Monday, June 18, 2018

The Women of Lockerbie (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Certainly the destruction of PanAm 103 certainly counts as a tragedy.  But this play transforms it into a Tragedy (note the capital T), one of the most powerful I've ever seen.  Its focus remains squarely not upon the event, which after all lies in the past, but in the aftermath--and by extension such for all the evils, all the pain in the world.  Here, during an anniversary event in the Scottish lowlands village where so many died, a New Jersey housewife gives way to her grief.  Her husband tries to help, in his tragically (this word applies to so much here) narrow way.  They meet the women of this small town who seek permission to be given the clothing of those who died, to wash them in an act of catharsis.  What they long for is a way to transform hate into love.  Not merely the hate of those who murdered these innocents, but their own hate as well.  "Evil came to Lockerbie" they say.  What then do we do with that fact?  Deborah Brevoort's play seeks an answer to that question, and true to reality finds more than one.  In the process these characters cut open their own souls, bleeding and inviting us to bleed, blending the brew of souls together.  Then take it with us as we leave, changed and refined by the ritual of the theatre. 

Wednesday, June 20 at 9pm
Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave (south of Melrose), LA CA 90004

Adapting Dracula (Part Thirteen)

This is a series of posts sharing my ideas/considerations while getting ready to adapt Bram Stoker's novel Dracula for the live stage.

Thirteen: East and West

One decision some will find disturbing in my adaptation will prove my elimination of a favorite character -- Professor Van Helsing.

If you feel the need to gasp or scream, please feel free.

Orthodox Nun
My reasons are several, not least because I wanted the Englishmen seeking to protect against Dracula to have less support, fewer resources and no ready source of answers (at least none to whom they will readily listen).  Apart from increasing the tension, this also leaves the audience without their usual source of undead lore, hence (hopefully) listening more closely to what they may be told.  But a more subtle point lies in the fact Van Helsing is so Roman Catholic.  I should mention as well Bram Stoker -- a native of Catholic Ireland -- interestingly presumed people in Transylvania would follow the Roman Church.  In fact Romania has been overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox for centuries.  This branch of Christianity, one of the largest on Earth, remains mysterious if not totally unknown in the West, so Stoker if anything made a totally understandable error.

But the Orthodox Church resembles not at all what one person I know described as "Roman Catholics with beards."  No, it makes up a very different approach to God, to the sacraments, to even the act of prayer.  In fact to them, Roman Catholics and Protestants remain two sides of the precisely same coin.  Both view death (at least initially, but also most importantly) as a criminal trial.  An individual SINNER approaches the divine bar of justice, facing some kind of punishment for sins committed.  Protestants do so asking for Holy Mercy--either out of love or because they believe themselves Elect, favorite children of the Creator who get to lord it over the rest of mankind.  Roman Catholics on the other hand look for loopholes or mitigating circumstances, hence the sacraments of confession and atonement.  The Orthodox see things differently, with death as a return to one's origins, i.e. the endless and unchangeable love of God.  If you have found a way to allow that love into your own heart, then what you experience is bliss.  If you have rejected it, then you find yourself immersed (almost drowning) in that what you reject.  This, the Orthodox teach, is Hell -- not a punishment created by God, but a terrible state of being created by Man.

This makes for but one example of the individual differences between Western and Eastern Christian Churches, but it hints at how much trouble people like Arthur Holmwood or Jack Seward might have in listening to someone native to Transylvania trying to explain about the nature of a vampire.  Hence in my version instead of the Dutch professor with multiple degrees, the source of lore becomes Sister Agatha -- one of the nuns who treated Harker after his escape from the Castle.  She take him back to England, and after a time tries desperately to warn the English of their peril.

To be continued

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The High Captain (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

The High Captain feels not unlike a blend of Waiting for Godot and Gilligan's Island.  And maybe a fairly political version of Alice in Wonderland.  Maybe.  Actually there's also more than a dash of Monty Python as well.  The survivors of a tanker ship crashing onto a desert island somewhere in the Caribbean try to live out their lives.  Not easy under the best of circumstances it is all made better and worse by the fact enough barrels of gas that send people high as a kite survived the crash to...well, keep everyone high as a kite.  The result is a surreal comedy with more than a few piercing bits of commentary about our own lives and society.  In fact, as tensions rise and lead to a bizarre election process the world of this island becomes weirdly familiar.  Most denizens remain apathetic, easy to persuade but also pretty stupid when you think about it.  A minority of total crazies end up in charge by a fluke, who literally pay for their own overthrow via delusion and greed.  When the real world finally visits, it doesn't really feel much more sane.  All of which works in no small part because the cast does a uniformly fine job of making the madness real rather than a punchline.  Which of course gives the punchlines far more punch.

Sunday, June 24 at 3:30pm
Hobgoblin Playhouse, 6520 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles CA

100 Aprils (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Some plays have a specific message.  Others do not.  Either way almost anything other than a comedy (and often even then) the heart of what we experience in theatre remains the human condition, distilled into a concentrated form.

Rogue Machine's 100 Aprils by Leslie Ayvazian (who also plays a role) enacts this more than most.  The plot such as it is (no murder mysteries, here, no cases of falling in love against great odds, etc.) focuses on a family.  Dr. John Saypian (John Perrin Flynn) lies in a hospital bed dying, his body ravaged by drug addiction and his mind by an evil that marred his view of everything at an early age.  No less than an child of Holocaust survivors, his imagination is haunted by the Armenian Genocide that took place during the first World War.  So much so that his imagination begins turning his Turkish born physician  into a Turkish peasant's son, witness to the murder of Saypian's own family.

Almost surprisingly, this never becomes a polemic about the Genocide, or even about evil per se.  Rather, we get a slice of life about what evil can do to those touched even second or third hand.  In the process, though, we see more about those touched than about the evil itself.  Maybe that makes for a moral if you like, or a lesson, or maybe just a possibility this audience member found compelling.

Dr. Saypian's wife Beatrice (Leslie Ayvazian) tries to manage the situation as best she can, her businesslike manner at first seeming a little cold but soon we begin to notice an almost transcendent patience.  Then we see the courage, the heartbreaking insights, the fierce devotion under all that calm.

Their daughter Arlene (Rachel Sorsa) on the other hand looks near broken, desperate to win some kind of attention, approval, affection from a family focused on her father's vast gaping pain.  At times it actually hurts to watch her just look or listen.  Like everyone involved her performance arrests, even fascinates and nearly always moves.

Rounding out the cast is Robertson Dean as the Physician, almost the epitome of someone disinterested (although, honestly, doesn't a physician have to remain to some degree remote, just to maintain sanity?).  This extends to many things, but bleeds interestingly when he is the strangely specific archetype of the Doctor's hallucinations.  Likewise there is the Nurse (Janet Song), as business-like as one can imagine, yet whose veneer wonderfully cracks when Arlene gives her a simple gift in hopes of earning some attention for a bee sting.  Yet somehow the two are profoundly impacted by this.  One can see it.  The facade of professional indifference cracks open.  One hopes the two may become friends.

A simple yet profoundly complicated brew of humanity--hope and fear, love and hate, desperation and resignation--makes 100 Aprils a sharp yet warm and refreshing taste.  Not sour nor sickly sweet and far from bland.  Rather, a melancholy thing to savor and contemplate.

100 Aprils runs Saturdays and Mondays at 8:30pm, Sundays at 3pm, through July 16, 2018 (No performance on Monday June 25) at the Met Theatre, 1089 North Oxford (one block east of Western & Santa Monica Blvd) Los Angeles CA 90029.

A Very Die Hard Christmas (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Theatre Unleashed has two Christmas shows it performs yearly, neither of which is A Christmas Carol.  One of these (lucky for us) plays at the Fringe this year.

This show has a simple but delicious conceit--adapting the hit action movie not only into a musical but a Christmas musical, taking music from a variety of holiday specials and movies.  This alone works.  Add to that a tiny mountain of pop references, easter eggs, wonderful theatrical flourishes worthy of farce and the recipe then waits only for a good production.  Wisely, TU keeps changing up the cast each year, which helps keep in fresh--especially in terms of the villain Hans Gruber, as juicy a chance to chew up scenery as anyone could as for!  Comedy is a strangely delicate thing.  One misfire can set off a cascade of deadly silence.  Likewise start off right and keep the right momentum going and even a flub becomes part of the overall hilarity.  A Very Die Hard Christmas makes for a fine example of boisterous, clever fun.  When I'm not laughing watching this I'm nearly always grinning.  (Note:  If you have not seen the movie, though, you probably won't "get" this show--just sayin')

Sunday June 17 at 6pm
Thursday June 21 at 7:30pm
Saturday June 23 at 6:30pm
Studio/Stage, 520 North Western Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90004

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Woman is Perfected (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

For those of you don't know (I did not at first) the title The Woman is Perfected comes from the very last poem by Sylvia Plath.  That alone might well give you a notion at its feel.  A young woman spends the length of this one person show talking pretty much non stop to her visiting mother.  Although quite pretty, she remains obsessed about her looks, having just undergone a series of botox injections to "take away all the wrinkles."  She notes she doesn't mind the pain.  It fills and distracts her from...other things.  Those other things reveal themselves like symptoms of some horrific condition as she talks--and this turns out to be far from a simile.  It proves the absolute truth.  This harrowing, fascinating portrait shows a woman who has absorbed misogyny into her psyche without condition or doubt.  Literally, it seems her every choice has been calculated to help destroy what she most hates--herself.  Yet she's not horrible.  She's kind, and patient.  She tries desperately to love...well, someone.  Anyone.  To earn their love in order to feel loved because she clearly feels that not at all from any quarter.  Indeed the longer I think on the play the more horror I feel at the kind of mother she must have, who sees this wreck of a human life who is her child and evidently does little or nothing.  I felt myself bleed a little watching this play, so great was its power.

Saturday June 16 at 11pm
Wednesday June 20 at 6:30pm
Saturday June 23 at 9:30pm
Broadwater Stage 2, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd (one block west of Vine)

You in Midair (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Okay, to begin with this title You in Midair confuses me.  Immediately I thought of "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music, but the context  So in fact did the entire show.  Not that it wasn't funny, at times moving, generally entertaining and involving--but here we a one-person show about the loss of the loved one (in this case Rebecca Schaeffer, a rising star in Hollywood when murdered by a stalker).  The writer and performer is this person's mother, a witty and in her own way eloquent person sharing details of her relationship with her daughter and how she coped with the horror of learning that child had been killed.  But--and maybe this is too personal--the show never went very far below the surface.  I don't mean it came across an insincere!  Not at all!  But having lost a loved one myself about a dozen years ago (my fiancee who died very suddenly), this show about grief did not feel very familiar.  It touched me at times, but did not remind me of the way my brain simply stopped worked properly, of the hours spent doing nothing until my belly growled or my bladder absolutely demanded attention, the weird way I fantasized about bringing my lady back to life and trying to figure out how to get her a new social security card.  Yeah, everyone's grief is different.  But this felt on a different, lesser scale than my own.  And I don't believe for one moment this woman felt less grief for her child than I did for my beloved.  So while pleasing and sympathetic, I did not feel enlightened.  Nor did it help me in any way to understand grief, loss, the gaping hole left in one's soul by an event like this.  Your mileage may vary, but this felt incomplete.

Thursday June 14 at 10pm
Saturday June 16 at 8pm
Sunday June 17 at 4pm
The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd (one block east of Vine)

(Note:  For some reason I was unable to post this review on the Hollywood Fringe FEstival site)

Snap, Honey! (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I loved the heart of this show.  I loved the redemptive, healing and personal courage tale of personal acceptance through trials and tribulations.  More than once I felt strongly during the show.  But Snap, Honey! despite all its heart remains something of a technical mess.  The blocking was terrible, the lights erratic, the set looked amateurish and honestly the script needed some major work.  This even extended to the lead actor, who kept gesturing by putting her hands in front of her face (!) and reusing the same two catch phrases constantly without altering the reading once.  They ceased to be catch phrases at that point and became a tic.  But I really want to emphasize the HEART of this play could hardly be better.  The TALENT of those involved (at least on stage) seemed very good indeed.  But here is a show that needs a firm hand to shape the often-edgy, frequently fascinating and generally excellent material into a more cohesive whole.  This feels like a rough first draft.  I really would love to see a final draft of this idea, evolved into a well-crafted, professional production.  This extremely rough version moved me.  Imagine what a well-crafted version would feel like!

Wednesday June 13 at 7:30pm
Friday June 22 at 6pm
Studio/Stage, 520 North Western Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90004

Moose & Darlene's Cosmic Do-Over (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Imagine if you will a nihilistic, time travel comedy that also qualifies (barely) as a rom-com.  This describes pretty well what Moose and Darlene's Cosmic Do-Over tries to accomplish.  Does it succeed?  Well, not quite.  The show has some real charm to it, poses an interesting situation and resolution, seeks to find humor in some truly dark situations (like committing multiple murders in hopes of saving the world by changing the timeline).  All well and good!  I loved The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, Dr. Strangelove and indeed Red Dwarf as well as Life of Brian.  But to genuinely work, this sort of thing demands careful world building and characters we get to know very well.  At less than an hour, methinks this show bites off more than it has the time with which to chew.  To be honest, other than that it stumbles quite a bit as well--the chemistry between the cast members seems barely existent, but then they have little enough to build upon. For one thing, the darkness of the situation needs some serious exposure and with it the comic absurdity needs developing.  In other words, more existential horror and lots more laughs.

Wednesday June 13 2018, 11:00 PM
Saturday June 16 2018, 12:00 PM
Saturday June 23 2018, 11:30 PM
Studio/Stage, 520 North Western Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90004

Monday, June 11, 2018

Adapting Dracula (Part Twelve)

This is a series of posts sharing my ideas/considerations while getting ready to adapt Bram Stoker's novel Dracula for the live stage.

Twelve: Lucy's Role(s)

This seems like a very interesting look at the character of Lucy Westenra.  In fact I'd call it about as good an analysis as any could hope for--at least in terms of how to see her in terms of her framing.  The real question then becomes--how to break this stereotype yet remain true (in some way) to the story?  I have some ideas.  One certainly lies in not simply decrying her choices as flippant or shallow.  

to be continued

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Importance of Being Oscar (review)

Spoilers Ahoy!

Oscar Wilde's life in its own proved epic, enough to inspire many a retelling, which if you added up together might prove longer than Game of Thrones yet still leave so much unexplored!  This one act play focuses squarely on the last weeks or months of Wilde's life, and yeah leaves us wanting more.  Most good plays do.  Like a haiku, it seeks to evoke more than anything else a sense of "might have been."  Wilde did not deserve what happened to him, yet in his world, his society, many thought he got off easy with losing his family, income, good name, liberty and health.  Immersed as he was in his own time (as who of us is not) that negativity did reach him, and created a fear his works would be forgotten.  We know that fear groundless, which makes us wish to comfort him. Just as we long to tell him the world will change, then perhaps look around and realize that change--tolerance, forgiveness, even kindness--disgusts some.  Wilde's struggle remains poignant because it remains vivid.  Not of which works without a good production, with good actors breathing life into these specific people at these specific times.  Here it works, not as some sweeping biographical chronicle but as a look at some moments in a famous man's life, giving meaning according the heart of the audience member.

Saturday June 9, 4pm
Monday June 11, 7pm
Friday June 15, 10pm
Wednesday June 20, 8:30pm
Studio C, 6448 Santa Monica Blvd (next to the Complex)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Met Again (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Met Again from Theatre Unleashed features four characters (two of them playing multiple roles) is the simple but profound tale of a man and woman who fall in love, staying that way.  It might seem nostalgic but is not, not really.  Neither is it sentimental.  The fact it follows through until each of them dies does not make it sad, nor do the often funny/silly antics at the heart of this love story make it a comedy.  Just a simple but profound story.  It explores why maybe we've put so much investment in the idea of romantic love.  Because when it does work, when two people do click and when they make the commitment of staying with each other through disappointment, confusion, betrayal, tension, boredom, forgiveness, etc. then it becomes very much the stuff of dreams.  The cast does a fine job, while the script captures those moments of deceptive complexity with a light but not sugary touch.

June 3 at 6pm
June 10 at 5:30pm
June 15 at 10:30pm
June 20 at 7:30pm
June 23 at 5pm
Studio/Stage 520 North Western Avenue

Still (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Look at the poster image for this play, Still and you get a real sense of how this story as we experience it feels.  Not the stillness of waiting, nor the stillness of rest.  No, this three-person drama makes us feel the stillness between moments--between life changing words and decision, between realizations.  Even between the question asked and the answer given.  On top of that we have the subject matter--sexual assault, which still remains a matter to avoid rather than confront, to seek excuses rather than understand truth.  In this case, the entire work seems to take place in all the still moments described above, a refuge from the "still" also inferred above.  A fragile or at least delicate in some ways young woman, her best and maybe only friend who took her to a party, and the girlfriend of the boy who died--they wander in these moments, sometimes apart, sometimes alone, sometimes with each other.  The impact is powerful and haunting.  Theatre, a teacher once told me, is inherently revolutionary.  If you leave the exact same person who sat down that performance is a failure.  This is no failure.  Quite the opposite!

Thursday, June 7 at 8:30pm
Friday, June 8 at 8:30pm
Saturday June 9 at 5:30pm
Sunday June 10 at 12:30pm
Thursday June 14 at 8:30pm
Friday June 15 at at 7:30pm
Saturday June 16 at 5:30pm and 11:55pm
Sunday June 17 at 12:30pm
Thursday June 21 at 8:30pm
Friday June 22 at 11:30pm
Saturday June 23 at 4pm
Sunday June 24 at 1:30pm and 6pm
Let Live Theatre, 916 North Formosa Avenue (just south of Santa Monica Blvd, past La Brea)

Wounded (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Wounded makes for a harrowing 80 minutes.  Harrowing and strangely beautiful as three deeply hurt human beings struggle with and for each other and themselves.  A woman and wife must care for her deeply disabled husband who came back from combat a shadow of his former self--shrapnel in his brain rendering him almost (but not quite) a child.  Into her life comes another veteran, a man with whom she falls in love but turns out to be carrying his own wounds, in his case in the way his entire nervous system seems to have rewired itself in reaction to stress and trauma.  Meanwhile, in a raw tapestry of love and guilt with equal parts hope, despair, passion and logic seemingly everything wonderful, all things heart-breakingly sad, plus weariness seeming into their bones plays itself out.  All here are wounded, two by war, a third by dealing not so much from the fallout of war but from caring so much for those caught in that fallout.  Not a "feel good" piece, but a "feel very profoundly" work.

Sunday, June 3, 11:45am
Friday, June 8, 7:45pm
Monday, June 11, 9:45pm
Sunday, June 17, 7:45pm
Saturday, June 23, 3:45pm
Lounge Theatre (6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90038)

Vixen deVille REVEALED (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

It sounds so simple, so fun and entertaining and not much else.  Not that we should object to such, not at all!  But Vixen de Ville Revealed proves a lot more.  An anthem for those timid about their own ambitions?  Yes.  A laughing shriek of defiance at those to seek to limit or define us?  Oh, yes indeed!  A multi-talented performer giving a spectacularly personal show?  Again, very much yes!  I highly recommend this self-portrait in performance, complete with magic tricks and burlesque, fire-eating and some raw passion about life.

Friday, June 1st – 10 pm Preview 
Thursday, June 7th 10 pm
Saturday, June 9th 2 pm
Friday, June 15th 8 pm
Sunday, June 17th 2 pm
Monday, June 18th 10 pm
Lounge Theatre
6201 Santa Monica Blvd

Life, Death and Duran Duran (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

A bittersweet tale of a life not yet complete--Life Death & Duran Duran showcases a musical artist looking back in equal parts at her dreams, loves, losses and disappointments.  Sam Shaber does a find job of touching our hearts, and showing us how music can both celebrate joy and help heal our wounds.  This fifty minute show introduces us to the narrator/singer from the start of her lifelong love of her favorite band.  She becomes part rock star, part court jester, part simply human being baring her soul.  I felt she gave us a lot of herself in the show, and the honor was all ours.

Friday, June 1 – 7:30 p.m
.Friday, June 8 – 9:30 p.m.
Sunday, June 10 – 6 p.m.
Saturday, June 16 – 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, June 21 – 10:30 p.m.
LOCATIONThe Complex (Ruby Theatre)6476 Santa Monica Blvd.

Adapting Dracula (Part Eleven)

This is a series of posts sharing my ideas/considerations while getting ready to adapt Bram Stoker's novel Dracula for the live stage.

Eleven: The Five Man Band?

Tropes can prove handy--or that can serve as self-limiting crutches hobbling creativity. A writer may wish to avoid them altogether or (as, hopefully, myself) use them as tools.

Or maybe, toys.

Dracula seems to me a reasonably clear example of the so-called Five Man Band, a trope initially identified in role playing games but since recognized in many other media.  Essentially, this serves as a general layout of certain common types of relationships in teams of some kind, although "pure" examples generally seem much harder to find than variations.

The five consist of:  (1) the Leader, who essentially makes the decisions for the team  (2) the Lancer, who often functions as second-in-command but not always, who essentially is a foil to the Leader, being very opposite them in some pretty primary ways (3) the Heart is someone who functions as an emotional glue holding the group together, their personal relationships with others forming a crucial dynamic  (4) the Tank, who cut through things in a straightforward style, usually with little finesse but great effectiveness.  This person nearly always is the physically toughest of the bunch, and (5) the Weakest Link, usually the least powerful member or the one most often subject to humiliation.  This person can certainly carry their own in the right circumstances, but are generally where trouble arises.

Note these consist not of characters but rather roles.  This gives enormous leeway in creating the details of each one.  Consider various Lancers--Avon in Blake's Seven, Iron Man in The Avengers, Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, Sam in Lord of the Rings, etc.  By any measure a fairly diverse group!

More importantly, because these involve roles rather than character traits per se, part of the most fascinating aspects of this lies in watching characters change their roles.  On Buffy the Vampire Slayer for example Willow evolved from the Weakest Link to the Tank (although both those roles shifted throughout the series).  Likewise in Star Wars Luke begins as the Heart and becomes the Leader (taking that role from Leia) then in the latest film essentially functions as Rey's Lancer.

Apply this to Bram Stoker's novel. Van Helsing would seem the Lancer save that he really functions as the Leader, with Mina as his Lancer. Likewise we are in some way supposed to see Quincey as the Heart, at least from the others' reactions to his death.  Yet Quincey also seems the Tank at times who slays the vampire at the end with the help of Harker, who in most ways seems the Weakest Link.

This rather neatly demonstrates my thesis (which I intend to use) in that the trope of the Five Man Band functions as a fluid set of roles--with loads of possibility. Or (in terms of drama) a set of roles that breaks down and does not work.

To be continued