Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Creepshow Cabaret (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I'm not sure that's really true, but...tradition!

Anyway, Creepshow Cabaret is the latest entry into the repertoire of Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group. This has become something of a tradition at ZJU, some type of cabaret each year with hints of striptease and musical numbers, etc. They've been a fairly wide variety and show no sign of toning down!

So what is this one like?

A tad more traditional, in that this show lacks a plot (as opposed to, for example, A Down and Dirty Cabaret). Yet also in some ways more edgy, more extreme, more Urban Death-esque but not too much. It is funny, beyond doubt, although our hostess Mia Morte could use some work on her timing. A bit.

Zachariah, her co-host and entertainer in the boylesque (a term I'd never heard before this performance--I rather like it!) mode. He and Mia Morte do the very, VERY smart thing of setting up for every act and turning the set-up into a bit of show. Bravo to both of you! So very dull when the show stops just to get ready for the next performer. But no problem here! These two have a fun, arch chemistry that brought a big smile to my face.

The of the performers bring in some element of the sideshow, really. We have three more burlesque dancers (one male, two female) not counting our hostess who very appropriately dances to Rob Zombie's Living Dead Girl (and no, I'm not going to tell you why that is so appropriate--go see the show for yourself!).

Between the three, Malicious Sid is in many ways the most fun. Like a grown-up Pinnochio-turned-stripper he disrobed to the tunes of Coin-Operated Boy. And by "fun" I do mean to some extent "disturbing" but in a good way!

The female dancers are Little Miss Sideshow  (who cosplays one of her performances as a very famous comic book villain) and another young lady whose name I did not catch. Honestly, the lack of a program did bother me because it left me without a reference to names. However, whereas Little Miss Sideshow came across as a wicked little nymphet, her compatriot in lingerie was more a standard voluptuous tease, and a beautiful one as well.

Dangerous D was a performer who genuinely made me squirm--and got me to laugh while doing it! How to describe his act...hmmmm... Well, he called himself an "endurance artist" and that pretty much sums it up. Check out his website for more details, or simply go see the show--which I do recommend. Unless you're very squeamish.

Creepshow Cabaret also boasts a magician, a very good one, who is also a bit of an escape artist. Vincent Wolf doesn't seem to have a website, sorry to say, which means I must again urge you to see this show! Not that I mind!

Creepshow Cabaret runs Fridays at 11pm through August 8, 2014 at ZJU Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd (North of Camarillo & Vineland, across from KFC) North Hollywood. Tickets are $15 and reservations can be made at 818.202.4120 or by going to

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cat Fight (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I moved to Los Angeles in 1999 and in all the times seeing theatre here since then I'd given standing ovations exactly twice. Seen lots of really good theatre, wonderful shows worthy of praise. But standing ovations should be something special, an act which one feels compelled to do. There've been times I got stares for not standing when others did.

Cat Fight received my third standing ovation in fifteen years.

The premiere show from the True Focus Theater, this show blends monologues, dance, performance art, song and dance in a tapestry about the feminine. What it means to be a woman today, in our society amidst these times. Good, bad, joyous, horrible and all things in between. Sounds a tad like any one of a dozen or so theatrical pieces going on around the country, doesn't it? But then--isn't this a time to explore that idea, those issues, to ask those very questions? The only real question remains is how Cat Fight measures up.

Credit: Angie Hoover
Doing a blow by blow of what happens in the ninety minutes  of the show serves little purpose. Let me instead note this really does cover a lot ground, often in a way that hits the gut. I'm generally not much of a fan of theatre that has such a specific focus, such an open agenda. But that is because too often what I see is someone trying to tell the audience what to think. Here, we get something more fundamental. Far more. Instead of a lecture, the audience watches a metaphorical spotlight aim right at things that happen all around us. The pressure of women to be mothers. The judgment based on looks or some other surface details. How people talk about rape. More, how motherhood can be glorious, life-changing. How beauty can be found in a thousand different ways. How cruelty comes to be accepted. And more. We the audience are not given an argument, nor answers to questions, but rather a series of experiences that reach right in to pluck the strings of our nervous systems.

This might easily turn into a very long review. For brevity's sake (and to avoid boring readers who would be better served just going to see the show), let me mention a few highlights.

"Which One Are You?" really touched a chord, with a simple yet devastating exploration of identity in terms of pop culture. That sounds soooooo academic, doesn't it? It is not. Rather it makes one laugh, and for fans of a certain t.v. show, one's heart to soar!

Credit: Vanessa Cate
Crystal Salas is an actress I hadn't seen before, but who grabbed my heart several times. The most piercing was something so simple it showed the power of a laser beam. You'll see what I mean in "The Optimist" (more than one member of the audience gasped during it).

Likewise "Trans" proved something of a tour-de-force. The monologue, given by and about born male mid-transformation into female, is written very well. Yet it contains traps for a less-than-stellar actor. Jonica Patella on the other hand is the very opposite. Instead of 'sincere' she is real. Instead of showing off, she simply uses the natural wit of her character. I really could go on and on about how superb I thought that performance is, but instead please see it for yourself.

She's in excellent company! The whole show juxtaposes images of how women are seen, how they see themselves, how they deal with preconceptions, how they change, how even their relationships in objects demonstrate some disturbing truths. For example, there's a double whammy a little more than halfway through involving pole dancing. "The Pole is Raunchy" (with Natalie Hyde doing something edgy and dramatic--she's so often cast in perky roles that other side of her talent goes unseen) proves very uncomfortable to watch, yet Iris Smoot in the following "The Pole is More" reveals another side to exactly the same object.

Credit: Vanessa Cate
Celebration and horror. Degradation and bliss. Loneliness. Community. Struggle. Success. Oppression. Ecstasy. In ninety minutes this ensemble runs the whole gamut and gives us a startling insight we feel (or at least most of us did) down to the marrow. Writer/director Vanessa Cate had collaborators with others such as Caroline Montes and Angie Hoover, along with a company of thirteen startling and vivid performers. Many are new to me like Kire Horton (funny and aching in "I Don't Want Kids"), Meghan Derr, Mariana Leite (another wonderful monologue dubbed "Motherhood"), Alicia Lourim, Chelsea Militano, and Lori J. Ness Quinn (who has a prime attribute for any performer--a face that always seems to have something going on behind it). Deneen Melody, like some others, I've seen before and continue to admire her courage as well as her expressiveness in voice and body.

I cannot think of a single performer in this show who didn't sooner or later take control of the stage, seize my attention and move my heart. That they were able to do so certainly serves as a tribute to their skills. That Cat Fight allows them that opportunity proves the same for the writers, choreographer and director. Not simply for the individual vignettes but how they flow together. To see what I mean, you'll have to see the show. Hopefully, you will.

Cat Fight plays Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm up to July 27, 2014 at ZJU Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, California 91601. You can get tickets ($15 each) at or by calling 805.791.1503 for reservations.

Disclaimer: Vanessa Cate and several others in the cast and crew are friends of mine. More, when a problem involving the graphics for the post card developed Vanessa asked for my help and I gave it. Rather extravagantly, she credited me 'Poster Design' which isn't really accurate. But generous.

"Noah" and "Jonah" (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Four Clowns is a theatre company which eschews naturalism in favor of...well...the stuff of clowns. By that I mean a lot more than a bright red nose (although such remains in evidence). Rather they take the flare, the exageration, the bright colors and obvious gags as a springboard into their shows. The result feels up close and personal, funny, surprising and pushes us the audience outside the box of how to see the world.

Potentially, this can be great!

In the two shows Noah and Jonah (both by David Bridel) the result qualifies as 'great' easily. But what do I mean by 'great'? Well, first of all the plays entertain on many levels. Both are based on the biblical tales (and I must admit the second is something of a favorite of yours truly). Yet each ends up told in such a deliciously over-the-top way, the manner you might expect in a children's show with puppets and sound effects and anachronistic silliness. Yet all this glorious tomfoolery remains aimed at adults. Puppets of the Wicked People in both plays gloat at how awful they are, cackling like cartoon villains but describing acts more worthy of Hannibal Lecter than Witchie-Poo (if you don't get that reference go do a search for "H.R.Puff-n-Stuff" at once!). God appears as a character in both plays, both as strange and amusing presences that might well upset those deeply wedded to more traditional depictions of the almighty.

For the record, I didn't mind at all. Although quite devout, I saw these plays as fitting very much into what I personally see as the purpose behind Creation--for the Divine to become something new by enacting out a universe. But I digress...

'Great' also because the shows move, provoke, entertain and remain surprising yet weirdly logical throughout. They re-imagine stories we all know in ways to make us question them, our assumptions and even ourselves without force-feeding answers. Yet they remains charming as well as simply fun.

Noah tells the story we've all heard, of a wicked world that God decides to purge and the one family Chosen to survive. In this one God is a huge face and hand way up in the sky. Amid it all is a blend of the slapstick with the profound, especially when it comes to Noah himself and his wife Delilah (nice touch that God keeps getting her name wrong).

Jonah goes further in the re-telling, turning the story of a deeply reluctant prophet who finally does God's will only to see God forgive the city Jonah warned when they repented. In this one, Jonah is a modern day "dude" in Los Angeles who's writing a screenplay about his life, and keeps trying to take a long nap rather than face any real issues. God in this one is a hippie on a skateboard, but increasingly we realize that is nothing but a mask for something we probably cannot ever really understand. It becomes a psychedelic odyssey for Jonah, complete with a strange friendship he develops with The Whale.

All of which adds up to a thought-provoking piece of total charm, one which reminds us (maybe) that the destination is not unimportant but the journey is what counts--not so much where you go and what you do, but who you are and become.

Both shows play at the Annenberg Community Beach House at 415 Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica, CA 90402--a venue with more than a passing resemblance to Shakespear's Globe. Which seems appropriate. It is outdoors, using the stairs and porch and balcony of the Beach House as a stage with us (the audience) likewise in the open air. Dress appropriately. Bring a hat at the very least. Here is the schedule:

Noah - 4:30pm on Wednesday 7/9, Friday 7/11, and Thursday 7/17
Jonah - 4:30pm on Thursday 7/10, Wednesday 7/16, and Friday 7/18   

Tickets are free to the public; reservations required.  Reservations may be made at; the elderly may call 310-458-4904 to make reservations.