Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A WORD OR TWO …at the Ahmanson Theatre

Christopher Plummer is in town for just 16 performances in this emotionally potent one-man play that the New York Times called “a passionate love letter to language…” Plummer grew up in Montreal reading Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling, A.A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, Lord Byron, Dylan Thomas, W.H. Auden, Stephen Leacock, etc. and was “hooked on the intoxication of words.” Here is a celebration of the poetry and literature that has meant the most to him, stitched together with ruminations that range from mothers to strippers, jazz to cabaret, religion to death.

Plummer begins in his boyhood, spying Lewis Carroll's "aged man, a sitting on a gate" only to find himself at 82 becoming that fellow, as old age arrives more quickly than you think! So what to do? He quotes Oscar Wilde: "No man is rich enough to buy back his own past!" He talks of Dylan Thomas, whom he once hung out with in New York. What about Love? Religion? With these usual solutions to our existential angst banished from the stage, Plummer's reassures us that, for him, "the power of the writer's words make death and decay bearable."

The show is directed by Des McAnuff, although written and arranged by Plummer who is surrounded onstage by a tower of books angling up, over and behind him, as eloquent witness to his passion.

At the Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles Music Center, 135 N Grand Ave, Jan 19 through Feb 9. Tickets at the CTG box office or www.CenterTheatreGroup.org or call (213) 972-4400.   

Reviewed in the January issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY

Friday, December 13, 2013

MOM’S GIFT …North Hollywood

If you love the comedy “It’s a Wonderful Life” this modern variant by playwright Phil Olson is just for you. You see, Mom, who has been dead nearly a year, has to accomplish a task to earn her wings. Her eldest daughter, Kat, is estranged from Dad, blaming him for Mom’s death and suspicious of his relationship with Mom’s former nurse. Mom shows up at Dad’s birthday party hoping to reconcile them but, unfortunately, the only person who can see or hear her is the angry Kat. Trying to get through to this gal, who is in a court-ordered Anger Management Program, is not easy. Still, here is a mother undaunted and, under her loving energy, Kat, Dad, Nurse, bratty Kid Sister and the shy Boy Next Door all finally reconcile in loving harmony. 

Julia Silverman is delightfully warm and gracious as Mom; Gina Yates is a troubled hellcat as Kat; Chris Winfield is touching as the grieving Dad; Lisa McGee-Mann is ingenuous and sweet as Nurse Trish; Trisha Hershberger is amusing and lively as kid-sister Brittney; Cyrus Alexander is appealing as Kevin, the faithful boy next door, and an offstage Mystery Voice is hilarious as their nutty neighbor, Mrs. Norquist.

Director Sherry Netherland balances deftly between comedy and emotional truth so the play is inspiring and never grim. Chris Winfield has designed a faultless Minnesota home that is enhanced by Steve Shaw’s sound design, Sabrina Beattie’s lighting and Lynda Pyka’s costumes. Produced by Laura Coker for The Group Rep.

At the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd. North Hollywood, through January. For tickets: (818) 763-5990 or www.thegrouprep.com   

Also reviewed in the January issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

Friday, November 22, 2013

BY THE BOG OF CATS …in Burbank

In this dynamic play, Irish author Marina Carr gives life to the familiar lines from Congreve: “Heav'n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn'd, Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn'd.” Set in a small town in Ireland, Carr focuses on the Gaelic love of language, myth and superstition. Hester is a magnificent woman who had taken in a callow youth, Carthage, and transformed him into a man of ambition and intelligence. The fact that he is now fed up with her domination and seeks to advance himself through marriage to an heiress enrages her. In her mind she owns him and is determined to ruin him. On the surface it’s a modern retelling of Medea, but Carr gives this vengeful ex-wife a deeper motive for her final actions. Hester has a tragic back story, a painful secret, with a sorrow that time has never abated.

Kacey Camp is magnificent as the wrathful Hester; Joseph Patrick O’Malley suitably enraged as the harassed Carthage; Talyan Wright is adorable as their young daughter Josie; Barry Lynch is imperious as the local seigneur then tender as a loving father; Casey Kramer is wonderfully eccentric as a blind but far-seeing sibyl; Erin Barnes is touching as the troubled bride, and Rebecca Wackler is delightful as the chatty mother-in-law. Fine in smaller roles are David Pavao as an enigmatic visitor, Erin Noble a concerned neighbor, Shelley Kurtz a tipsy priest, Aidan Bristow a lost ghost and Jacob Lyle a cool-headed waiter.

Under Sean Branney’s superb direction the actors rise to Shakespearean levels of emotion. The wind-swept scenic design by Arthur MacBride is well lit by Bosco Flanagan with imaginatively evocative costumes by Michéle Young.

At The Banshee Theatre, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, through Dec. 8. For tickets call (818) 846-5323 or visit www.theatrebanshee.org. By the Bog of Cats originated at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where Carr was an Artist in Residence.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

LOST GIRLS ...Los Angeles

A divorced couple are forced to confront each other, and their past, when their beloved 17 year old daughter vanishes in a snowstorm. It’s every parent’s nightmare and we witness the tormented mother, and the guilt ridden father, as they hold a seemingly hopeless vigil together. These are people who express their emotions openly, speak from the heart, and care nothing for the hurt feelings of others. 

We are intrigued by this domestic drama, but then author John Pollono confounds us and nothing is as it seems. We discover the runaway girl in a motel, with a boy, apparently believing they’ll hardly notice she’s gone, delighting in a great adventure and oblivious to any pain this might cause them.

   The play itself is riveting, and its impact is enhanced by the intensity of the performers. Jennifer Pollono is the mother trying desperately to hold herself together; Joshua Bitton is the father haunted by his own failings; Anna Theoni DiGiovanni is a rebellious teen seeking assurance of her real worth; Jonathan Lipnicki is an awkward young man maturing before our eyes; Kirsten Kollender is the new wife treading awkwardly between smugness and caring, and Peggy Dunne is the grandmother accepting a family tradition with bemused forbearance.

Brilliantly directed by John Perrin Flynn, with simple and effective set by David Mauer, lighting by Jeff McLaughlin and sound by Peter Bayne. Cleverly distracting costumes are by Caitlin Doolittle.

At Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, through Dec. 16. Reservations: 855-585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com

Reviewed in the December issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.