What Price, Silence? | “A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-Op

A Man for All Seasons (Actors Co-Op)What is your responsibility to your internal moral compass, and how does that responsibility change when your compass points a different direction than your national leadership? This is a question that many of us face today: We have compass that teach us compassion for others, to be reasonable stewards of the world, to strive for equity and equality and even tempers. We have respect for the rule of law, and withhold judgement until we have the facts. We respect others, be they different sexes, genders, colors, abilities. But we are faced with an administration that seems to abandon those values — in fact, it thumbs its nose at what many of us respect, taking actions that appear to serve only the self interest of the ruling family and the oligarchs. Our elected officials? They seem to have no moral compass, worrying only about their own political lives and careers, and seeming to do or say only that which keeps them in office and in favor of the current administration.

But this is nothing new. Back in the era of the Showtime show The Tudors, there was a similar situation with King Henry VIII. He had tired of his wife, and wanted another woman. The only thing standing in his way was the Catholic Church, church canon, and church law. So he pressured his Bishops to find a way for him to divorce his wife, and when he couldn’t, he fired them and brought in new leadership. He bullied his administration to create a new church where he would be the supreme leader, and demanded an oath of sovereignty from all accepting that his way was the right and divine way. If you wouldn’t agree, it was the towers, torture, and beheading in your future.

But one man thought he had figured out a way to beat the system. He disagreed with the King — his moral and religious principals told him that the King did not have this authority. But he was a lawyer, and so he didn’t speak his beliefs. He stayed silent and attempted to work tightly within the law. Even when the Oath was being enforced, he stayed silent on what he thought was wrong — because silence signaled neither assent or dissent. But when the King wants an answer, silence is taken as resistance. As he would not speak up for the King, he must be against the King. And so, in the end, his head rolled like many others. He was a martyr for his silence.

He was Sir Thomas More, and he was the subject of the play just finishing its run at the  Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood, A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt (which we saw last night). It was a story with which I had been familiar, being addicted to The Tudors when it was on (plus going to Ren Faire). More was a man with strong and unwavering moral conditions, but who did not speak up or act (other than to resign) . The situation of More had lots of parallels with the situation this nation is facing with Donald Trump.

The production was also an interesting juxtaposition of play and the mission of Actors Co-Op. Being Jewish, I’m always a bit troubled by the religious aspect of this theatre group, whose mission states they are a company of Christian actors driven by passion for the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m always worried a bit about proselytizing or particular themes in productions. However, the quality of the productions wins me over. I felt their mission a bit more with this show — in particular, I felt them not being silent through it. For as much as the evangelicals back Trump, the President’s actions and behavior are decidedly non-Christian. They show none of the compassion shown by Jesus towards the poor and the stranger; they have none of the social justice component of Christ’s ministry (and none of the social justice of the Old Testament and Jewish beliefs). This belief is social justice is shown in the ministry of Actor’s Co-Op sponsoring organization, the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. I believe that, through this show, Actors Co-Op wasn’t being silent: they were saying that Trump’s values are not Christian values, and that people attempting to claim they are do so to preserve their power and position, not to make the world a better place.

I applaud Actors Co-Op for this reminder. Sir Thomas More went to the gallows for being silent and not speaking up. Had a person of More’s moral conviction and standing spoken up sooner, might things have changed. Challenging authority with the truth is dangerous, but vital if change is to occur and the world is to become a better place. This production made you think about the need to speak up and the need to stand for what is right, even in the face of personal danger. If you can, speak; if you can’t, let your silence be a thorn in the side of authority. Don’t let misguided authorities go easy into the good night.

Director Thom Babbes brought out strong performances from his acting ensemble, drawing you in and keeping your focus on the story. This is a dark story with an ending that isn’t happy, but he found a way to bring in just enough humor and bathos to not let the darkness overwhelm. The actors were believable when necessary, but there was enough in the staging to remind you that this was a play, and that what you were seeing wasn’t real life. This, in turn, made our real life situation even scarier, as the parallels became clearer.

In the lead position was Bruce Ladd as Sir Thomas More. Ladd gave an outstanding performance: strong and yet personable, forceful and believable, yet with warmth underneath. It was just riveting. Also strong was Co-Op regular Deborah Marlowe, who portrayed “The Common Man”. This was a role the brought together all the minor characters from stewards to boatmen to innkeepers to jurors to jailors, and also served as the narrator and framing device for the story. As such, Marlowe got to portray numerous different characters and personalities, and she did so with aplomb and skill, and was just a joy to watch.

More’s family was portrayed by Treva Tegtmeier as his wife, Lady Alice More; Elsa Gay as his daughter, Lady Margaret More, and Issac Jay as his eventual son-in-law, William Roper. All gave great performances, I particularly liked the flashes of character from Gay.

In the circle of acquaintances and friends of More — at least initially — were Sean McHugh as The Duke of Norfolk and Michell Lam Hau as Master Richard Rich. McHugh’s Duke came off as a gregarious sort who was truly friends with More, and did what he could to save him from his fate — but ultimately, failed. Hau’s Rich was more of an opportunist: he was there to get the better job and the better pay, and didn’t let philosophies trouble him. This explains why this character came off as the Toady he was, especially with respect to Cromwell.

The mention of Cromwell brings us to what I would call the King’s circle: John Allee as Thomas Cromwell; Greg Martin as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer; Vito Viscuso as Signor Chapuys, the Spanish Ambassador; and Ian Michaels as King Henry VIII.  Allee gave a chilling portrayal of a determined Cromwell, and Viscuso was a warm and welcoming Chapuys. Viscuso and Michaels really only had a few scenes, but were good in them.

Turning to the production side of things: Rich Rose‘s Scenic Design was simple but effective: a space with a generic square background; some boxes on stage from which props could be extracted, some stairs, and tables. But with the imagination, it worked well. This was augmented by Shon Leblanc‘s costumes, which seemed appropriately period for the caste and time. Lisa D. Katz‘s lights served to augment the mood, and Juan Sanson‘s sound design provided the appropriate sound effects. Other production credits: Eric White – Stage Manager; Thomas Zabilski – Asst Stage Manager; Selah Victor – Production Manager; and Carly Lopez – Producer.

Due to a change in the schedule, our “early bird” tickets for A Man for All Seasons turned into tickets for the penultimate performance; the final performance is occurring as I write this. The next production at  Actors Co-op (FB) is Violet, running May 11-June 17, 2018.

***

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) in the West Adams district, 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:

The third weekend of April brings Bad Jews at The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) on Friday, followed by The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)) on Saturday. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB).

Continuing into May and June: The first weekend in May will bring School of Rock at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), with the following weekend bringing Soft Power  at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The middle of May brings Violet at Actors Co-op (FB).  The last weekend will hopefully bring a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Ramat Zion; 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). Additionally in June we’re seeing the postponed Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), The Color Purple at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and possibly Do Re Mi at MTW. The latter, however, is on a Sunday night in Long Beach, and so Fringing may win out. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

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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Appearances are Everything | “A Walk in the Woods” @ Actors Co-Op

A Walk in the Woods (Actors Co-Op)How do we achieve actual progress towards solving problems that, if left unsolved, have the potential to destroy the world? That’s the question that is at the heart of Lee Blessing‘s A Walk in the Woods, which just opened at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood. The story, on the surface, revolves around two arms negotiators, Andrey Botvinnik and Joan Honeyman, meeting over perhaps two years (the time period isn’t 100% clear) in Switzerland. Their job: find an agreement whereby the two countries can make the world safer by reducing the number of arms each other has. But is this ever possible? Will either country let the other gain an advantage, or will they just agree to reduce one obsolete set of arms, while building new equally lethal technology not covered by agreements? Will the reductions be significant enough to ever reduce the situation to a non-lethal state? Or … perhaps .. is what is more important the appearance of negotiating on the issue, never actually accepting something?

This play was written during the Obama administration, and discusses a time period seemingly during the Reagan administration, when the nuclear arsenals of the US and the Soviet Union were of concern, and when our leaders knew how to be diplomats. One question I had was the relevance of this play today, when our nation’s leadership doesn’t seemingly care about the world stage. We have an isolationist, jingoist, and militarianist “America First” (yet another problematic slogan) we haven’t seen since the days before WWI. Does our country even care about reducing armaments today? Are there negotiations going on to do so? There are recent proposals by the President to increase and modernize our nuclear forces, to increase and continue the “mine is bigger and better than yours” mentality that makes the world less safe. So in the era of Trump, is this play just saying the negotiations are pointless anyway?

Yet there are other issues — domestic and international — where we keep talking, but not making progress. Immigration. Climate Change. We talk and talk, propose agreements, only to see them scuttled by one side or the other for seemingly meaningless reasons. Could it be that the talks are just a delay and distraction tactic, creating the appearance of progress when there was never an intent of actually finding a solution — for in finding a solution, one side must be the victor and the other the loser.

So perhaps there is a point to this play — in the Trump era — after all. It is to show us that the talking may be a form of progress. The talking may delay something worse. The talking may be keeping hope alive — hope that future administrations may finally move beyond the talk to an actual solution, and the perception and appearance of progress might be replaced by actual progress.

Under the direction of Ken Sawyer (FB), the production is kept simple. Two actors, talking, with a roughly representative set that is sufficiently evocative but not realistic, drawing the focus to the words and the action. The performances themselves were good, but still in evolution (this was the second performance of the show, and there were points where the actors had micro-momental line recall issues that were quickly recovered). Phil Crowley‘s Andrey was the friendly Russian uncle; Nan McNamara (FB)’s Joan was the no-nonsense negotiator trying to prove herself. Both performers seemed reasonably realistic, and there was a good unspoken chemistry between the two. Combined with the story, the two kept and held your attention, and the two hours (including short intermission) passed without seeming to drag.

Also seen on stage were the two assistant stage managers, Katie Chen and Carla Vigueras both dressed identically in all white. They gave the opening welcome to the show (in unison!), and also operated in unison to change the set between scenes. Although not part of the formal play, they provided a little extra levity in what was a very serious production.

In keeping with the focus on the words and the story, the other production elements were kept simple. I’ve already mentioned Ellen Lenbergs‘s simple set design of abstract winter trees, projected headlines, a dock, and a bench. This was augmented by Adam R. Macias (FB)’s sound design, which created the soundscape of the woods, and was eerily stereophonic during the rabbit discussion. Mood and season was established well by Nicholas Acciani (FB) and Matt Ritcher (FB)’s lighting design. Wendell C. Carmichael‘s costumes were sufficient — there’s not much one can say about business attire, other than the Russian’s seemed vaguely Russian. E. K. Dagenfield (FB) was the coach for the Russian dialogue. Other creative and production credits: Christian Eckels (FB) [Stage Manager];  Lauren Thompson (FB), [Producer]; Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manger].

A Walk in the Woods continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through March 18th. I found it an enjoyable drama. Tickets are available at the Actors Co-Op Website, Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

Season Announcements: I’ve received some season announcements in the mail recently:

  • 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)] has announced their 2018-2019 season (renewals are going out to subscribers, like us, shortly). The season consists of Shrek – The MusicalMatilda, and West Side Story. We’ll probably renew. Although there have been a number of local productions of Shrek, we haven’t seen it since 2011 when it was at the Pantages. Someone should let George Chavez know :-). This should be the first regional production of Matilda (wouldn’t it be interesting if they got Cabrillo Alum Lesli Margherita to return for the show). West Side Story is a classic; always fun to see.
  • The Tabard Theatre Company (FB) in San Jose has an interesting season coming up: Another Roll of the Dice / Sep 14 – Oct 7, 2018; The Explorer’s Club / Oct 26 – Nov 18, 2018; Uptown Holiday Swing / Nov 30 – Dec 16, 2018; Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook (featuring songs from the Stephen Schwartz catalog)/ Jan 11 – Feb 3, 2019; Beau Jest / Feb 15 – Mar 10, 2019; and Queen of the Mist / Apr 5-28, 2019.  If they weren’t 300 miles away, we’d consider subscribing; still, we may drive up for Queen of the Mist. If you’re in the southern Bay Area, you should consider subscribing in our stead.
  • Hollywood Pantages (FB). The Hollywood Pantage just made their season announcement; I addressed it in detail in this post. In short, it looks good, and we’ve already renewed.

***

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) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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 middle of this week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with  James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week, so we’ll go to it after our first show in March, the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March was to bring Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB), but that has shifted to June and that weekend is currently open. The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.

April looks to be a busy month. It starts with Love Never Dies at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) [as an aside, there was just a great interview with Glen Slater, the lyricist of that show, on Broadway Bullet that is well worth listening to]. The second weekend brings A Man for All Seasons” at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) (nee Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)), as well as our annual visit to the Original Renaissance Faire. The last weekend of April sees us travelling for a show, as we drive up to San Jose to see friends as well as Adrift in Macao at The Tabard Theatre Company (FB). Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding an  Ahmanson Theatre (FB) subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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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Houseguest. Rhymes With P… | “The Man Who Came To Dinner” @ Actors Co-Op

The Man Who Came To Dinner (Actors Co-Op)Have you ever had an invited guest in your house who overstayed their welcome? A person whose visit you looked forward to initially, but who threw your home into disarray and your life into shambles? Someone with such an inflated sense of self that they believe the world revolves around them, and they never see the damage that their meddling can create in the lives of others? Someone who is a master manipulator of people and can convince them to do whatever they want them to do, no matter who gets trampled in the process?

That’s not something that would never happen in real life. No, never. Right?

No, I’m not vaguebooking again. Rather, I’m describing the key underlying premise of the classic Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman comedy that we saw last night at the Actors Co-op (FB): The Man Who Came To Dinner. Originally written in the mid-1930s by two renowned playwrights for their friend, Alexander Woollcott, a famous theatre critic and star of a popular radio show, the comedy describes an exaggerated situation that without the exaggeration happens far too often in households across the world.

The Man Who Came To Dinner takes place in 1936 in Mesalia OH, right after famed radio broadcaster and critic Sheridan Whiteside has come to visit the home of the Stanleys, but slipped on a patch of ice on the front step while entering. He is thus a prisoner of his medical condition, in a house in a town where he doesn’t want to be, with his executive secretary Maggie, for some unspecified period of time. Whiteside is a person who likes his life as he is used to it, when he is used to it, with whom he is used to it. Wherever he is, the world and the environment must bend to his will, for only if he is happy are those around him happy. Needless to say, this has drastically impacted the life of the Stanleys — Mr. and Mrs. Stanley, their children June and Richard, Stanley’s sister Harriet, and their staff — cook Sarah and butler John. Not helping the matter is an old-fashioned over-attentive nurse Miss Preen and the befuddled town doctor (who has written a play) Dr. Bradley.

Now, add a plot complication in the form of local newspaperman Bert Jefferson, who comes to interview Whiteside but ends up getting involved with Whiteside’s secretary Maggie, who falls in love — and lets Whiteside know she is leaving. Of course, this would throw Whiteside’s world into further chaos, so he involves friend and actress Lorraine Sheldon to interfere. Let’s just say the results are predictable, given this was written by a man who wrote many Marx Brothers comedies.

That last point means you have many additional characters show up who were essentially caricatures of personalities of the day, such as Banjo, Dr. Metz, Beverly Carlton. You also have wild absurdity, ranging from a cockroach farm, a delivery of penguins, an association with a home for paroled prisoners, and numerous telegraphs and name dropping with celebrities of the day. It is a classic convoluted comedy plot, with an incredibly large cast (19 people in more named roles than that) that you don’t often see in theatres these days (simply due to the cost of the actors alone, unless you are exempted by some sort of agreement with Equity).

You can read a more detailed description of the plot on the Wikipedia page.

How does one assess a story like this, especially in the present day? In its day, this was a classic situation comedy: extended silly situation, overdrawn characters (i.e., exaggerated characteristics), classic tropes. It certainly was the basis of many a sitcom: acerbic wit stuck in a place they didn’t want to be, meddling to get what they want. It certainly is funny today for the same reason.

But at the same time, there are troubling intimations of its time that might not fly today.  Whiteside constantly makes jokes about the sexual behavior of his nurse. Banjo pulls her onto his lap, despite protestations. In the context of the time of the play, they are funny; but in today’s Harvey Weinstein / Kevin Spacey world, our enlightened modern mindset keeps us asking: “Should I be laughing at that?”. Looking back with today’s vision, we know the type of man that Sheridan Whiteside is, and how much he respects the will and wishes of others.

This is the dilemma of classic theatre: it is a product of when it was written, and makes a statement of that time. The Man Who Came To Dinner, while still very funny on its surface, is also a statement. It is a statement about what can happen when bad behavior is allowed to continue unchecked. It is a statement of how men perceived to be powerful treat the people around them. The story of Sheriden Whiteside might be very different had it taken place today.

Is a story like The Man Who Came To Dinner worth seeing today? I still think so. It is still an excellent comedy with great lines; asking if one should skip it because of today’s sensibilities is like asking if one should no longer watch The Marx Brothers do their comedy. Enjoy it. Laugh. You certainly will with this production. But be aware with today’s mind as well, so that men like Sheridan Whiteside can’t behave like that today.

[As an aside, that’s the funny things about these writeups: Sometimes, I never know the direction they will go until I start writing them, and then the writing muse often uncovers something I hadn’t thought of in the moment of the show]

Director Linda Kerns (FB) has worked with her acting team to capture the broad caricatures of these characters in the cast, including the clear references to the Hollywood and Broadway and Radio personalities that inspired them. I’m sure this required some education of the younger generation who (alas) are likely less familiar with the greats of the 20s, 30s, and 40s.  She also got the movement and the blocking down well, which isn’t easy in this large cast on a small stage with clear limitations.

The Man Who Came To Dinner (Cast Photo Strip)In the lead position was Greg Martin (FB) as Sheridan Whiteside. Martin captured the character quite well, with all the requisite bluster and wit required. In his bio, it is noted that in his day job he’s a Deputy DA, so I wonder if he built his characterization on some of the people he has seen in court.

Playing off of Whiteside in the Girl Friday role of Maggie Cutler was Natalie Hope MacMillan (FB★, FB). MacMillan created the proper sense of both competence and girlishness required, and was a believable couple with Connor Sullivan (FB)’s Bert Jefferson.

The Sullivan family, who were hosting the Whiteside entourage, consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley (Lawrence Novikoff (FB) and Deborah Marlowe (FB)), Mr. Stanley’s sister Harriet Stanley (Brenda Ballard (FB)), and their children June (Lila Hood (FB)) and Richard (Kyle Frattini (FB)). Each captured their unique characteristics well: Novikoff capturing the exasperation,  Marlowe the adulation, Ballard the kookiness, and Hod and Frattini the youthful naivete.

Also drawn and performed as the appropriate broad caricatures were Jean Kauffman (FB)’s Miss Preen (the nurse) and Irwin Moskowitz (FB)’s Dr. Bradley.  Each knew how to work the characters for the laughs they were designed to get.

Most of the other actors had multiple characters, often with one primary. Most notable among these was Catherine Urbanek (FB), who in addition to playing the one-scene character Mrs. Dexter in the first act, gets to be the standout actress Lorraine Sheldon. In the latter role, what is most notable about Urbanek’s performance is how she has two characters — the real Kansas City actress and the phony Lorraine character, and uses a clearly different voice for the two personas, which is interesting to watch. Also doubling as acting friends of Whiteside are Wenzel Jones (FB) as Beverly Carlton (also Convict Michaelson, Plain clothes man, and a choir person).  As Carlton, he only really has one scene but handles it with quite a bit of humor. Lastly, as Banjo (a clear Marx Bros. parody), John Allee (FB), captures the Marx Bros. zaniness well; he also portrays “Radioman” and “Baker”.

Most of the other characters don’t have strong individual characterizations, but are captured well by their actors: Kevin Michael Moran (FB) [Metz, John the Butler]; Karen Furno (FB) [Sarah the Cook]; Goreti da Silva (FB) [Mrs. McCutcheon, Wescott]; Hunter Lowdon (FB) [Convict 2, Expressman, Choir Person, Deputy]; and Chris Savell (FB) [Sandy, Convict Henderson, Choir Person, Deputy].  Catriona Fray (FB★) was the Lorraine U/S.

Turning to the production side:  Nicholas Acciani (FB), who just received an Ovation nomination for his design of 33 Variations, designed the set, which was a reasonable portrayal of an upper-class Ohio household in 1936. The arrangement of rooms and props worked well to eliminate excessive crossovers and permit hiding of some of the outrageous deliveries. It was supported by the props of Ernest McDaniel (FB), Property Master. I particularly noticed the Egyptian sarcophagus in the final act, and I wonder if it was purchased from the Colony Theatre as they cleaned out their lobby. Shon LeBlanc (FB) did the costume design, and Amanda Walter (FB★) did the hair and makeup, most of which worked well (there were a few cases where the wigs looked a little wiggy). Sound and light were done by Warren Davis (FB) and  Andrew Schmedake (FB), respectively, and both did a great job of establishing place and mood. Rounding out the production team were: Rita Cannon (FB) [Stage Manager]; Thien/Tintin Nguyen/FB [Assistant Stage Manager]; Nora Feldman [Publicist]; and Thomas Chavira (FB) [Producer].

[As another aside: While writing this up, I’ve been listening to the attempt to turn this show into a musical, Sherry!. I can now see why it didn’t work — it wasn’t the music, but the fact that this is a book that really didn’t need musicalization.]

The Man Who Came To Dinner continues at the Actors Co-op (FB) through December 17, 2017. Tickets are available online; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. This is a very funny show that, while perhaps a bit dated in tone and attitude, will still have you laughing in your seats.

***

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) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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 Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), as well as The Kingston Trio (FB) at the Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks (FB). The third weekend will bring Edges at the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) on Friday, the Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on Saturday, and Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) and  Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical) at LA Community College Caminito Theatre (FB).

December starts with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics (FB). We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

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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From Hamilton to Hitchcock | “The 39 Steps” @ Actors Co-Op

The 39 Steps (Actors Co-Op)And so, with Alfred Hitchcock, our theatre hiatus of almost 6 weeks comes to an end. Between Hamilton, which we saw on August 12 and this production of The 39 Steps, saw us traveling over 4,800 miles (at little over 4,905,290 steps, at the average stride rate).  The break, due to a combination of vacation and other activities, was a palette cleanser. And we’re ready to slowly start back up theatre, and our first show was the first show of the 26th season of Actors Co-Op (FB): Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlow.

We last saw The 39 Steps at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in May of 2010. Back then, I wrote about the production: “This is one production I expect to have a long life after the initial tour: it can easily be done by inventive companies.” The show has: I’ve begun to see regional companies doing the show on a regular basis — I think there are two or three doing it in Southern California alone.

Here’s how I described the show back in 2010:

The original “39 Steps” was a 1935 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The short version of the plot of that film, from IMDB, is “Richard Hannay is a Canadian visitor to London. At the end of “Mr Memory”‘s show in a music hall, he meets Annabella Smith who is running away from secret agents. He accepts to hide her in his flat, but in the night she is murdered. Fearing he could be accused on the girl’s murder, Hannay goes on the run to break the spy ring.”. You can find a more detailed summary of the film plot on Wikipedia.

This stage version of “The 39 Steps” is a comic farce interpretion of the movie. It takes the original mystery film, and puts the exact story onstage as if it was done by a group of four British actors at a cheap theatre. One actor takes the Richard Hannay role; one actress takes the three female lead roles (Annabella Schmidt, Pamela, and Margaret)… and the other two men take all of the remaining over 150 roles from the film. Along the way, they throw in every Hitchcock cliche and reference you can think of, including names of every Hitchcock films and most of Hitchcock’s well known situations (such as the shower scene from Psycho and the airplane chase from North by Northwest). They even throw in a Hitchcock cameo!

Making this even more fun is the fact that they don’t do this in the sort of expensive production you’ve come to expect from Broadway these days. They do it on the cheap, using clever invention (such as rear projection, puppets, representational props) to make up for the all-too-common overdone show.

The Actors Co-Op version of the show hewed close to the above, although they slightly altered the framing device and changed the execution as appropriate for an intimate theatre.This production framed the show not as British actors in a cheap theatre, but filming a production in the 1930s. I don’t recall any significant use of rear projection or seeing any puppets (and do not recall any shower scene or Hitchcock cameo). But other than that, the inventiveness was still present — including a great running gag with a window. They used props extensively to create the scene and the place, and it worked very well. They also changed the makeup of the clowns from two men to a man and a woman, which actually added a bit to the humor. They even brought in the Maltese Falcon.

Not being familiar with the script, I can’t say how much of the invention is dictated by directions in the script (stemming from the original production), and how much comes from the director (in this case, Kevin Chesley (FB)). If I had to hazard a guess, I’d estimate about 60/40, with the story giving the basic manic structure and suggesting broad execution approaches, and the director filling in the specifics and adding additional references and tricks as they saw fit. Assuming that is the case, then Chesley did well with this. Not only was he able to capture the farce timing required for this show, and not only did he pull all of the distinctly different characters out of the actors, but he was able to adapt the story from a well-funded production on a proscenium stage to an intimate theatre (under 99 seats) production in the three-quarter round, using no rear projections and a basic set of props.

The actors also captured the farce nature of the show well. In the lead position was Kevin Shewey (FB) as Richard Hannay. He was the straightman to the farce, the person moving the plot forward while being the center and catalyst for the comedy. He did this well, maintaining his composure in the madness. His regular ingenue was Lauren Thompson (FB), who played the main named female roles: Annabella, Margaret, Pamela, and the Radio Announcer. Demonstrating a variety of accents and personalities, Thompson was fun to watch. Both had to perform quite a bit of physical comedy, which came off well.

Supporting them were the two clowns, Townsend Coleman (FB) and Carly Lopez (FB), who covered the remaining 10,000 characters and roles. Well, probably less than 10,000, but it was a lot.  All of these characters — different sexes, different dialects — required lots of physical comedy and quick costume changes, which were executed well. It was fun to watch.

Supporting this effort was the production team: Scenic designer Stephen Gifford (FB) and Prop Master Lori Berg (FB) worked together to provide a very inventive stage and loads of props to support the storytelling (and where did she find the phone decanter). Adding to this were the equally inventive costumes of Vicki Conrad (FB).  Warren Davis (FB)’s sound design provided the appropriate sound effects and ominous music, and Andrew Schmedake (FB)’s lighting design provided the, umm, appropriate lighting effects and ominous lighting. Adam Michael Rose (FB) dialect coaching provided the appropriate dialects and the ominous … well, suffice it to say that the show has a large number of dialects — multiple English and Scottish dialects, as well as German — and Rose helped the actors get the different dialogs down pat. Rounding out the production team were: Derek Copenhaver (FB) [Stage Manager], Thien/Tintin Nguyen/FB [Assistant Stage Manager], Nora Feldman [Publicity], Jorie Janeway (FB) [Producer], Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manager].

The 39 Steps continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through October 29th, 2017. Tickets are available by calling Actors Co-op, or through their website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. The production is clever and extremely funny, and well worth seeing.

Note: There was one non-production related discordant note. We’re Jewish. Actors Co-op (FB) is a ministry of First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood [FPCH] (FB), which is noted in every program in their mission statement. We have no problem with that — we’ve attended productions from other church ministry theatre groups such as ELATE, and we’ve never noticed any overt proselytizing — only excellent theatre. That’s why we subscribe and recommend this company to others — excellent theatre. However, as we were leaving the show, we noticed a sign on the side of their fellowship hall from FPCH indicating their ministries, which included Jews for Jesus. JFJ and similar groups (the so-called “Messianic Jews”) are problematic for Jews, as they have, as part of their mission, conversion of Jews to Christianity, and they often use misleading tactics to do so. That FPCH supports them does make clear their Christian nature; still, seeing that sign gave this Jewish audience member pause. It will likely be rotated out by the next time we’re on campus, but the company might consider discussing with FPCH the impact of publicizing such ministries on the broader theatre audience attending their shows.

Dining Notes: Normally we hit the local Fresh Brothers Pizza (FB). They are near the theatre, have great gluten-free options, and most importantly, their own parking. Last night, however, we wanted something different as I’m trying to reduce my cheese consumption. Our choice was Localli (FB), which is about 1 block further east than Fresh Bros (on the E side of Gelsons). They also have their own parking lot. It is a combination health-food market and sandwich shop, with some excellent and tasty sandwiches and salads — healthy, and available gluten-free and vegan. It isn’t fancy. Still, I think we’ll be back. There’s also a Thai Restaurant — Pimai It’s Thai (FB) — in the same parking lot that we might try next time.

***

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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (FB)), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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:

September is very quiet for theatre — The 39 Steps is our only show. I’ve been looking at the shows coming across Goldstar, and there’s not much that is drawing me to them. So we’ll see about how the upcoming weekends fill out. Currently, our October theatre begins mid-Month with  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB). The third weekend in October brings Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). December brings ACSAC 2017 in San Juan PR, the Colburn Orchestra and the Klezmatics at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB),   Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB), and our Christmas Day movie. More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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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Coming Together, Coming Apart | “The Last 5 Years” @ Actors Co-op Too!

The Last 5 Years (Actors Co-Op)This has been a weekend of love. Friday night we saw a Shakespearean celebration of love through the eyes of Galt MacDermot and John Guare: Two Gentlemen of Verona – The Musical (nee “A Grand New Musical”). Last night (Saturday), we saw a different sort of celebration: The Last 5 Years by Jason Robert Brown (FB) at Actors Co-op (FB) today, part of the Actors Co-Op’s Actors Co-Op Too! summer series — a series of short runs to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members.

If I had the choice of a musical to see, The Last 5 Years would not be it. I’ve seen it three times before: 2016 at ACT San Francisco; 2006 at REP East; and 2006 at the Pasadena Playhouse. It is one of those musicals that gets trotted out when you need an inexpensive two-hander; it is a great showcase for two actor-singers. But for an audience member, it is unclear what the different versions bring. So why see it again? Partially because it was offered to subscribers, and I’m all about value and getting my subscription dollar’s worth. Partially because I view it as a salami and eggs show: it is a reference dish that is a good test of a theatre.

The Last Five Years is a simple show in terms of story: there are two actors, and they rarely appear together. The show tells the story of the relationship between Jamie and Cathy. Cathy’s version of the relationship story is told backwards: from the breakup to when they meet. Jamie version is forward: from when they meet to the breakup. They are only together at the middle (the marriage) and the last scene (but that time their songs are separate). The story alternates between the two stories, and from it the audience gets the story.

Given this structure, the storytelling depends on two things: the performance and the music. Jason Robert Brown (FB)’s music has the JRB romantic musical sound (i.e., you’ll find that The Bridges of Madison County has a similar sound): deep, lush, emotive, and at times playful. There are some very beautiful songs in L5Y; there are some very funny songs; and there are some very poignant songs. It is a test of the actor-singer who must convey everything through performance and voice. This is especially true in the small theatre where the lushness of the score is reduced by simplification to a single keyboard.

My reaction to the Actors Co-op production of The Last 5 Years was mixed. I really liked Claire Adams (FB)’s Cathy. I felt she brought a wonderful sense of performance and character to the role, and I enjoyed her singing. This is the third time we’ve seen Adams; we saw her previously in both Lucky Stiff and A Funny Thing…Forum. In this show, her face was a delight to watch and wonderfully expressive; her body language was real; her comedy adept. I enjoyed her singing voice, and didn’t notice any significant problems. A cousin who came with me — who has had some professional vocal training — did notice some. Setting aside her comments on “Broadway voice”, she did note that the singing was done in a way that was more tiring to the vocal cords; looking back, I can see that the voice was more tired near the end. So, as this is a workshop production and thus desirous of constructive comments, my one suggestion for the actress would be to work on that: she has a great voice, and learning how to use it in a way that doesn’t expose it to strain can only be a good thing. But I really enjoyed the performance aspects — it brought some wonderful insights and views of the character that I hadn’t seen before. This was apparent from the “get-go” in the opening number, “Still Hurting”, where you could see the real emotion coming through in the staging. It continued through her numbers — all of which were great.

On the other hand, there was Dorian Keyes (FB)’s Jamie. Sigh. I mean, I was rooting for him, as a fellow software engineer. After all, this is a guy that with other computer science friends started a production company called Nerd Squad. Further, although not shown in the program (but discovered doing this writeup), he’s played the character a few months before this outing. So he should have been much better. The main problem: he just didn’t give off the vibe that made him believable as the character. That is, he didn’t strike me as particularly New York Jewish (which Jamie is clearly), nor was he believable as a writer and author. Nowhere was this problem clearer than in “The Schmuel Song”, which has become a classic Jewish character story-song. His focus was on the cheesy Christmas tree; he didn’t bring Schmuel to life — there was no sense of being in that tailor shop in Clemovich. To me, his voice was a bit generic and lacking the character I like to see come through in a voice (the reason I love folks like Susan Egan or Kate Baldwin). My cousin characterized his voice as mediocre — it needs more training to develop character and strength and depth. I think, overall, I’m not saying that he was bad — because he wasn’t. A better characterization is … non-descript. His performance wasn’t the “Wow! 🎆” that Jamie needs to be. He was average on the edge of good; but when contrasted with the powerhouse portrayal of Cathy from Adams, there was no shine to the star. In terms of workshop constructive criticism: this is actor that needs some more seasoning on the acting and singing side. The bones of a good performer are there, but a greater variety of roles, with directors who can help him find the depth to bring it out, and vocal coaches to help mature and strengthen his voice (as well as discovering how to bring character to that voice) will help in the long run.

This production was directed by Laura Manchester (FB). I’ve always said that I have difficulty telling where what an actor brings stops and what the director brings starts. That’s certainly true here. Manchester produced the background film used as part of the scenic design, as aside from one faux paus I’ll mention in a bit, that was excellent. Manchester’s direction of Adams as Cathy was strong and on-point. But with respect to Keyes, it was weaker — and again, this came across clearly in “The Schmuel Song”, where seemingly the character’s focus was setting up the Christmas Tree (an incongruous thing for a Jewish person to do), and not the charm of the story song. It may have been a casting issue; her FB (discovered while writing this) shows she was having some difficulty casting the role, so this could simply have been the problem of finding the right actor, and that actor having the right connection with both the director and the story. The director also had to contend with the nature of the theatre space used. Every other production I’ve seen of this show has been proscenium based: the actors on a stage surrounded by a proscenium, separated from the audience. This production used the Crossly Theatre space, which is a “theatre in the round” space with the audience on three sides. Manchester used that space well, bringing the actors forward and interacting with the audience on all sides; she also used the entry and exit arches to good effect.

Musical direction was by Taylor Stephenson (FB), who did a fine job on the keyboard, and interacted well with Adams’ Cathy during the audition scenes.

On the production side: The scenic design by Nicholas Acciani (FB) had a number of bookcase boxes and other props in the back, and incorporated multiple small projection screens for which Nicholas Acciani (FB) provided the projection design and Laura Manchester (FB) provided the content. This mostly worked quite well, except in the “I Can Do Better Than That” scene. The problem there? The actors are facing forward, playing the scene as if they were driving in the direction of the front center audience. So, from the audience perspective, they are looking through the front windshield at the actors, and the projections should have been reflecting what is seen in the rear window. But instead, the projections were as if the car was driving in the direction the audience was facing. In other words: The view was as if that actors were driving the car in reverse without even looking over their rear shoulders. This was an unnecessary video disconnect that brought the audience out of the moment (or at least this roadgeek out of moment); it was also something easily avoidable simply by doing a 180° with the camera during the car filming (i.e., point it backwards).

But that was the only production-side flaw. The lighting design of Savannah Harrow (FB) and the sound design by Maddie Felgentreff (FB) both worked well, establishing mood and focusing attention. There was no credit for costume design: presumably this came from either the director or the actor’s closets. Adams’ costumes were great and fit the character well (plus she did some wonderful quick costume changes); Keyes’ costumes were often a bit informal for the type of author this character purported to be. Savannah Harrow (FB)  was the stage manager; the production was produced by Selah Victor (FB) and Laura Manchester (FB).

The Last 5 Years (which this production appears to write out as The Last Five Years, just as they change Kathy to Cathy) continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through August 5th, with remaining performances on July 30 at 2:30pm, August 4 at 8:00pm. August 5 at 2:30pm and 8:00pm. Tickets are a suggested donation starting at $10 and FREE to all 2017-2018 Season Subs. Visit their website www.actorsco-op.org or call the box office at 323-462-8460 to reserve your seat.

***

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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (FB)), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

August starts with Brian Setzer at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) [although a little birdie … OK, Nance from Chromolume whom I saw at The Last Five Years, indicated the dates on that are shifting out to November]. There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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 Notable Beginning | “Ruthie and Me” @ Actors Co-Op Too!

Ruthie and Me (Actors Co-Op)Everything has a beginning. In the case of musicals, long gestation periods often begat workshops, which begat more workshops as a musical is honed into the eventual stage production that one sees. One of the companies to which we subscribe, Actors Co-op (FB), does this through their summer series Actors Co-Op Too!: a series of short runs to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members.

Yesterday, we saw the second production of this year’s Too! series: Ruthie and Me. Ruthie and Me was written 20 years ago by book writer and lyricist Karen Wescott (FB), with music by Marylou Dunn (FB), but it had never seen a full production (although it appears there was a staged reading at some point at the Pasadena Playhouse, and possibly a church variant of the show). Director Natalie Hope MacMillan (FB★, FB) worked with the authors to develop a streamlined revision, with the result being this first staged workshop production. (Note: This doesn’t appear to be the first time the author and director have worked together; I found this while attempting to find the author’s bio online)

Ruthie and Me tells the story of the biblical character Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth.  Coming from the Jewish tradition, I was aware of the importance of the story: Ruth is the first recorded instance of a convert to Judaism and provides the model for Jewish conversion; she is also traditionally in the lineage of King David. However, I recalled from my Jewish Studies courses at UCLA that Ruth had some additional implications within Christianity (see here and here or here, for example). Essentially, the Jewish interpretation focuses on the conversion and lineage, and the Christian interpretation focuses on redemption and the parallels between Ruth’s son and Jesus. My fear was that, given the mission of the company, the Christalogical aspects would be too heavy-handed (i.e., sufficient to make this non-Christian audience member uncomfortable). I’m pleased to say that nothing along this aspect struck me during the show, although there was a little bit more emphasis on the redemption aspect than the conversion aspect.

As this was, essentially, a workshop production, there is the written understanding that this is a work in progress — not a finished “Broadway ready” piece. I would essentially agree with that: I think the piece is a good beginning, but needs some work along the path. In the spirit of that, I hope that the following comments will help it along the way. In terms of the story itself, limiting to the specific Biblical concept and age is understandable given the nature of the author, but rarely have such stories succeeded. If a way could be found to transport the bones of the story to a different setting (as is often done with Shakespeare), it could provide some additional insights on the acceptance of a convert in a closed and insular society, and the redemptive power of an open heart. Conversion is a powerful metaphor these days: whether it is conversion and suspicion of the foreigner in a larger society (witness what we have seen with refugees and foreign immigrants), or conversion and acceptance in terms of gender. There could be some very interesting parallels to explore there.

In terms of the writing itself: there were some language concerns. Specifically, there was use of both Yiddish and Hebrew and moving back and forth between the two (with the typical differences in pronunciation). But a larger concern was why the Yiddish was used. It wasn’t used as part of the context of the time, or to create the feeling of Yiddishkeit community, but rather for the humor of the words in the Jewish context of the play (perhaps we only know a character is Jewish if they spout Yiddish?).  If that is the intent, there needs to be a deeper way of conveying that message without dropping to the stereotypical. As the musical is shaped further, ask yourself: Why are they speaking Yiddish. As I write that, the phrase and role that comes to mind is dramaturg. Enlisting such a person to help in the shaping might resolve those issues.

Musically, the show comes off as … a church play or cantata. It is predominately sung through, and a chorus is often used to provide exposition along the way as opposed to the dramatic scenes illustrating the story. The music from song to song tends to have a similar tonality and feel; the only song that truly stands out is “Life After a Certain Age”. So unless the intent is to take this along the lines of Andrew Lloyd Webber or a Lin Manuel Miranda, an effort needs to be made to craft this more along traditional musical lines. The music can use a bit more variety in tempo and style as well. There were also points where I got the feeling that the rhyming dictionary was handy during the process. In other words, the rhymes felt like they were there because the lyricist though this rhyme is good — let’s add a few more, as opposed to letting the lyrics serve the story and advancing it forward.

If you are interpreting the comments above as my thinking this was a bad show, think again. I thought it was a good show and a great musical telling of the Story of Ruth. But as it currently stands, it might only have a life on the liturgical stage. If it wants something more than that, then further seasoning and adjustment is required.

The performances (under the direction of Natalie Hope MacMillan (FB★, FB)), for the most part, were reasonably good. In the lead positions were Lori Berg (FB) as Naomi and Christina Gardner (FB) as Ruth. Berg gave a strong performance as Naomi — conveying humor, singing well, capturing the Jewish nature of the character, and in general, being very enjoyable to watch. Gardner needs some more seasoning (as is understandable for a Too! performance): I liked her acting and dancing quite a bit, but she does need to work a bit more on the singing. Specifically, she needs a bit more power behind the voice to be able to compete and compare with other actors on stage, and there were a number of notes where I got the impression she was reaching a bit out of her range or was slightly off. These are all correctable with a little training, and I think the underlying basics and talent are there — so I view this like the larger show: this is a strong start, and I hope to see her again, improved, in a future production.

In what I would characterize as the second tier of importance were Darrell Philip (FB)’s Boaz and Tracey Bunka‘s Sapphira. I really liked Philip’s Boaz: he exuded a strong warm personality, and one could easily see why Ruth was attracted to him even given the difference is ages. He also sang very nicely. Bunka’s strength was in singing in movement — she had a very strong voice that stood out and defined the songs she was in, and was a joy to listen to.

Rounding out the cast in other smaller named roles and ensemble positions were: Tamarah Ashton (FB) [Ensemble]; David Buckland (FB) [Ensemble, Baruch]; Hannah Dimas (FB) [Ensemble, Orpah]; Wayne Keller III (FB) [Ensemble]; Perry Hart [Ensemble, Nathan]; Carly Lopez (FB) [Woman 2]; Lisa Rodriguez (TW) [Woman 1]; Karlee Squires (FB) [Ensemble]; and Priscilla Taylor (FB) [Ensemble]. All were strong and performed and sang well. About the only weakness was one of the male ensemble members — there were two times where he had line trouble. I’m writing that off to this being a workshop and having only three performances (and thus, likely an equivalently light rehearsal period).

Music was provided by side-stage accompanist Jeff Gibson (who it turns out is connected to a family we’re good friends with). We hadn’t seen Jeff in ages, so it was a treat to see him (plus his dinner recommendation worked out great).

Actors Co-Op Too! productions have minimal budgets and sets. There was no credit for scenic design or anything like that. Lighting design was by Dan Corrigan (FB). Choreography was by Jorie Janeway (FB).  Derek Copenhaver (FB) was the stage manager. Ruthie and Me was produced by Carly Lopez (FB).

Alas, Ruthie and Me had only three performances: one on Friday, July 14, and two on Saturday, July 15, so you missed your chance to see it. However, there is one more Actors Co-Op Too! production, The Last 5 Years, in two weeks, and Actors Co-Op (FB) has a great 2017-2018 season. Visit their website for more information.

***

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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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:

After this show, we ran to Thousand Oaks for Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend of July brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB). August starts with Brian Setzer at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast (you can contribute to the production here). The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and a hold for Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), and HOLDs for Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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 Questionable Financial Situation | “Voysey Inheritance” @ Actors Co-Op

Th Voysey Inheritance (Actors Co-Op)What would you do if you discovered that your local bank was cheating people? Oh, it was paying interest and making loans and such, but if all the depositors came and wanted their money, they would discover it was all a house of cards, and no one could be made whole. If it was 2008, you’ld likely be OK — after all, that’s why we have deposit insurance. Close the bank, pay the depositors, and sell any remaining assets to another bank.

But suppose this was in the time before deposit insurance? The turn of the 20th Century, in fact — 1904. Suppose it was the family bank — the one keeping your lifestyle afloat? Would you just take the hit and liquidate then — paying people pennies on the dollar, and making some destitute? Or would you keep the sham going on the hope that you could recover and pay everyone back?

That’s the question at the heart of The Voysey Inheritance, a play by Harley Granville-Barker adapted by David Mamet, which is finishing up its run at Actors Co-op (FB) today, part of the Actors Co-Op’s Actors Co-Op Too! summer series — a series of short runs to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members.

The Voysey Inheritence explores a financial dilemma encountered by the Voysey Family in Edwardian England.  Mr. Voysey is the head of a financial institution in London, inherited from his father. His son and partner, Edward, discovers that his father has been pilfering money from client accounts, paying them any interest and payments, but otherwise speculating with their capital, skimming any profits. He has been continuing the scheme with the hopes of making thing right, but this offends the son’s sensibilities. Further, the father has been using the funds to support other family member’s financial needs: son Hugh’s art, son Booth’s position, daughter Ethel’s dowrey, and so forth. When the father dies and the son inherits the institution, what is to be done? Especially, what is to be done after he discovers that most of the family knew of the sham, and kept it going to preserve his position? Does he liquidate, does he try and make the smaller accounts whole, does he try to make everyone whole? And what will he do when it all comes crashing down — as it eventually must.

As this show started, I didn’t know what to make of this? An odd Edwardian parlor drama? But as the story unfolded, I got caught up in it. It is surprisingly timely, especially given the aforereferenced situation we faced in 2008, as well as many of the financial charades undertaken or encouraged by many of today’s leaders.

Of course, it helped that there were top flight performances under the direction of veteran stage director David Atkinson (FB). That’s pretty amazing if you harken back to what the Actors Co-Op Too! series is and what that likely means: minimal rehearsal, newer actors, no budget — acting for the love of the craft. Atkinson and his team worked together to craft an excellent performance. Yes, there was the occasional minor line pause that became noise, but on whole it was excellent in character personification and intensity

In what I would characterize as the lead position was Thomas Chavira (FB) as Edward Voysey, who had perhaps the shortest bio in the program. Based on that and his resume, a new-ish actor who gave a very strong performance in this role. He brought the right level of hesitancy, honesty and passion to this role. Also strong was McKensie Garber (FB) as Alice Maitland, his cousin / fiancee (yes, I found that a bit odd as well). McKensie is another new actor, recently moved to LA after a stint as Miss Missouri. My eye was first drawn to her face, but her performance won me over quickly with a great sense of fun underneath the surface — a sense that made the ending of the play additionally sweet. It turns out we also had fun talking with her mom before the show, but I didn’t make the connection between the actor on stage and actual person until I looked at the program at intermission.

The patriarch of the family, Mr. Voisey, was played by Townsend Coleman (FB). He only appears is the first half of the production, but gave a strong performance in his interactions with Chavira’s Edward.

The other members of the Voysey family were played by Nancy Atkinson as Mrs. Voysey, E. K. Dagenfield (FB) as Peacey / Trenchard Voysey, Christian Edsall (FB) as Major Booth Voysey, Matthew Grondin as Hugh Voysey, Jorie Janeway (FB) as Honor Voysey, and Michelle Parrish (FB) as Ethel Voysey. Ms. Atkinson played the matriarch well; a small role where the primary characteristic was being hard of hearing. I SAID, BEING HARD OF HEARING. Dagenfield, who is a regular dialect coach at Co-Op, handled the one small scene as Trenchard in the 2nd scene well, but shone as Peacey in the 3rd scene in his interaction with Edward over a request for money. Edsall was strong as Maj. Booth in the bulk of the play after a weak introduction in the first scene (how the character is written, not the actor). Grondin’s Hugh was also stronger in the second act, especially in his interactions with Edward and the rest of the family. His character, Hugh, gets some of the most insightful lines about the corrupting power of money. Also, for whatever reason, Grondin’s photo was seemingly left out of the actor montage photo that Co-Op tweeted and I incorporated into the image for this post. Parrish’s Ethel is written very shallowly, but what characterization is there is captured well by Parrish. That leaves Janeway’s Honor (a name you never see these days). She has a very interesting characterization — initially capturing a stiffish-enigma, but bringing out some interesting depth as the play progresses — the one character to whom, perhaps, money never meant anything in particular with family being more important. A small role, but one that is very telling about the position of women in Edwardian society.

Rounding out ensemble was Bruce Ladd (FB) as George Booth and Tim Hodgin (FB) as Reverend Evan Colpus. Ladd gave a particularly strong performance during the second act, bringing out a lot of fire and emotion.

Being an Actors Co-Op Too! production, the production team was small: Director David Atkinson (FB) doing double and triple duty as the sound and lighting designer, actor Thomas Chavira (FB) doing double-duty as the producer, and Thien/Tintin Nguyen/FB as the stage manager. Kudos to whomever did the props on the budget for the excellent choice and taste in fountain pens: I could see a Montblanc, a Cross, and a Retro. I just happen to be a fountain pen aficionado, and it’s a nice choice (and one that no one else in the audience would likely notice, even if I do prefer Shaeffers).

The last performance of The Voisey Inheritence is today at 2:30pm. The performance is free, although a $10 or more donation is requested from non-subscribers. Information on the location may be found at the Actors Co-op (FB) website.

***

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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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:

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). Next weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) if the tickets go up on Goldstar; otherwise, we may do Measure for Measure as part of free Shakespeare from the Independent Shakespeare Company (FB) in Griffith Park.. The third weekend brings  Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB) followed by Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend of July brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast (you can contribute to the production here). The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and a hold for Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), and HOLDs for Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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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Going to the Dogs | “Lucky Stiff” @ Actors Co-Op

Lucky Stiff (Actors Co-Op)Actors often keep track of their Broadway Debuts — the first time they were on a Broadway stage. But how much does an actor’s first show represent where they will be going in their career. The answer is: often not much. Unless they get that starring role from the get-go, there are often years of hard ensemble, swing, and understudy roles before the true talent shines through. For every Bebe Neuwirth at the top in Chicago, there’s the same actress in a background role in Sweet Charity.

What about composing teams? How much does their first show say about where they will be going? One can’t say for Rodgers and Hammerstein — they each worked with other composers before their first show, Oklahoma. For Kander and Ebb, did Flora: The Red Menace indicate where they would eventually go? Did Godspell fortell Wicked for Stephen Schwartz? How representative was Saturday Night for Sondheim? Parade for Jerry Herman?

When we look at the key new composing teams from the 1980s, one of the best is Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. They’ve given us such great shows as RagtimeOnce on this IslandSeussical, and Anastasia. Their first produced show was a farcical murder mystery, Lucky Stiff (a production of which recently opened at  Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood), based on “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” written by Michael Butterworth. The plot is, well, a farce. A hapless shoe salesman (Harry Witherspoon) in England inherits $6 million from his gambler uncle (Tony Hendon) in New Jersey, who he has never met. There’s one condition: he take the corpse on one last vacation to Monte Carlo. If he doesn’t do this, the $6 million will go to the Universal Dog Home in Brooklyn (and Harry hates dogs).  Meanwhile, in Atlantic City, Tony’s lover Rita LaPorta, who shot Tony because she thought he was cheating on him, convinces her dentist brother, Vincent DiRuzzo to go to Monte Carlo with him to get back the $6 million, which she and Tony embezzled from Rita’s gambler husband, to whom she confessed that it was her brother that stole the money and then lost it gambling (and thus, the husband has a contract out on Vinnie). Lastly, the Universal Dog House is watching everything though a field representative, Annabel Glick, because if Tony doesn’t fulfill the terms of the letter, the money goes to them.

That, mind you, is the set up. This is a farce so there is plenty of mistaken identities, doors slamming, distractions, but there’s not a single sardines. There is, however, the requisite character who is blind but for her glasses, which she refuses to wear, a drunken maid, nuns, and Arab sheiks.

However, the focus of this opening treatise is whether this silly fluff of a show was predictive of the team that would give us Ragtime and Once on this Island, Seussical and Man of No Importance, My Favorite Year and Anastasia. I think the answer is … yes. Although a number of songs are silly, there are glimpses of the greatness to come. Especially in numbers like “Times Like This” and “Nice”, the team’s ability to tell tender ballads is fortold. The opening number “Something Funny’s Going On” as well as “Him, Them, It, Her” shows the ability to construct humorous multipart choral numbers. So although the story is a silly farce, it does show the genius yet to come.

Now, as farces go, this is not a tightly crafted as, say, Noises Off. It calls for overacting at times, it creates absurd situations, and has some truly bad lines reflective of the times (“she don’t just can-can, she will-will”). It requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. But it is also very funny, and I think most people will find laugh-out-loud humor in the story. If not, well they will at least appreciate some of the songs.

Lucky Stiff Prodction PhotosIn many ways, the success of a farce depends on the execution of the story. Split second timing, a willingness to go overboard when appropriate, and the ability to play for the joke is critical. For a musical farce, you need to be able to handle the music and choreography as well, which is also tightly timed. Director Stephen Van Dorn (FB) and Choreographer Julie Hall (FB) lead the cast reasonably well in this regard. The movement coordination during the second act chase (“Him, Them, It, Her”) works very well, and the players handle the farcical aspects pretty well (although, at times, they overplay it too much).

In the lead couple positions were Brandon Parrish (FB) as Harry Witherspoon, and Claire Adams (FB) as Annabel Glick. Parrish, who has to be the straight man to much of the humor and craziness going around him, handles the situations with aplomb. He also sings quite well (a side we didn’t see in 33 Variations). Adams, who we last saw as Hero’s target of adoration in Cabrillo’s Forum, handled the humor here as well. She also did a great job with one of my favorite songs in this show, “Times Like These”.

The protagonist … make that catalyst … for this story, Anthony Hendon, is played by Vito Viscuso (FB). I must say that his performance was a bit stiff. (pause for effect) Now that we are past that joke, seriously, Viscuso handled the part of a corpse very well, really only standing and dancing in one number. This is not an indictment of his acting, however, as we saw him in the previous production at Actors Co-Op, Cats Paw, where he was spectacular.

Our comedic second couple, Tony’s lover Rita LaPorta and her brother, Dr. Vincent DiRuzzio, were portrayed by Rory Patterson (FB) and Brian Habicht (FB), respectively. Patterson threw herself in the role wholecloth, playing it broadly for the humor and handling her comic numbers quite well (looking back, almost all of her numbers are comic numbers). Habicht also handled the humor quite well, especially in “The Phone Call” (his call back to his wife) and the closing scenes.

The remaining sole actor named role was David Atkinson (FB)’s Luigi Gaudi, who is a person Harry first meets on the train, and then keeps running into. He plays this well for the comedy.

Rounding out the cast are an ensemble of four, who handle multiple characters each (and are thus credited as Woman 1 and 2, and Man 1 and 2). These versatile players are: Gina D’Acciaro (FB) [Woman 1: Landlady, Miss Thorsby, Nurse, Southern Lady #1, Dancing Portrait, Drunken Maid], Alastair James Murden (FB) [Man 1: Surly Lorry Driver, Solicitor, Prosperous Man on Train, Clothing Salesman, French Emcee, Croupier, Nun, Old Texan]; Selah Victor (FB) [Woman 2: Dominique du Monaco, Spinster, Southern Lady #2, Dancing Roulette Wheel]; and Jose Villarreal (FB) [Man 2: Offstage Telegram Deliverer, Vicious Punk, Mr Loomis the Eye Patient, French Waiter on Train, Stationmaster’s Voice, Bellhop, French Waiter in Club, Dapper Gambler, Leper]. Note that one of our two programs had a slip that the Woman 2’s roles were being split between choreographer Julie Hall (FB) [Spinster, Southern Lady] and producer Catherine Gray (FB) [Dominique], but I don’t know if that applied to our performance. D’Acciaro did a wonderfully over-the-top performance as the requisite drunken maid, and Murden stood out as the emcee. I’m not sure who was playing Dominique (who gets the number “Speaking French”), but whoever did it at our performance handled it quite well, including the intentional overplay on the acting.

Music was under the direction of Taylor Stephenson who was also playing the keyboards behind the scenery (and who we have heard and seen at numerous Chance shows). Joining him were Malila Hollow (FB), also on keyboards and synthesizer, Nic Gonzales/FB on bass, and Jorge Zuniga (FB) on drums.

Finally, turning to the creative and production side: The scenic design by Lex Gernon (FB) worked reasonably well, although there was no good explanation about why the door to #5 was upside down (which was oddly distracting). However, the parachute made up for it. The scenic design was supported by Nicholas Acciani (FB)’s properties, which for the most part worked well. The lighting design by Lisa D. Katz (FB) served to define the mood appropriately and direct attention. On the other hand,  Warren Davis (FB)’s — or the execution thereof — had some problems at our performance, with mics cutting in and out and odd static at times. Vicki Conrad (FB)’s costume design worked well, although some (going with the theme) were a bit on the stereotypical side.  Hair and makeup was by Krys Fehervari (FB). Remining production credits: E. K. Dagenfield (FB) – Dialect Coach; Leticia Gonzalez (FB) – Stage Manager;  James Ledesma (FB) and Derek Copenhaver (FB) – Assistant Stage Managers; Heather Chesley (FB) – Artistic Chairperson, David Elzer/Demand PR (FB) – Publicity; Selah Victor (FB) – Production Manager, and Catherine Gray (FB) – Producer.

Lucky Stiff continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through June 18. Tickets are available through Actors Co-Op; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Actor’s Co-Op has announced their summer Actors Co-Op Too! season as well as their 2017-2018 season. I’ve written up my thoughts on their season here; in short – subscribe!

🎩 🎩 🎩

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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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 concludes with a production from Write Act Rep (FB) at their new home in North Hollywood, Freeway Dreams, followed by Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) [plus my wife is off to the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival (FB) on Sunday, as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is playing, while I work on the highway pages].

As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). This is the current planned schedule for HFF. Not all is ticketed — we are ticketing in two groups: this weekend (¹), and right after June 1st (²), to split the charges. To see the full Fringe guide, click here.

With respect to the Hollywood Fringe Festival: I’d like to recommend Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman. Linden, the artist, did the show for our synagogue Mens Club back in October, and it was a delight. So good, in fact, that we’re going to see the show again during Fringe. If you want a fun show full of parody music, see this one.

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July has a hold for Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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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