🎭 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.

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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.

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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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🗳 Some Thoughts after the Second Democratic Debate

Some post debate thoughts. The bottom and more important factor in all of this is that any of the Democratic candidates is a better choice than Trump. So given that, it boils down to the question of who can bring the fight to him, and who is closest to my positions. The former is much more important than the latter.

Favorites

Booker. I really liked how he presented himself, and how he built his arguments and his energy. In general, I liked his positions. I think he could be a great contrast to Trump, and could energize the minority voters and the youth.

Harris. She was a bit slower to get started, but she brought good energy and could really take apart Trump in a debate. Plus her very nature will infuriate him — which is a good thing, because he makes mistakes when infuriated. She has some troubling criminal justice positions which could hurt her in some sectors, but is it enough to make those people stay at home or vote Trump. She needs to make the case that whatever her flaws, she’s better than Trump.

Warren. If you like Bernie, go for Warren. She brings a strong case and energy to battle Trump, and knows her stuff. She also gets under her skin, and the ONLY thing he has against her is the whole Native American kerfluffle — which is really minor in the scheme of things, and he’s misrepresented himself much worse. My only concern with her is her age.

Others of Interest

Buttigieg … Mayor Pete. I like his ideas and his energy, but he may come across as too young. He could make a great VP candidate.

Klobuchar … Amy. I like her ideas and midwestern values, which could speak to a lot of voters. But she often too a moment to get started, and she’s getting a bit one note on the claim of having never lost anything.

O’Rourke. He came off better in the second debate, but I don’t think he would be able to out maneuver Trump, even with his ideas.

Castro. Has some good ideas, but he hasn’t struck me yet has having the fire to beat Trump.

Has Beens

Biden. Joe, joe, joe. Much as he has the momentum, I think he’s too old. He’s befuddled in his answers, and that’s bad. More important, he has a long long history that can and will be used against him, and he simply refuses to accept it. What he needs to do is admit his past errors, indicate that he’s learned more and wised up, and has changed his mind. But he simply does not have the ability to do this, and tries to dance around the issue — and that dancing will do him in. Trump would love to have Biden, because then he can run against Obama.

Bernie. Bernie worries me in so many ways. He comes across as very one-note. He does not make clear that he will back and strongly work for the eventual nominee. His people give the indication that it is Bernie or bust, and that will lose us the election. He also has problematic past position. Trump would love it to be Bernie because that will energize his base and his turnout. That’s a bad thing.

Also Rans

Jay Inslee. Make him Secretary of Energy.

Gabbard. Somethings up with her. I’m reading things about connections to the Saudis and the Russians, and I’m getting the gut feeling that her campaign is being used to sabotage campaigns of candidates that that Russians are really scared of. It makes me want to support Harris even more, if the Russians are scared of her.

Gillibrand. She kept coming across as a deer in the headlights, waiting for the speech to load from the external drive.

Delany. Every time I see him, I think of John Fiedler, the bald guy on the Bob Newhart show.

Yang. Very one note with his guaranteed income.

None of the rest strike me as having the necessary fire to beat Trump — they are much more of the same we have every year.

 

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🛣️ Headlines about California Highways – July 2019

Ah, July. The middle of the year. The month started with Caltrans redesigning all their websites in response to AB 434, which required all state websites to be accessible. In doing so, a number of resources went permanently or temporarily unavailable. I was in the middle of a highway page update when this happened, so this made life fun. I will repeat the offer I made to Caltrans and the CTC then: If you have resources you can no longer make available due to AB 434, I will be glad to either host them here or help find a roadgeek website to host them, as roadgeek websites are not subject to AB 434. Of course, modulo the updates, I’ve been collecting headlines. Items marked with ✔ have already been incorporated into the highway page updates; 💲 indicates an annoying paywall may be in place (I don’t mark the LA Times, as I subscribe to the LA Times):

  • Actions taken by the Metro Board of Directors at their June meeting. Includes an update on projects connected to Measure R, as well as certification of the Final Environmental Impact for the Link Union Station project.
  • 💲 New Embarcadero Bridge over Lake Merritt channel finally opens. Two and a half years late, the replacement of Oakland’s Embarcadero bridge over the Lake Merritt Channel — linking Jack London Square and Brooklyn Basin — finally opened this week. Because the old bridge was seismically unsafe, the city opted to demolish it in 2015. An 18-foot wider, 6-foot taller bridge was built in its place. The new bridge features a 5-foot sidewalk on one side and a 12-foot sidewalk on the other side, as well as bike lanes on either side of the two-lane road. The bridge is part of the San Francisco Bay Trail — a 500-mile walking and cycling path in the works around the entire San Francisco Bay. Oakland Department of Transportation director Ryan Russo, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the bridge Friday, touted the new bridge as complementing the housing development at Jack London Square and the 3,100-unit Brooklyn Basin complex — one phase of which will open later this summer.
  • San Rafael offramp project cost surges by $4.3M. The cost to replace an aging Highway 101 offramp that crosses San Rafael Creek went up by $4.3 million following issues with construction bidding, according to the California Department of Transportation. Caltrans plans to re-advertise the construction contract, delaying to 2020 the project that was supposed to begin construction this summer.
  • ✔ 💲 City blames poor Caltrans maintenance for CarMax fire, issues emergency resolution. A fire that burned 86 vehicles in a CarMax lot has sparked frustration among local leaders, who say the damage could have been prevented if Caltrans had better maintained the median where the fire began. The Bakersfield Fire Department has determined that the conditions of the grass and brush along Highway 99, where the fire began, allowed the fire to spread rapidly across the median, and eventually caused $2.1 million in damage to vehicles in the lot last week.
  • ✔ 💲 Carbon Canyon truck ban in the hands of Caltrans. Chino Hills and Brea have each adopted resolutions requesting Caltrans to ban large truck traffic from using Carbon Canyon Road. The cities submitted the resolutions to Caltrans June 19. State Route 142 extends from Chino Hills Parkway in Chino Hills to Valencia Avenue in Brea and is in the jurisdiction of Caltrans 8 and Caltrans 12.

Read More …

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🎭 Skin Color Battles Are Nothing New | “West Side Story” @ 5-Star

West Side Story (5-Star Theatricals)Most people know the musical West Side Story. Most people think they’ve seen the musical West Side Story, but when pressed, what they mean is that they’ve seen the movie version of the musical. That movie made some changes in the stage version, and is strongly rooted in the era in which it was filmed (it is being remade this year). But neither are the stage show. When did you last see the original?

For me, the answer was 15 years ago, almost to the weekend, in a production at what was then Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks (my wife had the (mis)fortune of seeing the bilingual tour version at the Pantages in December 2010).  I say “was”, because last night both of us were at Cabrillo, since renamed 5 Star Theatricals (FB), for their new production of West Side Story. Bottom Line Up Front: This is a very good production, well-cast and well performed. The dancing could use a bit more sharpness, but given it only runs two weekends and had limited rehearsal, that’s a minor quibble.

On the odd chance that anyone is unfamiliar with West Side Story, it is essentially Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet reworked an transported to New York in the 1950s. Warring families have become warring gangs, and the battle has become a racial one: whites vs. hispanics, white Americans vs. “immigrants” (in quotes, because white America conveniently forgets PR is part of America). There are still star crossed lovers, and the story ends in tragedy. The story was based on a conception of Jerome Robbins, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondhim (with some translations, uncredited, by Lin-Manuel Miranda). The original production was entirely directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. You can read the story of the show’s creation on Wikipedia or on the WRTI page.

Over on the Guide to Musical Theatre, I found this concise synopsis. There’s a much more detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page.

Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and set in the urban slums of New York, the show used, as its modern equivalents for the Montagues and Capulets the juvenile gangs of local whites (the Jets) and immigrant Puerto Ricans (the Sharks). The did battle with childish seriousness over the streets that they claim as their territory. The Jets, boastful and contemptuous of the immigrants, call on Tony, who used to be their leader but now has a regular job and is on his way to adulthood, to help their new leader Riff and the gang in a challenge to the Sharks. Riff reminds Tony of his old allegiance and of how menacing are the newcomers. Tony reluctantly agrees reluctantly but soon becomes excited with the thrill of potential combat.

Meanwhile, in a bridal shop Anita, the sweetheart of the Shark’s leader, Bernado, is converting Maria’s communion dress into a gown for the dance that evening. Maria is Bernardo’s sister. He has brought her from Puerto Rico hoping that she will marry his best friend, Chino.

At the dance Riff challenges Bernado and the groups agree to do battle. Tony and Maria have seen each other and fall in love, instantly and become oblivious to the menace that is building up around them.

Most of the Puerto Ricans are nervously elated over the coming conflict but they are confident and determined to assimilate into the American way despite the homesickness that some of them feel. The threatening groups are dispersed by a policeman but the separation is only temporary. What could have just been a game of muscle flexing turns to tragedy when Bernado provokes a knife-fight which results in Riff being killed. Bernado is murdered in turn by the avenging Tony. He flees to the home of Maria who has been told of the news of her brother’s death by Chino. Her love for Tony overcomes her hatred for her brother’s killer. Tony promises to take her away and in a dream ballet sequence the battle is re-enacted but this time the lovers are not allowed to meet. The dream turns into a nightmare but Tony and Maria flee.

The gangs meanwhile are concerned with their inevitable encounter with the law and mockingly imagine how they will deal with the situation in the number “Gee, Officer Krupke”. Anita taunts Maria for remaining faithful to Tony but nonetheless agrees to deliver Maria’s message for Tony to the Jets. Unfortunately the Jets threaten to abuse and rape her that she is driven to claim that Chino has shot and killed Maria. Hearing this, angry and wild with grief Tony goes after Chino, but Chino coolly shoots him just as Tony discovers that Maria is not dead after all. Somewhat ashamed, the Jets and the Sharks between them remove Tony’s body as Maria follows them.

As the production ended, one thought came to mind: How different this was from last weekend’s similar tragedy. Think about the compare and contrast with Miss Saigon, for it says a lot about why one production has become timeless, and one increasingly problematic. Both are stories ultimately based on classic theatre written by white men about cultures they didn’t know personally (Puccini about Japan, Shakespeare about Italy). Both were adapted into a story about cultural clash. Both end in tragedy, in the death of a key figure propelling the story, leaving the loved ones left behind to pick up the pieces after the show ends.

But whereas Miss Saigon is a problematic adaptation, portraying no heroism or honor in the Vietnamese except for the lead heroine, West Side Story does not draw a caricature of the Puerto Rican culture. They are shown with loving families, as people who care about each other, who care about the country, and who just want their chance at the American way. The only racist sentiment (other than the inherent gang racism, of course) is from the Police, who express a racist attitude of anyone not white or lower class. But that, unfortunately, is something that is still present today. Just ask any hispanic or black family if they get fair treatment from some police departments.

Miss Saigon tells a story that in increasingly dated and stereotypical, but with beautiful music, dance, and stagecraft. West Side Story,  on the other hand, tells a story that is a timeless star-crossed lover story, set in an environment of racial fashions that alas is still far too prevalent today. Perhaps one day the racial and ethnic divisions that make West Side Story work will go away, and that aspect of the story will also seem dated. Hopefully one day.

The production used the modified 2009 version of the script. This was the version that replaced some of the songs sung by Puerto-Rican characters with Spanish lyrics, although by the time the tour settled down and the script was finalized for MTI, the only Spanish lyrics left was the sequence of the Sharks in “Tonight”. There were some relics in a bit of Spanish dialogue at points in the story.

The director, Larry Raben (FB), made some interesting directorial choices in the show. For Doc, the owner of the store where Tony works, he cast an African American. This emphasized without words the separation of that character from the battles around him, and made his attempts to stop the violence even more poignant.  He also presented the dream ballet sequence using a youth ensemble. This highlighted the innocence of the internal conceptions of the characters from the hard exteriors we saw on stage. There were some problems in the execution of the sequence, but the idea itself was an interesting choice. Raben also did a great job of working with the actors to bring out the characters as distinct.

As always with 5-Star/Cabrillo, the performances were strong. 5-Star uses a mix of AEA-talent (æ) (some established, some upcoming) in a few select lead positions, and the top local talent and upcoming local talent in smaller positions. I always like to point out that Katharine McPhee got her start on the Cabrillo boards, many years ago as the lead in Annie Get Your Gun.  It is a key training ground for talent.

In the lead positions were Brandon Keith Rogers (FB) (æ) Tony and Giselle Torres (⭐FB) Maria. Both gave very strong performances, and the chemistry between the two was believable. Rogers had a higher voice that I remembered for the Tony role, but it worked quite well and was lovely in all the songs. Torres got even higher notes, but handled them with aplomb. They were great.

Turning to the rest of the Jets: Aleks Pevec (FB) (æ) Riff, the Gang Leader; Doug Penikas (FBAction; Nic Olsen (FBA-Rab; Chet Norment (FBBaby John; Daniel Brackett (FBBig Deal; Brock Markham (FBDieseland Antonia Vivino (FBAnybodys. Pevec was strong as Riff, with a great stage presence and a nice singing voice. Most of the other guys blended into the background in the numbers, with Penikas and Markham as standouts in their characterizations. All the guys got to shine in the difference characterizations they get in “Officer Krupkie”. I emphasize the word “guys”, because as the one non-guy, Vivino’s Anybodys was always a standout, bringing a fun playful energy to her role. Although not explicitly credited, she was also the lead vocal for the dream Maria in “Somewhere”, bringing a lovely voice to the song (and outshining in vocal quality the dream Tony). Note that Vivino has a new album out with her sisters Natalia and Donna called DNA, available on CDBaby and Amazon. I happened to pick up a copy of the album yesterday because I remember Natalia from other Cabrillo productions, and although I’ve only listened to a few songs to date, it is beautiful.

The Jet girls (other than Anybodys) have smaller more backgroundish roles, and although they have character names, their characters come across as less distinct to the audience. The Jet girls were: Tara Carbone (⭐FB, FB) Graziella; Elizabeth Sheck (FB) Velma; Alley Kerr (⭐FB, FB) Minnie; Carly Haig (FB) Clarice; Lindsey Wells (FB) Clarice; and Laura Aronoff (⭐FB, FB) Suzy.

This brings us to the rival gang, the Sharks. In the lead positions for the Sharks were Patrick Ortiz (FB) (æ) Bernardo, the leader; Lauren Louis (FB) Anita, Bernardo’s Girl; and John Paul Batista (FB) Chino. Ortiz was very strong as Bernardo, with a strong stage presence and great singing and dancing voice. Louis got to shine as Anita, especially in “America” where she gets to be very playful. Batista also had a good stage presence, but didn’t get to shine until the closing scenes. Rounding out the gang were James Everts (⭐FB, FB) Pepe; Jared Cardiel (FB) Indio; Lyndon Apostol (FB) Luis; Joah Ditto (FB) Anxious; and Antony Sanchez (æ) Nibbles.

The other Shark girls, who get to shine in both “America” and “I Feel Pretty”, are: Taleen Shrikian (FBRosalia; Cheyenne Omani (FB) Consuela; Sophie Shapiro (FB) Teresita; Veronica Gutierrez (FB) Francisca; Arianna White (FB) Estrella and Erin Gonzalez (FB) Margarita.

The few adults in the show have much smaller roles: Ivan Thompson Doc; Skip Pipo (FBSchrank, Glad Hand; and Rich Grosso (⭐FB, FB) Krupke. Notable among these was Thompson’s Doc, who I mentioned previously. Note also that Pipo is a REP alumni, having been in multiple REP shows. REP memories are fading, and so REP alumni and season ticket holders need to stick together.

Rounding out the cast was the youth ensemble, who we only see during the dream sequence. The ensemble is primarily a dance ensemble, although one gets to sing a lead a dream Tony (and was a little shakey). Dance-wise they were reasonably good overall; and remarkably good given their age. The ensemble consisted of: Anabel Alexander; Brando de la Rosa; Natalie de la Rosa; Emma Driscoll; Iyana Hannans; Callie Kiefer; Mikayla Kiefer; Daniel Peters; Luke Pryor; Drew Rosen; Sawyer Sublette; and Emily Tatoosi (⭐FB).

This brings us to the dance and stage movement, under the direction of choreographer Karl Warden (FB) and dance captain Veronica Gutierrez (FB). This is, at its heart, a dance show. The dancing in the show was good, but at times, the sharp precision the music leads one to expect just wasn’t there. It was close, and most of the audience didn’t perhaps notice it. But I’m used to movement in drum corps, where all the rifles come down with a singular snap. The Bernstein movement requires that precision, and in quite a few numbers it wasn’t there. This isn’t a major flaw, as this is a show with limited performances and limited rehearsals, and that precision take work to build. Hopefully, they can get a bit closer in the second weekend. This was particularly notable during “Somewhere”, as the kids ensemble just doesn’t have the strength at their age to pull off the strength and power the dream ballet requires. They come close, and are beautiful, but at are about 90%. On the other hand, the fight choreography, presumably under the fight captains Lyndon Apostol (FB) and James Everts (⭐FB, FB), was spectacular, creating believable and menacing fight sequences. Well done, well done.

The pit orchestra was under the musical direction of Jeff Rizzo (FB), who served as conductor. The orchestra consisted of: Ian Dahlberg (FB) Flute, Piccolo, Alto Sax, Clarinet; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) Clarinet, Alto Sax, E-flat Clarinet; Bill Wilson Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone;   Matt Germaine (FB) Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Flute, Baritone Saxophone; John Nunez (FB) Bassoon;  Melissa Hendrickson (FB) Horn; Bill Barrett (FB) Trumpet 1; Chris Maurer (FBTrumpet 2; Nathan Stearns Trombone; Sharon Cooper Violin 1 (Concertmaster); Sally Berman Violin 2; Judy Garf (FB) Violin 3; Stephen Green Cello; Jennifer Oikawa Keyboard Synthesizer; Lance Conrad-Marut GuitarShane Harry (FB) Double String Bass; Chris Kimbler Piano, Celeste; Steve Pemberton Drums; and Tyler Smith (FB) Percussion. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC. The orchestra had a great sounds and was a joy to listen to.

Lastly, the remainder of the production and creative team. There is no credit for scenic design, although the program notes that the set and scenery were provided by The Music and Theatre Company LLC, with costumes provided in party by the Maine State Music Theatre. Other costumes were designed by Kathryn Poppen, with hair and wig design by Jessica Mills (FB) and prop design by Alex Choate (FB).   Jose Santiago (FB)’s lighting design worked well in establishing time and mood; I particularly noted it during “One Hand, One Heart” where there was just a beautiful background color.  Jonathan Burke (FB)’s sound design was good, as always. Rounding out the production credits: Talia Krispel (FB) Production Stage Manager; Jack Allaway (FB) Technical Director; David Elzer/Demand PR Publicity; Fresh Interactive (FB) Marketing; Patrick Cassidy (FB) Artistic Director. Originally produced on Broadway by Robert E. Griffith and Harold S. Prince, by Arrangement with Roger L. Stevens.

West Side Story has one more performance this weekend, and a number next weekend. For more information and tickets, visit the 5-Star Site. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

🎭

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 Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], 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:

August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). That’s followed by 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 Musical at 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 Oaks. Somewhere 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 A Strange New Streaming World

I’m an old(-fashioned) guy. I grew up in the world of a limited number of TV channels (2,4,5,7,9,11,13 plus a few UHF). I remember the early days of cable with Theta, the Goddess of Television, in West LA. I remember the first outings with Adelpha, and then DirecTV in the valley, and I’ve been a DirecTV customer for at least 15-18 years now. I had heard about streaming, but had never really played with it as (a) my computer wasn’t connected to my TV, and (b) I didn’t have an HDTV until recently. But with the recent pissing match between AT&T/DirecTV and CBS, I wanted to explore ways to get local channels, so I went out and bought a Roku Streaming Stick+ to connect to one of the other HDMI slots on my TV. This post is intended to capture my observations from playing around with the Roku stick and what seems to be out there. I’m not paying for any additional streaming channels yet.

First, there seems to be a different approaches to streaming, perhaps generational. Our TV watching style is either watching something we recorded on the DVR, or just seeing what’s on. Streaming seems to be great for the former, and “on-demand” seems to be equivalent to the DVR: watch it when you want. That’s great for “appointment TV”: going to the tube to watch something in particular. But for “what’s on”, streaming seems to … suck. If you’re not looking for a particular show, figuring out what is it out there across all the different services is hard. There’s also no equivalent to a DVR for a live stream — it isn’t even like the VCR days when you could schedule something to record, as there is no easy way to tune. There’s no VCR Plus for Streaming. It is really a different paradigm.

Then there’s my theory that you don’t save much by streaming. Especially if you want live channels, you’re needing to pay for the Internet, some live channel package subscription (typically about $50 a month), and then the premiums you want (at $6 to $20 a pop). Your total, although it will be divided across services so you don’t see it, will be around the same as the bundled packages.  One article I read said it best:

There’s more streamable content now than ever and even more ways to consume it; these days, we’re drowning in choices. Even so, streaming all that stuff looks a little different in practice, namely because signing up for a bunch of services can get expensive — fast. Besides, if you subscribe to more than, say, two services, it’s overwhelming to cycle through their various offerings to find something you want to watch. Having too many choices is exhausting.

Because of the convoluted nature of licensing agreements and the vagaries of corporate competition, what’s on Netflix is substantively different than what’s available on Hulu or Amazon Prime. Different still are the network-specific streamers, like the up-and-comers HBO Max and Disney+, and the more niche offerings, like Shudder, Kanopy, Mubi, and Criterion. All of them have the same aim, which is to lock up intellectual property to keep people streaming. It’s a lot!

And of course, for most of the services, any interesting content is behind a paywall, after a “free trial” period. So as the intellectual content divides across the providers (Disney, HBO, CBS, etc.), the best shows will go behind the paywall with the exclusives, leaving the free services with the shit. Each service will be out there wanting their small fee in perpetuity, but you’ll be paying so many small fees you’ll never add up the total. What this will lead people to is the model of:  subscribe, binge watch the shows you want, then cancel. Perhaps you’ll have a live package to augment things.

That’s likely the model we’ll take. Here are the channels we may explore and the reasons why. If there are other shows we should consider, let us know. Note: I’m not interested in shows I can find elsewhere on DirecTV, HBO, or Showtime (we currently have Choice Xtra Classic on DirecTV, which includes Boomerang, Chiller, and Paramount on top of Choice Xtra, plus HBO and SHO):

  • CBS All Access: Star Trek: Discovery, Picard, Below Decks, Short Treks;  Strange Angel; Good Fight.
  • Hulu: The Orville, Shrill, Catch 22, The Handmaids Tail. See also this list.
  • Netflix: Stranger Things, Gracie and Frank, Santa Clarita Diet, G.L.O.W., Fuller House, One Day at a Time (Remake, Moved to Pop), A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Family. See also this list.
  • Amazon: Mrs. Maisel, Fleabag, Good Omens.
  • Broadway HD: Numerous shows.

Of these, the highest priorities will probably be CBS and Hulu for Star Trek and the Orville.

 

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🎭 A Shakespearean Sitcom | “A Comedy of Errors” @ Shakespeare by the Sea

A Comedy of Errors (Shakespeare by the Sea)What would summer be without Shakespeare in an outdoor setting. Last year, it was in beautiful Lake Tahoe,  where alas the Scottish Play led to a food mishap for my wife before the show. This year we opted for a comedy, in a wonderful location next to the freeway in Long Beach. But the Scottish Play struck again with the food — more on that at the end. The production, on the other hand, was a delight: Shakespeare‘s A Comedy of Errors, which is being done in repertory with Henry V throughout Los Angeles and Orange County, from the South Bay to the Valley, by Shakespeare by the Sea (FB). The company is on tour throughout the southland, with forthcoming stops in Beverly Hills, Santa Ana, Torrence, Ranch PV, Pasadena, Whittier, Encino, Seal Beach, Aliso Viejo, Santa Monica … you get the idea.

A Comedy of Errors is a play I was seeing for the first time, although I had heard the music. Well, I had heard the music from The Boys from Syracuse, which was actually the first musical made from a Shakespeare play. That’s close enough. So I knew the basic plot. It really is a Shakespeare sitcom, as there is loads of mistaken identity. It is also a Shakespeare comedy, because everyone ends up in love and coupled off by the end of the play, including the servants.

Here’s the basic story, from the synopsis page on the website:

Aegeon, a merchant from Syracuse is arrested in Ephesus for violating a law barring travel between the two cities. He tells the Duke that he came to Ephesus seeking his wife and twin sons (both called Antipholus) and their servants (both called Dromio). They were separated in a shipwreck. Aegeon was rescued with one son and one servant but the other son and his servant were rescued by a different ship. Aegeon never knew what happened to the rest of his family. When Antipholus of Ephesus came of age, he and Dromio went in search of his twin brother. But when they never came home, Aegeon went out looking for all four of them. The Duke commiserates and gives him one day to pay a ransom or suffer the death penalty.

Unbeknownst to all, the long-lost twins and their mother Adriana have settled in Ephesus, and Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse have also arrived in Ephesus. Antipholus S. meets Dromio E. and has words when Dromio takes him to Adriana’s house for dinner. When Antipholus E arrives at his real home for dinner, Adriana locks the doors, believing that her husband is already inside with her. A gold chain that was ordered by Antipholus E is accidentally given to Antipholus S and Antipholus E refuses to pay Angelo, as he doesn’t believe he received it. Angelo has Antipholus E arrested and he asks the Duke for help, as he has been wrongly accused. Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse go to the abbey for safety, and when they emerge, find Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus, as well as Aegeon. The abbess reveals that she is actually Aegeon’s long-lost wife, Emilia. Aegeon’s ransom is paid, and the family is reunited.

Was I right. It’s a sitcom.

A Comedy of Errors (Production Photos)It’s also very funny. Under the direction of James Rice (FB), the action is fast and furious, and the actors are given sufficient leeway to have fun with their roles and play a little bit to the audience. This is clearly fun for them, and that fun is contagious.

In the lead positions are Jonathan Fisher (FBAntipholus of Ephesus, Alex Elliott-Funk (FBAntipholus of Syracuse, Melissa Green (FBDromio of Ephesus, and Brendan Kane (FBDromio of Syracuse. These four were spectacular: they handled the dialogue well and made it so the audience could hear it (always important with Shakespeare). They handled the physical comedy well, and were extremely funny. I particularly liked the comic antics of both Green and Kane. They must just be so sore by the time the evening ends with all the running and jumping they do.

Primarily playing off of these four were Antipholus-E’s wife Adriana (Olivia Saccomanno (FB)) and her sister Luciana (Amber Luallen (FB)). These two were also very playful with their roles, as well as bringing beauty to the stage. They, too, got to have fun with the physicality of the roles, especially Luallen in her scenes with Kane.

Also critical to the story are the merchants who work with Antipholus-E, and the Courtesan who is his friend: Sean Spencer (FB) Pinch / First Merchant; Alden Bettencourt (FB) Second Merchant/Gaoler; Benjamin White (FB) Angelo; and Sharon Jewell (FB) Courtesan / Balthasar. Of these, I’d particularly like to highlight White’s performance. He’s the goldsmith, and he has quite a bit of fun with the role.

Rounding out the cast in smaller roles are: Andy Kallok (FB) Aegeon; Sonje Inge (FB) Abbess/Luce; and Jane Hink (FB) Duke.  Hink, in particular, did a great job playing the Duke for comic effect.

Haley Tubbs (FB) is the Luciana understudy on 8/17.

Production-wise, things are kept simple, given they have to take down the stage after every performance and rebuild it the next day. There’s a multilevel set with some simple doors, and relatively simple lighting. Costumes are vaguely Shakespearean but of no particular time or era. The artistic and production staff consists of: Sara Haddadin (FB) Tour Manager; Matthew White Scenic Designer; Diana Mann (FB) Costume Designer; Nayla Hull Sound Designer; Patrick Vest (FB) Fight Choreographer; Claire Mazzeo (FB) Stage Manager; Cinthia Nava-Palmer (FBSound Engineer; Amy Zidell Webmaster; Holly Baker-Kreiswirth (FB) Press RelationsLisa Coffi (FB) is the Producing Artistic Director, Suzanne Dean (FB) is the Associate Artistic Director, and Stephanie Coltrin (FB) is the Associate Producer and synopsis writer.

As I noted earlier, this summer’s season of Shakespeare by the Sea (FB) has many more performances until its last on August 17. Locations it will be visiting include Beverly Hills, Santa Ana, Torrance, Rancho Palos Verdes, S. Pasadena, Whittier, Encino, Seal Beach, Aliso Viejo, Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, the Fairfax District, La Mirada, Cerritos, with the final performances in San Pedro. You have no excuse to go — the performances are free (although donations are accepted).

We really had a good time at the show. Now that we know about this, we’ll try to make it again next summer. Learn more about the show, its tour schedule, and how to reserve space at the Shakespeare by the Sea website.

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Although the show was great, alas, I can’t say the same thing about dinner before the show. On the recommendation of a friend, we tried The Attic in Long Beach. It was my wife’s birthday, and we wanted some place sorta-foodie. We thought she would be safe: their menu marked what was gluten-free, and we let them know she was gluten-free — not by choice — when we made the reservation and placed our order. But the curse of the scottish play from last year followed us.

She ordered the shrimp with grits, which was marked Gluten Free.

It wasn’t. Somehow, she got poisoned with gluten, either as a direct ingredient or by cross-contamination. This is unacceptable; it left her sick all day. Enjoy the restaurant if you can handle gluten, but if you are at all sensitive — stay away. My wife has left a negative review on Yelp.

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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 Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], 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 last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (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). October starts with The Mystery of Irma Vep at Actors Co-op (FB), and concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB).  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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