Monday, January 8, 2018

News: The Deep Kind reading

This is not a review.

I have written another play, this one something of a love letter to all those New England gothic tales set in a fictional weird small town like Castle Rock, Innsmouth or Collinsport.  The year is 1963, and a young woman comes to the strange town of Widow's Reach with an agenda.  She is not fully human, but desperately longs to be...

The reading of the play will take place Sunday, January 28 starting at 1pm and is free to attend.  Feedback is the point here. I am asking folks to attend and tell me how it works, what they like and dislike, etc. 

It will take place at Oh My Ribs (next to the Complex) at 6468 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood CA 90028.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Baker's Dozen Best of 2017

Well, 2017 is over and frankly, good riddance.  Not that I didn't have some wonderful times within the last twelves months, but overall it sucked -- mostly due to the November before last and the horror-inducing consequences.  Mostly.

But now here are my twelve (actually thirteen because I could not choose) best productions I personally saw on the theatre scene in Los Angeles since this exact time last year.  And no, they are in no particular order at all. Even whittling this list to a mere thirteen was hard enough!

bled for the household truth proved the last member of this list. If you checked on Better Lemons you'll find critics evenly divided between bitter and sweet.  Nothing in between. Doesn't surprise me in the least. This marks a deeply disturbing, intimate, sympathetic and touching portraits of seriously damaged souls trying to very, very hard to heal themselves. Yeah, the process and journey can be ugly, but the struggle is heroic even if on the scale of "mere" individual human beings.

My Janis was quite simply the best one person show I have ever seen, and a powerful piece of extremely intimate theatre. No long biographical conversations here, nor a description of what happened.  Rather Janis Joplin is alone, speaking to no one until the phone rings. That conversation reveals itself as the most important one in her life, inviting her back to San Francisco where she began JANIS JOPLIN the legend.  I was awstruck.
 Normal from the Vagrancy is one of three shows on this list from the 2017 Hollwyood Fringe.  My Janis is one, and shares one thing in common --both are about real human beings.  Real as in historical. Peter Kurten was an especially grotesque serial killer executed by a Germany about to elect Adolf Hitler.  That Germany called Peter "normal."  The implications, explored with delirious showmanship, made my flesh crawl.

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow was a play I saw in New York way back in the 1980s. I can honestly say this production blew that one away, far more than the original. A man and woman love each other, and she goes to her father for advice. Out of that so supremely simple idea comes an exploration of life's meaning and how we give each other meaning along with all the pain, disappointment and yes, joy.

Blackbird left me shaken.  Truly. In common with several other choices this year, it consisted essentially of a conversation -- in this case (not surprisingly) between a man and a woman. We eventually learn here is a pedophile and the former-child who was his victim/girlfriend/lover.  I actually squirmed more than once, feeling what the play revealed proved was almost too intimate for words. I became totally engrossed, up to and including a conclusion that made my heart cry.

Macbeth in Rhythm is the best production of "The Scottish Tragedy" I for one have ever seen, certainly the most abstract while still precise, and in the end the most courageous. Six actors used their bodies in some of the most incredible ways to tell this story, to bring the play almost to the point of dance but while keeping the dialogue intact.  In the last twelve months I've seen a lot of Macbeths and this was the best of them all.
Shakes-lesque! makes the only musical on this list, and maybe the premise--a burlesque mash up of all of William Shakespeare--sounds too trivial, in fact what it turned out to be was more like a dream journey in which the Bard visits all his future works.  Yeah the show is full of puns, full of scantily clad ladies removing most of their clothes, full of silliness.  But it also delves into some darker matters, and that is one reason I believed at the end the Bard felt creatively ready.

Artificial Flowers at ZJU is another conversation between a man and woman.  The cast was amazing, the story obviously deeply personal, and frankly felt almost too honest for anything like comfort. That one of the cast not only wrote the play but directed it blew me away!  As I said in the review, here is a portrait of a certain kind of dysfunctional relationship what changes forever one night, reaches that breaking point and I cannot quite tell what direction the pieces will fall.

The Physicists is a seldom performed play anymore, although its heydey in the 1960s made it famous. This dark, even absurd comedy about madness and doom was performed for the Fringe, taking it even further than the script suggests in its examination of how humanity seems to have doomed itself.  Maybe.  It is supposed to be a cautionary tale, after all.

Cannibals Alone at Theatre Unleashed was the first play in the Los Angeles area to reply to the election of Donald Trump.  It remains one of the most simply harrowing image of a terrible future, a portrait of individuals dehumanized by policies that found compassion ultimately incomprehensible. But was this because of policies?  Or was the lack of compassion what led to this heartless life?  Or does it matter?
Cat On a Hot Tin Roof from Anteus Company followed a pattern I've noticed (and applauded) in re-imagining such a quintessentially Realistic playwright away from Naturalism and towards the surreal. Thus in this case the set seems almost like a sculpture, with perspective shifting in each act. Sounds cool but what makes it really work is the forgiveness with which the whole production treats everyone. Yeah, some of them are just awful people. But it becomes harder and harder to hate them. Instead we increasingly feel pity as the way to save themselves lies open for them -- a way none of them can or will take.
Any Night gobsmacked me. It totally put me on the edge of my seat, remained compelling every single moment, yet never stopped surprising me over and over and over again.  This makes for no small feat!  Essentially framed as one of those thrillers where deciding who to trust becomes the focal point of everything, it adds to the problem by taking away our knowledge of what we might view as real.  Like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, we end up questioning everything, and until the very end the pieces never quite fit perfectly into place.  But when they do, it proves heart-breaking.
Grimly Handsome at CityGarage likewise uses the a genre -- in this case a police procedural -- and its expectations to play with your mind, re-examine premises and more, make you feel startling things about the characters (who sometimes seem to somehow bleed into one another).  The Christmas Tree Ripper is a serial killer once again on the prowl, although now (although the police don't know it) the Ripper is two men. More, the victim seemed to have a weird fascination with the idea of her own danger -- all these details echoed in the relationships between the detectives and a wife of one of one.  This one, like pretty much all my choices, haunts me still.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Beauty and The Beast (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Casa0101 in Boyle Heights is hosting the live action version of the Disney musical of The Beauty and the Beast.  To be honest, for me rather problematical.  My favorite fairy tale!  My least favorite version!

But this production wasn't aimed at me, but at the children in the audience.  They had a marvelous time!  You could feel it in the air, see it in their faces, hear it in their reactions to what went on.  Understandably so!  It was quite charming, especially in the second act.

The Disney version of course is very different from others, what with the magic rose and singing furniture plus cutting the evil sisters and creating a new (but very fun) villain, i.e. the ubermacho bully Gaston (Andreas Pantazis).  It also gives the leading lady an actual as well as logical name, Belle (Andrea Somera), which appropriately enough translates as "Beauty."  Then there's the curious business of the magic rose, which gives a ticking clock deadline to events.

The Beast (Omar Mata) lies hidden under an elaborate headgear that yet reveals his face. Honestly I think it could do with a redesign.  Casa0101 has only about 99 seats and all that brown became a blur.  Bigger pointy ears and really dark horns maybe.  But they are trying to make him look like someone animated, so...

Honestly it took me awhile to get into it, in part because Belle seems like such a snob and her father (Luis Marquez) a less interesting version of Japetto (not the actor's fault--he's written that way).  But--and this really cannot be over emphasized--the children didn't see it that way and just got totally sucked into this fairy tale world. The fact most of them have seen this before is the point!  Children like to see the same thing over and over again.  Not because they are stupid but because their senses are so hungry, because their enthusiasm remains undimmed.

I envy them that.

But the acting, deliberately just this side of cartoonish (it is based on a cartoon after all!), works and the musical numbers start off nice then get better and better.  By Act Two they had become universally splendid, or at least enormously fun! 

And here let me note the supporting cast of Lumiere (Caleb Green), Cogsworth (Jeremy Saje), Mrs. Potts (Jacqueline Schofield), and the support villains of Monsieur D'Arque (Matthew Noah) and Lefou (Sebastian Gonzalez) all did very fine jobs indeed.  In a nice touch the entire cast, in keeping with Casa0101's mission statement, reflected very well the ethnic diversity of Los Angeles.  Asian, African American, Latino, etc.  All present and accounted for. 

It was a fun show.  The designers did a lovely job creating the non-specific yet very real "world" of this musical, while at the end the power of true love and redemption shone through.  Even (and this is a bit unusual for the live action versions of this tale) the actor playing the Prince (Jesse Maddonado) who had been the Beast was no place holder for his looks but genuinely acted and had some genuine chemistry with his leading lady!

Beauty and the Beast plays Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 4pm until January 21, 2018 at CASA1010 2102 East First Street (at St. Louis St.), Boyle Heights CA 90033.

It's a Wonderful LIfe: The Radio Play 2017 (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

For a few years now Theatre Unleashed has produced Jim Martyka's lovely stage adaptation of the Frank Capra Christmas classic. If you haven't seen it yet, you're missing a delightful holiday treat build around a stunningly simple but wonderful idea -- a radio station in the years after WW2 putting on a show, complete with a story involving the cast and crew of the station which parallels that of the radio play.

Now I can go on and on (and have) about the thousand lovely touches in this adaptation (including the hilarity that ensues when the Foley Artist proves to be blissfully incompetent).  I could also compare and contrast this with last year's cast although what would be the point of that?  Rather, I praise this production with all its individual talent and style which makes it...well, wonderful.

Carey Matthews and Heather Lynn play the leads, the Station Manager and his Assistant who must step into the roles of George and Mary literally seconds before air. Their own relationship bleeds a little into the show-within-a-show, which adds one of many fascinating layers to the proceedings, up to and including people misreading their lines and at least one cast member having had a tad too much to drink!  Yet (and this proves important, not just a conceit) they all double down and give us the story  which has become an American classic -- the anti-A Christmas Carol, in which a man is not shown his terrible mistakes by ghosts, but the genuinely fantastic value of his choices even beginning in childhood.  Easy (and deserved) as it is to praise Matthews and Lynn for lovely performances, they are but the heads of a wonderful ensemble.

Richard Reich, Adam Briggs, Libby Letlow, Nick Salter, Corrine Glazer, Theresa Stroll, Jessica J'aime, Eric Stachura, Brittany Stahl, Samwise Aaron, and Emily Donn (directed by the Jenn Scuderi Crafts) all create this sweet and whimsical world to life, where we get to live for not quite two hours.  Not a sickeningly sweet world, nor a ridiculous one, not even ultimately one very much like that of original movie, where angels show up to talk you out of suicide.  But it is a world about as sweet and hope-filled as the real world can ever be, which when you think about it is rather better than we often believe.  Makes for a nice gift, for Christmas or Hannakuh or your holiday of choice.

What I could do -- and the temptation lingers -- is go over in detail just all the lovely touches the cast brings to the script.  Really, that would feel delightful to me, reliving the banter between the Actors (as opposed to actors) as well as the simple human reactions they brought to life.  But that would make up a very long review, longer than anyone wants to read.  Rather let me say sometimes I genuinely prefer this version to the movie with Jimmy Stewart.  Sometimes.  Most of the time I cannot make up my mind.

Sadly, as of this writing (and due to my scheduling) only three performances remain of It's a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play, which are Thursday December 14, Saturday December 16 each at 8pm, and Sunday December 17 s at 3pm, at The Belfry Stage 11031 Camarillo Street (just west of Lankershim), North Hollywood, CA 91602.