Friday, February 23, 2024

Brushstroke by John Ross Bowie


L - R James Urbaniak and Malcolm Barrett - Photos by Zoe Tiller

By Joe Straw


I loved spy vs spy in the Mad comic books.  I don’t know why, I just did. - narrator


Jeremy Win presents a visiting production at the Odyssey Theatre, the world premiere of Brushstroke written by John Ross Bowie and directed by Casey Stangl through March 3, 2024.


Rain pours down on a studio window outside a lower east side loft. The place is not as majestic, as some lofts can be but then again this is an artist’s loft, dripping lines of dry paint splatter not only the canvas but everywhere, unfinished canvases are propped against the walls, and other frames haphazardly hang against the studio walls or above the unkempt door frame. After a quick purview, the studio is a masterpiece of sorts, browns and dirty greys canvas the window where acid raindrops drip down the windowpane of this Lower East Side of Manhattan space during the year of someone’s lord 1956.  (A beautiful set design by Keith Mitchell.)


In any case, the setting was cold, almost uninhabitable, except for the lone man sitting in the dark his eyes barely visible, stiff right leg extended Ted (James Urbaniak) waits for a patron to step into his studio, look at his work, give a few comments, and maybe say a kind word or two about his paintings before getting the hell out. The magic, he believes, lies beyond the “fourth wall” of his studio hoping that today is his lucky day.  


Marvin (Malcolm Barrett), is, was a student, a Yale graduate, an art history major, certainly not one to understand the finer points of abstract expressionism or cubism to know if it is a masterpiece.  He is apologetic, to the tenth degree, in his misrepresentation of someone who does know art, more so in his manner of conducting himself, so apologetic that he is summarily squeamish. And although his presentation is an educated one, one can clearly see that his presentation lacks the sincerity of his own money later displayed by the hole underneath his right arm in his suit.  


(It is an element of this presentation that makes the play that much more fascinating.)


Marvin tells Ted his plan of showcasing American artists through his organization the Congress for Cultural Freedom and developing those who have the potential to become something more than the ordinary, a small step forward battling the communists gains in the east.  Marvin discloses to Ted that he has money to buy.  Ted introduces himself as the artist who has signed the paintings and tells him that the work is, in fact, part of a series.


L - R Brendan Hines and Malcolm Barrett



The windowpanes slide open to reveal a setting in park, possibly Washington Square, where his contact Allan (Brendan Hines) inconspicuously takes in a pre-springtime day. Marvin also unremarkably sits on the bench next to him as Allan speaks in code.  Marvin moves beyond that only to be warned to keep the conversation discreet and on target as discussed.


Marvin returns to the studio and meets Ted’s sister Susan (Evangeline Edwards). Greek music is playing on the record player and they both dance to the tune, Marvin embarrassingly so, but giving it his best shot.


The play Brushstroke by John Ross Bowie is exceptional, smartly written, and weaves a story filled with ambiguity and hidden agendas.  The characters objectives are very subtle, living their lives and taking orders like good subordinates.  Their actions are devious at times and a play that one thinks about the outcome long after leaving the theatre. Each character has, in their own way, an undisclosed purpose, an objective.  Getting out of their predicament alive is probably what they all hope for. Tragically, a mistake was made, or possibly an accumulation of mistakes that ultimately makes this piece a tragedy despite it being billed as a comedy thriller. There’s more here than meets the eye. Bowie’s work is very clever.


Overall, very good work by director Casey Stangl, strong character work, the acting is first rate, beautifully constructed that ultimately elevates the night. One might say there is an unseen force that guides all the participants which makes this a fascinating night of theatre. But the night might also require accentuating the moments that need defining, moments that elevates the through line to a satisfying conclusion. One, is the love relationship that doesn’t go far enough for the audience (me) to understand Susan’s final action. Secondly, Marvin’s action need definition to show us how Marvin gets into trouble.


James Urbaniak (Ted) gives a spirited performance.  Ted has been given a job, but he is entirely misrepresented.  He is not really the person he claims to be which he plays to the hilt, ordering his assistant/sister to do the work of a maid could they afford one. Ted, on some kind of power trip, appears to be testing the man buying his artwork and stops at no end to get the desired effect. There’s a lot going on with the character and it’s difficult to find the answer in a character that moves in uninhabitable circles.


Malcolm Barrett gives a grand physical life as Marvin, a nebbish spy coming out from the cold, a rookie in a world of players.  He creates this grand physical life of the character but as he steps out of frame, smoking dope, drinking, we never get the danger from the problem he has gotten himself into and how he tries to overcome his predicament. There may be another level of awareness that may give this character additional life. Also, there may be more to have with his relationship to the woman which stops short of being any kind of love, much less a romantic one. Still, some excellent work.


Brendan Hines is impressive as Allan, stanch and conservative with some of a bossy mean streak, all the making of a remarkable character. After one viewing it’s difficult to determine the objective of this character and how he benefits from his last action. 

L - R Evangeline Edwards and Malcolm Barrett



Evangeline Edwards is stunning as Susan. Her voice is rich, and her manner is unpredictable, certainly what is needed in a play loaded with spies. She has a definitive presence and a remarkable flair for handling the mundane while creatively making it her own. Susan moves about the stage with a secret that she is not about to unload until the precise time, or the precise time of her choosing and until she hurriedly makes her final exit.  Her final action is ambiguous, underwritten by someone she probably doesn’t even know, which makes it ultimately a fascinating night of theatre.


Jeremy Wein is the marvelous producer of this show.  The entire look of the production is something one doesn’t see on the smaller stages in Los Angeles. The work is wonderful.


Denise and Lon Bevers are the co-producers of this very fine production.


Futurehome is listed at the associate producers – Founder Josh Sobel, partner BK Dawson.


Other members of this outstanding crew are as follows:


Soran Schwartz – Lighting Design

Marc Antonio Pritchett – Sound Design & Fight Coordination

Christine Cover Ferro – Costume Design

Joyce Hutter – Property Design

Lexie Secrist – Production Stage Manager

Andrew Blahak – Assistant State Manager


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Sunday, January 28, 2024

Strangers on a Train by Craig Warner based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith.


By Joe Straw


Flashes of the film “Strangers on a Train” - screenplay by Raymond Chandler and Czenzi Ormonde directed by Alfred Hitchcock based on the novel “Strangers on a Train” by Patricia Highsmith - comes to me from time to time.  Those images are unsettling in its development of created conflict by the simple act of exchanging information. One really wanted to see how the film/book would translate on stage and my reason for being here on this night.  


Theatre Forty presents’ Strangers on a Train written by Craig Warner, directed by Jules Aaron and produced by David Hunt Stafford through February 18, 2024.


Charles Bruno (Michael Mullen) is definitively on the prowl and the excessive use of a drink in his flask doesn’t help him with life on the straight and narrow. A quick evaluation of his persona is ambiguous, his manner is slightly offset, and his dress reaches for the obsolescence, the dated taste of a man that attires well below the status of his family’s money.


Charles must watch himself given his lack of friends and knowing once he opens his mouth on this train the unpleasantness might grow like scum on a springtime pond. Naytheless, he flits around the aisles softly as though he were in his bed slippers trying to secure human contact.   


Charles eyes a stranger reading, a drink near his being, a man by outward appearances appears to be educated, an exceptional taste in wear, and possibly middle-class upbringing. An unconscious tongue rolls across his lips to taste the last drops near his cavity as he purposefully eyes a pleasant morsel before him, ready to be devoured.


Guy Haines (Joe Clabby) appears younger than his experience, an architect, perfectly dress, somewhat tired, and a man of means. Guy tries to sufficiently avoid any contact with the man moving throughout the train.  And then, possibly a glance, an eye-to-eye contact brings that man forward, inching closer desperately wanting to introduce himself if only to break the ice but, he thinks better of it, reaching for the words in his book, wanting the stranger to make the first move.  


And when Charles makes his move, Guy is cordial, sets aside his book written by Socrates or Plato or some such, and speaks to Charles as one does to a newfound soul, polite but guarded.


Their introductions are informal, destinations are made clear, until Charles moves in directions Guy doesn’t want to go.  Charles forces a little more drink on Guy, guards are let down, and Charles manages to acquire a lot of information in a short period of time. Especially, the information about Guy’s unfaithful and pregnant wife.


Charles is a man that collects material to suit his purpose because his hunger propagates every minute his father is alive. Inebriated enough to introduce a play on actions, nefarious in purpose to a stranger he has just met on a train. Charles laughs as he suggests that the police could never solve the crime of complete strangers carrying out the murder of each other’s undesirable family member, Charles’ father, and Guy’s wife.


Guy, now inebriated, thinks it’s all a joke, a fantasy, a playful time under the influence until later he finds that his wife has been murdered and Guy has thoughts that it might be Charles.  Now Charles has the wherewithal to find Guy because his addlepated mind thinks he has been deceived. Charles won’t stop until he receives reciprocation.


Jules Aaron, the director, has his work cut out for him on this production well over 2 hours in length. Opening weekend may not be the best time to view a complicated piece, hardly through anyone’s fault, but more is needed in nuance, the movement and changes in relationships that make a production soar. Without giving too much away there is an embrace at the end but, what we don’t see are the moments, even ever so slight, that eventually defines that act. It is an ambiguous statement leading us to the ambiguous end. Also, movement is needed for those two travelling on a train which, as most train travelers know, is not a steady ride. Still, the play is filled with wonderful performances especially from the supporting cast which is outstanding.   


Craig Warner, the writer, has written a terrific play and one can’t go wrong adapting a Patricia Highsmith novel.


One of the best reasons to venture out to Theatre 40 is the wonderful costumes in its productions. Michael Mullen, Costume Designer, elevates the night with costumes that are impeccable for the period and time (1950s). His work is outstanding, and his workload is tremendous given that he also performs as Charles Bruno in the play.


One is always impressed with Jeff G. Rack’s work as set designer. It is very imaginative and allows the actors to move from place to place with little interruptions and symbolically places us within the space using onscreen projections.




There was a very audible groan with the recrudescence of a man seemingly coming out of nowhere to be in a place where he wasn’t expected or invited. Michael Mullen as Charles Bruno pertinaciously makes that statement with his performance. Along with some very delightful moments there are also things that he could add as well. His relationship with his counterpart may not go far enough over the course of the play.  His is a crime of passion and he does this for love. Money is a secondary motive. And love is the last thing we see from him. His relationship needs to be defined the moment he meets his counterpart and then grows from that moment on, building until the bitter end.


Joe Clabby is Guy Haines and does some fine work as well. More is needed for the backstory and necessary the moment he enters the train.  That backstory concerns his current wife, and he must find a way to tell it in costume, and in the way he grabs a book and starts reading, all of this is a part of showing us his life without the dialogue.  Also, his relationship to his counterpart must be stronger.  Love plays an important part, their relationship demands it, and it spurs both to go beyond the ordinary. Also, Clabby must find a way to solve Haines’ problem while he is in the depths of his turmoil. Crying and obsessive drinking on stage leads an actor nowhere unless he finds a solution to his problem and not give in to the pareidolia hauntings he sees in every waking moment.  Finding an answer gives the character truth and moves the play along.


Sharron Shayne is terrific as Elsie Bruno.  She is a self-absorbed woman, holding on to her youthfulness as long as she can, and living a leisurely life from the fruits of her parents’ labor.  Stylishly dress with all the finer things in life. She loves her son and will never give up on him. She is always loyal to the very end. Her performance is solid and not to be missed.


Anica Petrovic has a special kind of presence as Anne Faulkner.  There is no doubt that she is a strong and intelligent woman who would do anything for her spouse. There may be more to add -when Bruno introduces himself as her husband’s friend – this is a moment where one possibly questions their relationship, because on stage, more life is given to one that questions that information rather than accepting it at face value. Probing their relationship moves a character forward and in many other directions. Also, more must be made of the moment, entertaining Bruno, Anne falls asleep on the couch exposing her neck. That said Anica is exceptional on stage and brings a powerful persona and a warm smile to the character.  


Larry Eisenberg is extraordinary as Arthur Gerard.  He is relentless as the detective trying to discern the killing of Charlie’s father, a good friend of his. Arthur is slow but methodical, measured in his speech, but powerful when it comes to making his point. His performance is wonderful throughout.


Todd Andrew Ball does well as Frank Myers, Guy’s friend, and colleague. He treats his friend as a business associate, always batting for him, but never getting to the heart of Guy’s problem.  He knows Guy’s abilities and sticks with him thinking that things will sort themselves out. More must be made to find the conflict and then the imaginative ways to conquer the problem.


Michael Kerr plays Robert Treacher, a long-time friend.  There may be a little more to add to this character than Guy’s other friend. Treacher’s relationship must have a lot more depth, more nuance as he discovers his friend is exploding inside. More must be made of the conflict between these two to make things right.  Treacher has known him a long time and knows his intimate ups and downs.  He must somehow get to the matter to help his friend. Kerr’s work is solid but may need a little more to put him over the top.


Derrick McDaniel, lighting designer, almost works in a film noir motif, but at times actor were not lit effectively or may have missed their mark stepping out of a perfectly lit situation.


Nick Foran, sound designer, has provided excellent sounds to accompany the play.  One did not hear the sound of the train, during the course of the first scene which was odd given the title of the play.


Judi Lewin provided the hair, wig and makeup design which worked throughout the play.


Paul D. Reid was the stage manager.


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Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Look What Fell Out De Mango Tree!! By Debra Ehrhardt

Debra Ehrhardt


By Joe Straw


Sunday December 17, 2023, at 4:00 was unexpectedly a wild time at The Santa Monica Playhouse. During the performance, a couple sitting alone, off to the side, spoke with each other during the entirety of the performance.  Not only were his words hearable throughout the night but his hands and arms stretched to accentuate his words explaining things to her as though she were partially deaf or blind, or both.  And that woman, to his side, kept putting on her white frock, on and off, off and on, as though she were hot one minute and cold the next.  This also happened throughout the performance.  What they talked about was anyone’s guess. An audience member had enough, and she clapped her hands to quiet them, but they went on with little regard to her clapping. After the performance another patron went up to them and asked them why they did that throughout the performance. The man kept apologizing throughout his chastisement but offered no explanation.


Santa Monica Playhouse Benefit Series presents “Look What Fell Out De Mango Tree!!” written by Debra Ehrhardt and directed by Paul Williams.


This was a preview performance of a 2024 world premiere. Debra Ehrhardt came out and told the audience that Paul Williams, the director, required some rewrites so they would be on book for some of the performance. The rewrites seem to be moving the production in the right direction and the night was delightful.


There are some similarities to this production and 2009’s Jamaica Farewell most of all the alcoholic father.  ( Has it been that long Debra?


Look What Fell Out De Mango Tree!! is poetry.  The writing is, at times, crystal clear, as one imagines the Jamaican waters to be.  


Everything is all so innocent, a happy childhood, and a dream to capture the biggest mango on the mango tree, a sudden fall, a pounding on the dirt below, and holding on to her dream with mango intact.  But that dream was suddenly interrupted by an awakening with the cold hard facts of life – a father who was not that sympathetic to her pain, and a mango so filled with squirming larvae that it became an invidious moment in the life of a young girl.  


And suddenly things start becoming clearer in life, about what life was all about, and how her father treated the family, sometimes with love, and other times not showing up at all, in the bar, gambling, losing all their furniture, until there was none. And although her love was apparent, her father missed all the important dates of her life, birthdays, graduations.


But still Debra had a dream, not entirely realized without a father figure, boys in her life coming and going until there was an assortment of a few in which to realize her dream.  And yet she chose second best, maybe the wrong choice, the wrong bet which on her wedding day left her with child, a boy on the way, something this family of girls has never seen and certainly something that Debra was not prepared for.


In time, during her pregnancy, she has time to contemplate, her life, her mother and father’s lives, and the reasons for her being.  How the stories came to her is a matter of conjecture, but they are hers and the events that make up her life.


So, near the end of her pregnancy and the no-show of her husband, something had to go, and it was the husband.


Now in America, trying to raise a son, and searching for a life partner. Nothing ever looks right, partners mostly, but she moves on until she finally discovers something about her life brought forth by her adult son and her long-lost father (both played by Christopher Grossett).


There is a lot to enjoy from Look What Fell Out De Mango Tree listening to someone’s life story.  It is basically a one woman show with the interaction of a very lithe Christopher Grossett as all the male characters. All under the helm of composer, singer, songwriter Paul Williams, the director, who has made the effort of moving the play in the right direction. There are problems with the through line of the show, losing focus of a narrow path that should move the play in the direction it needs to go. At times, the play moves off in tangents before it finally gets to the point. But, when the point is made, it is beautiful.


In a one person show there must be a reason for telling the story.  It’s either an awakening or a confessional. And if it’s an awakening, it culminates in the one moment that illuminates the story in the teller’s journey. There is that moment in this play, but one feels getting there must lie, both physically and mentally, within the heart of the player.  The line must be clearer and the focus just.


This is a work in progress for Debra Ehrhardt and progress will come with development.  It is at times, rich and beautiful, funny and sad, remarkable in ways that give and take in a unique theatrical experience. In its uniqueness, there are undeniable realities that everyone can relate to which makes this a fantastic experience. 


Christopher Grossett



Christopher Grossett manages to play all the male characters and does extremely well in this outing, from a young boy to adult males with various degrees of maleness throughout complete with the facetious smiles of engagement.


Theatres all over Southern California are still recovering from the pandemic and Chris Decarlo, on this night, gave a passionate speech for a call to help The Santa Monica Playhouse through donations.  Please give when and if you are able.    




Saturday, December 9, 2023

Corina: From Lap Dance to Sundance by Corina Calderon

Corina Calderon Photos by Rudy Torres



By Joe Straw 

Dreams manifest themselves in delightful ways. They are unique, only yours, and imaginatively guide you on your journey.  For the creative type, dreams are the spark of that design, a flame of action that warms the journey. When your dreams hit the precise mark – you know it when you live it. While others may scoff at those dreams, moving forward and recognizing your accomplishment is the greatest satisfaction one can have.   


Casa 101 Theater proudly presents the world premiere play Corina: From Lap Dance to Sundance written by Corina Calderon and directed by Emmanuel Deleage November 17 through December 17, 2023.


From the program: “Warning:  The play contains adult themes of a sexual nature, strong language, and depiction of violence.  For mature audiences only.  Under 17 must be accompanied by an adult.”


Jesus Tadeo Rodrigue and Corina Calderon



In the seediest of dives, out steps a vision in see through red lace and high heels, offering an incomparable fantasy of unspeakable pleasures. She glides through the house searching for a patron that wants to throw his money, lots of money, her way. And it just so happens she’s found him, a gullible man with a protruding tongue, raptured by her presence, Joe (Jesus Tadeo Rodriguez) willing and able to accompany her to that unforgiving spot, a lone chair, as she seductively moves in his sphere of influence all for the immediate price of the green dancing between his fingers.  


But, no touching.


Corina (Corina Calderon) steps away into a private room, the other dancers edge their way onto the stage and dance beguilingly elevating the temperature of the beasts not too far away.   And, although those memories fade like a distant memory, they are embedded within her, ingrained so deep, right up to the present, that now in her present-day wear, Corina lets out a deep breath, lifting the weight of her troubles off her shoulders, relieved, and now compelled to begin her story, of how this all came to be.


Emmanuel Deleage has directed a remarkable show filled with warmth, compassion, exceptional dancing, and with a troupe that is willing to give it their all. With basically a bare stage, Deleage has carefully crafted a dream realized highlighting the quintessential moments of Corina’s journey. One might see this as an awakening and definitively an inventive journey that is well worth the prize. And in the end, it’s about coming first circle, back home, where all the dreams she’s realized, got her to the place she is today. There is a lot here that will make you smile, and the ending is exceptional.


First produced in 2018 as part of The Hollywood Fringe Festival as a one-woman show, Corina Calderon, the writer, has added several additional characters to realize her dream of a full-scale production on a Los Angeles stage.  And, with further development, a little more emotional chutzpa, this production can broaden its scope and horizons. As it is now, the show is exceptional.


Corina Calderon, the actress, is an exceptional dancer first and foremost.  The story of the complexities and conflicts of her life gives her a lot of leeway to do remarkable things on stage and for the most part it works in unimaginable ways. There are moments that require a little more thought – the opening delivery with an anger that leaves her little room to grow throughout the night and the scene with her mother in the end that requires a little more development.  Personal and emotional commitment to an objective should come slowly in those scenes to achieve the pinnacle moment. Still some brilliant work throughout the night.


Leslie Montoya is also exceptional as Teen Corina, small and very spunky, older than her years and very naive at times. Her character knows where she wants to go and is willing to accept all information that comes her way, that helps her on her journey.


L - R Sophia Arroyo, Alex Miramontes, and Natalie Heredia



Alex Miramontes brings full life to dual roles as the dad and Grandpa. His work is outstanding and has a commanding presence on stage.  It’s just the little things he does that highlights the character, the look in his eyes, the sorrow on his face, and the forgiving smile.  All of it works.   


Sophia Arroyo and Natalie Heredia play Young Corina and Young Nani respectively and are very engaging throughout the night. And it’s one more reason to go to the theatre to see younger performers that spark a loving memory of sisters and daughters.


Jesus Tadeo Rodriguez has a lot of nice moments as a member of the ensemble each person unique in several roles. His work was excellent throughout the night.


Gabriela Bañuelos does a fine turn in multiple roles and contributes with information as Anastacia, a grand moment for which none of this may have been possible.


Diana Cruz plays Mari, a friend that gets Corina started in adult entertainment, but her path leads to an unfortunate ending. Her moments are small but significant as more could be made of her character and her ending. Still, Cruz has some very fine moments especially when she plays the adult Nani.


Karla Ojeda had some fine moments as Corina’s mom, a woman with emotional, abusive, and alcoholic issues. Married to a violent husband, saddled with two children, who finds a way to get out of the marriage and moves her children near her family near Uvalde, Texas (of all places).  She takes up the bottle which puts everyone on edge. Ojeda is melancholic throughout the night but needs to find and make more of those caring moments that give more weight to the character.


Julieta Ortiz has her moments as Grandma and Tia Juanita.  She is very funny each time she steps on stage.


Mair Flores has several roles Mimi, Josie, Carla, and another member of the ensemble but there was something different about this performer. Her concentrated work was elegant and very sincere, nothing gratuitous and always gracious in her resolve.   


Johnny Ortiz plays several characters Chris, Alfonso, Acting Coach, and manager.  He has a slightly menacing presence but was fine throughout the night. 

Oscar Baasulto an understudy for Dad, Grandpa, and Juan did not perform on this particular night.


As always Able Alvarado, Costume Designer, does outstanding work at Casa 0101 and one more reason to venture to see shows here.


Other members of this crew are as follows:


Lorena M. Ortega – Production Coordinator

César Retana-Holguín – Set Designer

Kevin E. Vasquez – Lighting Designer

Jorge Villanueva – Board Operator

Itzel Ocampo – Casa 0101 Administrator

Channing Whisnant – Stage Manager

Doreen Marie Sanchez – Prop Master, Assistant Stage Manager

Alicia Mejia – Assistant Stage Manager

Velia Arroyo – Assistant Stage Manager

Steve Moyer – Public Relations


Casa 0101 is known for its outstanding work and this production puts another feather in their illustrious cap.


Tickets:  323-263-7684


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