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

 

NOT BORN YESTERDAY February 2021. A Black Woman Speaks, Othello, Unraveled, Storybook Theatre.

 

February is Black History month and here are two shows I recommend that resonate with the times.

 

A BLACK WOMAN SPEAKS - on YouTube

I remember Beah Richards' extraordinary performance in her powerful one-woman play at Inner City Cultural Center in 1975. Standing alone, she passionately points out how in the 19th century, while white women were oppressed, they turned their frustration on to their enslaved black sisters instead of their true oppressors. She was first acclaimed for portraying Sidney Poitier's mother in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" for which she received an Academy Award nomination. However, I knew her as a notable Broadway actress prior to this, starring in James Baldwin's "The Amen Corner" as well as "Purlie Victorious," "A Raisin in the Sun" and "The Miracle Worker."  Her career on television, in numerous roles, culminated in Emmy Awards for "Frank's Place" in 1988, and "The Practice" in 2000. Her show was filmed live and can be seen on YouTube: https://youtu.be/_ii8kwAKw4g

  


OTHELLO - online

Since its official premiere in London in 1604, this only one of Shakespeare's plays to have a Black leading character, has been a challenge for white actors. Still, when Paul Robeson took on the role in London in 1930, he was the first Black actor to perform it since Ira Aldridge in 1826. Then, in 1943 in New York City, he was the first African American to play Othello in a major Broadway production. This month, the Robey Theatre Company, founded in 1994 by Danny Glover and Ben Guillory, will present an online performance of "Othello" with Guillory in the title role, directed by Tom Ormeny of Burbank's Victory Theatre. For this free event registration begins on February 1st. and you will be sent a link to attend the show that will air on February 28 at 2:00 p.m. Register at: http://therobeytheatrecompany.org/our-events.

UNRAVELLED - Online

Based on true events, and research at UCSF's Memory and Aging Center, playwright Jake Broder explores how art, music and science intersect with apparent mental decline. His drama explores the connection between the work of French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and Canadian painter Anne Adams (1940-2007). Both were in the early stages of progressive aphasia, a form of dementia, while they were still working. The disease apparently altered circuits in their brains, resulting in a torrent of creativity. This virtual premiere is sponsored by UCSF's Global Brain Health Institute and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Directed by Nike Doukas, the play will begin streaming on February 25 at 4 p.m. and will be free and on demand through March 31. Two live seminars featuring experts in the field, including Dr. Bruce Miller, who diagnosed Adams, will take place on Feb 25 and March 3. Link up at: www.UnRavelledPlay.com

STORYBOOK THEATRE - on YouTube

Lloyd J. Schwartz and Barbara Mallory have been presenting interactive musicals for young audiences for 36 years. Having seen some of their shows, I can assure you that their adaptations from classic tales, featuring beloved characters, are non-violent and non-scary but absolutely delightful. Sadly, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, young audiences have not been able to go and see Storybook Theatre in person. However, good news! Six of their audience-favorite shows are now available any time, on demand, for FREE! The series contains "Sleeping Beauty" "Hansel and Gretel" "Little Red Riding Hood" "The Princess and the Frog" "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Goldilocks." Shows range from 43-58 minutes and are suitable for kids age 5-9. All written, directed and performed by members of Theatre West, on Cahuenga  Blvd. Click on: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLTjDWrRQyg9Lprr725zRsj-uiGTUJTlqz

Friday, January 15, 2021

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. January 2021.THE CROWN, WALLY FOR QUEEN, THE WINDSOR FOLLIES

 


I hope you are all enjoying this fascinating series even though there’s been some criticism over the image of members of the Royal family. Happily, viewers are not deterred and in fact, seeing this secluded family as real people, with distinctive personalities, is obviously part of the charm. I myself, being British born and raised, spent many years living under the mythical Royals which adds to my enjoyment. However, I’d like to add a personal experience that strangely parallels the hubbub surrounding the depictions in “The Crown”.

It started in the 1980’s when my literary agent, the legendary Bertha Klausner, gave me a short play by another of her clients to read. It was titled, “Wally For Queen” and written by the illustrious Upton Sinclair. He was a distant cousin to the infamous Mrs. Wallis Simpson for whom King Edward the Eighth gave up his throne in 1936. This delightful short play described the human relationship between her and the Prince of Wales during their affair.

There was interest in the subject at this time, and Bertha arranged for me to work with a noted Broadway director on a full-length adaptation. As I expanded the script, Upton’s dialogue inspired me to show two very real, and perhaps eccentric people, unlike the pompous waxworks figures so often seen as Royalty onstage. Well, the director and I didn’t see eye to eye as he wanted the more respectful (to me cliché) image of these two famous people. So, the project landed entirely in my lap.

Bertha sided with me and, by the time my “Wally For Queen” was finished, she had an important Broadway woman producer eager to read it. I was surprised to learn she sent back the script saying, “The dialogue is all wrong. Members of the Royal Family don’t talk like that!” Happily, the Off-Broadway group, Works by Women, eagerly accepted it and it opened to excellent reviews that seemed to prove that they do.

After another OOB production, retitled “Wally and Davy” with a male actor playing Wallis, I decided to adapt it into a Cabaret Book Musical. With a score by my composer-lyricist husband Ralph Martell, and a new title, “The Windsor Follies”, and starring British actor Keith Benedict.  Before its scheduled Off-Broadway opening on 42nd Street, we were invited to premiere it at The Royal Suite in The Waldorf Towers. This was a gala event with NYC theater luminaries attending and a write-up in Cindy Adams prestigious column.

To our surprise, in spite of this good publicity, attendance at the West Bank Café was light and the enthusiasm for the subject seemed to have waned. Then a Jewish friend who came to the show, took me aside. “Morna,” she said gently, “People aren’t coming because these two were Nazi supporters and you are glamorizing them.” Huh! Suddenly I had written a romance for two despised people who no one would find charming, even with songs.


I now realize that there is a risk when one writes characters based on famous figures. People have an image of them and do not want you changing it for better or worse. My interpretation, taken from Upton Sinclair’s version, was of two delightful if superficial people, in an unusual lifestyle, who fall impossibly in love.  Not pompous statues, not secret fascists, not pitiful misfits, but just plan Wally and Davy! See THE WINDSOR FOLLIES video on You Tube and let me know what you think:  http://youtu.be/WIHdzGISakc

 

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. December 2020. A Christmas Carol 1951, Charlie Brown Christmas, Barbara Morrison, Covid Fan Tutte

 



  A CHRISTMAS CAROL – 1951 – You Tube

Having seen many incarnations over the years, I must admit this b/w version of Charles Dickens masterpiece is simply the best ever on stage or film. Alastair Sim is marvelous as the miserly businessman who views Christmas as a waste of time. He is the bitterest, meanest Scrooge you’ll ever see, as he grudgingly allows his timid clerk to spend only one day with his family, even though his little boy, Tiny Tim, is lame and dying from TB. When alone, Scrooge is visited by ghosts and given a glimpse into his sad past, cruel present and tragic future, with a final revelation that brings a joyous conclusion.

The roster of fabulous British performers include Mervyn Johns as clerk Bob Cratchit and Hermione Baddeley (who I toured with in 1961) as Mrs. Cratchit; Michael Hordern as Scrooge’s dead partner; Kathleen Harrison as his charwoman, and George Cole as the young Scrooge when Spirit of Christmas Past (Michael Dolan) takes him back in time. Screenplay by Noel Langley uses dialogue from the original book. Produced and directed by Brian Desmond Hurst.

 

  A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS – PBS

Christmas will look vastly different for millions this year due to the coronavirus, but PBS has announced that one tradition will remain intact. The Charlie Brown holiday special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will air on PBS and PBS Kids on December 13. This annual holiday tradition was thrown into question in October when Apple TV+ made a deal with Peanuts Worldwide and Mendelson Film Productions to be the sole home of all Peanuts’ holiday specials. When people learned that the Peanuts characters would only be on Apple TV+ thousands signed a petition to bring back Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Woodstock, and the rest. Also on Apple TV+.


BARBARA MORRISON - Beverly Hills

This nightclub series at The Wallis Annenberg Center has gone virtual with all programs presented digitally on Saturday evenings at 8 pm. “Standing on Their Shoulders” on Dec. 5, brings jazz and blues singer Barbara Morrison with her musical tribute to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and other greats. “A Night of Holiday Magic” on Dec. 12, is a magical holiday surprise when four local magicians delight and amaze the entire family with awe-inspiring holiday-themed illusions. “Songs of Joy and Peace” on Dec. 19 is for those who love to sing along. Singer Audra Mae, great grandniece of Judy Garland, performs from classic holiday films, along with keyboardist Dylan Meek. All shows run approximately 45 minutes.

Info: (310) 746-4000 or Tickets@TheWallis.org

COVID FAN TUTTE – You Tube

For opera lovers here is a wildly imaginative comedic adaptation of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte”, created and produced by the Finnish National Opera. It depicts life in the spring of 2020 as disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea came when they had to cancel the planned production of Wagner’s “Die Walküre” and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen conceived the idea. Journalist-novelist Minna Lindgren created the libretto, selecting music from Mozart’s original and an aria each from his “Don Giovanni “and “The Magic Flute.” My opera-loving friend, playwright Anibal Aprile, advises “Do not miss this!” You can view the entire show, with English subtitles, on You Tube through March 30. Soprano Karita Mattila plays a parody of herself as a renowned opera diva trapped in Finland because of the pandemic. Ironically, both she and conductor Salonen reside in the U.S., but found themselves unable to leave Finland when the international borders were closed.