Saturday, November 29, 2014

THE MAGNIFICENT DUNBAR HOTEL …Downtown LA



Elizabeth June (Ethel Waters) & Tiffany Coty (Lena Horne)





In the 1930s and 40’s, the Dunbar, was the most prestigious hotel in Los Angeles' African-American community, with a nightclub that hosted jazz legends Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Lena Horne and many others. Notable visitors there also included Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Joe Louis, Ray Charles, Thurgood Marshall and heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. 
The play covers the tumultuous decades of protest before and during WW2, to when the color bar was lowered and blacks were finally allowed into mainstream hotels. Compressing this dynamic history into 3 hours, playwright Levy Lee Simon mainly focuses on the lives of the staff, with poet Paul Laurence Dunbar as a genial ghost-host.
Julio Hanson as Dunbar
Under producer Ben Guillory’s imaginative direction we visit with Dwain A. Perry as the creative hotel owner, Lucius Lomax. Melvin Ishmael Johnson is his delightfully peevish hotel manager; Petal d’Avril Walker is his patient wife; Vanja Renee is a flirtatious waitress; Rhonda Stubbins White is a no nonsense attendant; Ashlee Olivia is a reluctant maid, and Kyle Connor McDuffie is her loyal sweetheart.
Dwain A. Perry, Sammie Wayne IV, Melvin Ishmael Johnson
Meanwhile, excellent actors portray the historic figures: Jah Shams is an amazing look-alike as Paul Robeson; Tiffany Coty is an imperious Lena Horne; Eddie Goines is Duke Ellington & Joe Louis; Elizabeth June is a fiery Ethel Waters; Tommy Hicks is a calm W.E.B. Du Bois; Sammie Wayne IV is riveting as angry writer Chester Himes; Kem Saunders is a jovial Jack Johnson; Cydney Wayne Davis is passionate as journalist/activist Charlotta Bass; Jovan Adepo is young pastor Rev. Clayton Russell; Doug Jewell is community leader Dr. John Somerville; Jason Mimms is a lothario as editor John Kinloch, and Julio Hanson is impish as the poetry-reciting Dunbar. 

The beautiful set and lighting are by Micheal D. Ricks, with dazzling costumes by Naila Aladdin Sanders. Presented by Robey Theatre Company in association with LATC.
At Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Downtown LA., through December 21. For tickets: (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org
 Photos by Tomoko Matsushita.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I STAND BEFORE YOU NAKED …North Hollywood







Prolific author Joyce Carol Oates has written this series of ten monologues by a variety of women in a desperate search for love. Some are sketchy, others are almost mini plays, but all are powerful statements about women’s confused relationships with men. There is some onstage nudity but Oates is mainly concerned with revealing emotional nakedness. Director Gloria Gifford cleverly has them all as party attendees, in a blood-red room, where they share their stories with us. 

Genevieve Joy is the hostess writing checks to save a world she despises; Cynthia San Luis is riveting as a teacher sexually misinterpreting the advances of a boy of 15; Sabrina Won is a total loon waiting for Armageddon; Abigail Kochunas is a receptionist whose fa├žade hides a hidden rage, and Davia King is a wife seeing her husband weeping and realizing it’s over. 

Pamela Renae is moving as a happily pregnant women with a malignant talking fetus; Kelly Musslewhite is delightful as a featherbrain married to a serial killer (see today’s headlines); Kasia Pilewicz is trying for invisibility thru bulimia, and Leana Chavez, Raven Bowens and Nancy Chavez are disfigured with love bites. Most impressive is Jade Warner as a murdered stripper who walks us through her terror and asks the question, ‘why do you hate us?’ that female victims of violence ask everywhere.



Produced by Chad Doreck, Lauren Plaxco and Jade Warner for Jamaica Moon Productions and Ggc Players. At: T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St. (off Lankershim), North Hollywood.  Tickets at 310-366-5505 or www.tix.com

 
Also in the December issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

DIRTY …West Hollywood







Slaughterhouse Theatre Company presents the West Coast premiere of a comedy about a married couple who decide to go into the porn business. He’s walked away from his job as a Wall Street scammer because he has too much integrity! While watching a sex video with his wife he is incensed that it exploits children, even though they are sure the pigtailed actress onscreen is of legal age. He believes they can create porno films that will be for adults who want to view healthy adult sex (clearly a very narrow market). To keep it pure, 90% of the profits will go towards helping female victims of trafficking. A noble sentiment, bound to revolutionize the porn industry, if only determination were enough.
Well, I never believed it would fly, but the plot veers away when the billionaire king of porn decides they are true competition. Soon it becomes a battle for porn turf via a certain gorgeous, willing, but inexperienced 20-year old. The writing is clever, the direction strong, but it’s essentially contrived and sadly predictable. At first the theme seems to be an appeal for appreciating the wonders of porn. Hey, that’s a unique point of view. However, in the end, an unexpected turnaround reveals the porn industry to be just as sleazy and exploitative as one suspected.

All the actors are excellent, especially Max Lesser as the idealistic pornographer who really believes he can make this impossible scenario work; Anna Konkle is his formidable wife; Lea Coco his cynical partner; Zuleyka Silver is a rather timid sex goddess; Sumiko Braun is a her kid sister, and Rob Belushi is a surprisingly youthful porn prince

Written by Andrew Hinderaker and directed by Shannon Cochran, with scenic design by Katrina Coulourides, sound by Norm Kern, lighting by Paige Selene Luke, projections by Matthew G. Hill and costumes by Caitlin Rose Williams.
At the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. through December 21. For tickets: 323-960-4429 or  www.plays411.com/dirty.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

WAR OF THE WORLDS …in Hollywood







The Fake Radio Company specializes in re-enactments of old radio shows with period costumes, dated microphones and taped special effects. In celebration of Halloween, they recreated Orson Welles’ famous 1938 CBS radio broadcast adapted from H.G. Wells sc-fi novel. This is the one that caused people to panic and run for their lives. Yes, a fleet of Martians had landed in New Jersey and were marauding across the State into New York City with thousands fleeing and dying before them. 

Hey, after sitting there eyes closed, with only my ears to give me the news, I often felt the urge to get up and run myself – it was that well done!
 
Less imaginative souls watched the actors as they read from the original script so they knew this was theater not breaking news. Deep inside I knew it too, but if I’d been listening back in 1938 you might have seen me dashing through the Holland Tunnel with all the rest of the fools. 

 
Old-Time Radio Comedy Troupe, now in its 10th year, perform under the direction of David Koff. Next up is their annual Christmas show, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” with Ray Romano joining this delightful company. That’s December 18 at 8 pm at The Steve Allen Theatre, 4773 Hollywood Blvd. 
Tickets at www.fakeradio.net.

A Fun Note: In 1966, the FCC enacted a rule that explicit disclaimers must be stated at close intervals on any such broadcasts to avoid misunderstandings. In 1974, WPRO-AM in Rhode Island aired it with the original storyline but said the landing was on Rhode Island and widespread panic ensued. In 1988, National Public Radio aired a remake - starring Steve Allen! - who as a kid had listened to the original broadcast 50 years before. This was nominated for a Grammy as “Best Spoken Word Recording.” No word of a panic in Hollywood.