Saturday, August 5, 2023

ONE MOMENT OF FREEDOM - Review



In Massachusetts in 1781, an enslaved woman named Bet spoke these words: "Any time while I was a slave, if one minute's freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it - just to stand one minute on God's earth a free woman - I would." 

It sounds fantastical that this woman actually sued her master for her freedom and won, yet that is the true story brought to life in this fascinating new play by Marion Zola. She has recreated the era when men in power arrogantly wrote that "all men are created equal" and this illiterate woman called them on it. As she waited on these revolutionaries they, heedless of her presence, boldly discussed their demands for dignity and autonomy against their oppressors. After enduring 30 years of arrogant domination Bet vowed to demand freedom for herself and her daughter. 

Through the aid of a compassionate attorney, who was willing to risk his career in this fight against slavery, Bet stood firm. When you see this play you will be moved by admiration for her battle and disgusted to realize this was actually 82 years before Lincoln signed The Emancipation Proclamation that banished slavery forever in this country.

Heading the superb cast is Catherine Bruhier, as Bet, a gentle but indomitable spirit whose simple dignity rings true; Michael Robb, as her lawyer Theodore Sedgwick, is hesitant to risk his career yet determined to fight to the end; John Combs as her master, Colonel John Ashley, is a kindly yet self-deluding aristocrat, while Katyana Rocker-Cook, as his pertly entitled daughter, manages to make her fully human even as she bullies her captives.

Excellent in varied roles are David Westbay, Joe Clabby, Mandy Fason and Kristal Dickerson, while show-stealing Jeffrey Winner is wonderfully eccentric as bombastic opposing lawyer, David Noble.

Director Linda Alznauer does justice to this significant piece of history by capturing the equivocal mood of the times. Visual bravos to Michael Mullen for dazzling costumes and Judi Lewin for matching hair, wig and makeup credit. Producer David Hunt Stafford has a winner! At Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Drive in Beverly Hills. Tickets at 310-364-3606 or online http://theatre40.org. Free Parking.

 

Saturday, June 10, 2023

GETTING THERE - Review




The Hollywood Fringe Festival is in full swing and due to some family crises I was unable to attend this always exciting series of original works. Still, knowing Rebecca O'Brien, as a comedienne and a friend, I made it a point to see her show aptly titled "Getting There." 


Rebecca’s moving show could be retitled “The Kindness of Strangers” as she tells of her battle with cancer, the years of treatment, her daily commute by LA city bus and the respect, love and support she so often got from other passengers who offered her solace and kindness and even an embrace to help her survive the pain, sorrow and despair that daily threatened her.


It’s an honest dialogue between Rebecca and her audience that reminds us all we are not alone and even on the crowded Metro line there are angels in disguise. 



Director is Cameron Watson who also took attached photos.

At The Hudson Guild, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, through June 24.

Not to forget Stella, her little dog, who traveled with her through the danger and even came out for a nod at the end of the show.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

THE PILOT WHO CRASHED THE PARTY - Review

  

Paul Sand

 


This new play is set in a mansion in the Santa Monica Mountains on a stormy night where Sally, is celebrating her 50th birthday with some intimate friends. Their imaginative party games are in full swing even though its raining and thundering outside.. Suddenly a pilot in a small, single engine plane literally crashes the party. Who, exactly, is this surprise guest? 

    Cleverly written and vibrantly directed by Award winning actor and Second City alum Paul Sand (now 91), who states, “I’m always struck by how people who barely know me project a part of themselves onto who they think I am. That’s what happens with the pilot. As the partygoers take turns caring for him, each projects a part of themself onto the pilot as they try to figure him out.”

    The Pilot (Sol Mason) is a quite charming and ingenuous young man who everyone finds recognizable as they engage him one on one in conversation. To passionate Italian actress Laura (Claudia Ferri) he's a romantic; to vivacious dynamo Sally (Jacqueline Wright) he's the soulmate she's been waiting for, and to wonderfully operatic caterer Barbara (Debra Lane) he serves as a sympathetic ear.

    However, to the guys he's a suspicious character. To older man Daniel (Lee Boek) he is definitely a sly criminal while, after a friendly chat, Laura's boyfriend ILO (Francis C. Edemobi) declares he's certainly a devious homosexual. Two fine musicians, cellist Chris Rorrer and violinist Yennie Lam, cleverly insert themselves into the action. 

    Either way its delightful to see how this total stranger, bewildered and confused as to how he got there, sweetly submits to each persons claim on his real identity. Unfortunately, due to a personal dilemma, my companion and I had to leave before learning the ultimate revelation even though both of us were totally intrigued. 

    At The Broadwater Theatre, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood. Through May 7. 
Tickets: 
www.onstage411.com/Pilot

Friday, February 24, 2023

THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT – review

 


In this challenging play the question is: “Does one need to have journalistic integrity when writing an emotional essay that will be published in a magazine”? Jim Fingal is a young chap with Harvard Crimson editing laurels, and he has been hired by the publisher of a serious magazine to be the fact checker on an article by John D’Agata, a noted American essayist. Based on an actual literary duel between two outspoken and passionate men, it explores the clash between non-fiction and poetic license.

Jim’s job is to verify that all the facts and claims in this story are accurate and represented fairly. However, John is the noted author and editor of six scholarly nonfiction books, whose work has been honored as proving that “the essay should make, and not merely take; that it should gamble with the fictive and not just trade in the real.” This means that although he certainly takes liberties with the truth, he sees it entirely as his right because he is promoting emotions not dry facts.


Eager young Jim seems at first to be a bit of a pedant, finding innumerable mistakes and underlining small details that don’t line up with the facts. However, once the two men are face-to-face the question of the play resounds loud and clear. Artistic license is no longer an option.  According to Jim, you can’t just make it up for effect anymore – the online police patrollers are waiting, and they will crucify you on the worldwide internet.

We are left with this conundrum, and I only wish they had an audience vote at the end on whether to publish as is or send this corrupted essay into the round file.


You will enjoy the challenge of this play and the wonderful performances of Ron Bottitta as John, the beleaguered essayist; Jonah Robinson as Jim, the cheeky but intense fact-checker, and Inger Tudor as a savvy publisher with a true modern dilemma. She knows that the internet is watching and waiting to trip you up and blast you into space.

Directed with humor and dramatic intensity by Simon Levy and produced by Stephen Sachs and James Bennett at the always theatrically provocative Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. Photos by Jenny Graham.

Note: Sorry about the printing glitches but my laptop has its own ideas!

 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

HOME FRONT - Review

   After news broke that World War II was over, photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt took the famous picture of a sailor jubilantly kissing a woman in Times Square. I wondered what their lives would have been like had they been an interracial couple?” asks playwright Warren Leight. “As the son of a jazz musician, I grew up around many interracial couples, and I saw early on the pressures on their lives and marriages.” In his challenging play, Austin Highsmith Garces and C.J. Lindsey star as a white woman and an African American soldier who fall in love the night World War II ends. Jonathan Slavin plays a gay army veteran modeled after Leight’s uncle. Says director Maria Gobetti, “Racism was rampant in the military during World War II. At the time, it was still illegal to marry outside one’s race... Have things really changed all that much?

This is what I announced in my theater column in NOT BORN YESTERDAY and I must admit I was quite unprepared for the emotional power of the play. A couple meet on that same glorious night, filled with the joy of believing this victory heralds a change and their love can bloom. Their scenes together are electric – at first with a gentle hum, then a sensual reality. Yes, it’s a love story that evolves into a domestic tragedy, but most of all it’s an indictment of our society even today.

C.J. Lindsey brilliantly portrays a man living in a society that denies his manhood, that mocks him by pretending to acknowledge his worth, while undermining his self-image. What happens to this man who believes in the promise that winning the war against racism means there is now authentic acceptance? That night of nights was the fulfilment of a promise – but was it – and the realization that nothing has changed has the cruel power to harden a man’s soul, to destroy the love he feels, and punish those his heart longs to protect and serve.

            Austin Highsmith Garces moves gracefully from na├»ve charmer to passionate lover to bewildered waiting woman. Jonathan Slavin as a gay understanding neighbor moves from playful friendship to compassionate determination while facing a society that he is aware also demeans him.

Langston Hughes famously asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?” and author Leight answers with the fate of this proud gentle man. At Victory Theatre Center, 3324 W. Victory Blvd, Burbank. For tickets: 818-841-5421 or www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org

Cover photo by Jennifer Logan.   Performance photos by Tim Sullens




Thursday, November 3, 2022

EISENHOWER: THIS PIECE OF GROUND – review

         


It is the early 1960’s and retiree Dwight D. Eisenhower is writing his memoirs and, to satisfy his publisher, he is talking into a recording machine. Actually, he is in high dudgeon since the annual New York list of Best US Presidents has named him the 22nd best (or worst) of all time. This indignation has him rethinking about his career and the events of his life.

Actor John Rubinstein captures the dignity and authoritative air of this former Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, and two-term President of the United States. We are eavesdropping on him as he reviews his life and learn about his private as well as public triumphs. However, there are times when the actor, perhaps unconsciously, breaks the fourth wall and speaks to us directly. This makes the man he impersonates so well more human and therefore reaches us emotionally as well as intellectually.


To illustrate his life there is a vast backdrop with projections that illuminate the facts with pictures of his loved ones, with familiar newspaper photos from his years in Europe as Supreme Commander, with soldiers and other military figures, as well as all-to-vivid photos from the horrors of the Nazi death camps that he helped liberate.

If you love history here is a visit with a noble historic figure from our US past who, due to the recognition of his many vital accomplishments, has moved up from 22nd to 5th greatest in the decades since.

This new play is written by Richard Hellesen and directed by Peter Ellenstein. It was developed by New Los Angeles Repertory Company as part of their series Plays for Peace – “productions that focus on mankind's fascination with war, highlighting leadership that prevents war and strives for the common humanity and prosperity that leads to peace.

At Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, through November 20. Photos by Pierre Lumiere.

Tickets online at:  www.theatrewest.org or www.newlarep.org

 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Review. ABSOLUTELY HALLOWEEN in Santa Monica

 

 

            To review a children’s show requires that I have a child to observe so I can see it from their perspective. Sophia is four years old and is a very determined child, who’s not easily pleased, so bringing her to this show was a challenge. Will she enjoy it? Will she ‘get’ it? Will she join in all the fun, and even get her photo taken with her favorite character?

            Many kids there were dressed in costumes, and all were delightedly engaged in the story, the performances and the interaction required of them. Well, I’m happy to report that, even though Sophia kept sheltered on her mother, Rachel’s, lap throughout, she was mesmerized and enchanted. When leopard-skinned feline, Cattypuss, asked for verbal help from all the children, Sophia led the rest.        


   It was at intermission that Sophia, normally a bold, fierce, kid, became a shy little girl! Awed by the fabulous Cattypuss, who invited her to come and share a selfie, little Sophia actually held back! Ah, if you knew her, as I know her, this would amaze you as it amazed me!

            This is all to let my readers know that “Absolutely Halloween” is the perfect show to bring your grandkids, no matter how contrary they sometimes seem to be. It’s a magical journey wherein a child named Candy learns about the true meaning of Halloween, i.e., that it’s not only about Trick or Treating for free sweets!

            The fine cast is led by Cydne Moore as a friendly Witch, show-stealing Meghan Nealon as the ever-mischievous Cattypuss, and Tiffany Haile as Candy, with colorful support by Kendal Evans, Michala Peltz and Celeste Akiki. Direction is by Chris DeCarlo, with book, music & lyrics by DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie. Vivid costumes are by designer Ashley Hayes.

   Santa Monica Playhouse, now in its 59th year, is back live (but wear masks) and in this case its business is to bring joy and amazement to young people. Old people too – you see Grandpa came with us and he never even dozed off for a second!

            Santa Monica Playhouse is at 1211 4th Street between Wilshire and Arizona. Tickets at Playhouse Box Office, or call (310) 394-9779 ext.2 or online at www.SantaMonicaPlayhouse.com