Observations Along the Road

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

Stranger in a Strange Land

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 23, 2014 @ 8:36 am PST

The Immigrant (Tabard Theatre)userpic=theatre_ticketsBack in 2012, I went to the West Coast Jewish Theatre (FB)’s production of “New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch Spinoza“. At that time, I learned that their next production was to be the musical version of Mark Harelick (FB)’s play “The Immigrant“. I obtained a copy of the CD, and started to try to fit it into my theatre schedule — but, alas, I couldn’t. This year, when planning my trip to the Bay Area to visit my daughter (who is in her third year at UC Berkeley, and her second year of Yiddish studies), I discovered that Tabard Theatre Company (FB) was doing the original play during my visit. I quickly made arrangements to attend — which we did yesterday, seeing the penultimate performance of the play. I am extremely glad that we did — this was a very very moving play; I play I want to see again when it revisits Southern California. I’d recommend you go see it, but it closed last night.

One thing common to all Americans is the immigrant experience. For some, it is so far back there is no memory (native Americans). Others try to forgot those times (“I came over on the Mayflower”). In the Jewish community, most know their immigration story. For example, I know how my grandfather came to American from Vitebsk, entering at the Port of San Francisco and going to New York. I know that other branches of my family came from Germany to New York, and then to Nashville. These are experiences that shape a family.

The Immigrant” tells one such story — and one that is true. It tells the story of the Harelick family (yes, the author of the play), whose patriarch (Haskell Garelick, changed to Haskell Harelick) immigrated from Russia in the early 1900s to Galveston TX, and thence to a small community on the Texas plains called Harrison. Starting life with a pushcart selling bananas, he befriends the town banker (Milton Perry) and his Southern Baptist wife (Ima Perry), coming to live with them. Perry helps Harelick move from a pushcart selling bananas to a horse-drawn cart selling fruits and vegetables to a dry-good store. Harelick saves money to bring his wife (Leah in the play; Marleh in real life) over from Russia. The family thrives and grows with the addition of three sons. A friendship grows between Leah and Ima, and Haskell and Milton become estranged. Near the end of Milton’s life, they reconcile. The family goes through WWII, with Milton eventually dieing in 1987 at the age of 100.

This is the story of the play. The first act is centered in 1909 and 1910, and focuses primarily on Haskell’s arrival, his befriending of Milton, and the initial growth of the business and the bringing over of his wife. At least 60% of the first act is in Yiddish. The second act provides the rest of the story very fast in little vignettes: the budding friendship between Leah and Ima, the birth of each child, a Sabbath dinner, the reconciliation, and a epilogue that finishes the story. All the while, projected around the actors between scenes, are pictures of the real Harelik family that correspond to the times being presented.

The overall picture presented is a very touching one — and a very American one — that shows the impact of the immigrant on a community, and the values that an immigrant can bring to a community. It shows how a community can fear the outsider. It also highlights (in the WWII scenes) how America’s attitude has changed — the country used to welcome the immigrant; now it fears the immigrant (witness the recent situation in Washington DC).

This play also brought to mind two other plays that I have seen recently. The first (and most recent) was Handle with Care” at the Colony. That play was also a fish out of water situation. In the play, Ayelet can speak very little English, and is speaking rapid fire Hebrew to the audience. The audience (well, most of the audience) likely cannot understand the words, yet quickly understands the meaning. Similarly, in The Immigrant, the audience (well, most of the audience) does not understand the Yiddish that Haskell is speaking, but they get what he is saying. The other play this evoked was “Bat Boy: The Musical“. That play also explores how strangers are received, but with a much more tragic end. All of these plays make us realize that we can see the stranger in our community with fear, or we can get to know them and learn that they are good people.

A final observation on the story itself: As I said at the beginning, I was more familiar with the musical. As I watched the play, I could easily see the places where they musicalized the story, and why the story cried out for the musicalization. I look forward to the day when I can see the musical version.

I really only had one minor quibble with the story: In the Sabbath scene, after Leah lights the candles alone and they do the blessing over the children, they indicate they are doing the blessing over the wine… and then proceed to recite the blessing over the candles (which should be said as you light them). They then do the (short) blessing over the wine. This is probably something only I would catch.

Let’s now look at the performance in this piece, which was under the direction of Karen Altree Piemme (FB), who clearly worked closely with these actors to draw out extremely moving performances.

The Harelick family was portrayed by Steve Shapiro (FB) as Haskell, and Erin Ashe (FB) as Leah. Shapiro was remarkable in the role, handling the language and dialect with aplumb (at least to my untrained ear, and I didn’t hear any complaints from my daughter). Shapiro just seemed to become Harelick, inhabiting the character and bringing him to life seamlessly. Ashe’s Leah had a touching vulnerability about her throughout the story; you could see it slowly turning to strength as she lived longer in America. Together, the two had a great chemistry and were a believable couple.

The Perry family was portrayed by Donald W. Sturch (FB) as Milton and Diane Milo as Ima [note that Denee Lewis/FB was Ima for all but our performance day]. Sturch was very good as Milton, portraying both a gruff and a tender side. He was particularly good near the end of the play as the aged, and obviously overcome by stroke, Milton. Milo was also very good as Ima (especially considering that this was her only performance day), showing a character that was initially unsure about the stranger but clearly warming up to the family… especially seeing them more as kindred souls than her husband did.

Overall, the four performances combined with the story to create a truly moving portray. Just excellent. I’ll note you you can find the full program, with all actor credits, here.

Turning to the technical and physical side. First I should note that the Tabard facility is a beautiful one — comfortable chairs and a few tables wrapping around a thrust stage, with a full bar in the back. The scenic artist (Migi Oey (FB)) turned this stage, with just a few props (a door here, a table there, some steps over there) into distinct scenic locales; this combined with Ruth E. Stein (FB)’s very realistic properties very well (they must go through a lot of fruit and veggies each show). Also supporting the overall scenic design were the costumes of Marilyn Watts. The sound design by Robert Lewis had some microphone problems in the beginning, but in general worked well. This was similarly true for the lighting design of Rover Spotts (what a name for a lighting designer): the use of LED lighting and Leikos combined well to evoke mood, although the sudden shift to red in the one fight scene was a bit heavy handed. Technical direction (and presumably, the projections) was by Joe Cassetta, assisted by John Palmer. These worked extremely well to establish the mood and provide the historical context. Kiana Jackson was the stage manager. “The Immigrant” was produced by Cathy Spielberger Cassetta (who I believe was the one that was so kind to let me take a program home; normally, they leave them for the next performance and email the link to the program to the attendees).

Alas, “The Immigrant” at Tabard is no more. The final performance was last night. That’s too bad. However, if that show is indicative of this theatre’s work, I encourage those in the area to see their future shows. I know that if I lived in the area, I would be particularly interested in the musical “Violet“, running April 10 through May 3. Alas, whereas I’ll drive from Northridge to the Anaheim Hills for “She Loves Me” (about 67 miles); driving from Northridge to San Jose (326 miles) is a bit much. Then again, it might be an excuse to spend time with my daughter :-).

[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.]

Theatre continues today with the Dickens Fair (FB) in Daly City. After I return, it is “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, I just ticketed “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20, and we’ll probably go see Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Nobel Middle School just before ACSAC. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente; additionally we’ll likely have the first show of the REP East (FB) season: “Avenue Q“.  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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“I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whoever I’m with.”

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 22, 2014 @ 8:03 am PST

Harvey (Palo Alto Players)userpic=theatre2Here’s an adage to live your life by:

“In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.

If you’re my age, there’s a good chance you may recognize that quote and its source. If you’re younger — well, you need to watch more Jimmy Stewart movies — in particular, a 1950 movie about Stewart and a 6′ 1½” white rabbit, or should I say pooka. That movie, in turn, was an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play from 1944 by Mary Chase (yes, there was a day when stories moved from the stage to the screen, not vice-versa) called “Harvey“. “Harvey” is one of my absolute favorite movies, so when I found out that the Palo Alto Players (FB) were producing the stage version when I was going to be in the area, I started jonesing for tickets. Luckily, I was able to combine seeing the show with having dinner with a high school friend of mine, making it a even more perfect evening.

For those of you hiding under a rock, here’s the story. The Dowd’s are an old-money family. The matriarch of the family has died, leaving the house and all the money to her son, Elwood, who stayed home and took care of her as she died. Elwood shares the house with his (presumably widowed) older sister, Vita Louise Simmons, and her younger (and still single) daughter, Myrtle Mae Simmons. Both Vita and Myrtle Mae would like to see Myrtle Mae married off. Vita has one problem standing in the way of this: Elwood. For some time, Elwood has had a problematic friend: Harvey, a 6′ 1½” white rabbit that only Elwood can see. Elwood, a very pleasant young man, loves to introduce people to Harvey, invite them home, and give them money. To solve her problem, Vita works with the family attorney, Judge Gaffney, to have Elwood committed to a psychiatric home. She takes him to Chumley’s Rest, an institution for such individuals. As she is getting Elwood admitted, she admits that even she has occasionally seen Harvey. Dr. Sanderson and Nurse Kelley (who have already had the orderly Wilson take Elwood upstairs) realize that it is really Vita that should be committed, and they take her upstairs and release Elwood. But then Chumley arrives with Mrs. Chumley, and after Mrs. Chumley relates her interaction with Elwood, they realize that they had it right the first time. The comedy takes off from there.

The story of Harvey works on many levels, primarily because of changes it brings to many of the original characters. Elwood moves from being someone whom you believe to be crazy, who sees imaginary characters due to drink… to someone who you realize has intentionally made a decision to live life in a certain positive way, and who actually sees as mythological creature. Vita moves the other direction — from a normal society woman to someone whom you realize is delusional and dealing with depression — and not due to her seeing Harvey occasionally. Myrtle Mae moves from someone who wants the best marriage and the entrance to society to someone who wants any man… and finds him in Wilson. Dr. Sanderson and Nurse Kelley move from estranged work colleagues to being a couple. And Dr. Chumley, perhaps, finds the peace he is seeking. Such is the power of the pooka.

For those only familiar with the movie, there are some differences in the original play. The play is much more limited in locale — whereas the movie moved out to Charlie’s Bar and the gate at the Sanitarium, the play restricts itself to the Dowd house and Chumley’s rest. The ending is a bit different as well, for there is no intimation that Harvey went off to Akron with Dr. Chumley before returning to Dowd.

But those are unnecessary elements. The essential story is on stage, and it is wonderful. The Palo Alto Player’s production of it, directed by Jeanie K. Smith (FB), is also very good — especially when you consider that it is at the community theatre level with an entire non-equity, and in many cases, a non-theatrical-career, cast. I have a few quibbles with characterizations and performances, but for the most part the production works well. Note that, for the most part, you do need to set aside the images of the characters from the film, as the actors on stage look nothing like the actors on film.

In the lead, playing Elwood Dowd, is Evan Michael Schumacher (FB). Schumacher is the minor casting problem I alluded to earlier — he appears to be too young for the role. Dowd is, according to the script, 37 (which is old for the time period of the story). Schumacher appeared to be pushing his mid-20s. But that aside, Schumacher gave an absolutely spot on performance. He captured Dowd’s pleasantness perfectly, and had these wonderful silent mannerisms and looks that made him believable as the character. He made you believe that he actually saw, and more importantly, believed in, Harvey. They were good friends, and they were in on the joke in a little way. This show is worth seeing for Schumacher’s performance alone.

Supporting Dowd are Mary Price Moore (FB) as Veta Louise Simmons and Alison Koch (FB) as Myrtle Mae Simmons. These are the first two characters we see, and these are the performance problems I alluded to earlier. Both come off as a little too, umm, theatrical and broad. I don’t know if that has how the characters are written, but they clearly aren’t as naturalistic as we’ve come to expect on stage. Again, setting that aside, the two are clearly having fun with the characters and, over the course of the show, the performances tend to grow on you. In particular, I really like’s Koch’s interactions with Wilson — these were totally cute and a hoot to watch. Moore was at her best as the crazy Veta.

Turning to the secondary characters… Nicole Martin/FB worked well as Nurse Ruth Kelley — you could see both her dedication and her love for Dr. Sanderson come through. As Dr. Sanderson, Scott Solomon didn’t quite fit the character. He was too old for someone just out of medical school, and didn’t quite have the chemistry with Nurse Kelley. Other than that, his performance was good. Lastly, as Duane Wilson (the orderly), Drew Reitz (FB) was great. He brought such glee to Wilson — this was a man that truly enjoyed putting people in the looney bin. Such dedication is rare these days :-). He also had a wonderful unspoken chemistry with Koch’s Myrtle Mae that made them believable as a couple.

Rounding out the cast were Roberta Morris/FB as Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet, John Musgrave (FB) as Dr.William R. Chumley, Celia Maurice (FB) as Betty Chumley, Tom Farley/FB as Judge Omar Gaffney, and Scott Stanley/FB as E. J. Lofgren. Of these, I’d like to highlight the performances of the two Chumleys. Musgrave’s Dr. Chumley was very strong — he was believable as the head of the institution, and yet had the vulnerability that made him also believable as someone who needed Harvey in his life. Maurice’s Mrs. Chumley, although a one-scene role, worked quite well — I would have loved to see her attacking the role of Veta Louise.

Turning to the technical side. The sound design of Gordon Smith was only noticeable in the interstitial music, which had to be longer due to the time it took to change the sets from one locale to another. Similarly, the lighting design of Selina G. Young was completely unnoticeable — which is a good thing, as it meant that the lighting seemed natural and not forced. The scenic design of Ron Gasparinetti consisted primarily of very large flats that were rolled in or lowered. They worked well to establish place, although the time to change from one local to another was longer as a result. The properties, designed by Pat Tyler, worked well — particularly Harvey’s hat and the painting of Harvey and Elwood (I appreciated the touch of having the painting be of the actor in the role — does he get to take it home at the end as a door prize?). The costumes of Cynthia Preciado, combined with the hair and makeup design of  Shibourne Thill (who also served as stage manager)  didn’t scream out as being outlandishly non-period, and the only problem I saw were the problematic hair extensions for Veta Louise after she returns from the sanitarium.

The Palo Alto Players production of “Harvey” continues at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto through tomorrow, 11/23/14. Tickets are available through the Palo Alto Players website; the 2pm Sunday performance still has tickets on Goldstar. The performance we were at was decidedly not sold out.

[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.]

Theatre continues this weekend with The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, and the Dickens Fair (FB) on Sunday in Daly City. After I return, it is “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, I just ticketed “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20, and we’ll probably go see Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Nobel Middle School just before ACSAC. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente; additionally we’ll likely have the first show of the REP East (FB) season: “Avenue Q“.  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.

Bill Cosby

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 22, 2014 @ 6:31 am PST

userpic=great-race-clueAn article in the LA Times today about Bill Cosby and the current situation had a very interesting statement from Cosby’s attorney:

“The situation is an unprecedented example of the media’s breakneck rush to run stories without any corroboration or adherence to traditional journalistic standards. Over and over again, we have refuted these new unsubstantiated stories with documentary evidence, only to have a new uncorroborated story crop up out of the woodwork. When will it end?”

This meshed with an earlier blog post I read from Mark Evanier about Cosby:

I’m trying to invent a scenario where he comes out of this okay and goes back to being Bill Cosby. I can’t. And maybe one of the reasons he’s not going on TV to try and deny it is that he can’t, either. He’d have to say all these women are lying and that would (a) embolden them to repeat the charges louder, (b) cause him to be accused of trashing his victims, (c) maybe bring forth other accusers and (d) not be believed by very many people. He may try it but on a “nothing to lose” basis, which is not a good reason to do anything.

In other words, at this point, Cosby’s career is toast. It’s over if he admits the charges. It’s over if he denies the charges for the reasons above. It’s over if he ignores the charges. Note that this is all true whether or not the charges are true.

This also meshes with a third point I heard from a security expert at a security conference once. He said that if you truly want to trash someone, you break into their computer, plant child porn, delete it, and then call the authorities. They can’t admit it, they can’t deny it (because they look guilty). They are positively screwed.

This, my friends, is the power of the evil word — of loshan hora. Gossip about people may not be true, but cannot be taken back once said. We’re all eager to learn about it. We’re all eager to repeat it. We all do so with nary a thought about whether it is true, whether it is substantiated with evidence, or the damage it may cause.

Now, I don’t care whether the news about Cosby is true (well, if it is, I do hope the women find some relief by coming out about it). Cosby’s contributions are no less than they were before, just as Woody Allen’s films are no less funny given what he did, or that Roman Polanski’s films are not art. All it means is that we shouldn’t put artists on a pedestal; artists are often very flawed individuals. These problems go back to the days of Roscoe Arbuckle. In the long run, their art will be what is remembered, but they will always have that asterisk.

What I do care about is what we do. We must be careful about loshan hora, malicious gossip. Before we repeat or believe a story about someone (and pass it on), let’s give it the benefit of the doubt. Let’s find out — and confirm — that it is true. The reputation you save may be your own.

 

Stew for the Week: Lemurs and Lions and Iron, Oh My!

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 16, 2014 @ 1:39 pm PST

Observation StewAs you can see by my previous two posts, yesterday was a busy busy day. So today, while I eat lunch, let me share with you some news chum stew items for the week:

  • Public Media Losses. Last week, I had to report the sad news that Tom Magliozzi had past way. This week brings news of the loss of another public media personality — this time from the public television side. Yes, Jovian, the lemur better known as Zooboomafu, has passed away.
  • Cast In… Iron. Sometimes, the best thing is the simplest. Consider the cast iron pan. I have quite a few of them, inherited from my grandparents. You’ve probably heard bad things about cast iron, but here is the truth.
  • Irvine. When you hear the word “Irvine”, what do you think of? Robert Irvine of Restaurant Impossible? UC Irvine (one of the blander UCs out there, although it is a good school)? A very homogenized Orange County community? If you’re old enough, you will think of Lion Country Safari, which used to be in the Irvine hills. Here’s a look back at Lion Country Safari.

 

Nottingham II – Faire Harder

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 16, 2014 @ 11:45 am PST

userpic=faireThis weekend is the 2nd Annual Nottingham Festival (FB). For those not familiar with the Nottingham Festival, it is an attempt by Faire Folks in Ventura County (especially the folks behind Actors Rep of Simi Valley) to bring back the feel of the Renaissance Faires as they existed in the days when the Faire first began at Paramount Ranch in Ventura. They did a Kickstarter about 2 years ago with plans to bring back a multi-weekend faire. They haven’t gotten to that point yet, but they did bring back a one-weekend faire last year, and another one-weekend faire this year.

Last year’s Faire had its problems. There were loads of logistic problems: the Faire opening and entry was a clusterf*k, and the layout was less than ideal. I’m pleased to say that this year the problems were gone. There were no long lines at entry; the only problem was finding the Kickstarter table for those of us that got passes this year. The opening of the Faire entertainment was good, and modulo the iPad ticket code scanners occasionally acting up, entry was a breeze.

The layout of the Faire was also much much improved. Last year, the food vendors were in this narrow corridor that was a chokepoint. This year, the food vendors were moved to the middle of the main area, where there was space for lines to form without crowding. The narrow corridor was turned into an additional vendor space. The food choices were good, although some of the ran out of food early (especially the meat pies and the cookie vendor). Hopefully that has been corrected today; they should have more food next year.

Relocating the food also meant relocating the Masters Area. Unlike what RenFaire has become, Nottingham exists for a love of history. They have a Master’s Pavillion where famous historical masters speak about their expertise. We heard an interesting talk from Michaelanglo, for example. The new location was very good.

The vendors formed an interesting mix, but more are needed. There were quite a few clothing vendors (including Hearts Delight), some leather vendors, one glassware vendor, numerous jewelry vendors, and a few woodcraft items. There were no wand vendors or pottery vendors. Hopefully, as Nottingham grows and the word spreads about it, the vendor choice will grow.

Entertainment was good: there were a variety of shows, and it looks like that variety was growing. We saw the Country Garden Dancers and Wren of Iniquity; I believe Nicole’s former group, the Parrot Cove Morris, was also performing. In the shows, I also ran into a friend from college days (Mike Urban) that I hadn’t seen in years — an unexpected boon!

One of the great things about Nottingham is that it is small. It isn’t the gigantic thing that Southern has become — it is managable. Further, it hasn’t become wacky. We did our usual looking for WTF costumes. There were precious few — a couple of iridescent fairy wings, barbarians in metal bras. But the outlandish just wasn’t there — there were no Jack Sparrows; there were no Camelot style costumes. This made things much enjoyable.

Nottingham is growing right, and I look forward to attending next year. They’ve also been good to their Kickstarter supporters — we’ve actually gotten tickets included two years in a row, although this year we didn’t learn about it until after I had bought two tickets. That’s OK — we just brought two friends with us and introduced them to the faire!

P.S.: This year … no blisters. Thank you, Five Fingers.

But He Looks Nothing Like Lucy Liu

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 16, 2014 @ 10:12 am PST

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Suicide Clubuserpic=repeastAs an author, you hope that your literary creations live on after you; if this occurs, your memory stays alive long after the body is gone. When we think of Oz, we think of L. Frank Baum (even if, as is the case for Wicked, the real author is Gregory Maguire). When we think of Sherlock Holmes, we think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle’s Holmes has proved remarkably adaptable to many mileaus, as we currently see on our TV screens with both the BBC “Sherlock” and the CBS “Elementary” (which I enjoy). Sherlock has also seen many adaptions for the stage, many of which I have written about (as Repertory East Playhouse enjoys doing Sherlock stories). One of the most recent Sherlock stage adaptions was commissioned by the Arizona Theatre Company in 2011.  There, as the result of a bet between an artistic director and a playwright, a new play was born. The story, as told in the excellent Play Guide for the play from ATC, is this: The artistic director of ATC and author Jeffrey Hatcher were visiting Minneapolis, and went to see one of the many Sherlock Holmes plays. At intermission Hatcher was poking holes in the logic of the play, since of course a Sherlock Holmes play has to have airtight logic. Hatcher said to the ATC director something like, “Well I can write a better Sherlock Holmes play
than anyone.” And he said, “Prove it.” The result: “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Suicide Club“, a production of which just opened at Repertory East Playhouse (REP East) (FB) in Newhall (and which we saw last night).

To build his play, Hatcher took Doyle’s creations and transported them into a different story, adapting both to create a new hybrid story. This has been done a lot with Sherlock Holmes, to varying results. The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle estate has tried to keep a lid on all stories that use Holmes; I could find no statement that this new play was officially licensed from the estate. I’ll note that it no longer matters, as the Supreme Court just ruled that Sherlock and the characters are in the public domain (so let the Holmes/Watson slash fiction begin, ugh). In any case, the story in the play is not canon. [I will note that the play does require credit be given to the Arizona Theatre Company, so I’ll do so here.]

For this play, Hatcher combined the basic Holmes characters and settings (Holmes, Watson, Mycroft, 221-B Baker Street) with a collection of short stories by Robert Louis Stevenson written long before Sherlock Holmes. These stories dealt with an organization called “The Suicide Club“, and involved an investigator, Prince Florizel of Bohemia, and his assistant, Colonel Geraldine, having a series of adventures involving the club. I’ll let you read the Wiki page on the stories if you want, as most of the elements of stories remained in the plot of the play. As I noted, Hatcher transformed Florizel and Geraldine into Holmes and Watson, shifted the action to 1916 in London, and brought in some elements of the surrounding geo-political situation. Hatcher drew on his experience as a TV writer for such detectives as Columbo.

As with any Holmes story, you don’t want to give away the plot. Dramatists Play Service, who licenses the play, describes it thusly: “In the heart of London, behind the impassive facade of a windowless house, some of Europe’s most powerful men gather to play a game. The game is murder, and this is The Suicide Club. But the club has a new member, Sherlock Holmes: brilliant, brooding, the greatest detective in the world. Why does Holmes wish to die? Can his friend Dr. Watson save him? Or doesn’t Holmes want to be saved?”

Now you know the background. As with any stage production, assessing it requires looking at three parts (four, if it is a musical): the story, the performance, (the dance and music,) and the technical side. How well did Hatcher do creating this hybrid? Was it a Frankenstein monster, or a long-lived organ transplant?

To me, the story was about 85% there. A friend of mine (who attended with us) noted that a good detective story should be dropping clues along the way as to the final outcome. He didn’t see such clues in the first act; neither did I. He thought that hurt the presentation of the story; I didn’t. I did notice that the story had lots of scene changes (unlike other Sherlock plays), and a lot less of the deductive Holmes reasoning one has come to expect from the play. In fact, there was a lot less Holmes/Watson interplay than one usually sees. This added to the graft-i-ness of the story. But if you set those expectations aside, the story itself was a good one. It had many twists that I didn’t see coming, and although I had figured out some of the end game, I didn’t completely figure it out until the reveal at the end. That’s why I assessed it at 85%; I think an author more skilled in the world of Sherlock Holmes could likely have done better. As such, I don’t think that Hatcher won his bet with the ATC director; this wasn’t a better Sherlock play than anyone else could have written. It might be a good detective story, but the question was “a Sherlock play”.

Let’s turn to the performance side of the question. This production was, in many ways, a REP family affair. Sherlock stories tend to bring the people behind the REP to the stage: In this case, the REP Executive Director, Ovington Michael Owston (FB), was Watson; the REP Artistic Director,  Mikee Schwinn/FB, was Holmes; and the REP Board president, Bill Quinn/FB, returned to the stage to play two minor characters. Additionally, another REP regular, J. T. Centonze (FB), was also back on stage. This didn’t hurt the production; rather, it is one of the times that REP gives the feeling that it is a true repertory company made up completely of people who love being on stage (something, I’ll note, that I could never do, so they have my respect).

As the leads, Schwinn and Owston dropped comfortably back into the characters (having portrayed them on at least two previous REP Sherlock outings). The two are good friends in real life, and that comfort is visible on the stage in the unspoken interplay between the two. Although there were a few line hesitations (not surprising given the amount of dialogue, limited rehearsal, and the fact that this was the 2nd performance), they were quickly forgotten when viewed in the overall. These two are just fun to watch.

Supporting the leads were a variety of different characters. The ones that stand out in my memory are Collette Rutherford (FB)’s portrayal of the club secretary, Jessica Lynn Parson (FB)’s portrayal of Christiane DeLabegassier, and Joey Prata/FB‘s Prince Nikita Starloff. To go into more detail about why they stood out might reveal plot. Rounding out the remainder of the cast were Joe Roselund (FB) (Mr. Williams/Mr. Roundy); J. T. Centonze (FB) (Mr. Richards / Mycroft Holmes); Bill Quinn/FB (Mr. George / Inspector Micklewhite); Paul Nieman (FB) (Mr. Henry), and Nancy Lantis (FB) (Mrs. Hudson / Mrs. O’Malley / Older Woman). The production was directed by Kimbyrly M. Valis (FB). An interesting note discovered while building the links is that Valis is a Holmes purist — I’m curious how much that influenced how she had the actors portray things on stage.

On the technical side, REP did its usual excellent job. The sound design was by REP regular Nanook/FB ; lighting design was by William Thomas Andrew Davies/FB (as REP regular Tim Christianson/FB was unavailable). I’ll note this is the first time I’ve seen extensive use of the LED light bars that were acquired for “Return from the Forbidden Planet“. Projections were by Rick Pratt (FB) and served to augment Mikee and O’s set design. Costumes were designed by Tonya Nelson (FB) and were courtesy of No Strings Designed CostumesVicky Lightner/FB was the stage manager. “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Suicide Club” was produced by Mikee Schwinn/FB and Ovington Michael Owston (FB).

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Suicide Club ” continues at Repertory East (FB) until December 13.  Tickets are available through the REP East Online Box Office, as well as through Goldstar.

Repertory East (FB) has announced their 2015 season: “Avenue Q” (January 16-February 14) , “Doubt” (March/April), “Dinner with Friends” (May-June), “Jesus Christ Superstar” (July-August), “Diviners” (September-October), and “Deathtrap” (November-December). Subscription packages start at $81 for a Flex Pass (4 shows), or $120 for all six shows.

One other note: Last night was the tree lighting in downtown Newhall. Had we known this, we would have picked a different night. Everything was packed, and had not a little birdie (thank you Johnny) told us about this at the last minute, we might not have made the show. As it was, we arrived around 6pm, walked down to a fast-food Mexican place (because the places next to REP had no seating until after 7pm, and the show started at 8pm), still didn’t get to order until 6:40 PM (due to the backup), and didn’t get our food until 7:15 PM. We made it back in time, but next time we’ll avoid the crowds.

[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.]

Theatre continues next weekend when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26, starting with “Harvey” at Palo Alto Players (FB) in Palo Alto for Friday 11/21. That will be followed Saturday afternoon with The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, and the Dickens Fair (FB) on Sunday in Daly City. Who knows, I might even squeeze in “Rhinocerous” at the UC Berkeley Theatre Department (FB). After I return, it is “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, I just ticketed “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20, and we’ll probably go see Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Nobel Middle School just before ACSAC. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente; additionally we’ll likely have the first show of the REP East (FB) season: “Avenue Q“.  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.

How Quickly They Forget

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Nov 14, 2014 @ 11:50 am PST

userpic=ahmansonThe LA Times today has a series of articles on the 50th anniversary of the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. However, in their desire to glorify the past, they have made one glaring omission: They completely forgot about Edwin Lester and the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera.

Reading the articles gives the impression that the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion was the home of the Philharmonic, Opera, and Dance; all theatre was under the purview of the Center Theatre Group, and was at the Ahmanson and the Taper. That, of course, is completely false.

Wikipedia has a good page on the LACLO; so does Broadway LA at the Pantages and the Philharmonic Auditorium. LACLO, founded by Edwin Lester, started in 1938 and shared space with the Philharmonic at the Philharmonic Auditorium. When the Chander Pavillion was completed, the LACLO moved there with the Philharmonic. The LACLO pioneered the notion of a “tour” to the West Coast; often Broadway productions that did not tour to the West Coast would import the production for the LACLO with the original Broadway stars. LACLO also started a number of shows that either made it to Broadway, or attempted to make it to Broadway and failed. These included Song of Norway (1944), Magdalena (1948), Kismet (1953), Peter Pan (1954) and Gigi (1973). Among the aborted shows that I recall included a version of Gone with the Wind with Pernell Roberts, and “Sugar” with Robert Morse.

The LACLO is the reason I’m into theatre — my first live theatre was “The Rothschilds” at LACLO in 1972 with Hal Linden. My parents were LACLO subscribers, and they soon added me to their subscriptions. This is when I fell in love with the theatre.

LACLO operated in parallel with the Center Theatre Group; often CTG productions were bonus shows for LACLO. I recall this being the case for my favorite show, “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, which was my first show at the Ahmanson. In general, the LACLO did musicals; CTG did plays.

According to Wikipedia, during the 1950s and 1960s the LACLO was the most financially successful musical theatre subscription organization of its kind. However, in the 1970s the organization’s audience size began to decrease and by the 1980s the company was experiencing serious financial difficulties. The company’s last production was of John Kander’s Cabaret in 1987.  Wikipedia doesn’t note that what did the company in — beyond the quality of 1980s theatre — was the growth of alternate houses such as the Shubert (which opened in the mid 1970s) and the Pantages (which opened in the early 1980s).

The Broadway LA folks (who claim to be the successors to the LACLO) note that in 1981, the Nederlander Organization bailed out the financially-ailing Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. In their words: “While many of these productions continued to light up the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Ahmanson Theatre at the Los Angeles County Music Center, as available windows for booking shows at those venues became smaller and smaller, the Nederlanders eventually opted to utilize the Pantages to house the LACLO season of shows.” The translation: Once the Nederlanders got control, they slowly moved more and more productions to the houses they controlled (and of course, never to the Shubert theatre in Century City).  And thus, the LACLO faded from view at the Music Center, to be replaced by Nederlander tours at the Pantages. All that was left was the mailing list.

[Edited to Add: Over on Facebook, Ron Bruguiere provided some additional clarification to the above, noting: “In your blog, you neglect to mention Feuer and Martin. They took over CLO from Edwin Lester in 1976, lasting until 1980. The subscribers were extremely unhappy in 1977 with Liza Minnelli in “Shine It On” which when it opened in NYC, was known as “The Act.”  1981 is when the Nederlander organization begin producing the CLO productions, and the blue-haired ladies let it be known that there was too much blood in “Sweeney Todd,” the subscribers were very displeased, and subscriptions fell off. By 1987, when CLO closed, the subscriber base was greatly diminished.”]

Still, any look back at the contributions of the Music Center must acknowledge the LACLO. For many many years, the LACLO was the outlet for musical theatre in LA — even after CTG started. It wasn’t until the death of Lester and the Nederlanders taking over the remains of the LACLO that the Ahmanson became a musical house.

As we look back on 50 years of the Dorothy Chandler, let’s remember the days when musical theatre could fill a 3,150 seat house that actually had great accoustics as well as glamour. Let’s remember the contributions of Edwin Lester and the LA Civic Light Opera.

 

B’Shert

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 09, 2014 @ 6:22 pm PST

Handle with Care (Colony Theatre)userpic=colonyNormally, when I write up shows I’ve seen at the The Colony Theatre (FB), you’re getting the write-up just before the last show. That’s just because that’s when our season tickets happen to be. However, for the Colony’s current show, our season tickets are just before the start of the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference in New Orleans (you are going, aren’t you — advance registration closes November 14), so I had to change the date. Due to a busy theatre calendar, this means we saw the new Colony show “Handle With Care“‘s second performance. So, for a change, you can act upon my recommendation to go.

I should warn you that the advertising for “Handle With Care” (written by Jason Odell Williams (FB), directed by Karen Carpenter (FB)) is misleading. The elevator pitch advertising calls it a “Jewish Christmas Play”. Sorry, but the only real connection to Christmas is that it occurs on Christmas Eve, which really isn’t that major of a plot contrivance. The short description on the Colony website is just a little better:

Magic can happen in the unlikeliest places ─ like Christmas Eve in a seedy motel, where fate and bizarre circumstances bring together a young Israeli woman who has little command of English, and a young American man with little command of romance. Is their love an accident? Pure coincidence? Or is it destiny that’s been generations in the making? It’s a wonderful new play about love, communication, fate, and the importance of GPS-enabled tracking devices.

GPS-enabled tracking devices? C’mon, again, not a major plot point at all.

Let me give  you a better description of the setup. Ayelet, a young Israeli woman with little English ability, has been convinced to visit America with her safta (grandmother in Hebrew), Edna. Edna wants Ayelet to visit America to get her over the depression from the loss of a long-term boyfriend (along with some other reasons, which reveal themselves during the story). After visiting a number of towns in Virginia, they end up in a seedy motel in Goodview, VA. Shortly after arriving, Edna dies, and Ayelet makes arrangement to ship her body back to Israel. She contacts DHQ, a shipping service, and they send Terrence, one of their drivers, to pick up Ayelet and take her and the body to the airport to fly back to Israel. While waiting for Ayelet to pack, Terrence goes out to fuel the truck… and loses the box containing the body. All of the above you learn during flashbacks during the story. When the story opens, however, you just have Ayelet distraught and upset in rapid-fire Hebrew, and Terrence, who knows no Hebrew at all, trying to explain what happens. To help him, he calls in his Jewish-but-Secular friend Josh, because (of course) all Jews know Israeli Hebrew fluently. Josh himself is coming off a bad loss — again, we learn the details during the play — and he thinks Terrence is trying to set him up.

OK. Now. You have the setup. You have the short description. Ready. Set. Go.

Now that you know the story but not all the twists, let’s assess the story. There are two ways to look at it. For audience members that know not of Jews (yes, they do exist in LA) or Israelis (yes, they too do exist in LA), a lot of this play will go over their heads. They’ll be confused by the Hebrew, they won’t get some of the Jewish jokes or the jokes about Israel. Still, they’ll be amused by how the story plays out.

For folks like me in the audience, who know Judaism well, know a smattering of Hebrew, and know Israelis well — they’ll like the show ever more. From my little knowledge,  the director (who also directed the show off Broadway) captures the Israeli mannerisms well. This may be because the lead actress, Charlotte Cohn (FB), not only played the role off-Broadway and is married to the playwright, but is also Israeli (and Danish).

Now, for folks that speak Hebrew fluently… I have no idea. My Hebrew isn’t that good; I’m at the level of Josh in the play (or worse). I’d be curious how well the Hebrew Ayelet speaks fits the story — the few words I could hear seemed to work.

In the end, what “Handle With Care” turns out to be is a very cute story about people finding love, perhaps where they didn’t expect it. However, what it isn’t is a Christmas story. Sure, it happens just before Christmas, serving to limit the availability of DHQ drivers. Sure, It’s a Wonderful Life is on the TV, but that’s just so people can impersonate Jimmy Stewart. There’s no real connection to the holiday; and certainly no clash of the holiday titans. Go to this show because you want to see a cute, Jewish/Israeli themed love story. Go to this play because you want to see a story that paints Israelis as real people — just like you and me.

As I’ve noted before, in the lead position was Charlotte Cohn (FB). Cohn knows this story well —  she’s a Danish-Israeli Jew married to a “lapsed” Catholic-Protestant (the playwright). She brings a lot of fun and passion to the part — you can see she enjoys playing this character and bringing this young woman to life.  She’s just fun to watch. Playing off her, as Josh, is Tyler Pierce (FB). Pierce gives off a very affable air that works well for the character; he’s believable as a relatively non-practicing Jew.

Rounding out the cast are Jeff Marlow (FB) as Terrence and Marcia Rodd (FB) as Edna. Marlow is fun to watch as Terrence — he radiates a youthful joy and innocence (or perhaps it is stupidity) that is both infectuous… and annoying to the other characters. He screwed up, is confronted by something and someone he doesn’t understand, and is grabbing for something to hold on to. Rodd’s Edna is the opposite: centered, strange, and clearly driven by some purpose that neither the audience (nor Ayelet) comprehends (until it is made clear in the second act :-)).

In short: this piece is well performed and directed.

Turning to the technical side: The scenic design by David Potts was very nice — we were sitting on the right side (as opposed to our usual center), and I appreciated that he had the attention to detail that was only visible to those on the side (i.e., real fixtures in the bathroom). Potts created an excellent run down motel set (aided by the properties and set dressing of John McElveney (FB) and scenic art by Orlando de la Paz). I also noted that he had different levels of snow on the roof of the motel depending on the particular day. The sound design by Drew Dalzell (FB) (based on an original design by Jill Du Boff (FB)) was also quite nice — I particularly enjoyed the use of Eli Eli in Act II and I’d love to find a copy of that recording. The lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg (FB) worked well to establish the mood, and the costumes by Dianne K. Graebner (FB) seemed to fit the characters. Mary K. Klinger (FB) was the production stage manager. The Colony is under the artistic direction of Barbara Beckley.

Handle With Care” continues at The Colony Theatre (FB) through December 14, 2014. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.

[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 Theatre and Concerts:  November is busy, busy, busy. This week brings a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11, the Nottingham Festival (during the day) and “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) (in the evening) on Sat 11/15. I’m also seeing theatre when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26, starting with “Harvey” at Palo Alto Players (FB) in Palo Alto for Friday 11/21. That will be followed Saturday afternoon with The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, and the Dickens Fair (FB) on Sunday in Daly City. Who knows, I might even squeeze in “Rhinocerous” at the UC Berkeley Theatre Department (FB). After I return, it is “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, I just ticketed “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20, and we’ll probably go see Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Nobel Middle School just before ACSAC. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente; additionally we’ll likely have the first show of the REP East (FB) season: “Avenue Q“.  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.