Tuesday, October 28, 2014

OUR LADY OF 121st STREET …West Los Angeles

A beloved yet feared nun has died but, when her previous Harlem students start to show up for the wake, the body is missing. Sister Rose was strict but she also cared for the youngsters and understood their individual need for love. Now adults, they have moved on to lives of hostility and disappointed dreams. Yet in this powerful play by Stephen Adly Guirgis we see that under their rage and fear is a deep loss of love.

The language is raw and the action often hilarious but emotional truth runs deep in this moving story about reexamining the past. The body may be missing but the real search is for the lost soul in each of them. Not having the capacity to show love, their spirits are as mutilated as the corpse of Sister Rose.

Some of the cast are Los Angeles City College students but, under Leslie Ferreira’s empowering direction, the dynamic performers all work at a highly professional level. Outstanding are pros William Knight as a testy priest; John Christopher as a boozy cop, and Martel Huggins as a loquacious disc jockey. Hurrahs to all the rest: Tamisha Estrada,  Alvaro Ramirez & Daniel Palma, Jessica Atkinson, Christelle Baguidy, Ali Ahmad & Tyler Smith, Michael Woodruff and Alisa Baggio.   

Exhilarating original music is composed by Wes Myers; excellent scenic design by Tesshi Nakagawa, lighting by James Moody, and costumes by Zeynep Fisenk. Produced by Beth Hogan and Kevin Morrissey and presented by Odyssey Theatre Ensemble in association with LACC Theatre Academy as part of the Odyssey’s student outreach program THE ODDS.

At the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. For reservations (310) 477-2055 or www.OdysseyTheatre.com.

Friday, October 24, 2014

BROOMSTICK by John Biguenet …in Hollywood

  Just in time for Halloween we spend an hour or so with a Witch, but she’s a slippery character. At once sinister then charming, horrific then touching, as she relates her history: how she discovered her magic powers through a tragedy that set her howling at the elements and how she could commune with insects so they became instruments for vengeance. 

People learned to fear her, as well they might, but not until (thinking her just a foolish old woman) they cheated or mocked her. Woe on them! And yet, she confides, once she was a young girl, full of trust and an ability to love, but witnessing evil she felt called upon to punish it. In the process did she herself became evil – vengeful – voracious?

Legend has it that she captured young children and fattened them up to kill and eat them. But is it legend or fact? She teases us even as she denies it. Sure she gave shelter to a Hansel and Gretel, and fed them delicious food, until one of them tried to push her into her own oven – when it was roaring hot! How that turned out we never learn as we only know what she tells us. 

 She is visited by a boy she once found lost in the woods. She nurtured him, fed him, sang lullabies to him until…  was it a piglet screeching in her kitchen or a terrified boy? She claims piglet but her gleeful laughter suggests otherwise. Go see for yourself and decide what you believe. Meanwhile, stay out of the dark woods on October 31st. Because she’ll be there!

A spine-tingling performance by Jenny O’Hara delights us under Stephen Sachs spooky direction. Awesome cottage set (Andrew Hammer) enhanced by lighting (Jennifer Edwards) sound (Peter Bayne) and costume (Shon LeBlanc).

At the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. LA, through Nov. 30. Tickets: (323) 663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com.

Jenny O'Hara photo by Ed Krieger.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

THE SHADOW BOX …North Hollywood

In 1977, when Michael Cristofer’s drama about living before dying opened on Broadway, some critics expressed reservations about its dramatic contrivances. However, everyone agreed it was a moving and worthy effort. It went on to win both a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Play. 

The setting is three cottages where three people in the final stages of cancer are visited by their families. First we meet Joe (P.J. Waggaman) whose wife and daughter (Linda Mayer and Cheyann Dillion) refuse to believe he is dying. Next is Brian (Michael Homeier) a college professor whose male lover (Michael James Thompson) is challenged by ex-wife (Catherine Michaels) into a loyalty battle for Brian.


Third is Felicity (Sandi Steinberg) an elderly woman cared for by one daughter (Bonnie Lawrence) while pining for a fantasy daughter long dead. There is also an unseen Interviewer (Thaine Allison) who probes into their hearts and minds.

We see each one going through denial, then anger and depression, and finally to acceptance. As Brian wryly says of his situation, "Our dreams are beautiful, our fate is sad." The play has many affecting moments and ends with a paean to life that reminded me of Emily's final scene in "Our Town."

This earnest, simply-staged production is directed by Cat Michaels and produced by Mike Thompson for The Vagabond Players Theatre Company. At The Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., NoHo. Through Nov 1. Reservations: 818-206-4003.


This energetic young company does Shakespeare proud and even sans microphones, are able to reach the ears of their Plummer Park fans.

Having directed the play numerous times, it was great fun to sit back in a lounge chair and experience the delightful clashes between the various groups lost in the Forest of Athens. I especially loved the girls - Hermia and Helena (Marina Moore and MJ Beyer) who go from bosom buddies to hair-pulling enemies while fighting over - yes, you guessed it - boyfriends.

The hard-handed mechanics were a motley bunch who delighted the local kids with their madcap melodrama with Bottom (Rolando Martinez) as the star turn.

True to tradition, Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta doubled as Oberon and Titania (Joshua Thomas and Charline Su) to magical effect. One of the Bard's most memorable imps, Puck, is deftly played by Nicholas McDonald. The lover-boys, Demetrius and Lysander (Tyler Fromson and Ross Baker) are both adorable.

Produced by Charline Su with lively direction by Michael Matthys.  Costuming conceived by Ms. Su, (some of which were originally worn in the Kevin Costner epic film "Waterworld."). Brought to you by Lovers and Madmen Productions and sponsored by the City of West Hollywood. Three more free performances.  
So, bring your blankets and folding chairs and get over to Plummer Park Saturday, Oct.18 at 3:30pm and Sunday's, Oct.19 and 26 at 2:00pm for the last chance to see this fun show. 
For info:  (818) 240-1802 or loversandmadmenproductions@gmail.com.

Photos by S. J. Harker

Friday, October 10, 2014


Three monologues by the spousal team of Franca Rame and Dario Fo, about the subjugation of women in Italy, are performed with tempestuous bravura by the brilliant Francesca Fanti. In the first (and best) play a women is locked in her apartment by an abusive husband and talks across an invisible courtyard with a friendly neighbor, telling of her yearnings and why she is being punished for embracing life unashamed.

In the next play she is a prostitute, in an orange jumpsuit, jailed for taking revenge on a vindictive john. In the last she abandons herself to furious love-making while in terror of getting pregnant and, when she has the child, moves into a world of fantasy and horror. 

All of these playlets are about women in 1970’s Italy, but remind one of recent headlines in the US.
 Although Rame and Fo wrote and performed together for almost 60 years, in 1997 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In his acceptance speech he said: “Let me share this medal with Franca... Without her at my side, where she has been for a lifetime, I would never have accomplished the work you have seen fit to honor. Together we've staged and recited thousands of performances, in theatres, occupied factories, at university sit-ins, even in deconsecrated churches, in prisons and city parks, in sunshine and pouring rain, always together. Believe me, this prize belongs to both of us.”

Two Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. at the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles, 1023 Hilgard Avenue, Westwood Village. For information on future performances: