Observations Along the Road

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

You’ve Been Warned

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jul 09, 2014 @ 8:17 pm PDT

userpic=theatre2Here’s another collection of news chum, this time warning you of dire consequences. You’ve been warned…

  • You Think The Last Recession Left You Underwater. We’re all hearing about climate change and the melting of the polar icecaps. Here’s a dramatic example of what’s to come: Here’s what LA would look like when the polar icecaps melt. All I can say is that I’m glad I live in the valley. We’ll survive and be what remains of Los Angeles. This is an example of how things change. Here’s another example: a comparison mapping of Los Angeles 100 years ago and now.
  • They’re Back. Think a black cat is scary. How about a whole room of them, preferably dark, in a central part of a city, filled with a lot of people, all of whom have paid a lot to get in there. That’s right. The musical “Cats” is returning to London. Here’s what’s even scarier:

    The Associated Press reports that Lloyd Webber will re-conceive the character of Rum Tum Tugger as a rapping street cat. “I’ve come to the conclusion that … maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” he said, referencing poet T.S. Eliot.

  • Watch What You Say. Our closing warning comes from the good folks at NPR, in a warning about social media posts:

    We acknowledge that nothing on the Web is truly private. Even on purely recreational or cultural sites and even if what we’re doing is personal and not identified as coming from someone at NPR, we understand that what we say and do could still reflect on NPR. So we do nothing that could undermine our credibility with the public, damage NPR’s standing as an impartial source of news, or otherwise jeopardize NPR’s reputation. In other words, we don’t behave any differently than we would in any public setting or on an NPR broadcast.

NPR’s words are good advice — one far too many of us forget. What we do and say on the nets can undermine our credibility — be it something still we pass on, that picture we post. If you wouldn’t say it in public, don’t say it on the web.

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Little Known Shopping and Food Facts

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jul 09, 2014 @ 8:05 pm PDT

userpic=pastramiFor a change, I’ve been able to build a theme mid-week. Today’s news chum brings together a collection of articles about food and shopping, providing some facts you probably didn’t think about…

  • Playing Chicken. We’ve all been there: too tired to cook, so we stop by the market and pick up a cooked chicken. Now, what’s odd about this is these cooked chickens are often cheaper than the raw birds, let alone adding in the cost of spices, labor, energy, etc. Have you ever wondered about this? Wonder no longer. The reason those chickens are so cheap is the same reason that stores have salad bars and other prepared food — you don’t make a profit on food you throw in the trash because it is no longer shelf-worthy or is at near the expiry date. What do you do? Repackage it and sell it.
  • Pizza Pizza. Some interesting pizza related articles. The first looks at two Detroit millionaires, who both got rich off of pizza. One focused on delivery, promising “30 minutes or less”. The other focused on price. One founded Dominos, the other founded Little Caesar. Neither are in the pizza business, and the two are leaving very different legacies. One is focusing on the next life, emphasizing religion. The other is revitalizing downtown Detroit. Does this get you annoyed? How about this — here’s what happened to the Noid, once the mascot of Dominos.
  • Betcha’ Didn’t Know. Here are two lists of interesting facts. The first is a bunch of tips regarding shopping at Amazon that Amazon doesn’t advertise. These tips should help you optimize your shopping, or at least save some money. The second is a collection of facts the big-box home repair stores won’t tell you. Again, these provide useful insights into how these stores separate you from your money, and how to get the most when you need home repair products.

 

Seeming Substance

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 05, 2014 @ 11:00 pm PDT

Ghost the Musicaluserpic=broadwaylaIn 1995, a little company called Binary Research introduced a little software program called “Ghost“, which allowed cloning of a disk. This technology, which was based on an earlier movie, was later acquired by Symantec, who turned in into one of the most successful disk cloning programs.  It was so successful, in fact, that some theatrical producers in London came along and decided to turn this story about disk cloning into a musical. And thus, “Ghost the Musical” was born. And so, when I heard that a musical about backup software was coming to Los Angeles on tour, the computer security specialist in me just had to see it. As a result, this afternoon saw me at the Pantages seeing “Ghost: The Musical“. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it wasn’t about backup software, but rather a technology-heavy cloning of the 1990 movie starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. However, it was about cybersecurity — if there is a lesson to be learned from “Ghost: The Musical“, it is to protect your access codes and never to share them.

To be serious for a minute, I actually knew that “Ghost: The Musical” was a stage version of the 1990 movie, which I had never seen. I had heard the cast album from the show and it seemed somewhat reasonable, and it conveyed the story well. So even though it might be a a chick-musical, I decided I should see the story to go with the music. It had only lasted on Broadway for 136 performances, but there are other shows that I like that had flopped on Broadway, so what could go wrong?

As I talked about the show with my wife afterwards, I shared with her a number of conclusions about the show — which I’ll share in a minute. While writing this entry up, I read the Broadway reactions to the show. Turns out my comments (which you’ll see in a few paragraphs) agreed pretty spot-on with the New York critics. Would I recommend this show to others? If you are a fan of the movie, you’ll enjoy it. If you are a fan of quality musicals, you’ll find it average but not a stinker (I’ve seen “Caligula: The Musical“, so I know stinkers). Will it have an amateur afterlife? Alas, it may, but only after a lot of reworking — and like Sam Wheat, it may have more substance in the afterlife than it had when it walked this earth as the real thing.

The story of “Ghost: The Musical” appears to follow the movie plotline pretty closely. Some characters appear to have been eliminated, some scenes reordered, but the basic story is there. Sam, a banker, is in love with Molly, a potter. Sam can’t quite tell Molly he loves her, though. Sam discovers some discrepancies in the accounts he manages. His friend, Carl, offers to investigate, but Sam changes the account codes and tells  Carl he’ll investigate himself. That evening, a thug attacks Sam and Molly for Sam’s wallet, and Sam is killed in the struggle. He returns as a ghost, and the rest of the movie, oops, musical is about Sam trying to get in contact with Molly to inform her about his killer and bring him to justice. He does this through a psychic named Oda Mae Brown. Twists and adventures about, and key movie scenes are recreated including the infamous parodied pottery scene, which is very short, seems to add nothing to the story other than the novelty of an actual potters wheel on the Pantages stage. I think you can seen the predictable ending: Sam works with Oda Mae to uncover the real killer (Carl, if you hadn’t guessed), convince Molly that he was really there only in time to complete his task and disappear. Que sloppy and sappy ending.

The story itself wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be. There were some comic moments in the second act that I hadn’t seen coming and were well played. The problem is that it wasn’t musicalized very well. My understanding of musicals is that (a) the music should serve to advance the plot (except for retrospective jukebox musicals), (b) you should walk out with music that you remember, and (c) there should be some form of character growth. This show was the product of Dave Stewart, Glen Ballard (both Music and Lyrics), and Bruce Joel Rubin (Book and Lyrics) (who had done the original screenplay). Translation: You had a story being musicalized by two who were familiar with rock music and not theatrical music, and a theatrical book being done by someone who had only written screenplays. Again I ask, what could go wrong? I mean, there are rock musicians who can write great theatre scores — witness Sir Elton and Cyndi Lauper — and there are screenwriters who can do stories for the stage (look at Aaron Sorkin).

So what could go wrong? The resulting musical had a heavy rock score, which just didn’t fit the story and lent itself to heavily choreographed dance sequences that had nothing to do with the story (making them worse was the fact that the choreography of Ashley Wallen (FB) came across as mechanical and disconnected, instead of integrated and fun). There were internal points that could have been musicalized well — and one or two were — but the songs just never hit home and stuck like a good theatrical song does.  My best example of this was song “I’m Outta Here”, which was just pointless.

What about how the story was translated to the stage? A good playwright understands how stage is different — how you have to suggest things and bring the audience into the imagination of the story. The Fantastiks is a great example of that. Here, sad to say, technology was used to create a movie on stage. There was heavy use of projections — both in the background and as a front scrim. These backgrounds had heavy movements and LED acrobatics that essentially put the movie on stage projected, as least in scenic areas. This created a very heavy dependence on technology that I feel hurt the play — it moved the production away from the imagination that the stage requires into the realism of the silver screen. If I want realize, I’ll go to the movies. I go to the theatre because I want actors to create the story out of nothingness. Where should be blame be placed here? Some goes on the screenwriter, oops, playwright. More, I feel goes on the director, Matthew Warchus, who had the charge of taking the vision from paper and putting it on stage (and this gets me worried about Matilda: The Musical, which he also directed). In a good play or musical, the director disappears into the acting — what is on stage seems a natural way to tell the story and the actors tell it. Here the choice to depend so heavily on technology overpowered (just like the musicians overpowered the vocals), making the directorial choices stand out. It will be interesting to see how this musical improves when it moves to the amateur and regional arena, where the technology just won’t be there. Perhaps it will work better then.

That doesn’t mean the musical was horrible, however. The basic illusions, designed by Paul Kieve, were excellent. Even though you knew the actor playing Sam had physical substance, the illusions and choreography of his movements made you believe he couldn’t interact with normal matter. There were little tricks and sequences that just brought that illusion to, so to speak, life. There was also some wonderful interaction with the technical displays that worked extremely well.

Also strong were the lead actors. The two primary leads — Steven Grant Douglas (FB) as Sam Wheat and Katie Postotnik (FB) as Molly Jenson — sang well and had a delightful believable chemistry between them. They were, to put it succinctly, cute together. Douglas created the illusion of being a ghost extremely well, and Postontnik handled the grieving girlfriend well. She even knew how to work the potters wheel (I wonder if that was in the casting requirements, just like Douglas being able to play the guitar). In the third lead position was Carla R. Stewart (FB) as Oda Mae Brown. She handled the comic aspects of the role well, but was overpowered in her main numbers by the orchestra. I fault the sound guy for that (either the orchestra was over-amplified or she was under-mic-ed), and she should as well. When we could hear her voice, it was good.

As for the rest of the cast, well, you really didn’t get to know them well. The few named other characters — Robby Haltiwanger (FB) as Carl Bruner, Fernando Contreras (FB) as Willie Lopez, Brandon Curry (FB) as the Subway Ghost, Evette Marie White (FB) as Clara, Lydia Warr (FB) as Louise, Hana Freeman (FB) as Mrs. Santiago, and Shannan E. Johnson (FB) as Ortisha — have their moments but never become real characters. The closest you come are Carl Bruner and Willie Lopez, but the latter is a stereotypical hispanic thug, and the former is a stereotypical slime banker. As for the ensemble, they basically serve as a glorified dance troupe during scene transitions while the main cast members change or the set changes. I’m not saying that one expects individualization from the ensemble, but you do expect the ensemble to support the story, to play out characters you might never meet, to give some acting behind the dance. I’ve seen this in other large musicals I’ve seen. Here — and again I blame the director and choreographer more than the performers who were just following instructions — we had dance sequences of ghosts, or business people in suits, or people on the street with umbrellas — that were amplified by LED dancers in the background and choreographed with technically precise rock-ish dance moves. It just didn’t work. The ensemble consisted of: Fernando Contreras (FB), Brandon Curry (FB), Hana Freeman (FB), Shannan E. Johnson (FB), Susan Leilani Gearou (FB), Tony Johnson/FB, Beth Stafford Laird (FB), Andrea Laxton (FB), Ben Laxton (FB), Jake Vander Linden (FB), Michael McClure/FB, David Melendez/FB, Jack O’Brien/FB, Maria Cristina Slye (FB), Lydia Warr (FB), Evette Marie White (FB). I’ll also note that this, alas, was a non-equity tour. This is poor form, as tours are hard work, and equity tours provide important protections to actors.

I’ve commented before on the quality of the score. The score was executed by a 14 member orchestra under the direction of Matthew Smedal. Music supervision was by David Holcenberg, and Talitha Fehr was music coordinator.  Christopher Nightingale was the musical supervisor, arranger, and orchestrator. The major complaint with the music was that it was overamplified — this is a musical, dammit, not a rock concert!

Turning to the technical and the remainder of the creatives. The set was designed by … hmmm, there’s no credit for a set designer, only an associate scenic designer (Paul Weimer).There is, however, a credit for video and projection design (John Driscoll), as well as an associate (Michael Clark). This says quite a bit — there really was no set design. There were hints of sets — a couch here, a sign there, a refrigerator, a pottery wheel, a desk. The rest was all projections. Although use of projections is understandable in a tour, the sets in this show were so dependent on the projections that the magic of stagecraft was lost. The lighting was designed by Hugh Vanstone, and recreated by Joel Shier. The lighting made heavy use of moving lights and LED lights, constantly rotating into the audience. Remember what I said about this being theatre, not a rock show? This was rock show lighting, and I think it hurt the production. Sound was by Bobby Aitken, and Garth Helm, with assist from the UK’s Simon King. Looking at Aitken’s resume, you can see the problem by now — he is a rock show sound designer, and the musician’s sound overpowered the actors voices. Again, there is no credit for costumes, but there is an associate costume designer (Daryl Stone); hair, wigs, and makeup were by Campbell Young Associates. Both were satisfactory. Rounding out the creative team were Thomas Caruso (Associate Director), Paul Warwick Griffin (Associate Director), Sunny Walters (Associate Choreographer), Ryan P. Murphy (Production Manager), Townsend Teague (General Manager), and Donavan Dolan (Production Stage Manager).

Ghost: The Musical” continues at the Pantages through July 13. Tickets are available through the Pantages Box Office, as well as through Goldstar.

[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:  Next weekend sees us back in Santa Clarita for “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12 — the artistic team must have had a ghost advising them, for it was just announced that the Oliver-award-wining Forbidden Planet will be starting a 25th Anniversary Tour.  See it now, upclose and personal! That will be followed by “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2, and “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9. I’m hoping to follow that with “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey for 8/16. We then deal with vacations, 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.

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

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

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

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

Highway Headlines for June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(musical flourish, and the song ends)

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

Finding a Deeper Meaning in Comedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  July will be busy: “Ghost” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/5, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12, “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, and “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. August then remains quiet as we work around vacations and such (but I’m eyeing a number of productions in Escondido, including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. Things start to get busy again in September and October, with “The Great Gatsby” at REP, “What I Learned in Paris” at the Colony, and “Pippin” at the Pantages. More on that later. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Links in the Stew Pot

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

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