Friday, March 29, 2013

INGMAR BERGMANN'S "NORA" - - West Los Angeles

Reviewed in NOT BORN YESTERDAY, January issue.


       “A Doll’s House,” Henrik Ibsen’s play about a child wife coming to sudden maturity and walking out on her family, opened in 1879 and caused a sensation. 
      Almost 100 years later, Ingmar Bergman adapted this long-winded play into a tight drama, with only the five major characters, and re-titled it “Nora.”  By focusing on the heart of the relationships and the erotic bond between men and women, this is no longer about women’s equality but rather how much any one person, man or woman, is prepared to sacrifice for love.  
            In this Pacific Resident Theatre production the entire cast is superb.  Jeanette Driver’s Nora, is a cheerful, loving “girl” who before our eyes transforms into a woman demanding respect; Brad Greenquist, as Torvald, shows us a husband who adores his wife but has not yet realized she is only a dream; Bruce French, as family friend Dr. Rank, is a man dying from loneliness; Martha Hackett, as Nora’s friend Mrs. Linde, portrays a woman whose hard life has made her clear-eyed but not cynical, and Scott Conte, as Krogstad, is especially poignant as a lawyer driven to crooked ways by poverty and hopelessness.

Director Dana Jackson brings the play to life by creating almost cinematic close-ups that illuminate each character’s emotional reality, joy and pain.  All the production values are simple: the set by William Wilday’s suggests the period, as does costume design by Daniella Cartun. Lighting by Noah Ulin, sound by Keith Stevenson and choreography by Elizabeth “Tiggy” McKenzie all serve the play effectively. English translation is by Frederick J. and Lise-Lone Marker.
  “NORA” is playing at The Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 Venice Boulevard, West LA.  Tickets at or phone (310) 822-8392.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

VOICES... in Encino, CA


The past is always present in our lives and nowhere more so than in this challenging play.   
             Lena, a successful black playwright, is writing a play based on actual ex-slave narratives taped in the 1930’s.  Mostly in their 90’s, they spoke in quavering voices, that often cracked, but with memories firm and grief-filled.  What it was like to see family members dragged on to the auction block and sold like cattle; how it felt to be at the mercy of a brutal drunken master; how casually young women were used sexually and discarded; how a teenage boy in Africa was lured on to a slave ship and enslaved.  But what significance can this have in our own time?  Aren’t we past all that?  Can’t love between black and white erase the memories of past cruelty and betrayal?  That is the subject tackled by author Les Wieder and he faces it head-on. 
In the play, Lena is in love with David, who is white, and all her certainties about marriage and commitment are thrown into confusion.  Educated like herself, David is a college professor who shares her passion for the evil done in their shared past.  But her family forbids even dating out of her race, and her father, a preacher with deep suspicion of all whites, is adamantly against inter-marriage.  Her best friend Val, a peripatetic airline stewardess, is not influenced by the past and, seeing that Lena is in love, encourages her to go for it fully.  But, haunted by the ex-slaves voices, Lena feels she is betraying them in some deep way and struggles against her deeper feelings.  In the end, it is up to her to accept or reject the love offered and the voices are there to help her decide.
            Inda Craig-Galvan, as Lena, is totally believable in her struggle to understand what she owes to the past; Dave Rosenberg, as David, is impressive as one who knows what he wants and never falters; Danielle Lewis, as Val, is terrific as a sexy gal who likes men of any color; Thomas Silcott portrays two of the ex-slaves admirably, with dignity and humor, but it is as Rev. Walker, Lena’s father, that he dominates the play as he fights to make clear his distinction between racial prejudice and racial pride.  As a number of the Voices, RJ Farrington and Sharyn Michele are poignantly real as they share their heartbreaking remembrances.
Under Malik B. El-Amin’s bold direction what could have been an intellectual debate comes vibrantly to life.  Finely detailed are the set by Terrell Rodefer, costumes by Pat Payne and lighting by Erin J. Anderson.  Produced by Sabah El-Amin for Griot Theatre, 17500 Burbank Blvd, Encino, through April 14.  Tickets at or (818) 703-7170.  Info at

Sunday, March 24, 2013

BELZ! A Jewish Vaudeville Musical... in Sherman Oaks, CA

Reviewed in NOT BORN YESTERDAY, April issue.

A Jewish Vaudeville Musical”

          Author-director, Pavel Cerny, originally conceived BELZ! as a reenactment of a Yiddish revue, then added the story of young Hugo Schwartz (Andy Hirsch), who in 1918 leaves his home town of Belz, Ukraine, to pursue his dream of making people laugh.  As Hugo goes from his teens to old age we see the vaudeville routines that led to the successes of many of our greatest comics.  
Sure, the acts are corny, the performers gauche, the story meandering and the classic Yiddish jokes groan-worthy, but still Jewish cabaret had an irreverence that said – life is tough enough so stop taking it so seriously.  There is zest for life here but, at 3 hours with intermission, the show is too long and could be shortened by cutting out the blackouts and letting the action flow.
          As Hugo, Andy Hirsch makes a remarkable transition from an eager 18 year old to a star in vaudeville, to an old trouper living with his memories. He is especially poignant in the scenes of loss, and shows us that what gives Hugo the strength to go on is the expression of his talent. Life happens, but laughter heals.

          Notable among the large cast are John Moscal as Hugo’s Papa; Ashley Taylor as his wife and Tom Lazur as his best friend.  Stasha Surdyke, sings beautifully in Yiddish, Hungarian, Czech and German, while musical director, Ait Fetterolf, doubles as Max, the onstage Piano Player.  Hair and make-up by Marissa Maynes, costumes by Travis Thi, and choreography by Sandy Simona Levitan aptly reveal the changing styles and periods.  
          BELZ! is at the Whitefire Theatre, Sherman Oaks, through May.  Tickets: (800) 838-3006 or (818) 986-2908 or  
                        Review by Morna Murphy Martell for NOT BORN YESTERDAY


Reviewed in NOT BORN YESTERDAY, March issue.


Every year right at the end of summer five year old Esme goes to stay with her Nanna and Granddad, but this year something is different… Nanna is gone.  Grandad explains that she went to join the circus because “even though she seemed like an ordinary woman…inside beat the heart of a tightrope walker.” 
     So starts British author Mike Kenny’s gentle play that works on two levels – a child’s adventure going to the circus and an adult’s attempt to deal with loss.  While the kids around me were laughing in delight, the adults sat with tears welling.  The children’s wonder in contrast to the adult’s awareness makes this play an emotionally engaging experience. (Grandparents – take the kids!)
     The biggest surprise is Paige Lindsey White as five year old Esme, whose manner and body language creates the illusion of a child; Mark Bramhall is moving as a stoic granddad frozen by loss, and Tony Duran, as a clown, seems to float through time and space.  Michael Redfield on keyboard provides atmospheric music.
     Director Debbie Devine, whose stated purpose is to create “adult theatre for kids,” has succeeded brilliantly.  Kudos for this magical world to Keith Mitchell (set), Dan Weingarten (lighting), John Zalewski (sound), Matthew G. Hill (video) and Ela Jo Erwin (costumes).
     This LAb24 production is playing at The 24th Street Theatre, 1117 West 24th Street, LA through April.  Contact is through or phone (213) 745-6516.

ON THE SPECTRUM... in Hollywood

Reviewed in NOT BORN YESTERDAY, April issue.

“On The Spectrum” 

Playwright Ken LaZebnik dares to bring us a love story between two young people “on the spectrum” of autism.  Mac and Iris, both labeled “different,” meet online and fall in love.  The boy has been coached by his mother into apparent normal behavior; the girl suffers from repetitive mannerisms and uses a voice prompter to speak her typed words.  When they meet, their difference is a world they share, while their similarities make them kin.
     The three actors are superb.  As a young man with Aspergers, Dan Shaked is totally believable; as his mother, Jeanie Hackett lets us see into her heart with strong emotional force, and Virginia Newcomb is most impressive as a desperate fluttering child trying to hold herself together while inside her mind is as strong and clear as a bell.  
     Director Jacqueline Schultz handles this difficult subject with no hint of condescension.  Full wall videos by Jeffrey Elias Teeter transport us from the flowers and palaces in Iris’ imagination to the harsh screeching realty of a NY subway.  Credits to R. Christopher Stokes for lighting; Peter Bayne for sound; John Iacovelli for scenic design, and Naila Aladdin Sanders for costumes.
     “On The Spectrum” is playing through April 28 at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave in Hollywood.  Info: 323-663-1525 or

DREAMGIRLS... in Hollywood

     If you are among the few people who have never seen the stage or screen “Dreamgirls,” here is a top-level revival with a dynamic cast of 28 and a vibrant six-member band. 
        The late Michael Bennett, and playwright Tom Eyen, clearly drew the inspiration for this show from the 1960’s Motown phenomenon that forever changed the sound of popular music.  It’s the story of three girls from Detroit – oops, Chicago - trying to make it in show biz and the Machiavellian impresario who makes them succeed beyond their wildest expectations.
In this show, the Berry Gordy character comes off as devious and callous.  He manipulates the women in his “stable” by using sex/love as a come-on to make them his stars.  Apparently, Bennett was sued for misrepresenting the true story but, since this is not a history lesson, and it all happened over 40 years ago, my advice is to just sit back and enjoy the show.
The entire cast is superb and Constance Jewell Lopez, in the star-making role of Effie, doesn’t disappoint.  She delivers her biggest and best number, “I’m Not Going,” with such anguished power one is reminded of “Rose’s Turn” in “Gypsy” for the impact it has on the audience.  Another favorite was Keith Arthur Bolden, as Jimmy “Thunder” Early, who stops the show with his antics and stole nearly every scene he was in.
Also noteworthy among the excellent cast were Welton Thomas Pitchford as the cold-hearted Curtis; Jennifer Colby Talton as the gentle Deena; Tyra Dennis as Dreamgirl Lorrell; Lorenzo T. Hughes as an honest business manager;  Frank Andrus Jr. as songwriter CC White, and Tiffany Williams as the 3rd Dreamgirl.  Paul Lange was a delight in his tiny role as a Pat Boone clone.
Somehow, director Marco Gomez has managed to pull back the solid MET walls to persuade us that we are in a Broadway-size theatre, and producers Michael Abramson and Dolf Ramos have not stinted on production values.  The myriad costumes by Michael Mullen are dazzling; the hair and wigs by Aja Morris-Smiley are right on target; the choreography by Rae Toledo makes you want to dance along; and the live band, led by musical director Chris Raymond on keyboard, has you bouncing in your seat.
A DOMA Theatre production, “Dreamgirls” is playing at The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave in Hollywood through May 5.  Tickets at: (323) 802-4990 or
Review by Morna Murphy Martell, former Broadway critic for The Hollywood Reporter.