Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Mile in My Shoes (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

To share something more than a little humiliating--I was homeless.  Only for a little while, and I generally had friends with whom I could stay.  Found a job before long and managed to end up in a nice furnished room I can afford.  In truth what happened was I tripped and got my feet wet in a puddle.

Others have been treading water in the ocean for years.  We don't like to think about them.  Understandably.  We like to pretend homelessness is a choice.  Or the result of some flaw in character.  Less than three days before I saw A Mile in My Shows, the driver of a Metro bus carrying me to another show was loudly telling everyone how the homeless did this to themselves, they chose this life, they never even try to anything to help themselves.

It is a common idea.

Lots of folks are stupid enough to believe it.

This show consists of one person walking on stage, and we instantly recognize her as homeless.  Kathryn Taylor Smith performs this show which she wrote and Zadia Ife directed.  We meet a woman in old, worn clothes pushing along a cart full of what looks like haphazard junk.  She moves slowly, pretty obviously in pain.  She becomes our guide, and shoes the equivalent of chakras as we go and see what this edge of society is like.  Not all of it, of course.  Think of how many homeless walk the streets each day.  That is how many stories there are.  No, only a fraction.  I suddenly remember for a moment when I lived at Rockaway Beach in NYC back in the 1980s.  Never had known a winter with snow before.  As it thawed out later in the year, the police found a dead body under the boardwalk.  Months earlier, he had simply crawled in there and fallen asleep.  Then died.

Nobody noticed.

Now that is an incident lost in my memory since Reagan was President.  Yet now it bubbled to the surface.  In my view, no coincidence.  Rather design.  And this one woman play, this involuntary journey into humor and horror, hope and heartlessness, designed to do exactly that.  To change me.  To move me into another mind set, another state of being, even.

I've told you all I"m going to about the specific content of this fantastic piece of theatre.  Suffice to say it got under my skin and into my heart.  I believe very strongly the rest of the audience felt the same.  I invite you to share the experience, to walk if not a mile then at least a few yards, in the shoes of those who probably terrify you, lest by osmosis they somehow pass their tragedy into your life.

Here's a hint--that is exactly the opposite of what actually happens.

A Mile in My Shoes plays Sundays at 3pm until December 9, 2018 at the Hudson Backstage Theatre  6539 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood CA 90038.

Anatomy of a Hug (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

A thought about genre. 

At a writers' conference an editor once said genre is something artists like to play with, while publishers use it to try and steer customers to a book.  I didn't and don't regard those as irreconcilable.

Anatomy of a Hug, for example, by Kat Ramsburg might find its best audience via such a descriptive.  It is in some ways a melancholy rom-com.

Which really doesn't do nearly enough to describe the play, so allow some explanation.  Amelia (Meg Wallace) is a sad young woman as we meet her, allowing a sick old woman into her home named Sonia (Kathy Bell Denton).  A social worker named Iris (Leslie Thurston) comes along, giving some hint of officialdom, of bureaucracy, the notion of some intense history.  Yet when left alone, Amelia and Sonia behave pretty much like strangers.  At the same time, they walk on eggshells.  Amelia insists "No personal questions!"

Eventually we do learn the situation.  Sonia is Amelia's mother, who has spent decades in prison for the murder of her husband and Amelia's father.  Now, as she enters the final stages of a terminal cancer, Sonia has been granted compassionate release.  In all this time, her daughter has never visited her.  Never written.  Naturally one wonders why she agreed to allow this stranger into her small apartment?

Credit: Mikel Fox
So, like an onion, the details of her life peel away.  She works selling charity memberships by phone, a charity that helps desperate, often abandoned children overseas.  It does not pay well, but enough.  Evidently she's very good at it.  Yet hardly anyone knows her.  A co-worker who also shares the same bus, a relentlessly friendly gentleman named Ben (Jo Sung), finally works up the courage to speak to her.  Amelia freaks in response.  Quietly, unobtrusively.  But still, she's freaking out.

She lives, we learn, amid a dreamland made up of t.v. shows.  She has a whole library of DVDs.  When showing the tiny apartment to Sonia, she explains about Hulu, Amazon, Netflix and her Roku (Sonia barely understands a word).  In fact, Amelia has an enormous emotional investment in these make-believe worlds and characters, seeing them as worthy of deep loyalty. 

What she doesn't want (or says she doesn't want) is for Sonia to explain anything, even though her mother insists on doing it anyway.  After all, she isn't the same human being as before.  Rather than asking for forgiveness, she wants Amelia to merely understand, to answer the questions that much have haunted her.  This will be the last chance.

Credit: Mikel Fox
So what we view and hear and feel becomes the start of real healing for Amelia, whose life clearly is about as empty as anyone's can be.  The symbol of the prisoner granted compassonate leave then setting her daughter free in an act of compassion might be a little on the nose (okay, squarely on) but one cannot deny it works.  I did not feel sucked into these lives, feeling a desperate hope for them to someone emerge from a nightmare.  But I did like them.  They seemed alive (and that is about as much praise as any actor manages to earn) and their pain quite real.  It wasn't that complex a pain and to be honest the healing was almost too easy compared to some plays.  But it felt true.  I felt a strong hope Sonia would manage to heal her daughter, or at least help her do it.  This was all she had left.  Yet would be everything. 

So kudos to this simple, moving story of broken hearts and tender hearts and dying hearts and hopeful hearts and also more than a couple terrified hearts. 

Anatomy of a Hug plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm until December 7, 2018 at the Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia (east of Lankershim), North Hollywood CA 91601.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Big Event: Meantime at HoJo's (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

The Watergate burglary barely made a ripple in news reports when it happened in 1972.  That seems amazing now.  But ...Meantime at HoJo's by Christian Levatino takes that moment--which in hindsight seems like a crack revealing a bizarre backstage of history--and turns it into a human story of drama, tragedy and dark humor.

Our players went down in history as the Plumbers, a group of semi-professional covert ops veterans who see their job as saving democracy and Christian civilization from the horror of North Dakota Senator George McGovern being elected President.  In retrospect of course we know this danger was so great McGovern carried exactly one state out of fifty.  The leaders of this team are E.Howard Hunt (Darrett Sanders) and G. Gordon Liddy (Levatino).

What we follow then are a team of odd individuals, played very well by Patrick Flanagan, Scott Mosenson, Isaak Gracia, Adam Duarte, Jon Fusion and Hank Doughan.  The dynamics between them prove compelling and even fascinating, as the (in hindsight) clearly deluded team go all out in trying to uncover dirt and/or secrets about the Democratic National Committee.  All three plays of The Big Event (a trilogy which will eventually become a tetrology) fairly drip with irony.  Here we find no exception.  In fact these agents manage to uncover their own side's "dirt" and in the process help force the fierce Cold Warrior Nixon out of th Oval Office.

But mostly the play focuses on their interactions as we can see both their fears and complacency play out against what we know is coming.

Now here I will posit two criticisms against what is in nearly every way just an excellent piece of theatre.  One must be only visceral, because in truth we are discussing history and there were no women among the Plumbers.  Indeed, the 1970s lest we forget saw no shame at all in what we rightly today see as pretty firm, proud and entrenched misogyny.  So let that one pass.   It is telling the truth of those times.

Less easy to wave away is a premise behind the play, one referred to often and which helps  link it to the other two plays of the trilogy, especially Sunny Afternoon.  Simply, the play seems to be furthering the theory that the Watergate Plumbers were in fact the assassins of John F. Kennedy.  Honestly, I will no more debate this question than I would Creation Science, Holocaust Denial, or the Flat Earth.  I hope this inclusion is meant as a mere dramatic device, but frankly I am unsure.  This displeases me, because I am usually good at picking up on such 'signals' and these three plays seem too well-constructed to miss it.  So.  I frankly disapprove very strongly of such nonsense in terms of our current political climate, and in the face of very firm evidence (on top of what seems like an unbelievable coincidence).

Yet--the play remains a compelling story of interesting, even sympathetic characters with a darkly humorous insight into real history.  That needs saying first and last.

...Meanwhile at HoJo's plays Saturdays at 9:30pm and Sundays at 8pm until December 2, 2018 at the Flight Theatre, in the Complex 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood CA 90038.

The Big Event: King Dick (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

For those of you who don't know, Elvis Pressley walked up to the White House one day and asked to see President Richard M. Nixon.  More, he was (eventually) let in to meet the President in the Oval Office, to have some photos taken.  "Tricky Dick" it turned was something of a fan, and gladly granted the "King's" request for a Federal Drug Enforcement badge.

To add to his collection, he said.

Yeah okay.  Whatever.  From this little known snippet of history, Christian Levantino (who wrote, directed and plays Elvis) wove together an ever escalating political farce.  Honestly, there were times I had trouble breathing.  Every single word, it seemed, as well as every action seemed to spiral more and more into a delicious craziness.  Fairly early on, it doesn't even surprise when the very drug-addled Elvis starts to have a long debate with his long-dead twin Jesse (Darrett Sanders).  From there the machinations of minor White House aides (Derek Manson and Andy Hirsch)  over whether to let Elvis in, why, whether to tell the President about Daniel Ellsberg and what will soon be called The Pentagon Papers, up to and including Nixon's reaction to learning Elvis wrote him a letter, then beyond.  Honestly, it made for a surreal snowball of ever-faster and ever-larger absurdity that kept me roaring with laughter.

Turns out the two of them have lots in common, other than a nickname and world fame.  Both have exactly two aides who appear on stage (Patrick Flanagan and Keith Stevenson  like everyone else giving top notch performances) for example.  Both have trouble relationships with their wives and daughters.  Both are fairly conservative politically, and of course both prove deeply paranoid.

It does turn out a coincidence both of them are high as kites during the actual meeting.  Jeff Doba as Nixon I really want to highlight as someone who avoids caricature in his performance--ironic, because the play remains a farce and pretty much everything in it is indeed caricature.

Honestly, I have nothing but praise for this wild glimpse of a bygone political era that sometimes seemed a kind of Cloud Cuckoo Land at the time--and now seems relatively normal.  But this play captures the dark zaniness which allows us to look at the horrible, the insane, the dangerous and dangerously self-rightous with guffaws of laughter.  Otherwise we might cry.

Quick note:  The almost silent role of the White House photographer added to it all with a fine performance from Spencer Cantrell.

King Dick plays Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 5:30pm until December 9, 2018 at the Flight Theatre, part of the Complex at 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood CA 90038.