Thursday, September 13, 2018

BLACK! in West Hollywood




Intriguing and challenging. British actor, playwright and storyteller Michael Washington Brown impersonates four different men from around the world, each culturally identified as ‘black’ but who have very different ideas about what that means.  

There’s an ingenuous young American who loves Rap but not the hostile type; a studious Brit trying to decipher where he fits in to the ‘white’ culture; a mature man of the Islands full of pride and fatherly concern, and a philosophic South African sadly questioning the enmity between black Africans that causes atrocities. More than just character studies, Brown’s exploration of the word ‘black’ examines race from a global perspective. 

Says Brown, “There are so many stereotypes that seem to mesh all black people and their stories together. But not all of us are African-American, and we don’t all share the same experience. This show looks at race through a much wider lens.”


Technical design by Caitlin Rucker. At Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood. 
Tickets: (800) 838-3006 or blackonemanshow.brownpapertickets.com.


Also reviewed in the October issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE





We are in the New York City subway in this modern-day version of Noel Coward’s classic Brief Encounter and again here are two people, meant for each other, who can never realize the happiness it promises. Stephen Sachs has written and directed this extraordinarily moving play with a new approach: the eloquent man is Deaf and the troubled woman hard-of-hearing as are the two actors. Their communications are all by signing and yet we hear their voices through other actors and their words by writing on the walls. By framing this against vivid fast-moving film of NYC crowds and scenes, Sachs draws us into that dynamic high-energy milieu.

Heading the superb cast are Troy Kotsur and Deanne Bray, and there is an intensity to their performances that transcends imaginary characters. Bray’s Emily especially tears at our hearts. Married to a good but insensitive man, with a rebellious teenage daughter, her need for tenderness is palpable. Kotsur’s Sam is a teacher at a school for the Deaf, who gives support wherever he finds need while asking for little in return. When he forms a bond with Emily he opens himself to longings and emotions he has held in check for years. Their final parting although anticipated (we all know the original story) has an impact that resonates deeply. The ever haunting – if only

 
Adding to the intensity of the play are parallel stories, with Jessica Jade Andres and Shon Fuller (Waitress vs. Subway Cop) teasing and battling in their longing to connect honestly. Aurelia Myers’ troubled teenager searches desperately for love on social media. Brian Robert Burns is touching as Emily’s sincere but mystified husband, while Adam Burch and Stasha Surdyke are splendid in multiple roles. 

At The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave (at Normandie) in Hollywood.

Photos by Ed Krieger.

Also reviewed in the September issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY

NBY SEPTEMBER: SCHOOL GIRLS - PARADISE - HOLE IN THE SKY

Maame Yaa Boafo



SCHOOL GIRLS: THE AFRICAN MEAN-GIRLS PLAY
If you think bullying is a problem in the USA, here is another view. Paulina (Maame Yaa Boafo), the reigning queen bee at Ghana’s exclusive boarding school, has her sights set on the Miss Universe Pageant. But Ericka (Joanna A. Jones), a new student with beauty and talent, captures the attention of the pageant recruiter and Paulina and friends gear up for battle! 
Jocelyn Bioh’s biting comedy explores the universal similarities facing teenage girls across the globe. Said Frank Scheck in his Hollywood Reporter review: School Girls is a ferociously entertaining morality tale that proves as heartwarming as it is hilarious. Directed by Rebecca Taichman. At The Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City.

PARADISE
This Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy is set in a Southern coal-mining town going from boom to bust. A charismatic preacher arrives, along with a sexy gal he rescued from a stripper pole! But there’s a Hollywood TV producer, with Reality-Show contacts, who has an idea of how to make the town great again. Music & book by Cliff Wagner, book & lyrics by Bill Robertson and Tom Page. Directed by Michael Myers. At Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Road, Santa Monica (lotsa free parking).



HOLE IN THE SKY 
This on-site experience is staged at a working horse-ranch about 15 minutes north of Burbank. A young woman returns home to find her family and community in a bitter fight over who owns the local groundwater during a devastating California drought. 
People are trying to live with nature, but nature doesn’t seem to want them there. Playwright Octavio Solis based his timely play on interviews in rural Siskiyou County. Directed by Kate Jopson. At Courtship Ranch, 11270 Dominica Ave, Lake View Terrace, CA 91342. Info: www.circlextheatre.org


Saturday, July 21, 2018

MUTT HOUSE & THE L.A. THEATRE SCENE




MUTT HOUSE (Culver City)
In this delightful musical there’s an awkward young man, (Ryan McCartan), who talks to animals, and a bevy of his furry friends who talk back. All reside in a rundown animal shelter that the cruel lady-Mayor, (Heather Olt), wants to close down. This means euthanasia for the dogs, none of whom deserve to die. When a Best-of-Show French Poodle, (Valerie Larsen), arrives, she is the most elegantly popular Sniff of the Week! 
It’s a charming show, with joyous canine songs and superb dance numbers by Janet Roston. Creator Tony Cookson’s message is clear: If you love animals help support No Kill groups. Otherwise, adopt one yourself and discover the love that always gives back. 
So, bring the grandkids – they’ll love it too. And don’t worry, there’s a happy ending with catchy song “All You Need is One!” At Kirk Douglas Theatre.

THE LOS ANGELES THEATRE SCENE is home to a staggering number of companies, all devoted to keeping theater alive. From Hollywood to Long Beach, from Westside to Downtown, exciting new projects take the stage. Here are a few of the theatres developing new works.
In LA: Theatre West has an in-house writing group - I just saw their impressive one-act festival; 
Blank Theatre’s long-running Living Room Series is committed to work by diverse voices; 
Rogue Artists Ensemble are starting a writers lab to do a festival of new work.
In NoHo: Road Theatre Company’s Summer Playwrights Festival has 50/50 male and female playwrights;
Actors Workout writers group creates short plays on one theme; 
Group Rep presents plays from in-house writers. 

Sherman Oaks: Loft Ensemble gives new playwrights a production platform to explore and develop work; 
Whitefire has a theater development lab. 
Burbank: Garry Marshall Theatre has a new works festival. 
Topanga: Theatricum Botanicum's 'Seedlings' is a hotbed of development.

To Be Continued...
These comments are also in the August issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

Friday, July 20, 2018

SCREWBALL COMEDY & MAYAKOVSKY AND STALIN


SCREWBALL COMEDY (Beverly Hills)




'Screwball comedy' refers to the American genre of story-telling which had its heyday in the 1930s & 40s. The elements included a male and female who are adversarial at first, but are ultimately ideal for each other; some farcical or slapstick action; a female with the upper hand in the relationship, snappy patter and crackling dialogue. And in this case, sexual tension!

With a superb cast that sparkle with audacity, this U.S. Premiere of Canadian playwright Norm Foster’s Screwball Comedy is both homage to as well as an example of the genre. 
The year is 1938 and aspiring reporter, Mary Hayes (Kate Whitney), is struggling to break into the male-dominated world of journalism. Jeff Kincaid (Lane Compton) may be the hottest reporter in the city, but his boss (Daniel Leslie) is fed up with his shenanigans so his job is on the line. Ambitious Mary might be the one to replace him if only she can resist his manly charm. 

Like the zany comedies with Gable vs. Colbert, or Hepburn vs. Tracy, let alone Rosalind Russell vs. Cary Grant, this delightful play crackles with wit and humor! Under Howard Storm's I-dare-you direction David Hunt Stafford almost steals the show as the Percy Dovetonsils butler and everyone else are at the top of their game. 

At Theatre Forty, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills.


MAYAKOVSKY AND STALIN (Hollywood)



Lilya and Vladimir


In this new play, writer-director Murray Mednick explores two distantly connected relationships: that of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and his wife Nadya, and of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and his married lover and ‘muse’ Lilya Brik. The emphasis is on the tumultuous  days of the Revolution that affected the personal lives of very different people - artists and politicians.

It’s a dramatic character study incorporating historical footage and photos. Sadly, it focuses mainly on the brutal suicides of tormented Vladimir (Daniel Dorr) and raging Nadya (Casey McKinnon) that makes for a sad and rather grim two hours. Historically interesting, the image of Stalin (Maury Sterling) is unsurprisingly frightening, while the irrepressible Lilya (Laura Liguori) illuminates the carefree sexuality of the 20's and 30's. 

Stalin and Nadya
We learn how Mayakovsky was a giant rebel in 20th century Russian literature who was turned into a symbol of the repressive state when, after his death, dictator Stalin declared: “Mayakovsky is the best and most talented poet of our Soviet epoch.” Hailed as The Poet of The Revolution, Mayakovsky’s legacy was censored and intimate or controversial pieces were ignored. According to Boris Pasternak, this Stalin-sanctioned canonization dealt Mayakovsky a second death. 
At The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood.


Also noted in the August issue of Not Born Yesterday.

Monday, July 2, 2018

2018 COMEDYSPORTZ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP – North Hollywood


Review by Brian Murphy.


Comedy Sportz of Los Angeles is a comedic improv institution, performing in the North Hollywood Arts District since 1988.  Over the years they have organized groups worldwide and come together in various cities to have their teams compete, literally, for laughs. In the historic El Portal Theatre, packed with a cheering crowd of fans, the highly entertaining competition pitted city against city in a series of theater games that ranged from "Try That On For Size" to "Musical Comedy" and "Best Oscar Moments”!  All to comedic effect as energetic referees took suggestions from the audience, wryly commented on the performances, and enforced the rules.


The show is PG-13 and any player who dared utter an untoward comment, or slip in a dirty word, had a brown bag placed on their head for the duration of that game.  (They also had a special brown bag for an audience member who violated this rule.)  Also, when a player's action, dialog, or joke elicited a groan from the audience, their team lost a point. Singing, character work, and physical comedy were delivered spontaneously.  The secret of improve is listening, not denying, being true to the scene, and these performers tapped into that place where something magical happened each time.



This was a high-energy spontaneous demonstration of Instant Theater. It was fast, it was fun, and often hilarious enough to bring tears to many eyes. The crowd rooted for their favorites, the players pushed their limits, the refs keep things moving and everybody, performers and audience, came out winning. Over 25 cities from Los Angeles to Manchester, UK, were competing during this popular 3-day Comedy Showdown. The tournament culminated with the World Championship match and the winner was CSz LA, 28-25, over CSz Twin Cities fabulous team.






Thursday, June 21, 2018

SHAKESPEARE IN MY JULY COLUMN





For 10 years, I presented Family-Friendly-Shakespeare outdoors in NYC.  It was always my summer joy! (Shakespeare in an Hour, published by Shakespeare, Inc.) So, for Shakespeare lovers, here are some local productions. 

The fabulous Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival is presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Titus Andronicus (Aaaagh!). Over in Topanga Canyon, Theatricum Botanicum, presents a timely Coriolanus - the political warrior who has contempt for the common people, in a city where the one-percent rules! Group Rep in NoHo has Romeo & Juliet upcoming in August, while over at Pasadena’s A Noise Within, youngsters perform his plays in Summer With Shakespeare.
MUTT HOUSE MUSICAL (Culver City)
A furry musical tale for animal lovers set in a neglected animal shelter. Residents include a Chihuahua named Pepe, a Mutt named Donna, a haughty French Poodle, a rambunctious Pit Bull, a handsome Lab mix and a pudgy Corgi. Creator Tony Cookson says, “The idea came to me in a dream. I saw singing dogs in an animal shelter, and started writing the next morning.” It’s a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney ‘let’s put on a show’ with original songs: Take Home A Stray; I’m Lying Here (Scratch Me), and When You Hear Barking, I Hear Words Instead. At Kirk Douglas Theatre.
SWORDS OF SORROW (Santa Monica)
Martial arts fans will be enthralled by this live presentation that provides all the things to love about Samurai drama. Warriors wield weapons, as obligations of honor and duty are fulfilled, in this action-packed story set in 19th Century feudal Japan. After her brother’s death, a young woman is compelled by a ghost to confront his killer in mortal combat and the stage is set for an epic sword battle. One of them must die! Playwright, director and producer, Naoki Fujiyama, portrays the ghost. This gripping historical family drama is a Burai Production, at Edgemar Center for the Arts.
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET ( Laguna Beach)
Get ready for a rousing night of rock ‘n’ roll! Inspired by a famous recording session, this biographical musical tells what happened when icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins came together in December 1956 at Memphis’ Sun Studios. Hits include “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” “Fever,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “See Ya Later, Alligator,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “Hound Dog.” This live happening brings you inside the recording studio to experience a tale of broken promises, secrets, betrayal and celebrations. A Gershwin Entertainment production at Laguna Playhouse.
100 APRILS (Hollywood)
John Saypian is a modern-day Don Quixote. He and his family are second generation Armenians whose parents escaped the Genocide, but John believes a tormentor is pursuing him. Is the enemy a haunted memory from his childhood or is he real? This darkly comic play explores the generational consequences when history is denied. “I needed to contribute something to honor, and coincide with, the centennial commemoration of the Armenian genocide,” says playwright Leslie Ayvazian. “It is a story that all Armenians carry, and tell throughout generations. It lives partially in dreams, but cannot be silenced.” Rogue Machine Theatre at The Met. 
MARCHING ON (Culver City)
This original play is performed by military veterans from Veterans Empowerment Theatre. Their artistic journey brings their personal stories, from life in boot camp to returning home, and highlights the difficulty of transitioning back into society. For one, her return unlocks memories that have been hidden away for years, another feels rejected because of the color of his skin, while another realizes family matters most. These heroes come together as a unit as they search for the strength to keep marching on. CRE Outreach’s theatre, The Blue Door, is a performing space for the voices and stories of people marginalized by society.

This article appears in the July issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.