Tuesday, March 25, 2014

CLASSIC COUPLES COUNSELING …in North Hollywood





In this hilarious trip down Shakespeare Lane, Dr. Patricia Cataldo is a psychotherapist with a celebrity clientele of romantically involved couples from Shakespearean plays. Having directed Will’s plays for years in New York, I was curious to see the results if all his beleaguered heroes and heroines had only gone for therapy. There’s Desdemona trying to find support against her husband Othello’s jealous rages; there’s Hamlet’s existential problems (but are they all in his head?) that Ophelia mistakes for bi-polarism; there’s Kate and Petruchio hammering it out as their prelude to great sex, and there’s teenagers Romeo and Juliet, with raging hormones, trying to deal with hostile parents. 

 
What they all have in common is a healthy lust for each other – except maybe Lady M whose lust is directed more toward her glee in murdering people than embracing her hen-pecked husband, Macbeth. More than just spoofing Shakespeare, here’s a wild send-up of psycho-analysis, since the psychotherapist herself, who’s not quite together, has the amazing knack of suggesting cures for their ills that quite frankly exacerbates problems. So don’t blame Shakespeare for how these tragedies turned out, blame ditzy Dr. Cataldo.

 
Personal favorites in the standout cast are Paul Gunning as Hamlet; Barbara Mallory as Lady Macbeth; Constance Mellors as Dr. Cataldo, and Anne Leyden as Kate. Plaudits to Elliot Schwartz and Kimberly Woods as Romeo & Juliet; Heather Keller and Thomas Anthony Jones as Desdemona & Othello; Bill Sehres as Petruchio; Anthony Gruppuso as Macbeth, and Lindsey Ravage as Ophelia.

The Monty Python Really-Funny-Award to writer Lloyd J. Schwartz, and the Marx Brothers Zany-Prize to director Ted Lange. This World Premiere comedy is a No Great Shakes Production with fine set design by Marco De Leon, clever lighting by Maarten Cornelis, and fabulous costumes by Michele Young. Photos by Dina Morrone.

At Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., NOHO, through April 27. For tickets: (323) 960-5774 or www.Plays411.com/classic

Addendum: Hey, for more sessions, I’d love to see Anthony & sexy Cleopatra; Coriolanus & his bossy mom Volumnia; Hermione & her abusive husband Leontes; Rosalind & thick-headed Orlando; Richard III & timid Lady Anne; na├»ve Troilus & flighty Cressida, and faithful Imogen & dumbbell Posthumus. MMM

Friday, March 21, 2014

MY NAME IS ASHER LEV ...Hollywood








The heartbreak of being true to yourself, while hurting those who love you, is the theme of this deeply moving play, sensitively adapted by Aaron Posner from Chaim Potok’s 1972 novel. Asher is an artist who cannot make pretty pictures to please his family, but must express the pain and rage he feels. They are Hasidic Jews in 1950’s Brooklyn, and are confounded by their sons need to express his life through drawing and painting. His father views the work as pornographic and sacrilegious, while his dutiful mother is secretly admiring of her only son’s gift. 

 Asher observes the suffering his mother has to bear, imprisoned by a strict and unforgiving culture, especially as she struggles to keep peace between the warring men in her life. Ironically, this leads to Asher’s masterpiece, Brooklyn Crucifixion, a painting of his mother that brings him international recognition. 


As Asher’s famous artist mentor says, “Be a great painter, Asher Lev. It is the only justification for all the pain you are about to cause.” The moment when his parents step up and view this work, that seems to mock their very existence, shows the lifelong battle between truth and tradition.



 Stephen Sachs directs with a simplicity that underscores depths of emotion. Heading the brilliant cast, Jason Karasev, as Asher, bravely journeys into an unknown world. Anna Khaja portrays his fragile mother, then reappears as a shrewd and dynamic art dealer. Best of all is Joel Polis as his rigid father, who persuasively transforms into a genial uncle, to an autocratic rabbi, and even Asher’s bohemian non-religious mentor.



Produced by Deborah Lawlor and Simon Levy, with Jeffrey R. McLaughlin (set); Ric Zimmerman (lighting); Lindsay Jones (sound), Shon LeBlanc (costumes).

Now playing at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., LA, through May 18. For tickets: (323) 663-1525 or www.fountaintheatre.com.

Reviewed in the April issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

RUTH DRAPER'S MONOLOGUES ...West Los Angeles










Drama Alert! This month, four-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening will recreate a Ruth Draper performance, including the hilarious pieces The Italian Lesson, A Debutante at a Dance and A Class in Greek Poise. As there are only rare audio tapes of the legendary Draper in performance, this is a chance to see why she was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1951 by King George VI (Father of the present Queen),  inspired characters in Agatha Christie's works, and influenced Lily Tomlin, John Lithgow, Emma Thompson and others.

 
Draper was an American actress who specialized in character-driven monologues in solo performances called Monodramas. She had the uncanny ability, while alone on stage, to shift between characters and fill the stage with vivid imaginary people. With a chair, a shawl, some hats and an occasional table as her only props, Draper dazzled audiences worldwide for nearly forty years.

 
The show is directed by Bening herself, who states, "I am in awe of Ruth Draper… and I look forward to the formidable challenge of breathing life into these stunning pieces."

At the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, LA, April 8 to May 18. Tickets: (310) 208-5454 or www.geffenplayhouse.com.

Posted in the April issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

CLOSELY RELATED KEYS …Hollywood






 
In playwright Wendy Graf’s deeply moving and challenging new play, two sisters meet across today’s great cultural divide and discover each other as family. Julia is a high-achieving African-American attorney in New York with a hot boyfriend and a great job. When her father tells her she has a Muslim half-sister she wants no part of it. Then Neyla, who has fled Iraq, turns up looking for sanctuary and, in trying to be tolerant and kind, Julia’s well balanced life implodes. 


Not only family secrets shatter her composure but her own (and our) racial and religious certainties start to crumble under sudden fierce scrutiny. In music, “closely related keysmeans “to share many common tones” and Graf uses this metaphor to illuminate how our differences, personal and political, are minor compared to our commonality.


 
Diarra Kilpatrick as Julia is a spitfire hiding her vulnerability under a cynical demeanor; Yvonne Huff as Neyla is a gentle gal who erupts in anger at the callousness of the American culture; Ted Mattison as Ron is a robust lover brought up short by the paradox of racial difference; Brent Jennings as Mr. Charlie, Julia’s caring father, is torn between his two battling daughters, and Adam Meir as Tariq is a hunted man betrayed by those he helped win a war.
 
 Shirley Jo Finney directs her well-chosen cast brilliantly. Expressive Hi-Tech NY set is by Hana Kim, with lighting by Donny Jackson, original music and sound by Peter Bayne, and costumes by Naila Aladdin Sanders. Producer is Racquel Lehrman of Theatre Planners.

At the Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, through March 30. For tickets call (323) 960-7774 or www.plays411.com/relatedkeys