Tuesday, May 28, 2013

BEAUTIFUL… downtown Los Angeles

This truly is a beautiful play, peopled by many characters, but with only one lone dynamic woman filling the stage. It is a saga of a life filled with undeserved cruelty, and splashes of love, that send a child into a poisoned garden. All of this on a bare stage with one creamy silk embroidered wedding gown hung on a frame, a large screen with images and photos, and one heart breaking video. Yet in this autobiographical play each character stands out distinct and idiosyncratic. There is a child who believes all she is told, her grandma who teaches her life’s lesson, her mother whose mind crumbles, teachers, friends, and the father whose love she seeks in vain. All come to vivid life.

If Dante said the only way into heaven is through hell, then Jozanne Marie’s journey through remembrance of a cruel past is a revelation of why we love, and who we love, and when it is the time to forgive. But how can one ever forgive unwarranted, vicious, heedless cruelty? What is the strength given to the person whose spirit was desecrated? We cry out for vengeance, but Jozanne takes us on her journey into a place called hell and, in her gentle impressive way, brings us to heaven. Under her loving spirit we have to accept that yes, we do understand, and therefore, like her, we are able to forgive. 

Under Geoffrey Rivas’ sensitive and precise direction this world premiere of what started as a Spoken Word monologue becomes a fully realized drama. The setting is Jamaica and the Bronx, in the 1980’s, but the story it tells is universal. Imbedded in the text are soaring poems by Jozanne that lift the text to illuminate its ageless truth. Plaudits for scenic, lighting and projection design (Patsy McCormack and Rivas); sound (Edwin Peraza); costume (Hilary Parkin), and graphics (Xavi Moreno).

Produced and developed by The Latino Theater Company, with felicitations to artistic director Jose Luis Valenzuela. At the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St. Downtown, through June 16. For tickets call (866) 811-4111 (toll-free) or www.thelatc.org

 Photos of Jozanne Marie by Chaz Photographics.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Reviewed in NOT BORN YESTERDAY, June issue.

In 1866, when he was six years old, James Barrie’s elder brother, David, drowned. Their mother was inconsolable, and all his life James tried to make up for the lost son. He always felt he was not as loved as David and even tried to dress and act like him. At age 44, he wrote what he called a "fairy play" about an ageless boy who was rejected by his mother when she had another child. “The Boy Who Hated Mothers” was his working title for what eventually became the magical “Peter Pan.” 

Knowing what we do today, this play becomes a vivid glimpse into the mind and creative process of a genius. The title may scare away parents with young kids, but there is no disrespect in this wonderful, imaginative play. This is about children’s games and reaches into unconscious places where, in our dreams, we can conquer fear.

Here is an intriguing retelling of the story of The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up and playwright Michael Lluberes vision is true to J.M. Barrie’s original haunting drama. In this tale, Wendy has the wisdom to go back to the real world, while the fear of growing up condemns Peter to an eternal childhood. But it also means children can visit him in Neverland today for, as Barrie said, this cycle will go on forever.

As Peter, Daniel Shawn Miller is dynamic as a young man determined to live for play; as Wendy, Liza Burns segues charmingly from a child to a young woman; as Mrs Darling, Trisha LaFache is deeply moving when mourning for a lost child, then transforms into a delightfully sadistic Captain Hook; as John Darling, Benjamin Campbell is a prim boy transformed by freedom; as Tinkerbell, Amy Lawhorn manages to make a light bulb throb with life, and as Lost Boys, David Hemphill and Jackson Evans play fierce pirates and lonely kids impressively. Fine British accents courtesy of dialect coach Coco Kleppinger.

            Director Michael Matthews surrounds the characters with imaginative theatrical illusions. The set by Mary Hamrick is a fantastical mishmash, with props by Michael O’Hara, lighting by Tim Swiss and Zack Lapinski, and sound by Rebecca Kessin. Costumes by Kellsy MacKilligan capture the Victorian era and fights are choreographed by Sondra Mayer.
At The Blank‘s 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, through June. Tickets online at www.TheBlank.com or call (323) 661-9827.

           Reviewed in the June issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

Friday, May 24, 2013

OPENING NIGHT... Beverly Hills

Reviewed in NOT BORN YESTERDAY, June issue.

With more than 40 commercially successful comedies, playwright Norm Foster is known as the “Canadian Neil Simon.” Judging from “Opening Night” it’s a well-earned title. In this hilarious behind-the-scenes farce, total mayhem rules. Here’s a backstage comedy full of show biz clichés that turn out to be absolutely true. Opening night jitters – the nerves – the jealousies – the tantrums – the lines forgotten or better forgotten – primal terror – a bucolic farm drama in disarray. In the end, when faced with disaster, reach for the Bard, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” and the plebeians will be awed and satisfied. And we sure are.

             Under Bruce Gray’s brilliant, fast paced direction the entire cast become a superb ensemble. Richard Hoyt Miller as a Shakespearean actor famous for a TV commercial; Martin Thompson as a harried director whose private life is about to implode; Meranda Walden as his rich, sexy and demanding fiancé; Gail Johnston as a ditzy housewife in love with Art; John Combs as her sports-loving husband; Ilona Kulinska as an ingénue whose boobs are bigger than her talent; David Hunt Stafford as a classic actor doomed to play a rustic, and Eric Keitel as an eager wannabe thespian. Plaudits to all.
Producer for Theatre 40 is David Hunt Stafford, with set by Jeff G. Rack, lighting by Ric Zimmerman and costumes by Michele Young.
At The Reuben Cordova Theatre, Beverly Hills High School campus, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, through June. Tickets: (310) 364-0535 or www.Theatre40.org.
 Reviewed for June issue of monthly newspaper, Not Born Yesterday.

Friday, May 10, 2013

JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE… Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles


         In the old blues song, Joe Turner is a mystery man who brings food and comfort to the distressed but, in this dynamic play, he is the power that strikes a man down. Set in Pittsburgh in 1912, Joe Turner's Come and Gone is the second in August Wilson's Century Cycle, which illuminates the struggles and lives of African Americans throughout the 20th century. This play, that ran on Broadway in 1988 for 105 performances, focuses on former slaves making a fragile living in a Northern city, many of whom continue into other plays in the cycle.
            Kind landlords, Seth and Bertha Holly, run a boarding house where clearly they never turn anyone away – no matter how dodgy. There is Bynum Walker, an oracular old man who slaughters pigeons for their blood and does home grown voodoo; there is young Jeremy Furlow, who works as a laborer on the roads but is a proudly talented guitarist; there is Mattie Campbell, a Texas gal who wants the magic man to bring back her fickle lover, and Molly Cunningham, a vivacious young woman of dubious reputation. Into this mix strides Herald Loomis, looking like an avenging specter, with his innocent girl child in tow. Turns out he has been released from Joe Turners chain gang after seven long years, and is now searching for the wife he left behind. Whether to kill her or embrace her only time will tell.
            Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle" consists of ten plays - nine of which are set in Pittsburgh's Hill District, an African-American neighborhood that takes on mythic literary significance like William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. Each play is set in a different decade and, as Wilson has said, aims to "raise consciousness through theater” and echo "the poetry in the everyday language of black America."
            Leading this superb cast is John Douglas Thompson as a powerful Loomis; with strong assistance from Glynn Turman as Bynum; Keith David as Seth, and Lillias White as Bertha; also excellent are Gabriel Brown, January LaVoy, Vivian Nixon, Raynor Scheine and Erica Tazel. Child actors Skye Barrett and Nathaniel James Potvin are delightfully professional.
            Director Phylicia Rashad boldly illuminates Wilson’s paradoxical style as it segues from naturalism to melodrama to hyper realism to surrealism. Plaudits for scenic design by John Iacovelli, lighting by Allen Lee Hughes, sound by Cricket S. Myers, costumes by Karen Perry, Wigs & Hair by Carol F. Doran and original music by Kathryn Bostic.
At the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles Music Center, 135, N. Grand Ave, LA, through June 9. Tickets at (213) 628-2772, Center Theatre Group Box Office, or www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

Monday, May 6, 2013

YEARS TO THE DAY… Beverly Hills

         In this brilliant new play, two middle-aged men who have been friends for decades get together for coffee. Sure, it’s been four years to the day since they met face to face but hey, they kept in touch by email and twitter. But, as playwright Allen Barton makes clear, never mind all the blather about social media, there’s no match for face to face meetings with old friends. And this is a meeting you wouldn’t want to miss because here is a devastating and hilarious dissection of the meaning of friendship. 

Think of a person you love and hate, who can exasperate you to the point of murder, who vehemently disagrees with you politically, who’s known you since you were both young and naïve and you went through shit together. You’re old war buddies, no need to be polite, no need to be careful what you say, right? But watch out. If you want to forget what you were, and burn that bridge you were on, with this friend you are naked, vulnerable, because they knew you when! Yet Barton shows us that because no one else knows you like this, because you can never go as deep with new people, because you can’t hide who you are, there is authenticity in friendship. Say whatever you want, the friendship might even crash and burn, but if it’s a true friend you can always give them a hug – always.

            Michael Yavnieli, portrays Dan as a dominant force, angrily covering a soul full of regrets. Jeff LeBeau is more subtle as Jeff, whose life is hurtling in directions he never dared explore. For a riveting 90 minutes we share their lives and, in this writers case, are left hungry for more. Barton’s raw, dark comedy, under the strong direction of Joel Polis, radiates the energy of early David Mamet. The minimalist set by Jeff McLaughlin (table, chairs and coffee containers), and sound by Chris Moscateillo, focuses the action and suits the material well.

“Years To The Day” is produced by Gary Grossman for Skylight Theatre Company. At the Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 South Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, through June 2nd. For reservations: (702) 582-8587 or www.ktcla.com

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

IT GOES LIKE THIS… West Hollywood

            The question of what defines a man is heavily explored in this new play by Jack Betts and the story is intriguing even if its creation is overly didactic. Four-star general, Douglas Gallegher, barks orders at his sons as if they were troops under his command and is determined to send them away to military school.  It’s no wonder they hate him, and why his wife puts up with him is an unsolved mystery. What apparently changes Douglas into a human being is the realization that thirty years before he almost destroyed his gay twin brother. But it’s hard to believe in Douglas’ spiritual awakening and the revelation when it comes is told in words but not believable action. Sometimes the dialogue sounds like speeches from an article on the subject and one feels a message hitting us over the head. Yet beneath this is a strong human story – brother against brother – father against sons – that one wishes was explored more deeply. 
Kevin McCorkle, as Douglas, plays the bully well but never lets us see other dimensions; Rachel O’Meara, as his wife, is so naturally fearless it suggests that her husband possibly has lighter moments; Justin Preston and Edan Freiberger, as their two sons, are dynamic as a punk rock duo, then totally believable as dutiful sons being sent to emotional death; Laurie O’Brien has a challenging role as a mysterious woman artist guarding a secret, and a manuscript, that can shatter all their lives or bring resolution to their conflicts.
Produced by David Bartlett and directed by author Betts, the production is graced by a number of exquisite sets by Jeff McLaughlin, that are sadly marred by the length of time needed to change them. The excellently chosen costumes are by Kellsy MacKilligan.
 At the Marilyn Monroe Theatre, Lee Strasberg Center, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, through May 5. Tickets at www.ItGoesLikeThis.net/tickets/ or call (800) 838-3006.