Stage Raw: Coming Home
For the latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS and an update from the Grotowski Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, press the Continue Reading tab at the bottom of this section.
Photo by Ed Krieger
A sequel to his 1995 post apartheid play Valley Song, Athol Fugard's latest work, Coming Home, tells of the decimation of one person's dream and the recasting of hope from its ashes. The luminous Deidrie Henry portrays Veronica, a once aspiring singer who returns to her rural childhood home, child in hand, after 10 bitterly disappointing and difficult years in Cape Town. Resilient and nurturing despite her anguish, Veronica has a single-minded purpose: to establish a home for her son Mannetjie (Timothy Taylor and then by Matthew Elam as he ages) who will need support and protection in the event of her demise from AIDS. With her beloved grandfather, her only relative, dead, she turns for help to her childhood friend Alfred (Thomas Silcott), a sweet, slow-minded man who has always loved her dearly, but whom her son despises. Spanning five years, the story depicts Veronica's transformation from a buoyant woman to a sick but seething, determined molder of her son's future to, finally, a bedridden invalid, yet with enough energy to foster her boy's burgeoning ambition to write. Part of Fugard's ongoing reflection of his native country's woes, the play contains sometimes burdensome exposition that's offset by its masterfully drawn characters and deeply embedded humor. Under Stephen Sachs' direction, Henry shines, while Silcott is equally outstanding. As Mannetjie, whom we watch evolving into manhood, Taylor and especially Elam both impress; Adolphus Ward skillfully fashions the ghost of Veronica's grandfather. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; opens June 20; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 29, (No perf July 4.). (323) 663-1525.
For the rest of the latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS, plus an update on the Grotowski Theater Festival from Wroclaw, Poland, press the Continue Reading tab directly below.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS TO BE PUBLISHED JUNE 25
NEW REVIEW CABARET
Photo by Anthony Yount
The economy is terrible; unemployment is rising; sex and promiscuity abound; traditions are constantly broken creating backlash from social conservatives -- of course, it's Germany in the early 1930s. Against the backdrop of the Weimar Republic, Kander and Ebb's 1966 classic musical follows American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Michael Bernardi) through his affair with English singer Sally Bowles (Kalinda Gray), whom he meets in Berlin at the Kit Kat Klub as the Nazi's are taking over. At the top of the show, the iconic "Willkommen" introduces the club and its dancers--The Kit Kat Girls and Boys--as well as the Emcee (Eduardo Enrikez), whose outrageous persona is a dead ringer for Joel Grey's 1972 Oscar-winning performance in Bob Fosse's movie. When not at the cabaret, Cliff stays in a boardinghouse run by Fraulein Schneider (Annalisa Erickson), who has a soft corner for local fruit vendor Herr Shultz (Jayson Kraid) and constantly battles with tenant Fraulein Kost (Josie Yount) over the stream of sailors who flow through Kost's bedroom in order to help "pay the rent." Cliff, on the other hand, pays the rent by giving English lessons. Director Judy Norton's use of table seating and a working bar completes the cabaret ambience, but her transitions drag and she fails to bring out the je ne sais quoi--or perhaps ich weiss nicht--that would have made the brilliant source material leap off the stage. Even Greg Hakke's musical direction is sluggish at times and Derrick Mcdaniel's lighting leaves many dark spots on stage. The performances, unlike the German accents, are solid, but only Enrikez really stands out. The MET Theater; 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through August 9. (323) 965-9996. www.plays411.com/cabaret (Mayank Keshaviah)
NEW REVIEW GO CIRQUE BERZERK A dreadlocked ringmaster tells a misfit girl to flee the land of the corporate zombies, where businessmen in masks and suits sprawl half dead before tombstones made of suitcases. And she does, committing suicide to descend from the ceiling of the venue's big top tent to the underworld circus of the fully dead, whose acts include suicides hanging themselves from trapezes and a drowned sailor and his wife contorting through a boneless, weightless sexual dance. Later, a troupe of dead brothers make brilliant use of a trampoline and an oversized photo frame, and a phalanx of hellish Liza Minnellis reenacts Cabaret with flaming chairs. The creative team of Suzanne Bernel, Kevin Bourque and Neal Everett put on quite a show. The 26 performers and seven piece band are fantastic, and fantastically served by Heather Goodman and Mary Anne Parker's costumes, which have the bravado to make an outfit out of an Elizabethan collar, feathers, a bikini top and knee socks. (The production was born at Burning Man.) And because the stage rotates, there's not a bad seat in the house, even out in this ex-cornfield east of Chinatown. Los Angeles State Historic Park, 1245 N. Spring St., Chinatown; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 7 & 10 p.m.; Sun., 5 & 8 p.m.; through July 5. http://www.cirqueberzerk.com (Amy Nicholson)
NEW REVIEW GO GODSPELL
Photo courtesy of the Knightsbridge Theatre
This 1971 musical, conceived by John-Michael Tebelak with music and lyrics by Steven Schwartz, is a sort of anti-Hair. That 1967 show utilized a colorful tribe of hippies to mount a protest against the Vietnam War and challenge the status quo. Godspell took a similar tribe, sanitized and de-radicalized it, and put it to work in the service of the Gospel of Saint Matthew. In Act 1, the preachiness is held at bay by solid songs and un-buttoned comedy, and Christianity is given a feel-good New Age spin. Act 2 is soberer, going past the parables to Christ's crucifixion. In this production, director Chuck McCollum and choreographer Allison Bibicoff have brought ready wit and clever detail to the show, and have cast it with a crew of wonderfully able, infectiously enthusiastic performers. Sterling Sulieman is a strong, forthright Jesus, with Rene Guerrero doubling as John the Baptist and Judas. Jenny Weaver delivers a potent "Day by Day," Maria Lee gives a vampish turn to 'Turn Back, O Man," and Jason B. Hightower keeps the comedy coming. The fine ensemble includes Zach Bandler, Talo Silveyra, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Kelly Boczek and Tracy Thomas. Conductor Jan Roper provides solid orchestrations/musical direction, and John Paul de Leonardis designed the handsome set. Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake; Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through July 12. (323) 667-0955 or www.KnightsbridgeTheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
NEW REVIEW GO INSIDE OUT For the majority, gender seems like one of life's givens, as genetically determined and as biologically apparent as blue eyes or big feet. The truth of the matter, as Jody Vaclav points out in her thoughtfully written, one-woman memoir, is that acting like a girl or a boy is just that -- acting. It's a role most of us take for granted, though meticulously maintain, with only minor neurotic consequences. The psychic disaster that results when one's inner gender doesn't gibe with one's outer genitalia is both Vaclav's subject and the story of the first 35 years of her life spent as Joe Vaclav. Born a boy amid the mountains and manly virtues of Colorado, Vaclav wryly recounts her struggles to live up to the conservative standards of western machismo all the while harboring the unutterable secret that "he" was not who she pretended. She mainly pulled it off, settling into an amicable marriage and a job as Field Engineer for a power company, but her perpetual inner torment eventually grew into a suicidal despair and finally a determination to change. And while that decision led to sex reassignment surgery, Vaclav's narrative is one of journey rather than destination. It's a bumpy ride to be sure (director Kathleen Rubin's staging could be tighter), but one that Vaclav makes with humor, irony and remarkable courage. Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 11. (310) 306-6298. (Bill Raden)
NEW REVIEW LITTLE BLACK VEIL The first half-hour of writer-director David Lebarron's comedy musical is a lot of fun. After that, the ride gets really rocky. The play follows a raucous troupe of drag queens attempting to recover from the death of their beloved "queen bee" Cherise. Among those affected are Billy (Tony Melson), who left the group earlier and Philip (understudy Derrick Reed) The production showcases the talents of Abby Travis, whose fine music and lyrics aren't complemented by a similar quality of singing and dancing by the ensemble. But the biggest problem here is a mishmash of a plot. Tossed in for good measure, or so it seems, is a bit of romantic intrigue involving Billy and his lover Ramon (DT Matias), who for some strange reason doesn't accept Billy's need to go drag. There's also an even stranger hook-up between Phillip and Jan (Yolanda Banos), who loves her man but can't accept his need to wear dresses. Both hint at a focus on weightier issues of sexual identity, but fall short of credulity. The explosion of bathos that wraps things up is not surprising. Kudos to Christy M. Hauptman for her wonderfully gaudy, technicolor costumes. Ruby Theater at the Complex., 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m., through July 5. (800) 838-3006 (Lovell Estell III)
NEW REVIEW SECRET ROSE MINI MUSICAL FEST Five short one-act musicals make up this fest, with a sixth to be added on June 25. "The Red Bouquet," by Joshua Fardon, directed Wynn Marlow, concerns a mismatched couple (Trevor Lissauer and Rebecca Larsen) and their long-suffering waiter (Kelly J. Roberts). In Michael Gordon Shapiro's "Change of Plans," directed by Kevin Elliott, a would-be free spirit (Jordan T. Maxwell) balks when his bossy fiancé attempts to domesticate him. Jonathan Levit directs Stephanie Hutchinson's "More Precious Than Diamonds," in which a woman (Fay Gauthier) despairs of ever being given a diamond ring, and decides to buy one for herself. These three mini-musicals are slight but amusing. The other two offer are more mixed. Fardon's "Something Not Real," directed by Marlow, is more ambitious, but less focused, centering on marital angst among urbanites (Dan Wingard, Dan Wiley, Larsen, Carrie Frymer, and Derek Houck). Jan Michael Alejandro's plot-heavy "Myjovi El Musical," directed by Rachel Myles, concerns an energy drink manufacturer (Greg Haskins) who's sued by a rock musician named Ben Jovi (Jeff van Hoy) and his lawyer Kirk du Soleil. It's awkwardly constructed and slackly directed, but rock music and Jebbel Arce's goofy choreography are crowd-pleasers. Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Boulevard, North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m. (No show July 4); through July 5. (877) 620-7673. www.SecretRose.com (Neal Weaver)
NEW REVIEW GO 2 PIANOS 4 HANDS
Photo by Michael Lamont
Playwrights Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt have created an amusing play with music about two aspiring piano students. "Prodigy" isn't the right word to describe either Ted (Jeffrey Rockwell) or Richard (Roy Abramsohn) because mastery of classical music does not come easily to either pre-teen boy. Instead, we're treated to piano teachers (all played by Rockwell and Abramsohn) who delight in humiliating their moderately talented students, which is where much of the comedy comes in. (There are also some funny bits of physical comedy involving piano benches). While failure to practice brings parental displeasure, the two boys have a unique relationship: one year they're competing together in a contest; the next year, competing against each other. As the boys grow older, the two take interest in pop tunes, much to the dismay of their classical instructors. Both apply to conservatories, Ted to classical and Richard to jazz. After both are summarily dismissed, the play tracks their respective plunges into artistic oblivion. Director Tom Frey elicits excellent performances from Rockwell and Abramsohn, so much so that we forget we're watching adults playing children, and Jeremy Pivnick's subtle lighting design adds texture to the staging. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through July 26. (818) 558-7000. (Sandra Ross)
NEW REVIEW GO THE WASPS
Photo courtesy of Stinger Productions
With its amiably hammy seven-person ensemble of mostly veteran character actors who prance around caparisoned in codpieces with slinkies attached, this high spirited rendition of the classic Greek comedy proves that Aristophanes and shtick go together like, well, Aristophanes and shtick. Adaptor-director Meryl Friedman's earlier staging of this production was created to commemorate the opening of the new Getty Villa auditorium. It ran four performances there, but has now been moved to this new, much smaller venue on La Brea Avenue with all its brisk silliness in tact. Aristophanes' play is a barbed satire of the fifth century BC Athenian tradition of paying retirees for serving on a jury. As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that Friedman's take on the material drifts from the political elements, opting instead to meander into delightfully dippy gags and cheerful musical numbers. While digressive, these theatrical sojourns turn out to be oddly faithful to the tone and mood of the original comedy. There are fart jokes, drunken revelry and, for the finale, there's a trial in which an old man (Peter Van Norden) adjudicates a case involving a dog (Robert Alan Beuth, in wacky dog-drag). As the elderly Athenian fool, Van Norden possesses a Zero Mostel-like comic gravitas, which he uses to comedic advantage in his perfectly timed, bug eyed, joyously leering turn. Albert Meijer, as the old man's uptight and pompous son, mugs off him brilliantly. David O's orchestration of Friedman's jitterbug-like musical numbers is delightful - and his sound effects, as though from a radio play, mesh perfectly with the sweet and joyful testament to Classical Greek geek chic. The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 26. (800) 838-3006. Stinger Productions (Paul Birchall)
The Usual Suspects: Angelenos in Poland: directors Nancy Keystone, Mark Seldis and Stephen Legawiec.
Things got a little surreal in what was supposed to be a "discussion" of new trends in Russian theater on Sunday. The seminar was sponsored by the U.S. Artists Initiative - a project of Arden 2 that has brought dozens of Americans (the majority from Los Angeles) to Wroclaw, Poland for the Grotowski International Theater Festival, featuring performances by Poland's ZAR, Song of the Goat, as well as by Pina Bausch, Richard Schechner, Peter Brook and Tadashi Suzuki.
(The U.S. Artists Initiative was funded by the Trust for Mutual Understanding, the U.S. Embassy, and city of Wroclaw as well as the L.A.'s Department of Cultural Affairs -- which explains the large delegation of Angelenos in Wroclaw.)
The session on Russian theater was led by Philip Arnoult (founder of the Center for International Theatre Development), who spent almost an hour and half of the allotted two hours making introductory remarks, while Russian director Yuri Urnov cued CD presentations from an otherwise empty table on the stage. That table was set for three other panelists -- Maria Shevstova, a British scholar and editor, Olya Petravoka of L.A.'s American Russian Theater Ensemble Laboratory, and me. But except for Mr. Urnov, who kept cuing the videos from the stage, that table remained vacant, while the panelists sat in the audience waiting for Mr. Anoult to complete his introductory remarks about a new generation of Russian writers and directors entering experimental territory where no Russians had gone before.
The Odyssey Theatre's Beth Hogan and Ron Sossi
At the 70-minute mark, Mr. Urnov suggested to Mr. Arnault that the panel discussion begin, but Mr. Arnult said no, that he hadn't yet finished the third of his three points, which was about a new generation of Russian playwrights. That third point took another 20 minutes.
Maria Shevstova had been sitting next to me and muttering under her breath that some of Mr. Arnoult's historical details weren't entirely accurate. She said she'd address such discrepancies when she got a chance to speak, but that chance was looking increasingly slim.
Finally, Mr Arnault invited questions from the audience, yet Ms. Shevstova held her tongue. A director from New York mentioned her own observation that Polish audiences seem reluctant to laugh out loud, compared to Americans; she asked whether or not Eastern Europeans have a sense of humor. Urnov quipped that Russians have been historically reluctant to laugh from a fear of being shot for doing so. At that moment, Ms. Shevstova - herself of Russian origin - went slightly ballistic. She later said that she wanted to be English in her style, as in polite and discreet, but her tempestuous Russian blood overwhelmed her. To be honest, I could see something was troubling her, and I urged her to express it.
"Stop it, just stop it," she said in sharp, clear tones, rising from the audience and gesturing gracefully with one arm. Of course Russians have a sense of humor she noted, but there are many kinds of humor, and how it comes out depends on the situation that ignites it. She decried the way this increasingly scattershot and insipid conversation was trafficking in stereotypes. She took the stage, as did Ms. Petrakova and me, and in an impassioned 10 minutes, Ms. Shevstova made pinpoint lingusistic bombing runs, citing the historical record to argue that these new experimental trends and laboratory theaters in Russia aren't new at all, but date back to at least the 1920s. She said that the history of the Russian theater has always been one of experimentation in which the processes of exploring ideas for years rather than feeling compelled to perform them, is a Russian tradition. Only the government has insisted on performances, that they want something for the money they're investing in the arts.
It did cause me to reflect on the manner in which our own Center Theatre Group dismantled four playwriting laboratories almost as soon as Michael Ritchie took over from Gordon Davidson, because the labs weren't generating enough product. I never realized before how Soviet that was.
Directors Jon Lawrence Rivera (Playwrights Arena), Martha Demson (Open Fist Theatre Company) and Katharine Noon (Ghost Road Theater Company)
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