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.

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