Tuesday, December 14, 2021

A Very Fuzzy Christmas (review)


Spoilers ahoy!

What comes to mind when you hear or read the word "zany?"

My own reaction includes such diverse things as funny, bizarre, startling, messy, sometimes incoherent, usually entertaining,  but never, ever boring.  That could pretty much be my review of A Very Fuzzy Christmas.  

Essentially the show re-tells A Christmas Carol in a...well...zany re-imagination in the wake the Pandemic, with four 80s Rock Star Gods intervene to help some folks emerging from quarantine with their lives.  Do things go as planned?  No!  A thousand times no!  

That is one reason the whole thing is so much fun!  Given the premise is so absurd, no one should feel surprised just how wildly dysfunctional every single character in this show proves to be.  Miserly greed or crippling poverty take a back seat to such disappointments as figuring out your best friend has been drugging you so as to kidnap, torture, and f*** your dates.  Or having to face down an army of rapid, fierce attack bunnies!  Maybe the less said about the deliverywoman turned into a Christmas Tree of the most cheerful psychotic ever, the better.  Except actually I insist on saying that is arguably the most creative, and weirdly compelling part of the show!  Only the final musical, with Footloose somehow emerging into the present time, exceeds same.

Just a listing of the cast and their roles give a real hint of what kind of Christmas show this is--complete with a splash zone in the first two or three rows (I sat in the fourth and so avoided any stage blood to clean out of my clothes--although the theatre does provide plastic covering for those in the zone).  This is only a partial list because all play multiple roles (nearly all are ninjas at one point, for example).

April Littlejohn (who also wrote and directed) plays the perfectly named Cherry, object of a nerd's high school affection for years, re-kindled at a high school reunion and thus warping time and space, turning said nerd's life into a movie.

Heather Boothby is that tree mentioned earlier, equal parts horrifying and hilarious.

Stephanie Mayer is Lita Ford, first of the 80s  Rock Gods summoned into their future, and she is not happy about it.  Not one bit.

Amanda Vidal plays Ariel, the female lead of Footloose somehow re-incarnated into a piece of software.

Jason Galindo plays Carl, who lives (if you can call it that) with the afore-mentioned woman-turned-into-a-tree.  He is kinda/sorta a dog now.

Nathon Bock portrays the nerd sucked into a semi-remake of Footloose.  

Cindra Skotzko is Madonna, helping a mad scientist make a girlfriend.  Yeah.

Jessie Vane plays the cheerful psychopath mention above.

Vincent is said mad scientist, who has maybe one marble left, but his life is at least overflowing with bananas.  For now.

Jason Britt plays Billy Idol, wielding the forces of toxic masculinity to save Christmas.  

Michelle Danyn plays a doll brought to life somehow with the spirit of a cat, intended to be the mad scientist's new (and first) girlfriend.  That does not go well.

Trevor Hooper rounds out the cast as a drug dealer who employs both ninjas and said rabid killer bunnies.  Because of course he does.

I stared and listened, shocked and amused, laughing then grimacing, and ended up almost giving this amazing show a standing ovation! For everyone?  No.  But read my description of the cast and see if you're intrigued.  If yes, then this might well be the show for you.  It was for me.

A Very Fuzzy Christmas plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, then 5pm on Sundays until my birthday, December 19, 2021 at the Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood (a few blocks east of Lankershim).  

Friday, December 3, 2021

The Game's Afoot (review)


Spoilers ahoy!

The central character of Ken Ludwig's play The Game's Afoot (Holmes for the Holidays) was in fact a real person.  No, not Sherlock Holmes--but for many, the next best thing.  Before Benedict Cumberbatch, before Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone was William Gillette (Neil Thompson), who wrote and starred in the very first full length stage adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous sleuth, and did so decade after decade.  The part make him a star.  It also allowed him to build a castle for himself in Connecticut, complete with gadgets and secret panels.

Even as he is the central character of the play, so that castle is the play's setting.  

The story proper, however, is pure fiction.

I presume.  

Not that it matters!  Following a mysterious shooting, Gillette invites a group of friends to his famous castle for Christmas, 1936.  Felix Geisel (Patrick Skelton) and his wife Madge (Barbara Brownwell) plus Simon Bright (Troy Whitaker) and Aggie Wheeler (Sasha Vanderslik), all castmates of Gillette in his Holmes play, join his mother (Clara Rodriquez) as well as the most unwanted guest, a theatre critic and gossip columnist name Daria Chase (Susan Priver).  

What follows begins as a series of games, amid revelations of various secrets, and culminates in an actual murder.  Enter the genuine Inspector Coring (Michelle Shultz), a local police officer with a quite baffling English accent who has to contend with Gillette's charismatic insistence that he himself is a sleuth--at one point even donning a deerstalker!  As this last detail suggests, along with the title, the story is played for laughs.

The result proves very charming indeed, with a host of flamboyant characters traipsing around stage amid hijinks and complications, leading to a series of fun surprises that entertain but do not shock.  Kudos here to Rodriquez and Priver who come very near to stealing the show.   When they are alone together on stage is in many ways the high point.  But then, that is how the play was written.

Larry Eisenberg's direction, the fun and nicely cluttered set design by Chris Winfield, and the often gorgeous costumes by Angela M. Eads all deserve their own nods and applause.

The Game's Afoot plays Friday and Saturdays at 8pm with Sunday matinees at 2pm until January 2, 2022 at the Lonny Chapman Main Stage 10900 Burbank Blvd. NoHo 91601. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

A Journal of the Plague Year (review)


Photo by Anne Mesa

Spoilers ahoy!

Daniel Dafoe's novel A Journal of the Plague Year came out in 1722 and takes place in 1664, the last time the Black Death ravaged the city of London.  Rightly viewed as a classic, it recounts a single fictional individual's experience of the disaster.  Quite topical, as I'm pretty sure most would agree. 

The radio play-style adaptation of this novel does a competent if not thrilling job of retelling the tale for a different era in a radically different medium.  Now, to be honest, the script seems to me full of traps.  Most of all, the narrator is not speaking to anyone specific, not even a hint as to whom these words are addressed.  I call this a trap because when it comes to acting (and indeed much of art in general) specificity is an enormous aid.  Thus the film of Amadeus imho worked so well in part because Salieri is not talking into the camera but speaking to a specific character who their own reaction to the words spoken, a fact Salieri knows and to which he responds.  Nothing like this here.  But--the essential story remains.

Yet it does not work.  I know  one or two members of the cast, and these are not incompetent performers by any stretch of the imagination.  Yet the production fundamentally does not work.  Honestly, again, it seems to come down to specifics.  When is this radio production taking place?  I have no idea, not least because the costumes are all over the place in terms of period, yet there is no foley artist.  The sound design was bizarre, with sudden blasts of inappropriate music and sound effects coming out of nowhere (arctic winds and wolf howls?  In London?  In 1664?).  The central character undergoes a crisis of faith, which is talked about rather than experienced.  A love story woven through the plot has not beginning, middle, or end--it just suddenly exists, with zero set up and zero follow through.  Meanwhile several players kept yelling their lines for some reason.  

I don't claim to know what went wrong.  But something did, and it ended up putting all the heavy lifting of imagining this story and its implications squarely on the audience, with very little help from the production.

This show can be seen at The Brickhouse Theatre, 10850 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood, CA. 91601 from November 13th through December 19th, 2021 Saturday nights at 8pm, and Sunday afternoon at 3pm

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Children (review)


Spoilers ahoy!

A cottage on the coast of England.  There lives an elderly couple, Robin (Ron Bottitta) and Hazel (Lily Knight).  An old friend stops by, pretty much unexpectedly, named Rose (Elizabeth Elias Huffman).  They all used to work together years and years ago.  All three are nuclear engineers.  Retired, now.

Seems so domestic at first.  Or, almost.   Catching up.  Sharing a few stories.  Some awkwardness.  Plus some resentment, about what we will learn.  Eventually.

But one of the earliest lines gives this play its title.  "The children?" asks Rose of Hazel.  Just how poignant that question proves as bit by bit we learn a context.  The nuclear generator nearby, the one where all three friends once worked, is now at the center of an Exclusion Zone.  As in Japan, an underwater quake or landslide triggered a huge wave, one that came crashing down and flooding the reactor.  The backup power was in the cellar.  No way to activate all the last-ditch safety protocols. 

A nuclear disaster, in other words.  So...The ChildrenLucy Kirkwood's just under two hours traffic on the stage, set in the wake of a disaster that has changed everything.  And have forced some elderly baby boomers to re-assess, re-evaluate.  Their own personal demons come back to haunt, to gnaw, and to demand if not some exorcisms, at least some kind of response.  

Which could come across as dreary beyond words.  Instead, it remains entertaining, often funny, consistently compelling, and sometimes life-rattling.  Especially when Robin and Hazen finally learn why Rose is here.

Debates emerge, to be sure, but mostly amid the way these three very different people--different yet bound together with chains of memory, past mistakes, shared hopes and accomplishments, and pain--interact with one another.  More, script and cast (under the direction of Simon Levy) breathe life into these people, such wise fools all three, such elderly, deeply experienced children.  The almost drab, uber-ordinary details of their lives eventually emerge as more.  The bells of the vanished village that stood here in medieval times.  The cows that somehow survived the initial dose of radiation.  The broken toilet, even.

It was like a poem, one bringing laughter and tears, then eventually getting past that.

Because there is so much at stake, really.  Nobody wants to talk about that.  Well, who would?  Except...the children.  Not just the individual offspring of our couple.  Everyone younger than them,  

It it weren't for the children, they could go on pretending.

One more word about Jen Albert, who worked as both fight and intimacy choreographer for this production.  She did a very fine job, and that fact those were her titles might give you yet another clue as to the range of this excellent play (how the hell Harry Potter and the Cursed Child beat this our as "Best Play" on Broadway is frankly an indictment).

The Children plays through Jan 23 on Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.; and Mondays at 8 p.m. (dark Dec. 20 through Jan. 7). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie).