Tuesday, September 14, 2021

NBY September 2021, SOLOMON'S CHILD & END OF THE WORLD



THE POWER OF THE NEW YORK TIMES!

Back in the 1980's, when I was The Broadway Critic for The Hollywood Reporter, I reviewed a number of fabulous dramas that sadly bit the dust! The reason being that the NY Times critic dismissed these plays and they disappeared in short order. Here are my still vivid memories of two great works that deserve to be revived since their themes still resound today.


  SOLOMON'S CHILD by TOM DULACK 

A Professor of English at U. Connecticut, this was Dulack's first play and the NYTimes critic massacred him: "… isn't the worst production of this limp Broadway season, but it just may be the most pointless. The evening's nonfiction subject - fanatical cults of the Jim Jones ilk - has already been examined ad infinitum in print, movies and television programs. The play's author, Tom Dulack, has nothing new or enlightening to say about this phenomenon and little discernible facility for playwriting." The show closed after 4 performances. Actually, the story was wildly contemporary for the 1980's, with a desperate couple hiring a renowned de-programmer to kidnap their son and rescue him from the cult he has joined. The young man is a match for the cynical adults since their arguments and threats cannot pierce his rejection of all their values. In the end nothing can keep him from re-joining his fellow dropouts except one thing. The door is open, he can leave, but mockingly his captor has left a classical record - Rachmaninoff? Tchaikovsky? - playing as dawn is breaking. The boy's decision had the audience in shocked emotional silence for perhaps 60 seconds. Happily, Tom Dulack went on to write more Broadway plays and received The Kennedy Center's New American Plays Award, and The Kaufman and Hart Prize for New American Comedy. Prolific director John Tillinger had brought this play to Broadway from Long Wharf Theatre, Connecticut and four years later I met him at Sardi's Tony Awards Gala. When I told him that I considered "Solomon's Child" one of the best plays I ever reviewed he lit up and thanked me for helping heal the wound he suffered after its harsh rejection.

 

Arthur Kopit

  END OF THE WORLD by ARTHUR KOPIT (1937-2021)

Here in 1984 was an intriguing and passionate play exploring the capacity for evil in all of us. Using a unique way of pursuing his theme, Kopit made it seem almost autobiographical, with John Shea as stand-in for himself. A mysterious man offers a playwright unlimited wealth if he will write a play about the nuclear crisis. "Why me?" asks the playwright? The man explains "your greatest trait is innocence" yet he perceives in him ''a thorough understanding of evil.'' Told in three acts, this culminates in one carefree scene when the playwright realizes that even he is capable of committing an unthinkable crime. The play, directed by Harold Prince, was dismissed by the NYTimes critic who clearly missed the point. In spite of other perceptive reviews, and even though the audience reaction was again a stunned silence followed by wild applause, it closed after 33 performances. A Theater Legend: I heard that Arthur Kopit was outside the Music Box Theatre as "End Of The World" was closing and the critic, Frank Rich, passed by. Kopit chastised him saying that when they were in Harvard together Rich had passion for theater that spoke to justice and saving mankind and now he had sold out! Rich, now the illustrious NY Times critic, just gave an enigmatic smile and went on by. Wish I coulda been there...

- 30 -

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. August 2021. MATRIARCH, SING FOR HOPE PIANOS, THE LAST, BEST SMALL TOWN

For some interesting programs that will help one feel safe because they are OUTDOORS, here are a few suggestions for the month of August.

  MATRIARCH - North Hollywood. The Roots and Wings Project (RAW) is a politically charged, socially transformative, project-based theatre company whose goal is to provide space for voices of the unnamed, unknown and misunderstood. Now, a number of Los Angeles’ writers and performers are bringing a live program that will empower, provoke, and uplift attendee's spirits. The show will perform outdoors on Friday, August 20 and Saturday, August 21 at 8 pm at the MKM Cultural Arts Center, 11401 Chandler Blvd. NoHo. 
Plays include Lioness written and performed by Jesse Bliss; Perfecta by Diane Rodriguez performed by Cristina Frias; Age Sex Location by Roger Q. Mason performed by Ramy El-Treby; Remember This by Sigrid Gilmer performed by Bahni Turpin, and Gabriel’s Monologue by Tamar Halpern performed by Gabriel Diamond. Taylor Lytle from California Coalition for Women Prisoners has written Tell the Light performed by Morgan Day. The program also includes songs by Sheila Govindarajan; poetry by Carla Vega, and a dance performed by Adrianne Sledge." Painting by Alfie Numeric. Presented by Roots and Wings in collaboration with Houston Coalition Against Hate ((HCAH Texas). For information: www.therootsandwingsproject.com  

SING FOR HOPE PIANOS - Beverly Hills

From August 5 to September 6, a number of uniquely colorful pianos, hand-painted by local artists, will be in public spaces across Beverly Hills as part of the Sing for Hope Pianos community initiative. These 16 piano artworks will be available for anyone and everyone to play, listen to, and enjoy! Piano locations include BH City Hall and Wallis Annenberg Center. Parks are Beverly Gardens, Will Rogers Memorial, La Cienega, and Roxbury. Artists were selected by a panel of art and community leaders in June. In the Fall, the Pianos will be given permanent homes in public schools across the greater Los Angeles area.

THE LAST, BEST SMALL TOWN - Topanga

In this modern-day Our Town by LA-based Latinx playwright John Guerra, Hank and Willow Miller, and Benny and Della Gonzalez, have been neighbors for years. The Millers are a perfect picture of the American Dream: Hank (Christopher Wallinger) is editor of the local paper, while Willow (Christine Breihan) is a stay-at-home mom who loves fitness and their daughter, Maya (Jordan Tyler Kessler) who excels at everything she attempts. Meanwhile, hard-working Benny (Richard Azurdia) must rise early each morning to catch a bus to work at a local car dealership, while Della (Jeanette Godoy) spends her days cleaning houses that includes, occasionally, those of her neighbors. Their son, Elliot (Kelvin Morales), has been named class valedictorian and seems about to make all of Benny and Della’s sacrifices worthwhile. However, Benny’s hard drinking father (Miguel Pérez) is a constant source of frustration for the Gonzalez's. Says director Ellen Geer: “You see the differences and complexities in the cultures of these White and Latinx families who live next to one another in the same town. Their different lives and the way they make choices.” The play runs in repertory with Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that opened earlier in the season. Performances are on Theatricum’s beautiful* outdoor stage in Topanga.  Note: *“The amphitheater feels like a Lilliputian Hollywood Bowl, with pre-show picnics and puffy seat cushions, yet we were close enough to see the stitching on the performers costumes. Grab a blanket and a bottle and head for the hills.” Los Angeles magazine. Through Nov. 7. Info: (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com 

 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. July 2021. Taming The Lion; You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown; Meet Lucy Stone.

 

Haines & Joan Crawford

  TAMING THE LION - Beverly Hills

After being shuttered for sixteen months due to the global pandemic, Theatre 40 is re-opening for live performances. It is resuming the interrupted World Premiere engagement of a new play by Jack Rushen, suggested by true events in Hollywood in 1934. 

Actor William Haines acted in 50 films between 1922 and 1934 and was the number one box-office draw at the end of the silent era. He was also the first openly gay movie star, a fact that the MGM studio attempted to conceal, fearing that Haines’ gayness would prove to be box-office poison. 

In the play, Studio executives Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg attempt to force Haines to marry a woman, to please the fans. But Haines is devoted to his male lover, Jimmie Shields. So, Mayer sends Haines’ best female friend, Joan Crawford (see photo attached), to try and persuade Haines to marry a woman.  Haines is given an ultimatum: marry a woman and continue to be a movie idol or turn his back on his movie career and lose everything so that he can stay with Jimmie. Produced by David Hunt Stafford. Directed by Melanie MacQueen, (who Theatre 40 audiences might know best from her appearances in the perennial cast of The Manor). Theatre Forty is in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills. Plays July 9-August 1st. Tickets: (310) 364-0535 or www.theatre40.org. Free Parking.

   YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN - Sierra Madre

This classic musical comedy, based on the beloved Peanuts comic strip created by Charles M. Schulz, will be performed outdoors in Sierra Madre Memorial Park, at 222 W. Sierra Madre Blvd, Sierra Madre. Here Charlie Brown and the entire Peanuts gang explore life’s great questions as they play baseball, struggle with homework, sing songs, swoon over their crushes, and celebrate the joy of friendship.

The cast includes Hamilton Davis Weaver as Charlie Brown, Mary Zastrow as Lucy, Marcha Kia as Sally, Luke Sweeney as Schroeder, Alexander Mashikian as Snoopy, and Melvin Biteng as Linus. This Sierra Madre Playhouse’s outdoor production is the ideal summer entertainment for the whole family.

Covid safety protocols will be observed. Seating will be in socially distanced circles, six feet apart, to accommodate parties of two, four, or six. This will primarily be lawn seating (please bring your own blankets), but there will also be circles designated for people who bring chairs. Plays weekends from July 30 - August 29. Tickets at (626) 355-4318 or http://sierramadreplayhouse.org.

HB Kennedy & myself

   MEET LUCY STONE - on YouTube

Lucy Stone was the first person in history to ever speak publicly for women’s rights and this one-woman show, with songs, illuminates the start of the Women's Rights movement when one bold young woman stepped forward and demanded equality for women. 

Over 100 years ago, women got the vote! And over 50 years ago I was an actress on Broadway! Now Jewish Family Service LA asked me to repeat the role I originated as activist Lucy Stone in the musical Only A Woman, that was a hit in both Hollywood and New York City. (Photo: HB Kennedy as Susan B. Anthony, myself as Lucy Stone). 

Show is based on actual people and true events and, at this time, when #me too is making headlines, this performance informs people about the women - and men - who fought for Human Rights! Composer-lyricist Ralph Martell adapted his original score for this special event, recorded and available on Zoom. Runs about 48 minutes. Click on the link: Meet Lucy Stone: https://youtu.be/SDTLFKa0-gU

Thursday, June 10, 2021

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. June 2021 - An Octoroon - Tevye In New York - Julius Caesar & Others - LIVE THEATER IS BACK!

 AN OCTOROON (Hollywood)

This Obie Award-winning play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins will launch live performances on Fountain Theatre’s new outdoor stage in June. Judith Moreland directs this outrageous deconstruction of a moustache-twirling melodrama by 19th century playwright Dion Boucicault. Matthew Hancock stars as a modern-day Black playwright struggling to find his voice among a chorus of people telling him what he should and should not be writing. He decides to adapt his favorite play, Boucicault’s 'The Octoroon' - an 1859 melodrama about illicit interracial love. The Black playwright quickly realizes that getting White, male actors of today to play evil slave owners will not be easy, so he decides to play the White male roles himself - in whiteface. What ensues is an upside down, topsy-turvy world where race and morality are challenged, mocked and savagely intensified. 

Mara Klein

This theatrical melodrama tells the story of an octoroon woman - a person who is one-eighth Black - and her quest for identity and love. The cast includes Rob Nagle as playwright Boucicault; Mara Klein (photo) as Zoe the Octoroon; Hazel Lozano as a production assistant, and Vanessa Claire Stewart as a Southern belle in love with the plantation owner (Hancock in whiteface). Meanwhile, Leea Ayers, Kacie Rogers and Pam Trotter portray three startlingly modern slave women. The play satirizes racial stereotypes in a whirlwind of images and dialogue that forces audiences to look at America’s racist history exposed.


Production manager for the Fountain’s outdoor stage is Shawna Voragen, with scenic design by Frederica Nascimento. Stephen Sachs and Simon Levy co-produce; associate producer is James Bennett, while Barbara Herman and Susan Stockel are executive producers. Theatre is at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. For information call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

TEVYE IN NEW YORK (Beverly Hills)

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts re-opens in June with an outdoor performance space with tiered seating, creative lighting and sound. With a firm commitment to the health and safety of staff, artists and patrons, it accommodates 100 socially distanced audience members each night. This Return of In-Person Audiences to The Wallis launches with the World Premiere performance of a one-man show written, co-directed and performed by Tom Dugan and co-directed and designed by Michael Vale.

Ever wonder what happened to Tevye, wife Golde, and their daughters, after the curtain came down in Fiddler on the Roof? Tevye in New York finally answers this decades-old question. Follow Tevye as he fights for his piece of the American dream - his journey with his family across the Atlantic Ocean, through Ellis Island, and into the crowded streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. You’ll fall in love with Tevye all over again in this funny and poignant one-man show. For performance dates and ticket information: 310-746-4000 or https://thewallis.org.

 JULIUS CAESAR & OTHERS (Topanga Canyon)

Best known for presenting lively and engaging renditions of the works of William Shakespeare, Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum will open the season on Saturday, July 10 at 7:30 p.m. with a fresh look at Shakespeare’s iconic thriller about power, politics and the elusive nature of truth through a different lens. Director Ellen Geer tells the tale from the vantage point of the Soothsayer. Audiences yearning for live theater after a year-long drought can satisfy their cravings by returning the next day, Sunday, July 11 at 4 p.m., for the opening of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream'. This version infuses the Bard’s beautiful language with music and song to heighten the pleasure. For tickets call (310) 455–3723, or go to www.theatricum.com.

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. May 2021 - ELISABETH BERGNER - a true story

 


Why I love live theater is back on my agenda, having received a letter from solo performer Arnold Weiss regarding Austrian actress Elisabeth Bergner, who I'd mentioned seeing perform onstage in a past column. Arnold wrote: "I'd give a million dollars to have seen Elisabeth Bergner in "First Love" - I'd seen her in two films. She had a great presence - to me the perfect Rosalind opposite Olivier in "As You Like It"…" Hence, this true story!

In the early 60's I was a young beginner-actress who by pure luck had managed to be cast as understudy to the great Joan Plowright in "A Taste of Honey" on Broadway. When the show closed in New York City, I found myself on the road with the National Tour - nine months that now count among the most exciting and fruitful of my life.

Whenever we were in a town where another Broadway tour was playing, we sometimes managed to get to see these fabulous shows. It was in Chicago that I saw the great Elisabeth Bergner in the stage adaptation of Romain Gary's memoir "Promise At Dawn." Now titled "First Love" the play was on its pre-Broadway tour. They had a Thursday matinee (ours was on Wednesday) so with other cast members I eagerly went and sat in orchestra seats close to the stage.

In my memory: The play was about Gary's mother, Nina Kacew, a Polish Jew, living in Nice, France, during the brutal Second World War. The person I saw onstage had no theatrical airs, she was clearly uneducated, but a highly patriotic and energetic woman, whose love for her son was boundless. Romain (Hugh O'Brien) was a young man, a loyal Frenchman, determined to fight the Germans. His mother encouraged him to join the Free French Air Force headquartered in England. In one marvelous scene, forever etched in my memory, he came to say goodbye to her in full military dress before going away to war.

Ah, was she proud of him! What levels of ecstasy surged through her bosom as she took him out of their house to show the neighbors, exclaiming, "This is my son! See him. See how brave he is. How magnificent!" The neighbor-actors were fine with their admiration, but that was not enough for this woman Bergner inhabited. To my utter amazement she looked out at us sitting, watching in the dark. "See my son! He will save us from these beasts!" she cried and in a burst of enthusiastic joy dragged him down off the stage to us.

I saw her next to me, her eyes blazing, the actor-son squirming in embarrassment but grinning happily. "This is my son, my hero!" she said to me proudly, and I believed her with all my heart. At that moment I knew that as an actress I could never again hide behind a fake wall and not share totally with my audience. Elisabeth Bergner taught me that and, from that time, my playwriting and directing has always been inter-active with an audience.

Olivier & Bergner "As You Like It"

A few days later I was shocked to hear that the show was going to Broadway without her. I learned through the theater grapevine that she and the director, Alfred Lunt, had a disagreement over her interpretation of the role. They chose director over actor and it opened on Broadway with Hungarian star Lili Darvas on December 25, 1961. The show closed after 24 performances. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

NOT BORN YESTERDAY - April 2021. THE GHOSTS OF MARY LINCOLN, SHAKESPEARE & PAUL ROBESON BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS and UNDERNEATH THE FREEWAYS OF LOS ANGELES

 




THE GHOSTS OF MARY LINCOLN - Woodland Hills. In case you are mourning the opportunity to attend live theater here is one intrepid theater artist doing it outdoors with social distancing. Playwright-performer Tom Dugan has set up a performance space in his own backyard to re-enact his one-man show from 2013. Out of necessity the audience will be strictly limited in size, physical distancing will be observed and hand sanitizers readily available. Also, outdoor fans will be in use and all audience members required to wear masks.Under Shelby Sykes direction, Dugan depicts incidents and characters that appear after widow Mary Todd Lincoln has been freed from an asylum. Includes stories of White House seances, Presidential grave robbers, warnings from the undead, and that fateful night at Ford's Theatre. Yes, it’s a tale of blood, madness and murder based on known historic facts and according to Showmag.com is "Bound to surprise and inform even the most avid Lincoln aficionados." Dugan's previous plays include "Wiesenthal" - about famous Holocaust survivor, Nazi Hunter, and writer, Simon Wiesenthal, - which won him the LA Drama Critics Award for Solo Performance. He also has performed in "Frederick Douglass: In the Shadow of Slavery" and "Tell Him It's Jackie." This show runs April 2 -May 1st on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm in Dugan's Backyard Playhouse. It's a safe comfortable environment but bring a blanket with you as it can get pretty cool evenings in Woodland Hills. Reservations: dbptickets@gmail.com

 


APRIL 23rd BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION - 
William Shakespeare (1564-1616), actor, playwright, will be honored with an abstract sound-based performance piece "Low Skies Divine" (inspired by "King Lear") created by director Samantha Shay and composer Áslaug Magnúsdóttir and presented by Source Material Theatre. Online performances April 23 through May 9 with tickets available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/low-skies-divine-tickets-146743326239.

UNDERNEATH THE FREEWAYS OF LOS ANGELES - Live. Here is a live-streamed interactive murder mystery inspired by historical events. In 1960 two bodies were discovered in the lake at Hollenbeck Park in East LA right below the Golden State Parkway overpass. Echo Theatre Company invites you to join a virtual whodunit based on this crime where you, the audience, speak with the officer in charge of the investigation, question the witnesses, and check out persons of interest. Each performance is live-streamed and therefore every performance will be different! The Police Officer and a TV Reporter will introduce five suspects - a Boyle Heights artist; a Japanese American woman; a Freeway Protest organizer; a vagrant passing through, and the California Highways Administrator. After hearing the details and viewing the demeanor of each one, the audience will split into groups, that will rotate between five "holding cells." In these breakout rooms everyone will have a chance to listen to and question each potential murderer. Conceived and written by Matthew Paul Olmos with direction by Michael Alvarez, the show can be experienced on both coasts from April 2-26, Friday through Monday, at 7:30 pm PT and 10:30 pm ET. Link in at www.EchoTheaterCompany.com/underneath


APRIL 9th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION - 
Paul Robeson (1898-1976), actor, singer, athlete, civil rights activist and humanitarian is the inspiration for the Robey Theatre Company's name and, on April 9 at 6 pm, they will honor him with a virtual birthday celebration. Artistic Director Ben Guillory will make opening remarks then present a series of performances inspired by Robeson's life and work. He and co-founder Danny Glover will present the Paul Robeson Award to LA City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas in recognition of his contributions to the artistic, cultural and civic life of LA. Link: http://therobeytheatrecompany.org/our-events

Saturday, March 6, 2021

NOT BORN YESTERDAY March 2021. Janis Paige memoir, The Red Shoes, A Wilderness of Monkeys, LA Women's Theatre Festival.

 



READING BETWEEN THE LINES 

A Memoir by Janis Paige

Under lockdown I have been doing a lot of reading and this book is what they call in publishing a 3am read! Now 97 and thriving, Janis tells a gripping story from her childhood in Tacoma, Washington, during the Great Depression; years starring at MGM and Warner Brothers; into Vaudeville; then a star in Vegas; USO tours with Bob Hope; her 3 marriages, and the superstars of Show Business, Politics and Royalty she met. On Amazon.


THE RED SHOES - HBOmax & CTG online

The original 1948 film, based on the Hans Christian Anderson Fairytale, received five Oscar nominations, and won two, and over the years is always listed among "the best British films ever!" I certainly have never   forgotten seeing this beautiful tale of young red-headed ballet dancer (Moira Shearer), torn between her love of a man and her love of ballet, driven into a mad, haunting, dance of death. The original film can be viewed on HBOmax, Prime Video, and Criterion Channel, and I highly recommend it.

Meanwhile, Center Theatre Group is bringing a filmed version of a live stage performance in 2019 of "The Red Shoes" by the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company in London. Director Matthew Bourne has adapted the original film into a tale of obsession, possession and one girl's dream to be the greatest dancer in the world. Ashley Shaw stars as this girl whose ambitions become a battleground between the two men who inspire her passion. Bourne also has adapted music by Golden-age film composer Bernard Herrmann, with orchestrations by Terry Davies, to bring in references to Hollywood movies and Diaghilev-era ballets. This New Adventures and Illuminations production will be streamed five time from Friday, March 19 to Sunday, March 21 and will be available at www.centertheatregroup.org/digitalstage/premium-events/matthew-bournes-the-red-shoes/.

A WILDERNESS OF MONKEYS - on Zoom

If you love Shakespeare, then enjoy this imagining of another ending to "The Merchant of Venice" by Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei. Antonio, Bassanio and Lorenzo not only deprived Shylock of his wealth, but also his daughter Jessica! Well, here, Jessica returns to her father's house, wiser and remorseful, and she and Shylock plot revenge against their Gentile tormentors. The title comes from Act III as Shylock grieves about his wife Leah's ring that Jessica gave to Antonio to buy a monkey! Directed by Beatrice Casagran, and produced by Ophelia's Jump, a non-profit company that presents a Midsummer Shakespeare Festival at Pomona College every year. This year it's a virtual presentation, via Zoom, March 17-21. For the Zoom link, register at: http://opheliasjump.org.

LOS ANGELES WOMEN'S THEATRE FESTIVAL - online

Having launched the careers of numerous women, at this year's Awards Ceremony on March 25 they will honor five women for career and life achievements. The Infinity Award goes to Diahann Carroll who led the way on TV, Film and Broadway. Other honorees are Paula Donnelly of Cornerstone Theatre; Akuyoe Graham for her play "Spirit Awakening"; Shigemi Matsumoto founder of  Classical Singers Association; Rose Portillo of About Productions and Young Theaterworks in East LA. In addition to the Awards Presentation, there will be special live performances at the GALA. Jacquelyn Brown-Benefield will sing songs celebrating personal empowerment "Rise Up" and "I Am Enough", and Juli Kim performs a dance where a woman abandons docility in favor of strength and power in "Abandon." Founded by Executive Producer Adilah Barnes and Miriam Reed, LAWTF celebrates its 28th year as an annual event unique among Los Angeles cultural institutions. Admission to the GALA, or for all virtual shows this year, call (818) 760-0408 or go to http://www.lawtf.org