Observations Along the Road

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

Truth in the Era of the Internet

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jun 10, 2014 @ 11:42 am PDT

userpic=repeastWhile eating my lunch today, I’ve been thinking more about the situation that happened last week with Repertory East Playhouse (REP) in Newhall. Today’s thinking was prompted by a discussion yesterday on a Fox 11 interview that the two primary actors involved gave. This interview was softer on the REP than previous interviews, and some opined that this issue would calm down and go away. I countered that, alas, with the Internet, nothing goes away. Potential future patrons and actors will grep google the REP, and find these stories. I pointed out that we needed to get ahead of the stories — to ensure that reports on the incident are fair. The actions to take, however, don’t just apply to REP — they apply to anyone who has been the subject of an Internet smear campaign.

Here’s what I think should be demanded — and note that I’m not demanding that anyone change their opinion:

  1. Sites presenting information about what happened should not depend only on the accusers for their information. They should attempt to get information and reports from all sides, and present that information so that readers may draw their own conclusions. If you are reading a “news site”, and the information is only from people on one side of the spectrum/issue, that news is not unbiased. With respect to the REP incident, my first post has been edited to provide quotes from those very familiar with the REP, as well as links to the news articles that present well the accusers side.
  2. Review sites, such as yelp, should only accept reviews from people that know the institution personally. Third-party or hear-say reviews should be rejected. When reading a review site, ask yourself if the author of the review is making clear they have been to the venue in question.

So what should the REP do to preserve their, ahem, REPutation on the Internet? Simple — enforce the two requirements above. First, to those news sites and blogs posting only one-sided accounts, request that they present the other side. You might not be able to change the conclusions they draw, but at least you can get a balanced presentation of the facts. Second, to those sites that accept ratings (Yelp, Google), confirm that the terms of service require those writing reviews to have actual experience with the site being reviewed. If that requirement is there, ask the review site to take down any reviews of REP from people who have never been to the REP.

A last thought (gee, I sound like Jerry Springer): Let’s not focus on “What went wrong?”. Let’s focus on “How can we do better?”

In the end, we don’t want to deny people the rights to their opinion. Your opinion, after all, is your opinion. But we can ask that you consider all the facts when making it, and those facts must be based in reality, not stories.

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A Simple But Timeless Story

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 08, 2014 @ 7:01 pm PDT

The Fantastiks (Good People Theatre)userpic=theatre_ticketsIf you’re old, like me, you remember the days when music from the theatre moved onto the pop charts. One song that was very popular in the 1960s was “Try to Remember”. You might recall the song: “Try to remember the kind of September / When life was slow and oh, so mellow. / Try to remember the kind of September / When grass was green and grain was yellow. / Try to remember the kind of September / When you were a tender and callow fellow. / Try to remember, and if you remember, / Then follow…”

Many years later, I learned that this song was from one of the longest running off-Broadway musicals, “The Fantastiks“, with book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt.  It opened shortly after I was born in 1960, ran for 42 years, closed in 2002, was revived off-Broadway in 2006, and is currently on Broadway. Sheeese! It’s as old as I am! I first saw the show in Los Angeles in 2012 at Theatre West, and fell in love with its simplicity and its message. There is a reason this show lasts. This year, while perusing the schedule for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, I discovered that Good People Theatre Co, who had done such a great job last year on “A Man of No Importance“, was doing “The Fantastiks. Naturally, I figured out how to squeeze it into my schedule — which is why I was in Hollywood this afternoon. [I'll note that the Marketing person, Kimberly Fox, did provide me with a press kit, for which I'm honored and surprise, as I'm not really a press person]

I took a look at my 2012 synopsis of the show, and I liked what I wrote. Here it is again (the show didn’t change :-) ). It started by noting the show is framed by the aforementioned “Time to Remember”.

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

These two verses set you up for the story, which is a timeless story of love supposedly being told by a traveling group of actors. The story concerns two families: Bellomy and his 16 year old daughter Luisa, and Hucklebee and his 20 year old son, Matt. The fathers would like their children to fall in love and marry, but children never do what their parents tell them to do. So they concoct a feud between the families, and build a wall between their houses to drive the children together. To seal the deal, they hire a gallant young actor, El Gallo, to abduct the daughter (in the original version, this was referred to in the traditional sense as “rape”, but that word is no longer P/C) and permit the son to rescue her. This he does in the light of the moon, with the help of two actors, Henry and Mortimer. By the end of Act I, the lovers are together, and the fathers are happy. A perfect picture.

But what seems perfect in the moonlight often looks different in the bright sun. Act II brings the sun. El Gallo presents his bill, and the children learn of the deception. They decide they no longer are in love, and each goes their separate ways. Matt goes out into the world, where he learns the realities. Luisa has a fantasy romance with El Gallo, where they preview a series of romantic adventures through a mask of unreality, while in the background Matt is being abused and beaten by Henry and Mortimer portraying a series of unpleasant employers. Meanwhile, the parents bemoan that children are unlike gardens: with gardens, you “plant a radish, get a radish”, but with children, you never know what you are going to get. Matt eventually returns, and falls back in love with Luisa, this time for real.

Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
Although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
Without a hurt the heart is hollow.
Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
The fire of September that made us mellow.
Deep in December, our hearts should remember
And follow.

The last verse of “Try to Remember” makes the point of the story: “without a hurt, the heart is hollow”. The pure love of children is unrealistic and does not last. It is our experiences and hurts that deepen the love and affection. It is perhaps this point the clarifies why The Fantasticks is such a timeless musical.

The traditional staging ofThe Fantasticks is very simple. Actors trunks from which all props emerge. Simple stages. A mute who oversees everything and comments on the proceedings with her eyes and movements, nothing more. A piano and drum for music. It is an easy show for a theatre to stage — its success depends on the believability of the performances.

OK, back to present day.

This is truly a fringe show. A platform, some boxes of props, paper, and simple curtains. You can move it in and out in 15 minutes (which is good, because that’s about what the Fringe folks give you). Small cast. Simple music. To do more to the story would destroy it; perhaps that’s why the film was so problematic.

As I said, the story didn’t change. So how did Good People bring its spin to the show? First, director Janet Miller (FB) started with the view of the show as the original fringe musical… of 1959. She brought back the original instrumentation: one keyboard under the musical direction of Corey Hirsch (FB), and one harpist (Jillian Risigari-Gai (FB)). For the most part, it worked. Certainly, the stretches that were only keyboard, or only harp, worked well. When both were playing, the result was more mixed (especially when the harp overpowered the keyboard). Sometimes it was beautiful keyboard with harp supporting, relaxing and melodic. Other times the notes seemed to clash.  Overall, though I think it was a good experiment and might be improved by a little more balance between the two. I’ll also note, music-wise, that Ms. Miller did not present the 1959 musical: the word “rape” was mostly elided in deference to the more PC “ravishment” or “rage”. I guess, although this is the fringe, we can’t be too much on the edge :-). [Edited to Add (ETA): The director noted in a Facebook comment, "As an FYI, we would have liked nothing better than to use the Rape Song (as it is often referred to) but they do not license it anymore, and Musical Theatre International will send a Cease & Desist Notice if you try to sneak it in. So although we wanted to, we thought better of it "]

Fantasticks (Good People) | El Gallo Hangs the MoonPerformance-wise, this was wonderful. Let’s start with their El Gallo, a role that was originally played by Jerry Orbach. Alas, they can’t dig up and clone Orbach. One problem with the Theatre West production was that their Gallo, Lukas Bailey (FB), had the acting down but was weak on the singing. Good People’s Gallo, Christopher Karbo (FB), was spot on. He had the handsome good looks, he had the manner and the swagger, he had the playfulness, and most importantly, he had a lovely voice.  He was a very strong Gallo, and a joy to watch when he was narrating, singing, and fighting.

Fantastiks (Good People) | Matt and LuisaAs Luisa, Audrey Curd (FB) was wonderfully expressive. Her face and her movements perfectly captured the emotions of a 16-year-old, and were a delightful. Her singing, for the most part, was also quite good (there were one or two slightly-off notes, but not enough to hinder my enjoyment of her work). I particularly enjoyed her during the “Round and Round” number, her expressions in “This Plum is Too Ripe”, and her joy and enthusiasm in “Much More”. Matt, portrayed by Matt Franta (FB), was just a little weaker. He captured the 20-year old boy well, and again had strong facial expressions. At the show I was at, he had a few more off-notes on the songs — nothing wince-worthy, mind you, but just slightly off to my ear. Overall, though, the performance worked well.

Fantastiks (Good People) | Hucklebee and BellomyMy favorite characters in this piece are the fathers. Perhaps this is because they get my favorite songs, and perhaps because I’m a father myself. They’ve got some of the best comic relief and characters, and their observations on children are spot on. The two performers lucky to fill these shoes were Matt Stevens (FB) as Hucklebee and Michael P. Wallot (FB) as Bellomy. Both were in “Man of No Importance“, and both were great. Not surprisingly, I loved them in “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish”, but they were also exceptional in “This Plum is Too Ripe”. They just seemed to enjoy each other’s company; you could see them as realistic neighbors.

Rounding out the cast were  Joey D’Auria (FB) as Henry, the Old Actor; Corky Loupé (FB) as Mortimer, the man who dies; and Alix Rikki Ogawa (FB) as the Mute. When we saw the Theatre West production, the mute was played by  Lee Meriwether, who gave a much older, more stern and traditional mute-ish portrayal. Ogawa’s mute was delightful. Young, playful, silent, there when you need her, and providing a humorous expression that just provided commentary without words. D’Autia captured the old actor well, perhaps because of his experience (although not in this program, the Ionescopade program noted he is a former Bozo the clown from Chicago). As for Loupe, well, he died well :-).

Turning to the technical: The set for this production, as noted above, is simple. Some boxes, a raised platform, some poles, a bench, a chair. The rest is all created. Robert Schroeder (FB) handled the task well.  Lighting was handled by Katherine Barrett (FB), who also took care of stage management. There were more problems here (that is, with the lighting, not the stage management) — most of which I attribute to the Fringe, the nature of quick move out, and the sharing of theatres. In particular, at some points characters were in shade and difficult to see.  Kathy Gillespie (FB) did the costumes, and these worked quite well — especially during the opening scene where they suddenly appear dressed. Rounding out the credits, Michael P. Wallot did the casting, the aforementioned Kimberly Fox did marketing,  Rebecca Schroeder (FB) was the assistant stage manager, Oliver Lan did the graphic design, Kevin Gardner did the program design, and Zach Payne did social media. “The Fantastiks” was produced by Good People Theatre (FB).

The Fantastiks” runs through June 29; performances are at the Lillian Theatre, 1 block W of Vine on Santa Monica. You can purchase tickets from the Fringe Web Site.

I Support the REPAll this week, I have been writing and obsessing about the situation with Repertory East Playhouse. You can find the background on the story and information from those who were there in this post. I encourage you to read it and draw your own opinions. I’ve been a subscriber at REP for many years, and have seen many shows there. In this time of unjustified Internet outrage, the REP needs your support to survive. Donations are always encouraged, and the REP has a one-week booster campaign going to make up for funds lost due to the unexpected cancelling of Cat. Additionally, encourage those complaining about the REP to actually come and visit the theatre for a future show, and see what this theatre really is. The remainder of the REP season is:  “Return to the Forbidden Planet (A Jukebox Musical retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”)” (July 11-August 16, 2014); “The Great Gatsby” (September 12-October 18, 2014), and “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club” (November 14-December 13, 2014). Tickets are available through the REP online box office. Most importantly — and the reason I’m mentioning it in this post — REP will be hosting a town hall style meeting to discuss issues of discrimination in the LGBTQ community on Sunday June 22 at 6pm at the REP (Pending Reschedule). There will be a panel discussion, a moderator and audience feedback and questions for local community leaders, REP alum etc. They will be discussing the role’s that bullying take and the way that as a community we can best respond. It must be clear: the REP does not stand for bullying in any way, shape, or form — and that includes bullying of members of the LGBTQ community (which is why this whole kerfluffle is odd — had management been informed, they would have had the heckler out of the auditorium and on his way in a Brooklyn Minute. They don’t put up with that nonsense.) #IStandWithTheRep.

[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 lose next weekend to a Bat Mitzvah — but I’m still squeezing in a concert at the Saban Theatre on Monday, June 16: “To Theo, L’Chaim to Life!” with Tom Paxton, Peter Yarrow, Arlo Guthrie, and more. The remainder of the month brings “Stoneface: The Rise and Fall of Buster Keaton” at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on June 22, and “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.

Something To Stew About

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 07, 2014 @ 10:55 pm PDT

Observation StewThis has been another busy week, what with trying to get the truth out about the kerfluffle at the REP in Santa Clarita (#IStandWithTheREP),  my daughter Erin being in town getting ready to go off to a summer Yiddish program back east, installing and setting up a new password manager, and loads of stuff at work. Still, I grabbed a few articles of interest:

 

Feeling Like Pee-Wee Herman

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Jun 05, 2014 @ 5:34 pm PDT

I Support the REPuserpic=repeastI’ve a very protective person. When I have a team that I’m leading and someone on that team is unjustifiably attacked, I get defensive. The same is true for institutions that I care about, such as REP, the Colony, and Cabrillo. Perhaps that is why the incident at Rep East that occurred last Saturday has been bothering me so. I wrote up my feelings in a prior blog post, and have been defending REP on Bitter Lemons (emphasizing always that I’m only a subscriber and patron, no other connection). Still, I’ve been really worried about the REP leadership — particularly O and Mikee — who must be feeling pretty beat up and besieged. They must feel like Pee-Wee Herman felt so many years ago — one incident is magnified to destroy a good reputation. I’m not saying that what happened on the REP side was 100% perfect [ETA: actually, they never got the chance to make it perfect, and it is now clear they would have if informed.], but it is also not the lopsided lapse that the media has been making this out to be. Working in the security field, I know well that incident response is an area often neglected until the first incident occurs; this was a learning experience and not a debacle.

I would like to do something to uplift the spirits of those involved. I created the graphic you see in this post: “I Support the 81″. Post it on Facebook and G+. Tag those you know who still believe in REP, in its mission, and the importance of quality professional theatre in the Northern San Fernando Valley and the Northern part of Los Angeles. Let’s do something to fight the haters out there.

I support the 81.

 

Attempting to Understand A Bad Situation

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jun 03, 2014 @ 11:46 am PDT

userpic=repeastAs a long-time subscriber and patron of Repertory East Playhouse in Santa Clarita, I’ve always hoped that they would get more attention — I find them a quality theatre that most people don’t know about. Alas, I learned last night that the theatre was suddenly in the news for an incident that happened during the Saturday night performance of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” — an incident that is getting them negative attention from a number of sources. Understandably, the theatre management are quiet — likely due to advice from legal counsel. But the incident, and the reaction to it, is gnawing at my gut (and I can’t have that over lunch), and sometimes the only way to resolve it is to write about it. I should note that I was not present; I was in Hollywood seeing “Zombies from the Beyond“. It’s lunchtime, so here goes…

Here are some stories that I found about what happened:

For those in the TL;DR generation, what appears to have happened: During the second act of a performance of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof“, an audience patron who was inebriated became unruly, shouting homosexual slurs at the stage and actors. The actor playing “Big Daddy” stopped the performance, walked off the stage, and physically confronted the unruly and drunk patron. Other audience members separated them and escorted the patron out. The actor was subsequently fired, and another actor walked off in solidarity. The production was cancelled as there was not an alternative actor that could fill in the role on short notice for the remainder of the run. The story made it into the media, and the media, understandably, has run with it.

[Edited to add (ETA) 6/7/14: Later posts by eyewitnesses on Facebook have added the following facts:

  • "not one actor or audience member came to theatre personnel and compalined about the heckler before or duing intermission" [Barry Agin] In a similar vein, another audience member noted “no one on staff was made aware that there was a problem until it broke out into assault. No cast member, no audience member, no one reported anything being an issue. They were not aware of the problem in spite of the spin to the contrary, the spin that made it sound like bottles were being thrown against the wall and everybody was hootin’ and hollerin’.” [Jeff Johnston] Jeff clarified in another comment regarding the heckler that “Those working there did not visually see him to be over intoxicated in a way that required intervention.” and that credit card receipts showed that he only had two drinks.
  • “It is a small enough theatre that the stage manager would have heard any “disruptive” comments being made from the tech booth. However, she did not. She is also the type that has no problem removing patrons when an issue is present.” [Tom Lund]
  • In a past production at the REP, “we had two hecklers in the front row. Several cast members AND patrons alerted management prior to and during intermission. Those audience members were not allowed to return for Act 2. It should also be noted that this was a production where audience interaction was encouraged-however, it was determined that their “interaction” was disruptive to the cast and audience and it was not tolerated. ” [Leslie Berra]
  • One audience member said: “I have never witnessed such a scary event as this in my life, in any theatre. I could not believe, I was watching an actor in a play, leave character, and jump into the audience and commit in my opinion, assault on a audience member. Now don’t misunderstand me, this audience member probably deserved everything he got, but the Actor handled the situation entirely the wrong way. He, actually incited the audience into a melee, where many other audience members left their seats and started throwing and landing punches, targeted at the particular audience members.” [William Friedman]
  • After the show, when the actor who had gone in the audience was brought out to discuss things with management, “When the executive Director expressed his disappointment in how he reacted the actor blew up at him screaming expletives in his face on the sidewalk on Main Street to the point that both he and others who witnessed it thought it likely he was going to throw punches at Mike O. He did not but his reaction reinforced their concerns and, even though he had said he was quitting the show, O made it clear he was not welcome back.” This was not an easy decision and “came at considerable cost to The REP. They anticipate losing close to $6,000 dollars from ending the run early, not to mention losing the opportunity to win future patrons who would have seen the show because by all accounts it was phenomenal. Additionally there is the concern of what the revenue impact will be from the negative publicity” [Jeff Johnston]

]

First and foremost, I want to note that I’m only getting my information from these news sources [ETA: and Facebook posts], and my experiences at the theatre itself as a patron since 2005, and a subscriber since 2007. Being an intimate theatre, we have gotten to know the management team quite well — those people being the names you see in the program. We saw the production in question the Saturday night of opening weekend; here’s my writeup. For those unfamiliar with the venue (and it appears, based on the comments, that most of the folks criticizing the place have never stepped into it to see a production), it is an 81-seat black box theatre, with a small bar open before the show and at intermission. Normal staffing during a show includes the house manager (often an intern), someone staffing the bar, and someone in the box office. Usually one of the latter two are either the executive director or the artistic director, although sometimes other commitments precludes their being there (and another member of the board fills in). Based on the Playbill article, both the executive and artistic director were present.

Let’s get one thing out the way first: homophobic slurs and threats are never appropriate. I think everyone — the actors involved, as well as theatre management — has made that clear. [ETA: Later posts on Facebook have noted that REP presented "The Laramie Project" without incident in 2012 [Erin Rivlin]; here’s my write-up of that show]

So, what should the behavior be of an actor when confronted with an unruly and inebriated patron? How many theatres — especially 99-seat-and-under theatres — have policies covering that situation, and how many have communicated those policies to the actors on stage? Do theatres have an incident response plan for these sorts of problems? My guess (as a subscriber — and a computer security person) — is probably not. These are not threats that are expected in the theatre. They may train the actors on how to evacuate the theatre and maintain calm during a fire or earthquake, but not drunk and unruly patrons. I’ll also note this isn’t a problem in larger theatres, where there is a large staff of ushers and such that can handle things. In a 99-seat-and-under it is the actors, the audience, and the light/sound board operators. Often, the “house manager” is doubling as stage manager and prop handler.

What happened here? As I read it — as a subscriber and patron — an actor stopped the performance, got off the stage, and physically went to the unruly patron to confront them. Much as this sounds good, it was the wrong thing to do. It put not only the actor, but the rest of the audience in danger. [ETA: It also opens up the theatre (which is at its heart a business) up to potential lawsuits from the patron.] The correct thing to do was to stop the performance at the first sign of unruly behavior, send someone out to get management, and calm the situation down until management arrives to address the problem. According to the articles above, that didn’t happen here — the actor took matters into their own hands, and was subsequently terminated seemingly for doing so. [ETA 6/7: In all this time, there has never been an explanation of why the actor chose to go into the audience and not simply stop the show and report the incident.] Was termination the right approach? We can armchair-quarterback the situation, but the truth of the matter is that none of us were there — none of us know the precise reason for the termination. Further, in a situation such as this there are limited options — suspending the actor on a small run such as this is the equivalent of termination; in a 99-and-under theatre, there is no pay to suspend.

All the articles and comments are asking “Where was management?” My guess would be that they were in the front office or cleaning up and may have been unaware of the heckling, and when the situation took place, it occurred too fast to get them. I am sure — because I have gotten to know these people and know they are good in heart and good in intentions — that had they been informed they would have taken care of it effectively. But you cannot address a situation you don’t know about, and it is never stated that management was informed before the actor took action.

[ETA 6/7: It has been noted (see above) that none of the other patrons or actors felt the need to complain to management. Playbill reported that the artistic director (Mikee) had "warned the cast" at intermission. Jeff Johnston, in a comment on Bitter Lemons, clarified that: "I have also spoke with Mikee Schwinn and with the stage manager who both refute and deny the account given by Mr. Lacy of the intermission comments. Both have said that the conversation that was supposedly whispered to Mr. Lacy was actually a conversation that took place near him that he overheard between the 2 of them. The converstaion between them was that they had had very good bar sales for the night, not that the audience was the drunkest they’ve had. Please keep in mind that bar sales being solid for an 81 seat theatre at $8 a drink only require a few more people buying 1 drink than usual and also having a sold out crowd. This was a revenue conversation, not a doom and gloom warning and neither of them were aware at all of any act 1 heckling. This conversation has been embellished along with many other accounts from that camp in order to defend Mr. Lacy’s actions. Please also know that the REP has bar records and his credit card receipt showing that he [the heckler] was served 2 drinks during the evening.”]

I am not someone who believes in harping on what went wrong. There were clearly errors that occurred in this situation. The important question is: What can be learned, and how can this be improved going forward? My suggested take-away from this is as follows: Every theatre should have an incident response plan that covers dealing with unruly patrons, as well as other contingencies, and this needs to be communicated and understood by both theatre operations and actors. This applies not just at REP, but at every small, medium, and large theatre.

A wise kindergarten teacher, for whom I once student taught, used to always say, “The first time you do something, it’s not a mistake.” This was a first time situation in this theatre of dealing with a drunk, obnoxious, and unruly patron (at least I’ve never seen it happen in my 9 years of going to REP productions). It would be a mistake if it happens again, but we can learn from this what the correct action should be.

[ETA 6/7: Based on numerous other comments, it turns out this wasn't the first time in this theatre they've dealt with obnoxious patrons. Every time in the past, however, the situation has been reported to management, who took care of the disruption quietly, expeditiously, and without risk to the audience. A few examples:

  • "during a performance of " Great American Trailer Park Musical" at the REP we had two hecklers in the front row. Several cast members AND patrons alerted management prior to and during intermission. Those audience members were not allowed to return for Act 2. It should also be noted that this was a production where audience interaction was encouraged-however, it was determined that their "interaction" was disruptive to the cast and audience and it was not tolerated." [Leslie Berra]
  • “During Journey’s End, there were (non-threatening, but distracting) M&Ms that were the culprit of cast distraction. Cast notified management, and THAT was stopped immediately. During Laughter on the 23rd Floor, a door handle came loose and Mikee creeped out, screwdriver in hand, scaling the floor to fix it to ensure that the intended beat would be executed. During Mockingbird, the swing on the porch looked like it was coming loose. The ENTIRE staff was in the wings watching to make sure that it was going to be safe until it could be checked at intermission. ” [Christina Aguilar]

]

Lastly, for those of you thinking of writing off REP because of this: please don’t. The people behind this theatre are good people, and they put on great productions (for which they can’t seem to convince people south of Sherman Way to go see, sigh). In the time I’ve known them, they have always supported, loved, and nurtured their actors… who become part of their family. This incident is truly a blip from which we learn. Go to their next or a future production — the remaining productions in the season are “Return to the Forbidden Planet“, a 1950s and 1960s music-based telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “The Great Gatsby“, and “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club“. Get to know the people there, and you’ll see why I feel as I feel.

[ETA 6/7: I've encouraged others who were there and others who have worked with REP to share there comments here -- to make this a post we can reference to provide a public counter-balance]

[ETA 6/7: A few additional points: There are those that have questioned whether REP had a liquor license. They do. There are those who have questioned whether REP is officially operating  under the 99-seat-and-under plan. I'm still investigating that.]

What They Don’t Tell You

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 02, 2014 @ 6:19 pm PDT

userpic=plumbingI hate water. Well, to be more specific, I hate dealing with water problems in a house. What’s the latest? Ah, there’s a story….

Way back in 2004, in our old house, we bought one of the first top-loading high efficiency washers. It was a Kenmore Elite, that Sears-branded Whirlpool Calypso system. These were problematic machines, but somehow we figured out how to keep it running and together. After a recent incident where my daughter washed a sandy towel without shaking it out first, the Sears repaircritter told us that if it acted up again, given that parts were no longer made, we should replace it. Last week, that happened. We were getting an “LD” indication — long drain — on the rinse cycle. This likely meant that one of the boards was dying, as the wash drained just fine (if it was the pump, it would have shown up on the first drain).

Pulling out the latest Consumers, we decided on an LG model that was a best buy. I toddled over to Lowes last week, ordered it, and it was delivered on Sunday. We start it up… and on the first drain, water back up the drain pipe. Thinking it might be a clog, we snake the line… but no luck. We got a plumber out here today. The problem isn’t the washer. The problem isn’t a clog in the line.

The problem, dear friends, is the pipe. We have a 1″ standpipe drain. The old washer had a 1/2″ drain line that fit in the pipe, allowing air flow. The new washer drain hose fits snugly in the pipe, allowing no airflow. Further, the new high-efficiency washer pushes water down the narrow standpipe so fast it backs up. Our house was built in 1962 with a 1″ standpipe. Post 1990 construction has a 2″ standpipe.

Thus, our $700 washer has just gotten more expensive — we’re going to need to open the wall and replace the standpipe with something larger. This is something they don’t tell you when you buy a new high-efficiency machine. It is just one of the reasons that I’m pissed at pipes today.

(Another reason: Time Warner’s Internet service was also down most of the day. Grrrr. Pipes.)

Earnestness Saves The Day

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 01, 2014 @ 11:20 am PDT

Zombies from the Beyond (Visceral/Lex)userpic=yorickZombies. You hear that word, and what do you think? Brainless undead, wandering around (with pieces falling off) going “Braaaaaaains”, right? Yet again popular culture has taken something with meaning, something with value and flavor and culture, and turned it into a meaningless cliche. Just like Twinkies. But back in the 1950s and 1960s — back then — being a zombie meant something. It meant that you were under external mind control, usually of some malevolent entity. Often, that entity was alien, and quite often, it was from the unspecified “beyond”. This notion was popularized in numerous “B” movies, and at one point, was a very popular source for fun off-Broadway musicals, from the well-known “Little Shop of Horrors” to smaller pieces such as “It Came from Beyond“, “Brain from Planet X“, and even “Evil Dead: The Musical“. Hunting around for a Hollywood Fringe musical, the Visceral Company (FB) decided on one of the lesser known examples of the genre — the 1996 off-Broadway musical “Zombies from the Beyond” (book, music, and lyrics by James Valcq (FB)). The resulting production, now at the Lex Theatre (FB) in its Los Angeles premier, is a fun romp through the cliched conventions of the time, earnest and campy and a complete hoot of an evening. How do I know this? I was there for one of the last preview performances last night.

So what is “Zombies from the Beyond” about? You could, of course, read the full detailed synopsis on Wikipedia. You could also download and listen to the music. Let me give you the basic summary. It’s the mid-1950s. At the Milwaukee Space Center, Major Malone and his aide Rick Jones are about to launch a probe to take pictures of the sun from space, aided by their competent but man-hungry secretary, Charlene “Charlie” Osmanski. Also playing a part is the Major’s daughter, Mary, who is dating Rick Jones but has a crush on the new scientist on the project, Trenton Corbett. Speaking of crushes, Billy the delivery boy from the local deli (who is also a tap-dancing sensation) has a crush on Charlie. Everyone’s life is changed when the probe discovers a flying saucer on its way to Beertown. When that saucer eventually lands at the Galaxy of Coiffures, the Queen of Planet X, Zombina, emerges to capture the men of Planet Earth using her secret weapon — the trill in her voice. Her first victim — Rick Jones. When he can’t satisfy her, she goes after the rest. Can Milwaukee be saved? Will she go after Lenny and Squiggy next? Can the rest of the men of the earth be saved?

As you can see, this is a patently silly plot — and this is clearly recognized. This is a common characteristic of these shows — well, except for Little Shop. These shows know the story is silly, and they take it and run with it. Valcq, the author, has fun skewering the camp conventions often found in these movies. This is especially seen in the character of Mary, who every time the plot turns around is announcing that she just happens to be an amateur expert in whatever area the plot requires — be it amateur photography, ham radio, or numerous other things. The language of the play is filled with technical sounding buzzwords that overload the dialogue — and while they sound good, are completely meaningless. The music plays on this — especially in songs like “The American Way“, which capture the warmongering patriotism of the 1950s: “You’ll have freedom / If you stampede ‘em / That’s the American Way”.

The production of this show by Visceral equally recognizes this. It starts with the opening scene, where under blacklight credits ala a 1950 movie come zooming by. It continues with cheesy saucer effects (a traditional flying saucer on a stick held by stagehands), simplistic but effective set decoration (reflecting the cheap sets often seen in “B” movies), to props being handed out by a clearly visible hand from offstage. If you want realism, this isn’t the show for you. It was clear that the production team had spared no clever thought, but had clearly spared some expenses, on the production development — and it works wonderfully. Even the prop failures that happen during a preview were handled well, and only served to add to the fun of it all.

But the thing that this production has the most of was honest and enthusiastic earnestness. This is a quality of believed sincerity and intense conviction about what they were doing that was just pouring out of the actors. They were having fun with this, by gum! Rick was that clean cut white-bread assistant, cut from the same mold as the station assistant in “The Trouble with Tribbles”. The major was American and square-jawed. The scientist was handsome and strong, but put science ahead of the girl. The secretary was honestly horney, and the major’s daughter was beautiful and brainy. Think of the camp earnestness of the 1960s “Batman” TV series — where the characters were so sincere in what they were doing and saying they didn’t realize how silly it was. Adding to the fun on stage, of course, was that occasional wink and smile that showed that the actors knew what this was, and they were just inviting the audience to come along and have a good time.

This was also seen in the portrayal of Zombina — filling the traditional mold over the over-sexed alien woman (there’s a similar character in “Brain from Planet X” (Yonni). You could clearly see that the actress here was having fun with it, especially with how she played and winked with the men who happened to sit in the front row (she ended up in my lap at one point, but I didn’t get the “call me”). Her invading army — the Zombettes — were simply all the other actors dolled up. This included the men, including the major with his moustache. As I said, this show was a hoot. A lot of the credit here should go to the director, Dan Spurgeon (FB) who clearly saw this show for what it was, and brought that out in the performances, amplifying the fun.

The performances were generally top-notch. As Rick Jones, Eric Sand (FB) had the clean-cut assistant down well, and did a remarkable transformation into the spy from behind the Iron Curtain who wanted the alien for his foreign masters. He sang well and moved well, and was fun to watch. Even more fun to watch was Lara Fisher (FB) as Charlie. She was just having fun with her character, and sang remarkably well. Her performance of “Blast Off Baby” was a joy to watch. I hope to see this actress in more local productions — she’s extremely talented and I’m curious what else she can do. Her credits indicate she has a love of singing and musicals, and it clearly comes through in her performance.

Turning to the Malones. As Major Malone, Frank Blocker (FB) captured the older military vibe quite well, and did a reasonable job with his musical numbers. He was a hoot as a zombette! I initially had a quibble with his costuming — he had the wrong insignia for a major (his insignia was that of an enlisted command sergeant major), plus he had an Army green uniform (as opposed to Air Force blues (olive drab was retired in 1952), as the USAF was created in 1947 and was responsible for space in 1955). But I later realized this was intentional (at least “that’s the ticket”) to show how the “B” movies often got the uniform wrong. As the major’s daughter, Mary, Amelia Gotham (FB) had a lot of fun. Her performance was spectacular, she danced well (especially in the “The Rocket-Roll” with Eric Sand). For the most part, she sang well; however, there was an occasional slightly flat note that was disconcerting. Hopefully those will improve as she works with the music more; her credits do not show a lot of lead singing roles so I anticipate improvement with practice (I also note we’ve seen her before in “Sherlock Through the Looking Glass“). [ETA: In a comment on this write-up on Facebook, Ms. Gotham noted it was a off night. That happens to everyone, so my experience may have been a fluke.]

In the last of the “clean-cut” roles were Daniel Jimenez (FB) as Trenton and Alex Taber/FB as Billy the delivery boy. Jimenez captured the 1950s stereotypical handsome scientist very well, and sang nicely with Gotham’s Mary in “Second Planet on the Right”. Taber’s Billy was more of a surprise; but then again, I just love good tap dancing. Taber was having fun in his interactions with Fisher’s Charlie, but was even more fun when he was dancing and getting into the rhythm.

This brings us to the last major character: Alison England (FB) as Zombina. On the performance side, this was clearly a role this actress relished, devoured, and simply had fun with. In her number “The Last Man on Earth”, you could see the inner Mae West playfulness coming out. But this character — over all others — needs a strong and powerful voice. If you listen to the original cast album, you’ll see that the original Zombina was more shrill than a super songstress. England had the voice for this character — strong, powerful, high — and made it work for the character. Speaking of voices, William Salyers (FB) provided the sepulchral voice at the beginning, and the voice of the “Dee-Jay” during the show.

The dancing and movement in the show was very nice and worked on the small stage well. Credit goes to Anna Safar (FB) for her choreography, and to Amelia Gotham (FB) as dance captain. The dancing was particularly notable during the “Atomic Feet” and “The Rocket-Roll” numbers, and I particularly enjoyed the general movement during “Blast Off Baby”.

Kudos to the Visceral Company (FB) for having live music in an intimate theatre (far too often, space and cost constraints result in recorded music). Under the musical direction of Garth Herberg (FB) and Robert Finucane/FB, the three-piece band of Robert Finucane/FB (keyboards), Doug Birmingham (percussion), and Karmann Hillman/FB (keyboards) produced a very nice sound and handled the music quite well.

Turning to the technical side of the production. Set design and construction was by Tommi Stugart (FB), Angel Madrid, and Jason Thomas with set painting by Jana Wimer (FB). The set (and props) were appropriately cheesy for the show — if you were striving for realism, look elsewhere. This show had fun with the set. I particularly enjoyed the effort during the attack on Milwaukee, where stagehands brought out buildings, and other stagehand with a flying saucer on a fishing line knocked them over. But this sense of fun was evident from the beginning, from the “credits” to the adaptable control center/bar/beauty salon, to the zombie transformation gun (which was just a curling iron, I believe). The lighting design was by Joshua Silva and was reasonably good, although there are times the “stars” should be unplugged as they shine through. The costume design by Pam Noles was appropriately innovative. My only quibble was the major’s uniform, and that might have been intentional. Other costumes, such as the space suits and Zombina’s outfit, were appropriately clever. Wig and makeup design  was by Dawn V. Dudley/FB and worked well. Stage management was by Rosie Santilena, assisted by Kirsten Turkle (FB). It is unclear if these were the stagehands who were setting up and knocking down set pieces during the show, but if they were, brava! for making the show fun. The show was produced by Drew Blakeman (FB), assisted by Frank Blocker (FB).

Zombies from the Beyond” continues at the Visceral Company (FB) at  the Lex Theatre (FB) through July 20. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tix, and there may be a discount link on the ZftB webpage. Tickets may also be available through Goldstar.

Dining Note: I had dinner around the corner from the theatre at The Hollywood Corner. It was wonderful, and I would highly recommend them.

[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:  June starts with a CDF Conference for Karen while I see The Fantastiks at Good People Theatre (FB). We lose the following weekend to a Bat Mitzvah — but I’m still squeezing in a concert at the Saban Theatre on Monday, June 16: “To Theo, L’Chaim to Life!” with Tom Paxton, Peter Yarrow, Arlo Guthrie, and more. The remainder of the month brings “Stoneface: The Rise and Fall of Buster Keaton” at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on June 22, and “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 things start to get busy again in September and October. 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.

 

Seeing Things Differently

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat May 31, 2014 @ 8:43 am PDT

userpic=observationsYesterday morning, while putting on my shoes, my lower back slipped out of whack again. This, of course, has put a kink into day. So while I work up the gumption to move, here are some news articles from the week. All of these deal with different ways of seeing things.