Tuesday, March 12, 2019

RICHARD III: Introducing Richard and Anne

I am directing a production of my favorite Shakespeare play.  Without getting into too much detail, let us say my childhood ended up a lonely one--I was too different, too 'weird,' too much of an outsider to find much welcome. Perhaps that's why this play resonates, especially since my reaction to all this was not (at least initially) at all wise or healthy.  Richard III (as a character in a play, not necessarily in real history) did the same.  On a spectacular level.

We open April 27, Saturday at 2pm.  Performances go on until May 26, with Sunday shows at 7pm.  This marks the premiere major production of a new company, theatreANON!  And yeah, we are raising funds to meet our bills (mostly rent).

Here you can find theatreANON's Facebook page.  Here is our website.

Over the next several weeks I'm want to introduce you to the cast.  A director's job is over halfway done if the cast is the right one.  So yeah, halfway done even before the first rehearsal!

Libby Letlow is portraying the title role in Richard III: Hour of the Tyrant.  Honestly I've seen her in almost a dozen different roles, so when she auditioned (and knocked it out of the park) I had an inkling of her potential, to say the least.  Honestly about four people who auditioned could have played the role, but Libby seemed to me the one who'd give the most interesting Richard.  As rehearsals have gone on, what can I say but she continues to surprise in the best possible way.

No spoilers, but honestly I can hardly wait to see what her finished performance will look like!

When she auditioned I'd never seen Sahil Kaur, which is a shame since by now I'm sure her performances would have worth the seeing!  Lady Anne too often ends up cast and played as a victim, a fragile flower seduced then crushed by the ruthless, powerful Richard.  Honestly, though, Shakespeare's women rarely seem this way to me.  Besides, it makes for poor theatre.  As rehearsals progress, Sahil's choices as Lady Anne frankly thrill me--fulfilling the promise I saw during try-outs.  Her Anne is proving strong, a passionate woman who offered much to Richard as a wife, a partner, even a friend.  His tragedy--and hers, as well as England's--lies in the fact he could not bring himself to accept her offer.

To be continued...

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Cemetery Club (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

One of the many joys of this job is getting to visit one of the (hundreds) of theatre in Los Angeles I have never before.  Such was this, the Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro, and getting to see Ivan Menchell's The Cemetery Club.

Readers probably realize my own tastes lend themselves towards the edgy, often the stylized and even the disturbing.  All true!  This play however proves something else.  A well-written, well-done, straightforward and essentially realistic work about a trio of widows in New York who meet once a month and visit their husbands.  That the three couples were close friends for decades is the building bloc of this social gathering.

Ida (Susie McCarthy) is the "normal" one, i.e. the hostess at whose home they first meet, the glue that holds the club together really.  She's also the one who most feels a need to move on, to perhaps find someone else, maybe marry again. 

Lucille (Amanda Karr) comes across immediately as a flamboyant tease, brash and competitive, fun-loving and irreverent.  Her new fur coat and its gradual accessories become a lovely little running gag.

Finally there is Doris (May-Margaret Lewis), the oldest of the three senior ladies, easily the most devoted not to say slightly obsessed with her late husband.  She's the most judgmental, the most experienced and in some ways most wise, but also the one who needs the others the most--they are literally all she has, while she lacks the strength or interest in finding anyone else.

Hopefully, the above conveys somewhat the amount of nuance amid the deep but relatively simple passions of these characters and their story.  For the record, nobody kills anyone.  No horrible crimes reveal themselves.  Everyone begins sane and ends that way.  Here we see domestic drama, the intimate kind of story much more like those dramas we ourselves create, endure, then (hopefully) emerge from wiser.  I say "drama" as opposed to "melodrama" because unlike the latter roles between characters change.  Everyone sooner or later behaves selfishly or at least foolishly.  They each hurt and help each other.  The story itself focuses upon a male presence who disturbs this already-tottering tripod--Sam (Perry Shields), a friendly butcher and widower and a pretty perfect example of a nebesh (or so the director James Rice mentioned after the show).  I looked up the definition in Gentile dictionaries after the show, and they give a much less nuanced image.  Rice described a nebesh as a quiet, unaggressive man who avoids discord but who has a profound knowledge of himself--polite, but not foolish nor cowardly.

Sam happens to visit his late wife at the same time as the Club members are visiting their husbands, with sparks quietly bursting between himself and Ida.  Doris and Lucille panic a bit, seeking to somehow rid themselves of the invading source of chaos.  What they do is...well, not kind.  Pretty soon they realize they've done something wrong.  And yes, it is bound to come out.

The drama then plays out appropriate to the age of the characters (including an almost walk on named Mildred, played by Diana Mann).  As said, nobody kills anyone.  But the pain is real.  The revelations that emerge are likewise real.  The anger and guilt and confessions and hope--all real.  We can feel the truth of that.

Which is at the heart of what good theatre is, at least in my eyes.  That intimate sense of friends and love and meeting the ways the world changes--the stuff of life that is.

The Cemetery Club plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm until March 17, 2019 at the Little Fish Theatre 777 Centre Street, San Pedro, CA 90731.

The Bourgeois Gentleman (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

One of the many things I like about City Garage in Santa Monica is how they produce major playwrights other than the ones we expect.  Case in point--Moliere.  The Bourgeois Gentleman marks only one of many plays by the great French comic playwright.  Many productions of his works focus on the basic comedy--which works, because they are scathingly funny.  Yet they felt far more scathing to their original audiences, who saw a topicality we have to some degree lost.

Unless you do a production with our modern world in mind, without sacrificing what makes these works such a vivid and individual voice.  Hence, the City Garage.

The story focuses on Jourdain (Bo Roberts) a willful but grossly ignorant businessman who longs to move amidst the highest of society.  Towards this end he has hired various tutors (Trace Taylor, Martha Duncan. Rob Nolan, etc.) to teach him about music, dance, philosophy--the qualities expected of a gentleman as opposed to a mere shopkeeper (albeit a wealthy, successful one).

By any measure, the results prove hilarious.  He horrifies his teachers, and takes their comments as proof he is a natural genius, one naturally given to sophisticated ideas even while singing a song about amorous relations with a sheep.  When a tailor (Danny Hackin) makes him the most elaborately ridiculous outfit imaginable--for a large sum naturally--he regards the peels of laughter from his wife Madame Jourdain (Geraldine Fuentes) and servant Nicole (Lindsay Plake) as proof they don't understand.  Just as he dismisses the fact a Count (Troy Dunn) keeps borrowing increasingly large sums could be anything other than the highest honor!

Yet for all that, Fontaine isn't an evil man.  He isn't cruel so much as thoughtless.  And foolish.  So when he stand in the way of his daughter Lucile (Carina Conti) wedding her love Cleonte (Grant Gerber) and in the process his servant Covielle (Andrew Loviska) wedding Nicole, no one finds it hard to trick him.  Outside his area of expertise, the man behaves like the most gullible of idiots.  The Count has, in the name of wooing a certain lovely Countess (Angela Beyer) on Jourdain's behalf, has in fact been doing so for himself--with a fair amount of success in the end!  A bit of absurd play-acting leads our anti-hero by the nose in accomplishing all he swore would never happen.

He is, in fact, helpless.  And rich.  Entirely dependent upon the relatively mild cruelty and ethics of those around him.  Dial up the former and down the latter, then what do you get?  Or make Jourdain himself malignant instead of a fool.

Look around you.

As ever the direction of Frédérique Michel proves compelling in all sorts of obvious and subtle ways.  There's even a wonderful Brechtian touch, mingling the naturalistic with the stylized.  We end up both engrossed in the play yet aware it is a play.  No small feat!  That the ending doesn't quite feel like an end adds to the effect--this story, like all stories, continues.

The Bourgeois Gentleman plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 4pm until April 7, 2019 at the City Garage, Bergamot, T1 Space, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404

Friday, March 1, 2019

Plays I'd Like to See - March 2019

I've been asked to list plays that I'd like to see produced in Los Angeles.  Trying to do such.  Maybe some dramaturgs or directors out there will be impressed/inspired.  We'll see.

Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O'Neil.  This is actually a cycle of plays based on The Oresteia, the only complete tragic trilogy we have from Ancient Greece.  O'Neil, a genuinely tormented soul, retells the story of Agamemnon and his wife in terms of the American Civil War, a generational tale of tragedy and (like the original) guilt. "The Homecoming" "The Hunted" and "The Haunting" make up almost nine intense hours of theatre, so represents a real challenge quite apart from the period costumes and sets.  But it remains one of his seminal works, a bridge between the modern and the ancient, born out of imagination fed with dysfuction and tragedy pretty much from the womb.  It offers amazing roles for both men and women, and feels universal enough to easily accommodate non-traditional casting.

Psycho Beach Party by Charles Busch is a wild and wacky comedy, essentially fusing together the genres of Gidget and Slasher movies.  That it includes drag queens (or is supposed to) just adds to the hilarious absurdity.  I think tix to this might sell like hotcakes, and would so adore seeing it once more!

Meet the Cast of RICHARD III


As some of you already know, I am directing a fairly radical edit of Shakespeare's Richard III.  Here is the cast.  More lovely details will follow!