Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The Spy Who Went Into Rehab (review)

 Spoilers ahoy!

Parody is a tricky thing.  When the form of a parody is to essentially use the target as an excuse for jokes, essentially we are making fun of not only a genre but its fans.  Not so when the jokes are coming from a place of at least affection, if not love.  These parodies, in my view, stand the test of time a la Young Frankenstein or Galaxy Quest.

The Spy Who Went Into Rehab falls into the the latter category.  Gregg Ostrin wrote this clearly with a lot of knowledge about James Bond, Matt Helm, etc.  This shows up in the fact everything is so very fun! The play literally begins with Cross, Simon Cross (Satiar Pourvasei) tied up wearing a white dinner jacket, eyebrow arched and challenging his unseen captors to do their worst.  When they start asking about his medical insurance, the horror hits home.  He is in rehab.

Why?  Well, he claims to have been engaging in a high speed chase with some professional assassins.  In fact, he was drunk out of his brain while attacking an Uber.  A phone call to his boss Z (director Cyndy Fujikawa) confirms he really is stuck in a rehab facility for the next thirty days.  No guns.  No six to nine vodka martinis every day.  No sex.  No smoking.  Oh, and group therapy.

At this point we could spend the entire time making fun of Simon and everyone around him, and in fact the play does exactly that.  But what makes it better than that is when he begins to change.  He starts to recognize he is an addict, and it probably--as he explains to fellow patients--something to do with his father beating him all through childhood.  Simon proves a fascinating person, with lots of great stories to tell--a fact the therapist Stella (Jill Renner) finds frustrating.  Yet the spy does listen to others.  He offers an ear to listen and arm to walk with to Pixie (Alondra Andrade), a pep talk to the insecure Gary (Stuart W. Howard), actually bonds a bit with Yvonne (Rachel Townsend).  And he starts to grow, realizing some facts about his life.

Which is also funny, especially when his arch-enemy shows up and cannot fathom what Simon is even talking about now!  In the end, a lovely series of plot twists spirals up the laughter and makes increasingly clear Simon really did need this therapy.  He's become a better man.  Not coincidentally, he's also now a better secret agent, capable of helping his fellows.

Honestly, the timing of the show (on opening night, let us be fair) was slightly off but that is a nuance, one I suspect will simply correct itself as performances in front of a live audience continue.  

The Spy Who Went Into Rehab plays 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, 3pm Sundays until July 7, 2024 at the Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291

Monday, June 3, 2024

Girl from the North Country (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

There is this thing called an "album show" in which the songs of a popular musical artist are woven together to create a musical.

Nothing wrong with that, of course.  But it does tend to carry the whiff of something fairly feel good, to the point of very little depth.

Not Girl from the North Country, based on the songs of Bob Dylan, starting of course with the title. I cannot call myself a big afficianado of Dylan, and I personally did not recognize most of the tunes within this full length drama.  But I found it all profoundly moving.

For now, let me note the music did not sound very much like Dylan, given it was re-arranged with a far more blues-style.  The story focuses on a boarding house in Duluth, Minnesota during the depths of the Great Depression.  Atop a cliff looming over Lake Superior, a collection of people in various degrees of desperation as well as hope gather against the cold.  Now and then, they break into song--but not to further the plot or say something to each other in a heightened fashion.  No, these songs more than anything give a poetic expression to how they feel and what situation they are experiencing right this moment.  Like Tori Amos, Dylan's lyrics are not so much about this one specific moment and its details.  Rather, they are about what it is like to be here, to feel this, and hear that, while wondering or hoping or fearing a dozen other things.

For example, when a certain character dies, and we learn this character is dead, suddenly they appear on stage to sing something akin to a spiritual, with the entire cast acting as backup.  Until the song ends, and we settle in to deal with devastating emotional aftermaths.

After the show, when I told someone working with the tour about my feelings, my real pleasure and fundamental reactions to what I'd just seen, they asked about my favorite moment or aspect.  She began asking about specific songs and tunes and lyrics.

But I didn't recognize which songs she meant.  My answer, after pondering for almost a full minute was "I found myself forgiving all the characters."

This is not a sentimental show.  It does not try to answer issues and terrors with platitudes.  It never dumbs itself down.  Neither does it pull its dramatic punches.

Yet I found myself forgiving all these foolish, dangerous, deceitful, hurting people trying so hard to be wise, kind, honest and happy. 

No small feat. 

Girl from the North Country has at the time of this writing closed at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles.  It will play however in Las Vegas NV June 4-9 at the Smith Center, Salt Lake City, UT June 11-16 at the Eccles Center, Portland, OR. June 18-23, 2024 at the Keller Auditorium,  Seattle, WA. June 25-30, at the Paramount Theatre, and an Francisco, CA. July 30 - August 18, at the Golden Gate Theatre, and so one through October 2024.  I highly recommend it.