Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Continuing the Tradition

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Apr 20, 2015 @ 6:56 am PDT

Songleaders Boot Campuserpic=folk-guitarAs I wrote yesterday, this has been a music weekend, not a theatre weekend. Last night was the concluding concert of the Songleader Bootcamp Regional Conference – Los Angeles (FB) (SLBC) at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), featuring Rick Recht (FB) and Sheldon Low (FB). It was a truly special night, highlighted by the unexpected — running into my cousin Robin who was part of the SLBC staff.

SLBC is an effort to educate future Jewish songleaders. As we were heading out of the concert, my wife was trying to explain the concept of the Jewish songleader. She thought it dated from Chuck Feldman of Wilshire Blvd Temple. I disagreed. To me, the Jewish songleader is a direct result of the folksinger movement of the late 1950s/early 1960s, which was also the time of the formation of the Jewish camping movement. The 1950s and 1960s was also a time you saw high school students picking up guitars and forming singing groups. This led to the Jewish camps adopting the singing of the emerging folksongs (if I recall the songbook of the Wilshire camps in the 1960s, there was a large number of songs from the folk movements). Other factors flavoring the mix were the emergence of modern Israeli music in the 1950s and 1960s, and the encouragement of folksongs that addressed social justice issues. Put all these factors into a blender, and what emerged was the songleader: a young adult with a guitar leading a Jewish camping community modern Jewish song (and possibly writing them along the way). This moved Jewish music from the traditional cantorial style to the “Rabbis with Guitars”. The seminal emergence here was from Minnesota, which gave us Debby Friedman in the early 1970s; this led to the modern Jewish artists that came out of NFTY, artists such as Rick Recht, Sheldon Low, Beth Schafer, Julie Silver, and many many more.

SLBC is an organized effort to keep this movement alive to the next generation. Musical leaders and Jewish educators spend an intense weekend with regional Jewish teens, focusing on the music and the message. What emerges are teens supercharged to take their guitars (or fiddles or trombones or ukuleles or … whatever) and lead and inspire. From what we saw last night, that’s just what happened.

Songleaders Boot Camp ConcertAs with any concert like this, writing a traditional review is pointless. This was a high-energy songfest, with a mixture of songs led by Rick and Sheldon, and featuring various subsets of SLBC participants and leaders, and encouraging audience participation. It was a camp song session in Northridge, not a sit-in-the-chair-and-listen concert. What songs were sung? Here’s an attempt at a song list, although you must note that many variations of songs have the same name being based on common texts:
(Note: The picture to the right was snarfed from Facebook)

  1. Salaam/ Ki Va Moed
  2. Am Yisraeil Chai
  3. Kobi’s Lullaby
  4. Shalom Aleichem
  5. Halleluyah
  6. One Day
  7. The Rainbow Song
  8. Shehecheyanu
  9. In This Home
  10. The Hope
  11. Hinei Ma Tov

So here are some general observations of the concert:

  • One of the things I did during this show was watch the faces of the participants — and they were just radiating “joy”. I saw this on the faces of Rabbi Lutz and Cantor Roher as they joined in the leadership; I saw it in the faces of the educators; I saw it in the faces of the kids. I wished I could just bottle this joy — this joy from the leadership is what draws people in. As those who have been to Jewish camp say: if every day at a synagogue had the spiritual joy of a day at a camp….
  • The event was remarkable for its inclusiveness. I’m not talking about the fact that there were more than just guitars present. Rather, I’m referring to the point where Rick called up his Chevra. This was clearly a group of special needs participants — and their participation just amplified the joy and energy just mentioned. No particular “look at us for doing this” was called out — it was just another group of normal participants. It was this non-emphasis that created the extra message of inclusiveness that was great to see. The unsaid says so much.
  • As President of MoTAS (the Mens Club at the Synagogue), I found it telling what members were at the concert and what members weren’t. I was heartened to see so many MoTAS folks there, and it demonstrated a divide that wasn’t strictly age — rather, it identified those that were young at heart. These are the leaders that MoTAS needs for the next generation, and I was pleased that so many of them have already been — or are — in leadership positions.
  • The fact that TAS (and Temple Ramat Zion) were the hosts and coordinators for this event says a lot about the congregations and their focus to the community — a message that is a good one and one that must be shared.

At this point, I’d link in a video of the show. Loads of folks were filming. But so far, nothing is up on YouTube. I’ll edit this post if I find something.

Different things draw people to synagogue. Some come to find the ritual they had in their youth. Others come for the spiritual community, the kehilla kedosha. What will make synagogues succeed in the 21st century will be the ability to create that community, and that means figuring out how to bring the camp energy, experience, and spirituality out of the woods (or the California hills) and into the edifices, transforming them. This bootcamp — and the concert we saw resulting from it — is a great way to do so.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Today we head out on vacation — Las Vegas, baby! Two shows are already booked: Menopause the Musical at Harrahs, and Penn & Teller at the Rio. Other shows that are possibilities are either Don Rickles at the Orleans or Jeff Dunham at Planet Hollywood, and Crazy Girls at the Riviera (before the Riveria goes away on May 4th) — the particular show depends on what shows up at Tix4Tonight.  Los Angeles theatre resumes in May with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB), and may also bring “Violet: The Musical” at the Monroe Forum Theatre (FB) (I’m just waiting for them to show up on Goldstar). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May brings “Entropy” at Theatre of Note (FB) on Saturday, and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. June looks to be exhausting with the bounty that the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) brings (note that all Fringe dates are holds; ticketing doesn’t open until 5/1). June starts with a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), followed by Clybourne Park (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawks on Sunday. The second weekend of June brings Max and Elsa. No Music. No Children. (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and  Wombat Man (HFF) at Underground Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Marry Me a Little (HFF) by Good People Theatre (FB) at the Lillian Theatre (FB) on Sunday. The craziness continues into the third weekend of June, with Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Merely Players (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Sunday (and possibly “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, depending on Hottix availability, although July 4th weekend is more likely). The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and possibly Matilda. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is open, although it might bring “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) (depending on their schedule and Goldstar).  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August may bring “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

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Music From the Heart

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 19, 2015 @ 9:53 am PDT

Noel Paul Stookeyuserpic=folk-artistsYesterday was National Record Store Day. Of course, that means today is National Rip the Records day. So guess what I’m doing while I write up last night’s show? That’s right, ripping “fings ain’t wot they used t’be“, an obscure Lionel Bart musical written before Oliver!. This is because last night we were on the Westside, and took the opportunity to celebrate the day by hitting Record Surplus. My love of music is such that Record Surplus has a high price of entry; a rarely get out without my wallet being much lighter.

Music has been a constant theme in my life. Even before I saw my first musical, I was listening to  Peter, Paul, and Mary and singing songs at camp. This weekend is a diversion back to those roots; there’s nary a drop of theatre this weekend. Last night was a celebration of folk music when Noel Paul Stookey (FB) made his annual visit to McCabes Guitar Shop (FB); tonight is a Jewish music concert featuring Rick Recht and Sheldon Low as part of the Songleaders Bootcamp at Temple Ahavat Shalom. The latter was informed by the former; I don’t think you would have the tradition of Jewish songleaders and music without the reinvigoration of folk music sparked by the Gaslight, Dave Van Ronk, PP&M, Tom Paxton, the Kingston Trio, and all the artists that came out of the folk music resurgence of the 1960s.

Noel Paul’s concert was a return to folk music of old — but only in style. As Noel noted during the show, folk music — at least folk music with a message — demands that we be in the present and not live in a nostalgic world. As a result, most of his songs were from recent albums; only two or three were from the PP&M catalog. That doesn’t mean they were new; I think every song was also in last year’s show.

As I noted last year, when I first got into PP&M my favorite artist was Peter Yarrow. Since then, however, my appreciation of the entire group and all of its members has grown. The recent fifty year celebration has led me to reconsider Mary’s role, and I’ve really grown to appreciate Noel Paul’s music and lyrics. I really enjoy Noel Paul’s show; if you haven’t explored his solo music, you should.

Well, enough introductory blather. Here’s the song list from last night’s show. There was only a single act for the 100 minute show as there was a second show at 10pm.

  1. Not That Kind of Music
  2. Nukes are Nuts
  3. Whatshername
  4. Capricious Bird
  5. Since You Went Away
  6. Be Real
  7. Cabin Fever Waltz
  8. Cue The Moon
  9. The Wedding Song (First Person Version)
  10. Imagine (modified) / Love Of It All
  11. Q&A Session
  12. One and Many
  13. Familia de Corazon
  14. Jean Claude
  15. America The Beautiful / In These Times
  16. April Fool
  17. If I Had a Hammer

As a side note: Artists like these are treasures and connections to the rich folk heritage. Those of you in the East Bay — you have a chance to hear that heritage next weekend when Tom Paxton and Janis Ian share the stage at Freight and Salvage. Tom has indicated he is stopping touring in November; this will be your last chance to see him. It looks like Saturday is sold out, but there may be tickets for Sunday. Go, and see an icon. I’ve heard rumors Tom may be down in SoCal in late Summer; with my luck, it will be when we are out of town on vacation.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: We have one more concert this weekend: the Rick Recht and Sheldon Low concert as part of the Songleaders Bootcamp at Temple Ahavat Shalom. After that we’re in Vegas for a week … and two shows are already booked: Menopause the Musical at Harrahs, and Penn & Teller at the Rio. Other shows that are possibilities are either Don Rickles at the Orleans or Jeff Dunham at Planet Hollywood, and Crazy Girls at the Riviera (before the Riveria goes away on May 4th) — the particular show depends on what shows up at Tix4Tonight.  Los Angeles theatre resumes in May with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB), and may also bring “Violet: The Musical” at the Monroe Forum Theatre (FB) (I’m just waiting for them to show up on Goldstar). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May brings “Entropy” at Theatre of Note (FB) on Saturday, and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. June looks to be exhausting with the bounty that the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) brings (note that all Fringe dates are holds; ticketing doesn’t open until 5/1). June starts with a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), followed by Clybourne Park (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawks on Sunday. The second weekend of June brings Max and Elsa. No Music. No Children. (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and  Wombat Man (HFF) at Underground Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Marry Me a Little (HFF) by Good People Theatre (FB) at the Lillian Theatre (FB) on Sunday. The craziness continues into the third weekend of June, with Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Merely Players (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Sunday (and possibly “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, depending on Hottix availability, although July 4th weekend is more likely). The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and possibly Matilda. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is open, although it might bring “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) (depending on their schedule and Goldstar).  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August may bring “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Thoughts on a Theatre Season: The Geffen

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Apr 14, 2015 @ 7:32 pm PDT

userpic=theatre_musicalsYet another belated post from this weekend: My promised thoughts on the just announced 2015-2016 season at the Westwood Playhouse Geffen Playhouse (I’m sorry, but it’s always the Westwood Playhouse to me). I’ll note that The Geffen Playhouse (FB) is a great theatre — but one I rarely attend. Why? They very rarely discount, and their cheapest prices are often much much more than the cheapest at the Pantages. Thus, a show has to be really compelling for me to go into the $60+ ticket range. The upcoming “Murder for Two” is an example of such a show — in the smaller theatre, with little chance of discount tickets showing up, with the original cast, and something I really want to  see. Other than that, I think the last show I saw there was Kathleen Turner as Molly Ivens. For reference, the Gil Cates space is the larger with 512 seats. The Kenis space has 149 seats. So let’s look at the next season:

  • Thumbs Up THESE PAPER BULLETS! A Modish Ripoff of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Written by Rolin Jones. Songs by Billie Joe Armstrong. Directed by Jackson Gay. Sept. 8 – Oct. 18, 2015. West Coast Premiere in the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse. This sounds interesting — you have the leads of Green Day in something not from an album, and it is likely to garner discounts being in the larger of the Geffen’s two theatres.
  • Thumbs Down GUARDS AT THE TAJ. Written by Rajiv Joseph. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli. Oct. 6 – Nov. 15, 2015. West Coast Premiere in the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse. A violently beautiful, gruesomely funny comedy from the author of Bengal Tiger. A non-musical comedy, by an author I haven’t heard of, in the smaller theater. This might be interesting if I was a subscriber, but I don’t think it is a sufficiently compelling draw as a standalone.
  • thumbs-side OUTSIDE MULLINGAR. Written by John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Randall Arney. Nov. 10 – Dec. 20, 2015. In the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse.  Modern romantic comedy in the Irish countryside.  The fact that this is John Patrick Shanley makes this intriguing, but not intriguing enough to overcome the price and the fact that it is in a really (theatrically) busy time of year.
  • Thumbs Down BARCELONA. Written by Bess Wohl. Directed by Trip Cullman. Feb. 2 – March 13, 2016. West Coast Premiere in the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse. A seductive look at values and cultural collisions through the backdrop of Gaudi’s beautifully unfinished Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Sorry, but this description doesn’t grab me.
  • Thumbs Down SEX WITH STRANGERS. Written by Laura Eason. Directed by Kimberly Senior. March 1 – April 10, 2016. West Coast Premiere in the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse. Two writers approaching love, sex and literature in comically different ways. Doesn’t grab me at Geffen prices. If it is good, I expect this one will reappear at smaller venues.
  • thumbs-side STAGE KISS. Written by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Bart DeLorenzo. April 5 – May 15, 2016. In the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse. This new comedy follows former spouses and actors on and off-stage (and script). Could be funny, but not enough to attract me (again) at Geffen prices. Might consider this if there are good discounts and it fits into the Spring schedule (and I remember).
  • Thumbs Down BIG SKY. Written by Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros. Directed by John Rando. June 7 – July 17, 2016. World Premiere in the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse. Brilliant new family comedy from a Pulitzer nominee. Well that doesn’t say much, does it.

In general, I see some similarities in the programming of The Geffen Playhouse (FB) and The Colony Theatre (FB). I subscribe to the Colony — it is closer, parking is easier, and I believe it is less expensive for subscriptions. Both seem to try for a mix of world premieres and west coast premieres, and both tend to small cast shows as they have to pay Equity contracts.

(Belated) A Day at the Faire 2015

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Apr 14, 2015 @ 6:19 pm PDT

userpic=faireThis has been a busy busy weekend leading into a busy busy week, complicated by migraines and business travel. But I did go to the Southern California Ren Faire on Saturday, and a report is demanded:

  • The best thing about this year’s RenFaire wasn’t the Faire itself, but the company: My cousin Cece joined us at the Faire. I haven’t spent a day with her in years, and it was just a lot of fun (especially seeing her joy while fencing).
  • Amazingly, there were no major winners of the “What were they thinking?” costume contest. Either I’ve gotten used to the bad costumes, or perhaps people are learning.
  • Due to the drought, Moonie could only use pretend fire. Understandable, but something is lost in the translation.
  • They seem to have changed the layout once again. I like how the clothing was moved towards the front, but it seemed to be forever until one ran into food and all the stages. They are also rotating artists in and out.

Ren Faire 2015

Other than that, it was a normal Southern faire.

Saturday Stew: Security and Brains, Broadway and Water

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 11, 2015 @ 8:12 am PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday. Pesach is over (well, if you observe 7 days it is over). Time for a nice hearty bowl of news chum stew:

Finally, a memory. There have been a number of significant deaths this week — probably the most notable is Stan Freberg, who I mentioned in a previous post. One other sparked a memory: Bill Griffiths, owner of Los Angeles Roller Derby in the 1960s and 1970s. I remember this era well — my grandmother loved to watch Roller Derby, and we even went down to the Olympic Auditorium once to see a match. So when I read of his passing, I thought of my grandmother Hortense. Good memory.

What The Hollywood Fringe Festival Needs… A Smart Scheduler

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Apr 10, 2015 @ 11:12 am PDT

userpic=theatre_ticketsI spent some time yesterday going through the list of shows at the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival to figure out how I want to program my weekends in June. Previously, I was only able to hit one or two fringe shows. I’m still only going to be able to hit a small percentage (3.3%) (as I only have weekends available — weeknights — and even Friday night — in Hollywood is an impossibility with my work schedule), but I am going to be able to squeeze in a few more. Doing this, I realized what the HFF really needs: a smart scheduler. This scheduler should:

  1. Permit you to select the shows that are of interest to you, either individual, by category, by company, or any variety of selectors. It would also permit you to rank the shows from “must see” to “like to see” to “don’t schedule”
  2. Indicate the dates and time ranges you are available for shows throughout the festival period.
  3. Indicate the spacing you want between shows to accommodate transit time
  4. Indicating the meal times you want (ranges) and meal durations (so you can get lunch/dinner breaks)

With the above information, and the knowledge of show start times and running times, it would generate for you an optimal schedule that fit as many of the must-sees as possibles, and as many of the “likes to see” in the remaining spaces. After the ticket sales start, it would also have the capability to go out and ticket all the shows for you. The scheduling is a relatively complex CS problem to find the optimum schedule, but I do believe it should be doable. I think a website version would be best — I don’t believe in phone-apps for single-use purposes.

P.S.: Curious as to what shows I’m thinking about? Here’s the list of what I blocked onto my calendar: Clybourne ParkMax and Elsa. No Music. No Children., Wombat Man, Marry Me a Little, Nigerian Spam Scam Scam, Merely Players, Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, Medium Size Me, and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker. I had to work around some previously scheduled or blocked events: Grease (the Movie) at the Colony at 2pm on Sat. 6/6, a MoTAS Jethawks game in Lancaster (killing the entire day of 6/7), a morning Bat Mitzvah on Sat 6/13, a potential evening activity on Sun 6/14, and a drum corps show in Riverside on the last Fringe day, Sun 6/28. Shows that looked interesting, but I couldn’t schedule, were: Alien vs. MusicalBreaking BardNerd Anarchy: A Fantastic New Musical, Sin: A Pop Opera, Adam and Eve… and Steve, Stupid SongsAmelia’s Going DownEnshrouded in an Apocalyptic Mood, … and I’m sure there are others. With 241 shows (go to here and click “search”), so many sound interesting….

An Icon Passes

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Apr 07, 2015 @ 2:20 pm PDT

userpic=frebergSkimming the headlines while changing tasks today brought some real sad news: Stan Freberg has passed away at age 88. This is confirmed by a post on his son’s Facebook: “My father died this morning. I am ok. To me, the father I knew and loved dearly and still very much do left me over a decade ago. He was, and will always be my hero and I will carry his brilliant legacy forward as best I am able. RIP, Stan Freberg, 1926-2015. I love you, daddy.”

Stan was a large influence on my personal sense of humor, ever since I found and memorized “The United States of American, Volume I: The Early Years” when I was child. I was lucky enough to learn about, and be able to attend, a celebration of Stan’s 70 years in the industry at American Cinemateque in November.  Even then, you could see that Stan was in decline — the quick required augmentation from his wife, Hunter.

A man is remembered by the work he leaves behind. The breadth and scope of Stan’s work — from animated cartoons to advertising to humorous records and yes, even to the stage, will ensure that Stan Freberg will long be remembered.

Pardon me while I adjust the iPod to play a little Freberg in his memory, and finish off the day.

The Intimate Dimensions of Monkeys and Men

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 05, 2015 @ 9:19 am PDT

Trevor (Circle X)userpic=dramamasksUnless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know I’ve been deeply invested in the pro 99 seat theatre debate (FB). One of the things this movement has emphasized is the importance of supporting LA’s intimate theatres (99 seat and under) by attending shows (preferably with full-price tickets). So, based on this emphasis (as well as a glowing recommendation from Colin at Bitter Lemons, combined with having no theatre scheduled for Pesach weekend), I purchased full-price tickets to Trevor at Circle X Theatre (FB). Although I later saw tickets fly past on Goldstar, they were well worth the full price. This is an excellent show: well-performed, funny yet thought provoking, challenging yet accessible — a great example of what intimate theatre is in Los Angeles.

Before I go into the story of Trevor and my thoughts thereabout, a few words on the type of intimate theatre that Trevor represents. Unlike the monolithic intimate theatre view AEA has, intimate theatre in Southern California is wide and varied along multiple dimensions. We’re all aware of the dimension of budget: some shows are low budget, with only boxes on the stage and the power of actor’s performances to create everything else; others have fully-realized sets, extensive lighting, and production values. Another independent dimension is that of story: some theatres program existant accessible works, designed to draw in the community with only the occasional challenging property (REP East (FB) fits this model; their challenging work was the recent Doubt); others focus on new and emerging work (such as Circle X Theatre (FB)). There’s also the independent dimension of the type of actor: this is a continuum from community theatre actor (such as those drawn from Canyon Theatre Guild) to non-AEA actor to SAG/AFTRA actor to AEA actor; it is also a continuum from “fresh-out” to highly experienced (we’ve seen them all — REP is a mixture of community, non-union, and the occasional union; Blank is often unknowns but highly talented AEA; and Circle X was a number of highly experienced stage and screen actors clearly doing this for the material and exercise, not the job). Lastly, and also independent, is the dimension of financial success: some shows (while excellent) struggle to find the audience (alas, Doubt at REP was this way with few sold-out shows), whereas other shows pack the house (such as Avenue Q at REP or Trevor) — and even packed houses do not guarantee financial success, when the number of seats is limited any many seats are discount or comped. All these dimensions combine to form Los Angeles’ intimate theatre scene, and they are why a blanket fiat approach (such as proposed by AEA) simply does not work in this market. I won’t get on the soapbox now; rather, the distinction of these dimensions hit me as I watched Trevor and contrasted it to REP and other intimate theatre we have seen recently, from the decidedly low budget Pulp Shakespeare or ZJU’s shows, to the highly talented Redhead at Theatre West or Loch Ness at Chance to productions like Trevor. They all combine to make a special and valuable theatre ecosystem that we must protect; it is Los Angeles’ Amazon rain forest.

In any case, back to Trevor (which was written by Nick Jones). If you have read any of the reviews, you know the basics of the story: it is about a former TV chimpanzee named Trevor and his owner, Sandra in the decline of his career. Trevor simply wants the life that he had: to work and actor and be with people like Morgan Fairchild, and achieve success like his mentor, Oliver. Sandra simply wants a home with Trevor and a life that she knows. When a new neighbor with an infant child moves in and is threatened by the risk to safety that Trevor creates, the motivating factors of the story are set up. The Sheriff is called in; he brings in an Animal Control Officer to assess the situation. When the assessment occurs, the situation rapidly goes south — and I won’t say more.

As I said, I knew this setup. What I didn’t expect was the execution. I was thinking that we might see an actor made up to look chimpanzee-ish; perhaps even a monkey suit. But the only monkey-suit is the tuxedo on Oliver. Trevor is played by a man dressed like a man; the illusion of the chimpanzee (which does become real) is achieved solely by movement and behavior. This is the type of acting that one rarely sees and is to be treasured: the creation of illusion from the talent of the actor. It creates a level of investment in the story — letting this portrayal wash over you lets your mind go past the realism into the realm of metaphor, and thinking about what this story is really saying.

The message of Trevor, I believe, is multilevel. While watching it, my mind kept drawing parallels to the situation of my senior mother-in-law who is dealing with dementia. She’s in her own world, interpreting actions in relation to her world-view, and having dialogues that no one else is hearing. She’s Trevor, and those of us in the “real world” are the Sandras. We’re attempting to cope with a real-world situation that is rapidly deteriorating around us and spiraling out of control (while our Trevors remain oblivious). Seeing Trevor in this view reflects the power of the directoral choice to make Trevor human and not a man in a chimp costume; the costume would have destroyed that connection and meaning.

But is that the intent of Trevor. Many have complained about the last scene and have viewed it as unnecessary. Perhaps it is, if you focus only on the linear story of Trevor and his fate. But there is something telegraphed in that last scene that changes the interpretation of Trevor yet again. Jim, the Sheriff, who has been ogling the neighbor Ashley for a long time, has a line about how he saw himself like Trevor. This simple line layered yet another meaning on top of Trevor: are we all just animals under the surface. With the right pressure and situation, we’ll start flinging our poo everywhere, going out of control and endangering others. We may be creating the superficial impression that we can co-exist in proper society — driving cars, holding down jobs, being part of a family — while inside there is a monster who hasn’t been released. Again, a very thought provoking notion — one that comes precisely from the epilogue.

The epilogue also raises a third issue of Trevor: the extent to which we anthropomorphize animals and view them as human. We take both wild and domestic animals and ascribe to them human motivations and behaviors. Sandra did this to Trevor, but we’re all guilty of doing this to our dogs and cats and other pets we keep. Trevor points out the folly and risk of doing this: just because we have this belief they will behave as we will, they are animals underneath. Trevor points out that our anthropomorphism is a bad thing.

This, friends, is the power of theatre. One can view Trevor as the basic surface story: a tragi-comedy (dramedy?) about a woman and her chimp — and enjoy it on that level. One can see the parallels in Trevor to deeper commentary on the human condition — and enjoy that level as well. The presentation in an intimate forum (as opposed to the distance of a larger theatre like the Taper or even the Colony) serves to amplify the message. Trevor could be that man or woman sitting next to you; Trevor is right in front of you.

This is why this production of Trevor is so special; this is why you must go see this if you can find a seat. Just like all the multiple dimensions that create intimate theatre in Los Angeles, the multiple dimensions of the story and performances in Trevor combine to make something truly special — yet another diamond in the mix of gems and cubic zirconia and glass that make up LA theatre.

A large part of the success of Trevor is its execution, and a fair amount of credit should go to the director, Stella Powell-Jones (FB) (who is no relation to the playwright, but who is the granddaughter of Harold Pinter) [assisted by Joseph Patrick O’Malley (FB)). Her decision to play both Trevor and Oliver as humans with non-stereotypical chimpanzee mannerisms (e.g., basic movement, not the oooh-oooh grunt grunt) is what moves the story from surface comedy to deeper metaphor. This decision, combined with the human acting talent and experience, elevated this production.

As for that acting talent and experience — wow! (hmmm, quoting Steve Stanley now :-) ). In the lead positions were Laurie Metcalf (FB) as Sandra Morris and Jimmi Simpson (FB) as Trevor. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know Metcalf from her TV work — but her real heart is theatre from her days with Steppenwolf in Chicago, and it is clear that Trevor is an exercise of love of the craft. This shows in her performance, which is powerful and touching and frantic and moving… portraying the wild swings of a woman in Sandra’s position dealing with all the poo that life has flung (not even thrown) at her. Matching her beat for beat is Simpson’s Trevor. Never at all the stereotypical chimp (except when necessary to ape another actor’s stereotype  — get it, “ape” :-) ), Simpson becomes Trevor primarily though physical movement and mannerisms — a walk that isn’t quite right, a quizzical nature that is disconnected and separate, but seemingly wise. These two leads work well together and are believable, and they make the story just fly through their performances.

The supporting roles are harder to tier and categorize. Let’s start with the clearly real people. As Ashley, the neighbor who raises the concern and fear about Trevor, Mary Elizabeth Ellis (FB) captures the youth and fear of a woman in her situation quite well. Her role is more a reflection of the audience — she’s the outside observer of the situation, attempting to bring rationality to a clearly insane situation (and she does that well). Assisting her in doing this is Jim Ortlieb (FB) as the Sheriff, Jim, and Malcolm Barrett (FB) as the Animal Control Officer, Jerry (as well as the P.A. in some scenes).  Ortlieb’s Jim captures the no-nonsense Sheriff quite well, and provides a wonderful undertone of … something else. This is subtle in the first act, with the odd mentions of Trevor officiating at Jim’s daughter’s baptism; it becomes even stranger in the epilogue with Jim’s ogling of Ashley and his comment about being more like Trevor than people realized. Ortlieb captures this subtext quite well. Barrett’s Jerry is wonderful in Act II, especially in how he relates to Trevor both before and after things go south. Quite believable.

Lastly, we have the two characters that are only Trevor’s fantasies. First, there is Brenda Strong (FB) as Morgan Fairchild. I was familiar with Strong from Dallas, but would not have recognized her in this role save for the program — again, the measure of a good actor, disappearing into the role. Sexy and very Morgan Fairchildish,  she perfectly captures the object of Trevor’s adoration. Then there is Bob Clendenin (FB) as Oliver, another acting chimpanzee who is seemingly Trevor’s mental mentor and model. Again, I was familiar with Clendenin from Cougar Town. Here, Clendenin was the personification of the song from Dirty Rotten Scoundels — he was that chimp in a suit, dressed up in Armani but still a chimp underneath. As with Trevor, the decision was not to play him overly chimp-like, which creates confusion when he talks about his human wife, half-human children, and three-quarter human grandchildren… but it all works out. His scenes were few but great.

Circle X also cast a full slate of understudies who we didn’t see, but some of whom I’ve had interactions with on the pro99 group: Tasha Ames (FB) (Ashley U/S); Jeff Galfer (FB) (Trevor U/S); Jamie Morgan (FB) (Morgan Fairchild U/S); William Salyers (FB) (Jim U/S); Kiff Scholl (FB) (Oliver U/S); Leslie Stevens (FB) (Sandra U/S); and Randolph Thompson (FB) (Jerry U/S).

Turning to the technical side of the equation: The scenic design by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz was just remarkable. Remember how earlier I noted that intimate theatre sets range from simple boxes to full realizations. This was clearly in the latter camp, with loads of household stuff and household details that didn’t need to be there, but served to create a perfect atmosphere — from piles of clutter to hidden safes to downspouts to boxes of toys to … it was just a full realization that clearly took a lot of cost and effort that will never be recouped from ticket sales. The set was a labor of love. Supporting the set were the costumes of Elizabeth A. Cox (who also did the costumes for the recent Drowsy Chaperone at CSUN), assisted by Soo Jin Jeong/FB. This team didn’t take the easy way out — stock chimp suits. Trevor was dressed as a normal human, with the one affectation being suspenders. The costume made no chimp distinctions. The human costumes were … completely normal. The people looked as one would expect people in those roles to look. This is a good thing. The sound design by Jeff Gardner (FB) was primarily sound effects, but these worked quite well and were wonderfully directional (creating that wonderful sense of being behind and around, not a stage solely in front). The lighting design by Jeremy Pivnick (FB), assisted by Christina Schwinn (FB), served to illuminate the situation well. There were a few clever things I noted about the lighting design — the use of LED lighting when Oliver was first introduced; the use of some movers during some craziness; and the background lights as headlights in the closing scene. All little well done touches. An unusual credit was for Ned Mochel for Violence Design — presumably, this was to capture the violent behavior of Trevor — and it worked very well. Remaining credits of significance include: Shaunessy Quinn (FB) (Production Stage Manager); Lauren Sego (Master Electrician); Stuart Taylor/FB (Assistant Stage Manager); Bethany Tucker (Props Design). I’m not going to list all the Circle X credits (as they are online), but note that they have two of the oddest credits I’ve seen: Dustin Hughes as “Metrosexual in Residence” and Casey Smith as “Associate Artistic Director of Original Programming for Projects Related to Himself”, which I’m guessing is related to his current project in the other Circle X theatre.

Trevor, at  Circle X Theatre (FB) in Atwater Village, has been extended to April 19. I’ve heard that the remainder of the run is sold-out, but tickets, if available, are online here. They did appear to have a waiting list for each show, so you might get in by cancellations. Goldstar (linked earlier) as sold out.

Pro99 - Vote No NowAnother Pro99 Observation. As I was waiting to get into Trevor, the constitution of the audience struck me. Unlike most theatre where I’m one of the youngest there (I’m 55) — yes, I’m looking at you, The Colony Theatre (FB) — the audience for Trevor was significantly younger. Intimate theatre has this power — to introduce the joy of live theatre to the younger audience. Further, it has the power to show that theatre is much more than the touring musicals of Broadway that one sees at the Pantages; it appeals to the young mind that wants to think and be challenged. Intimate theatre in Los Angeles is how we grow the next generation of theatre audience. If Equity wants that well-heeled audience that will pay significant ticket prices so that actors may be paid what they are worth, and will donate significant amounts to keep theatre afloat when it is in danger of sinking, it must be prepared to carefully nurture and grow that audience, not shut it out. A wide and vibrant intimate theatre ecosystem — covering all dimensions — is necessary to do this. Actors should be paid and protected, but this should be with a tiered system that reflects all the dimensions of the equation, not an insensitive fiat (excuse me, promulgated) approach that bludgeons and destroys the ecosystem. Further, all actors are worthy of protection and payment — the rules and protections should not be different depending on the piece of cardboard or plastic in your pocket. Payment may vary based on skill and experience, but the union should not be a thug but a professional society that works to better the profession of live theatre for all, and provides additional long-term benefit (health care, pensions, investments) to protect the well-being of its collective members. AEA’s proposal does not do this: If you are an AEA actor in Los Angeles, vote no. We — and by we I mean not only the AEA actors and stage managers in Los Angeles but the non-unon actors, producers, dramatists, playwrights, other creatives, and the members of Actors, Fans, and Others (the Professional Audience Union), as well as unprofessional audience members :-) — want change, but not this change. Learn about the proposal and what you can do at www.ilove99.org.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The rest of April is taken up with either non-formal theatre or non-local theatre. Next weekend takes us back to Olde Englande with the Renaissance Faire on April 11 (just wait until AEA tries to unionize that — the Queen will be livid!). The following weekend brings two concerts:  Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) on Saturday, and the Rick Recht and Sheldon Low concert as part of the Songleaders Bootcamp at Temple Ahavat Shalom on Sunday. After that we’re in Vegas for a week — I haven’t yet determined the shows yet, but Menopause the Musical looks quite likely, possibly Don Rickles at the Orleans, and Penn & Teller are on Goldstar. Los Angeles theatre resumes in May with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and also has a hold for “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May currently has a hold for “Fancy Nancy” at the Chance Theatre (FB), “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB), and “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB).  June is equally crazy, as we’ve got the Hollywood Fringe Festival (which should include a production of “Marry Me a Little” by Good People Theatre (FB)), a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawksour annual drum corps show, and hopefully “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.