Friday, May 10, 2019

Brain Problems by Malcolm Barrett

Malcolm Barrett - Photos by Eugene Byrd

By Joe Straw

A brain arteriovenous malformation may not cause any signs or symptoms until the AVM ruptures, resulting in bleeding in the brain (hemorrhage). In about half of all brain AVMs, hemorrhage is the first sign.

But some people with brain AVM may experience signs and symptoms other than bleeding. In people without hemorrhage, signs and symptoms of a brain AVM may include:
  • Seizures
  • Headache or pain in one area of the head
  • Muscle weakness or numbness in one part of the body
Some people may experience more-serious neurological signs and symptoms, depending on the location of the AVM, including:
  • Severe headache
  • Weakness, numbness or paralysis
  • Vision loss
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Confusion or inability to understand others
  • Severe unsteadiness
Symptoms may begin at any age but usually emerge between ages 10 and 40. Brain AVMs can damage brain tissue over time. The effects slowly build up and often cause symptoms in early adulthood.

Once you reach middle age, however, brain AVMs tend to remain stable and are less likely to cause symptoms. – Mayo Clinic –

They are probably best friends, the best of friends on the planet.  Unusual dressers and lovely together in the way they just mesh in the apartment they share.

Donnie (Malcolm Barrett) and Emma (Kim Hamilton) love each other.  There’s no question about that. It’s obvious.  They can say the most unpredictable things to one another and neither one will be fazed by off-the-cuff or provocative remarks. Their love is amicable and happily platonic.

Emma is sometimes gnarly, which is only a slight problem and easily remedied.  But Donnie has brain problems, something he can’t help – a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM) if you must know.   

Ammunition Theatre Company presents Brain Problems, a new comedy by Malcolm Barrett – directed by Bernardo Cubría and produced by Karen Sours Albisua at the Pico Playhouse through May 19, 2019.

A big bottle of prescription pills sets in plain sight, on another level of the coffee table. When Donnie has the need, he takes the pill and chews it down, waiting until the digested medicine makes a mad dash to his withering brain.

It is a forgone conclusion; Donnie will be dead, as dead as the doorbell, deader than Jacob Marley (not seen).  But he’s not dead now. While he’s telling everyone that he is inching his way into death, he looks perfectly normal.  It’s just something he says for effect.

Well, no use crying over split milk. They have get on with their lives and try to live normally.  What little time is left must be – productive time.  

And so the friends meet, Zoe (Tina Huang), Josh (Jason Ryan Lovett), Ray (Michael Feldman), and Cynthia (Brit Manor) – all seeking to save the world. At least that’s something they can save.  

L- R Brit Manor, Michael Feldman, Tina Huang, Jason Ryan Lovett

But, even in a normal state of mind, Donnie finds this meeting – à la Robert’s Rules of Order – perplexing. It’s as if he were, or has some kind of a relapse, but not at this moment. In other moments, they become all too obvious.  

And, it’s neither here nor there, that Donnie spills the beans with a few truths. He blurts out that Ray is gay, and Ray’s girlfriend, Zoe, is having sex with their mutual friend, Josh.

And wouldn’t you know it, Ray lets everyone know that Donnie just outed him, in his living room, and in the company of his friends.  

Donnie, caught off guard, is a little surprised by the things he says, or sees in this terminal stage of his life and, at this point, visuals fly by from all different directions, including the dancing penises – happy visual projectiles that sing.

Donnie, has a friend, Malcolm (Brandon Scott), that visits him.  Malcolm is his wingman, his second, his alternative self, the parrot on his shoulder, and mostly his imaginative self. Malcolm has the ability to move among the quiet and at times frozen unsuspecting friends to impart his wisdom, in whatever form that takes. Malcolm is ultimately the taker.

One thing is sure, Emma and Donnie are so tight that Emma is the only other person that sees Malcolm.

Malcolm Barrett’s play is extremely funny!  Smartly written, and the laughs come fast and furious. The play works on fascinating levels, negotiating real time and space, where reality can also be an out-of-body experience or a fragment of misaligned cells running amok.  Either way we are placed into two realities, Donnie’s reality – and the reality of what is going only in Donnie’s deteriorating brain.

Benardo Cubría, the director, is spot on with the actors who move effortlessly in and out of reality and through the fourth wall. Cubría takes us there and asks us to take a leap of faith, into a reality within ourselves. Life, death, time, and imagination have no boundaries in theatre and this is an example of supreme art of expressive theatre. Cubría’s perspicacity and knowledge of the craft of theatre is outstanding.  

Kim Hamilton, and Malcolm Barrett

Kim Hamilton is excellent as Emma, the friend and roommate who knows her roommate so well that she brings him in and out of whatever is happening in his brain. With all the mayhem, dancing, and meetings, there is one constant person in his life, Emma.  And the ending is remarkable. It is a simple moment - of her being present and in the moment - that was astonishing and one that I will carry with me for a long while.  

Tina Huang has a lot of funny moments as Zoe. She’s in and out of a relationship in a heartbeat and where that leads us is anyone guess.  It seems there must be more to the character, finding a relationship, making it solid, and then moving on to the one who is dying.  

Jason Ryan Lovett has a lot of fun as Josh – the Dudley-Do-Right of this group. Lovett lets it all go in this romp and is having too much fun.

Brit Manor plays Cynthia a bi-sexual woman slightly attracted to the man who is ill in a bi-sexual way, neither in nor out, together or apart. Manor has an incredible presence on stage and is very watchable.

Brandon Scott has a lot of funny moments as Malcolm, the invisible consciousness, who shuffles mysteriously in the background, one suppose is waiting for his real self to croak. And what happens after that is anyone’s guess. Scott is all over the place, doing funny things.  But is he the guide to the great mysterious beyond? Certainly, an objective leading in that direction would only add to the character.     

Michael Feldman is Ray, the gay man.  That’s all.  Feldman and his facial expressions light up the room.  There is more to add to this character in terms of objective and his relationship with Donnie that progresses that relationship along. Or, perhaps we need something more in the writing.

Malcolm Barrett is excellent as Donnie. Donnie is not reticent, says what’s on his mind to get his truth out, never mind that he might be destroying someone’s life in the process. He’s dying, and he is getting away with everything.  Barrett takes us in and out of his reality effortlessly. There is probably more room to add to the characteristics of a man suffering with AVM. Small thing to add to his already outstanding performance.  

These understudies did not perform the night I was there: Ahmed Best, Alice Hunter, Nicole Pacent, Peter Pasco, Michael Rachlis, Karen Sours Albisua, and Jonathan Tchaikovsky.

Other members of the crew that make the night a special night are as follows:

Amanda Knehans – Set Designer
Mischa Stanton – Sound Designer
Masai Mitchell – Lighting Designer
Beth Morgan – Costume Designer
Stephen Rowan – Puppet Master
Brit Manor – Dance Choreographer
Ahmed Best – Fight Choreographer
Arturo de la Garza – Graphic Design
Camella Cooper – Stage Manager
Ken Werther Publicity – Press

There is something magical about the Ammunition Theatre Company.  The talent is top notched and the vibes are exquisite.  

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who loves to laugh.


The Pico
10508 W. Pico Blvd.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Working 2020 by Various Writers - Robert Mangiardi, Amamda Moresco, Thomas Polanski, Ryan Surratt, Howard Skora, Joseph Lyle Taylor, Krissy Shook, Beverly Leech, Anne DeSalvo, Pauline Schantzer, Goya Robles

WORKING 2020 Cast_Photo by Kenny Johnston

By Joe Straw

As a young actor, I sought to do more than say the lines with emotion. Rather pursuing further depth to a character, and accelerating that character with a creative physical life that intrigued me. I had to know more about the inner life, one that gives nuance and unusual mannerisms. It was important to gather that knowledge, to build a character, and to give my monster life.

Observation, as valuable as that was, wasn’t enough

Someone recommended Studs Terkel’s Working (1974 Pantheon Books) as a indispensable source of information about the inner thoughts of ordinary human beings and how they managed their working life.  Every actor should have this book in his or her library.

Whitefire Theatre in Association with the Actor’s Gym presents the world premiere of Working 2020, a new play created by Bobby Moresco and written by the Members of the Actor’s Gym through June 1, 2019.

Working 2020 is not really a play but an homage as well as a series of monologues written by the members of The Actor’s Gym. 

The idea here, one supposes, is to watch and consider how an actor can convey their truth in a realistic character.  And although there is a lot to be said of the truth, there is also the question of why.  Why are the characters telling us their story?  Because, they speak to a group from experience, giving knowledge to workers, parents, or professionals. Permit me to take a stab and imagine their audience.   

There is indeed more to this, in the presentation, naytheless. I found the night intriguing and embraced the intoxicating performances. And, of course, I have some observations.

On a blackened stage, eleven chairs were upstage waiting for the characters to appear, and they do – in almost a march – to their respective seat.

Everyone tells his or her story, alone.  There are some exceptions when other performers fill in the necessary gaps to support those front and center.

The Trucker by Beverly Leech – Directed by Robert Mangiardi

The Trucker (Maureen Teefy) fits the bill as a fifth-generation truck driver, jean jacket and pants, boots, trucker earrings, and necklace. She’s really small but what she lacks in size, she makes up in commitment to the job.

Maybe small is not the word, maybe fragile.  But she is able to handle any given situation on the road, the truck, and the truckers that she rides with.

This is a story for up-and-coming female truckers and survivors.

Tom Bower

The Orderly written and directed by Ryan Surratt

The Orderly (Tom Bower) has a moment to share and it’s mostly about his work and how he is able to cope with the job of mostly cleaning.  He is an orderly first and foremost and takes pride in his work. He can clean anything, even blood and that includes his wife’s.

Tom Bower manages to bring the background with him, be it that of the character or of his own life, it doesn’t really matter.  The life is all there, his liquescent eyes tell a remarkable story, his mannerisms creates a life now and all that has come before.

And he directs his story to the ones coming in after him.

I’ve been an admirer of Ryan Surratt’s work and he does not disappoint.  

The Mother by Amanda Moresco – Directed by Jessica Moresco

The Mother (Elizabeth Grullon) is sleek and slender and certainly someone who is caring especially to her two-and-a-half year old son.  But her son has problems – notably autism – and she struggles with finding a solution.  Almost all days, he is a constant source of aggravation. 

Being a single mother of a troubled child, she finds that just taking the moment to be with her son makes all the difference in the world.  Grullon gets to the heart of that moment and, in doing so, creates an unforgettable character. The truth is in her simplicity of character and the depth of her characterization.  Beautiful work!

She presents her story to families that want hope in their troubled lives.

Beautifully written by Amanda Moresco.  

Michael Pare

The Fireman by Robert Mangiardi – Directed by Bobby Moresco

The Fireman (Michael Pare) lives a dream, a life of being a fireman. It is an important job and one that people respect including family members. But something goes awry and the father and son lives are forever changed.

Pare gives a detail description of being a fireman almost as though he lived it. He is stout and one can imagine him moving up stairs with hoses, breathing apparatus, and other equipment.

In the end, the person receiving the story (the audience) realizes the fireman is telling us the story for a reason, but we only get a small hint of what is coming over the course of the telling.

What if he were telling his story to the families that have lost a loved one.

The Marriage Counselor by Howard Skora – Directed by Bob Costanza

Joe Pacheco is the marriage counselor, a cool, calm, and a collector of sententious rhetoric to dole out to patients.  He is also a giver of the truth in the ways that he handles those couples.

Sometimes a calm discussion and pithy saying won’t work and he hasn’t come to grips with that reality involving his wife.   She angrily confronts him as he calmly discusses their situation.  She threatens to leave him if he doesn’t throw the chair, an ultimatum for which he does not want to engage.

Pacheco gives us the character of an educated man, one who has worked hard to keep his composure.  And that character doesn’t give an inch, but in the end learns a valuable lesson. Pacheco is terrific in the role.

For people who have lost their marital way.  

The Hairdresser Written, Directed and Performed by Anne DeSalvo

The Hairdresser was one of my favorites. Lucy reared by her father, a gravedigger, teaches his daughter the importance of work. Lucy takes the advice to be the best hairdresser in Bensonhurst. Yes, that is a goal.  

Lucy gathers the courage to move up in the world and applies for a job in a very swank salon in Manhattan.  But, her roots infiltrate the very core of her Bensonhurst character and she is her own worst enemy pushing her to stay where she belongs.

Gathering the courage is for the group to which she speaks.

DeSalvo, complete with Brooklyn accent, lives this story in the way she is haunted by her past. She portrays a woman who is her own worst enemy. Her work is sublime.

Tonya Cornelisse

The Writer by Krissy Shook and Directed by Emma Barrett

This is a story of an out-of-work writer. She is an individual who will take any job as a writer as long as she is paid.   She is hired by two old porn producers to come up with something creative.  She doesn’t and they send her on her way, well almost.  She moves forward, gathering information and creatively produces words on a page that will have her producers shivering with delight.  And, of course, she gets paid.

Tonya Cornelisse is exceptional as the writer, a woman who is unfazed by the words of her new job.  Her performance abounds with courage and a never-say-die attitude.

She tells her story to the up and coming New York Times journalists.

The Actor by Thomas Polanski and Directed by Larry A. McLean

On this particular night, Thomas Polanski, as the actor, was tense and let the words get the better of him and in an explosion of thought he just let it all go.  That helped him into a better place.

Possibly, on another night, he will take a deep breath and own the performance.

The Waitress by Pauline Schantzer and Directed by Julia Hoff

Pauline Schantzer, the waitress, moved out when she was 17.  Not a wise move and she knows it, because she is working as a waitress earning $30.00 for an eight-hour shift. Self-independence is a reckless thing when little awaits you outside your home.

One really didn’t get into the details of her job or her life. This one needs more work. There is something more with a stronger objective.

Goya Robles

The Hustler by Goya Robles and Directed by Javier Molina

Goya Robles is a hustler, the hustler, a Latino, casual in his way, doing what needs to be done to help his mother so they can live without being thrown out into the street. It’s unfortunate that that thing he does leads him into jail.  

Robles is coy in the way he tells the story, leaving out enough of the particulars to be ambiguous, to put him in a favorable light, and to keep his mother off the streets. A little less ambiguous and a little more theatrical will help define and keep the truth.    

Joseph Lyle Taylor

The Welder by Joseph Lyle Taylor and Directed by Bryan Rasmussen

Joseph Lyle Taylor is exceptional as the welder, a man who understands the value of being in the middle class and working for a union. Taylor is a scrupulous actor and manages to bring an extraordinary life to the character, a simple man looking out for the welfare of his co-workers.

He is speaking to his fellow union workers, wanting you to take issue with vulture capitalists.  He wants you to get up out of your seats, proclaim solidarity, and fight together for a better life.

Bryan Rasmussen, director, hits all the right notes on Taylor’s performance. One would not be surprised if the audience rose to their feet in future performances.

Bobby Moresco, Producer, Creator, and Director, puts together an exciting night of theatre of simple people with challenges who manage to overcome adversity and rise above the fray.

Bryan Rasmussen, Producer, showcases exciting talent at the intimate Whitefire Theatre and this night was exceptional.

Others involved to make it a successful night are as follows:

Steven Christopher Parker – Producer/Assistant Director
Tor Brown – Technical Director
Larry A. McLean – Assistant Director
Derrick McDaniel – Lighting Designer
Nora Feldman – Publicist

Run! Run! Run! And take an actor - someone who loves to talk about the craft. 

Check out for show times and reservations.