Watching a Friendship Ravel | “Merrily We Roll Along” @ 4Leaf • GPAC • Colony

Merrily We Roll Along (4Leaf/Golden Performing)When one thinks about the Second Broadway Golden Era — roughly the post-Fiddler era to the British Invasion of the 1990s, there are a few major composing teams that come to mind — teams that characterize that era. Once of these folks was Stephen Sondheim. His successes from those days are well known — shows like Sweeny Todd or Into the Woods. Other shows were only moderate successes when first performed, but have grown into legends subsequently, such as Company or Follies. Still other shows have remained problematic and are rarely produced, such as PassionsAnyone Can Whistle, or Merrily We Roll Along. I’ve had concert or revival versions of the latter two on my iPod of late, and I’ve been growing to appreciate the music, recognizing how many of the songs from these shows have gone on to a longer life, even if the show was recognized as problematic.

Enter the Colony Theatre (FB). We are former Colony subscribers. After they had a second run of financial trouble, the producing side of the company went dormant, and they focused on leasing out the space and offering classes to make the rent and to presumably keep the City of Burbank happy. The shows they have brought in have been hit or miss over the years, and we’ve skipped most of the offerings (although their guest production of Funny Girl a couple of years ago was good). But one of their guest productions this summer piqued my interest: 4Leaf Music (FB), a new producing company, together with Golden Performing Arts Center (FB), a Canoga Park-based non-profit that trains young actors, had teamed up to present Merrily We Roll Along at the Colony. As this was a Sondheim show — in particular, a Sondheim show I had only heard but never seen — plus it was one of those legendary Sondheim flops (it ran for only 52 previews and 16 performances) — I had to figure out a way to see it. Luckily, the timing worked out, and so we were back at the Colony last night for Merrily.

I must note that every time we visit the Colony venue these days I’m filled with a sense of melancholy. What was once a great company is gone. The walls once filled to the brim with years of photos of productions are now empty. The furniture pieces in the lobby, which were leftover props from past productions, are gone. A few towers with set designs from productions are all that remains. Even the artistic director, Barbara Beckley, has gone Emerita and her spirit doesn’t permeate the halls or the stage. What went wrong? Where did this company veer off course and flounder?  When was the seed of destruction sown; when did the artistic notion that propelled them go by the wayside? As I said melancholy — and looking back now, an interesting echo of the story to be told on stage. It was like, say, presenting a production of Follies in a theatre that had been long closed and was reopening just for that show before being torn down.

Which brings us to the story of Merrily We Roll Along, which featured a book by George Furth, based on the original play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.  Merrily tells the story of Franklin Shepard, a producer of Hollywood movies, chasing after fame and money. As with the original play, it starts with him at the top of his fame, after multiple divorces, with his current wife learning of his affair with the leading lady in his movie, which was to have starred her, with an estrangement from his best friends, Charlie Kringas (his lyricist) and Mary Flynn (a writer and theatre critic) who helped him get started. This is in 1976. As with the original play, it then moves backward in times, showing key moments about of where it went wrong, of where he snatched seeming victory (but really defeat) from the arms of time. 1973. 1968. 1966. 1964. 1962. 1960. Finally, 1957, where we see him move in with Charlie and meet Mary for the first time. You can find a more detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page; the 1994 synopsis presented there reflects the show at the Colony.

Whereas the original play was a somewhat success for its time (151 performances in 1934); the first version of the musical was a failure. The staging had lots of problems. The themes — about abandoning ones dreams for commercial success — were not well received at the time, and the reverse chronological approach made the show difficult to understand. There were also some problems with the structure of the score, which were remedied to an extent in subsequent revisions and revisals, leading to the 1994 version that was performed at the Colony.

Did they succeed in fixing the problems of the show? My wife found the show ponderous. I thought it was interesting, but that the backward time structure hindered the storytelling. It forces you to start out with people who you don’t like, and over emit (time, backwards), learn what they did to make themselves unlikable, instead of learning why you like them. The backwards structure provides the 20/20 hindsight that allows the audience to think they know better by providing “aha, that’s why” moments and “oh, no, don’t do that moment”. Using conventional time would have worked better: you would see the character arcs of how the person changed with the foreshadowing. Further, the reverse nature of the story necessitated musical transitions to take the back in time with the people on stage — and these transitions slowed the narrative without adding to the story.

In short, the book remains problematic — and problematic in a way that may never be easily resolvable. This show may be the Mack and Mabel of Sondheim’s catalog: the show that got away. The show with great music that had an incurable book. As such, it will remain a piece of fascination — a piece that will be reexamined to see what went wrong, and where were the signals that were ignored.

That brings us to the 4 Leaf/GPAC production. An LA Times piece on this production makes clear why the producers chose this show, and chose to do it now:

The impetus to stage this production started about 12 years ago, when Trevor Berger [the actor playing Franklin Shepard] was in a “Merrily” production with L.A.-based Musical Theatre Guild, playing Frank’s son, Frank Jr. “I fell in love with the show,” Trevor Berger said. His father decided to mount a production, which will have a full orchestra, as the younger Berger gets ready to move to New York City. “It’s a big send-off party for him,” Rick Berger said.

Nice father.

While the performances in this show were mostly very strong, the first production nature of the show did show through at points on the production side. More on those production problems in a bit. Under the direction of Sonny James Lira (FB), who also did the choreography, the cast brought a lot of energy onto the stage. Theatrically, they did a great job of inhabiting their characters and bringing them to life. The movement was satisfactory, but at times the dance side was a bit baffling, as I couldn’t see what story or message the movement was bringing. Movement shouldn’t just be there for movement sake, it should enhance the story.

However, the performances were, for the most part, quite strong. In the lead position, as Franklin Shepard, was Trevor James Berger (★FB, FB). I was unsure about Berger at first — he didn’t have the right look of the character for me. But his performance grew on me, and by the end I quite enjoyed his performance, He had a very pleasant singing voice, and he embodied the character quite well.

I had no such questions about the other leads: Jeremy Ethan Harris (FB) as Charlie Kringas and Tori Gresham (FB) as Mary Flynn. Harris had a lovely and strong singing voice, and a strong personality that he brought to the character making him warm and likable. Later in the show, a comparison struck me between Harris and a young Richard Kind, who worked with Sondheim on Bounce, later retitled Side Show. Greshman’s Flynn was a delight. She had a wonderfully unique and strong singing voice, and her performance had elements of both Stritch and Merman. She’s an actress I hope to see on the stage again. Her performance was that strong.

In the second tier of characters, a particularly notable performance was Sarah Ryan (FB) as Beth Spencer, Frankin’s first wife. Strong performance, strong singing, good movement, good personality — and did I mention that she had a great voice. I was less taken with Renee Cohen (FB)’s Gussie Carnegie (Franklin’s second wife). There was just something off in her characterization and performance that I couldn’t put my finger upon. Technically adept, but there was a sense of “trying too hard” in either the look or the acting that missed the mark slightly. I don’t mean to imply the performance was bad — it wasn’t. But it needed something different in the characterization that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Rounding out the second tier of characters was Brian Felker (FB) as Joe Josephson, as Franklin’s producers and Gussie’s Ex, and Vince Venia as Franklin Shepard Jr. Felker gave a strong performance within the confines of his character; I particularly liked him in “Opening Doors”. Venia did what any child actor must do: look cute while believably being a character’s kid. Both worked.

This brings us to the ensemble. There are a few performances of members of the ensemble worth particularly noting:  Taylor Bass (FB) [Meg, Ensemble] was a particular standout: there was something about her look, her voice, and her performance that just drew my eye to her. Also strong was Shaunte Nickels (FB) [Scotty, Evelyn, Ensemble] — she had a very strong voice and brought a nice character to her track. I also liked the look of Ashley Knaak (FB) [TV Newswoman, Mrs. Spencer, Ensemble] and her voice, although the wardrobe her track had problems. Rounding out the ensemble (named roles indicated) was: Logan Allison (FB) [Terry, TV Newsman, Mr. Spencer], Riley Boronkey (FB) [Dory, Jerome], Aaron Camitses (FB) [Make Up Artist, Photographer], Donna Kim (FB) [KT], Josiah Lucas (FB) [Tyler, Judge], and Christopher J. Thume (FB) [Ru, Minister].

[A side note to the young actors in this production: If you notice, I attempt to link to your actor page — this is to help people find you if they like your performance. Most of you didn’t have such pages. Get them. Create yourself a web page, and remember to keep your domain registration paid. Create a resume on Backstage or an equivalent site. Enter your credits at abouttheartists.com. Link your page to your Facebook. Make sure the pages you want come up if someone searches your name + “actor”. This is to help people who like your performance find you for future performances.]

Music was provided by a live orchestra, under the musical direction of Jan Roper (FB) [Conductor, Keyboards]. In addition to Roper, the orchestra consisted of Ann Kerr [Woodwinds], Peter Miller [Woodwinds], Anne King (FB[Trumpet], Andrew Lippman (FB[Trombone], Christian Klikovits (FB[Synthesizer], Steve Billman (FB[Bass], and Alan Peck [Drums / Percussion].

This brings us to the remaining production aspects of the show, which is where most of the problems revealed themselves. Effy Yang (FB)’s set design was simple — perhaps too simple — consisting of a number of movable platformy-stagey things and simple projections that were drowned out by the lighting. Two problems here. First, the stage pieces didn’t convey that much of a sense of place, so it was difficult to distinguish where something was happening. The projections didn’t help all that much in that regard; they also had some jerky motions that served to distract. The sense of place — and more importantly, time — can also be conveyed through the costume design, and the hair and makeup design. This was the second place that was problematic. Michael Mullen (FB)’s Costume Design was sometimes period-right and sometimes period-wrong, and it was often paired with the wrong hairstyle for the period, providing chronic-dissonance. There were also distracting costume failures (my wife noted a seam on a suit), odd gaps, and outfits that appeared to be too tight or misfitted. Some of this might come with the financial constraints of a production such as this for a new company, but they remained distractions from the show. Even if you must compromise, you must do so in a way that doesn’t unduly distract the audience. Slightly less problematic was the Zachary Titterington (FB)’s lighting design. Here, the problem was that the occasional actor on the side of the stage was not lit, so they were performing in darkness. Not in darkness, however, were the upper wings. The orchestra, of course, can’t be dark, but the curtain can be adjusted to minimize their operating lights. On the stage left upper wing, there was no reason for the work light to be on when the actors weren’t up there. Again — distractions. Rounding out the production team was Riley Boronkey (FB) [Asst. Choreographer]Manichanh Kham (FB[Stage Manager]. Rounding out the creative credits: Jonathan Tunick [Original Orchestrations]; Harold Prince [Original Direction].

There is one more weekend of performance of 4 Leaf/GPAC’s Merrily We Roll Along. Tickets are available through Brown Paper TIckets. Although there are some flaws on the production side, and the book of the show remains problematic, the energy and enthusiasm of these performers does elevate the production and makes this rarer show worth seeing.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

The last weekend of August will bring more Shakespeare — this time Macbeth at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (FB).

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open, but I’m looking for shows in the Sacramento area. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura — whether we go depends on ticket prices. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend has a HOLD for Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) — I’m just waiting for tickets to come up on Goldstar. The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tail at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has a hold for Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

Share

🗯️ Do The Math

Yesterday, writing about the importance of a free press and depending our mainstream media, I emphasized the phrase “follow the evidence”. That’s what scientists and journalists do. Today, I’m encouraging you to do the math. This is because our free press, which follows the evidence, is highlighting the fact that online trolls are using immigration as a wedge issue for November elections. Here’s a slightly edited (to add context) quote from the article:

In a new report, the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan Washington think tank that partnered with Facebook, concludes that the shuttered pages and accounts [that were part of a covert operation to stoke racial tensions in the United States] were run by or linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the troll farm in St. Petersburg that U.S. officials say meddled in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

One of the pages had an administrator from the Russian agency — “the most direct link between the recent accounts and earlier troll farm operations,” the report states. Two of the pages, including Aztlán Warriors, were also linked to Twitter accounts believed to have been created by their operatives.

The Russian agency and 13 of its employees were indicted in February on charges brought by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on allegations that they sought to interfere “with U.S. elections and political processes.” U.S. officials have since said that Kremlin-backed groups have continued to spread mayhem in American politics.

The nation’s volatile immigration debate has amplified online, researchers warned, and foreign operatives and homegrown trolls are using it as a political wedge ahead of the November elections. The report said the online disinformation campaign was likely to grow more sophisticated, with bad actors tailoring their posts, videos and other content to target communities of color — and to hide who is controlling the message.

“Covert influence campaigns, some steered from abroad, are using disinformation to drive Americans further apart, and weaken the trust in the institutions on which democracy stands,” the report warns.

During the upcoming election, you will see Internet sources and politicians urging you to fear the immigrant. They will make you fear that they are coming to take your jobs. They will make you fear that all sorts of evil people are streaming across the board, hoards coming to do unspeakable things, and that they are the only people standing between you and the unthinkable them. They will try to make you believe that only by electing them will you keep your communities safe. They will play on your fear. They will play on your nationalism. They will play identity politics.

But do the math.

Ask yourself how many immigrants — legal or otherwise — have come across the border over the years. Look at the percentages of documented vs. undocumented, and how they have changed. Look at the overall percentages of good immigrants vs. bad. When you look at the “bad” category, make a distinction between those whose only crime is crossing the border without papers vs. the more violent crimes of the MS13 variety. I believe that you will find that — with the extensive vetting we do — the amount of “bad actors” in documented immigrants is minuscule. There is probably greater risk of getting hit by a car when crossing the street, or getting in a car accident. For the undocumented immigrants, the percentage is likely a bit higher, but I do not believe it is a large percentage of those crossing. The fear is being magnified out of proportion to the risk.

Are they coming to take your jobs? To answer that, ask yourself: Why would an employer hire an immigrant over you? If it is because they have more skills or are harder working or have a better work ethic — can you blame the employer? That’s something that is in your power to fix — capitalism means the employer wants the best employee possible. They also want that employee at the lowest possible wage. Are you willing to work for that low wage? If not — don’t blame the immigrant, blame the employer. Just as you’ll order from Amazon rather than patronize the local merchant because of price, the employer is simply being a capitalist. Do you want to solve the problem? Raise the minimum wage to something that you will work for, making the playing field even.

What about those undocumented immigrants? Surely they want your job? First, note that an employer is taking a risk hiring undocumented workers. What makes it worth the risk? The fact that they can use fear to exploit them further: not giving them legal benefits or legal wages, making them work longer hours, locking them in buildings, giving them bad working conditions. You wouldn’t work under those conditions, so they aren’t taking your job. But what the employer is doing is wrong. Again, blame the employer, not the undocumented worker. The worker is just trying to feed themselves and their family. It is the employer that is taking advantage of them — again, doing what employers do under capitalism: get the employee who does the most work for the lowest price.

Immigrants have built this country. All of your major companies and industries in this country were started by immigrants (or (children of)n>0 immigrants). Immigrants run your corner markets and restaurants. They bring new ideas and hard work, and truly appreciate the freedoms that we have. They may come from different places, and may workship in different ways, and may speak different languages, but that diversity gives this country strength. Do the math. Don’t fear the immigrant.

Do, however, fear the politicians that play on your fear and try to manipulate your emotions. Fear the Internet sites that do the same, for an agenda that they do not publicize. Follow the evidence, and the sunlight and wisdom it brings. Don’t give in to the fear.

Share

🗯️ Follow the Evidence

Reading today’s non-editorial about the importance of a Free Press in the LA Times this morning* got me thinking about journalism and science. Both are evidence and science based (which is perhaps why the President hates both). Both go wherever the evidence takes them, even if it goes against the theory they are trying to provide or the story they want to tell. Both focus on fact, not fiction. Both respect peer review and independent confirmation of facts. Both encourage others to verify their results and findings.
——————
(*: Wherein the LA Times said, a free press is important, but dammit we’re so free that we’re not going to let anyone else tell us when to editorialize about it)

Both also have factions that push fictional science for agendas, that publish papers where the evidence is questionable or the conclusions are unsupported by the data, but that purport to be true (cough, anti-vaxxers, cough). These factions have ardent believers, who through intricate conspiracy theories believe the world is against them because the non-believers dispute their fraudulent findings. Even when confronted with evidence from multiple independent reputable sources, they cry “fake” at the truth, put on their tin-foil hats, and continue to march along the path of ignorance.

But focusing on the evidence, following the evidence, is the hallmark of both. So let’s follow the evidence:

  • Hillary Clinton. “Lock her up”, they say. “Investigate her crimes”, they say. “Follow the evidence”, I say. There have been numerous investigations — both Congressional and FBI — into her purported crimes. There has been Congressional testimony. However, there has been no sufficiently strong evidence uncovered — evidence that will stand up in court — to indict and try. Without evidence, in this country, we do not lock people up. Without a trial, with sufficiently strong evidence to convince a jury, we do not lock people up. But Congress is free — if there is sufficient evidence — to start up a new investigation. Congress is also controlled by the party that ran against Hillary. But they do not start the investigation, even though they have the majority to do so. What does that evidence say about the evidence they do have? Conclusion: There is insufficient evidence to investigate further.
  • Robert Mueller. “It’s a witch hunt”, they say. “It’s a fake investigation”, they say. “Kill the investigation,” they say. “Follow the evidence”, I say. If, as with Hillary Clinton, there is insufficient evidence to indict, there will be no indictments. If there was nothing wrong, why fear the investigation. After all, did Hillary Clinton say “Stop the investigation, it’s a witch hunt”? Hillary Clinton knew she did no wrong, and thus had nothing to fear from the investigation. Donald Trump is surely better than Hillary, and should be able withstand a deep investigation. After all, if he did nothing wrong, then there will be no evidence he did nothing wrong. Follow the evidence. [Never mind that the evidence is certainly finding indictable offenses from those under him, and it is certainly finding evidence of contact between the Trump team and Russia, and it certainly finding evidence that Russia wanted to elect Trump and manipulated — through propaganda and cyberattack — the election to that end. There may not be collusion in the end, but they were working towards the same goal, and the evidence uncovered is certainly troubling and would be a major problem is any other President had done it — and that should be the standard.]
  • Fake News. There have been numerous cries from the President that any news media that reports unflattering stories about him is fake. However, the hallmark of a strong democracy is its free press that investigates its leaders, that reports on their follies, foibles, mistakes, and yes, crimes. It has been that way in America since its birth — some press more muckraking and sensational than others, perhaps. But is mainstream media fake? “Follow the evidence”, I say. If the press was fake, there would be ample evidence that what was reported was false. There would be no videos or reporting to back it up. There would be discrepancies in the various reports — after all, if it is false, then multiple parties need to come up with the exact same lie and stick to it, without variance. There would be no corroboration from multiple sources. But that’s not the case. The essence of what is reported is based on evidence from multiple sources, and multiple journalistic outlets investigate and come up with the same stories. That’s preponderance of the evidence. Sure, some outlets may have more spin on the news than others, and some spin left, and some spin right. But spin is not falsehood — it is reviewing the evidence and drawing a conclusion. And even then, the spin can be confirmed with evidence, and one needs to look at how the same evidence is interpreted by multiple sources, and look at where the consensus is. Doing that make clear that the bulk of what is out there in the news — I’d guess 80% to 85% percent, with the fringes being non-journalistic internet sources — are not fake news. That also puts the President’s claims — and the claims of groups like Infowars — into the fictional category.

If you take away something from today, it should be the importance of evidence-based reporting — be it science or journalism. It should be the importance of peer review and independent confirmation. It should be that our news media is not fake, and those making the claim are doing it to both push their particular agenda, and to create a smokescreen to hide the truth of that agenda from you.

 

Share

🗯️ Do You Own My Heart, or Is It Just a Long Term Lease?

A 🎩tip to my friend Howard for finding this article for me: Americans own less stuff because of the internet, and that’s a worry. Alas, it is paywalled, so I’ll excerpt some of its concerns, which focus on “the erosion of personal ownership and what that will mean for our loyalties to traditional American concepts of capitalism and private property.”:

The main culprits for the change are software and the internet. For instance, Amazon’s Kindle and other methods of online reading have revolutionised how Americans consume text. Fifteen years ago, people typically owned the books and magazines they were reading. Much less so now. If you look at the fine print, it turns out that you do not own the books on your Kindle. Amazon.com does. […] We used to buy DVDs or video cassettes; now viewers stream movies or TV shows with Netflix. Even the company’s disc-mailing service is falling out of favour. Music lovers used to buy compact discs; now Spotify and YouTube are more commonly used to hear our favourite tunes. The great American teenage dream used to be to own your own car. That is dwindling in favour of urban living, greater reliance on mass transit, cycling, walking and, of course, ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

This is true even with devices you purportedly “own”, like your cell phone or computer, it notes:

What about your iPhone, that all-essential life device? Surely you own that? Well, sort of. When Apple decides to change the operating software, sooner or later you have to go along with what they have selected. Gmail is due to change its overall look and functionality, maybe for the better, but again eventually this choice will not be yours either: It’s Google’s. The very economics of software encourage standardisation, and changes over time, so de facto you rent much of what you use rather than owning it. I typed the draft of this column using Microsoft Word, and sooner or later my contract to use it will expire and I will have to renew. […]  As for that iPhone, it is already clear that you do not have a full legal right to repair it, and indeed more and more devices are sold to consumers without giving them corresponding rights to fix or alter those goods and services. John Deere tractors are sold to farmers with plenty of software, and farmers have to hack into the tractor if they wish to fix it themselves. There is now a small but burgeoning “right to repair” political movement.

I’ve had some similar concerns. Usually, it hits me with respect to music. After all, I own an iPod Classic with lots of music (approaching 45,000 songs). Some of these are recorded from LPs, some are from CDs, and some are digitally source. I take care to use a source that gets me the files without their controlling them, but I’m still being held hostage to the format of the files (MP3, M4A) and having a device that can translate them, and having a player that can play them — which Apple could invalidate quite easily. The only sure things are my LPs and CDs (if the latter don’t rot away).

We’re seeing an increased emphasis from the younger generation (hey, you, get off of my law) on downsizing and getting rid of stuff. Whereas we amassed large collections of books, they are being digitized — and that puts them in the hostage category to digital formats and readers. Paper wasn’t subject to that.

We’re being pushed away from personal vehicle ownership. Companies want us to lease our cars and replace them. Kids in urban areas even eschew cars, going for shared rides.

Housing is similar. High housing prices push people to lease instead of buy; this is the norm in New York where people are long term renters of apartments. Services like AirBNB take that to a new level. You’ve never owned your home on the Internet: Domain names have annual fees and are essentially leased — there is no perpetual domain names.

Now ask yourself: What does this do to the American notion of private property and its ownership? Are we moving to a model of shared services and shared ownership? The economic divide seems to be pushing things that way, with the top economic individuals and companies owning more and more, and we’re just leasing it from them. After all, for the person selling something, private ownership is horrible. You sell it once, get your price, and make no more income from it. But if you lease it or license it, you have a continuing income stream.

I’ve seen this in moving my wife’s computer to Windows 10. Whereas before I would buy the software, now I’m subscribing and getting the annual fees.

So what are your thoughts? Should we be worried about the erosion of private ownership and the move to subscription, streaming, licensing, and leases?

Share

🎭 Cross-Dressing, Strange Attractions, and Love in Hollywood | “Twelfth Night” @ Actors Co-Op

Twelfth Night (or What You Will) (Actors Co-Op)What is summer without Shakespeare.  Shakespeare in the park. Shakespeare in the woods. Shakespeare as summer festivals. Last year, our Shakespeare fix came in the form of one of my favorite musicals, Two Gentlemen of Verona at FPAC (and as a PS, they’re about to do The Theory of Relativity, which we saw last year at CSHP, but you should definitely go see as it is a great song cycle), and a new musical that was Shakespeare-adjacent, Something Rotten. This year, our first Shakespeare production comes from Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood, as part of the Actors Co-Op Too! Summer Series.  Actors Co-Op Too! is a series of short run productions used to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members.  Their selection: Twelfth Night, or What You Will.

I don’t recall seeing this particular play before, but I have seen two of the musical adaptations: The Sheldon Epps / Duke Ellington jukebox-er version, Play On!, at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) back in 1999, and the Joe DiPietro / Elvis jukebox-er All Shook Up! at the Morgan-Wixson in 2016. Going in, I was a bit unsure: The iambic-pentameter always takes me a while to get into, and sometimes I find myself missing much of the story because of it.

I’m pleased to say that this was a delightful adaptation of the show. Although I did find the iambic pentameter a bit unsettling at the start, I got into it relatively quickly and was caught up in the story. For as much as you might think Shakespeare was stodgy, this was playful, at times raunchy in Elizabethan language, and just fun to watch as the actors had great fun with their roles. This was one of Shakespeare’s comedies, which means that everyone falls in love by the end of the show (as opposed to being dead, a hallmark of his tragedies). I just had a great time.

For those unfamiliar with Twelfth Night, here’s a slightly edited summation of the story from Wikipedia:

As the play starts, Viola is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria and she comes ashore with the help of a Captain. She has lost contact with her twin brother, Sebastian, who she believes to be drowned. With the aid of the Captain, she disguises herself as a young man under the name Cesario, and enters the service of Duke Orsino. Duke Orsino has convinced himself that he is in love with Olivia, who is mourning the recent deaths of her father and brother. She refuses to see entertainments, be in the company of men, or accept love or marriage proposals from anyone, the Duke included, until seven years have passed. Duke Orsino then uses ‘Cesario’ as an intermediary to profess his passionate love before Olivia. Olivia, however, falls in love with ‘Cesario’, setting her at odds with her professed duty. In the meantime, Viola has fallen in love with the Duke Orsino, creating a love triangle among Duke Orsino, Olivia and Viola: Viola loves Duke Orsino, Duke Orsino loves Olivia, and Olivia loves Viola disguised as Cesario.

In the comic subplot, several characters conspire to make Olivia’s pompous steward, Malvolio, believe that Olivia has fallen for him. This involves Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch; a silly squire and would-be suitor named Sir Andrew Aguecheek; her servants Maria and Fabian; and her melancholy fool, Feste. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew engage themselves in drinking and revelry, thus disturbing the peace of Olivia’s household until late into the night, prompting Malvolio to chastise them. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria plan revenge on Malvolio. They convince Malvolio that Olivia is secretly in love with him by planting a love letter, written by Maria in Olivia’s handwriting. It asks Malvolio to wear yellow stockings cross-gartered, to be rude to the rest of the servants, and to smile constantly in the presence of Olivia. Malvolio finds the letter and reacts in surprised delight. He starts acting out the contents of the letter to show Olivia his positive response. Olivia is shocked by the changes in Malvolio and agreeing that he seems mad, leaves him to be cared for by his tormentors. Pretending that Malvolio is insane, they lock him up in a dark chamber. Feste visits him to mock his insanity, both disguised as a priest and as himself.

Meanwhile, Viola’s twin, Sebastian, has been rescued by Antonio, a sea captain who previously fought against Orsino, yet who accompanies Sebastian to Illyria, despite the danger, because of his affection for Sebastian. Taking Sebastian for ‘Cesario’, Olivia asks him to marry her, and they are secretly married in a church. Finally, when ‘Cesario’ and Sebastian appear in the presence of both Olivia and Orsino, the fact that they are twins creates more issues. At this point, Viola reveals her identity and is reunited with her twin brother. The play ends in a declaration of marriage between Duke Orsino and Viola, and it is learned that Sir Toby has married Maria. Malvolio swears revenge on his tormentors and stalks off, but Orsino sends Fabian to placate him.

Convoluted and contrived plot, but this is Shakespeare from the turn of the 17th century. You were expecting August Wilson or Tennessee Williams? Styles of plots have changed.

Under the direction of Jesse Corti (FB), and the production efforts of Avrielle Corti (FB) and Kimi Walker (FB) (both in the cast), this was a  fun show. The actors handled the language well, and the direction made the characters seem as realistic as any Shakespearean characters might be.  More importantly, the actors didn’t let the language get in the way. They were clearly having fun with their characters; when actors do that, that fun is broadcast to the audience. The resulting feedback loop just amplifies the joy in the production.

In the lead position was Avrielle Corti (FB) as Viola/Cesario. She brought a cuteness and spunk and playfulness to the character that just made her a delight to watch; there was joy when she was on-stage. Her expressions and emotions, especially in the second act during the fight scenes with Sir Andrew and the final scenes, were just so fun.

Rounding out the love triangle was Jade Patteri (★FB, FB) as Olivia and Roman Guastaferro (FB) as Orsino. I truly enjoyed Patteri’s performance. Although she started out a little stiff, her delight when she was around Corti’s Cesario was just so expressive. Her squeals and joy in the second act with Sebastian were wonderful. We saw a bit less of Guastaferro’s Orsino, and as a Shakespearean male, he was a bit more restrained. Still, he conveyed well his obsession with Olivia.

Adding to the fog of humor around this was the comic subplot, primarily featuring Michael Beattie (FB) as Sir Toby Belch, Renato Biribin Jr as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Julietta Corti (FB) as Maria, Deborah Marlowe (FB) (filling in for Zachary Poole (FB)) as the fool Feste, David Crowley (FB) as Fabian, and Dan Hazel (FB) as Malvolio. Beattie was having the time of his life playing the drunk at Belch — and he did it well — and I particularly enjoyed his joy with the humor around Belch passing gass. Biribin was also having fun with his portrayal of Aguecheeck as the traditional whitefaced milquetoast (I’m not sure of the right word, but it was a character common in Shakespeare — I’m recalling Thurio in TGOV). Perhaps he overplayed him a little, but this was a Shakespeare comedy and that’s how those characters were done. Corti’s Maria was similarly playful and plotting, and seemed to be having great fun once the comic subplot hit full steam. Marlowe is someone we’ve seen many times at Co-op, most recently on the same set in A Man for All Seasons. She excels at roles like this — the fool commenting on society. Crowley’s Fabian was a bit more in the background. I don’t recall him in the first act at all; in the second, he was more of a playful co-conspirator than a distinctly unique character. Lastly, there was Hazel’s Malvolio. Again, he was having fun with his role — playing him intentionally overbearing at first, and loosening up as the love subplot came to the fore.

Rounding out the cast were Shane Weikel (FB) as Sebastian, Kyle Morr (FB) as the Captain / First Officer, Andrew Nowak (FB) as Antonio, Mikie Beatty (FB) as Curio / 2nd Officer, Maurice McGraw as the Priest, and Christopher Gilstrap (FB) and Kimi Walker (FB) as attendants and servants. All were strong. My only quibble here isn’t performance but casting: if Sebastian and Viola were supposed to be twins, it would have helped had they been a bit closer in facial features. There was a bit of suspension of disbelief required to make the twin argument work in this production.

Turning to the production side. Set design was credited to Karen Hodgin, athough she was building on Rich Rose‘s Scenic Design from A Man for All Seasons. What little additional design there was came from added props and such. Costume design was by Elisabeth Van Stralen (FB) and seemed suitable; Krys Fehervari (FB) did the hair and makeup. The Finale Jig choreography was by Julietta Corti (FB) and was fun to watch; Jesse David Corti (FB) composed the music for “Come Away Death” and the Finale Jig. Other production credits: Christopher Keene [Swords and Props]; Diane Venora [Text Coach]; Charles Gray [Special Effects]; Warren Davis [Sound Design]; Zachary Poole (FB) [Poster and Playbill]; Elizabeth Eichler [Stage Manager]. There was no credit for lighting design.

There is one more weekend for Twelfth Night. Reservations may be made through Actors Co-Op. This is essentially pay-what-you-can, as there is no charge for the performance, but donations may be made at the door.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings Merrily We Roll Along, a guest production at the Colony Theatre (FB). The last weekend of August will bring more Shakespeare — this time Macbeth at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (FB).

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open, but I’m looking for shows in the Sacramento area. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura — whether we go depends on ticket prices. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend has a HOLD for Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) — I’m just waiting for tickets to come up on Goldstar. The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tail at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has a hold for Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

Share

📰 Chum Caught in the Drain of the Sink

Observation StewAs I continue to clear out the accumulated news chum from the past few months — chum accumulated while I was writing up sample ballots, doing the highway page updates, attending the Fringe Festival, doing the mapping projects, going to theatre, and all the assorted stuff that I do. This is what was left at the bottom of the sink after washing the dishes, the chum that didn’t fall into any particular category, but I found interesting none-the-less:

OK, well those might theme. But these?

And these last two may be of interest to selected folks:

 

Share

📰 Crafting Some Chum

Lots of news chum accumulated over the last few months while I’ve been focused on other articles. Here are some articles related to crafting and such:

 

Share

📰 Pod People Read the News

One of the categories in which I collect news chum is titled “Music and iPod”. The articles I’ve collected here fall into two broad categories. The first looks at the changing music marketplace. The second collects information on potential iPod replacements. So unlock your device, take your scroll-wheel for a spin, and let’s start.

The music industry is changing. What’s old is new again, and maintaining what you have becomes more work. The world is divided between those that want to own their music (some say “hoard, my precioussss”), and others are just fine with leasing it and paying subscription fees. Generational divides are at play here. Here are two articles exploring that divide:

  • Spotify is fine. But let’s mourn the passing of CDs. Once loved, the humble CD is now derided. It’s forefather, the vinyl LP, is having a resurgence. There are those giving the cassette some loving for the mixtape. But the CD? It’s sound was “too perfect”. Is it time for the requiem?
  • Wired headphones are having their quartz moment. When Apple decided to get rid of the 3.5mm port for headphones, wired headphones began to be pushed out the door. People were willing to live with the spotty connections and limited battery life of unwired headphones. But just like mechanical watches and vinyl, wired headphones are finding their space.

One of my worries is the eventual death of the iPod and the iPod ecosystem. I’m not sure whether it will be due to the death of hardware, or Apple deciding to remove iPod Classic support from iTunes, leaving iPod users high and dry. So I’m always looking for alternatives. Here are some articles related to that:

 

Share