Lighting Design by Mother Nature
Playwright-director Sharon Yablon toured local stages in September with 24 Hours on Sunset, a collection of one-acts thematically tied to Sunset Boulevard. The free performances boasted a stellar ensemble (Michael Bonnabel, Eugene Butler, Adrian A. Cruz, Jacqueline Wright) in a poignant and comic portrait gallery of Yablon's favorite quarry — Hollywood's alienated underbelly, with its lonely outcasts and emotionally crippled grotesques.
I caught the show in a remarkable outdoor environmental staging at a former gas station–turned–antique store in Echo Park. Its most haunting piece, “Welcome to the Building,” featured an indelible performance by Bonnabel as an aging drag queen desperately reaching out to a new, unseen tenant. The evening's unforeseen climax came later when lightning from a distant storm somewhere above La Cañada Flintridge began flashing as if on cue over the actors' heads. This unexpected lighting design by Mother Nature (and additional sound design courtesy of the hair-trigger yaps of neighborhood dogs) only heightened the inexplicable excitement and carnival-like quickening that edgy work invariably picks up in a nontraditional playing space, and delivered something rare for any art form — authentic surprise, wonder and breathtaking summer magic. —Bill Raden
One Man, One Door
The house lights dimmed on the set of Theatre Banshee's The Walworth Farce, and a single spotlight lingered on the set's door. Two men busied themselves, one spraying a ladies' blouse with air freshener, the other carefully polishing his shoes. Suddenly, Adam Haas Hunter raced through the door and fastened its four locks quickly. My mind scrambled to piece together what was happening, and continued to do so for the remaining two hours.
Enda Walsh's darkly comic play is a study of how humans soothe and stabilize themselves by habit, and how families mentally rewrite history in order to live with their pasts. Hunter, as the son most likely to escape the pattern, gave one of the year's most mesmerizing performances, and roused the second of only two standing ovations I've given in my two years reviewing for L.A. Weekly.
In his final, devastating scene, the character doesn't speak, but Hunter's eyes flashed with more than words could translate. I had no idea what he would do, and he made it seem that neither did the character. When he finally made a decision, I tried to gasp. No use. It was the first time a performance has shocked me into literal silence. —Rebecca Haithcoat
When Audiences Attack
Opening night of Vivien, Fri., Aug. 12, Rogue Machine's intimate black-box theater was jammed with fans of either Vivien Leigh or soap star Judith Chapman, who was acting her heart out portraying the legendary actress in Rick Foster's bioplay. All was going well until I was attacked by an irate theatergoer — who stole my notes.
Throughout the one-act performance, the two elderly fellows sitting in the front row, right in front of me, were visibly irritated by the usual incidental sounds you hear during an opening night, such as a photographer quietly taking snaps and various critics making notes. At one point a random loud noise startled them to the extent they both almost jumped out of their seats.
Note: When I am in the theater, I recognize that anything can happen. I am ready for the unexpected.
Not these guys. They turned to glare at me several times, clearly annoyed by my note-taking. Halfway through the histrionic one-woman show, one of them finally exploded and hissed, “Can you stop scribbling?” As I don't like to talk during a performance, my succinct reply was a whispered, “Sorry. Can't.”
Infuriated, he then tried to grab my pen out of my hand and, failing that, snatched up half of my papers, which he then passed to his companion.
At the conclusion of the play, he did apologize for being rude. I, in turn, apologized for disturbing them. But when I asked for my notes back, they feigned innocence and headed for the exit. I thought I would find them under his seat so I let them go, but my notes had departed.
OK, guys, I get that you're huge fans, but if you're so bothered by photo-snapping and note-taking, do you have to be so appallingly rude and petty about it? Confiscating my notes? Not cool. —Pauline Adamek