Monday, August 1, 2022

Get it Together by Michael Quinn

 

Hadley Durkee and Joseph Basquill - Photo Austin Martinez

 

 

by Joe Straw

 

The Zephyr Theatre is a favorite of mine.  It is an intimate house of 74 seats.  This is a very intimate stage, an intimate evening, and with a packed crowd watching.  

 

Get It Together written and directed by Michael Quinn is now playing at the Zephyr Theatre on Melrose through August 7th, 2022. A one-week run just seems impossible to comprehend.

 

Get It Together is a beautiful play about two lonely souls trying to make a go in any relationship but particularly this one.  Michael Quinn has written a dramatic comedy that surrounds the senses with so much unbearable truth that one feels for both characters on their incredible journey through a few years in their lives.

 

Harold (Joseph Basquill), a future computer science professional, and Mary (Hadley Durkee) find themselves alone in a spare bedroom on a Philadelphia house party. They haven’t seen each other since they were in high school.  Mary was a freshman while he was a senior.

 

Harold is casually dress in a white pullover, rust colored pants and tan boots.  A few of his fingers have tattoos on them as though he has been through a few things. Mary is dressed in translucent patterned shirt, black jeans, and black boots with black matching fingernails. Both are dressed in very casual but attractive party attire.

 

Their relationship would have been cemented in high school if only Harold would have texted her but he was involved with another woman at the exact moment he thought about texting her and then he didn’t do it.

 

What happened to the other woman?

 

“That didn’t work out. I guess I’ll find someone uglier.” – Harold

 

That was a nice little moment for the pretty women standing uncomfortably before him and wanting to get to know him a little better before committing to anything that would be beyond her control, his control, their control.  

 

So, they take it slowly.  Harold wants to know more about Mary, about her interests, and her education in college.  Mary tells Harold that she is a poet and Harold immediately wants to hear some of her work.

 

She recites a poem about a cadaver, something she is remotely familiar with before Harold asks her if she smokes.  Harold pulls out a red pipe, some content, and starts to light up.

 

“I know, it looks like a dick.” – Harold

 

She is hesitant, somewhat afraid that she’ll get into trouble and she asks him if he’s gotten into trouble. He tells her that he got arrested for a parking ticket. Small stuff so they move forward.

 

He teaches her how to smoke as she coughs profusely after each inhalation.

 

Mary says her parents are separated but live in the same house.  Harold says his parents are together but are sleeping apart.

 

Mary finally asks if he is with his girlfriend Emma.

 

“Are you in love with Emma?” – Mary

 

“Yes, I guess.” – Harold

 

And while he is being truthful he tells her that he was arrested for simple assault and explains in detail what happened. But, truth be told, he is an unreliable reporter.

 

Something was different about this production, the way it flowed, the sincerity in which the actors expressed themselves as they moved toward their destination. It felt as though the actors have been rehearsing the show for some time, as they were fluid from one moment to the next. One doesn’t see this level of acting often. It is superior and mesmerizing.

 

Two people attracted to each other stare in the face of love, unable to look away, knowing that if they do, they will lose contact forever.  But for a moment they are pulled away by other forces, an emotional reticent, or a commitment to another. Love is the master of confusion. So they must get it together in order to be with the one they truly love.

 

Michael Quinn writes and directs this wonderful production. His dialogue is comfortable and takes the audience in wonderful directions of personal discoveries. When the dialogue veers off, a response from something impenetrable, it manages to find its way back to the subject of love.

 

Joseph Basquill is excellent as Harold.  His level of concentration is exceptional and he is fluid in movement.  He is creative in his choices and offers us a glimpse of a reason why he can’t get it together.  The choice is so easy but the forces within himself tear Harold dramatically.  And, he is his own worst enemy.

 

Hadley Durkee as Mary doesn’t like to take chances.  Or, maybe she does.  She is uncomfortable walking into an empty bedroom with a man she barely knows. She is inexperienced in some ways but inquisitive to the moment and stubbornly tenacious in finding an answer to her question. She is infatuated with him, but doesn’t want him to know it, at least not right away. Durkee is wonderful in the role, and grows dramatically as the play progresses and the time moves further in their relationship. It’s a wonderful role and Durkee is wonderful in it.

 

This show has a one-week run ending on Sunday August 7th, 2022.

 

Run! Run! Run! And take a former lover or someone you haven’t quite made a decision on.

 

Zoe Brown produces this outstanding production. Other member of the outstanding crew are as follows: 


Ally Lardner - Stage Manager

Olivia Meredith - Production Designer

Hayden Kirschbaum - Lighting Designer

Bailee Herrera - Sound Designer

Austin Martinez - Pre-Production Photos:

 

Ticket Purchases:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/get-it-together-a-new-play-tickets-294111604727

 

Zephyr Theatre

7456 Melrose Ave.

Los Angeles, CA 90046

 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Metromaniacs Written by David Ives Adapted from LeMétonamie (1738) by Alexis Piron


 

By Joe Straw

 

What in the world were those fake trees and rocks on the set?  Set pieces one supposes on a makeshift stage to showcase a play that eventually was not presented on this night.  Yes, not on this night, but there were rumblings of another performance somewhere in this sphere of influence that got an amazing applause.  Unfortunately we were not to see that show but we understand it was a grand event.

 

Upon inspection of the play, one is reminded of the old bait and switch trick, and the selling of a bill of goods. Yes, it was a grand night for deception and for one to take delight in that deception.

 

And the play is all done in rhyme, pentameter couplets no less.  

 

Perusing the menu, ahem, the program one notices the actors on stage are not the usual Theatre 40 members; a few cast members are from the University of North Texas and the California Institute of the Arts.  Interesting. Majorie Hayes, the director, is a Professor of Acting-Directing at the University of North Texas and alumni of California Institute of the Arts. Hmm. Also, interesting.  And so there is a connection as some of the actors are alumni of both schools.

 

Theatre 40 presents the first production of the 2022-2023 season of The Metromaniacs by David Ives adapted from Le Métronamie by Alexis Piron, directed by Marjorie Hayes and produced by David Hunt Stafford through August 21, 2022.

 

Francalou (David Hunt Stafford) rhymes with strangle you is a gifted writer.  An accolade presented to him by himself as others are not necessarily of the same mind.  So Francalou confuses those people by using a female pseudonym to write what he regards as dreck to be published in a writers rag called “Parnasus”.

 

“Parnasus” may be something the common folk would regard as nothing but linings on the bottom of a birdcage, but the poets regard it as nothing short of a Holy parchment.

 

And those people are here today, in Francalou’s ballroom, for a writer’s conference with objectives that will rankle the timid and confuse the smoldering minds of confused beings who are now looking for the rave and mania that is communicating using the rhyming of couplets.   

 

One of those poets, a glorious writer himself, Damis (Alec Anderson Carrasco), a poor young poet, seeks to find that writer from “Parnasas” to ask for her hand in marriage.  Unfortunately, Dorante (Jeremy), a rich and self-absorbed magnanimous individual, wants that same woman. 

 

Dorante, dressed in magnificent manly attire,  is a quivering mass of a gelatinous facade when expressing or writing the poetic words.   

 


 

 

Fancalou’s daughter Lucille is a wonderful poet herself, besotted with the written word, and, at this point, suitable for marriage but she will only wed a writer who moves her wet in a way that no one can.

 

Lucille is also a bit daft, luscious but daft, and Francalou recognizes her characterization in a play he has written and pushes at every given moment to anyone who would listen including Baliveau (Hisato Masuyama) Damis’s uncle.

 

Lisette (Mandy Fason), Lucille’s maid, does a wonderful impression of Lucille and has decided to take the role in Fancalou’s play as well as Mondor (John Wallace Combs), Damis’s valet, an unpredictable but obsequious servant who relishes the role.

 

Dorante, up against a poetic cliff, convinces Damis to write poetry for him so that he can present it to Lucille with his intentions to marry unbeknownst to Damis.  Damis does this because writing comes easy to him.

 

Once Lucille reads the poem, she will fall in love with Dorante without question.

 

Meanwhile Damis is convinced that Lisette is Lucille, or the writer of the poetry in “Parnasas”. He falls in love with her, because he loves the words she writes.

 

Both men find out they are in love with the same woman (who are not the same) and take up arms in a duel against each other.

 


 

 

Alec Anderson Carrasco (Damis) is a gifted actor. One supposes that he has stolen from the greats and all that works well for him and the character he portrays.  It is an emotionally satisfying and outstanding performance that moves from moment to moment until the satisfying end.  

 

John Wallace Combs (Mondor) is a Theatre 40 regular and works well in this play. In fact, his work is outstanding. Mondor seems to take his role seriously and includes all the bad things actors do once they have gotten the job.  

 

Mandy Fason (Lisette) is exceptional in the role. Lisette, the maid, is an actress at heart and would only act if the money thing didn’t get into the way. But, giving the opportunity, she’ll give it her all, all for the sake of her craft. Lisette rides the deception wave to the bitter end and Fason is terrific and outstanding in her performance. Also, Fason has this incredible charm about her that really worked well in this character.

 

Hisato Masuyama (Baliveau) present an odd character, one without much poetic dialogue, but rather projects his words in nonsensical puffs of howling and screeching. Imagine a juddering howler monkey running about the stage, disrupting, or adding to the action and you’ve got your character. Still, it is terrific work.  

 

Josephine Núñez (Lucille) is also excellent. She has a commanding presence and is also a physically gifted actor. She moves unobtrusively from one moment to the next delighting all around her.  

 

Jeremy Schaye (Dorante) presents strength, brawn without brain, in his quest for the ultimate goal. He will not lose, no not one inch, to find the love of his life.  Schaye’s performance is wonderful, playful, and exciting to watch.  

 

David Hunt Stafford (Francalou) got himself into a little trouble in the second act on the night I went.  One is not sure what happened but Stafford, like a trouper, managed to work his way out of it. This is a hallmark of a truly professional actor. One is not sure how he does it but he also produced this marvelous production.

 

David Ives, is gifted and a genius, there’s no question about it. This is a difficult play to adapt and one can imagine the work that went into this marvelous and problematic play. One can go to theatre and take many things away from a viewing. One may not have gotten all of the references, or the changes from one moment to the next but this was a completely satisfying work of art that demands to be seen time and time again.

 

Marjorie Hayes, the director, gets it and guides the cast to a marvelous night of theatre.  Moments were not wasted and were also defined in character and relationship. The comedy played out in glorious colors and costumes. Hayes is an incredible director and the work is outstanding.The work is enjoyable from top to bottom!

 

Michele Young, Costume Designer, gives us another night of wonderful costumes and what we are to expect coming to a Theatre 40 production. Judi Lewin’s work as Hair/Wig/Makeup Designer compliments the costuming.

 

Other members of this outstanding crew are as follows:

 

Jeff G. Rick – Set Designer

Derrick McDaniel – Lighting Design

Nick Foran – Sound Design

Nathan Danielson – Assistant Director

Michele Bernath – Choreographer

Ryan Rowles – Stage Manager

Isabella Fried Leeman – Assistant Stage Manager/Wig Maintenance

Eric Keitel – Photography

Philip Sokoloff – Publicity

 

Reservation and information – Jay Bell 310-364-0535

 

Run! Run! Run!

 

Parking is free!

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Ayano by Chris Collins

Kazumi Aihara and Carlo Mancasola - Photos by Jenny Graham

 

By Joe Straw

 

My partner and I spoke about this production quite a bit comprising hours of discussions. Her perspective, an all-together different assessment was valid, while I had seen it from a completely different angle. Our assessments were not even in the same realm. What are we to make of this?

 

Black Bough Production presents the World Premiere of Ayano written by Chris Collins and directed by Kiff Scholl at The Other Space in Hollywood through August 7, 2022.

 

Ayano (Kazumi Aihara) has had little success as an actor.  She is a Japanese transplant. She works as a waitress to make ends meet and all she has to show for it is a cramped and messy Hollywood apartment she shares with her unemployed and abusive husband, Charlie (Carlo Mancasola) an Afghanistan veteran who was wounded in that war.

 

Ayano is also in debt to her eyeballs.

 

Still, despite her problems, her dreams are right around the corner.  

 

Tom (Gabriel Pranter) visiting, in a pre-celebratory birthday visit, speaks to his brother Charlie about his relationship with his wife Ayano and how he is not too enamored with her.  Charlie, sipping sake, says his past troubled relationship of abuse, alcohol, and extra-marital affairs are now behind him. Charlie has spent $500.00 on a birthday gift but Tom tells him she is not worth it.  He tells Charlie to take it back. 

 

The one constant in Charlie’s life is his rosary beads given to him by his mother for protection. But, throughout, he is never seen in meditation or prayer. Although he is not now gainfully employed, there is a rumor that his old job is moving to Las Vegas. So Charlie is essentially relying on the practical word without prayer and/or divine intervention. For him it may be a recipe for disaster.     

 

In the meantime, the celebration continues, among the effluvium of brotherly bodies, and in a sloppy apartment Tom offers Charlie a few 100-dollar bills to make up for the rest of the rent.  They go off and to buy Ayano a birthday cake because today is her birthday and are going to pick up a friend from the military Carl (John-Peter Cruz).  He is the man who saved Charlie’s life in Afghanistan.  

 

Bara Kim and Kazumi Aihara

 

 

Julie (Bara Kim) a Chinese American woman and convivial friend praises Ayano about her acting skills and beauty for reasons only known to her own being. Perhaps it’s to raise their spirits, as they are both actors.  But as sincere as she may be, her undertones suggest she is looking out for her own best interest.

 

Julie’s boyfriend is Tom, Charlie’s brother, and they wait for the boys to come back to celebrate. But, there’s trouble brewing. Ayano confesses that she has maxed out her husband’s credit card to pay for a show she produced with an outside friend Peter (Glenn Ratcliffe) but the contract he had with her was not a co-production deal but a loan that needed to be paid back. It was a reprehensible deal taking advantage of an immigrant without a complete grasp of the English language on a contract.

 

(Most actors never read the fine print to anything.)

 

Now Ayano has been trying to pay Peter back and started making payments on the credit card but because her husband Charlie is no longer working and things have gotten really rough.

 

Hiro Matsunga and Kazumi Aihara

 

 

With these thoughts in her mind, Ayano sees her dead father (Hiro Matsunaga) visiting her as she falls into a trance or severe daydream.  He is rebuking her for not doing the right thing, staying in Japan, and taking care of things in order to pursue a frivolous thespian dream.

 

Ayano tells Julie that he died a few months earlier and she did not have the resources to go to Japan for his farewell.

 

And just when things can’t get any worse Peter comes knocking at her door looking for his Hollywood ending.

 

Chris Collins, the playwright, takes us into the lives of the characters with deep character flaws and differing goals in life. We see the dark side of every character in this play, characters that circumambulate their adversary without communicating exactly what they want until it is too late. Lust, jealousy, adultery, and crimes of passion are only a few components to this play that steers itself into the sleazy underbelly of self-interest. This play cries out for even a small scene between Peter and Charlie so the ending becomes much more dramatic. There are some winning moments in the play and in retrospect, having lengthy discussion after viewing is a hallmark of an accomplished play.  

 

One hopes by the second week actors start using what works for them and settling in on the roles, but there were problems, not anything that can’t be resolved, but problems under the guidance of Kiff Scholl’s direction. Portions of the film Shane are used as a backdrop in this production.  We get the idea that maybe this film moved Ayano to move to the United States but Ayano pay little regard to this and other Japanese films. Love plays an important part in this play, it makes the characters do bad things, but the characters don’t move seamlessly to heir objectives. The through line is not clear and one can’t get a grasp of what the director was trying to convey.  Scholl was responsible of the scenic design.

 

Kazumi Aihara (Ayano) presented another persona during the curtain call, which surprised me. Gone was the façade of Ayano and standing before me was a person that was completely different, one that was pleasant, and someone who could have filled the role of Ayano with no problems.  However, there were problems with this performance starting with the opening audition scene.   First and foremost, her dialogue was lost to the first row of seats in this small theatre. Ayano is a woman who wants her career, wants to keep her marriage, and does everything in her power to keep the first, but somehow manages to sabotage the second. Ayano’s relationship with her father must be stronger. The heliotropic effect of waking into the light can’t be treated as an everyday occurrence. What is she conveying when she comes out of her trance speaking Japanese?

 

John-Peter Cruz (Carl) presents a fascinating character.  Decidedly in the moment even when he is alone on the couch with Ayano deflecting her subtle advances. He soothes the dramatic edges and helps others when he is asked. He is remarkable the moment he enters the apartment to the moment he leaves.

 

Bara Kim (Julie) seems to be the Ayano’s best friend later she turns on her, working to secure a better world for herself. Julie plays many sides of the fence hoping for the best outcome. Removing the dress scene did not work in that it questions her motivations and her relationship to her boyfriend and her other love affair.   

 

Carlo Mancasola is Ayano’s husband Charlie. Their relationship is lost and it has gotten worse since he lost his job. He has no faith in his wife and listens to his brother when trying to figure out what to do about their marital relationship. He has to figure out what he wants and how he’s going to get there. And then, he needs to build the moments that lead him into committing a heinous crime. Love is a strong component for this character.  He can’t be bad throughout. Loving her would be the better choice so the end becomes that much more dramatic. People do odd and even dangerous things in the name of love. Still, there is some very good work here.

 

Hiro Matsunga (father) does some excellent work but even a ghostly figure has an objective, and that wasn’t very clear in the play.  What does he want from his daughter? Is he doing enough to get what he wants?  Headstrong in his ways he must find the humanity in the father and daughter relationship, and that relationship must be strong. He’s telling her something, warning her, sheltering her, or beckoning her into the afterlife, one doesn’t know.

 

Tom, played by Gabriel Pranter has his Iago moments. But, to what end?  One really didn’t get a sense of this character, his makeup, his long hair and beard, unkempt, or his job.  Why was he placing a wedge between his brother and his wife? The moments between him and his brother need clarification and the conflict needs to be clearer.

 

Glenn Ratcliffe has his moments as Peter.  This is a tough character because he comes off as sleazy throughout with his opprobrious behavior.  He says it’s not about the money but he has a hard time telling her what it is about.  There must be other ways to project love to give life to this unsympathetic character. At one point he turns his back and cries.  If he really loved Ayano he would find a way to show her that he really cared. Ratcliffe’s Scottish heritage had his accent stronger in the second part of the play.  One would suggest using it, or making it stronger throughout the play.

 

Other members of the crew are as follows:

 

Shon Leblanc – Costume Design

Azra king-Abadi – Lighting Design

Bill Froggatt – Sound Design

Christopher Jerabek – Projection Design

Philip Sokoloff – Publicity

Angelica Diaz Estevez – Production Stage Manager

 

Run! And take someone who thinks about the other side.

 

THE OTHER SPACE @ THE ACTORS COMPANY

916-A N. FORMOSA AVE.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA 90046

 

 

   

 

 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Sleep with the Angels by Evelina Fernández

 

Esperanza America and Saul Nieto
Photos by Grettel Cortes Photography

By Joe Straw

 

On our drive to downtown Vilma asked me, “What are we seeing?”

 

“Sleep with the Angels by Evelina Fernández.”

 

“What’s it about?”

 

“I’m not really sure, it’s a world premier, but knowing her and José Luis Valenzuela (the director) there will probably be singing, dancing, some mystical stuff, and or some kind of supernatural movement from origins unknown.”

 

Our regular parking lot is full so we park across the street, no problem, and then head for Guisados for the Chiles Toreados. I tell them leave the hottest chili out but they refused.  So it was a hot start to an even hotter Latino night of theatre. - narrator

 

Sleep with the Angels written by Evelina Fernández and directed by José Luis Valenzuela is now playing at The Los Angeles Theatre Center through June 26, 2022.

 

The color of life has left this family.  They are all now dressed in greys and whites occupying a home that was possibly once home to an optimistic and vibrant life.

 

But, time passes and revelations within the family give light to unsettling choices setting off a chain of irreconcilable events. 

 

And for now, all is not right. This family is a crumpled mass of humanity much like the pieces of paper that litter the floor and the fast food refuse on the dinning room table that are scattered like the occupants who are now screaming at each other for their space and things they want while hardly taking the time to extricate themselves from their phones.

 

It’s apparent the parents are no longer living with each other. The father has moved out, and the mother wonders why he can’t take the kids on this very important day for her. He believes his job is more important and he makes most of the money. And even though she is in lawyer mode, she is now managing the house with kids while trying to negotiate childcare.  All the while positioning herself to become a partner in a law firm   

 

Dad has left for a reason, some measure of traversing his life that fits his lifestyle or something or someone he is not entirely satisfied with.  His daughter loves him but his son is ambivalent to share his feelings with his father.

 

For the moment, their childcare is now gone, lost, taken away by the winds of unfortunate events and now, in a turbulent gust of action, mom has to find someone else, and quickly.

 

But the winds turn favorable this day, strong and hot, but favorable.  And when the gardener enters into the house the winds nearly blow mom and the kids to the floor.

 

Meanwhile outside, riding the winds like a dandelion, an umbrella floats safely, and brings the heroine from south of the border like the iconic Disney character, who shall remain nameless but her name starts with an M and ends with an s.  Setting herself down, nice and pretty, into the back of a gardener’s pickup truck one supposes.  

 

The gardener says she’s there, a niece that would be happy to take care of her kids. How he knows that within minutes of her arrival is a matter of fantasy; yes she has her papers and yes she is willing to work.

 

So Juana (Espéranza America) arrives through the door, umbrella in tow that is suddenly released and now magically floats to the ceiling, without anyone taking notice, making herself right at home not even questioning if she has the job, she makes it her job. 

 

And so Juana, bringing color into the room, has some pretty heavy lifting to do. Thrust into the lives of a single mother Molly (Elia Saldana) and her two children Cindy (Victoria Tamez) and a questioning younger sibling Alex (Saul Nieto) that do not appear at first glance to get along, at all.

 

Juana is the calming adult in a house full of turmoil negotiating the lives of the children and their father John (Randy Vasquez) who doesn’t understand his son, and her mother-in-law Rose (Tina D’Marco) with her biting commentary on everything. Juana brings the color back into their lives and she does it in some very unusual ways.

 

Evelina Fernández has written her best comedy to date. Sleep With The Angels is about many ideas but most prevalent it’s about childcare making a significant difference in the lives of others. One thinks the ending will go one way but decidedly turns another spoiling my ending for a feel good moment. (Welcome to the harsh realities of the real world!) Nevertheless, despite those realities, the play is remarkable in the way that weaves relationships and moves the characters in increments of understanding the pride of personal freedoms.  It takes one character in action to make a significant difference in the lives of others and that aspect of the play created a very successful evening.   

 

José Luis Valenzuela, the director, doesn’t disappoint and does a remarkable job.  The work is almost seamless. There is always music, singing, and a little bit of dancing in a Valenzuela production and it all works. The relationships, the conflict, and resolutions fit but the enhanced mysticism played out needs an additional boost, which would benefit with enhanced colorful lighting.  And this may have happened but to a lesser degree that one is thinking.  As an example, Juana brings color when she first appears in the home, and to that extent she should recognize the household as her tapestry.

 

Esperanza América as Juana brings color into the family’s lives. Color in dress, and attitude. She sings a few songs and has a very lovely voice. She mixes a concoction of tea, a bubbling, smoking brew, that, despite its appearance, no one can turn it away. América’s work is outstanding, very comical, and magical.    

 

Tina D’Marco is remarkable as Rose and if you had some preconceived ideas of what a mother-in-law is and does D’Marco is just the opposite.  She is delightful and unusual as Rose and manages to pull off an impressive work of art in the short time she is on stage. She is also Louise.

 

Saul Nieto


 

 

Saul Nieto is also Alex, a young man that knows what he wants but is afraid to disappoint his father.  He hides until he is ready to present himself in living color without excuses.  Nieto’s performance is worthy.

 

Eduardo Roman is Pablo the gardener. As of now, he is the one who introduces his niece, but maybe there could be an additional backstory here.  Roman has a commanding presence. His character presents a strong virile man without the conflict, internal or external, necessary to drive the character. The conflict could present itself in a myriad of ways, starting with the unhappy wife, next the estranged husband, and lastly a very peculiar niece. There are many “what ifs” that need additional exploration. Not to take away from anything on stage on this night but to add to Roman’s work which is enjoyable from start to finish.  He is also Lou, a partner in the law firm with a nasty disposition.

 

Saul Nieto, Elia Saldana, Victoria Tamez

 

 

Elia Saldana is Molly a woman that is preoccupied with being a wife, lawyer, and a homemaker. There’s not a lot of room to engage in other business except with her law firm to which she makes strides.  Saldana is impressive as Molly.

 

Victoria Tamez is Cindy, a young lady who learns a lot during the course of the play and love plays an important part.  Her relationship with her brother grows exponentially as well as with her mother and with Juana. There is plenty to like in her performance.

 

Randy Vasquez plays John, lawyer, father, and husband in that order. We don’t really know why he has left but he is willing to do anything to help his estranged wife get what she wants or needs.  We suspect that he leaves the family because of his effeminate son – that whole Latin machismo thing – but it may not be the only reason. Vasquez gives John a hard edge, someone who has lived a harsh life, more than he lets on. His clothing and manner suggests a less than successful lawyer and a mind preoccupied with other outside conflicts. The ending is another harsh reality he has to face, maybe not one he really wants but is willing to face. (If we are having this ending, then the emotional outpouring should represent the realities of the situation.) Still, this is a very interesting and nuanced performance and was thoroughly enjoyable.

 

Robert Revelle is the musician, a guitarist, and the composer of the original music with lyrics by Evelina Fernández and Esperanza América.   The music is beautiful; the songs were wonderful and on the whole added to a marvelous night of theatre.

 

Noelle Franco and Xavi Moreno as understudies did not perform the night I was there.

 

When coming to the LATC one always enjoys the work of the sound design of John Zalewski.  His work always gives the production a boost and stays with you long after the final curtain.

 

Wonderfully cast by Blanca Valdez.

 

Other members of the crew are as follows:

 

Scenic, Costume, Lighting & Projection Design – Emily Anne MacDonald & Cameron Jay Mock

Assistant Director – Jean Carlo Yunén Aróstegui

Movement Coordinator & Choreography – Urbanie Lucero

Production State Manager – Henry “Heno” Fernández

Assistant Stage Manager – Martha Espinoza

Production Manager – Nate Rufus Edelman

 

 

Sleep With The Angels is an outstanding production! Run! Run! Run!

 

 

Monday, May 30, 2022

Afterglow by S. Asher Gelman

 

Noah Bridgestock (l) Nathan Mohebbi photos by Mati Gelman

By Joe Straw

 

Afterglow is defined as good feelings remaining after a pleasurable or successful experience.

 

The one remarkable thing about this production is the effective scenic design by Ann Beyersdorfer in the intimate space of the Hudson Theatre. Stage left and right walls are structured opening to brick walls lined with pulsating lights and the upstage wall is a reflective wall mirroring the audience which slides open from time to time. A neon lit bed is suddenly raised, after use, to the ceiling, becoming a working shower center stage that drains through a grate into the floor.  The lined floor later becomes translucent, with florescent lighting giving us an entirely new place. There are a number of location changes from one apartment to the next, then up on the roof, to an office space somewhere in the city. Most changes are made with the effective use of water resistant cubes. A huge amount of time, money, and effort went into the thinking and construction of the space and demands a significant applause.

 

Midnight Theatrical with S. Asher Gelman presents Afterglow written and directed by S. Asher Gelman at the Hudson Theatre through June 19th, 2022.

 

Alex (James Hayden Rodriguez) and Josh (Noah Bridgestock) are happily married. But with upcoming changes in their lives they have a problem not immediately known to them yet.  They invite Darius (Nathan Mohebbi) into their bed, in their apartment, a short-term ravishing interaction lasting as long as a hurried moment. Clothes and shoes, and underwear strewn across their apartment floor, hurriedly discarded in a lustful examination of bodies and breath. A ravishing encounter of licentious examination, culminating in unrestrained excitement, played behind a curtain before the screen drops from the ceiling, exposing them, to one harsh reality.

 

Silence.

 

They embrace; all are nude and bask in the moment of afterglow before Alex comes to an uncomfortable realization. He decides to leave the moment, completely satisfied that this may be a one shot deal, moves to take a shower first, but leaves his husband behind with Darius.  This gives Josh and Darius a moment to enjoy each other, an interaction that may play beyond a discarded dalliance.  

 

Before Alex steps back into the room, Josh feels the need to arrange another meeting with Darius again the following day. His job doesn’t have a timetable, he has the afternoon free and because he and his husband have an open relationship they decide to meet.

 

The married team has a rule with casual acquaintances, no sleepovers.   

 

They step back into their clothes and reality, the husband team is facing middle-age now and they are expecting a surrogate baby soon so things seems to be moving in a direction where they will need to act in a united front and start getting things ready to have a baby move in with them. But it appears that nothing is moving in that direction.

 

Josh is the financially stable one and provides for his husband who is in college.  Josh is also in the arts, casting, directing and acting. His schedule varies and he is free to see Darius, who works as a masseuse. Their encounter relives the night before, excited to be near each other they dance, excited to be in each other’s sphere they touch.

 

Later, Alex decides to get a massage from Darius but it seems to be for a fact-finding mission to find out what’s going on between his husband and another man who doesn’t squarely fit into his picture.  The afterglow from their earlier encounter seems to be dissipating.

 

Without coming right out and saying it Alex lets it be know that he is unhappy, that he cannot be instantly happy when Josh greets him at the door. Alex wants Josh to end the relationship with Darius.  That’s when things move a direction for which there is no turning back.

 

There is a lot to enjoy about this production, how a relationship beyond a threesome may never work out to anyone’s complete satisfaction, especially beyond a marital relationship.

 

S. Asher Gelman’s directing and writing is more than satisfactory and requires only a slight tweaking to drive home the moments and the objectives of the character. Also, it’s not often that you see dancing in a small space work so effectively and with a purpose.  The movement was also accompanied by smooth transitioning from one place to the next by the seamless movement of wet set pieces.  In Gelman’s vision, no one is the antagonist in their relationship; they are just advocating on their own behalf, getting what they want no matter who is hurt. And end the end they are all hurt.

 

 

James Hayden Rodriguez (l) Noah Bridgestock

 

As Alex, James Hayden Rodriguez must know it is the end of the line for his husband and him. He has a lot to lose ending the relationship, his home, his education, and his future child.  But he’s at the end of his rope and enough is enough.  He doesn’t come right out and say it, demand it, or give a final ultimatum but we know where he is going. Rodriguez’s performance is both ambivalent and exciting all rolled up in a stunning performance.

 

Noah Bridgestock plays Josh and for some reason Josh thinks he can do what he likes.  He is, after all the breadwinner.  The money flows through him and he will do anything he feels like doing.  Although in a committed relationship things don’t go according to his plan and there’s where the problem starts. The signs of his indiscretions are plastered across his face like an unwanted tattoo, the deceit, and out right lies are recipes for his relationship’s demise, which ultimately become a disaster. His love is a facade, open like the wall surrounding his home. Bridgestock is excellent in the role.

 

Darius cannot be as innocent as he proclaims to be.  There is, or can be a rich history, with his background. Nathan Mohebbi plays him as an innocent participant in what is going on around him. But, the reality is his history; he knows he is having financial difficulties.  His masseuse business is not all that successful.  Living in New York is expensive so he latches on to someone who has connections and money to move his life along. He gets involved with a married couple.  He gets further entangled with one of his lovers, and when he is almost at the end of his rope, he tells his lover that it’s too expensive to live in New York and must move away.  He suddenly becomes the bad guy in more ways than one without thinking he’s done anything wrong. Mohebbi is excellent in the role. 

 

Nate Richardson is the swing and did not perform the night I was there.

 

Jamie Roderick lighting design was impeccable especially when it came to the shower scenes, the outdoor scenes, and the opening scene.

 

Other members of this outstanding crew are as follows:

 

Robbie Simpson – Associate Director

Alex Mackyol – Sound Design

Angela Sonner – Stage Manager

Nico Parducho – Assistant State Manager

Aja Morris-Smiley – Associate Costumer

Ann James, Chelsey Morgan – Intimacy Coordinators of Color

Kate Lumpkin, CSA – Casting

RRR Creative – Advertising and Marketing

Demand PR – Press Agent

Bryant Cyr – Production Manager

Evan Bernardin Productions – General Management.

 

For Tickets please visit www.afterglow.com

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Play’s The Thing – by Ferenc Molnar adapted by P.G. Wodehouse

Kristin Towers Rowles, Todd Andrew Ball - Photos by Eric Keitel

 

by Joe Straw

 

Note May 20th 2022: something glaring caught my attention, this of all nights, and not to be rude by any sort of the imagination, but, did I hear actors and not see them? Shocking!!! My only guess is that this set of circumstances, could only be the choice of the director given the Hungarian playwright has long since been declared dead. Naytheless, I simply must stay on topic, jot my note, and immediately have the usher send recommendations backstage to the director. (She was not there.) – Annoying Theatre Critic

 

Theatre 40 presents The Play’s The Thing by Ferenc Molnar, adapted by P.G. Wodehouse, directed by Melanie MacQueen and produced by David Hunt Stafford is playing through June 12, 2022.

 

Sometimes I wonder about the director’s choices and understanding time limitations, in intimate theatre, that everything may not work out according to plan.  (The lack of physical relationships was somewhat glaring and one is not sure if this was because of COVID precautions.) Still, I’ve seen it in other shows where one just sits back and say; this offstage significant moment did not work. The Ruffian On the Stair by Joe Orton had a similar circumstance.

 

Some things work themselves out by accident, or by improvisation, while other things, given the time limitations, never find a solution.  One must look at the moment and make a declaration one way or another. Not to pick on anyone in particular but there will be more on this particular moment later.

 

To encapsulate the play, an awareness that some people find annoying, but, in this case is necessary to prove a point.   

 

Summertime in a castle on the Italian Riviera in the 1920’s Sandor Turai (Daniel Leslie) an established playwright, Mansky (Michael Robb) his collaborator, and composer Albert Adam (Eric Keitel) Turai’s nephew arrive late unannounced at the castle to spend a couple of weeks.  

 

Ilona Szabo (Kristin Towers-Rowles) a prima donna had previously been invited to stay at the castle. She is unaware of the presence of others and she is also presumably in the next room “sleeping”.   

 

Ilona is also engaged to Albert Adam and ostensibly can’t wait to see her fiancé.   

 

But, behind closed doors, Almady (Todd Andrew Ball) Szabo’s former lover and an actor, but now married with children, are having a flirtatious tête a tête at 2am in the morning!

 

Turai, Mansky, and Adam come upon them, hearing them in the Ilona’s bedroom, and Adam is furious and leaves.  Not hearing the part of Ilona telling Almady to leave.

 

But the kind hearted Turai wants the best for his nephew and devises a plan to rescue their marriage. So, he writes a play as a solution to a very saucy predicament.

 

Needing something to perk his creative writing spirit Turai rings for the footman Johann Dwornitschek (Jeffrey Winner) to supply him with the necessary supplements to keep him going in the early morning light.

 

And it is in that morning Turai tells Ilona and Almady that they heard their 2am conversation.  Ilona is shocked and wants to save her marriage so they agree to be part of Turai’s plan to save their marriage.

 

The one critical issue of this production was Ilona and Almady’s conversation behind closed doors. This particular interaction left the audience with a bare stage for an actor’s eternity. The most important element missing here is the relationship, both physical and emotional, between the two. We miss their present physical relationship, playing from the past to the now present.  Because that is missing, the dominoes are separated unevenly and don’t fall during the progression of the play, and the relationship past, present, and future is not entirely realized.

 

Love is the overriding factor in this play because love expressed or over-expressed to the nth degree will enhance the dialogue and greatly benefit the play especially with characters that hold their moral imperfections in high regard.  

 

Still, there is a lot to enjoy about this production. One thing in particular is the amazing set design by Jeff G. Rack that gives the actors a place to play and play well.

 

Michèle Young, Costume Designer, sets the time and place for the actors and again does a remarkable job.

 

 

Daniel Leslie (l.), Eric Keitel, Michael Robb

 

Todd Andrew Ball as Almady has some very funny moments, trying his best, with the French names and dialogue.  There is more to add to the character, a philander, a pestiferous ex-lover, with an unquenchable longing, who may not be willing to give in so easily to everyone’s demands to modify his behavior. And, although caught, the lecherous Almady cannot be that easily swayed. He should never take his eye off the prize, married or not, found out or not, fiancé or not.  We’ll get a better idea of what this character is all about.

 

Milda Dacys as Miss Mell appears in the second act and brings a lot of fun to the role. Dacys added another level to the character that made the role interesting and unabatedly impressive.

 

Daniel Leslie used his powerful voice as Sandor Turai a vainglorious writer, with a supercilious manner, who wants to save his nephew but then again suffers no cost.  He is a man that accumulates knowledge from every conceivable source.  He offers solutions but he is not weigh down by any source of conflict confronting him during the course of the night. Time and ability inherent in the life of a writer are thrown wayside but may be a source of obstacles and conflict.  Love is an overriding force in this character, mostly for his nephew, but there is little given in the way of a physical or emotional relationship between the two.  

 

Michael Robb was Mansky; the collaborator but was not sure how he collaborated with Turai, how he made Turai’s life better, or the play better.  One believes the actor has to a make a stronger choice about whom he is, what he is about, and what he is doing on the stage to move the play along. It was hard to determine what his conflict was and his objective was not an overriding force that carried him from one moment to the next.  

 

Kristin Towers-Rowles plays the prima donna Ilona Szabo and has a very lovely voice and is very expressive on stage. One believes that the conflict of this character is the feelings she has with both characters. She is marrying one, but still relives the relationship she had with the other and one believes we need to see that onstage.  Her errors in judgment would also guide the character along.  Again, love moves us in strange ways, and adding those strange ways would only add to the character and the comedy. Still, there was some very good work here.     

 

Jeffrey Winner is first introduced as a footman who has just gotten out of bed.  He plays Dwornitschek, a man bent over from lack of sleep or an extremely bad mattress.  It is a physical life that makes this character outstanding and his work is excellent.  

 

Eric Keitel has a strong physical presence as Albert Adam a man so in love that he will do just about anything to keep her. But, listening to a few choice words, he loses all hope.  There are ranges of human emotions that create the conflict and move the play along. Number one, wanting to be with her every moment of the day including the hour of his arrival, to anger, to hopelessness, to enlightenment. All this is visible but not to a degree that makes the comedy work.

 

Next year I will have know Melanie MacQueen, the director, for (dare I say it) forty years. I admired her work and I am impressed that she has been a creative force in Los Angeles and has never given up on her dream.  There is a lot of good work in this production.  The things I’ve mentioned are only observations of the performances, something to think about, and then to move on to the next creative adventure.

 

Lighting Designer was Derrick McDaniel.

Sound Designer was Nick Foran.

Stage Manager was Don Solosan.

 

Reservations: 310-364-0535

 

Online Ticketing: www.theatre40.org

 

Parking is free!

 

Monday, May 9, 2022

Masao And The Bronze Nightingale by Dan Kwong and Rubén Funkahuati Guevara

 


By Joe Straw

 

There’s not much time to weigh in on this production because it ends next week and if you can get tickets you are most welcomed. This night, at Casa 0101, was practically standing room only with some people sitting in the aisles. Tickets are selling out fast.

 

It’s a shame that a production this good should only have a 4-week run.

 

Casa 0101 Theater in Association with JANM (Japanese American National Museum) presents the World Premiere of Masao and the Bronze Nightingale by Dan Kwong and Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara based on a story by Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara and directed by Dan Kwong now playing through May 15, 2022. The show is produced by Emmanuel Deleage and Executive Producers Barry Shabaka Henley, Paulina Shagun & EGYPT 2020.

 

Masao (Michael Masuru Saski) and his parents Mr. and Mrs. Imoto (Dan Kwong, Sachiyo K., respectively) have just been released from Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp after 42 months.

 

They arrive at the Los Angeles train station to be greeted by Li’l Joe Casillas (Isaac Cruz), a boyhood friend and band mate from Boyle Heights, who has said that he has taken care of their property. But, maybe not so much as there’s a caveat, the house is not ready to be moved into yet forcing the entire Imoto family to be temporarily re-located to nearby cheap hotel.

 

Li’l Joe says he can’t wait to start the band again now that Masao is back, but Masao, during his internment, says that he has gotten excited by jazz, dismissing the be-bop they used to play. Li’l Joe is not enthusiastic about this sudden turn of events.

 

Masao is disturbed that “Little Tokyo” is now Bronzeville but noticed that Charlie Parker is playing with Miles Davis (Jon Gentry) at a nearby club in the area and he wants to go.

 

So, Valerio Casillas (José A. Garcia), a local tailor, Li’l Joe’s father, and a family friend as well, decides to tailor a zoot suit for Masao to look good when they go to the club. Mrs. Casillas (Roberta H. Martínez) keeping an eye on her two favorite young men sends them off looking their best. Masao fits right in being a Mexican complete with clothing and vernacular befitting a bona fide Japanese pachuco.  

 


 

 

While at the club, Masao meets Charlene (Angela Oliver) a singer with a lovely voice.  She is African-American and Masao immediately falls in love with her. But Charlene is not easily won.  She learns about his musicianship with the saxophone and invites him to audition for her.  He easily passes the audition.

 

Masao invites Charlene to dine with him.   She agrees, but has business to attend to and will meet him later.  Before she leaves, Miles Davis, who has taken an interest in her and her performance, stops her.

 

Meanwhile, at the restaurant, Masao sees Junko (Pauline Yasuda), a young lady who is not that happy to see him.  She makes it known that Masao ignored their mutual friend, a woman, maybe a former girlfriend, when they were both at Manzanar.  She is definitely not happy with him and when she sees Charlene joining him she runs to tell her mother what Masao is up to.

 

Masao’s parents find out about his relationship and his father kicks him out of the house.

 

Masao and The Bronze Nightingale is a terrific show, spectacularly written by Dan Kwong and Rubén Funkahuati Guevara, a duo that brings a concatenated complexity to the stage rich in culture and diversity in a land we call Boyle Heights.  Masao is an interesting character who knows what he wants and goes for it. But in that process he brushes aside those that stand in his way of accomplishing his goal.  Ignoring others who were depending on him, his parents, his boyhood friend, finally his girlfriend while trying to secure the limelight for himself and sending him later on a destructible alcoholic downward spiral.

 

Wonderfully directed by Dan Kwong who is a master of relationship and strong storytelling with a cast that is second to none. Kwong succeeds in getting superior performances from his entire cast and manages to create these lives, beyond the confines of their own space, using only boxes that are shifted throughout the stage as various settings.   To accentuate he additionally uses the screen to give us life with projections of the times and the deadening incandescence of life in the internment camp moving to the nightmare sequences that propel the action to insurmountable heights. Not all is grim. The play is also filled with humor throughout and carefully crafted to provide first-rate entertainment.

 

Kudos to Steve Alaniz, the Music Recording Producer, who seems to make the jazz music come directly from the stage.  It was both beautiful, pleasant to hear, and stunning.

 

Michael Sasaki is very likeable as Masao Imoto, a charming friend, and good son. But runs into problems when things start turning on him. He doesn’t recognize his faults and spins out of control when he doesn’t live up to his expectations. 

 

Angela Oliver is Charlene Williams and does well throughout.  And she has a terrific voice, which is at times mesmerizing especially during the song “I’ll Be Seeing You” (music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Irving Kamal). She has a way to control others around her – a terrific character trait.  Her voice needs strengthening during the dialogue scenes.

 

Dan Kwong is very funny as both Goro Imoto and Reverend Shimizu. Goro is a headstrong character, no retreat and no surrender that manages to find his way and save face in a very nice ending. The scene with the rake is hilarious! And the monk must also take a bow. 

 

José A. Garcia is always amazing in everything I’ve seen of him.  He is equally great as Valerio Casillas who must tread a fine line when dealing with his own son and his adopted Japanese son while dealing with his parents as well.

 

Sachi Hayashi is a very fragile Yuriko Imoto and wife and mother who is on the verge of losing everything, including her life, when dealing with the troubling events in her life. In a way she moves to correct the wrongs in her life, but does not demand the wrongs be corrected.

 

Roberta H. Martinez is hilarious as Marian Casillas.  Martinez has a lot of wonderful moments and is a joy to watch on stage because she is so unpredictable.

 

Isaac Cruz plays Li’l Joe Casillas and is likable throughout but he has some tough choices to make, mostly dealing with his relationship to Masao which seems to go one way and that is mostly downhill. He has waited four years, but has been let down by someone who should be grateful, but has turned on him. There is possibly another layer to this character without waiting for the ending to give in and accept his friend for what he is.  

 

Scott Golden works really hard with character and he has many in this production, Bill Phillips, Marty Friedman, Drunk G.I. #2 and Pawnbroker.  He is equally amazing in all of these roles.

 

Jon Gentry also plays many roles including Young Miles Davis, Bobby Taylor Walter, Drunk G.I. #1, Ernie and Dr. Hoxie and does well in all roles.  Last seen in The Water Tribe, Gentry has mightily progressed since our last meeting.  Excellent work.

 


 

 

Pauline Yasuda is marvelous as the antagonist Junko Kawai. Such a thankless job to be the meanie but manages to do it quite well. Yasuda has a wonderful presence.

 

Greg Watanabe (Mr. Imoto/Rev. Shimizu) did not perform the night I was there.

 

Abel Alvarado always does amazing work for costumes and this production is no exception. The zoot suits, cabaret dresses, and other Boyle Heights costumes were brilliant.

 

There is a huge team working behind the scenes to manipulate the boxes on stage and their work is exceptional.

 

Other members of the crew are as follows:

 

Assistant Director: Corky Dominguez

Stage Manager: Daniel Corona

Casa 0101 Technical Director: Max Brother

Lighting Design: Jose Lopez,

Hair/Make-up: Omar Gutierrez

Prop Master: John Paul Torres

Original Song:  Corrinne May (Music), Dan Kwong (Lyrics)

 

There is also a huge production team including:

 

Projection Imagery:  Kamyi Lee

Opening Newsreel Video: Evan Kodani

Bridge Sequence Videos:  Evan Kodani, Addl. Editing:  Dan Kwong

Asst. Sound Designer:  Joel Iwataki

Addl. Directorial Consultants:  Page Leong, Shishir Kurup

Toyo Miyatake photos courtesy:  Alan Miyatake & Toyo Miyatake Studio

Joey Guthman:  Associate Lighting Designer

Master Electrician:  Rafael Vasquez

Carpenter:  Lorenzo Tambriz

Stage Crew: David Corona, Cassandra Gutierrez, Josue Angeles, Ernesto Lopez

Vocal Coach:  Melodee Fernandez

Acting Coach: Doug Warhit

Son Jorocho Dance Coach:  Martha Conzalez

Production Assistant:  Al Aguilar

Publicist:  Steve Moyer

Playbill Design:  Soap Studio Inc.

 

Recording Musicians

Henry Franklin – Bass

Nick Smith – Piano

David Hitchings – Drums

Steve Alaniz – Sax

John Pagels – Guitar

Rachel Rudich – Shakuhachi

Mike Penny – Shamisen

Cesar Castro – Jarana

 

The Shadow Band

Isaac Cruz, Taiji Miyagawa, Derek Nakamoto, Steve Taylor, Phillip Whack

 

Telephone: 323-263-7684

 

www.casa0101.org