💃 Cryptography and Apples | “Invertigo Dance Theatre” @ The Broad Stage

Invertigo Dance Theatre (Broad Stage)Our summer performance hiatus is over. As a side effect of Fringe burnout and the surfeit of performances that come out in July, we tend to have a lighter attendance schedule at the end of August and in early September. But that hiatus is over, and it is weekly live performance from now until December, when the conference creates another hiatus. First up: Alan Turing.

Back in early August, I received an email from The Broad Stage (FB) about an upcoming production that caught my eye. It talked about a performance that “invites us into the life of mathematical genius Alan Turing as cast into the mythologized ideas of his favorite film, Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Now I’ve been doing computer science since the mid 1970s, and computer security since the mid 1980s, so any story about Turing intrigued me. I went to the Broad web page for the event, and read the following:

Invertigo Dance Theatre (FB)’s Formulae & Fairy Tales places the worlds of mathematics, artificial intelligence and cryptography into a vivid, twisted fairy-tale palette. The multi-dimensional story casts the life of Alan Turing, mathematical genius and World War II codebreaker, into the Technicolor and mythologized ideas of his favorite film, Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Step into a world of lush dance, dynamic theatre, math, sex, fairy tales, humor and death.

Now, I’m not much of a dance person, other than in the context of a musical. I didn’t quite understand the Martha Graham company when I saw it, and I never saw what others saw in Matthew Bourne’s work. But this sounded fascinating. One does not often see pioneers of computer science on the stage, nor does one often see cryptography on stage. Computer Security, in general, gets little attention from live theatre artists. And so, with curiosity peaking, I went out to Goldstar and grabbed some tickets.

Now that I’ve seen the performance, I’m still working on processing it. Much of this is a vocabulary problem. Theatre, in many ways, is easy. We have words, we have stories. We have performance that is either realistic or mock-realism. We can typically relate what we see on the stage to what we know in real life, and can thus assess it.

Dance is much more abstract, especially in a piece where you don’t know the story ahead of time. This piece had some explanatory text, but the story was mostly told in dance and movement. The dance world has its own conventions, and if you are not fluent in them (which I am not), both understanding and describing them are difficult.

That said, the dance here was beautiful. There were feelings that were raised; feelings and images. There was the sense of cogs in a wheel; cogs in a machine; cogs in a rotor. That’s appropriate, given the nature of the Enigma. There were elements of the Snow White story, and there were clearly mathematical elements. There were notions of relationships, both conventional and non-conventional. All of these were from the movement, aided at times from the projections.

There was clearly metaphor: in particular, in the sequence using the Turing quote about how “one day ladies will take their computers for walks in the park and tell each other, ‘My little computer said such a funny thing this morning”, all the computers that were taking to the park were … apples. Could this a reference to Apples and the iPhone?

The dance also involved spoken elements, sometimes cryptic, relating the story of Turing. A repeated motif was the invocation of the Turing Test, which had slightly different construction each time it was invoked — and none of the times fit precisely what Computer Scientists understand as a Turning test (interacting with an unknown entity you cannot see, and through questions along, you make the determination of human or not).

Overall, the production was beautiful to watch. I can’t say it was what I expected, but I’m not sure what I was expecting.

Performers: Cody Brunelle-Potter (FB), Hyosun Choi (FB), Jessica Dunn (FB), Spencer Jensen (FB), Corina Kinnear (💃FB), Dominique McDougal (💃FB, FB), and Luke Dakota Zender (FB). The performances were very strong; I was particularly taken with the dance of Brunelle-Potter and Choi.

Choreography by: Laura Karlin (FB), Cody Brunelle-Potter (FB), Hyosun Choi (FB), William Clayton (FB), Jessica Dunn (FB), Adrian Hoffman (FB), Isaac Huerta, Spencer Jensen (FB), Corina Kinnear (💃FB), Dominique McDougal (💃FB, FB), Shane Raiford, and Luke Dakota Zender (FB).

Original music composed by: Toby Karlin (FB), Julia Kent,  and Eric Mason (FB). Additional music by Afriara Quartet (FB), A Winged Victory for the Sullen, and Nebulo (FB). Text was primarily written by Laura Karlin (FB), with other text by Janna Levin and Alan Turing.

Created and directed by Laura Karlin (FB).

Production credits: R. S. Buck (FBProduction Stage Manager, Lighting Design, Technical Direction; Celestial Zenith (FBStage Manager; Rosalida Medina (FBCostume Design; NightLight Labs Scenic and video design; Veronica Mullins (FBSound Engineer; Mallory Fabian (FBRehearsal Director. Laura Karlin (FB) is the artistic director of Invertigo Dance Theatre (FB); David Mack (FBExecutive Director.

We caught the last performance of Intvertigo at the Broad, although I have heard rumors that this production may be touring.

I like to say that I’m a professional audience, and that’s why I like theatre. I don’t have the creativity in me to inhabit other characters, and in general, the writing I do is limited to non-fiction — government documents and policies, highway pages, and reviews like these. I don’t have the ability to take an idea and turn it into characters and stories that might be compelling to an audience. I’m also a long time cybersecurity professional, and attending years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival has convinced me that the medium of the stage could be used to teach about cybersecurity in a way that audiences could learn, without being overwhelmed with technology. The notion I have is to take some broad cybersecurity themes and concepts and translate them into stories that could teach in a compelling way. But I don’t have the expertise to build a story out of the idea. If this is something that might interest you, please let me know. I don’t have funds for a commission or anything like that, but it might be something we could turn into a property beneficial for all.

🎭

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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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 Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the the last weekend of September brings Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting really busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB) and Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville at Canyon Theatre Guild. The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musical at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), followed by In Trousers at the Lounge Theatre from Knot Free Productions. October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) and the MoTAS Poker Tournament.

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  The third weekend is open, but I’m looking at a number of shows. November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks

December is relatively open right now, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays.

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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🛣 Headlines About California Highways – August 2019

August: A month that has seen lots of highway work, from repaving to rerouting, as agencies take advantage of the hot summer months to get work done. For me, it has brought exploration of northern California, driving some highways I’ve never been on before. But all along the way, I’ve been collecting headlines for your enjoyment:

Note: 💲 indicates sites with obnoxious paywalls. The LA Times is excluded, as I subscribe to the LA Times.

  • 💲 Moffett Park Drive ramp to permanently close at 101-237. Q: Why are they closing Moffett Park Drive between Mathilda Avenue and Bordeaux Drive permanently in Sunnyvale?
  • Final construction of state Route 11 kicking off, linking to future Otay Mesa border crossing. Officials are breaking ground on the final segment of state Route 11 on Wednesday — connecting the San Diego region’s highway system to the future Otay Mesa East Port of Entry. Sections of SR-11 have been completed since 2016, but currently the highway ends at Enrico Fermi Drive in Otay Mesa. This final leg of construction, which includes several highway interchanges, would connect the envisioned port of entry to state Routes 905 and 125.
  • Fuming about Caltrans projects but I appreciate them. The Camp Fire was snuffed by a rainstorm on Thanksgiving Day — finally. Since then getting back and forth to Chico, Oroville or other flatland destinations has been an adventure. The sign “Road Work Ahead” could mean anything from a 10-minute to 30-minute wait and there were lots of ’em. Initially there were teams of workers with chainsaws falling burnt timber. Then that material had to be limbed, chipped and hauled off. Some logs still had enough moisture to be made into lumber, the rest was disposed of by however the contractor decided. In the process of removing trees, rocks were subjected to the usual forces of gravity falling from the steep cliffs onto the road. They had to be removed.
  • Forgotten Railways, Roads & Places: The 10 Most Pointless 3-digit Interstate Highways. What makes a highway pointless, especially one built to the highest road standards in the world? It can be length, as many of these routes are only a mile or two in length, but it doesn’t have to be. There are quite useful interstate highways that nonetheless very short (I-190 in Illinois and I-238 in California are good examples). Another qualification is the area they serve; many of these routes either don’t connect to a significantly populated area, or don’t facilitate downtown traffic.  Here’s my list of the Interstate highways I find the most useless. Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments.
  • Stories from the Map Cave: Los Angeles Street Guides. Map Librarian Glen Creason explains the history of the street guide in Los Angeles, and shares some highlights from our extensive collection.
  • Route 36 Improvement Updates. This is an update from Caltrans District 2 regarding construction on State Route 36. Caltrans is adopting the recommendations by the Susanville city council as follows: no bike lanes will be added, parking will remain the same, and the curb extensions known as “bulb-outs” will remain, except for Weatherlow St.
  • The First Map of Proposed US Interstate Highways Is Released – Transportation History. August 2, 1947. About nine years before President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the bill formally establishing the Interstate Highway System, the general locations of the first designated routes for that proposed network were announced. This announcement was made by Major General Philip B. Fleming, administrator of the Federal Works Agency (which included the Public Roads Administration); and Thomas H. MacDonald, commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads.

Read More …

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🤠 Conflicted at the Museum

Yesterday was a museum day for us in Klamath Falls, as we visited the Favell Museum of Native American Artifacts and Contemporary Western Art. Although the artwork itself was beautiful (especially the miniatures collection), I found myself conflicted in a number of different ways.

As I walked around all this artwork of “Cowboys and Indians” — what we now euphemistically call “western art” — I kept thinking about what a historical fiction it was. It was a White Man’s view of the West. It was the movie portrayal of the White Cowboy as the hero, and the Native American as the savage. While I could appreciate the art as fiction, the underlying racism of the times and the messages conveyed by those images bothered me. Was the reality as savage as what was portrayed? I think my increasing awareness of racism and privilege is forever changing how I view the history of the American west. Woke, indeed.

I had a similar view as I viewed the Native American collection. While the baskets and the arrowheads were beautiful, I wondered what it said about a white man collecting those artifacts. Where was the meaning and the significance? Where was the context?

This brought me to the larger issue of the collection itself. This museum was the product of a family collecting a bunch of stuff that they liked, and eventually organizing it into a museum. How much of what we were seeing was scholarship, and much of it was a collection on display with no scholarship? How many of the increasing collections of my generations will be organized into museums, as displays of the pretty artifacts that our parents collected.

Sometimes, being aware can really ruin museums.

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🎭 Shakespeare, Slightly Swapped | “As You Like It” @ OSF

As You Like It (Oregon Shakespeare Festival)As I mentioned in my last post, we have an adage: hobbies don’t stop just because you’re on vacation. That means, when we go on vacation, that we’re stopping at local yarn and quilting stores, we driving the highways and byways looking for interesting history, and of course, we’re seeing local theatre whenever we can. I also mentioned that we were recently in Klamath Falls, and decided to meander down the road (Oregon 66, to be precise) to Ashland Oregon to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). We made a day of it, seeing two shows.  For our second show, we picked — what else — a Shakespeare play: As You Like It. This is one of Shakespeare’s comedies, meaning that everyone gets married by the end of the show.

Here’s the traditional summary of the play, from the Folger Library:

In As You Like It, witty words and romance play out against the disputes of divided pairs of brothers. Orlando’s older brother, Oliver, treats him badly and refuses him his small inheritance from their father’s estate; Oliver schemes instead to have Orlando die in a wrestling match. Meanwhile, Duke Frederick has forced his older brother, Duke Senior, into exile in the Forest of Arden.

Duke Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, and Duke Frederick’s daughter, Celia, meet the victorious Orlando at the wrestling match; Orlando and Rosalind fall in love. Banished by her uncle, Rosalind assumes a male identity and leaves with Celia and their fool, Touchstone. Orlando flees Oliver’s murderous plots.

In the Forest of Arden, Rosalind, in her male disguise, forms a teasing friendship with Orlando. Oliver, searching for Orlando, reforms after Orlando saves his life. Rosalind reveals her identity,  triggering several weddings, including her own with Orlando and Celia’s with Oliver. Duke Frederick restores the dukedom to Duke Senior, who leaves the forest with his followers.

But Shakespeare, being in the public domain, invites invention. Director Rosa Joshi (FB) accepted the invitation. In this case, it is a bit of gender-bending. The banished Duke Senior becomes a women. Duke Senior’s attendents — all dressed as women, although some were cast with men. Surprisingly, this change really doesn’t change much: the play works, although there some additional notions that come from a company of women, led by a woman, in the forest. Challenging the patriarchy much? Was this why she was banished?

Modulo that change, Joshi brought a very light touch to the production. This is a good thing. Shakespeare can sometimes be heavy and hard to understand. In this production, the actors were light and playful; joyous and fun. Rosalind and Celia are giggly and excited, and Orlando, Touchstone, and even Oliver are just fun to watch. There’s music and there’s lightness, and you really fall in love with these characters.

In the lead positions were Jessica Ko (FB) Rosalind/Ganymede, daughter of the banished Duke Senior; and Kate Hurster Celia, daughter of Duke Frederick. Ko was spectacular as Rosalind — playful and giddy and serious and devious and just a joy to watch. Hurster matched her measure for measure, but a bit more on the girlish side. They really made the show.

We meet their eventual male counterparts, Román Zaragoza (⭐FB, FB) Orlando de Boys, younger son of Sir Rowland de Boys and Shaun Taylor-Corbett (FB) Oliver de Boys, oldest son of  SIr Rowland de Boys, early on, when they are arguing about inheritances, and Orlando is planning to wrestle the champion. Zaragoza presents an engaging personality, both when interacting with Rosalind, interacting with the wrestler, and even when he is interacting with Adam (Tyrone Wilson (⭐FB)), the attendant in the de Boys’ household.

Next we turn to the forest of Arden, to where Rosalind, Celia, and Orlando flees. It is ruled by the banished Duke Senior, played by Rachel Crowl (FB). Here we get our first gender bend: Duke Senior is transformed from male to female (although, during the show, I was a bit confused by the actor, but then later found the explanation). It works, and changes the crew in the forest from a patriarchy to a matriarchy. We’ll get to the crew in a minute.

Some other significant characters/performers are Rex Young (FBTouchstone, a fool; Will Wilhelm (FBAubrey, a country person (also Le Beau, lord attending Duke Frederick; follower of Duke Senior); MacGregor Arney Silvius, a shepherd (also Court Lord, follower of Duke Senior); Lilia Houshmand Phoebe, a shepherdess (also Court Lady, follower of Duke Senior); and Erica Sullivan (FBJaques, a noble-woman attending on Duke Senior (also Court Lady). The first two and the second two create couples that eventually get married. Young’s Touchstone and WIlhelm’s Aubrey form one of the gender bending couples; Young is particular fun as the fool. The second couple — Arney and Houshmand — form a pair of shepherds that don’t like each other: Houshmand’s Phoebe loves Rosalind as Ganymede, and dislikes Arney’s Silvius, who is in lust with her. But this is Shakespeare, so it eventually works out, and they have a great performance. Lastly Sullivan’s Jaques gets to play a melancholy fool, who provides some wonderful commentary.

Rounding out the cast are: Kevin Kenerly Duke Frederick; Hannah Fawcett (FBLady to Rosalind; James Ryen (⭐FBCharles, a wrestler to Duke Frederick (also Sir Oliver Martext, a country priest; follower of Duke Senior); Michele Mais (FBAmiens, a noblewoman attending Duke Senior; Sheila Tousey (⭐FBCorin, a shepherd (also Court Lady); Grant Luecke (FBWilliam, a country fellow (also Court Lord, Wrestling Attendant to Charles, follower of Duke Senior). Notable in this group was Mais, who had a lovely singing voice.

There were a large number of understudies whom I’m not listing.

Note that OSF does something I haven’t seen before: Actors are listed in the program with their pronouns.

Turning to the production and creative side: Sara Ryung Clement‘s scenic design was simple (and I was amazed how the same space had Mother Road just a few hours prior — it was totally transformed). A metal superstructure, banners, symbolic trees, and such. It worked for the story. It was supported by the lighting design of Christina Watanabe and the sound design of Pornchanok (Nok) Kanchanabanca (FB), which served to establish place and mood well. Christine Tschirgi‘s costumes worked well and were vaguely of some unidentifiable era. Other production credits: Palmer Hefferan (FB) Composer; Alice Gosti Associate Director of Movement; Alan Armstrong and Amrita Ramanan (FBProduction Dramaturgs; Rebecca Clark Carey Voice and Text Director; U. Jonathan Toppo Fight Director; Jeremy Eisen Production Stage Manager; and D. Christian Bolender and Emily Robinson Assistant Stage Managers.

As You Like It continues at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB) through October 26. Tickets are available through the OSF website.

I like to say that I’m a professional audience, and that’s why I like theatre. I don’t have the creativity in me to inhabit other characters, and in general, the writing I do is limited to non-fiction — government documents and policies, highway pages, and reviews like these. I don’t have the ability to take an idea and turn it into characters and stories that might be compelling to an audience. I’m also a long time cybersecurity professional, and attending years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival has convinced me that the medium of the stage could be used to teach about cybersecurity in a way that audiences could learn, without being overwhelmed with technology. The notion I have is to take some broad cybersecurity themes and concepts and translate them into stories that could teach in a compelling way. But I don’t have the expertise to build a story out of the idea. If this is something that might interest you, please let me know. I don’t have funds for a commission or anything like that, but it might be something we could turn into a property beneficial for all.

🎭

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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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 first week of September is open. Live performance starts up the 2nd week, with the Invertigo Dance Company at the Broad Stage (FB). The show supposedly “places the worlds of mathematics, artificial intelligence and cryptography into a vivid, twisted fairy-tale palette.” Fascinating. The third weekend brings Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend brings Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB) and a hold for Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville at Canyon Theatre Guild. The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musicalat the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) and the MoTAS Poker Tournament.

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with a hold for Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand OaksSomewhere in there we’ll also be fitting in Nottingham Festival and Thumbleweed Festival, if they are happening this year. Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

 

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🎭 On The Road Again | “Mother Road” @ OSF

Mother Road (Oregon Shakespeare Festival)We have an adage: hobbies don’t stop just because you’re on vacation. That means, when we go on vacation, that we’re stopping at local yarn and quilting stores, we driving the highways and byways looking for interesting history, and of course, we’re seeing local theatre whenever we can.

Recently, we were on vacation in Klamath Falls. The local live theatre had little of interest while we were in town, and so we decided to meander down the road (Oregon 66, to be precise) to Ashland Oregon to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). We made a day of it, seeing two shows. The first was one that appealed to both the roadgeek and historian in me: the world premiere of Mother Road by Octavio Solis (FB).

Mother Road is, in many ways, a homage to John Steinbeck‘s The Grapes of Wrath. For those unfamiliar with the Steinbeck, the Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joad family, forced to leave their family farm in Oklahoma due to the one-two punch of the depression and the dust bowl, and make the trek along US 66 (and US 566) to California, and eventually the central valley of California. Along the way they face hardship, family members die, and we see them for the proud and hardworking, but poor and downtrodden family they are.

Mother Road picks up the story in current times. William Joad, uncle of the original Tom Joad, is dying. He stayed in Oklahoma during the dust bowl, and wants to pass his family farm that he pieced together from sharecropped land to another family member. He has his lawyer, Roger, search, and they find the only remaining living Joad: Martin Jodes, grandson of Tom Joad of the novel. After Tom killed a man and ran away to hide, he went to Mexico. He raised a family, and there was one son: Martin. Martin has since followed the crops to Mexico, and he meets William in Weedpatch, a community near Bakersfield where the Joads onced lived. William tells him the story, and the two start a trek back to Sallisaw OK and the farm. Along the way, we learn the back story of both characters. We meet and pick up some people important in Martin’s life: Mo, a “cuz” whom Martin wants for a foreman, James, a preacher buddy of Martin’s, and Amelia, Martin’s ex. We also run into people who had interactions with the original Joads, including a waitress descended from the Wilson family. Along the way, we also see the parallels between the treatment of the dust bowl refugees (Oakies) and the Mexican farmworkers; we see how the Joad family has always fought against injustice and to do what is right.

Going into the show, I only had a passing familiarity with the original novel. I knew the basic outlines of the story of the Joads, but not the particulars. In preparing this writeup, I had a chance to review the summaries of the novel, and I can see even more how Solis mined the original story for incidents and connections. The two are tightly connected, almost in the same way as Wicked  and The Wizard of Oz, building upon an existing story to make points about contemporary society.

The story makes very strong points about how segments of our society view Hispanics, and how so little has changed since the great dust bowl migration. It shows the power of family, and by the end, shows that the important family is the family that you make through your travels through life.

The manner of storytelling was interesting. It wasn’t quite linear. There were times where there was a chorus commenting on the situation. There were also numerous moments of flashback, providing backstory for the characters. The story moved forward across the road, in fits and spurts like an old car, with the backtracks and sidetrips that make the journey worthwhile.

Under the direction of Bill Rauch, the story grabs you attention and keeps it throughout. The time just passes, and the characters seem like realistic people, not caricatures. I particularly enjoyed the creative choice around the portrayal of Casear, the truck used by Martin and William as they travel back to Oklahoma.

In the lead positions were Mark Murphey (FB) as William Joad, and Tony Sancho (FB) as Martin Jodes. Murphey does a great job with Joad, moving the character from a unlikable hardass to someone whom you see as a real person who had a hard life, shaped by the trials of life. He captured the depth and depths of the character well, The same is true with Sancho’s Jodes: moving from an angry young man beat down by life to a fully rounded person, whom you see is very much like the original Tom Joad of the novel.

In what I would portray as supporting positions were Amy Lizardo (FBMo; Jeffrey King Roger, William’s Father, State Trooper, Ranch Hand; and Caro Zeller (FBAmelia, Chorus Leader.  As Mo, Lizardo provides some great comic relief, especially as we learn the depths of her character. King is most notable as Roger, the attorney who helps William find Martin, and later shows himself as a form of son to William. His final scenes with Martin were particularly touching. Lastly, Zeller is notable as Amelia, Martin’s ex. Her exuberance and joyfulness as a marked contrast to some of the hardship captured by the other characters.

Notable tertiary performances included Catherine Castellanos (FBIvy, William’s Mother, Police Officer; and Cedric Lamar (FBCook, James. Castellanos was most notable as Ivy, the waitress descended from the family the Joads befriended on their trek west to California. Her portrayal of a proud woman who made the best of her circumstances was great. Lamar was notable for two things: first, his wonderful singing voice, and second, his portrayal of James, the spiritual friend of Martin who helps turn his life around.

Rounding out the cast were Armando Durán Abelardo, Ranch Hand; and Fidel Gomez Abelardo’s Father, Curtis.

There were a load of understudies, none of whom we saw.

Turning to the production and creative side: The scenic design by Christopher Acebo (⭐FB) was simple: a billboard on the back for projections, some simple establishing props such as counters, seats, beds, and of course the car. They worked well to establish location and support the action without being extremely realistic. More interesting was the fact that unlike most scenic designs, they were removable — in other words, when we went into to see As You Like It a few hours later, the entire scenic design was removed. Carolyn Mazuca‘s costume design and Cherelle D. Guyton‘s wig design was appropriate for the characters, and with the actors portraying multiple characters, captured each individual character well. Pablo Santiago‘s lighting design served well to establish time and mood; and Kaitlyn Pietras‘s projection design was the main factor in establishing the specific places along the road. Sound designer and composer Paul James Prendergast‘s effects and music also supported the establishment of mood and place. Routing out the creative credits: Ty Defoe Movement Director; Tiffany Ana López Production Dramaturg; Micha Espinosa Voice and Text Director; Kareem Fahmy Phil Killian Directing FellowU. Jonathan Toppo Fight Director; Cedric Lamar (FB) Dance Captain; Karl Alphonso Production Stage Manager; and Ray Gonzalez Production Assistant.

Mother Road continues at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival through October 26, 2019. Tickets are available through the OSF website.

I like to say that I’m a professional audience, and that’s why I like theatre. I don’t have the creativity in me to inhabit other characters, and in general, the writing I do is limited to non-fiction — government documents and policies, highway pages, and reviews like these. I don’t have the ability to take an idea and turn it into characters and stories that might be compelling to an audience. I’m also a long time cybersecurity professional, and attending years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival has convinced me that the medium of the stage could be used to teach about cybersecurity in a way that audiences could learn, without being overwhelmed with technology. The notion I have is to take some broad cybersecurity themes and concepts and translate them into stories that could teach in a compelling way. But I don’t have the expertise to build a story out of the idea. If this is something that might interest you, please let me know. I don’t have funds for a commission or anything like that, but it might be something we could turn into a property beneficial for all.

🎭

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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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:

There is one more writeup pending from OSF: As You Like It .

Early September is also mostly open. Then things heat up, with the third weekend bringing Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend bringing Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB) and a hold for Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville at Canyon Theatre Guild. The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musicalat the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) and the MoTAS Poker Tournament.

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with a hold for Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand OaksSomewhere in there we’ll also be fitting in Nottingham Festival and Thumbleweed Festival, if they are happening this year. Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🎭 A Group, Unraveled | “Loose Knit” @ Group Rep

Loose Knit (Group Rep)Going in, you have to understand that my wife is into the fabric arts: knitting, needlepoint, cross-stitch, sewing, quiliting … almost anything other the crochet. Her obsession for the last few years has been knitting, and she’s been involved with a number of knitting groups, the longest being a group that knits over at A Major Knitwork in Van Nuys. So when an announcement came across my electronic transom about Loose Knit, a play by Theresa Rebeck (⭐FB) at The Group Rep (FB) in North Hollywood, a play that involved a knitting group, I was intrigued. I sent the following description to my wife to see if she was interested (and whether there was larger group interest):

“Once a week, in the heart of Manhattan, five women gather to knit. As the sweaters pile up, their lives fall apart. On the surface this is a knitting club, but underneath all the yarn, this is a family of choice as these women give and get support. This contemporary play is a wool blend of Noel Coward and Wendy Wasserstein barbs showing us stylish ferocity and insight in a well-made comedy of manners.

Needless to say, she was interested. Luckily, I had just gotten a Goldstar announcement on the show, so I grabbed two tickets (passing on seeing Weird Al at the Greek, but we saw him at the Bowl a few years earlier).

The show itself turned out to be relatively interesting. My wife observed afterwards that the knitting was essentially a McGuffin: It served to provide the context to bring this group of women together, but it could have been any device that did the same thing: a bridge club, a coffee klatch, a group of bingo regulars, etc. The knitting itself was peripheral to the plot; it was the relationships of the women that were key.

That said, my wife also noted that the portrayal of knitting groups was accurate: the groups become family, there is often intense family drama, and the members of the group care about and support each others. This, of course, leads to a side plug: If you knit, go to your FLYS (Friendly Local Yarn Store) and get involved in a knitting group. You can find one by looking at the folks involved in the annual yarn crawl, or on the website Ravelry.

The actual story centers around the women in the knitting group, and their relationships in and out of the group. At the center are two sisters: Lily (Stephanie Colet (FB)) and Liz (Marie Broderick (FB)). Liz is secretly having an affair with Lily’s husband Bob (Doug Haverty (⭐FB, FB)), using the knitting group as the excuse to run into him while bemoaning the guys that lie in the world. Margie (Julie Davis (FB)) is single and looking for the right guy, having just joined a singles group. Paula (Cathy Diane Tomlin (⭐FB, FB)), a therapist, is also looking for the right guy, but is jaded by the folks she’s met in her practice. The last member of the knitting group, Gina (Lisa McGee Mann (FB)), is a lawyer who, on the surface, just wants to knit and claims no problems, but is on the verge of a breakdown from those non-existent problems — but luckily she has a large yarn stash. Complicating matters is Miles (Todd Andrew Ball (FB)), a wealthy mergers and acquisitions guy, who keeps being set up with most of the members of the knitting group, and whose dates go spectacularly wrong.

Loose Knit - Photo StripGenerally, the segments that involve the women in the knitting group are the most interesting, where t hey are talking and interacting. Especially in Act I, the scenes involving Miles are cringe-worthy — not due to the performances, but just the nature of Miles and how much of a creep he is set up to be. Hang in there with respect to those scenes, for the Miles character finally makes sense in the final scenes on the show (although he still remains slime, just like his buddy “The Donald”, who is also mentioned in the show). Note that this play was written in the early 1990s, when men who behaved like this towards women (entitled, thinking their wealth allowed them to do anything) were common and accepted, The behavior that seemed perhaps innocuous then seems very problematic now, and is perhaps the most dated aspect of this play.

The one other thing that confused me about this play was the numerous references to Americans and the behavior of Americans. This might make sense if the knitting group was outside of the US, but for a Manhattan-based knitting group, why would they be running into people complaining about the behavior of Americans? It just made no sense, but was a minor distraction for the plot.

[📱 And speaking of minor distractions: Remember that the combination of silent mode 🔇 and airplane modemight not silence alarms, if they are set to ignore do-not-disturb. We learned the hard way, and apologize. Turn OFF your phones.]

But overall, we found the play to be reasonably funny and an accurate portrayal of knitting groups. The women seemed to genuinely care about each other, and the resolution at the end worked well. I think the play is well worth seeing, and it reminded us of the quality performances that come out of Group Rep (we were last at the theatre in 2016)

Under the direction of L. Flint Esquerra, the knitting group was believable, although it was clear that the actresses were a bit new to knitting. Remember, if B. D. Wong can knit, you can too. They seemed to inhabit their roles, and were comfortable around the needles. As noted earlier, the scenes with Miles were a bit more cringe-worthy, but that may be more of an issue with the writing vs. the performance. I’m not sure if there is a way to play them to lessen the cringe, but make the end reveal equal in strength.

As the sisters Lily and Liz, Stephanie Colet (FB) and Marie Broderick (FB) were strong and believable. I particularly liked Broderick’s Liz and the energy and attitude she brought to the role. Colet’s Lily was a bit more laid back, although her outburst at the end was particularly good.

Of the others in the knitting group, my favorite was Lisa McGee Mann (FB)’s Gina, especially when she had the breakdown at the end of Act I. I feel sorry for the poor stage managers who had to clean up and untangle the mess that she made! Her crawilng into the chest and covering herself in yarn was spectacular. Julie Davis (FB)’s Margie and Cathy Diane Tomlin (⭐FB, FB)’s Paula were also strong, especially in their interactions with Miles and the monologues and reactions afterwards. 

Doug Haverty (⭐FB, FB)’s Bob came across as a generally nice and befuddled guy. For his role, one wonders how the perception of the story might shift with the casting. Haverty came across as a lovable schlub of an academic, but imagine if the role was played by someone buff, or with different characteristics. Would that have changed the audience perception of the relationship with Liz and Lily? In any case, Haverty played the role well.

This brings us to Todd Andrew Ball (FB)’s Miles. Sigh. Performance-wise, Ball captured the slime aspects of Miles well, and was convincing as the man to whom women were just a plaything, something to be bought with his money just like a fancy car or house, to be discarded when ultimately he got bored with them. Ball portrayed the character well; the problem was more that the writing of the character, while appropriate for when the play was written, was more jarring today.

Understudies were: Cynthia Bryant Paula U/S; Beccy Quinn (⭐FB) Margie U/S; Sandi Steinberg Gina U/S; and Sascha Vanderslik (⭐FBLiz U/S.

Turning to the production and creative side: The set design by Chris Winfield (FB) worked reasonably well, although for some reason three of the women in the knitting group had remarkably similar apartments :-). Seriously, establishing the sense of place was done well, and the appropriate prop knitting pieces worked well (although someone was doing a lot of visits to Jo-Anns and Michaels for the yarns, and they must have had fun both re-knitting and re-rolling pieces between each performance). Angela M. Eads (FB)’s costumes worked reasonably well, although there were times where Margie’s costumes were a bit puzzling. JC Gafford (FB)’s sound design generally worked well, and Douglas Gabrielle‘s lighting design established time and place well. Stage manager Ariana Fernandez had her hands full with all the yarn to corral between scenes, so kudos to her and her uncredited team. Other production credits: JC Gafford (FB) Asst. Director; Doug Haverty (⭐FB, FB) Graphic Design; Nora Feldman (FBPublic Relations; Doug Engalla Photography/Videography; Katelyn Ann Clark (FB) Producer for Group RepLoose Knit was original presented as a workshop production at the Long Wharf Theatre 1992-09-15 (Arvin Brown, Artistic Director; M. Edgar Rosenblum, Exec. Director), and had its world premiere production at the Second Stage Theatre 1993-06-21 (Carol Rothman, Artistic Director; Suzanne Schwartz Davidson, Producing Director).

Loose Knit continues at The Group Rep (FB) in North Hollywood through September 8, 2019. Tickets are available through the Group Rep online. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

I like to say that I’m a professional audience, and that’s why I like theatre. I don’t have the creativity in me to inhabit other characters, and in general, the writing I do is limited to non-fiction — government documents and policies, highway pages, and reviews like these. I don’t have the ability to take an idea and turn it into characters and stories that might be compelling to an audience. I’m also a long time cybersecurity professional, and attending years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival has convinced me that the medium of the stage could be used to teach about cybersecurity in a way that audiences could learn, without being overwhelmed with technology. The notion I have is to take some broad cybersecurity themes and concepts and translate them into stories that could teach in a compelling way. But I don’t have the expertise to build a story out of the idea. If this is something that might interest you, please let me know. I don’t have funds for a commission or anything like that, but it might be something we could turn into a property beneficial for all.

🎭

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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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 next couple of weeks are quiet, but August ends with a double feature: Mother Road and As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB).

Early September is also mostly open. Then things heat up, with the third weekend bringing Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend bringing Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musicalat the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB).

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with a hold for Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand OaksSomewhere in there we’ll also be fitting in Nottingham Festival and Thumbleweed Festival, if they are happening this year. Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

 

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🎭 Schadenfreude | “The Play That Goes Wrong” @ Ahmanson

The Play That Goes Wrong (Ahmanson)The musical Avenue Q gave a word to most Americans for a concept they knew well. It was a concept that drove almost all comedy, and certainly comedic farce. It wasn’t a comedy driven by jokes or puns, or almost anything that was said. It was schadenfreude, the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another.

Schadenfreude is at the heart of the final production of the Ahmanson Theatre (FB)’s 2018-2019 season: The Play That Goes Wrong, written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields as a Mischief Theatre production in London. Bottom line up front: this is the funniest thing I have seen on stage since the first time I saw Noises Off in the original West End production at the Savoy.

The premise of The Play That Goes Wrong is a simple one: an amateur British theatre company, the Cornley University Drama Society, has been afforded the honour through a British-American Cultural Exchange Program of presenting a play on tour in America: The Murder at Haversham Manor, written by Susie H.K. Brideswell. Unfortunately, during the production, everything that can go wrong during the production does. Miscues. Misplaced props. Non-cooperating sets. Bad actors. Technology issues. Trying to summarize the story is pointless — the story exists only to provide a framework for the mayhem, and the mayhem is so rapid-fire that trying to describe it is (a) impossible, and (b) would destroy the humor.

Suffice it to say that your fun starts before the show when the actors are out in the audience getting things set up, and continues until the end of the curtain call.

Pulling off a well-timed farce like this requires strong direction to get the movement and blocking right — one wrong move and actors could get seriously injured. Tour director Matt DiCarlo (FB) luckily gets this right, building on his experience as the Production Stage Manager for the original Broadway production, as well as the original Broadway direction by Mark Bell. DiCarlo has honed his acting ensemble to split-second precision, while making it look completely disorganized on stage. That’s actually a skill to have order behind the comedy chaos. He is aided by Nigel Hook‘s scenic design, which supports the actors by failing in a predictable and controlled way while making it looks like chaotic failure. It really is a remarkable design, and I feel sorry for the technicians that must reset it every night, and ensure that it survives the tour scathed only in predictable ways (one can’t call a set that fails unscathed).

Similarly, the acting ensemble manages to perform precise physical and stage comedy while appearing completely amateurish. That’s not to say bad. This is ostensibly an amateur theatre company, so the first part of the acting is to make yourself look unskilled. It’s like a wonderfully talented singer intentionally singing bad without making it look intentional, which is really hard work. This company does that in a believable fashion, while precisely hitting their marks and being their to make their other company members look good. Or is that bad. With this play, you never know.

The company consisted of the following talented performers: Brandon J. Ellis (FB) Trevor Watson – Lighting and Sound Operator; Evan Alexander Smith (FB) Chris Bean – Inspector Carter & Director; Yaegel T. Welch (FB) Jonathan Harris – Charles Haversham; Peyton Crim (FB) Robert Grove – Thomas Colleymoore; Scott Cote (FB) Dennis Tyde – Perkins; Jamie Ann Romero (FB) Sandra Wilkinson – Florence Colleymoore; Ned Noyes (FB) Max Bennett – Cecil Haversham; and Angela Grovey (FB) Annie Twilloil – Stage Manager.  I’d like to highlight a few of these performances.

Ned Noyes was hilarious with his playfulness and recognition that the audience was there, dropping in and out of character to just have loads of fun. Evan Smith was similar — he kept trying to keep controlled while everything was collapsing around him, and his pleading to the audience not to laugh was just remarkable. Both of the technicians — Angelea Grovey and Brandon Ellis were hilarious both before the show, and after they got drafted to be on stage. In general, the comic playfulness was high and that joy came across to the audience.

Understudies were: Blair Baker (FB), Jacqueline Jarrold (FB), Sid Solomon (FB), and Michael Thatcher (FB). I’ll note Sid Solomon is an AEA council member who was active in the Pro99 discussions. I hope he’s had the time to see and visit the LA theatre scene while the tour has been in Los Angeles.

Turning to the production side: I’ve already mentioned the great scenic design of Nigel Hook; I’ll note there’s a great discussion of this on CTGs 30 to Curtain podcast, in an interview with Kevin McCollum, one of the producers. Credit should also go to Bay Scenery Ltd UK, which built the scenery. Roberto Surace (FB)’s costume design was believable for the nature of the show, and had the right level of playfulness. Ric Mountjoy‘s lighting design was well executed in support of the mayhem, and for the most part, Andrew Johnson‘s sound design was clear and crisp, with good sound effects (there were a few points of muddled sound). Especially for this show, the contributions of Michael Thatcher (FBFight Captain; Blair Baker (FBAsst. Stage Manager; Sharika Niles (FBStage Manager; and Jeff Norman Production Stage Manager deserve acknowledgment, as they are integral to making the mayhem happen precisely and without injury. Rounding out the production credits: Stephen Kopel CSA US Casting; Allied Touring Tour Marketing and Press; The Booking Group Tour Booking; David Benken Production Manager; Jose Solivan Company Manager; Bespoke Theatricals General Management. Producers include Kevin McCollum, J. J. Abrams, and Ken Davenport.

The Play That Goes Wrong continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through August 11, 2019. Go see it, it is hilarious. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar and TodayTix.

This is our last show as subscribers to the Ahmanson 2018-2019 Season. Over all the shows across CTG’s three theatres in 2019-2020, there were only three of interest. We didn’t renew our subscription; we’re buying single tickets instead.

🎭

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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (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 week brings Loose Knit at Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB). August ends with Mother Road and As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB). In between those points, August is mostly open.

Early September is also mostly open. Then things heat up, with the third weekend bringing Barnum at Musical Theatre Guild (FB), and the fourth weekend bringing Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). We start getting busy in October, starting with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings Anastasia – The Musicalat the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend brings us back to the Kavli for The Music Man at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB).

Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at  Actors Co-op (FB). The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB).  November concludes with a hold for Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand OaksSomewhere in there we’ll also be fitting in Nottingham Festival and Thumbleweed Festival, if they are happening this year. Yes, there are a lot of open dates in there, but I expect that they will fill in as time goes on.

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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🏕 It’s the Same, Only Different

Last night, I went to the Alumni Shabbat at Gindling Hilltop Camp. Actually, to be precise, I want to Gindling Hilltop Camp (Channel Islands), as opposed to (Malibu). It was very much the same thing, only different. As, except for one or two readers, you weren’t there, I’d like to share a few observations and gleanings.

As background: The distinction between (Malibu) and (Channel Islands) was driven by a singularity, a point in time that changed some things but not others. The physical facilities that comprised the camps I grew up at are (for the most part) only in memory now, thanks to the Woosley Fire in Malibu, and the subsequent mudslides that destroyed them. But the camp itself is still there: both in the land that is resting and recharging, and the people that have committed to keeping the ruach (spirit), energy, values, and feeling alive. What the people are creating isn’t just a keepsake flame; it is camp at a new venue, the beautiful facilities of Cal State Channel Islands near Camarillo, CA. I was curious, as I drove out to the campus, as to how this would all work.

Camp @ Channel Islands

For the summer of 2019, and hopefully the summers of 2020 and probably 2021, Wilshire Blvd Temple has rented a goodly portion of the southern section of CSU Channel Islands. For WBTC, this has provided the camps a respite home. On the other side of the equation, it has provided CSUCI a windfall in terms of a large rental tenant at a time when the campus is historically under used, a tenant that has improved some areas of the young campus (as a college campus) making it better for the student population in the short term future. In doing this, the model has been the temporary relocation of URJ Camp Newman to CSU Maritime Institute after the Santa Rosa Tubbs Fire, now in its second year while they rebuild the Porter Creek Campus. I think those of us who that have been to Channel Islands hope this summer established a strong relationship between WBTC and CSUCI that will last over the rebuilding years.

You might be wondering how the two camps, one facility, works. I would best describe it as a virtual LAN (VLAN) or a virtual machine: two distinct entities sharing a single physical medium. The camps are of distinctly different size (350 for CHK, 180 for GHC), with different staffs, except for some shared specialists. Times are staggered, so that while one camp is in one part of campus, the other camp is in a different part of campus. There are different dinner seatings, different service seating. But the shared facility allows distinct time for the two camps to come together and form One Camp.

Touring the new facilities, I learned there was a conscious effort to bring pieces of Malibu to Channel Islands. The benches in the chapel are from the CHK chapel; the bima and arks are the ones that survived the fire at both camps. There are benches in “the Zone” from the overlook at Hilltop. The art supplies were rescued from Omanut (Arts and Crafts) at Hilltop, IIRC the poles supporting the shade tenting in the zone came from Kramer. The prayerbooks are from both camps, and contain the pictures and memories of what was. These little pieces provide the conduit from the old to the new, a pathway and connection so that the old energy can continue to flow.

But Channel Islands is a new space, and the Camps have had to invest significantly to transform portions of campus into camp. If you look at the map of the the Camarillo campus, camp has taken over the southern end. The “cabins” are the space marked SRV (Santa Rosa Village), and the quad between LIN (Lindora) Hall and the future Madera Hall (not labeled) is the chapel. The open space between the existing SRV (opened in Fall 2016) and LIN/Madera is “The Zone”, which was a gravel-covered empty space when the camp leased the facilities. The camp has improved the space with grass and wood chips, erecting a shade structure held up by poles from the old ropes course, together with an Israeli dance space (removable sports floor), a volleyball court, a ga-ga pit, benches, and other improvements. The camp has also made improvements in the area shown as Portraro Fields, where a removable climbing structure and ropes course has been built.

Other space used by the camp  include recreational student space such as lounges in SRV, the campus dining facility at ISL (Islands), the ability to use the quad in front of the biology building ALI for Shabbat dancing, improved gymnasium facilities and such. This has allowed for electives (excuse me, chugs) not seen at camp before: cooking, mountain biking, gardening, and such. The new beach facilities in Ventura allow access to the Channel Islands Ranger Station, creating new opportunities for interaction with nature education. Sandy Strauss would be proud.

The cabin facilities are also a step up from Malibu: Utilizing the new residence halls, each “cabin” consists of four rooms: two for camps with four campers each, a room with the counselors, and a “clubhouse” chill space. The mattresses are thicker, and they even have mini-fridges. I was discussing with a staff member how different things were from when camp first started in the 1950s. Back then, had this happened, camp would be on the original ground space, with “roughing it” tents, trucked-in porta-potties and showers, and rudamentary outdoor cooking facilities while the campers worked to rebuild. In today’s camp environment, roughing it is thicker mattresses and mini-fridges. Times change. I’ll note that both camps share the dorm space, with Hilltop on the top floors because … well the camp is Hilltop, duh. Counselors have access to the elevators, but campers get the stairs.

Access is an interesting concern, especially for parents of young one concerned about camp sharing space with an active college campus with other tenants. From this older camper’s eyes, security is actually stronger at CSUCI. At Malibu, security was very much physical isolation. At Channel Islands, buildings tend to be locked, with counselors needing key cards and PINs to access. This means that campers are escorted to locations, with an adult always present. There is both camp security personnel and campus police. All camp personnel have identifying wristbands worn at all times; they question folks in camp areas without wristbands. An on-campus police presence means that emergency response is actually much closer. There is also increased use of technology to stay in communication with staff. There’s also not strong outside advertisement of the nature of the camps. All of this is important in these heightened times of security concern. As I noted, you feel safe on campus.

As I’ll discuss in a minute, rebuilding Malibu will take years. Until then, each summer, WBTC will move and rebuild (as necessary) the current rental facility, do the summer, and wipe the slate back to what it was, leasing other facilities for programs through the year. A key question is whether CSUCI will want the relationship with the camps to continue. After all, CSU Maritime held Camp Newman to two years; they must be back at Porter Creek in 2020. My gut tells me they will. Reading the 2007 campus master plan, the 2014 CSUCI 2025 Vision Plan and accompanying slide show, and the overview thereto, it is clear the campus has ambitious plans to expand within their limited footprint. The overview notes: “To support this development, the next major capital expansion phase must be launched to adequately support the programmatic and operational needs of the campus by 2025. With the expectation that very little to no State capital funds will be authorized for new construction over the next decade, the campus must explore alternatives to support critical capital expansion. A comprehensive capital development strategy is therefore critical to allow CI to adequately meet its educational mission over the next decade.” as well as wanting “a concept plan that may potentially include engaging external partners to leverage resources in new and innovative ways to benefit both the University and the CSU.” The windfall from WBTC renting the space could be one of those external partner interactions that benefit future growth. The camps can provide temporary improvements to make that space better for the school-year student population; the space of “The Zone” and possibly the SH2 parking facility seem slated to become the San Miguel Village in the mid-term timeframe (which in 2014 was predicted to be now, but looks more likely to be the 2022-2024 timeframe). This might also impact the 1934 courthouse building (Madera Hall), currently vacant, at the south end of the chapel, which at one time was scheduled to be remodeled, but is also rumored to be scheduled for demolition.

But that’s enough of the digression from this amateur historian. I think that overall, Camp at Channel Islands was, well, camp. Kids are resilient, and it is the people and the programs that make camp special. The basic structure of the programs remained, the activities remained the same, and most importantly, the staff gives the same enthusiasm and love to the campers, imbuing them with the same spirit as always.

To this old timer, especially one steeped in camp history and lore, it isn’t quite the same pioneer spirit. The first two years of its existence, camp was in rental spaces that they remade as temporary JEWISH spaced. The menorah in the background at the CHK chapel dated from the 1951 camp — it was built by campers and trucked to CHK. Campers lived in rudimentary camping spaces, as was done in the 1950s. Even in the first days of Hilltop, campers roughed it, clearing brush, being trucked for showers. That’s romantic history, but one not allowed by today’s legal and safety landscape, nor one likely to be tolerated by today’s parents. What WBT has created at Channel Islands is a truly remarkable bubble: moving the spirit of Malibu to a temporary facility. I will note that campers this year built a replica of the camp’s iconic menorah. It is movable, and perhaps one day will grace the chapel at the rebuilt CHK.

In terms of the alumni night itself: we had about 20 people there for Hilltop, including two friends from my days at camp (1969-1979). There were about 100 attending for CHK, from what I understand. That mirrored the attendance of campers: Hilltop was a younger session right now, and those have been undersubscribed this summer, especially by the girls. Kramer was an older kid session, and those have had strong attendance. In talking with staff, we surmised it might have been concerns about younger kids on a college campus, or not having the same camp feeling. From what I saw, neither should be a concern, and hopefully parents will bring their kids back next year. I understand that Newman By The Bay had a similar problem their first year of temporary relocation.

But What of Camp in Malibu?

For this old-timer, that was a key question of mine. I had been thinking before the Shabbat of how the land in Malibu must feel, devoid of the spirit of children that it had felt for almost 70 years. It must be quite lonely. Here’s what I learned.

After the fires, almost all of the buildings were destroyed. To my understanding, what was left at Kramer was the “new” Dining Hall, the conference center behind it, and the infirmary/office structure. The pool and amphitheater remained, but no buildings. The Piness bathrooms at the top of the hill in the boys cabin area, and one girls cabin. Most of what survived was actually already scheduled to be demolished before the fire as part of a central camp remodeling that was nearly funded, as the “new” Dining Hall was already outgrown, and the other buildings were showing their ages. At Hilltop, much of the Omanut / Pool / Roth / Lookout structure survived, although one fence burned and the pool equipment exploded. At both camp, benches and a few items in the chapels survived.

The fires of November may have destroyed buildings, but the floods of the subsequent winter reshaped the land. At CHK, portions of Yerba Buena and the cliffs below flowed into chapel; the CHK benches were rescued for the Channel Islands Chapel. The creek was rerouted, taking out what had been the Nature area. Areas were covered in mud and debris fields. Embankments molding the creek were washed away. It sounds like the most significant mud damage was at CHK; I haven’t heard of significant mud flows at GHC — most importantly and surprisingly, the road to Hilltop survived unscathed.

I asked if there was drone footage or images for those of us that want to see. WBTC has them, but is controlling the story as the events were extremely traumatic to many children and adults. Although there are some of us detached enough to handle them, the camp staff’s job is to protect people and rebuild carefully. I can appreciate that care and concern.

I learned that campers from the older leadership sessions visited Malibu briefly this summer. They weren’t there to rebuild at this time, but more to celebrate survival. I heard of story of dancing on the plaza at Hilltop, with the campers providing the music with their voices. I’m sure the spirit of the land appreciated the joy, and it helped the land recover.

Given this, recovery will be a long process — I’d guess Malibu won’t be back until at least 2022. There will be rethinking about how to rebuild smartly  — both for fire resistance, the new size of camp from when it was originally built, and how to make the hodgepodge that was there into something purpose-built to serve the community. I’d imagine deep consideration on thinking the flow through camp to keep it safe in the future from fire and flood. Plus all this work must go through the California Coastal Commission, an entity that did not exist when the primary structures of camp were first built. What we can do until then is support the camp with our spirit in alumni groups, donations to camp recovery, and spreading the word that #KramerNeverStops and #HilltopNeverStops, and that folks should send their kids to camp at Channel Islands.

There also seems to be collection of camp history online. I learned of a site, One Camps, that has collected music and history and cheers and all sorts of stuff; I plan to explore it further.

Cal State Channel Islands

This was my first time visiting the campus, although I have a cousin that is a Computer Science student there (at least I think he’s still attending there). I found it to be a beautiful campus. Most of the new buildings have been constructed in the style of the 1930-1940 hospital buildings, and the only way to tell them apart is the depth of the windows. I took time to drive around most of the space. I think there ground footprint is larger than CSUN. There appear to be some buildings are are still unused — possibly due to their historical usage, asbestos remediation, or design in relationship to campus needs. Most of the older buildings appears to be on the southern portion of campus.

In researching online, I saw a few stories on the history of the facility that became CSUCI, with accordant rumors therewith. As I scientist, I know those rumors are bunk. As a historical romantic, I can’t help but think that any negative spirits that might have remained at the transition back in 1998 have been balanced and negated by the joy of learning that occurs in the halls of CI, and the happiness of children and the good times and good memories being created. Knowledge is light, and light always dispels darkness.

 

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