Also featured in the October issue of Not Born Yesterday.
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Intriguing and challenging. British actor, playwright and storyteller Michael Washington Brown impersonates four different men from around the world, each culturally identified as ‘black’ but who have very different ideas about what that means.
There’s an ingenuous young American who loves Rap but not the hostile type; a studious Brit trying to decipher where he fits in to the ‘white’ culture; a mature man of the Islands full of pride and fatherly concern, and a philosophic South African sadly questioning the enmity between black Africans that causes atrocities. More than just character studies, Brown’s exploration of the word ‘black’ examines race from a global perspective.
Says Brown, “There are so many stereotypes that seem to mesh all black people and their stories together. But not all of us are African-American, and we don’t all share the same experience. This show looks at race through a much wider lens.”
Technical design by Caitlin Rucker. At Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood.
Also reviewed in the October issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
We are in the New York City subway in this modern-day version of Noel Coward’s classic Brief Encounter and again here are two people, meant for each other, who can never realize the happiness it promises. Stephen Sachs has written and directed this extraordinarily moving play with a new approach: the eloquent man is Deaf and the troubled woman hard-of-hearing as are the two actors. Their communications are all by signing and yet we hear their voices through other actors and their words by writing on the walls. By framing this against vivid fast-moving film of NYC crowds and scenes, Sachs draws us into that dynamic high-energy milieu.
Heading the superb cast are Troy Kotsur and Deanne Bray, and there is an intensity to their performances that transcends imaginary characters. Bray’s Emily especially tears at our hearts. Married to a good but insensitive man, with a rebellious teenage daughter, her need for tenderness is palpable. Kotsur’s Sam is a teacher at a school for the Deaf, who gives support wherever he finds need while asking for little in return. When he forms a bond with Emily he opens himself to longings and emotions he has held in check for years. Their final parting although anticipated (we all know the original story) has an impact that resonates deeply. The ever haunting – if only…
Adding to the intensity of the play are parallel stories, with Jessica Jade Andres and Shon Fuller (Waitress vs. Subway Cop) teasing and battling in their longing to connect honestly. Aurelia Myers’ troubled teenager searches desperately for love on social media. Brian Robert Burns is touching as Emily’s sincere but mystified husband, while Adam Burch and Stasha Surdyke are splendid in multiple roles.
At The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave (at Normandie) in Hollywood.
Photos by Ed Krieger.
Also reviewed in the September issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY
|Maame Yaa Boafo|
If you think bullying is a problem in the USA, here is another view. Paulina (Maame Yaa Boafo), the reigning queen bee at Ghana’s exclusive boarding school, has her sights set on the Miss Universe Pageant. But Ericka (Joanna A. Jones), a new student with beauty and talent, captures the attention of the pageant recruiter and Paulina and friends gear up for battle!
Jocelyn Bioh’s biting comedy explores the universal similarities facing teenage girls across the globe. Said Frank Scheck in his Hollywood Reporter review: School Girls is a ferociously entertaining morality tale that proves as heartwarming as it is hilarious. Directed by Rebecca Taichman. At The Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City.
This Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy is set in a Southern coal-mining town going from boom to bust. A charismatic preacher arrives, along with a sexy gal he rescued from a stripper pole! But there’s a Hollywood TV producer, with Reality-Show contacts, who has an idea of how to make the town great again. Music & book by Cliff Wagner, book & lyrics by Bill Robertson and Tom Page. Directed by Michael Myers. At Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Road, Santa Monica (lotsa free parking).
HOLE IN THE SKY
This on-site experience is staged at a working horse-ranch about 15 minutes north of Burbank. A young woman returns home to find her family and community in a bitter fight over who owns the local groundwater during a devastating California drought.
People are trying to live with nature, but nature doesn’t seem to want them there. Playwright Octavio Solis based his timely play on interviews in rural Siskiyou County. Directed by Kate Jopson. At Courtship Ranch, 11270 Dominica Ave, Lake View Terrace, CA 91342. Info: www.circlextheatre.org
Saturday, July 21, 2018
MUTT HOUSE (Culver City)
In this delightful musical there’s an awkward young man, (Ryan McCartan), who talks to animals, and a bevy of his furry friends who talk back. All reside in a rundown animal shelter that the cruel lady-Mayor, (Heather Olt), wants to close down. This means euthanasia for the dogs, none of whom deserve to die. When a Best-of-Show French Poodle, (Valerie Larsen), arrives, she is the most elegantly popular Sniff of the Week!
It’s a charming show, with joyous canine songs and superb dance numbers by Janet Roston. Creator Tony Cookson’s message is clear: If you love animals help support No Kill groups. Otherwise, adopt one yourself and discover the love that always gives back.
So, bring the grandkids – they’ll love it too. And don’t worry, there’s a happy ending with catchy song “All You Need is One!” At Kirk Douglas Theatre.
In LA: Theatre West has an in-house writing group - I just saw their impressive one-act festival;
Blank Theatre’s long-running Living Room Series is committed to work by diverse voices;
Rogue Artists Ensemble are starting a writers lab to do a festival of new work.
In NoHo: Road Theatre Company’s Summer Playwrights Festival has 50/50 male and female playwrights;
Actors Workout writers group creates short plays on one theme;
& Group Rep presents plays from in-house writers.
Sherman Oaks: Loft Ensemble gives new playwrights a production platform to explore and develop work;
Whitefire has a theater development lab.
Burbank: Garry Marshall Theatre has a new works festival.
Topanga: Theatricum Botanicum's 'Seedlings' is a hotbed of development.
To Be Continued...
These comments are also in the August issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.
Friday, July 20, 2018
SCREWBALL COMEDY (Beverly Hills)
'Screwball comedy' refers to the American genre of story-telling which had its heyday in the 1930s & 40s. The elements included a male and female who are adversarial at first, but are ultimately ideal for each other; some farcical or slapstick action; a female with the upper hand in the relationship, snappy patter and crackling dialogue. And in this case, sexual tension!
With a superb cast that sparkle with audacity, this U.S. Premiere of Canadian playwright Norm Foster’s Screwball Comedy is both homage to as well as an example of the genre.
Like the zany comedies with Gable vs. Colbert, or Hepburn vs. Tracy, let alone Rosalind Russell vs. Cary Grant, this delightful play crackles with wit and humor! Under Howard Storm's I-dare-you direction David Hunt Stafford almost steals the show as the Percy Dovetonsils butler and everyone else are at the top of their game.
At Theatre Forty, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills.
MAYAKOVSKY AND STALIN (Hollywood)
Lilya and Vladimir
In this new play, writer-director Murray Mednick explores two distantly connected relationships: that of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and his wife Nadya, and of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and his married lover and ‘muse’ Lilya Brik. The emphasis is on the tumultuous days of the Revolution that affected the personal lives of very different people - artists and politicians.
It’s a dramatic character study incorporating historical footage and photos. Sadly, it focuses mainly on the brutal suicides of tormented Vladimir (Daniel Dorr) and raging Nadya (Casey McKinnon) that makes for a sad and rather grim two hours. Historically interesting, the image of Stalin (Maury Sterling) is unsurprisingly frightening, while the irrepressible Lilya (Laura Liguori) illuminates the carefree sexuality of the 20's and 30's.
|Stalin and Nadya|
We learn how Mayakovsky was a giant rebel in 20th century Russian literature who was turned into a symbol of the repressive state when, after his death, dictator Stalin declared: “Mayakovsky is the best and most talented poet of our Soviet epoch.” Hailed as The Poet of The Revolution, Mayakovsky’s legacy was censored and intimate or controversial pieces were ignored. According to Boris Pasternak, this Stalin-sanctioned canonization dealt Mayakovsky a second death.
At The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood.
Monday, July 2, 2018
Review by Brian Murphy.
Comedy Sportz of Los Angeles is a comedic improv institution, performing in the North Hollywood Arts District since 1988. Over the years they have organized groups worldwide and come together in various cities to have their teams compete, literally, for laughs. In the historic El Portal Theatre, packed with a cheering crowd of fans, the highly entertaining competition pitted city against city in a series of theater games that ranged from "Try That On For Size" to "Musical Comedy" and "Best Oscar Moments”! All to comedic effect as energetic referees took suggestions from the audience, wryly commented on the performances, and enforced the rules.
The show is PG-13 and any player who dared utter an untoward comment, or slip in a dirty word, had a brown bag placed on their head for the duration of that game. (They also had a special brown bag for an audience member who violated this rule.) Also, when a player's action, dialog, or joke elicited a groan from the audience, their team lost a point. Singing, character work, and physical comedy were delivered spontaneously. The secret of improve is listening, not denying, being true to the scene, and these performers tapped into that place where something magical happened each time.
This was a high-energy spontaneous demonstration of Instant Theater. It was fast, it was fun, and often hilarious enough to bring tears to many eyes. The crowd rooted for their favorites, the players pushed their limits, the refs keep things moving and everybody, performers and audience, came out winning. Over 25 cities from Los Angeles to Manchester, UK, were competing during this popular 3-day Comedy Showdown. The tournament culminated with the World Championship match and the winner was CSz LA, 28-25, over CSz Twin Cities fabulous team.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
For 10 years, I presented Family-Friendly-Shakespeare outdoors in NYC. It was always my summer joy! (Shakespeare in an Hour, published by Shakespeare, Inc.) So, for Shakespeare lovers, here are some local productions.
The fabulous Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival is presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Titus Andronicus (Aaaagh!). Over in Topanga Canyon, Theatricum Botanicum, presents a timely Coriolanus - the political warrior who has contempt for the common people, in a city where the one-percent rules! Group Rep in NoHo has Romeo & Juliet upcoming in August, while over at Pasadena’s A Noise Within, youngsters perform his plays in Summer With Shakespeare.
MUTT HOUSE MUSICAL (Culver City)
A furry musical tale for animal lovers set in a neglected animal shelter. Residents include a Chihuahua named Pepe, a Mutt named Donna, a haughty French Poodle, a rambunctious Pit Bull, a handsome Lab mix and a pudgy Corgi. Creator Tony Cookson says, “The idea came to me in a dream. I saw singing dogs in an animal shelter, and started writing the next morning.” It’s a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney ‘let’s put on a show’ with original songs: Take Home A Stray; I’m Lying Here (Scratch Me), and When You Hear Barking, I Hear Words Instead. At Kirk Douglas Theatre.
SWORDS OF SORROW (Santa Monica)
Martial arts fans will be enthralled by this live presentation that provides all the things to love about Samurai drama. Warriors wield weapons, as obligations of honor and duty are fulfilled, in this action-packed story set in 19th Century feudal Japan. After her brother’s death, a young woman is compelled by a ghost to confront his killer in mortal combat and the stage is set for an epic sword battle. One of them must die! Playwright, director and producer, Naoki Fujiyama, portrays the ghost. This gripping historical family drama is a Burai Production, at Edgemar Center for the Arts.
Get ready for a rousing night of rock ‘n’ roll! Inspired by a famous recording session, this biographical musical tells what happened when icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins came together in December 1956 at Memphis’ Sun Studios. Hits include “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” “Fever,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “See Ya Later, Alligator,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “Hound Dog.” This live happening brings you inside the recording studio to experience a tale of broken promises, secrets, betrayal and celebrations. A Gershwin Entertainment production at Laguna Playhouse.
100 APRILS (Hollywood)
John Saypian is a modern-day Don Quixote. He and his family are second generation Armenians whose parents escaped the Genocide, but John believes a tormentor is pursuing him. Is the enemy a haunted memory from his childhood or is he real? This darkly comic play explores the generational consequences when history is denied. “I needed to contribute something to honor, and coincide with, the centennial commemoration of the Armenian genocide,” says playwright Leslie Ayvazian. “It is a story that all Armenians carry, and tell throughout generations. It lives partially in dreams, but cannot be silenced.” Rogue Machine Theatre at The Met.
This original play is performed by military veterans from Veterans Empowerment Theatre. Their artistic journey brings their personal stories, from life in boot camp to returning home, and highlights the difficulty of transitioning back into society. For one, her return unlocks memories that have been hidden away for years, another feels rejected because of the color of his skin, while another realizes family matters most. These heroes come together as a unit as they search for the strength to keep marching on. CRE Outreach’s theatre, The Blue Door, is a performing space for the voices and stories of people marginalized by society.
This article appears in the July issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.
Saturday, June 16, 2018
ONE PERSON SHOWS
Saw Gordon Lightfoot (79) at the Saban, with his still rich voice, singing If You Could Read My Mind and Canadian Railroad. Over at Theatre West, Tesla, and at Theatre 40, Tom Dugan’s Wiesenthal. The LA Women’s Theatre Festival has Freda Payne, performing Ella Fitzgerald, First Lady of Song. Don't miss You In Midair, performed by Danna Schaeffer, mother of actress Rebecca Schaeffer whose life was cut tragically short when she was murdered by an obsessed fan. And all month The Hollywood Fringe Festival explodes with hundreds of solo shows. If you like one person shows there is a plethora of them this June.
ALBERTA HUNTER (Santa Barbara)
Cookin’ At The Cookery: The Music And Times Of Alberta Hunter. In my Hollywood Reporter days I often saw Hunter perform at the 8th Street Cookery Café. One of my favorite jazz artists, who can forget her unique style and salty repartee that made her a NY sensation at 83! This show brings her singular and improbable life story to the stage. Written, directed and choreographed by Marion J. Caffey, show features hits Sweet Georgia Brown and Darktown Strutters Ball. Did you know in 1928, she played opposite Paul Robeson in the London production of Show Boat at the Drury Lane Theatre?
THE LAST SCHWARTZ (Santa Monica)
The Schwartzes are gathered upstate New York to say prayers for Dad a year after his passing. The whole family are at loggerheads, nobody seems to know what it is to be kinfolk anymore. Norma's husband hasn't spoken to her since she turned in their 15 year old son for smoking pot. After five miscarriages, it appears Herbs wife, Bonnie, won't provide him with an heir. Simon has one foot on the moon. Gene's girlfriend, Kia, is about to have an abortion. And its a comedy! Presented by West Coast Jewish Theatre at Edgemar Center for the Arts.LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (Beverly Hills)
The 1956 Broadway production, starring Fredric March and Florence Eldridge, inspired me to become an actress. Now Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons and Olivier Award winner Lesley Manville take on the roles of James Tyrone, an aging matinee idol, and Mary, his drug-addicted wife. Along with their two grown sons, Jamie and Edmund (O’Neill’s alter-ego), the most poisonous addiction is one they all share: the irresistible urge to stab at one another’s most vulnerable points, and then pretend they didn’t really mean it. Richard Eyre’s Bristol Old Vic production, comes to the Wallis Annenberg Center for three weeks.
WOOD BOY DOG FISH (Burbank)
The experience begins one hour before show time when the audience enters a mysterious and quirky carnival world with games, food, drink and surprises before they even find their seats. This immersive show has music, puppets, masks and amazing special effects. Written by Chelsea Sutton, directed by Sean T. Cawelti, it’s a modern, mature and delightfully macabre adaptation of The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. The action is set in the tumbledown town of Shoreside, a tourist trap built around the legend of a terrible sea monster - the Dogfish. The Rogue Artists Ensemble, at The Garry Marshall Theatre.
On Broadway this musical, based on the short story The Ugliest Pilgrim, by Doris Betts, was nominated for four Tony Awards, three Drama Desks and three Outer Critics Awards. Set in North Carolina in 1964, a young woman with a scarred face rides a bus through the segregated South. She hopes a TV evangelist in Oklahoma can heal her scar, the result of a traumatic childhood accident. Along the way, Violet meets two soldiers, one black, one white, who teach her about love, courage and the true meaning of beauty. Actors Co-op on the campus of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.
Published in the June issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.
Published in the June issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Just saw this Mae West 1926 comedy and am still laughing at this delightfully outrageous show that captures West’s insolent and sexy oeuvre perfectly. The fact that West was arrested for indecency and spent 10 days cheering up the women prisoners (and probably the guards) while serving her sentence, now boggles the mind. Well, there are always small-minded censors who run aghast at the suggestion that sex might be fun while probably guilty of far nastier sexual adventures of their own. The audacious writing in SEX reminds us of the many brilliant films she later wrote and performed in before the Hays Office closed her down.
Director Sirina Irwin is faithful to West’s over-the-top style that makes sex an innocent pastime with harmless vulgarity. The entire cast pull out all the slapstick stops to create a musical comedy that does not date.
Andrea Hutchinson does her best to capture the sultry dame but West is a hard act to follow. Susan Edwards Martin is dynamite as a horny socialite, Wayne Wilderson delights as a smooth British officer, Ryan Phillips is a rich romantic eager to learn the ropes and Lowam Eyasu brings gravity to the role of a naive prostitute.
Others play numerous parts. Davey Johnson goes hilariously from sleazy pimp to snotty butler while David Errigo does sailors, a maid and also dances to He Would Row Row Row with saucy choreography. Kandace Lindsey is memorable in her dynamic Latin dance number, Perry Brown dominates as a cop and a CEO, and Carla Valentine slips easily from male to female roles with nary a minute to change. The lavish costumes are by Michael Mullen whose fabulous choices I have reviewed often in classy local shows.
A Buzzworks Theater Company production at The Hudson Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. Hwd. For tickets: Hudson Box Office or https://dime.io/events/buzzworks-sex
Monday, April 30, 2018
Seems everyone goes to the movies, or sit home and watch TV, but for some reason live theater is not on their agenda. As a British-born theater professional, what I learned from seeing great stars onstage, there’s a bond between actor and audience that can only be experienced that one time, since every performance and every audience is different. Film and TV freeze this intimate relationship into a mechanical experience. So, here are some live shows I recommend that may just be in your neighborhood.
LOVE NEVER DIES (Hollywood)
Andrew Lloyd Webber has done it again. It’s ten years later, The Phantom still loves Christine, has written a new song and, if he can persuade her to sing it, she’s his forever. Complications are her husband and a darling son, but the song is proof that love never really dies. The music is grand, as are the singers, and even with no chandelier the sets and costumes amaze. This sequel to ‘Phantom of the Opera’ should enthrall fans of that beautifully melodramatic show. At the Pantages. 866-755-2929.
THE IMMIGRANT (Sierra Madre)
In Texas, in 1909, an immigrant Jewish fruit peddler is befriended by an older Christian couple. It’s the true story of how a Jewish refugee from Russia made a life in America. Written by Mark Harelik and directed by Simon Levy. Because the challenges facing immigrants today are no less urgent than they were 109 years ago, there are post-show discussions with panelists on immigration issues. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. Free parking behind Playhouse. Reservations: 626-355-4318 or www.sierramadreplayhouse.org
This delightful comedy, written with tongue-in-cheek by Howard Skora, is about an LA actor forced to go back to Brooklyn and work in his family business. He is soon confounded by his dysfunctional family and, when he discovers how the furniture got damaged, he also realizes what lead him to become an actor in the first place. Directed by Jim Fall. Runs Saturday Evenings (only) at 8:00 pm. At Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks.
SEX (in Hollywood, natch)
On Broadway in 1926, Mae West was writer, director, producer and star in this raunchy comedy. The show was a hit but West was arrested for obscenity and served eight days in jail. The plot: Margy, a successful sex worker in Montreal, accused of a crime she did not commit, heads for New York acquiring lovers along the way. Between the police, criminals, hypocritical high-society types, and two men who love her, Margy has her calendar full! Directed by Sirena Irwin. Produced by Buzzworks. At Hudson Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Tickets: Hudson Box Office or https://dime.io/events/buzzworks-sex
CARDBOARD PIANO (Long Beach)
A wedding ceremony in Uganda between an American missionary and a local teenage girl is disrupted by violence when a child soldier, fleeing the atrocities of war, stumbles into their church. South Korean playwright Hansol Jung’s haunting drama confronts the religious and cultural roots of intolerance, as well as the human capacity for hatred, forgiveness and love. International City Theatre, 330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach. Tickets: 562-436-4610 or InternationalCityTheatre.org. Recommended for mature audiences, ages 16 and up.
Saturday, April 21, 2018
There is so much great live theater in Southern California, and my lifelong passion has always been to see it all and share my enthusiasm with you. Back when I was the Broadway critic for the Hollywood Reporter, my New York apartment was about a five-minute walk from every Broadway theatre. I saw and reviewed everything. Now that I live in Los Angeles, the distances to exciting theater are often daunting, so most of my reviews have been for shows within a comfortable drive from home.
Yet NOT BORN YESTERDAY covers a far vaster canvas. Often I learn of a fabulous show opening in Long Beach, or La Mirada, or Santa Ana, that I am unable to cover. So, as live theater is the passion I want to share with you, from now on I will tell you of my choices and recommendations. Hopefully, after experiencing one of these shows, you will share with me your personal opinion.
UNEMPLOYED ELEPHANTS (Burbank)
Actors Brea Bee and Marshall McCabe, play two strangers on the run from loneliness who happen to meet in an airport lounge in Burma. Their search for a missing monk might be their last chance to find true love - if they can seize it! Inspired by a trip she took to the Far East in 2015, author Wendy Graf wrote this romantic comedy, noting, “The trip highlighted and encapsulated for me our modern sense of feeling adrift, seeking something without knowing quite what.” Directed by Maria Gobetti. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W Victory Blvd, Burbank. Tickets: 818- 841-5422 or www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org
ENGAGING SHAW (Beverly Hills)
This romantic comedy is based on heiress Charlotte Payne-Townshend’s pursuit of the famous playwright, critic, socialist and egotist, George Bernard Shaw. He claimed marriage was "an abomination and a nightmare" but in John Morogiello’s witty play, through spirited debate, heated emotion and the occasional flinty spark of desire, she prevails. As directed by Melanie MacQueen, it’s thought-provoking fun. Theatre 40, 241 S Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. 310-364-0535 or www.theatre40.org.
THE MADRES (Los Feliz)
In this drama by Stephanie Alison Walker, three generations of women face state terrorism in Buenos Aires. Based on the women in Argentina who, in 1977, defied the government’s efforts to terrorize its people into silence and submission. People were disappearing off the streets but no one dared talk about it, and the mother’s quest to find the bodies of their missing children gave birth to a whole movement. The Madres de La Plaza de Mayo de Los Desaparecidos, inspired generations of artists and activists to resist and persist. Skylight Theatre, 1816 N Vermont, Los Feliz. 213-761-7061 or SkylightTix.com
PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (Hollywood)
This hilarious yet touching musical is based on the 1994 hit film about two drag performers and a transgender woman driving across the Australian outback in an old bus and performing cabaret. Their musical road trip includes dance numbers It’s Raining Men and I Will Survive. The film’s positive portrayals helped introduce LGBTQ themes to a mainstream audience. Book is by film’s author/director Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott. Directed by Jessica Hanna. Celebration Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave, Hollywood. 323- 957-1884 or www.celebrationtheatre.com