Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Parliament (review)

 Spoilers Ahoy! 

From the makers of The Rage Fairy (which I adored) comes another flight into the meaningful absurd, a hilarious and biting nightmare titled Parliament.  Written and directed by Max Zumstein, whose talent I envy.

The press release gives us the basics:  Since 670 BCE, an imperially-appointed body of shadowy and eccentric figures has secretly controlled the globe. In ever-changing locations throughout time and space, the 13 members of the One True Parliament meet to debate, discuss, and decide on the events which will shape the story of human history. Their penchant for prudence and zeal for oratory has led them to some of the most important worldly contributions known and unknown to man. But this meeting may change the face and fate of the One True Parliament for good... Parliament is an absurdist and fantastical ensemble-driven comedy of prudence, etiquette, order, and fiscal responsibility. Those attending the meeting will bear witness to high concept skullduggery and the folly of erudition.

Please believe me, this does it little justice.  Ballview Entertainment seems to downplay its amazing material, in my view.  I wish they'd stop and revel in their achievements.  For one thing, we the audience are very much a part of the show, as "junior" Senators present for this special, emergency meeting of the One True Parliament which secretly rules the world.  I had a lovely time as we waited, with some members of the cast greeting me, one entering into a brief conversation as it became clear we were both enjoying the pre-show music.  We talking about making planets.

But, who are the "senior" members of this Parliament?  They make a delightfully weird and motley group, in a variety of costumes, many of them quite odd and also deeply indicative of character.  The Founders Three, who greeted us as we entered, are The Impressario (Zumstein), The Maestro (Freda Yifan Jing--who does an amazing job of characterization with her cape) and The Lothario (Ty Aldridge).  The Junior Parliamentary Floor Members are Constance Fidget (Liz Mina, who frankly pulls off one of the most bizarrely impressive feats in theatre history involving a very long tongue twister and juggling), Nathaniel the Usual (Rachel Banks), Apex Zenith and Orgonon Langley (Tullia Ferraro and Jenna Hogan respectively--a strange pair of eerie, frightening power).  Much of the action of the play centers around The Interlocutors--Professor Tiberius Emeritus (Ian Michaels), Temperance Tempest (Megan Colburn), Esquire Esquire (Dan Masso), Dr. Abigail Season (Lauren Adlhoch), Senator Vicarious Meadow (Morgan Lorraine), and Alonzo Fist (Tristan Rewald) who interestingly possesses a gun that will only fire if the target is telling a lie.

Co-director David Kickens plays Leopold Thackery III, listed in the program simply as The Disruption.  As indeed he proves to be, initially as a possible solution to the crisis which spurred this emergency meeting of the One True Parliament.  He eventually emerges as instead an existential threat to the Parliament and every single member, along with quite possibly the human race.  Mind you, he himself is not to blame.  Rather, the Parliament itself has accidentally fashioned him into a weapon capable of shredding any human mind into a zombifying vector of horrific enlightenment.

Baroque, am I right?

More than baroque, this whole show began as startling then cranked up to mind-blowing.  Both hilarious and disturbing, it managed the trick of entertaining while at the time sending a chill down one's brain.  Imagine if you will a secular Good Omens liberally sprinkled with Monty Python and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but done by Americans.

As of this writing Parliament (at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre on Magnolia in North Hollywood) has closed.  Unfortunately.  But I eagerly await news of their next efforts, and following this cast's further performances.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

'Night Mother (review)

 Spoilers ahoy! 

What better way to spend Mother's Day than watching a friend star in a play about a woman telling her mother she's going to commit suicide?

Such makes the premise of 'Night Mother by Marsha Norman, a searing bit of human drama.  

Many plays in our time (and others) are presumed to have a "message" or "moral" to impart.  This play does not, at least not beyond awareness of suicide and depression.  Rather, it functions as an experience.  We are not supposed to get any pre-determined lesson.  Like history or simply life, you can get whatever you can from these two people and what we witness between them.

Jessie (Emily Asher Kellis) is a middle-aged divorcee living with her mother Thelma (Kimberly Demmary), and one evening as the two putter about with all the little tiny things making up their lives--gossip, what groceries are running low, etc.--Jessie tells Thelma her plan.  She's going to shoot herself later that evening, and doesn't want Thelma to be prepared. What follows is the mother trying desperately but not at all brilliantly to get Jessie to change her mind.  Along the way, much of this daughter's life and her mother's as well emerges.  Not all.  No, not at all.  Because how could it?

Naturally enough Thelma pulls all kinds of cards to play, including guilt and rage, propriety and ideas about hope.  But Jessie has been thinking about this for a long time, and planning it for months.  What one cannot quite grasp, and the other hopes she can (pretty much the only real hope she has left) is Why?  Thelma naturally enough is looking for a specific reason, for something concrete.  Jessie on the other says these brutally simple things.  She doesn't like living.  She dislikes her life and sees no way it can get any better.  There isn't anything she really likes, the way some folks love sports or blueberry scones.  She still loves her husband, that is crystal, but also that the marriage is over, even dead.  Her son, whom she says is so close to her in type, is a drug addict on a spiral she believes will end in prison at best.  But those are surface details.  Almost trivia.

Why does she do it?  It says much about the performances as well as the direction by Brian Robert Harris that I left their theatre both knowing and not knowing.  It hurt watching the sadness of these two women, but in my own heart the one I felt most akin to was Jessie.  More than once I heard her speak and the hopelessness, the emptiness was so naked it stirred something in me.  My heart broke, not just for Jessie (although, yes, for her) but for myself and for every depressed, sad individual I've known or heard of who roamed into these kinds of shadows.

But I did feel also for Thelma, feeling her own hopelessness and bafflement and fierce terror despair when Jessie finally says the title of the play.

I wept more than once.

'Night Mother is playing at the Elite Theatre Company, at a beautiful waterfront area at 2731 S Victoria Ave Oxnard, CA 93035 Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm with a special performance at 8pm on Thursday May 19, 2022 until May 22, 2022.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Unsackable Man (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Okay, let me begin by noting how much I hate and loathe football.  It is a worthless waste of effort,  a false religion which in the end is little more than war porn.  Americans treat football like a religion, in part to avoid having to think about how un-Christ-like they are while calling themselves Christians.

That having been said, I loved and adored The Unsackable Man, a musical comedy set in the world of the NFL.  But wait!  Let us note the weirdest and most wonderful thing about this show.  Well, maybe not either the most weird nor most wonderful, but pretty foundational.

It is re-telling of Moby Dick.  

And I don't mean that in a vague kind of way.  In this tale, Captain Ahab (Jonica Patella) of the Buccaneers has spent their entire career in football trying to bring down a former best friend, Wally White (Nick Salas) the oft-worshipped quarterback who has never been successfully "sacked."  The musical begins with the recruitment of Queegqueeg (Zeke Jones) and his best friend Ishmael (Larry Grimes) by Coach Starbuck (Steve Alloway).  So far, so good.  Nice parallels, am I right?

But let me make it clear--this actually captures the heart of Herman Melville's novel.  Writer/composer Dan Waldkirch somehow created an hour-long musical full of charm and laughs but which also somehow captured something real from the book!  Then this fantastic cast (including Laura Van Yck, Tosca Minotto,  Dekland Jones, and Gina Rizzo Bishop) with director Denise Devin brought it to glorious life.  It should not have worked.  Somehow, though, it does.  A big part of that is how it captures something vital, usually overlooked or misunderstood in versions Moby Dick proper.  Ahab may be insane, but Ahab is also great.  Ahab feels a personal slight and that spurs his revenge, yes, but there is more to it than that.  A lot more, which helps make the original tale so compelling.  It has never been the Whale Ahab chiefly longed to strike down, but something behind the whale, something that spoils and ruins men's lives in some fundamental way.  So it is with our Ahab, who will not allow betrayal and cruelty stand.  Nor should we.  

As of this writing, The Unsackable Man has closed at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group in NoHo.  I hope very much one way or another we shall see it mounted once more.  I vote for the Hollywood Fringe Festival next year.  Let us all hope.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Rapunzel Alone (review)


Spoilers ahoy!

I know people who flatly refuse to see any value in that which is not as naturalistic as possible.  These folks might or might not enjoy Rapunzel Alone by Mike Kenny.  It has no fantasy elements it it at all.  One character, a goose (no, really--it doesn't talk but is just a goose) and is performed by a puppeteer (Matt Curtin).  That might be too much for them.  But methinks the deepest problem they might have is that characters see what is happening to them in terms (eventually, ultimately) of a fairy tale.

Given the title, no points on guessing which one!  Lettie (Tara Alise Cox) is a child evacuated from London during the Blitz, one of over half a million shipped out to avoid first bombs, then the nascent missiles hurled by Nazi Germany at the City.  She is bi-racial, a fact which proves very important, not least because Miss Pearce (Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield) is likewise of mixed race, living alone in a farm outside a small town where the locals call her a witch.

Before too terribly long, Lettie meets Conrad (William Leon) a local boy her own age who delivers the mail since the former mailman, his father, is in the Army.

Before that, she meets Gertrude (see above).  

This simple, four character play taking place mostly in a simple farmhouse, takes on the scope of any epic fantasy a la Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, or Game of Thrones.  It has no magic, save words and pictures and the imagination.  No monsters save a flock of crows, and war, and racism, plus fear and misunderstandings.  So, as you can see, this is a story with a lot of monsters.  Real ones.  It has a book our heroine cannot read, not because it is under a spell but because (I think) she is dyslexic.  There is a quest or two.  Plus a guardian of strange power.  Battles against the monsters, many of those.  There are tellers of tales and wielders of real magic, like teaching and reading and patience.  Our hero comes into her own, and by her courage wins a great treasure--hearing her parents' voices, finding a new home, the vision with which to understand the world a little better.

And yes, she gets to let down her hair.

Directors Debbie Devine and Jesús Castaños-Chima orchestrated this simple, powerful tale amid wonderful mixed media and startlingly honesty from the cast.  One of my own most precious experiences when seeing theatre is to look at a character onstage and think to myself "Oh, hello there--you're me, aren't you?"  It says a lot I felt this for every single character in the play.

Including Gertrude.

Rapunzel Alone plays Saturdays at 3 p.m and 7:30pm and Sundays at 3 p.m. until May 1, 2022 at the 24th Street Theatre ,1117 West 24th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007-1725

Proof of vaccination, including booster if eligible, and ID are required for entry, and masks must be worn throughout the performance.