Observations Along the Road

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

Saturday Stew: Books, Dim Sum, Neverland, and Torah Thoughts

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 05, 2014 @ 11:35 am PDT

Observation StewWell, it’s Saturday, and that means it is time to share the collected links of the week with you. Hopefully you’ll find something tasty in the mix:

  • Another One Bites The Dust. Brand Bookstore is closing. I think I mentioned this on Facebook last week. We were in Glendale last weekend when they were starting the closing sale. Whereas my wife loved the place for the books, they also had a great selection of records in good condition, including obscure shows and hard to find material. I found LPs there for $6 that were at least an order of magnitude more on Amazon. As an example, last Saturday I found the soundtrack to “Robin and the 7 Hoods” (which is hard to find), as well as loads of Sammy Davis Jr and Chet Atkins albums. I will miss this store, much more than I miss Cliff’s.
  • And Then Sum. Since Empress Pavillion closed, we’ve been on the hunt for a good replacement Dim Sum spot. We’ve tried NBC, and we last went to Seafood Harbor. Here’s a good guide to Dim Sum in the San Gabriel Valley, and it talks about the move to menu-based Dim Sum. I still prefer the carts, but I understand what they are saying. There are some places here that we really must explore.
  • Neverland. Abandoned places are fascinating. I still remember wandering around some homes that were about to be torn down near my grandparents when young. Here’s an interest exploration of an abandoned amusement park you might have heard of: Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara.
  • The Bible Says What?  Those of us on the progressive side of the scale often have trouble understanding the orthopractic and how they sincerely hold their beliefs. As for me, I view it with bemusement, and have no problem with orthopractic beliefs as long as they are not imposed on others (cough, Hobby Lobby, cough). Here’s an article on Orthopractic beliefs you might have missed: A Severer Chasidim village in New York has provided books to students in a girls school that cuts out some R rated passages in the Torah. It also leaves a word blank in each passage being studied, because it is forbidden according to this groups interpretation of Torah for women to study the whole Torah.
  • Coming Together. Before you think I’m picking on the Orthodox above, I’d like to share two excellent commentaries on the recent murder of three teens in Israel from two Orthodox friends of mine. In the first, Rabbi Micha Berger of Aishdas highlights something very important — although the various sects of Judaism may disagree between themselves, we come together in unity for tragedies like this. This is a demonstration of the Jewish family — although the family may bicker internally, and there may be times where one doesn’t talk to another or writes someone off, we call come together when we need to. In another post from Rabbi Yaakov Menken, he also talks about how this brings the community together, and discusses what the Torah means when it refers to avenging the deaths. It is not a quick and swift military retribution — the deaths are avenged by the survival and perseverence of the Jewish people. All those cultures that have attempted to wipe out Judaism haven’t survived; Judaism has. That’s the best revenge.
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Highway Headlines for June 2014

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jul 04, 2014 @ 7:44 am PDT

userpic=roadgeekingWhew. I finally got highway page updates done over memorial day weekend, so here are some headlines that have occurred since then. The big highway news seems to be winding down: the Federal highway trust fund is running out of money, and interest these days is more on building transit and bicycle support. You’ll see lots of maintenance work, some rehabilitations, but few completely new routes, and just a few reroutings or major constructions (other than adding HOV lanes):

  • I-80/680 interchange project work begins. Phase 1 of the seven-phase plan to renovate the Interstates 80 and 680 interchange complex got an official start Monday with a groundbreaking ceremony. This initial project doesn’t include work on the Interstates 80 and 680 interchange structure itself, but rather replaces the nearby Green Valley interchange. For that reason, transportation and civic leaders gathered in the now-closed Green Valley park-and ride lot along the Green Valley Road onramp to westbound I-80.
  • Caltrans begins improvements on I-80 in Solano County. Caltrans broke ground Monday on the first of a series of planned projects intended to reduce congestion and improve safety for more than 150,000 motorists who travel through the Interstate 80/Interstate 680/State Route 12 interchange in Solano County daily. During the first phase of a seven-phase project, a new Green Valley Road overcrossing will be constructed above I-80 about 200 feet east of the existing overcrossing. The new overcrossing will have twice the number of lanes (four) as the existing overcrossing, along with a new on-ramp to westbound I-80/SR-12. The connector ramp from westbound I-80 to SR-12 also will be widened from one lane to two lanes.
  • Interstate 80 to get new, wider Green Valley Road overcrossing. A major first step in revamping the Interstate 80/I-680/State Route 12 interchange was taken Monday morning. Next to a bustling I-80 and Green Valley Road overcrossing, local city, county, regional and state government representatives gathered in the windy and cool morning for a ground breaking on a major project designed to reduce congestion and improve safety for more than 150,000 motorists who travel daily through the interchange.
  • Photos: When Southern California’s Freeways Were New (and Empty). The Southland’s freeways hardly inspire optimism anymore. Glance at the shoulder of a slow-moving freeway and among the weeds you’ll see shards of plastic and twisted metal—the accumulated detritus of a dozen high-speed crashes. They may (occasionally) be convenient, but whether it’s their shabby appearance, the way they balkanize communities, or simply their soul-crushing traffic, it’s hard to feel good about the freeways. But there was a time when Southern California’s freeways were new, and feelings were different. Despite local opposition to specific routes, the freeway system as a whole enjoyed widespread political support. L.A.’s infatuation with the automobile hadn’t yet waned, so it was only natural for the city to embrace these new monuments to car culture. They provided an alternative to the aging electric railways and traffic-choked boulevards. They promised to improve life in the decentralized city. They represented the region’s best hope for the future.
  • Chino puts up $12M for freeway ramps. Chino city council voted unanimously Tuesday to spend $12.5 million to cover the city’s share of the cost of interchange improvements at Central Avenue and the 60 Freeway. The project calls for widening of the Central Avenue bridge over the freeway and widening of the eastbound and westbound ramps. Landscaping will be replaced.
  • Toll Lanes Becoming Permanent on the 110, 10, and Maybe 405. With tens of millions of dollars flowing into Metro’s coffers, and slight time savings for commuters, the transit agency’s board voted yesterday to make the ExpressLanes toll system permanent. The demonstration project for the ExpressLanes, which started in late 2012 and converted 25 miles of carpool lanes on the 10 and the 110 into toll lanes open to anyone who could pay, including solo drivers, was a success—the agency expected to distribute 100,000 of the transponders required to use the lanes, but ended up handing out more than 260,000 (the lanes are also driving more people to transit, which is another win). Now Metro will lobby the state legislature to keep the ExpressLanes for good, and to expand the system to other freeways, possibly starting with the 405, which will have continuous carpool lanes from the Valley to the OC starting next month.
  • Premature cracks found on Carquinez Bridge. A seismic expansion joint on the westbound Carquinez Bridge – similar to a dozen used on the skyway portion of the new Bay Bridge eastern span – has cracked after less than 10 years of pounding by heavy trucks, Caltrans officials said Wednesday. The cracking on the joint of the $240 million steel suspension span – which was finished in 2003 and crosses the Carquinez Strait near Vallejo – started showing up two years ago, Caltrans officials said.
  • Fix for anchoring rods of new Bay Bridge span to cost $1.5 million. Caltrans officials spoke on Wednesday about how crews will fix the anchoring rods of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge and how much the procedure will cost. The new Eastern span of the Bay Bridge was designed to have a 150 year lifespan. And while there have been some speed bumps along the way, Caltrans is convinced the bridge should reach its century and a half milestone after some needed work is completed.
  • Caltrans ordered to stop work on Willits bypass. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended the permit for the controversial Willits Bypass project which has been plagued by environmental and financial issues. The construction project is on Highway 101 in Mendocino County where Caltrans is building a freeway bypass around the town of Willits. It is six miles long and will cost at least $210 million.
  • I-10, Cabazon alternate route to begin by end of year. Construction is scheduled to begin at the end of 2014 on the extension of a road that runs parallel to Interstate 10 in Cabazon. Once Seminole Drive is connected to Rushmore Avenue — a process expected to finish in March — drivers will have an alternate route in case of emergency lane closures on westbound I-10.
  • Long Beach Port bridge delayed at least a year . The massive $1.26 billion project to replace the ailing Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach will be delayed at least a year, port officials announced. Originally expected to open by the end of 2016, port officials say the bridge that will rise over its port won’t be completed until late 2017 or early 2018. The delay has been attributed to design issues, including delays in obtaining approval for designs from Caltrans officials, who have the ultimate authority over plans.

Better Get Them To Sign It In The Next Coupla Days…

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jul 04, 2014 @ 6:21 am PDT

Every year I post this on the 4th of July. For all that certain groups purport to know what this country’s founders wanted, I think it is best expressed in the sentiment “life, liberty, and the purſuit of happineſſ”. We still have that, for all the complaints. At times we may not like our leadership, and at times we may be frustrated at how our government is working (or not), but it is still the best system out there. Lastly, as much as I get annoyed at what those on the other side of the political spectrum say, I am still pleased to live somewhere where they have the right to say it. Happy Independence Day!

Narrator: The trouble continued to brew. It was a time for action, a time for words. On a hot July night in 1776, Benjamin Franklin was aroused from his work by the call of destiny.

(door knocks)
Jefferson (J) (faintly): Hey, you in there Ben?
Franklin (F) (grouchily) Who’s that, Sylvia?
Sylvia (S): It’s the call of destiny.
F: C’mon, take a look through the curtains.
S: It’s Tom Jefferson
F: What? Again?
J: Pounds on door harder
F: Well, it’s no good, I’ll have to let him in. (walking to door) I’m coming, I’m coming.

(door opens)
J: Hi, Ben.
F: Tom.
(door closes)
J: You got a minute?
F: To tell you the truth, we were just going out of town for the weekend.
J: But it’s only Wednesday.
F: (signs) Well, you know. A penny saved is a penny earned.
J: (pauses) What does that got to do with anything, Franklin?
F: I don’t know. (chuckles) It’s the first thing that came into my head. I was just making conversation. An idle brain is the devil’s playground, you know.
J: Say, you’re pretty good at that, aren’t you?
F: They’re some new “wise sayings” I just made up.
J: Wise sayings?
F: Yeah, I call ‘em “Wise Sayings”.

F: What can I do for you?
J: I’ve got this petition I’ve been circulating around the neighborhood. I kinda’ thought you would like to sign it or something. It’s called a Declaration of Independence.
F: Yeah, I heard about that. Sounds a little suspect if you ask me.
J: What do you mean “suspect”?
F: You’re advocating overthrow of the British government by force and violence, aren’t you?
J: Well, yeah, yeah, but we’ve had it with that royal jazz.
F: Who’s “we”?
J: All the guys.
F: Who’s “all the guys”?
J: George, Jim Madison, Alex Hamilton, Johnny Adams… you know, “all the guys”.
F: Heh, the lunatic fringe.
J: Oh they are not.
F: Bunch of wild-eyed radicals. Professional liberals. Don’t you kid me?
J: You call George Washington a wild-eyed radical?
F: Washington? I don’t see his name on there?
J: Yeah, but he promised to sign it.
F: (laughs) That’s George for you. Talks up a storm with those wooden teeth of his. Can’t shut him off. But when it comes time to put the name on the parchment-o-roonie, try to find him.
J: What are you so surley about today?
F: Surly to bed and surly to rise makes a man…

J: Alright, Alright. Let’s knock off the one-line jokes and sign the petition. What do you say, huh, fellow?
F: Well, let me skim down it here. “When in the course of human events…” so-so-and-so. hmm-hmmm-and-hmmm. “… and that among these are life, liberty, and the purſuit of happineſſ?”
J: That’s “pursuit of happiness”
F: Well all your “S”s look like “F”s
J: It’s stylish. It’s in, it’s very in.
F: Well, if it’s in. (clears throat and continues) “…we therefore, representatives of the United States of America…” so-so-and-so. hmm-mmm-and-hmmm. “…solemnly publish and declare…” hmmm-hmmm-and-hmmm. “…and there absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown.” And so on.

F: A little overboard, isn’t it?
J: Well, uh?
F: You write this?
J: Yeah, I knocked it out. It’s just a first draft.
F: Why don’t you leave it with me, and I’ll mail it in?
J: C’mon.
F: I’ll tell you Tom, I’m with you in spirit. I’m sure you understand that, but I got to play it conservative. I’m a businessman. I got the printing business going pretty good. Almanac made book of the month. I’ve got the inventions. I’ve got pretty good distribution on the stove. And, of course, every Saturday evening, I bring out the “mag”.
J: The what?
F: “magazine”
J: Oh. That reminds me. That artist I sent by, did you look at his stuff?
F: The Rockwell boy? Skinny kid with the pipe?
J: Yeah, that’s the kid.
F: I glanced at it. Too far out for me.
J: Yeah, I know you gotta play it safe. But getting back to the signing of the petition, how about it, huh?
F: Well, uh.
J: It’s a harmless paper.
F: Oh sure, harmless. I know how these things happen. You go to a couple of harmless parties, sign a harmless petition, and forget all about it. Ten years later, you get hauled up before a committee. No, thank you, I’m not going to spend the rest of my life writing in Europe.
J: Ah, c’mon.
F: C’mon what?

(bell note)
J: C’mon and put your name on the dotted line.
F: I got to be particular what I sign.
J: It’s just a piece of paper.
F: Just a piece of paper, that’s what you say.

J: C’mon and put your signature on the list.
F: It looks to have a very subversive twist.
J: How silly to assume it
J: Won’t you nom de plume it,
J: today?

J: You’re so skittish? Who possibly could care if you do?
F: The Un-British Activities Committee, that’s who?

J: Let’s have a little drink-o and fill the quill.
F: It sounds a little pinko to me, but still…
J: Knock off the timid manner
J: If you want a banner, to raise.
F: (banner to raise)

J: You must take (F: I must take)
J: A stand (F: a stand)
J: For this brave (F: for this brave)
J: New land (F: new land)
J: For who wants (F: who wants)
J: To live (F: to live)
J: So conser- (F: so conser-)
J: vative? (F: vative)

F: I don’t dis- (J: he don’t dis)
F: agree, (J: agree)
J and F: but a man can’t be too careful what he signs these days.

(musical flourish, and the song ends)

F: Well, if I sign it, will you renew your subscription?
J: If you promise not to keep throwing it on the roof. If it isn’t on the roof, it’s in the rosebushes or in the mud.
F: My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, you know. Besides, it’s hard to hit the porch from a horse.
J: C’mon, all we want to do is hold a few truths to be self-evident.
F: You’re sure it’s not going to start a revolution or anything?
J: Trust me.
F: OK, give it to me. You got a quill on you?
J: Here you go.
F: Look at this showoff “Hancock”. Pretty flamboyant signature for an insurance man. (signs it)
J: You did a good thing, Ben. You won’t be sorry. Now if I can just get another three or four guys, we’ll be all set.
F: I’ll tell you one thing…
J: What’s that?
F: You better get them to sign it in the next couple of days, before they all take off for the Fourth of July weekend.

Finding a Deeper Meaning in Comedy

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 29, 2014 @ 9:44 am PDT

I'm Not Just a Comic Genius (Secret Rose)userpic=theatre2Some people wonder how I pick the shows that we see. The simple answer for non-subscription shows is that I see an interesting description that catches my eye, or it is from an interesting or known author. This, perhaps, I why I don’t go to many clunkers. In the case of last night’s show, back in April I received an announcement about a new comedy called “I’m Not Just a Comic Genius” by the fellow behind “The Rabbi and the Shiksa” about an older man who turned to playwriting after the death of his wife. It was being done at the Secret Rose Theatre, a venue that has put on good productions before, so I decided to fit it into the June schedule.  With all the Hollywood Fringe excitement in June, I’ve seen no mention, discussion, or reviews of the show. Hence, I was going into this show cold. Was it a success like the Vibrator play, or a Caligula-level disaster. You’ll have to read on to find out.

I’m Not Just a Comic Genius” concerns an older man, David Gold, who has recently lost his wife of many years. As the play opens, it is the day of his unveiling. He hasn’t been out of the house for a year, and he’s not about to leave it now. He’s retired from accounting, is not a people person, and just wants to stay home. His daughter, Judith, keeps trying to get him back involved with life. She suggests, based on what her late mother told her, that he go back into writing plays. He grudgingly agrees. What follows is a series of one-act comic plays (really single scenes) interspersed with  scenes of Judith and David critiquing them. The comic scenes are broadly funny — there are scenes of a street memorial of a man with multiple lovers, a theatrical critique of a dense author, a sex fantasy with an interesting gimmick, an interesting story about a lemonade stand, an a wonderful parody of a spelling bee. Some made me cringe, but they got stronger as the show went on. This was presumably showing David’s growth as a writer.

At this point, you’re probably going — this is a slight show. It is an excuse to hang a bunch of comedy sketches on a light meaningless framework. That’s certainly what I was thinking about three-quarters of the way into the show. But then the last scene was revealed — a monologue from an older man at the graveside of his parents. This turned the entire play around: it added the necessary drama and pathos; it connected the scenes with father and daughter to show the growth that had been suppressed. In short: it is what made this play work. Reading the few other reviews I could find, that seemed to be a common sentiment.

The author of “I’m Not Just a Comic Genius“, Art Shulman (FB), is a prolific playwright in the Los Angeles area who is perhaps best known for his comedic Jewish plays. He’s also active in the senior playwriting community. Remember what I said about “known quantity” — this is one of them. I would think that many playgoers have an expectation from this author. Underlying everything, I think this play was a commentary about the author himself — I think it was Shulman reminding the audience that he’s not just a comic playwright. He wanted it to be known that there was something serious that he wanted to say as well.

So, now going back to my original question: was this a success or a failure. If you had asked me at intermission, I was leaning towards the failure side (although it was nowhere near the disaster of Caligula: The Musical). But by the end, I had turned around and moved this into the success category. This isn’t a Broadway caliber play, but it is cute and it has a heart. It has some very funny scenes (I particularly enjoyed the Lemonade Stand and Spelling Bee scenes, although the one-word-sex scene was funny as well) and a touching end, and it worth seeing.

The play was directed by Rick Shaw (FB) (jokes from “Adrift in Macao” just entered my head), who creatively used the limited space at the Secret Rose Theatre. It is evident he understands the space well; perhaps this is because he owns the theatre. I’m mentioning the director now, because one of the comic scenes in the first act dealt with the director interacting with the playwright, and commenting about how the director never seems to be in the theatre triad of author / actors / audience. When a show is bad, the director gets the blame; but when the show is good… I’ve noted this problem before: how do you separate the director’s contribution from that of the actor. For this play, I think, the answer is clear: there was some very clever staging and performances that were clearly the director bringing out the best in the actors.

In the lead acting positions were Morry Schorr (FB) as David, and Michele Tannen (FB) as his daughter, Judith. Both are very comfortable with their roles and characters; the personas worked well for them. Their performances were pleasant, with only the occasional line pause. That suffices up to near the end. Schorr’s performance in the graveyard scene was outstanding, and Tannen’s response after that scene was equally strong. Thus, just as with the show itself, the two leads had some surprises up their sleeves. (I’ll also note that I was surprised by the number of costume changes Tannen went through!)

The remainder of the ensemble was more of a comic troupe. Although they appeared early on as Judith’s friends, they morphed into a wide variety of characters throughout all the comic scenes. My favorite was Karen Knotts (FB) (daughter of Don),  who inherited her father’s gift for comedy. Whether it was as a grieving girlfriend, a theatre moderator, a frigid wife, a deranged blind date, or an 8-year-old lemonade stand operator, Knotts displayed a wonderful versatility, sense of comic timing, and playfulness that just shown through. She was a delight to watch. Duane Taniguchi (FB), was also quite strong, be it as a playwright, a man on a blind date, man buying lemonade, or a spelling bee contestant. Equally strong was Loren Ledesma (FB) in the other female comic roles: the younger grieving girlfriend, the hooker, the woman buying lemonade, or as a deranged spelling bee contestant. Rounding out the comic team was Jerry Weil as, among other things, a director, a cop/father, or the moderator of the spelling bee. These four worked very well together. Alternates were Anthony Marquez (FB) and Lindsay Nesmith (FB), who I don’t believe we saw.

Technically, the production was simple. Chris Winfield (FB)’s set design was simple, yet worked well, to handle all the comic scenes. The sound design by Steve Shaw/FB added the appropriate sound effects. The lighting by Johny Resendiz/FB was relatively naturalistic and unobtrusive. No credits were given for stage management or house management, nor for props or costumes. All seemed to work well, although Knott’s costume in the first few scenes was a bit strange (at least it caught my eye for a reason I couldn’t put a finger on). There was a credit for Kristina Krist for the website design, however.

I’m Not Just a Comic Genius” continues at the Secret Rose theatre until July 27. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets, and discount tickets are available through Goldstar (and likely other vendors). The show is worth seeing if you are in the mood for a light comedy.

[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:  July will be busy: “Ghost” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/5, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12, “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, and “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. August then remains quiet as we work around vacations and such (but I’m eyeing a number of productions in Escondido, including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. Things start to get busy again in September and October, with “The Great Gatsby” at REP, “What I Learned in Paris” at the Colony, and “Pippin” at the Pantages. More on that later. 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.

Links in the Stew Pot

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 29, 2014 @ 8:11 am PDT

Observation StewYet again this has been a busy busy week. In particular, I’ve been so busy at lunch and when I get home I haven’t had the time (or energy) to share my accumulated links with you. So here’s a quick link post before I write up the review from last night’s show:

 

The Man Behind the Face

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 23, 2014 @ 7:34 pm PDT

Stoneface (Pasadena Playhouse)userpic=pasadena-playhouseRecently, Carla Laemmle died. She was one of the last living links to the first era of motion pictures — the silent movie era. Most of today’s youth can hardly imagine the impact of these short, black and white, soundless (but for a piano accompaniment) images on the screen, but in their day… they defined and created stars. There were romantic and dramatic stars, but some of the best known were the comedians: Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Mabel Norman, Roscoe Arbuckle, and Buster Keaton. Some big stage shows have been made for some — there have been at least two musical version’s of Chaplin’s life story, and Norman’s romance with Mack Sennet was the basis for Mack and Mabel. Others have languished in obscurity. Recently, Sacred Fools Theatre had a well-received production of a play with musical accompaniment about the life of Buster Keaton. This play was written by Vanessa Claire Stewart (FB), as a birthday present for her husband, French Stewart (FB), of 3rd Rock and Mom fame, who has the lead role as Buster Keaton (his idol). For the 2013-2014 season, the Pasadena Playhouse announced a remounting of this show, and it was the only show in their season I found interesting. So guess where I was last night? Yup, we were back at our old haunt, the Pasadena Playhouse, seeing Buster Keaton on screen and stage.

So who is Buster Keaton. Many may remember him from his last role: He played Erroneous in the screen version of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum“. But he is best known for his long string of silent movies with well-timed gags starting in 1917, and he made (on average) at least one movie a year until 1966. But all weren’t successes. He had two unsuccessful marriages and a significant drinking problem that derailed his career in the mid-1930s, and his career limped along until he was rediscovered in the 1950s for the genius that he was. His bio at IMDB makes interesting reading.

Stoneface” attempts to tell much of Keaton’s life story. It begins with Keaton at his first drug rehab in 1933 when he is with his second wife, Mae. His story is then told in flashbacks: his marriage to Natalie Talmadge (sister of Norma Talmadge), his friendship and professional relationship with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, his relationship with Joseph Schenck (his producer) and his long line of successful films, the disastrous financial failure of “The General“, the sale of his contract to MGM and his poor relationship with Louis B. Mayer. It also explores his battle with alcoholism, his failure at relationships with his first wife (Natalie) and the loss of his children, and the scandal related to his friend, Roscoe Arbuckle. It shows the period where he had lost his timing and made horrible shorts just to survive. But it also shows his sobering up, his successful relationship with his third (and final) wife, his comeback with Chaplin in 1951′s “Limelight”, and his receiving a special Oscar for his life’s work in comedy. In general, the story worked — although I wish they had mentioned that his final speech actually was at the Oscars, and mentioned his final role in Forum.

The way the production was done was very interesting. There were many scenes that were, essentially, silent movies on stage. There was the occasional projected subtitle, but all the action was silent (often with Keaton’s style of comedy) with piano accompaniment. These scenes were excellent, and Stewart seemed to have quite a bit of fun with them, capturing Keaton’s style quite well. Other scenes were more expositional — conventional scenes in which the story played out. These scenes were a bit more problematic — not because of the writing, but because Stewart seemed a bit off with the occasional line hesitation and restart that impacted his timing. His supporting players, however, were excellent.

This production started at the Sacred Fools Theatre, an under 99-seat venue in Hollywood. At the Playhouse, it was in a 686 seat auditorium. There are those who claim that the production lost something in the transfer to the larger venue. Having not seen it in the smaller venue, I can’t speak to that assessment. I can see, however, how the magic and the performance would have had more oomph in a more intimate venue. I found the production worked at the Playhouse for me; however I think a production like this would be lost at the Ahmanson or Pantages. If it wasn’t for the difficulty in working the scenery, the Colony would be a great venue.

As noted above, French Stewart (FB) had the lead position as Buster Keaton. He captured Keaton’s persona and mannerisms quite well, especially in the silent and physical comedy scenes, but had the occasional line problem in the expositional scenes. Looking at his Facebook, this could be the four-show weekends getting to him; this was near the end of the run. But this does seem to be a character that he really enjoys playing and inhabiting, and it is worth seeing for his performance.

The remaining cast members are strong, but there are some worthy of particular note. Tegan Ashton Cohan (FB), as Natalie Talmadge (as well as part of the ensemble), has an extended sequence with Stewart where she attempts to get him sitting in a chair. The physical comedy in this sequence is spectacular.  There is a similar sequence with Daisy Eagan (FB) as Mae Scriven, his second wife. There is also some good physical comedy with Joe Fria (FB) as the young Buster Keaton; Scott Leggett (FB) is great as Roscoe Arbuckle in the opening sequence of Act II. The rest of the actors handle their roles well, and are remarkable in their interactions with the special effects — in particular, the effect of walking behind a screen and suddenly being in the silent movie. Rounding out the cast were Jake Broder (FB) (Joseph Schenck), Rena Strober (FB) (Norma Talmadge / Eleanor Keaton), Pat Towne (FB) (Louis B. Mayer), Conor Duffy (FB) (Edward Sedgwick / George Jessel), and Guy Picot (FB) (Charlie Chaplin).

The production was directed by Jaime Robledo (FB), who was very clever at providing the production a silent-movie feel, including the aforementioned scenes where the actors go behind a screen and are suddenly in the projected image, or longer scenes that are done entirely as silent movies. These were extremely clever and enjoyable. I’ll note the entire production was helped by the great rinky-tinky piano accompaniment of Ryan Johnson (FB).

This is one show where the technical makes the show. The scenic design of Joel Daavid (FB) was spectacular and truly brought the silent film era of the 1920s to life. This resurrection of the period was aided and abeted by the costumes of Jessica Olson (FB) and the wigs of Jessica Mills (FB). As for the lighting, Jeremy Pivnick (FB) did some things I’ve never seen before, including a moving light on a track in the upper fly space that itself had a moving mirror. The sound by the wonderful Cricket S. Myers (FB) was mostly wonderful — in particular the silent movie projector sound during the projections. However, the music behind Keaton and Arbuckle in the bar scenes was just loud enough to be distracting — in fact, I thought it might be coming from the bar outside. As noted before, projections make this show, and much of the credit goes to Ben Rock (FB) and Anthony Backman (FB) and technical director Brad Enlow. Mike Mahaffey (FB) was the fight director. Susie Walsh was the production stage manager; Hethyr “Red” Verhoef was the stage manager, and Kristen Hammack/FB was the company manager.

Stoneface: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Buster Keaton” continues at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) through June 29.  Tickets are available through the Playhouse box office, and discount tickets are available through Goldstar.

The Pasadena Playhouse is promoting their 2014-2015 season, but I’m not biting. The season consists of a variation of “Kiss Me Kate” transporting to the mileau of black vaudeville of the early 20th century (umm, no); “Stop Kiss” by Diana Son, a holiday Panto of Sleeping Beauty, “Two for the Seesaw” by William Gibson, “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw, and Sheldon’s favorite show, “TBD”, which he does every season. Of these, the only one interesting me is “Two for the Seesaw“, and that’s primarily because it is the closest I’ll ever come to seeing the musical “Seesaw“, which was based on that play.

[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:  We finish off June with “I’m Not Just a Comic Genius” at Secret Rose (FB) on June 27. July will be busy: “Ghost” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/5, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12, “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, and “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. August then remains quiet as we work around vacations and such (but I’m eyeing a number of productions in Escondido, including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. Things start to get busy again in September and October, with “The Great Gatsby” at REP, “What I Learned in Paris” at the Colony, and “Pippin” at the Pantages. More on that later. 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.

Believing in Untruths

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 22, 2014 @ 4:48 pm PDT

userpic=obama-supermanEarlier today, I wrote about a fundraising event for REP that occurred in response to an incident that happened earlier in June. In this event, a version of a story was spread that was exaggerated in ways to make people believe an untruth — in this case, they believed this untruth because it fit their conception of what likely happened, not what really happened. As someone who tries to look at things neutrally (although I have progressive leanings), I see this all the time. I especially see it on Facebook, where rabid partisans on both sides of the political spectrum spread their untruths about the other side in order to support their views. Yes, I said both. I see some of my very liberal friends constantly making fun of the conservatives; and I see conservatives spreading untruths about the liberal side.

The latest example of this flew across Facebook a little earlier today: a link to an article titled “This “Top 10 Reasons To Vote Democrat” List From Allen West Is One Of The Best Things On The Internet“, posted at The Federalist Papers.org. But when you look at this list from the perspective of the truth, you discover that each one of these things is actually based on a false belief about Democrats. Let’s look, shall we?

  • I’ll vote Democrat because I can’t wait for college football season to be delayed or cancelled because the student athletes are union employees.” When you think about it, unions are actually a pretty Tea Party concept: individuals deciding to dictate their own future instead of letting the government do it. Individuals collectively bargaining for better conditions, better wages, a better future. They are not depending on the government to achieve this goal: they are doing it themselves. So this builds on the misconception that unions are bad things. It also builds on the misconception that the Democrats specifically made student athletes union employees. This was a specific legal decision by a in a specific case interpreting law; it was based on a number of factors, including the time students devote to football (as many as 50 hours some weeks), the control exerted by coaches and their scholarships, which were equivalent to a contract for compensation.
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I believe oil company’s profits of 4% on a gallon of gas are obscene, but the government taxing the same gallon of gas at 15% isn’t.” This plays on the conception of evil government taxing. But is this true. Companies are entitled to reasonable levels of profits; the usual assumption is that many of those profits will be returned to shareholders or into research and development. When profits go for other purposes — like insane executive salaries — people get upset. But more significantly, where does that government tax dollar go? It goes to pay for all those roads people drive upon. The gas companies pay nothing for the infrastructure upon which they depend. The 15% tax on fuel is not obscene.
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I believe the government will do a better job of spending the money I earn than I would.” This is a common belief. The problem is that people would not spend money on common good. If you kept more of your tax dollar, would you pay for roads? Would you pay for the lighthouses? Would you pay for the air traffic controllers? Would you pay for the coast guard? Would you pay for the national clocks? Would you pay for the organizations that establish neutral and accurate national standards? In truth, in many areas, the government does do a better job at spending money than you do. One other note: Although you might spend money better, do you believe that is true for everyone?
  • I’ll vote Democrat because Freedom of Speech is fine as long as nobody is offended by it.” What’s funny here is that it is the Democrats that are usually at the forefront of defending the rights to free speech through the ACLU. On the other hand, who has attempted to limit magazines and subjects that they felt were offensive? Who has attempted to limit the presentation of non-Judeo-Christian religious views and symbols?
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I’m way too irresponsible to own a gun, and I know that my local police are all I need to protect me from murderers and thieves. I am also thankful that we have a 911 service that get police to your home in order to identify your body after a home invasion.” So many things here. First, it is not *you* owning a gun that is worrisome; it is that depressed psycho neighbor of yours. You’re fine. Second, the statement about the local police creates the implication that people use their personal firearms to protect themselves from murderers and thieves — which in really does not occur. Name 10 recent incidents where a murder or theft was stopped due to a local person using a handgun? As for 911, identification of the body is not done by first responders. The first responders are there to find the person who did the murder, and start collecting evidence. Don’t you watch CSI:?
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I’m not concerned about millions of babies being aborted so long as we keep all death row inmates alive and comfy.” Again, multiple issues here. No one is in favor of abortion; no one believes it should occur willy-nilly. The belief is that a woman should have the right to choose what happens to her body; if the conservative side is so in favor of a small government that doesn’t restrict them, they should be in favor of keeping the government out of telling women what they can or cannot do with their bodies. As for the death row inmates: the concern here is the same as with abortion: loss of innocent life. Mistakes happen, people lie or misinterpret evidence, and innocent people do land on death row. Why is it right to not kill an innocent when they are a baby, but OK when they are an adult. As for alive and comfy, you obviously haven’t been in prison — but there is also this little thing called the constitution that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I think illegal aliens have a right to free health care, education, and Social Security benefits, and we should take away the Social Security from those who paid into it.” Actually, the Democrats don’t believe illegal aliens have a right to free health care, education, and Social Security Benefits. They do believe they have a right to some health care, because if they are infectuous they can infect a citizen just as well as a non-citizen. Some of the rights that have been extended have been done by courts — consisting of both liberal and conservative judges — interpreting the law of the land. As for Social Security, you’ll find that it is the Democrats that have been defending Social Security against attempt to put it in the risky stock market and other investments.
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I believe that businesses should NOT be allowed to make profits for themselves. They need to break even and give the rest away to the government for redistribution as the Democrats see fit.” Democrats believe businesses should be able to make profits. They also believe — just like everyone else — that businesses should pay their fair share of taxes.
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I believe liberal judges need to rewrite the Constitution every few days to suit some fringe kooks who would never get their agendas past the voters.” Except, of course, when it is the conservative judges that rewrite the constitution through decisions such as Bush v. Gore and Citizens United. Fringe Kooks exist on both sides, boys and girls.
  • I’ll vote Democrat because I think that it’s better to pay billions for oil to people who hate us, but not drill our own because it might upset some endangered beetle, gopher, fish or frog.” Oil is a limited resource. It is best to use as little as possible, irrespective of where we get it, because we cannot make more. But in reality, the oil companies go where the profits are. If it was cheaper to sell domestic oil at the same price, they would. Imported oil is cheaper. Environmental protection is only one part of that. As for the endangered species (which were protected by a Republican administration), we never know what we might learn — what new scientific or health discoveries might be made from them. But more importantly, the reality is that endangered species don’t stop most oil drilling — it is people wanting to protect their water, their air, or their community from the pollution that comes with oil drilling — or the risk of an oil spill, which we all know never happens (and when it does, is cleaned up with nary a trace). Sometimes the easiest way to get a legal hook to stop the action is… you guessed it… the endangered species act.

I do this not to pick on the conservative side, but to urge people to look at partisan statements — from either side — neutrally. Find out the facts — don’t believe the sensational lies you read from either side. Get your news from multiple sources, and listen and attempt to understand — even if you don’t agree — from friends of all ilks.

Out on a Limb to Help a Friend

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 22, 2014 @ 9:39 am PDT

Solopalooza (REP)userpic=repeastExperimental theatre. If you have been reading our theatre adventures, you know this is something that we don’t normally attend. But when a fundraiser was announced for the Repertory East Playhouse (REP) after the recent debacle, I was in—no questions asked. So last night we were back at REP for “Solo-Palooza“, which was a collection of 10-20 minute monologues by theatre students from College of the Canyons that left me astounded at the level of talent and the passion of the students, as well as being pleased that REP was coming out of this stronger, with a greater commitment to do great theatre from both the staff and the community.

Let’s start with the REP aspect first. For those unfamiliar with the story, during the run of REP’s previous show, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a patron got inebriated and started making audible anti-gay slurs during the second act. The actor playing Big Daddy reacted to these jeers not by requesting action from management, but by going into the audience and physically confronting the patron. The patron was ejected, the actor was fired (for creating legal risk for the theatre), another actor quit in support, the remainder of the run was cancelled due to the loss of actors, the issue hit the news and went viral on the Internet with a version of the story tilted towards the actor, and the theatre took a financial and publicity hit. Within a week of the incident, the show showed up with a benefit performance at another venue, with most of the actors, directed by the fellow in the audience who took the story to the media. Supporters of the theatre began speaking up when staff couldn’t, and fundraisers were organized to make up for the loss of ticket income from the production. Such is the love that this theatre engenders in the local community and the community of the people that know the theatre that they want this institution to survive. T-Shirts were sold, and two shows were organized to provide support. One of those shows was this show; the next is a stand-up comedy night next week. Of course, the best way to ensure the survival of the REP is to introduce new audiences to their quality and integrity. When you buy a ticket to their next show, Return to the Forbidden Planet, buy an extra ticket and bring a friend to the theatre.

Next, let’s turn to the show itself. What is Solo-Palooza? Solo-Palooza is a product of the “Theatre 195: Solo Performance” class at the College of the Canyons. In this program, students from the class present original solo performance pieces that have been curated with COC theatre instructor and Solopalooza director Susan Hinshaw (FB) to be both socially provocative and highly entertaining. Over the years, Solo-Palooza has been performed at both COC and at REP; REP has been a strong supporter of the program. The most recent Solo-Palooza before this one was in early June at COC, and featured shows about “broken families, drug addiction, bullies, cheerleaders, being an outsider, being a twin, and an obsessive compulsive”.  It was mentioned at the beginning of last night’s show that COC wanted to return the support to REP, and they proposed this special Solo-Palooza performance, with all the proceeds going to REP.

Last night’s performance featured nine selections from longer solo performance pieces. All were great; the weakest one in my eyes was at the 90% level, and the weakness was due less to the performance and more due to the resonance of the subject matter. The performances were at a level very different than I seen in normal scripted shows. I don’t mean this in a bad way: these performances were uniformly excellent and creative, drawing the audience to see multiple characters and multiple personas in a single individual with minimal props. This is why I referred to experimental theatre above — this was true “acting” from the heart and soul. It was remarkable. Let’s look at my remembrances of the individual pieces in the show:

  • Copy and Paste” (Ashley Rasch/FB). This was a story about a girl growing up with her identical twin sister. I was astounded with the enthusiasm and energy Rasch brought to the piece — she was flying everywhere and becoming different characters and ages, and was just astounding and funny and delightful to watch.
  • On the Outside Looking In” (Tyler Menjivar/FB). This was a story about growing up gay and trying to find your way as an outsider. One of the most interesting portions of the piece had to do with messages that we send–Menjivar related about hearing his parents talk about the fact that it was perfectly fine to be gay…. as long it wasn’t a friend, neighbor, or a family member. I was impressed by the emotion behind this story, and the physicality of the piece (Menjivar was pushed by … himself … on to the floor hard a number of times).
  • Nine Dresses” (Renee Poignard/FB). This was ultimately a story about a girls relationship to her mother who passed away too soon, and how that relationship was triggered by memories, odors, and actions. A touching and humorous piece.
  • Wrong Channel” (Jordan Haro (FB)). This was the piece that resonated with me the least. It was about a young man who learned his life lessons from television. There was a lot of patter about shows — especially kids cartoons — and the lessons they teach. Many of these were kids shows from the late 1990s that I never watched, and so the connections and in-jokes just missed me. The audience did appreciate, however, his performance of the theme from Speed Racer.
  • Fat Bottomed Girl” (Heather Frame (FB)). This was perhaps the piece that resonated the most with us — it was a monologue about a woman and her struggle with weight, with an addition to eating and of using food for comfort and nurture. This is something that my wife has struggled with, and even I’m having trouble with it (I’m finding it hard to lose weight). A really good and well-performed piece from the heart.
  • My Girl” (Joe Prata/FB). This was a piece I wasn’t sure I was going to like — it was a (hopefully fictional) talk by a man who murdered his wife with malace aforethought, after murdering her lover, and going on to kill more. At its heart, though, it was a story about a man’s relationship with his daughter, and the aftermath of a bad divorce. Although the presentation only gave one side of the story (part of the problem that was there in the original REP incident), it provided an odd understanding of an evil act. Very well performed.
  • Straight Lines, Full Circle” (Clare Tompkins-Cook/FB). Another piece about growing up, this time from the young lady who was serving as the host for the evening’s performances. It was about a girl’s hatred of pain and blood, and how the pain of her life and fighting at home led her to cutting — experiencing pain to awakeness from the numbness that life had brought to her. Tompkins-Cook portrayed a number of characters and emotions, and was just fascinating to watch.
  • Silence is Loud” (Kelsey Kosskove/FB). This was a story about a young woman dealing with the draw of silence on her life. Kosskove had a dancer’s body and dancer’s moves, and these highlighted this interesting piece. This was the piece that connected with my wife the least, for whatever reason.
  • Three Men” (Judge Boothby/FB). Boothby protrayed three angry men: a janitor talking to a student, a son talking to his father, and a third one I can’t remember. What I found interesting here — even more than the strong performances themselves — was the reaction to them from the other actors on the side of the stage. I also loved how Boothby just inhabited and transformed into each difference character. It was remarkable to see.

The production was produced by Clare Tompkins-Cook/FB and Erin Cholakian/FB, with REP regular Taylor Kozlowski/FB serving as house manager, lighting, and sound tech. David Stears/FB was the event coordinator.

There was only one performance of this piece. You shoulda been there supporting the REP. You’ll just have to come to their next show.

[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:  Tonight sees us back at our old haunt, the Pasadena Playhouse (FB), for “Stoneface: The Rise and Fall of Buster Keaton”. We finish off June with “I’m Not Just a Comic Genius” at Secret Rose (FB) on June 27. July will be busy: “Ghost” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/5, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12, “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, and “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. August then remains quiet as we work around vacations and such (but I’m eyeing a number of productions in Escondido, including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. Things start to get busy again in September and October, with “The Great Gatsby” at REP, “What I Learned in Paris” at the Colony, and “Pippin” at the Pantages. More on that later. 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.