Monday, June 19, 2023

Sherlock Holmes The Last Act

 Spoilers ahoy!

Having been a Sherlockian since around 1970, and having written my own Holmes murder mystery (watch this space for details), I eagerly planned to see Sherlock Holmes the Last Act.  Wasn't quite sure what to expect.

In truth this proved a solo show in which an aging Holmes has just returned from the funeral of Dr. John Watson, his one true friend.  Holmes (Nigel Miles-Thomas) at this point seems very much the powerful mind and piercing figure he has always been.  But not so, not really.  He finds himself diving, or perhaps falling into memories of his days as the Great Consulting Detective.  Again and again he recreates the moment he met Watson.  ("I perceive you have been to Afghanistan")  Eventually his memories take him further and deeper.  Into un-charted territory, or at least un-chronicled.  Things Watson never knew...

Writer David Stuart Davies does a very fine job of weaving the Holmes we know with what we don't know, but might have been.  Much of what he comes up with accounts for several patterns in the Great Detective's life, not least perhaps his need for stimulation, his distrust of women coupled with his strong desire to protect them, his craving for what he called "excitement" but comes across (in this work, anyway) as distraction, his willingness to let certain criminals simply go free.  

More, and this is praise for both actor and writer as well as director Gareth Armstrong, all this emerges in a way I don't think anyone needs much familiarity with the books and stories to appreciate the story.  Lacking the time that folks like Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone (to name a very, very few) had to work with the character, Miles-Thomas admirably bring Holmes to life.  More, I get nice glimpses of the other people in his life, including Watson (of course) and his father.

I do think the pacing feels a bit rushed, but then the Fringe only gave this show a 60 minute slot (in practice this means more like 55 minutes or less).  I feel it probably needs 65, maybe 70 full minutes to let everything sink in.  

Sherlock Homes The Last Act plays at the Broadwater Second Stage, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038 three more shows as of this writing:

  • Wednesday June 21 2023, 8:00 PM
  • Friday June 23 2023, 9:00 PM 
  • Saturday June 24 2023, 7:00 PM

Vampire Nightclub 1983 (Fringe 2023)

Spoilers ahoy 

Seems like every single Fringe has at least one vampire play.  I never get to see all of them alas!  But this year I did get to see Vampire Nightclub 1983, a solo piece using the undead as a powerful metaphor.

Audrey Valcourt wrote and performed this relatively short (under 30 minute) piece, explaining from the year 1983 how she came to be a vampire in New York City.  It makes for some interesting lore and brings the metaphor front and center.  She was not made, but born a vampire.  Although she felt so very out of sync with her life, she had no idea of the sheer scale of it, until a little after puberty when she began to change.  Or, become her true self.  Her best friend didn't believe her, until seeing the fangs she ran away.

Our narrator spirals after that, running away, certain she is destined to be alone forever.  After many unsuccessful attempts at suicide (including driving a stake into her own heart) she ends up doing nothing, just existing.

Until...she meets others of her kind.  She falls in love.  She makes friends.  Every night she dances and listens to music, mingling with vampires and humans, finding many among the latter perfectly willing to be donors for one reason or another.

She is happy, until one of her friends gets sick.  Which rocks her to the core.  Vampires don't get sick.  What is this?

AIDS.  That is what 'this' is, and the devastation, the terror, the melancholy clutching at love even as one's lover fades--yeah the metaphor (or if you prefer analogy) seems pretty clear, especially during Pride Month.

Honestly, this solo piece works well overall, and I ended up caring about the character and her friends.  I do wish she had greater skill at moving and talking like different characters.  In fact, I find myself wanting to see the piece expanded into a full length work, with a larger cast and frankly even larger scale.  

The last show (for now) of Vampire Nightclub 1983 will be at the Broadwater Studio, 1078 Lillian Way, Los Angeles, CA 90038 on Saturday June 24 2023, 6:00 PM.

Get Naughty! The Krampus Rock Musical (Fringe 2023)

 Spoilers ahoy!

Imagine if you will, a burlesque show that combines Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer with The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

That will probably prepare you for Get Naughty! The Krampus Rock Musical.  For those of you who don't know, Krampus is a Germanic kind of Anti-Santa Claus who puts coal in bad little children's stockings, and if they are really bad, steals them away in his sack to EAT THEM!

As our hostess (Aryiel Hartman) explains, Krampus (Jon Cody) lives at the South Pole with a group of servants/slaves called Switches (including Dana Benedict and Max Moxie) who--in between orgies--help him torture bad children in their dreams then help him in his Christmas Eve duties.  

However, when a Krampus has a child, that child will take up the mantle upon his fortieth birthday.  Hence, the story.  Unbeknownst (at first) to Krampus himself, a wild week with the Witch Fantasma (Miss Spent Youth) years ago created a hellspawn raised by his mother, who calls him Junior (Matt Pick).  As a magic mirror reveals the truth, honestly Krampus looks forward to retiring and putting together his band!  But he has to prepare Junior to become the new Krampus, with the help of his head Switch (i.e. slave) Sinchilla (Sarah O'Dwyer).  Honestly, Junior doesn't seem to quite get it, at least at first.  

Meanwhile there's a B plot about a pair of children, Camden (Kim Dalton) and Joan (Mary Louise Lukasiewicz) who begin to realize Krampus might be real and that they are his natural prey.  So they begin to make plans...which do not involve being any less naughty. Oh, no!

As I hope this precis makes clear, we have hear a very fun show, one that takes any little mishaps in stride with a (sometimes literal) wink to the audience.  Honestly, it is a little slow getting started.  But I grew more and more invested in the whole game of watching this play out, until by halfway through I was almost dancing to the music (composed by Cliff Retallick, who also wrote the delightful madness that is this book).  Kudos also to choreographers Alli Miller and Lauren Avon.

Get Naughty! The Kampus Rock Musical plays at the Three Clubs, 1123 N VINE ST, Hollywood, CA 90038 with one more show as of this writing:  Thursday June 22 2023, 7:00 PM

Things to Avoid in a Eulogy (Fringe 2023)

 Spoilers ahoy!

Go see this play.  That is my simplest, most heart-felt reaction and review.  I mean it.

Things to Avoid in a Eulogy by Donnie Jarman (a friend of mine, btw) hit me in the gut and the heart.  It is a profound piece, not in terms of ideas or action, but for the emotional depths it reaches and explores, with compassion and humor.

Jill (Lindsay Seim) answers an ad at Craigs List that sounds too good to be true--free room, good pay, just to take care of/keep someone company.  Sandra (Jennifer Ashe), it turns out, is dying of cancer.  She doesn't want to die alone, and knows she'll need some help soon.  She will pay very, very well.  And she hires Jill.

What follows is an emotional odyssey between two women of different generations and worlds--what they have in common, what they disagree about, how they have reacted to the world, what each wants, how they (eventually) feel about one another.  It proves extremely moving, as well as gently (sometimes savagely) funny as hell. Among other things, and honestly everything else is ultimately very charming minutia, it is a portrait of growing courage--physical, emotional, intellectual.  

And, it is about love.  I sometimes think far too many plays (and novels, movies, etc.) confuse love with desire, or treat it as a beautiful weakness.  Which is fair, but there's more to it than either of those.  More, this play demonstrates a functional love story can be exactly as compelling as the most dysfunctional kind.  

Kudos also to the director Thomas Bigley, not only for fostering this story as it is told by two wonderful actors, but also helping keep the momentum going between scenes (a sometimes daunting task, but helped enormously by how much we care about these people).

Things to Avoid in a Eulogy has the following performances available at the Broadwater Black Box, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. , Los Angeles, CA 90038.

  • Friday June 23 2023, 10:00 PM

Inappropriate! (Fringe 2023)

Spoilers ahoy!

Honestly, I have an issue with ten minute plays.  They nearly always end up being clever little comedy sketches rather than...well, plays.  Which is not a bad thing, but a good comedy sketch is tricky to pull over very well.

On the other hand, it can still be funny or at least enjoyable even without being perfect.  Mostly such often need a cast who've been working together at sketch comedy for some time and preferably have worked together.

With that mini-rant out of the way, Inappropriate! consists of seven such sketches along a theme superbly described by the title.  Fair is fair--some of the playwrights are friends of mine.  Ditto some of the actors.  

Curb Your Urges by Rom Watson uses a large cast to showcase an imaginary game show about how people give in to temptation even when offered truckloads of money just to refrain.  Performed by Michael Caldwell, Alexis C. Martine, Jessica Dawdeswell, Jerry Weil, AnnaLisa Erickson, Ewan Chung, Beth Nintzel, David St. James, Debra Kay Lee, Dee Freeman, and Alex DeRita.  A veritable cast of thousands for a ten minute!  Fairly one note until the last contestant, but done will skill and energy.  I smiled and laughed.

The Sub written and performed by Maura Swanson is a cutting piece of fierce satire/mockery aimed at the Maga crowd, essentially.

First Date by Beth Polsky is a funny little skit about flatulance.  Charming and funny in a slightly gross way, the waiter at one point almost steals it.  But it also ends on a weird little hopeful note, with Jerry Weil, Alexis C. Martina (Jessica Dawdeswell on June 11 & 17) and Michael Caldwell.

The Last Reading by Laura Huntt Foti is borderline shocking, which made it work very well indeed, save for the blend of camp which struck a very slightly wrong chord to my ear.  A playwrighting group in the throws of disintegrating tries to keep in together when one member supplies pages of a wildly inappropriate piece.  As in borderline criminal (as well as racist).  Performed by Debra Kay Lee, David St. James, Ewan Chung, Beth Nintzel and AnnaLisa Erickson

The Pharmacy by Laura Huntt Foti is built around a simple premise, a pharmacist with a judgemental attitude and no respect for anyone's privacy.  It was entertaining but was also simply the same joke told several times.  Performed by Dee Freeman, Rachael Sizgorich, Alex DeRita, and Michael Caldwell.

Bible Study, again written and performed by Maura Swanson, is a more nuanced critique of a different facet of conservative America.  Scathing.

Howard's End by not E.M.Forster (that is what the program says) is about a eulogy service held by a man's brother, sister, and reluctantly attending nephew (who eventually enjoys the event very much) in which we learn the deceased was a letcherous no-talent jerk and pervert, whose "friends" use the event to push their own acting careers--save for one who takes the opportunity to share some genuine memories and play the accordian.  That was my favorite part.  Performed by Jerry Weil, Debra Kay Lee, Rachael Sizgorich, Michael Caldwell, Rachel Winfree, David St. James, and Alex DeRita.

As of this writing, there are two performances left at the Three Clubs, 1123 N VINE ST, Hollywood, CA 90038:

  • Wednesday June 21 2023, 7:00 PM
  • Friday June 23 2023, 9:00 PM

Friday, June 9, 2023

Measure4Measure (review)

 Spoilers ahoy!

I have seen William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure at least five times, including the production in which I played a tiny role lo these many year past. 

City Garage's Measure4Measure is not quite that play, although the vast majority of it consists of Shakespeare's writings.  Still, I'm stating outright this is the best production of this "problem play" I have ever seen.

Love getting to write those words.

To start, five of the many, many characters in this rather sprawling "comedy" (back in the day, this word was applied loosely to any play that did not end in massive deaths and devastation, i.e. tragedies) have specific actors assigned to them.  Everyone else is played by two other actors, which not only provides a chance for Kat Johnson and Angela Beyer to really show off their skills, it adds to some laughs to some rather more serious moments and (more importantly) gives these two--as well as Lucio, played/danced brilliantly by Courtney Brechemin (they nearly steal the show, for reals) to sometimes comment on events.

Because, as we hear up front, this is a "problem play."  Which means what?  Essentially, a play by Shakespeare that seems a bit weird, like Cymbeline with a plot so complicated even the title character at one point says "Wait, stop, I'm confused."  Or the deeply dark, cynical love story that crashes, falls over, and burns then starts a minor plague in Troilus and Cressida.  This one has a plot that, frankly, seems more disturbing every single moment one thinks about it.  That three of the performers actually do takes or feel outraged over the supposed hero's actions--i.e. the Duke played with a perfect blend of ruthless myopia by Troy Dunn--really brings this out.  It doesn't take much time out of the main action, just a commentary not unlike (albeit far more pointed) contemporary jokes included in other productions.  

In fact, it is hard in context not to see Shakespeare as exploring some really nasty parts of his own world, as well as ours, sometimes and especially in this play.  In my opinion.

The Duke of Verona decides to go abroad for a bit, leaving his lieutenants, the elderly but kind Escalus (Andy Kallok) and the supremely strict Angelo (Nathan Dana Aldrich or Anthony Sannazzaro depending on the performance) in charge.  He explicitly does this because for the past nineteen years he's been lax on a lot of very strict laws on the books.  As a result, vice is awash.  He pretty clearly intends Angelo especially to crack the whip, then when the Duke returns he will reform matters--thus letting the city blame Angelo for the change, and praise the Duke for making things right.

Richard III had lessons to learn from this guy, who promptly sneaks back into the city in disguise to see how things are going.

Apart from the brothels being closed down and burned, the employees therein punished, etc. there's also the case of a young man named Claudio who has gotten his fiancee Juliet pregnant.  Now, one of the few details we know about Shakespeare's life is that this is precisely how he came to marry his own wife.  Just sayin'  Lucio, our wonderful narrator, goes to see if Claudio's sister Isabel (Naomi Helen Weissberg)--in a subtle pun about to become a sister in a convent--might try and intervene on her brothers' behalf.  She is totally willing, and pleads for mercy as well as Portia ever did.  But...what she does, by her obvious piety and virtue, is inflame Angelo's seemingly-feeble lust, which roars into life a la Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  He eventually, and with difficulty since she seemingly does not and/or refuses to understand his meaning, demands a quid pro quo of her body for Claudio's life.

When the Duke finds out about this, he comes up with a very weird and convoluted plot to rescue Claudio and yet spare Isabel--a solution which is all kinds of problematical, as our cast very vocally notes with their reaction!  In fact, apart from a love of scheming, the Duke seems to believe Isabel but also cannot quite bring himself to believe her at the same time.  Which honestly seems the most realistic moment in the whole play, if one has been paying attention to the real world.

This all gets very complicated, which is in and of itself part of the fun, not least when Angelo orders Claudio put to death anyway and the Duke has to juggle even more balls (or words) to save the young man.  Which he could do so much more easily, it must be said.  Lord this man loves his drama!  More than he loves his justice, certainly.  In fact the entire climax of the play comes across as needlessly cruel and manipulative, a fact most productions try to mitigate against as much as possible.  At the very end--and here I cannot praise Charles A. Duncombe's editing nor Frederique Michel's direction enough--what seems like the perfect ending in terms of theatrical formula lies naked in its exploitation and deceit and casual sadism.  

Measure4Measure plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 4pm until July 9, 2023 at City Garage, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Building T1, Santa Monica, CA 90404.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Getting There (Fringe 2023)

 Spoilers ahoy!

NOTE:  Both star and director of this show are good friends of mine.

One thing I genuinely love about modern theatre (omygodyesiambeingacademic) is how it has left behind the arrogance that only the so-called "great" are worthy of theatre.  We see plays these days about salesmen, about little old ladies, about ordinary people trying to pay their rent, etc.

In this case, we have a one woman show not about her struggle with cancer (she is in remission YAY) but about how interacting with strangers helped her handle the ordeal.  More specifically, Rebecca O'Brien rode various buses to and from her treatments, her tests, her shopping for prescriptions as well as stuff like food.  What she was facing was a hard time, and she needed a support network that didn't at that moment in her life really exist.  Her family were either far away or dealing with other issues (serious ones, this is not a story about neglect or lack of caring).  So in the process of Getting There (the "there" being all sorts of things really) she opened herself up to the folks with whom she was sharing the journey.  On the bus.

And a mighty interesting, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes scary, sometimes wonderfully wise congregation they proved to be!  Nor, and methinks is the real point, was she in particular wildly lucky.  She simply, profoundly, opened herself up to the folks around her.  

To the half-mad crackhead girl trying to claw her way out of a mental haze I do not want to imagine, to the Russian lady determined to smother this fellow passenger with very welcome kindness, to a butcher who just likes a customer who takes the time to be nice, the driver who makes a snap decision which saves her some money, an random person who makes an extra effort to get Rebecca her phone she had not noticed fell out of her purse.  It makes for quite a tapestry, and one that is as genuinely hilarious as it proves moving.  

Getting There is almost an anti-Waiting for Godot, not least because she finds herself not at all alone, and refusing to ignore that fact.  May we all have the courage and kindness to do the same.  I found myself admiring Rebecca as I would a war hero.  Or, any kind of hero, really.  

Showtimes at the Hudson Theatre Guild 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90038:

  • Sunday June 11 2023, 8:00 PM
  • Thursday June 15 2023, 8:30 PM
  •  Sunday June 18 2023, 1:00 PM
  • Tuesday June 20 2023, 8:30 PM

The Portable Dorothy Parker (Fringe 2023)

 Spoilers ahoy! 

Dorothy Parker was a writer, critic, poet and personality of the first half the twentieth century who fairly begs to be the subject of a one person show.  No surprise then to see one in this year's Fringe Festival.

Margot Avery portrays the lead (or should I say "cast"?) of The Portable Dorothy Parker, set in 1943 when Parker's husband is off at war and she, past her prime, looks back with a certain dissatisfied rue.  A unseen young woman is visiting, to help her put together a collection of her works (hence the title).  Parker does not want her there, but treats her politely enough.  She drinks and drinks and drinks some more, going over her past and letting her tongue wag.  

It makes for an extremely workable format.  Almost perfect.  More, let me say this right up front--it works.  That all too often is a rarity in one person shows.  Many crash and burn.  Here the single performer aided by the script by Annie Lux and direction by Lee Costello gives us an entertaining, even insightful portrait of a fascinating woman.  Fan of the infamous wit get plenty doses of same, which we can (and do) savor at our leisure.  Count me in!

So is there a "but" coming?  Well, yeah.  This reminds me of a youtube video about some writer, that tries to give a relatively thorough outline of an artist, their art and career, in less than an hour.  A near-impossible task.  Certainly, I left the theatre entertained and informed.  But I barely felt moved.  Parker was a passionate person, a spitfire of wit given to frequent episodes of heavy drinking and extreme depression.  I liked the show.  I feel pleased to have seen and heard it.  I wanted to feel changed by a glimpse into an extraordinary, complicated soul.  

Which, to be fair, is a very hard thing to do in less than an hour.  

Showtimes at The Broadwater Black Box 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. :

  • Thursday June 8 2023, 9:30 PM
  • Saturday June 17 2023, 9:00 PM
  • Monday June 19 2023, 6:30 PM
  • Saturday June 24 2023, 11:00 AM