Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I only managed to catch the closing performance of this brilliantly written and executed play by Stephen Adly Guirgis, who is fast becoming my favorite contemporary playwright. Having been bowled over by his Judas Iscariot trial play last month, here we are again drawn into his world of pain, sorrow and madness that ultimately challenges our own concept of love and compassion.

A young Latino man, ironically named Angel, is thrown into Rikers Island after having angrily shot a phony religious leader who had brainwashed his dearest friend into a zombie acolyte. Here he finds himself drawn down into the first levels of Hell, as he is assaulted by a sadistic guard, brutalized by other prisoners, and faced with the possibility of perhaps never being free again.

Heading this superb cast is Victor Anthony, as Angel, so fiercely adamant in claiming his innocence that we believe him; Kathryn Taylor Smith, is delightful as his attorney whose sentimental nature is at war with her ethical standards; Jacques C. Smith, as Lucius his sole friend, is dynamic as a serial killer whose only lifeline is a belief in a forgiving God; Justin Huen, subtly reveals the cold reasoning of a guard who enjoys using violence over men in his power; and Mel Hampton, as a kindly guard, persuades us by his merciful behavior that he cannot condemn a man no matter how evil his past actions.

Under Ashley Teague’s forceful direction we are drawn into a world where the price of survival is too often madness. Percussionist Jen Schwartz, live onstage, provides a dramatic background of sound throughout. The stark set by Johnny Burton, lighting by Ivan Robles, and costumes by Carlie Tracey, imaginatively suggest the prison world. Unseen inmates voices are played by Arthur J. Mahone, Robert R. Smith and Ernest Shepard.

Produced by Kelly Shea and Devon Colbert, of The Collective Studio, in cooperation with The Rescue-A-Life Foundation. Performed at The Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., Aug 9-25. Proceeds benefit The Rescue-A-Life Foundation that provides services and housing to the Homeless, to Veterans and to the Formerly Incarcerated and their families. www.rescuealifefoundation.com


Lovers of Sherlock Holmes – run - and fans of Lewis Carroll - gallop -to see this clever and literate play by Gus Krieger, who certainly knows his classics. Starting as a traditional Holmes mystery, where a young woman in distress asks the great detective to save her sister’s life, it quickly evolves into a whirlwind of literary nonsense. Charles Dodgson (Carroll) is apparently a murderer and Holmes, seeking to exonerate him, is drawn down the Rabbit Hole into the mad world of Wonderland. There, where logic does not exist, it’s not death he faces but the loss of his brilliant mind.

The excellent cast is led by Kevin Stidham as a young but persuasive Holmes; the always brilliant Bert Emmett as Dodgson/Carroll, and athletic whiz Timothy Portnoy as Watson. Doubling in roles are Jennifer Bronstein as Red Queen/Lillian Childress; Sean Faye as Tweedledee/ Lestrade; Michael Hoag as Tweedledum/Gregson; Andrew Graves as Mad Hatter/Bookseller; Robert Beddall as March Hare/Fruitseller; Dylan Vigus as White Knight/Constable; Dana DeRuyck as White Queen/Josephine Childress; Ulka Mohanty as Cheshire Cat/Street Singer; Louise Gassman as Knave of Hearts/Mrs. Morris; Michael Bigley as Red Knight/Constable; Amelia Gotham as Dormouse/Thimblerigger and, I think, a mystery guest.

Imaginative direction by Krieger, with assist from Jessica Patterson (costumes), Sterling Hall (lighting) and Nick Neidorf (sound). This world premiere is produced by The Porters of Hellsgate Theatre Company.

At the Whitmore Theatre, 11006 Magnolia Blvd, NoHo. Fri. & Sat. at 8, Sun. at 2, through September 22. Reservations: BrownPaperTickets.com or call 818-325-2055. Info: PortersofHellsgate@gmail.com.
Reviewed in the September issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.


Do we ever forget our first love? The play is about Irene, an aging widow, who many years before was deeply in love with Chet, a young soldier. Because her parents disapproved of him, she turned him away, married, and got on with her life. Since her husband’s death, she and Chet have resumed the love relationship they began decades ago. This would be beautiful and fine, only there are complications. Chet’s wife is still very much alive and Irene’s daughter is angry that her mother might find comfort in the arms of any man other than her father.

The author is William Blinn, Emmy winner for Roots and Brian’s Song, who also wrote the screenplay for “Purple Rain” a personal favorite! This play was the winner at Stage 3's Festival of New Plays 2002 in Sonora, CA, where one critic said: “The drama is wrenching at times and the comedy provides just enough relief from some of the heartfelt tension. 

Starring as the passionate Irene is Lee Meriwether, former Miss America and the first Catwoman in film; Donald Moss is Chet, the man she cannot forget; Corinne Shor is her angry daughter, and Mary Burkin is Chet’s confused wife. The cast also includes Greg Lewis as a cheery neighbor, Nick McDow, and George Tovar. Directed by John Gallogly, produced by Charlie Mount, with sets by Jeff Rack and lighting by Yancey Dunhan.

At Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd West. Fri and Sat at 8, Sun at 2, through September. For tickets: (323) 851-7977 or www.theatrewest.org.

Photo credit: Thomas Mikusz.
Reviewed in September issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Set in Purgatory, Judas is on trial in a modern courtroom where his guilt or innocence is defended by a series of absurdist historical characters. Author Stephen Adly Guirgis has said that at age 8, in Catholic school, he first learned of Judas' condemnation, and thought, “If I can forgive someone, why can't God, who was supposed to be all loving?” Here is his answer, because this drama is about forgiveness as personified by the legendary Jesus. 

John Szura and Robert Paterno
Here is a brilliant play that, in the beginning, is almost engulfed by vulgarity but, once the action settles down, we experience a fascinating drama. Witnesses include Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas The Elder, even Satan himself. The surprise guest is Jesus and, in his confrontation with Judas, the author shows the true quality of his vision - Jesus forgives but can Judas ever forgive himself?

Cooper Daniels & Robert Walters
Robert Walters, as Judas, upholds the gravity of the play by the power of his silent despair. Also outstanding are John Szura as Caiaphas, Dee Smith as Judas’ grieving mother, John Dana Kenning as Saint Peter, Sarah Ruth Ryan as the defense attorney, Keedar Whittle as Pontius Pilate and Marc Erickson as Satan. Cooper Daniels, as Jesus, beautifully expresses the true meaning of unconditional love.

The large and excellent cast also includes Brian Robert Harris, Christian R. Gibbs, Faith Imafidon, Melissa May, Robin Michelle, Wasim No’mani, Alex Walters, John Falchi and Robert Paterno

The direction by Josh T. Ryan is dynamic, the stark set is superbly enhanced by Annie Terazzo’s huge trash portraits and imaginative costumes are by Jenise Smith Thornhill.

Produced by Dee Smith for Breedlove Productions. At the Hudson Mainstage Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, through August.  For tickets, call (323) 960-7738 or go to www.plays411.com/judas.

Note: Originally produced in 2005, at New York’s Public Theater, by the LAByrinth Theater Company, and directed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the development and rehearsal process of the original run is chronicled in the book “A Jesuit Off-Broadway” by the production’s religious consultant, Father James Martin.


Lord Windermere finds the fan in his friend's boudoir!

The imaginative Chalk Rep company is known for presenting plays in unconventional spaces around Los Angeles County. For Oscar Wilde’s comedy of manners, they have chosen the lawns and courtyards of UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in historic West Adams. As the scenes change, the audience moves from one elegant atmosphere to an even more dazzling one, as if on a set designed by a Victorian genius. How delightful to find Wilde’s romantic play being performed in a setting as beautiful as the play is witty.

Lord & Lady Windermere & the 3rd Man
Lady Windermere is looking forward to her coming-of-age birthday ball when she learns of her husband's infidelity. A mystery woman has him in thrall and suddenly her exquisite fan, that she thought a loving gift from a doting husband, becomes a weapon to strike a rival. However, the other woman has a secret past that draws Lady Windermere into a whirlpool of indiscretion that almost destroys her life. Then, in a sophisticated series of Wildean complications, we are finally blessed with a happy and satisfying ending.

A Gentlemen's Club?
Clever director Jennifer Chang brings new life to a classic with excellent performances by her non-traditional cast. Plaudits to Amielynn Abellera as naïve Lady Windermere, Owiso Odera as dignified Lord Windermere, Brian Slaten as romantic Lord Darlington, Tess Lina as vivacious Mrs. Erlynne, Peter Wylie as smitten Lord Augustus, Teri Reeves as gossipy Duchess of Berwick, Amin El Gamal as Dumby, Feodor Chin as Cecil Graham, Scott Keiji Takeda as Mr. Hopper, Allie Jennings as Lady Agatha, George Wyhinny as Parker the genial Butler, and Amalia Fite as a surly Maid and a Lady at the Ball.

Costumes by Halei Parker, set & props by Art Betanzos, and lighting by Rebecca Bonebrake subtly enhance the elegance of this past era.

A Chalk Repertory Theatre production at The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 2520 Cimarron St. (at Adams Blvd), Los Angeles. Weekends through August.
Tickets at www.chalkrep.com or 323-379-9583.

Photos by Shari Barrett

Friday, August 2, 2013

MUSIC MAN …Monrovia, California

"Professor" Harold Hill & Marian the Librarian

I just saw this wonderful production of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” but, sad to tell, it was only performing that weekend so too late to get the word out. Here was a huge cast of about 50 but the acting, dancing and singing were all fully professional. You might know this story of a con man who is redeemed by the love of a sweet young librarian. After he awakens her emotions, skeptical Marian is apparently taken in by this handsome smooth-talking fellow – or is she? Once she sees that the dreams he claims to be bringing are what everyone needs, the con man is conned by love and so are we.

Winthrop and Marian
            Noteworthy performances by charmer Allen Everman as (Professor) Harold Hill; graceful Lacy Prince as Marian the Librarian; Brady Stubbs as Winthrop her timid kid brother; Mary Ellen Ganley as her gregarious mother; David Conway as the suspicious Mayor Shinn; Mitch Riley as cheeky drunk Marcellus Washburn, and young Ashlyn Faith Williams, an adorable little star presence, as Amaryllis.

Marian & Amaryllis & Mrs.Paroo
Plaudits to directors Jeremy K. Jackson and Dominic Catrambone who kept the focus on the story while allowing all the performers to shine. Amazing Choreography by Paul David Bryant, superb music direction by Brigham Freeth, and glorious set design by Angelo Collado. The full orchestra performed Willson’s beautiful score under Jeff Markgraf’s precise conducting. This was a labor of love for producers Patrick Garcia, Director of Performing Arts for Monrovia Unified School District, and Lani Ridley Pedrini of Theaters of Vision Productions.

Presented by the Louise K. Taylor Performing Arts Center in partnership with The Boone Foundation. The beautiful 1928 theatre, that seats 1,700, was built by John C. Austin, the same architect who built Los Angeles City Hall, The Shrine Auditorium, and Griffith Park Observatory. Four performances only on July 18 - 20th. For information: Theaters of Vision Productions (TOVP) PH: 626-831-0520, Email: ltlridl@aol.com.  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

REBECCA’S GAMBLE …in Hollywood

This world premiere courtroom drama, written by Arizona attorney Robert Begam and prolific playwright Art Shulman, poses an intriguing dilemma. The question at trial is whether Dr. Rebecca, by putting her patient into a cryonic state, was actually guilty of murder? What is really on trial is Cryonics – the freezing of a terminally ill patient in order to revive them when a cure is found for their illness. Is it a life-saving miracle or science fiction? 
At each performance, audience members are chosen at random to be jurors and the final verdict will be different at every show. As one who always enjoys jury duty, it was a pleasure to sit in on this trial even though, in the end, I disagreed with the verdict. 
Excellent performances by Diane Linder as the accused, Randy Vasquez as her attorney, Jerry Weil as the prosecutor, Diane Frank as the victim’s mother, Henry Holden as the Judge, Kevin Masterson as a pompous preacher and Joyce B. Ferrer as an assistant DA. Impressive in double roles as witnesses, are Dominick Morra, Duane Taniguchi, Skip Pipo, Ellen Bienenfeld and Mindee De Lacey. Steve Shaw does admirable double duty as the Bailiff & sound designer.
Rick Walters’ dramatic direction gives theatrical life to the courtroom atmosphere; the set by Group Rep. designer Chris Winfield, makes great use of the small space, and the costumes by Emily Doyle well fit the subject.
At Theatrecraft Playhouse, 7445A, Sunset Blvd. & Gardner, Los Angeles, through September 1. Reservations: 818-465-3213 or Tickets: www.rebeccasgamble.com.   
Reviewed in the August issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

NINE ...in Hollywood

This is a superb revival of the Tony Award-winning musical, by Arthur Kopit (book) and Maury Yeston (music and lyrics), based on the Federico Fellini film, “8 ½.”   The show is a panoramic view inside the mind of a famous film director suffering from Creative Block. His imagination is failing, his wife is threatening divorce, his mistress is distraught and his former muse uncooperative. Through a series of surreal flashbacks we see the forces that are conspiring to drag him down: the women demanding attention, the nagging doubts and the haunting memories. It is only when he revisits his childhood when he was nine that he finds inspiration and is released.

Guido and his Wife
Standouts in this fabulous ensemble are David Michael Treviňo as Guido searching for his lost creative potency; Melissa Anjose as his wife and only hope for sanity; Lovlee Carroll as his petulant mistress; Michelle Holmes as his nurturing yet demanding mother; Toni Smith as his elegant muse; Liza Baron as a demonic seductress, and Emilia Sotelo and Andrea Arvanigian as his demanding producers. Donovan Baise, as young Guido, is as sweet and innocent as one could wish. 

Guido & his Mistress
The dynamic staging is by Marco Gomez; the dazzling choreography by Rae Toledo, and the vibrant musical direction by Chris Raymond. Clever scenic design by Amanda Lawson, lighting by Johnny Ryman, sound by David Crawford and costumes by Irvin Jimenez.
This DOMA Theatre Co. production is at The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood, through August. Tickets at 323-802-4990 or www.domatheatre.com

Reviewed in the August issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY