Thursday, May 28, 2015

An L.A. Journey – The Story of Lorenzo Alfredo by Emmanuel Deleage & Lorenzo Alfredo

By Joe Straw

Sometimes, you just don’t know, you don’t know how you got here because people, family, are not wiling to talk, to give their accounts of what exactly happened, how they arrived in this country, their perspective.  

Maybe concealing is a way of keeping you safe and in this country, your family safe, your friends safe, your loved ones safe.

They both came in the early 1900’s, and lived in the San Joaquin valley, working the fields, and had a son, Jose.  His mother got sick, possibly of tuberculosis, died within a matter of months, at the ripe old age of 18, in 1919. His father chose to move on to greener pastures. Jose, the infant, was given away, to a relative, or a friend, someone whispered, and that friend Americanized his name to Joe.

It’s like a whisper, the game you played when you were a kid, from ear to ear, bits and pieces of information that gets lost in the telling.  And so it goes. And so it goes. – Narrator

Casa 0101 presents An L.A. Journey The Story of Lorenzo Alfredo written by Emmanuel Deleage & Lorenzo Alfredo and directed by Emmanuel Deleage through June 7th, 2015.

If one were going to make to movie of this play, it would have to be in Cinemascope because of the large cast and landscape. And Jesus Eduardo Magaña, Paulina Bouyer-Magana, and JJ Paredes, the Projection Designers, certainly gives us the scope of the landscape by the projections on the walls.  The projections authentically give us the look of these locations.  The characters in the play performed in front of the projections, which were very appealing and fun to watch.

An L.A. Journey is the story of an eight-year-old boy Lorenzo (Olin Tonatiuh) who lost his mother and father. His grandmother took care of him, and when she could not do it anymore, Lorenzo was on his own.

Lorenzo—a K’iche Indian, Mayan—went to the city to find a place to work and live. 

Hungry, Lorenzo runs into Olivia (Blanca Melchor), a rather crusty, unhappily married woman, who recognizes the usefulness of a small boy to help her with selling of tortillas.  She invites him home to sleep on the couch.  Olivia tells him that it is only temporary until her husband, Jorge (Felix I. Hernandez), comes back home from wherever and whomever he is sleeping or drinking with.

Lorenzo, happy to have a roof over his head, gets up early and hits the streets to sell tortillas. 

When Jorge arrives and finds Lorenzo, he doesn’t want him there; still he sees the value of Lorenzo helping around the house and lets him stay.

Things are suddenly unhappy at home.  Jorge is drinking and abusing Olivia.  They really don’t get along.  One night, Olivia tells Lorenzo that she is leaving Jorge for a boyfriend who is now living in New York and she will take him with her if he wants to go.

Well, Lorenzo doesn’t like Jorge and keeps Olivia’s secret until it is the time for them to go.  Lorenzo says goodbye to his little friend, Rosita (Kathy Pedraza).  And, in the dead of night, Lorenzo and Olivia start their journey to El Norte.

Olivia tells Lorenzo, they are traveling, as mother and son and she wants him to call her “mom” until they get into the United States. Unfortunately, Olivia doesn’t have that much money, and she is also not that smart when it comes to dealing with other people along the path to El Norte.

At first glance, An L.A. Journey The Story of Lorenzo Alfredo by Emmanuel Deleage and Lorenzo Alfredo seems like a wonderful story.  One is very hard pressed to pass up a story about a boy 8 years old trying to get to Los Angeles.  

A couple of things: one, the title should say “The True Story of Lorenzo Alfredo” because everyone likes a true story.

Secondly, it should be Lorenzo's story and not the story of others around him.  During the course of the play, we lose sight of the cause, the boy, and the travel.  While the focus of the writing might change when introducing new characters, the characters should be introduced from Lorenzo’s perspective because it is his story.  This is not a story about Olivia; rather it is the story of how Olivia is perceived through the eyes of a young boy.  The same holds true of the other characters that enter Lorenzo’s life.

This is a difficult task for a young actor to carry.

But the writing has some problems because of what Radio DJ (Angel Lizarraga) reveals as he tells the story to Caller (Erick Chajon). 

In any case, if it is from the perspective of Radio DJ, then the story, as told on stage, should have been more precise, the journey fraught with more peril, and the passage more linear so that the characters are not traveling around in circles. No one likes to see an excursion in circles unless it is done to comic effect.

Carmelo Alvarez does an exceptional job with the character Hector and moves over into the dark side with the Money Exchanger.

Yolanda Gonzales also contributes mightily with portrayals of Dona Mare, and Grandmother. Her work was very enjoyable.

Felix I. Hernandez is outstanding as Jorge.  He has a strong voice and a strong stage presence and I hope to see him in other plays.

Aurelio Medina does some really nice work as Spicy, the coyote, that brings Lorenzo to the United States. Medina fits right into the role and has a very nice look on stage. One particularly likes the idea that Spicy will go to great lengths to provide for those who need his help, including using a helicopter. (If only the boy had expressed joy in that scene.)

Blanca Melchor as Olivia plays angry most of her time on stage.  This is not an interesting choice when there are so many other actions that would help the character. Angry doesn’t get a character anywhere but having a strong objective will take an actor on an incredible journey.  

Olin Tonatiuh is Lorenzo and has a very tough role in that he is on the stage most of the time.  Olin has a very good look and also has much to learn on his thespian journey.

There was some nice singing from Lorenzo Alfredo, the writer/actor, in this play.

Kathy Pedraza is very lovely as lovely Rosita.

The other actors filling out the roles are Erick Chajon, Angel Lizarraga, Estuardo Muñoz, Noemi Pedraza, Sharon Robles, Yocani Tonatiuh, and Katie Ventura.

Casa 0101 has a beautiful and spacious theatre.  The idea of having original works of Latino themed plays is a good one.  This is segment of Los Angeles actors that are ignored in Hollywood.  But now, at CASA 0101, they are showcased, up on their feet creating art, and by all means that is a good thing.  

I, for one, would like to see Roger’s and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” done with an all Latino cast, complete with great Latino voices, great Latino actors and musicians.  

But, that dream aside, the script needs more work.  This is tough to do when the director and one of the writers, Emmanuel Deleage, are one in the same. In this case the writers, director and the producer should contribute to the making of a play.   Also, the actors need to work harder to find their place and their light in their craft.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Edward Padilla – Producer
Rafael O. Calderon – Producer
Josefina López – Founding Artistic Director of CASA 0101
Abel Alvarado – Costume Designer –Very nice work.
César Retana-Holguín – Set Designer
Cristina “Crispy” Carillo-Dono – Assistant Stage Manager
Ed Krieger – Publicity Photographer
Jorge Villanueva – Light Board Operator
Jules Bronola – Assistant Stage Manager
Juanita Gina Medina – Stage Manager
Mark Kraus – Webmaster
Matthew Sanchez – Props Master
Maura McGuinness – Lighting Designer
Ramon “Rooster” Cabrera – Assistant Stage Manager
Sohail e. Najafi – Technical Director
Miguel Carachure – Assistant Stage Manager
Steve Moyer Public Relations
Vincent Sanchez   - Sound Designer

Run!  And take someone who likes to whisper in your ear, over and over again, “I crossed. He cruzado la frontera.”  

Box office:  323-263-7684

Email tickets:

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Woodsman by Steven Fechter

Tim Cummings and Joey Nicole Thomas

By Joe Straw

Tim Cummings came out at curtain call, a slow methodical walk, and took his bow. He grasped the hand of his fellow actors, and with no smile, he bowed once again to the very appreciative sold-out-standing-room-only audience. 

This is probably something that I should not make too much of, after all actors are still in character and sometimes they slowly come down and out of character.  Also, demanding roles take a while to come back to ones self, before they step out of the theatre and go on with the night.  

What Cummings was thinking during the curtain call, I couldn’t know.  But knowing actors, he probably thought the night did not come off as expected, that moments did not play out this night as in other nights. Possibly he was still thinking about the one crucial event that did not hit the mark. 

The smile of satisfaction is a hard thing to bring when you work for perfection. And maybe that is why the smile did not emerge this night. If those were his thoughts, the events of the night couldn’t be any farther from that truth. – The Narrator.   

Tim Cummings, John Klopping, Gregor Manns, Katie Pelensky, Cesar Ramos, Joey Nicole Thomas, and director Jeremy Lelliott can all take another bow for an amazing night of theatre.  

The Coeurage Theatre Company presents The Woodsman by Steven Fechter and directed by Jeremy Lelliott through June 13, 2015 at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre & Café.  

Deep within a forest of thought, a man emerges from a lonely spot only to find that his mind is in the thicket of wicked feelings.  The imagined soughing and rustling of the trees contribute to the cluttering thoughts racing through his mind.  He is imprisoned, unable to move, mentally wedged by the boscage that surrounds his limbs and traps his very being.  He is in the wildernesses of mental anguish that tears at his ability to survive in a normal environment.   

Walter (Tim Cummings) is mortared to the chair in a therapy session.  Walter, the woodsman, is uncomfortable in his plaid shirt, his kaki pants, and his tan shoes.  Ira Rosen (John Klopping) sits opposite him, a faceless man (looking upstage), speaking to him, as his therapist.

“So, How are you adjusting?” – Rosen

“I’m adjusting okay.” – Walter

“And the new apartment?” - Rosen

“The apartment’s okay.” -  Walter

Well, Walter is not really okay; he is still in the forest of bad thoughts; and the medication he is taking gives him headaches.  And to top that off, Rosen’s personality makes Walter’s skin itch.

Rosen, in an accusatory tone, says that maybe it’s because of his name.

Caught slightly off-guard, Walter says that anti-Semitism is not his problem and then turns the tables on Rosen.

“Are you okay, Rosen?” – Walter

“I’m fine.” – Rosen

“Honest?” – Walter

Rosen has been trying to connect with his Jewish identity and has found out that his Aunt died in Auschwitz. She was just a little girl.  (The mental battles fought everyday).

They are both caught in the little known path of the forest. Walter moves away from this subject. They both do.

Naytheless, Rosen wants Walter to keep a diary, to paper a personal journal, but Walter has his reasons for not wanting to put pencil to paper; it has sent many men to prison by way of evidence.

Rosen, understanding slightly, tells him to think about it.

Wanting to get better, Walter warms to the idea of writing.  And so he writes to his friend, Kirby, if only he knew where to place the letters knowing that: one, the letters would not get sent, and two, Kirby is dead, a voice silenced six feet under.   

Later, by happenstance, Carlos (Cesar Ramos), Walter’s brother-in-law, brings in a nice cherry wood table.

Tim Cummings and Cesar Ramos 

Walter lovingly appreciates this table.  He had foraged lumberyards to find the perfect cherry wood and built the table from scratch for the perfect wedding present.  

“The wood still pulses with life.  It’s like when you look at this table you don’t see a piece of furniture… you see a living thing.” - Walter

The drawer would be a great place for the letters to Kirby.  

Walter made the table for his sister, Annette (not seen)—the one with the nice smelling hair, as a wedding present. But because of bad memories, Annette wanted to throw it out. Carlos saved it, put it in the attic, and now brought it over as a gesture of goodwill, to give him a piece of furniture for his sparse apartment.  

But now Carlos moves over to the window and pointing to the obvious he mentions the grade school down below.  He stares at Walter and doesn’t think it’s a good idea for him to be here. There is too much temptation.  Walter says that he is supposed to be 100 feet away from children.  His new third floor apartment is 135 feet away.  Still, it is extremely close in Carlos’ mind.

“I’m just thinking that maybe it’s not so healthy being this close.  You know, to a school.” – Carlos   

Carlos says his girl is turning twelve the following week but he can’t invite Walter to the birthday party.  He is still working on getting Annette to come around.

After Carlos leaves, Walter is enmeshed in the forest again, looking beyond the window into the schoolyard.  He writes to Kirby about a man in his twenties, hanging around the playground, talking to boys, giving them candy bars.  And his mind goes back into the forest, to the young girl (Katie Pelensky), backlit by the moon, who temps him, in a dressing gown, a terrible figment of his imagination.

Things take a dramatic turn when Nikki (Joey Nicole Thomas), Walter’s co-worker takes up the Walter’s invitation to have a drink at his place. Nikki can see something in his personal makeup and will stop at nothing to get the information.

“You’re damaged.  Something happened to you.” – Nikki  

This is by far Jeremy Lelliott’s finest work as director.  The moments play out to perfection, the acting is as natural and compelling as any theatre in Los Angeles, and it all works to such a degree that it is a riveting ninety-minutes of pure theatre. This is certainly the finest drama I’ve seen this year.

Tim Cummings is outstanding as Walter. Walter is torn because of his past and the emotions that plague him today. And there are enticements all around him.  Bringing those thoughts under control is almost too much to handle, his secret is too much to keep to himself, he is at his mental end, and all along wanting to do the right thing.  Cummings gives the character the right balance, of trying to find the right thing to do, when the images in his intellect are telling him something else. Cummings journey of character is an emotional tour de force and a performance that should not be missed.

“…this girl. I see…this girl.  Not a real girl.  She’s in the back of my brain…just out of sight.” – Walter

John Klopping as Rosen provides the right balance, brings the right measure to a sometimes-out-of-control patient.  But he has problems of his own.  He worries about his past, his life, and family and has little patience for the dregs of humanity.  He doesn’t care if the patient gets better or worse. But, in the end, there is remarkable change where Rosen turns the corner and allows himself to help.  Klopping is wonderful as Rosen.

Tim Cummings and Gregor Manns

Gregor Manns is also outstanding as Lucas, an out-of-control cop, with an affinity for Al Pacino movie lines. Lucas is part of the social fabric of policing determined to keep his streets clean. He will go after anyone and is willing to put him or her back in prison for one little mistake.  Oddly, he wants that person to make the mistake but he doesn’t want to dig any deeper than his front pockets.  There are a lot of wonderful subtle moments in Manns’ performance.  And he is a cop who is watching every move just for the sake of a collar and his job security.

“What’s your badge number?” – Walter

“My badge number is shut the f**k up!” – Lucas  

Katie Pelensky is the girl (played by an adult) that plagues his memories, wearing an almost transparent nightgown, in the moonlight. She is the memory of confused girl, a somnolent figure of sorts, or a stalking nightmare that Walter cannot shake.   Pelensky also plays Robin, a little girl, alone in the park watching and knowing a lot about birds.  She is in the park alone for a reason and after releasing the information she quails inwardly.  It is heartbreaking.  Pelensky is fantastic in the role.   

Occasionally one runs across an actor that by outside appearance doesn’t look like much but when he speaks he gives a profound nuance to the words.  And in the manner of presentation, there is change in the relationship between actor and audience. (I rarely see this.)  Cesar Ramos as Carlos is that kind of actor who is very specific in his choices, mannerism, and his objective.  There is also something very sinister about this character in the way he interacts with Walter.  He is an enticer, an Iago to Othello, and someone who wants to cause a great deal of trouble in very subtle ways.  Ramos is terrific in the role.

Joey Nicole Thomas is pretty incredible as Nikki, a smart woman that comes off manly to overcome the talk in the shipping warehouse.  She is a strong silent type in a gothic manly sort of way. That aside, what really comes off in Thomas performance is her sincerity, and the total commitment to the role. She has to know about the man before she stays with him and she displays dogged determination to get that information no matter the cost.  When she finds out, she is shocked beyond comprehension.  This is an absolutely wonderful moment in the performance. And also, this was a remarkable performance that I will carry with me for a long time.  

I’ve run out of words to describe The Woodsman by Steven Fechter only to say it is a wonderful play where the words mean so much to each character.   Shelly Winter is known to have said “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.”  The words and actions were definitely on the stage on this night.

Other members of this production in a dual cast are Julianne Donelle as Nikki, Mark Jacobson as Rosen, Nardeep Khurmi as Lucas, Christopher Salazar as Carlos, Erin Sanzo as Girl/Robin and Venny Carranza as Walter alternate.

Other members of this wonderful crew are as follows:

Costume Designer: Emily Brown-Kucera
Sound Designer:  Joseph V. Calarco
Lighting Designer:  Michael Kozachenko
Stage Manager:  Emily Goodall
Assistant Director:  Ken Werther
Fight Director:  Tyler Vaughn
Press Representative:  Ken Werther Publicity
Graphic Design: Ryan Wagner
Production Photographer: Nardeep Khurmi, John Klopping

Wow!  Two shows in a row that have absolutely blown my socks off!

Run!  Run! Run!  And take someone who has done his or her time in prison and is really trying to change. You’ll have an interesting ride back home.

Also, grab yourself a cheese sandwich at the café.  It was delicious.

Reservations:  323-944-2165

Friday, May 22, 2015

Light Sensitive by Jim Geoghan

Preston Acuff 

By Joe Straw

I watched this marvelous play envisioning it as set in Chicago knowing full well that Hells Kitchen is in Manhattan.  What confused me, well, the first thing, it was dark with hardly any light. Secondly I was slightly caught off guard by the accents emanating from the actors.   One of the actors was from the Midwest, the other from Arkansas, the other from Moscow, Russia, a potpourri of characters I could only imagine living in Chicago. Or maybe it was the light of mental images from the last play at the Moth which was set in Chicago.  But, and there’s a big but here, never mind, I’ll get to that later. – Narrator

Justin Huen, Scenic Design & Lighting Design, presents a dramatic set in a shanty Hells Kitchen apartment in Manhattan. A filtered light seeps through the upstage wall.  (An abiding theme in every one of Huen’s creations) The windows have not been cleaned since the occupants moved in and there is possibly nothing to see outside except other shanty apartments buildings and the occasional dead body littering the streets.  A bathtub sits near the sink, hardly ever used, especially since it’s filled with un-cashed checks, newspapers, and other junk mail.  This place is one notch above a pigsty and one can only imagine the stench.  

Light Sensitive by Jim Geoghan and directed by John Markland, produced by John Markland and Brenda Davidson is now playing through May 31, 2015 at The Moth Theatre in Hollywood.

In short, Light Sensitive is breathtaking production.  John Markland’s meticulous staging of meritorious actors brings a remarkable light to Los Angeles theatre. Just when you thought the craft of acting is lacking in local productions comes an astonishing production of life and depth of character.  This marvelous production at The Moth should not be missed!  Seats are limited and time is running short, so run!

In the opening moments, and in its perfect quietude, “Light Sensitive” starts with an unfathomable shadow of a contumacious man, unwilling to allow a single shard of light to enter the tatterdemalion apartment.  

Tom Hanratty (Preston Acuff) sits alone in his home nursing a bottle of whiskey.  The bitterness of being blind weighs upon his worth.  He is a pathetically mendacious man who offers little of his self-appeal to anyone who would walk through the door.  And his past life as “the most dangerous cabdriver in New York City” had not been fruitful—thanks to his use of alcohol and an unfortunate accident that left him completely blind.

Now, on this day, Tom sits alone, waiting for his best friend to come and temporary save him from his miserable day. He sits in a chair, a reposeful expression of a man holding a glass in profound darkness, waiting. Only a trace of light highlights this lone figure sitting, wishing more, to have someone come to him.   

Not that anyone could get through the door, with the latch on, and the multiple bolts unlocked.  Still, Tom waits—halfway—an obsequious trait of his morbid curiosity.

Why should a helpless blind man worry about intruders on the day before Christmas Eve?

And in this dark, dank, lightless venue, Tom waits for his friend, Lou D’ Marco (Ned Liebl), who is the life of his own party. Lou arrives at the anointed time but cannot get in through the front door with the latch on. Urging Tom to open the door, Lou pushes to get in.

“Go ahead.” – Lou

“Don’t push.” – Tom

“I’m not.” – Lou

“Don’t push.  I’ve got to close it.” – Tom

“I’m not pushin’”! – Lou

Lou seems to be blinded by his intelligence, or lack thereof, but might also be playing a game they always play when he arrives as he struggles to get through the door.  Lou senses that something’s wrong. Oh yeah, it’s dark, in Tom’s apartment.  The lights have burned out, and there are no bulbs under the sink, so Lou “borrows” a light from the hallway.

Now Tom’s upset about stealing a light from the hallway; he worries about the landlord and the fat Puerto Rican guy with his eight kids all on welfare.  And to top that off, this guy’s dog pees and poops in the hallway causing Tom to use extreme caution when he comes and goes to the bathroom that is down the hall.

Lou tries to calm Tom’s pugnacious instincts a little bit knowing how his friend gets.  No need to go ape stepping in dog excrement on the eve of the eve of Christmas.  

With the lights on, Lou presents Tom with a Christmas card.

“What’s the card say?  What’s it look like?” – Tom

“Well, there’s this chick on the cover with really big tits.” - Lou

Of course it’s just a dime store card with a reindeer on it, or some such nonsense.

Whether Lou’s being honest or just playing along, the two get along great.  But one gets a little queasy by the act of dishonesty one minute and Lou exchanging cash for checks with a blind man the next minute.

There is now a slight problem.  Lou has met a woman, a lawyer, and he is moving to Vermont with her. He met her while taking a college class and didn’t really have to say or do much to get her. Lou hints that Tom should start getting out.

“You need to get out more, Tom.” – Lou

“I get out plenty.” – Tom

“Out to Smiler’s the liquor store… You should, I dunno,  just get “out” more.  Go places, do things.” – Lou

Lou says the place is starting to look real bad.  (And he’s right.) Lou suggests that the “blind place” people are willing to help.  Tom is finally getting the jest of what Lou is saying and now wants to throw Lou out of his apartment.  And just has he opens the door, Edna Miles (Sasha Kapustina) is at the door waiting to come in and change his life.

Edna is bundled from top to toe—it’s cold outside—and she plans on staying to help.  But that’s going to take some doing because Tom is not hip to the idea.  Lou throws her back outside, tells her to give them a minute while they talk.  But Edna is now wailing outside, about the cold, and the dog running around in the hallway.

This show has been in a workshop for about a year (for God’s sakes, don’t tell Equity!) and the work shows.  Under John Markland’s direction, there is a rigorous simplicity, a respectful sleekness for much of the hard work displayed on stage.  Given how shows are usually thrown onto the boards with a limited rehearsal schedule, it is refreshing to see so much life, subtext, and characterization on display. In short, Markland’s work is a theatrical triumph that manages to capture the subtle nuances of each character’s objective. Markland also has a knack for finding fantastic actors time and time again and presenting them in all their glory at the Moth Theatre.

Strangely, one has to cudgel my brain to comprehend the title “Light Sensitive”, how that relates to the three characters. And while one character may be blind one suspects the other two are sensitive in ways they must overcome personal conflicts. Jim Geoghan’s play is marvelous and stands the test of time because the characters are real and in real life or death situations.  This all makes for a delightful night of comedy.    

Preston Acuff does a marvelous job as Tom, a man who has lost hope of being able to overcome his blindness.  Tom is not doing the things he’s supposed to be doing; he is not moving on with his life or taking steps to make his life simpler.  He’s stop taking baths, he relies on his only friend for help, and he has given up on women. There is a lot of great work, physical characteristics, and digressions that make up this remarkable character. Acuff does an amazing job.

Sasha Kapustina is remarkable as Edna.  Edna has something she wants to hide and it’s her disability.  She walks on the side of her right foot and there is also something wrong with her right side, as she is unable to use her right arm and hand. Edna is looking for a relationship, which is obvious in the performance. Kapustina is marvelously funny in a clever dry fashion and takes her time letting the moments play out.  One loves watching this actor, with fine strong Russian features, think on stage and then quietly taking the time to tell her story.  (Although, I think there could be more to the raccoon story, how it defines the relationship, and how it manages to bring the two together.) There is hardly a trace of an accent from Kapustina who came to Los Angeles from Moscow on a Fulbright Scholarship four years ago. In short, her work is astonishing.

Ned Liebl fills the role of Lou.  Liebl is a marvelous actor that brings a lot of depth to the character. Liebl throws us a few curves in his character where we are not really sure of his motives, which could be sinister, or something about the character Liebl does not want you to see until the time is right.  Who would hang his hat on top of his best friends Christmas tree? Liebl does the small things that create a solid character and we are never really sure of his motives until final moments of the play.  It is outstanding work that contributes to making this production soar.

Wonderfully produced by Brenda Davidson.  Daniel Coronel is the Stage Manager. Max Barsness creative the Graphic Design and Michael Roth was the Composer/Soundscape. 

Run! Run! Run!  And take a friend with a slight disability who loves to laugh!