Thursday, November 25, 2010


            For years now, the Latino Theater Company has presented a holiday gift to the community, its production of “La Virgen De Guadulupe, Dios Inantzin.” Adapted for the stage by company member and playwright Evelina Fernandez from the mid- Sixteenth Century text The Nican Mopohua, it relates the story of how the Virgin Mary appeared on four occasions to the lowly peasant Juan Diego in the mountains of Tepeyac near Mexico City in 1531. Miracles attributed to her intercession included the blooming of roses during a time of frost, and the recovery of Juan’s uncle from the deadly plague. Juan’s devotion to the Virgin was a catalyst for a spiritual renewal in the area. Perhaps two decades after the events occurred, they were recorded on paper in an Aztec language by the Indian scholar Antonio Valeriano.

            Ms. Fernandez has transformed the story into a work for the stage whose themes of faith, hope and perseverance can speak to people of all backgrounds.

            The show is presented in Spanish with English supertitles.

            Reserved seating is available for $35 and can be acquired online at , or by calling toll-free at (866) 811-4111.

Reserved seating is also available for subscribers to the Face of the World season of Los Angeles Theatre Center and holders of its Season Pass.

General admission is free to the public (all are welcome to attend) at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, on Thursday and Friday, December 9 and 10, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. A goodwill donation of $5 is suggested. No one is turned away for lack of funds.

            Renowned opera singer Suzanna Guzman stars as the Virgin, and Sal Lopez plays Juan Diego, in a cast of over 100 professional actors, singers and dancers that also includes children and seniors from the community.

            The production is directed by Latino Theater Company’s Artistic Director, Jose Luis Valenzuela. Original music composed by Alfredo Lopez Mondragon.

            The famed show has been the subject of feature articles in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Man From Magdalena – Story by Patty Christiena Willis, Music By Mary Lou Prince

By Joe Straw

Friday, October 29, 2010 at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica.

Why did I go?  Fifty percent was for a fundraiser given to a good cause,, which gives micro loans to Mexico and Central America.  This organization is getting  high praise these days as it’s been as one of Oprah’s favorite things of 2010. 

Briefly, the story was based on an actual incident of a man crossing the border and being hearded at night by a coyote when he comes across a white boy, a survivor of an automobile accident, alone in the desert.  Rather than leave the boy, the man stays until help comes. And for this good deed, he is deported.

Wow!  Sounds like a great story and with music to boot. But the first thing I noticed when reading the program from this Arizona cast was there was neither a man in this production nor a little boy.  And no Hispanic actors in this cast at all. Oh, and then I remembered, they don’t have visible Hispanic people in Arizona anymore, which would explain why the cast was white.

(Sarcasm is such a wasted emotion.)

Okay, okay, okay but I think I can get beyond this. (Think Mary Martin in Peter Pan, or Marlon Brando as Sakini in Teahouse of the August Moon.)

Or can I?  Well, no I can’t.

Principal singer Patty Christiene Willis is also the storyteller. Mary Lou Prince is the composer and the pianist, Helene Benedikte on cello and the other backup singers were Marla Daugherty, Claire Coon, Suzanne Miller, and Seja Snow, a female version of the Jordanairs without the Elvis. 

This presentation was inspired by the incident but in reality has nothing to do with a man from Magdalena or the boy he saves.  It is a footnote in the life of the narrator on stage. And Willis only reads the article she pulls from a sewing basket.   Why she keeps the article is never explained.

As near as I could make out this is a story of a woman who lives in Arizona near a border crossing and that’s about as close as we come to the Man from Magdalena.  Willis struggles with the part and the many characters she plays.  Stopping the action to sit in the chair with her back to the audience as the music plays on does not move the story along.  And the same can be said for the silent costumes changes on stage. 

The music was melodious. The lyrics are forgettable.  The performers, serviceable.

In truth, this production was in need of a director, badly.

For the most part everyone sang in tune, when the lyrics were not forgotten.  But this was a one-woman show in need of a better story and objective. And if you’re going to include other people on stage, like the singers, they better darn well have a relationship with the folks on stage with them.

The Man from Magdalena should start from scratch and not mischaracterize the story about a man and a boy. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

By Joe Straw

Somewhere in Glendale lays this monolith. Seen from miles around, this white structure houses A Noise Within Theater Company (ANW). As curious as the actors are they are obliged to touch this monolith. This is done for them to gather inspiration and knowledge before they walk up the sacred steps into moments unknown.

And as patrons walk to the top floor, they cautiously reflect on their lives. They must think whether the walk up of three flights of stairs is either exhilarating or debilitating. One supposes that those thinking “death is near” at the top will only forget moments later when they remember this is Charles Dickens and the play they are about to see is Great Expectations.

One can hardly sit quietly and wait for the lights to dim, the music to rise, and the visual feast to begin. And on this night there was another full house eager to witness the magic.

The Scenic Design by Kurt Boetcher and the set pieces stand silently and wait for the actors to guide the interior monoliths around the stage to great effect. The walls are both neatly designed lavish homes and rickety walls that are pushed and pulled by the chorus of actors. The gates of lavish homes suddenly become empty cupboards and jails that hold back the unsightly population, the destitute and the ignorant. And unjustly so as these are the things we expect to see in a presentation from Charles Dickens’ life.

Beautiful costumes by Angela Balogh Calin are magnificent in design and work in moving the struggle of a lonely boy into manhood.

There seems to be a cast of hundreds but in actuality there are only eight performers doing yeoman work.

Everyone who knows the story will be delighted by this interpretation of Great Expectations because this play is both beautiful and excruciatingly painful. Directed by Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, it is hard to tell where Julia begins and Geoff ends but each are working toward the same goal.

Briefly, the story is a rag to riches story. A boy so poor yet he has aspirations of becoming a gentleman and his expectations are so great he will do anything to get there. But as always life conspires against him, and his riches seem to come upon him unexpectedly. But riches do not ensure happiness when you’re a young man in love with a woman who, exasperatingly, cannot be possessed.

Jason Dechert as Pip does an outstanding job growing into the role from a small boy to the much-distinguished Mr. Phillip Pirrip. Pips’ reflection, through narration, guides us through the many avenues of a man’s life. (Namely, his own.) But, he is stumped by truth of his mysterious benefactor. It is a notion that guides and confuses him throughout the play.

Joe Gargery, Geoff Elliott, lives life as though he were “happy dog”. And Elliott has some wonderful moments on stage as the smithy. Small moments of him reaching for more light, grabbing the light bulb to see his work, are particularly wonderful. His action, to perfect an imperfection, is a genuinely proud moment with which all audience can relate. He was also wonderful as Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer responsible for funding Pip.

Mrs. Joe, Jill Hill, is a violent character, wanting more out of life but not knowing how to get there except through cruelty to her loved ones. Her frustrations are the result of humiliating poverty and lack of clarity. The role is exceptional.

Herbert Pocket, Stephen Rockwell, teaches Pip to become a gentleman at a dinning room table. This scene was brilliantly executed and wonderfully presented. And while there may have been reasons why these two were together for the extended period this was not fully explored. And one wonders why all the fussing about money throughout his relationship with Pip. Was he aware of the funds being limited in scope?

Also, there is another dinning room scene with Mr. Pumblechook, Joe Gargery, Mrs. Joe, Jill Hill and Pip that was marvelous. Lights out, dinner finished, lights on, carry on with life.

A week later I'm still laughing at Deborah Strang's performance as Miss Havisham. Strang is a consummate actress and her entrance is as spectacular as one can get. (Her character appearance can only be described as a resemblance to Edward Sissorhands' sister.) Nevertheless, as Miss Havisham, she is stuck in an emotional time capsule and not letting any light enter her mansion while her darkened heart laments over a lost love. She finds her way in life in the wedding dress she has not taken off since that hateful day when her betrothed ran out on her. It is now in rags, and her wedding cake still preserved after, oh so many years, is displayed in a pathetic act of self-aggrandized sympathy. Strang’s performance was enormously breathtaking!

Mitchell Edmonds, as Mr. Pumblechook, and in drag as Sarah Pocket is a favorite at ANW. Always amusing, entertaining, outrageous and as subtle as any actor can be. What an outstanding performance.

Daniel Reichert as Able Magwitch the prisoner gets us into the meat of the story. He is almost the backbone of the play. Appearing in the second act was slightly confusing concerning his aoristic lifestyle but his performance in the first act was absolutely marvelous. This was a wonderful performance.

Estella, Jaimi Paige, is a guarded debutante instructed by the power hungry Miss Havisham. It is a life that does not give her satisfaction but nevertheless gives her a power over any man she desires. Paige’s performance is stunningly coy. And she is beautifully package into Pandora’s Box waiting for the next fool to peek inside.

As always one can only expect great things from the other actors in this production who are Darby Bricker, Elizabeth Fabie, Kurt Quinn, and Taylor Jackson Ross

The directing team of Elliott and Elliott always produces theatre that is specific in character and goal oriented. The show is excellent in the first half and only slightly out of focus in the second act which is not to take away from this marvelous production. Possibly the cast was ironing out problems out on opening night and those issues have been resolved.

A Noise Within production is an awakening giant for the napping Los Angeles theatre going audience. Its future new home in Pasadena surely stimulates the senses. Leave your TV’s at home, and forget about the small celluloid performances wedged in between long celluloid commercial periods. Expand your mind, get out, meet and greet and support their new home in Pasadena.

Through December 19, 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Sugar Daddy” by Fielding Edlow

By Joe Straw

Lemonade Productions is presenting “Sugar Daddy” written and performed by Fielding Edlow and directed by Paul Stein at the Lounge Theatre (Lounge 2) through November 20, 2010.

The press notes say, “Wickedly funny, incisive and hip, Fielding Edlow’s comedy chronicles one woman’s epic battle with frosty cupcakes (not vegan), breaking up with Daddy and learning to stand the sound of her own heartbeat.”

That’s sounds interesting.

So what was I doing there? Well I thought this was a good premise. After all, a woman who loves cupcakes and her father can’t be a bad person, ergo a good show. But, just the ideal of someone lusting for cupcakes doesn’t paint a pretty picture either. I had visions of someone 6’ 2”, grossly overweight, and fighting off daddy to boot. Well, okay, this is something I could sink my teeth into. (No pun intended.)

This funny one-woman show is about an hour in length. (Get off the stage before the applause ends.) It is funny, but only if you’re hip enough about pop culture, eating, therapists, and failed relationships. (Okay, so maybe that’s all of us.)

There is an extraordinary amount of truth in what she says and because of this everyone in the audience is having: a great time with certain references, a good time with other references, and a bad time with other references that does not play in this hemisphere.

Having worked with some of the people she references in this production was hysterical! I’m not sure those people would be amused. I won’t mention her name but written in the sand it would look like this K.I.M. B.A.S.I.N.G.E.R.

“…if K.D. Lange had a working vagina.”

Nevertheless, the humor is rip roaring, hip slapping, and eye watering. The ideal age to see this would be 25 to 30 and any age beyond that point would see this as an exercise in silliness.

“You are like Martha Graham if she had a cock.”

Okay, so maybe that’s what she was going for – that age range. But the silliness only carries itself for as long as you can watch a clown juggling his balls, after a while it has served its purpose and unless one is willing to introduce new element things tends to get stale.

Still, she is funny.

… drop kick my pussy…

Briefly, the show is about an actress who hasn’t had a meaningful relationship with a man in 10 years and she needs to explore that possibility with therapist. And she has a number of them. Uh, therapists.

“I’m going to terminate our relationship.”

Her father pays for the treatments because he believes that she needs them, continuously, and forever.

“I love how you take notes.”

And with no job and all this free time on her hands she studies acting and tries to have normal relationship with others who are just as sick as she is. (Not a good ideal to get together when both are equally working hard to resolve mental or addicting problems.)

Personally, I prefer actors who are having a relationship with others on stage, but Edlow is having a marvelous time up there and who am I to rain on her parade. She is witty, funny, extremely bright, pretty, knowledgeable on any topic, and does these “funny” girl things that gets her into a lot of trouble. Edlow moves in and out of these situations, easily. She is in the moment seizing the day but those moments don’t translate into a change in the attitude of the character. The character is the same from the first moment to the last with a few distractions along the way.

Still, she is funny.

Paul Stein, the director, is very able although the focus here is very intangible. Where are we going? What are we trying to say? Why does Edlow fight off her father? Where does all this go? What role does her mother play in her life with her father? There are too many unanswered questions. Also, not sure about the food reference and direction the play is supposed to go because of it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

La Victima by El Teatro de La Esperanza

By Joe Straw

I’m slightly embarrassed that I’ve lived in Southern California for over 30 years and know a small amount Spanish.

“Si usted quiere evitar la gente el sabado y domingo por favor, lave durante la semana.” – A sign in the Laundromat – author unknown.

When I first moved into Los Angeles I rented an apartment on Westmoreland. It was a singles just north of Pico complete with a fold down Murphy bed and a convenient Laundromat within walking distance. Aside from a half of a semester of 7th grade Spanish in Mrs. Castro’s class in Tennessee, the above phrase was all the Spanish I knew.

I never knew exactly what that sign meant but I memorized it. And on Saturdays I had hours to practice because it took me hours to secure a dryer, especially one that had a tennis shoe flipping in it for what seemed like an eternity. I was a man and a victim of little old ladies that had one goal in mine. “It’s either him or me. And I prefer me.” (“Es él o yo. Y me prefiero.”)

La Victima by El Teatro de la Esperanza (whew!) and directed by the incomparable Jose Luis Valenzuela was presented by Latino Theater Company on Spring Street in Los Angeles. Its closing date was October 31, 2010 in a limited 4 week run.

The Latino Theater Company is celebrating it’s 25th Anniversary by presenting its first production of La Victima. It is something one has to experience to understand and if one understands Spanish, so much the better. Subtitles are really not a way to see a production when one is looking at objectives and facial expressions.

There is an open wall running the length of the set created by Tesshi Nakagawa and it serves as a reminder that political ideology builds walls that do not stand the test of time.

Briefly, circa 1915, the Mexican revolution displaced a number of Mexicans. And to flee the violence they headed north. This is where the story begins.

They lived and loved and had children here in the United States and worked hard for a living. And then came the 1930s and along with that, the Great Depression. Like today Mexicans were used scapegoats, but unlike today half of the Mexicans were deported or “repatriated” across the border.

The tragedy of families being separated is that sometimes they never see each other again and when they do reunite, as in this play, it is a heartbreaking event.

Amparo is a tragic figure. She stands helpless as she is being deported once again. Lost in a tragedy of broken homes as she stands witness to her family’s recurring history. Lupe Ontiveros is wonderful in this performance.

Sammy (Geoffrey Rivas) is an equally tragic figure. Separated from his mother, father, and sister he is left for others to raise him. And in this bitter struggle he forgets his past, serves time in the Army and later he works for the Department of Immigration. He developes a bitter hatred of those who try to enter this country illegally and fights hard to keep “them” out.

Cita as La Cantante provides music where appropriate but her objective was confusing. The music works better when in line with the story.

The Latino Theatre Company has a very fine stable of actors most notably Lucy Rodriguez, Sal Lopez, and Evelina Fernandez who play multiple roles throughout the years from the early 1910s through 1960s that this story takes place.

Other performers were J. Ed Araiza, Luis Aldana, Alexis de la Rocha, Olivia Delgado, Oliver Rayon, and Ricardo Ochoa also in multiple roles.

Jose Luis Valenzuela, the director, lets us in on the history of the events of the Valla family. It is symbolic at times, subtle, and dramatic but one wishes for a heartfelt conclusion to the tragedy. Valenzuela’s dramatic purpose may not have been fully realized but nevertheless his staging was this side of magnificent.

The real tragedy is that we, as a nation, have not made progress on this issue and the cancer of this unresolved issue continues to grow.