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

 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Review: BEARINGS by MATT CHAIT On Hollywood’s Theatre Row

  



       This intriguing new play starts off as a Kafkaesque mystery when a near delirious young man enters a luxury hotel in Pasadena looking for his room that he left only hours before.  There is no record of his having ever been there but after a while the reception he gets from the management is quite warm and obliging. 

Soon one starts to wonder if perhaps this is hiding a scheme to destroy the man’s mind. 


However, by being patient and enjoying the journey I guarantee that when the pieces fall into place, author Matt Chait does not let us down. The final revelation satisfies one’s curiosity as well as proves a delight in the magic spell of live theater.

            As for the performers, leading an excellent cast is Will Bradley, tormented but sweetly honest as the beleaguered hero; then there are Justin Huen and Kim Estes, hotel-managers, both so calm and reasonable that our suspicions are roused. 

There are scene-stealers Rebecca O’Brien as a wonderfully funny overworked waitress, and Valerie Larsen as a superbly frustrated and harried mom-housewife. 

Others worth noting are Trip Langley as a snotty desk clerk, Jane Papageorge as a lascivious student, Allison Reeves as a dedicated nurse and Vanessa Born as a cheery boy with a python pet.

Directed with panache by author Chait and presented by The Complex with Erin Trainer as executive producer. Performed in the Flight Theatre, (aptly named for its very high flight of stairs) at 6472, Santa Monica Blvd., in Hollywood. Yes, this is the row of small theatres, known as The Complex, that are endangered and demanding that this historic Theatre Row have protective status as the theatrically productive home for Los Angeles’ imaginative and daring Live Theatre!

Unfortunately, I only got to see this evocative play close to its final weekend and it’s worth hurrying over before it closes, and the fine cast and crew disperse to other triumphs. TICKETS & RESERVATIONS: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bearings-tickets-395606518747

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