Friday, November 26, 2021

Review - "THE CHILDREN" - Hollywood


In this futuristic drama, two married scientists who once worked on a nuclear reactor are hiding out in a house in the country after the nearby reactor has imploded. The risk of radioactivity hangs over their lives as they attempt to carry on as normal. Then a visitor, a former colleague and friend, turns up with a shocking proposal. They may be safe, but the danger they think they are hiding from is an illusion and those who created this danger should help to disentangle it. It isn’t fair for the young people, the children, to have to risk their lives for the sins of their elders. It's a brilliant premise but, to my chagrin, the question of the play is never really answered.

Director Simon Levy has laid the question out well, stating “What I love about the play, is that it tackles these enormously important contemporary issues about our responsibility to the planet, to each other, to future generations, and grounds them in funny, complex, identifiable characters grappling with a moral dilemma….” To add impact to the theme, there is a discussion of these issues after each performance.


Lily Knight and Ron Bottitta are superb as the couple determined to continue in their lives as if danger is an illusion. Elizabeth Elias Huffman has the more difficult task of challenging their reality while her own life is in chaos. No stranger to controversy, playwright Lucy Kirkwood is writer in residence at Clean Break a British theatre company that performs the hidden stories of women in prison.

Produced by Stephen Sachs and James Bennett, with executive producer Karen Kondazian. At The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave, LA. Tkts: (323) 663-1525 or www.info@fountaintheatre.com

 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

REVIEW: "A PERFECT GANESH" - West Los Angeles


When Terrence McNally's play opened in New York in 1993 it received mixed reviews before becoming a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His work always centered on the urgent need for human connection between disparate people and this play deals with many conflicting ideas and is certainly overlong. Then inspired by the ongoing AIDS crisis it resounds today during the Covid-19 epidemic. Ironically, the fact that McNally died in March 2020 from complications from Covid-19 brings it full circle as its theme of loss and unresolved grief rings especially true today.

For this critic it served as an emotional reminder that no matter how bravely you face life, and how far you travel, you can never escape your past. When two upper class American women vacation in India they come face to face with the bitter memories they believed were buried too deep to any longer cause pain. There to confront their blindness is Ganesha, the Hindu god of "wisdom, prudence, acceptance and love." Under his omnipresence they relive the deepest sorrow of their lives and yet are saved when they learn that what we have now are the people we are still able to love!



Heading the excellent cast is Mueen Jahan as Ganesh, perfect as a mercurial god whose wisdom is balanced by his sense of humor; Kathleen Gray as Katherine captures the hyper-enthusiast manner of a woman determined to be fun and friendly in the face of hidden tragedy; Mary Allwright as Margaret gets us to be really fed up with her imperious demands before revealing the vulnerability she covers so well. Judd Yort is deeply moving as Walter, a gay man who dies bravely and despised; Cameron Gregg and Delio Eswar shine as various characters interacting with the women as they journey, and Svetlana Tulasi and Pavia Sidhu are luminous dancers as well as various modern or historic women.

Directed with sensitivity and humor by David W. Callander and produced by his own Campus Cabaret. At the Pico (Playhouse), 10508 W. Pico Blvd. As the theme is adult no one under 12 will be admitted. All Covid protocols - vaccination cards and masks - are required. 

Reservations at: http://onstage411.com/ganesh

 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

REVIEW: "VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE" at Kentwood Players

 


Originally slated to open in March 2020 this play, by one of my favorite playwrights Christopher Durang, has been rehearsing virtually since the shutdown happened immediately after the final dress rehearsal. It finally opened on September 17, but unfortunately this critic did not get to see it until the final performance. Such is life under Covid and here for the record is my review.

It was delightful to recognize the familiar Chekhov characters from a number of his plays, as well as one from Greek mythology, all spending a sunny weekend in Bucks County, PA. There's Vanya and Sonia, living and bickering in the house where they cared for their elderly parents; their fortune-telling maid Cassandra warning of impending dangers, and their movie star sister, Masha, arriving with her sexy, boy toy, Spike. The realization for Vanya and Sonia that their ancestral home is about to be sold, and they ejected, adds to their mourning their lost dreams and missed opportunities.



Heading the excellent cast is Chris Morrison who, as Vanya, has a show stopping final diatribe when he speaks his mind to the heedless modern generation. The charming and amusing comedy suddenly grows electric when he explodes with words that show his anguish and rage.  It's hard to believe that this speech was written for the original 2012 production as it resonates so powerfully today.

Plaudits to Sarilee Kahn as delightful diva Masha; to Giovanni Navarro as her saucy sexy boy toy Spike; to Valerie Sullivan as the tremulous but spunky Sonia, and to a tour de force Susan Stangl as frantically bombastic Cassandra - as well as her splendid work as the Director of the play.

Produced by Alison Boole and Myron Klafter for the Kentwood Players in their newly upgraded Westchester Playhouse at 8301 Hindry Avenue, Los Angeles. Upcoming in November is a special One-Weekend Musical Event "All Together Now" and in December "The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged)." For information call: (310) 645-5156 or email boxoffice@kentwoodplayers.org

Friday, October 8, 2021

REVIEWS: AS GOOD AS GOLD (Beverly Hills) & BIDEN MY TIME (Los Angeles)

In the online issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY for October 2021, I announced these two shows in my column without having seen them. Since I am now happily returning to the real world, vaccinated and masked, I am able to review them both. Herewith...



AS GOOD AS GOLD 

Marilyn Anderson's comedy is witty and funny as it gives a shout-out to Hollywood's treatment of creative women. Three female writers decide their solution to the problem of selling a script is by writing a sex-saturated-action screenplay. After we witness their imagined scenes with guns, sex, and sadism, we can believe they have a sure hit. However, reality says their names as authors will send it right into the round file! Then fate steps in, with a goofy salesman without ambition or guile who gladly agrees to pose as the pretend author. The result, as might be expected, is a confusion of laughs and betrayal.


Heading this excellent cast, Marie Broderick, Nicola Victoria Buck and Wendy Hammers are delightful as the ambitiously beleaguered writers; Landon Beatty is charming as their rustic understudy; Chance Denman is impressive as 007 and other screen hunks; David Westbay is genuinely earnest in disparate roles, and Will Bradley is outstanding especially when, as an auditioning actor, he hilariously shows the desperation and determination of a performer seeking work.

Fast paced direction by Ann Hearn Tobolowsky keeps the laughs coming, even though at times the play radiates rather like a TV sitcom. Produced by David Hunt Stafford and presented by Theatre 40 in The Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Info at www.theatre40.org.

 


BIDEN MY TIME 

The Capital Comedy troupe, founded by Washington DC producer-writer Nicholas Zill, has been doing musical comedy political satire shows for over 15 years. In this age of savage attacks against anyone who dares to raise their heads publicly, one might expect to see acid being thrown in this new revue. However, it’s a gentle spoof on our present President, and other familiar notables now in the hot seat.

What raises this show above the amiability of its attack are the excellent ensemble performers, all who play multiple roles. There is Daniel Amerman as a geniality personified Joe Biden; Shefali Deshpande as a beleaguered but game Kamala Harris; Cristina Florez as a dynamic dancing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Joy Mamey as a delightfully pompous Mitch McConnell, and best of all Aaron Matijasic as a bombastic Bernie Sanders and a sardonic Jeff Bezos.

Taking well known songs and adding satiric lyrics makes for a truly fun show. For example: Biden Introduces his cabinet with "76 Skin Tones" and Harris asks for patience with "Give Biden Some Time" while Sanders and AOC as they visit McConnell's office warn "There Is a Dark and Gloomy Place"!

Scheduled to perhaps run at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave, LA, if fate decides. Look for listings online.


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 PĂ©rez) 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