Even With a Republican • “I Love You, Because” @ GTC Burbank

I Love You Because (GTC - Red Brick Road)userpic=theatre_ticketsShortly after the Hollywood Fringe Festival, I read a review in the LA Post-Examiner about a production of I Love You, Because at the Hudson Theatre. I had heard the music from the show before (I have the CD), and wanted to see it; unfortunately, I just couldn’t fit it into my schedule before it closed. Luckily for me, I learned about a different production being produced by someone I knew from my Temple Beth Torah days that was opening in September. The show’s schedule and my schedule were able to mesh, and so last night we were out in Burbank to see the Red Brick Road Theatre Company† (FB) and Endeavor Theatre Ensemble’s production of the Cunningham and Saltzman musical “I Love You, Because” at the Grove Theatre Center.
[† Red Brick Road does have a website, however it is currently under construction and not yet uploaded. Eventually, you’ll find it here.]

I Love You, Because is a musical about… well, let me start by telling you what everyone says it is about. Everyone says — that is, it seems to be that every review of the show that you will read will say — it is a modern twist of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Now, I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice, but I have read the Wikipedia summary,  and I have difficulty seeing the purported connection. My advice: ignore that claimed aspect of the show, as it appears to be tenuous at best. Beside that, there are no zombies.

So what is I Love You, Because about. To me, it is a comedy squarely in the center of the off-Broadway subgenre of small cast comedies about finding love in New York. You know them: shows like First Date; Brownstone, The Musical; Five Course Love; I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; I, Sing; Little Shop of Horrors… oh, right, no zombies. In any case, shows about some small number of couples seeing to find love through endless dating, finding Mr. Wrong, and then finding Mr. Right. I don’t know why they are always in New York — perhaps Gothamites are much worse at finding love, or perhaps Gothamites will only go see a show if it is about their city (whereas LA folks care about love in New York, perhaps New York doesn’t care about LA).

In any case, I Love You, Because is squarely in the “looking for love” genre of musicals. In this case, we have two young and beautiful gothamites: Austin and Marcy. Each has just been dumped by their long-term paramores. One, Marcy, would just like to move on, but her best friend Diana convinces her that she absolutely must wait the proper amount of rebound time. The other, Austin, wants to win back the love of his life, but his brother, Jeff, convinces him that he must go out and date again, for only then will the universe restore balance by bringing the woman that dumped him back. If you hadn’t realized it yet, both of the sidekicks are pretty cynical about love itself and neither has any realistic hope or want of finding a relationship. So the two sidekicks happen to set up a date with each other, and happen to bring along their best friends so they can meet and force the universe to do what they want.

The universe is perverse, so you can guess what happens.

That’s right, Austin and Marcy start seeing each other: her to have something to pass the rebound time with; him to have someone help him right the perfect poem to win his girl back. There’s no interest of the two in each other, as they are stereotypical opposes: he a straight-laced Republican; she a free-spirited Liberal. As I said, you can guess what happens; I probably shouldn’t spoil it too much.

As for the sidekicks, you can probably guess what happens there. After all, you’ve see Mike and Molly. That’s right: they become friends with benefits.

By now you can see where this is going, and anticipate where things will end up. There is a crisis at the end of Act I prompted by the profession of actual feelings; Act II serves to resolve those feelings and bring everything to a happen ending, with the help and lubrication of two nameless supporting cast members who serve various roles, including as bartenders and waitresses (something every actor in New York knows how to play well).

Overall, I found the story a bit sitcomish, but enjoyable and funny and cute. That may be because the characters were written a bit broadly. Others in the audience were guffawing and finding it hilarious throughout — I’m not that demonstrative, but there are some very cute bits.  There could be an age factor in this: the humor may hit even more to those who are closer to the modern dating world than I, an engineering type who married another engineering type and never really explored the dating scene (except with other mathematicians, scientists, and engineers).

Part of this could be due to the fact that this was an early work from the authors, Ryan Cunningham (Book and Lyrics) and Joshua Saltzman (Music). The team does not have a lot of musicals under their belt, and often the oeuvre of a team matures over their production span. In many ways, the lyrics and music were a bit stronger than the book itself. Many of the songs were very cute and the audience could relate to them. Good examples of this are “We’re Just Friends”, “Coffee”, and “That’s What’s Gonna Happen”. Of course, there is the very strong “The Actuary Song”, which makes one think of the heist planning in 70 Girls 70. On the other hand, there were some klunky-ish songs such as “…But I Don’t Want to Talk About Her”.

One thing that was notable here was the casting, for which there is no specific credit (so it was likely a combination of the director and the producers). Most productions of this show, judging by the cast pictures, tend to select a uniformly white, good looking, model-proportioned cast. This production was far from that. Of the three female cast members, two were on the fubsy side, the third was a person of color. The male side was a little less diverse, although that is understandable given two of the three characters are brothers. But it was truly a nice thing to see on the stage — especially as -ism based on size has been about the only -ism to remain common.

ETA: Photos from the production have been posted on the production’s Facebook page.

Let’s turn to this cast, under the direction of Carol Becker (FB). In the lead positions were Laura Bevilacqua/FB as Marcy and Nick Echols (FB) as Austin. Let’s start with the basics: I was smitten with Bevilacqua’s performance. She had a remarkable personality, a dazzling smile, wonderful expressions and reactions and an extremely strong singing voice that did not require the amplification that it had. She was just a joy to watch, especially when she wasn’t the center of the action and was just reacting. Echols seems to start out a bit stiffer (this was, after all, the second performance of the show) and to have some amplification problems, but as the show progressed he became a much warmer character and less of the stereotype he began as. (boy, that was a convoluted sentence).  One other thing worth noting was the size difference between the two: even in her heels, Bevilacqua was at least a head shorter than Echols. It was fun to watch them navagate around that.

In the sidekick tier, we had Kristen Bennett/FB as Diana and Matthew Ian Welch (FB) as Jeff. Bennett and Welch just seemed wrong for each other, yet the pairing work. No where else was this clearer than in the “We’re Just Friends” song, where the two are clearly having a load of fun. Bennett had a very strong gospel style voice, and Welch had an amazing baratone that just seemed to come from nowhere.

Rounding out the team in various character roles were Ali Deyer (FB) as the “NYC Women” and Tim Jim Lim/FB as the “NYC Men”.  I really liked Deyer — it was nice to see someone who was zaftig on stage where it wasn’t being played for the funny, but just as a normal character with a normal life. Deyer also had a strong singing voice. I was less crazy about Lim — his characterizations were a bit over the top and at times bordered on the stereotypical; I was also not enamored of his singing voice, which was a bit weaker than the other two men in the cast. Lainie Pahos (FB) was the understudy for Marcy/Diana.

The on-stage musicians were under the musical direction of Stephanie Deprez (FB), who was on stage playing as much as the actors (she was a hoot to watch). The “orchestra” consisted of Betsi Freeman (FB) (Piano), Glenn Ochenkoski (Drums), Mark Corradetti (FB) (Bass), and Jeff Kroeger (Keyboard). Choreography was by Liza Barskaya (FB) and worked pretty well given the space — again, I particularly enjoyed it on the “We’re Just Friends” number.

Turning to the production and creatives side. The set design by Carmi Gallo was reasonable: it didn’t give a strong sense of New York other than the pictures hanging on the wall; additionally, there was this odd red LED shape at the back that would turn on occasionally. It was unclear what that was meant to convey; hence, it served primarily to distract. Properties design was by Rebecca Kahn/FB, and they worked reasonable well — especially all of the fruity drinks and such. The sound design from Jay Lee was problematic: there was bad balance between the actors and the music; in that size space, the music needs to be toned down and the actors — especially these actors — do not require much amplification. As it was, it was a bit overpowering. The lighting design by Robert Davis conveyed the proper sense of mood and time, and thus worked well. The costume designs by Christine Macedo were strong — I particularly enjoyed the costumes on the lead actress (remember, I said I was smitten); all conveyed that sense of New York design that doesn’t work as well in LA :-). Rounding out the production credits were: Becky Murdoch/FB, Assistant Director; Owen Panno (FB), Stage Manager (who didn’t recognize us from the many years ago where we frequented TDWA in Northridge with all the Nobel grads); and Emily Mae Heller (FB) and Betsi Freeman (FB), Producers.

I Love You, Because continues at the Grove Theatre Center (FB) through October 2nd. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets; they do not appear to be up on Goldstar. I found it a fun and cute show — not deep, but fun — and a nice way to pass the evening.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre 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), and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). We’re thinking of adding yet one more subscription: the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district. Their 2017 season looks great: Zanna Don’t (Tim Acito, January 13 – February 5), Hello Again (Michael John LaChiusa, May 5- May 28), and Pacific Overtures (Stephen Sondheim, September 15 – October 8) — all for only $60). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:  The last weekend in September brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October is a bit more booked. The first weekend brings Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) event: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC event: An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood).

Allan Sherman Tribute Show at TASInterrupting this recap for a word from a sponsor: Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom is open to the community, and is a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood. Please tell your friends about it. I’m Past President of MoTAS, and I really want this to be a success. Click on the flyer to the right for more information. It should be a really funny night.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), although I doubt if we’ll have time for any shows. November will bring Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. We still have some open weekends in there I may book. We close out the year, in December, with the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-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: Although we can’t make it, I also recommend the 10th Anniversary Production of The Brain from Planet X at LACC. See here for the Indiegogo. 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.



The Inner Thoughts of a Girl Group

Inside Out (Grove Theatre Center)userpic=dramamasksI discover the shows I go to in many ways. For the theatres to which I subscribe, they pick the shows for me; in fact, that’s one reason I subscribe — to discover shows I might not otherwise pick. But the vast majority of shows I see I pick. I learn about them through promotion by Goldstar and LA Stage Tix; I learn about them from emails from publicists (they seem to think I’m a critic — I may write up the shows I see, but I’m computer security guy and professional audience). I learn about them from ads in programs (such as Footlights). I often learn about new musicals from Ellen Dostal’s excellent blog Musicals in LA. [and I should plug that I monitor this stuff with an excellent RSS reader, Newsblur, which is a great way to keep on top of websites]. Ellen’s blog alerted me to the show we saw last night — the 20th Anniversary production of Inside Out (FB) at the Grove Theatre Center (FB).  I had been looking for a show for this weekend, and just didn’t find one that screamed “come and see me”. Chavez Ravine at the Kirk Douglas came closest, but I couldn’t find tickets. This show called to me for a number of reasons: (1) it was a musical; (2) I had heard good things about Adryan Russ (FB) and her music before; (3) Bruce Kimmel (FB) was involved,  and we’ve liked the shows he’s done in the past (one, two, three); and (4) the subject matter sounded interesting. The net result: the first of two weekends seeing shows in Burbank. The verdict: This one is worth going to see — great performance, great musical, and a grand time.

Inside Out (with book by Doug Haverty (FB), music by Adryan Russ (FB), and lyrics by Doug Haverty (FB) and Adryan Russ (FB)) tells the story of a girl group. But not that kind of girl group — this isn’t Baby It’s You or some other jukebox musical. Rather, this is the story of a woman’s therapy group in the 1980s. This provides the opportunities for the women to talk and work out their problems, which provides the authors the opportunity to comment on the issues women faced with careers, the balance of work and family, and relationships. It also provided the opportunity to comment on failure and the path of recovery from failure.  This could have been a sit-and-talkfest; the fact that the participants sing through their problems is just an unsaid given. It’s the norm of the universe established in the first song.

Given the nature of this musical and this universe, the plot isn’t your traditional “tell a story” plot that one might see in Oklahoma. Instead, the plot is more on the order of A Chorus Line — learning the back story of a bunch of characters and watching them grow and change as they tell their stories and interact. For this to succeed, the mix of characters has to be right. Luckily, the authors chose a good mix: a mom who is dealing with changing body image issues after having children; a successful business woman with a stay-at-home husband and teenagers; a flighty CYT (cute young thing) into numerology and such; and a lesbian banker with a rapping teen son. The impetus for the show is the addition of a new group member: a well-known pop musician who hasn’t published anything or performed in years. The group discussions (and the songs presenting those discussions) touch upon a number of “touchpoint” subjects: the desire to be thin, the desire for a good relationship, what women want from men, the growth and depth of relationships, facing one’s fears, and taking chances. That the show successfully does that was reflected in the reactions of the women audience members — and I’m not talking just about those that know the cast members, but those that paid to be there (such as my wife, who thoroughly enjoyed the show).

Inside Out PhotosI’d venture to say that another reason for success was a directoral light touch. But in reality, I have no idea what the “touch” of the director, Bruce Kimmel (FB), was — and this is a good thing. I tend to believe that the sign of a good director — just like good sound and lights — is that they are transparent. You think everything is coming naturally from the actors. In this show, I couldn’t see obvious signs of overt direction — it all seemed that these were natural characters who loved being themselves. I guess that means there was good direction.

It didn’t hurt that the performances were top notch either. You can see most of the cast in two publicity photos I lifted from the Goldstar site, but note that we had the understudy in the role of Dena. All of the cast was excellent, so let’s talk about them (not behind their backs):

My favorite was Adrienne Visnic (FB) as Sage, the “freethinker”. She just radiated in the role — happiness, bemusement, joy, rapture. It was just a delight to watch her face — not only when she was upfront singing a song, but when she was in the background reacting to the other performers. She was very strong in her numbers, particularly “I Don’t Say Anything” and “Let It Go”. “I Don’t Say Anything” was a number that particularly hit home, as I could sense my wife thinking many of those thoughts about me :-).

Coming in a very very very close second was Stephanie Fredricks (FB) as Chlo, the lesbian banker. We’ve seen her before at REP in I Love You, You’re Perfectand I loved her performance then. She was great here, in much the same way as Ms. Visnic — her background and interaction with the other characters was great. You just got the sense that these women actually liked each other and were friends from this interplay. I don’t believe that level of nuance can come from direction — this comes from the actresses. She was wonderful in her lead numbers such as “never Enough”, but I also enjoyed watching her in the background in numbers such as “Thin.”

“Thin” brings us to the next actress I really liked (OK, I’ll admit it, I liked them all): Dana Meller (FB) as Molly. Meller’s first number, “Thin”, did a perfect job of establishing her character and echoing with the audience (as it touched on body image issues); her major number in the second act, “The Passing of a Friend” was also a hit. Again: great singing, great reaction, great interplay with the other characters and a delight to watch. I’ll note we’ve seen Meller before in both Insanity and Pest Control at the No Ho Arts Center. I still fondly remember Pest Control, and wish it would be revived and have a cast album.

Sandy Bainum (FB) was  strong as Liz, the high powered corporate executive. I initially didn’t warm to her character — I’m not sure if it was her look or the attitude she gave off. However, by the second act when the character loosened up, I was sold. She was great in her “Do It At Home” number, and just watching the transformation of the character was great.

For Dena — the character who seemingly was the focus of the group — we didn’t have the main player, Leslie Stevens (FB). Rather, we had the understudy, Jill Marie Burke (FB). Burke had a very different look than the other characters, and as with Bainum’s character, I was initially cold. Yet again, however, the performance won me over — by the second act as the character warmed up to the environment and the group, she shone. Burke nailed it on the songs and did great on the lines (one or two hesitations, but hey, this was an understudy situation, so they were truly minor). All of her numbers were great, but I’ll particularly highlight her second act numbers, “All I Do Is Sing” and “Reaching Up”. Of course, if her character really wants to find a venue where she can sing again, she should look no further than LA’s vibrant 99 seat theatre scene. More on that in a minute.

Lastly, bringing all these women together was the group therapist, Grace (Cynthia Ferrer (FB)). I could have sworn we had seen Ferrer before, but her name doesn’t appear in any of my writeups. I’m guessing this is because her character exuded that comfort and familiarity. She shone in her Act Two opener, “Grace’s Nightmare”.

The musical numbers were staged by Bruce Kimmel (FB) and Leslie Stevens (FB). Music supervision was by Alby Potts (FB), who provided the offstage music with someone else whose name I didn’t write down and who doesn’t appear to be obvious in the program. The movement and dance worked well, particularly in Dana Meller’s numbers. Music was strong throughout. Music arrangements were by Ned Ginsberg (FB), with vocal arrangements by E. Suzan Ott.

This brings us to the technical side — and the only quibbles with the show. The set design was by Rei Yamamoto/FB, and was very simple — some colored panels, and some office chairs. As they say, no expense was spared :-), but then again, this show has no real locations that had to be created, and the lack of a fancier set allowed the focus to be on the women themselves. Costumes were by Natalya Shaninyan (FB) and provided the quibble from my wife. I’m a guy — I wouldn’t know 80s fashion from a hole in the ground. My wife noted that some of the costume decisions were clearly of the wrong era — in the 80s, there wouldn’t be bare legs, there would be hose and shapers. Similarly, there were some comments from her on blouses tucked vs. untucked. I enjoyed the costumes, but wives often see things that we don’t :-). The sound by Josh Benton was clear and worked well. The lighting by Maarten Cornelis (FB) mostly worked — there were points, in my opinion, where the stage was a little too dark and the actors couldn’t be seen (and they weren’t intentionally in shadow).  Remaining credits: Victoria Chediak (Stage Manager); Maggie Marks (Props / Production Stage Manager), Art + Soul Design (Graphic Design), Michael Sterling (Publicity), Joanna Erdos (FB) (Associate Producer), Kritzerland Entertainment and Play Works Music (Producers).

The 20th Anniversary production of Inside Out (FB) continues at the Grove Theatre Center (FB) in Burbank through March 22, 2015. Tickets are available through Plays411.  Discount tickets may be available through LA Stage Tix and Goldstar. It is well worth seeing.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los AngelesDuring the production, one of the character longs for a place where she can revive her career — a place where she can get back on stage and sing, and get back to being comfortable with performing again. If she was in Los Angeles, she’d have such a place — the wide variety of 99 seat theatres. Alas, on the horizon is a proposal from AEA that might drastically change this scene. The proposal would force 99 seat and under theatres to either give up their non-profit status and only produce actor-mounted productions (unless they were a preexisting membership company), or pay their performers minimum wage for both rehearsals and performances (with a 3 hour minimum per performance). In fact, this very production of Inside Out might not exist under the new rules — it is not an actor produced show, and employs at least 5 AEA actors — meaning that ticket sales and discount sales would not provide enough to pay them. 99 seat theatres would be forced to eschew use of AEA (and possibly SAG/AFTRA actors), and this will hurt the LA scene. If you, like me, are an audience member, you need to get up in arms about this.  Producers have their venues to speak up — through groups like TPPLA. Actors have the standing to protest with Equity. Us audience members? We need to let people know what we think. Are we willing to pay much more for 99 and under seat theatre? Are we willing to see shows with non-equity actors? Learn about the situation, and express your opinion. #Pro99

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 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: February concludes with a lot of theatre in Burbank. Next weekend bring two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon (for example, I just booked “Loopholes” for the first weekend in May). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


“The theater is our lifeline to humanity — Without it we’d all be Republicans”

moon-over-buffalouserpic=yorickI’ve written before about how much I enjoy farce. Be it “Lend Me a Tenor” at the Pasadena Playhouse back in 1992, Black Comedy” at the REP in 2006, a revival of Noises Off” at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2003, Don’t Dress for Dinner” at REP in 2006, Is He Dead?” at ICT in 2009, or many others — you can always depend on farce for a laugh. So when I saw that Wasatch Theatrical Ventures (FB) was doing Ken Ludwig‘s farce “Moon over Buffalo” at the Grove Theatre Center (FB) in Burbank (where we had seen an excellent production of “Inherit the Wind” earlier in the year), the only question was when I could fit it into my schedule. Luckily, I was able to find space on closing weekend — so last night saw us in Burbank (where it was hot hot hot) seeing a farce (we where much luckier than my cousin, who was in the Rose Bowl taking her daughter to see some unknown boy band).

What makes a good farce a farce? The director of last night’s show, Kiff Scholl (FB1, FB2) wrote in the program that a farce has a number of rules: (1) lots of doors; (2) lots of confusion; (3) lots of physical comedy; and lots of improbably plot twists. What he doesn’t mention is that a good farce also needs good timing, a good comprehension of what is funny and what is not, and what is supposed to be funny and what is not. The latter is important: the actors shouldn’t be playful in a scene that in the stage reality isn’t funny, but in the real-world is. In essence, what this means for a farce is that the audience is in on the joke, but the actors don’t see it at all. In fact, in the farcical world, the absurd is perfectly normal, but it isn’t quite to the level of absurd (at least Ionesco absurd) yet. Confused yet.

Good writing is also important. The title of this post is one of the quotes from this show. I didn’t write down others, but did some searches post-facto. Here are some other lines to give you a taste:

  • “This is Buffalo, New York. It’s like. Scranton without the charm.”
  • “What? Bad news in this company? The House of Usher Repertory Theatre?”

You’re probably wondering what Moon in Buffalo is about. As with any farce, giving too many details will spoil the jokes, so here is how Ken Ludwig (the author) describes it on his web page about the show (slightly augmented):  “In the madcap comedy tradition of Lend me a Tenor, the hilarious Moon Over Buffalo centers on George and Charlotte Hay, fading stars of the 1950’s. At the moment, they’re playing Private Lives and Cyrano De Bergerac in rep in Buffalo, New York with 5 actors. On the brink of a disastrous split-up caused by George’s dalliance with a young ingénue (Eileen), they receive word that they might just have one last shot at stardom: Frank Capra is coming to town to see their matinee, and if likes what he sees, he might cast them in his movie remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Unfortunately for George and Charlotte, everything that could go wrong does go wrong, abetted by a visit from their daughter Rosalind’s clueless fiancé Howard (a TV weatherman from Buffalo) and hilarious uncertainty about which play they’re actually performing, caused by Charlotte’s deaf old stage-manager mother Ethel who hates every bone in George’s body.” Add to this a stage manager Paul, who is Rosalind’s former boyfriend, and Richard, who is both George’s lawyer and who wants to be Charlotte’s lover and next husband, and …. well you get the idea.

In farce, performances are key. Performances without the right timing or humor will torpedo a show. Luckily, the cast in this show gets things right. In the lead position are Mark Belnick (FB) as George Hays and Kimberly Lewis (FB) as Charlotte Hays. Belnick (who doesn’t need to act (if you follow his previous link), but loves to act) captures the hamminess of the character well — it is said of him in the show that he “is a walking ham — they should stick cloves in him and serve him with pineapple.” He handles the physical comedy well and excels at the requisite overacting the character calls for. As his wife, Charlotte, Lewis also captures the long-term actor well. She’s at her best in her interactions with Richard (her lover) and with George.

In the second character tier are Keri Safran (FB) as Rosalind Hays, Chuck Raucci as Howard (her fiancee), Paul Galliano (FB, FB2) as Paul (the stage manager and Rosalind’s former beau), and Carol Herman (FB) as Ethel (Rosalind’s hard-of-hearing grandmother). Safran handles Rosalind quite well — she has the timing and ability to play the daughter of an acting family who wants to get out of the family business, but the universe is conspiring to not let her escape. Raucci captures the clueless weatherman well, especially as someone who has no idea what he has gotten into. Galliano kept reminding me of perhaps a young cross between Bob Saget and John Stamos — handsome with good comic timing and reactions. Lastly Herman captured the befuddled old woman well.

In the last character tier were Sarah Randall Hunt (FB) as Eileen and Paul Michael Nieman (FB) as Richard. You can tell this is the third character role tier because all actors have three names :-).  Hunt seemed a little bit cold in her first few scenes as Eileen, but in her last scene you could see a wonderful personality and warmth shining through, so I’m guessing the earlier scenes were intentionally cold given the craziness of the characters. Nieman seemed appropriately blustery and forceful as the lawyer who wanted Charlotte. Neither character was involved in the actual mechanics of the farce much, although they may have been precipitating catalysts.

In general, the strong comic acting combined with the good direction from the aforementioned Kiff Scholl (FB1, FB2) combined to produce a funny show that, for the most part, enhanced the material.

Turning to the technical: The set (designed by Adam Haas Hunter (FB)) worked reasonably well to create the green room with the requisite lots of doors. The lighting by Michael Gend (FB) set the mood well, and the sound design by Daniel Hoal (FB) was mostly reasonable, although the mood music was a bit loud.  The costumes by Michael Mullen (FB)worked well for both Cyrano and Private Lives, as well as the Green Room scenes. Mike Mahaffey was the fight director. Erica Lawrence/FB was the stage manager. “Moon Over Buffalo” was produced by Racquel Lehrman and Victoria Watson/FB of Theatre Planners. (FB).

Alas, the last performance of “Moon over Buffalo” is happening as I type this; alas, this writeup was delayed due to this morning’s MoTAS meeting.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 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 Theatre and Concerts:  Next weekend brings  Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19). This is followed by “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27, and “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/29. October currently has two shows (three if you count Yom Kippur on 10/4): “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) on Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25. November is back to busy, with “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sun 11/9 (shifting to avoid ACSAC and opening night), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I may also see some theatre when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26. Right now, I’m looking at The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, “Harvey” at Palo Alto Players (FB) in Palo Alto, or “Rhinocerous” at the UC Berkeley Theatre Department (FB). As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


Learning from History

Inherit The Wind (GTC Burbank)userpic=theatre_ticketsIf you read the news these days, you’ll see how many religious people still take the bible as the literal word of God. Don’t believe me? In 2012, Gallup surveys showed that 46% of people believed in the Bible’s view of the creation  of the world. Just this month, Bill Nye held a debate about whether evolution or creationism was valid. Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, people believe the world was created in 6 days, and that what is written in the Bible is the law we should follow. This is still driving the debates these days on climate change, gay marriage, and a myriad of other subjects in this nation. Notwithstanding the Constitution, there are a large number of people who believe this should be a Christian nation, which Christian scripture as law.

But this is nothing new: there were similar efforts in the 1950s during the McCarthy trials (remember “Godless commies and pinkos”), and even in 1925 with a trial over whether evolution could be taught in the public schools. That trial, the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial, pitted a former presidential candidate, Williams Jennings Bryant, against one of the best legal minds of the century, Clarence Darrow. In the 1950s, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee fictionalized that trial as the play “Inherit the Wind“, as a warning against the witch-hunts that were going on with Sen. Eugene McCarthy in Washington. In 1960, the play was made into a classic film starring Spencer Tracy, Fredrick March, and Gene Kelley. When I discovered earlier this year that GTC Burbank (specifically, Wasatch Theatrical Ventures) was doing a production of “Inherit the Wind“, I wanted to go. “Inherit the Wind” is one of my favorite movies; I wanted to see the original. So I got tickets, and scheduled it for the afternoon of Purim (which, alas, was the last performance).

For those unfamiliar with the story, John Thomas Scopes Bert Cates is put on trial in Dayton TN Hillsboro TN for violating a Tennessee law regarding the teaching of evolution. The bible-thumping community brings in Williams Jennings Bryant Matthew Harrison Brady to assist the local prosecutor. The American Civil Liberties Union Baltimore Sun hired Clarence Darrow Henry Drummond to defend Cates. The event was covered by famous journalists, including H. L. Menken E. K. Hornbeck of the Baltimore Sun (who also put up bail for Scopes/Cates). The play, as you can tell, incorporates much of the history, but does add some fictionalized elements of its own, such as a relationship between Cates and the daughter (Rachel Brown) of the town Reverend, or the timing of the death of Bryant/Brady (in actuality, Bryant died 5 days after the trial). As I said, this is one of my favorite plays/movies, so I urge you to read up on the trial, rent the movie, and discover how it really is timeless.

The Wasatch Theatrical Ventures production, under the direction of Kiff Scholl, was excellent. Even with a simple set (more on that in a paragraph or so), the actors brought the trial to life. Much of this was due to the performances of the leads, Robert Craighead as Matthew Harrison Brady, and Mark Belnick as Henry Drummond. Belnick’s ability to play a convincing lawyer is no surprise, for he has a law degree and is a senior litigation partner and was Deputy Chief Counsel to the US Senate Iran/Contra Investigation. Craighead is more of a traditional actor, but also gave a convincing performance as one who believed wholeheartedly in the Bible and its unerring truth. Supporting them as the cynical reporter E. K. Hornbeck was J. Richey Nash, who was wonderfully acerbic and troublemaking, with a convincing attitude of “stir it up”. These leads were just great.

In the second tier of characters were Robbie Winston as Bert Cates, Laurel Reese as Rachel Brown, Alan Brooks as Reverend Brown, Amir Levi as Tom Davenport (the prosecuting attorney), and Donald Agnelli as the Judge. Winston’s Cates was suitably subdued, but he handled his final statement quite well. Reese’s Rachel was very touching in her concern for Cates, and Brooks was suitably “fire and brimston” in his prayer meeting. Levi and Agnelli provided suitable court demeanor.

Rounding out the cast were Steven Scot Bono (George Sillers), Scott Golden (Reuters Reporter / Jesse H. Dunlap /  Esterbrook), Nicholas Goldreich (Bill Bannister), Dutch Hofstetter (Howard Blair), David Reynolds (Meeker / Elijah), Suzan Solomon (Mrs. Blair), Rosemary Stevens (Mrs. Brady), Rachel Werline (Melinda), and Edmund Wyson (Mayor). Of these, I’d like to single out Suzan Solomon, who had a lovely singing voice.

The set for “Inherit the Wind“, designed by Adam Haas Hunter, was simple but effective. A basic wall with doors with appropriate evolution drawings, it was augmented with simple tables, chairs, and podiums to create an effective courtroom. This was supported by the great lighting of Michael Gend and sound of Matthew Richter. The costumes by Shannon A. Kennedy were appropriate and effective,  and did a wonderful job of making you believe it was dripping hot. Amber Bruegel was the Production Stage Manager, assisted by Erica Lawrence. “Inherit the Wind” was produced by Racquel Lehrman and Victoria Watson of Theatre Planners.

Alas, the performance we saw was the last performance of “Inherit the Wind“.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 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 Theatre and Concerts:  March 22 brings “Harmony” at The Ahmanson Theatre (FB), followed by “Author, Author: An Evening with Sholom Aleichem” at the Santa Monica Playhouse (FB) on March 23. The last weekend of March is open, and will likely stay that way as we’ll be exhausted. April starts with “In The Heights” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 5, and should also bring “Tallest Tree” at the Mark Taper Forum on April 12. The following weekend brings a benefit at REP East (FB): “A Night at the Rock Opera“. The last weekend of April will bring Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes, as well as the Southern California Renaissance Faire. Current planning for May shows “The Lion in Winter” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at REP East (FB), as well as “Hairspray” at Nobel Middle School. June is mostly open pending scheduling of an MRJ meeting, but I will try to fit in as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as I can. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.