Monday, June 1, 2020

NBY Column. June 2020. THE WINDSOR FOLLIES - IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES - ART GOES ON - SKYLIGHT LIVE


Even though we are all confined at home there is no need to be starved for some exciting theatre experiences and already I am discovering companies adapting to the crisis in various ways. Here are a few exciting programs that you can experience through your computer, your I-phone, or other online scenarios you are familiar with.


IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES. Source Material, a nomadic theatre company, has devised a digital performance piece created specifically for these uncertain times and presented weekends on Zoom. Director Samantha Shay started this project as a way for the company to feel connected. “As it evolved, I started to realize our performance vacillates between humor, sorrow, and open love-letters to the art of theater. This has kept my mental health steadier, and has helped me touch the deep magma core of why I love theater, why I miss theater, and I think the jury is out on what theater is, was, and shall be in the coming days, months and years.” Their work is anchored in reverence for the classics, often adapting literature into performances with highly original staging. This show is a tragicomic, Chekhovian happening, from drinking competitions, sad monologues and corona-virus meme collages. For information: www.sourcematerialcollective.com

SKYLIGHT LIVE. Los Feliz’ Skylight Theatre Company are already presenting a number of new plays inspired by the COVID-19 crisis, all performing live on Facebook and/or YouTube. Skylight has brought together a number of Los Angeles writers, directors and actors for weekly presentations of uplifting stories created specifically for the online medium. The series includes an interactive conversation with audiences after each performance. On Thursdays at 3 pm. For info: https://skylighttheatre.org/event/skylight-live/

ART GOES ON. 
Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group just announced a new project “Theatre Skills @ Home” – a series where directors, designers, actors and artisans give tips on how to inject stage magic into your home. Videos feature costume designer Ann Closs-Farley (Zoot Suit) creating a fairy costume out of odds-and-ends in your home; while fight-director Edgar Landa (Homebody/Kabul) teaches the art of onstage Physical Combat!!! Lindsay Allbaugh, CTG Associate AD, says her friends are giving themselves haircuts, baking bread and making soup, while parents are looking for fun projects to do with their homeschooled children. So, who better to turn to than theatre-mavens who have made a career of transforming bare stages into Brave New Worlds.  ART GOES ON projects also include “Artists Create”- videos produced by CTG’s family of artists; “LA Theatre Speaks” - where they share ideas, strategize and support each other, and, “Scenes from the Vault” - a series of favorite moments from CTG’s history. All of these can be viewed online at CTGLA.org/ArtGoesOn; Or at youtube.com/CTGLA; Or the hashtags #ArtGoesOn and #ScenesFromTheVault.

Friday, May 15, 2020

NBY Column. May 2020. WHY I LOVE LIVE THEATER






There are many opportunities during this crisis to check in online and stream videotaped performances of classical live shows. Supposedly this gives us a chance to see great actors and actresses in action – as if we were actually there - but I find myself hesitant to tune in.
Movies and television have never given me the joy that I recall from being there, in person, when great theater is happening. On the screen, shows feel manufactured to me and, even though I am often moved to laughter or tears, they hardly ever satisfy my hunger for live performances.
I can recall witnessing moments in theater that haunt me to this day. I am a child of the last century and my first experience of live theater was when I was 9 years old and the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “Iolanthe” changed my life. However, that is another story and, for now, let me share just one of these remembrances.

   THE ENTERTAINER (Broadway 1958)  .

Laurence Olivier portrayed Archie Rice, a second-rate song and dance man in British Music Hall, in this play by John Osborne, directed by Tony Richardson. The show with its corny songs was engrossing, the audience silently attentive, all delighting in seeing the great Olivier bawdily singing and dancing.
In one scene, Archie admits to his daughter Jean that he is aware of his mediocrity having once witnessed a great performance in the American South. It was a black woman, a great blues singer (Bessie Smith?), and at that moment he realized the difference between schlock and genius.
It’s a family drama with three generations in conflict over loyalties, infidelities and past hurts. Meanwhile, his youngest son Mick, who is overseas in the army, is reportedly a prisoner of war while negotiations are underway for his release. Then suddenly the play turned, the mood, the suspension of disbelief shattered when Archie’s eldest son Frank ran into the theatre and down the aisle gasping and raging, “They killed him. Mick’s dead! The bastards killed him!
Silence. The horror was too real. The audience stricken. And then Olivier, overcome with pain, staggered to the proscenium, grasped at the carved wooden frame and, in a voice redolent of a glorious black singer long dead, he sang the blues! Sang with the deep throaty magic of a great lost woman whose pain was in her voice.
That is live theater! No movie screen could ever capture the power of that event that has stayed with me for over 60 years.
Other scenes in live theater that are etched forever in my mind include Fredric March in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” 1956; Elizabeth Bergner in Romain Gary’s “First Love” 1961; Ralph Fiennes in Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer” 2006; Godfrey Cambridge in Ossie Davis’ “Purlie Victorious” 1962, John Shea in Arthur Kopit’s “End of the World” 1984, and Richard Burton in “Hamlet” 1964, directed by John Gielgud (available on DVD)

If you are interested in hearing about any of these Great Moments in Live Theater in future columns please email me at dramatist2006@yahoo.com



RESPONSES:

GWEN VAN DAM: Loved your article re Theater...it's so true. I have indelible memories of great performances too, that have remained in my mind & have inspired me from the beginning. Some are: Gertrude Lawrence in "Tonight at 8:30", Julie Harris in "Member of the Wedding", Jason Robards, Jr. in "Long Day's Journey into Night", Ruth Draper(I was a child but I remember her), Kim Stanley in "Travelin' Lady", Geraldine Page in "Summer and Smoke", etc. So wonderful! Thanks for reminding me of them & others.

KAREN HEBERT: Brillant article Morna. Makes me want to go to the theatre!

CHRISTINE DIXON: Wow! Oh Momma, this is a fabulous column! I was moved to tears as "Frank ran in saying Mick's dead." I was able to see all of your words play out in my mind, which is a gift of a truly great writer. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful work with me. Also, the details of a throaty Blues singer. I could hear the pain in my ears. 


Thursday, March 26, 2020

NBY.April Column. Reviews: OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO, DOROTHY & OTTO. Listings: SCINTILLA, GERONIMO & THE NIGHT BUSTER KEATON DREAMED ME


I managed to see these two plays before the health lock-down and, hopefully, both shows will be appearing onstage after the scare is over:

OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO, at Theatre West, was a fictional account of a covert CIA operation in 1973 imagined by author Mark Wilding in an appropriate James Bond style. It was an amusing concept until the appearance of the President Richard Nixon (Steve Nevil) and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Michael Van Duzer) when the comedy soared to a riotous peak. Just seeing these two actors as bickering Men of State had this critic not just sitting but rolling in the aisle and wanting more. When the show returns make a point to see it so you can laugh at how some past politicians made asses of themselves behind the wall of secrecy then in place. Info: www.TheatreWest.org


DOROTHY & OTTO was a guest appearance, at the West Hollywood Library, of a production that has garnered awards - and deservedly so. Two brilliant actors – Shelli Boone, fabulous as Dorothy Dandridge, going from ambitious starlet to troubled superstar; Eugene Alper, riveting as the autocratic Otto Preminger, in love with her but, being a foreigner, not comprehending the depth of racism in the USA. Plaudits to playwright-director Sharon L. Graine, who brought this complicated yet sincere love affair to life with just 2 performers. A Playhouse Theatre Players aka “SLG Productions” presentation. Info: sharonlgraine@aol.com

Upcoming and scheduled for mid-April openings but, as many shows are being postponed, check for exact dates.
SCINTILLA (North Hollywood)
This is a tender story that appears to be about the divisions in family but also deals with the question of our very survival on this planet. Marianne (Taylor Gilbert) is a reclusive artist living in the woods in California’s Wine Country. When her son Michael (Kris Frost), and his wife Nora (Jacqueline Misaye), are visiting her there is a raging wildfire but she stubbornly refuses to leave. Playwright Alessandro Camon started his career in Italy as a TV executive and film critic. Directed by Ann Hearn Tobolowsky. At the Road Theatre, in NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747, Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Tkts: (818) 761-8838 or www.roadtheatre.org
GERONIMO (Santa Monica)
This one-man drama, dramatically performed by Rudy Ramos, reveals the seldom told story of Geronimo’s life as a POW in the Fort Sill Indian reservation. Ramos has stated “I wanted to give him the voice he deserves, that has never been heard. This was a great leader yet for 23 years he was a POW in his own country.” Written by novelist Janelle Meraz and directed by Steve Railsback, it focuses on the resiliency, humor and genius of the great Apache leader. At Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, (nr Wilshire). Tkts: (310) 394-9779 ext. 1 or www.SantaMonicaPlayhouse.com/Geronimo.html
THE NIGHT BUSTER KEATON DREAMED ME (North University Park)
In this surreal, dream-like movie-within-a-play, two orphan girls find color in their lives by living in a silent-film world of black, white and varying shades of gray. Author Kerry Muir won the Maxim Mazumdar Award in 2010 for the play and Debbie Devine directs the West Coast premiere that includes Spanish supertitles. At the 24th Street Theatre, 1117 West 24th St. (nr Hoover) Tkts: (213) 745-6516 or www.24thstreet.org

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

THE BLUEST EYE – Reviewed by theater colleague Rosemary Thomas.

Toni Morrison



    
    I highly recommend this adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel, by Lydia R. Diamond, that started off Black History Month in Hollywood with a bang. Nobel winning author Morrison, after working on a short story about a little black girl who wanted blue eyes, wrote the book in 1965, based on a girl she’d known growing up in Ohio. By the time the book came out 5 years later she was an editor at Random House that went on to publish all her future novels.
    The story unfolds through the narrative of two young and playful sisters, Claudia (Briana Price) and Frieda (ReSheda Terry). Their mother temporarily takes in their playmate, Pecola (Rodnesha Green), who the neighbors have deemed ‘ugly.’ It's with their watching eyes that we see the sorrows, hopes, fears and racial bias that dictate the flavor of all their lives.
    This ensemble of talented women and men brought to life the acerbic nature of humanity in the 1940's along with the consequences of personal choices. Director, Bernadette Speakes and choreographer Shari Rhone, used lively dance and soul touching songs in perfect intervals. The show is creative and masterful - from the set design to the costumes.
    Initially I was taken aback when the two lead actors changed from their child character voices and demeanor to take on an adult tone as they faced the audience to tell the story. But the candidness with which these words were spoken added a deeper layer of honesty a child may not have been able to express
    This haunting play does not shrink from stirring up the audience and cutting a hole in one's heart to expose the soft or hard (as the case may be) inner core. The actors seemed to know instinctively how to pull the marrow out of the characters they were cast to portray. The precision and purpose in which the characters entered and exited the stage made the two hours of uninterrupted performance fly. While the tenor of the play is drama, humor is plentiful. 
    An All the Way West Production at the Hudson BackstageTheatre, Hollywood.




Friday, February 28, 2020

NBY, MARCH COLUMN 2020: Our Man in Santiago, Taming The Lion, Show Me A Hero & A Body of Water.

Henry Kissinger & Richard Nixon


OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO (Cahuenga)
This comic spy thriller is inspired by the true story of a botched attempt by the U.S. to overthrow Chile’s democratically elected leader back in early 1970. According to Gabriela Garcia Marquez, a plan was hatched by the Nixon Administration and the Chilean military for a coup that had to be aborted when “someone made a mistake in the Pentagon and requested 200 visas for a purported Navy chorus!” In this new political farce, by Mark Wilding, the CIA enlists an inexperienced, unsuspecting agent to follow up with a last-ditch effort to hasten the coup d'état.  As director Charlie Mount states: “It’s about consequentialism. In politics, do the ends justify the means?” Starring Steve Nevil as Richard Nixon and Michael Van Duzer as Henry Kissinger. Produced by Benjamin Scuglia at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. Los Angeles. Tkts: (323) 851-7977 or www.TheatreWest.org.
TAMING THE LION (Beverly Hills)
Here is another new play, based on a true story, this time set in Hollywood in the 1920’s silent film era. Actor William Haines, after 50 films was the number one box-office draw by 1934. However, he was openly gay, a fact that MGM attempted to conceal with Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg trying to force him to marry a woman to please his fans. In the play, when Haines reveals his devotion to his male lover, Mayer sends Joan Crawford over to talk sense to him. Playwright Jack Rushen has twice won the Julie Harris Award from the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild. Director is Melanie MacQueen, familiar to audiences as she appears annually in “The Manor.”  Produced by David Hunt Stafford for Theatre 40. At Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Dr. Beverly Hills. Tkts: (310) 364-0535 or www.theatre40.org. Free parking.
SHOW ME A HERO (North Hollywood)
Oriana Fallaci & Alexander Panagoulis
In 1974, Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci went to Greece to interview freedom fighter Alexander Panagoulis after the collapse of the military dictatorship there. Panagoulis had been imprisoned and tortured for his actions and, when he and Oriana met, they fell in love. Her book, “A Man” was inspired by his life. She was at his side when he once again risked his life to gather evidence against corrupt government leaders. Their dynamic love story is being dramatized by playwright and novelist Willard Manus who lived in Greece for many years as the Mediterranean Correspondent for the Canadian “Financial Post.” This new play is premiering in Los Angeles and is directed by Daniel E. Keough of Theatre West. Produced by Write Act Repertory’s Artistic Director John Lant with Anne Mesa. At Brickhouse Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St. NoHo. Tkts: (800) 838-3006 Ext. 1 or www.Brownpapertickets.com/event/4510530.
A BODY OF WATER (Hollywood)
In this lyrical drama, a couple in their fifties wake up in an isolated house above a picturesque body of water with no idea of where they are or why they are there. This situation is further complicated by the arrival of a mysterious young woman with a questionable explanation. According to playwright Lee Blessing, his play is about lost identity and rediscovering love and examines the wisdom of embracing a pure moment of joy even when nothing else is certain. Directed by Nan McNamara and produced by Crystal Jackson for Actors Co-op. Blessing has written a new ending to this often-seen play and will participate in talkbacks after the Sunday matinees. At the Crossley Theatre, 1760 N Gower St, on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Tkts: (323) 462-8460 or www.ActorsCo-op.org. Free parking.

NBY: FEBRUARY 2020 COLUMN: Christopher Boy's Communion, The Andrews Brothers, Nowhere On The Border, West Adams & The Bluest Eye.


THE CHRISTOPHER BOY’S COMMUNION (West Los Angeles)
This new play, written and directed by David Mamet, is being staged for a very limited run and features an all-star cast that includes William H. Macy and Rebecca Pidgeon (I saw them both in his original production of “Oleanna” in NYC), Clark Gregg (founding member Atlantic Theatre Co) and Fionnula Flanagan (EMMY winner, two TONY nominations) and others. The story involves a grisly murder that has taken place in Central Park and, knowing and admiring Mamet’s work, this promises to be a volatile and meaningful drama. It’s a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda, Los Angeles. There will only be 10 performances from Feb. 13-23. For reservations call (310) 477-2055 or online at
  THE ANDREWS BROTHERS (Long Beach)
In this madcap salute to the swinging ‘40’s, written and created by Roger Bean whose “Marvelous Wondrettes” is still roaring across the land, a USO show is threatened with cancellation when a certain trio of singing sisters (clue: last name Andrews!) fail to show up. When three earnest and determined stagehands, who believe that “The Show Must Go On!” perform the act with some cross-dressing and a lot of chutzpah - it sure does. Featuring over 25 songs made famous by the Andrew Sisters, including “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Slow Boat To China,” “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree” and “Accent-chu-ate the Positive” it’s a valentine to the heroes of World War ll. Directed and choreographed by Jamie Torcellini, with a rambunctious live band led by music director Brent Crayon. At International City Theatre in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach. Tkts: 562-436-4610 or www.InternationalCityTheatre.org
NOWHERE ON THE BORDER (North Hollywood)
In this timely play, set in the hostile wasteland between nations, a Border Watch volunteer confronts a Mexican man who claims to be looking for his missing daughter. Playwright Carlos Lacámara, who was two years old when his family left Cuba, made a visit there in 2000 and was moved by the hardships of life on that island. Here he reveals the personal dramas that drive people to cross borders, both physical and emotional. Directed by Stewart J. Zully for Road Theatre Company. At The Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd. NOHO. Tkts: 818-761-8838 or www.roadtheatre.org
WEST ADAMS (Los Feliz)
Back in the 1980’s my husband and I bought a beautiful Victorian house in West Adams and became friends with the neighbors as well as other lovers of classic homes there. This new play, by Penelope Lowder, is listed as a dark comedy about race and class. I’d better get to see it since the promo notes state that: “Perhaps reshaping a newly adopted neighborhood in your own image isn’t as lofty as one might think!” Directed by Michael A. Sheppard. At Skylight Theatre, 1816½ N Vermont, Los Feliz. Tkts: 213-761-7061 or http://SkylightTix.com
THE BLUEST EYE (Hollywood)
Lydia Diamond adapted this play from the novel by Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. It’s a portrait of a black girl’s coming of age in the racially turbulent 1940’s and explores the toll taken on a community, a family and an innocent girl. As Morrison stated, “I do not want to dehumanize the people who wound this girl, because that would simply repeat their mistake.” Directed by Bernadette Speakes with choreography by Shari Rhone. At The Hudson Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood. Tkts: 323-856-4249 or 323-960-1055 or www.Plays411.com

Thursday, January 30, 2020

SUNDAY DINNER review





In my teens I lived for two years with an Italian family in Brooklyn, and this delightful play made me feel right at home again. Not that family secrets and bitter confrontations didn’t happen in my own Irish environment, but the style was different. 
This perceptive dramedy explores how one group deals with their secret shames when a young priest, the apple of his mother’s eye and the respected confidant of his father, returns home for a visit that lifts the lid off too many long-suppressed secrets.
Playwright-director Tony Blake explores how we each have the right to speak and be heard, but are we willing to risk the consequences. 
One character’s ironic, “The truth shall set you free!” is soon demonstrated to be perhaps the greatest hurt of all. Once known we can never go back, and the final revelation shows how the truth can actually be a dagger in one’s heart. But, as Blake makes clear, it must finally be spoken.
As the matriarch, Sharron Shayne is a gentle spirit who one and all want to protect; and as paterfamilias John Combs is a blustering dad who believes family always comes first no matter the consequences. James Tabeek, as their Son the Priest, demonstrates the conflict between protection, the truth, and standing on principle.
Also excellent are Michele Schultz as the fierce maiden aunt; Kevin Linehan as the bossy older brother; Meghan Lloyd as the plaintive sister-in-law, and Dennis Hadley as the jovial but hurting cousin. You have to see the play yourself, since to describe the amusing, if sometimes tragic conflicts, would give it all away. Go and discover it.
The impressive set by Jeff G. Rank, and eclectic costumes by Michéle Young, pull you into this realistic Bronx-family world. Produced by David Hunt Stafford for Theatre 40. At the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills.