Friday, August 19, 2016

NEXT TO NORMAL …West Los Angeles






How one family deals with the mother’s mental illness is the gripping story in this rock musical that in 2009 was one of Broadway’s biggest hits, winning three Tony Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize. Its an intense, brutally honest story about a bipolar woman undergoing electroshock therapy, about the impact of her illness on her family, and about the shortcomings of the medical profession’s understanding of mental illness.

An ambitious subject for a musical, it works because of the honesty and authenticity of its emotions. The creators focus the show on the family's pain, rather than on a critique of the medical establishment, and the hard driving rock and roll score is authentic enough to match the intensity of its emotion.
 
Diana (Michelle Lane) is delusional with grief over the long-ago loss of her teenage son Gabe (Harrison Meloeny). While her husband Dan (Nick Sarando), and her daughter, Natalie (Isa Briones), struggle to bring her back to normalcy, Gabe calls her to join him. Meanwhile, her doctor (Randal Miles) tries what he thinks best, while Natalie fears that her relationship with Henry (Blaine Miller), the boy she loves, will be scarred and empty.
 
Directed by Thomas James O’Leary, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. The five-piece band is conducted by music director Taylor Stephenson. A Triage and Standing Room Only co-production. Photos by John Dlugolecki.

The Pico Playhouse, 10508 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, through September 25. Tickets: 310-204-4440  or www.n2nmusicalla.com or http://n2nmusicalla.brownpapertickets.com

Also printed in the September issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY

Thursday, August 18, 2016

AWAKE & SING …West Los Angeles



 

Clifford Odets' passionate, funny and heartbreaking masterpiece about the hopes and struggles of a lower-middle-class, three-generation Jewish family living in a Bronx apartment during the Great Depression continues to resonate after 81 years. 

Now the Odyssey Theatre’s critically acclaimed 2015 revival is back by popular demand! This classic family drama, with its theme of parental expectations attempting to crush the dreams of the younger members, is perhaps even more pertinent today than when it first premiered in 1935. It’s the story of every struggling American family torn between the parents’ lofty ambitions and the children’s fight to find a voice.

Among the superb cast reprising their roles are Marilyn Fox as the powerful matriarch; Allan Miller as her old-Commie dad; Robert Lesser as her timid husband; Richard Fancy as her wealthy brother; Melissa Paladino and James Morosini as her beleaguered children. Rounding out the cast are Dennis Madden, Jason Huber, Cameron Jappe and Al Rossi.

Under Elina de Santos' excellent direction this revival is powered by performances where Odets’ voice rings through every character. Pete Hickok provides a neatly designed and handsome 1930’s apartment, while Leigh Allen adds highly effective lighting. Kim DeShazo’s costumes are right on for the period. 

The arrangement of the theatre, in which the audience sits on both sides of the stage, lends itself to this production and makes the experience more involving.

At the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. West LA, August 27-Oct 2. Tickets at (310) 477-2055 ext. 2 or www.OdysseyTheatre.com

Also printed in the September issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY


Thursday, August 4, 2016

BLUEPRINT FOR PARADISE …in Hollywood



 
 This highly dramatic play, by Laurel M. Wetzork, takes us into the minds of those who believed it possible that Hitler would win the war. Based on fact, it takes place in 1941 when America was roiled by conflict between those demanding the US enter the war and those determined to stay out of it. 

A wealthy heiress and her pro-fascist husband, living in Hancock Park luxury, are building a Utopian complex on 50 acres in the Pacific Palisades. This will be a residence for victorious Nazi officials, even a West Coast home for the F├╝hrer himself. As the building plans are in disarray, they call in the top Architect in Los Angeles to take over. When he turns out to be an African American with a sharp eye for hypocrisy the racist plans also fall apart.

It’s a tour-de-force for Meredith Thomas, as the heiress, who gains our sympathy because it’s clear that propaganda has her believing Nazism has a benign intent; David Jahn is chilling as her scheming husband who sees himself glorified when the Nazi’s win; Regi Davis as the master builder smoothly negotiates the fine line between modesty and cynicism; Peter McGlynn is affably sinister as the German spymaster; Steve Marvel is loutish as a homegrown fascist; Ann Hu is forbearing as the racially-insulted maid from China, and Alex Best is enigmatic as a servant on a mission.
 
Directed by Laura Steinroeder for full theatrical effect. Produced by Debbie Bolsky of Athena Cats, in association with Racquel Lehrman and Victoria Watson of the ubiquitous Theatre Planners.

Photos by Ed Krieger
 
At Hudson Mainstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. LA. Tickets: 323-960-4412 or www.blueprintforparadise.com


Thursday, July 14, 2016

THE TEMPEST …in Griffith Park





Having directed over a dozen Shakespeare plays I must admit TEMPEST is my favorite. Prospero, a cruelly exiled Duke, has lived for 12 years on a magical island with his now beautiful daughter, Miranda. With his knowledge of sorcery, and power over the island spirits, he is able to summon up a storm that delivers his enemies to his shore. 

He plans to revenge himself on the murderers, and punish the fools, but among them is one kind-hearted soul and an innocent boy. This knowledge stays his hand.

In this play Shakespeare himself, after stories of intrigues, murders, passions and tragedies, sums up his life and work with a final message. As David Melville, ISC managing director says, “He was very conscious of his own approaching mortality and his retirement from the stage. The Globe was his little island where he led the narrative and created all these fantastic characters, so when Prospero breaks his staff, it’s akin to Shakespeare putting away his quill. Ultimately it’s a play about forgiveness, one of the most powerful things to experience in life and on stage.”

It’s a family-friendly play, full of magic and spirits, with many fantastical elements, a number of great clowns, a romantic story of young love, and a happy ending. Directed by Matthew Earnest, with Thom Rivera as Prospero.

Outdoors at the Old Zoo in Griffith Park. Free parking. It’s an uphill walk to the theater so call if you need a ride. Bring chairs or blanket, older children are welcome, but dress in layers as it gets chilly later. Information (818) 710-6306 or www.iscla.org

Photo by Mike Ditz. Book published by Shakespeare, Inc.

Also covered in the August issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.