Thursday, January 2, 2020

NBY. January 2020. BAD HABITS review, SUNDAY DINNER, DISPOSABLE NECESSITIES, THE GIVER.




Alley Mills & Orson Bean

BAD HABITS (Santa Monica)             
Having spent ten years living among nuns in a British Catholic Boarding School I must admit none of them had such bad habits as these Sisters of St. Cyril. This bevy of virgins often curse like truck drivers, make snide comments about their young school charges, have a drinking problem, and in general behave more like Hollywood tarts than the nuns I knew. But, as my friend director Fran Freedman quipped, “Morna, perhaps you should have recused yourself!”
Yes, the audience clearly loved it, especially when they were drawn into the action as stand-ins for little kids in school. The cast, even though all in imminent danger of excommunication, were excellent. Even Orson Bean, as the shrewd local Bishop, entertained delightfully with jokes that were perhaps rather risqué for a man of the cloth.
Alley Mills was the humanistic Mother Superior over Sisters’ Mouchette van Helsdingen, Jacquelynne Fontaine, Lee Garlington and Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield (who I wish could have finished her soaring solo that threatened to bring down the house). Kelsey Griswold dazzled as the mysterious visitor and Jennifer Sagiao was a formidable secretary and deft furniture mover.
Humorist Playwright Steve Mazur claims to be “the proud product of a parochial school education” and I suspect he got caned on his knuckles quite a few times. Director Mike Reilly says, “This is, ultimately, a life affirming, joyful play” and he certainly brought it to life for the matinee audience.
Imaginative set by Brad Bentz was perfect framing for Michael Mullen’s elegant traditional nun’s costumes.
At Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave, Santa Monica. Tkts: (310) 397-3244 or www.ruskingrouptheatre.com. Free parking.
SUNDAY DINNER (Beverly Hills)
Michael Matera, a young priest stationed in Chicago, returns to his parent’s home in the Bronx after his grandfather’s death. As the Matera clan gather at the family home for Sunday dinner dark secrets of sin, secrecy and shame start to unravel. When his father confesses a crime to Michael he refuses to give him absolution yet has guilty secrets of his own to deal with. This world premiere drama is written and directed by Tony Blake and produced by David Hunt Stafford. At Theatre 40, in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Bevely Hills. Tkts: (310) 364-0535 or www.theatre40.org. Free Parking.
DISPOSABLE NECESSITIES (Venice)
In this play, the disposables in the title refers to people aging and dying but, due to the wonders of the digital world, it’s possible to download one’s soul into another host or body. However, only the very rich can afford this and can even choose to be anyone they desire. Playwright Neil McGowan takes a comedic look at greed, the value of life… and even death! Directed by Guillermo Cienfuegos and produced by John Perrin Flynn. At Rogue Machine Theatre, 1416 Electric Ave, Venice. Tkts: (855) 585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com
THE GIVER (Westchester)
This multimedia presentation takes us to a futuristic community where life is idyllic, with designated mothers, appropriate family units and assigned partners. Here is a precisely choreographed world where a young man finds everyone obeys and no one thinks to ask questions. Jonas’ journey is filled with heightened sensory experience as he goes from this place of no choice,… to where? Adapted by Eric Coble from the book by Lois Lowry. Directed by Harold Dershimer. At Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave, Westchester. Tkts: (310) 645-5156 or boxoffice@kentwoodplayers.org

Thursday, November 21, 2019

NBY-December 2019 - LOVE ACTUALLY-LIVE, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, EVERY CHRISTMAS STORY EVER TOLD, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE


Tis the season for Holiday shows and favorite memories from movies past…
  
LOVE ACTUALLY - LIVE (Beverly Hills)
If you saw the 2003 British-themed movie, and loved it, here is a chance to see it in a 3-dimensional world, with live actors and singers, and a 15-piece orchestra, all in sync with your favorite scenes. This series of short stories, showing different aspects of love in the weeks leading up to Christmas, are now blended into a living theatre experience with stars from Broadway returning from its last season’s world premiere at the Wallis. I hear that more than 12,000 people flocked to the show, and reports are that people were leaving the theatre after each performance crying, laughing, hugging, humming the soundtrack, and embracing the holiday spirit. So, what more can I say! Songs include “Trouble With Love” and “Both Sides Now.” At Wallis Annenberg Center, 9390 N Santa Monica Blvd, BH. Tkts: (310)746-4000 or www.TheWallis.org/Love
   
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (Hollywood)
In this 1947 Christmas classic, an old man going by the name of Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) fills in for an intoxicated Santa in Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day parade. Kringle proves to be such a hit that he is soon appearing regularly at the chain's main store in midtown Manhattan. When Kringle surprises customers and employees alike by claiming that he really is Santa Claus, it leads to a court case to determine his mental health and, more importantly, his authenticity. Well, its been adapted into musicals on Broadway and TV, and was even broadcast on radio with the original cast. Now you can see a new adaptation at Actors Co-op, on the campus of First Presbyterian Church at 1760 N Gower St, Hwd. Tkts: (323) 462-8460 ext.300 or www.actorsco-op.org
EVERY CHRISTMAS STORY EVER TOLD (AND THEN SOME!) (Sierra Madre)
So, if you are fed up with that annual Charles Dickens’ moody “Christmas Carol” so are the performers in this outrageous holiday romp. It’s a madcap musical where a group of actors decide they will perform holiday traditions from around the world, from ancient times to now. They also intend to try and include every carol ever sung! “It’s incredible and difficult to describe, so get your tickets to experience it for yourself” says Broadway World. Gary Lamb directs, and music director Sean Paxton performs the music live. At Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W Sierra Madre Blvd. TKTS: (626) 355-4318 or www.sierramadreplayhouse.org
And last but not least…

 IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE - A LIVE RADIO PLAY! (Santa Barbara)
Here is the absolute favorite Christmas story, that informs us that “every time a bell rings” an angel gets its wings! Set in sunny Santa Barbara, in 1947, the show features mock radio commercials for local businesses from that time. The story of idealistic George Bailey, who gives up his dreams to help others, and whose life’s decisions on Christmas Eve bring about the intervention of his Guardian Angel, comes to life with five talented actors performing dozens of characters and with live Foley sound effects right before your eyes. Jonathan Fox, artistic director for Ensemble Theatre Company, promises: “We ring in the holiday season with this one of the most iconic films of all time… brought to life by our own Brian McDonald… from the film everyone knows and loves.” It’s the perfect holiday show for the entire family. At the New Vic, 33 W Victoria St. Santa Barbara. Tkts: (805) 965-5400 ext.115 or www.etcsb.org


Review. WRONG KIND OF PEOPLE (Downtown)




In this madcap tale it’s 1942, and a young African American law student (Ken Ivy) is given the “colored” suite in a Los Angeles luxury hotel. Since he is there to study overnight for his upcoming Bar Exam he tries to make the best of it. However, the affable bellhop (Damon Rutledge) warns him there may be a few folk climbing in the window, but not to worry! 

Well, as it turns out one wacky visitor (Darrell Philip) brings the law to him in more ways than expected and, even if the law books remain unopened, he ends up with a sweet if fiery girlfriend (Chauntice Green). Don’t even ask about the adulteress (Stephanie Schulz) and the mobster (Stephen Tyler Howell) who enter through the doorway!

Author George W. Corbin, whose fine “Daughters of the Kush” I recall as a sophisticated drama, is here channeling the Marx Brothers to a quite hilarious degree. 

However, mischievous director C. Julian White forgot that audiences need to hear, as well as see, since his excellent actors spoke so softly and intimately to each other that about 50% of the dialogue was incomprehensible. Otherwise, a great deal of fun was had by all.

Presented by Robey Theatre Company at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S Spring St. Downtown LA. Tkts: (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org


Saturday, November 16, 2019

TITUS ANDRONICUS - Or How I Love All of Shakespeare’s Play’s but One…



    

    Having directed a production of this really sadistic play, and after shuddering through Julie Taymor’s gruesome film TITUS, I am always reluctant to attend live performances of this play. Well, a braver soul than I, name of Mikey Mulhearn, just gave the lie to my timidity with a bold production at the Kimpton Everly Hotel in Hollywood. Mulhearn presents non-traditional Shakespeare with his gender-bending company SHAKESPEARE ON THE DECK now in its 2nd year.

    My theater colleague, costume designer Tricia Stubbs, has been urging me to come along and see for myself the unique approach of this new group. Here are her comments after attending a performance of Titus last month:
“This play was first performed somewhere between 1590-1594 making it one of his earlier plays and his first tragedy. The setting tells the story of the fictional Roman general, Titus Andronicus, who comes back from a 10-year war with the Goths where he has lost 21 of his sons. He returns with Tamora, Queen of the Goths, as hostage with her 3 sons. When he sacrifices her eldest son in revenge for his own dead sons, he sets off a chain of horror starting with the rape and mutilation of his own daughter.
This production was both brilliant and powerful, each character well defined, each actor speaking their lines clearly, distinctly and with true passion. Shah Granville (Titus), Keaton Shyler (Tamora), Nima Rad (Lavinia) and Jahel Caldera (Aaron the Moor) head this superb gender neutral and race neutral company. Although there was no comic relief in this play, the fact that a white liquid was used in place of red blood lightened this otherwise very heavy show.”


Mulhearn directs his own adaptations of each play and transforms the space beneath the hotel’s Everbar into a fantastic otherworld. A new program, "Shakes After Dark," will include folio classes, public readings, fight nights, and free Shakespeare in a bar. For info: www.shakesonthedeck.com



Tuesday, November 5, 2019

LOVE IN BLOOM (Santa Monica Playhouse) - REVIEW




For all you Shakespeare aficionados this feel-good, bawdy musical comedy returns for another visit in tribute to the wenches and rogues of the Bard. They promise magic and mayhem, fops and fairies, mistaken identity, romance and humor, all in homage to Shakespeare himself, pantomimist Marcel Marceau, Commedia dell’arte and other classical theater. 

Written and directed by Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo. Reservations at www.santamonicaplayhouse.com/loveinbloom

REVIEW/COMMENT: Shakespeare meets Gilbert & Sullivan in a show that resonates with the convoluted plots of one (Will) and the witty song lyrics of the other (Gilbert). Yes, there’s amusing stand-ins for Titania (Evelyn Rudie) and Oberon (Chris DeCarlo) leading the way into romantic confusion. 
The Tempest storm is there, and a darling Caliban (Zane Garcia), those cleverly disguised separated twins (Tara Alexandra Brown & Cynthia Zitter), and a moody Prince turned frog (Patrick Censoplano), with a very bawdy wet nurse (Rachel Galper). Other metamorphic characters are all boldly realized by Graham Silbert to keep the show reeling. The show is magically performed bv this ever changing ensemble who populate the stage with myriad characters. Plaudits to all!



Tuesday, October 29, 2019

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY - (Fountain Theatre) Review




Author Stephen Adly-Guirgis happens to be my favorite American playwright ever since I saw his “Last Days of Judas Iscariot” followed by other works. So, don’t miss it! In this Pulitzer-Prize-winning comedy, an elderly ex-cop in New York City, recently widowed, is facing eviction from his large rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive. 

He wants to make a home there for his newly-paroled son, but the landlord wants him out, the NYPD want to close a lawsuit, and the church is on his back. The Pulitzer committee called it, “a nuanced, beautifully written play… that uses dark comedy to confront questions of life and death.’ Director Guillermo Cienfuegos, another theatre favorite, warns that “The play explores issues of race, policing and gentrification…” subjects that are always potent in contemporary-realist Guirgis’ work. At the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave (nr Normandie), in Hollywood. Tickets: (323) 663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com


REVIEW/COMMENT: As always, Guirgis creates a world as real as the one we inhabit ourselves and, just as our clever minds have figured out where he is going with his story, he surprises us with a revelation about human relationships that shocks us even as we recognize that this is the way life is.  
In this play, all relationships, whether the obviously loving or perhaps the unconsciously disdainful, are suspect. All great drama gives us a deeper understanding of who we are and yet reveals how blissfully fragile the truth always is. I always look for this “Revelation” in modern theater, and rarely find it, but Guirgis again comes through in this honest family drama.

With brilliant direction by Guillermo Cienfuegos, the superb cast is headed by Montae Russell, enigmatic and yet straightforward, as the beleaguered retired cop everyone calls Pops. Matthew Hancock as his rebellious son, and Victor Anthony his quixotic ward, both personify today's troubled youth searching for meaning. Joshua Bitton as an ambitious yet honest cop, and Lesley Fera as Pops loyal former partner, bring the outer world and its brutal realities into this sheltered home. Liza Fernandez is licentiously daring as a church lady on a mission, and Marisol Miranda is delightful as a seemingly tempestuous temptress. MMM 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

NBY. November 2019. BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY,FIFTEEN MEN IN A SMOKE-FILLED ROOM, DEFENDERS, LOVE IN BLOOM, NEIL SIMON'S MUSICAL FOOLS.



BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY (Hollywood)
Author Stephen Adly-Guirgis happens to be my favorite American playwright ever since I saw his “Last Days of Judas Iscariot” followed by other works. So, don’t miss it! In this Pulitzer-Prize-winning comedy, an elderly ex-cop in New York City, recently widowed, is facing eviction from his large rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive. He wants to make a home there for his newly-paroled son, but the landlord wants him out, the NYPD want to close a lawsuit, and the church is on his back. The Pulitzer committee called it, “a nuanced, beautifully written play… that uses dark comedy to confront questions of life and death.’ Director Guillermo Cienfuegos, another theatre favorite, warns that “The play explores issues of race, policing and gentrification…” subjects that are always potent in contemporary-realist Guirgis’ work. At the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave (nr Normandie), in Hollywood. Tickets: (323) 663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com
FIFTEEN MEN IN A SMOKE-FILLED ROOM (Beverly Hills)
In this timely play, The Republican National Convention is in full swing with a certain candidate feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of being the nominee for President. No, it’s not next year folks but set back in 1920 and Warren G. Harding is the one in question. His problems are an overly ambitious campaign manager, a superstitious wife, a star-struck mistress and what he fears is the frightening pull of inevitability. The play explores the extent to which fate appears to control our lives – but does it? Written by Connecticut-based writer Colin Speer Crowley and Los Angeles awardee Jules Aaron. Produced by David Hunt Stafford for Theatre 40. At Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Tickets: (310) 364-0535 or www.theatre40.org. Free parking.
DEFENDERS (Hollywood)
This drama by Cailin Maureen Harrison is set in World War Two when three American G.I.’s are shipwrecked on Hrisey, a remote island off Iceland’s northern coast. With missing weapons, few supplies and a broken radio they must rely on the locals for survival. However, they are faced with the islander’s ancient fears of loss of culture, vulnerability of their women and suspicion of foreign invaders. Directed by Reena Dutt and produced by Racquel Lehrman of Theatre Planners for Pandelia’s Canary Yellow Company. At Broadwater Black Box, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood. Tkts: (323) 960-5770 or www.Onstage411.com/defenders
  LOVE IN BLOOM (Santa Monica)
For all you Shakespeare aficionados this feel-good, bawdy musical comedy returns for another visit in tribute to the wenches and rogues of the Bard. They promise magic and mayhem, fops and fairies, mistaken identity, romance and humor, all in homage to Shakespeare himself, pantomimist Marcel Marceau, Commedia dell’arte and other classical theater. Written and directed by Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo. Reservations at www.santamonicaplayhouse.com/loveinbloom
NEIL SIMON’S MUSICAL FOOLS (Atwater)
Already running to much laughter, here is the world premiere adaptation, by Neil Simon, of his play “Fools” where he’s credited with book and lyrics along with Phil Swann and Ron West. It’s set in the Ukraine in 1893 when a young tutor arrives after a harrowing journey. Soon he finds that the village is cursed, with every resident as dumb as a rock, but can he save himself and the village too? Presented by Open Fist Theatre Company at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater. Tkts: (323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org. Free parking.