Observations Along the Road

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

Beauty is in the Eye of…

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jun 26, 2015 @ 6:25 pm PDT

Medium Size Me (HFF)userpic=fringeIf you know me at all, you know my taste in watching people — men or women — is simple: I want them to be real. I enjoy seeing the imperfections, the things that make us unique and different. So, not surprisingly, I’ve been a big supporter of the efforts of promulgating a positive body image for women (and also for men, although the pressure there is perhaps different). For example, I supported the Kickstarter for The Nu Project (FB) [warning: link target is NSFW], a project with the goal of help women appreciate their body, whatever their shape, look, size, age, etc. I constantly read articles noting body image activities, such as the recent Dove campaign or the Buzzfeed editors who took bathing suit photos in Victoria Secret suits (for the record, I thought they look great). My wife has a similar attitude — she’s been large since I’ve known her, although she’s now much less large.

Given this, it should be no surprise that when I read to her some of the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) shows, we both agreed that Medium Size Me sounded interesting. Just look at the description:

“In Hollywood, it’s who you are on the outside that counts! One thing you can always count on in Hollywood is that there’s never one thing you can count on in Hollywood. If an actress wants a big role, she’d better be prepared to get small. Or so you’d think. Now you can experience the lunacy of La-La Land through the eyes of a young “chubby” actress whose attempt to slim down for tinsel town brought her the one thing she never expected: punishment for not being chubby enough. Sometimes you quite literally can’t win for losing.”

However, although we wanted to see it, I just couldn’t fit it into any weekend. That wasn’t the end of the story. My wife said she really wanted to see the show. Given that I normally pick the shows, when my wife specifically wants to see something — I find a way to make it happen. Thus, on a Thursday night we drove into Hollywood to see Amy Halloran (FB) and Medium Size Me.

The presentation of this show is very simple: A single person monologue, punctuated by images and the occasional video. What the show says about Hollywood and body image, however, is significant.

Amy Halloran had a love of acting, and she didn’t believe that being a chubby girl (who, in reality, wasn’t that chubby) should stop her. It actually didn’t — she acquired an agent easily and started booking lots of parts. The problem was: the type of parts. The fat girlfriend. The fat girl who gets raped. The fat girl who gets raped. The fat girl who gets raped. The fat girlfriend. Often, these parts were in comedies where the fact that she was fat was the target of all the jokes. Hollywood had loads of parts for “the fat girl”. The problem is that the parts often telegraph the body shaming the Hollywood loves to do. The roles that Hollywood gives to the fat girls (less so to the fat guys) just emphasize that to be successful, to be loved, to find happiness, you need to fit Hollywood’s image of beautiful.

She also got a Disney Channel movie where she was confronted with a demonstration of how the industry saw her size. She was also lucky at one point to get a series where she was able to project a positive body image. First slated for the fall, it was pushed to the mid-season… and then was cancelled without even being shown.

After a number of years of these parts, she decided to change her life. She lost 50 pounds, changed how she lived (and she’s been that size for a number of years — my wife guessed around a size 8). Guess what happened.

The jobs dried up. Her agents kept sending her out on jobs for “chubby” or “fat”, but she was too thin to get the jobs. Of course, her agents didn’t send her out for the normal size roles, nor did Hollywood see her as a normal size. In other words, although she had a realistic shape, she didn’t fit Hollywood’s image of “normal”. That’s where she is today. Looking for work. Practicing her craft at Fringe festivals :-).

My wife and I both loved this show, and would recommend it to anyone dealing with body issues (alas, last night was the last performance). It did what theatre is supposed to do: provoke a discussion and stimulate thoughts.

First and foremost, it demonstrated that although Hollywood professes to be pushing for realistic shapes, that push is coming from just a few actors. In reality, the studios are still run by primarily white men who want a particular shape for women, and they will mold society to get it (no matter how it hurts). Yes, we have the Melissa McCarthy‘s of the world — but look at how her image is really projected. Although the fat jokes may be less, how much of her humor intentionally comes from the fact that she is a very large woman doing those stunts? Even with Mike and Molly, how much of the humor is fat based? Read the comment boards whenever Rosie O’Donnell‘s name comes up. Look at what just happened with the Fat Shamers Subreddit. Now think what is fueling that hatred of the larger woman? The few efforts we have seen are attempting to swim upstream. The problem will not be solved until the media regularly accepts women and men no matter what their shape or size, no matter what their imperfections. It also makes me realize how many men are (to put it bluntly) pigs, sullying the name of my gender.

Second, it made me realize what I love live theatre and live performance. As much as the Hollywood Machine emphasizes an unrealistic shape, live theatre (at least to me) seems more realistic. I won’t go as far as to say accepting, but many live productions — especially those in intimate theatre — cast for the talent first and the shape second. Two wonderful examples are recent productions at Repertory East: one of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee that cast Rona as a large woman, and the second being their production of 9 to 5 that cast Judy as a large women. Two great performances (from the same actress — Sarah Krieg (FB)) where size made no difference. This is the power of live theatre: it can demonstrate that beauty comes from how you behave, how you perceive your character. [Need another example? Look at the recent production of Violet]. It shows the power of “act as if”.

In the end we had a simple show — a sharing of an experience with love, acceptance, and humor. Sharing your story can provide profound insights.

Medium Size Me (FB) was written and performed by Amy Halloran (FB), directed by Julie Brister (FB). The other technical credits were not provided.

Last night’s performance at the Ruby Theatre in the Complex Theatres (FB) was the last performance of Medium Size Me. There is always the possibility it will be extended as some of the Best of Fringe shows that extend into July.

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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Our Fringe craziness ends with Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. Although there are Fringe shows on Sunday, we won’t be able to see them because we’ll be at the Western Corps Connection (if you don’t know what Drum Corps competitions are, read this) in Riverside on Sunday. July is a month of double-headers, begining with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on July 4th. The next weekend is another double: On Friday night, July 10th, we’re seeing Colin Mitchell‘s show Madness, Murder Mayhem: Three Classic Grand Guignol Plays Reimagined at Zombie Joes Underground Theatre (FB); Saturday July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is another double header: “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  The last weekend of July brings our last double: “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB) on July 25th, with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August start calming down, with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend of August, our summer Mus-ique show the second weekend of August, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) the third weekend of August. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). 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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A Wackadoo That Would Shock Bob McAllister

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 22, 2015 @ 6:32 pm PDT

Uncle Impossible's Funtime Variety (HFF)userpic=fringeOK, those of you who don’t know who Bob McAllister is or what Wonderama was, I’ll wait while you look it up.

OK, let’s go. As you probably know if you are friends with me on Facebook, I’m a big fan of the children’s programming that used to exist on TV. I’m talking the local stuff — before syndication: Sheriff John, Engineer Bill, Hobo Kelley, Tom Hatten. There were also the better known network shows: the aforementioned Wonderama, Captain Kangeroo, Howdy Doody, and such. These shows declined through the 1970s and 1980s; I doubt that many folks younger than 40 remember watching them live at all. But for those of us who did — they bring back memories.

So, when I was reading the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) show list and saw a show with the following description, I was intrigued:

The original Uncle Impossible was an Imaginary Friend & beloved Children’s Show Host paving the way for those like Captain Kangaroo & The Muppet Show. Later in his life, he became a recluse & a shut-in up until his passing. Upon his passing he left a large inharetance to his only living heir; his estranged and eccentric nephew Rex The Impossible. In his Uncle’s will, it states that Rex would inherit the large fortune only if he continues his beloved uncle’s show “Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social”. Rex agreed to the terms, but decides to do it HIS way, making it an Adult Version of a Saturday Morning Kid’s Show.

With the help from his Oddly Sweet Sidekick; Princess Bebop A’Lula, Rex The Impossible brings the new “Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social” on stage by blending the Whimsy of Saturday Morning Kids Shows & Cartoons that we all know & love with Zany Adult themed Variety Acts creating an off the wall experience…….possibly with Ice Cream.

An adult version of children’s shows. What an intriguing idea? Think of the possibilities? Think of what Hobo Kelley might see in her magic mirror? Think of the toys her toy machine might produce? And the cartoons they might show? The characters they might invent (in the spirit of the aforementioned Bob McAllister)?

Naturally, I went out and got tickets to Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB). It was our second show on Sunday. Sad to say, I think the potential of the idea didn’t live up to its execution. But at least we got ice cream.

Uncle Impossible’s show, run by his nephew Rex Impossible (FB)* , assisted by Princess Bebop A’lua was strictly a low-budget affair — and they knew it. In that, it had the appropriate air of a local TV show where things could (and often did) go wrong. But the show was less about the hosts, and more about the variety acts they booked to fill the time. In many ways, they could make (or in our case, break) the show. Let’s look at the various pieces in our production (every performance has different acts):

  • Openings, Closings, and Interstitials. These were run by the aforemented Rex and Princess A’Lula. They were moderately funny, and the Princess was really fun to watch. The two had a strong working chemistry, and had they expanded their portion of the show they could have been great — that is, moving on to playing characters, pretending to be the acts, and so forth.
  • Boylesque by Captain Jack Heartless. Captain Jack Heartless (FB) is a male burlesque (read: stripper) entertainer. In this case, he was in the form of Woody from Toy Story. When the adults left the room, guess what Woody did. That’s right. At least we didn’t see wood. I don’t think I’ll ever look at Toy Story the same again (but then I never did after reading The Pixar Theory)
  • 30 Second Songs by Brady Spindel. Brady Spindel (FB) is a local musician who plays short songs (such as “I wore a red shirt in the hood”) and then ends with a sing along. Being a folk music person — and one familiar with short humerous songs (as well as satirical bluegrass), I found him very amateurish. He needs to take a lesson from the short songs of Tom Paxton and the humor of the Austin Lounge Lizards. Now, if the singalong could have been “When I’m Cleaning Windows“….
  • Clown Comedy by Johnathan Cripple. Cripple played a professor who interrupted the show, sat in the audience, read a paper, and primarily provided someone for Rex Impossible to have a back and forth with. It was more annoying than particularly funny.
  • Burlesque by Ra Ra Sis Bomba. In this skit, the Princess got a pet — Chilly Willy, the penguin. When the music changed, Chilly Willy (who was really the burlesque artist Ra Ra Sis Bomba (FB)), stripped down to her frilly undies, pasties, and wings. She was cute to watch, but … OK, her butt was cute to but… while fun to watch, it just didn’t seem to gel right.
  • Hypnosis by Cathy Kay: Mystic-A-Muse. In this Mister Rogers type number, Cathy Kay does a hypnosis act on someone in the audience. No implanted suggestions, just a fall relaxed, wake up, think you see things in a book. I didn’t find it that impressive, although it was fun to watch.

At least the ice cream was good. Well, OK for commercial ice cream.

In short, the show appeared to be low budget in intent and it knew it, and it went for it. In that, it was good, plus there was ice cream. Perhaps that was the intent. Perhaps it was the burlesque style. I know that burlesque and the clown arts are their own distinct community, and perhaps that style didn’t mesh with the theatrical approach I’m used to. This, after all, is Fringe, which includes everything under the sun.

But I can only judge based on my impressions and my tastes. The problem, I’ll note, wasn’t prudishness. I can handle a good adult show. It was more that I was disappointed because it could just have been so much more. Looking at the pages for many of the acts, I got the sense that there was real talent there, but that talent didn’t come across as presented. That was a loss. Further, the notion of an adult children’s show — especially one that wasn’t blatant about it but used double entendre to reach the adult audience could have been great. Even the strippers could have worked — had the host stayed and reacted to the stripper. It is the reactions that make the funny, not the stripping. Think about Pee Wee Herman. What makes the show work is that Pee Wee is always that child at heart. Even if Rex Impossible was going for the adult humor of Pee Wee Herman, the Princess could have been representing the shocked child. But as it was, it just quite didn’t hit the mark for me. This is too bad, because the concept — executed correctly — could have been brilliant. I will give them points for effort.

I’ll note that one factor — which Rex can’t control, might be age. Not the lower bound of the audience age, but the upper. I’m 55. I was a child in the era of the kid’s TV shows. I remember Sheriff John; I watched Wonderama. I also watched Pee Wee Herman. There were other, younger folks in the audience that found this uproariously funny — and I won’t fault them for that. Humor is intensely personal. To use a baseball metaphor: This was a base hit or a double; it wasn’t a home run. I was hoping for the excitement of the home run, but I’m happy that it wasn’t an error.

On the technical side: according to Rex The Impossible, Brad Bentz was the Sound Tech & Stage Manager. Rex the Impossible was the Creator, Director & Producer of the show. He indicated that although the names are strange, that’s what they go by in the Burlesque, Variety, Cabaret and Circus Performance world.

There is one more performance of Uncle Impossible on Thursday, June 25 at 11:15 PM. Tickets are available through the Fringe website. If this is your style — especially if you like burlesque — go for it. It was enjoyable for me, but could have been so much more.

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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on July 4th. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend brings “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August starts with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), and is followed by the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). 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.

And For This They Named A Sandwich After Him?

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 22, 2015 @ 6:25 pm PDT

Count of Monte Cristo: The Musical (HFF)userpic=fringeFringe festivals serve many purposes, all centered around the notion of having a low cost, short run production of some form of show. Sometimes the show is mature and just can be produced inexpensively. Sometimes the show is a simple artistic expression. Sometimes the show is the first step in a long journey for a production, allowing for audience and reviewer feedback as part of the maturation process. Understanding these varied goals is important to assessing a show, and particularly relevant to the show we saw Sunday afternoon at the Lounge Theatre (FB) as part of the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB): “The Count of Monte Cristo: The Musical” (FB) (Kelly D’Angelo† (FB) (Book and Lyrics); Matt Dahan (FB) (Music)). This is because the writer’s note makes clear that this is the first-ever production of this show. It had to be trimmed to fit the time constraints of Fringe shows (meaning that an hour of material was cut — more on that later), and it was produced with minimal sets and minimal rehearsal (and funded by Indiegogo). Taking all that into consideration, this was a very good first production. There were some flaws (which we’ll get into), but that is to be expected at this point in the journey. As the Count of Monte Cristo says, “Wait and hope.”
[† I’ll note this is an effort of the Female Playwrights Initiative]

The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic French novel by Alexandre Dumas, written in 1844…. which I have never read. It tells the story of a wrongful imprisonment, love, revenge, and righting the wrongs. It is broad in scope and broad in time. I know all of this not because I have read the book (which, alas, I haven’t), but because I’ve read the Wikipedia entry. Reading the book should not be a prerequisite for seeing a play, musical, or movie: they must be capable of standing on their own and providing sufficient context to make the audience member excited about the story and to want to go and read the book. In particular, the story needs to be compelling and theatrical. It needs to be able to draw in the patron who might only know of the title. This is certainly true of The Count of Monte Cristo — if they haven’t read the book, at least they’ve heard of it (or the namesake tasty sandwich). It is also a property with proven theatricality: there have been numerous TV, movie, and miniseries adaptations, and there have been past play and even musical versions (including a version by Frank Wildhorn, which really isn’t a surprise).

So why do another adaptation now? I can guess at a number of reasons. First, although it has been on the stage, there hasn’t been a definitive version that has stuck around. Second, the success of Les Misérables has led to numerous other attempts to produce similar shows from similar large scope novels. Two examples of this are the recent musical adapations of Tale of Two Cities (a musicalization of the Dicken’s novel) and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (a musicalization of just a slice of War and Peace). Plus there’s that sandwich. So I can see the reasoning behind this. The question is: Did D’Angelo and Dahan succeed in their effort to become the next Boublil and Schönberg? The answer is… the jury is out.

As I noted earlier, The Count of Monte Cristo is a novel broad in scope, with loads and loads of characters (similar to Les Misérables). I’m not going to try to summarize the story here — go to the Wikipedia page to read all the twists and turns. To provide sufficient context for this discussion, suffice it to say that it tells the story of Edmond Dantès, a sailor on the verge of success who is wrongly imprisoned, losing not only his good name, but his fiancee in the process. In jail, he figures out with the aid of another prisoner the individuals responsible for his imprisonment. After he escapes and recovers a vast treasure, he reappears as The Count of Monte Cristo, and ingratiates himself with those who jailed him (who do not recognize him). He then works on them to carry out his revenge, leaving almost all of them dead.

Gee. Not that positive of a story. But then again, 19th century literature often wasn’t. Just look at Les Misérables. But that worked on the stage. A similar story of revenge, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, also worked (although not originally). Then again, Tale of Two Cities crashed and burned on Broadway. The lesson to be taken from this is that it takes a lot of work, and luck, and getting it right to succeed.

Alas, The Count of Monte Cristo: The Musical is not there yet. The Fringe production was good — and was a good first start — but there is a long way to go to whip this puppy in a shape that will succeed on the Great White Way. Where are the problems?

  • Length. The production we saw was two hours…. and that was after an hour was cut from it, and with no intermission. This is simply too long to hold most audiences. Although the book is a classic and a masterpiece, there is simply too much there to include it all. There needs to be some tight trimming to move the story along, focus on the significant pieces, figure out how to “show instead of say”. Les Misérables was big, and they found a way to keep the energy up and the story going. Gone With The Wind: The Musical was also long, and it failed. The entire production, with music and intermission, should clock in under 3 hours.
  • Music. This show attempts to follow the Les Miz and Evita models of being almost exclusively through sung. That’s great for opera, but for it to succeed as a musical the musical numbers need to do what musical numbers do: be memorable, illustrate character, illustrate motives, illustrate emotion, illustrate inner conflicts. Consider what numbers you remember from Les Mez: “Castle on a Cloud”, “Master of the House”, “Do You Hear The People Sing?”, “Red and Black”. Now consider the numbers in Monte Cristo. The current numbers are primarily a scaffolding for dialogue. What do you remember after the show? Perhaps “Carnival”. A successful musical requires memorable numbers that sink into the consciousness and become earworms. Think about how the numbers can be reworked to both lighten the show and be memorable. Think about how they could convey through the music instead of through words. You might end up with some larger song and movement numbers, and have to tighten the dialogue more.
  • The Story. A major problem with Count of Monte Cristo is that it is a downer. Most of the characters are killed off, and it is questionable how much sympathy there is for those who remain, except for the young couple. Think about how Jean Val Jean was redeemed at the end of Les Miz. Think about what you can do to get the audience invested in the characters and want that happy ending. There may need to be some time spent showing why the significant relationships are what they are. For the end, give them a clear happy ending. I’m not sure that’s there now.
  • The Timeline. Reading the production notes, this takes place over a 20 year period, with most of it taking place in a single year. The conveying of the passage of time gets lost on the audience.

These may seem like complaints. They are not. What is there now is a good start — this is the first production of the show. The best shows are not borne perfect; they go through tryout after tryout, cuts additions and changes, until they reach their final version. Wait, work, and hope. Don’t be imitative, be innovative. Figure out a new way to present this story that grabs and excites. It can be done, but work is required. Some good news is that, despite the cutting of one hour, much of the story could be followed. That means the production team is moving in the right direction. Figure out what portions that were cut can stay cut, and what needs to be judiciously returned.

I’ve spent a few paragraphs talking about where improvement was required. Let’s now look at what worked well. I liked the two opening scenes. The first choral number, “Break the Bread” set the tone well, although it did make one think this might be a framing device similar to Man of La Mancha. The initial dockyard scene at For Saint-Jean also worked well, although the telegraphing of the evil characters was a tad broad. The Carnival scene was also enjoyable, and the scenes with Albert and Valentine together were quite touching. I also enjoyed the trial scene.

For a Fringe musical, this had a very large cast. In the lead position was David Meinke (FB) as Edmond Dantès/The Count of Monte Cristo. Meinke had the appropriate sense of evil and plotting about him, although his voice seemed to need a bit more strength to fit the role better. This might be correctable with suitable amplification, although that needs to be balanced with the other characters that do not need amplification.

All of the other actors played multiple roles in addition to their main named ones. There are a few I would like to single out because they stood out in my mind in some way. First and foremost is Mary Nepi (FB) as Valentine de Villefort. This young lady was not only beautiful, but had an operatic quality voice with a lot of power behind it. I hope she goes far with that voice — it was just lovely. She combined this with a touching and nuanced performance — I particularly remember her facial expressions in a number of scenes. Very nicely done. Another strong oerfirner was Jillian Easton (FB) as Lucille Debray. She combined her strong voice with a very interesting look and performance, and again was a delight to watch. The last female voice I’d like to highlight is Laurine Price (FB) (Mercédès / Madame Danglars). Again, a strong voice combined with a strong performance. On the male side of the room, a very strong performance was given by Anthony Gruppuso (FB) as Gérard de Villefort. He combined a supurb singing voice with excellent acting. I also enjoyed the performance of David Zack (FB) (Ferand Danglars) (who we saw in Closer than Ever) — another lovely voice and lovely performance. Lastly, I enjoyed the performance of Bryan Vickery (FB) as Albert Danglars both for its emotions and its quality. Others in the large cast were: Parnell Damone Marcano (FB) (Caderousse); Teresa Tracy (FB) (Héloïse de Villefort); Anderson Piller (Edward de Villefort); Henry Kaiser (FB) (Abbé Faria); Stephen Novick (FB) (Andrea Cavalcanti / Young Dantes); TR Krupa (FB) (Franz D’Epinay); Todd Andrew Ball (FB) (Noirtier de Villefort / Monsieur Morrel); Richelle Meiss (FB) (Luiga Vampa / Young Mercédès); and Amanda Walter (FB) (Barrois / The Dancer).

The Count of Monte Cristo was directed and produced by the author, Kelly D’Angelo (FB), who did a good job bringing quality performances from the acting team given the amount of material and the short rehearsal time. Not to fault Ms. D’Angelo’s direction, but a future production might benefit from having a different person direct. Often an author can be too close to the material, making it harder to see where difficulties lies or where material is extraneous (or where new material might be needed) … this is often due to the material being so well known in the author’s mind. That additional point of view can be vital in moving this piece forward. As no credit was given for movement or general choreography, presumably Ms. D’Angelo served that role as well. The dances and movement were adequate given the limited Fringe stage space and rehearsal periods; again, getting some third-party choreography advice might improve the presentation and increase the excitement. However, care must be taken to not let the effect overtake the content. Matt Dahan (FB) , the composer, served as music director, accompanying the production on an electronic keyboard that provided good sound for the facility. It will be interesting to see how the music works with full orchestration.

As this was the Fringe, set design was minimal: some boxes, a painted screen, chairs, and a table loaded with stuff. These sufficed for the Fringe production. The costumes, designed by Amanda Walter (FB), were sufficient for the Fringe, which only needed to hint at the period and the situation. Future productions may have the freedom and funding for more realistic period costumes. The lighting design of Brandon Baruch was sufficient for Fringe purposes, given that multiple shows share the same space (such as Merely Players, which we saw the previous evening) and lighting can’t be individually adjusted. In general, reds were used to convey tense moods, with other colors conveying other moods. Additional technical credits: Nick Mizrahi (FB) (Fight Designer); Erica Lawrence (FB) (Stage Manager). There was no credit for sound design.

The Count of Monte Cristo has two more performances at the Fringe: June 26th at 7:30 pm and June 27th at 7:30 PM. If you’re a fan of The Count of Monte Cristo, or want to see a broad epic scope musical as it is first getting off the ground, I’d recommend this to you. It was an extremely good first step on the long road to the Big Leagues. Tickets are available through the Fringe website.

[ETA: Dining Notes. Looking for a quick place to eat between this show and our next show at the Complex, we discovered a wonderful European restaurant just a few blocks away: Sabina’s European Kitchen (FB). The two of us split a delightful pork tenderloin “brasso style” with an additional side of roasted vegetables, and it was perfect. There were a number of other things on the menu I’d love to have tried — I haven’t had schnitzel in ages — but it was too warm outside to bring leftovers home. We’ll remember Sabina’s for the next time we have theatre in the area (alas, the Elephant Stages complex may be going away :-( — quick, someone buy and save the building).]

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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on July 4th. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend brings “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August starts with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), and is followed by the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). 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.

Community Theatre and Sausage

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 21, 2015 @ 1:47 pm PDT

Merely Players (HFF 15)userpic=fringeIt is often said that laws are like sausages: you don’t want to see how they are made — you just want to enjoy the end product. In many ways, theatre is equally like sausage — the end product is enjoyable, but the manufacturing… that’s another story. Last night we saw a World Premiere production at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) that explored the manufacturing process: it took you behind the scenes to see how the theatrical magic is made. OK, well maybe not magic, perhaps just the illusion. OK, well maybe not the illusion, just a crumbling façade.

Last night’s show at the Lounge Theatre (FB) was Merely Players (FB), a new musical play by James Penca (FB) [book] and Alex Syiek (FB) [music and lyrics] produced by the Color & Light Theatre Ensemble (FB). Merely Players tells the story of Boyle Community Players/FB, a  fictitious theatre company out of Boyle Heights. Past BCP shows have included (in a wonderful bit of inspired backstory): Waiting for (a Werewolf named) Godot, Damned Yankees (in Hell)!; The Little Prints; Greece! The Musical; Saturday Night Malaria; Fifty Shades of Blue; The Catcher in the Rye: A Rock Experience, and more. Their latest production is “Bus Stop: The Musical“. Now, not that Bus Stop.  This Bus Stop is a painting by Max Ginsburg (click here to see it). The artistic director of BCP, Parker (Courtney C. Reed (FB)) has attempted to turn it into a musical based solely on the image in the picture, imagining the character’s lives and motivations that brought them to this point. Translation: She’s not only the artistic director, she’s the writer and producer and choreographer as well.

Merely Players provides us with the early days of the life of this musical, from the auditions through opening night and the first review. This includes temperamental actors, constant changes, personal crises, showmances, and the typical stuff that goes on backstage. It also includes a conceit seemingly drawn from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: it draws a out number of audience members to audition. Better have your performing resume handy and be ready to perform (although the songs are simple: Itsy Bitsy Spider, I Have a Little Teapot, Twinkle Twinkle, Happy Birthday, etc). As one might expect, most of the audience members get rejected, but two actually make it into the cast, and one gets a starring role. As such, the play incorporates some elements of the edge of improv, as the scripted actors cannot predict how the audience member will react, their skill level, or what they will do. About the only advantage they have is that they are performing this in Hollywood at the Fringe. That means they’ve got a good chance that their audience member is an actor or someone involved with the industry who can improvise (good thing I didn’t volunteer — I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t memorize lines — although my resume is online).

I won’t go into all the trials and tribulations of the show — watching them is a lot of the fun. I certainly can’t comment as to their accuracy, as I’ve never been on-stage or off. I can say, however, that if what was portrayed was true, it finally gave me some needed insight. One of my continual confusions has been the role of the director. To me, an audience member, I always thought that the actor came with the skills (or should that be skillz) to create the character from the printed page — to be able to determine the motivation, the characterization, the accent, the movement, and such. One thing that Merely Players illustrated is the role of the director in that process: being able to guide the actor into the desired portrayal they see in their head. This insight was very useful, although it is still hard seeing the finished product to be able to tease the contributions of the director from the contributions of the actor.

This show essentially had two stories and three layers:

  1. There was the fictitious story of the Bus Stop painting and its characters: the Mexican Guy, the Black Guy, the Walker, the Old Lady, the Business Woman, the Girlfriend, the Student, the Single Dad, the Cripple, and the guy in the Baseball Cap. As you can tell, their characterizations weren’t deep. In fact, most of the characters didn’t even have characterizations but caricatures.
  2. There was the story of the actors playing the characters (and, alas, the program handed out does not provide that mapping; I attempt to indicate it below with ⇒): Glen, Rene, Kiley, Delaney, Sonny, Addison, Len, Jamey, Hunter, and Cecil. Here we got to see the real-life actors creating various types of characters: the stage manager, the new actress, the over-eager chorine, the gay guy, the professional black man, the good looking musicians. Hmmm, as I write that up, we see that each of the actors in the stories was  an archetype, with the director attempting to draw out a non-archetypical performance. The bulk of the story — and most of the humor — comes from this process. It also comes from seeing the interaction between these various characters, especially as they go through the stress of attempting to mount a play that is already f*cked.
  3. Lastly, we had the real life actors playing the fake actors playing the characters.

The director, Joanna Syiek (FB), who also served as choreographer, did a good job of illuminating this process while performing it herself. Specifically, she seemed to draw realistic archtypical performances from the acting ensemble, making the movement work and seem realistic given the limited 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) rehearsal time. She was also able to make the characters appropriately flawed, so that we could see the character of the director actually direct the real actors as actors to become the characters the actors had to become. Confused yet?

I found the performances quite good. In the “lead” position (at least of Bus Stop – The Musical) was an audience member, Erik Przytulski (FB), who was actually the writer, composer, and lyricist of Alien vs. Musical (FB), another 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) production. Whether this qualifies as a  “plant” is unknown; however it is clear that Erik is a person that is more comfortable behind the scenes than on the stage. As a result, he captured the “deer in the headlights” quite well — not remembering his lines or the songs, and not quite being in character. It was fun to watch.

Turning to the “staff” of the BCP: there was the aforementioned Courtney C. Reed (FB) as Parker, the Artistic Director, Director, Choreographer, and Producer; Nick Pavelich/FB (Jamey, the Stage Manager); Joseph McMahon/FB as the BCP Usher; Jennifer Lin (FB) as Jen the Music Director (as well as being the music director offstage) ⇒ Student; and Emily Arkuss (FB) (BCP Usher). Reed’s Parker was the perfect portrayal of chaos under stress and calmness under focus. If those two sound like they do not balance, it is because at time’s Reed’s character was unbalanced. Despite all of that, Reed portrayed her well. I liked Lin’s portrayal of Jen, who seemed unfazed by everything going on around. Lin played the keyboard beautifully (even if it wasn’t the organ), and had a wonderful solo classical piece in a brief interlude. McMahon and Arkuss were perfect as the over-eager theatre ushers and aides that you (well, at least I) want to run away and hide from. They had that continuously bubbly personality that can so drive one crazy. An excellent portrayal. [ETA: Now that I’ve identified who is playing the stage manager: I did appreciate him crawling off the stage after hurting his ankle]

The “actors” in Bus Stop – The Musical were (⇒ Bus Stop role*): Adam Ballard/FB (Glen ⇒ The Black Man), Katie Deshan (FB) (Rene ⇒ The Old Woman); Sara Guarnieri (FB) (Kiley ⇒ The Business Woman); Ari Gwasdoff/FB (Delaney ⇒ The Guy in the Baseball Cap); Josh Hillinger (FB) (Sonny ⇒ The Single Dad); Rose Leisner (FB) (Female Cover / Addison at our show ⇒ The Girlfriend); Seth Salsbury (FB) (Hunter ⇒ The Mexican Worker); and Caleb Mills Stewart (FB) (Cecil ⇒ The Cripple).  I was most taken with Leisner’s Addison. There was just something about her face and style that caught my eye; she also was great in her audition. She did a wonderful job of capturing a newbie trying to hide behind an aura of faking it. I also enjoyed Guarnieri’s Kiley, who had a wonderfully bubbly personality that was able to transform in a moment once she learned how to do so. Salsbury’s Hunter provided the stereotypical gay actor; I’m not sure whether that is a good stereotype to be perpetuating, but it fit with this show. He had a nice transformation to the Mexican worker, and gave a great audition song. Similarly strong was Ballad’s Black Man, who as the actor had a wonderful professional side, but was able to bring out the stereotypical ghetto performance when necessary. That aspect is unfortunately far too common in today’s word, where people are seen only as stereotypes (perhaps that’s the deeper commentary of this piece). Hillinger’s Sonny had a wonderful naivete that worked well. Gawsdoff’s was good as Delaney, the musician seen only for his looks; he had some great interactions in his relationship with Erik. In smaller roles were Deshan’s Rene (although she did have a wonderful singing voice) and Stewart’s Cecil (who was suitably creepy). Performers we did not see were Ian Klingenberg/FB (Usher Cover) and Kelsey Schulte (FB) (Addison on other nights). Lastly there was Pavelich’s Jamey, who I absolutely cannot remember. This is not necessarily the fault of the actor, but for not providing a good connection between the actor and the character portrayed in the painting… and I guess of the actor for not having his picture on his Facebook page to jog my memory. [ETA: I now know who Jamey was, so things have been corrected.] [A hint to actors: some folks who write up theatre like to link to your pages — so please have a page out there that is clearly an acting page, and have your Facebook such that is shows who you are: I may be just an audience member who writes up shows to share with friends, but some casting director might see you in a show and attempt to do the same thing… and what will they find?]

Dance and movement were under the choreography of Joanna Syiek (FB). Both the music and lyrics were by Alex Syiek (FB). This really wasn’t a musical as such; there were one or two songs ostensibly from Bus Stop – The Musical that were reasonable; there was no music specific to Merely Players that served to illuminate character, serve as an “I want”, or do anything else to move the piece along. Mitchell Webb/FB was the assistant director and provided additional choreography. As noted earlier, Jennifer Lin (FB) was the musical director.

Turning to the technical side. The set design was by umm, well, there’s no credit in the program, which corresponds to the lack of a set design other than some tables, some boxes, some chairs, and the painting. Still, it worked for a Fringe show. The lighting design by Brandon Baruch (FB) was mostly white, as would be the case in a rehearsal room, although there were some places where some blue washes were used effectively. The sound design by Corwin Evans (FB) didn’t stand out, which is a what a good sound design is supposed to do — I’m presuming there were some special effect sounds somewhere. There were no credits for costume design or makeup; presumably costumes came from the actor’s closets and they did their own makeup. Chiffon Valentine (FB) was the stage manager.

Merely Players (FB) was produced by the Color & Light Theatre Ensemble (FB), a group I had never heard off before. That’s too bad because they have done some shows I would have liked to have seen, such as Things to Ruin or See Rock City. I’ll have to keep an eye on them.

Merely Players (FB) has one more weekend of performances at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), although I hear rumors they may be sold out. Check their ticketing page on the Fringe website to see if any tickets are available. Although I didn’t find it quite as laugh out loud funny as some of the other shows, I thought it was quite enjoyable and entertaining.

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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Today the craziness continue with The Count of Monte Cristo – The Musical  (FB) (HFF) at  the Lounge Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, and  Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) in the evening. The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on July 4th. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend brings “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August starts with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), and is followed by the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). 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.

 

I currently have within my reach the sum of Forty-Two Million United States dollars….

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 21, 2015 @ 8:22 am PDT

The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF 2015)userpic=fringeYesterday afternoon, something very rare happened after attending a 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) show: I turned to my wife, and wondered, “Gee, I wonder if I could get CISSP CPE credit for this show?” Even rarer was my wife’s response, “Perhaps we should think about this as entertainment for the conference?” Perhaps I should explain…

Although you may think I’m a professional theatre reviewer (I’m not; I just love to share theatre with friends) or a Caltrans worker (I’m not; just a hobbiest highway historian), in real life I’m a cybersecurity expert (as I’ve recently written). It is rare to find a theatre offering that touches upon my field of expertise, so when I saw The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (FB, non-HFF website) on the HFF schedule, I just had to get tickets. Nigerian Spam is one of those areas that people think never works, but it gets just enough of a response (when you’re sending out 10 million emails for free, even a fractional percentage response is great). If people are gullible enough to fall for the scam, they are gullible enough to click on malware links in email.

Here’s the description of the show from the Fringe website, which is as good as the description I might write: ““Please help me transfer $100 million from Bank of Nigeria!” We’ve all gotten this e-mail. Writer performer Dean Cameron did something about it. After he received an email from a Nigerian con artist posing as the wife and son of a dead Nigerian leader, Cameron replied. Posing as a sexually confused Florida millionaire, whose only companions were his cats, houseboy, and personal attorney, Perry Mason. Cameron embarked on a 11 month correspondence with  the bewildered and tenacious Nigerian, impeccably played by co-star Victor Isaac. This hit duologue, taken from actual email threads, documents the hilarious relationship as it descends into a miasma of misunderstanding, desperation, and deception.”

That is literally the show. Two podiums and a digital projector. Dean Cameron (FB, IMDB) relates the story of how he baited along Nigerian spammers, with the ultimate goal of getting them to send him money. Co-star Victor Isaac (FB) provides the voices of the spammer side, from MRS MARIAM ABACHA to IBRAHIM ABACHA to DR DONALD ABAYOMI. The story itself is pretty much just condensed versions of the actual email dialogue, with hysterical side commentary and the occasional visual.

In short, Cameron has done something all of us has wanted to do: lead along a spammer and get them caught up in the game. If you’re in the cybersecurity biz, you’ll find this hilarious (and a great demonstration that the spammers are no smarter than the great unwashed public). If you’re not in the cybersecurity biz, you’ll find this hilarious just for what Cameron got away with. This is just an hour or so of pure fun and humor.

This show reminded me at bit of the recent musical, Loopholes, that we saw at the Hudson. In Loopholes, the authors took a real life absurd situation and turned into into a stage musical to highlight to the world the absurdity. It is similar in The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam: an absurd situation is presented on stage to highlight the absurdity of the interplay. Wisely, the authors of Nigerian decided to stay with the duologue route, eschewing the inherent musical possibilities. Although (I must note) to hear them talk, one never knows….

About my only complaint is that there is no program, so that there is no way to acknowledge the technical, support, and producing team. Mike Blaha is listed on the Fringe website, but his exact role (producer? director?) is not stated.

There are two performances left of The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam at the Fringe: June 22 (Monday) and June 27 (Saturday). If you can get tickets, go see it. If not, well, do you think we should book it as entertainment after the Conference Dinner?

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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Today the craziness continue with The Count of Monte Cristo – The Musical  (FB) (HFF) at  the Lounge Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, and  Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) in the evening. The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on July 4th. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend brings “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August starts with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), and is followed by the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). 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.

Saturday News Chum: Lastpass, Food Waste, Celiacs, Music, and Sons

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 20, 2015 @ 11:37 am PDT

userpic=lougrantIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clear out the links. These are articles I found interesting during the week, but either didn’t have the time or the inclination to write about then:

  • The Lastpass Hack. One of the big security items last week was the hack of Password Manager “Lastpass” (which happens to be the password manager I use and recommend). There was word about how hashed Master Passwords may have been leaked, as well as password reminders. But as usual, Lastpass provided the best explanation on why and whether you should worry, and showed why people still don’t understand risk — In response to the question “Was my master password exposed?”, their response was:
    “No, LastPass never has access to your master password. We use encryption and hashing algorithms of the highest standard to protect user data. We hash both the username and master password on the user’s computer with 5,000 rounds of PBKDF2-SHA256, a password strengthening algorithm. That creates a key, on which we perform another round of hashing, to generate the master password authentication hash. That is sent to the LastPass server so that we can perform an authentication check as the user is logging in. We then take that value, and use a salt (a random string per user) and do another 100,000 rounds of hashing, and compare that to what is in our database. In layman’s terms: Cracking our algorithms is extremely difficult, even for the strongest of computers.” In other words, what may have been exposed was a deep one-way hash of an already deeply one-way hashed password. You’re really only at risk if they could guess your password, and that comes from a dumb password reminder. Still, they recommended changing your master password. I did so, and I changed it in the few other places I use it (none of which are web accessble; it is for similar non-web application vaults).
  • Going to Waste. We are an incredibly wasteful country. Two articles from NPR on that subject. The first deals with a grocery chain in Northern California, that has decided to sell “ugly produce” that would otherwise go to waste at deeply discounted prices. The second deals with a landfill of lettuce — salad tossed because it might not make it to market in time. In this time of drought, and considering the amount of water that goes into growing and raising food, we should work hard to make sure that all food, ugly or not, is put to good use. We have loads of families in need that could benefit from just-in-time delivery of fresh, but ugly, vegetables and similar food products.
  • The Celiac Cry. I’ve been pressing this point for a while, but this article expresses it really well: why the gluten free fad dieters are a bad thing for Celiacs. People think they know GF, but don’t do complete checking and poison those for home it really makes a difference.
  • Buying Music Is For Old People. This article really saddened me. It posited the notion that only old people buy music these days. The “younger generation” wants more and more variety, and they can get that by streaming their music from music services anywhere anytime. Of course, this is like AM radio of old, but we won’t tell them. The problem is that streaming doesn’t work everywhere, doesn’t cover all audiences, and tends to cost money (both subscriptions and data). It also puts what you listen to in the hands of the streaming services. No thank you. I’ll keep owning my music, making copies of my digital music as backups, and listening to it whenever and whereever I can.
  • Architecture in the West. Two architectural articles. The first deals with interesting undiscovered architecture in Tucson. The second deals with another product of the 50s to go away: first it was drive-ins, not it is bowling alleys. There aren’t many left in the valley; Mission Hills Bowl is now gone. Bowlers will miss it.
  • Sons!. My first live theatre that I saw on stage was the LACLO’s production of The Rothschilds, which I still love to this day. This week news came out that a revamped version is in the works.

 

Work and Hobbies: An Important Cross-Fertilization

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jun 16, 2015 @ 7:52 pm PDT

userpic=99loveIt is a long held belief of mine that time spent on hobbies isn’t wasted. What you do as a hobby informs what you do at work, and what you do at work informs your hobbies.  Professionally, I do cybersecurity at a Federally Funded Research and Development Center. My hobbies include highways and live theatre. Today over lunch I kept thinking about this cross-fertilization in relation to the debate raging over Bitter Lemon’s decision to solicit payment from theatres for reviews, which was recently highlighted in the LA Times, and has been excoriated across the board  (from the LA Weekly (Steven Leigh Morris) to Howard Sherman (former head of the Theatre Wing) to ACTA to many others). I’ve even discussed it here.

Let me give you an example of this flow. As I noted, one of my hobbies is highways. A number of years ago, I took a day off and went to a Caltrans presentation on making safer highways. The goal was to reduce traffic deaths — reduce the number of times a CHP officer has to go to a door and say, “I’m sorry to inform you…”. They talked about a program from Minnesota DOT called “Toward Zero Death“: a program with the goal of reducing fatalities on the highways to zero. They realized they couldn’t just engineer safer highways, and as a result emphasized the Four “E”s: Education, Enforcement, Emergency Services, Engineering. Each contributed a piece. I heard that and went “Wow! That works perfectly for cybersecurity.” I ordered it differently: Engineering, Education, Enforcement, and Emergency Planning. Engineering means building mechanisms in your systems to provide cybersecurity and protection; Education is educating your users on how to use those mechanisms and how not to do boneheaded things; Enforcement is having policies and making sure they are followed; and Emergency Planning is what is also called Resiliency: making sure your system doesn’t die, but can continue to support the mission in a degraded mode while being repaired. The point here is that my hobby informed my work.

It works the other way around as well. As I wrote earlier, I work for an FFRDC. We provide the government with an independent voice to ensure success of the mission. We are trusted to protect proprietary information, have the highest ethics, and to focus on independently assessing solutions — and not hesitating to tell the vendor when they are wrong, or the government when they are wrong. Note carefully what I just said: even though we are government funded (the FF in FFRDC), we have the ability to tell the government when they are wrong. This is achieved through our strong focus on ethics, our commitment as a corporation to those ethics, an immediate response when an ethics violation is discovered (as in, that person does not work for us anymore and may face penalties, depending on the violation).

Our company is depended upon to conduct independent assessments on behalf of the government, including things like penetration testing. When you look at areas like cybersecurity assurance, having that independent assessor is a must. Similarly, when you look at theatrical reviews and criticism, that independent assessment is a must. The independence of the reviewer is at the heart of the Bitter Lemons debate.

Independence is important in many industries. Both of my parents were accountants. They performed audits, which is an independent financial assessment of a company. Major public corporations depend on independent accountants and independent internal oversight organizations. Yet that paradox of paying the independent arm exists: the corporations pay the auditing firms, the corporations pay their internal oversight organizations. So how is that independence achieved? Typically, there is a requirement for all assessors to sign and adhere to a specific ethical code for their industry. If the organization is internal, there is typical a distinct reporting chain with perhaps only the CEO in common (and sometimes not even then; often auditors report to the Board). The British auditing association describes it thusly: “It is characterised by integrity and an objective approach to the audit process. The concept requires the auditor to carry out his or her work freely and in an objective manner.”

I’ll note that similar processes exist in numerous other industries, such as Internal Affairs departments in law enforcement, or internal investigatory organizations.

Let’s bring this back to the concern at hand: the “Bitter Lemons Imperative” and the perception of pay for play reviews. Certainly, strong ethics rules would preclude a theatre giving money (or providing anything above a nominal value, such as an information packet) to an individual reviewing their show. Yet, if we look at the financial arena, there are ways to address the concern. Let’s learn from what industry does, and insist that:

  • Anyone who writes up a show must subscribe to a code of ethics that prohibits direct payments from the theatre to the reviewer (ideally, it would prohibit providing anything other than a comp ticket or an information package (and I don’t personally support comp tickets, although that is industry practice)).
  • Anyone who writes up a show must disclose any past, present, or future relationships with the theatre or any cast or crew members, and must agree to not let those relationships color their assessment of the show reviewed.
  • Anyone who writes up a show must agree that their assessment of the show will be based solely on the story, performance and presentation, and that their assessment will be honest, even if it is negative.
  • If evidence is uncovered that their writeup was not unbiased but was influenced by a relationship, either personal or financial, then the community will be clearly informed of this so that their writeups may be skewed to take that into account.
  • A list of those writing up theatre who subscribe to these rules will be published and available to the general public.

In an ideal world, journalism outlets would assign reviewers to the shows that are of interest, and the complete independence of the advertising and editorial arms would provide separation between payment and reviewer salary. But times are changing. Independent websites that accept advertising don’t have that strong separation. Papers that still employ reviewers often do not send them to the new theatres, the small theatres, the out of the way theatres. There is no way for these theatres to get independent writeups that sway the audience, either drawing them in or warning them away.

A solution is required to address the changing journalistic and dramatic criticism world. A solution is also required to address the unknown pop-up blogger whose ethics are unknown.

[Edited to Add: Another day, another lunch, and a few more thoughts: One key difference between auditing (and the work I do) and theatre reviews/criticism is that the former can be objective, while the latter is subjective. Any theatre review reflects the opinion of the reviewer, and it not necessarily capable of substantiation with facts. This prevents confirming the independent results, and opens up the aura of “taint” if a reviewer happens to like a show whose review was requested and funded by the production. The solution here, surprisingly, is what Bitter Lemons is already doing: aggregating reviews and looking at the overall consensus. If a single reviewer out of a set of reviewers is “in the pocket” of the theatre, they will show up as anomalous in a particular production’s review set. Over time, statistics might demonstrate that reviewer is a consistent outlier statistically. Of course, this mechanism is destroyed if the community simply produces consistently good theatre (oh, the horrors of consistently good theatre).

Statistical reporting can work well to identify outlier reviews and bias, when looking at an entire season. Of course, the statistics become useless unless editors assign critics to shows they know will be horrible. If people self-pick shows (as I do, and as Steven Stanley does, and I’m sure others as well), we tend to pick shows we’re likely to like. Even if the tickets are comp, we are still investing our time and we don’t want to waste that on two hours we’ll never get back (I Caligula, The Musical , I’m looking at you). This is the most likely explanation of why most reviews are positive, even if there isn’t a financial incentive involved (unless, of course, you are just writing to appear clever — Charles McNulty, I’m looking at you).

In short it boils down to trust in the integrity of the reviewer — or as one trainer put it, you either have ethics in your soul or you don’t. Ethical and honest reviewers will honestly tell you what they think of a production, irrespective of any “bribes” from the theatre, because their goal is not to make that production succeed, but to make theatre as a whole better. Unethical reviewers don’t have that mission, and unscrupulous producers will take advantage of them (Subways are for Sleeping and David Merrick, I’m looking at you).]

The approach taken by Bitter Lemons recognized the need for such a solution, but was a flawed implementation and deserves to be shut down and reconsidered from the ground up to publicly incorporate clear ethics rules and restrictions. I’m not going to attempt to propose a specific solution here; I’ve done so in the past and had it shot down. I do think a solution is needed, and that solution needs strong publicized ethics rules that participants will follow. I’m open to suggestions in the comments (anatomically possible, please — my head won’t fit up my ass).

A few PSs to address some additional points:

  • There is an argument that any payments by theatres are a slippery slope: if one review organization does it, they all will. Poppycock. There will always be individuals who put ethics above all and refuse payment. Additionally, journalism in general is no longer so high and mighty — we’ve increasingly seen the mix of the editorial and the advertiser (Los Angeles Times, I’m looking at you and your special wrappers). It may be a matter of time, but it may also be that the wrong approach will fail miserably (witness the original attempt at paywalls).
  • There are arguments that there is an important function of an editor in being able to decide what to review. That may be the case, but it also reflects the inherent bias of the editor. They have a concern — not of advertising dollars but of readership — and they direct the reviewers to the better known theatres, the ones that will draw the eyes of the reader. They will not care about the lesser known smaller theatres at all. Don’t believe me? How often does the LA Times review the Center Theatre Group, Pantages, Pasadena Playhouse, Wallis Annenberg, Colony, or Geffen. How does that compare with how often they review intimate theatre? There is not balanced editorial assignments. The papers that attempted to do so (LA Weekly, I’m looking at you) have drastically curtailed their reviews.

 

A Lovely Duet on a Sunday Afternoon

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 14, 2015 @ 6:27 pm PDT

Marry Me a Little (Good People Theatre)userpic=fringeWhat’s better on a Sunday afternoon that a little Sondheim?

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. A common trick for a producer wanting to create a small cast musical is to take a collection of a composers songs, ideally those unfamiliar to an audience (such as songs cut from other musicals and not easily available), arrange them together into a show, and hope it works. Sometimes, if that producer is lucky, they can create a through theme and perhaps a modicum of a story. If a producer is really good, and the songs are really good, they can come together and form something with a distinct identity that can succeed on its own. That’s what happened with Marry Me a Little, created as an off-off-Broadway review back in 1981. Now, if you combine that with great direction and performance, you can get what I saw this afternoon: an instantiation of such a musical that can make you forget the sources of the previously little-known songs (that are now well known thanks to easy publishing and deep archives), and see the collection as a touching whole piece. That is what you get at Good People Theatre (FB)’s production of Marry Me a Little at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

Marry Me a Little started as an off-off-Broadway piece in 1980, conceived by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene, drawing together music from Sondheim‘s then-unpublished Saturday Night, as well as songs cut from Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Funny Thing…Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, and some even rarer shows. They were connected in a cycle that created a story of two singles in apartments in New York that were adjacent vertically. The story showed them both longing for love and imagining love with each other. Since the piece was published a number of the songs have become better known: Saturday Night has been recorded and released, Side by Side by Sondheim and a number of tribute albums have captured songs like Foxtrot, and the incessant explorations of Company have captured the many songs cut from that show. Still, Marry Me a Little remains a small easy to do show (and thus perfect for Fringe festivals :-)), with minimal requirements and lots of audience oomph.

Good People Theatre, under the direction of Janet Miller (FB), was the perfect choice to bring this to the Fringe, having done a great job on other musicals. What particularly struck me watching this was that it didnt’ seem like a Fringe show. In other words, most of the other Fringe shows have that edgy feel to them — actors with minimal props using their imagination to do lots of different things, often frantically (because I like comedies). But this was… elegant. About the only way to improve it would be to import the grant piano from Closer Than Ever. It felt like the set was right and not improvised; it felt like the music was right and not rushed. This is the same feel that came from 2014’s Fantastik‘s and 2013’s Man of No Importance. This is why I particularly look forward to GPT’s productions at the Fringe (or anywhere else for that matter).

Marry Me a Little - Jessie Withers and David Laffey, Credit: Rich Clark PhotographyThe performances were great, both individually and together. Some general comments before I touch upon the individual actors (who are illustrated in the production still to the right). I particularly enjoyed that GPT did not cast the typical image of a Hollywood actor — thin and chisled and shaped. The actors in this show looked like real people, and that little, subtle touch made the show relatable and believable. This wasn’t an unobtainable couple, this was an everyperson couple. That was great. The two actors had remarkable chemistry together, which was clearly visible in songs like “So Many People” (from Saturday Night), “A Moment With You” (also from Saturday Night), and “Pour Le Sport” (from the unproduced The Last Resorts).

The woman was played by Jessie Withers, who had a lovely operatic soprano voice. If you understand the difference between an operatic and a pop music voice, you’ll realize that I’m saying she had both wonderful controlled power and a purity of tone that was a joy to listen to. One of my favorite performances of hers was in “Can That Boy Foxtrot” (from Follies), where in addition to the voice she combined some wonderful little facial expressions and movements to bring the acting side to the fore. She was also particularly good on “Marry Me a Little” (from Company).

The man was played by David Laffey (FB), who had a lovely what I would guess to be a tenor voice. It didn’t quite have the operatic power of Withers, but blended well with hers and was nice to listen to in his solo moments. Laffey was particularly good on “Uptown, Downtown”  (from Follies), with some lovely dance moves.

Music was provided by wonderful Corey Hirsch (FB) on an electronic keyboard; he had some great interactions with the characters that made him much more than just an onstage accompanist.

As noted earlier, the scenic design by Robert Schroeder (FB) was simple and worked very well, making one forget this was a Fringe production. This was aided and abetted with the props from  Good People Theatre (FB). The lighting by Katherine Barrett (FB) and appeared to be a combination of movers and programmable LED lights. These worked great for the Fringe (which often leaves productions stuck in terms of lights), and allowed the lights to enhance the mood. The costumes by Kathy Gillespie (FB) worked well on the characters. Other technical credits:  Kimberly Fox, Marketing Director; Michael P. Wallot (FB), Marketing/Media Manager; Oliver Lan, Graphic Designer; Rebecca Schroeder (FB), Stage Manager.

Marry Me a Little” has 7 more performances at the Fringe, and it is well worth seeing. Tickets are available through the Fringe website, and may be available through Goldstar (some are already 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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next weekend sees the craziness continue with the Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Merely Players (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and (on Sunday) The Count of Monte Cristo – The Musical  (FB) (HFF) at  the Lounge Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, and  Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) in the evening. The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on July 4th. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend brings “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August starts with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), and is followed by the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.