Sunday, February 9, 2020

Gifted by Bob DeRosa

Ross Philips and Kacie Rogers

By Joe Straw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Ellsworth Phillips and Madeleine Heil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrie Keranen

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

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

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

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

Kacie Rogers and Marc Forget

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

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

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

Other members of the crew are as follows:

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

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

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

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Water Tribe by Don Cummings

Hannah Prichard and Christopher Reiling Photos: by Glover Burk Photography

By Joe Straw


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

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

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

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

But there may be a cause to all this madness.

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

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

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

“I almost dropped it.” – Claudia  

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

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

Alexandra Daniels and Hannah Prichard

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

Hannah Prichard and Jon Joseph Gentry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other members of the crew are as follows:

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

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

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

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Last Straw Awards 2019

By Joe Straw

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Ortiz Award 2019 is given to the play that showcases an outstanding presentation of diversity and art in a theatrical presentation.  This award is named in honor of Vilma Ortiz, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology at UCLA and a champion of diversity in the arts and in her academic field of study. This year the recipient is:

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

Monday, December 9, 2019

Fifteen Men in a Smoke-Filled Room by Colin Speer Crowley

By Joe Straw

I did not see fifteen men and only saw a little bit of smoke. – Narrator

Harry M. Daugherty (John Combs) should have been a carnival barker.  He is the kind of man to pull you in to see the alligator lady, take your money, and tell you that you had a good time on your way out.

Daugherty was a promoter, an early grifter, a self-styled profile-raising man with political connections. He was someone who had the inside track in the 1920 Republican Convention in Chicago in effort to get Warren G. Harding (David Hunt Stafford) elected President of the United States.  If only he could get Harding to stay out of his way.

George Harvey (Kevin Dulude), short for George Brinton McClellan Harvey, is another man with strong political connections. Harvey was a conservative Democrat and the owner of The North American Review’s War Weekly, later called Harvey’s Weekly. His power and prestige was enough to earn an audience with Daugherty.  He was not there for benignities, setting aside enough information in a secure location on Harding to get Harding off the ticket and out of the race.

And although both men wanted something from Harding, one chose a nefarious route while the other barked his way into Harding’s good graces.  

Daugherty was having none of this reprehensible falderal and neither was Florence Kling Harding (Roslyn Cohn) who provided more than ample support in defending her husband and ushering George Harvey out.

Hardly a thing to speak of in public but Harding’s feelings toward his wife were indifferent while she adored him.  But tonight, she was going out to dinner with Daugherty to discuss something very important.  Harding had other issues on his mind. 

Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills proudly presents the Los Angeles Premiere of Fifteen Men In a Smoke-Filled Room by Colin Speer Crowley through December 15, 2019.

Colin Speer Crowley’s Fifteen Men in A Smoke-Filled Room is a historical play with an abundant amount of information on the characters surrounding Warren G. Harding during the 1920 election cycle. In this play, Harding is a reluctant candidate, who wants no part of the Presidency.  Also, he had a few skeletons in the closet – a mistress, Sarah Walker (Nan Britton) and a daughter from that union.  All characters move in the direction of getting Harding elected even his enemy. And all hint at what they want once he is elected.

Staging by Jules Aaron, the director, was very peculiar and did not have a strong through line.  Actors were moving from place to place without cause and one actor had his back to the audience during a critical restaurant scene.  (It worked for Stanislavski in The Seagull but didn’t work here.) The relationships between some actors were not defined and lacked adequate backstories. And it was difficult to find the conflict and resolutions in those scenes. Finding more layers and unspoken actions may be the key to unlocking the play. Usually actors have been exceptional in their roles in previous Theatre 40 productions. That was not the case this particular night but,  it may have been simply an off night.

That said, there was an enormous bright spot in this production. More on that later.

Jeff G. Rack, Set Designer, places the actors in a set that is functional, real, and without question striking.  This is generally the rule in Theatre 40 productions and this production was no exception.

Also, Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s sound is impeccable especially the sound of the band playing outside.  

The one exceptional bright spot in this production was the performance of Roslyn Cohn as Florence Kling Harding.  Her level of concentration was superior, her backstory put life into the character, and the levels in her ambiguity in character kept one guessing throughout the night. In an especially dramatic moment, near the end, Harding exercised incredible strength not turning around knowing full well what was going on.  Cohn put might and backbone into Harding. And, there was an insatiable craving of wanting more from this brilliant performance.

John Combs is a workhorse at Theatre 40.  His Harry M. Daugherty character is reminiscence of other characters he’s portrayed. His craft is strong and functional which is always half the battle. The other half needed light. Daugherty is an extremely strong character who is not dismayed by the obstacles set before him.  Even in moments where he has been bested, he was able to overcome them with a strong resolve. The first scene with George Harvey had little resolution, lacked conflict, did not include a physical relationship or an intellectual eagerness between men. Daugherty has his eyes set on a clear objective but the character Combs needs help in finding it.

Kevin Dulude was miscast as George Harvey, a man with political power who wanted more. There is a lot more to add to the character and to the way he carries himself as a man with power and prestige. The long black coat left little room for a physical life on stage. Dulude faired better as the Waiter.

Sarah Walker played Nan Britton like a girlfriend. A reality yes, but she did not play her as his possible wife and the mother of his child, which would have given the character more power and nuance. Visually, the relationship seemed to be father/daughter and really not something you want to convey when the stakes are so high. Also, Walker needs to find the conflict in her scenes.  She requires a stronger objective, and a reason for being.  Why does she show up in his hotel suite? What does she want?  Why can’t she get it? She wants Harding to be President of the United States but that can’t be her objective. And, coming to his hotel room is dooming his chances of being president. What was she thinking? If he is elected President, she’ll have a book deal, her daughter will be taken care of for the rest of her life, and her life will change for the better in so many ways. Characters are given life with a stronger objective.

Roger K. Weiss was the Radio Broadcaster standing behind a translucent screen and a microphone. There is more to add to this character, more to his style of broadcasting to be a voice for the period.

David Hunt Stafford does well as Warren G. Harding, the reluctant presidential candidate.  The love for his mistress was genuine but one wonders where the character is going. The amorous parley requires a scent of conflict. Throughout the evening, Harding is in the throws of giving it all up for his mistress, but his mind is clearly changed near the end and without a dramatic reason.   

Michéle Young’s work as Costume Designer set the period and was remarkable.

Others members of the crew are as follows:

Brandon Baruch – Lighting Designer
Nick Foran – Assistant Lighting Designer & Stage Manager
Judi Lewin – Hair/Wigs/Makeup Designer
Roger K. Weiss – Assistant Director
Phillip Sokoloff - Press 

Run! And take a lover who doesn’t want to let you go. 

Theatre 40 is a great venue, the staff is excellent, and as always the parking is free! 

RESERVATIONS: (310) 364-0535.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Troy by Amina Henry

By Joe Straw

Prior to the performance, an actor left midstream in the rehearsal process, and there wasn’t enough time for the replacement to learn her lines.  The night was the culmination of an unfortunate event, which happens for a myriad of reasons.

But, without notice, something peculiar happened.

For the actor onstage now, uncertainties in the beginning were noticeable. A misplaced word, or a stutter became clear sign of lost or forgotten lines.

And, without notice, and after the first scene, the character brought her pages onto the stage.  For a moment, I turned from that character, thinking the worst without thinking about the cause and thus turned my attention to the reactions of the other characters briefly and then paused noting…  

The peculiar part was an awakening – the play is about a woman slipping further and deeper into homelessness. In real life, I caught myself avoiding the actor’s craft, a turn away from one reality from someone in trouble who is trying to make the best of a unfortunate situation just as I have found myself turning away from homeless encampments.

These are sad times and not the time to be turning our heads. – Narrator

Hero Theatre in association with The Rosenthal Theater at Inner-City Arts presents Troy a world premiere by Amina Henry, directed by Elisa Bocanegra, and produced by Elisa Bocanegra, Gabe Figueroa, and Ashley Busenlener. The show has since closed.

The Troy apartment building is a place of infinite suffering.  The current occupants are women with children who have long since lost their partners. Without an additional income they slip precipitously in a crevasse of unsustainability.

Andie (Mildred Marie Langford) sits outside, away from her sleeping child, folding laundry, to gather a sliver of sun between apartment buildings, bathed in the street sounds of a busy Los Angeles neighborhood, as Holly (April Nixon) steps outside her apartment to light a cigarette.

Age and life circumstances are getting the better of Holly but she takes solace in the beautiful flowers outside her apartment door.

“You can learn a lot from flowers.” – Holly

Holly notes that dressing nice and talking nice are important values for her.  Being pretty makes her feel like a queen.

Andie listening appears to have little room to be involved with anyone other than her immediate family.

But, that doesn’t stop Holly from telling her life’s stories, her twelve children most of whom are dead, and a son Johnny who she believes is going to help her, no save her.
Cassie (Carene Rose Mekertichyan), 17 years old, is Holly’s older daughter. Cassie wonders when they are going to get the car fixed so she doesn’t have to take the bus.

“We’re poor. We have love. Take the bus.” - Holly

Holly’s other daughter Polly (Larrieux Ross) concentration lies in her books.   Polly is a remarkable student - getting “straight A’s” - and she dreams of becoming a Supreme Court Justice.

Tal (Adam Mendez, Jr.) the mailman shows up and the one thing that is immediately obvious is that he has a soft spot in his heart for Andie. Despite having a steady job and benefits Andie wants little to do with him. His way to convince her is to write letters to find a way into her heart and he does this repeatedly.

Dell (Jack Landrón) is the landlord and he is only there for one thing, the rent. Holly hasn’t paid in a while and Dell is threatening to throw her out if she doesn’t come up with the money.

Holly has a job, a hairdresser, but things have been a little slow at the shop.  She promises to pay and doesn’t worry about too many oppressive obstacles in her path.  She watches over her kids with little oversight and dreams about Johnny who is going to save her from this poverty and misery.  Because “things have a way of working out.”  

While Cassie dreams about eating “pancakes with real maple syrup,” she sets her sights on Manny (DeForrest Taylor) a drug dealer and possibly a human trafficker who lives upstairs in their apartment building.

There is much to enjoy in Amina Henry’s play.  The language is raw and believable. The resemblance to The Trojan Woman by Euripides is poverty.  “Our country, our conquered country, perishes.” is symbolic of todays times of a few conquering the lives of many, keeping them in poverty and controlling their lives. And that is what we are seeing. Poverty and hunger is the greatest killer of most dreams. The characters dream of what they want but have little ideas on how to get there. Perhaps hunger conquers their dreams. Also, pride gets in the way of accepting help from the other characters as Holly and Andie all but dismiss those opportunities. And while most moments in the play works, the letter from the mailman near the end does not work.   

The songs in this production are cute by T.J. Keanu Tario, composer, but offer little in the way of progressing the story. I Am a Mailman and Where’s My Money are endearing but does not move the play along or effect character changes on stage. We get emotional insight and feelings from the other songs, and the characters all sung the songs beautifully.

Elisa Bocanegra, director and Hero Theatre’s Artistic Director does effectively well despite the challenges of the play, the music, and other unexpected events.  It is a well diverse cast and a few of the actors have limited stage performances under their belts. That said some actors need a little more guidance. Polly needs another physical characteristic (perhaps ADHD), which will add to the unexpected event late in the play. The mailman needs to delivery mail besides his own and the landlord needs to take care of the property without only asking for the rent. The characters all have lives and traits inclusive of their objectives and we need to see that in their lives on stage.  

There is something special in the way April Nixon (Holly) carries herself on stage.  It is both appealing and the definition of art. She dreams of the day her son will come to save her, her knight in shinning armor. Holly has a strong constitution and maybe that is her fault. She doesn’t accept help when offered because she doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone or entangled from the sources of that money. For Nixon, there is more room to fight for what she wants even if it means staying off of the streets. And for God’s sake Holly take the money and then give it back.   

Mildred Marie Langford is Andie and plays the character pretty straight. Andie says she has a boyfriend but he is never around.  Andie shows us that she is not interested in the mailman but doesn’t show us the why she is not interested. Is the issue race? Is it that she wants the mailman to try twice as hard?  What is in her background that keeps her from saying no? Is there a way to give a hint that she might be interested? Why does she wait?

Carene Rose Mekertichyan as Cassie has a strong speaking voice.  It blows everyone else off the stage.  Perhaps there is a middle ground for a smaller venue rather than a voice for the Pantages. That aside, Mekertichyan does well in the role.  Carrie is a person who dreams bigger but is satisfied with “pancakes with real maple syrup.” Perhaps she should set her sights higher.   Cassie needs focus in her life.  She is a character who doesn’t acknowledge the mistakes she has made, even in the end when the only thing she can offer her mother is money.

Larrieux Ross is Polly a young lady who moves in the direction of her schoolbooks to get what she wants. She studies all day long and goes to the library. But, what is her conflict? She is interrupted by hunger (mentally and physically) and must find a way to get beyond that to absorb her books. Also, her mother and her sister are constantly getting into fights and that bothers her as well. Finding a stronger and creative objective is the key for this character.

Jack Landrón handles the role of Del effectively. Dell wants his money and is not playing any games.  It’s money or out you go into the street.

Adam Mendez, Jr. plays Tal a mailman who only wants his love requited.  Unfortunately, his counterpart wants nothing to do with him.  Mendez has a playful demeanor on stage and it works most of the time but one got the impression that he was looking out beyond the fourth wall, searching for approval, rather than working with the other actors in the scene.  Tal has to convince Andie that he is her only choice.  He went to college, but more importantly he has benefits and that should be the kicker. But, what is the conflict? And, how does that play out in action on the stage. She wants nothing to do with him, so he has to write letters to get through.  But when he delivers mail, his action should be to find out if he’s connecting first, and deliver the mail second.

Deforrest Taylor plays Manny, the upstairs drug dealer.  There must be another way to play this character. Slightly soft spoken with very little actions on stage.  This would probably work for television, but theatre is another matter. His interactions with Carrie don’t go far enough.  The words are there the physical play is not.  The same holds true with the landlord and the mother. Manny should find a way to put the money in Holly’s pocket, and this must be done physically. For the sake of adding an emotional life to the character, what if Manny was her son? How would that play? Or, what if, Manny was her lover?  What if Manny didn’t have a mother?  How would Manny play those scenes?  

Ryan Hardge was the male understudy but did not perform on the night I attended.

Hero Theatre at The Rosenthal Theater at Inner-City Arts is a great place to see theatre in Los Angeles. The crew is friendly and the atmosphere is terrific. Elisa Bocanegra made sure to invite busloads of homeless people to the event for a brief respite to the grind of their daily lives. And that is a wonderful and remarkable thing!

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Anna Klevit – Stage Manager
Jeremy J. Lee – Sound Design
Christopher Scott Murillo – Scenic Design
Anthony Aguilar – Lighting Design
Maggie Dick – Costume Design
Jessica Johnson – Assistant Director
Julia Stier – Production Dramaturg
Giovanni Solis – Production Photographer
Stacy Henon, Larry Mura, and Denise Ambroggio – Set Construction
Paola Delcid, and Damaris Ortiz – Production Mentees


Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Wrong kind of People by George W. Corbin

L - R Chauntice Green, Darrell Philip, Damon Rutledge, Ken Ivy, and Stephanie Schulz (Photo: Ian Foxx)

By Joe Straw

A few years ago I saw the film Moonlight story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, screenplay and directed by Barry Jenkins. At the time there were no names in this film, and the budget appeared to be modest, shot in Florida, a lot of night scenes, and watching it I thought to myself, this film cannot be this good.  I watched transfixed being riveted by every moment in that film.

The Wrong kind of People by George W. Corbin is wonderfully written and masterfully directed by C. Julian White and it gave me that same feeling. But this time it was live theatre and I was having a heck of a time.  – Narrator

The time is 1942

Straight-laced Theo Rawling (Ken Ivy) is rushed into his hotel room by Rodney (Damon Rutledge).  Rodney goes by the name of Fixit because of events soon to be realized.  Fixit introduces him to the wonderful accommodations of “The Negro Room”.  

The Negro room is set aside as the “only room left” when colored folks checked into this particular hotel.  The patron’s option was to take it or, leave it.  And judging by the looks of the room, most patrons left. It is all part of the Guardian Hotel’s plan to satisfy their insurance requirements.

Theo has just completed law school at USC and tells Fixit that he has little choice for leaving as his mother has paid for his accommodations.  He needs a room, a little peace and quiet, and time to study for the bar. And, it’s convenient to UCLA - near where the exams are to take place.  

Theo, despite the look of the room, decides to take it forgiving the smell, the dirty walls, weathered carpeting, and the stale musty sheet coverings on the beds, table, and chair. If fact, the room, with its nasty blinds on the window, looks like a storage room with boxes littered throughout.  

Fixit removes the sheets, gaging in the process, and takes the storage boxes out of the room understanding that Theo is not leaving. But now Fixit is in a predicament.

In the course of their discussion Fixit gives Theo a quarter and tells him that he is his lawyer despite not passing the bar yet.  And because he is his lawyer Fixit lets it be known that the room, which they now occupy, will be a place where certain illicit events, played by various guest will be entering through the window.  His job will be to let them in and keep quiet about it.   

And there’s some change for Theo should he decide to participate.

The Robey Theatre Company in association with the Los Angeles Theatre Center presents The Wrong Kind of People written by George W. Corbin, directed by C. Julian White, and produced by Ben Guillory through December 8, 2019.

Finding new gems in Los Angeles is the reason for coming to intimate theatre and in particular The Robey Theatre Company, a company that has been putting up exceptional work at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.

George W. Corbin has written a marvelous play, an oblique comedy that was enjoyable from start to finish. The Wrong Kind of People is smartly written and clever in every sense of the word. The characters are multi-dimensional and the dialogue takes this viewer back to 1942.  Placed perfectly, in the screwball comedy era of the 1940s, this show never lets up.

The term the wrong kind of people refers to a specific incident where a home seller sells to someone who is not the right color setting the neighborhood off in public, using that polite term, but offering rants and racist incriminations in private.

C. Julian White directs the show and immediately one is caught off guard by the physicality of the characters, highlighting moments that are exceptional during the course of the night. The entrances of each character are as a force of nature, with dramatic conflict, almost like a hurricane blowing through one room with one character unable to close the doors and or shutter the windows.

L - R Darrell Philip, Stephanie Schulz, Damon Rutledge (back), Ken Ivy, Chauntice Green and Stephen Tyler Howell

All of the actors were exceptional but I want to speak to the characters and their performance.

Chauntice Green is Mex, a woman from Macon Georgia, a woman who could pass for white or Latino, and a call girl.  Her entrance is wonderful as she comes out swinging her purse to unfamiliar faces. Mex is a woman with a heart of gold but understands that she wants to get out of the business and discovers a wonderful opportunity. Green hits all the right notes and is exceptional as she moves from one moment to the next.

If there is one performance you should not miss this year, it is Darrell Philip’s Judge Purdy.  As the inebriated Judge there is not a single space in the room he does not touch in character gamboling about with pratfalls, rolling on the floor, lying on both beds, smoking on the dresser, drinking, and speaking Latin.  In his state, he is intelligent, well spoken, and one of the nastiest people on the planet. And, he brings his gun, an inexplicable impulse, espousing his “2nd Amendment right” as he runs out the door to fetch his wife.  It is a roller coaster of a role and, by all accounts, the single most successful performance you will see this year!  

Damon Rutledge as Fixit has incredible moments.  Fixit is a man with a dream and it looks like his dream is coming to fruition so everything has to go right on this night.  Normally the characters would have been coming into an empty room but because things have changed, Fixit has to change his tactics. There may be more for Rutledge to add during those moments.  One did not fully get the idea in the first scene that Theo being there would disrupt all of Fixit’s plans. For Fixit, this is a life and death situation.  If he doesn’t get this done tonight, he will never get this done and lose the biggest opportunity of his life.  

Ken Ivy plays Theo and plays the straight man throughout.  There may be more to add in this role.  In a key moment Theo puts on a uniform because the others want him to. This appears to be a pivotal moment in the play for this character.  Is he a bellhop, janitor, or, is he a lawyer?  How does he examine his life at that moment?   What does he do, most importantly, to show that he is a lawyer during the course of the night? Also, when will he join in the game?

Occasionally you find an actor that just makes you laugh and Stephanie Schulz is that actor.  She plays Mrs. Purdy, a loving wife to Judge Purdy.  But now she is in another room banging the lights out of another man, a younger one, and one that will satisfy her every need. She also has a shady past and one that she hasn’t yet set aside. She loves, she is loud, abrasive, and will to do anything to help her husband now that they’ve got themselves into a whole lot of trouble.

Stephen Tyler Howell (nice name by the way) is “Spider” Shultz. He has a nice voice and a nice presence but really needs to work on his hair to give it that ‘40s look.  Shultz is the man with the big bucks who demands the card game goes on tonight. He is abrasive, and bossy but will not fight under any circumstances. There is more to add to the character and a stronger creative objective would help.

 Others members of this delightful crew are as follows:

Joy Smith – Associate Producer
Michael D. Ricks - Lighting/Set Designer
C. Julian White – Sound/Music Developer
Naila A. Sanders – Costume Designer
Kayla Owens – Assistant Costume Designer
Eric Taylor – Property Master
Sorile Reeves II – Production Stage Manager
Eric Taylor – Assistant Stage Manager
Ian Foxx – Photographer
Jason Mimms – Graphic Designer
Phillip Sokoloff – Publicist
JC Cadena – Social Media Ambassador

Run! Run! Run! And take a special character in your life! Especially, one that loves unexpected events in his or her life.

The Wrong Kind of People is about 85 minutes and with no intermission.

 RESERVATIONS: (866) 811-4111.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Art of Dining by Tina Howe

Joey Marie Urbina and Billy Budinich

by Joe Straw

I always thought The Art of Dining would play better if meals were not part of the presentation.  The actors would act the meal and drink presented to them.

With food, the play becomes an added cost and a logistic burden with the cooking, presenting, discarding and then the cleaning up.

I’ve actually seen this done (sans eatables) successfully at a ballet and from a scene at A Noise Within Theatre in Pasadena.  – Narrator.

Cal (Billy Budinich) and Ellen (Joey Marie Urbina) are the perfect couple. Well on the outside it appears so.  She is beautiful and he is handsome and they have a lovely restaurant with everything so perfect, the exquisite dinnerware resting on three white tablecloths, candles and other table appointments quietly wait for diners that are expected to come this night.   

The Golden Carousel horse welcomes all patrons who venture into their small but quaint restaurant gently nestled in a renovate townhouse on the New Jersey Shore.

But, things aren’t always what they appear starting with the disappearing food.  And then there’s Cal overbooking every night to capacity and beyond.   And secretly Ellen is a disgruntled worker chef who would rather not cook that much.  No, that’s not right, she would rather not cook for 30 diners when 7 for the night might be just enough.

And still Cal books reservations over the telephone like there’s no tomorrow.  Where else will he get the money to payback the  $75,000.00 loan if it’s not his little overworked wife cooking her heart out?

Love, love, love.

The doorbell rings. Cal stands in front of a mirror making sure that every fiber of his being is perfect before he opens the door. Now presentable, he is engulfed in costume as the maître de and in turn, a willing participant to be their servant and always at their beck and call. Hannah (Lucy Walsh) and Paul Galt (Chad Doreck) are then received by Cal in a most impressive manner.  

Lucy Walsh and Chad Doreck

Hannah and Paul, an enchanting if not ostentatious couple, have more idiosyncrasies than humanly possible.  They can hardly believe they are, once again, engaged in a night of fine dinning.    In presentation they are impeccable and have an unquenchable desire of every thing fine and decadent, but for the moment their feelings are decidedly pointed on the dining experience. And that experience is a foretaste of an iniquitous seduction so sublime and so subliminal that it is a precursor to the ineffable ecstasies that awaits them in the privacy of their own home.

Kasia Pilewicz and Haile D'Alan

Elizabeth Barrow Colt (Kasia Pilewicz), a short story writer, and a sentient being arrives without her glasses and is, fundamentally, as blind as a bat. She is helped by Cal who has trouble taking her coat and then proceeds to empty the entire contents of pencils and notebooks from her purse onto the floor, twice. Tonight she is waiting, longing to meet a publisher, her publisher Cal (Haile D’Alan) if she can get beyond the eating part of the meal.  

L - R Samiyah Swann, Leana Chavez and Nancy Vivar

After a day of shopping three lovely enchantresses Herrick Simmons (Leana Chavez), Tony Stassio (Samiyah Swann) and Nessa Vox (Nancy Vivar) swarm the lobby, shopping bags and all.  All three are wearing gold dresses and enjoy their meals in a strepitous manner of indescribable delight.    

Jamaica Moon Prods and the The GGC Players present The Art of Dining by Tina Howe directed by Gloria Gifford, and produced by Chad Doreck, Jade Ramirez Warner, and Leana Chavez through December 8, 2019.

The Art of Dining directed by Gloria Gifford is deliciously triumphant and delectable too throughout the course of the dining night. The production is filled with extreme touches of brilliance, of manner, and of style. There are some very fine bits of idiosyncrasies beyond the dialogue, and to top it off the characters are wonderfully diverse.

Sitting on the purple chairs was just - genius!

But, I have some observations.  If you are interested in going to see this production don’t read further.

Joey Marie Urbina fits the role of Ellen and does some remarkable work in establishing her abilities in the kitchen and her relationship with her husband. She discovers something she really didn’t know about her partner and the night is almost destroyed for not only the restaurant but also her relationship with her husband. That said, the tears of that moment were not convincing possibly because her actions are not extreme. Still, Urbina has a strong presence and is also a wonderful actor to watch.  

Billy Budinich plays Cal. Cal works in the kitchen, and in the restaurant.  Budinich really has to find something to make the coat and pencil scene work. Cal worries about every aspect of the job.  One wrong move with his insatiable cravings and the restaurant could come crumbling down.  But, perfection is something he cannot control, especially with this crowd. That said, Budinich handles the role marvelously and manages to get a lot of laughs during the course of the night.    

Kasia Pilewicz is Elizabeth Barrow Colt and for the most part is fine in the role. But, she has to make a choice to find a stronger objective for this character, which will lead her to more creative actions on stage. First and foremost she has a fear of eating and we should see that the moment she walks into the diner. Instead we get funny bits without the conflict. And these are the things she has to hide in order to have a successful relationship with her would be publisher. Adding an inquisitive disposition to her character would help her find more layers to her way.

Haile D’Alan is successful as David Osslow, a publisher.  Well maybe a successful publisher, or maybe not.  Truth be told, he hasn’t had a hit since, never.  He needs this client and what a better way than to ply her with food, at the best obscure restaurant in town.  But, it’s not working out, she does not like the food, and maybe not him, and he is on the verge of loosing this client because she is rambling (a good rambling) on about her life growing up. D’Alan has to push harder for a stronger objective, with creative choices that guide him to his objective.  He must win over the short story writer no matter the cost.

Lucy Walsh is terrific as Hannah Galt - a silly and seductive partner. A woman who wants the best for her husband, but falls constantly in a trap of not doing the right thing. The work from Walsh is very playful, creative, and everything about her performance just works.  In short, it is an excellent job.

Chad Doreck is exceptional as Paul Galt.  He is a man on a mission for the perfect dining experience. When things don’t go his way, he points out his companion’s faults and rights her wrong. Doreck has an infectious smile and is extraordinary in this role.

Leana Chavez as Herrick Simmons throws in some choice Spanish dialogue during the course of the meal. Samiyah Swann is also charming in the role of Tony Stassio, as well as Nancy Vivar as Nessa Vox. This table was a little confusing.  All three were wearing gold dresses.  One would suppose they bought them on their shopping spree but little is made about their attire. They fight about everything, the pronunciation of the drink, and the order.  They screech in delight, as well as screech in fight and at times it is hard to follow what the fuss is all about.  Clearly, one woman has a problem with pronunciation and remembering what she has ordered.  One wonders if it’s because that she noticeably doesn’t remember or likes the other ladies food.  The women have a history and the actors must use that history to clean up the moments, their relationship, and define those moments by finding the right touches that work.

Tina Howe’s The Art of Dining was first presented December 1979 at the Public Theatre in New York.  The west coast premier was produced by Spectator 442 and Joe Straw at the Fig Tree Theatre in 1983.

Other member of the cast who did not perform on the night I was there are as follows:
Cal – Keith Walker, Chris Jones, Christian Maltez
Ellen – Kelly Musselwhite
Paul Galt – Danny Siegel, Dan White, Joshua Farmer
Hanna Galt – Keturah Hamilton, Cynthia San Luis, Abigail Kochunas
Elizabeth Barrow Colt – Sabrina Won, Justine Estrada
David Osslow – Benito Paje, Joe Filippone
Herrick Simmons, Tony Stasio & Nessa Vox – Jade Ramirez Warner, Raven Bowens, Irene Gerakas, Amber Dancy, Danielle Abraham, Gloria Alvizar, Rosa Frausto

Run! Run! And take a chef because there will be a lot of things to discuss on your way home.

Member of the crew are as follows:

Set Design – Gloria Gifford, Keturah Hamilton & Lucy Walsh
Lighting Technician – Teagan Wilson
Properties – Michael Barker
Show Publicist – Philip Sokoloff
Costumes – Gloria Gifford, Lucy Walsh
Hair/Makeup – Kasia Pilewicz
House Manager – Tahlia McCollum
Videographer – Gay Hauser Price
Photographer – Mathew Caine

RESERVATIONS: (800) 838-3006.