Let’s get the fanboy out of the way first. I saw Elim Garek in a play today. Well, Andy Robinson, but I could figure it out. It was everything I could hope for, and it was the icing on the cake of a great play.
So, going back to the start. I’m always on the lookout for Jewish-themed plays for the Live Theatre group at our synagogue (which I coordinate). I don’t want only plays focused on the holocaust or bad things, but I want plays that will stimulate the mind, and get the group thinking about Judaism. So when the North Hollywood facebook page posted about the upcoming play Sukkot being done by the 6th Act Company at Skylight Theatre, I knew I had our next show. I coordinate the group, and off we went to the show. It was a very successful outing.
Sukkot, by Matthew Leavitt, tells the story of the Sullivan family. Patrick, the father of three adult children, has just lost his wife to cancer. He was raised Catholic, but she was Jewish. The unveiling of her marker, marking one year after the death, is coming up. It lands on Sukkot, the Feast of Booths. For those unfamiliar, this is when Jews build open-air structures in their yards and eat and sometimes sleep in them, symbolizing the booths that the Jews escaping Egypt slept in in the desert. It is notable for being the only holiday where Jews are commanded to rejoice.
So, to try and rediscover joy, Patrick builds a sukkah in his back yard, and has all his children who are coming out for the unveiling “live” in the hut. This serves as the central focal point for the story. In turn, we meet the children: Asher, who has been living with Patrick taking care of his mother while she died of Breast Cancer. He is unemployed. Mairead, who has a husband and two children, lives in St. Louis, and is a gynecologist. The youngest, Eden, who lives in the Pacific Northwest and does children’s entertainment. Unsurprisingly, the children are very different from each other, and have the sibling squabbles we all know.
The show is at point hilariously funny and deeply inciteful. We went with a group, and I think everyone saw elements from their families or their children in the characters. As an example, for me it raised the question I’m debating now: Should I retire, and what will I do with myself when I retire? But the show delves into much more: relationships between children, relationships between parents and children, parents raising children differently, dealing with life and illness, dealing with elderly parents, realizing parents are people too. I saw my mother-in-law in the show; I saw my wife’s siblings; I saw my parents. Somehow they turned a camera on everyone’s family.
I’m not going to spoil the details of the story with further details of plots specifics, but I think all the characters grow and learn. There are some important points that come from show. First is that family may fight and squabble, but when a family member needs help, they usually come together. I think a more important message was on the meaning of Sukkot. One character observes that the only time we get unquestioning positives is when we get married, or right after we die. We don’t hear the latter. So Sukkot should be the time we rejoice in each other, and tell people the good things about them. Thinking good about people at least once a year isn’t a bad thing.
The performances were remarkable. I’ve already mentioned Andy Robinson, who played Patrick. There were times I could see Garak there, but his characterization of the father was nuanced and fun to watch. All of the other cast members—Jonathan Slavin (Asher), Liza Seneca (Maired), and Natalie Lander (Eden)—were equally compelling characters, played well. Show like this remind one of how special live theatre is for the Los Angeles community. These were all top grade actors, and here we get to see them, in an intimate theatre, doing what they love best: acting on the stage. This is small theatre—they aren’t doing this for the money. They are known in the industry—they don’t need the exposure. They are doing this for the love and perfection of the craft, and it shows.
The writing of the show was strong, and there were points that reminded me of Moonlighting, with the overlapping dialogue. But Leavitt created compelling characters and story, and there were only a few “ouch” moments. Some of those came from some characterizations of Jewish practice that might grate for a Jewish group; others were mentions such as “UC Fresno”, which is wrong in many ways (there is a UC Merced, and a Cal State Fresno, and they are different things). But overall, this was great.
Sukkot. Written by Matthew Leavitt; Directed by Joel Zwick. Cast: Andy Robinson Patrick Sullivan; Jonathan Slavin Asher Sullivan; Liza Seneca Mairead Sullivan; Natalie Lander Eden Sullivan. Production and Creative Team: Mark Mendelson Scenic Design; Douglas Gabrielle Lighting Design; Christopher Moscatiello Sound Design; David Elzer, Demand PR Publicity; Michelle Hanzelova-Bierbauer Graphic Design; Rich Wong Stage Manager.
Sukkot plays for one more weekend at the Skylight Theatre (until Feb 4th), over on Vermont S of Franklin, near Skylight Books. Tickets are available through the Sixth Act website; discount tickets may be available through the usual suspects. This was a really interesting play, and I strongly recommend it.
♦ ♦ ♦
Administrivia: I am not a professional critic. I’m a cybersecurity professional, a roadgeek who does a highway site and a podcast about California Highways, and someone who loves live performance. I buy all my own tickets, unless explicitly noted otherwise. I do these writeups to share my thoughts on shows with my friends and the community. I encourage you to go to your local theatres and support them (ideally, by purchasing full price tickets, if you can afford to do so). We currently subscribe or have memberships at: Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre; Broadway in Hollywood/Pantages Theatre; Pasadena Playhouse; Geffen Playhouse (Mini-Subscription); 5-Star Theatricals. We’re looking for the right intimate theatre to subscribe at — it hasn’t been the same since Rep East died (it’s now The Main, and although it does a lot of theatre, it doesn’t have seasons or a resident company), and post-COVID, most 99-seaters aren’t back to doing seasons (or seasons we like). I used to do more detailed writeups; here’s my current approach.
Upcoming Theatre – Next 90ish Days:
- February: Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet at CTG/Ahmanson; Marvelous Wonderettes – Dream On at Canyon Theatre Guild; The Wiz at Broadway in Hollywood/Pantages.
- March: One of the Good Ones at the Pasadena Playhouse; Million Dollar Quartet at 5-Star Theatricals; Chicago at Broadway in Hollywood/Pantages; Fat Ham at Geffen Playhouse.
- April: Funny Girl at CTG/Ahamanson Theatre; Renaissance Pleasure Faire; Xanadu (🎫 Pending) at Canyon Theatre Guild; Gordon Goodwin and the Big Phat Band at BofA/Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks; Spongebob Squarepants – The Musical at CSUN Theatre.
- May: Hands on a Hardbody at Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (🎫 Pending); Girl from the North Country at Broadway in Hollywood/Pantages; The Play That Goes Wrong at Canyon Theatre Guild (🎫 Pending); Jelly’s Last Jam at the Pasadena Playhouse.
On the Theatrical Horizon:
There are a few shows for which announcements have crossed my transom that may be of interest: The CSUN Theatre Department in Northridge will be doing the Spongebob Musical in April 2024. We really wanted to see this when it was on tour in 2020, but the tour was killed by COVID; we did drive up to Woodland CA to see a friend in a community theatre production of it. It is a great show about science and climate denial. Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse in Woodland Hills will be doing Hands on a Hardbody in May 2024. CSH announced this back in 2020, but it was killed by COVID; I’m glad to see it will be back (and with a friend in the cast, even). Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica has announced their Mainstage 2024 Season, and it includes Bat Boy the Musical running Sept 28 through October 18. We saw Bat Boy back when CSUN did it in 2014; it is a wonderful musical about how a society treats outsiders. Conundrum Theatre Company will be doing Urinetown The Musical in mid to late March 2024 at the Broadwater; this is a great musical, but we can’t fit it into the schedule (nor does my wife care to see it again). However, if you haven’t seen it, it is worth seeing.
ETA 24-01-30: I also just learned about a theatre company in Fullerton, Maverick Theater. They are doing Evil Dead: The Musical , which is a hoot if you’ve never seen it (we’ve seen it twice). They also have some interesting other stuff on their season, and we might drive down for Santa Claus Vs The Martians in November.
Second: Broadway Dallas just announced their season. I like to look at the announcements of other “presenting houses” (i.e., regional theatres that specialize in touring productions) to get an idea of what will be coming to Broadway in Hollywood or the Ahmanson. Broadway Dallas’ season included the following shows that haven’t yet been in Los Angeles: Shucked; Back to the Future – The Musical; & Juliet; and Life of Pi. Other shows that I know will be touring are a new remounting of Beauty and the Beast (lukewarm on this, but I’m sure it will be at least an option at Broadway in Hollywood) and the recent production of Parade. According to Playbill and some other sources, other upcoming tour productions (that haven’t been announced for the LA area) are Kimberly Akimbo; the new revival of Sweeny Todd; A Beautiful Noise; Some Like It Hot; and New York, New York. I hope How to Dance in Ohio tours, but perhaps there will be a regional mounting; Harmony should be seen and I also hope it tours, but we saw it in a pre-Broadway version almost 10 years ago.