Saturday, December 18, 2021

Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire

 

L - R Scott Facher, Alison Blanchard, Charlotte Willimas Roberts photos by Eric Keitel

by Joe Straw

 

I had the opportunity to direct Israel Horovitz’s Line a one-act play about five people waiting in line for an event. For the first rehearsal I drew a line on the stage, simple enough, a small line the actors were to stand behind while waiting.  The first actor took his position on one end of the line and would not stand behind it, the second actor stood behind the line giving enough room for the first actor to jump in when he came to his senses, and the third actor ranted and raved his dialogue throwing other actors out of line in a style of acting incomprehensible to any thespian on the face of the planet.  There wasn’t a second rehearsal. They were not bad actors, but I wondered if they were good people. - Narrator

 

That’s the thing these days, protocol about the way you want to do the best thing to people you want to do the worst to.  And it comes as no surprise to anyone, how far one is willing to go to demean another person in that act.   

 

So, here we find ourselves in an alleyway among the imagined smell of garbage, urine, and who knows what else. It is an act in the worst possible place to do the worst possible thing that one can do to another human being and that is to fire someone from their low paying job.

 

Theatre Forty presents Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire directed by Ann Hearn Tobolowsky and produced by David Hunt Stafford through January 9, 2022.

 

Margaret (Alison Blanchard) doesn’t like it and she wants to avoid the discussion at all costs. But Stevie (Michael Kerr) is having no part of her story or excuses of being late.  It is inevitable this job must be done and done is done in this South Boston Massachusetts Dollar Store.

 

And, Margaret knows she is at the end of her rope so she starts regaling the stories of Stevie’s mother and the Flanagan’s turkey she tried to steal.  Old justice is no justice. And just for good measure she tells him about his father who was locked up in Walpole at that time. 

 

(Interesting note: Walpoling is the conscious decision to irk the living crap out of everyone around you by constantly pointing out the one thing that separates you from them, to point out that in one tiny area you are a have, rather than a have not.  - Urban Dictionary)

 

And no matter what excuses Margaret gives about her daughter Joyce (not seen) with mental problems, and other workers who are late as well. The worst part of it all is that they (her co-workers) accuse him of being gay.  But, you know, brush that aside, it’s not about him but the district manager and so the deed is done. 

 

Stevie tells Margaret that his brother works at Gillette and that he will ask if there is an opening for her.

 

The next morning Margaret, Dottie (Mariko Van Kampen) leafing though newspaper flyers, and Jean (Suzan Solomon) are now engaging in instant coffee talk about what happened to Margaret the previous day. Dottie says her son Russell (not seen) is having hard times and might need a place to stay and if Margaret cannot make the rent, she might have to move out to make way for her son. She can lay her lot with other homeless people on the streets some of which she knows.

 

Margaret now believes she is going to be the next Cookie McDermott, a homeless woman they went to school with sending her thoughts and actions into a self-preservation mode.

 

Jean then accuses Dottie of helping Margaret lose her job.  If she had shown up in time Margaret wouldn’t have been late. Some friend.

 

Jean tells Margaret that he should hit up her old flame Mikey Dillon (Scott Facher).  She saw him at a luncheon at the hotel for a Boys and Girls Club event. Maybe he can give her a job.

 

Jean: Ask him what he’s got available.  Southie pride, right?  Maybe he’ll cut ya a break.

 

So, after many calls Margaret shows up at Mike’s office. Mike is now a doctor, a reproductive endocrinologist. Those are highfalutin words for Margaret.  

 

Margaret: I only went to Southie High after all.  You can’t be using those five-dollar words on me.

 

Margie (with a hard g) overstays her welcome in that office pushing for something that she desperately needs, a job, but knowing all the while that she holds the master card should she, or, when she decides to use it.

 

David Lindsay-Abaire’s play is exceptional and has a lot of biting moments that cut deep into each character’s psyche whether the characters acknowledge it or not.  Everyone knows each other’s business, their history, so when the blades of retribution strike they strike deep sending everyone into timorous desperation.  And desperation is a key element here. Not having a job means not paying the rent to the slumlord. The slumlord goes into overdrive thinking of finding a new tenant, etc. which leads everyone on the edge in this poverty stricken South Boston setting all fighting for scraps by playing bingo in the church basement to win some money or to sell some ridiculous bunny pottery.  

 

Ann Hearn Tobolowsky’s direction is also exceptional capturing the uncomfortable moments when characters overstay their welcome. The characters glide, the moments are genuine, and the play moves with remarkable precision.  The relationship with Joyce needs work mostly the onstage characters interaction with an offstage character.  Still, this was a joy to watch.

 

L - R Mariko Van Kampen, Suzan Solomon, Alison Blanchard, and Michael Kerr

 

 

It is the killer smile Alison Blanchard uses as Margie when she makes her point that digs, a half smile scrunched up nose that places her counterpart at ill ease. But, can you blame her?  She is fighting for her life. But she is not evil and she is willing to let anyone off the hook should the battle become too tenuous for her opponent. Blanchard is perfect in this role.

 

Scott Facher as Mike is immediately uncomfortable by the presence of Margie and stays at a heightened sense of alert throughout. The wrong word said at the wrong time incriminates him and he is not willing to have that conversation, ever. And, honestly, things are not going well in his marriage possibly because he is not honest about his past. Facher is terrific in the role.

 

Michael Kerr as Stevie presents a pleasant demeanor that is unaffected by the injustices around him. He does what he is told and rarely gets angry from flying accusations. With the chaos around him it is pleasant to know there is someone present with an even keel to smooth out the edges of injustice. One is not completely sure where this defined character is going but it was an enjoyable performance.

 

Suzan Solomon plays Jean as a woman who knows everything about everyone’s business.  She is quick to defend her friend and throws might to right and she calls justice where justice needs to be served. Unfortunately, she is in the same predicament as the rest of her friends living in South Boston and one financial step from losing everything. And, her performance was wonderful.

 

Mariko Van Kampen is Jean the unreliable upstairs landlord and part time caretaker of Joyce at fifty dollars a week. She is at fault for not showing up on time but doesn’t want to take fault.  She likes to blame others for her inconsistencies. Along with the cute bunnies was a very cute performance.

 

Charlotte Williams Roberts is impressive as Kate.  Under her pleasant demeanor is a woman searching for the truth and that is from her husband who is not totally honest with her.  Yes, they are having problems but she is willing to work on those problems until everything is settled. But, on the flip side she is willing to defend her husband at every opportunity. But, she is open-minded about correcting her husband’s past.

 

Jeff G. Rack’s set design is functional although lacking in kitchen, church basement, and alleyway scene.  A little creative symbolism goes a long way here.

 

The setting takes place in 2009 and Costume Designer Michèle Young’s work was impressive.

 

Alternates who did not perform the night I was there are Milda Dacys (Dottie) and Sherrie Scott (Jean).

 

Other members of the crew are as follows:

 

Derrick McDaniel – Lighting Designer

Nick Foran – Sound Designer

Ernest McDaniel – Stage Manager

 

Run! Run! Run! Take someone who is unemployed.

 

Reservations: 310-364-0535

 

Online Ticketing: www.theatre40.org

Friday, November 26, 2021

Little Women The Broadway Musical by Jason Howland, Allan Knee, and Mindi Dickstein based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott

L - R Juliett Rojas, Sophia Joy, Eadric Einbinder, and Taos Pressman

 

 

By Joe Straw

One must take note that on Sunday November 21st, 2021, at approximately two in the afternoon, the blistering sun was unforgiving on our stroll from the Venice Family Clinic parking lot, which by the way, has an abundant amount of free parking on Sundays, to sally forth to the Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica.

 

Outside, the affable crew was checking for our vaccination status, stamping our left hand with unidentifiable red marks, along with checking our identifications. Easily, retrieving our tickets we escaped the heat as we entered the nice cool confines of rustic The Morgan-Wixson Theatre.

 

In my life, or maybe my past lives, I have visited this theatre before.  It is still beautiful with a large stage, very cool, and comfortable seating for two hundred souls. It is the perfect place to see a musical and that is what we did on this pleasant afternoon.

 

The Morgan-Wixson Theatre’s Youth Education/Entertainment Series (Y.E.S.) proudly present its 25th Annual Youth Musical Little Women the Broadway Musical, Music by Jason Howland, Book by Allan Knee, Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott through November 28th, 2021. Directed by Anne Gesling and produced by Cori Goldberg, Eve Keller, and Evelyn Vizzi.

 

Children’s musical theatre has its ups and downs.  One goes hoping for the best but expecting a limited number of incalculable mistakes as part of the “growing up on stage” one has to do as young performers negotiate their craft.  I saw no mistakes on this afternoon.

 

Little Women The Broadway Musical was remarkable in all the ways that make musicals fantastic to watch and to absorb in its entirety. The young performers were excellent in their craft, conflicts were realized, relationships were superb, and the singing, oh the singing! This was an absolute joy to watch and with all theatre the significant moments in this production were all realized. And these are the moments one personally takes home and relishes throughout the following days.  

 

The story begins in Mrs. Kirk’s boarding house. Jo March (Eadric Einbinder) is having problems having any publisher buy her “blood and guts” periodicals, which are the rage in this 1860s setting.  She employs Professor Baher (Cole Kaller), also living in there, to listen to her story as she performs it for him.

 

And magically the players Clarissa (Abby Penny), Braxton (Filip Alexander) and Rodrigo (Ethan Kuwata) appear in an overly dramatic melodrama that Jo has created.

 

Professor Baher, a focused simpleton, is not amused and suggests that her work is not very good.

 

Jo, filled with drive, continues on her quest to writing a better story but for now her life continues with her mother Marmee (Monty Oxman) and her sisters Meg (Sophia Joy), Beth (Bo-Violet) and Amy (Mimi Vizzi) all negotiate life without their father who is so far removed, working as a Chaplain for the Northern Army.  

 

It is necessary to note that the March family is poor and manages only to get by on their wits and their willingness to see the future and all that it holds for them. But for now they manage to get by, by any means necessary including chopping down and stealing a Christmas tree, they cannot afford to buy, from their rich neighbor Mr. Lawrence (Charli Austin).

 

Mr. Lawrence, along with his grandson Laurie (Taos Pressman) tagging along, comes to scold the thieves who have stolen his tree.  But Laurie immediately falls in love with Jo and Mr. Lawrence takes a fancy to Beth who steals his heart with her piano playing and singing.

 

Jo eventually finds her way in life and finishes the book she was born to write.

 

Anne Gesling, the director, retiring after 25 years at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre has created a wonderful work of art. From beginning to end the work captures you and envelops your entire being with heartbreaking moments and moments that will make you howl with laughter.  The characters, all teenagers, are richly developed and wonderfully expressive. In short, this was a wonderful experience that works on so many levels.  Anne was also responsible for the wonderful costumes. Just amazing work!

 

Daniel Koh, Musical Director, had all of the performers readied in their quest to perform beautifully. The voices were strong and it was a pleasure listening to the voices with no discernable mics attached. In short it was a wonderful job.

 

Michael J. Marchak, Choreographer, gave a delightful look and feeling of those times.  The dancing was marvelous and the merriment was infectious.

 

Marc Antonio Pritchette, Fight Choreographer, prepared the actors in some wonderfully expressive fight scenes.

 

William Wilday wore many hats for the lighting design, set design, and technical director. Larry Gesling’s work as the stage manager was also impressive.

 

L - R Sophia Joy, Walden Sullivan, Charli Austin, Juliett Rojas

 

 

The remarkable thing about Charli Austin’s work as Mr. Laurence is her creativity in making the role genuine, leaving behind the false character choices of a dawdling grandfather. Wonderful work!

 

Lilliana Bettinelli was exceptional as the disruptive Amy March.

 

Eadric Einbinder is lovely as Jo March a woman who creates dreams from the smallest of inspirations.  Einbinder’s voice is lovely and his manner on stage is exceptional.

 

Sophia Joy as Meg March, the oldest sister, manages her way and is funny and delightful throughout. Her voice is very strong hitting the high notes with ease and her acting skills are formidable.

 

Cole Kaller is impressive as German professor Bhaer.  As stodgy as professor Bhaer can be, there can be more made of his love for Jo March, finding it in the beginning until the very end. Still, his work is solid.

 

Monty Oxman is stoic as Marmee March, the matriarch of the family. Oxman manages to find that thing in the character that makes her expressive as the mother of four daughters. The scene with cap sleeves with Meg works wonderfully as well as the patch on Jo’s dress.  It is funny and impressive work.

 

Abby Penny bounces in and out of stage as Aunt March, a somewhat mean spirited woman that wants to control the things around her, including her nieces.  Her actions showcase a different kind of love from her being.

 

Taos Pressman as Laurie is a young man wanting the woman of his dreams only to be confused as to who the woman of his dreams really is.  It is a role of confusion, of wanting so much from a woman who does not reciprocate his love.

 

Bo-Violet Vig was wonderful as sympathetic Beth March and has a very strong stage presence.  Her song “Off to Massachusetts” pulled on some very emotional heartstrings.

 

Walden Sullivan is impressive as John Brooke, a suitor to Meg March.  The small talk to Meg scene was very funny and very real.

 

Other members in The Operatic Tragedy were Avery Fox (Hag), Sarah Hajmomenian (Troll), Kheian Washington (Knight) and Juliette Rojas (Rodrigo II).

 

And still other member of this troupe who were either in the ensemble or did not perform the day I was there are as follows:  Filip Alexander (John Brooke), Maria Goldberg (Aunt March), Chase Klein (Jo March), Emily OckoMichalak (Marmee March), Yaya Toubassy (Meg March), Juliett Rojas Vig (Beth), and Mimi Vizzi (Amy March).

 

It takes a village or in this case an army to create a production as fantastic as this one. One has seen a lot of children’s theatre in the past and by far this has to be one of the best!  

 

Run! Run! Run!  There are only three more performances!  Take someone who loves the book Little Women and enjoy it all over again.

 

Other members of this delightful crew are as follows:

 

Christopher Aruffo – Dialect Coach

Ethan Kuwata – Assistant Stage Manager

Mira Keller – Youth Producer

Ever Golden – Sound Technician

Lauren Drzata – Poster/Postcard Design, Program Design

Carter Nowak – Box Office Manager

 

Box Office: 310-828-7519

Website: www.morgan-Wixson.org

 

Morgan Wixson Theatre

2627 Pico Blvd.

Santa Monica, CA  90405


Saturday, November 13, 2021

A Perfect Ganesh by Terrence McNally

Clockwise Top to Bottom: Mueen Jahan, Cameron Gregg, Kathleen Gray, Mary Allwright, Photos Dennis Stover

 

 

by Joe Straw

 

“She was no longer examining life, but being examined by it; she had become a real person.”
E.M. Forster, A Passage to India

 

Dictionary.com defines Ganesh as “the Hindu god of prophecy, represented as having an elephant’s head.” Also spelled Ganesha. Ganesha is the remover of obstacles.

 

Campus Cabaret presents A Perfect Ganesh by Terrence McNally and directed by David W. Callander now playing at The Pico.

 

Finding a perfect Ganesh, the elephant looking creature with four arms, to give away as a gift, one comes to the realization that perfection comes in a limited form or simply doesn’t exist.

 

It’s difficult to comprehend all that one sees in one viewing, where the characters are, what they are feeling, and how they move on in life.  The first impression, always a good one, is that the play has a marvelous cast moving in a way that is satisfying, and ambivalent enough that leaves one thinking long after one has left the theatre.

 

The play starts with an India dance. Svetlana Tulasi (Dancer #1), an Indian Kathak dancer (Northern India) that introduces the audience with a story, possibly a story about travel and the imperfect ways getting to the final destination. And, for every turn in the dance there is a return. Symbolically the dance guides the audience into full immersion of the experience that is India.   

 

Margaret (Mary Allwright) and Katharine (Kathleen Gray) are the best of friends from Connecticut who are to embark on a journey to India. Margaret is cantankerous and Kathleen is wide-eyed with optimism and opened to whatever may come. They have decided to leave their husbands at home, forego the annual trip to the Caribbean, and embark on an eye-opening journey to a place they have never been.

 

Their lives and their friendship will never be the same.

 

Margaret is a rules follower.  She believes that things should only go her way and behaves in the manner that white colonialism still rules. 

 

And that happens from the moment she arrives at the terminal until the check-in with the attendant (Cameron Gregg). The attendant looks at his computer and has discovered that both women are not schedule to depart on this particular flight.

 

The beginning of this trip foreshadows the many obstacles they are to overcome.

 

The first obstacle overcome, with the help of Ganesha (Mueen Jahan), gets our travelers bumped up to first class. Ganesh mysteriously appears to remove obstacles in the lives of the travelers Margaret and Katharine. He also appears in various forms to help the two women in their journey, through to their final quest to see the Taj Mahal.

 

But, immersed in the mystical land, the two women find themselves answering questions about their own lives. Both women are fighting demons of lost sons. Katharine’s son Walter (Judd Yort) was the victim of gay bashing and she has vowed to come to India to kiss a leper as a way of dealing with the loss of her son. Margaret holds her son, a victim of a car accident, close to her chest along with the lump she has just discovered. They come to India to receive more than they can offer.   

 

Campus Cabaret has cast a very strong ensemble and, there’s no mistaken, A Perfect Ganesh works under the helm of David W. Callander, the director, who I observed, was still taking copious notes during the first act. The scenes at night are layered in darkness.  The characters with, AIDs, the lepers, the lump in the breast scene, and the gay son after his brutalization all happen at night suggesting a deep intimacy.  The moments are meticulous and the play is fluid. Callander does a wonderful job.

 

Svetlana Tulasi, Pavia Sidhu

 

 

Mary Allwright’s character grows on you, finding out what this woman is all about, her temporary mood of repugnance, is part of the joy of loving the character.  Her performance is terrific.

 

Delio Eswar has multiple roles and is fantastic in each. His jocular expressions place us in India.   Did I see a head wobble?

 

Kathleen Gray delights as Katharine.  There seems to be more to find in the kiss or non-kiss of the leper, why she has come so far with one intention in mind only to second guess her commitment?  Her choice is very interesting.  

 

Cameron Gregg does yeomen’s work in a variety of character and excels in each character.

 

Mueen Jahan plays Ganesh.  His work is excellent not only in this character but the other characters he portrays, including a Japanese woman. Ganesh seems to inhabit other beings to solve a problem and he does that throughout.

 

Svetlana Tulasi is also delightful in the many character she portrays including Dancer #1.

 

Judd Yort is Walter, a sympathetic character that enters covered in blood and bruises.  Walter is imagined and his imagined self sees a lot of fault with his mother mostly accepting who he was. Yort’s performance is nuanced and exciting.

 

Pavia Sidhu is Dancer #2.  She did not dance this night.

 

Scenic Design by David Goldstein is minimalistic, mostly symbolic, and keeps us in the moment throughout.

 

Costume Design by Michael Mullen is superior.  There were a number of costumes and many changes backstage for all to come in as the same character or different characters. Hair/Wig/Makeup/Mask Design by Byron Baptista was also superior.

 

One rarely hears, or pays attention to the sound elements created in smaller theatre but David B. Marling’s sound design was fantastic, meticulously designed, and added another flavor to the action on stage. Kamini Natarajan wrote the Original Score to the play.

 

Terrence McNally’s work can be left open to interpretation.  First produced in 1993 the work is grand with multiple relationships to be discovered and uncovered. Katharine is the explorer, the one who wants go out and find new and exciting things both in the living and, through her imagination, the dead. Margaret is introspective but deals with life in the present, exploring herself, her body and people around her. People are focused on their own lives with eyes half shut; they don’t see the entirety of life around them.

 

Other members of the crew are as follow:

 

Brandon Barush – Lighting Design

Kassy Menke – Production State Manager

Racquel Lehrman – Theatre Planers Marketing

Philip Sokoloff – Theatrical Publicist

Anne Borrell – Graphic Design for Print and Web

 

Run!  Run! And take someone who has a desire to go to India, or someone who has already been.

 

The Pico

10508 W. Pico Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA  90064

(Formerly the Pico Playhouse)

 

Reservations:  http://onstage411.com/ganesh

Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Nun and the Countess by Odalys Nanin

 

L - R Genevieve Joy and Odalys Nanin

by Joe Straw

 

“It is not an inconsistent premise, Señor de la Cadena,” she responded, her face flushed. “It is Holy Writ that God made Man in His own image and that Woman was created from Man.  Thus it follows that Woman, too, was created in God’s image.  The enthymeme demonstrates rather than refutes Woman’s equality to Man, since one was created in imitation of God and the other was created in the imitation of the imitation of perfection.  Since we know that God makes no mistakes, His reproduction of Himself was perfect, as was the reproduction of the perfect image.  It is not possible, then, for Man to be more perfect than Woman since both have been created in the perfect image of God.” – Juana Inés - Pg. 39 Sor Juana’s Second Dream by Alicia Gaspar de Alba

 

I wondered how Sor Juana’s intellect would manifest itself onto the stage. Based on the book “Sor Juana’s Second Dream” by Alicia Gaspar de Alba.  I imagined the conflict would somehow be a struggle for intellectual power.  But Juana Inés (b.1648 – d. 1695) was cloistered in a convent. How would that be possible?  

 

Macha Theatre Co. presents The Nun and the Countess, produced, directed, and written by Odalys Nanin (Based on the novel “Sor Juana Second Dream” by Alicia Gaspar de Alba) and also co-directed by Corky Dominguez. Begonya De Salvo also served as the co-producer now showing at Casa 0101 Theatre in Boyle Heights.  

 

The play picks up after Sor Juana has been ensconced and committed to the convent.  She is perfectly draped in nun regalia, and living under the Order of the Hieronymites to a life of seclusion and untrammeled work in what was then New Spain, now Mexico.   

 

There are scant references of the people who got her there, supported her, and made sure she was living comfortably to pursue her studies. Another play, another time.

 

One such supporter is lovely Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes (Genevieve Joy) a woman who loves Juana in a variety of ways and later takes her works to have them published in Spain.  The Countess is also Juana’s love interest or possibly it is the other way around. Sor Juana speaks her truth, and one supposes in the back of her mind daydreams of having a female lover.

 

In the play Halley’s comet appears to Juana (Odalys Nanin) in 1682 when she was 34 years old.  How that event was significant to the overall path of the story remains to be seen. It suggests that Sor Juana was a woman of science, she was rational, and her mind spoke volumes on the nature of logic, but, in reality, it did not move the play along.      

 

And, where are the books?  

 

The tenebrous Mother Superior (Graciela Valderama) with a rod and staff (they comfort me) holds dominion and is always on Juana’s case about this and that. And although Mother Superior works under the priest we never see that relationship play out.

 

The Bishop of Puebla (Armando Rey) is also a frequent visitor who wants more from Juana than his own work can provide him. Without being obvious about the things he wants, what he wants is to take. And take is what he does.  

 

Patricide is blatantly evident in the convent with the Bishop of Puebla, Father Miranda (Delfin Toro) and the Archbishop (Paul Cascante) all sanguivorous characters that pull on Sor Juana moving her in a direction that fulfills the wishes of the church. One believes they wanted to silence her in one way or another. But, none can match her torrential eloquence.

 

The thing that is instrumental in Nanin’s written work is that she brings the life and work of Sor Juana to the forefront here in Los Angeles.  Nanin’s work is ambivalent enough to give thought to Juana’s life of being a feminist first to level the playing field something at that time the church would not stand by idly.  One can debate those thoughts when thinking about Sor Juana’s life and her relationship to the church.

 

Sor Juana spoke about love at a time when women weren’t to speak of these things. And because it was the time of the Spanish Inquisition Sor Juana paid a price for just speaking her mind and most significantly putting it on paper.  

 

There are plays in which the lead character wields too much power and must be destroyed. One might think of Sor Juana in that same vein, she was too knowledgeable and had to be destroyed in one fashion or another. One sees the play moving in that direction.

 

Co-directing team of Corky Dominguez and Odalys Nanin has some challenges in the first act, but the second act picks up steam and moves along splendidly. One is of the mind that there should be only one stamp, one director, and a strong vision to mold and present a stronger visual.

 

Defining the conflict throughout each scene would help move the play. Some things need definition, relationships need refinement, and characters play it safely but need stronger objectives and physical life.  (I may have gotten there too early in the run and there is little time to make adjustments, as there are only four more performances.) The masturbation scene needed an explanation as one character lifts herself from behind the bed.  

 

Some moments worked and other moments were not as successful. As an example, Sor Juana says she has scarlet fever and yet she touches Father Miranda’s hand without either actor acknowledging this fact or using it to their benefit.

 

Passion for the objectives will come in time but theatre today has but a limited time.   

 

Also, missing on the set were the 4000 books Sor Juana had on her shelves in her room (Marco de Leon, Set Designer).  This speaks volumes of the character and her benefactors. The upstairs and the telescope served little purpose. If we can project a mountain, we probably can project books.

 

Costumes by Shon Le Blanc were incredible and really half the battle was won because of the costumes. 

 

Genevieve Joy radiates as the Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes. Graciela Valderrama as Mother Superior has a commanding presence and it’s not because of the big stick in her hand. Armando Rey is almost a complete character as Bishop of Puebla but needs to the find physical characteristics that will enhance his character.   The same this holds true for Delfin Toro as Father Miranda who needs to find who his master is and define why he does what he does.

 

Other players of this fine cast are Vanessa Diego (Concepcion), Chelsea Delfin (Belilla), Nakasha Norwood (Francisca) and Paul Cascante (Archbishop).  LeeAnn Gutierrez Fluter is the understudy for Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes but did not perform the night I was there.

 

I am a great admirer of Odalys Nanin and have seen six of her shows because there is always something new to see and things to learn from a different perspective and different point of view. It’s always fun and always an adventure.

 

Megan Walker served as Stage Manager/Tech Operator and Rafael Vasquez was the Lighting Designer.

 

Run!  And take a history buff!

 

Tickets at: Machatheatre.org

 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Sex With Strangers by Laura Eason

 

Casey King and Cameron Meyer Photographs by Maria Proios

 

 By Joe Straw

 

After a year and a half, and a bout with COVD-19, the feeling to get back and witness what Los Angeles has to offer in theatrical undertakings (no pun intended) is a good feeling.  We’re vaccinated, masked, have no underlining health issues, and pray for any existing variants to disappear. And, one might hope, the disease doesn’t reside in those attending who choose not to wear masks inside the theatre on this night.  

 

Crimson Square Theatre Company presents Sex With Strangers by Laura Eason, directed by Benjamin Burt, and produced by Faye Viviana is now playing at the Beverly Hills Playhouse through October 17, 2021.

 

It’s odd that there is no credit given to the person responsible for the Set Design.  But, there was a set, and actors performed on it. Behind a shadowed red curtain, Act One gave us a Writer’s retreat in rural Michigan, and Act Two was Olivia’s apartment in Chicago. I found the Writers’ Retreat fascinating because the set decorations were in threes, three bird sculptures, three pieces of art hanging on the wall, and three circular types of decorations also on the wall.

 

Sex With Stranger is about love, normally about two people, but oddly enough the play deals with a triangulate, him, her, and that intangible other thing.  And it is that other thing, which makes this production soar beyond reasonable heights.

 

Olivia (Cameron Meyer) cozy in her writers’ retreat, next to a gas fireplace, with her bottle of wine, cocooned by an old shawl that surrounds her on this snowy March night in rural Michigan, notices a car driving up her driveway. She is not expecting anyone, and doesn’t want to be bothered because she has work to do on her novel that is on the verge of never being completed.

 

And, as the banging continues on the door she relents and lets Ethan (Casey King) into her cabin. Ethan is a total stranger to her; he is brash, and sometimes arrogant. His manner is a facade of sorts. As to whom or what he really is, is unquestionably that other thing that, and at the moment it is barely visible.    

 

But Olivia is no stranger to Ethan and he is there under slightly false pretenses. He claims he has another cabin but because he got there late, no one has left him a key to his cabin, and now he doesn’t have a place to stay so he might as well stay on the couch to wait out the night.

 

And, the Wi-Fi is down so there is no communication with the outside world.  How conveniently cozied for the both of them.  

 

With no place to go, Ethan starts haphazardly removing his articles of clothing, his coat, his sweater, his shoes and plops himself down on the couch before asking if he could partake in the bottle of wine Olivia has opened.   

 

Olivia relents, shares, and Ethan grabs the bottle and after three quick glasses finishes off the remaining contents of the bottle. Each time he drinks he forces the glass down against the coffee table, sort of like an exclamation point. He is now relaxed enough to suddenly reveal that he is a writer and has read her book, twice.

 

Now this has unexpectedly caught Olivia’s attention. 

 

Laura Eason, the writer, easily puts us into the lives of two writers.  The first one a very good writer filled with self-doubt and at present not commercially viable.  The second writer a very successful but seedy blog writer with a million hits and a pseudonym who has the wherewithal to translate that into movie deals and sponsorship and who absolutely knows that he can write a great novel but doesn’t know how. Those two writers are together for a specific purpose, each one, in his or her own way, helping the other and, why not throw love into the equation? There’s a lot going on in this play including the use of phones, computers, and ipads to move the play along. The play is smartly written and enjoyable from beginning to end.    

 

What is remarkable about Benjamin Burt’s direction is the natural progression of the scenes and equally natural way in which the actors navigate those scenes. The relationships move in a way of a natural growth from the beginning to the very ambiguous ending. (And, by the way, it is a great ending!)  That said, every work of art needs fine-tuning and that might be said for the actors speaking out to the fourth wall and the unnecessary pacing back and forth in a few scenes from this two-hour drama.  Those moments should be direct and have purpose. Still, it’s an incredible beginning for first this first time director. 

 


 

 

Cameron Meyer (Olivia) has a very strong voice. Her projection will carry to the back row of the theatre and then some. No words will be missed! Meyer brings strength and also compassion to the character.  As Olivia, she had her chance as a writer but is now skittish with self-doubt about putting anything out now until it is completely perfect.  And she keeps her new work under close wraps. She fights to overcome what a few critics have said about her prior work. This has caused her great deal of pain and inner turmoil. And now a new man enters her life for reasons unknown to her. She has a dreadful curiosity about him that is overcome by a necessity of a physical relationship. Later, she learns about his life, and is troubled by his past actions and really works to overcome what he regards as his perceived foibles.

 

Casey King (Ethan) is a leading man complete with a sculptured body and a coruscation of an ethereal smile. Ethan gives off the impression of a man unencumbered by anyone or anything, which we find out, is not true.  Or, at least, he gives off that impression. But, he has a few skeletons in the closet.  No, maybe that is wrong.  He has a walk in closet stuffed with baggage from top to bottom. But, he is in love. (Did we ever see that moment?) From the presentation I saw a need for a physical relationship, but I didn’t see a specific moment where he falls madly in love with her, which I think needs to happen the moment he enters the room. There needs to be a validation, or a certifiable stamp of approval. He already knows about her, he’s seen her photo on the back cover of her book, he has read her book, he is in love with her work so, why couldn’t we have that moment of confirmation. That aside, his work is engaging and it is a remarkable performance.

 

Allen Barton and Jeffrey Sun did an excellent job on the sound giving the characters a broad life far beyond the confines of their location. Barton, a classical pianist, also performed the music by Gershwin, Granados, and Satie.

 

Understudies Freya Adams and Derek Rivera did not perform the night I was there but are scheduled to perform Thursday October 7th, at 7:00pm and Sunday October 17th at 2:00pm.

 

Other members of the theatrical crew are as follows:

 

Stage crew: Jessica Ott & Nancy Paley

Graphics Design: Jeffrey Sun

Promo Photography: Maria Proios

Marketing/Social Media: V3 Production

Lighting Designer: Derrick McDaniels

Publicist: Sandra Kuker PR (Sandra Kuker-Franco)

 

 

Sex With Strangers is an impeccable work of art!

 

Run! Run! Run!  And take a stranger with you.  You’ll have something to talk about on your way home.

 

Tickets are available at: https://www.crimsonsquare.org/buy-tickets

 

For additional information or questions: contact@crimsonsquare.org or call 323-657-5992

 

Donations:  www.crimsonsquare.org/support

 

Beverly Hills Playhouse

254 South Robertson Blvd

Beverly Hills, CA  90211

Monday, September 6, 2021

Thoughts on The Seagull by Anton Chekhov

 


 By Joe Straw 


 

The above painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir – Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880 – 1881) reminds me of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull (1895).  So vivid in its depiction of life, both works of art have an exquisite common thread. The lifelike characters in the painting express want as well as the characters in the play. The fascinating similarities of desire are captured in each of the artist’s medium.  And interestingly enough the characters in each medium want someone other than the one they are with.

 

Alors s’il vous plait excusez l’esprit imaginative en moi.

 

Chekhov was in Paris in 1891 and there is little evidence he and Renoir met or that he even saw Renoir’s painting. One can only imagine. Perhaps they crossed paths on a chance meeting or a casual observation? For that time both artists managed to create an esthetic impression of their art in time and in different mediums. 

 

The characters in the painting, and on a pleasant summer day, are happily inebriated by mid afternoon, noted by the empty glasses and bottles of wine they have consumed, each in their moment explore the fantasies of wanting that which, at the twinkling, they cannot have. And yet they daydream fulfilling an emotional need if only for one satisfying release. 

 

The eyes mostly give it away. One can observe a painting and think of thousand of scenarios in which these characters interact within the space they occupy to the outer reaches of their imagination.

 

Renoir presents his friends, writers (Charles Effrussi), poet (Jules Laforgue), bureaucrat (Pierre Lestringez), artists (Paul Lhôte, and Gustav Caillebotte), actresses (Jeanne Samary, Ellen Andrée, and Angèle Legault), and others who have gathered much in the same way the characters in The Seagull have.

 

And so it is with the characters in The Seagull. Brought together on the Sorin estate for a summer of human contact.  And in the cause of their gathering each character moves toward the things they want with obstacles coming in from every direction.  

 

Irina Arkadina is an aging actress who desperately wants to hold onto her world, her life in the theatre.  She tolerates those around her, acting much like the woman in the right background in black gloves; she lives only for that one thing, adulating from her admiring fans.  For now, at her country estate, she marks time, recharging her batteries, strengthening her craft with human interaction, but, then again, keeping all of them at a distance.   

 

Constatine Treplieff, (25) her son, has questionable skills as a playwright. He espouses the current despairing reflections of theatre art in order to create a new form of theatre.   He has found someone he desires, but he is also an all-consuming emotional being, draining the life of those around him. He is desperate in his wants and desires and will have them at all costs.   His talents and his wants are misguided.  

 

Constatine is possibly the man in stripped jacket hovering over what he cannot have, or he may be the man far center in the background taking notes without a pencil in his hand unaware of the things said to him from the man in the top hat.

 

The setting of the play is at the Sorin summer getaway, which happens to be a working farm.   There is a pond in the background and center stage, a makeshift stage, with workers engaged in the final setup before the performance.  The river and the sailboats give us that same impression.

 

Masha and Medviedenko enter coming in from a walk to observe the performance.  They are there a trite early.

 

Medvidenko. “Why do you always wear morning?”

Masha. “I dress in black to match my life. I am unhappy.”

 

Simon Medviedenko is a schoolmaster and is a penny pincher who barely gets by having to support his mother, his two sisters and his younger brother on a very meager salary.  He is single and he puts his views of life out in the open so there are no misrepresentations of the kind of man he is much to his demise.  He doesn’t put on false pretenses.

 

Masha Shamraeff is the aging daughter (22) of Ilia Shamraeff and his wife Paulina who are the caretakers of the Sorin estate.  Masha, who is not well endowed, has her sights on Constantine knowing life with Simon will be as exciting as watching the grass grow in a drought.   At present she bides her time but is always on the lookout for an alternative relationship. She may be the woman holding a glass to her lips thinking of ways to be with someone who would enrich her life.

 

But Simon Medviedenko, the schoolteacher, is always focused on the hunt and only on one prize, Masha.  

 

Medviedenko: “There is no ground on which your soul and mine can meet. I love you. Too restless and sad to stay at home`, I tramp here every day, six miles and back, to be met only by your indifference.” 

 

Medviedenko might have well been speaking to a deaf person. Masha’s heart is not with him. Her gaze is toward the house. She seeks the solace from someone else who can provide her with a better life.  

 

Peter Sorin is Irina Arkadina’s older brother.  He enjoys visiting with his relatives despite the noise of the countryside. He prefers to live in the city where he can be taken care of should he fall ill and succumb to his ailments. He feels at the ripe age of sixty-two that his dreams of being married and a writer are over. Although the dream is an ember within him is still very much alive.

 

Sorin. Do you know, my boy, I like literary men.  I once passionately desired two things: to marry, and to become an author.  I have succeeded in neither. It must be pleasant to be even an insignificant author.

 

Nina Zabietchnaya is an aspiring actress who desperately wants a relationship with a famous writer and not the person who has introduced her to the family.  In the painting I imagine that she is represented by the woman learning on the railing looking into a world she desperately wants and cannot completely have, although, she tries mightily. (In real life that young lady is Alphonsine Fournaise daughter of the restaurant owner of the Maison Fournaise restaurant.)  

 

Eugene Dorn, 55 years old, a doctor is suspected as having an infatuation with the famous actress but has his sights on another prey.  I imagine Dorn to represent the bearded man leaning on the rail man (In real life Alphonse Fournaise) staring at the young man in the upper left corner. (In real life Jules Lafergue.) What ever his motives are they are sincere if not articulated.

 

Paulina Shamraeff is married to the manager of the Sorin estate Ilia and yet she wants Eugene, the doctor.

 

Paulina. Eugene my darling, my beloved, take me to you. Our time is short; we are not longer young; let us end deception and concealment, even though it is only at the end of our lives.

 

Eugene. I am fifty-five years old.

 

Well, obviously this is going nowhere but you can fault a woman for trying.

 

Boris Trigorin, the writer, is represented by the man in the brown suit facing away and looking out into the river. He is an entangled mass of thoughts, stealing the moments of people’s lives that come to him and jotting them down into his book. He is cleverly thinking of finding ways to bed the young woman of his dreams and asking for his partner to release him.

 

Trigorin. People sometimes walk in their sleep, and so I feel as if I were asleep, and dreaming of her as I stand here talking to you.  My imagination is shaken by the sweetest and most glorious visions. Release me!

 

I don’t think I’ve completely made the case for all the characters in this painting matching to the characters in the play. Still in both, the players are engaged in confabulation, ironing out the minute details of their lives, sometimes in mindful agitation and discomforting intimacy. Both works of art are infinitely enlightening and deserving of another look.

 

 

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