Stage Raw: Waiting for Lefty

Stage Raw: Waiting for Lefty

Theater FEATURE on John Steppling



Stage Raw: Waiting for Lefty

Photo by Roger Kuhns

Auto shop proprietor Joe Bidone (playwright Renato Biribin

Jr.)  views the world with a sense of bewildered grievance and

betrayal.  Straight, married and a practicing Catholic, he's resentful

of gays, blacks and other minorities whose ongoing demands for equal

rights  he finds personally intrusive and unwarranted.  So he's

appalled --  though not totally surprised -- when his longtime buddy

Ray (Scott Alan Hislop) comes out, then pleads for Joe's help in

cementing a relationship with his newfound love, Shaun (Terrance

Jones), a married man.  Launched from this awkward encounter,  the

drama proceeds through a labyrinthine series of subplots involving

homophobia, racism,  noxious "born-again" religion, suicide, murder and

abortion.  There's no lack of misogyny either - so viciously spouted by

Joe' s employee, Troy (Gary Wolf),  that Joe appears comparatively

enlightened. Biribin deserves credit for tackling social issues and for

striving for an in-depth portrait of a little guy in chaos. 

Unfortunately the play's ambitions outrun its execution.  Its main

problem is melodramatic overload, with just too many issues, too many

events and too many contrivances packed into under two hours. Directed

by Joshua Fardon, the production is constrained by limited space and

lighting.  Carisa Engle as Joe's commonsense wife furnishes welcome

respite from the sturm und drang elsewhere.  And Jones overcomes the 

inconsistencies built into his character, persuasively depicting a

bisexual bar-hopping minister, unctuously proselytizing one minute

while fiercely brawling the next. Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa

Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.- Sat., 8 pm, Sun. 7 pm; thru  October 10.

(323) 960-7745. (Deborah Klugman)



their 19th outing honoring former company founder Denise Ragan

Wiesenmeyer, the Attic theater has managed to nab two brief new

playlets by Broadway veterans Lee Blessing and Wendy MacLeod.  Neither

of the two plays is particularly substantial, but the works' unexpected

flashes of moral ambiguity and psychological nuance make their world

premiere here worthy of note.  In MacLeod's witty monologue

"Undescended", a middle aged coffeehouse Barista and new mother

(Jennifer Skinner) gets good news and bad news about her baby:  The

infant suffers from an unusual testicle ailment, and is also the Second

Coming of the Messiah.  Director Brian Shnipper's production, both

intimate and ironic, possesses great coming timing - and Skinner's hard

boiled, crusty turn as the Barista turned Virgin Mother is richly

multi-dimensional.  Blessing's dark, character-driven comedy "Into You"

posits three disturbed female roommates, all of whom loathe men to

various striking degrees, debating the propriety of one of them (Sandra

Smith) injecting her one night stand with her possibly HIV-tainted

blood.  Other than as a misogynist portrait of nightmare women, the

actual point and purpose of Blessing's piece is elusive, and the plot

is both contrived and wafer thin.  Director James Carey's sluggish

staging is marred by some listless, under-projected performances.  The

quartet- bill is filled out by Allison M. Volk's "The Last Two People

On The Platform," a charming, if familiarly Pirandello-esque comedy

about a man (Jacques Freydont) and a woman (Amber Flamminio), who

mysteriously discover themselves atop a floating platform and come to

realize that they are characters in a play; and by Frank Anthony

Polito's workman-like "Blue Tuesday," which clumsily links a Yuppie

couple's marital woes, the activities of an angelic homeless man,  and

the 9/11 disaster, in an awkward way that trivializes all three

elements.  Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd, Los

Angeles; Fri,-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 19.  (323)

525-0661.  (Paul Birchall)


PHENOMENON OF DECLINE The force that drives a dramatic narrative can,

in some respects, be described as a good mystery. When a solution is

intentionally withheld, as in Peter Weir's groundbreaking, 1975 mystery

film, Picnic at Hanging Rock, it can be to devastating effect. So

playwright Joe Tracz's surreal, 2005 student script, about a man who

has been driven mad by the mysterious disappearance of his twin 15

years earlier, is nothing if not pregnant with possibility.

Unfortunately, Tracz uses his non-solution as a mere pry to open the

can of psychological worms at the heart of what is, in fact, a

conventional, dysfunctional sibling drama. After spending the

intervening years holed up in a remote swamp cabin, 30-year-old

Randolph (the brooding Stephan Madar), finds himself visited by his

three surviving, albeit spectral sisters, who futilely cajole him into

ending his guilt-ridden exile. These are eldest Olivia (Kiera Zoubek),

an over-controlling psychotherapist; Lenora (Meredith Wheeler), a

vampiric, lesbian party girl; and the angelic Misty (Alia Wilson), who

seems equally haunted by the disappearance though she was an infant at

the time. Director Caitlin S. Hart seizes on the text's Gothic elements

in a staging worthy of The Old Dark House (augmented by Adam

Lillibridge's ratty cabin set, Morgan Edwards' spooky lighting and

Brian Wood's eerie sound). But the earnest efforts of a talented cast

and crew are not enough to redeem Tracz's squandered conceit or to

breathe life into his play's profusion of halfhearted literary

embroidery. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sun.,

8 p.m.; through September 12. (800) 838-3306 or An AthroughZ Production. (Bill Raden)



Stage Raw: Waiting for Lefty

In his solo performance,

writer and star Vince Cefalu wants to tell you his story. Decades ago,

after years of buttoning up and curling lips into a smile, Americans'

cheeks started aching. In additional to a swath of personal confessions

in pop lit and on TV talk shows, a new sub-genre of theater sprung up

at the same time: personal war stories, "My Turn" essays and "It

Happened to Me" segments.  But as the market became overly saturated

with such, only the most spectacular train wrecks, like James Frey's

heavily decorated 2003 addiction memoir, "A Million Little Pieces,"

caused us to press our faces against the windows as we drove past. That

being said, we do love an I'm-still-standing story, no matter how

humble.  The story doesn't have to be gasp-worthy to have traction, but

it does need to be more than a personal catharsis and big-picture

advice, such as, "loving unconditionally is the secret." Certainly,

Cefalu is sincere, and he, like many, has had more than his share of

struggles.  Ultimately, though, arranging this handful of monologues

into a single piece, as director Lori Tubert has done, makes for a

patchwork quilt of a show, in which a couple of swatches just don't

mesh: There's a porn bit that's seat-squirmingly awkward, and a

Facebook rant that begins with the Jerry Seinfeld-patented "What's the

deal with Facebook?" One key is to carve personal reflections into a

work that will have resonance beyond closest friends and family, and

that's a missing key in Cefalu's project. The Whitefire Theatre, 13500

Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8:00 p.m.; through October 9.

(310) 622-4482 (Rebecca Haithcoat)


GO SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT The Bob Baker Marionette Theatre is

currently celebrating its 50th anniversary as a puppet theater for

"children of all ages." This 50-year-old production presents a day on

the farm, in the shape of a musical revue. In addition to the farmers,

Mama and Papa Goat, it features 100 farm critters, including singing

water-melons, dancing frogs, a flirtatious fox, and Dodo the flapper

crow, complete with rolled stockings, and a voice provided, via

recordings, by Betty Boop. Other "guest" voices include Eve Arden, and

Pearl Bailey, providing the voice for Heloise Horse in her rendition of

"It Takes Two to Tango." Also featured is the novelty song "I'm a

Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch," sung by Petunia and danced by

a chorus of Onions. Baker's stage is a cabaret-style in-the- round,

allowing audience interaction, with the black-clad puppeteers plainly

visible. The show is lavish, but tailored to fit the taste of its young

audiences, who are served ice-cream after the show. The puppets are

handsome and clever, and there are plenty of the lame jokes dear to

young children, but there's also wit to appeal to adults. Birthday

parties are welcomed on weekends, with presents for the birthday child.

Bob Baker Marionette Theatre, 1345 West First Street, Los Angeles;

Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (213)

250-9995 or (Neal Weaver)   



Stage Raw: Waiting for Lefty

Photo by David Meistrich

Sir Peter Hall, Britain's acknowledged master stager

of Samuel Beckett's towering foundational text of the modern theater,

has been quoted as saying that "all actors should have played Hamlet

and been in Godot." By "all," of course, Hall didn't mean "any," but

rather only the most seasoned and accomplished of players. Regrettably,

it's an attitude not shared by director Timothy McNeil, whose

excruciatingly tone-deaf, pasteboard production mostly obliterates

Beckett's delicate musicality, rhythms and underlying tenderness though

miscasting, mugging and unfathomable directing choices. McNeil's

laughs-at-any-cost approach violently distorts the play's central,

comic duet between tramps Vladimir (Andy Wagner) and Estragon (Alain

Villeneuve) -- a comedy based in the pair's desperation to combat the

boredom and fill the awful silence of their titular wait -- into crude,

knockabout shtick. Rather than suggesting the antagonistic

synchronicity of lifelong, road-weary sidekicks, Wagner and Villeneuve

rarely seem on the same stage, never mind the same page. In Wagner's

hands, the sensitive, intellectual Didi is reduced to an antic village

idiot, virtually robbing Villeneuve's otherwise well-grounded Gogo of

his pretension-deflating bite. The evening's coup de grace, however, is

delivered by Charles Pacello, whose wild-eyed, off-the-leash Pozzo

plays less like Beckett's "big, brutal bully" than a horror-movie Billy

Zane on meth. By comparison, Pozzo's inexplicably Tourettes-afflicted

slave, Lucky (a far-too-green Deshik Vansadia) seems a masterwork of

dramatic subtlety. Studio C Theater at Stella Adler, 6773 Hollywood

Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 3.

(323) 960-7770 or (Bill Raden)


Stage Raw: Waiting for Lefty

Photo by Tom Mikusz

This dynamic 1935 one-act launched the career of

playwright Clifford Odets, became an important social document, and

solidified the reputation of the Group Theatre. Seeing it now, 75 years

later, reminds us that there was once a blue-collar theatre audience,

and the issues plaguing the country in the Depression era -- corruption,

deprivation, injustice, and wars between the haves and the have-nots --

haven't gone away. Some ideas, like the idealization of Stalin's

Russia, have been shattered by history, but in other areas, the

problems haven't changed, and the audience frequently responded with

rueful laughter of recognition. Director Charlie Mount has assembled 16

wonderfully able actors who provide the kind of gritty passion and

vitality that must have marked the original legendary production. The

play's action is set in the meeting hall of a taxi-driver's union,

where union leaders are company apparatchiks, fighting to prevent a

strike, while the rank and file are determined to field their own

leader, activist Lefty.  Along the way we're introduced to a rich

cross-section of Depression Era society, until the meeting erupts in

violence. Jeff Rack's bleak union-hall set and the authentic-seeming,

uncredited costumes evoke the 1930s in a way that has little to do with

nostalgia. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Boulevard West (near Universal

Studios), Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru October

10. (323) 851-7977 or (Neal Weaver)


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