Monday, February 11, 2019

The Last Straw Awards 2018

By Joe Straw


Art breaks your heart. – narrator


The Last Straw Awards 2018, for now, is a virtual award; there are no plaques, or statuettes that you can pawn off to pay for medical bills.  In short, it is an award based on merit and something you can carry with you forever without the clutter.    


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


Julio Vera – Alik
Quiara Alegría Hudes – The Happiest Song Plays Last
Bernardo Cubría – The Giant Void in My Soul
Christian Levatino – …meantime at HoJo’s
Luis Valdez – Valley of the Heart


Also, it is with great pleasure that I announce the actors who are recipients of this award.   Their performance stays with me long after I have left the theatre.  Making the most of a moment is what counts. And sometimes those moments can be profound or subtle. One loves a treacherously delivered line.  In most cases, it is the fruition of hard work, reflecting a supreme simplicity, and coming to a demonstrative peak on a given night.   


(I make it a point to cover actors and you can read about their performances in this blog.  Type the name of the production in the blog window top left to find.)  




Small Mouth Sounds by Bess Wohl – at The Broad


Brenna Palughi – Alicia

Orville Mendoza – Teacher


A Soldier’s Fugue by Quiara Alegría Hudes – at Kirk Douglas


Rubén Garfias – Grandpop


Alik by Julio Vera – at AmVet Post 2 House


Lauren Fordinal – Marina

Justin Powell – Alik

Sam Flemming – Pavel

Monica Ross – Rimma

Colleen Greenhalgh – Larissa


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee –Music and Lyrics by William Finn, Book by Rachel Sheinkin, Conceived by Rachel Sheinkin, Additional Material by Jay Reiss at Culver City High School

Jaylen Rosado – Leaf Coneybear
Aidan Van den Broeck – Vice Principal Doug Panch
Kacey Oschack – Marcy Park
Joey O’Neal – William Barfée
Sophia Martin-Straw – Various Roles

Nice Fish by Mark Rylance & Louis Jenkins – at Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles

Tamika Simpkins – DNR Officer
Kristen Egermeier – Flo

The Happiest Song Plays Last by Quiara Alegría Hudes – at Latino Theatre Company  

Elisa Bocanegra – Yaz
Al Rodrigo – Agustín
John Seda-Pitre – Lefty
Kamal Marayati – Ali

Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, Story by Theresa Chavez, Louis Pérez and Rose Portillo – The Plaza de la Raza

Blanca Araceli – Alicia Ibarra

Mr. Pim Passes By by A. A Milne – at Theatre 40

John Wallace Combs – George Marden
Roslyn Cohn – Olivia Marden

The Giant Void in My Soul by Bernardo Cubría – Pico Playhouse

Karla Mosley – Fool 1
Kim Hamilton – Fool 2
Claudia Doumit – Various Roles
Liza Fernandez – Various roles

SOLO MUST DIE: A Musical Parody Book by Jordan and Ari Stidham Music and Lyrics by Hughie Stone Fish and Ari Stidham – at Hudson Backstage Theatre

Selorm Kploanyi – Galaxia
Michelle Wicklas – Various Roles

The Intimacy Effect by Jeff Tabnick – at the Lounge Theatre

Toni Christopher – Amy Appel
Jordana Oberman – Merrily Appel.

Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes – at The Mark Taper

Sean Carvajal – Elliot

Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang – at The Beverly Hills Playhouse

Jennifer Vo Le – Leah Anne Cho
Dennis Nollette – Various Roles
Jon Pendergast – NWOAOC (Name Withheld On Advice of Counsel)
Lisagaye Tomlinson – Various roles
…meantime at HoJo’s by Christian Levatino – at The Flight Theatre

Patrick Flanagan – Macho Barker
Leo Olivia – Rolando Martinez
Hector Hugo – Villo Gonzalez
LQ Victor – G. Gordon Liddy

Fairy Tale Theatre 18 & Over: The Musical by Michael J. Feldman Music by Jason Currie – at Pico Playhouse

Sheila Carrasco – Various roles

Valley of the Heart by Luis Valdez – at The Mark Taper

Rose Portillo – Paula Montaño
Scott Keiji Takeda – Calvin Sakamoto
Daniel Valdez – Cayetano Montaño

Bus Stop by William Inge – at Theatre 40

Kaitlin Huwe – Cherie
Mani Yarosh – Elma

These are the directors that made the list – because the work was remarkable - and all for different reasons.


Cassandra Ambe – Alik
Felix Solis – The Giant Void in My Soul
Robert Zimmerman – Yellow Face
Edward Torres – The Happiest Song Plays Last
Christian Levatino – …meantime at HoJo’s
Luis Valdez – Valley of the Heart

 The Ortiz Award 2018 is given to the play that showcases an outstanding presentation of diversity and art in a theatrical presentation.  This award is named in honor of Vilma Ortiz, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology at UCLA and a champion of diversity in the arts and in her academic field of study. This year the recipient is:

Valley of the Heart – Written and directed by Luis Valdez


Saturday, February 2, 2019

It is Done by Alex Goldberg

By Joe Straw

You've painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair
Ruby are you contemplating going out somewhere
The shadow on the wall tells me the sun is going down
Oh Ruby,
Don't take your love to town – by Mel Tillis

God, whatever indiscretions I’ve done over the years, whoever I have wronged, whatever serious missteps I’ve made, however major or minor, when I die, please don’t send that woman to come get me.  – Narrator

It Is Done by Alex Goldberg is a marvelous play that escorts you from the cozy confines of your own home into an out-of-the-way bar, and, at the end, from a sombre perspective, has you seared to the floor in terror wishing you had never met these people.

Maybe this is being overdramatic, or maybe not. Naytheless, there is a dramatic intensity in this play and an exquisite cohesiveness among players that makes this a must-see!

Theatre Forty presents It is Done by Alex Goldberg, directed by Jeff G. Rack, and produced by David Hunt Stafford through February 19, 2019.  Check local listings as the show runs intermittently throughout the week.  

In a seedy little bar in the middle of rural Deadsville, USA, a phone rings.  There are two land line phones in this establishment, a pay phone on the wall and one on the bar, and it is an unexpected, but delightful, visual conflict.  

From the lurid darkness outside to the cozy confines inside, why isn’t anyone answering the phone?

Jonas (George Villas), a man in a suit and trench coat steps into a bar, hiding behind the beard and long black hair, frail and worn, he steps in from the cold and shakes the winds of his past off his being.  

Jonas yells out for anyone in the deserted bar; out from the back, steps Hank (Kurtis Bedford) who parades out with his pants down exposing his white briefs explaining that he was banging one out in the back before he was interrupted.  He is an ullage short of being a complete package.

This is too much for Jonas as he orders a Jack on the rocks.

The phone rings again.  This time, it is the bar phone. It is Hank’s wife, Patty. Earth knows no greater evil that an ex going after an early child support payment. (Patty is not seen, but definitely heard.) Her ingratiating voice, fast and loud, would drive a person to drink, and an early grave. Hank can’t get a word in edgewise.

As a reminder of Hank’s monetary obligation, Patty puts one of his four children on the phone.  Hank then tells Patty that he is with a customer and even gives the phone to Jonas to say “hello”.  Well that didn’t last too long. She gets backs on the line with Hank and eventually he hangs up on her, and that drives Hank to drink Jonas’ drink.

Jonas takes his drink and sits alone in the booth and tells Hank to go back to what he was doing. Hank takes out a girlie magazine and starts playing with himself.

Jonas objects and the phone rings again.

This time Hank rips the phone cord from the wall.

Death comes to the inanimate in creative and peculiar ways.

That’s when a lovely woman marches in in peach sweater, black chemise, black leather pants, and black boots that could crush any living thing.   Her name is Ruby (Kate Whitney) and her car has broken down.  She needs a mechanic to fix it. And she realizes that her iPhone is useless in this dead zone. She dumps the contents of her purse onto the bar for some change.  

Naturally, the men eye her like she is the last bit of food on a mission table. 

Ruby discovers the jukebox has Hank Williams tunes in the machine.

Hank hits on Ruby. It’s something she accustomed to and readily able to handle but she wants nothing to do with the “barkeep,” She has other pressing matters to take care of.

Ruby requires a mechanic to take care of her dead car. She uses the pay phone but cancels the call via the hook switch and then pretends to speak with someone on the other end. From this point, things start getting a little dicier.

Alex Goldberg’s play is pure entertainment.  It is a well-crafted character-driven play that unexpectedly moves in a number of directions up through the final moments of terrifying unpredictability.  In the Bible, the book of Jonah, or Jonas, is the story of repent and one can see a slight correlation in that character of a man who never repents and so must meet his fate. Hank is a coil, a knot, or a loop, a man who keeps Jonas there.  He is unpredictable and serves a purpose.  It is his bar. Hank Williams is his man.  The bar never closes.  Why isn’t it call “Hank’s Bar?”

Jeff G. Rack, the director, adds to the fine script. Rack is a master craftsman and everything on this night worked to perfection, except the telephone’s hook switch. Was that too obvious?  (She is after all the…sorry I can’t give too much away.)   

The occasion is rare when a group of actors work so efficiently, effectively, and all with a purpose. Everything worked down to the bitter end. Ahem, except the curtain call.  With performances such as these the curtain call needs a little more spice.

Kurtis Bedford does a fantastic job as Hank—a man so infatuated with himself that he has to prove it at every turn. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t know when to say no.  He just keeps coming, much to his detriment. Bedford has a very nice look and has a strong presence on stage.  His facial expressions are nuanced and his movements are fluid. It is wonderful work!   

George Villas as Jonas is driven by a dream, a reoccurring one at that, separating fact from fiction, he thinks the more he is alone his chances of survival are great. He is willing to let go of the dream, or make a deal to a complete stranger but is not willing to repent. Villas’ voice was raspy, or maybe overused on this night.  Which is not to say that it didn’t work, it worked in a very nice way.  It was a terrific performance by an equally terrific actor.

Kate Whitney was Ruby and looks nothing like her dark-haired photo in the program.  One reason is because of her blond tinted pageboy look (possibly a wig.) Whitney’s performance was remarkable.  One is not sure the telephone thing with the hook switch worked but everything else did. Whitney, and the character, commanded the stage and grew as the character grew, moment by moment, until the terrifying ending. And all she did was use her words, and a treacherously delivered finger, an unfathomable silence, and it was done.

Michéle Young was the Costume Designer and her work is perfection.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Don Solosan – Stage Manager
Judi Lewin – Hair/Wig/Makeup Design
Rebecca Driscoll – Assistant Director
Brandon Baruch – Lighting Designer
Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski – Sound Designer  

Run! Run! Run!  And take a hearty Christian from the south!

RESERVATIONS: (310) 364-0535.