Monday, October 31, 2016

Juarez: A Documentary Mythology (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Live theatre enjoys one enormous advantage over film or television – it stretches an audience’s imagination.  Instead of special effects or a meticulously recreating of facts, theatre depends on us engaging our mind’s eye.  Juarez:A Documentary Mythology demonstrates this with great power.  Power to move, to see what in fact is not at all there, to feel at home somewhere we ourselves have never been.

I myself have never been to Juarez, Mexico.  Yeah when reminded I remember hearing it called “Murder Capital of the World” and maybe way back in the 1980s I might have spotted it while hugging the Rio Grande en route to California.


But this show, with an ensemble not so much telling the story of what happened to this small city as invoking it, made me feel as if Juarez were somehow my home.  During the course of simply (or not so simply) relating how a wide variety of citizens there experienced it, in their own words, the audience became part of that history.  Not in terms of blame (although there’s plenty of that to go around).  Neither in terms of heroism (ditto).  But the raw experience of a trauma I for one hope never ever to feel in real life.  Just as a medieval passion play sought to recreate the Passion of various Saints, so too does this performance.  We endure a martyrdom of sorts, together, sharing in a horror which in truth wasn’t physically present at all.  We become the people of Juarez, not in flesh or history but in our hearts.

Photo credit: Kayla Asbell
Director RubĂ©n Polendo, who also conceived this project, provides an entry into his home town which changed so vastly after he left to attend University in the United States.  As explained in a recorded voice-over, he sought to re-acquaint himself with Juarez.  The company of actors -- Kayla Asbell, Denis Butkus, Adam Cochran, Justin Nestor, Attilio Rigotti and Corey Sullivan – ended up using a thousand theatrical tricks to throw the focus away from themselves and back on the stories to be told.  Horror stories of normal people swept up in events sometimes baffling, sometimes easy-to-understand, always beyond individual control. 

Maybe there lies why this dazzling display ends up so emotionally compelling.  Vampires and zombies make for safe terrors.  Not so drug cartels, random violence, police corruption and ruthless apathy.  We know those monsters to be real.

Juarez: A Documentary Mythology plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm through November 13, 2016, at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 South Spring Street, Los Angeles CA 90013.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Siamese S*x Show (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Watching Siamese Sex Show, I had the weirdest sense of deja vu.  Odd really, because yes the show is set in the future.  And more, its style remains firmly hip hop.  Yet I kept getting an 80s vibe, a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Phantom of the Paradise!

Consider that a clue as to just how positive this review is going to prove!

In essence, we are in a world where a corporation has pretty much taken over the entire Earth, but the evil CEO (Keith E. Wright) wants more.  It isn't enough to have wealth and power over the entire human race.  No!  He means to turn every single person alive into a personal slave!  It all depends on the proper marketing of the latest invention, which will allow human beings to experience sexual pleasure sans any physical intimacy with any other human being.  Think about that for a second.  And shudder at the genuine depth of evil it represents, way more real than mere desire for political office.  Worse certainly than any supervillain in any recent movie, no matter how fun!

Central to the plan is George O. Thornhill (Eddie Gutierrez), advertising wiz kid, recruited  by the CEO's personal assistant Vivian (Jillian Easton). But rebellion is slowly taking shape, centered around the Siamese Sex Show of the title, a club where actual physical contact is encouraged, even celebrated.  There the once-great rock star Malika (Cloie Watt Taylor) forced into porn finds herself also recruited.  Others will soon join her, including the formerly idealistic stage magician Mr. Hadji (Riccardo Berdini) and maybe rapper/ex-con/head of the CEO's security forces Jamal (Sean Leon).

Adding to the cast are in effect two sets of narrators--MC (Isaac Cruz), and the svelt/sexy Board of Directors of the corporation (Dayna Alice Austin, Janelle Dote, Miki Holmes, Alyssa Noto).  Add to this a robotic rock star Cherry (Erin Rye) and the President of the United States (Todd Waring).

But a bare description of all this doesn't really cover what makes this show so very appealing, so very insightful.  For one thing, the plot is anything but straightforward.  It does more than a few curley-cues along the way, usually in the wake of a series of revelations.  Now, seeing as much theatre as I do, one thing I long for but rarely get is a genuine surprise on stage.  This show gave me one lovely little twist after another--even the ones I saw coming had an element or two I didn't expect!

Apart from the genuinely fun musical numbers, the very good and expressive dancing, the energy a show like this needs and the very real success it achieves in creating its own world that somehow still feels like it has something to do with our own--apart from all this Siamese Sex Show does something fairly rare.  But excellent.  It does not pull its dramatic punches.  Yet it does not become cynical.  Not once.  Lots of genuine tragedy makes its way onto the stage, real humiliation and moral complexity.  Nobody among all the characters is without sin, often carrying a fair amount of blood on their hands.  Two of our heroes are actual murderers.

Yet hardly anyone save the CEO is really evil--and he comes across as a major league sadist and sociopath.  The real thing, not exotic and lame versions seen on police procedurals--he thinks your life is a toy for him to enjoy.  But part of his real and terrible evil is the way he's corrupted others.

Still, the story is built around hope.  The hope that we can choose.  The hope we can--with some luck, but especially if we act together--make a difference.  Love can be real.  Evil does not always win.  Truth exists.  Redemption happens.  Sometimes what is broken can heal.

Not what we think of when we hear the words "a hip hop musical."  But one of the many little things I like about this show is how it confounds that expectation among many.  Siamese Sex Show manages that rare trick of threading a needle, blending entertainment and really thoughtful storytelling, winning high marks for both. Call in zany.  Call it mind-bending.  But never forget to also call it Art.

Siamese Sex Show plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm until November 13, 2016 at the Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd (one block east of Vine), Los Angeles CA 90038.

Dracula: Blood Before Dawn (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Okay, I loves me a good vampire story, and every Halloween I eagerly look forward to new productions of Dracula as well as any other vampire play in this theatre-filled metropolis!  Twice I was even the author of same (end blatant plug).

This year the Loft Ensemble in Sherman Oaks gives us Dracula: Blood Before Dawn.  Written and directed by Raymond Donahey, the first thing that really stuck in my mind was how he took Bram Stoker's novel and did something original with it.

Honestly, that is harder than it sounds.  For decades every single attempt at dramatizing this story felt the shadow of Bela Lugosi, then for a time Christopher Lee.  Since 1992 it seems as if the Francis Ford Coppola film had such influence.

Here at least we see something new!

Part of this consists of re-arranging certain details.  Mina (Ainsley Peace) becomes Jonathan Harker's (Mick Ignis) sister rather than fiancee, allowing her to be Lucy's (Lauren Sperling) lesbian lover (as well as the Victorian equivalent of a Feminist--which ironically in the novel she denies while behaving as if she were).  In the novel Dr. Seward (Paul Romero) is older than Holmwood (Jefferson Reid) while here they are contemporaries--more they argue quite a bit between the tried and true tradition versus the ways of science.  This particularly comes out in debates over evolution.

Credit Shane Tometich
Interestingly our Dracula (Matt Gorkis) proves to be an atheist, one who regards himself as the next step in evolution.  Yet at the same time, while glorying in his power, he proves bitter at his condition having tried every way he could imagine to cure himself.

Now this is all good stuff!  Under the circumstances one might think (as some have) that the tale should become a warning against science and trumpeting faith.  But no.  The whole show avoids such simplicity, not least by showing a Van Helsing (Marz Richards) firmly convinced vampires are but science we do not as yet understand.  But then, he also yearns for revenge.  This Van Helsing's grandfather died at Dracula's hand, while his father lost his mind.

Credit Shane Tometich
On top of all that, Renfield is transformed into a woman, Mary (April Morrow) the only survivor of the ship which brought Dracula to England. As ever, Renfield/Mary remains one of the juiciest of roles--as Gollum is to Lord of the Rings, so this character is to Bram Stoker's classic.

An ensemble portray mental patients, gypsies and the like--Marian Gonzalez, Victoria Anne Greenwood, Alex Fream, and Bree Pavey.  The result expands the story outward from what most theatrical versions do (for, let us be fair, perfectly logical reasons).  Now, while all this is good and fun and worthy of praise, I"m going to mention a few things that aren't equal to the rest.  For one thing, the supporting characters really are nothing but walk-ons, which is a shame.  For another, plenty of tiny anachronisms creep into the tale--even to the point where Holmwood quotes modern American Creationists in arguing with his friend Seward.   In terms of performance, I found Van Helsing as written more compelling than as played--simply because I find anger on stage one of the most common and boring choices.  When Richards is not being angry, his Van Helsing becomes far more compelling.  And while Sperling is a very charming performer, her Lucy as written has little or no personality.  One wonders why Mina fell in love with her.

Credit Shane Tometich
While I regard this criticisms as valid, I also feel compelled as well to offer praise.  Too many versions of Dracula play the whole story as melodrama (often with dash or two of pure camp).  Not here!  In fact there's quite a lot of nuance pretty much everywhere one looks, up to and including the ending which is anything but what one expects.  Or at least what I expected.  Because at heart this version isn't about an undead fiend being defeated, or an anti-hero coming to the end of his ways, or for that matter long-lost lover re-united across oceans of time.  What instead we find is the story is that of Mina Harker herself, whose defeat of (or defeat by) Dracula is just part of her history.  The ending proves open, a little surprising, and containing rather more hope than one might expect overall.

Dracula: Blood Before Dawn plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm at the Loft Ensemble 13442 Ventura Blvd. (across the street from The Psychic Eye), Sherman Oaks CA 91423 until November 20, 2016.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Phoebe Zeitgeist Returns to Earth (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

The City Garage latest show Phoebe Zeitgeist Returns to Earth is another complex piece of dream theatre by Charles Duncombe. This marks the second of his plays I've seen.

Conceived as a sequel the play Blood on the Cat's Neck by German playwright/film director Rainer Werner Fassbender, this work focuses on an alien Artificial Intelligence looking to issue a report on the inhabitants of this planet.  She lands in the city of Los Angeles during a Presidential election!  What a lovely opportunity to see humanity at its most raw and honest!

Or is it?

Credit: Paul Rubenstein
Therein lies much of the question as to whether any specific person will get much out of the show.  Back in the 1980s, while living in New York, I saw a fair number of plays by Fassbender.  His vision remains a vivid one to this day and so a sense of deja vu came with watching the performance.

Phoebe (Megan Kim) arrives and almost instantly begins encountering others, starting with the Cop (Zack Sayendo) who notes she shouldn't walk around naked like that.  Yet he offers to look the other way in return for sexual favors.  Phoebe has zero notion what he means and never does learn English.  Along the way she meets a Garbageman (Bo Roberts) who yearns for yesterday he remembers as better than today.  Later a suave Gigolo (Andrew Loviska) makes his profession sound almost kindly, countered by a Homeless Vet (Anthony Sannazarro) who can no longer function in the civilian world.  A English Professor (Trace Taylor) who comes on to Phoebe in a genteel sort of way, a ruthless Foster Mother (Mardaweh Tempo) who insists this is a hard life and if taking care/ignoring a bunch of orphans gets her some income, then great!

Credit: Paul Rubenstein
If you're suspecting we're getting a cross section of humanity--or at least America--you're not far off.  At least of the middle and lower class.  Phoebe never seems to encounter the relatively few rich and powerful.  Instead she meets (and scans) a College Girl (Lindsay Plake) with a history of sexual abuse she's still trying to process, a Porn Star (Kate Rappaport) turned skilled businesswoman, an Invisible Boy (Jeffrey Gardner) whose head brims with conspiracy theories and/or simply delusions or hallucinations, a Scary Girl (Kat Johnston) fairly bubbling with rage, an 80s Rock Star (David E. Frank) cruising on memories that haven't got much juice left, and finally the Activist (Johnny Langan) full of passionate ideas about what we should do to make the world better.

Part of the whole feel of this play, and in keeping with Fassbender, is how this last character increasingly seems like the least effectual of the lot--which is startling high bar.

Credit: Paul Rubenstein
Although everybody begins with the daunting task of acting to someone who doesn't respond (but they must presume she is), the cast eventually starts interacting with one another.  The whole point of the play eventually reveals itself--their interactions with each other barely change from with the totally alien, uncomprehending Phoebe Zeitgeist.  In a way they are worse!  Because they end up lying to each other as well as themselves.  More, while Phoebe shows no compassion or kindness she at least is never cruel.

Not so everyone else.

Fassbender's world view (at least as seen in the plays I've seen) was unrelentingly dark.  This play mirror or echoes that, every single character seems to devolve into a worse version of the person we initially meet--or, as is implied, they become more purely themselves.  Eventually everyone is on stage and begins arguing about the election, then everything involved in it, then every detail of each others' lives.  It becomes something like a mini-riot from which Phoebe emerges to give a devastating report to her far-off creators of life on planet Earth.  She notes the strange four-limbed mutant parasites are doomed to naturally make themselves extinct.  So, good news for the universe!

What we the audience experience is this story told with the focus of a laser beam, a dark and fierce critique of everything horrible we as a species do to one another--not in terms of nations or wars, political power or social policy, but in how we treat one another as individuals.  That focus is the direct result of efforts by the cast and director Frederique Michel's successful efforts in bringing these words to (disturbing) life.

Phoebe Zeitgeist Returns to Earth plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm until November 13, 2016 
at City Garage, Building T1, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica CA 90404.

Note: Sundays are "Pay What You Can" at the door.

Nevermore (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Just in time for All Hallow's Eve, Theatre Unleashed offers a "secret history" of the most macabre of America's poets--Edgar Allan Poe.  It even opened on the anniversary of the man's mysterious death.

Nevermore, by Matt Ritchey, becomes equal parts mystery and mind game pretty much from the very start.  Poe (Michael Lutheran) arrives at the estate of his childhood friend Montresor (David Foy Bauer) for a visit.  Upon the wall we see a portrait of the host's sister, Lenore (Elise Golgowski).

Fans of Mr. Poe should already feel alerted.  The easter eggs will keep on coming (some not even from Poe's own works).

When I call this a secret history, let me be precise.  The play intends to tell of events unrecorded in Poe's life, revealing a supposed "truth" about the man and his entire career.  Dudley (David Caprita), the estate's sinister butler, and Montresor's attorney Catherwood (Courtney Sarah Bell) make up the rest of the cast.

All five do wonderful jobs, and frankly the performances they pull off prove to especially impressive the more I think on it. For one thing the temptation to pull out all the stops and make this a camp melodrama sits there like...well...a raven above a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door!  Director Sean Fitzgerald wisely eschewed this, in favor of playing this as a drama--taking the gothic sensibilities as simply part of the play's world rather than a joke.  Wisely, in my view, not least because so much of the story ultimately depends on secrets each character is keeping from the others, practically from the first word!

More, this doesn't "feel" at all like the gothic tales we often think on--the Draculas and Frankensteins, the Dorian Grays and Dr. Jekylls.  Such remains our stereotypes of the gothic, firmly rooted in the Old World.  But Poe was an American to his fingertips and even his tales set abroad don't "feel" European somehow.  Class, for example, simply isn't as front and center.  Our sexual conflicts, likewise, arise not from a Roman Catholic perspective but rather a history of Puritanism.  The differences can be subtle, but very real. It even shows in Gregory Crafts' set design, with a lack of the traditional Victorian flourishes and bric-a-brac.  American homes, even those of the very wealthy, tended towards less ornamentation, less flamboyance.

Apart from design choices, though, what really lingers in memory is how the story progressed and how every piece fit together.  As we slowly get hint after hint to explain the odd tension between this two old friends, why they both drink quite so much around each other, what resentments simmer under the hearty welcomes and toasts to each others' health. 

I really want to praise Courtney Sara Bell for going an extra mile, because as written her character seems little more than a placeholder with some personality.  She took it further, making an interesting and compelling person who fits into the overall tale--this eccentric story of odd people caught up in strange events.

But specifics aside, the whole cast captured with genuine feeling and truth the sense of American Gothic which Poe so embodied. The whole play, design and blocking and writing and performances, felt very much not like an Edgar Allan Poe story so much as a story taking place in the same world as one.  A tricky and very entertaining balancing act to achieve!

Nevermore plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm until November 5, 2016 at the Belfry Stage, upstairs at 11031 Camarillo Street (west of Lankershim), North Hollywood CA 91602.

Fallen Saints (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Haunted houses each have their own style, have you noticed?  Should not surprise anyone when you think on it.  After all aren't there all sorts of styles in horror flicks?  A slasher movie is not torture porn any more than a Lovecraft is anything like a zombie apocalypse.

So what is the style of Fallen Saints, the new haunted house/maze/experience from Force of Nature Productions?

Victorian gothic.

Which I find quite refreshing.  More Crimson Peak and Penny Dreadful than Friday the 13th or Hellraiser.  Or at least that seems to have been the idea.  The execution proved not to be a bullseye but neither was it a miss. It was all very fun, but a tad unfocused.  On the other hand, I saw this on a preview night when cast and crew were still fiddling and tweaking with it.  So as you read further, please keep in mind I have not experienced the final product.  So take every single word with a grain of salt.

Credit: Adam Neubauer
The premise is that we are invited to a seance, held in the same building as a mortuary whose creepy proprietor (Wyn Harris) welcomes us with questions as to our health, age, height, etc. Honestly he comes across as a character right from those old horror comics of the 1970s, complete with his tale that some people claim to have seen the ghost of blind child playing the violin (Anatol Felsen) wandering the establishment.  He passes off the guests to a scientist (Gloria Galvan) cackling at her collection of trinkets and body parts.

Here we get a major clue for those seeking the same.  She eagerly shares a letter "From Hell" and the piece of liver it came with.  Certain folks--such as myself--will instantly recognize this as one of the most famous clues to emerge from the Jack the Ripper case of 1888.

And here is the sort of weakness I detected in the whole event.  This wasn't really exploited or set up very effectively.  How many "got" that clue?  I cannot say, but it seems certain not all knew enough to recognize that note.  Likewise, the sense of place wasn't particularly firm.  Was this funeral parlor near Whitechapel, where the Ripper stalked and ripped?  Are we supposed to expect to see more ghosts?  If so what might their stories be?

Credit: Adam Neubauer
Bears mentioning this was a preview.  So this might all be fixed.  I've seen vast changes between a preview and an actual performance!

It also bears repeating the individual parts of the show all worked, all made for genuine spooky entertainment--which after all is the point!  I'm just being nitpicky about why what I experienced received a C+ when I wanted to give it an A.

Also, despite the warning, I'm not giving it all away.  I'm hoping you go see the show and enjoy yourself, so there's a limit to the spoilers allowed.  For that reason I'm not even going to mention what roles Kirstin Maxie, Steven Alloway, Tom Jones, Donna Jean Siegel, Adam Shows or Vincent Miller play in Fallen Saints.

But I will note that Michelle Danyn does play the spiritualist whose seance we eventually attend.  We were led into the chamber, where she sat still and quiet within what looked like a circle of salt.  Not until everyone had arrived, did she speak or explain her efforts to contact those who had not yet passed on.

Credit: Adam Neubauer
The whole first part of Fallen Saints was literally a build up to the seance, making it the centerpiece.  As might be expected, part of what followed did indeed harken to the murders of Jack the Ripper, easily the most (in)famous of Victorian London's crimes.  An inspired choice for writer Andy Schultz (whose comedies I've praised here before) and director Sebastian Munoz to pursue.

My (perhaps unnecessary--remember they were still making changes) advice overall is to do a bit more in the creation of atmosphere and pacing.  I would for example have the "From Hell" letter read aloud.  And just generally give a bit more backstory, a bit more time for the atmosphere to seep in.

On the other hand, I enjoyed myself, and given this was the first performance I'm utterly sure everyone that followed was better.

Fallen Saints runs Friday and Saturday nights, October 7 through October 29, 2016, at The Actors Group (TAG) in Burbank- 2813 W. Magnolia Blvd, Burbank, CA 91505. Five performances each night at 7pm, 7:45pm, 8:30pm, 9:15pm and 10pm. Each show can only accommodate 30 individuals.  Parental discretion is advised.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Airport Encounters (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

One way to increase the quality of an evening of what I call "playlets" i.e. ten minute plays, is to unite them with a theme.  Not sure why that works but it does.

The Neo Ensemble Theatre's Airport Encounters proves a case in point.  Ten little plays, all taking place at an airport waiting for flights (many delayed) from Encounter Airlines (a nice touch). Honestly, they do not make up a uniformly fine night of theatre.  What they do, however, create is a night of entertainment, with individual shows never once becoming bad or even mediocre, while some of just little gems.

Connections by Jessica Matthews for example tells of an accountant who meets a soap star while mutually waiting for a flight that neither one wants to make on an airline neither one would choose.  The plot resembles something akin to a sitcom, but veers more into what almost might be a romantic comedy.  Or perhaps the start of one.  Thanks in no small part to Jerry Weil and Marina Palmer as the two strangers getting to know one another, we end up rather hoping something clicks.  Romantically?  Yeah, that would be nice.  But even a real friendship would feel nice--and one imagines that a real possibility.

Hedgehog and Mustard by Larry Gene Fortin ended up my least favorite, but for entirely personal reasons.  Kelly Hawthorne and Carol Herman do a fine job portraying a mother and daughter who frankly have no way to communicate with one another save by bickering.  Not a premise I am at all likely to enjoy, but that is on me.  It isn't as if there wasn't some poignancy as well as humor enacted.  Nor have I even one complaint to make about the actors.  But--not my cup of tea. Your mileage may vary.  Probably will.  The rest of the audience laughed more than I did (and to be fair--I sometimes did laugh).  So--on me.

Border Towns by Starina Johnson left comedy behind in favor of some drama, with Tracy Elliott and Charles Howerton as strangers whose meeting seems providential.  One turns out to be a housewife struggling (on many levels) with cancer, the other a very experienced oncologist with some ultimately welcome words of wisdom.  This playlet confronts one of the most terrifying of all realizations -- that of Death.  Not in abstract.  Not as a terrible accident that takes a loved one.  But a ticking clock that will take all you are, all you ever might be.  Refreshingly, this one didn't become anything like a polemic about having faith in modern medicine and trusting one's doctors.  Nor did it champion alternative therapies.  Rather, it showed the old doing what in theory they should always be doing--sharing what they've learned.

The Statistician by Beth Polsky framed what looked like a sudden romantic triangle born out of terror of flying.  Linden East has far too many statistics of airplane disaster on his mind to feel comfortable actually getting aboard one--much to the despair of his girlfriend Sheila Sawhny.  They are after all supposed to be going on vacation!  Enter Abby Kammeraad-Campbell as an attractive young woman with an equally vast knowledge of such disastrous data!  And with her comes comfort as well as jealousy.  This one did go the sitcom route, which proved fine and certainly all three actors did their jobs with aplomb.  I did find myself longing for a twist--and not the one we got.

Therapy Dog by Scott Mullen on the other hand veered into the hilariously perverse and surreal, without quite reaching the level of PG-13.  We're talking weird yet weirdly believable.  Exactly the alley I like to walk down given the chance!  Steve Oreste is passenger intensely nervous about flying, chatting with equally fearful Nancy Van Iderstine, when Anthony Marquez enters as...the title character. No, he isn't really a dog.  He just becomes one as part of his job.  And if that isn't deliciously bizarre enough, Mimi Umidon enters with her own...kinky...interest in the situation.  I cannot describe it further without spoiling, so simply take my word about how well this one works!

Simple Air by Nancy Van Iderstine ended up my personal fave of the ten.  David St. James and Kathleen Cecchin play an Amish couple, waiting for their first ever airplane ride. Well, they have to go if they are to be there for a family emergency.  What follows is a confession on the part of this very meek-seeming dutiful wife, about her recently breaking the rules.  For a good cause!  This already sounds funny, doesn't it?  Now let me reveal this evolves into a musical.  Yes, a ten minute musical.  A ten minute hip-hop musical complete with backup dancers!  'Nuff said.  If you're not tempted by that description, I don't know what to say.

Stuck by Scott Mullen proves a bit more subtly surreal but even more moving in the end. Nicole Rochell works at the airport coffee shop and has finally gotten the courage to inquire about a mysterious man, Brandon Meyer, who for months has shown up every single day then boarded a flight for Phoenix.  Then was there again.  And again.  And again.  For months!  So...what is going on? One can hardly blame the girl for pinching him just to make sure he isn't a ghost!  He is not.  Eventually he shares his story, leading her to share hers, and both discover they have one thing in common.  Both, as the title suggests, remain stuck.  I found myself quite moved by the connection these two strangers forged in the course of their conversation.  At the end, I felt genuine hope for them.  No small thing.

'Til Flight Do Us Part by Laura Huntt Foti ventured again into people bickering, a married couple played by Bob Telford and (again) Marina Palmier. Again, I watched with more patience than interest, despite the quality of the cast and frankly in spite of the genuine "flavor" of their interactions.  I suppose my own taste requires more than bickering to keep my interest.  For better and/or for worse, I'd rather see a glorious battle royale that unveils some truths about these characters.  As it was, I believed them.  I believed they themselves didn't know what happened to their marriage.  But I don't know either, didn't have a clue.  And their fighting seemed mundane, if at the same time totally truthful.

The Test by Rom Watson certainly had its moments.  Jason Paul Evans and Adam Ziv (whom I've seen before and is splendid) play are a couple of college students/pals returning from Spring Break.  Only the latter is distracted by doubts in his mind over whether he's gay or not.  His friend offers to give him "the test" to find out for certain.  Lots of potential there, if not exactly ground-breaking given the format.  Both performers were good, the script certainly seemed witty enough.  Yet in the end--and this is one of those things almost impossible to nail down or predict sometimes--the ten minute show lacked something vital.  Frankly I felt zero sexual tension between them.  Without it, the play failed to sizzle, and frankly also the ending then came out of nowhere.  Then again, maybe these two were having an off night?

Mead and Stu at the Airport by Rom Watson had plenty of sizzle, as well as gentleness and humor and considerable charm.  Elliott Mayer and Donaco Smyth play the title characters, a pair of janitors keeping each other company as they work what seems to be the midnight shift.  Their friendship proves extremely real, even as Stu proves to have...well, a unique way of viewing the world.  That Mead actually accepts this, rather than running for the hills, made me think of him as someone I want to be.  Simple courage and compassion, kindness and taking weird ideas seriously simply because your friend has them--well, isn't that truly heroic?  More, we can in theory achieve that level of heroism without once going into combat, donning a cape or wielding a light saber.  I found myself very touched by this wonderful union of script with performers.

Airport Encoutners plays Fridays and Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm at the Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd (one block east of Vine), Los Angeles CA 90038 until October 16, 2016.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Hex (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Tis the season...when the dead rise and powers of shadow call out to come dance under the pale moonlight.  Hex, the latest show from True Focus Theater and Cabaret, celebrates this with an odyssey into feminine power.

That sounds so simple, doesn't it?  I mean, the words are straightforward enough.  Their meaning, however, pulse with all sorts of possibilities...

Now, I am a Halloween person since childhood.  Going in, the subject matter seemed to be about witches, and that much certainly proved part of it.  But only part.  Many and varied among the All Hallows' Pantheon--usually in their most erotic forms--appeared on stage before show's end.  Vampires, werewolves, ghosts and demons were all there.  Nor were they alone.

Credit: Adam Neubauer
Widows singing of their loves lost at sea.  Earth goddess Demeter bringing winter to the world in the wake of her daughter's kidnapping.  A female version of Dr. Faustus seduced by an equally female Devil (or is she Death?).  These make up just a few of the vignettes enacted during the performance, the tone as varied as the source material.

For example, Little Red Riding Hood appeared with a chorus of werewolf girls, meeting eventually an older, more powerful she-wolf.  Flirtation leads to competition, with the chorus changing sides, and Little Red meeting a fate actually better than death when you think about it.

Credit: Adam Neubauer
Yet the same show portrays far more bestial she-wolves, fighting it out for the rank of Alpha, all in an impressive dance covering the stage.  The she-wolves in question, not incidentally, do not don ears or furry gloves or even fangs.  Frankly they have no need.  They become wolves in their minds, and we see that fact in how every part of their bodies move.

Likewise the same ensemble also gathers in a circle to invoke nature and its powers, the secrets of moon and season.

Soon after, a witch does the fearsome, bloody ritual pledging herself to darkness in return for the power to become a wolf.

Then there are the three witches whose nefarious dealings run afoul of a simple human error--one of them all too easily accepting local rumor as to who among the local girls is (or is not) a virgin.

Credit: Adam Neubauer
Yeah, that old chestnut!

Meanwhile, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" get re-imagined in a way that certainly startled (and enthralled) me!  Namely, as a surprisingly erotic dance/recital, in which the Raven herself may in fact be the ghost of the lost Lenore--or perhaps some malignant spirit taking her form!

Praise goes to the whole cast certainly--Cheryl Doyle, Caitlin Fowler, Deneen Melody, Marietta Melrose, Kat Nelson-Bergfeld, Alariza Nevarez, Emma Pauly, Sasha Snow, Ashley J. Woods--for maintaining a high overall quality, not least in remaining committed to the atmosphere of secret feminine powers in all their many avatars, from hilarious to sweet to dangerous and to deeply tragic.  But to Vanessa Cate as well as choreographers Melody and Melrose plus translator Pauly goes that extra bit of praise.  Because lots of folks explore the erotic that dwells along side the macabre.  Think of the number of erotic balls this time of year! Or the sexy undercurrents in such diverse horror films as Interview with the Vampire, Candyman or even the late, lamented Penny Dreadful.

Credit: Adam Neubauer
What impressed me most of all was how all this exploration of the spooky never lost its grip on the occult, the mysteries of secret knowledge, the dark mysticism at the undead heart of Halloween!  The truths here unveiled cannot help but prove as terrible as they are beautiful, as potentially deadly as they can be ecstatic.  And Hex never forgets that!  Which makes it all the more enticing, disturbing, wonderful...

Given the subject matter, one should not feel surprise at learning this performance features a lot of eroticism as well as nudity.  But I'm telling you ahead of time anyway.  Just in case.

Hex runs every Tuedsay night at 10pm until October 25, 2016 at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim (south of the NoHo sign), North Hollywood CA 91601.