🎭 Congregational Schisms | “The Christians” @ Actors Co-Op

The Christians (Actors Co-Op)I’m Jewish. In fact, I’m one of the maintainers of the soc.culture.jewish FAQ, and for a long time ran the Liberal Judaism Mailing List until it withered away. I say that as point of reference #1.

I’m an avid theatre-goer. When a favorite small theatre in Santa Clarita went belly-up a few years ago, we moved our subscription to a small company in North Hollywood called Actors Co-op (FB), based on the quality of their work and their season selection. I tend to believe that subscriptions should be used to bring you to shows you might not choose to see yourself; to take you out of your comfort zone. This is point of reference #2.

But although we like the work of the company, everytime we walked on their campus we were a bit uncomfortable, as their host church had signs at the time indicating they sponsored Jews for Jesus. I would read in their program that they are a “company of Christian actors driven by passion for the Lord Jesus Christ.” Reference point of reference #1. So when I saw that the last show of this season was to be “The Christians” by Lucas Hnath — about which I knew nothing — needless to say I was a bit worried. Was this going to be overlay Christalogical? Would it be overly preachy? Would I be squiriming in my seat: a Jewish boy in a sea of goyim?

Luckily, the answer was “no”, and this company continued their tradition of producing thought-provoking theatre of the highest quality, that didn’t tell you want to think but made you question what you thought. That is what theatre — and churches and synagogues — should do.

The Christians is about a megachurch that is on the precipice of a schism, only they don’t know it yet. At the worship service that starts the show, Pastor Paul starts with a four-part sermon that explores where the church is today, how it got there, and where it is going. He relates a story, and raises a controversial notion: What if you don’t have to be Christian to be saved from the fires of Hell? What if Hell doesn’t exist? What if you don’t have to believe to get into Heaven? Initially, much of the church goes along with the pastor, except for the Associate Pastor Joshua, who can’t accept the notion. Joshua and his followers leave, going off to form their own church. And thus from this little crack…

Soon, questions start to emerge. What is the impact of this on Church donations and membership? What was the history behind the relationships, and the conflicts, between Paul and Joshua? Was the timing questionable — why did the pastor wait to drop this until just after the mortgage was paid off? More and more questions, with answers that weren’t always easy, or provided.

Where to start analyzing this… especially this week, when we’ve seen a number of states attempting to legislate what is in essence a religious decision, ostensibly to help prevent people from going to Hell for their actions…

Let’s start with the Jewish perspective. My wife turned to me during the show, when the Pastor gave his sermon, and said it sounded like he had a Jewish conversion. The Jewish notion of Gehenna (what the Christians call Hell) is very different than the Christian notion; quoting from the FAQ: “Gehennom (lit: the valley of Hinnom, in Jerusalem; i.e. hell) is the sinner’s experience in the afterlife. In other words, it’s the same “place” as gan eiden (lit: the garden of Eden; i.e. heaven) — it’s the perspective of the individual that makes it one or the other.” As for Satan: Satan is no devil with horns. He is the challenger, placed there to give you the choice between good and evil, so that you have the ability to choose to do good. Thus, it turns out that this play — which I feared would be pushing Christian notions of believing in Jesus to be saved, was actually presenting a very Jewish notion.

But, of course, it wasn’t accepted. There was a growing number of people that couldn’t accept that heaven and hell were the same place, with only perspective differing between them. They wanted there to be a requirement to believe in Jesus to be saved. That, indeed, is a fundamental notion in many churches. It is the belief that is important more than action. It is witnessing that belief to others, to convert more people to Jesus. As the play showed, that provided comfort to many, and a growing number wanted that path.

Was it the right path? The play does not answer that question.

Schisms in congregations are nothing new. Our congregation in Northridge had something similar. The Board had a difference in direction from the Senior Rabbi, and he was let go. He has since attempted to form his own congregation, while the original congregation is finding its way. If you look at a history of the congregations in the valley — and I’m sure this is true for the churches as well — they all form from splits from other congregations, each tweaking what they saw as their missions and their interpretations of their core teachings. Who is right and who is wrong? I can’t say, nor can our country. We have the freedom to find many paths to our salvation, and some of those paths might even involve belief systems that eschew notions of God completely (and yes, that’s a belief system as well). All we can say for certain is that we all question why we are here at some point.

In the end, we left the show — and the talkback afterwards — quite pleased. Theatre did what theatre is supposed to do: raise questions. This company did what its mission is: “pursuing the highest standards of theatrical excellence”. It made the audience think and question their beliefs; it provided understanding without preaching. I’m very glad that we saw the show.

It didn’t hurt that, under the direction of Thomas James O’Leary (⭐FB, FB), the cast was uniformly excellent. At the talkback, we learned that the script was quite unusual, which many actions not spelled out (e.g., lines that were “…” or “and and and”). This director did an excellent job with the cast of expanding the unwritten lines, the hidden text, into performance. Not being a performer, I always have trouble understanding what a director does, but this production provided more insight on the role.

In the lead position was Townsend Coleman (FB) as Pastor Paul. Coleman had the bulk of the stage time: the whole sermon, and the whole questioning afterwards. His performance was mesmerizing — holding the audience’s congregation’s attention, teaching, questioning, and in the end, doing an effective job of questioning himself. We truly enjoyed watching him.

Working in a different direction was Thomas Chavira (FB) as Associate Pastor Joshua. Joshua was true to his name: blowing the trumpets that started the walls tumbling down. Chavira did a great job of youth in opposition: a man with a different belief that was equally strong, and that he turned into leadership when confronted. It was interesting to watch.

The other characters on the bima pulpit were smaller: Phil Crowley as Elder Jay, and Kay Bess (⭐FB, FB) as Elizabeth, Pastor Paul’s wife. Both were effective in the questions they raised to Pastor Paul, and in how they inhabited the characters that question. Where Crowley really shined was in the talkback: we had a delightful theological discussion with him that could have gone on for hours (and who knows, perhaps we’ll connect again in real life and it will).

Behind the pulpit was the choir, which was wonderful. Before I note the choir members, I must call out Jenny, played by Nicole Gabriella Scipione (FB), who gave a wonderful testimony and raised some very pointed questions. She was truly believable; what more can you want from an actor. The choir consisted of the following members — and note that there was an A and B choir, and we had the A choir. Note also that our A choir was truly “A”: they had the most wonderful and angelic expressions as they sang. The combined choirs consisted of: Khara Bigham (FB); Aislin Courtis (⭐FB, FB); Hattie Sue Dahlberg (FB); Mary Moore Driggers (FB); James Everts (⭐FB, FB);  Catherine Gray (FB); Tim Hodgin (FB); Laura Kelly (FB);  Deborah Marlowe (FB); Maurice McGraw (FB); Kyle Montgomery (FB); Ariel Murillo (FB); Fadeke Oparinde (FB); Amanda Peterson (FB); Andrew Retland (FB); Daniel Schwab (FB); Cody Scurlock (FB); Kevin Shewey (FB); Isaac Sprague (FB); Paige Stewart (FB); and Bria St. Julien (FB).

Turning to the production side: Nicholas Acciani (FB) did something I’ve never seen before in the Crowley Theatre — laid down wall-to-wall carpet. I hope they find a good use for it after the show. Other than that, not being familiar with the layout of a Christian pulpit — which changes by denomination, and is very different from a bima layout — I can only state that it gave an appropriate Christian feeling. Donny Jackson (FB)’s lighting design seemed appropriate, and worked well with Nicholas Acciani (FB)’s projections. David B. Marling (FB)’s sound design used something you don’t see in this day and age: wired microphones, and worked really well. E.B. Brooks (FB)’s costume design seemed reasonably churchly.  Rounding out the production credits: Josie Austin (FB) – Stage Manager; Heather Chesley (FB) – Artistic Chairwoman; Nora Feldman (FB) – Publicist; Jazmin Henderson (⭐FB, FB) – Asst. Stage Manager; Carly Lopez (FB) – Producer; Noriko Olling (FB) – Music Arranger / Pianist; Dylan Price (FB) – Choir Director; Selah Victor – Production Manager.

The Christians continues at Actors Co-op (FB) until June 16th. If you’re not Christian, don’t be put off by the title — this is a great debatable theological question for everyone. If you are Christian, well, it’s still a great debate and a great show. In any case, it will do what theatre is supposed to do: make you think. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op website; discount tickets may be available through 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], 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:

May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. The last weekend of May will see me at Bronco Billy – The Musical at Skylight Theatre (FB).

June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

In terms of non-Fringe theatre (which, yes, does exist): Currently, the first weekend of June is open, although I’m thinking about Ready Set Yeti Go at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) [if the publicist contacts me or I see it on Goldstar for Saturday]. Fringe previews start the next week. The end of June also brings Indecent at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on June 28, just before the busy last weekend of Fringe.

As for July, it is already filling up. The first weekend of the month is still open. The second weekend brings An Intimate Evening with Kristen Chenowith at,The Hollywood Bowl (FB).  The third weekend of July brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). 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).

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

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🎭 In Good Company | “Steel Magnolias” @ Actors Co-Op

Steel Magnolias (Actors Co-Op)The first thing I noticed when I read through the program for Steel Magnolias, which we saw Saturday night (early bird subscription) at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood, is that we had seen all of the actresses before. In fact, we had see them all on the Actors Co-Op stages. We’d seen Ivy in the recent Anna Karenina; Lori most notably in Ruthie and Me;  Deborah is practically everything; Nan in A Walk in the Woods and 33 Variations; Heidi in Rope; and Treva in Man for all Seasons and 33 Variations. It reminded me of the glory days of REP East, where there was an actors ensemble that fit well and worked well together, and were like a family.

This casting, and this family, meshed perfectly with the themes written by Robert Harling of Steel Magnolias, which deals with the family you have, and the family you create. We last saw the show back in 2008 at the aforementioned REP East; before that, we saw the original Los Angeles production at the Pasadena Playhouse way back in 1988.

One advantage of having seen a show before is that I can steal the synopsis. Here’s what I wrote back in 2008:

This play was written in 1987 by Robert Harling. It is set in a beauty salon in rural Louisiana, and tells the story of six southern women: Truvy, Annell, M’Lynn, Shelby, Ouiser, and Clairee. The play begins on the morning of Shelby’s wedding to Jackson (an unseen character) and covers events over the next three years, including Shelby’s decision to have a child despite having Type 1 diabetes and the complications that result from the decision. Over these years, we see the friendships grow between the women, see the relationships mature. We see people change as self-confidence is gained and life moves on. But what underlies it all is friendship and strength. The title refers to that strength: “magolias” are a reference to southern women, and as for the steel, M’Lynn says it best when she indicates that men are supposed to be made of steel, but women are actually stronger. In 1989, the play was made into a movie (with additional characters) starring Dolly Parton (Truvy), Olympia Dukakis (Clairee), Shirley MacLaine (Ouiser), Sally Field (M’Lynn), Julia Roberts (Shelby) and Daryl Hannah (Annelle).

Basically, the play is a very funny ensemble piece about a group of women that have become like a family based around a shared beauty shop in small town Louisiana, just as men bond in barber shops. The story, as noted above, revolves around Shelby — her marriage, her having a child, and the subsequent decline in her health leading to her death. Through this character’s transition, we see how it changes the women around her: the shop owner Truvy and her assistant, Annelle; Shelby’s mother, M’Lynn; the wife of the former mayor, Claree, and the town grouch, Ouiser. The casting and direction by director Cameron Watson (FB) plays to the strengths of each actress, making the production seem effortless. Our production was marred by just a few line hesitations, but that seems to be common with this show.

As noted above, the ensemble was excellent. The center of everything was Nan McNamara (FB)’s Truvy, the beauty shop owner who knew about, as most importantly, cared about, all her clientele. As opposed to the more no-nonsense portrayals we’ve seen from McNamara in the past, this characterization was playful and for the most part happy and upbeat, and fun to watch. Her assistant, Annelle, was played by Heidi Palomino (FB). Whereas her characterization in Rope was bubbly and upbeat, her performance here was much more subdued, capturing a quiet soul dealing with a troubled marriage and attempting to restart her life, and growing and coming out of her shell — and finding herself — around this group of women. Palomino captured that path well, and you could see her character change over the years portrayed in the show.

As Shelby, Ivy Beech (FB) brought a joyful and youthful energy to the stage, capturing that characters’ positive nature and love for life. Her energy here was very different than in Anna; there was a transition from the controlled Russian nature to a much more youthful and joyful exuberance, and this fit Shelby well. Her mother, M’Lynn, was played by Treva Tegtmeier (FB). We’d seen Tegtmeier in more stern roles before in 33 and Seasons. Here, she captured a more motherly role: concerned that everything was right with her daughter and her family, and that her family was seen right in the community.

That brings us to the remaining, shall we say, comic relief characters. Lori Berg (FB) captures older women well, as we saw in both Ruthie and Violet. Here, she provided a more senior authority figure as the wife of the pre-deceased mayor. That experience gave her the ability to dish back as well as she received.  Deborah Marlowe (FB) has wonderful character roles in almost every Co-Op production that we have seen, and appears to have loads of fun finding the comedy and humor in each character, bringing what appears to be an irascible nature to each. Her Ouiser here was no different: she was clearly having fun with this character and her attitude, and it came across in the performance.

Stephen Gifford (FB)’s scenic design did a great job of recreating a beauty shop inhabiting a former car-port, down to the metal trellis used to support the carport roof, and the flaky electricity.  It had the right Southern character and feel to it. It was supported well by Abe Luke Rodriguez (FB)’s properties. Terri A. Lewis (FB)’s costumes seemed period-appropriate and worked well. This is a production that depends heavily on hair and wig designs, and Jessica Mills (FB) (whose bio didn’t mention she did the recent Matilda at 5-Star) work was up to the task. There were a few points where one could tell they were wigs (and I worried about the hair styling impacting the wigs), but for the most part the hair seemed natural, to fit the characters, and to stand up to the damage a beauty salon inflicts. Mills clearly has her work cut out for her repairing things after each show. Cameron Combe (FB)’s sound effects worked well — notably the opening booms — and Andrew Schmedake (FB) worked well to establish time and place. Adam Michael Rose (FB) did a great job of making the characters sound suitably Southern. Ellen Mandel (FB) provided the original music. Other production credits: Emma Rempel (FB) [Asst. Director]; Shawna Voragen (FB) [Stage Manager]; Jaime “Jai” Mills (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Nora Feldman [Publicist]; Selah Victor(FB) [Production Manager]; Lauren Thompson (FB[Producer].

Steel Magnolias continues at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood through May 5. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op Website; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar. The show is very funny and very well performed, and well worth seeing.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

Tonight brings us to the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for our rescheduled performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The next weekend brings the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (FB). The third weekend of April will bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The fourth weekend of April is open, although we may see Chris McBride’s Big Band at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and I may book a show for myself. Looking to May, the month starts out with Sister Act at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights, simply because we love the work of this theatre, and we want to see how a small theatre tackles this big show. The second weekend of May brings  Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Universe (101) at The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB).  May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. Who know what the weekend will bring! June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

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

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🎭 Russian Meddling and Affairs Destroy Lives | “Anna Karenina” @ Actors Co-Op

Anna Karenina (Actors Co-Op)C’mon, do you really expect something involving Russians, affairs, and political leaders to have a happy ending? Has the 2016 election taught you nothing?

But seriously, last weekend was a weekend of theatrical whiplash, going from the positive uplifting message of the musical 1776 to the sturm und drang-ish drama of the play Anna Karenina, adapted from the Leo Tolstoy novel by Helen Edmundson in 1992 and currently on-stage at Actors Co-op (FB) through March 17, 2019.

Anna Karenina is a classic of Russian literature, and (at least according to Wikipedia), some consider it the greatest novel ever written. I think that’s Russian propaganda. You can read the full gory synopsis on the Wikipedia page; here’s a 50,000 ft. view of the novel (also from the Wikipedia page):

Anna Karenina is the tragic story of Countess Anna Karenina, a married noblewoman and socialite, and her affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. The story starts when she arrives in the midst of a family broken up by her brother’s unbridled womanizing—something that prefigures her own later situation, though she would experience less tolerance by others. A bachelor, Vronsky is eager to marry Anna if she will agree to leave her husband Count Karenin, a senior government official, but she is vulnerable to the pressures of Russian social norms, the moral laws of the Russian Orthodox Church, her own insecurities, and Karenin’s indecision. Although Vronsky and Anna go to Italy, where they can be together, they have trouble making friends. Back in Russia, she is shunned, becoming further isolated and anxious, while Vronsky pursues his social life. Despite Vronsky’s reassurances, she grows increasingly possessive and paranoid about his imagined infidelity, fearing loss of control. A parallel story within the novel is that of Konstantin Lëvin or Ljovin, a wealthy country landowner who wants to marry Princess Kitty, sister to Princess Dolly and sister-in-law to Anna’s brother Prince Oblonsky. Konstantin has to propose twice before Kitty accepts. The novel details Konstantin’s difficulties managing his estate, his eventual marriage, and his struggle to accept the Christian faith, until the birth of his first child.

Edmundson’s adaptation (and director Heather Chesley (FB)’s staging and Stephen Gifford (FB)’s scenic design) makes this all much more abstract. You start with Anna and Constantine “Kostya” on a bare stage with four chairs, as if in an afterlife, haunted by ghosts of some sort. They are constantly asking where they are now, which is seemingly an expositional technique to establish place and allow them to introduce their separate parts of the story. They don’t meet in “real life” until somewhere late in the second act. Around them we see the action unfold with the other characters, with actors often playing multiple roles in the different threads of the stories. Yes, it does end with the suicide in the train station (c’mon, it’s a classic novel and a classic trope, so it shouldn’t be a spoiler), but it is all done very abstractly.

For me — and I’ll emphasize that this is my opinion — the story just didn’t grab me. I really can’t get into a complex tale of infidelity, shifting affairs, Russian societal position, and a fair amount of depression and lack of self worth. It just wasn’t my thing, but I’ll emphasize that’s why we subscribe to theatres: it brings us to shows we might not normally seek out on our own. But that also brings the risk that we might not like everything we see.

But just because I didn’t get into the story doesn’t mean I didn’t like the performances. Chesley brought out great performances in her acting team, and they were believable as their characters. This is especially true for the two leads: Eva Abramian (FB) as Anna Karenina and Joseph Barone (FB) as Constantine “Kostya” Levin. The two had good chemistry together and were fun to watch.

All of the other characters played both a “major” and a minor role, which makes it difficult to tier or group them. But I’ll try. We’ll start with Anna’s brother, Stiva, played by Michael Worden (FB) [also: Vassily the Bailiff, Petristsky, the Priest] and his wife, Dolly, played by  Lauren Thompson(FB) [also: Countess Vronsky]. Worden’s Stiva came across as a “bro” in modern speak: a man interested in womanizing and fun more than his family. In this, Worden portrayed him well. Thompson’s Dolly was more the dutiful wife, staying with a man she didn’t like for the sake of the marriage. Again, a strong portrayal.

Moving to Anna’s lovers, we have Bruce Ladd (FB) as Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, her husband, and Garrett Botts (FB) as Count Alexei Vronsky, her lover [also: Nikolai]. I liked Ladd’s performance, but I’ve liked him ever since seeing him in A Man for All Seasons last year. He’s a great actor, and fun to watch. Botts was believable as the Russian Captain who was obsessed with Anna, after being obsessed with Kitty, after …. It was an interesting love triangle.

This brings us to Kostya’s object of affection: Kitty, played by Ivy Beech (FB) [also: Seriozha]. As Kitty, she was strong and believable in her emotional arc. As Seriozha, she was less believable, but that was primarily an age problem.

Lastly, there was the exceptional character actor in the Co-Op stable: Deborah Marlowe (FB), this time as Princess Betsy / Agatha / Governess / Railway Widow. Marlowe specializes in these small character roles, and always does them well.

There is one understudy listed in the program: Micah Kobayashi [u/s for Princess Betsy / Agatha / Governess / Railway Widow].

As noted earlier, Stephen Gifford (FB)’s scenic design was simple and abstract, supplemented by Lori Berg (FB)’s property design. This was supported by Vicki Conrad (FB)’s costume, hair, and makeup, which seemed, suitably, Russian and period. David B. Marling (FB)’s sound design provided good sound effects. Lisa D. Katz (FB)’s lighting established the place and mood well. Other production credits: Nora Feldman [Publicist]; Julie Hall (FB[Choreography]; Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manager]; Eric M. White (FB) [Stage Manager]; and Kay Bess (FB) [Producer].

Anna Karenina continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through March 17, 2019. It wasn’t my favorite story, but the performances are strong. If it is a story you’re into, then you’ll likely enjoy this production. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op Website. 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), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Presidents Day weekend brings  The Joy Wheel at Ruskin Group Theatre (FB) in Santa Monica.  The last weekend of February is our annual trek to the Anaheim Hills for Lizzie at the Chance Theatre (FB).

March starts with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), followed by the annual MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel. The next weekend brings “Disney’s Silly Symphony” at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of March brings Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The following weekend is Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB) on Saturday, followed by Ada and the Engine at Theatre Unleashed (FB) (studio/stage) on Sunday. March concludes with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Lastly, looking into April: The month starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. The next weekend has a hold for OERM.  April will also bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

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

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🎭 Lizards and Lovers | “She Loves Me” @ Actors Co-Op

She Loves Me (Actors Co-Op)What is the odd connection between the Austin Lounge Lizards and the musical She Loves Me? The last time we saw She Loves Me, back in 2014 at the Chance Theatre, we saw an afternoon matinee, and then rushed to Culver City to see the Lizards at Boulevard Music. Last weekend, we actually moved our tickets for She Loves Me  at Actors Co-op (FB) to Sunday so we could see the Austin Lounge Lizards at Boulevard Music on Saturday night. We still rushed on Sunday: this time from Stitches So Cal in Pasadena to Hollywood for She Loves Me.

Oh well, at least it allows me to repeat my description of the show itself.

For those unfamiliar with She Loves Me, you probably know the story but by another name. The story started out as the play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo. This was later made into the movie The Shop around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan in 1940. It was then re-made into the movie In The Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson in 1949. Most recently, it was re-made into the movie You’ve Got Mail in 1998 with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. On the stage, however, in 1963 Parfumerie was turned into the musical She Loves Me by Joe Masteroff (book — he later went on to do the book of Caberet), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics — he next went on to Fiddler on the Roof), and Jerry Bock (music — and again Fidder).

The basic bones of the story are simple: Single man has a pen pal with whom he is falling in love. Single gal has a pen pal with whom she is falling in love. Single man and single gal work at the same place and hate each other’s guts, without knowing that each is the other’s pen pal. Now, bring them together with some catalyst, turn the gears, and enjoy the show.

In the case of She Loves Me, the story sticks pretty close to the original source. Georg is a clerk at Maraczek’s Parfumerie in Budapest in 1937 (although there are no hints of war — evidently, the real world doesn’t intrude on this story). He works together with the other clerks: Ilona, Sipos, and Kodaly, and the delivery boy Arpad, for Mr. Maraczek. When the competing parfumerie closes, one of their clerks, Amalia, talks her way into a clerk job (which upsets Georg, who starts getting on her case). While all this is happening, Kodaly is busy persuing anything in a skirt — in particular, Ilona. When Mr. Maraczek suspects his wife of cheating, he starts bearing down on Georg, who passes the pressure on to the rest of the staff — making things even testier with Amalia. His only consolation is his pen-pal, who he has never met or seen, but loves anyway. He schedules a rendezvous with her, without knowing she is really Amalia. They day they are to meet, Georg gets fired and send Sipos to tell his unknown date he won’t be there. Sipos sees it is Amalia, and gets Georg to go talk to her. Thinking he is spying on her, they have a gigantic fight. End Act I. In Act II, of course, all things predictably come together in predictable fashion, which I, predictably, won’t spoil :-).

The music in this story is just a delight. From the initial “Good Morning, Good Day” to “Days Gone By” to “Tonight at Eight” to “Try Me” to “Ice Cream” to “She Loves Me” to “A Trip to the Library” — it is just a joy. If you haven’t heard the score, I strongly suggest you pick up one of the cast albums out there. You’ll fall in love with it.

So, we’ve established that we have a classic love story with a winning score. Why isn’t this musical done more? In 1963, there were the big song and dance numbers that people expected, and it was booked into the wrong theatre at the wrong time — and thus lost money. This led to a perception that it was a failed show. Remember , however, that Chicago was a failure when it first hit Broadway. Often great shows aren’t always profitable or recognized as such. You can learn more about the show and the details of the synopsis at Wikipedia.

So how did Actors Co-Op do, when compared to Chance? Under the direction and choreography of Cate Caplin (FB), the actors were clearly having fun with the piece, and that fun was projected to the audience. The overall company was quite fun to watch, and there was lots of joy in the production.

In the lead positions were Claire Adams as Amalia Balash and  Kevin Shewey (FB) as Georg Nowack. We had seen both before in the Actors Co-Op production of Violet back in May: they were strong then, and they gave strong performances now. They have great singing voices, wonderful personalities that come through in their performances, and a nice chemistry between the two of them (demonstrated exceptionally well in the second act).

In the second tier, we had the other clerks at Maraczek’s: Darren Bluestone as Steven Kodaly, Beau Brians (FB) as Arpad Laszlo, Avrielle Corti (FB) as Ilona Ritter, and Tim Hodgin (FB) as Ladislav Sipos. I was really taken by the performances of Corti and Hodin. Both had these wonderful twinkles and characterizations that made them a delight to watch; both also sang well.  Brians brought a great boyish charm to Arpad, and was strong in his numbers. I was a bit less taken by Bluestone: he had fun with the Gaston-ish primping, but otherwise, I got no real sense of his character or what he was bringing to the role.

In a slightly smaller role was Greg Martin (FB)’s Mr. Maraczek. He brought the right amount of gruffness and tenderness to the role, and was fun to watch.

Rounding out the cast in small named roles and ensemble positions were Carolyn Carothers (FB) [Parfumerie Customer, Cafe Patron]; Cy Creamer (FB) [Keller]; Phil Crowley [Headwaiter]; Tyler Joseph Ellis (FB) [Busboy, Arpadu/s]; Rachel Geis [Parfumerie Customer, Cafe Patron]; and Carly Lopez (FB) [Parfumerie Customer, Cafe Patron]. All were fun to watch, especially the mix in the 12 Days to Christmas sequence. The customers, in particular, brought some interesting and different characterizations to their tracks each time they appeared.

Understudies were Lea Madda (FB) [Ilona Ritteru/s]; and Susanna Vaughan (FB) [Amalia Balashu/s].

The biggest difference from the Chance production was the orchestra. Whereas Chance had a single piano and gypsy violin, Actors Co-Op had 6 pieces: Keyboards (Anthony Lucca, who also served as conductor); Violin (Miyuki Miyagi); Cello (Cyrus Elia); Reeds (Austin Chanu); Trumpet (Nathan Serot); and Percussion (Ian Hubbell). The orchestra had good sound, although a few notes sounded a bit off.

Turning to the technical and production: Stephen Gifford (FB)’s set design was, as usual, elegant and worked well within the confines of the Schall Theatre space. It was supported by Lori Berg (FB)’s property design. Michael Mullen (FB)’s costume design also worked well in conjunction with Klint Flowers wig, hair, and makeup. Sound design was by Adam R. Macias, with lighting by Luke Moyer (FB).  Derek R. Copenhaver (FB) was the stage manager, assisted by  James Ledesma (FB). Other credits:  Heather Chesley (FB) [Artistic Chairwoman];  Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manager]; Nora Feldman [Publicity].

She Loves Me continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through December 16, 2018. It’s a cute show; you’ll enjoy it. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op Website; discount tickets may be available through 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. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Beyond Jacobs Ladder from Jewish Woman’s Theatre (FB) at our synagogue on Saturday, and Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Saturday and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights on Sunday. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB) (although that is starting to look less likely).

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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

 

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🎭 Pride Cometh Before the Fall | “Rope” @ Actors Co-Op

Rope (Actors Co-Op)Why do we see the shows that we see? After all, given my druthers, I tend to pick musicals over plays, comedies over dramas. But this is where the importance of a season subscription at a theatre that does good work comes in. In additional to getting the biggies that bring in the Broadway stuff or do only musicals (Pantages, Ahmanson, 5-Star Theatricals), we always include in our subscription mix small to mid-size theatres that do a mix of dramas and musicals, new and old. This brings in the work I might not normally pick, and broadens our horizons.

That is one of the many reasons we subscribe to Actors Co-op (FB). I don’t necessarily align with their mission (ministry), but their shows are top notch, their selections always interesting, and the acting excellent. The dramas that they pick challenge our thinking, and that is a good thing. That is work worth supporting.

Last night’s show was no exception. I’m not one for dark shows, and I’m not into thrillers or murder mysteries (other than TV procedurals). I’ve never seen the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock movie Rope. The closest I’ve come to seeing live theatre revolving around the perfect crime is listening to the cast album of the musical Thrill Me, which is the story of Leopold and Loeb who also thought they had committed the perfect crime, and who thought they were intellectually superior (hmmm, some interesting parallels there). This was not a show I would have picked to go see. But it was part of the season, and so we went.

I’m glad we did. It was a very interesting show, from the suddenness of the opening, to the arrogance of the crime and the dinner party, to the method of resolution. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and my mind was involved with the story. Would they get away with it? You know the answer going in: murderers never get away with it because our story conventions dictate that is not an acceptable resolution. So the real question was: How would they be discovered? For that, Patrick Hamilton‘s story worked quite well. It kept the discovery right on the edge until the eventual climax of the story.

The rough outline of the story is this: Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo devise a scheme to murder a classmate of theirs, the sun of Sir Johnstone Kentley. They do this, and put his body in a locked chest in their house. They then host a dinner party where they invite the young man’s father (the aforementioned Sir Johnstone Kentley), the father’s sister Mrs. Debenham, and three of their friends: Kenneth Raglan, Leila Arden, and Rupert Cadell. They latter they thought might have been smart enough to join them in the murder, but decided not to invite him because he wouldn’t have the gumption to go through with it. They felt they would get pleasure during the party because the guest would be unaware there was a body in the chest. But then one of the guest jokes that there could be a locked body in there, and …. well, I’ll spare you the details but there is the steady march to discovery.

One of the relevant notions of this play is the idea that arrogance is a personal characteristic that often leads to a downfall. We see that in the murder here, where the perpetrators are so confident that they have pulled it off that their behavior gives them away. It is something that is seen in Leopold and Loeb. It is something we’re seeing in politics today, where arrogance of the party in charge that thinks it is smarter than everyone else, and therefore can do anything they want — moral or immoral — may be coming back to bite them. One wonders if this is subtle ministry from the company, for it is the Bible that notes “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Clearly, it is the pride of Brandon and Granillo that lead to their fall.

Under the direction of Ken Sawyer (FB), the performances are tight. There is an enthusiasm and a belief and personification of their characters that the actors capture spot-on, from bubbly to panicked, from nervous to intrigued. Leading the charge are our two murders: Burt Grinstead (★FB, FB) as Wyndham Brandon and David Huynh (FB) as Charles Granillo. Both capture the arrogance and fear of the characters well, especially Grinstead for the former, and Huynh for the latter. They were fun to watch.

In the next group, I put the three younger characters invited to the dinner party: Kyle Anderson (★FB, FB) [Kenneth Raglan]; Heidi Palomino (FB) [Leila Arden]; and Donnie Smith (FB) [Rupert Cadell]. Of these, my favorite was Smith. He kept reminding me of someone, and I figured it out after the show — he was a mix of Tim Curry and Christian Borle, which a wry smile and a playfulness that was delightful to watch. He truly gave the impression of a cat that was just wondering when he was going to pounce and get it over with, with never a doubt. Anderson and Smith were more supporting: Anderson as the good natured chum who was up for anything, and Palomino as the over-eager young thing, easily excitable. The script set the two up as an eventual couple, and there was clear chemistry between the two. This was not a surprise — writing this up I discovered that they are married in real life. There affection and like for each other came across well in these roles.

In the older category were Carl Johnson (FB) as Sir Johnstone Kently and Elizabeth Herron (FB) as Mrs. Debenham. Johnson’s role called for him being the upstanding father, which he handled well. Herron’s role was more interesting, as her character spoke very little. She seemed to handle it very well, especially the bit with the rope.

Rounding out the cast was Actors Co-op regular Deborah Marlowe (FB) as the maid, Sabot. She brought her usual humor to the role, and was fun to watch as always.

Understudies were Julia Aks (★FB, FB) and Isaac W. Jay.

Hellen Harwell (FB)’s scenic design used lots of red and black to establish the mood — from the floors to the furnishing. I’m always amazed by the skills of the scenic designer to create flooring effects and how they finish furniture to create a mood, and this show was no exception. It all worked quite well. Also strong was Adam R. Macias‘s sound design, which used sound to great effect to startle and distract. Supporting all of this was Matthew Richter (FB)’s lighting design, especially the very dark blackouts. Paula Higgins (FB)’s costumes worked well, although my wife noted that the seam on Palomino’s stockings should have been a little straighter. Other production credits: David Scales [Production Manager]; Lydia Soto [Stage Manager];  Nora Feldman (FB) [Publicist];  Kevin Shewey(FB[Producer]; and  Heather Chesley (FB[Artistic Chairwoman].

Rope continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through October 28, 2018. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op Website. Discount tickets may be available through 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. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

The last weekend brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend brings Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

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

 

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🎭 A Harmonious Production | “Always Andrews” @ Actors Co-Op

Always Andrews (Actors Co-Op)Our second show of the weekend was a much simpler production (in fact, I was thinking it could have been mounted at the Fringe Festival — it was that simple): Always Andrews, part of the Actors Co-Op Too! Summer Series at  Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood.  Actors Co-Op Too! is a series of short run productions used to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members. In this case, company member Jorie Janeway (FB) brought in a production she had been developing with two friends, Carlyn Connolly (FB) and Katharine Quinn (FB) that was essentially a showcase of the music and history of The Andrews Sisters, a sibling group (Patty, Laverne, Maxine) that was popular during World War II. They were known for their tight harmonies, their humor, and there unique musical stylings and approaches to songs.

Janeway, Connolly, and Quinn had developed the notion for this show while working together on a different show in Virginia; they had been honing it over the years. Quinn was unavailable for this run, so Adrian Mustain (FB) jumped in with only a week or two of preparation.  The performers did two sets of Andrews Sisters songs:

 

Set 1 Set 2
Sing, Sing, Sing! Hold Tight
Well, All Right! European Medley
Gimme Some Skin Love Medley
In The Mood Straighten Up and Fly Right
Shoo-Shoo Baby Bounce Me, Brother, With a Solid Four
Accentuaate the Positive Rhumboogie
I’ve Got a Guy in Kalamazoo Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
Chattanooga Choo-Choo
Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar
Tropics Medley
Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree

 

I thought the selection of songs was good, although they should look to included one of the Andrews Sisters’ “injected patter” songs — listen to something like their version of “Sonny Boy” for an example. I also thought a bit more history would be good: they didn’t mention the sisters by name. One person during the talkback noted they should indicated how they got their start. I think it would also be worth noting what happened after the war: they continued during the 1950s and 1960s, and the Sherman Brothers of Disney-fame developed a Broadway show around them.

Each performer did not assume the role of a particular sister, although Jorie did most of the humorous bits. I thought that both Jorie and Carlyn had strong singing voices. Adrian’s was a bit weaker, but she noted during the talkback that it was stronger the week before, so it could have just been a touch of strain. I thought they had the movement down well, and had a good interaction with each other.

If they are still in town when next June rolls around, I suggest that they do this at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. They could easily do it within the confines of the festival — 15 minutes in, 15 minutes out — as they have no particular set and no costume changes, and it could give them some very strong exposure.

Music was provided by Chadwick Harmon on Piano and Kyle Dombroski (FB) on Drums.

We caught the last performance of this show. Next week we catch the last Actors Co-Op Too! show, Twelfth Night.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend of August will be Merrily We Roll Along, a guest production at the Colony Theatre (FB).

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is still open, with only two weekends currently booked, and one with a hold date.

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

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Seeing Beneath the Surface | “Violet” @ Actors Co-Op

Violet (Actors Co-Op)A few weeks ago, I wrote about the stark difference between two shows by the same composer (in that case, the team of Andrew Lloyd Webber (FB) and Glenn Slater (FB)): School of Rock was fantastic, whereas Love Never Dies really should have. Last night brought a similar comparison. Last week, I wrote about how Soft Power at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), with a score by Jeanine Tesori, landed with a thud. Last night, we saw an earlier show by Jeanine Tesori, Violet, at Actors Co-op (FB) and it was glorious and soaring and delightful. It even was a temporary cure for a migraine, it was that good.

I’ve seen Violet before — I saw the West Coast Premier almost three years ago to the day at the El Portal in NoHo, produced by Kelrik Productions. Last nights production was a bit larger and had a bit — just a bit — more props, but was equal if not stronger performance-wise. Before I go into those performances, let me describe the first, stealing from my description of three years ago:

Violet (Music by the aforementioned Jeanine Tesori, lyrics and book by Brian Crawley, based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts) tells the story of Violet Karl of Spruce Pine, NC in 1964. When Violet was 12, an accident with her father and an axe left her with a large facial scar, from cheek to nose. Ever since, she has been teased and grown to accept her ugliness. Keeping her going was a faith healer in Tulsa OK. Now 25, Violet has raised enough money to take Greyhound to Tulsa to be healed. Going through Tennessee, she meets two Army soliders: a black sergeant named Grady “Flick” Fliggins, and a young white corporal named Monty. Both take an interest in Violet. While overnighting in Memphis in a hotel that accommodates blacks, they go out to party and Monty ends up sleeping with Violet (although Violet told Flick she had left the door unlatched).  When they arrive at Fort Smith AR, the Monty indicates he will come back Saturday to meet her bus after she’s done in Tulsa. She continues on to Tulsa where she meets the healer… and you can likely predict what happens there. I won’t spoil the details of the end of the story, but you can read them on the Wiki page for the musical. Throughout the show, there are regular flashbacks to young Violet and her father showing their relationship and how she reacted to the scar and the absence of her mother. PS: I also found a wonderful scene breakdown.

Violet (Production Photostrip)This is a show with a strong message — and it isn’t about the charade of faith healers (although there is a strong message of the power of belief). At one point, the phrase Act ugly, do ugly, be ugly.” is used. In many ways, this is the underlying metaphor for the show. What you believe about yourself, how you behave, is what makes you ugly or beautiful. At the beginning of the show, Violet sees herself, due to the scar, as ugly. Later on in the show, after she believes she has been healed, you can see the change in her — she now believes she is beautiful and through the stint of that belief, transforms. But it isn’t just Violet. We see the soldiers transform from acting ugly to becoming caring people. We see, in the reactions of others, ugliness reflects. What becomes important is not “Act ugly, do ugly, be ugly” but its counterpoint: “Act beautiful, do beautiful, be beautiful.” It is our beliefs and behaviors that dictate how society sees us. Further, given this is the south in 1964, it is how society behaves — beautiful or ugly — that determines what society is.

This production of Violet, directed by Richard Israel (FB) with choreography by  Julie Hall (FB), was a delight. The performances were remarkable, with great facial expressions and believable reactions, wonderful movement, and soaring voices.

In the lead position was Claire Adams as Violet. I had so much fun watching her perform this role. She had a strong singing voice, but what got me more was the attitude she displayed and her facial expressions, She displayed a wonderful range of attitudes, and truly made the show special. Effectively paired with her was the younger version of Violet, played by Lily Zager (FB). She captured a similar range of attitude well and had a great singing voice. Even better was when the two of them sang together; their voices merged together delightfully. Just watch the two of them in the opening number or “Luck of the Draw”. [PS: Claire also designs webpages, a fact not in her bio but one of the ads]

Primarily playing off the adult Violet were the two soldiers she met on the bus ride:  Morgan West (FB) as Monty and Jahmaul Bakare (FB) as Flick. West gave a very tender portrayal of Monty, capturing not only bravado of a man entering the special forces, but the tenderness of a man who connected with a girl inside the damaged shell.  We’ve seen Jahmaul Bakare before — he was in the previous production we saw, where I wrote Bakare had a voice that would just make you melt; it was particularly notable in numbers such as “Let It Sing” and “Hard To Say Goodbye”.  He hasn’t changed, and is wonderful to listen to.

Primarily playing off the younger Violet was John Allsopp as Violet’s father. We saw Allsopp ages ago in Pest Control, so long ago he doesn’t list it on his resume! He gave an intense performance, ranging from the playful in “Luck of the Draw” to the emotional in the “That’s What I Could Do” number. His intensity in that number was just remarkable.

The remaining actors played multiple roles as bus passengers, as well as members of the ensemble. There are a few performances that are worth singling out. First and foremost is Kevin Shewey (FB) as the Televangelist Preacher (also Bus Driver, Gospel Choir).  He played the preacher with such intensity and spirit that I almost got up. Alas, my Judaism won out :-). He was also a strong singer in “Raise Me Up”. As we’re talking about church, I’d also like to single out Benai Boyd (FB) who portrayed Lulu Buffington, the lead Gospel singer (also: Almeta (Landlady) and a bus passenger). She had a wonderful voice during the gospel number. The next performer worthy of note was Lauren Thompson (FB), who for the longest time was our box office contact for this company. She played the Music Hall Singer, as well as a member of the Gospel choir and a bus passenger. I never realized that she had such a lovely voice. Lastly, I’d like to mention Co-Op regular Lori Berg (FB), who was wonderful as old lady on the bus (also: hotel hooker, gospel choir). Rounding out the ensemble as various bus passengers and choir members were: Patrick Cheek (FB) [Virgil, Leroy Evans]; Matthew Podeyn (FB) [Billy Dean, Waiter, Radio Singer]; and Emuna Rojkumar (FB).

Music was provided by a 5 piece band, conducted by Taylor Stephenson. The band consisted of Ellie Bunker [Violin]; Thomas Lovasz [Cello]; Dominic White [Guitar 1]; Manuel Mendoza (FB) [Bass]; and Jorge Zuniga (FB) [Drums]. The band had a wonderful sound.

Finally, turning to the production side. This performance was held in the Crossley Theatre, which is essentially a thrust staging with audience on three sides of the main action. The sides were made up to look like bus windows, and there were 1950’s style (mimicing PCC busses) movable benches and seats that became the various problems. Credit for the scenic design goes to Nicholas Acciani (FB), and it worked very well, Supporting this design was  Wendell C. Carmichael‘s costumes, which seamed reasonably appropriate for the era (I have a few quibbles on the Army uniforms — they conveyed the message but were lacking the normal uniform accouterments).  Cameron Combe (FB)’s sound provided the appropriate sound effects. Martha Carter‘s lighting design worked well, modulo a misbehaving LED above the band that wasn’t her fault. Remaining credits: Klint Flowers [Hair and Makeup]; Samantha Ramirez [Properties]; Derek R. Copenhaver (FB) [Stage Manager]; Jamie Mills [Asst. Stage Manager]Heather Chesley (FB) [Artistic Chairwoman];  Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manager]; Nora Feldman [Publicity]Thomas Chavira (FB) [Producer].

Violet continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through June 15. Go see it; it is a wonderful production with great music. Tickets are available through Actors Co-Op; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

Actors Co-Op has announced their 2018-2019 season, which consists of: Rope (Sept 21-Oct 28); She Loves Me (Nov 2 – Dec 16); Anna Karenina (Feb 8-Mar 17); Steel Magnolias (Mar 22-May 5); and The Christians (May 10-Jun 16). They’ve also announced their Co-Op Too! summer series: Stories of Madness from the Mindful Nut (July 20-22, 27-29); Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters (Aug 2-5); and Twelfth Night, or What You Will (Aug 10-12, 17-19). We’ve subscribed. So should you.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Ramat Zion on Shabbat; the weekend itself is currently open.

June — ah, June. That, my friends, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), including The Story of My Life from Chromolume Theatre (FB). You can find a detailed discussion of the Fringe schedule here. Right now, it looks like the following:

July will get busier again. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The next weekend brings Jane Eyre The Musical at Chromolume Theatre (FB) at the Hudson [yeah! Chromolume found a new location]. The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

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

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