Rapturous reviews this week for pianist Mona Golabekin The Pianist of Willesden Lane at the Geffen, based on her book, and the Kennedy Center's Follies, now at the Ahmanson after a Broadway transfer. Click here for all the latest New Theater Reviews, or after the jump.
We asked artistic directors from around the region what they would produce had they unlimited resources and the cast of their dreams. See what our theater would look like without such constraints in this week's Stage Feature.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication May 17, 2012
GO CAMP LOGAN Celeste Bedford Walker's compelling drama is based on an obscure incident from the paleolithic era of American race relations. The script follows a small company of black WWI soldiers (Dorian C. Baucum, Bill Lee Brown, Kaylon Hunt, Dwain A. Perry), bivouacked in Houston, who are enthusiastically awaiting their chance to fight in the Great War and gain some measure of respect. But their raw eagerness soon crashes into an entrenched barrier of prejudice from an alcoholic, redneck officer (Jacob Sidney) and in the city, where threats and assaults by citizens and civil authorities are everyday occurrences. When a horribly bloody incident occurs, it sets off the ensuing rebellion that would come to be known as the Camp Logan Riots of 1917, the largest mutiny in American history. Bedford's script is humorous and detailed, featuring characters that are as animated and sympathetic as they are emotionally accessible. The narrative also is nicely embellished with fascinating period film footage. Rodney Rincon and Phil Buono's rudimentary barracks mock-up is surprisingly effective, and the performances are quite good under Alex Morris' direction. Rounding out the cast is the outstanding Lee Stansberry as Sgt. McKinney. Robey Theater Company, Sparkling City Entertainment and Juvee Productions at the Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 27. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org. (Lovell Estell III)
CHARITY: PART III OF A MEXICAN TRILOGY Matriarch Nana (Ofelia Medina), the central figure in Evalina Fernandez's play about three generations of a Mexican-American family, is 110 years old. Born in the 19th century, she is still going strong in the 21st. Her children are all dead, and she lives with granddaughter Gina (playwright Fernandez) and her family. Gina resents being saddled with the old lady, and she's riddled with grief and guilt over the death of her son Emiliano (Sam Golzari) in Iraq. The play, well-salted with humor and enriched with several songs, has much to recommend it, but director Jose Luis Valenzuela's production is too busy for its own good. It plays itself out on Francois-Pierre Couture and Tesshi Nakagawa's spectacular two-story set. On the upper level is Nana's room, where she is visited by both dead and living relatives. The play is in both English and Spanish; subtitles in both languages are projected on the walls, and there's live musical accompaniment, near-constant visual projections and a droning TV to compete with the dialogue. The show would profit hugely from simplification to relieve sensory overload. Latino Theatre Company at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street, dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 3. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org. (Neal Weaver)
GO EVANGELINE, THE QUEEN OF MAKE-BELIEVE
Evangeline, a 19-year-old Chicana in late-'60s East L.A., is responsible beyond her years -- she cleans, cooks and goads her barely younger brother to stay out of trouble as her newly widowed mother resigns herself to a job at a sweatshop. But when Evangeline flips on the radio and dances with a broom, she escapes to the life she should have, if life were fair. There's much to like in this chock-full world premiere featuring the songbook of Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Louie Perez. East L.A. in 1968 was churning with political, social and cultural unrest. Dutiful citizens were beginning to question Vietnam as killed-in-action letters showed up. Chicano students were balking at their inferior treatment. Traditional households were showing cracks as the new generation's curiosity about life outside the neighborhood could no longer be contained. Though woven together by excellent band The Neighborhood and lead singer Cava, and shored up by a couple of nice performances (Karen Anzoategui as Rita is a comedic gem), there are moments that feel stilted -- interaction between the charming Catherine Lidstone as Evangeline and her boyfriend, James (Daniel Chacon, more captivating in his turn as the Chicano student activist), slows the quick pulse of the play to a crawl. Still, as several characters exclaim, "The streets feel electric." Co-directed by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd.; thru May 27; Thurs.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; (213) 389-3856. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
PICK OF THE WEEK FOLLIES
In the Kennedy Center's rapturously haunting production of Follies,
directed by Eric Schaeffer, the Stephen Sondheim/James Goldman musical
makes a triumphant transfer from Broadway to the Ahmanson Theatre. At
the final reunion of the Weismann Follies, aging ex-chorus girls
confront the ghosts of their starry-eyed former selves. This ensemble
show overflows with show-stopping star turns by Broadway legends who
have survived good times and bum times and lived to tell the tale: Jayne
Houdyshell stuns with "Broadway Baby," and Elaine Page gives a gristly
performance of "I'm Still Here."
At the heart of the show are two couples -- Buddy and Sally (Danny Burstein and Victoria Clark), Benjamin and Phyllis (Ron Raines and Jan Maxwell) -- haunted by the romantic possibilities of their past. The true revelation of this production is Victoria Clark in the role of Sally, whose girlish affections for Ben linger after three decades. As Sally's naive hope to rekindle a relationship with Ben is stripped away, Clark's character ages vocally and physically, leading to a heart-wrenching performance of "Losing My Mind." The fantastical "Loveland" sequence in Act 2 -- showcasing Gregg Barnes' glittering array of costumes and Warren Carlyle's playful pastiche choreography -- revivifies a Golden Age of musical theater with nostalgic longing. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through June 9. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org (Sarah Taylor Ellis)
There's trouble down at't'mill in playwright Brian Forrester's plodding period piece. During the Great Depression, North Carolina textile mill machine repairman Cotton-Eye (Eddie King) is unable to make ends meet for his family, so he tries to unionize the factory -- much to the dismay of sleazy overseer Soop Green (Michael Dempsey), who utilizes all the means at his disposal to derail the attempts to organize. These include bribing the local preacher (a nicely oily PJ Marshall) into doing his bidding and giving an itinerant Wobbly (scheming Tristan Farmer) a good thumping. Director Max Montel intersperses his otherwise languid production with some fetchingly rendered folk songs from the Woody Guthrie/Pete Seeger era, but the staging is otherwise a disappointing collection of half-baked Grapes of Wrath-like clichés and worthily sincere but wooden dialogue. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; through June 3. (323) 960-7745. (Paul Birchall)
LOVE STRUCK The underdeveloped dramatic arc and short duration of each of these so-called one-act plays align them more closely with the flash-drama model than the one-act tradition. To tell seven nuanced, fully realized stories about love in one evening seems a near impossible feat, and this show, penned entirely by Dale Griffiths Stamos, does not achieve the near impossible. Some of the acting, however, is noteworthy, including stand-out performances by Nick Ullett, in a yarn about a last-chance love affair between septuagenarians, and Eric Charles Jorgenson, in a monologue about a gay man grappling with faith. Maggie Grant's direction is underwhelming and the material too often bears the hollowness of first-draft surface scratching. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; through May 27. (323) 960-7787, bhplayhouse.com. (Amy Lyons)
GO THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE
History is most powerful when we see the "all" through the small -- the panorama of the textbook through the peephole of the personal. Acclaimed pianist Mona Golabek give us just that in sharing the story of her mother, Lisa Jura, a budding piano virtuoso in late 1930s Vienna. At age 14, just days after Kristallnacht, Jura has to leave her family as she is a beneficiary of the Kindertransport, a rescue mission that sent Jewish children from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland to live in England. Between stints at the nine-foot Steinway, Golabek embodies a host of characters with whom the young, exiled Jura comes in contact; rather than venturing into caricature or messing with accents, she keeps the shifts subtle, relying instead on crisp diction, tone of voice and posture to communicate character. Credit director Hershey Felder as well, a veteran of the genre who adapted the show from Golabek's book, The Children of Willesden Lane. The title of book and show refer to the foster home where Jura's musical talents were encouraged, leading to her acceptance at London's Royal Academy of Music. Her talents clearly were passed on to her daughter, as Golabek's keyboard technique is liquid silk, with a fluidity that's as powerful as it is nimble. She paints vibrant soundscapes that are enhanced by Christopher Rynne's haunting lighting and Greg Sowizdrzal's pinpoint-precise projections. But more importantly, she reminds us of the transformative power of art in even the darkest of times. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through June 24. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com. (Mayank Keshaviah)
TENNESSEE IN THE SUMMER
Joe Besecker's drama about Tennessee Williams portrays the great writer as a fractured soul, his mature self (Jack Heller) tormented by a blonde, female inner demon (Tamara Braun) that is both sneering and salacious. This promising concept unfortunately plays out as a depthless melodrama in which subtlety takes a backseat to theatrical display. Much like an alluring feline, Braun moves beautifully, but her one-note leering performance in the axiological first scene grates. Heller, who has played Williams before, lends gravitas to the character but can't transcend the pageant of drug and alcohol abuse that's called for in the script. Robert Standley brings defined presence to multiple roles that include a young hustler and Frank Merlo, Williams' longtime lover; Louise Davis scores some of the production's best moments as Williams' half-mad mother, Edwina. The tiny proscenium and unchanging set prove problematic for a story that spans decades and locations. Sal Romeo directs. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 20. (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com. (Deborah Klugman)