Thursday, June 28, 2012

Earthbound an electronica musical – Book by Adam Hahn, Music by Jonathan Price, Lyrics by Chana Wise

By Joe Straw

When the Shoemaker-Levy comet collided with Jupiter a few years ago, a group of JPL scientists rejoiced at the spectacle.  And as I watched the YouTube footage I wondered why those same scientist weren’t concern about our planets’ welfare.

At present there is a concerted effort by former NASA astronauts to send a space telescope to spot and track small to mid-sized asteroids capable of destroying a city or worse.  This project, currently on paper, is from the B612 Foundation in California.

And as recently as this month, an asteroid as large as a football field, missed earth by 75,000 miles and no one saw it coming.  It was discovered three days later after it had passed earth.  - Editor

In space, no one is ever late.

Sometimes I wonder why a show starts fifteen or more minutes late.  The times are decided, the patrons show up well before show time, and every coordinated effort is made to see the show when the show is meant to be seen, 8:00 pm sharp, or thereabouts, as close as we can get it, without delay.

But that doesn’t happen for some reason, so without apologies and almost twenty minutes late, the lights are turned down and the show just decides to start.

What if the patrons decided the show times? - Chaos.  

Skypilot Theatre presents the world premiere engagement of a new musical, Earthbound an electronica musical, book by Adam Hahn, music by Jonathan Price and Lyrics by Chana Wise.

The T.U. Studios is a small intimate space of 99 seats or less. There was a capacity crowd of North Hollywood theatre patrons this night. Not many people came in after the 8:00 pm deadline so one is not really sure why the show started so late. There may have been technical difficulties of video and sound that have to be adjusted but things seemed to be in perfect order during the course of the show.

For this fascinating production, one is not sure why the actors/singers are miked when they are standing three or four feet in front of the audience.  Their voices are fine and would resonate beautifully against the walls of this small theatre without the use of electronic stimulation.

This is a different kind of musical, an electronical musical, and fitting for a group of people who are stranded on a space station trying to find a way to get off. But there are problems, lots of problems, on how they go about getting off this space island and back to earth.

The characters all want to return home to earth. The conflict is how.

In space, no one can hear you sing.

The fantastic opening number, “Until We Get to Earth,” is sung by the ensemble, which includes Dade (JR Esposito), his wife Viscaya (Chera Holland), Hialeah (Lindsey Mixon), Coral (Allison Perkins), Palmer Jason Kobielus, Brickell (Samantha Macher), and Mint (Mackenzie English).

Something has happened on earth and it had happened over sixty years ago, possibly asteroids or wars. The catastrophic event(s) has killed off the entire population on earth over a sixty-year period, death brought upon from horrific cancers caused by solar radiation.  For years the space travelers have been watching the noctilucent clouds on the video monitors. And now there are seven people left on this spacecraft to do what they are supposed to do possibly to re-populate the craft.

Only it doesn’t work because:

In space, no one gets pregnant.

Well, this is not entirely true as we find out later in the musical.  Hialeah is pregnant (okay it’s possible) but her partner has died and his body has just been ejected to earth.  Hialeah wants to see “the streak” which is the light show when a dead body enters the earth’s atmosphere and comes back to life. At least, this is the myth the childlike remainders are told will happen. Because:

In space, there are no teachers and your cognitive thinking turns to mush.

It is so with Viscaya whose thought processes have deteriorated considerably.  She interrupts the burial ceremony and appears confused and delirious at times.  She calls Dade, her husband, a handsome man and other times thinks her marriage was a mistake.

Palmer, a younger but not so intelligent man, is wearing the coat that means something and sings a eulogy to the dearly departed Fisher.  He has forgotten the words but manages to find them during the course of the ceremony much to the dismay of Hialeah who wanted a perfect ceremony.  

Later Hialeah and Coral are waiting for the streak of Fisher’s re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. And as they wait, Coral lets Hialeah in on a secret that she wants to have a child herself and she asks Hialeah what is it like to be in love. Hialeah, the sometimes optimist, tells her that it is wonderful in every respect.  Hialeah sees a flash and thinks that Fisher has reached earth safely and hopes that her and the baby will soon join him. (The streak looks more like a fiery asteroid on a collision course with earth in a very nice video effect.)

Meanwhile Brickell, in a wheelchair, wants a baby and asks Miami, (Ashley Fuller) the voice of the space capsule, to show her baby pictures.  But Mint, her “friend,” is dead set against babies and baby pictures and wants to see animal pictures.

Eventually, Brickell and Mint decide to get pregnant at the same time.  There are only two men on board and neither are matches for these two “friends”. In the end, Miami artificially inseminates them.  What!?

Later, Dade and Palmer, fixing corroded cables, have a discussion about becoming a man and wearing the coat.  It is Palmer’s turn to wear the coat and becoming a father.  Nothing gets moved or fixed and they move on.

Throughout the process of day-to-day living and on several occasions, Miami goes dark and the craft goes into system failure before it is able to right itself and get things back to normal.  It is here that we learn that Dade is holding back secrets that he will not divulge until the time comes.

The musical is called Earthbound so it is my belief that the characters’ objective should be geared to getting off the space capsule and back onto earth no matter what it takes. I will address my comments about the actors, writers, and directors to that end.  

The characters in a musical must have an objective. The trick is to make the objective work with song, be conflicted about the objective, and get back to the planet.

JR Esposito as Dade does a nice job but as the character, he is in a bit of a predicament. He knows the final outcome, and he knows what is coming. He appears to be the captain, or leader of the surviving members of the group, and as such is a strong male figure. (The press guide says spiritual leader.) But something is missing, something in his objective or character, that would allow him to do what he must do to facilitate his objective. He needs to work on getting them back to earth, period.  The fact that his objective is not achieved does not matter.  He needs to get them back to earth. A believable myth must be pushed to an extreme reality.  He’s a captain who pushes this myth but in reality doesn’t believe it.  He, in effect, needs to have everyone believe that he will guide them home.

Chera Holland as Viscaya has a very nice presence on stage and an interesting characterization but it is an iniquitous character that is not fully developed.  Viscaya is “slightly” inattentive with some kind of dementia. She must fight hard to control herself to get to her purpose to accomplish her objective. She seems to have the knowledge that Dade has but cannot address or articulate her desires. Holland needs to acknowledge those moments that give her back the cognitive reasoning she needs to capture her objective.  If she says goodbye, she need to go to the window, and say goodbye to Dade in song and purpose.

Lindsey Mixon as Hialeah gives the poise that the name Hialeah means.  Mixon has a strong voice but is not really clear with her objective. Hialeah wants to have her baby and be with her husband.  The conflict is that she doesn’t know how to do it so she must find the answers. Finding the answers will get her off the ship safely with her baby and reunited with her husband.  But as the character, there is something wrong in her thinking and what she believes is real.  Does she really believe that burning up in the earth’s atmosphere will bring her back to life? If so, this is a dramatic characterization that needs further exploration.

Allison Perkins as Coral does a very fine job and has a remarkable number “Some Other Mother” which I totally enjoyed and thought was the best number in the show. In this number, she has come to the realization that all is not well for her and her baby. How she gets to this point is another matter. As the character, Coral seems to question her future mate’s sexual proclivities and, although she wants him, she doesn’t try hard enough to get him. Doesn’t she realize that the future of the human race is at stake, here and now? Perkins has a nice look and is wonderful in the role but would just like to see a little more conquering young love.

Jason Kobielus as Palmer is playing a character that is none too bright and is not young enough to not understand all that is presented before him. This role seems to be more suited for a younger character possibly 14 or 15 years old.  As this character, they have him performing actions on stage that a man of his age would know how to do, without hesitation, which includes a sexual act in which he seems totally lost and unable to perform. (Miami will show the videos if he needs them or doesn’t understand.)  But his relationship with Coral is non-existent.  The moment he truly sees her he should fall madly in love with her.  Also his objective is unattainable (whatever it was), and his voice, although pleasant at times, has the vibrato that reminds one of Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.

Samantha Macher as Brickell has a very peculiar role.  She is in a wheelchair the entire time. Which leads to the comment:

In space, no one needs wheelchairs.

I was not really sure what the wheelchair was all about.  It was never explain. It didn’t seem to be part of the characterization and wasn’t used effectively if it was part of the characterization. (If Ms. Macher is infirmed, I apologize, but her missing leg appears hidden under the wheelchair.)  Her character needs something from her friend.  Brickell is afraid of becoming pregnant and needs someone to go with her to the infirmary.  Why she needs this, is not explained, possibly she understands the ranks are thinning and something needs to be done. But no one ever tells her that her biological clock is ticking. And her wry sense of characterization seems to say she only likes looking at baby pictures she really doesn’t want one.  Okay, so what would help her get off this space station?  It is her beautiful, intelligent, natural offspring, who will help her find the way. Her conflict is to convince her partner that it is in their best interest to conceive to get off this space rock. Her performance was very dry without a clear objective.

Mackenzie English is engaging as Mint. But as the character seems lost in her objective wanting only to come along for the ride. Surely she must want something, can’t get it because of a conflict, and makes concessions in order to facilitate the relationship. As the character she seems to be a bit of an airhead not knowing where to go or who to turn to.  But it is in her friend that she finds the answers. English needs to find the moment when all things come to a realization, where she finds and loses her way all in the same moment. These are just a few little things to add to a nice little performance.

Ashley Fuller plays the voice of the aircraft Miami.  She is never seen until curtain call but gave a terrific performance.  What a pleasant voice to have around the craft.  But this character needs a moment that totally destroys, and it must be a moment that destroys all hopes and dreams.

“Open the pod bay door, please HAL.
(No answer)
Open the pod bay door, please HAL.
(No answer)
Hello HAL do you read me? Hello HAL do you read me?
(No answer)
Do you read me, HAL?
(pause) Affirmative, Dave.  I read you.”  - 2001 A Space Odyssey

One can’t help but look at this musical and be completely fascinated by it. I did enjoy the mix of the music, the video, and a few special effects.  A lot of hard work went into the book by Adam Hahn and the music by Jonathan Price and Lyrics by Chana Wise and while a lot of things worked, the characters objectives did not move the story along and the music suffered from this non-movement.  We were all lost in space without a clear path.

In space, there must be a clear path.

Christian Levatino, the director, does a fine job having characters move from on part of the stage to the other, but requires another focus in characterization, style and motive to keep the story moving. This production needs a particular style, taken to extravagant measures to emphasize the moments that require moments that change the relationships and move the story along.

Most musicals have a clear through line.  It is something that takes them from point a to b.  But, we seem to know the outcome from the very beginning.  Not a way to go if the objective is to get to earth.

The relationships were not clear.  No one treated Hialeah with the respect she deserved, since she is carrying the one who might save them.  She should be coddled, praised, told to lie down keep her calm, throw the woman out of the wheelchair and have her sit in it, etc., Viscaya could not get through the “sealed door” because it ultimately is a dead end. And why doesn’t anyone bother to ask Miami why the door is sealed. Palmer was too shy to ask Coral out? Mint and Brickell were lovers or best friends who really never discovered things about each other during the course of their time on stage.  Why couldn’t they ask Miami for the answers? When does everyone come to the same conclusion?  And why?  And how does this affect them? And to what degree?

Wonderfully produced by Arden Haywood, Niki Nowak Tolnay and Bob Rusch.  The Set Design was by Zachary B. Guiler. The great Video Design was by Jake Weinheimer and the Lighting Design was by Wes Chew.  The Graphic Design by Michelle Ingram.  Stage Managed by Brett Fleisher. Musical Numbers Staged by JJ Thompson.  And very nice Electronica Arrangements and Musical Direction by Jonathan Price. 
In space, without a chance of getting home there is no hope.

The show is called Earthbound, not die in space.

Go and take someone who loves NASA, who loves the idea of space exploration, and who believes the world will end this December 21, 2012.  You might have a great time.   

Through July 15, 2012

Reservations:  800-838-3006

Online Ticketing:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

D is for Dog by Katie Polebaum

By Joe Straw

Meet Mr. Rogers, an intellectually gifted scientist and a-not-so recent transplant from the farthest reaches of Halifax, England, who chooses to live his life in the confines of a tiny home in Nowhereville, USA, paid for by the generous subventions of his work, The Conservation Corporation.

For now, Mr. Rogers is blessed with an exceptional wife, Mrs. Rogers, and two neatly groomed well-behaved seven-year old kids. But upon closer inspection, the beautiful Mrs. Rogers’ eyes reveals little. Her gaze is an impenetrable door, sealed to keep back the horrific secrets of her past, which are lock away in her prefrontal cortex.  Whether real or imagined, the sealed horrors reveal themselves in the illustrated pages of a child’s book.

Mr. Rogers’ idyllic life, as he knows it, is nearing its final inescapable conclusion and in the sanctity of his own home, a truth emerges that will destroys their lives in Mr. Rogers’ not-so-quiet, and not-so-friendly neighborhood.  

I don’t remember certain details.  It is a reason I take notes. And take a photograph of an empty set, so I can remember some of those details and then write about it. A photograph tells a thousand tales.  

Some productions don’t provide pictures of the set but there is an audience out there that loves professional photos of the set and even some not so professional.  

I’m not a bad person, and don’t mean to infringe on any “copyright material”.  Frankly, I didn’t know an image of a darkened set is “copyright material”.  Perhaps putting the set behind a curtain would solve the problem of pesky patrons like me, taking pictures of the set before the performance.   

So, when I was told not to take photos because the set was “copyrighted material,” it sent me to a place where I do not want to go, deep, dark, far below the surface of my normal pleasant exterior.  

People who want to control the image and therefore the message, irks me. I am not alone.  

“You see what sendin’ out those negatives waves did Moriarty?” – Oddball (Donald Sutherland)  – Kelly’s Heroes

“I am press.”


“I am press.”


Everyone else at the beautiful Hudson Theatre was nice: Why couldn’t that one extra person with the Stepford Wives eyes be nice as well?

And as I think about it, maybe this was a way of demonstrating the message of this production, of someone else putting me in my place, controlling the message, controlling the image.  It doesn’t mean that I like it.  I don’t. I will have my revenge, some day, not today, but one way.  And, intentionally or not, I am now part of this glorious production that is D is for Dog.  Thank you!

The Rogue Artists Ensemble presents D is for Dog written by Katie Polebaum and directed by Sean T. Cawelti is a marvelous production, with video effects, puppetry, and tricks that project out from a myriad of closets and doors.  This production pays particular attention to the mechanical details of the show, the light cues, video cues, sound cues, and music cues.  In its simplicity, it is one of the most jarring, eye-opening productions I’ve seen in a while and says a lot about what is going in Los Angeles theatres and in our nation today.    

The play starts of in 1950’s commercial motif.  Mrs. Rogers (Nina Silver) has her hand on the doorframe waiting to make her entrance.  She projects herself onto the floor in a song and dance pleasantness of her life, doing all the things she needs to do to prepare her family for the day including pouring the perfect cup of Maxwell House coffee.

Her husband, Mr. Rogers (Guy Birtwhistle), takes the cup of coffee, drinks it, and with a twinkle in his eyes proclaims it the best.

Tomorrow is the birthday of the Rogers twins, Dick (Michael Scott Allen) and Jane (Jane!) (Taylor Coffman).  The year is 1955, they will be seven years old, and they are excited as they munch on the perfect plate of Aunt Jemima pancakes, made by their perfect mother, with their perfect father, a scientist, going off to work at the Conservation Corporation.

Only they don’t eat.  Not really.

“Science working for a better tomorrow.”

“Conservation Corp – a better future.”

And before Mr. Rogers goes off to the Conservation Corporation, they each take a white pill that will put “pep in their step.”  But it does not really work for Jane (Jane!), something goes wrong with her wiring, and she needs another pill to control her moods.  

The children go though the protocol of describing Lesson 143 the “Great War”.  The lesson is indoctrination about how life used to be, a miserable existence of never ending wars culminating in the destruction of civilization from days gone bye.

But, now things are better.  The sun always shines.  The weather is always agreeable and life is oh so 1950’s nice.  

But can things be that nice when they take off their clothes, open the closet door and get zapped for their morning protocol?  Catching ultra-violet rays means they are not getting any sun or the vitamin “D” they need.  Something is definitely wrong.

After their protocol, they get out their toys and play in the dining room until it is time for bed and their bedtime story from Mrs. Rogers.  But the kids don’t like mom’s story.  There is no truth to the words, she’s not really reading from the book, and puts their name in place of the characters in the book. It is totally boring – for the kids.  They want their father stories that are real, with real things, and real animals.  So exciting.

Dad knows.  He knows the truth.

Coming home at night, Mr. Rogers hears the phone rings.  He answers it to be told that “she” is getting worse. Rogers advises that she be given more “blue pills” and he will see her tomorrow.

The mystery of the “she” will be revealed later, or not.

Dick and Jane (Jane!) greet their father.  They want a true bedtime story with real animals. Mr. Rogers takes the lamp from the table, takes off the shade, and projects real animals on the wall, and as he creates the shadow of a zebra, the zebras suddenly are projected on the wall and come to life in a fantastic video art display.

But, the kids want more.  They want proof that animals are real.

Wanting the best for his kids, Mr. Rogers makes contact, through the use of an old fashion phone and an ipad, with other beings and makes a deal to secure a book on animals.   

Of course, “They” want something in return, “They” always do.  

The next day starts with the same routine except it’s the kids’ birthday and everyone promises this will be the best birthday yet.

But, then, things start to go horribly wrong.  The phone rings and they are all terrified to answer it.  Because Mrs. Rogers is afraid of the truth and this idea starts with a small crack and turns into large fissure.

And then “They” come.  One cannot determine how “They” have found their way, how they’ve adapted, and what their purpose will be.  We only know “They” are stronger than their weak friends who live where they live and “They” are horribly disfigured for living in a place that is not kind to their being.   

D is for Dog has a marvelous cast and it may be a good idea to turn away here because I’m going to write about the cast without giving away too many details. If you are intrigued, go!

Guy Birtwhistle plays Mr. Rogers.  This little dig in the first paragraph about being transplanted from England is a poke to Birtwhistle’s roots and his pronunciation of a few words. But it is a marvelous performance nevertheless. As the character Mr. Rogers, I believe wants the best for his kids and his wife. Or does he? They are the curse of his actions whether his actions were intentional remains to be seen. But why would the character risk everything to give his kids a glimmer of truth?  Because they weren’t really his kids?  Because they weren’t kids?  Because he wanted to move on?  Also, for the want of truth he has discovered something, a way to contact with those living above ground.  It is something he needs, his children need, a truth; any truth will do, something tangible and not controlled. For some reason, he really didn’t seem so broken hearted in the end.  Everything is gone, gone.  And what has he to show for it?  Nothing.  One has to marvel at Birtwhistle’s performance, the subtle nuance that captures a moment that turns the relationships into chaos.  It is marvelous performance.  ( 

Nina Silver grabs Mrs. Rogers by the throat and never gives an inch.  As the character and in her motions, she is so robotic that one forgets there is a confused human being underneath her exterior.  Caught in a nightmare of epic proportions, she seems unable to wake up to the cold reality and once she finally does she doesn’t know how to deal with it. Everything can’t be Donna Reed, there’s trash on the table and dirt on the floor and the happy homemaker mom doesn’t realize that it’s there nor does she have the compunction of pick it up. I believe more has to be made of the discovery of the book, because without this moment as her wake up call, we as an audience cannot grasp the complexities of her character and we need that moment. It’s a small thing to add to a wonderful performance.

Michael Scott Allen plays their seven-year-old son, Dick.  (If he was seven years old.) Allen did a fine job of a small boy but did he really fight hard enough for the truth? And when he finds it and presents it to his mother, did he want something from her? And because he found the truth he got a little more than he bargained for.  His performance is terrific.  (

Taylor Coffman plays Jane (Jane!).  Her performance is delightful and very professional as she hit a lot of the right notes. As the character, she is slowly coming out of her fog.  She understands something is not right, not right with her, not right with the family.  So she fights to get out of her predicament only to be seen as not being compliant and then she is force to take another pill so that she is compliant. Try as she might she can’t break free of the 1950’s and in the end she is dealt a sad blow.  Poor Jane (Jane!).  Coffman is marvelous! (

Matthew Patrick Davis plays The Voice and gave the play the sinister sound one likes to get from plays like this.  This was a very nice job.

Heidi Hilliker plays the Visitor and the Dog.  The visitor is the “They” referenced above. The visitor is the puppet you read about when you read about this play. Hilliker did a very fine job and created a nice relationship with her counterpart. Man and wife – always at odds.

Benjamin Messmer plays the other Visitor and the Corporation Employee.  I thought it was a grand job that needed something extra. This Visitor needed a backstory. He needed to bring his recent past with him to the present. One of the fascinating things about the Visitor is that he has taken upon himself to live in pain, dehydrated to skeletal remains, to live in the elements of their own making. The tragic dirt of their environment influences his quality of life and he can take anything thrown at him except the pain. He wants something and must not stand by while the other person gets it for him, or not. He must quickly get it.  He’s bringing something and He wants his reward.  Messmer does a nice job that needs something extra but still nicely done.

Daniel Cohen is the alternate for Dick.  Ryan Klamen is the alternate for Rogers and Visitor.  Jennifer Maxcy is the alternate for Mrs. Rogers. And Melanie Portney is the alternate for the Visitor.   They did not perform this night.

Katie Polebaum has written a terrific play that is perfect for the small venue at The Hudson Theatre. Polebaum is a fantast writing about the darker side of humanity.  In this version of D is for Dog one can only see a glimmer of hope from her idealistic world.   She leaves no room for an open door and compares this life as something we all may face in the future, unless we all wake the heck up.  The play is wonderful in so many ways that it is not easily dismissed.  One will contemplate it for weeks’ trying to figure out its complexities and that is always a good thing when venturing out into the world of theatre.

Sean T. Cawelti did a marvelous job as Director.  There are a lot of very fine moments when things start to unravel.  They are stunning moments which are subtle and amazing to watch. There are other moments that need fine-tuning, a deeper significance, and an exaggeration action to an exaggerated objective. Characters need not give up so easily to life and once they discover who they truly are should awaken to the cold realities.

This production team is second to none.  There are a lot of people who have done a marvelous job in getting this show on the boards.

Estela Garcia - Movement Coach/Assistant Director
Eva Vieyra Osmand – Production Manager
Danielle Doucet – Stage Manager
Brenda Goldstein – Assistant Stage Manager
Adam Hunter - Technical Director
John Nobori – Sound Designer and Composer (A very fine job!)
Noelle Hoffman – Assistant Sound Designer
Katie Polebaum – Scenic Designer (Also a wonderful job.)
Ben Phelps – Composer (Amazing job!)
Haylee Freeman – Lighting Designer
Kerry Hennessy – Costume Designer (Perfect for the time, but does the “not 1950’s” underwear give things away?)
Tyler Stamets with Miles Taher Megan Wallace, Seat T. Cawelti, Kerry Hennessy, Kris Bicknell, Gwyneth Conaway-Bennison – Puppet Designer

Nate Hodges – Choreographer
Leslie Gray – Prop Designer (The details are astonishing!)
Keith Mitchell – Assistant Prop Designer
Nick Kunin – Video Animator (Also, a very nice job.)
Matthew G. Hill – Video Designer/Graphic Designer
Muhammad Saleh & Sean T. Cawelti – Assistant Video Designer
Carleigh Herbert Makeup Consultant

D is for Dog is everything theatre should be.

Run!  And take a friend who has survived the “Occupy LA” internment camp.

Reservations:  213-596-9468
Through August 4th, 2012

The beautiful Hudson Mainstage Theatre 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA  90038


Monday, June 4, 2012

The Inventor, The Escort, The Photographer, Her Boyfriend, and His Girlfriend by Matt Morillo

By Joe Straw

(Editors Note:  There is complete nudity in this show, explicit language, and adult situations.   Those who have never seen exposed flesh in their life should not go.  All others, with various fetishes, are more than welcomed.)

At the end of this performance on Saturday June 2, 2012, an actor laid on the couch, with his hands on his head, exhausted, or exasperated, or frustrated while the rest of the cast came out for curtain call.  He got up from the couch, grasped hands with his fellow actors, took his bows, and seemed in a split second to ask us (the audience) to forgive the night.

He did this because there were a number of people in the audience with pen and paper in hand and they were writing a lot of things, laughing, and grumbling.

This actor seemed to be asking for forgiveness. The moment was very sincere.  And who could blame him for asking; a lot of things went wrong on this particular night.  It won’t happen again.  No two performances are the same. Still, there is work to be done, a lot of work.

KADM Productions presents the west coast premiere production of The Inventor, The Escort, The Photographer, Her Boyfriend, and His Girlfriend written and directed by Matt Morillo.   

“The Inventor…” is not really a play but two one act comedies strung together by a very loose thread.  The thread is those few characters that momentarily appear in the two acts.

The setting is a New York City apartment during the middle of a raging snowstorm.

Briefly, the first act is about an inventor, Jeffrey (Jaret Sacrey), who decorates his apartment in a beach setting to relive a sacred moment in his life. The room is filled with beach chairs, wilting blown-up palm trees, and a tiki-bar.

Jeffrey waits patiently for a high priced call girl to arrive.  He is excited about this game and wants to fulfill his ultimate fantasy.  

But there is a problem, an exasperated Julia (Jessica Moreno) walks in his apartment in a frustrated mood because she has gotten drenched by a snowplow, and is mad that John didn’t immediately ring her up.  Not a good way to start the ultimate fantasy.

“I’d like to get down to business.” - Julia

Julia is hard nosed about it all until she finds out that Jeffrey will pay her $3,000 to be his companion and have sex.  Julia is suspicious since it’s much more than her usual price. She done a lot of things with a lot of men but this just seems too weird.   

Jeffrey has written a script for Julia to follow but Julia finds his papers that show he does not STDs. (Okay, too weird, but nice.) She finds the script and they run lines to get an idea of what he wants.  In it he sees a beautiful woman, pink top and tight white shorts walk across the sand. She takes off her shirt and then her shorts and sits lovingly in the beach chair.  He wants to re-create this fantasy with better ending results than the one he actually lived.  He also has various neuroses, he asks her not say “bikini”, or talk very dirty, and other things.

But, Julia has rules of her own, which involve “nothing kinky” unless it’s kinky for extra money. 

They both agree to the rules, get into costume, and the game is on. But during the course of the game, they find out a lot about each other.  He is an inventor of sex toys that he demonstrates.  She has her masters.  He weighed 360 pounds at the time on the beach. She’s a lousy game player.  She has a heart of gold.  

In the second act in another apartment, John (Jeffrey Camata), a comedian, is calling his girlfriend and asking if she is coming over.  He leaves a message on her cell phone.  Karen (Isidora Goreshter) doesn’t get it and storms into the room moments later, knocking the photographs, off the wall with glass and frames breaking underneath.

They are a couple that is considering breaking up because Karen had given John permission to have a fling.  Not a good thing when you are hopelessly in love. Unexpectedly for Karen John finds somebody right away and does the deed.

So much for true love.  

Karen knows about it and is disgusted.  She takes out a bottle of Fabreze and starts sanitizing the room, specifically the places where they did it.

In other words, everywhere.

But, John and Karen agree to talk it over before they decide to end or save their relationship.  Karen wants to know about the sex.  She fancies the excitement of the expressions of his specifics. (They are a little kinky.) He tells her the girl was great, a dancer, and wonderful in everyway.

“It was the best thing since Wicked” – John 

Okay, so not the best descriptions, but they will do.
John tells Karen that it was just a fling. Karen seems to forgive John, gets dressed in a dominatrix costume, and the two go at it. As they are going at it, handcuffs and all, the phone rings, then the doorbell, then there’s a knock at the door.

It is Molly, a 21 year-old dancer, and cousin to Karen.

From here on out there is a lot of explaining to do.  

Jaret Sacrey as Jeffrey is a little ineffectual.  There were quite a few laughs along the way but character’s choices needs work.  The character’s opening moments are weak and one is not sure poking the blow up palm tree is a good idea for establishing character. Here is a man, who weighed over 300 pounds, and even though he has lost most of the weight, he still thinks he can only get a woman by paying her an exorbitant amount of money. Also, he is an inventor so he should take extravagant pride in demonstrating his sexual products. Also, his neuroses should keep him in and out of the game all night long. Characters like this need to go to extremes to find the comedy.  One cannot play this guy straight. That is a death sentence and a sure bet for not getting laid.  

Jessica Moreno as Julia has a very nice figure and gave a very nice performance.  Moreno’s entrance in the beach scene was magnificent.  And there are a lot of wonderful moments in her performance despite the dialogue she has to utter. (Would a woman with a Masters degree not know the difference between Katherine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn?)  Also, it wouldn’t hurt to take this performance up a notch and make it a little more sexually physical to play off her partner’s neurosis.

Jeffrey Carmata as John is a comedian.  I did not get this at all.  So what do you do to make the character work?  Well as a comedian, he has a problem and his problem is women, lots of women. He is a sexaholic who loves veggie burritos and whiskey.  He also loves to talk a cozy tale to get women to make love to him. The problem with this character is that Carmata doesn’t understand the character’s complexities.  He doesn’t take delight in his precarious situations of getting two women to show up on the same night.   He doesn’t beg or grovel to bring his girl back.  And he doesn’t take absolute delight or shame in watching his young girlfriend dance.  One always hopes to find the character and plow full steam ahead in character choices.  Metaphorically he needs a mike, his arm draped across a mike stand, an eye for keen observations, and the ability to express those observations. Why stop at metaphorically, give him a mike and a stand and let him go at it. But, there’s not anything that can’t be tweaked and maybe that’s all that is needed. On the other hand Carmata has a very strong voice and I thought this was absolutely on the mark for a comedian.

Isidora Goreshter as Karen has a very good look and gave a delightful performance.  There was a problem with her opening entrance when she slammed the door and the photographs fell off the wall onto the floor. (It is an unfortunate thing when there is broken glass on the floor and no one knows what to do.)  As the photographer in the title, this character was not established as the photographer until much later in the scene.  Maybe she should have the camera ready the moment she walks through the door, and capture his cheating images in photographs.  Still, Goreshter had some very nice moments throughout the night and she is wonderful to watch.

Jenni Halina as Molly understands her character.  She is delightful in the role but should express more of her love to her new boyfriend. Her interpretive dance on healthcare should get rid of the “much older cousin” and keep the man that is ultimately what she wants. More physical love and want would only add to this already fine character performance.  

Matt Morillo has written and directed an interesting play.  There is stuff for everyone but mostly for the 20 to 30 year old crowds.  Those older see this play as an exercise in silliness. Which is not to say there is no room for this in theatre.  There is.  Also, it is very difficult for a writer to step aside and let the director do his work. Sometimes you just fall in love with the words that don’t give a realistic view of life, and which does not paint an accurate picture of an extraordinary day in the life of these characters.   At times the characters are so far away from each other, it doesn’t make sense.  This is a comedy about sex but there is very little foreplay in reaching the moments that matter. If it is about sex, let’s have a lot of foreplay, and put the fun back into this sexual comedy.

This cast is filled with gorgeous women and handsome men in various stages of undress and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But, character is critical in this type of show and character must be defined, must go to extremes, must have an insurmountable conflict, and lastly each character must know and realize their objective.  It’s a tall order to fill but when it’s done with conviction and heart, it is a beautiful thing.  

Wonderfully produced by Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners.

Set Designer by wonderfully created by Dan Mailley.  Lighting and Sound Designer by Matt Richter.  Public Relations by Ken Werther Publicity.  Production Stage Manager by Rebecca Schoenberg.  Associate Producer Laura Manchester, Theatre Planners.  Graphic Design Kiff Scholl.  Press Photographer Keenan Henson.

Go and take a friend who loves foreplay.

June 2 - July 8, 2012

Reservations:  323-960-7712

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Charity Part III of a Mexican Trilogy by Evelina Fernandez

L-R Sal Lopez, Evelina Fernandez, Ofelia Medina

By Joe Straw

Walking into the theatre creates an excitement one would not believe. On this particular night, I experienced a strong reaction as I sat down. A warmth overcame me. Whispered voices became comprehensible, images became clearer, and I felt a pleasant vibration as though ghosts from the past were reaching out and welcoming me.  My eyes started watering and I was having trouble keeping my composure. While I’ve had similar experiences in the past, this usually happens when I am actually seeing the performance, not before it.

Going to the Los Angeles Theatre Center to see the Latino Theatre Company is a desperate attempt on my part to broaden my horizons.  After all, I’ve lived in Los Angeles many years and only know a modicum of Spanish.  The one thing I can say is that I’m willing to explore new horizons and theatre will do that for you.

I'm going to be challenged when I see productions at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. But,  I will brush aside the ignorance of my Spanish, find the part of my brain that comprehends, and get into the meaning of it all. But theatre is not just about the words, it’s also about the intention. The language barrier should not matter at all.  Still.  

The Latino Theater Company presents Charity:  Part III of A Mexican Trilogy by Evelina Fernandez and directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela.

One day, I will understand the meaning of:  Octavio Paz’s poetry, the lonesome songs of the mariachis, and the beautiful words of an Evelina Fernandez’s play without translation.  One day, one day.

But, whatever words Evelina Fernandez manages to capture it is a song in her language.  The songs are beautiful words without the music, stunning poetry without the verse, and a bountiful charity without the pity.  

Charity manages to hit the mark on many levels and it hits hard on the idea of charity.  Giving, not wanting to give, and taking, not wanting to take.

One thing I know I can’t do is read the English subtitles while watching the expressions on the actors face.  Thankfully most of the dialogue is in English.  

And I just soaked it all in, sat there staring at the beautiful Scenic Design by Francois-Pierre Couture and Tesshi Nakagawa.  The two-level set includes a circular staircase that sweeps one up to the second floor of this marvelous set where half of the action takes place.

And then,

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream
Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen
Give him two lips like roses and clover
Then tell him that his lonesome nights are over

Sandman, I’m so alone
Don’t have nobody to call my own
Please turn on your magic beam
Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream

Beautifully sung by Valentina (Esperanza America Ibarra), a song about loneliness, dreams, and praying for someone to spirit us away.  

Valentina walks into her home and introduces us to her mother, Gina (Evelina Fernandez), who is in a dour mood watching the funeral of Pope John Paul II in April 1995 projected on a giant screen behind her. Upstairs is Nana (Ofelia Medina) a spry 105 years young woman who is not going anywhere, despite the fact that Gina is prepared for her to be dead, gone, and morgued out of the house.  

But Valentina, her great-granddaughter, has not given up on Nana. While chain-smoking cigarettes like Betty Davis, Nana wants to share her stories and impart the wisdom she has collected through the years.   But upstairs, there are some strange happenings, in particular Silvestre (Sal Lopez) and Emiliano (Sam Golzari), two ghosts, are waiting semi-patiently to drag Nana into the throws of the newly departed. Still, Nana is not going anywhere.  

While all this is going on, Juan Francisco (Jonathan William Cruz), a relative from Mexico, arrives unexpectedly and he needs a place to stay. They accept him as one of the family rather than check his credentials. He appears to speak only Spanish, but when they talk about him in English, they discover that he understands and speaks English (with an accent of course).

Meanwhile Gina’s husband, Rudy (Rudy Ramos), comes homes to find this stranger drinking his milk and eating his cereal. Gina, in her usual off-beat mood, wants Juan Francisco out of the house.  There are too many mouths to feed.  And everyone feels kind of the same way.   There is to be no more charity in this house, none, go away.  

But there is a solution to this problem.  Bobby (Geoffrey Rivas), Gina’s brother, visits with Betty (Lucy Rodriguez), their slightly wacky sister. Bobby takes a liking to Juan Francisco until he finds that Juan is his relative so no sex for Bobby. But no matter, Bobby hires Juan Francisco to work in his salon until he gets on his feet.  

Meanwhile the ghosts upstairs are getting rather impatient and they are ready to drag Nana into that peaceful, special, place, with all the bright lights.

Good luck, she’s not going anywhere.

Evelina Fernandez is like a Chicana Chekov.  Her characters are rather dour but there is wonderful life behind all the pain and misery they face. There is a lot to like about the writing, the characters, and the predicaments these people get themselves into. Stanislavsky thought all of Chekov’s’ plays were delightful comedies much to the dismay of Chekov.  And I believe that to be true of Evelina Fernandez’s work, although sometimes one has to break through the strong veneer of hopelessness to find the humor in it all.  Still, I had a great time. Fernandez’s words are an armamentarium of the American Latino experiences and I can’t wait to see "Faith", part one in the trilogy.

"Hope", the wonderful second part of the trilogy, is still in my mind so it was a little confusing watching the same characters grown up. And it was confusing to connect actors to the characters since some of these actors played other characters in "Hope".  (Connecting the dots is a challenging game.)

The Latino Theatre Company brings in a few new actors to liven up the mix of regulars actors, and that is always a good thing.

L-R Lucy Rodriguez, Geoffrey Rivas, Rudy Ramos, Esperanza America Ibarra, Evelina Fernandez

Ofelia Medina brings Nana to life with a strong portrayal of the matriarch. As the character, she is as robust and focused as anyone could be for someone who doesn’t want to die.  And she is always on the move.  Clasping her hand together so that one may stick their head in, pick her up, and move her to another location. (The elderly need a little help getting up.) This was a marvelous portrayal.

Geoffrey Rivas is Bobby, brother and gay hairdresser, and is quite outstanding in this role. He livens the party wherever he goes. It really doesn’t matter if the Pope has died since death is not something to bring him “down”.   Rivas is a regular at the Latino Theatre Company and he gives another solid performance.

Sal Lopez play Silvestre, a priest, who was in love with Nana when they were young.   He is now gone, doesn’t have much to say, but wants her to go with him. And just when you think he’s convinced her, something happens.  Lopez also plays Johnny, Gina’s brother, who is a damaged soul from his Vietnam War experience.  I wasn’t sure what this character wanted or where he was going.  Still, Sal is a favorite and I think the Latino Theatre Company will keep him.

Evelina Fernandez as Gina is a dour as they come. Come, to think of it, the character Gina was very dour in “Hope”. One can’t help but have a little sympathy for this character.  She wants more to life than being stuck in her house, watching a funeral all day long, and taking care of her grandmother who should be dead, dead, dead. On top of everything else she doesn’t know to pray the Rosary.  Google should be the order of the day.

Rudy Ramos as Rudy has some nice moments but really needs to find the humor in his portrayal. Surely all the love has not gone out of the high school sweethearts.  Find a way to rekindle the relationship and move forward with life with a little more optimism.

Lucy Rodriguez as Betty is engaging as the sister who’s been married four times (4 times!) and doesn’t understand why she is still alone.  Possibly she has an overactive imagination and a strong libido and that libido caught her in all the wrong places.  Rodriguez gives a cleaver and funny performance.  

Esperanza America Ibarra as Valentina is a new breed of actress.  Her work is carefully crafted, her singing was poignant, and she has this sarcastic bite that will not let go. It’s always good to see her perform with the Latino Theatre Company.

Sam Golzari plays Emilano, Gina and Rudy’s son who was killed in the Iraq War.  The uniform was slightly confusing as it resembled the army uniform era of the sixties and seventies and not one of Iraq.  Also, I couldn’t really tell what he was doing in Nana’s room, possibly wanting to bring her into the light is my guess, but he never really took action to do this.   He says that he wants Nana to help Gina grieve and heal but his actions, stuck in the upstairs bedroom, do little to accomplish that objective.  Wasn’t really sure what his character wanted and how his relationship to Nana works along with his relationship with Gina and Valentina.  Which is not to say that I didn’t like the performance, I did.  I just thought his objective needed to be clearer.

Jonathan William Cruz did a very nice job as Juan Francisco and as the one who accepts charity until he gets up on his feet.  But he seemed to just come and go without a purpose. His relationship seemed to be all about family but I would have liked to see his relationship stronger with other members of the family, particularly Valentina. I’m not sure what he wanted, other than a place to stay, and more is needed to give this character a strong core.

Dyana Ortelli plays Nana as well but I did not see her the night I was there.  Also Dianna Miranda plays Betty in an alternate’s role.

Jose Luis Valenzuela does a nice job directing this play.  But, I would like to address a few things I didn’t quite get (and that’s only me).  Jose Luis, feel free to use the comment section below.  

I was not really sure the purpose of the slow motion walking and how it related to the others who were speaking dialogue.  How does walking in slow motion work in the context of the theme of charity?  Also, one gets the point of the video being projected against the wall, but having it run continuously might detract from the fine acting on stage. Wouldn’t it be better for us to concentrate on the moments of the play rather than the video?

Jose Luis Valenzuela certainly provides a play party.  At times, Charity is a spectacle and a feast for the eyes of living things willing to breath freely in the hope of having a fulfilling life.   

Sound Design by John Zalewski.  Lighting & Videography Design by Cameron Mock.  Costume Design by Carlos Brown. Movement Coordinator by Urbanie Lucero.  The Prop Master by Tesshi Nakagawa.  Technical Director by Wayne Nakasone.  Sound Assistant by Sarah Roberts.  Associate Lighting Design by Carolina Ortiz.  Assistant Stage Manager by Fidel Gomez and the State Manager by Henry “Heno” Fernandez.  

The Casting was by Rosalinda Morales & Pauline O’con, CSA. The Musical Director was Marcos Loya and I’m guessing that he was the musician on stage that provided the accompaniment for the fine singing. He was very effective and it was a job well done.

The one thing you know when you see a Fernandez and Valenzuela production is that there will be something for everyone.   And there will also be something to think about for a long time.

Go, and take a friend that needs a little charity.

Through June 10, 2012

Reservations:  866-811-4111