Monday, December 9, 2019

Fifteen Men in a Smoke-Filled Room by Colin Speer Crowley

By Joe Straw

I did not see fifteen men and only saw a little bit of smoke. – Narrator

Harry M. Daugherty (John Combs) should have been a carnival barker.  He is the kind of man to pull you in to see the alligator lady, take your money, and tell you that you had a good time on your way out.

Daugherty was a promoter, an early grifter, a self-styled profile-raising man with political connections. He was someone who had the inside track in the 1920 Republican Convention in Chicago in effort to get Warren G. Harding (David Hunt Stafford) elected President of the United States.  If only he could get Harding to stay out of his way.

George Harvey (Kevin Dulude), short for George Brinton McClellan Harvey, is another man with strong political connections. Harvey was a conservative Democrat and the owner of The North American Review’s War Weekly, later called Harvey’s Weekly. His power and prestige was enough to earn an audience with Daugherty.  He was not there for benignities, setting aside enough information in a secure location on Harding to get Harding off the ticket and out of the race.

And although both men wanted something from Harding, one chose a nefarious route while the other barked his way into Harding’s good graces.  

Daugherty was having none of this reprehensible falderal and neither was Florence Kling Harding (Roslyn Cohn) who provided more than ample support in defending her husband and ushering George Harvey out.

Hardly a thing to speak of in public but Harding’s feelings toward his wife were indifferent while she adored him.  But tonight, she was going out to dinner with Daugherty to discuss something very important.  Harding had other issues on his mind. 

Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills proudly presents the Los Angeles Premiere of Fifteen Men In a Smoke-Filled Room by Colin Speer Crowley through December 15, 2019.

Colin Speer Crowley’s Fifteen Men in A Smoke-Filled Room is a historical play with an abundant amount of information on the characters surrounding Warren G. Harding during the 1920 election cycle. In this play, Harding is a reluctant candidate, who wants no part of the Presidency.  Also, he had a few skeletons in the closet – a mistress, Sarah Walker (Nan Britton) and a daughter from that union.  All characters move in the direction of getting Harding elected even his enemy. And all hint at what they want once he is elected.

Staging by Jules Aaron, the director, was very peculiar and did not have a strong through line.  Actors were moving from place to place without cause and one actor had his back to the audience during a critical restaurant scene.  (It worked for Stanislavski in The Seagull but didn’t work here.) The relationships between some actors were not defined and lacked adequate backstories. And it was difficult to find the conflict and resolutions in those scenes. Finding more layers and unspoken actions may be the key to unlocking the play. Usually actors have been exceptional in their roles in previous Theatre 40 productions. That was not the case this particular night but,  it may have been simply an off night.

That said, there was an enormous bright spot in this production. More on that later.

Jeff G. Rack, Set Designer, places the actors in a set that is functional, real, and without question striking.  This is generally the rule in Theatre 40 productions and this production was no exception.

Also, Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s sound is impeccable especially the sound of the band playing outside.  

The one exceptional bright spot in this production was the performance of Roslyn Cohn as Florence Kling Harding.  Her level of concentration was superior, her backstory put life into the character, and the levels in her ambiguity in character kept one guessing throughout the night. In an especially dramatic moment, near the end, Harding exercised incredible strength not turning around knowing full well what was going on.  Cohn put might and backbone into Harding. And, there was an insatiable craving of wanting more from this brilliant performance.

John Combs is a workhorse at Theatre 40.  His Harry M. Daugherty character is reminiscence of other characters he’s portrayed. His craft is strong and functional which is always half the battle. The other half needed light. Daugherty is an extremely strong character who is not dismayed by the obstacles set before him.  Even in moments where he has been bested, he was able to overcome them with a strong resolve. The first scene with George Harvey had little resolution, lacked conflict, did not include a physical relationship or an intellectual eagerness between men. Daugherty has his eyes set on a clear objective but the character Combs needs help in finding it.

Kevin Dulude was miscast as George Harvey, a man with political power who wanted more. There is a lot more to add to the character and to the way he carries himself as a man with power and prestige. The long black coat left little room for a physical life on stage. Dulude faired better as the Waiter.

Sarah Walker played Nan Britton like a girlfriend. A reality yes, but she did not play her as his possible wife and the mother of his child, which would have given the character more power and nuance. Visually, the relationship seemed to be father/daughter and really not something you want to convey when the stakes are so high. Also, Walker needs to find the conflict in her scenes.  She requires a stronger objective, and a reason for being.  Why does she show up in his hotel suite? What does she want?  Why can’t she get it? She wants Harding to be President of the United States but that can’t be her objective. And, coming to his hotel room is dooming his chances of being president. What was she thinking? If he is elected President, she’ll have a book deal, her daughter will be taken care of for the rest of her life, and her life will change for the better in so many ways. Characters are given life with a stronger objective.

Roger K. Weiss was the Radio Broadcaster standing behind a translucent screen and a microphone. There is more to add to this character, more to his style of broadcasting to be a voice for the period.

David Hunt Stafford does well as Warren G. Harding, the reluctant presidential candidate.  The love for his mistress was genuine but one wonders where the character is going. The amorous parley requires a scent of conflict. Throughout the evening, Harding is in the throws of giving it all up for his mistress, but his mind is clearly changed near the end and without a dramatic reason.   

Michéle Young’s work as Costume Designer set the period and was remarkable.

Others members of the crew are as follows:

Brandon Baruch – Lighting Designer
Nick Foran – Assistant Lighting Designer & Stage Manager
Judi Lewin – Hair/Wigs/Makeup Designer
Roger K. Weiss – Assistant Director
Phillip Sokoloff - Press 

Run! And take a lover who doesn’t want to let you go. 

Theatre 40 is a great venue, the staff is excellent, and as always the parking is free! 

RESERVATIONS: (310) 364-0535.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Troy by Amina Henry

By Joe Straw

Prior to the performance, an actor left midstream in the rehearsal process, and there wasn’t enough time for the replacement to learn her lines.  The night was the culmination of an unfortunate event, which happens for a myriad of reasons.

But, without notice, something peculiar happened.

For the actor onstage now, uncertainties in the beginning were noticeable. A misplaced word, or a stutter became clear sign of lost or forgotten lines.

And, without notice, and after the first scene, the character brought her pages onto the stage.  For a moment, I turned from that character, thinking the worst without thinking about the cause and thus turned my attention to the reactions of the other characters briefly and then paused noting…  

The peculiar part was an awakening – the play is about a woman slipping further and deeper into homelessness. In real life, I caught myself avoiding the actor’s craft, a turn away from one reality from someone in trouble who is trying to make the best of a unfortunate situation just as I have found myself turning away from homeless encampments.

These are sad times and not the time to be turning our heads. – Narrator

Hero Theatre in association with The Rosenthal Theater at Inner-City Arts presents Troy a world premiere by Amina Henry, directed by Elisa Bocanegra, and produced by Elisa Bocanegra, Gabe Figueroa, and Ashley Busenlener. The show has since closed.

The Troy apartment building is a place of infinite suffering.  The current occupants are women with children who have long since lost their partners. Without an additional income they slip precipitously in a crevasse of unsustainability.

Andie (Mildred Marie Langford) sits outside, away from her sleeping child, folding laundry, to gather a sliver of sun between apartment buildings, bathed in the street sounds of a busy Los Angeles neighborhood, as Holly (April Nixon) steps outside her apartment to light a cigarette.

Age and life circumstances are getting the better of Holly but she takes solace in the beautiful flowers outside her apartment door.

“You can learn a lot from flowers.” – Holly

Holly notes that dressing nice and talking nice are important values for her.  Being pretty makes her feel like a queen.

Andie listening appears to have little room to be involved with anyone other than her immediate family.

But, that doesn’t stop Holly from telling her life’s stories, her twelve children most of whom are dead, and a son Johnny who she believes is going to help her, no save her.
Cassie (Carene Rose Mekertichyan), 17 years old, is Holly’s older daughter. Cassie wonders when they are going to get the car fixed so she doesn’t have to take the bus.

“We’re poor. We have love. Take the bus.” - Holly

Holly’s other daughter Polly (Larrieux Ross) concentration lies in her books.   Polly is a remarkable student - getting “straight A’s” - and she dreams of becoming a Supreme Court Justice.

Tal (Adam Mendez, Jr.) the mailman shows up and the one thing that is immediately obvious is that he has a soft spot in his heart for Andie. Despite having a steady job and benefits Andie wants little to do with him. His way to convince her is to write letters to find a way into her heart and he does this repeatedly.

Dell (Jack Landrón) is the landlord and he is only there for one thing, the rent. Holly hasn’t paid in a while and Dell is threatening to throw her out if she doesn’t come up with the money.

Holly has a job, a hairdresser, but things have been a little slow at the shop.  She promises to pay and doesn’t worry about too many oppressive obstacles in her path.  She watches over her kids with little oversight and dreams about Johnny who is going to save her from this poverty and misery.  Because “things have a way of working out.”  

While Cassie dreams about eating “pancakes with real maple syrup,” she sets her sights on Manny (DeForrest Taylor) a drug dealer and possibly a human trafficker who lives upstairs in their apartment building.

There is much to enjoy in Amina Henry’s play.  The language is raw and believable. The resemblance to The Trojan Woman by Euripides is poverty.  “Our country, our conquered country, perishes.” is symbolic of todays times of a few conquering the lives of many, keeping them in poverty and controlling their lives. And that is what we are seeing. Poverty and hunger is the greatest killer of most dreams. The characters dream of what they want but have little ideas on how to get there. Perhaps hunger conquers their dreams. Also, pride gets in the way of accepting help from the other characters as Holly and Andie all but dismiss those opportunities. And while most moments in the play works, the letter from the mailman near the end does not work.   

The songs in this production are cute by T.J. Keanu Tario, composer, but offer little in the way of progressing the story. I Am a Mailman and Where’s My Money are endearing but does not move the play along or effect character changes on stage. We get emotional insight and feelings from the other songs, and the characters all sung the songs beautifully.

Elisa Bocanegra, director and Hero Theatre’s Artistic Director does effectively well despite the challenges of the play, the music, and other unexpected events.  It is a well diverse cast and a few of the actors have limited stage performances under their belts. That said some actors need a little more guidance. Polly needs another physical characteristic (perhaps ADHD), which will add to the unexpected event late in the play. The mailman needs to delivery mail besides his own and the landlord needs to take care of the property without only asking for the rent. The characters all have lives and traits inclusive of their objectives and we need to see that in their lives on stage.  

There is something special in the way April Nixon (Holly) carries herself on stage.  It is both appealing and the definition of art. She dreams of the day her son will come to save her, her knight in shinning armor. Holly has a strong constitution and maybe that is her fault. She doesn’t accept help when offered because she doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone or entangled from the sources of that money. For Nixon, there is more room to fight for what she wants even if it means staying off of the streets. And for God’s sake Holly take the money and then give it back.   

Mildred Marie Langford is Andie and plays the character pretty straight. Andie says she has a boyfriend but he is never around.  Andie shows us that she is not interested in the mailman but doesn’t show us the why she is not interested. Is the issue race? Is it that she wants the mailman to try twice as hard?  What is in her background that keeps her from saying no? Is there a way to give a hint that she might be interested? Why does she wait?

Carene Rose Mekertichyan as Cassie has a strong speaking voice.  It blows everyone else off the stage.  Perhaps there is a middle ground for a smaller venue rather than a voice for the Pantages. That aside, Mekertichyan does well in the role.  Carrie is a person who dreams bigger but is satisfied with “pancakes with real maple syrup.” Perhaps she should set her sights higher.   Cassie needs focus in her life.  She is a character who doesn’t acknowledge the mistakes she has made, even in the end when the only thing she can offer her mother is money.

Larrieux Ross is Polly a young lady who moves in the direction of her schoolbooks to get what she wants. She studies all day long and goes to the library. But, what is her conflict? She is interrupted by hunger (mentally and physically) and must find a way to get beyond that to absorb her books. Also, her mother and her sister are constantly getting into fights and that bothers her as well. Finding a stronger and creative objective is the key for this character.

Jack Landrón handles the role of Del effectively. Dell wants his money and is not playing any games.  It’s money or out you go into the street.

Adam Mendez, Jr. plays Tal a mailman who only wants his love requited.  Unfortunately, his counterpart wants nothing to do with him.  Mendez has a playful demeanor on stage and it works most of the time but one got the impression that he was looking out beyond the fourth wall, searching for approval, rather than working with the other actors in the scene.  Tal has to convince Andie that he is her only choice.  He went to college, but more importantly he has benefits and that should be the kicker. But, what is the conflict? And, how does that play out in action on the stage. She wants nothing to do with him, so he has to write letters to get through.  But when he delivers mail, his action should be to find out if he’s connecting first, and deliver the mail second.

Deforrest Taylor plays Manny, the upstairs drug dealer.  There must be another way to play this character. Slightly soft spoken with very little actions on stage.  This would probably work for television, but theatre is another matter. His interactions with Carrie don’t go far enough.  The words are there the physical play is not.  The same holds true with the landlord and the mother. Manny should find a way to put the money in Holly’s pocket, and this must be done physically. For the sake of adding an emotional life to the character, what if Manny was her son? How would that play? Or, what if, Manny was her lover?  What if Manny didn’t have a mother?  How would Manny play those scenes?  

Ryan Hardge was the male understudy but did not perform on the night I attended.

Hero Theatre at The Rosenthal Theater at Inner-City Arts is a great place to see theatre in Los Angeles. The crew is friendly and the atmosphere is terrific. Elisa Bocanegra made sure to invite busloads of homeless people to the event for a brief respite to the grind of their daily lives. And that is a wonderful and remarkable thing!

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Anna Klevit – Stage Manager
Jeremy J. Lee – Sound Design
Christopher Scott Murillo – Scenic Design
Anthony Aguilar – Lighting Design
Maggie Dick – Costume Design
Jessica Johnson – Assistant Director
Julia Stier – Production Dramaturg
Giovanni Solis – Production Photographer
Stacy Henon, Larry Mura, and Denise Ambroggio – Set Construction
Paola Delcid, and Damaris Ortiz – Production Mentees


Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Wrong kind of People by George W. Corbin

L - R Chauntice Green, Darrell Philip, Damon Rutledge, Ken Ivy, and Stephanie Schulz (Photo: Ian Foxx)

By Joe Straw

A few years ago I saw the film Moonlight story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, screenplay and directed by Barry Jenkins. At the time there were no names in this film, and the budget appeared to be modest, shot in Florida, a lot of night scenes, and watching it I thought to myself, this film cannot be this good.  I watched transfixed being riveted by every moment in that film.

The Wrong kind of People by George W. Corbin is wonderfully written and masterfully directed by C. Julian White and it gave me that same feeling. But this time it was live theatre and I was having a heck of a time.  – Narrator

The time is 1942

Straight-laced Theo Rawling (Ken Ivy) is rushed into his hotel room by Rodney (Damon Rutledge).  Rodney goes by the name of Fixit because of events soon to be realized.  Fixit introduces him to the wonderful accommodations of “The Negro Room”.  

The Negro room is set aside as the “only room left” when colored folks checked into this particular hotel.  The patron’s option was to take it or, leave it.  And judging by the looks of the room, most patrons left. It is all part of the Guardian Hotel’s plan to satisfy their insurance requirements.

Theo has just completed law school at USC and tells Fixit that he has little choice for leaving as his mother has paid for his accommodations.  He needs a room, a little peace and quiet, and time to study for the bar. And, it’s convenient to UCLA - near where the exams are to take place.  

Theo, despite the look of the room, decides to take it forgiving the smell, the dirty walls, weathered carpeting, and the stale musty sheet coverings on the beds, table, and chair. If fact, the room, with its nasty blinds on the window, looks like a storage room with boxes littered throughout.  

Fixit removes the sheets, gaging in the process, and takes the storage boxes out of the room understanding that Theo is not leaving. But now Fixit is in a predicament.

In the course of their discussion Fixit gives Theo a quarter and tells him that he is his lawyer despite not passing the bar yet.  And because he is his lawyer Fixit lets it be known that the room, which they now occupy, will be a place where certain illicit events, played by various guest will be entering through the window.  His job will be to let them in and keep quiet about it.   

And there’s some change for Theo should he decide to participate.

The Robey Theatre Company in association with the Los Angeles Theatre Center presents The Wrong Kind of People written by George W. Corbin, directed by C. Julian White, and produced by Ben Guillory through December 8, 2019.

Finding new gems in Los Angeles is the reason for coming to intimate theatre and in particular The Robey Theatre Company, a company that has been putting up exceptional work at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.

George W. Corbin has written a marvelous play, an oblique comedy that was enjoyable from start to finish. The Wrong Kind of People is smartly written and clever in every sense of the word. The characters are multi-dimensional and the dialogue takes this viewer back to 1942.  Placed perfectly, in the screwball comedy era of the 1940s, this show never lets up.

The term the wrong kind of people refers to a specific incident where a home seller sells to someone who is not the right color setting the neighborhood off in public, using that polite term, but offering rants and racist incriminations in private.

C. Julian White directs the show and immediately one is caught off guard by the physicality of the characters, highlighting moments that are exceptional during the course of the night. The entrances of each character are as a force of nature, with dramatic conflict, almost like a hurricane blowing through one room with one character unable to close the doors and or shutter the windows.

L - R Darrell Philip, Stephanie Schulz, Damon Rutledge (back), Ken Ivy, Chauntice Green and Stephen Tyler Howell

All of the actors were exceptional but I want to speak to the characters and their performance.

Chauntice Green is Mex, a woman from Macon Georgia, a woman who could pass for white or Latino, and a call girl.  Her entrance is wonderful as she comes out swinging her purse to unfamiliar faces. Mex is a woman with a heart of gold but understands that she wants to get out of the business and discovers a wonderful opportunity. Green hits all the right notes and is exceptional as she moves from one moment to the next.

If there is one performance you should not miss this year, it is Darrell Philip’s Judge Purdy.  As the inebriated Judge there is not a single space in the room he does not touch in character gamboling about with pratfalls, rolling on the floor, lying on both beds, smoking on the dresser, drinking, and speaking Latin.  In his state, he is intelligent, well spoken, and one of the nastiest people on the planet. And, he brings his gun, an inexplicable impulse, espousing his “2nd Amendment right” as he runs out the door to fetch his wife.  It is a roller coaster of a role and, by all accounts, the single most successful performance you will see this year!  

Damon Rutledge as Fixit has incredible moments.  Fixit is a man with a dream and it looks like his dream is coming to fruition so everything has to go right on this night.  Normally the characters would have been coming into an empty room but because things have changed, Fixit has to change his tactics. There may be more for Rutledge to add during those moments.  One did not fully get the idea in the first scene that Theo being there would disrupt all of Fixit’s plans. For Fixit, this is a life and death situation.  If he doesn’t get this done tonight, he will never get this done and lose the biggest opportunity of his life.  

Ken Ivy plays Theo and plays the straight man throughout.  There may be more to add in this role.  In a key moment Theo puts on a uniform because the others want him to. This appears to be a pivotal moment in the play for this character.  Is he a bellhop, janitor, or, is he a lawyer?  How does he examine his life at that moment?   What does he do, most importantly, to show that he is a lawyer during the course of the night? Also, when will he join in the game?

Occasionally you find an actor that just makes you laugh and Stephanie Schulz is that actor.  She plays Mrs. Purdy, a loving wife to Judge Purdy.  But now she is in another room banging the lights out of another man, a younger one, and one that will satisfy her every need. She also has a shady past and one that she hasn’t yet set aside. She loves, she is loud, abrasive, and will to do anything to help her husband now that they’ve got themselves into a whole lot of trouble.

Stephen Tyler Howell (nice name by the way) is “Spider” Shultz. He has a nice voice and a nice presence but really needs to work on his hair to give it that ‘40s look.  Shultz is the man with the big bucks who demands the card game goes on tonight. He is abrasive, and bossy but will not fight under any circumstances. There is more to add to the character and a stronger creative objective would help.

 Others members of this delightful crew are as follows:

Joy Smith – Associate Producer
Michael D. Ricks - Lighting/Set Designer
C. Julian White – Sound/Music Developer
Naila A. Sanders – Costume Designer
Kayla Owens – Assistant Costume Designer
Eric Taylor – Property Master
Sorile Reeves II – Production Stage Manager
Eric Taylor – Assistant Stage Manager
Ian Foxx – Photographer
Jason Mimms – Graphic Designer
Phillip Sokoloff – Publicist
JC Cadena – Social Media Ambassador

Run! Run! Run! And take a special character in your life! Especially, one that loves unexpected events in his or her life.

The Wrong Kind of People is about 85 minutes and with no intermission.

 RESERVATIONS: (866) 811-4111.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Art of Dining by Tina Howe

Joey Marie Urbina and Billy Budinich

by Joe Straw

I always thought The Art of Dining would play better if meals were not part of the presentation.  The actors would act the meal and drink presented to them.

With food, the play becomes an added cost and a logistic burden with the cooking, presenting, discarding and then the cleaning up.

I’ve actually seen this done (sans eatables) successfully at a ballet and from a scene at A Noise Within Theatre in Pasadena.  – Narrator.

Cal (Billy Budinich) and Ellen (Joey Marie Urbina) are the perfect couple. Well on the outside it appears so.  She is beautiful and he is handsome and they have a lovely restaurant with everything so perfect, the exquisite dinnerware resting on three white tablecloths, candles and other table appointments quietly wait for diners that are expected to come this night.   

The Golden Carousel horse welcomes all patrons who venture into their small but quaint restaurant gently nestled in a renovate townhouse on the New Jersey Shore.

But, things aren’t always what they appear starting with the disappearing food.  And then there’s Cal overbooking every night to capacity and beyond.   And secretly Ellen is a disgruntled worker chef who would rather not cook that much.  No, that’s not right, she would rather not cook for 30 diners when 7 for the night might be just enough.

And still Cal books reservations over the telephone like there’s no tomorrow.  Where else will he get the money to payback the  $75,000.00 loan if it’s not his little overworked wife cooking her heart out?

Love, love, love.

The doorbell rings. Cal stands in front of a mirror making sure that every fiber of his being is perfect before he opens the door. Now presentable, he is engulfed in costume as the maître de and in turn, a willing participant to be their servant and always at their beck and call. Hannah (Lucy Walsh) and Paul Galt (Chad Doreck) are then received by Cal in a most impressive manner.  

Lucy Walsh and Chad Doreck

Hannah and Paul, an enchanting if not ostentatious couple, have more idiosyncrasies than humanly possible.  They can hardly believe they are, once again, engaged in a night of fine dinning.    In presentation they are impeccable and have an unquenchable desire of every thing fine and decadent, but for the moment their feelings are decidedly pointed on the dining experience. And that experience is a foretaste of an iniquitous seduction so sublime and so subliminal that it is a precursor to the ineffable ecstasies that awaits them in the privacy of their own home.

Kasia Pilewicz and Haile D'Alan

Elizabeth Barrow Colt (Kasia Pilewicz), a short story writer, and a sentient being arrives without her glasses and is, fundamentally, as blind as a bat. She is helped by Cal who has trouble taking her coat and then proceeds to empty the entire contents of pencils and notebooks from her purse onto the floor, twice. Tonight she is waiting, longing to meet a publisher, her publisher Cal (Haile D’Alan) if she can get beyond the eating part of the meal.  

L - R Samiyah Swann, Leana Chavez and Nancy Vivar

After a day of shopping three lovely enchantresses Herrick Simmons (Leana Chavez), Tony Stassio (Samiyah Swann) and Nessa Vox (Nancy Vivar) swarm the lobby, shopping bags and all.  All three are wearing gold dresses and enjoy their meals in a strepitous manner of indescribable delight.    

Jamaica Moon Prods and the The GGC Players present The Art of Dining by Tina Howe directed by Gloria Gifford, and produced by Chad Doreck, Jade Ramirez Warner, and Leana Chavez through December 8, 2019.

The Art of Dining directed by Gloria Gifford is deliciously triumphant and delectable too throughout the course of the dining night. The production is filled with extreme touches of brilliance, of manner, and of style. There are some very fine bits of idiosyncrasies beyond the dialogue, and to top it off the characters are wonderfully diverse.

Sitting on the purple chairs was just - genius!

But, I have some observations.  If you are interested in going to see this production don’t read further.

Joey Marie Urbina fits the role of Ellen and does some remarkable work in establishing her abilities in the kitchen and her relationship with her husband. She discovers something she really didn’t know about her partner and the night is almost destroyed for not only the restaurant but also her relationship with her husband. That said, the tears of that moment were not convincing possibly because her actions are not extreme. Still, Urbina has a strong presence and is also a wonderful actor to watch.  

Billy Budinich plays Cal. Cal works in the kitchen, and in the restaurant.  Budinich really has to find something to make the coat and pencil scene work. Cal worries about every aspect of the job.  One wrong move with his insatiable cravings and the restaurant could come crumbling down.  But, perfection is something he cannot control, especially with this crowd. That said, Budinich handles the role marvelously and manages to get a lot of laughs during the course of the night.    

Kasia Pilewicz is Elizabeth Barrow Colt and for the most part is fine in the role. But, she has to make a choice to find a stronger objective for this character, which will lead her to more creative actions on stage. First and foremost she has a fear of eating and we should see that the moment she walks into the diner. Instead we get funny bits without the conflict. And these are the things she has to hide in order to have a successful relationship with her would be publisher. Adding an inquisitive disposition to her character would help her find more layers to her way.

Haile D’Alan is successful as David Osslow, a publisher.  Well maybe a successful publisher, or maybe not.  Truth be told, he hasn’t had a hit since, never.  He needs this client and what a better way than to ply her with food, at the best obscure restaurant in town.  But, it’s not working out, she does not like the food, and maybe not him, and he is on the verge of loosing this client because she is rambling (a good rambling) on about her life growing up. D’Alan has to push harder for a stronger objective, with creative choices that guide him to his objective.  He must win over the short story writer no matter the cost.

Lucy Walsh is terrific as Hannah Galt - a silly and seductive partner. A woman who wants the best for her husband, but falls constantly in a trap of not doing the right thing. The work from Walsh is very playful, creative, and everything about her performance just works.  In short, it is an excellent job.

Chad Doreck is exceptional as Paul Galt.  He is a man on a mission for the perfect dining experience. When things don’t go his way, he points out his companion’s faults and rights her wrong. Doreck has an infectious smile and is extraordinary in this role.

Leana Chavez as Herrick Simmons throws in some choice Spanish dialogue during the course of the meal. Samiyah Swann is also charming in the role of Tony Stassio, as well as Nancy Vivar as Nessa Vox. This table was a little confusing.  All three were wearing gold dresses.  One would suppose they bought them on their shopping spree but little is made about their attire. They fight about everything, the pronunciation of the drink, and the order.  They screech in delight, as well as screech in fight and at times it is hard to follow what the fuss is all about.  Clearly, one woman has a problem with pronunciation and remembering what she has ordered.  One wonders if it’s because that she noticeably doesn’t remember or likes the other ladies food.  The women have a history and the actors must use that history to clean up the moments, their relationship, and define those moments by finding the right touches that work.

Tina Howe’s The Art of Dining was first presented December 1979 at the Public Theatre in New York.  The west coast premier was produced by Spectator 442 and Joe Straw at the Fig Tree Theatre in 1983.

Other member of the cast who did not perform on the night I was there are as follows:
Cal – Keith Walker, Chris Jones, Christian Maltez
Ellen – Kelly Musselwhite
Paul Galt – Danny Siegel, Dan White, Joshua Farmer
Hanna Galt – Keturah Hamilton, Cynthia San Luis, Abigail Kochunas
Elizabeth Barrow Colt – Sabrina Won, Justine Estrada
David Osslow – Benito Paje, Joe Filippone
Herrick Simmons, Tony Stasio & Nessa Vox – Jade Ramirez Warner, Raven Bowens, Irene Gerakas, Amber Dancy, Danielle Abraham, Gloria Alvizar, Rosa Frausto

Run! Run! And take a chef because there will be a lot of things to discuss on your way home.

Member of the crew are as follows:

Set Design – Gloria Gifford, Keturah Hamilton & Lucy Walsh
Lighting Technician – Teagan Wilson
Properties – Michael Barker
Show Publicist – Philip Sokoloff
Costumes – Gloria Gifford, Lucy Walsh
Hair/Makeup – Kasia Pilewicz
House Manager – Tahlia McCollum
Videographer – Gay Hauser Price
Photographer – Mathew Caine

RESERVATIONS: (800) 838-3006.


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Cock by Mike Bartlett

L - R in background Caroline Gottlied, Miles Cooper, and Andrew Creer - Photos by Bailey Williams

By Joe Straw

John (Miles Cooper) isn’t much to look at.  He is thin, wiry, and slightly unkempt with a spotty three-day-old stubble.  Dressed in a jeans jacket, dark blue or black, with torn black pants and Converse tennis shoes that appear to be purple.  The best thing about him, people say, are his eyes, at least for those who venture that close.   

John is fed up with his relationship with his partner M (Andrew Creer), an always-right, smarmy sort, who is tall, built, untrammelled, with an Australian accent, and, truth be told, petulant. He is manly in appearance in the way of Errol Flynn, or Cary Elwes, but dogged in the way of a bossy Betty Davis.

Their main issues: they aren’t getting along, and their stories are getting stale.  They are always fighting like two cocks, always picking at each other, and trying to get the upper wing. In short, their dialogue is unpleasantly perverse as they go about maintaining their daily lives.

“I think we’re fundamentally different individuals you know that? – John

M, at this point, is slowly catching on, and the talk is moving towards breaking up.

“It’s not true.” – M

“It is true because I just said it so there it is”. – John

They can’t communicate without going at each other.

A few short weeks later, after the breakup, they meet again.  This time, John comes bearing teddy bears.  John says he still fantasizes about M and needs his help with a problem he gotten himself into.

The problem: John, bearing a tattered conscience, pleads (in his way) for reconciliation. He lets it be known that he has fallen in love with a woman; of course, M is not too happy about this.

“ I thought we were brothers.” – M

“You said that but I never understood.” – John

As it turns out, John tells M the graphics details of their relationship and says, “She thinks I’m straight.” And John also lets loose that she was like a “man” to soften the M(an) vs. W(oman) blow.

M retaliates and calls John everything in his book but offers a suggestion that the three of them should be one relationship short. M, in his own way, has decided to take John back but John is still uncertain as to the road he wants to pursue.

The play goes back in time – when John met W (Caroline Gottlieb) – and provides a dramatic re-creation of John’s breakup and his relationship with W.  

W was married at 23, divorced at 25, and now she is meeting John at 28 when she spills the beans on her loneliness and asks if he would consider “sleeping with a woman”. He sleeps with her, they separate, and then she stalks him. (Or at least John thinks she stalking him.)

Now, John needs help and M invites W for dinner to straighten their relationship out once and forever.  But M doesn’t want to do this alone.  He invites his father F (Robert R. Ryel) to help him at the dinner party to which all battle for their best interest.

Crimson Square Theatre Company presents Cock by Mike Bartlett, directed by Michael Yavnieli, and produced by Faye Viviana in association with Beverly Hills Playhouse and Cheshire Moon Inc., through November 17, 2019.

Cock by Mike Bartlett is a stunning work of art that rings true to its core.  It is a cockfight of two men and one woman being pulled apart in insurmountable ways. The play is a battlefield in a cock ring, poetic in manner, with characters engaged, releasing toxic words, unutterable thoughts spewed to love ones, vile words expressed that causes all to retaliate. They battle without physically touching each other as they engage through the impulses of daily sexual life – all for the sake of, and in the name of, love.

Michael Yavnieli, the director, adds an extra element to the play. It is the morning cockcrow to highlight, a moment, an awakening for mistake prone beings, or a regret, and all of these moments effectively move the action forward. Those moments are creative and give an inventive voice to the director.  Yavnieli’s work is thorough, inspiring, and manages to get the best out of each performer.  One note here, the set is bare – save for the four chairs that are used for the characters that are not in dialogue – Yavnieli makes a choice to have them face forward and in the light to witness the dialogue. The characters on the chairs seemed to be engaged at times, and at other times, not.

Miles Cooper

Miles Cooper is appealing as John.  There is a lot of backstory to his character, so his character has a lot of depth especially in dealing with his counterparts.  John carries with him a profound darkness in his loneliness, not really getting what he wants either emotionally or sexually. He can’t make up his mind and the others push him around the ring and into a hole for which he cannot escape. John dishes out as well – having his partner take off his clothes as a measure of control.  Cooper is terrific in the role and could add a little humor to the character. As confused as the character is, Cooper’s objective must be substantial, the makeup scene may not have gone far enough or creative enough to serve two purposes, getting back together, and getting much needed help. Still it was a very enjoyable performance.  

Andrew Creer is very funny as M as he relates to his counterpart in a very campy/bitchy way. M is tall and muscular and the complete opposite to his lover.  (How they managed to get together is beyond me.) M manages to have his way using his voice without resorting to his strength and size. Creer is a leading man with a strong voice and facial reactions that move the character in many delightful ways.

Caroline Gottlieb

No one says you have to be a man to be in a cockfight and W is there scratching and clawing like the rest of them. Caroline Gottlieb is W, a woman who holds her own. W finds a gay man and wants him for the rest of her life. Her biological clock is ticking and finding the man is essential. Two weeks of a relationship is enough for her to make up her bossy mind.  Certainly she thinks he is good in bed, or why would she bother? W is described as manly but Gottlieb wears something very feminine on stage.  She certainly can be feminine and dress very manly on stage. That note aside, Gottlieb has a very strong presence on stage.  She is a wonderful actor, her craft is outstanding, and her moments on stage are just marvelous.

Robert R. Ryel is F, M’s father. Ryel plays the character as a worldly sort.  He is someone who may not have liked John in the past but has grown to love him. He is measured in his approach not wanting to get physical unless he absolutely has to, but he is a voice of reason and someone who really loves his son.  There is a lot to enjoy in Ryel’s performance, his stoic manner creates a world where trouble slide from his shoulders. And, he tries to stay above the fray no matter what obstacle is thrown at him.  Ryel is terrific in the role.

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who loves getting up in the early morning light to see the cockcrow.  

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Carrie Muniak – Assistant Director
Andrew Blandina – Assistant Producer
Derrick McDaniel – Lighting Design
Ken Werther Publicity
Carrie Muniak, Benjamin Burt – Stage Managers
Jeffrey Sun, Carrie Muniak, Tania Gonzalez – Sound Design
Faye Viviana – Program Design
David Seltzer – Website Design
Ellie Schwartz – Theatre Coordinator
Marchello’s – Specialty Concessions
Tania Gonzalez – Music Arrangement
Caroline Gottlieb – Poster Design
Bailey Williams – Promo Photography
Bailey Williams, Tania Gonzalez, Emily Chapman – Social Media/Marketing
Jamie Shaverdi, Lindsay Jean Michelle, Carrie Muniak – Fundraising

Phone: 323-348-4979

Beverly Hills Playhouse
254 S. Robertson Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA  90211

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