Thursday, October 10, 2019

Never Is Now (NEVERISNOW) by Wendy Kout

L - R Michael Kaczkowski, Evie Abat, Adam Foster Ballard, Sarah Tubert, Joey Millin, and Eliza Blair - photo by Ed Krieger

By Joe Straw

sparks and crackle
make melancholy
where books in bonfires burned
and riots viewed through broken glass

humans scattered across the land
in abstract resistance
leaving beautiful dreams
pasted on stained faces  

senseless state of persecution
over the rioting ruckus
and now

a voice that blares
and a single man
without a shred of morality
screeching his licentious invidious doctrine,

alone in a room,
starring into a mirror
for form, smiling
and thinking highly of himself. – Narrator 

The stage at the Skylight Theatre is bare. Well, not exactly bare.  There are six portable cubes for the actors to move as they are directed and an old brown weathered suitcase that sits far stage left.

The black box theatre has a translucent screen that separates the upstage wall with another screen used for projecting images further upstage.

The setting is unremarkable right now, possibly an open space for actors to move about, get their emotional bearings before the real set comes in. Suffice it to say, it is an unadorned space for the actors to create their own external magic.

And, however that magic is inspired, one hopes that it is in a focused direction, and one that lifts the audience to their feet.  

So many things can happen during the course of the presentation. And on this night, an exciting one at that, it is a dress rehearsal, one that requires all hands on deck from all of the players, an even hand from the director, and a playwright who insists on handing out changes this late in the game.    

And all is fine except for one small thing, one actor, does not, show up.  

Skylight Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Never is Now, the past is prologue, written by Wendy Kout, Directed by Tony Abatemarco and Celia Mandela Rivera, and produced by Gary Grossman and Michael Kearns through October 27th 2019.

L - R Adam Foster Ballard, Joey Millin, and Michael Kaczkowski

No matter, the playwright (Evie Abat) is subjected to performing her own material. The director (Joey Millin) reports that a once reliable actor is now a no show. This is to the playwright’s consternation since she would rather be watching her work, and taking notes from a seat in the audience.  

The other actors (Adam Foster Ballard, Eliza Blair, Michael Kaczkowski, and Sarah Tubert) take it all in stride and seem to know their lines despite the playwright’s sudden participation on this night.  They will make the best of it and keep the night moving as smooth as possible.

The actors need a sprinter’s strength to get through the night. But, so close to the actual performance, emotions run deep as actors are finally finding the internal sweet spot of an emotional connection.  And, because of the subject matter—WWII, Germany, and the subjugation of the German population—there are many discoveries.   

The characters they portray fight to overcome the political rise of Nazi Germany, and they do this to keep moving forward and ultimately move in the direction of staying alive.

And, strangely enough, all of that has an eerie connection to the current events of the day.

Never Is Now by Wendy Kout is the true story of 10 survivors of the Holocaust and of the actors who portray them now. It is an exciting look of how those actors, through osmosis, learn the play and the times, and come to a realization that history is repeating itself. 

All told this is a fascinating night of theatre directed by Tony Abatemarco and Celia Mandela Rivera and a take on people who operate on two levels; as people of 1930’s Germany and as actors who are portraying the present-day roles.  We get the point loud and clear.  Quietly beautiful and wonderfully effected, it is hard to tell where Abatemarco’s directing begins and Rivera ends.

That said, there were certain elements that need refining. We get the modern day characters they are there to tell a story. But, the 1930’s characters worked as independent spirits without an emotional connection, or a relationship to each other . They are historical characters that found their own way without help from the others.   

Also, this play calls out for an overwhelming emotional catharsis, perhaps one that takes place in a train, starting with the historical characters and then finishing with the players - a moment that binds the characters to the players.   

And, as an aside, there are times when the historical characters were projected on the screen, and we knew the characters that were being portrayed and those projections appeared sporadically.  Perhaps the projections should have happened throughout as characters were coming in fast and furious and the changes were difficult to track.   

All six characters on stage played various characters and are listed in the program as Woman #1, #2, #3 and Man #1, #2, #3.

I don’t recall ever seeing an actor like Evie Abat (Playwright) who does the little things so well that the moments just jump off the stage.  Her craft is extraordinary and her work is sublime.

Adam Foster Ballard is also excellent in his craft. At one point in the play his present-day character comes to a realization and runs off stage. (Actors!) That happened out of the blue and the moments leading up that didn’t focus on that moment. That aside, his work was phenomenal especially when describing who he is today and where his family originated from.

Eliza Blair is complimented by her craft.  It is smooth, somber, and to the point.

Michael Kackowski plays a Nazi during the 1930’s period and a Trump supporter for the current period.  There’s not a love of love for these characters. Still Kackowski does a fine job for each character he portrays. He is like the obnoxious character actor one finds in the Constantine Stanislavsky books.  Still, Kackowski has a strong presence and a very good look.

Joey Millin is an actor/director for the play they are performing. As the director, he is firm, has an even hand, and knows how to keep things moving for the rest of the cast. But, his relationship to the writer required more depth.  He treats her as an actor but his relationship to her as a writer withers a bit. There is never a consultation with her as director/writer to fix that, which does, or does not work. As an aside, the sax work was great.

There is much to enjoy in Sarah Tubert’s work.  Her voice is strong; she has a strong physical presence, and brings her proficiency in American Sign Language into the performance, which has significant meaning in the course in the show. One thing that needs more clarity is her personal story, which went by too fast and needed emotional clarity.

Wendy Kout’s work cries out for an awakening, mostly for the people who turn their heads or tune out the unpleasantness around them.  Those same people that think incarcerating humans and separating families is good because they broke the law and “we are a country of laws.” She reminds us of the 400 laws against Jews in 1930’s Germany and of the 32 nations who said “No!” to refugees, including the United States.

Today and now, in the United States, the unfathomable silence is deafening.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Caroline Andrew – Scenic and Lighting Designer
Mylette Nora – Costume Designer
Christopher Moscatiello – Sound Designer
Lily Bartenstein – Video Designer
Christopher Hoffman – Production Stage Manager
Garrett Crouch – Stage Manager
Wendy Hammers – Associate Producer
Amy Felch – Associate Producer

Run! Run! Run! And take a WWII historian.  

Skylight Theatre 
1812 1/2 N. Vermont Ave. 
Los Angeles, CA 90027



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