Monday, February 18, 2019

Anna Karenina - Miss America's Ugly Daughter - America Adjacent - Tuesdays With Morrie - NBY March


ANNA KARENINA (Hollywood)




This adaptation of Tolstoy’s epic novel is staged in a stylized manner that cuts to the heart of Anna’s familiar story: the stifling marriage, the rapturous affair, the throwing caution to the wind and, of course, the ultimate tragedy. 

However, British playwright Helen Edmundson spreads a wider canvas by showing two other women of the period in marriages both conventional and threatened. In fact, by focusing on three parallel stories the play becomes a modern appeal against female oppression. Yet Edmundson is careful to show how a man – in fact all of the men – can love the woman in their lives yet not see how callously they oppress them. 

The cast are superb. Eva Abramian’s headstrong Anna is a torment to her husband Bruce Ladd; Lauren Thompson is a devoted wife betrayed by her husband Michael Worden; Ivy Beech is a proud girl challenging her conventional husband Joseph Barone, while Deborah Marlowe and Garrett Botts are impressive in multiple roles. Directed with style and piercing dramatic intensity by Heather Chesley. An Actors Co-op production at First Presbyterian Church, 1760 N Gower St. Hollywood. Tickets: (323) 462-8460 or www.ActorsCo-op.org. Free parking.

MISS AMERICA’S UGLY DAUGHTER  (Hollywood)
It is always fascinating to learn of the at-home behavior of a famous person and Barra Grant, daughter of Bess Myerson, does not disappoint. In this play we see the petty bad-mother side and the effect it has on a vulnerable child. There is poignant humor in the duel between them for attention after the parade has passed by. It’s an entertaining show but I wish Grant had told of her mothers good works as well as her selfish home behavior. 

Bess Myerson did a lot of excellent public work that is missing from the show – it’s in the program but not on the stage. As the first Jewish Miss America, she was hit with the anti-Semitism that she fought against the rest of her public life. When I was NY Bureau Chief for the Hollywood Reporter I met Bess Myerson, then NY Commissioner of Cultural Affairs. More than a beauty queen, or TV personality, she was a public figure doing significant work. 

Written and performed by Barra Grant, with Monica Piper as Myerson’s offstage voice. At Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N Fairfax, (nr Melrose). Tickets: (323) 285-2078 or www.MissAmericasUglyDaughter.com. Free parking.

AMERICA ADJACENT (Los Feliz)
In this timely play, six pregnant women from the Philippines, living together in a one-bedroom, one-bath unit in East Hollywood, do their best to overcome fears of jail and deportation. Playwright Boni B. Alvarez examines the promise of US citizenship, saying “As the child of Filipino immigrants, I have always been fascinated by the American Dream. How far would you go to give your child a better future?” Directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera and produced by Gary Grossman and Tony Abatemarco for Skylight Company. At Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont, Los Feliz. Tickets & Parking info: (213) 761-7061 or www.SkylightTix.org.



TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE  (Sierra Madre)
Journalist Mitch Alborn saw his beloved college professor, Morrie Schwartz, on ABC-TV Nightline being interviewed about the challenge of living with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mitch starts to visit Morrie every Tuesday and learns from him how to live life fully in the face of loss. The play debuted off-Broadway in 2002 and New York magazine said: "Unforgettable! No matter how well you tell the story, the play makes it more vivid, more shattering, more humorous." Larry Eisenberg is Morrie, Jackson Kendall is Mitch. At Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W Sierra Madre Blvd. Tickets: (626) 355-4318 or www.sierramadreplayhouse.org Free parking.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

THE POW & THE GIRL – review






In a time of cruel stories dressed up as dark comedy, playwright Katrina Wood shows that in the end love is all we’ve got left. A young girl, heading into her future in 1980’s London, is living with her irascible grandfather who is haunted by memories that wrack his sleep and often daylight hours. “Get out” is the usual advice – the man is hopeless, he’s hostile, he’s dangerous. Why she hesitates to leave is the theme and revelation of this compassionate play.
 
Chas Mitchell is riveting as the POW whose years in a WW2 Japanese death camp have broken his spirit and left him with moods that range from childlike whimpering to fierce male rage. Samantha Mallory as his granddaughter shows the cheekiness of a teenager yet the underlying wisdom of youth. Adrian Burks as the young man who courts her, reveals a hurt soul eager to be healed. Natalia Bilbao, in a number of roles, shines best as the enigmatic other Girl. Lucas Helmersson as a local thug and Jeffrey Gibson a cynical Japanese soldier, add dimension to the two worlds this play inhabits.


Based on the author’s own memories of her father, who actually spent years in the Japanese Changi death camp in Singapore where prisoners were forced to build the Kwai bridge, and the Burma railroad, leaving hundreds dead of brutality and starvation. After the war, Percy Herbert became a familiar face in over 70 movies and, besides appearing in the Oscar winning Bridge over the River Kwai, he also served as advisor on the film.
 
Director Trace Oakley, working with a tiny space, brings the present and past to life through his concentration on character rather than lavish sets. He’s also not hesitant to show that, as in real life, there is humor alongside tragedy. Produced by Katie Mae Peters.

At The Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., NoHo. Tickets: (800) 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3742908. For information: Https://powandgirl.com

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

NBY - FEBRUARY COLUMN: Witness Uganda > Last Call > Smart Love > Death House > A Walk In The Woods


WITNESS UGANDA – A DOCUMENTARY MUSICAL - Beverly Hills
Based on a true story, we follow Griffin (Jamar Williams), an American volunteer, as he arrives in Uganda to help build a village school. When he falls into a complicated relationship with a group of destitute, orphaned teenagers, he finds himself driven by a mission that will change his and their lives forever. From the rolling hills of the Ugandan countryside, to a stifling apartment in New York City, here is a joyous celebration of African youth. Written and directed by Griffin Matthews, who co-authored with music director Matt Gould, this off-Broadway hit was called “a vibrant, pulsating musical,” described as “exuberant and soulful… releases gale-force waves of faith, hope and love.” Winner of the Richard Rodgers Award and others. At Wallis Annenberg Center, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills. Tickets: (310) 746-4000 or TheWallis.org/Witness.
 LAST CALL – Atwater Village
When is it time to give up the keys to the car? In semi-autobiographical play, the Vaughn family’s defense mechanism of sarcasm and mordant humor falls short when the aging parents hatch a not-so-funny way to avoid the retirement home. Says playwright Anne Kenney. “I watched my parents’ health degenerate as they got into their ’90s and had to come face-to-face with the quality vs. quantity of life question. The only way that my parents and I and my brother got through it was with an abundance of gallows humor and a lot of compassion.” Ben Martin stars as 85-year-old Walter Vaughn, and Lynn Milgrim as Frances, his 83-year-old wife. Says director Lane Allison, “It’s a beautiful story about the love of family and how much that influences our life decisions.” An Open Fist production at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater. Tickets: (323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org. Free parking.
 SMART LOVE - Venice
A contemporary comedy with a scientific twist, the Wachowski household is turned upside down when their son makes a surprise visit home, from MIT with an unexpected guest. Says playwright Brian Letscher, "I turn on my TV and find a documentary on the explosion of technology and the possibilities moving forward in this Brave New World of technology! I am severely over-stimulated. I cannot fall asleep, but a year later I have this play.” Directed by Elina de Santos, who brought last months challenging scientific drama, A Misunderstanding, to life at the Complex. At Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd. Tickets: (310) 822-8392 or www.pacificresidenttheatre.com
DEATH HOUSE – North Hollywood
This drama by Jason Karasev explores justice, redemption and the possibility that we are all more connected than we realize. It takes place on the night when a prison chaplain is meeting with the confident young pastor who will replace him. When they encounter an enigmatic prison inmate, their beliefs and lives are changed forever. Directed by Michael Peretzian for Road Theatre Company. At The Road on Lankershim, 5108 Lankershim Blvd. NoHo. Tickets: (818)761-8838 or www.roadtheatre.org.
A WALK IN THE WOODS – Westwood
Lee Blessing’s award-winning play, starring Alfred Molina and Steven Weber, directed by Cameron Watson, is just one of L.A. Theatre Works star-studded performances at UCLA’s state-of-the-art James Bridges Theater. These shows are recorded live in front of an audience for radio broadcast, distribution on CD, digital download and online streaming. This syndicated Radio Theater Series broadcasts weekly on public radio stations across the U.S. (locally on KPFK 90.7 FM); can be heard in China on the Radio Beijing Network; can be downloaded as a podcast via iTunes and NPR One; and can be streamed on demand at www.latw.org.

Monday, January 14, 2019

NBY - JANUARY COLUMN: A Misunderstanding - Rod Serling's Stories From The Zone - 1776 The Musical - Sisters Three


A MISUNDERSTANDING (Hollywood)
In this challenging drama of ideas, playwright Matt Chait plays a biology professor who has been dismissed from the University of California for sharing his spiritual views with his science students. In today’s ever-increasingly partisan world, here is a philosophical and humorous exploration of the misunderstandings that arise when people with radically different world views become wary of one another and unable to communicate. According to Chait: …it’s about the essence of reality itself, and about the difficulty people have in understanding one another when the lens through which they view reality differs. Although my head was very much at work in the writing, so was my heart and my sense of humor. Directed by Elina de Santos, co-artistic director of Rogue Machine Theatre, and presented by Rubidor Productions. At The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood. Tickets: 323-960-4418 or www.plays411.com/misunderstanding.
After seeing the play here are my thoughts:
By juxtaposing two different scenarios, Chait brings what could be philosophical abstracts to life. A young couple are torn apart when one of them is ever so practical about science, while the other a sensitive philosophical skeptic; while a college professor is placed on trial by his superior for preaching spiritual questions to a presumably hard-line science class. In the end it is up to each member of the audience to decide whether either one is right or wrong, or maybe perhaps they all are! You go and decide for yourself.
ROD SERLING’S STORIES FROM THE ZONE (Beverly Hills)
Perhaps some of you might recognize these two classic episodes of Rod Serling’s best-loved TV series, adapted by Jeff G. Rack, who co-directed with Charlie Mount. 1.MR. GARRITY AND THE GRAVES: In the Old West circa 1890, a man and his wagon find their way into the town of Happiness, Arizona. The man claims to have the ability to resurrect the dead, but some of the townspeople figure that resurrecting the folks planted up on Boot Hill might not be the best idea! 2.WILL THE REAL MARTIAN PLEASE STAND UP!: Passengers on a snow-bound bus bound for Boston are stranded at a roadside diner and start to realize that one of them is actually an invader from Mars! Produced by David Hunt Stafford, for Theatre 40, in association with Arcane Theatreworks. At Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Dr. Beverly Hills. Free parking. Reservations: (310) 364-3606 or www.theatre40.org
1776 THE MUSICAL (La Mirada)
Before Hamilton, I saw this rousing 1969 show about the founding of America, with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and book by Peter Stone. It was a huge hit, a Tony Award-winner and ran for over three years. It begins with a deadlocked Congress (sound familiar?) where attempts to adopt the Declaration of Independence are boiling over in heated confrontations. By the evening of July 2nd, the two sides are still miles apart, but remarkably, these contentious Founding Fathers harness their shared determination to do the right thing for a fledgling nation. Engaging, tuneful, witty and passionate, this clever musical depicts the likes of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson with humor and humanity. Irreverent and certainly topical, this revival is directed and staged by Glenn Casale, with musical direction by Jeff Rizzo. At La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard (near Rosecrans Ave). Tickets: (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 or www.lamiradatheatre.com. Free Parking.
 SISTERS THREE (East Hollywood)
How might the 19th Century Brontë Sisters adapt in the 21st Century? In this modern retelling, Jane Eyre author Charlotte has dropped out of society and joined an ‘anti-technology’ commune. It’s an off-center drama about family, social media, fame, and holidays, while paying homage to the Brontë sisters and their brother Patrick. Says writer Jami Brandli: This play was inspired by the Bronte sisters, all novelists and poets. Though it’s not a biography, the fascinating sibling dynamic includes their brother Patrick, who was a painter… a complicated family of artists now living in a society that seems to place more value on the veneer of a perfect Instagram post, rather than appreciating the beautiful complexities of reality. Inkwell Theater at the VS. Theatre, 5453 Pico Blvd, (near Hauser), LA. Reservations: https://inkwelltheater.com