Monday, April 27, 2015

FERGUSON …West Los Angeles

In this adroitly staged reenactment of testimony before the Grand Jury, in the highly volatile and angrily denounced Missouri shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, the program states, ‘hear the truth on stage.’ 

But good Theater is not the same as good Law and to reduce 25 days of testimony down to 90+ minutes, and select only certain passages by a few witnesses, hardly delivers an unbiased report on this controversial case.

By making the selections he does, playwright Phelim McAleer begs the question: Who to believe? With only words to work from, as a theatrical event this was intriguing and well staged, but as a reenactment of the actual hearings it falls short. Yes, there was a media frenzy over what really happened, and the grand jury did exonerate the officer, but selectiveness only obscures the entire truth.

As theater it’s a great show, but as an attempt to set rumors to rest it doesn't work. Verbatim theatre is a noble concept but, through sub-text, an actor creates emotion that can color a line with numerous interpretations. 

Words in themselves are not evidence and, unless you served on that Grand Jury, you can never know how each witness impressed their audience.

These fine actors, under Nick DeGruccio’s careful direction, were totally believable: Gigi Bermingham, Joel Bryant, Warren Davis, Nicholas A. Goldreich, Sydney A. Mason, Charles McCoy, E.P. McKnight, Onrico Nightingale, Jeremiah O’Brian, Kathleen O’Grady, Diane Sellers and Carla Valentine. Produced by Racquel Lehrman and Victoria Watson of Theatre Planners. Presented by Theatre Verité Collective.

Four performances only. At the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd., West LA, April 26-29. Tickets: (310) 477-2055 ext 2, or

Actors photos by Peter Duke.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

WOMEN ON TIME …in Hollywood

Here are seven short plays about the social and emotional dilemmas faced by women in the US over the past 100 years. The 5inaHIVE Production’s mission is to produce theater by and about women which, in this case, they do superbly. There’s no male bashing here, but an honest view of American women’s ongoing battle to retain dignity and awareness. Told out of sequence, with humor and meaning, the impact is strong and the irony ever present.

In historic sequence: (1917) a suffragette awakens a dormant rebellion in a conventional woman; (1945) a woman in WW2 has discovered the pleasure and camaraderie of hard work; (1955) three generations are divided over illegal abortion at the possible cost of a young girls life; 

(1962) the dubious liberation of being bra-less in the Flower Child decade; (1992) some airline stewardesses differ over what exactly is sexual harassment; (2011) the stand-by-your-man good wife is faced by a humiliating political scandal, and (2015) the bone-chilling efficiency of the modern executive is pitted against those who fought the battles that got her there.

All of these engaging playlets are performed brilliantly by the same three women in vastly different guises. Joanna Miles is the sagacious one; Julie Janney the thoughtful learner, and Kimberly Alexander the callow youngster. Each one amazingly transforms into vastly different characters, yet all lend weight to the theme of women discovering their power and place in the world.

Plaudits to authors Bonnie Garvin, Lorin Howard, Nikki McCauley, Deborah Pearl, Susanna Styron, producer Bridget Terry, and actress Miles. All are well served by directors Iris Merlis, Maria Gobetti, Jenny O’Hara and Terry. Set and lighting by Tom Meleck are enhanced by fabulous video projections credited to Fritz Davis and transformative costumes by Betty Madden.

At Working Stage Theater, 1516 N Gardner St. Hollywood, through May 17. For tickets: 323-960-7724 or

Photos by Vanessa Mirabal

Monday, April 20, 2015

I AND YOU …Hollywood

Playwright Lauren Gunderson presents us with an apparent comedy about a young girl being awakened to the beauty of poetry (Whitman) and music (Coltrane) by a visiting classmate. However, in the final minutes the play suddenly explodes into an allegory on finding life in death.   

Normally I’d hesitate to reveal the ending but, in this case, I feel justified in letting you in on a secret that for some ungodly reason was kept from the audience until right before the final curtain. The young girl is dying of an incurable illness and the young man is actually her ministerial Angel of Life.

The fact that he arrives bearing homemade cookies is only part of the deliberate misinformation that the author sends our way. Even dramaturg Christopher Breyer overlooked the basic theatrical precept that when you end with a revelation some foreshadowing is needed. Otherwise we sat through 90 minutes with what seemed like odd dramatic contrivances thrown in that only made sense after we had left the theatre. Evidently, this play has received awards and accolades elsewhere so if you go let me know if I was mislead or not.

No fault to the excellent actors: Jennifer Finch is amazing as she switches dynamically from hostile to vulnerable, and Matthew Hancock manages to make human someone no longer of this planet. Realistic direction by Robin Larsen and impressive bedroom set by Tom Buderwitz.  

At the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave (at Normandie) in Hollywood, through June 14. Tickets at (323) 663-1525 or

Photos by Ed Krieger.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


 Here is a rousing salute to legendary black music producer, John Dolphin, who challenged the segregated music business by introducing black music to whites. Back in the 1950’s Dolphin’s of Hollywood’ in South Central L.A. was perhaps the most famous record shop in the country, with a DJ spinning records, singers recording, radio broadcasts and stars dropping in.

Open 24/7, dancing kids would pack Dolphin’s record shop on Central Avenue day and night, bringing the races happily together and when hassled by the authorities Dolphin fought back and won. All of this is told in a series of wonderfully energetic songs and dances, by a multi-talented cast, that take us through a decade of struggle, romance, triumph, even tragedy. 

Stu James as John Dolphin captures the mans dynamic yet conflicted spirit; Jade Johnson as his wife Ruth goes believably from girlhood to womanhood; Eric B. Anthony is poignant as wanna-be singer Percy Ivy; Godfrey Moye is a believable Sam Cooke (You Send Me); Nic Olsen is a charmer as DJ ‘Huggy Boy’ Hugg; John Devereaux is the principled Jesse Belvin (Earth Angel), and Rahsaan Patterson is a steady presence as LA Sentinel publisher Leon Washington.

Dazzling in multiple roles are Brooke Brewer, Richie Ferris, Jenna Gillespie, Franklin Grace, Nic Hodges, Philip Dean Lightstone, Jake Novak, James Simenc, Matthew Sims, Jr., Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield and Katherine Washington. Original songs by Andy Cooper match well with hit songs that were launched by Dolphin in his store. Book by Matt Donnelly and loyal grandson Jamelle Dolphin.

Vigorous direction by Denise Dowse, dynamic choreography by Cassie Crump, and lively musical direction by Stephan Terry. Perfect ‘50’s costumes by Mylette Nora.

At the Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood, through May 17. For tickets: 323-960-4443 or

Photos by Ed Krieger.
Also reviewed in the May issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.