When Perceived Reality Isn’t

Doubt (Repertory East)userpic=repeastWhat is reality?

That’s an interesting question. We often think reality is what we see with our eyes, what eyewitnesses tell us. But is that reality? Is that the truth? Perhaps, as Harry Nillsson wrote in The Point, we “see what you want to see, and hear what you want to hear.” This was on my mind as I drove to last night’s show, especially as I was listening to a recent Quirks and Quarks on the subject of implanting false criminal memories. What was the show? Doubt, by John Patrick Shanley (FB), which is running at Rep East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall through April 4, 2015.

Now, I’ve seen Doubt before. In fact, I saw it almost exactly 10 years ago at the Pasadena Playhouse, in the West Coast premiere production starring Linda Hunt as Sister Aloysious  and Jonathan Cake as Father Flynn. I remember coming out of that production thinking that this was what theatre should be — drama that makes you think and question, and get insights you might not have seen before. I still think that. That production also seared an image of Doubt in my head: the tall and thin priest (Cake is 6’3″) against the small and feisty nun (Hunt is 4’9″). I’ll note I also saw that production of Doubt on the day John Paul II died, and when all the accusations against priests were in the news.  All these combined to lead me to the conclusion that ultimate guilt of the main characters was evenly divided — I couldn’t tell you if Father Flynn had done what was claimed.

Perhaps at this point I should tell you the story of Doubt. The following is an edited synopsis from what was on Wikipedia: The play is set in the fictional St. Nicholas Church School, in the Bronx, during the fall of 1964. It opens with a sermon by Father Flynn, a beloved and progressive parish priest, addressing the importance of uncertainty. The school’s principal, Sister Aloysius, a rigidly conservative nun insists upon constant vigilance. During a meeting with a younger nun, Sister James, it becomes clear that Aloysius harbors a deep mistrust toward her students, her fellow teachers, and society in general. Naïve and impressionable, James is easily upset by Aloysius’s severe manner and harsh criticism. Aloysius requests that James report to her any odd or suspicious interactions between Father Flynn and the students. Aloysius and Father Flynn are put into direct conflict when she learns from Sister James that the priest met one-on-one with Donald Muller, St. Nicholas’ first African-American student. After a one-on-one meeting with Muller in the rectory, Muller returned with an odd look on his face, an alcohol on his breath. Mysterious circumstances lead her to believe that sexual misconduct occurred. In a private meeting purportedly regarding the Christmas pageant, Aloysius, in the presence of Sister James, openly confronts Flynn with her suspicions. He angrily denies wrongdoing, insisting that he was disciplining Donald for drinking altar wine, claiming to have been protecting the boy from harsher punishment. James is relieved by his explanation. Flynn’s next sermon is on the evils of gossip. Aloysius, dissatisfied with Flynn’s story, meets with Donald’s mother, Mrs. Muller. Despite Aloysius’s attempts to shock her, Mrs. Muller says she supports her son’s relationship with Flynn. She ignores Aloysius’s accusations, noting she’ll look the other way on anything because they only need to make it to graduation in June. Before departing, she hints that Donald may be “that way”, and that Mr. Muller may be beating him consequently. Father Flynn eventually threatens to remove Aloysius from her position if she does not back down. Aloysius informs him that she previously phoned the last parish he was assigned to, discovering a history of past infringements. After declaring his innocence, the priest begins to plead with her, at which point she blackmails him and demands that he resign immediately, or else she will publicly disgrace him with his history. She then leaves the office, disgusted. Flynn calls the bishop to apply for a transfer, where, later, he receives a promotion and is instated as pastor of a nearby parochial school. Learning this, Aloysius reveals to Sister James that the decisive phone call was a fabrication. As a result of this, she is left with great doubt in herself and her faith. With no actual proof that Father Flynn is or is not innocent, the audience is left with its own doubt.

This time I came into the show in a very different state of mind. I’ve been deeply involved in the battle between AEA and Los Angeles actors. I had just been listening to the show on implanted false memories. The presentation dynamic was also different. The REP production starred Georgan George (FB) as Sister Aloysius and Jeff Johnson/FB as Father Flynn. In contrast to Hunt’s tiny powerhouse, George was tall and thin — but equally determined. Johnson wasn’t like Cake either; whereas Cake was tall and Irish, Johnson was… the word that comes to mind is “avuncular.” Rounder and friendlier and seemingly more accessible. This left me with the conclusion — much more so than 10 years ago — that Aloysius was on a witch hunt. She was out to get the man based on a first time impression and a dislike of the changes he was bringing to her church. Those changes took many forms — the Vatican II changes, the change in relationship between Fathers and Nuns, and the changes in society. She didn’t like them, and she didn’t like this man (e.g., “I say it is spinach, and I don’t like it”). Her determination was that of a Republican congressman against President Obama — that of a conspiracy theorist who has aligned the facts to fit their particular version of the story, and any other explanation is just a ruse created by the other side.

The fact that I came away — again — with this impression is a testament to the performance of George (FB) as Aloysius, Johnson/FB as Flynn, and Alli Kelly (FB) as Sister James. George believably gave off that aura of righteous conviction, of someone who truly believed that she was right and how she perceived what she saw to be the truth (which made her doubt at the end even more powerful). Johnson, as I noted before, gave off that avuncular vibe, which made his anger and capitulation at the end even more powerful. Kelly, who provided the innocence factor, truly gave off the joy she felt when teaching her students, and equally radiated pain when forced to do Aloysius’ dirty work and work against the students and Father Flynn. She just wanted to teach. Rounding out the cast was Cherrelle éLan (FB) as Mrs. Muller.  Although she only appeared in one scene, éLan (FB) left the impression of the modern (that is, 1960s) African-American woman in the Jackie Kennedy mode — she didn’t want to rock the boat; she wanted to integrate into her community and not make waves. Great performances, all. I’ll note you can see these actors in action in the trailer that REP produced, which is up on YouTube.

Doubt was directed by Mark Kaplan (FB). I was going to comment on the dissonance created by having a Jewish director create the world of a heavily Catholic school, but I didn’t see it. The way the actors portrayed the scenes felt realistic to me. But then again, what do I know — Mark and I come from the same backgrounds! I do wonder how much the director can adjust the portrayals in this show to lead the audience one way or the other — in a sense, implanting their own layer of false memory on top of the situation. It is an interesting question, but I don’t know how I would just. All I know is I enjoyed the show. Kaplan was assisted in his directoral duties by Kimbyrly M. Valis (FB).

On the technical side, there was the usual REP excellence. Scenic Design was by the REP’s artistic and executive directors, Mikee Schwinn/FB and Ovington Michael Owston (FB) and presented a realistic principal’s office and courtyard. Sound design was by REP resident designer Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB; I particularly noted the directionality of the bird sounds. Nice. Lighting was by REP resident designer Tim Christianson/FB and conveyed the mood well. Costume Design was by Janet McAnany (FB); my only question was whether the clerical vestments were correct — but not being Catholic, I have no way to judge. They were close enough for Government work, and I do Government work. J. T. Centonze (FB) was the stage manager.

Doubt” continues at Rep East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall through April 4, 2015. The production I saw was only half-full — and this show deserves better. Everyone should come out and see this excellent story and this excellent cast. REP is offering half-price tickets through their Facebook page; there’s a half-price offer on their main page,  and tickets are up on Goldstar.  There’s no excuse to not go see this show — it is less expensive than a movie, and you get to see some really good people (and the people on stage aren’t half-bad either 🙂 ). Call (661) 288-0000 or visit the REP website for tickets. P.S.: Note also that the next REP show has changed back to what was originally planned, as REP finally got the rights to “Dinner with Friends“, which will run May 8 through June 6. REP will also be holding a fundraiser, “Law & Order: REP”, on June 20.

Pro99 - Vote No NowIf you’ve been reading my write-ups of late, you’ll know I’ve been tying each one to the battle between AEA and Los Angeles actors. Going in, I was going to write something about how REP is an example of what 99 seat theatre can be. But during the show — specifically, during the scene between Sister James and Father Flynn in the courtyard — I was struck with a realization. The story of Doubt is the story of this battle. Sister Aloysius is Actors Equity. They’ve heard a story — they’ve seen a thing or two — they’ve heard a rumor — and they have become deeply suspicious of the producers and actors in Los Angeles. They believe their view of the world is the only view of the world, and they will stop at nothing to get their way. They will slant the facts, they will implant misleading or false stories, they will create innuendo and gossip — all for the sole purpose of keeping the world they want it to be. The actor/producers and producers in Los Angeles are Father Flynn. Friendly and willing to work with everyone, out for the joy of making the world a better place. They are simply trying to do this, but keep having to rebut the false claims and mistrust of Sister A./AEA. The actors are Sister James.  They are in this for the joy of what they do, and they simply want to be able to do it. To be able to teach (act) and spread the joy that teaching (acting) brings to them to the world. The audience is Donald Muller — unseen on the stage, but impacted in so many ways by the witch-hunt of Sister A. (AEA). Now that I’ve presented this analogy, I urge you to go see Doubt at REP East, and I think you’ll agree. AEA is on an unfounded witch hunt.

I’ll wait while you see the show. […] Did you enjoy it?

So what can we do — the Donald Mullers of the world — against Sister Alyosius (AEA). We’re not being molested by the priest; there is a great working relationship between us, Sister James (the local actors), and the priest (producers). But the Sister (AEA) is on a witch hunt to bring us down. I’ll tell you what we can do: We can have a backbone, and stand up to the bullies! If you are free Monday afternoon, 3/23, go out and march with the actors on AEA headquarters. Encourage the AEA actors you know to vote “no” on this proposal. Learn about the situation through the information on Bitter Lemons, through the I Love 99 website, and the I Love 99 Facebook group. Don’t let AEA mislead you and distract you, and make you see something that isn’t there. We want change, but not this change (and a “yes” vote will bring the change we don’t want — it will get Father Flynn transferred).

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: March concludes with “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11 (I haven’t yet decided whether I’m going to a show on the weekend of Pesach, but unless something really calls to me, it is unlikely). The following weekend will see us back at a music store listening to a performance: this time, it is Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). After that we’re in Vegas for a week — I haven’t yet determined the shows yet, but Menopause the Musical looks quite likely, possibly Don Rickles at the Orleans, and Penn & Teller are on Goldstar. We may also work in “After the Revolution” at the Chance Theatre (FB). May begins with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and also has a hold for “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May currently has a hold for “Fancy Nancy” at the Chance Theatre (FB), “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB), and “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB).  June is equally crazy, as we’ve got the Hollywood Fringe Festival (which should include a production of “Marry Me a Little” by Good People Theatre (FB)), a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawksour annual drum corps show, and hopefully “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). 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.


Revisiting a Puppet Neighborhood

Avenue Q (Repertory East)userpic=repeastBack in 2004, a new musical (not based on a previous property) by a new composing team (Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx) and a new book writer (Jeff Whitty) won the hearts of Broadway. It featured puppets — something that hadn’t been on Broadway since the days of Flahooley (1951) and Carnival! (1961) — and these puppets were major characters. It featured obscenities in the text, nudity on stage, and songs about the virtues of pornography. It took advantage of the fact that puppets† can often say and do things on stage that would be unacceptable if said by normal human characters in a normal context. It was groundbreaking. It went on to win numerous Tony awards; and one of its composers, Robert Lopez, went on to compose for the Tony-winning The Book of Mormon and the mega-hit Frozen. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the musical in question was Avenue Q, currently on the stage at Repertory East Playhouse [REP] (FB) in Newhall.
(† A fact also true of science fiction, which is why Star Trek could tell the stories it did)

We first saw Avenue Q in 2007 at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Big theatre — seating over 2,000. We were sitting far away from the stage, and the puppets were very small. The show still mesmerized, but the actors blended together for — at a distance — you could see the puppet faces but not the actors.

Last night (if you hadn’t figured it out by now), we saw Avenue Q at REP. Small theatre — 81 seats. We were in the front row, up close and personal with the puppets. This is a very different experience, and one that allows you to see the performance in a very different light. You might not think Avenue Q would work in an intimate theatre setting, but it does; in fact, it works very well and gives a very different experience.

For those not familiar with Avenue Q, you might think: “Ah, muppet-stype puppets. It must be good for kids.” This isn’t a kids show; it’s barely a teens show. This is an adult show, and it presents themes and concepts to which post-college adults will relate. It makes visible the disillusionment that faces a newly minted college grad. It shows that post-college life is hard and often not a bed of roses. It shows that bad ideas, while sounding good, can get us into trouble. It shows that relationships can be difficult and frustrating. But at its heart it is a hopeful music, arguing that any set back or disillusionment is only temporary, and that you will get through it.

The story of Avenue Q can be found easily on sites like Wikipedia. It basically concerns fresh-out graduate Princeton ending up on Avenue Q in an outer-outer borough of New York, because that’s what he can afford. He rents a room from the superintendent, Gary Coleman, and gets to know the other inhabitants of the street: Rod, an uptight investment banker and his roommate, Nicky (modeled after Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street); Brian and his fiancee Christmas Eve, an out of work comic and an out of work therapist; Kate Monster, a kingergarten TA; and Trekkie Monster, who has an Internet obsession. Princeton quickly loses  his job, and decided to find his purpose in life. Along the way, he falls in love with Kate, makes bad decisions (egged on by the Bad News Bears), sleeps with the local slut (Lucy T. Slut), and… never finds his purpose. Similarly, the other characters deal with the decisions in their life — good and bad — and illustrate a lot of foibles of modern society — Internet porn, lurking racism, closeted homosexuality — in ways that make the message hit home.

The songs in Avenue Q are some of my favorites, simply because of the depth of meaning behind some of them. I particularly like “The More You Ruv Someone” and “I Wish I Could Go Back To College” for their poignancy. The former — which stripped of its language stereotype could be a wonderful torch song — reflects the fact that love isn’t always the sweetness and light you see in the movies; that in real life, your lover sometime infuriates you and frustrates you and makes you want to kill them — but that fact that you don’t is what makes it love. The latter reflects something everyone feels — that adult life is far too hard, and that it would be so nice to go back to the those carefree college days, but you can’t. Two other favorite songs I like because of the upbeat tunes and the truth behind the songs: “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is for Porn”. Both reflects facts of life that people refuse to admit; however, admitting them is actually very freeing and makes you realize that in your faults, you’re no different than anyone else.

Let’s turn to the characters and to the performances. Many of the characters in this show are puppets, either single-rod, double-rod, or live hand. There is no attempt to hide the actors manipulating and voicing the puppets — they are visible, with visible faces, simply wearing black clothing. The only “face” characters — humans that play their characters — are Brian, Christmas Eve, and Gary Coleman. So before we go into the actors, let’s look at the puppets. For this show, REP rented the puppets, which were designed by Sean Harrington, a scenic designer for another group we like, Actors Rep of Semi (FB). He created the puppets via Kickstarter for ARTS, and rents them through his wife’s organization, 1STAGE Repertory (FB) (a Childrens Theatre Group).‡ You can see what the puppets looked like on his rental site. Evidently, the Broadway designer, Rick Lyons, either doesn’t license his puppet designs (or didn’t license them at the time of puppet production), so the look of the puppet’s reflects Sean’s conception of the characters. Mostly, they worked well. I wasn’t that crazy about the look of Kate Monster as the color and length of the monster fur was a little bit off, and the look of Nicky gave off much less of an Ernie vibe, but overall they worked satisfactory. At times, when the performers were belting, the mouths of the puppets weren’t opening quite as wide — I don’t know if this is a construction artifact or an actor/puppet coordination artifact. In any case, it was truly a minor nit. I will note that the show had a different feel when you are up-close and personal with the puppets, an order of magnitude distance difference from the Ahmanson (10 vs 100 feet).
(‡: See, I do research these write-ups.)

One of the distinct advantages of being up close and personal is that you can see the actors — and at that distance, you can see that the actors are much more than puppet manipulators. These actors are playing and living the characters — often multiple characters — while just not in the puppet costume. Imagine the puppets with the actors’ faces, expressions and enthusiasm, and you know what I mean. The two meld into one in your mind. This is the magic of theatre — and what makes it even more magical was the quality of the REP cast. In the lead character positions were Nic Olsen (FB) voicing/manipulating Princeton and Rod, and Kristen Heitman (FB) voicing/manipulating Kate Monster and Lucy. Nic is himself a fresh-out and new to the LA stages; he brings that fresh-out spirit and enthusiasm to the character of Princeton and really blended with the character with a great performance. Watch his face during the show if you don’t believe me. He has a lovely voice and was very enjoyable in his numbers. I was even more taken with Kristen, who we’ve seen before on the REP stage (notably Caberet in 2011 and Trailer Park in 2012). I was blown over by her perkiness and vocal quality back then, and I was blown over last night. Again, she melds with the perkiness of Kate Monster and gives a wonderful acting performance and an outstanding vocal performance. Just watch her face during “The Internet is For Porn”, and you’ll see what I mean. About the only minor problems were some sound misdirection when she was manipulating one character and voicing another, and I’m sure that’s an artifact of our sitting close, and some minor puppet mouth timings. All that shows is that puppets are hard to manipulate… but as I was mesmerized by her face, it didn’t matter :-).

The three main human characters are Donna Marie Sergi (FB) as Christmas Eve, Jeremiah Lowder (FB) as Brian, and Chanel Edwards-Frederick (FB) as Gary Coleman. Let’s start with the newcomer to the REP stage, another fresh-out, Chanel Edwards-Frederick. Despite one or two line problems, quickly recovered, she blew me away with her vocal performance and her acting. Chanel has a wonderful gospel voice, and I hope she finds more shows in which she can showcase it. Just listen to her in “Schadenfreude”, and you’ll see what I mean. We’ve seen both Donna Marie and Jeremiah before. Donna Marie was wonderful (as always) and seemed to be having fun with her stereotyped character. She gave a great performance in “The More You Ruv Someone”, when you could hear hints of her real vocal quality over the character; this was also apparent when she was singing near us. Jeremiah, who wore many hats in this show (although he didn’t manipulate puppets, he served as music director and did the video designs), was fun and affable as Brian.

Rounding out the major characters on the street was Nick Echols (FB), who voiced/manipulated Nicky, Trekkie Monster, and numerous others. As Nicky, he gave a good performance capturing the character well on his face, although not being fully “Earnie”-ish in his voice (not necessarily a bad thing, as Nicky isn’t Earnie, but the echo is nice). Trekkie was performed well (although he could have been a bit clearer in “The Internet is For Porn”); when doing Trekkie, one tends not to see the actor’s face.

The two remaining cast members, Allison Lindsey Williams (FB) and Ryan Shrewsbury (FB), covered numerous characters, and often provided backup manipulation to major characters when the primary actor was handling a different major character. In those roles they were silent, although their faces were wonderfully expressive. They got to speak when they were voicing the Bad News Bears. I’ll particularly note one performer here: Ms. Williams. It was nice to see her again; we last saw her in Sex and Education at The Colony Theatre (FB), which was one of my most impactful shows of 2014. I’ll also note that the kids voices on the videos were provided by the O’s Executive Director’s lovely daughter, Isabelle.

The production was directed by Todd Larsen (FB), who presumably did the choreography and movement as well. Larsen did a great job of bringing out the expressiveness of the actors while they were manipulating the puppets. He also integrated the puppet movement well particularly given the limited development time for intimate theatre. Some small improvements in coordination between puppet speech and human speech could be done here, but this is something that I think will improve through the run. A very good job.

Turning to the technical and backstage side of things: The scenic design was by Ovington Michael Owston (FB), the REP Executive Director. He noted that the idea was a set that looked like it had been done in crayon, and there were even little design touches from his daughter, as well as from Connor Pratt/FB and Frank Rock/FB. More significantly for the REP regulars (who know about the hidden “81”s on the set — there are four, we could only find three), there were visual call-outs on the set to two members of the REP family: Michael Levine, who passed away in December 2013, and Darel Roberts, who passed away in December 2014.  This is a visual demonstration of why REP is more than a theatre — to its regulars (actors, technicians, staff, and audience), it is a family. Sound design was  by REP regular Nanook/FB. It was the first time I’ve seen microphones used at the REP, and they were at times a little muddy in the sound. Again, I’m sure this will be adjusted as things shake out in the run. Lighting design was by Jeffrey Hampton/FB and Tim Christianson/FB and mostly worked well. There were some technical difficulties with one light at our performance; the actors dealt with it well, and Tim was up on a ladder at the end of the show swapping out the misbehaving light. The videos were designed by Jeremiah Lowder (FB) and were (a) cute and (b) worked well. Kim Iosue/FB was the stage manager, assisted by Jeffrey Hampton/FB and Connor Pratt/FB. J. T. Centonze (FB) was behind the bar :-). Avenue Q was produced by Ovington Michael Owston (FB) and  Mikee Schwinn/FB.

Rep East Season 11Avenue Q continues at Repertory East Playhouse [REP] (FB) through February 14. It is well worth seeing. Tickets are available through the REP Online Box office, or by calling 661-288-0000. A limited number are available on Goldstar,  although many shows are sold out. REP has also announced the remainder of their 11th season: Doubt (March 6 – April 4); Beer for Breakfast (May 8 – June 6); Jesus Christ Superstar (July 10 – August 15); The Diviners (September 18 – October 17); and Deathtrap (November 13 – December 12). I’m sure there will be additional one-or-two weekend shows and fundraisers throughout this period as well.

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: Next weekend brings an interesting mashup: Pulp Shakespeare (or Bard Fiction) at Theatre Asylum (FB) — this show is described as  “Ever wonder what Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece PULP FICTION would be like reimagined by the immortal William Shakespeare?”. I’m also debating an additional show for Sunday — perhaps going to see Colin of Bitter Lemons at the ZJU 50 Hour Drive-By Show, Disconnection in Beverly Hills, or possibly Serrano: The Musical (although there are no discount tickets except for “day of” through Plays411.net). The last weekend of January concludes with the Cantors Concert on Sat January 31 at Temple Ahavat Shalom, and I’m potentially looking for another show for Sunday (again, Disconnection, Serrano, or possibly Chavez Ravine at the Kirk Douglas). February and March pick up even more. We have a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday, February 7, so there may not be theatre that weekend (but who knows). The next week brings two shows: “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB) on February 14 and “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15. The weekend of February 21 is open; however, the one show that interests me (Fugue) only has Sunday tickets, and my Sunday is booked with non-theatre stuff.  February closes with “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, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “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. Additionally, there’s a Marcy and Zina concert at Pepperdine on Tuesday, February 3; alas, as it is a weeknight, I probably won’t make it. 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.


But He Looks Nothing Like Lucy Liu

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Suicide Clubuserpic=repeastAs an author, you hope that your literary creations live on after you; if this occurs, your memory stays alive long after the body is gone. When we think of Oz, we think of L. Frank Baum (even if, as is the case for Wicked, the real author is Gregory Maguire). When we think of Sherlock Holmes, we think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle’s Holmes has proved remarkably adaptable to many mileaus, as we currently see on our TV screens with both the BBC “Sherlock” and the CBS “Elementary” (which I enjoy). Sherlock has also seen many adaptions for the stage, many of which I have written about (as Repertory East Playhouse enjoys doing Sherlock stories). One of the most recent Sherlock stage adaptions was commissioned by the Arizona Theatre Company in 2011.  There, as the result of a bet between an artistic director and a playwright, a new play was born. The story, as told in the excellent Play Guide for the play from ATC, is this: The artistic director of ATC and author Jeffrey Hatcher were visiting Minneapolis, and went to see one of the many Sherlock Holmes plays. At intermission Hatcher was poking holes in the logic of the play, since of course a Sherlock Holmes play has to have airtight logic. Hatcher said to the ATC director something like, “Well I can write a better Sherlock Holmes play
than anyone.” And he said, “Prove it.” The result: “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Suicide Club“, a production of which just opened at Repertory East Playhouse (REP East) (FB) in Newhall (and which we saw last night).

To build his play, Hatcher took Doyle’s creations and transported them into a different story, adapting both to create a new hybrid story. This has been done a lot with Sherlock Holmes, to varying results. The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle estate has tried to keep a lid on all stories that use Holmes; I could find no statement that this new play was officially licensed from the estate. I’ll note that it no longer matters, as the Supreme Court just ruled that Sherlock and the characters are in the public domain (so let the Holmes/Watson slash fiction begin, ugh). In any case, the story in the play is not canon. [I will note that the play does require credit be given to the Arizona Theatre Company, so I’ll do so here.]

For this play, Hatcher combined the basic Holmes characters and settings (Holmes, Watson, Mycroft, 221-B Baker Street) with a collection of short stories by Robert Louis Stevenson written long before Sherlock Holmes. These stories dealt with an organization called “The Suicide Club“, and involved an investigator, Prince Florizel of Bohemia, and his assistant, Colonel Geraldine, having a series of adventures involving the club. I’ll let you read the Wiki page on the stories if you want, as most of the elements of stories remained in the plot of the play. As I noted, Hatcher transformed Florizel and Geraldine into Holmes and Watson, shifted the action to 1916 in London, and brought in some elements of the surrounding geo-political situation. Hatcher drew on his experience as a TV writer for such detectives as Columbo.

As with any Holmes story, you don’t want to give away the plot. Dramatists Play Service, who licenses the play, describes it thusly: “In the heart of London, behind the impassive facade of a windowless house, some of Europe’s most powerful men gather to play a game. The game is murder, and this is The Suicide Club. But the club has a new member, Sherlock Holmes: brilliant, brooding, the greatest detective in the world. Why does Holmes wish to die? Can his friend Dr. Watson save him? Or doesn’t Holmes want to be saved?”

Now you know the background. As with any stage production, assessing it requires looking at three parts (four, if it is a musical): the story, the performance, (the dance and music,) and the technical side. How well did Hatcher do creating this hybrid? Was it a Frankenstein monster, or a long-lived organ transplant?

To me, the story was about 85% there. A friend of mine (who attended with us) noted that a good detective story should be dropping clues along the way as to the final outcome. He didn’t see such clues in the first act; neither did I. He thought that hurt the presentation of the story; I didn’t. I did notice that the story had lots of scene changes (unlike other Sherlock plays), and a lot less of the deductive Holmes reasoning one has come to expect from the play. In fact, there was a lot less Holmes/Watson interplay than one usually sees. This added to the graft-i-ness of the story. But if you set those expectations aside, the story itself was a good one. It had many twists that I didn’t see coming, and although I had figured out some of the end game, I didn’t completely figure it out until the reveal at the end. That’s why I assessed it at 85%; I think an author more skilled in the world of Sherlock Holmes could likely have done better. As such, I don’t think that Hatcher won his bet with the ATC director; this wasn’t a better Sherlock play than anyone else could have written. It might be a good detective story, but the question was “a Sherlock play”.

Let’s turn to the performance side of the question. This production was, in many ways, a REP family affair. Sherlock stories tend to bring the people behind the REP to the stage: In this case, the REP Executive Director, Ovington Michael Owston (FB), was Watson; the REP Artistic Director,  Mikee Schwinn/FB, was Holmes; and the REP Board president, Bill Quinn/FB, returned to the stage to play two minor characters. Additionally, another REP regular, J. T. Centonze (FB), was also back on stage. This didn’t hurt the production; rather, it is one of the times that REP gives the feeling that it is a true repertory company made up completely of people who love being on stage (something, I’ll note, that I could never do, so they have my respect).

As the leads, Schwinn and Owston dropped comfortably back into the characters (having portrayed them on at least two previous REP Sherlock outings). The two are good friends in real life, and that comfort is visible on the stage in the unspoken interplay between the two. Although there were a few line hesitations (not surprising given the amount of dialogue, limited rehearsal, and the fact that this was the 2nd performance), they were quickly forgotten when viewed in the overall. These two are just fun to watch.

Supporting the leads were a variety of different characters. The ones that stand out in my memory are Collette Rutherford (FB)’s portrayal of the club secretary, Jessica Lynn Parson (FB)’s portrayal of Christiane DeLabegassier, and Joey Prata/FB‘s Prince Nikita Starloff. To go into more detail about why they stood out might reveal plot. Rounding out the remainder of the cast were Joe Roselund (FB) (Mr. Williams/Mr. Roundy); J. T. Centonze (FB) (Mr. Richards / Mycroft Holmes); Bill Quinn/FB (Mr. George / Inspector Micklewhite); Paul Nieman (FB) (Mr. Henry), and Nancy Lantis (FB) (Mrs. Hudson / Mrs. O’Malley / Older Woman). The production was directed by Kimbyrly M. Valis (FB). An interesting note discovered while building the links is that Valis is a Holmes purist — I’m curious how much that influenced how she had the actors portray things on stage.

On the technical side, REP did its usual excellent job. The sound design was by REP regular Nanook/FB ; lighting design was by William Thomas Andrew Davies/FB (as REP regular Tim Christianson/FB was unavailable). I’ll note this is the first time I’ve seen extensive use of the LED light bars that were acquired for “Return from the Forbidden Planet“. Projections were by Rick Pratt (FB) and served to augment Mikee and O’s set design. Costumes were designed by Tonya Nelson (FB) and were courtesy of No Strings Designed CostumesVicky Lightner/FB was the stage manager. “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Suicide Club” was produced by Mikee Schwinn/FB and Ovington Michael Owston (FB).

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Suicide Club ” continues at Repertory East (FB) until December 13.  Tickets are available through the REP East Online Box Office, as well as through Goldstar.

Repertory East (FB) has announced their 2015 season: “Avenue Q” (January 16-February 14) , “Doubt” (March/April), “Dinner with Friends” (May-June), “Jesus Christ Superstar” (July-August), “Diviners” (September-October), and “Deathtrap” (November-December). Subscription packages start at $81 for a Flex Pass (4 shows), or $120 for all six shows.

One other note: Last night was the tree lighting in downtown Newhall. Had we known this, we would have picked a different night. Everything was packed, and had not a little birdie (thank you Johnny) told us about this at the last minute, we might not have made the show. As it was, we arrived around 6pm, walked down to a fast-food Mexican place (because the places next to REP had no seating until after 7pm, and the show started at 8pm), still didn’t get to order until 6:40 PM (due to the backup), and didn’t get our food until 7:15 PM. We made it back in time, but next time we’ll avoid the crowds.

[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.]

Theatre continues next weekend when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26, starting with “Harvey” at Palo Alto Players (FB) in Palo Alto for Friday 11/21. That will be followed Saturday afternoon with The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, and the Dickens Fair (FB) on Sunday in Daly City. Who knows, I might even squeeze in “Rhinocerous” at the UC Berkeley Theatre Department (FB). After I return, it is “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, I just ticketed “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20, and we’ll probably go see Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Nobel Middle School just before ACSAC. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente; additionally we’ll likely have the first show of the REP East (FB) season: “Avenue Q“.  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.


Continuing Relationship Problems

The Great Gatsby (Rep East)userpic=repeastThis has been a weekend for relationship problems. Earlier this morning I wrote about some relationships in flux in Atlanta in 1973; these were portrayed on stage in What I Learned In Paris” at the Colony Theatre. This afternoon we saw more relationship problems — this time in the 1920s in New York — when we saw the Los Angeles Premier of “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East Playhouse (REP East) (FB) in Newhall.†

I’d been roughly familiar with The Great Gatsby before: I knew of the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald (but had never read it); I knew of the two movie versions of the story (but had never seen them); and I used to work next to a restaurant called Gatsby’s in Brentwood (but never ate there). I knew it was about the decadence of the 1920s, and that it concerned a relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. But that’s about all I knew.

As a result, as I sat through the show, I found myself hindered by the confusing exposition and relationships. I liked the characters and the performances, but the story left me cold. Discussing the show on the way home I discovered that was partially the intent: to show the decadence and how there was coldness behind it. I also read the Wikipedia page with the summary of the story, and it very very closely matched what was on stage. I opine that this show will be received at little better by those with a passing familiarity with the Gatsby story — be it from the book, the movies, or even the Wikipedia version :-). That’s not to say that the show wasn’t enjoyable — it was — just that a little more familiarity would have helped (I can’t fault the writer or those who adapted it for the stage, as they followed the original story; rather, I think there is so much meaning behind the elements of the story that the presentation would be enhanced with an understanding of those elements).

The adaption of the story was by Simon Levy, the producing director for the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. It was first produced at the Guthrie Theatre in MN; it had its West Coast premier at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. This production was the Los Angeles premier — it is great to see REP reaching the stature where it brings new plays to Los Angeles.

So what is the story behind Gatsby? Wikipedia summarizes the story as follows (condensed a little), and this is essentially what is portrayed on stage:

The story takes place in the summer of 1922. Nick Carraway, a Yale graduate and World War I veteran from the Midwest – who serves as the novel’s narrator – takes a job in New York as a bond salesman. He rents a small house on Long Island, in the (fictional) village of West Egg, next door to the lavish mansion of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire who holds extravagant parties but does not participate in them. Nick drives around the bay for dinner at the home of his cousin, Daisy Fay Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, a college acquaintance of Nick’s. They introduce Nick to Jordan Baker, an attractive, cynical young golfer with whom Nick begins a romantic relationship. She reveals to Nick that Tom has a mistress, Myrtle Wilson. Not long after this revelation, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle to an apartment they keep for their affair. At the apartment, a vulgar and bizarre party takes place. It ends with Tom breaking Myrtle’s nose after she annoys him by saying Daisy’s name several times.  As the summer progresses, Nick eventually receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties. Nick encounters Jordan Baker at the party, and they meet Gatsby himself, an aloof and surprisingly young man who recognizes Nick from their same division in the war. Through Jordan, Nick later learns that Gatsby knew Daisy from a romantic encounter in 1917 and is deeply in love with her. He spends many nights staring at the green light at the end of her dock, across the bay from his mansion, hoping to one day rekindle their lost romance. Gatsby’s extravagant lifestyle and wild parties are an attempt to impress Daisy in the hope that she will one day appear again at Gatsby’s doorstep. Gatsby now wants Nick to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy. Nick invites Daisy to have tea at his house, without telling her that Gatsby will also be there. After an initially awkward reunion, Gatsby and Daisy reestablish their connection. They begin an affair and, after a short time, Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At a luncheon at the Buchanans’ house, Daisy speaks to Gatsby with such undisguised intimacy that Tom realizes she is in love with Gatsby. Though Tom is himself involved in an extramarital affair, he is outraged by his wife’s infidelity. He forces the group to drive into New York City and confronts Gatsby in a suite at the Plaza Hotel, asserting that he and Daisy have a history that Gatsby could never understand. In addition to that, he announces to his wife that Gatsby is a criminal whose fortune comes from bootlegging alcohol and other illegal activities. Daisy realizes that her allegiance is to Tom, and Tom contemptuously sends her back to East Egg with Gatsby, attempting to prove that Gatsby cannot hurt him. On the way home, Nick, Jordan, and Tom discover that Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Tom’s mistress, Myrtle. Nick later learns from Gatsby that Daisy, not Gatsby himself, was driving the car at the time of the accident but Gatsby intends to take the blame anyway. Myrtle’s husband, George, falsely concludes that the driver of the yellow car is the secret lover he recently began suspecting she has, and sets out on foot to locate its owner. After finding out the yellow car is Gatsby’s, he arrives at Gatsby’s mansion where he fatally shoots both Gatsby and then himself. Nick stages an unsettlingly small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan, and moves back to the Midwest, disillusioned with the Eastern lifestyle.

The performances of the actors were very good; the direction of co-directors Ovington Michael Owston (FB) and Christopher Chase (FB) worked well to bring realistic performances, although at times there was a little confusion as to what action was where. In the lead positions were Dennis Hadley (FB) as Jay Gatsby and Carole Catanzaro (FB) as Daisy Buchanan. Hadley was affable and gave off the ambiance of the well-to-do well; Daisy seemed appropriately self-centered and not really invested in any relationship — or to put it another way, in whichever relationship could move her forward. It was interesting to contrast Daisy with Ann in the Colony play. Both were torn between two men — one that loved them madly but wasn’t their spouse, and their spouse who was somewhat indifferent to them. The resolutions were very different, but the situations similar. Completing the love triangle was Dustin Emery as Tom Buchanan. Emery’s Buchanan gave off the appropriate violent menace required for the character. Emery played the character in a way that made it clear he did not love Daisy, but had a strong physical (but not necessarily emotional attraction) to his mistress. A friend of ours opined the similarity between Buchanan, a sports hero in the story, and certain characters in the NFL today.

Although I hesitate to call them supporting as they were critical to the action (but supporting in the sense of who you remember) were Cole Shoemaker as Nick Carraway and Alli Kelly (FB) as Jordan Baker. Shoemaker’s Carraway had a bit of cold indifference, but when you consider he was the narrator of the story that is less surprising. At times, I found his exposition a bit hard to follow, but in general I liked his performance as the character. Kelly’s Baker was fun to watch — she had these odd sardonic facial expressions at just the right moment.

Rounding out the cast were Amber Schwinn (FB) as Myrtle Wilson, Jeremiah Lowder/FB as George Wilson, John Lucewich (FB) as Chester McKee, Julie Henderson (FB) as Lucille McKee, and Brent Christensen (FB) as Myer Wolfsheim. Amber was great as Myrtle Wilson, capturing the distaste for her husband and her desire for Tom well; she also plays dead great :-). Lowder captured the mechanic nature of George Wilson well, but otherwise was written superficially. Lastly, I never quite understood Wolfsheim as his character was never given a good explanation; but Brent played him well.

Turning to the technical side. Sound and lights were by the usual REP suspects: Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB on sound and Tim Christianson/FB on lights. Both worked well. The set design was by Ovington Michael Owston (FB) and did a reasonable job of establishing place and era; this was aided by the projections by  Mikee Schwinn/FB. Costumes were by Janet McAnany (FB) and seemed reasonably flapper era — plus the suits that she chose for Gatsby were spectacular. Jeffrey Hampton/FB was the production stage manager. “The Great Gatsby” was produced by Mikee Schwinn/FB and Ovington Michael Owston (FB).

The Great Gatsby” continues at Repertory East (FB) until October 18.  Tickets are available through the REP East Online Box Office, as well as through Goldstar. It is well worth seeing.

Although there is no printed announcement, Repertory East (FB) has announced their 2015 season: “Avenue Q“, “Doubt“, “Dinner with Friends“, “Jesus Christ Superstar“, “Diviners” and “Deathtrap“. Specific performance dates and season subscription information should be available at the next REP show, “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Suicide Club“, starting November 14.

[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:  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. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente. 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.

†: Plus I did something to upset my wife (although not intentional), starting with not going to her backup restaurant when there was a 90 minute wait at our primary restaurant because there was nothing that looked appealing to eat. Following that, I was less then enthused when we went to an art show/pow-wow after the show (when I had load and loads of stuff to do at home). I’ve apologized, but I’m probably in the doghouse for a while. Back to cooking dinner, for example….


A Face We Rarely See

An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein (REP East)userpic=repeastUnderneath my outside face
There’s a face that none can see.
A little less smiley,
A little less sure,
But a whole lot more like me.
(Shel Silverstein, “Everything Thing On It“)

My first introduction to Shel Silverstein was through music when I was a teenager, and I didn’t even know it. Songs like “A Boy Named Sue”, “Boa Constrictor”, “Unicorn” and others were all written by Shel Silverstein, and I didn’t know it. Of course, we all knew one Shel Silverstein song, thanks to Dr. Demento. How many of you can recite a few lines, if not the entirety, of “Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out”? As I got older, I was introduced to Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” (despite its mixed messages) and his poetry books. I also discovered the Shel Silverstein wasn’t only a children’s author — he drew numerous cartoons for Playboy (which every teen boy, umm, reads), and if you’ve ever read “The ABZ Book” or looked at “Different Dances“, you know Shel worked at many different levels. So I knew the adult side of Shel, but what I didn’t know was that in addition to being an artist, author, poet, and songwriter, Shel was also a playwright. He wrote loads and loads (from what I’ve read, over 100) of short one-act plays and scenes. In 2001 (after Shel’s death), New York’s Atlantic Theatre Company collected ten of Shel’s more adult one-acts into a two-act production called “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein“. The resulting production has been very popular with small theatres around the country; for the last two weekends, Repertory East Playhouse (REP East) (FB) has been presenting it as part of the short-run, more adult fare that they run during late summer.

Other Images for An Adult Evening with Shel SilversteinBefore I start describing the ten scenes and the performances therein, a few notes from the research I did to write this write-up. As I noted, a lot of theatres have presented this play, and it is interesting to see how they have adapted Shel’s child-oriented artwork to attract the adult market. I’ve captured a few examples to the right. These show that the licensing doesn’t provide an image for the show. The most common image seems to be an adaptation of “The Giving Tree” (his best known work); most seem to imply a heavily sexual nature to the show. Most seem to be designed to discourage children, demonstrating that Shel’s current association is with his children’s books. I’ll note the Playbill in the center is from the original Atlantic production. So how “adult” is this show? Will it scare the horses? There’s a fair amount of adult language in the show, but no actual nudity (there was more nudity on stage in Frankie and Johnny or The Graduate). Although in one scene the language may be a bit raunchy, most of the language is stuff that kids over 12 these days know from the  playground or pay-TV. What is adult in this show are the concepts. There are notions and ideas in this show that will fly right past a child; they won’t see the humor and they won’t get the point. Those familiar with Shel’s adult work know that he used shock and strong images to make significant points about society. It is those ideas that make this show wrong for kids.

So let’s look at the scenes and performances in the show. REP East only listed the scene names, but luckily Dramatists Play Service and Wikipedia provide more information:

  1. One Tennis Shoe. Harvey (Jeff Johnson/FB) needs to broach a delicate subject with his wife. He claims Sylvia (Bridget Pugliese (FB)) is becoming a bag lady, but she protests that her Bloomingdales’ shopping bag doesn’t make her a bag lady. No, says Harvey, but the picture frame, couch cushion and single tennis shoe retrieved from the garbage do. Not to mention the cold cooked oatmeal in her purse. The leads in this scene created a believable couple, but what I found more interesting was the reactions to the argument from the unnamed actors and the waiter in the background.
  2. Bus Stop.Irwin (George D. Cummings (FB)) stands on a street corner with a sign reading “bust stop.” When Celia (Erin Rivlin (FB)) passes, he stops her and proceeds to run through the entire list of slang for her breasts, but Celia turns the tables on him with a lengthy and demeaning list of her own. This is perhaps the most NSFW scene, at least in terms of language. It is almost guaranteed that you will hear slang terms for either breasts or the penis that you have never heard before. It is a classic turnabout, and Erin and George have lots of fun with it.
  3. Going Once. In a simultaneously comic and chilling monologue an auctioneer (George D. Cummings (FB)) shows off a woman (apparently Annie (Erin Rivlin (FB))), who is putting herself up for auction to the highest bidder. This scene is a commentary on how women were often viewed in the 1960s and 1970s (I certainly hope that isn’t today’s view), and could be viewed by some as misogynistic (although if you read through Different Dances, you’ll come away with the impression that Shel Silverstein thought that way at one time). How much would you pay for a women who would do anything? Good performances by both leads, but even thought the body is sold, not much is revealed. You have to pay to see more 🙁 .
  4. The Best Daddy. Lisa (Fiona Perry (FB))’s got the best daddy (Randy Aronson (FB)) in the world. After all, he bought her a pony for her birthday. Too bad he shot it dead. Or did he? Maybe it was Lisa’s older sister.Very strong performances from both; I really enjoyed Perry’s reactions to her father as he worked the expectations.
  5. The Lifeboat is Sinking. Jen (Hannah L. Endicott/G+) and Sherwin (Jason Endicott (FB)) sit safely on their bed, but Jen forces her husband to imagine they are on a sinking boat in the middle of a terrible storm. Waves fill the boat with water; there are no life jackets; and Sherwin must decide whether he should throw his mother overboard or condemn them all to die. The scene raises great questions about your priority in life, and who do you value more: your spouse or your parent, your spouse or your child? Given the great performances by newlyweds Hannah and Jason Endicott, one wonders if this triggered such a discussion in real life.
  6. Smile. Bender (Brent Christensen (FB)) and his henchmen (Jeff Hyde/FB, Nanook/FB) drag Gibby (Michael Keane/FB) into a room and throw him to the ground. Gibby protests that he hasn’t done anything wrong, but Bender and the others know better. They have found the man responsible for the ’70s smiley face and the phrase “Have a nice day,” and they’re going to make him pay. Loads of simulated physical violence by Christensen, Hyde, and Nanook (which they do so well), and Keane cowers quite well. A good commentary on how trite phrases can drive people crazy.
  7. Wash and Dry. Marianne (Beth Ann Sweezer (FB)) stops by the laundromat, but she’s horrified to discover that her laundry hasn’t been cleaned. George (Ben Marcus/FB – Week 2; J. T. Centonze (FB) – Week 1) counters he never agreed to wash it. “George’s Watch and Dry,” he says. “You gotta pay attention.” A very good commentary on the prevalence of fine print these days; one wonders what Silverstein would make of shrinkwrap agreements. Good performances by Marcus as George and Beth Ann as Marianne.
  8. Thinking Up a New Name for the Act. Pete (Mikee Schwinn (FB) hits on the phrase “Meat and Potatoes” as the perfect name for their vaudeville act, but Lucy (Amber Schwinn (FB)) doesn’t like it. They get into a terrible fight, and Lucy kills Pete. A police investigation, trial and execution quickly follow. The only words in this farcical sketch are “Meat and Potatoes.” A very well performed scene, especially as the actors could not depend on the dialogue (“meat and potatoes”) to convey the message–it had to be entirely through their performances. I believed they conveyed the message well; additionally, the fact that the leads were husband and wife permitted them to take certain, umm, liberties in action that other actors might not be afforded. Supporting the leads in the smaller roles were Barry Agin (FB) [Judge]; George D. Cummings (FB) [Priest]; Hannah L. Endicott/G+ [Prosecutor], Jason Endicott (FB) [Sergeant], Jeff Johnson/FB [Executioner] and Michael Keane/FB [Inspector].
  9. Buy One Get One Free. Merrilee (Alexis Crane (FB)) and Sherilee (Kelly Bader (FB)) are offering the deal of the century. “Buy one, get one free,” the hookers sing to a tempted Lee (Barry Agin (FB)). It’s a golden opportunity. And it all rhymes. This is perhaps the most traditional Shel Silverstein piece with the nature of the rhymes, but the subject matter is clearly not for children. Good performances by both Alexis and Kelly, given the large amount of dialogue.
  10. Blind Willie and the Talking Dog. Blind Willie (George Chavez/FB) – Week 2; Billy Davis/FB – Week 1) sings the blues and asks passersby if they can spare a nickel or dime to help him and his hungry dog (Jeff Johnson/FB). But his dog can’t understand why Willie refuses to use the fact that he owns a talking dog to make some real money. A wonderful performance by George (who can sing quite well), and Johnson played the dog quite well (although I hear his costume is a bitch).

Overall, this was a large cast (many of whom are local performers at REP or CTG, as opposed to heavy regulars elsewhere in the LA theatre scene) who were having fun with a short run production. They clearly enjoyed the production, and the direction of Jeff Johnson/FB kept everything running smoothly (it did make more work for me, as I try to find links for every actor, and many took quite a bit of hunting to find anything other than Facebook).

Technically, this was very simple. There was no real set; there were a number of prop pieces used to establish the scenes. Sound design was by Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB, who found the few Shel Silverstein CDs out there for interstitial music (I know he used “Freakers at the Freakers Ball”, and I think I heard a few songs from “Inside Folk Songs”). There was no credit for lighting, but I’m guessing REP regular Tim Christianson/FB was involved. “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” was produced by Jeff Johnson/FBMikee Schwinn (FB) and Ovington Michael Owston (FB).

Alas, I saw the last performance of “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein“. You could get tickets for “The Great Gatsby, the next production at Repertory East Playhouse (REP East) (FB) [ETA: Which just went up on Goldstar].

[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:  August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19),  “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 dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), 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’d love to get down to San Diego to see either (or both) of “Bright Star“, the new Steve Martin/Edie Brikell musical, at The Old Globe Theatre (FB) (September 13-November 2), or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (based on the Disney film) at The La Jolla Playhouse (FB) (October 25-December 2), but I’m not sure either would work in the schedule.  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.




A Story from the Past… in the Future

Return to the Forbidden Planet (REP East)userpic=repeastBack in the year 1610 (or perhaps it was 1611), a fellow by the name of Bill Shakespeare wrote a little play called “The Tempest“. Years later, in 1956, a ground-breaking science fiction film “Forbidden Planet” emerged that drew upon some elements of “The Tempest“. Still later, in the mid-1980s, a production emerged in London that explicitly combined even more elements and characters from “The Tempest” with the basic storyline of “Forbidden Planet“, adding in Iambic Pentameter-ish dialogue from not only The Tempest, but numerous other Shakespeare works. This was intended as a musical, and so it added to this structure numerous rock and roll hits from the 1950s through 1960s, including “Great Balls of Fire”, “Teenager in Love”, “Gloria”, “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, and much more. The resulting musical won the Oliver award in London in 1989 (beating Miss Saigon), and is just about to be revived on the London stage for a 25th Anniversary UK Tour. But you don’t need to go as far a London to see this show; you only need to go a few minutes North of Los Angeles to the community of Newhall in Santa Clarita, where Repertory East Playhouse is presenting the musical “Return to the Forbidden Planet“.

Now, I knew none of this backstory when we got our tickets for this show. We’re season subscribers to REP, and when O announced the season back in late 2013 and I saw this show, I went “huh?”. REP normally has a summer musical, and this didn’t appear to be one. I thought, perhaps, that “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” had stolen the musical space and this was just a simple parody. So I researched the show, picked up the original cast album, and gave it a listen. I was very surprised: here were a number of great songs from the 50s and 60s arranged to tell a science fiction story. I began to look forward to this show.

Then June happened. You may remember the events; some try to forget them. When the dust finally settled, the REP community came out of this stronger than ever, as patrons and actors and the community rallied to demonstrate that this little theatre is important to them. Those that initiated the events came out a bit more tarnished, suffice it to say. The lesson to learn from this is not to take on a theatre that has its ducks in a row, with strong community backing. For me, as a patron and support (and unofficial spokesman), I was thinking — wouldn’t it have been great if REP’s next production was some great drama to which we could invite the critics and blow them away… but we get “Return to the Forbidden Planet“. Last night was our scheduled subscription night, so I went in curious: this was a return to normal operations at REP, and as Stan Freberg once asked, “Will it end on a note of triumph or disaster?”

The answer, of course, is “Either way, Daddy-O, as long as it swings! Scooby Doo!”… and REP came out swinging. This was one of the best REP productions I’ve seen: a combination of live music (a first for any REP musical), great singing, actors who just having fun with their roles (which I always claim ups the amplification — something Ghost needed to learn), and a spectacular set. REP is having fun here, and that fun is shared with the audience. It begins when you enter the theatre and hit the bar — which was serving “Tempest in a Tumbler”. It continued when you entered the auditorium and saw the spaceship set… which when you looked closely integrated car stereos, a Darth Vader Pez dispenser, an early (working) Apple ][C monitor, a radar range, hidden “81”s everywhere, and incredibly hilarious labels on everything. The show begins… not with the usual prerecorded announcement, but with the cast coming out in character to warn against cell phones, demonstrate the exits in the manner of flight attendance, and teach the audience participation cues. The pop culture references began here, and didn’t let down. Hint: Never wear a red shirt on a spaceship bridge and forget to turn off your cell phone. Then the prerecorded narrator announcements come on, and the iambic pentameter begin with the story proper.

At this point, you’re going: OK, now I’m going to get a group telling the traditional Tempest in a science-fiction mileau… but then you notice that the language is conflating many Shakespeare shows, and you start seeing the actors doing 60s songs such as “Wipeout” or “It’s a Man’s World”. You’re not in Kansas anymore.

The story itself, as I noted above, is a mix of the original movie and the Shakespeare play. Here’s the Wikipedia summary, which is succinct enough I really don’t need to edit it further:

The plot follows the crew of a routine survey flight under the command of Captain Tempest. After takeoff, Captain Tempest converses with the ships new Science Officer, who is a woman, and they argue about the importance of men and women on earth. During their argument, the ship gets caught in a meteor shower. The Science Officer suggests that they use the shuttle craft and abandon ship, but Captain Tempest insists on flying through the storm. During the confusion the Science Officer escapes the ship via shuttle craft. Their spaceship is drawn mysteriously to the planet D’Illyria where the crew meet mad scientist Doctor Prospero, who has been marooned on the planet since his wife, and science partner Gloria sent him and their daughter Miranda into space. Doctor Prospero offers to help repair the broken starship and he, his daughter, and their robot Ariel come aboard. The ships cook, Cookie is instantly taken by Miranda’s beauty and falls in love with her, a love he thinks she returns. In fact she has fallen in love with Captain Tempest, against the will of her father. During discussions about locating the missing Science Officer, Ariel reveals information about Doctor Prospero’s new formula ‘X Factor’, which can enhance the brain and mind. After an argument with his daughter over her love for the captain, Doctor Prospero takes the draught of ‘X Factor’. Soon afterwards, the ship is attacked by a foul monster, but during the attack it is revealed that Ariel is in the airlock with the missing Science Officer. To save them both, Captain Tempest orders the airlock opened, which allows the monster to gain access to the ship. During the confusion of the attack it is revealed that the Science Officer is Doctor Prospero’s wife Gloria, who is then taken by the monster, as its tentacles attack the rest of the ship.

The story continues with the attack unfolding again, but this time Gloria isn’t kidnapped by the monster, and Ariel the robot is able to attack the monster to make it retreat. After the attack, more is revealed about Doctor Prospero and Gloria’s past. Captain Tempest puts Gloria under ship arrest for her crimes against her husband. She forms a quick alliance with Cookie, whom she persuades to release her and help steal the recipe for Doctor Prospero’s ‘X Factor’ in exchange for helping him win over Miranda’s heart. Gloria talks to Cookie, as Bosun, the ships First Mate, talks to Captain Tempest about how to gain the love of Miranda. It is then revealed when the monster returns that it is created by Doctor Prospero’s mind due to him taking the ‘X Factor’. Gloria tells Doctor Prospero that what she did to him was so that he could keep himself and their daughter safe from the ‘X Factor’. Doctor Prospero has no choice but to leave the ship and sacrifice himself to save the others. Once Doctor Prospero has left, it is then revealed that D’Illyria is nothing other than a figment of Doctor Prospero’s imagination, as it starts to destroy itself once the doctor has died. The ship escapes and when once again in space Gloria blesses the union of Miranda and Captain Tempest, and Cookie is pardoned for his behaviour towards Miranda and Captain Tempest. The show ends with the entire crew safe and well with their Science Officer back and Captain Tempest with a new bride.

As I said above, REP executed this every well. There was strong casting, strong visuals (including great graphics), strong singing, and fun. Credit for this goes to the director, Rick Pratt (FB), who pulled the large cast together and provided a great creative vision for the show (as well as playing keyboard during the show in an outfit that made me think of Paul Revere and the Raiders, with the ruffled dickie). Rereading his bio just now, I should have known we were in for fun — this fellow was a musical director at the Moorpark Melodrama during its heyday in the 1980s.   The show was also a family affair, as his wife and son were in the show.

Casting was very strong. My personal favorite, out of all of the cast, was Beth Ann Sweezer (FB) as Ariel the robot. This young lady was out on stage, on roller skates, in a silver skin-tight costume with silver make-up, in a performance that could have easily been very, umm, mechanical. Instead, her face was a joy to behold — expressive, playful, shining — and her movements (especially when you realize this was all done on skates) were fun to watch. That’s acting and dance talent, which was then combined with some wonderful singing (including a wonderful rap performance). Her bio shows we’ve seen her at REP before, and checking out what I wrote, I see she was also my favorite in The Great American Trailer Park Musical. I look forward to seeing her in more REP shows, and hopefully in other productions in Southern California.

Moving from my favorite to the lead positions. As Captain Tempest, Benjamin Patrick Thomas (FB) brought a handsome bravado and a strong singing voice to the leadership of crew of the Starship 81. He handled his numbers, and the iambic pentameter, quite well. As Gloria, the Science Officer, Lori D’itri (FB) brought strong singing chops and dance moves to the role. Lori is another REP musical regular — we saw here in both Trailer Park and The Full Monty, as well as being a Goldie Award winner for her performance in Dixie Swim Club at CTG. The last lead player was Mike Davies as Prospero.  Davies handled the role with good singing and lots of humor; I particularly enjoyed his epilogue of “Monster Mash”.

In the middle positions were Connor Pratt/FB as Cookie and Alina Bock (Actor FB, Personal FB) as Miranda. Pratt’s Cookie captured the stoner surfer stereotype quite well, and he sang quite well. What was more surprising for Pratt was that, unlike other actors who faked playing guitars in a scene or two, Pratt actually played his guitar — it was plugged into the sound system, and he had quite a few solos he handled well. Don’t believe me: watch his fingers on both the strings and the frets. Very nice. Bock’s Miranda was beautiful and she had a wonderful singing voice… plus at the end she was dancing in the odd costume out of a Madonna musical in these ridiculously high stilettos. I don’t know how women do it–I don’t think a man could take it.

Rounding out the cast were Tara George as the Navigation Officer, Rodnesha Green (FB, G+) as the Bosun (and vocal director), as Sandra Pratt/FB as the Newscaster (and presumably the opening red-shirt). I was originally unsure about George — I detected some form of accent (later I figured it out as middle-eastern), and she seemed a bit cold. I think that was her character — she sang very strong in her numbers. Pratt was also strong in her numbers, in her interactions with Ariel, and I enjoyed her fiddling with her buttons and switches, as well as her popping of the Valium. Lastly, the third Pratt (Sandra) was strong and fun to watch in the interstitial narrations.

This is the first time, I also get to talk about the on-stage band. After all these years, they finally found a way to get Nanook/FB out of the sound booth: put him onstage with a guitar! He was joined by the director, Rick Pratt (FB), on keyboards; Art Gibson on bass, and David Goldberg on drums. It was truly wonderful to have live music at REP, although it was clear that the band was keeping things a little on the softer side so that they did not overpower that actors. I’m sure that as REP does more live music, they will find the correct balance for the facility. It was a great start.

Choreography was by Kristen Pechacek (FB), who did a great job of making the movement work well on the small REP stage. She also coordinated the movement well for Ariel on roller skates and Miranda’s dancing in the stilettos. It was actually one of the better choreography jobs I’ve seen over the years at REP.

Turning to the technical side of things: The scenic design by Frank Rock/FB and Jeff Hyde/FB, was a hoot (as I noted before). Integrating multiple monitors, a Radarrange, a Mr. Coffee, and Apple ][C (working), and all sorts of knobs and switches — it was just fun to look at for all the little technical details and in-jokes (in particular, note that the transporter has the large label LXXXI, which happens to be the number 81, REP’s theme number). You can see a photo of the set and cast here. These were supported by Marlowe Weisman (FB) and Sandra Pratt/FB did a wonderful job with the props, including a large Darth Vader PEZ dispenser. Tim Christianson/FB‘s lighting was as strong as ever, including some LED strobes I haven’t seen before. Tim also did the wonderful puppet used at the end of act I. The videos designed by the director, Rick Pratt (FB), worked very well. Costume design was by Sandra Pratt/FB, assisted by  Flo Loring (FB): the costumes worked well and looked appropriately science-fiction-y. As noted earlier, I particularly liked Ariel (Beth Ann Sweezer)’s robot costume, and Miranda (Alina Bock)’s final costume was a nice homage. Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB did sound, as usual; this was the first time I’ve seen wireless mics taped to the actors at the REP; I could hardly notice they were on. Whether this was intentional, or if Nanook is still trying to find the right balance between the band and actors is unknown. Kim Iosue/FB was the stage manager, assisted by Vanessa Reyes. “Return to the Forbidden Planet” was produced by Mikee Schwinn/FB and Ovington Michael Owston (FB).

Return to the Forbidden Planet” continues at Repertory East (FB)until August 16.  Tickets are available through the REP East Online Box Office, as well as through Goldstar. “Planet” will be followed by the limited run “Exit 81” production of An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” on the weekends of August 22 and August 30. The next REP full production is “The Great Gatsby“, running September 12 through October 18, 2014.

[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 sees us back at the Pantages (FB) for “Once” on 7/19. The next weekend brings “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, hopefully followed by the annual Operaworks improv show on 7/27. August has gotten busy: it starts with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). The following weekend we’ll be in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. August will end with the aforementioned “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at REP, “What I Learned in Paris” at the Colony, and “Pippin” at the Pantages. More on that later. 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.



Out on a Limb to Help a Friend

Solopalooza (REP)userpic=repeastExperimental theatre. If you have been reading our theatre adventures, you know this is something that we don’t normally attend. But when a fundraiser was announced for the Repertory East Playhouse (REP) after the recent debacle, I was in—no questions asked. So last night we were back at REP for “Solo-Palooza“, which was a collection of 10-20 minute monologues by theatre students from College of the Canyons that left me astounded at the level of talent and the passion of the students, as well as being pleased that REP was coming out of this stronger, with a greater commitment to do great theatre from both the staff and the community.

Let’s start with the REP aspect first. For those unfamiliar with the story, during the run of REP’s previous show, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a patron got inebriated and started making audible anti-gay slurs during the second act. The actor playing Big Daddy reacted to these jeers not by requesting action from management, but by going into the audience and physically confronting the patron. The patron was ejected, the actor was fired (for creating legal risk for the theatre), another actor quit in support, the remainder of the run was cancelled due to the loss of actors, the issue hit the news and went viral on the Internet with a version of the story tilted towards the actor, and the theatre took a financial and publicity hit. Within a week of the incident, the show showed up with a benefit performance at another venue, with most of the actors, directed by the fellow in the audience who took the story to the media. Supporters of the theatre began speaking up when staff couldn’t, and fundraisers were organized to make up for the loss of ticket income from the production. Such is the love that this theatre engenders in the local community and the community of the people that know the theatre that they want this institution to survive. T-Shirts were sold, and two shows were organized to provide support. One of those shows was this show; the next is a stand-up comedy night next week. Of course, the best way to ensure the survival of the REP is to introduce new audiences to their quality and integrity. When you buy a ticket to their next show, Return to the Forbidden Planet, buy an extra ticket and bring a friend to the theatre.

Next, let’s turn to the show itself. What is Solo-Palooza? Solo-Palooza is a product of the “Theatre 195: Solo Performance” class at the College of the Canyons. In this program, students from the class present original solo performance pieces that have been curated with COC theatre instructor and Solopalooza director Susan Hinshaw (FB) to be both socially provocative and highly entertaining. Over the years, Solo-Palooza has been performed at both COC and at REP; REP has been a strong supporter of the program. The most recent Solo-Palooza before this one was in early June at COC, and featured shows about “broken families, drug addiction, bullies, cheerleaders, being an outsider, being a twin, and an obsessive compulsive”.  It was mentioned at the beginning of last night’s show that COC wanted to return the support to REP, and they proposed this special Solo-Palooza performance, with all the proceeds going to REP.

Last night’s performance featured nine selections from longer solo performance pieces. All were great; the weakest one in my eyes was at the 90% level, and the weakness was due less to the performance and more due to the resonance of the subject matter. The performances were at a level very different than I seen in normal scripted shows. I don’t mean this in a bad way: these performances were uniformly excellent and creative, drawing the audience to see multiple characters and multiple personas in a single individual with minimal props. This is why I referred to experimental theatre above — this was true “acting” from the heart and soul. It was remarkable. Let’s look at my remembrances of the individual pieces in the show:

  • Copy and Paste” (Ashley Rasch/FB). This was a story about a girl growing up with her identical twin sister. I was astounded with the enthusiasm and energy Rasch brought to the piece — she was flying everywhere and becoming different characters and ages, and was just astounding and funny and delightful to watch.
  • On the Outside Looking In” (Tyler Menjivar/FB). This was a story about growing up gay and trying to find your way as an outsider. One of the most interesting portions of the piece had to do with messages that we send–Menjivar related about hearing his parents talk about the fact that it was perfectly fine to be gay…. as long it wasn’t a friend, neighbor, or a family member. I was impressed by the emotion behind this story, and the physicality of the piece (Menjivar was pushed by … himself … on to the floor hard a number of times).
  • Nine Dresses” (Renee Poignard/FB). This was ultimately a story about a girls relationship to her mother who passed away too soon, and how that relationship was triggered by memories, odors, and actions. A touching and humorous piece.
  • Wrong Channel” (Jordan Haro (FB)). This was the piece that resonated with me the least. It was about a young man who learned his life lessons from television. There was a lot of patter about shows — especially kids cartoons — and the lessons they teach. Many of these were kids shows from the late 1990s that I never watched, and so the connections and in-jokes just missed me. The audience did appreciate, however, his performance of the theme from Speed Racer.
  • Fat Bottomed Girl” (Heather Frame (FB)). This was perhaps the piece that resonated the most with us — it was a monologue about a woman and her struggle with weight, with an addition to eating and of using food for comfort and nurture. This is something that my wife has struggled with, and even I’m having trouble with it (I’m finding it hard to lose weight). A really good and well-performed piece from the heart.
  • My Girl” (Joe Prata/FB). This was a piece I wasn’t sure I was going to like — it was a (hopefully fictional) talk by a man who murdered his wife with malace aforethought, after murdering her lover, and going on to kill more. At its heart, though, it was a story about a man’s relationship with his daughter, and the aftermath of a bad divorce. Although the presentation only gave one side of the story (part of the problem that was there in the original REP incident), it provided an odd understanding of an evil act. Very well performed.
  • Straight Lines, Full Circle” (Clare Tompkins-Cook/FB). Another piece about growing up, this time from the young lady who was serving as the host for the evening’s performances. It was about a girl’s hatred of pain and blood, and how the pain of her life and fighting at home led her to cutting — experiencing pain to awakeness from the numbness that life had brought to her. Tompkins-Cook portrayed a number of characters and emotions, and was just fascinating to watch.
  • Silence is Loud” (Kelsey Kosskove/FB). This was a story about a young woman dealing with the draw of silence on her life. Kosskove had a dancer’s body and dancer’s moves, and these highlighted this interesting piece. This was the piece that connected with my wife the least, for whatever reason.
  • Three Men” (Judge Boothby/FB). Boothby protrayed three angry men: a janitor talking to a student, a son talking to his father, and a third one I can’t remember. What I found interesting here — even more than the strong performances themselves — was the reaction to them from the other actors on the side of the stage. I also loved how Boothby just inhabited and transformed into each difference character. It was remarkable to see.

The production was produced by Clare Tompkins-Cook/FB and Erin Cholakian/FB, with REP regular Taylor Kozlowski/FB serving as house manager, lighting, and sound tech. David Stears/FB was the event coordinator.

There was only one performance of this piece. You shoulda been there supporting the REP. You’ll just have to come to their next show.

[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:  Tonight sees us back at our old haunt, the Pasadena Playhouse (FB), for “Stoneface: The Rise and Fall of Buster Keaton”. We finish off June with “I’m Not Just a Comic Genius” at Secret Rose (FB) on June 27. July will be busy: “Ghost” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/5, “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12, “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, and “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. August then remains quiet as we work around vacations and such (but I’m eyeing a number of productions in Escondido, including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. Things start to get busy again in September and October, with “The Great Gatsby” at REP, “What I Learned in Paris” at the Colony, and “Pippin” at the Pantages. More on that later. 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.



Truth in the Era of the Internet

userpic=repeastWhile eating my lunch today, I’ve been thinking more about the situation that happened last week with Repertory East Playhouse (REP) in Newhall. Today’s thinking was prompted by a discussion yesterday on a Fox 11 interview that the two primary actors involved gave. This interview was softer on the REP than previous interviews, and some opined that this issue would calm down and go away. I countered that, alas, with the Internet, nothing goes away. Potential future patrons and actors will grep google the REP, and find these stories. I pointed out that we needed to get ahead of the stories — to ensure that reports on the incident are fair. The actions to take, however, don’t just apply to REP — they apply to anyone who has been the subject of an Internet smear campaign.

Here’s what I think should be demanded — and note that I’m not demanding that anyone change their opinion:

  1. Sites presenting information about what happened should not depend only on the accusers for their information. They should attempt to get information and reports from all sides, and present that information so that readers may draw their own conclusions. If you are reading a “news site”, and the information is only from people on one side of the spectrum/issue, that news is not unbiased. With respect to the REP incident, my first post has been edited to provide quotes from those very familiar with the REP, as well as links to the news articles that present well the accusers side.
  2. Review sites, such as yelp, should only accept reviews from people that know the institution personally. Third-party or hear-say reviews should be rejected. When reading a review site, ask yourself if the author of the review is making clear they have been to the venue in question.

So what should the REP do to preserve their, ahem, REPutation on the Internet? Simple — enforce the two requirements above. First, to those news sites and blogs posting only one-sided accounts, request that they present the other side. You might not be able to change the conclusions they draw, but at least you can get a balanced presentation of the facts. Second, to those sites that accept ratings (Yelp, Google), confirm that the terms of service require those writing reviews to have actual experience with the site being reviewed. If that requirement is there, ask the review site to take down any reviews of REP from people who have never been to the REP.

A last thought (gee, I sound like Jerry Springer): Let’s not focus on “What went wrong?”. Let’s focus on “How can we do better?”

In the end, we don’t want to deny people the rights to their opinion. Your opinion, after all, is your opinion. But we can ask that you consider all the facts when making it, and those facts must be based in reality, not stories.