Tuesday, May 21, 2019

BAD YEAR FOR TOMATOES - Review






In this wacky John Patrick comedy, it’s 1975 and a famous actress leases a house in Vermont to write her autobiography. To shoo away the annoying nosy neighbors, she invents a mad, homicidal Sister Sadie - herself in a fright wig bearing giant scissors - to scare off visitors. 

However, a local handyman falls for this dynamic psycho, and some local ladies decide to bring the woman to a religious rally to save her poor soul. When, in trying to get them all to leave her alone Myra says her demented sibling has gone off to Boston, she comes under suspicion of murder!

 It’s a silly but fun show as Hollywood escapee Myra (Diana Angelina as the only sane person in the town), hides out in Vermont to write her memoirs. Well, as the neighbors arrive to welcome the newcomer this town makes Peyton Place seem like paradise. 

There’s tall and kindly Reba (modestly personified by Ann Ryerson enamored of a traveling preacher); loquacious Cora, (a real oh-my-gosh Amanda Conlon full of wild gossip); Willa Mae, (the local soothsayer, Leda Siskind, mad as a hatter, who only predicts disasters), and the bearded goofy handyman, Piney (bashful, adorable but country-shrewd Jeffrey Winner). David Datz as Myra’s agent genially represents our calm, sane, kindly Hollywood world!!! And William Joseph Hill doubles as a manly sheriff and choreographer of the many quite daunting fights. 



Director Larry Eisenberg pulls out all the slapstick spots he can find before surrendering us to the happy ending. The late Playwright John Patrick is best known for Teahouse of the August Moon that garnered him the Pulitzer Prize and The Tony Award for drama, as well as the screenplay for personal favorite Love is a Many Splendored Thing.

Produced by David Hunt Stafford and, as always at Theatre 40, awesome production values include set by Jeff G. Rack, lighting by Brandon Baruch, sound by Steve Shaw and costumes by Michèle Young. In Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S Moreno Dr. Beverly Hills. Tickets: (310) 364-0535 or www.theatre40.org.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

NBY COLUMN FOR MAY: MICHAEL SHERMAN - BOXING LESSONS - DIANA OF DOBSON'S - JULIUS WEEZER - BAD YEAR FOR TOMATOES - MISTAKES WERE MADE



MICHAEL SHERMAN  (Everywhere)
Anyone who remembers the fun times upstate New York, in the Catskills, will enjoy Michael’s madcap routines as he impersonates beloved celebrities such as Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny, Louis Armstrong, George Burns and Ed Sullivan. He also sings, plays the harmonica and juggles a bit and, if you dare to sit close to him, he will even draw you into his act. 

Ah! I remember my young days there, when I directed and performed live theater, at The Woodlands! Look for Michael at your nearby Senior Center or contact him at (323) 654-6505 or www.michaelsherman.biz.
BOXING LESSONS  (Hollywood)
In this new dark comedy, a famous writer dies and, as his family gather to box up his belongings, secrets come to light and old conflicts revive. Playwright John Bunzel was inspired to write about family by the conflicting emotions he experienced when his parents died, saying, “Love can be defined in many different ways and the serious substance underneath makes the comedy authentic.”  Directed by Jack Stehlin, at New America Theatre, 1312 N Wilton Place, Hwd. Tkts: (310) 424-2980 or www.newamericantheatre.com. Ample street parking.
DIANA OF DOBSON’S  (Glendale)
This 1908 drama by British suffragette Cicely Hamilton, a friend of George Bernard Shaw, turns the Cinderella myth on its head. Diana, an Edwardian shop assistant, is awarded a small legacy. When she decides to spend it all on a Taste of the High Life, she learns a bitter lesson about love, money and society. Says director Casey Stangl: “This is a play about the overworked and underpaid workers who maintain the very separate world of privilege that surrounds them.” At the Gindler Arts Center, 110 E Broadway, Glendale (Between N Brand & Artsakh). Tkts: (818) 506-1983 or www.antaeus.org
JULIUS WEEZER  (North Hollywood)
“Beware the Ides of March… in May!” warns The Troubies! It’s Rome 44 BC with Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ mashed up with funk-rock riffs by the Weezer band. This show is part circus, part improve, part rock concert, and a loony adaptation of the classic play. A unique experience for theatre-goers of any age – so take the grandkids! Adapted, choreographed and directed by Matt Walker, artistic director of Troubadour Theater Co. At El Portal Theatre, 11206 Weddington St. NoHo. Tkts: (818)508-4200 or (866)811-4111 online www.elportaltheatre.com.
BAD YEAR FOR TOMATOES  (Beverly Hills)
In this wacky John Patrick comedy, a famous actress leases a house in Vermont to write her autobiography. To shoo away nosy neighbors, she invents a mad, homicidal sister (herself in a fright wig) who scares off visitors. However, a local handyman falls for ‘Sister Sadie’ and some local ladies decide to save the poor woman’s soul. When Myra says her demented sibling has gone off to Boston she comes under suspicion of murder! Directed by Larry Eisenberg, produced by David Hunt Stafford for Theatre 40. In Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S Moreno Dr. BH. Tkts: (310)364-0535 or www.theatre40.org. Free Parking.
MISTAKES WERE MADE  (Santa Monica)
It’s a Battle of The Sexes comedy by local playwright Jerry Mayer. He asks, can mistakes between husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, fathers and sons, ever be fixed? Dick’s mistake: He let a sexy, blue-eyed doll threaten his marriage. Jeff’s mistake: He turned down a dream job, then heard screams, “You idiot!” Mel’s mistake: He hired a famous money manager, who stole his money. Dick’s wife’s mistake: She trusted him, then learned of his affair so had one too. And that’s just the beginning! Directed by Chris DeCarlo. At Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St, SM. Tkts: (310)394-9779 or theatre@santamonicaplayhouse.com.

May 2019 Theater Column for NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

BIRDLAND BLUE - Robey Theatre, Downtown L.A. - Review



In 1959 the biggest star in jazz was trumpeter, bandleader and composer Miles Davis, and New York’s nightclub, BIRDLAND, was the center of the jazz world. This drama with music takes place there, one evening in August, 1959. 
You cross the threshold of the Robey Theatre and are transported back into an actual nightclub with round tables and chairs, a tiny stage, and surrounding you rough walls of brick and plaster. Somewhere in the gallery there is soft jazz playing and soon various men wander by carrying music cases or musical instruments, pre-occupied with their own thoughts.
Far to your right, in a small ante-room with a sofa and desk, one man sits alone, his head drooping, a trumpet hanging loosely in his hand, his demeanor sad and thoughtful. When he stirs and rises he plays a short riff on the instrument that resonates through the space with a mournful sound. Yes, here is Miles Davis and for one brief night you get a backstage peek at the reality of the pressures faced by this innovative artist and see that music is not his only challenge.
As the leader of his sextet he must deal with five rebellious musicians, a devious club owner, a smirking racist cop, drugs galore, and a shapely young woman journalist who is not averse to discarding her objectivity and flirting with a legendary genius. Still, when the sextet finally plays its promised set the club reverberates with a nostalgic reminder of the time when jazz was the ultimate musical trip.
Heading the superb cast is Marcus Clark-Oliver as the mythic Miles Davis; Damon Rutledge is an amusingly philosophical Julian “Cannoball” Adderly, and Jermaine Alexander a serious John Coltrane. Eddie Goines as Wynton Kelley, Micheal David Ricks as Jimmy Cobb and Rogelio Douglas III as Paul Chambers are impressive. Noteworthy are Charles Isen (club owner), Tiffany Coty (reporter) and Darrell Philip (sleazy cop).
Plaudits to author Randy Ross, PhD, who also plays sax offstage with drummer Ricardo “Ricky” Mowatt and bassist Marion Newton. The show was developed in the Robey Theatre Playwrights’ Lab, and has strong imaginative direction by producer Ben Guillory.
At Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Downtown. Tickets: (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org
Color photo by Ian Foxx

Friday, March 22, 2019

NBY APRIL COLUMN: RENÉE TAYLOR’S MY LIFE ON A DIET - THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS - DORIS AND ME, ONE MAN’S OBSESSION WITH DORIS DAY - BIRDLAND BLUE - BAR MITZVAH BOY


RENÉE TAYLOR’S MY LIFE ON A DIET (Beverly Hills)
Award-winning, writer/actress looks back on a life full of memorable roles in Hollywood and on Broadway. As a woman who had worn every size from 4-18, she tells about her high and lows – on and off the scale –and how the ability to laugh gets you through it. Taylor dishes out juicy anecdotes about Hollywood legends Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe and Barbra Streisand. She also serves up poignant stories about her late husband, Joseph Bologna, her partner in work and life for 52 years. The Wallis Annenberg Center, 9390 Santa Monica Blvd. Bev Hills. Tickets: (310) 746-4000 or www.TheWallis.org/Diet

THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS (North Hollywood)
The Group Rep presents this long-lost Agatha Christie play, a comedy of manners laced with murder! In this mystery, a cosmopolitan adventurer discovers more than he bargained for when he arrives at an English country house and finds himself in the center of a murderous international conspiracy. Directed by Jules Aaron. At Lonny Chapman Theatre,10900 Burbank Boulevard, NoHo. Tickets: (818) 763-5990 or www.thegrouprep.com. Free street parking.

DORIS AND ME: ONE MAN’S OBSESSION WITH DORIS DAY (Sierra Madre)
At the height of her career, Doris Day was THE biggest star in show business, so it’s easy to understand author/actor Scott Dreier’s devotion. In this one-man musical, Dreier sings her hits with piano and bass accompaniment, i.e. Secret Love, Que Sera Sera, It’s Magic, etc. He weaves behind-the-scenes stories with photos and clips from Day’s film and recording career. Written by Dreier and Kurtis Simmons, directed by Richard Israel. 

Donations to the Doris Day Animal Foundation will be encouraged and a rescue animal in need of a home will be featured at every performance. Tickets: (626) 355-4318 or www.sierramadreplayhouse.org. Free parking. 



BIRDLAND BLUE (Downtown L.A.)


In 1959 the biggest star in jazz was trumpeter, bandleader and composer Miles Davis, and New York’s nightclub, BIRDLAND, was the center of the jazz world. This drama with music takes place there, one evening in August, as two of Miles’ musicians - Julius “Cannonball” Adderley and John Coltrane - are about to leave him to start their own groups. He also has problems with the club owner over payment, challenges from a crooked cop, as well as dealing with his own substance abuse problems. Playwright Randy Ross, Ph.D. is also a saxophonist and member of the jazz group the Blue Morning Quintet. Music performed live by Dr. Ross, Ricardo Mowatt and Marion Newton. Produced and directed by Ben Guillory, the show was developed in the Robey Theatre Playwrights’ Lab. At Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Downtown. Tickets: (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org.

BAR MITZVAH BOY (Santa Monica)
Joey Brant is a Jewish divorce lawyer in his 60s who never had a bar mitzvah ceremony. He feels the need to get one now, and the ceremony will take place at the synagogue he attended five decades ago. Joey must now re-connect with the faith of his ancestors, but he promptly alienates the synagogue’s regular instructor. This means he must go to the temple’s rabbi, a woman, for his bar mitzvah lessons. Rabbi Levitz-Sharon finds her faith challenged at the same time that Joey is rediscovering his spiritual roots. R. Emmett Lee plays Joey. Written by Mark Leiren-Young, produced and directed by Howard Teichman. Presented by West Coast Jewish Theatre. At Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. Tickets: (323) 821-2449 or www.wcjt.org Free parking. Note: Bring a picture of your own Bar or Bat Mitzvah and receive a $5 reimbursement at the door.

As listed in my column in the April issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Anna Karenina - Miss America's Ugly Daughter - America Adjacent - Tuesdays With Morrie - NBY March


ANNA KARENINA (Hollywood)




This adaptation of Tolstoy’s epic novel is staged in a stylized manner that cuts to the heart of Anna’s familiar story: the stifling marriage, the rapturous affair, the throwing caution to the wind and, of course, the ultimate tragedy. 

However, British playwright Helen Edmundson spreads a wider canvas by showing two other women of the period in marriages both conventional and threatened. In fact, by focusing on three parallel stories the play becomes a modern appeal against female oppression. Yet Edmundson is careful to show how a man – in fact all of the men – can love the woman in their lives yet not see how callously they oppress them. 

The cast are superb. Eva Abramian’s headstrong Anna is a torment to her husband Bruce Ladd; Lauren Thompson is a devoted wife betrayed by her husband Michael Worden; Ivy Beech is a proud girl challenging her conventional husband Joseph Barone, while Deborah Marlowe and Garrett Botts are impressive in multiple roles. Directed with style and piercing dramatic intensity by Heather Chesley. An Actors Co-op production at First Presbyterian Church, 1760 N Gower St. Hollywood. Tickets: (323) 462-8460 or www.ActorsCo-op.org. Free parking.

MISS AMERICA’S UGLY DAUGHTER  (Hollywood)
It is always fascinating to learn of the at-home behavior of a famous person and Barra Grant, daughter of Bess Myerson, does not disappoint. In this play we see the petty bad-mother side and the effect it has on a vulnerable child. There is poignant humor in the duel between them for attention after the parade has passed by. It’s an entertaining show but I wish Grant had told of her mothers good works as well as her selfish home behavior. 

Bess Myerson did a lot of excellent public work that is missing from the show – it’s in the program but not on the stage. As the first Jewish Miss America, she was hit with the anti-Semitism that she fought against the rest of her public life. When I was NY Bureau Chief for the Hollywood Reporter I met Bess Myerson, then NY Commissioner of Cultural Affairs. More than a beauty queen, or TV personality, she was a public figure doing significant work. 

Written and performed by Barra Grant, with Monica Piper as Myerson’s offstage voice. At Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N Fairfax, (nr Melrose). Tickets: (323) 285-2078 or www.MissAmericasUglyDaughter.com. Free parking.

AMERICA ADJACENT (Los Feliz)
In this timely play, six pregnant women from the Philippines, living together in a one-bedroom, one-bath unit in East Hollywood, do their best to overcome fears of jail and deportation. Playwright Boni B. Alvarez examines the promise of US citizenship, saying “As the child of Filipino immigrants, I have always been fascinated by the American Dream. How far would you go to give your child a better future?” Directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera and produced by Gary Grossman and Tony Abatemarco for Skylight Company. At Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont, Los Feliz. Tickets & Parking info: (213) 761-7061 or www.SkylightTix.org.



TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE  (Sierra Madre)
Journalist Mitch Alborn saw his beloved college professor, Morrie Schwartz, on ABC-TV Nightline being interviewed about the challenge of living with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mitch starts to visit Morrie every Tuesday and learns from him how to live life fully in the face of loss. The play debuted off-Broadway in 2002 and New York magazine said: "Unforgettable! No matter how well you tell the story, the play makes it more vivid, more shattering, more humorous." Larry Eisenberg is Morrie, Jackson Kendall is Mitch. At Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W Sierra Madre Blvd. Tickets: (626) 355-4318 or www.sierramadreplayhouse.org Free parking.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

THE POW & THE GIRL – review






In a time of cruel stories dressed up as dark comedy, playwright Katrina Wood shows that in the end love is all we’ve got left. A young girl, heading into her future in 1980’s London, is living with her irascible grandfather who is haunted by memories that wrack his sleep and often daylight hours. “Get out” is the usual advice – the man is hopeless, he’s hostile, he’s dangerous. Why she hesitates to leave is the theme and revelation of this compassionate play.
 
Chas Mitchell is riveting as the POW whose years in a WW2 Japanese death camp have broken his spirit and left him with moods that range from childlike whimpering to fierce male rage. Samantha Mallory as his granddaughter shows the cheekiness of a teenager yet the underlying wisdom of youth. Adrian Burks as the young man who courts her, reveals a hurt soul eager to be healed. Natalia Bilbao, in a number of roles, shines best as the enigmatic other Girl. Lucas Helmersson as a local thug and Jeffrey Gibson a cynical Japanese soldier, add dimension to the two worlds this play inhabits.


Based on the author’s own memories of her father, who actually spent years in the Japanese Changi death camp in Singapore where prisoners were forced to build the Kwai bridge, and the Burma railroad, leaving hundreds dead of brutality and starvation. After the war, Percy Herbert became a familiar face in over 70 movies and, besides appearing in the Oscar winning Bridge over the River Kwai, he also served as advisor on the film.
 
Director Trace Oakley, working with a tiny space, brings the present and past to life through his concentration on character rather than lavish sets. He’s also not hesitant to show that, as in real life, there is humor alongside tragedy. Produced by Katie Mae Peters.

At The Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., NoHo. Tickets: (800) 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3742908. For information: Https://powandgirl.com

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

NBY - FEBRUARY COLUMN: Witness Uganda > Last Call > Smart Love > Death House > A Walk In The Woods


WITNESS UGANDA – A DOCUMENTARY MUSICAL - Beverly Hills
Based on a true story, we follow Griffin (Jamar Williams), an American volunteer, as he arrives in Uganda to help build a village school. When he falls into a complicated relationship with a group of destitute, orphaned teenagers, he finds himself driven by a mission that will change his and their lives forever. From the rolling hills of the Ugandan countryside, to a stifling apartment in New York City, here is a joyous celebration of African youth. Written and directed by Griffin Matthews, who co-authored with music director Matt Gould, this off-Broadway hit was called “a vibrant, pulsating musical,” described as “exuberant and soulful… releases gale-force waves of faith, hope and love.” Winner of the Richard Rodgers Award and others. At Wallis Annenberg Center, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills. Tickets: (310) 746-4000 or TheWallis.org/Witness.
 LAST CALL – Atwater Village
When is it time to give up the keys to the car? In semi-autobiographical play, the Vaughn family’s defense mechanism of sarcasm and mordant humor falls short when the aging parents hatch a not-so-funny way to avoid the retirement home. Says playwright Anne Kenney. “I watched my parents’ health degenerate as they got into their ’90s and had to come face-to-face with the quality vs. quantity of life question. The only way that my parents and I and my brother got through it was with an abundance of gallows humor and a lot of compassion.” Ben Martin stars as 85-year-old Walter Vaughn, and Lynn Milgrim as Frances, his 83-year-old wife. Says director Lane Allison, “It’s a beautiful story about the love of family and how much that influences our life decisions.” An Open Fist production at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater. Tickets: (323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org. Free parking.
 SMART LOVE - Venice
A contemporary comedy with a scientific twist, the Wachowski household is turned upside down when their son makes a surprise visit home, from MIT with an unexpected guest. Says playwright Brian Letscher, "I turn on my TV and find a documentary on the explosion of technology and the possibilities moving forward in this Brave New World of technology! I am severely over-stimulated. I cannot fall asleep, but a year later I have this play.” Directed by Elina de Santos, who brought last months challenging scientific drama, A Misunderstanding, to life at the Complex. At Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd. Tickets: (310) 822-8392 or www.pacificresidenttheatre.com
DEATH HOUSE – North Hollywood
This drama by Jason Karasev explores justice, redemption and the possibility that we are all more connected than we realize. It takes place on the night when a prison chaplain is meeting with the confident young pastor who will replace him. When they encounter an enigmatic prison inmate, their beliefs and lives are changed forever. Directed by Michael Peretzian for Road Theatre Company. At The Road on Lankershim, 5108 Lankershim Blvd. NoHo. Tickets: (818)761-8838 or www.roadtheatre.org.
A WALK IN THE WOODS – Westwood
Lee Blessing’s award-winning play, starring Alfred Molina and Steven Weber, directed by Cameron Watson, is just one of L.A. Theatre Works star-studded performances at UCLA’s state-of-the-art James Bridges Theater. These shows are recorded live in front of an audience for radio broadcast, distribution on CD, digital download and online streaming. This syndicated Radio Theater Series broadcasts weekly on public radio stations across the U.S. (locally on KPFK 90.7 FM); can be heard in China on the Radio Beijing Network; can be downloaded as a podcast via iTunes and NPR One; and can be streamed on demand at www.latw.org.