Saturday, June 29, 2019

Romancing Peace by Dan Wunsch

Dan Wunsch

Dan Wunsch and Julie Ingram will be at the Fanatic Salon Theater, 3815 Sawtelle Blvd.; in Culver City this Sunday June 30th, 2019 for a reading at 3:30pm reception and reading at 4:00pm of his play Romancing Peace.  

“Dan Wunsch is an accomplished songwriter from Nashville with over 7 compositions recorded by independent country artists.  His tune, “Water Makes Her Clothes Stay On” has been recorded by David Frizzell, a Grammy, CMA and ACM award-winning singer, and is performed in the “Secret Seduction Scene.”

Julie Ingram* is well known as a country singer on the Nashville music scene.  Several of her albums have been recorded in Music City, and she performs frequently in Nashville including at the annual Country Radio Seminar.  She will be performing her composition “Forever and a Day” in the reading.  
Romancing Peace by Dan Wunsch is a work in progress that I have seen more than once.

Wunsch is a singer/songwriter from Nashville, Tennessee who has a never say die attitude.  So, this particular play has gone through a number of variations, some moments that I liked and others that I did not like.  But, Dan keeps moving on, pushing forward, and trying to push his message, the best message, forward.

And, it is a good message or at least one that keeps moving in the right direction.

Daniel (Dan Wunsch) is a quiet man, kind of crass, and someone without direction and focus.  He plays a gig here and there when he meets up with Sara a progressive woman who is into a cause of saving the children mostly from wars and the military industrial complex.

Sara is at the venue with her girlfriend Kim (Xiomara Bernard) and Daniel tries to make the move on both of them. (I’m not sure if that is still in the play.) Rose (Julie Ingram*), the bartender, will make a surprise guest appearance.   

Daniel falls in love with Sara but she is adamant about her causes if their relationship is to continue.  But one thing is sure, Daniel better get serious and put his womanizing stuff behind him. Or, so says Sara because she wants a partner to help her leave a better world before their time is up.

And so they are off to change the world, or at the very least Venice, California.  

“The play is a cultural clash between LA and Nashville.  LA is represented by the character Sara, who is a “Modern Liberated California Woman”, and Daniel, who she considers a “Culturally Brain Damaged American Male” when it comes to sex.”

Come meet the artists this Sunday, stay for the reading, and listen to some marvelous songs.

Victor Valleau - Narrator
Roz O'Connor - Sara
Dan Wunsch - Daniel
Xiomara Bernard - Kim
Gary Gibson - Big Son/Wolfman Jim
Mariana Edwards - Rose
Nilou Kashfi - Homeless
Brittany Cardinas - Akira
Nicolas Coster - Walter Crondike
Steve Murphy - Assassin
Jon Edwards - Greg Thompson
Jana Dimitrievska - Questioner

And Dan, sing louder.

*(Breaking) Due to unfortunate circumstances Julie Ingram will not be performing. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Naked Man Rising by Travis Perkins and Chambers Stevens

Kyle Durack

By Joe Straw

Spastic diplegia cerebral palsy is a form of cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that usually appears in infancy or early childhood, and permanently affects muscle control and coordination. Affected people have increased muscle tone which leads to spasticity (stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes) in the legs. The arm muscles are generally less affected or not affected at all. Other signs and symptoms may include delayed motor or movement milestones (i.e. rolling over, sitting, standing); walking on toes; and a "scissored" gait (style of walking).

As with other types of cerebral palsy, spastic diplegia is usually caused by brain damage, which generally happens before, during, or shortly after birth. Babies born prematurely and with low birth weight are at a higher risk of developing cerebral palsy. The exact cause is often unknown; however, the condition has been associated with genetic abnormalities; congenital brain malformations; maternal infections or fevers; and/or injury before, during or shortly after birth. There is no cure, and treatment options vary depending on the signs and symptoms present in each person and the severity of the condition, and may include physical, occupational and speech therapy, medication and surgery. – U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Kyle Durack, the Canadian Performer, was born with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy.

Naked Man Rising by Travis Perkins and Chambers Stevens is part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.  The show is directed by Travis Perkins and will close Saturday June 29 at the Studio/Stage on 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, California.

At first glance, Kyle Durack playing “Long Game” appears to be man who stepped out of a time machine, most notably August 18th, 1969 from a farm in White Lake in Bethel, New York.  He is light skinned man and his hair flows beyond his shoulders, wearing no shirt, and a pair of shorts.  He has a sunny disposition and smiles like a man who has listened to a great set at Woodstock and is now walking home.

This show caught me a little off guard.  I thought the play was about a man, a naturalist, coming to terms with his spastic diplegia cerebral palsy and how he moves through life as an actor.

This show was not about that.

The fascinating moments deal with CP itself.  The visual of the scar down Durack’s spine, the curvature of the spine that twists his back slightly from left to right, his left foot that is warped and causes him to limp a “scissored gait” when rambling across the stage.  But looking at the strength in his upper body, one would not notice the affliction down his spine and below his waist.

But, that was only a small part of the show.

Being a naturalist, Durack is naked in most of the play. How this really works in the context of the play is anyone’s guess.  All right, it does work in the forest scene.

Long Game (Durack) is made fun of all though school because of his CP but something unusual happens in high school when the tough guys accept him as their own.  Clint, Arnold, and Tommy Gun, with Long Game, are now known as 4 or Quatro for life.

There are a lot of untouched items in the play by the writers, Stevens and Parker.  But just know that “Long Game” is telling a story that is fiction from the very start otherwise the police would show up after the show and make an arrest for self incrimination.  

The one-hour show is what it is, taking a serious subject of CP, and creating a story and moving that story into something that is far fetched.  There is another story here, and one about the human condition that can make you feel more for the character of Long Game.

But, the play progresses to the extreme without giving a thought about the manner in which humans treat each other, especially after someone has been wronged. Long Game, in the end, comes out looking like a villain. Certainly, someone has to be the hero.

That aside, Kyle Durack has some wonderful moments, especially when he stops and listens, to the noise, the wind, his inner quiet thoughts, and then as he struggles to take the next step forward.  And, for me, that was worth the price of admission.


Monday, June 24, 2019

Sucker Punch by Roy Williams

Rob Nagle and Rick K. Jackson - photos by John Klopping

By Joe Straw

Sucker-punch [suhk-er-puhch] verb (used with object) Slang.  1. To strike (someone) with an unexpected blow.

The coeurage theatre company presents Sucker Punch by Roy Williams directed by Michael A. Shepperd at the Tiger Boxing Guy on Gardener just north of Melrose in West Hollywood through June 23, 2019.

Michael A. Shepperd, the director, gives us a spirited production of this show.  The presentation is very stylized and imaginative in ways that are unpredictable. Shepperd presents the show with gritty realism and minimal symbolic structure. And, there are remarkable performances in Sucker Punch with standout moments that will leave one light headed when exiting the theatre, ahem gym.

Jen Albert’s fight choreography is spectacular and plays well with Matt Richter and Adam Earle’s Lighting Design. The hits to the head are punctuated by flashes of light and are nicely timed for complete expected impact.

But the show is called Sucker Punch for a reason that carries it beyond the fights.  A sucker punch is thrown when the relationships are to change – like the flashes of light to the head – that send a character spiraling.  The comedic play is pounded with those moments, a blow delivered to the psyche causing a dramatic change in the relationship. This show needed those moments strengthened although the timing might have been off due to performing two shows a day.

“Don’t you have toilets to clean or summin, boy?” Tommy

That line is a sucker punch.  

The stylized opening makes way for Charlie (Rob Nagle) training an up-and-coming and athletically fit fighter, Tommy (Brandon Ruiter), in the ring.

“Jab. Double jab, cross. Jab, hook to the body…” – Charlie

Troy (Anthony Cloyd) and Leon (Rick K. Jackson) step into the gym as they good-naturedly argue about who is going to clean the nasty “white boys” toilet. Meanwhile, Charlie, in the ring with Tommy, can hardly hear himself talk with the commotion outside the ring.  

William Christopher Stephens and Rick K. Jackson

Charlie’s been at this game for a while, has a nearly-grown daughter, and has dreams of moving on to another level through a boxer he has trained. At this point in his life, he lives on the dreams powered by a lack of funds.  

Juvenile delinquents, Troy and Leon, are there because they broke into the gym, were caught, and now they are paying for it. Troy and Leon go at each other, first about who is cleaning the bog (bathroom) and for the fiver (money) Troy lent Leon.

“Isn’t one of you supposed to be doing the bogs right now?” – Charlie

Another sucker punch.

Charlie, not liking the way things is going for Tommy, pushes his fighter in the ring, but Tommy complains about shoulder pain and Charlie gives up on him for the day and sends him to shower.  Charlie leaves to take solace in his office.

Meanwhile Troy and Leon talk about Becky (Mara Klein) Charlie’s daughter, going to a posh school, knowing that she may be arriving soon.

L - R Brandon Ruiter, Rick K. Jackson, and Anthony Cloyd

A spirited and smart Becky enters the establishment, handles herself with the juveniles, and grabs the house keys from Charlie – getting her licks in before departing.   

Tommy gets out of the locker room and verbally tussles with Troy and Leon and after a bit of sparring, Leon slaps Tommy and gets the better of him.

Charlie sees this and takes notice.  

“Now was it me or did that little-monkey just gave you a right slap just now.” – Charlie (to Tommy)

One more sucker punch.

Charlie dismisses Tommy and tells Leon to put on the gloves while he sends Troy to clean the bogs.

What a treat to see a play that is site specific, a real boxing gym and a place to workout in West Hollywood. Knowing little of the playwright, or the play, coming in cold and observing life as it transpires within this creative atmosphere was an inspired journey.  

But there is a want for a little more.

Initially, the accents seemed to place the play in South Africa. Later the dialogue reveals that they are in South London. Leon’s father, Squid, shows just a trace of a Jamaican accent thus revealing that he is Jamaican (William Christopher Stephens) or of some Jamaican decent. It is not mentioned in the play.

That said, the beginning was slightly confusing.  Troy and Leon’s dialogue near the door was muffled with that of the overlapping dialogue coming inside from the ring with Charlie barking and Tommy shuffling. Also, the play takes place over a period of four years and the passage of time has little physical discernable representation.  We get the placement of time with only references to certain events in the 1980’s in the dialogue.

Still, Sucker Punch by Roy Williams is a wonderful play about the dreams of athletes and their manager. By all accounts, it is a comedy with some dramatic overtones. The timing of the dialogue is as essential as the boxing scenes in order for the comedy to hit home. There were hits and misses this night, but overall a wonderful production by the coeurage theatre company.

Rob Nagle is fantastic as Charlie, a man who only wants the best for himself and his daughter. But, Charlie has issues.  He lacks the fortitude to bring up his man to the top.  Amateur athletics is not paying the bills and he desperately wants to ride the coattails of a successful fighter. He is near the end of his game in life and if something doesn’t happen soon, he will be lost, and then he loses himself in alcohol.  His performance is terrific.  

Brandon Ruiter is Tommy, a physically fit character ready to take on the world.  Unfortunately, he is a little lazy, which is complimented by being racist. He is not as fast as the other boxers and probably never will be and although, he loves his trainer, he is ready to move on and dump everyone who has helped him along the way.  His career will not be long term. Ruiter gave it his all and has an especially warm appreciative smile during the curtain call.

Anthony Cloyd as Troy has a very nice presence on stage.  Troy is a character who doesn’t box much and gets into a lot of trouble with the law, pushing the boundaries of what is ethical or legal. And, he is in constant need of a partner in crime. There was a moment when Troy’s trainer grabs him by the back of the neck and the fear in Troy’s eyes said a lot about Cloyd’s craft.  There was a lot of backstory in that moment and it was terrific work.

Rick K. Jackson plays Leon a man tortured by the many around him – his father, his manager, his friend, and his girlfriend. Leon has one objective, which is to be the best fighter he can be and in many ways, he pulls this off. But he has to make serious choices to be the best. Jackson does well in the role.  If he teaches the moonwalk, he must be proficient at the moonwalk.  Also, love must compliment the choices for this actor.  Love propels this character - a love for the fight, love his trainer, and love his girlfriend so when he changes course the hurt is that much greater. Other characters ask Leon why he is crying.  Those moments didn’t play well. That aside, there are moments where one believes he had really been hit hard in the ring and those moments ring a dramatic truth.

Mara Klein and Rick K. Jackson

Mara Klein is Becky, a strong girl/woman, who also tries to look after her father.  She is also the love interest.  Klein does well in the role but her objective is unclear and her choices to move her in that direction gets a little lost. Is she there to help her father?  Is she upset about losing her boyfriend?  Will she save her father’s business? Klein has a strong voice and a very nice look on stage.  

William Christopher Stephens is Squid, Leon’s father. He does everything to destroy his son’s career.  He wants money to get high and, because he was the 1973 disco king, he is able to dance for money.  But the moves are squalid and the drugs have taken over. He doesn’t want his son to succeed, rather he wants his money.  Stephens does a lot to give the character a backstory and he mostly succeeds.

Gregor Manns is in the second act.  He is another manager, dangerous, and physical.  He is also a man who preys on weak and defenseless fighters by bailing them out of jail.  He is a negotiator and knows the faults of the manager he is negotiating with. There may be more Manns can add to this character.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Lindsay Castillo-Dilyou – State Manager
Georgette Arison – Costume Design
Sammi Smith – Prop Design
John Nobori – Sound Design
Charles Nwokolo and Emeka Nwokolo – Boxing Trainers
Elizabeth Wilson – Venue Manager
Abigail Marks – Dialect Coach
John Klopping – Production Photographer
Ken Werther Publicity – Press Representative.

The play had a short run.  But if you are able to see it in another venue, run, run, run!