Thursday, June 28, 2012

Perhaps Snark IS a Public Service ...

If we endeavored to write snarky reviews, at least then our constructive, negative feedback wouldn't be viewed as "decidedly ambiguous, bordering on academic non-commital."

(A review of a review.  Amazing.)

Granted, I probably should have sent Colin a private email regarding the "bitterness" of my review.  I guess I brought it on myself, really.

But let's take a look at some of the "decidedly ambiguous" things I said about Modern Drama, shall we?

"When the verbosity gets in the way of clarity, it's time to break out the red felt tip. Believe me, it's time."

Very non-commital on my part.

"It's as if Mr. Sterritt came up with a great idea for a play but didn't want to be bothered to actually write it."

Vague as hell, without a doubt.

"[...] it makes me wonder if the entire evening of theatre was some sort of overarching, meta-joke on the audience. If so, I wish we had been let in on the laughs."

I couldn't be more ambiguous if I tried.

Granted, these sentences turn up after the first paragraph of the review, unlike the clip Colin did print: "There are some very interesting ideas at the bottom of Mr.Sterritt's comedy, but he needs a few more drafts for those ideas to fully blossom."  I can see how, if he read no further, my take would appear "bittersweet".  In the future, I'll be sure to put "I LIKED IT" or "I DIDN'T LIKE IT" in easy to read 14pt boldface at the head of my reviews so as to save Colin the trouble.

Now we have a review of a review of a review.  You're not the only one prone to grouchiness, Colin.  Although in my case, it is admitedly more knee-jerk than perfunctory.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

D is for Dog

by Katie Polebaum
directed by Sean T. Cawelti
a Rogue Artists Ensemble Production



review by Phillip Kelly

Few shows move me to tears. The resurrected Rogue Artists Ensemble production of D is for Dog, by playwright Katie Polebaum, with a new ending that should be seen by all, and directed by Sean T Cawelti, not only did just that, but it also left me terrified, heartbroken and unnerved. The works of Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury and Rod Serling spring to mind. Like those master writers of sci-fi, Polebaum mixes genuine laughs along the way that humanize the characters involved, making this one of the finer shows I've seen in LA to date.

From beginning to end every element sets what should be the standard for professional theatre in Los Angeles. Yes, Rogue Artists Ensemble is a company formed, run and consisting mainly of theatre designers - and it shows; the set, the lighting design, the sound design, the use of video and projection, the puppetry(!), everything here is used to heighten and nothing distracts. There is a story purpose to every element. And along with all this, wait for it, the 4 actors in the lead roles are pros and the script by Polebaum is full of "amazing" (I've used it as a noun), and thematic shenanigans that wrap and weave playfully around our culture and it's willingness to accept whatever is given to it without question. It will keep you talking and thinking for days to come.

I could stop there. That should be all that you need to see this wonder, but I'll tease a little more.

It begins as a sort of satire of 1950's television family life. Nina Silver as the June Cleaversque, Mrs. Rogers is fascinating to watch float around the stage (props to the movement coach Estela Garcia), and it's even more fun to watch her disposition crumble. Of all the characters she informs the dramatic shift most, and Silver carries that weight gracefully, never missing a beat. Guy Birtwhistle plays her perfect husband, Mr. Rogers. Only he's showing up later than normal, throwing off the very set routine for the Mrs. and their two kids; he also brings with him a few hefty secrets that have been informing and slowly freeing the children from this routine. Dick, played by Michael Scott Allen and Jane, played by Taylor Coffman are the children. Playing many years younger, Scott and Coffman are a delight to watch inhabit these 11-year-old personalities. Scott realistically grapples with the kid-ccentric idea of having too much knowledge for his wisdom to contain. It's the more subtle performance of the show, but ever so effective. On the opposite end, Coffman has made June, an erratic, hilarious, touching, haunting and down right creepy character, and every shift, sometimes happening from one second to the next, rings true and is affecting. She has the natural talent to bring June to life in a way that balances scene stealing with scene sharing. What a creation of writing, direction, and acting chops.

Birtwhistle gets one of the more amazing scenes in the show, to play against two life size, almost human entities in the form of giant puppets. It takes two things to bring those beings to life. Birtwhistle, his talent shines as he plays every moment against them with the utmost commitment. There's no winking to the audience, he bristles with fear and excitement. What puppets? To him, these are people, every fiber of them. The second of course are the talented Heidi Hilliker and Benjamin Messmer who are one with their puppet avatars, designed and built by a slew of, no doubt, equally talented designers. Hilliker and Messmer's dance is fluid and breathtaking to watch.

Thanks to Cawelti and his vision for the show, D is for Dog is the reason why in some circles they can still say theatre is holy and reverent. You sit in a dark space, the lights come up on stage and your reality is altered; you're taken to another plain of existence for a couple hours - it ever so naturally becomes a part of who you are. It's poetry. Only it didn't happen on a set 6 months ago, it's happening right in front of you, you're a part of this living, breathing, immediate entity. D is for Dog is why live theatre exists and why people should go see live theatre at any cost. To find a gem like this in a sometimes rough landscape refreshes the soul.

D is for Dog is playing at the Hudson Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Now - August 4th.
Thurs, Fri @ 8pm, Sat at 3pm and 8pm
Call for tickets at: 323.856.4249
It was recently part of Hollywood Fringe where it was nominated "Best Play"
For more info:
http://www.rogueartists.org/?portfolio=d-is-for-dog
*The Hudson Theatre has a coffee shop built in, so show up a little early and enjoy their cucumber iced tea.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Altarcations

a new play written and directed by STEVE JULIAN
presented at Actors Circle Theatre
a Hollywood Fringe Production

review by Phillip Kelly

The Catholic scandal over the past couple years has been one of the things that's really raised my ire. To take advantage of an innocent, when you're supposed to stand for something pure, and then to cover up something that detestable when you're supposed to protect the people who come to worship the same God you believe in...I become angry. Thinking about it as I write, that rage returns.

Altarcations, the new play by Steve Julian, does something unexpected. While it demonizes the acts themselves, it humanizes the people that commit them. Sometimes turning them into even greater monsters, but these characters are 3 dimensional people, not simply cyphers to make a point. They regret and feel guilt over the things they've done. This makes it that much more of a complex and intriguing show to watch.

Robert Keasler plays Father Bart who is a father figure to a young man, Tommy played by Drew Hellenthal, who wishes to become a man of the cloth. Tommy is staying with a woman, Rachel (Dylan Jones). In the midst of this Bishop Michael, Travis Michael Holder, comes to the Church in order to weed out the potentially bad seeds and train the heads of the Churches how to deal with and curb the unholy desires within themselves.

Much is alluded to before it's shown, and the curtain is ever so slowly parted, allowing us to uncover the secrets between each of the characters and the scars they carry. The discomfort is palpable and the end is chilling in ways I don't want to begin to ruin. Along the way, we're treated to some delectable performances and writing. Travis Michael Holder's drunken, sexual repartee leaves you feeling unclean and in awe at the same time. The three confession scenes between Dylan and the three characters are clever and so wonderfully performed by everyone in the cast. The psychological deconstruction is handled with confidence and balance by Julian and his performers.

Like most things in Fringe, at least the things I've seen and can imagine, it takes advantage of video projection to smartly allude to the wheres, but also during the show, as scene transitions occur, we are shown a video recording of an unnamed woman, articulately dismantling the Church and the cover up. It manages to keep the proceedings grounded in reality. The problem being, the video doesn't resolve itself, and simply disappears from the production as we near the end of the story. The score by Jen Schwartz and sound design by Jeff Gardner help create the well rounded world.

At times the acting and writing becomes a little melodramatic, but it's forgivable as these characters are dealing with with the fights of their lives.

If you get a chance while it's still at Fringe, check it out. Look for it to have a healthy life beyond.

Altarcations by Steve Julian
June 8 - 24, Fri. at 5pm, Sun at 4pm
Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood 90046
hollywoodfringe.org/projects/920
or follow the Playwright for updates on the production at stevejulian.com

Friday, June 22, 2012

Modern Drama


Written and Directed by Bill Sterritt
Produced by SPQR Stage Company

review by Andrew Moore

A playwright is haunted by the characters of his one good play, which was written out of spite.  A simple premise with great potential plays out in Bill Sterritt's at times absurdist, at times simply absurd new comedy at studio/stage.  There are some very interesting ideas at the bottom of Mr.Sterritt's comedy, but he needs a few more drafts for those ideas to fully blossom.

The set is magnificent, and an environmental treatment of the house brings the audience into the physical world of the play.  We're even given drinks to go with our deck chairs.  The way the stage is set, I was ready to fully embrace the world of the play.  I was excited over the possibility of what was to come.  And yet, and yet ...

The cast holds their roles at arms length, not really committing to the presentational performances they toy with.  There are the rare flashes of inspiration among the three speaking roles, but they never really ignite.  The non-speaking ghosts of dramatis personae-past quite frequently steal the scene in spite of -- or rather in large part because of -- their lack of dialogue.

Which brings us to the first major issue with the script:  The superfluous brandishing of flowery diction that permeates every sentence.  Even the flourishes, at times, have flourishes.  If this eccentricity were limited to the playwright (or rather the character of the playwright, Crocker Morton played by Rich Brunner) it might work.  But alas, each of the speaking roles is lousy with fifty cent words, and they do their damnedest to squeeze three bucks out of every half-dollar. When the verbosity gets in the way of clarity, it's time to break out the red felt tip.  Believe me, it's time.

Stakes.  Specifically, are there any? What does the playwright have to lose if he fails?  It's made very clear to us that he's happy writing porno.  He's only convinced to take up the task by the snoring, squatting Gordon Gordon (the artistic director attempting to commission a new play, played by Keith Wyffels).  So?  That's all it takes to make Crocker Morton write a new play?  And deleting the play has no toll.  Morton seems momentarily troubled by it and then -- its a done deal. Where is the struggle?  What are the stakes?

The stakes all belong to Gordon Gordon.  If he doesn't secure this playwright, he loses out on the lucrative grant.  Okay.  So make Gordon Gordon the focus of the play.  Or put something dear on the line for Crocker Morton.

In the end, Morton reconciles with his wife (Lisa Temple) in an incredibly convenient display of forgiveness.  Really, if that's all it took, why have they been at odds for so long?  The truth is, there is no conflict between the two of them.  They've worked out a rhythm and routine that greets us at rise and carries through to the tacked on reconciliation.

The scenario is rich with comedic and dramatic potential, but these choices don't read as "choices" but rather "expediencies." For instance, an interesting choice would be if the playwright were not only happy writing porno, but ironically proud of the fact that he is a Tony Award-winning, successful adult film screenwriter.  Why go back to the theatre?  He can knock out porno screenplays as easily as one of his fans rubs one out while watching them.  It's not explored.  Nothing other than the rich, GRE vocabulary of the playwright is explored with any fervor.  It's as if Mr. Sterritt came up with a great idea for a play but didn't want to be bothered to actually write it. 

Which is so ironic, it makes me wonder if the entire evening of theatre was some sort of overarching, meta-joke on the audience.  If so, I wish we had been let in on the laughs.

Modern Drama trods the boards Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 5:00 pm through July 1.  Tickets are $10 (half price with a postcard).  For more information, call (323) 463-3900 or visit the website at www.studio-stage.com.

studio/stage is located at 520 N. Western Ave. in Hollywood.  Street parking abounds.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Fool and the Red Queen

the world premiere production
written by Murray Mednick
direct by Murray Mednick and Guy Zimmerman
presented by Padua Playwrights Productions


review by Phillip Kelly

I want to hit this point right out of the gate - these actors are quite good, fully committed to the material at hand, and they sell it to the best of their ability, and at times elevate the material to something of insight. The material on the other hand and handling of the material...

The Fool and the Red Queen plays at performance art, stylized theatre, not often seen in LA. It doesn't hope to capture a story, but a tone, a visceral poem, something that effects your subconscious, hypnotizes you - much like a dream, it hopes to over stimulate you with its words and visuals, creating a sort of drug like or euphoric haze until you can see its meaning hidden within. 

There are a few problems here. First, it's self-indulgent in length. If you get it, you get it. It doesn't matter how many times you approach something from the same angle or how long you spend making sure it's gotten. You get it. Someone that doesn't, won't. It's as easy as that. If you're going to write a piece like this, write it and direct for the people that will get it. To be abstract and use a hammer to present those abstractions seems unnecessary. A show like this should flow like music, and putting something in iambic pentameter doesn't mean that the play as a whole will find its rhythm. 

The show gets off on the right foot as Gary (John Diehl) comes in to audition for a couple of writer/producers; already we're entering a sort of meta-verse. These producer/writers, Chauncey (Jack Kehler) and Rondell (Gary Palmer) are lively and watching the three of them verbally fence through this audition that becomes brainstorming that turns into a script writing session is enjoyable for awhile, then it continues and keeps going. And then it keeps going well beyond the period in which we get where it's going. Everything lingers too long and because of this, nothing is a surprise, which is a mistake for any story - even if there is none. We've been given this meta-verse in which, through the video monitors, we're shown a story we have yet to see.  We understand where the second act will go.

Back to the stylization, because I feel that this is the main focus of the show. It includes video (at points effective) - some of it live. Sound effects. Lighting that symbolizes a mood as opposed to creating a reality. Some fun costumes. It's all here to create an unseen presence. So when the actors speak you get the feeling that there's much more going on than there is within the words themselves. But because of its repetitive length, it didn't reach the level of stylization I felt was necessary nor, again, did it surprise.

It's not stylized enough. Or the stylization doesn't amount to much thematically. There are so many building blocks here and none of them feel like they're being used to create the same house. When things start going deeper into the rabbit hole, the actors are directed to hardly move a muscle. The Fool (Bill Celentano) and The Red Queen (Julia Prud'homme) stand or sit and vocalize and are merely continuously frustrated with each other. The Fool literally doing back flips for the Queen to please her. The Inkeeper/Chorus (Peggy A. Blow) seems to be in on the universal joke here, winking at the audience - enjoying herself! She's otherworldly in her presence and a well informed character. And for a show that hints at being otherworldly, by the end it feels awfully pedestrian. If you're going to give me performance art, bring in movement. This show needed a choreographer; dance, some physical embodiment of the stylization found in the dialogue, which would have only made the stillness in the second half that much more profound.

By the end, I felt more drained than intrigued; more beaten than challenged. This kind of piece isn't by definition very risk-taking anymore and to truly believe that it is, you're not looking around you. This sort of meta, dream-like, poetic fantasy is part of pop culture now thanks to the likes of directors like David Lynch and Terry Gilliam and writers like Charlie Kaufman. The difference between those filmmakers and the creative talent behind The Fool and the Red Queen is that Lynch and Kaufman also set out to entertain or to show you a piece of humanity. Murray Mednick, the writer, and his co-director Guy Zimmerman, hide any level of humanity so deep within the production that we're never given a reason to truly care or be inspired through an emotional connection to really think about what's happening until the theme itself is quite literally given to us in a few lines of dialogue at the end. There will always be a need for art like this, but not just for art's sake and not just for the artist's sake. Hell, I want to be challenged! And I'm under the belief that most audience members do as well, intellectually and emotionally. For some it takes less to challenge them than others - seeing Optimus Prime being cut down might be an emotionally challenging day for someone. But to challenge people simply by making something difficult to understand or to swallow without also giving them an emotional base that connects with the intellectual design of the work, then you're really only pleasing yourself. 

The interesting thing about a show like this, while I see it needs a lot of work, someone else might see it and proclaim brilliance. And with a creator like Mednick, although I didn't connect with this piece, I may see his next show. He's out there experimenting and trying new things. You don't work in theatre for this long without having knocked it out of the park a few times and he may knock it out of the park for me. Keep experimenting!

This is a show in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Show up early to find street parking.
Dates:
May 19-June 24 
Fri and Sat at 8pm, Sun at 7pm
Where: Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90038
How: 323-960-7740 or www.plays411.com/RedQueen

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Carpe Noctem

Presented by Cabaret Versatile

At The Underground Theatre

review by Andrew Moore


Before I start delving into the minutiae, let me say very clearly at the outset: Carpe Noctem is worth seeing. With a run time of forty-five minutes, it will be a delightful palate-cleanser between shows at Fringe, an opportunity to kick back and have a good time. The dancers are exuberant and appealing, full of talent and heart. The numbers are enthusiastic and show great technical skill. Two stand-outs are Annie Gaia ("Clumsy Lili"), whose slapstick antics delight, and Beto Ruiz ("Antoine") an expressive mime-stagehand. Director and choreographer Lola OhLaLa has devised some clever steps for her dancers, and producer/company manager Marie Bobin has created a very warm, inviting space for the audience.
  
So why did Carpe Noctem fail for me?

It's the little things which, when added up, amount to disappointment in a show that could be -- should be -- so much better.

The music needs to be louder. About twice as loud as it currently is. The audience should not be able to hear the dancers' foot-falls over the music. For this type of show, it breaks the magic. I know how hard the dancers are working, but I don't want to hear how hard they are working.

Either cut the silhouette number or fully commit to it. Put a diffuser on the light and make sure that the fabric on the screen is comfortably opaque for the dancers. Once the dancers are comfortable, take your time. Tease. The point of a silhouette number is the tease. Don't turn away from the audience when you take off your bra -- that defeats the whole purpose of the silhouette, and you might as well be in plain view! There are two of you back there, so tease with each other. Something as simple (and innocent) as unfastening each other's bras has enormous erotic implications. A good silhouette number can be spellbinding, but you have to take the time to really cast a spell on the audience. Take your time.

Are we supposed to hoot and holler? I got the idea in the last number that this was expected. If so, if you want the audience to respond vocally to the acts, you will need to give the audience permission to do so. Either tell us outright, ("Don't be afraid to make a little noise!") or have your very able mime give us a primer, playing both "dancing girl" and "audience member" in turns. Whatever. Theatre goers are stuffy. Yeah, they'll laugh and applaud, but they won't whoop it up unless they know they can.

Why did the dancers get progressively more dressed with each number?  The ebb and flow of the show is off a tick. There are times when we are given a logical progression of numbers and the connective tissue of mimework and backstage shenanigans propels us into the next section.  Specifically, the Clumsy Lili vignette/Le Retour du Grand Blond sequence is nothing short of brilliant. Some fine-tuning, tweaking, and reshuffling is needed overall to bring the rest of the show up to this standard.  There are some great ideas, but I would suggest a build to the tease (sheer gowns, silhouette dance) instead of front-loading the evening with implied nudity.

Finally, and this is the big one, the through-line does not work as well as the individual numbers.  In other words, the whole is not greater than the sum of the parts, and at times the whole actually distracts from how good the individual parts really are.  Clarifying and buttressing the through-line would elevate the entire show.  Reprogramming the dance numbers around a stronger narrative core that builds to the can-can climax will make the show sing.

What it comes down to: Lola OhLaLa and Marie Bobin need to work with a director; someone to help shape what they have, observe the deficits in the presentation and devise solutions that optimize the audience experience. All the pieces are there; team Cabaret Versatile just needs a little help putting them together.  The work these ladies are doing is good, and I hope they continue working on it.

Carpe Noctem has three more Fringe dates:  Friday the 15th and Wednesday the 20th of June at 8.30pm at the Underground Theatre, 1314 North Wilton Place in Hollywood.  There will be a special performance at the Festival Awards Night on Sunday, June 24th.  Tickets may be purchased online through the Hollywood Fringe Festival website.

Street parking is available, but it's Fringe season.  Get there early and expect to do laps.

Heartbreak House

Heartbreak House


by George Bernard Shaw
directed by Ellen Geer



review by Phillip Kelly

I hadn't read Heartbreak House before seeing Theatricum Botanicum's production,  but I was immediately reminded of Russian literature: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gorky. Writers that delved into the infrastructure of the elite that do nothing. Oh, they know a lot about things, and they'd be happy to fill in your day with nothing but their opinions and beliefs. Yet it still doesn't seem to be enough for them - they yearn for a certain social sadomasochism. Using their cleverness as torture devices, to tinker and toy with each other (and themselves). They never quite feeling love, though succumb to enough moments of fleeting passion to feel heartbreak, all the while making sure no one else falls in love in the process. Like the great Russian social satirists, Shaw brings his story to life with a healthy dose of wit, wisdom and heart - even though the final piece may be lacking within many of the characters.

If you don't know the story, skip this paragraph, as the show is much more fun not knowing who anyone is as you go along. The story takes place in the country, in a house where an aging captain, Captain Shotover (William Dennis Hunt), who's wiser than he lets on, spends his days accepting his daughter, Mrs. Hesione Hushabye's (Melora Marshal) guests. Hesione is a first class tinkerer of relationships, and her guest for the day is Ellie Dunn (Willow Geer). Ellie has made an arrangement to be married to a rich man, Boss Mangan (Alan Blumenfeld), several years her senior, and Hesione is going to put a stop to it. She's not only invited Mangan for the day, but also Ellie's father, Mazzini Dunn (David Stifel). Hesione and Ellie make quick friends, and Ellie admits that she's marrying Mangan out of honor for all the times he's helped her father and that she's in love with another - an adventurer. Her naivete is pronounced when she admits that Othello and Desdemona's relationship is the height of romance for her, except the part in which Othello kills Desdemona. But her world is torn asunder when she finds out her romantic adventurer is actually Hesione's husband, Hector Hushabye (Mark Lewis). Even more so when Mangan doesn't turn out to be exactly who he says he is. Added to the mix are the long lost sister of Hesione, an equal match in tinkering, Ariadne Utterwood (Susan Angelo) and her buffoon of a brother-in-law Randall Utterwood (Aaron Hendry), who is madly in love with Ariadne, and you have a stew of about every ingredient you could possibly want in a comedy. Include a slippery character only known as Burgler (Ed Giron), Nurse Guiness (Katherin James), even those that play the maids and servants move about the stage as if they are equally as important as the next person, and they do it with equal skill and you have a mouthful of stew!

And what a stew it is, as I leave this metaphor behind.

This show is crisp and hilarious. If comedy is timing, these guys sold their soul to Cronos. There isn't a missed beat among the performers. Ellen Geer has captured the perfect tone with each of them; they play the parts with finesse and ease, vocally, physically and emotionally. I haven't seen a better rounded troupe of repertory actors than this in LA. Willow Geer goes from naive to broken-hearted to manipulative to ecstatic to in love and makes every shift as natural as the tides of the ocean; a grounded and incredible performance. Melora Marshall, who along with Willow is also in Theatricum's Measure for Measure, does a complete 180 from her performance as Lucio and here imbibes in such sultry femininity that she is a storm of every womanly wile and proves she's one of the best stage actors in Los Angeles. William Dennis Hunt is perfect as the world weary Captain, every dryly delivered, thrown away line, earmarked with a hint of sarcasm would surely win over the most cynical of theatre goers. Susan Angelo glides around the stage, controlling the room with her every gesture, even stopping for a moment to give some of her lines to a howling dog (Yes there was a dog on stage! And Angelo was brilliant!) Aaron Hendry (also Measure for Measure) is riotous as the bumbling, emotionally stunted man-child. Mark Lewis is dashing as the brother who knows better but plays along anyway. Blumenfeld is all power and weakness as an outsider who can't help but be drawn into the madness. David Stifel blossoms from a rather conservative gentleman to someone who is more curious and easily entertained by the madness. Everyone is given their time on stage and everyone knows how to use it without overpowering the story.

As the show progressed I realized just how difficult a show it it is to pull off, especially since the last third becomes suddenly very esoteric and symbolic, adding a level of profound social satire that you don't see coming. You realize just how much work had to go into the first 2/3rds to build to it. To allow us to believe where these characters are, and what they are by the final lights out. "What" is more important then "where" in this show, and if the proper building blocks aren't laid out in the beginning, you'll lose your audience in the end. This gave me a whole new level of appreciation for the company, the production and Shaw. Kudos to everyone involved.


Heartbreak Hotel is currently playing in rep with Measure for Measure (which I've also reviewed) and A Midsummer's Night Dream.

Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd. Topanga
For tickets and times visit www.theatricum.com or call 310-455-3723

Theatre is Easy

New to the roster of favorite links, Theatre is Easy:
Theatre Is Easy is dedicated to making theatre accessible for everyone, including tourists and locals who might feel overwhelmed by the theatre district and all it has to offer. Our mission is simple: we provide information in a compact, easy-to-understand way, thereby creating a larger and more knowledgeable audience pool for New York theatre, both on and off Broadway. Although there are many websites that offer theatre reviews, Theatre Is Easy stands apart because of its intent to appeal to a mass market of theatregoers, rather than avid theatre fans who are already familiar with the scene.
I met writer Jessica Cauttero last night, and we chatted briefly about how we approach reviews.  I really like the Theatre is Easy approach, making theatre way more accessible to the uninitiated.  I think sometimes we forget that we live in a town of just under 4 million people, each and every one of whom is starved for entertainment and most of whom have never heard of your under-99 Theatre Company (brilliant, though I'm sure it is.)

Take a look-see at Theatre is Easy.  For one, it's a great way to survey the other Greatest City in the World, to find out what sort of shows play in theatres about the same size as our own beloved venues on Theatre Row and scattered across town.  For two, it raises an interesting question:  Aside from Fringe, which is bringing in people from out of state (purely annecdotal, but I believe it), what can we do to make theatre going easy for the uninitiated in our town?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Road to High Street

Presented by Andrew Potter

At Artworks Theatre Studio A


review by Andrew Moore

There is something indelibly pure about busking. An artist takes to the public square and plies his or her trade. If people like it, they drop a few bills in the hat. It's "Pay What You Will" for reals, no psychological manipulation, no self-congratulatory "look how awesome we are" bullshit. At the end of the day you assess your take: Is the hat full? If yes, more of the same. If no, do something different. It hearkens back to commedia, to traveling minstrels, to the bardic tradition.  The performers are present with the audience.  Interactive.  Aware of the audience's response and ready to turn on a dime if it means the difference between paying the bills or hitting the Jack in the Box value menu and begging off the DWP bill for one more week.  There is honesty.

Andrew Potter taps into his experience as a busker and delivers up an honest and enjoyable hour of entertainment.  Potter is a very personable guy telling a very personal story, but the evening never devolves into the kind of self-involved heaviness that runs rampant in one-person shows.  We follow Potter from his days as a novice juggler practicing in a Rhode Island cemetery, to the heights of touring internationally.  Along the way we learn about his unlikely living circumstances (living in an old beer tank) and the crazy sacrifices made in the name of entertainment (eating raw eggs -- believe me, you need to hear him tell it).  It is tied together with a wonderful story arc involving his father that pays off nicely with a sweet, emotional denouement. 

The multimedia aspect plays well.  One piece in particular, where he is accompanied by a San Franciso-based multi-instrumentalist (via video) is very effective.  Another section that pays homage to his brother and sister buskers is nothing short of jaw-dropping.  Potter has a talent for framing these segments -- his original music combined with his ebullient yet easy-going personality enraptures.

That old saying, "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts" is true in the eclectic universe of street performing and just as true of The Road to High Street.  This is a show that every artist at Fringe should see.  Here is an entertainer who consumed raw eggs -- five or six a day -- for the delight of his audience.  His schtick took him to Milan and Japan.  Go see his show, and take the time to get to know the man.  While you're at it, take him out for a drink after the show and learn everything you possibly can from this man.  It's a wonderful opportunity to learn from someone who's been there and done that, wrapped up in a delightful, multimedia package.

The Road to High Street may be travelled at the following dates and times:

Friday June 15th @ 6:00pm
Saturday June 16th @ 8:00pm
Friday June 22nd @ 8:00pm
Saturday June 23rd @10:00pm

Tickets are $12 and may be purchase through the Hollywood Fringe Festival website. Artworks Theatre Studio A is located at 6569 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.  Street parking is available, but it's Fringe season.  Get there early and expect to do laps before you find a coveted spot.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Measure for Measure

by William Shakespeare
directed by Ellen Geer

review by Phillip Kelly

I raised my eyebrow ever so slightly when I stepped in to watch Theatricum Botanicum's production of Measure for Measure. This is one of my favorite Shakesperean plays, and I'd never seen it performed. I'd never seen a production at Theatricum Botanicum. I wasn't certain the 1968's inspired setting would fit with how I perceived the show in my head. They had a lot to prove in one production. A difficult show. It's the kind of Shakespearean play that's slippery. Because of the ambiguity in the final moments, you have to look at the end, know what you want to do, and work your way backwards.

Vincentio, the Governor (Aaron Hendry), is leaving the city and puts Angelo (Adam Mondschein), a very strict soldier with the cleanest of records in charge during his absence. What Angelo doesn't know is that Vincentio dons the cloak of a friar and returns to spy, to see how Angelo's hand of justice cleans up the streets that he has allowed to overflow with sin and lawlessness. Angelo's first act is to sentence a young man, Claudio (Colin Simon), to death for impregnating a woman out of wedlock. Claudio's sister, Isabella (Willow Geer), a nun in training, goes to Angelo under the guidance of Lucio (Melora Marshall) to beg Angelo not to kill her brother. Angelo falls madly in love with Isabella and tells her the only way he'll release Claudio is if Isabella has sex with him. And so begins what would sound like a pretty heavy and complex play, dealing with religion, law, sexuality, death, ethics, love and forgiveness. And when I had read it and studied it, that's always what I imagined it would be. The city is a cesspool - it's how a very famous production directed by Peter Brooks saw it. The Duke is perhaps more manipulative than wise, and a few of his final decisions in the text as stated, are ambiguous - it always left me feeling like the Duke wasn't as great as he seemed to be. Ellen Geer's production turns this tale into a comedy with sharp insights and serious issues, but it is a comedy. The way she handled the end alone points to that; it is a romantic comedy in fact - for adults! And everything works so well. The cesspool becomes a group of citizens fighting for their freedoms and the final act becomes a heroic mad dash to make everything right. Vincentio becomes a romantic, leading man, figurehead - the second coming in a whirlwind of righteous fervor wrapped in the fairness of a loving leader.

The actors here are all top notch. There's not a single bad performance in the bunch. Even those that are on the stage for 7 lines kill you with laughter or break your heart. Hendry, Mondschein and Geer are the center of the show, the strongest core you could ask for. They give complexity to each of their characters. It would have been easy for any of these three to simply play good or evil, but they paint all of the colors in between. Gerald C. Rivers as a pimp named Pompey slides around the stage with panache, Thomas Ashworth brings a perfectly executed, vaudevillian sensibility to Elbow, and I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to mention Marshall as the wily (male) Lucio a second time. Marshall's Lucio may be one of the best comedic performances I see all year, and even when she does play it for laughs it's never at the expense of the character. It becomes one of the more grounded and complex characters of the show.  I always say a show is governed by it's weakest link and there really are none. Leo Knudson, Charlie Howell, Earnestine Phillips, Crystal Clark, Gillina Doyle, I could name everyone, all shine.

Not only are the actors wonderful, but they naturally adhere to the 60's setting. Nothing feels overdone or out of place or forced. Brief appearances by Martin Luther King Jr. ground the recent historical setting and focus the Bard's themes into that time period, which in turn makes the show that much more relevant for us. And, boy howdy, is it a relevant show for our times, when our leaders sometimes seem more criminal than the criminals they prosecute. It's a show I've been wanting to do for awhile just for that reason. All of the updates to the text are really quite brilliant and never pull focus from the poetry of Shakespeare's verse or prose.

The costumes are fun, the musical interludes are entertaining and the stage is beautiful and used wisely; it fits the 60's hippie and revolution setting perfectly.

I ask one thing of Ms. Geer: clean up the slow motion sequence. It's brief, but it truly was the only time during the show that I fell out of the world that was created for my enjoyment. There's no excuse when it feels like every other tiny detail is greased and running so smoothly. That even a brief moment should feel so under rehearsed is unfortunate. Get a dance choreographer in there asap. That minor quibble aside, one of the best productions of Shakespeare I've seen in a long while.

This production is playing in rep with A Midsummer's Night Dream and Shaw's Heartbreak House.
Where: The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Blvd, Topanga Canyon, CA 90290
June 2nd-Sept 30th
For tickets and showtimes: www.theatricum.com or 310-455-3723

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Inventor, The Escort, The Photographer, Her Boyfriend, and His Girlfriend

KADM Productions Presents the West Coast Premiere Production at the Lounge Theatre

review by Andrew Moore


At the end of the night I joked that there should be a semi-colon between "The Escort" and "The Photographer."  Punctuation-based humor plays big with the company I keep.  But joking aside, Matt Morillo's play in its West Coast Premiere really is two one-acts spackled together; an evening of theatre that doesn't try to be more than good fun and almost succeeds.

In act one, we meet the titular escort and inventor.  A routine business transaction between a consumer and purveyor of sex-for-hire is turned on its head, and a relationship is born.  In act two, jealousy besets a couple in an open relationship, and things only get worse when the third wheel is unveiled.  (And boy howdy, is she ever "unveiled.")  Let's get one thing straight: The plot is not what is important here.  The plot is mere window dressing for the jokes.  And the nudity.

The cast is appealing, dialed up to a "Three's Company" level of presentationalism.  The acting is consistent with the pretended sentimentality of the first act and the near slapstick sexuality of the second.  Jaret Sacrey (Jeffrey -- the inventor) is a stand-out, offering up a believably awkward yet good-natured geek who only fleetingly seems like a potential serial killer.


Jenni Halina ("Molly") won me over before she disrobed.  In an accident of live theatre, two photographs bounced off the wall and crashed to the floor.  And there the photos remained as the photographer and her boyfriend argued in circles about something we had no real context to understand.  Halina actually took the time to clear one of those photos -- the one whose glass had broken -- improvising the line, "You guys really were arguing!"  I smiled and made a mental note:  Halina was the only actor fully plugged into the reality of the scene.  She was an absolute delight before we got to see her girly bits, and it's important to specify this because reviews usually praise the actress who got naked -- I'm guessing out of a desire to see more of the same (i.e. "get naked = good review"). She was completely committed to what was happening on the stage in this performance, a necessity for good theatre.

I'm sorry if my take on this play reads at best, withering, or at worst, cynical.  I had a good time at The Inventor.  It made me laugh out loud, and I got to feast eyes on a young attractive woman in her natural state for the better part of act two.  For me, that should be enough.  But I know there is a whole raft of people out there for whom that isn't enough; folks who demand more and deserve more from their theatre (or "theater" if you're being semantically persnickety).

And maybe we should expect more of Matt Morillo.  His blocking is largely uninspired and his writing is at times trite.  He managed at least five "dead kitten" speeches (as David Mamet terms them) in act one alone.  Morillo is capable of better.  There is some really clever stuff in act one: unexpected call-backs and brutally funny moments that leave the audience in stitches.  Act two delivers up a surprisingly non-exploitative, non-perverse stretch of full nudity.  What he does right, he does really right, and it only makes the mediocre parts hurt more.  That's what irritates me most about this show.

The Inventor, The Escort; The Photographer, Her Boyfriend, and His Girlfriend lets you see everything  Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; Sunday at 7pm through July 8th.  Tickets are $20 and are available by phone: (323) 960-7712, or online: www.plays411.com/escort.

The Lounge Theatre is located at 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, just east of Vine, in Hollywood. Street parking is available, but try to get there a little early.

Monday, June 04, 2012

The Closeness of the Horizon

The Closeness of the Horizon

 a world premiere
by Richard Martin Hirsch
directed by Darin Anthony
presented by CoffeeHouse Productions

review by Phillip Kelly

The Closeness of the Horizon is a show about the tendency for people to give meaning to things or to create stories surrounding incidents that may not actually exist and then live out their lives according to those stories, and how this effects every relationship around you. A person grapples with these meanings trying to make sense of them, trying to live up to them, and they fail because nothing they ever do will be good enough to match the ideal they have set for themselves.

Bruce Nozick plays Paul. He's done very well for himself and his wife, Annie (Shauna Bloom), due to a successful chain of sporting goods stores. Only he's just heard his once best friend, "G" (Daniel Kash) is dying from a brain tumor. This brings to the forefront of Paul's thoughts a lifetime of questions and frustrations that he thought he had gotten over. Upon their return, they quickly fester. The story jumps back and forth in time (1969 to 1990) as Paul deals with these memories and seeks resolution all while a midlife crisis approaches. 

One important memory seems to stand at the forefront. As a teenager, he, "G" and their jock friend Stein (Davis Starzyk) go on a road trip across America and one night listen to the radio transmission of the first trip to and first step on the moon. This is the most important thing to Paul and "G", bar none. Feeling the passion of the moment, they make a promise to do something great together after school - start a business. For Paul, his friendship with "G" was defined by this moment. But it may not be what defines "G"'s friendship with Paul. As the mystery unravels, so too does Paul's stability with his wife. Naturally, another woman comes into play, "G"'s wife Nissa (Mandy June Turpin). How exactly she comes into play, I will not say, but her story ties nicely into the framework of everything discussed so far.

Everyone named gives a fine performance, at times very involving, but the tone of these performances seems slightly askew at times. To match those would have fallen on Anthony's shoulders. It shifts from very real and intimate, perhaps too intimate for a space as big as this - framed in a close up, some of these moments would have shined. Other times, things become a bit campy. The one thing Anthony doesn't do in these moments is go for an easy laugh. There's always a foot planted firmly on the ground - Hirsch's dialogue are characters are always honest.

Like the performances, the set ranges from poetic to grounded to a bit campy. The most potent aspect of this is the moon that hovers slightly above the horizon in the background. There's a line Paul speaks  the end of the play, describing how his mental state of mind has been - his dreams feeling more real than his reality; his frustration and confusion. This gives some indication to how the play could have been treated, as I was never drawn into Paul's story in such a way that I felt his crumbling reality. Soon after this scene, flashing back to '69, there's a brief moment in which that moon in the background becomes the Earth, and it looks like the three teenage friends are, for a brief moment, standing on the moon. They didn't have to get anywhere else, they were already there. Here the play found the right tone. Instead of campy, a more surreal and poetic approach like this might have been embraced throughout. To clearly bring us into Paul's time shifting world, more scene transitions with lights up instead of going to black may have been required (this was used once or twice to great effect!), but a kind of clunky set made it difficult for this. The heavy handed treatment of the dreams could have been easily altered to match these other aspects as well.

Closeness is neither a tragedy or comedy, though I did genuinely laugh throughout and I felt the intensity as people came crashing together like bumper cars. At it's best, it's a slice of life, a human drama. At its worst it's a light drama, playing at the idea of becoming deeper and more profound. The problem there's little to hold onto when we leave, because everything is given to us too clearly; handed to us We aren't allowed to ask ourselves anything. Essentially, it frames itself too closely to ways we've seen this idea presented before and while at times Hirsch, Anthony and the performers handle themselves effectively and with dramatic gumption, the production overall falls short of great. But it's good with flashes of.


The Closeness of the Horizon
Presented by CoffeeHouse Productions and The Odyssey Theatre
Written by Richard Martin Hirsch
Direct by Darrin Anthony

Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025
May 18th-June 24th, Thurs-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm
Thurs/Fri $25, Sat/Sun $30
Te reserve tickets: 323-960-1054 or www.plays411.com/horizon