of a very talented Erika Chong Shuch, Choreographer.  

And while that worked, one did not get folk-blues guitarist (Cliff Eberhardt) at all or why he was there. One loved the songs, the singing, but, where was this all going? And, how did it fit into the play? Perhaps, if he had been been the character Heracles certain things could have materialized.

Philoctetes finally shows up limping around like a three-legged frog, bow in tow, using it mostly as a cane, and very cautious, of what a woman, this woman, wants on his island.   He has trouble communicating, partially because of the pain, and partially being on the island for so long. Cognitive thinking and time away from other humans have a way of causing self-invalidation.  He, at least, recognizes the idea of being rescued.

There are a lot of good things in Aaron Posner’s play.  The main ideas were one of “truth” and of course “healing”.  The truth takes precedent over all of it and healing is a secondary event in the play and therefore the confusion of the play.  The play requires a stronger through line, and for the director a viable stamp critical for us to understand his intention or objective rather than a prévenance for the playgoers. In the end “truth” sums it all up, which is almost impossible to believe.  (Sophocles version is a little more believable, if one takes stock in Greek Gods and what they are spiritually capable of doing.)

While truth is the overriding issue of the two main characters, the truth has little to do with the characters.  Odysseus flat out lies and does not give a second thought about doing so. There is very little joy in his actions, and almost no conflict in the way he tries to convince Achilles’ daughter, Niaptoloma.  And she is not weigh down by the inner conflict she must overcome and regards the truth as an annoyance rather than any kind of overriding inner conflict.

Not much was made of the place, the island, where this all takes place in Posner’s direction but it did play an important part in the play as a whole.  The symbolic setting at the bottom of the amphitheater could have been anywhere also compliments of Thom Weaver’s scenic and lighting design.

The actors were superb.  But, there is more to add to the characters and the creative choices they made. This is not to take anything away but to add to the characters. 

Eric Hissom (Philoctetes) developed a strong character with interesting choices but without a definitive objective. If the truth is the through line, he should have been searching for it in a much more creative way.  If it is healing, he does little during the course of the evening to move in that direction. Philoctetes has also been on the island for ten years alone, Hissom should find ways to communicate that to his counterpart(s). The bow is sacred.  It was Heracles bow, (mortal turned God) and the actor did not treat it with much respect during the course of the night, or use it creatively, it seemed more like a crutch than an instrument of respect. In the end one wonders if the pain was in his head, or was used as an instrument to get what he wants.

Lester Purry (Odysseus) has a strong presence, a terrific voice, and a strong manner on stage.  Odysseus must be the wisest of the wise, the strongest of the strong, and every action the root of his intention. He comes to the island to get the bow, but he doesn’t want to do it himself.  Why?  If he is there to see if Niaptoloma can do it, why doesn’t he witness the interplay, or, get satisfaction from it? One guesses that he gets great satisfaction to see others carry out the impossible. But, he is not even around to witness the interplay between characters.  

Kacie Rogers (Niaptoloma) has a very good look, and a strong voice. Rogers creates a character from a person that never existed, Achilles, a Greek Warrior, and a hero of the Trojan War. Originally written as the character Neoptolemus, who is Achilles’s young son. So Rogers is doing creating a character from the ground up. There are more levels to add to this character, one of them being of a definitive strength, both in mind and body.  Also, for Niaptoloma, telling the story seemed to be a conflict of getting the story out, rather than the conflict within herself of telling the truth. 

Run! Run! And take a beast, someone who loves mythology.

Getty Villa
Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater
17985 Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Palisades

Info: (310) 440-7300   


Friday, September 13, 2019

To Dad with Love A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen by Kiki Ebsen and Dustin Ebsen

Kiki Ebsen (on screen L - R Buddy Ebsen, Judy Garland, and Ray Bolger

By Joe Straw

I have pictures of my daughters all over my study. The snapshots are of times remembered and hopes for the future.  After my divorce, I see less of my girls but think about them all the time. I hope it is mutual. Family – Narrator

The last time I saw Buddy Ebsen was back in the 1980’s, after a performance of Talley’s Folly by Lanford Wilson starring Ebsen’s daughter Bonnie Ebsen. (The Pilot Theatre in Hollywood?) I had known Bonnie for some time as we happily studied with the same acting teacher.

Deep in thought about the performance, hands in my pockets, head down, I found myself behind Buddy and his date as we moved east on Theatre Row until a photographer stopped him to take pictures. I stepped behind the cameraman, watched him take a few shots and then moved on into the night.  

Sometime later, I was invited to a dinner party in San Marino with Bonnie as one of the guests.

The conversation at the dining table was polite, mostly about the work, but rarely about family. I don’t remember Bonnie ever mentioning her father Buddy, her sister Kiki, or her brother Dustin. While the evening was lovely, sadly it was a lost opportunity to talk about family, everyone’s family.  

The last time I saw Bonnie was in West Hollywood. We exchanged pleasantries and spoke for a few minutes until she casually mentioned that she just given birth a few weeks earlier.  She was looking fit, and hadn’t lost a step. And, to this day, I still wondered why having the baby was not the first thing she shared in our conversation. Family – Narrator.

To Dad with Love A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen written by Kiki and Dustin Ebsen, starring Kiki Ebsen, and produced by Kiki Ebsen and Steve Wallace for StKi, LLC, through September 22, 2019 is now playing at Theatre West in Los Angeles.

Sometimes, one wants to go to theatre to enjoy the night, the performance, and to accept the performance in whatever shape or form the players have to offer.

To Dad with Love A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen is a wonderful tribute to the man.  But in hindsight, it is much more. Exceptionally directed by S.E. Feinberg, this tribute is an emotional experience and an extraordinary night of theatre.

Kiki Ebsen’s lovely vocals and piano playing are backed by Jeff Colella (piano), Kendall Kay (drums), Kim Richmond (woodwinds) and Granville “Danny” Young (bass). All are incomparable and play into Kiki’s beautiful, sultry, jazzy voice, blending song and story in one glorious night.  Most of the songs she sang are on the CD, The Scarecrow Sessions, and all are beautifully sung.

(Samplings of her songs can be heard here - )

This is, without a doubt, a show you should not miss.  Go for the music, go for the history, or go for the tap dancing.  Take your pick because it is all a powerful night of theatre.  

Steve Wallace’s set design resembles someone’s ranch style home from the saddle far stage right to the piano layered with books, a chest languishes center stage, and stage left offers small sculptured horses on a side table.  

Here are a couple of thoughts for S.E. Feinberg, the director.  First, he is someone I have known as a writer and director since the late seventies, more specifically in 1980, and his creative spirit is alive and well in this production.  

Kiki enters the stage quite unexpectedly and moves toward the chest. Inside are the events of Buddy’s life, photos, scripts, wardrobe, and other accouterments that make up an entertainer’s life, the life’s important moments – of surrender and achievements – that concedes you to the past of her august impressions.

But, the opening, while adequate, could be strengthened. To move center stage and to open the chest necessitates another level of creative spirit – the reason to open the chest – and the need to speak to the audience.

Also, time and place are critical in the opening moments.  Is this the first discovery of the chest after her mother’s death? Is the chest now at the ranch or in Kiki’s current home? 

Whatever happens in the opening moments must be clear to give us a definitive idea of the why this is happening on this night.

Kiki Ebsen and Gregory Gast

The tap dance sequence with Gregory Gast (cast member, choreographer) was both exceptional and emotional.  The moment – the touching of the fingers – brings the father and daughter full circle.  It is in this moment where heart and memories merge, where shadows come to life and end in song.  And it is in the dance where two longing beings connect just, one, more, time.

Kiki, at times, extemporaneously moves away from the book and expresses sincere thoughts, which was wonderfully appealing as was the entire night. We get to know a little more about Buddy, and his relationship with Shirley Temple and Ronald Reagan, his conservative leanings, and the long horse ride back home.

Behind the set are screens used for projecting photos and videos.  Dustin Ebsen wonderfully created the multi-media and special effects for the night.

The Sound Design was by Steve Wallace and was pitch perfect.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Ernest McDaniel – Lighting Design/Stage Manager
Steve Moyer PR – Publicity
Dawn Lee Wakefield/TCV Media – Social Media

All in all, it is rare that one gets to see this much talent in this type of venue and every single bit of it worked.  

Run! Run! Run!  And take your daughter for a lovely night of bonding.

Theatre West
3333 Cahuenga Boulevard West
Los Angeles, CA  90068
Theatre West Box Office at 323-851-7977

Saturday, August 3, 2019

True West by Sam Shepard

L - R Johnny Clark and Andrew Hawkes - Photos by Carlos R. Hernandez

By Joe Straw


Austin (Johnny Clark) palms his lower jaw, elbows on the table, staring at the sheets of paper and a typewriter with pernicious lines etched on his face.  He’s not getting anything done now, whether it’s because of writers block, or the ominous blackened figure behind him, staring at him. 

As Austin thinks about his next move, the shadowy vibration becomes visible in the focusing light, like a realized figment of Austin’s imagination.

Lee (Andrew Hawkes) has shown up, quite expectedly or unexpectedly, in their mother’s house, while Mom (Carole Goldman) is off visiting Alaska.  It is “an older home in a Southern California suburb, about 40 miles east of L.A.”

Austin feels Lee’s stares, his darker self, knowing any question could trigger a tsunami of unwanted remarks or unprovoked attacks.   

Just by the looks of him, Lee is a troubled figure, a homeless wreckage of a man. Now looking like he has crawled through the Arizona desert to get here.  A blackened white t-shirt hangs from his shoulders; a trench coat, over the top of that, throws off dust and dirt at every passing turn. But, just to be fair, his worn brown shoes match his belt and he shows some semblance of flair and style.

The aesthetic impressions will last forever, and that’s just how Austin wanted it to be.  

Also, Lee is not skin and bones, a practicality of knowing how to procure an assortment of nourishment, possibly a left over pizza behind a pizza parlor, or various forms of pilfering, and a mental list of pawnbrokers at his disposals. 

But, how and why did he suddenly appear?  To be reacquainted with his long lost brother? One thinks not.

Austin can’t help but offer a little smile.

Austin, suddenly stimulated by the creative juices flowing, takes notes of his own appearance, looks to be a few years out of college wearing a summer shirt and a crisp pair of ironed jeans. Not the sort of image of a serious writer would be caught dead in like Hemingway, McCarthy, Kafka, Camus, Chayefsky, or Bukowski.  Not even Bukowski but that was something else to ponder.  

Vs. Theatre Company presents True West by Sam Shepard, directed by Scott Cummins, and produced by Johnny Clark and Andrew Hawkes through August 31, 2019.

If there’s one thing Austin did or didn’t need right now was Lee being there.  This was his time alone, away from his wife and kids up north.  Languishing in the quiet time may or may not have been just for him and his creation. Or, maybe he needed a primer.

And, as always, written conflict is created in the blink of an eye.

Lee will leave only if he can get Austin’s car keys.  Austin, under pressure, must get rid of Lee to prepare for his meeting with a producer the following day. So, Austin reluctantly agrees to the deal, turning over the keys and sealing the deal so that Lee does not interrupt their meeting. What fun is that?

Beware of the dealmaker.  Their reasoning is unjust and their end goal is not to your benefit.

So, what is the deal?

After schmoozing with Austin for a time, Saul (David Starzyk), the producer, is caught off guard by a homeless man carrying a TV into the kitchen. Introductions are made and pleasantries are exchanged.  

But, despite reservations, Saul takes a liking to Lee.  Lee invites Saul to a round a golf, and even invites himself to Saul’s club the following morning. It’s a date.

One can easily look at the play and view it from an impossible angle. For some reason I found myself thinking that Austin and Lee are the same man. It’s not far fetched thinking.  This is Sam Sheppard. The night sent me away discovering a unique perspective, and one that would excite my overactive imagination. Austin calls on his demon to get him through the day or through the screenplay.  They are never apart; they feed on one another, and even change roles to benefit their needs. Seeing the play from that perspective gives me inspiration.

So, why is Lee there? One cannot honestly say.

But, one is not sure if this was the intention of Scott Cummings, the director, visually it suggests such, but whatever his intention was just blows the roof off of this production, right from the start, on this night, and to this sold out audience. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this or thought about it with so much fervor.

Still, I have some thoughts.

First of al Vs. Theatre is a wonderful theatre on Pico.  Street parking is easy. Everyone there is warm and welcoming. Seating is in the lobby until everyone is marched around to the back entrance, through the vomitory, and to the seats.

The set, from Danny Cistone, Production Designer, is the first thing you see—a kitchen with unnerving slamming pantries, the same slammed by both brothers. And the dinning alcove is downstage right center where most of the action takes place. And, at the end of the show, the cleanup is significant.

L - R Andrew Hawkes and Johnny Clark 

Johnny Clark is exceptional as Austin.  Austin is the muse to his brother’s action. Carefully taking mental notes during the course of his observation.  Wanting to embody his brother’s successful and unorthodox ways, he becomes his brother. And, that he finds, is or is not the answer. At first, Austin seems almost terrified that his brother has appeared, and then accepting, but before turning, Austin shows little regard to moving in his brother’s stead.  

Andrew Hawkes as Lee prowls around the stage waiting for openings to strike.  Hawkes’ backstory is prevalent and his craft awe-inspiring.  He is constantly thinking and relaxed in concentration as he moves about the stage.  There is hardly a wasted movement. The pencil scene needs a slight focus. Not only is he trying to find the pencil but he is showing his brother how a desperate man behaves for the need of this one tool.

David Starzyk has always impressed me with his work since seeing him in The Closeness of the Horizon by Richard Martin. Here, as the producer Saul, he is manhandled by the creative types that surrounded him and he is able to move with the punches. Dodging and weaving to get the best deal is his motto.  Maybe, Saul should find a way to win before leaving.

Carol Goldman has her moments as Mom coming back from Alaska.  She comes back home to find a mess, and the mess is all she can see. She pays scant attention to the one or two men in the room, especially in the end when she leaves in frustration. Those relationships need to be clearer and probably will be during the course of the run. Still, Carol is very funny in the role.

Gelareh Khalioun, Costume Designer, places all actors beautifully in the 1980s.

Derrick McDaniel, Lighting Designer, gives complete focus to the director’s ideas.

I love the sound of Lindsay Jones’ (Sound Designer) crickets in this production.

This is the first time I’ve come across a “Violence Designer”. Ned Mochel was that man and the end is very graphic.  A job well done.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Justine Vickery – Assistant Stage Manager
Marcy Capoferri – Box Office Manager
Brian Dunning – Graphic Designer

Run! Run! Run! And take a writer friend with a highly active imagination!

To purchase tickets, or for more information, please visit

Vs. Theatre
5453 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

100 Planes by Lila Rose Kaplan

L - R Alani Rose Chock and Karen Harrison - Photos by Steve Rogers

By Joe Straw

The Filigree was once The Elephant Stages. Now it’s part of a whole complex, complete with The Broadwater bar on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Lillian Way.  It’s a nice bar, very cozy, probably a perfect place to drink during intermission.  And, the folks there are friendly.

But, there is not an intermission in this show.

An important piece of this show was the plane, a C-370 transport plane.  It’s mentioned time and time again. But, doing a little research about Air Force planes, jet, etc., I found nothing about this particular plane. The press release implies it’s a fighter jet.  Nope.

The Tri-Service aircraft designation system is a unified system introduced in 1962 by the United States Department of Defense for designating all U.S. military aircraft. Prior to then, the U.S. armed services used separate nomenclature systems.
Under the tri-service designation system, officially introduced on 18 September 1962, almost all aircraft receive a unified designation, whether they are operated by the United States Air Force (USAF), United States Navy (USN), United States Marine Corps (USMC), United States Army, or United States Coast Guard (USCG). Experimental aircraft operated by manufacturers or by NASA are also often assigned designations from the X-series of the tri-service system.[1]
The 1962 system was based on the one used by the USAF between 1948 and 1962, which was in turn based on the Type, Model, Series USAAS/USAAC/USAAF system used from 1924 to 1948. The 1962 system has been modified and updated since introduction.[2
Modified mission
Aircraft which are modified after manufacture or even built for a different mission to the standard airframe of a particular design are assigned a modified mission code. They are:
Possibly it’s a top, top, top-secret plane for which no one knows anything about except those that are in the know. Still, based on the above information it would have to be a transport plane.

The Filigree Theatre presents the West Coast Premier of 100 Planes by Lila Rose Kaplan, directed by Elizabeth V. Newman and produced by Stephanie Moore at The Broadwater Black Box through August 4, 2019.

Alani Rose Chock and Brennan Patrick

Kay McClure (Alani Rose Chock) is a go-getter.  Leaving her town in Iowa she is back for a class reunion.  She takes a breather, walks outside and lights a cigarette, wanting to stay away from her classmates who are satisfied with their mundane lives here in the town she grew up in.

David Greene (Brennan Patrick) sees a light on the balcony.  He calls out her name Kay McClure many times. But, alas, the light is a cigarette in her hand.  No matter, he is infatuated with Kay.

And that is a bit of an understatement.  David adores Kay and wants to get to know her better.  Also, he wants to get updated on her life and where she is going.

Kay doesn’t’ seem that much interested in him.  She’s got places to see, thing to do. She’s off tomorrow to catch an early flight to Berlin.

David says he was a weatherman but is in town to take care of his father who is dying of cancer. Again, with Kay, there’s hardly a reaction.

“Why do you like to fly?” – David

“I’m free when I fly.” – Kay

Kay mentions a time in the eight grade, of being fastest person in her class, and looking up to see 100 planes and knowing from that time that she wanted to fly.

“Don’t get stuck here.” Kay says as she leaves for her hotel to pack for Berlin.  David is not giving up that easy and he follows her to her hotel room, climbs a balcony and enters her room.

They promise to write to one another. David will write letters and Kay will write lists.  

L - R Karen Harrison and Brittany Flurry

Sometime later in Berlin Kay crashes a party to meet Major Ann Clarkson (Karen Harrison) a flight instructor, an icon in her field, who is now at the piano with her lover Monique Dupont (Brittany Flurry). Monique is not enamored with the pushy Kay as Kay’s objective is to become a pilot of the C-370.  Major Clarkson is not easily persuaded to let this Lieutenant fly her plane when there are so many others that are qualified.

There’s much to enjoy in Lila Rose Kaplan’s play, which, on second thought, seems more to be about the relationship of the players than the dream of 100 planes. Each has their own dream, their objective of what they want other than the person they are with. David wants Kay, but Kay wants to fly. Monique wants to adopt a child but Anne wants something different. 

Is the C-370 a real plane? And if it not, why use it?  

The director, Elizabeth V. Newman, plays it pretty straight and by the book.  She leaves no room for ambiguity in anyone’s relationship.   You’re in the Air Force, and you do as you are told. But, there seems to be more here in the writing than was presented on stage.  This is a scaled down version of a traveling show from Texas and the planes are symbolic of a much larger ideal. Some other things need a touch of symbolism, the city of Berlin Germany for one which is the later half of the show.

Alani Rose Chock as Kay wants little to do with David.  Or, so, that is how it appeared. And yet, Kay jumps at the chance to meet the one person that will help her in her career. Others she meets are discarded to fulfill her dream. There is more to add to this character, starting from the beginning with a cigarette in her hand, the first meeting with her friend, with the major, and so on. If flying is the thing she loves to do, we should see it in action on stage. 

Brittany Flurry has a very good look as Monique. Her partner is Anne and the two have a secret, a code name, of something they want to do together. Monique wants to adopt.  It’s the thing she dreams of during the coarse of her day.  But, she doesn’t convince her partner throughout the play.  And her partner needs a lot of convincing.  If that is her objective her actions over the course of the play should move her in that direction. Instead she is on a train, alone, that is going nowhere.   

Karen Harrison plays Major Anne Clarkson by the book. There’s not much wrong with that except that she is unduly fastidious and it leaves little room for a multi-dimensional character.  Clarkson is the center of attention.  We see little of what she thinks although she dreams of flying herself.  She sees little in the young lieutenant and yet wants to be with on her partner’s most important day of her life without giving it a thought. “I forgot,” is something you say when you’re having a better time with someone else, not to your lover on the most important day of her life.

Brennan Patrick has a lot going for him, a strong clear voice, a good look, and a remarkable presence. His craft moves him in a direction with a strong objective, never giving up on the character, and moving the character David Greene in the right direction. And for those reasons you should not miss his performance.

Stephanie Moore was the producer of 100 Planes.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Chris Conard – Lighting & Set Design; Tech. Direction
Jennifer Rose Davis – Costume Design
Eliot Gray Fisher – Sound Design
Saly Seitz – Stage Manager
Dominique Carrieri – ASM
Adam Miller-Batteau – Fight Choreographer
Steve Moyer Public Relations – Press Rep.

Shows come and go so quickly.

Run! Run! And take an Air Force Major with you with dreams of day’s gone bye.