Stage Raw: NET Microfest L.A.
Uggams stars in her bio-cabaret at the Pasadena Playhouse. For a review
of this and all shows seen over the weekend, press the More tab at the
bottom of this page. Photo by Jim Cox
NETWORK OF ENSEMBLE THEATERS' MICROFEST L.A.
Cornerstone Theater Company's Michael John Garcés
recently noted a distinction between theaters that obsess on "product"
as their salvation as opposed to those whose productions are dedicated
to an exploration, where the end result is unknown at the beginning of
"A theater focused on product," he said, "is not having a conversation with its audience."
This is among the reasons that Network of Ensemble Theaters' Los
Angeles Micro-Fest (Dec. 3-5, at the Atwater Village Theater) has
selected a sampling of theater and dance companies presenting mostly
works in process. These companies have exhibited a passion to start
with a scintillating idea, and then to explore that idea in order to
chart the unknown territory of where that exploration may lead. I was
asked to curate this Micro-Fest.
The main entries by companies from L.A. feature American war stories
from the 19th century -- that of a Polish soldier thrust onto the
American battlefield (Critical Mass Performance Group), and a story of
American soldiers defecting to the Mexican army during the
Mexican-American War (Watts Village Theater). There's a saga of women's
eroticism and resistance on the Indian subcontinent (the Post Natyam
Collective). The Ghost Road Company will present the surreal landscape
of an estranged son returning to his rural home, in Stranger Things. In
a full production not from Los Angeles is Clark and I Somewhere in
Connecticut, a yarn of conjured reality woven from albums of found
photographs (Rumble Productions and Theatre Replacement, Canada). In
the other full production, Two-Headed Dog performs its anticlown show,
Clowntown City Limits, a Beckettian vaudeville of marginal comedians,
seesawing between resentment and reconciliation to their fate.
Net's Micro-Fest L.A. is happening Dec. 3-5 at Atwater Village Theater, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village. Info here
NEW REVIEW CALLIGRAPHY
Photo by Jim Cox
As Mel Brooks wrote in The Producers, "If you've got it, flaunt it!" Some living legends delude themselves and cause fans to quietly cringe, but not this one: Leslie Uggams has still got it. Slender and glinting in sequined black pants, she shimmies and sings her way though the highlights of a lifetime spent onstage. Though she remained somewhat physically restrained during her opening night performance, she made up for it with a vocal dynamism that would shame those less than half her age. When you begin your career at age 6, perform 29 shows a week at the Apollo from the ages of 9 to 16, and graduate to the comparatively cushy (oh, just eight shows per week) world of Broadway, a voice like that's a requirement. Plenty of jazz standards kept the well-heeled crowd tapping their toes, and Uggams struttin' her stuff. Showcasing her staggering range, the delicate strokes with which she touched Gershwin's "Summertime" were no less powerful than her lusty belting of Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." The spoken transitions were a little stiff, and felt forced; naturally, this Broadway baby seemed most at home when singing. It's better to show than tell anyway; and mimicking the vocal styles of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dinah Washington (all of whom she's sung with), she showed why she's still working over 60 years since she began. Don Rebic leads a sophisticated, happy orchestra that equals Uggams' mastery. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (626) 356-7529. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
NEW REVIEW THE WILD PARTY It could be argued that the 1920s were the true beginning of the sex and drugs ethos of open pleasure-seeking by the Lost Generation, who were perhaps more accurately described by the French equivalent Génération au Feu, or Generation in Flames. Such flamboyance and Joseph Moncure March's narrative poem of the same title inspired Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe's musical tribute to the Jazz Age and its decadence. Set in the New York apartment of promiscuous vaudeville dancer Queenie (Krista Sutton) and her comedian husband Burrs (Casey Zeman), the story centers on a cocaine-and-gin fueled party thrown by the couple for a coterie of characters that run the social, racial and sexual gamut. While the period is rich in source material (as demonstrated in HBO's Boardwalk Empire), this revival limps out of the gate with uninspired, crisp-as-oatmeal choreography, muddled singing, and musical direction that lacks pizzazz, as well as a consistent tempo. Director Julia Holland nicely stages the living mise-en-scène but nonetheless fails to harness the big Broadway feel and big performances that are vital to carrying an episodic vehicle with little to no plot. Bright spots include Deborah LaGorce-Kramer's intricate costumes and a convincingly catatonic morphine addict in Sally (a barely blinking Bonnie Frank), but absent the necessary bravado and bravura, this incarnation might be more aptly titled The Mild Party. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (310) 589-1998. malibustagecompany.org (Mayank Keshaviah)
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