Sunday, September 27, 2009

review - Wonder of the World

Wonder of the World
by David Lindsay-Abaire
directed by Neil Wilson
Sea Glass Theatre
@ The Little Vic
@ The Victory Theatre Center
through November 1
Fast and funny, off-the-wall, a laugh at least every 20 seconds is the best way to sum up David Lindsay-Abaire's comedy about relationships Wonder of the World, now being presented by the newly formed Sea Glass Theatre at the Little Vic in Burbank. And in case you cannot tell from the photos, this Wonder is none other than Niagara Falls. That's right, Honeymoon Haven and (It) Proves Edgy Locale for the Play's Troubled Protagonists!
Whether 'tis nobler to stay in a marriage with a mismatched partner or seek your happiness elsewhere seems to be the question at hand. As the play opens, cute perky Cass (Elizabeth Bond) is leaving her hubbie Kip (Ian Vogt) to his utter shock and disbelief. She boards a bus for Niagara Falls where she meets runaway alcoholic and suicide bent Lois (Kimberly Van Luin), whose only complaint to a nonstop talking Cass is "You need to learn to segue!" The 2 rent a motel room and Cass sees it's her mission to save Lois from going over the Falls in a barrel. Lois' husband Tom is fed up with her drinking - which has caused their marriage to breakup - so the 2 gals have a lot in common, but not so much that they won't get on each other's nerves repeatedly in the next 2 hours. Cass hooks up with Maid of the Mist Captain Mike (David Ghilardi) for a sexual tryst, one of the many adventures on her check list of things to do in her free time. Kip meanwhile hires 2 novice PIs, who formerly owned a yarn shop, to track down Cass. Karla (Jill Holden) and Glen (Paul Strolli) follow her, and eventually Kip catches up.
All of these characters delightfully intertwine, creating one horrorific experience after another. Whereas saving the marriage seems to be at the core of Abaire's brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning Rabbit Hole, finding the best way to be happy - with or without one's mate -seems to be the point of Wonder. And whereas Rabbit Hole is a deadly serious play, Wonder of the World is dropdead hilarious from beginning to end. Abaire, not unlike the creators of Cable TV's Six Feet Under adores grotesque accidents and bizarre deaths. Lurid descriptions of them abound in this script, never for any purposes of sensationalism or fright; on the contrary, they are complete setups for laughs, laughs and more laughs. Audiences eat up these gorey details.
The cast is a dream under Wilson's taut direction. Bond is adorable, a kind of pixie youngish Megan Mullalley with a rapid-fire delivery. Vogt is equally funny especially in his tearful scenes watching movies in the absence of his wife. The question of Kip's gayness arises. A straight man weeping through movies and fondling, craving the sweater on the corpse of his wife's lover? Hmm. Straight? OK!
Van Luin is a scream as Lois, drunk or sober. She's a scene grabber from the get-go. The PIs will do anything for a buck - Holden and Strolli make them a great comic duo. Jen Ray is dynomite playing 6 roles. Her 3 waitresses - all distinctly different - are standouts as well as the marriage counselor Janie in full clown getup, who adores moderating The Newlywed Game as a form of group therapy.
This is an adult comedy, so leave the kiddies at home. I do not want them to be exposed to Kip's fetish! Yes, Wonder of the World can be graphic, and is thoroughly outrageous every side-splitting second. You've gotta luv it!
5 out of 5 stars

review - Painting Churches

Painting Churches
by Tina Howe
directed by Kappy Kilburn
Rep à Trois
the GROUP rep
@ Lonny Chapman Theatre
through November 8

Tina Howe wrote the lovely play Painting Churches to honor, in their later years, a mother, father and their daughter, whose relationships are most definitely dysfunctional but endearing nonetheless. It premiered in the 80s soon after the success of Ernest Thompson's On Golden Pond, another witty play about a daughter's physical and emotional distance from her parents. Norman Thayer of Pond is a retired professor and aging curmudgeon, while Gardner Church of Churches, former Poet Laureate, is more seriously and sadly suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. The play has a beautiful symmetry if the 3 actors are in tune. In this production unevenly directed by Kappy Kilburn, the results are very unbalanced.

Diane Frank as Fanny Church has not yet found the central motivation of her character, as she is all over the place with her emotions. She overacts everything, destroying much of the humor and must learn to blend in more smoothy with her 2 partners. As is, it is difficult to determine at times just who is the Alzheimer's victim. Fanny is there to support Gardner - yes, overprotective, for good reason! - and has a sense of humor, but Frank is missing much of it. Think Sada Thompson or Katharine Hepburn! When something like this happens (I'm an actor, too!), I usually blame the director as well as the actor, for not insisting that the performance stay on course. Edgar Mastin as Gardner is near to perfect in his approach to the character's loss of perspective. He moves along like nothing is wrong, but screws up everything; Mastin takes the natural approach to dottiness, which works nicely. The performance to savor here is from Krisztina Koltai as daughter Margaret, affectionately called Mags by her parents. She is our window to the Churches. Somewhat self-absorbed in her art - she's a painter - she has lost track of her father's condition and her mother's treatment of him, and, with her visit, the play focuses in on her attempt to emotionally connect to the two, as she is also trying to paint their portrait. Her monologue at the end of Act I about how she, as an abused teen, takes an absurd punishment and turns it into brilliant creativity is beautifully written by Howe and well-executed by the focused Koltai. Mags' inability to connect to her parents existed in her early years and the problem unfortunately still lingers after all these years.

The end of the play is a glimpse of what used to be or maybe what could still be as the 2 parents dance their troubles into oblivion. In this representation the emotional effect is lessened because of the aforementioned lack of symmetry between the actors. It's like a triangle with one of its sides badly askew.

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 26, 2009

review - Naked Boys Singing

Naked Boys Singing
songs written by a bevy of
songwriters mentioned below
conceived/directed by Robert Schrock
Macha Theatre
through November 22

My first impression of Naked Boys Singing when it premiered in 1998 was that it was a forgettable show with a few good songs and of course, a few good...naked men. Now in its reincarnation at the Macha Theatre in WeHo 11 years later, I have completely changed my opinion. As I really listened to the songs and focused on the performances as well as on the bodies, I realized that this little musical about gay men has a lot to offer at the core: diverse...and perverse visions of comraderie, sensuality...and deep down, what constitutes the gay man's soul. Singing and dancing in the buff is that extra special feature, the ribbon and bow surrounding the package.

8 guys make up the ensemble, and every voice is top-notch. La creme is Marco Infante, whose rendition of "Robert Mitchum" (Mark Winkler, Shelly Markham) is so very sexy and passionate. Then there's Jack Harding whose take on "Perky Little Porn Star" (David Pevsner) is a bouncy, mobile thrill. Timothy Hearl scores cowpoke bigtime with "Nothin' But the Radio On" (Mark Winkler, Shelly Markham). Eric B. Anthony's finest hour comes with "The Entertainer" (Perry Hart & Trance Thompson) where his Ben Vereen style is a knockout. Tony Melson's best is "Kris, Look What You've Missed" (Robert Schrock, Stephen Bates), a little three act play wrapped up in one monologue in song. Jeffrey A. Johns steals with his agile opener "The Naked Maid" (David Pevsner). Daniel Rivera and Victor Tang make an appealing 'couple' in "Window to Window" (Rayme Sciaroni). "Member's Only" (Robert Schrock, Stephen Bates) is a full company comically rousing salute to one's member and all of its nicknames. "Jack's Song" (Jim Morgan, Ben Schaechter) is another hilarious group song in tribute to handling one's ----.

It's fun, it's alive and it's totally worth the memories, especially with these 8 buoyant boys under the super duper musical baton of Gerald Sternbach. Schrock as director keeps everything up...oops!, I mean bright and well, gay. As the song says, "There's no plot, but plenty of exposition". And underneath all that exposition... there's a lot of heart.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, September 24, 2009

review - Medea

by Euripides, translated by Kenneth McLeish and Frederic Raphael
directed by Lenka Udovicki
Freud Playhouse, UCLA
through October 18
What makes or breaks the interpretation of a classical piece of theatre entails 2 things: first, stay true to the playwright and second, if your concept is imaginatively daring, make sure it serves the author's intent. If it's unnecessarily excessive, scratch it! Every well-written play, classical or contemporary, deserves a production that represents and retains its integrity. Lenka Udovicki's bold and interestingly staged Medea is at once breathtaking to watch and echoing quite clearly the universal themes of infidelity and revenge.
The cast is brilliant, led by the luminous Annette Bening in the title role. Bening charts her course well, starting lowkey and then building to an intense ferocity that the part demands. She is appropriately up and down with her emotions, displaying bewilderment, confusion, love, hate, instability and strength. Medea is a complex woman, and at play's end, we should not see her reduced to inconsolable madness, but rather resigned, steadfast and somehow even insanely proud of her triumph over disloyalty. Bening delivers. Angus Macfadyen as Jason is deceitful and cunning, yet formidable, as he must accept his guilt and live with his crimes, as well as Medea's.
Mary Lou Rosato is astonishing as the Corinthian baglady, serving as both narrator and pitiful participant of the background chorus. She is physically adept and fun to watch. Hugo Armstrong as the King of Athens offers a fine performance of a man who compromises for his own gain. Daniel Davis makes Kreon dictatorial and vengeful, but it is the chorus of 12 women with slicked down boyish hair and uniformed like alien soldiers who rivet our attention as they move, literally darting in quick step fashion around the stage. Udovicki's concept of them pervading Medea's conscience at every angle is concise and evocative.
The music with omnipresent drums by Pirayeh Pourafar and Houman Pourmehdi in collaboration with Nigel Osborne lends an air of creepiness to the funereal atmosphere and the entire scenic design by Richard Hoover with a raked stage covered with sand representing the dark and gloomy exteriors outside Kreon's palace leaves an indelibly morbid impression of death and loss.
This is a stunning production whose fresh elements of sight and sound fully enhance Euripides' oversized tragedy. As in Shakespeare's Macbeth, there are limited laughs in this warlike prison hell, but while you are entrapped, it's a virtual reality of nightmarish proportions.
5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, September 20, 2009

CABARET review - Katherine Hopkins Nicholas

Linda Hopkins payed Katherine Hopkins Nicholas a surprise visit for dinner after the show.
(l to r-below: Betty Garrett, Jane Kean, Katherine Hopkins Nicholas, Carol Lawrence and Don Grigware) (Photo credit: Craig Calman)

Lovely Katherine Hopkins Nicholas performed her nostalgic solo evening @ Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's on Sunday, September 20 to exciting audience acclaim. What a memorable and exhilarating walk down memory lane with this singular beauty who sings, taps and entertains as well as she did in 1978! It was '78 when Mrs. Nicholas, married to the late great dancing MGM star Fayard Nicholas of The Nicholas Brothers fame, costarred with Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney in Sugar Babies. Nicholas has talent to spare and is a real charmer. When she started her set with "Make Someone Happy", she instantly warmed the intimate crowd.
She interspersed songs with quaint stories of her varied career (performed with acrobats at one point, balancing a derby hat on her nose? Funny!) and threw in an occasional tap dance, displaying incredible energy, skill and showmanship.
Highlights of the evening included: "Chattanooga Choo Choo", "Come Rain or Come Shine" from the Nicholas Brothers' 1946 Broadway smash St. Louis Woman, a fun Marlene salute with top hat, a sublimely sexy "Oh, Do It Again", "Good Man" in tribute to Linda Hopkins as Bessie Smith, "La Vie en Rose", another tribute, this time to Josephine Baker, and a stimulating Jimmy McHugh medley from Sugar Babies including "Don't Blame Me"-Nicholas let her emotional instrument carry her away on this one, "I Can't Give You Anything But Love", "Shooting High", "Maggie Blues", "Sunny Side of the Street" and "Banjo Man".
Toward the end Nicholas introduced three legendary ladies/friends in the audience: Carol Lawrence, the original Maria in West Side Story, who replaced Ann Miller in Sugar Babies when Miller was out for foot surgery - Lawrence had but one week to rehearse and learn the routines, which she did brilliantly; glamorous Francine York, who served as bridesmaid to Nicholas in her marriage to Fayard; and the one and only musical comic actress Betty Garrett. (See photo above)
Dynamo pianist Ron Snyder served magnificently as musical director for a truly charming evening that ended with "Smile", "I Love to Spend Each Evening with You" and the splendid encore "As Long As He Needs Me".
Nicholas is one of a dying breed of cabaret performers whose heart and soul is into the great standards and composers of the past. She loves the music, loves entertaining, period and this translates to a thoroughly enjoyable evening for all within her illuminating reach.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

review - Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas

Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas

written by Blair Singer/directed by John Rando/Geffen Playhouse through October 18

What starts out a rather strong and intelligent parody on the BS of the Hollywood system - how a star gets washed up after 20 years in the unknown zone - turns moronic and offensive less than half way in. Matthew Modine makes laughworthy fun of himself, Peri Gilpin has one of the best roles of her career as a ballsy oversexed agent - boy does her character make a Hollywood true story (maybe I'll flesh it out!) - and French Stewart is over-the-top hilarious as always, but these 3 cannot save this dismal play from - and I hate to see alpacas keeling over one by one - falling flat on its a--. It's like the worst sketch on Saturday Night Live you've ever seen, bar none! And what does it have to say about celebrities championing a cause? Is their heart and soul with the issue or with the A-list? Sure, the bottom line is: we are number one and have to make fun of it all, but there's a limit. How selfish and cruel to animals and humans alike!

Mark Fite is a worthy addition to the ensemble as Modine's conscience, but his insight is minimally present. Edward Padilla, Mark Damon Espinosa and Reggie De Leon do their best to provoke laughs but end up like a bad caricature of the Three Stooges. There's little hope for this Ecuadorian tribe, who deserve our respect, admiration - and help. As written, we are poking fun at them and their race in a very denegrating way. Talk about politically incorrect!!! It's shameful, revolting and a bore, bore, bore!!!!!

After the brilliant Farragut North, the Geffen really made a bad choice. Stay tuned!

1 and a half out of 5 stars

review / my evening with... The Golden Gays

The Golden Gays
written by John Patrick Trapper
directed by Lori J. Ness Quinn
Cavern Club @ Casita del Campo
through September 27 only

Diehard fans of TV's The Golden Girls will love this cute spoof called The Golden Gays. Yes, its humor could be more rollicking and spicy - this is a Nite Club after all - and it should be a tad shorter, but I had a great time and loved the cast, especially John W. McLaughlin as Dorothy/Damian and John Downey III as Blanche/Blaine.
The first act suffers from slow character setups and chugs along without a dynamic enough conflict. Act II, however, is much campier due to actual representations of memorable episodes - a winning audience grabber - and some really fun musical numbers, like "Tired Old Gay Guys" to the tune of "Bosom Buddies" from Mame sung devilishly by McLaughlin and Irwin Moskowitz as Rose/Roger in flaming red Lucy wig. The other is "Tyra's Lament" to the tune of "Adelaide's Lament" from Guys and Dolls, done beautfully by Aaron Barerra as Dr. Leche and especially Julia Lillis as Blondie/Dr. Joyce Brothers. Other musical treats include "Brush Up Your GG" ("Brush Up Your Shakespeare") and a fun finale "Good Shows Will Be With Us in Reruns" which sums up quite well the whole point to the show. The clumsy therapy plot is unimportant here; it's the tribute to the GGirls that audiences will walk away with, and judging by audience participation in the Act II episode sketches, they were really into it.
I cannot say enough about McLaughlin as Dorothy. Tall and slender (as dear Bea Arthur was) and with all her mannersimas in tact - including the long cold glance, a take that became Arthur's staple and that pointing accusatory finger - he pays her a very endearing and loving tribute. Like Arthur, he wears the costumes, draping pants suits with huge scarves (no credit) stunningly! He is the best in show. Downey is also outstanding as Blanche. He has Rue McClanahan's Southern belle seductress down pat and is quite the delicious tart. Moskowitz needs to focus more on Rose and Betty White. Our Saint Olaf friend here is unassuming and rather listless, but White was energetic, enthusiastic and performed with an overabundance of childlike naivete and joy that is lacking from Moskowitz. David Romano as Sophia has the walk, posture and attitude of Estelle Getty's portrayal, but needs to hit his one-liners like he's batting for a homerun. Getty was infamous as every line was a zinger; as is, Romano sort of underplays and some of the funny stuff loses its punch. Barerra is excellent as the therapist/Florence Johnston/Tyra Banks, etc and Ron Velasco makes Mario an appealing eyeful. Director Quinn does her best to keep the pace fast and furious.
The play needs some retooling - who gives a damn about sitcom defective affectation disorder, some saucier lines, especially in Act I to keep it up and more lively. A couple of musical numbers might be added, giving every lady the music spotlight. What about a parody of "Side by Side" from Sondheim's Company? Might make a feistier and brighter finale!
Overall, GG makes a spunky and entertaining drag satire... and fitting salute to the TV legends. The biggest problems arise when the wigs and makeup come off.
4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chad Borden of F*cking Men

Chad Borden, co-Artistic Director of Havok Theatre Co and starring as Brandon the movie star in F*cking Men chats after a show. He wouldn't breathe a word about Havok's upcoming season except to say it's very exciting! Hush! Hush!

Jeff Olson of F*cking Men

Jeff Olson plays Ryan the pornstar in F*cking Men at the Celebration in a very moving performance. Look for my interview with him on my Interview site real soon!

review - F*cking Men

F*cking Men
written by Joe DiPietro
directed by Calvin Remsberg
Celebration Theatre
through October 25

Arthur Schnitzler's 19th century play La Ronde represents heterosexual lust and love within multiple encounters. Joe DiPietro bases his new play Fucking Men on La Ronde, but his treatment shows homosexual love via encounters such as blowjobs in the bushes, sex in the bathhouses, quickies in the confines of a broomcloset and then on to more intense lovemaking in chique hotel or private bedrooms. The American world premiere Fucking Men currently onstage @ the Celebration is a very affecting presentation of this gay lifestyle. Whether you are strictly into anonymous sex or are more prone toward a monogomous relationship, you will find yourself onstage. Young or old, rich or poor and irregardless of your occupation, you will be able to relate.
The 10 actors in the cast give extraordinary performances under Calvin Remsberg's liquid direction. Johnny Kostrey is the 'straight' soldier Steve, who uses escort John, Brian Dare, for the experience. You cannot help but to hate Steve at first, but then prepare to be surprised! Michael Rachlis is college student Kyle who likes a lot of sex and particularly with older men. Rachlis makes Kyle mischievously, yet adorably decadent. One of his encounters, Leo, Sean Galuszka, has a lover Jack, David Pevsner, and the only reason he is having 'extra-marital' sex is to keep up with his lover's array of tricks. Jeff Olson plays Ryan, a youthful but older porn star, in a very touching performance. Olson best conveys that deep sense of loneliness that all gays feel, even tough they refuse to admit it. A.J. Tannen plays Sammy, a very talkative playwright, who beds both Ryan and an obnoxious movie star Brandon, played to the hilt by Chad Borden. Tannen's nervous edge, akin to a Woody Allen type, provides terrific comic moments. Gregory Franklin is the older TV journalist Donald, who is living proof of just how urgent it is for a public figure to stay in the closet. Mike Ciriaco is graduate student Marco, completing the stellar ensemble.
As in the original La Ronde, characters appear in 2 consecutive scenes, except the first boy John who shows up again in the last, proving the old adage that what goes around, comes around. It is also an ode to survival ... and shows just how much our lives may profit from the kindness of strangers. Another effective gimmick utilized in the play is to have actors who are not in a particular scene deliver a snippet of a monologue in the middle of a scene from somewhere in the wings - which has already been said in full or which will show up in a longer context in the subsequent scene. Somehow, in spite of the character differences, it all relates and once again, what goes around ...
Tom Buderwitz' set design is simultaneously efficient and evocative, and set changes are carried out beautifully by the actors throughout the evening.
This is definitely a play for gay men, who appreciate better than anyone the superficiality of a touch and let go encounter. But lovers of all persuasions should experience it. On certain levels women and straight men can understand and relate to the feelings that come with hunting down Mr. or Ms. Right. It's demeaning, terrifying and scintillating all in the same breath.
5 out of 5 stars

F*ucking Men: Gay Adaptation of La Ronde

Celebration Theatre's American Premiere of Joe DiPietro's exciting play based on La Ronde.

review - Follow Your Dreams

Follow Your Dreams

book and lyrics by Laurie Stevens and Ronald Jacobs

music by Doug Goodwin and Norman Henry Mamey

directed by Stan Mazin and Chris Winfield

Secret Rose Theatre

through October 31

Telemarketing has always provided an income for actors, artists, housewives and disabled people who just don't fit into regular steady 9-5 jobs. For their new musical set in the world of telemarketing Follow Your Dreams, the producers/creators have wisely put together an assortment of characters from various ethnic backgrounds and a diversely talented cast of actors to portray them.

The characters are interesting, the cast terrific and the direction top-notch, but Follow Your Dreams does not work. First of all, there are 2 completely different styles at play, which crash into each other. The characters of the supervisor (Dan Woren), Big Boss (Dennis Delsing), Tammy (talented Judy Ho), corporate Howard (Lee Biolos) and sometimes even sexy Maria (beautiful and supertalented Adreana Gonzalez) come off as cartoons and their predicaments/entanglements, unbelievably unreal. Alicia (lovely Rebecca Jensen), Richard (Hector Hank) and doctor Tom (Sean McGee), who form a triangle, June (delightful Lana Ford) and rapper Lil Pill (Kamel Dickinson, right on target) are about as grounded and real as you can get.

Somehow the central story of artist Alicia - her passion is to become a painter - and her attraction to Richard, an appealing guy but pitiful drug addict propels the plot forward favorably. June's disintegrating marriage should be further explored and so should Maria's devotion to her family. We see her fussing and fretting in the restroom attempting to create a breakthrough formula for sexual enhancement - but we are not allowed to see her pain and frustrations underneath.These characters deserve an in-depth treatment; not the superficial ones they are getting now. This is the stage, not a sitcom!

My suggestion is to stick with the realistic elements of the plot and rewrite those other characters' behavior to a more humanistic level. As is, they are little more than cardboard cutouts. What about the supervisor, for example? Make his relationship to the group more than a fumbling taskmaster! Capitalize on his flaws! And give Tammy a chance to redeem herself! Would she really be happy running off with Howard? Come on, their relationship would last about 10 minutes! Flesh out these people!

Another suggestion: change the title: isn't there already a Disney TV show with the same name?

The music is a bit colorless and does nothing to advance the story, except for the repetition of 'follow your dream' in many of them. Some of the tunes have a Disney feel, but seem unfinished. My suggestion is to give Lil Pill the title song.

Chris Winfield, as well as sharing directorial duties, has designed an attractive and efficient workplace set that includes a breakroom, restroom lounge and space for outside locations.

Overall, a good effort that has potential: go back to the drawing board, rewrite, cut much of the music, and keep on a realistic track.

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Golden Girls Spoof

The Golden Gays now playing at 9pm weekends at the Cavern Club in Silver Lake through September 27!

Naked Boys Singing

When? Where?
September 25 at the Macha Theatre in WeHo!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

review - August: Osage County

August: Osage County
by Tracy Letts
directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Ahmanson Theatre
through October 18
To compare Tracy Letts' August: Osage County to Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night seems logical. Like Journey, it's a blisteringly real look at how a mother's drug addiction helps to destroy her family. It's also very long - 3 and a half+ hours - but never boring; in fact, the characters and plot developments rivet our attention at every turn.
In August, there are more characters to deal with than in Journey. Journey has 2 sons, both afflicted with illness and unmarried. In August the siblings are girls and one of them is married with children. And the matriarch's sister and her husband and son also play urgently into the plot, as they are an intimate part of the core family - more intimate, in fact, than sister Mattie (Libby George) really cares to admit. One can honestly say that August is far more abrasive, violent and sexually perverted than Journey.
The Westons are a dysfunctional family from Oklahoma who all come together when the patriarch suddenly disappears. At the same time, they are forced to deal with their mother's so-called 'insanity' and with their own annoying issues - like infidelity, child abuse, alcoholism, to name a few, that surface little by little and complicate familial cohesiveness.
Estelle Parsons heads the cast in the role of her career as Violet Weston and lets out all the stops. It is hard to believe that Miss Parsons is now in her 80s, as she bounds down the stairs with the agility of a lightheaded schoolgirl. Both her physicality and emotional memory get an enormous workout as Vi. Parsons delivers an astounding portrayal.
Vi is most at odds with eldest daughter Barbara (Shannon Cochran) who seizes control from her mother after a rowdy and abusive dinner scene. Barbara's marriage is nearly at an end and her 2 sisters' plans for marital happiness are thwarted as well (Angelica Torn as Ivy and Amy Warren as Karen offer winning performances). Cochran confronts her complex role of Barbara with great skill and courage. Her work is awesome as is that of Libby George as Mattie. DeLanna Studi has perhaps one of the most difficult roles as Johnna Monevata, the Native American who is hired to cook and care for Vi. In a household where everyone is verbally mistreated, her plight seems even more intense; great strength shines through her moments of silence. Jon DeVries in his brief appearance as Beverly leaves a lasting impression of loneliness and melancholy. Others in the excellent ensemble under Shapiro's breathtaking direction include Jeff Still, Laurence Lau, Emily Kinney and Stephen Riley Key.
Letts has created such intensely volatile characters that it is difficult not to appreciate the extraordianry humor that is unleashed at the most unexpected moments. The dinner scene and the physical violence that erupts in its aftermath provide a perfect example. It is horrorific to watch and at the same time, exceedingly funny. Another example of Letts' dark humor: why be nice to a family member? "You never know when someone may need a kidney".
If the Weston family hide unsavory secrets, we are left to wonder what else we do not know about them. They've tested practically every vice. How sad, as this is the norm for many contemporary dysfunctional families.
5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

CABARET review - Marilyn Maye

Spectacular vocalist Marilyn Maye performed 2 shows at the Catalina Bar and Grill Tuesday September 8. This lady is one hot singer. She not only looks stunning (see photo above) and sings like a nightingale, but oozes a kind of charm and style that only the great singers of the past know how to convey. On a par with Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, and Broadway vocalists Barbara Cook and Karen Morrow, Marilyn Maye is a class act all the way.

Accompanied by great musicians Billy Stritch at the piano, Jack Burghof on bass and Jim Ekloff on drums, Maye performed a solid 75-minute set of great standards, concentrating on Cole Porter, Ray Charles and her idol Steve Allen. Highlights included: "The Song Is You", "You're Gonna Hear From Me", Sondheim's bewitching "Old Friends", "Lush Life", "When Your Lover Has Gone", "This Could Be the Start of Something Big", "Just For a Thrill", and a fab Porter medley "I Get a Kick Out of You", "It's All right With Me", "It Was Just One of Those Things", "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "I Concentrate On You". She did a beautifully dramatic rendition of "Guess Who I Saw Today?", one of her most requested sad love songs. She knocked "Come Rain or Come Shine" right out of the park and closed with the electric "Take Five".

As singers age, the voice changes, but Maye sounds exactly the same as she did forty years ago.
Her phrasing and clarity of expression are magnetic, and she can still hit the notes and hold onto them. What an amazing artist!

Her first show on the 8th was a sell-out - very rare the day after a major holiday like Labor Day- and was attended by such luminaries as Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Debbie Reynolds, Karen Morrow, Nancy Dussault, Bob Mackie, Jason Graae, Barbara Minkus, among many others.
If you happen to be in San Francisco on September 15, Maye is appearing at the Hotel Nikko. Don't miss her!

On a scale of 1-10, Maye's a 20! She's every ounce a singer's singer!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cast of Carved in Stone in Final Performance

The final performance of Jeffrey Hartgraves' Carved in Stone on Saturday, September 5 was followed by an onstage champagne party at Theatre Asylum. The cast including (front row l. to r.)Amanda Abel as Judy Garland & Bette Davis, Alex Egan as Will Shakespeare, Kevin Remington as Truman Capote, Curt Bonnem as Tennessee Williams and (back row) Leon Acord as Quentin Crisp and Jesse Merlin as Oscar Wilde & (not pictured) Levi Damione as Gryphon Tott were inspirational!!!!!!!!!!!!!

review - The Night Is a Child

The Night Is a Child
by Charles Randolph-Wright
directed by Sheldon Epps
Pasadena Playhouse
through October 4
Tragedy. The loss of a son. The young man killed several people, including children, before he took his own life. The confusion. The pain. The blame. Why did he do it? A mother's torment. Sounds like a very depressing basis for a play. Well, it is, but in the hands of Charles Randolph-Wright, the mother's exploration becomes a joyous celebration of life. The Night Is a Child at the Pasadena Playhouse, with its roots set deep in spirituality, is another hit in a very successful season for the Playhouse and Artistic Director/ director Sheldon Epps.
Set in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and Brookline, Massachusetts, Harriet Easton, beautifully portrayed by the consummate JoBeth Williams, has retreated surreptitiously for the first time to Brazil from her home near Boston while her 2 remaining children, daughter Jane, Monette Magrath and twin son Brian, Tyler Pierce try to make sense of her disappearance. Eventually they recall their mother's passion for the Portuguese language and for Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 and go to Brazil in search of her. In Act I the plot juts back and forth between the 2 places. Act II settles in on the Brasilian experience. When we find ourselves at the Charles River in Boston at play's end, we are still emotionally tied to Brazil.
Harriet finds consolation in the form of a mysterious female spirit Bia, played with ethereal grace and passion by Sybyl Walker. Bia guides Harriet to a type of redemption wherein she finds inner peace and a reason to go on with her life. Along the way she meets innkeeper Joel, who also happens to be Bia's brother, Maceo Oliver and investigator Henrique, played with delicious charm and comic flair by Armando McClain. Epps, as director, has effectively allowed his actors to feel the freedom and musicality of Wright's lovely piece.
There exists a mysterious contradictory mixture in Rio's potion: on one side there is the belief in Christianity, expressed by the enormous statue of Christ with his outstretched arms dominating the entire city and on the other the culture's paganistic rituals in the alarmingly open practices of voodoo. Then there are the uniquely alluring beaches and unbelievably tempting sexual creatures of both sexes and of course the music, the allure of the samba. Place yourself in the midst of all of this exotic splendor and you will be intoxicated by a healing power unlike any other.
In The Night Is a Child those characters visiting Rio for the first time find change, as do some permanent residents ... even the audience will find joy. One suggestion: let go of excess baggage and feel free to assume the innocence... of a child. Let the music carry you away; it offers a very rich and life-affirming experience. Felicidaje!
5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

some after thoughts on Jeffrey Hartgraves' Carved in Stone

(clockwise from below: Quentin Crisp, Tennessee Williams and Oscar Wilde) and Truman Capote (not pictured) find themselves alive and onstage once more in Hartgraves' Carved in Stone, which played its final performance Saturday, September 5 at Theatre Asylum on Theatre Row in Hollywood.
I did not see the play before closing night, but I wish I had. Although my actor's intuition tells me I probably saw the best performance of the 3-month run. It will remain a CRITIC'S PICK despite its closure.
Carved is one of those pieces that is so terribly witty and intelligent that you must see it more than once to appreciate it fully. I can only hope for its eventual return. Jeffrey Hartgraves wrote from the heart about those literary giants that have affected us all. And he painted them with such delicacy and detail! Of course, he could remember Williams, Capote and Crisp, but he certainly did not live in Wilde's time, and yet he seemed to capture him so perfectly as well, at least according to the pictures I've seen and his brilliant use of words.
What a cast! Jesse Merlin as Oscar Wilde spoke the language so beautifully that I can forgive his character's oversized pomposity. He was such fun to watch, denying his own homosexual interests, yet turning his chair to the perfect angle to ogle the young writer every time he had the chance. Leon Acord as Quentin Crisp looked and postured himself so completely like the Naked Civil Servant that even before opening his mouth it was uncanny! Kevin Remington presented an exact replica of Truman Capote in speech and movement - and was so terribly funny with the stories! Curt Bonnem was totally at ease with Tennessee Williams, a complicated mess of a man whose genius was incomparable. He always said what he wanted to say, drunk or sober, and had a ball whilst doing it. Bonnem carried it all off with panache! Levi Damione made a forthright Gryphon Tott, the fledgling author with still so much to learn about himself and others. Amanda Abel and Alex Egan were sheer delight as a variety of characters dropping by like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Judy Garland, Bette Davis and the Bard himself William Shakespeare.
What makes the play so appealing is its ability to show the characters at their best-and also at their worst. Constantly browbeating each other or, as Wilde so appropriately called it "fencing", they prove that when put together in the same room, writers never listen. But, nonetheless, they are all seeking the root of art, and regardless of the inspiration that guided them, they all have ideas and dreams worth reading or listening to. Where does fact leave off and fiction begin? It doesn't matter, as the truth is subjective. It's all relative.
Apart from the intelligence of the writing is that the play is basically a wonderfully amusing entertainment. It gives all famous writers the hope that they can continue to pontificate and entertain in an after life, if, indeed, that after life does really exist.
Praise to John Pabros Clark for his sterling direction, to the entire ensemble, and, once again to Jeffrey Hartgraves for his brilliant depictions of these legends. May he be cavorting with his idols this very minute in the great beyond, wherever that may be!
5 out of 5 stars