Sunday, February 9, 2020

Gifted by Bob DeRosa

Ross Philips and Kacie Rogers

By Joe Straw

He said he was a “disaster dreamer”.  His visions, he believed blasted into his collective consciousness turning night into a colorful catastrophic apparition.

Most of his visions were airplane crashes, falling from the sky, riding in terror, waiting for the impact, and then walking away.  He said all of those events came to pass.

He’s also had them during the waking hours of the day - sometimes as a strong visual - a captured daydream  - like the Jonestown Massacre, a flash of a TV camera, an airplane, and gunfire.

After trying a few times to convince someone, anyone, without much success, he moved along. Others told him that a thing like that was not possible. No one believed it or they took note and just forgot about it.   

He told his wife about a dream -  fire falling from the sky - that would change the world forever  - and she just stared at him as though he were crazy. Usually his apparitions came to him within two weeks and that one was the week before 9/11/2001.

The dreams come now with less frequency he says, but they still come, like little nightmares that awaken the senses.

Now, strangely enough, they come as emotional outpourings, knowing something is wrong and something is coming.  – Narrator.

Sacred Fools Theater Company presents the world-premiere of Gifted written by Bob DeRosa, directed by Rebecca Larsen and produced by Bruno Oliver at The Broadwater through February 17, 2019 in Hollywood.

It starts with sounds, background noises, in a bar that seems to overtake the dialogue. A coin falls on the floor and a man (Jason Jin) seeing the woman Ashlyn (Kacie Rogers) pick up the coin, he bets that he can always tell which side it will land.

How this man manages it is beyond belief, a trick, something he sees, the look in her eyes, he listens as the coin flops down upon the skin of the stranger - incredible that something would give him the right answer every time.

Ashlyn has come back to her hometown, forgetting something she has left. (The location is not mentioned in the program but one imagines it is near Boulder, Colorado.) She regales her journey to the bartender (Marc Forget) before her friends arrives.

John Ellsworth Phillips and Madeleine Heil

Ashley meets with her platonic friend Matt (John Ellsworth Phillips) who knows her gift as he prowls the dance floor looking for his soul mate.  Unfortunately Ashley can tell, watching him and his companion together, whether she is Miss Right or Miss Wrong.  And at some point Matt is frustrated that all of them, looking so right, are visualized as Miss Erroneous.

Ashlyn, working in a bookstore finds Randy (Ross Phillips) searching for a book for his little brother.  Ashley suggests the book “The Hobbit” and then she blurts out “coffee”.

This leads them to a date where the waitress Lisa (Madeleine) knows what they want before they do.

Ashlyn, curious about her powers speaks to Lisa.  Lisa invites her to a group she belongs to, a group of people with special gifts. Lisa invites her to an informal gathering to discuss their uniqueness.  Marla (Libby Baker), Gary (Marc Forget) husband to Charlotte (Carrie Keranen) and Beth (Alessandra Mañon) are all a part of that group.

The best you can say about Bob DeRosa is his play Gifted is always lively and very different - a psychic romantic comedy. The play of ordinary people flows evenly, girl meets boy, girl loses boy, and girl waits for her boy to come back.  But, there is a time element missing here, slight confusion as to where we are in time, day or night, where one gets lost in the mystical events happening on stage leading to, for lack of a better word, the denouement.  This element of time is not defined and does not progress in a manner that gives the actor’s a strong purpose or objective.  Perhaps that was DeRosa’s purpose. In the psychic world time is transcended, but in a theatrical world time reflects the urgency of a keen objective or through line.  

One keeps thinking of the meeting on top of a skyscraper - An Affair to Remember, or Sleepless in Seattle where a love eagerly waits impatiently, and inside that person a hunger persists as the waiting suddenly becomes one realized moment.

But, someone has to wait, someone has to want, and we have to feel it.

This is the one thing missing from Rebecca Larsen’s direction.  And, maybe one just missed it on the arena stage with a character’s back turned. (e.g., Ashlyn view couples dancing and knows by way of psychic powers, which couples will last. But while we’re noticing the couples dancing, we miss the theatrical physical performance and emotional life of what Ashlyn is experiencing through her vision, and that’s something that needs highlighting, and needs to be a little more theatrical.) (As an action to a psychic event think Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone.)

The acting from this troupe is well above par.  The actors dance as well under Tavi Stutz’s choreography and they do this very well.

One likes to think the play started at the end, went back in time, and moved to its final conclusion. Ashlyn comes back to her dusty purlieus and finds out if her true love will come back to her, or not. Whether it is imagined one can’t say but that’s how I saw it.  And it all makes theatrical sense, a stronger objective in the wait, as we discover just how this all came about.

Libby Baker is exceptional as Marla, a woman who thinks she has it all under control but really doesn’t.  Marla is the facilitator of the group.  She has a calm and friendly demeanor, but manages to let things get out of control. Marla is instrumental in keeping the group in focus with a calm demeanor.  Where the character is going, one is not too sure.

Marc Forget has a couple of roles as Gary and the Bartender and they are not much different from each other.  While both characters have a measure of reality there is a little more to add to Gary a man who has wayward eyes and a husband who is ready and willing to leave his relationship.

Madelieine Heil is Lisa the person who knows exactly what you want.  Heil fits exquisitely into the role and manages to find true love in the end.  It is a marvelous performance.

Jason Jin plays a couple of roles and manages to be sensational in each. Jin is an actor with extreme concentration and gives off a familiarity as though you’ve seen him in many roles. Excellent work.

Carrie Keranen

Carrie Keranen plays Charlotte with an unfamiliar regional accent, something peculiar, and unpredictable that makes you want to keep an eye on her.  Charlotte floats in an inebriated state.  She and her husband are the only couple at the gathering.  She soars around him giving others the impressions to keep their hands off. (Little does she realize.)  Keranen craft is fluid, unpredictable, and ambiguous enough that makes for a fascinating night’s performance.

Alessandra Mañon plays a couple of characters Becca and Beth.  One is not sure which character was hanging from the ceiling in the dance move.  It was probably Becca and probably something you don’t see often in intimate theatres. Mañon is successful on all fronts.  

Ross Philips is Randy the man who buys his little brother “The Hobbit”.  Philips is very likeable in this performance.  He wants to understand his girlfriend but has no clue as to what she is all about.  He is left in the dark. There is an important moment when he leaves the relationship, without question, he should be more adamant about coming back.  

John Ellsworth Phillips plays Matt, a young man who believes that every woman he is interest in will be his for life.  Unfortunately, his psychic friend, clues him in to the reality. Phillips has a very strong presence on stage and is mostly funny throughout the night.

Kacie Rogers and Marc Forget

Kacie Rogers is exceptional as Ashlyn a woman who can tell which couples should be together. Her kryptonite is that she can’t tell for herself and her companion.  Her psychic abilities fall short in that area. Everyone who comes through the door at the end should be the one she is looking for, with no exception, and that should stay with her until the conclusion. It is her objective and her reason for being. That said there was some incredible work going on here.

Jamie Robledo, Sound Design, has some really nice sound effects.  The flipping of the coin worked perfectly the night I was there.  

Understudies who did not perform the night I was there are as follows: Ellie Bensinger, J. Bailey Burcham, Jennifer Christina DeRosa, Sydney Hawes, Madeleine Hernandez, Cameron Ley, Bree Pavy, and Marc Antonio Pritchett.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Bruno Oliver – Lead Producer
J. Bailey Burcham – Associate Producer
Madylin Sweeten Durrie – Production Designer
Sofija Dutcher – Stage Manager
Joe Hernandez-Kolski – Associate Producer
Nikki Muller – Assistant Director
Matt Richter – Lighting Designer

Run! Run! Run! And take someone you know who has the gift.  Both of you will be surprised and enlightened.

The Sacred Fools Theater Company
The Broadwater Black Box
1078 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA  90038  

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Water Tribe by Don Cummings

Hannah Prichard and Christopher Reiling Photos: by Glover Burk Photography

By Joe Straw


After crossing the Sea of Reeds with God’s unforgettable help, the Israelites continued on into the wilderness of Shur.  Three days into their journey without water, their mood turned ugly.  The water at Marah was too bitter to drink.  They groused and God instructed Moses to sweeten the water with a piece of wood, which he did successfully.  Exodus 15:22-25

On this particular night, one actor came out on stage eating during curtain call.  The compulsion to nourish his hearty soul couldn’t wait until after the polite applause. And whatever he was eating was a mouthful.  This visual cast a dark shadow on me and spoke volumes about his respect for the writer, for the director, his fellow actors, and for the sold-out house that came on this night. – Narrator

The Water Tribe, a world premiere play by Don Cummings, directed by Tricia Small, and Produced by Crystal Jackson and Liz Ross is now playing at the Vs. Theatre in Los Angeles through February 9th, 2020.

The Water Tribe is a play about uneducated, unemployed Americans, misguided and proud youtubers, with little chance of having a successful life. They try to bond, like water.

But there may be a cause to all this madness.

Johnny (Christopher Reiling) lives in a shabby single in an unnamed major metropolitan city. He is unemployed and has no prospect of employment anytime soon. In his apartment, he cares for his video games and has only one friend, a gamer living in Finland.  He doesn’t have college experience and his job prospects look mighty grim.  He reads books on occasion to facilitate his spiritual wants.

Claudia (Hannah Prichard) is Johnny’s slightly kinky and neurotic girlfriend who loves sex and loves to be bitten to enhance her erotic experience, bestial affinities, and other barbarous amusements.   

Together, they love takeout, watching YouTube videos of animals – animals that eat other animals that eat smaller animals that eat grass.  They also enjoy documentaries of female genital mutilation in Africa.  It possibly feeds their sexual appetites. This gives Claudia the idea of circumcising Johnny with a long sharp knife that is flung around in her careless hands.

“I almost dropped it.” – Claudia  

Johnny’s mother, Sydelle (Jayne Taini), frequently drops by the apartment. Like a doting mother, she has her own key, and comes by to deliver clean clothes to her son. Johnny’s father abandoned them long ago.   

Claudia doesn’t like Sydelle and, the less she sees of her, the better. And maybe Sydelle resembles Claudia’s mother, an abusive addict, who is in the hospital dying of cancer.  

Alexandra Daniels and Hannah Prichard

In another section of town, Sonia (Alexandra Daniels) waits and is suddenly accosted by Claudia. Sonia, pretty and nicely dressed, thinks highly of herself and looks down on Claudia.  Their relationship is not clearly defined but later we learn that Sonia is Claudia’s cousin.

Hannah Prichard and Jon Joseph Gentry

Later, Claudia is in her office with workmate Brian (Jon Joseph Gentry) and she presents him with a bottle of water as a gift, complete with bow, and that sets something in motion within Claudia about creating a group of friends, a tribe of people who meet regularly, a water tribe.

Even later, Claudia, addicted to her boyfriend, believing in conjugal harmony, asks him to marry her.  He says, “Yeah, I’ll marry you.” When Claudia is fired from her job, the marriage thing is on hold.

Don Cummings has written an offbeat quirky character drama.  Cummings tills the writer’s soil exposing an unearthed field, the barren aridity of lost souls, and the underbelly of civilization is on full display, which at times makes the audience writhe in their seats.  Sometimes it is hard to watch as this part of humanity collapses into ruin. The original work of art is certainly theatrical and something to ponder long after you leave the theatre. And, although the play elevates the senses, there is a desperate search to find meaning of people living in a vacuous state. And, that said, there seems to be missing material. At times, the humor of the sexual foreplay is interesting until Claudia’s mind takes a dark turn. There are two scenes of attempted circumcision, a son chasing his half dressed mother around in his apartment in an unzipped wedding dress, and a character that moves slowly toward irrationality. The sanity measure of her being is the idea of creating a tribe, a water tribe.

Tricia Small, the director, does some remarkable work keeping the pace moving, the actors in character.  One wishes the characters moved to a defined conclusion. Accents were missing and the place was not definite in the program or in the dialogue. There was not a strong through line and the characters sometimes floundered.  As one example, Claudia brings everyone together to create her water tribe and little by little these people turn on each other and Claudia does nothing physically, or emotionally to keep the water tribe whole. Sonia and Claudia’s relationship is not defined physically, or otherwise, so we are lost as to what is most important in that relationship. One very interesting theme here is that of the water. It is symbolic and should be represented in some form throughout the play; much in the way oranges are represented in the film “The Godfather.”  Tap water might explain why Claudia is emotionally disturbed, possibly bipolar and going through a manic phase, and could explain “why” the character behaves in this fashion.  That said, there were brilliant moments in this production.  

Alexandria Daniels as Sonia has a very good look but one wonders if a stronger objective could have helped her overall performance.  Now, her relationship to her cousin, seems secretive, a curious air of detachment, and there’s not much of an emotional or physical life to that. It appears that she cannot make it on her own. To get her cousin to come back home seems like a logical choice so she is not forced move to North Carolina.

Jon Joseph Gentry is a bit of a misfit as Brian.  Coming off of a broken relationship, he is amiable but more than a bit uneasy of joining this tribe. Gentry is solid in his craft and comes off real and honest. Excellent work!

Hannah Prichard has Claudia, growing in boundless melancholy and demonstrative affection, going from one extreme to another without reason. A stronger objective would help her and define her lack of mental acuity. Tap water may be the source of her strange behavior. Her ideas are uncomfortable and so it should be with her space – not respecting the space between her and all of her counterparts. If she wants to bond like water, she should bond with everyone, as uncomfortable as it may be to her counterparts.

Christopher Reiling is Johnny, a homebody who doesn’t want to go out and get a job. Reiling may have to do more soul searching to find out what makes this character tick. His physical life is interesting but one is not sure where he is going and how that connects to the theme of water in this play. (His reading of the Torah perhaps may reference water. I’m sure there are water verses in the Torah. See above.)

Jayne Taini is a lot of fun as Sydelle and has some wonderful moments.

Scenic Designer Adams James Glover has created a set that may be overburdened on the intimate stage of Vs Theatre with important street scenes far upstage right.  Lighting Designer Shara Abvabi creates an impressive city through the use of a projection and that works effectively well.

A lot of hard work went in to the creation of The Water Tribe.  Like water, with each subsequent performance, its movement should grow into a more cohesive and expansive body of work and culminate to small place where all should receive ablution.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Bella Vita Entertainment – Sound Designer
Michael Mullen – Costume Design
Maya Braunwarth – Production Stage Manager
Ken Werther Publicity – Public Relations
Adam James Glover – Assistant Director & Associate Producer, Key Art Design
Tyler Matthew Burk – Production Supervisor
Timothy Thomas Brown – Fight Director
Sharon Freedman – Front of House Manager

Run! And take someone you think is living on the edge.  You’ll both be enlightened.

Vs. Theatre Company
5453 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90019

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Last Straw Awards 2019

By Joe Straw

Theatre is a collaborative effort. So many things need to come together in order to have a successful show. Writers work for years to get the words just right.   

Some actors work the show in workshops, others continually work on their craft.  Suffice it to say, they come every night, on time, and generally give more than one hundred percent. 

Directors give the production shape and form and by some miracle it all comes together.

The list of writers, actors, and directors that are mentioned below were exceptional in their craft. The performances stayed with me long after I left the theatre. So without further ado here are the recipient of The Last Straw awards of 2019.


Randy Ross – Birdland Blue
Evelina Fernández – The Mother of Henry
George W. Corbin – The Wrong Kind of People
Jonathan Caren - Canyon


Lila Gavare – Desert Rats by Rufus Edelman – Latino Theatre Company

Kurtis Bedford – It is Done by Alex Goldberg – Theatre 40
George Villas – It is Done by Alex Goldberg – Theatre 40
Kate Whitney – It is Done by Alex Goldberg – Theatre 40

Marcus Clark-Oliver – Birdland Blue By Randy Ross – The Robey Theatre Company
Damon Rutledge – Birdland Blue by Randy Ross – The Robey Theatre Company
Eddie Goines – Birdland Blue by Randy Ross – The Robey Theatre Company

Esperanza America – The Mother of Henry by Evelina Fernández – Latino Theatre Company
Robert J. Revell – The Mother of Henry by Evelina Fernández – Latino Theatre Company

Kim Hamilton – Brain Problems by Malcolm Barrett – Ammo Theatre Company
Michael Feldman - Brain Problems by Malcolm Barrett – Ammo Theatre Company
Malcolm Barrett - Brain Problems by Malcolm Barrett – Ammo Theatre Company

Anne DeSalvo – The Hairdresser by Anne DeSalvo – Working 2020 – Whitefire Theatre Company

Joseph Lyle Taylor – The Welder by Joseph Lyle Taylor – Working 2020 – Whitefire Theatre Company

Johnny Clark – True West by Sam Shepard – Vs Theatre
Andrew Hawkes – True West by Sam Shepard – Vs Theatre
David Starzyk – True West by Sam Shepard – Vs Theatre

Ema Lou Hérbert – The Heal by Aaron Posner – The Getty Villa

Kiki Ebsen – To Dad with Love A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen by Kiki Ebsen – East West Theatre

London Kim – The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter – Sunscreen Theatricals Production Stages LA
Ben Crowely – The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter – Sunscreen Theatricals Production Stages LA

Chauntice Green – The Wrong Kind of People by George W. Corbin – Latino Theatre Company
Darrell Phillip – The Wrong Kind of People by George W. Corbin – Latino Theatre Company

Stephanie Schulz – The Wrong Kind of People by George W. Corbin – Latino Theatre Company

Joey Marie Urbina – The Art of Dining by Tina Howe – Jamaica Moon Prods and the GGC Players
Lucy Walsh – The Art of Dining by Tina Howe – Jamaica Moon Prods and the GGC Players
Chad Doreck – The Art of Dining by Tina Howe – Jamaica Moon Prods and the GGC Players

Miles Cooper  - Cock by Mike Bartlett – Crimson Theatre Company – Beverly Hills Playhouse
Andrew Creer - Cock by Mike Bartlett - Crimson Theatre Company – Beverly Hills Playhouse
Caroline Gottlieb - Cock by Mike Bartlett Crimson Theatre Company – Beverly Hills Playhouse
Robert R. Ryel - Cock by Mike Bartlett - Crimson Theatre Company – Beverly Hills Playhouse

Roslyn Cohn – Fifteen Men in A Smoke-Filled Room by Colin Speer Crowley – Theatre 40


Jeff G Rack – It is Done
Whitney White – Canyon
Ben Guillory – Birdland Blue
Julie Nunis – The Dumb Waiter
C. Julian White – The Wrong Kind of People
 Michael Yavnieli - Cock

The Ortiz Award 2019 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:

The Mother of Henry by Evelina Fernández – Directed by José Luis Valenzuela – The Latino Theatre Company