Thursday, April 14, 2022

A HEATED DISCUSSION - Review

 



 Well, Robey Theatre is back and its choice for first production after Covid is a challenging one by Levy Lee Simon. 


We find ourselves eavesdropping on twelve politically and philosophically illustrious Black iconic figures, brought from the afterlife by three Orisha African deities. The purpose is to hear their viewpoints on the state of their African descendants in America today.

            After heart-breaking live footage of all too familiar racist killings, the trio asks their opinions on what causes these atrocities, exactly who is responsible, and how can people who are labeled as Black fight back.

            The most powerful argument for militant pushback was Malcolm X (David Bollar) while Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (Garret Davis) and Maya Angelou (Kimberly Bailey) pleaded for peace and forgiveness. Most devastating was Ida B. Wells' (Quonta Beasley) description of a lynching and its aftermath. Most candid were Richard Pryor (Philip Bell), Tupac Shakur (Kyle Sparks) and Zora Neale Hurston (Vanja Renee). Most calmly measured were James Baldwin (Julio Hanson) and Bob Marley (Alex W.S.T. Chumley).


Most hot-headed was Dr. Francess Welsing Cress (Rosie Lee Hooks) whose passionate indictments almost silenced her opponents. Most indignant were Lorraine Hansberry (Tiffany Cole) and Nina Simone (Lashada Jackson). Most commanding was a Spirit Warrior (Ben Guillory) whose final argument was a reminder of the strength that shows a beleaguered people's triumph.

            Produced and directed by Guillory, this deeply disturbing play reveals more injustice than anyone can bear and still live life with joy. Ironically, it opened the same week that, after a brutal interrogation, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed as the first African American woman to serve as a justice of the United States Supreme Court. The discussion continues!

            The Robey Theatre, Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St, Downtown LA. Reservations: (213) 489-7402. 

Photos by Jermaine Alexander.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

A DEATH-DEFYING ESCAPE - in Hollywood - REVIEW

 



Fact: Discovering at age 10 that the messes in her life were great fodder for comedy, Judy Carter overcame a speech impediment and began doing magic shows for birthday parties — leading to a full-page story in the 
Los Angeles Times. She was the first woman to perform at the Magic Castle Close-Up Gallery in Hollywood — where she was literally picked up and thrown out because “Cards are for men.” Undaunted, she continued developing her own style of magic, creating a death-defying escape from her grandmother’s girdle and sawing a man in half. At one engagement, when the airlines lost her luggage, she went on without her tricks — and instantly became a standup comic. Since then, she has appeared on over 100 TV shows and four comedy cable specials, as well as opening for Prince and playing Vegas.

Review: Well, about halfway through this delightful show Judy mentioned that she is the author of some books. Click! I suddenly realized I have long admired her for her book "The Message of You." About five years ago, I was a member of comedienne Rebecca O'Brien's Standup Comedy Workshop and the tome that was the focus for the year I attended was Judy Carter's advisory in that book. Tell about your own life, inspire people to live and love and laugh, while sharing what might even be considered a sad or tragic life story. So, how to remain a disinterested theater critic when she was an important influence on my own creative life?

          In this terrific show, directed by Lee Costello, having conquered the comedy world, and had strong impact as an author, Judy now brings her magic to live theater. We can see that taking chances was her path to success as she reaches back to a turbulent childhood where doing magic tricks entertained her friends and pleased her hypercritical parents. There was a tragedy in her early life that colored her young days and helped determine her future drive to succeed, a revelation that brought tears to my eyes. However, the show itself remedied this pain with its humor and wonder.

          Magic requires that we believe what we see and, believe me, this is a show not to be missed. Judy herself draws us close, and, with the admirable assistance of two brilliant actors, brings her story to life. Both play many roles: Lyndsi LaRose is moving as her tremulous mother and sensitive lover, while Kevin Scott Allen is awesome as her domineering father, horny mentor and hilarious bikini-clad 'magicians assistant'!

          At Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles. Order tickets at www.deathdefyingescape.com. Photos by J.

 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

YOU HAVEN'T CHANGED A BIT AND OTHER LIES - review

 


          As Bette Davis famously once said, Old age isn't for sissies!” and this delightful revue certainly proves her point. The various trials and tribulations of old age are humorously illustrated by author Jerry Mayer, through scenes and songs by himself, and his son, Steve. In case you doubt it, some predictable limitations that come with old age are all told with humor and melody. Things such as: Where on earth did I park the car in this public garage? or I'm not hard of hearing, just preoccupied! or Don’t tell me it's time for Viagra!

          The six performers are divided into three couples, identified as Jewish, Irish, Italian, who are all planning to renew their marriage vows after 30-some years. This has raised their awareness of certain problems that are becoming troublesome. For example, the three wives are perplexed by having their once career-obsessed husbands now lurking, lounging, or hanging around the house every day. The three husbands are wondering why their once manly domination in life, work, and home is gone, and is this why they are starting to feel like they are becoming the weaker sex?

          Through a series of witty songs, the excellent cast share these dilemmas with the audience members. This brought much recognition laughter from the older folk attending. For younger people it's a hint of trials and tribulations to come, yet Mayer's message is clear - keep living and loving and don't put any limitations on what you can still accomplish. Hey, author Mayer is 90 and, after a career writing for many top TV shows, he's clearly not slowing down as here he is, onstage with live theater.

          Directed by Chris DeCarlo, who also performs, along with Rachel Galper, Kyle T. Heffner, Barbara Keegan, Evelyn Rudie and Tom Van Dyke. Musical accompaniment is by Steve Mayer. At Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica. Tkts: (310) 394-9779 ext.1, or theatre@SantaMonicaPlayhouse.com

 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

RAPUNZEL ALONE - review

 

The Murphy Girls in WW2

During the bombings in the second World War, for their safety, thousands of children were sent away from London to stay with strangers in the countryside. In fact, my sisters and I were among these, and we spent one year on a farm in Dorset. I was two years old, and people said I enthusiastically went out to herd in the cows each evening. 

So naturally I was intrigued when I heard that this show was about a little mixed-race girl sent to live on a farm in WW2! 

However, this child's experience is far bleaker than mine. Her farm-owner is a formidable, emotionally unreachable woman who, because she was from Africa, was embittered after being called a 'witch' by the local rubes. How a child deals with stern domination is the theme of this play that somewhat parallels the Grimms Brother's (grim) tale of a young girl's imprisonment. 

All is sadness until Gertrude, a large goose, a creature that seems to embody an evil spirit, roars in with beak open to attack. The child is at first terrified, then as she timidly collects eggs, and witnesses the magical arrival of goslings, her heart fills with tenderness. As she becomes the protector of these fragile creatures, will Gertrude, who has tolerated this intruder, now accept her?

       How to categorize this as a children's story is a problem, as it's so full of undeserved cruelty that one fears it unsuitable for kids. Still, the production is wildly imaginative, with moving screens denoting places, people and events that drive the action along.

 The voiceover by author Mike Kenny, that sets up the story, is a needed asset. Sadly, the exchanges between the child Lettie (Tara Alise Cox) and her unkind hostess (Marie-Francoise Theodore) are often barely audible, while bratty local kid (William Leon in a dynamic and delightful performance) can be heard clearly.

Stealing the show is Gertrude the Goose, the funniest and most energetic bird, boldly escorted by puppeteer Matt Curtin. Children in the audience clapped and laughed whenever Gertrude appeared, and someone nearby actually asked their neighbor, "Is that goose real?" as she certainly appears so.

The show, written by Britisher Kenny, is produced and directed by the dynamic 24th Street Theatre team, Jay McAdams and Debbie Devine. This production moves to Beverly Hills and will play at the Wallis Center for further weeks. 

For information: (310) 746-4000 or TheWallis.org/rapunzel

Production photos by Cooper Bates.

Friday, March 4, 2022

ON THE OTHER HAND, WE'RE HAPPY - Review

 



 

This is a poignant tale of love, loss, and how when one is not afraid to take risks, life can perhaps bring joy. Playwright Daf James has devised an ingenious way to persuade us that the love between stolid Josh and effervescent Abbe is deep and long-lasting. As we view a series of brief live-action snapshots, we see the changes that take place over the years in a happy marriage. We are enchanted by these time changes that reveal the dynamic in their marriage. Clearly, both are eager to share their lives fully especially when, unable to conceive, they agree to adopt a child.

There are events that make this a perhaps perilous choice, not least of all the fact that the mother of the child offered to them is drug addicted. One of the characters asks us directly, what would we do in such a case? Take in a perhaps badly damaged little girl? Would we risk it? Playwright James shows us, through Josh, the inner doubts for such a commitment but also his deep need to share love as he has known it.

The three marvelous actors all play double roles smoothly and believably. Rori Flynn, dazzling as the effervescent Abbe, whose ability to love is boundless, also plays a calm, assuring social worker whose deep understanding of the tumult in a childless person's mind is balanced by a firm belief in parenthood.

Christian Telesmar, as the conflicted Josh, shows how deeply he wants a child to hold yet reveals the fear that his dream might crash when facing reality. Telesmar portrays the sensitive husband believably, then suddenly breaks away for one brief scene to portray the child's father, a boisterous, demanding man that we know has a darker side.

 

Perhaps the most riveting part of the play is when we meet the child's mother. Alexandra Hellquist is marvelous as a frantic, deeply wounded, almost hysterical woman whose need to save her child from the degradation and abuse she suffers reaches levels of nobility. Hellquist also leaps back and forth as the troubled child that we witness growing into assured womanhood.

Director Cameron Watson moves the action at full speed and yet allows the actors moments of stillness that tug at our hearts. Perhaps the revelation in James' play is that no matter what happens, love can heal the deepest hurts if we have the courage to embrace it.

Rogue Machine Theatre are now at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles. For reservations call (855) 585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.net

Photos by John Perrin Flynn

 

Friday, December 17, 2021

GOOD PEOPLE - Review



When I saw "August: Osage County" on Broadway back in 2007, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, I realized that an entirely new genre in theater had arrived. No longer entertaining or emotionally moving, now we were being exposed to somewhat cynical domestic dramas. Author David Lindsay-Abaire, born in South Boston, is grimly determined to reveal the pain in everyday life in this poor area. He was privy to the desolation and crushing of spirits among the people there, and he certainly brings that to our attention in this often bleak but also amusing comedy-drama.

 As reported formerly: " Margie is a white woman from the working-class neighborhood of South Boston. She’s a single mom caring for a grown, severely autistic daughter. Mike, her former high school beau, has gotten out of South Boston, become an M.D., and moved to the tony suburb of Chestnut Hill with his beautiful Black wife and their daughter. Now Margie has recently been fired from her job and is facing eviction. Some friends at the local church Bingo game suggest that she look up her old fling and ask him for a job. When Margie arrives at his doorstep, what will she ask and what will he do?"

 

Yes, this is a play that resounds today as its about contrasts, about those who 'make it' and those who don't. It's casting an eye on the unlucky in life and the now privileged, and what happens when they collide because of a long ago claim of kinship. It's so now when in essence one character says, in pleading desperation - you have all the luck, and I had all the hard knocks - now help me… and if you won't then I'll bring you down - maybe!

We are flies on the wall when Margie (a quixotically funny but tragic Alison Blanchard) is first mistaken for a domestic by the elegant Black lady of the house (a dazzling Charlotte Williams Roberts) in an ironic turnaround. We see the embarrassment and resentment that her old boyfriend, now a successful doctor (seething volcano Scott Facher) is driven to by his buried past. The scene between these three is riveting and the alternate pleading, threatening, placating, resounds through the house.   


The lead up to this confrontation is adroitly brought to life by clever director Ann Hearn Tobolowsky. My only concern is that much of the dialogue was lost due to the intimacy between the actors, especially Facher and Blanchard, who dug so deeply into their battle that they forgot they were onstage in a theatre, not in an actual living room.

Let's not overlook the rest of this excellent cast: Michael Kerr was wonderfully bewildered as a man caught in the crossfire between work and compassion; Suzan Solomon was delightfully casual as a friend with some clever suggestions, and Mariko Van Kampen was airily ditzy as a landlady with no heart of gold. Photos by Amir Kojoory and Eric Keitel.

Produced by David Hunt Stafford for Theatre 40, in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Free Parking. Strict Covid protocols. Tickets: (310) 364-0535 or  www.theatre40.org

 

 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY - Reviewed by Cosmo Murphy


Well, I had a fun time at the show and am having even more fun writing this review as this sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" is a holiday treat where Jane Austen meets "Downton Abbey." This comic-drama, written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, is about the events leading up to a Christmas party at Pemberley. 

   Housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds has hired a new maid named Cassie and another character, Brian, has a crush on the girl. He spends a lot of time showing off his “inventions” to her, such as a device that makes baking biscuits easier. (It’s a roller combined with a biscuit cutter so she can roll dough and then immediately cut it into shapes for biscuits).

Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy have invited their friend, Lydia Wickham, who is married to George Wickham, who no one likes because of his toxic behavior. They all talk about how they don’t want George to show up and spoil their Christmas party.  So of course, George shows up belligerently drunk with his head bleeding from getting beaten up at a bar. To keep George’s arrival secret from Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth occupies his time by having sex with him upstairs, while Mrs. Reynolds occupies Lydia's time by shoving biscuits in her face and having her go to her room to eat them.

Then the maid, Cassie, discovers a letter addressed to George that reveals he had got another girl pregnant, and he owes a bunch of people money. (It was the brother of the girl he got pregnant who found him and beat him up). George realizes he lost the letter, that has now made its rounds to everyone in the house except for Lydia, his wife. George, eager to leave Pemberley, tells Lydia they ought to go abroad and she’s excited since she really wants to go to Paris. 

Lydia gets money from her dad, George and Lydia pack their bags and get ready to go, but just before they leave, the bombshell of George's behavior is dropped on Lydia. Although heartbroken, Lydia gives George the money her dad gave her for their trip abroad and George leaves the house alone. The final scene shows Brian giving Cassie a gift of a music box and they do a little dance to the music and that’s the end of the play.


    My favorite actor was Chelsea Kurtz for her portrayal of Lydia that had me laughing when she acted like a bimbo, and I empathized with her after she got her heart broken by George. Kyle T. Hester as George did an excellent job of being the antagonist but as his character was toxic I understood why no one wanted him around. Will Block played Brian with a schoolboy crush that had the audience laughing whenever he would introduce an invention. Kodi Jackman's Cassie strives for independence while her job as a maid allows her to have freedom from societal norms. 

 Nike Doukas as Mrs. Reynolds was the backbone of Pemberley, doing everything she could to ensure everything was fine and going well. Rebecca Mozo as Elizabeth was a moral person, a good friend to Lydia and a loyal wife to Mr Darcy. Adam Poss, was a badass Mr Darcy, charming towards the girls and didn’t take any nonsense from George while on the staircase.

Directed by Michael Butler, it's a fun show and an emotional experience as there were parts where I laughed and parts where I gasped. I enjoyed how the stage was set and how the characters used the space to tell the story. I recommend this play for Santa Barbarians that want to go out, be entertained, and cruise State Street after the show!  Photos by Zach Mendez.

Ensemble Theatre Company at The New Vic, 33 W. Victoria Street, Santa Barbara. For tickets or info: (805) 965-5400 or www.etcsb.org