Stage Raw: At Home with Theatre ZAR
INTERVIEW with Pieter-Dirk Uys and Charlize Theron
Photo courtesy of the Grotowski Institute, Wroclaw
Wroclaw, Poland --
On Sunday afternoon, In the upstairs, brick-walled, church-like confines of the Grotowski Institute, where Polish director Jerzy Grotowski once worked, Theatre ZAR's project director Jaroslav Fret and his actor-singers offered a demonstration for invited guests of the vocal techniques employed by his company.
There was no set in the theater because, Fret explained, it has already been shipped to Los Angeles, where the company will perform a trilogy of choreographed tone-poems, Tryptich , at UCLA Live, December 1-3.
The dramaturgy is built upon ancient polyphonic madrigals from Georgia, Bulgaria and Corsica. (ZAR comes from a word meaning funeral incantation.) Fret said that the theater is seeking a form of storytelling based less on images and traditional language, and more on listening, on primal "vibrations" that come from this ancient music -- rendered with gorgeous solemnity by an ensemble of 11 who, frankly, appeared emaciated and exhausted. The music is a form of memory, a link to ancestors, Fret said. ZAR's performance, a trilogy of incantations about life and death, is closest in form to an oratorio. It's not the first company to employ this form of theater. Song of the Goat, also from Wroclaw, has visited UCLA, as has ZAR.
Wroclaw is currently hosting the Dialog International Theatre Festival. So far I've seen an amazing Woyzeck (by Georg Buchner) presented by the Puppet Theatre of South Africa; and a grungy vivacious production of Brecht's Baal by RO Theatre of Rotterdam. Reviews on these, and more, to come later this week.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS (TO BE PUBLISHED OCTOBER 15, 2009
NEW REVIEW THE BLUNDERS
Photo by Brian McClosky
Jon Berstein's site-specific comedy with music about L.A. ditherers and sweet loons is set in an L.A. bar-cabaret - cleverly using the environs of the Vermont Restaurant's cabaret room. This provides the opportunity and context for Lorna (Leslie Beauvais), Gretel (Celina Stachow) and Suzy (Lisa Donahey) to croon musical director Mitchell Kaplan's original songs (with additional lyrics by Berstein) as well as excerpts from Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. Meanwhile the unrequited loves and stifled ambitions that play themselves out at the bar resemble a sitcom based on a Sondheim musical - unapologetically so. The parodies include Ezra (Marco Tazioli), a kind-hearted gravel-voiced sage perpetually frustrated in romance and by his over-the-limit credit cards, and who's mistaken for a Muppet character. We see him somewhat spinelessly or perhaps desperately duped by fly-by-night shrink Dr. Sylvia (Keli Daniels), a former canine psychiatrist who makes her living applying her doggy techniques to Angelenos. Heart-throb bartender Barry (Casey Sullivan) sends overweight Suzy's heart aflutter in what she thinks is a mutual romance but is merely Barry's attempt to exploit her job as a receptionist at Capitol Records. After about 30-minutes, the concept wears thin, because it's a dramatization of symptoms rather than underlying causes. Posing as an affectionate nod to life in our Industry town, it unwittingly provides grist to outsiders convinced of our city's superficiality. The sound design and/or actors' use of mikes needs modifying in order to prevent distortion, though Donahey in particular has a gorgeous singing voice, and knows how to use it. Upright Cabaret at Vermont, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles; Wed., 9 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.; no minimum for dinner or drinks); through October 21. http//the blunders.com (Steven Leigh Morris)
NEW REVIEW THE DOCTOR DESPITE HIMSELF
Photo by Ed Krieger
Playwright Deborah Stein's melodramatic, musical mash-up of '70s punk rock and Hamlet is eerily reminiscent of a beer-fueled, college-dorm-room debate over what constitutes a punk aesthetic -- albeit the losing side. As suggested by Stein's fictional ex-punk superstar turned vodka-swilling First Lady, Gertrude (Jill Van Velzer), the play argues that punk was a politically idealistic movement agitating for social revolution. Maybe, but real-life veterans of New York's CBGB's or Max's Kansas City -- Gertrude's erstwhile, formative music scenes -- might remember something slightly more sardonic, skeptical and nihilistic. Nevertheless, in this Bizarro Shakespeare, where a besieged Elsinore is under bombardment by an anarchist army, Gertrude takes refuge in a decrepit theater (on Susan Gratch's war-torn set) to perform an impromptu concert of old songs interspersed with regrets over her betrayal of that alleged punk spirit. Her remorse includes complicity in the murder of a first husband by her current President/spouse (James Horan) that has left her rising, rock-star son (Steve Coombs) smoldering with resentment. But if Van Velzer's portrayal of a grasping, narcissistic diva doesn't exactly resonate with the Bard's Gertrude, Stein and composer David Hanbury prove more in tune as a lyricist-songwriter team for the show's half-dozen, faux-vintage punk numbers. Van Velzer belts them out with credible gusto, though director Michael Michetti's somewhat lumbering production could have benefited from the energy of live accompaniment instead of musical director Rob Oriol's prerecorded band in a can. Theater @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (626) 683-6883. (Bill Raden)
NEW REVIEW HIGH CEILINGS
Photo courtesy of Storey Productions
It's not clear whether writer-performer Jillian Crane was attempting to write a whacky sitcom, an absurdist farce, or an old fashioned madcap comedy, but the outcome is way more inane than amusing. Crane's heroine, Lily--a role she also plays--is apparently intended to be a charming kook, but she emerges as a pushy, bullying, insensitive and inconsiderate nut who, on the eve of her nuptials, carries on with the florist (Lauchlin MacDonald), mistreats and ignores her husband-to-be (Chris Smith), and creates a scandal at the wedding rehearsal by attempting to marry her depressive, heavily medicated, and usually comatose father (Patrick Pankhurst). Her prospective bridegroom immediately dumps her -- the play's only sensible act. There's little rhyme, reason, logic, psychology, or credibility to the proceedings. There's not much director Valerie Landsburg and her talented cast can do with such material. I don't have a clue as to what the title means, or why anybody chose to produce this farrago. The Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Boulevard, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru Nov. 9. (800) 838-3006 or http://www.thehayworth.com Produced by Storey Productions. (Neal Weaver)
NEW REVIEW GO JUST IMAGINE
Photo by Jacki Korito
The fun of seeing and hearing Tim Piper's great John Lennon impersonation in an intimate setting with an outstanding band, under Greg Piper musical direction, is just undeniable. The evening, which includes a large portion of the Beatles catalogue followed by Lennon's solo work, never misses a beat or lick with Piper's perfectly pitched and accented voice and expert instrumentation: Don Butler's hot guitar, Morley Bartnoff's keyboard and Don Poncher's drums. The guys scruffily kowtow to Lennon's lead, creating the perfect illusion of superstar power. Jonathan Zenz's sound design achieves a powerful volume without killing our ears in the small Noho Arts Center space. Lighting by Luke Moyer along with Tim Piper's video images complete the double fantasy of Lennon before and after Yoko. The musical portion is so enjoyable, under the overall eye of director Steve Altman, that we hopefully forget the lame one-man play that slips between the songs. Perhaps the plan is to pull Lennon off his lofty saint-like perch, but the result of a plodding timeline narrative bio leaves Lennon sounding dull and whiney, until the music returns him to his proper place. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. www.justimaginetheshow.com. (818) 508-7101, Ext. 7. (Tom Provenzano)
NEW REVIEW GO NEVER LAND
Photo by Arsonistphotography.com
Phyllis Nagy is a New Yorker who's spent the larger part of her playwriting career in Britain, and is now a naturalized citizen of the U.K. (Her poetical and unflinchingly brutal works were embraced by Stephen Daldry's Royal Court Theatre, and she currently has commissions with both the National Theatre of Great Britain and the Royal Shakespeare Company.) She's here to direct the U.S. premiere of her play, Never Land, a comedy of sorts that grapples firmly and unsentimentally with many facets of exile. In the rain-soaked south of France, a native, Henri Joubert (Bradley Fisher), his wife Anne (Lisa Pelikan) and their beautiful, aging daughter, Elisabeth (Katherine Tozer), possess the language, dialect and attitudes of upwardly mobile Brits. They simply lack the lineage and resources - what with Henri working as a hired hand at the local perfumery for a jocular, world-wise boss (William Dennis Hunt). Henri's woes are compounded by his masochistic daughter's engagement to a presumptuous black man, Michael (William Christopher Stephens), and by Michael's offer to sweep her out of France - an offer Henri's wife envies and covets. Henri, also has an offer - or, like his daughter, he believes he does. An Englishman, Nicholas Caton-Smith (Christopher Shaw), who lives half the year in France, runs a series of bookshops in lackluster British cities. Henri believes that his future happiness lies in managing one of his neighbor's shops in Bristol. (Shannon Holt has a beguiling twitchy humor as Caton-Smith's poodle of a wife.) The murkiness of these promises forms the strategically wobbling axis of Nagy's absurdist and ultimately despondent comedy that speaks as much in symbols and dreams as it does in the gently unfolding story -- not unlike a latter-day Woyzeck. The family portraits that decorate Frederica Nascimento's stark set get removed, one-by-one, as the scenes progress, as the rain pours down unrelentingly. The comedy is lyrical, urbane and erotically charged (largely by Swinda Reichelt's silky costumes), yet technical problems intrude upon what should be a kind of haunting. In one scene, the sound of the rain is so severe, crucial dialogue becomes muffled. Moreover, the play's flow depends on a descent from a comedy of British manners into the marsh created by the emotional and atmospheric tempests of a foreign land. Despite the caliber of the actors, the blithe and witty repartee of Act 1 is more mannered than crackling, giving the production a layer of artifice it can ill-afford, with its already built-in shifts to the laconic and the violent. This beautiful, difficult play deserves a fully accomplished production to match its brilliance. It could approach that standard as its run progresses. Rogue Machine in Theater/Theatre, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (323) 960-7774. (Steven Leigh Morris)
NEW REVIEW THE PHILADELPHIA STORY
Photo courtesy of Fake Radio
This is one of three productions (with Meet Me in St Louis and The Lone Ranger) Fake Radio is staging for their new season. This troupe specializes in authentic recreations of broadcasts from the "golden age of radio", cum stylish period costumes, scripts held-in-hand, commercial breaks, and a palpable sense of infectious goofiness. Co-produced and directed by David Koff (who also performs), the show boasts an outstanding cast and an alternating line-up of guest stars (the night I attended, Marcia Wallace did the honors). Opening the show, a trio of ladies took their place in front of three on-stage microphones and sang a rendition of "Rum and Coca-Cola," a song popularized by the Andrews Sisters. They were followed by an episode of The Adventures of Superman, with the funny Jon Stark as the caped superhero, and Dave Cox as Batman. Denny Siegel was a blast as Tracy Lords, the ditzy socialite whose pending nuptials precipitate a comic run in with her ex husband (Koff), fiancée (Stark) and family in The Philadelphia Story. Koff mentions early on that the script has been tweaked for effect, but it's very difficult to tell. Everything that transpires, even the breaks for sponsor Lux Soap and war bonds, have a delightful tone, and feel of authenticity. Dan Foegelle's sound design is superb. Fake Radio at the Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (877) 460-9774. (Lovell Estell III)
NEW REVIEW ROCKIN' WITH THE AGES Following in the footsteps of such shows as Too Old For the Chorus, this musical revue gives the over-60 set a chance to sing, dance, kick up their heels, and prove they're not too old to cut the mustard. Not surprisingly, the songs tend to be nostalgic golden oldies, ranging from "My Man" to "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'", "The Music of the Night," and "Summertime." But there's some real talent here, a number of terrific voices, and a sequin-and-feather-clad tap-dancing ensemble called The Razzmatappers, who prove they're as spry and energetic as most 20-year olds. Vocal high-lights include David Lara's operatic renditions of "Summertime," and "O Solo Mio," Carl Jacobs' "Dream the Impossible Dream," Susan La Croix's sassy rendition of "Anything Goes," and Klyda Hill Mahoney's "Stormy Weather." Director Warren Berlinger keeps the show moving along nicely, emcee Hank Garrett adds dollops of naughty Catskill-type humor, and Ron Rose provides deft keyboard accompaniments. There's a huge cast, but the lineup seems to vary from performance to performance. The show is obviously a big hit with seniors, but it's hard to say how much appeal it'll have for younger audiences. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru Oct. 25. (818) 506-0600. (Neal Weaver)
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