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