fbpx


COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS
NEW THEATER REVIEWS
Photo by Theresa Chavez

Adapted from Norman Klein's novella of the same

title, this world premiere, co-written and co-directed by Theresa

Chavez and Rose Portillo, explores historical Angelino Heights (not

coincidentally the location of the theatre) and the ghosts of its

glamorous past.  The Unreliable Narrator (David Freuchting) introduces

us to the world of the play, as it moves fluidly between the past and

present. He speaks with Ezra (Ed Ramolete) and Molly (Lynn Milgrim),

now two elderly residents of the neighborhood, as he researches a

potential murder.  Through their memories we learn of a younger Molly

(Elizabeth Rainey) who came from Indiana and worked in men's clothing,

which naturally brought her into contact with a number of men,

including husbands Jack (Brian Joseph) and Walt (Pete Pano), as well as

Jack's father and longtime customer Harry (James Terry).  Chavez and

Portillo's expansive “surround” set, designed by Akeime Mitterlehner,

offers a unique staging that, along with the accompaniment of live

musicians Scott Collins and Vinny Golia, immerses the audience in the

noir world. Francois-Pierre Couture's angular lighting, Pamela Shaw's

wonderfully detailed costumes, Claudio Rocha's well-integrated

videography, and Diane Arellano's installation of historical artifacts,

which the audience is allowed to explore at intermission, all enhance

the ambience as well.  Rainey and Milgrim play their double roles with

aplomb, but the main drawback to the piece is the lack of dramatic

momentum in the writing, making older Molly's line, “at some point, a

place becomes more important than a person,” ring all the more true. 

Shakespeare Festival/LA, 1238 W. First St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22.  (800) 595-4849.  About Productions.

(Mayank Keshaviah)

For other NEW REVIEWS seen over the weekend, press the Continue Reading tab directly below.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS (scheduled for publication November 5, 2009)

NEW REVIEW ANSWER THE CALL
Photo by Michael Antin

This well-meaning musical deserves

credit for espousing universal respect and genuine family values (not

the ersatz right-wing kind), but it's otherwise an awkward effort.

Writers Michael Antin and Leonard Bloom  — music and lyrics by Antin

— build their story around an 11-year old boy's school assignment to

learn more about his family.  Offspring of a mixed marriage —  a

Gentile songwriter father, Sam  (Derell Maury Friedman) and a Jewish

mom, Jill (Josie Yount) — Eddie (Spencer Price) seeks out his

curmudgeonly maternal granddad, Gordon (Lou Briggs). Also a songwriter,

Gordon is happy to shower Eddie and his sister Becky (Haley Price) with

anecdotes about  his military service, his horse thief uncle, his heady

times in Nashville, his rural childhood, his beach frolicking days and

so on.  Unfortunately, these ramblings don't coalesce. Even in a genre

that often plays fast and loose with narrative logic,  this piece 

comes off woefully short. Grandma Hannah (L.B. Zimmerman) dances with a

healing broken hip.  Never-before-known secrets are revealed — Sam had

a brutal childhood, Gordon's brother was tragically murdered — then

swiftly forgotten, as we move to the next riff or song.  The best of

these is the self-descriptive “Crap on the Golden Years.”  Others less

interesting include one sung by the caregiver (Shamarrah E. Pates)

about having car trouble.  The vocals are passable, and under

Friedman's direction, the performances conform to cliché. Hollywood

Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave.,

L.A.; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22,

www.plays411.com/answerthecall. (323) 960-7735.  (Deborah Klugman)

NEW REVIEW

BEAU FIB
Photo by Melissa Snyder of Vibbie

This musical, credited to playwright Miles Nye and composers

John Graney and Andy Hentz, is steeped in the dramatic tradition of the

Tragic Clown.  And, really, there are few clowns more tragic than

Christopher Young's Beau Fib, a sweet natured young hobo and

pathological liar who's afflicted with some kind of amnesia when the

play starts.  Haunted by the sound of a distant jazz band, Master Fib

commences a journey to figure out why he's inexplicably dressed in his

best pair of shoes.  Along the way, he is befriended by a young soldier

(Scott Palmason), a jaded prostitute (Cat Davis) and a disenchanted

drunkard preacher (Chris Sheets).   After a run in with demonic

anti-clown St. Clownie (Christopher Karbo, as a fiendish Bozo), the

heroes are tricked by bizarre circumstance into descending to Hell to

steal the little toe from the King of the Underworld himself (Mike

Kindle).  Before this can occur, Fib makes some appalling discoveries

about himself.   If for no other reason, Nye's musical is exceptional

because of his use of the word “sardoodledom” (Google it) in the

program notes. However, in terms of execution, the work is never able

to evade the sense of being an early draft.  The story drifts from idea

to idea in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. The book (both dialogue and

lyrics) is ponderous and dry, full of cerebral and academic puns that

probably seemed drol and arch on the page, but which come off as dreary

and pompous on the stage.  Director Andy Goldblatt's intimate, halting

production may gel later in the run, but I observed klutzy blocking and

ill-timed pacing. That said, Young 's Fib is a likable young rascal. 

Sheets's growelly old priest is hilariously bitter and Davis's

flaxen-haired hooker is simultaneously sleazy and innocent delight. 

Graney and Hentz's Tom Waits-like score possesses amiably folksy and

ironic undercurrents that are occasionally soulful.  Powerhouse

Theater, 3116 2nd Street, Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov.

21. https://latensemble.com An LA Theater Ensemble production.  (Paul

Birchall)

      
NEW REVIEW BETTER ANGELS
Photo by Michael Lamont

Playwright Wayne Peter Liebman may be no Pastor Weems,

but this wincingly hagiographic portrait of Abraham Lincoln (James

Read) certainly suggests postgraduate work in the Weems school of

exalted and fanciful presidential kitsch. Liberally sprinkled with

tidbits of beloved Lincolnalia, the play introduces the Great

Emancipator through the flashbacked reminiscences of John Hay (David

Dean Bottrell) as Lincoln's now elderly biographer and former private

secretary delivers a university lecture on the man behind the myth. To

illustrate Lincoln's deceptively complex blend of folksy political

wiles, razor-sharp intellect and more earthbound emotional needs, Hay

relates the meeting of minds between Lincoln and the Wisconsin Angel,

Cordelia Harvey (McKerrin Kelly), as the bloody carnage of Chickamauga

unfolds. A war widow and real-life champion of better care for the

Civil War's wounded, Mrs. Harvey visits the White House (amid Victoria

Profitt's stately set pieces) to persuade the Commander-in-Chief to

establish military hospitals in the North. For Lincoln, the attractive

and personable lobbyist offers a flirtatious respite from the cares of

office as well as from his offstage “harpy” of a First Lady. The

encounter also provides the President the opportunity to test his

Gettysburg Address and disambiguate his position on emancipation (yes,

his intention was always to free all the slaves). Despite Liebman's

romantic whimsy (and a particularly cloying postscript), Read turns in

an engagingly sly, avuncular Lincoln, abetted by director Dan Bonnell's

handsome staging and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's elegant, period costumes.

Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

& 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818) 558-7000. (Bill Raden)

NEW REVIEW  GO BLEEDING THROUGH
Photo by Theresa Chavez

Adapted from Norman Klein's novella of the same

title, this world premiere, co-written and co-directed by Theresa

Chavez and Rose Portillo, explores historical Angelino Heights (not

coincidentally the location of the theatre) and the ghosts of its

glamorous past.  The Unreliable Narrator (David Freuchting) introduces

us to the world of the play, as it moves fluidly between the past and

present. He speaks with Ezra (Ed Ramolete) and Molly (Lynn Milgrim),

now two elderly residents of the neighborhood, as he researches a

potential murder.  Through their memories we learn of a younger Molly

(Elizabeth Rainey) who came from Indiana and worked in men's clothing,

which naturally brought her into contact with a number of men,

including husbands Jack (Brian Joseph) and Walt (Pete Pano), as well as

Jack's father and longtime customer Harry (James Terry).  Chavez and

Portillo's expansive “surround” set, designed by Akeime Mitterlehner,

offers a unique staging that, along with the accompaniment of live

musicians Scott Collins and Vinny Golia, immerses the audience in the

noir world. Francois-Pierre Couture's angular lighting, Pamela Shaw's

wonderfully detailed costumes, Claudio Rocha's well-integrated

videography, and Diane Arellano's installation of historical artifacts,

which the audience is allowed to explore at intermission, all enhance

the ambience as well.  Rainey and Milgrim play their double roles with

aplomb, but the main drawback to the piece is the lack of dramatic

momentum in the writing, making older Molly's line, “at some point, a

place becomes more important than a person,” ring all the more true. 

Shakespeare Festival/LA, 1238 W. First St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22.  (800) 595-4849.  About Productions.

(Mayank Keshaviah)

NEW REVIEW 

GO THE CHANGELING This unsparing melodrama was the hit of 1622 and

still packs a punch today. Thomas Middleton (who cowrote the play with

William Rowley) also helped the Bard revise Measure for Measure. Like

that perverse comedy, The Changeling welcomes the audience to a

romantic comedy before about-facing and biting them in the behind.

Beatrice-Joanna (Melissa Chalsma) is a rich man's daughter pursued by

three suitors: her father's manservant (Luis Galindo), her fiancé (Tom

Mesmer), and her love (Sean Pritchett). She provokes the first to

murder the second so she can marry the third, but that foul deed can't

go unpunished. What follows is a glut of lurid tragedies: bribes, rape,

paid sexual services, shootings, arson, truth potions, stabbing,

dismemberment, more stabbing, and suicide. Across town, an asylum owner

(Roberto Bonanni) trusts his warden (Bob Beuth) to keep his younger

wife (Katherine Leigh) chaste, not knowing that his employee is lusting

after her, along with two lotharios (Richard Azurdia and Rajan Velu)

feigning madness to get alone time with his lovely bride. Though the

play predates the Origin of Species by 237 years, you can feel it

wrestling with questions Darwin would make public, namely the mystery

of female choice and the suspicion that humanity is just an animal

operating on passion, jealousy and instinct. It feels natural then that

director Pat Towne has updated the setting to Victorian England — when

the condescending Beuth calls his inmates beasts and checks their teeth

like cattle, we're reminded of the haves' defense of Social Darwinism.

Aside for some lighting cues that muddied the end of Act I, this is a

dark and fascinating production well served by the strong ensemble and

Mikiko Nagao's steampunk costuming. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way,

L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (818) 710-6306.

Independent Shakespeare Company (Amy Nicholson)

NEW REVIEW 

EXIT STRATEGY Because the elderly are “invisible” in our culture, they

can pay for their rent and subscription drugs by engaging in any number

of criminal activities, and also give their lives a much-needed 

adrenaline rush of rebellion against a society that's pretty much

dismissed them, as well as against the metaphysical cruelties of aging.

Such is sweet theory behind Bill Semans and Roy M. Close's sitcom, in

Casey Stangl's staging that's a bundle of paradoxes: James (nicely

played by James B. Sikking) is a broke and broken queen who's a poet

and an ex-college professor, who got removed from his post because of a

sex scandal. All he has left is his libido. After he gets kicked out of

a gay bar, James laments with faux Beckettian ennui: “Sometimes I think

I've sucked my last cock.” He's hanging on day to day in the

mid-western rooming house (realistic set by Keith Mitchell) managed by

Mae (feisty Debra Mooney) – a rooming  house that's just been sold to a

developer. So they're both facing eviction when Alex (John C. Moskoff)

arrives for a brief stay with a benignly criminal plot to earn them all

some money. Is Alex a con man? Are the duo being duped by his continual

pontifications on how to age well, and his philosophies of squeezing

the marrow out of every day, as well as how to avoid staining oneself

after urinating? There's far too much gratuitous explaining going on,

so that it deflates whatever mysteries may swim in the subtext of this

intriguing situation and these very nice people. Stangl's languid

pacing is both this production's curse and its blessing. These

characters can talk a scene to death, but when they sit, waiting for

the play's most suspense-filled resolution, they speak in

non-sequiturs, and the play starts to take on the enigmatic, elliptical

poetry of David Storey's beautiful Home, a kind of abstract liturgy

about waiting, and dying, and living. For a mystery or a metaphysical

rumination, the play is far too obvious. Yet for a sitcom, in which

much is expected to be explained, it moves too slowly.  It's a tender

and humane comedy. If only it were clearer in its convictions, so that

they didn't have to be spoken as though in neon supertitles. Falcon

Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.;

thru Nov. 15. (818) 955-8101. (Steven Leigh Morris)

NEW REVIEW GO GROWING UP WITH UNCLE MILTIE
Photo by Ed Krieger

As a young girl growing up in New York

City, Patt Benson dreamed of making her mark in show business. Thanks

to a combination of luck, talent and an unlikely friendship with a big

name-celebrity, she succeeded. In her charming solo outing, Benson

recounts her arduous journey from Manhattan schoolgirl to Hollywood

celebrity with the help of the redoubtable Milton Berle. By turns

humorous and poignant, she tells of a childhood marred by the

occasional drunken outbursts and abuse by her father and how her mother

tolerated them, her time in parochial school and her budding desire to

be a comedian which was nurtured by her mother. Her first encounter

with Berle happened in the fall of '53, while she was on the way to

tap-dancing class. Gradually, she became something of a protégé of the

comedian, showing up on his TV show, earning his respect and

admiration, and like all the eventual winners in the Hollywood lottery

whose persistence pays off, snagging a plum role in the sitcom Joe and

Valerie. Benson packs a lot of material into this short piece, and

there are more than a few confusing gaps in the narrative. But her

writing is heartfelt and at times deeply evocative (her descriptions of

New York City are filled with alluring images). Rich Embardo directs.

Improv Comedy Lab., 8162 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles;  Sun., 7 p.m..;

thru Nov. 22. (323) 651-2583. (Lovell Estell III)

NEW REVIEW

GO NO MAN'S LAND
Photo by Enci

When Harold Pinter's drama was first produced at

Britain's National Theatre in 1975, it was a star vehicle, offering

virtuoso acting by John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Now that the star

glamour has worn off, it's possible to see the play more clearly. At

times Pinter appears tso be imitating Pinter, bringing out all the

familiar tropes. Nevertheless, the writing is rich and director Michael

Peretzian gives it an elegant, well-acted production. Two elderly

writers, Hirst (Lawrence Pressman) and Spooner (Alan Mandell) met by

chance in a Hampstead pub, and Hirst has invited Spooner to his

townhouse for a drink. At first, the two seem to be strangers, but

gradually it emerges that they have been rivals–sexual and

professional–since their days at Oxford. Hirst has won the success

game, while Spooner lives in genteel poverty. Prosperity and alcohol

have left Hirst semi-embalmed, while Spooner is very much alive, and

angling for employment as Hirst's secretary-companion. But there are

already two slightly menacing caretakers in place–Briggs (Jamie

Donovan) and Foster (John Sloan). Their position is ambiguous: are they

Hirst's employees or his captors? Mysteries and contradictions

proliferate in an evening of perverse wit and skillful acting. Odyssey

Theatre Ensemble, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd.; West L.A.; schedule

varie, call for information. (310) 477-2055 or 

https://odysseytheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)

NEW REVIEW PURGATORIO
Photo courtesy of Societas Raffaello Sanzio

“He longs to make a film” the New York Times reported last

year about Italian stage director/set-lighting-and-costume designer

Romeo Castellucci. And that longing is more than evident in Purgatorio

— one- third of the director's trilogy (co-commissioned by UCLA Live),

based on Dante's The Divine Comedy, presented by Societas Raffaello

Sanzio in its U.S. premiere. A mother named First Star (Irena

Radmanovic) chops bread at an upstage kitchen table of what one could

presume is a spacious estate. With the sound design, the slicing is

amplified throughout the auditorium. She calls out to her son, a boy,

Second Star (Pier Paolo Zimmermann), who's suffering from a fever. He

plays with a toy robot, and the dialogue between mother and son is

inane and hollow, culminating with him asking, “Is he coming back

tonight?” From the ritual of the food preparation and service, the

detailed, robotic rituals undertaken by both characters, and the

eventual arrival and tender-empty interaction between husband, Third

Star (Sergio Scarlatell) and his wife, Castellucci poses a strategic

mystery swirling around what's happening and what's going to happen.

There's no mystery, however, to the saturating feeling that this is not

going to end well. Purgatorio consists of a series of short scenes,

separated by long, elaborate scene transformations into the son's room,

a living room, etc – each undertaken with a singular absence of frenzy

or even of urgency. Eventually, super-titles provide stage directions

for what has happened, and what is about to happen, adding to the

sensation of ordinary people in ordinary situations being automatons in

what will turn out to be a universe of harrowing and gratuitous

cruelty. This is Dante via Artaud, with cinematic special effects in

which a visage of the father appears stranded in a forest of poppies,

that melt into a cornfield – all seen through the mind's eye of the

boy, like from a chase scene out of a horror movie. Castellucci's

juxtaposes visual and aural opulence against emotional savagery (one

scene is devoted to a character's dance of death). The result is an

impressively dissonant blend of visual elegance and visceral

disturbance, while the question lingers of whether this all could have

been equally well rendered on film. But that would depend on the style

and substance of the trilogy's missing two parts. UCLA, Ralph Freud

Playhouse, Macgowan Hall. Closed. Presented by UCLA Live. (Steven Leigh

Morris)

NEW REVIEW

SATURN RETURNS refers to the phenomenon of the planet's nearly 30 year

trip around the sun and the life-changing astrological effect of that

journey as it returns to the astral position it occupied at the birth

of character named Gustin. In Noah Haidle's intriguing but unformed

play, Gustin navigates between the important life changes during this

planetary effect on Gustin at age 28 (Graham Michael Hamilton), 58

(Connor O'Farrell) and 88 (Nick Ullett). Near the end of his life,

Gustin suffering insurmountable loneliness, clings to the company of

visiting nurse Suzanne (Krisen Bush, who portray's the play's three

women). His middle-aged ghost is seen pleading with his 29-year-old

daughter not to leave him, while she tries to find him a romantic mate

to set herself free of his desperation for human contact. Finally his

youthful self longs for his sweet but unstable wife to simply love him

without fear. Individually the three stories are written with

compelling relationships, but the point of their on-stage intersection,

while obvious from the title and suggested by the situations of

loneliness, is never quite established by the text. The acting, under

David Emme's sensitive direction is outstanding — particularly Bush,

who finds the difference among her three characters with remarkable

specificity. With Ralph Funicello's crisp scenic design, supported

perfectly by Lonnie Rafael Ulcerous' lights and Nephelie Andonyadis'

costumes, the physical atmosphere is beautifully delivered. All that is

missing here is a real purpose to the story. South Coast Repertory, 655

Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.;

Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (714) 708-5555. (Tom

Provenzano)