Author Archives: Ravi Narasimhan

Common Ancestor: ‘Miss Julia’ at Encuentro 2017

Miss Julia by Vueltas Bravas

Gina Jaimes and Jhon Alex Toro in ‘Miss Julia’. Photo by Federico Rios courtesy Vueltas Bravas Producciones

With ‘Dance of Death’ still running at the Odyssey, Encuentro de las Américas 2017 brings another Strindberg to Southern California.   Vueltas Bravas Producciones slices, dices, transposes, and dances the battles of wills and wiles in the foundational ‘Miss Julie’ as adapted by J. Ed Araiza.  Nineteenth century Sweden gives way to twenty first century Colombia where wealthy,  nutty, and bored-out-of-her-gourd Miss Julia (Tina Thurman*) forces herself on  servant Juan (Jhon Alex Toro).   The casual hookup has not percolated to this part of South America and there are emotional attachments and expectations a-plenty.  Julia sees Juan as a way out, he sees her as a way up, and his fiancée Cristina (Gina Jaimes) isn’t having any of it.

The audience surrounds the  narrow alley of a set (Andrew Thurman)  nicely conveying the claustrophobic society in which the hapless characters are embedded.   Thurman is outfitted as a  cross between Miss Havisham and a hapless ballerina.  Her Spanish, sounding more learned than native, adds a hint of North and South American political tension to the more obvious class and power struggle.  Jaimes’s Cristina is both earthy and mesmerizing as Juan’s social equal and moral superior.  She spends a good part of the show asleep or sleepwalking.  This is a shame as she commands the stage when on it and she and Toro have  palpable chemistry.

This is highly physical theatre with  movement, dance, and symbolic props all adding their dimensions while condensing the story.  A wheeled table serves pre-show rum and also serves as the cursed magic carpet taking these broken souls to their fates.  Julia is frenetic and angular in marked contrast to the sweeping and fluid Juan and Cristina.   All switch seamlessly between English and Spanish with dim supertitles available to the eagle-eyed monolingual.  Helen Yee (violin),  a fine but uncredited percussionist, and a Mac notebook add off-stage sonic color although the balance sometimes overpowered the small space.

Miss Julia by Vueltas Bravas

Tina Thurman and Jhon Alex Toro. Photo by Federico Rios courtesy Vueltas Bravas Producciones

If this all sounds oddly familiar it is because it is the kind of work that Tina Kronis and Richard Alger have been doing at Theatre Movement Bazaar for  twenty years.  Wheeled furniture and athleticism also feature prominently in La Razón Blindada soon to be up at this same festival.   ‘Miss Julie’ is said to be  about social Darwinism – the replacement of a weak, stagnant, older order by a vigorous, aspirational, newer one.  So, we may well ask if there’s a last common ancestor to this style of work.  Vueltas Bravas does not have much of a web presence but the Australian Thurman (here identified as  Mitchell) explains in a Youtube video their origins at a SITI Workshop in New York City some ten years prior.  ‘Miss Julia’ is making the rounds of the festival circuit having played at La MaMa and the Chicago International Latino Theatre Festival prior to its Los Angeles engagement.   Kronis and Alger are said to have some SITI influence to their work as well.  ‘Miss Julia’ is well-made, well-performed, and enjoyable but if the purpose of the festival is to bring new and distinct theatrical viewpoints (ha!) and styles to the forefront, it is jarring to hear Latino voices filtered first through a canonical text and then through a U.S. theatrical school of thought.

Nota bene:  Many of the Encuentro productions are performed without intermission. ‘Miss Julia’ is one of them and clocked in at about one hour.  Those interested in festival productions should consider seeing multiple productions in a day to take advantage of ticket packages as well as to minimize ticketing fees and the notoriously larcenous downtown parking lots.

*Credited as Tina Thurman in the program, Tina Mitchell elsewhere on the Web

Miss Julia
Vueltas Bravas Producciones
Directed by Lorenzo Montanini
Through 19 November at the Encuentro de las Américas Festival
Los Angeles Theatre Center
514 Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA
Six performances remaining through 19 November 2017
Tickets: $44 general,  $22 Seniors/students/veterans
See website for times and online ticketing

 

Encuentro returns to Los Angeles: 2 to 19 November at the LATC

Image result for encuentro de las americas

Courtesy The LATC

Inaugurated in 2014, Encuentro de las Américas returns to downtown Los Angeles, presenting a variety of Latin American theatre companies and artists from North and South America at the LATC on Spring Street.  With the unfortunate demise of FITLA which stunned audiences in the mid-2000s, Encuentro is an important and needed jolt to an eager but largely homogeneous theatre community.  Rickerby Hinds’s  ‘Dreamscape’ was a highlight of the first festival – a haunting prose poem of a young black woman gunned down without reason by the Riverside police.  We may have thought that was an anomaly but we don’t any longer as unprosecuted slaughter continues.  This year’s slam dunk is 24th Street Theatre’s deservedly well-traveled ‘La Razón Blindada’ which returns for five performances over three days, one of which has already sold out.  Jesús Castaños Chima  and Tony Durán reprise their roles as political prisoners in an Argentine hell given one tightly supervised hour a week together in between solitary confinement.  Arístides Vargas‘s script and physically virtuosic staging penetrate to heart, bone, and memory.

Other intriguing options include ‘Miss Julia’ by Vueltas Bravas and ‘Las Mariposas Saltan al Vacío’ by Compañía Nacional de las Artes, both of Bogotá.  Organización Secreta Teatro  of Mexico City brings ‘Quemar las Naves, El Viaje de Emma’ a feminist  interpretation of The Odyssey.   Most shows will be supertitled in English and/or Spanish.  There are sixteen performances and events featuring twenty-five companies and artists along with a meeting of the Latinx Theatre Commons.

The LATC’s homepage continues to blind with flashy, slow-loading graphics.  Here are the direct links to the Schedule by Artist, Schedule by Day, and Tickets.

 

Encuentro de Las Américas

Hosted and presented by The Latino Theatre Company
2 November to 19 November 2017

The Los Angeles Theatre Center
514 S. Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org

Happy Halloween: Ruggiero Ricci plays Paganini

I was fortunate to see Mr. Ricci give a couple of masterclasses in the early 2000s through the Jascha Heifetz Society.  He was in his eighties and yet young violinists in and around Los Angeles received his patient, undivided attention over some long days.   Here he is playing “Le Streghe (The Witches)” by the calculatedly diabolical Paganini.   Piero Bellugi conducts the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI di Torino.

Youtube Channel: prbllg

 

Neutral but ready: Swiss Air Force at AXALP 2017

Leave it to the Swiss to breathe new life into the airshow.  First, they don’t call it that.  It’s an Air Force practice open to that portion of the public willing to climb to ~7500 feet to  watch planes and helicopters fly through a mountain range, firing live ammunition at targets placed on the rock walls.   They’ve taken an event popular all over the world and Schweizenated it in their own  particular … idiom.

Here is the Patrouille Suisse flight demonstration team in action from the recently concluded AXALP 2017.  It’s a 360-degree video.  Click and drag on the screen to see all angles.  I don’t know how they did it but it is impressive.

Youtube Channel: Blick

 

Corner of Rose and Bundy: ‘Dance of Death’ at The Odyssey

When a grim year gets grimmer with no end in sight,  those down-in-the-mouth over the decaying state of things can look to the arts for a pick-me-up.  Pinter, Beckett, Kane… all can offer a glimmer of hope of a better world than our present one.  Add Strindberg to this list and visit ‘Dance of Death’ now at The Odyssey in West L.A. until 19 November.   Empty nesters Alice and Edgar live in isolation on a small, unnamed Scandinavian island awaiting their silver  wedding anniversary.  He is a minor military man, detesting all and detested by all in return.  She is much younger, having given up a go-nowhere acting career to marry him.   Two children and a life together did nothing to brighten twenty-five years of unrelenting mutual hatred.

Conor McPherson‘s 2012 adaptation reduces Strindberg’s original cast to three and a chess match begins immediately.  Aging, ailing Edgar (Darrell Larson) and youthful, seething Alice (Lizzy Kimball) aren’t grandmasters but two nonetheless very effective opponents who know each other’s tactics and always have a nasty countermove at the ready.  The relentless, active stalemate needs a stimulus and into this domestic prison – their house used to be one – drops her cousin Kurt (Jeff LeBeau).  This poor sap  brought the two together under duress in the distant past and becomes both a means to and an object of revenge, played for savagery and for keeps.

Edgar takes the chaotic route – alternately hale and sickly, a dancing Boyar one moment and bedridden  the next.  Alice is consistent, methodical, focussed.  Kurt comes into this house of heartbreak composed and kind and later  finds that both have and continue to conspire to his ruin.  Ron Sossi’s brisk and mostly effective staging mines ores of deep, dark, Vantablack humor in the otherwise bleak script. Christopher Scott Murillo’s set, simultaneously spacious and claustrophobic,  frames intrinsic contrasts of the story.   Despite some residual signs of jelling, the audience is slowly pulled in, supporting and sympathizing with whichever character holds the floor at the moment.  We, like Kurt, are played like a cigar-box banjo.

This is the play said to have inspired Albee’s George and Martha.  One wonders if it similarly inspired the creators of ‘Married With Children’ and the ‘War of the Roses.’  Al and Peg, and Oliver and Barbara equally delight in childish games of control expressed  vividly and physically.  Divorce is obvious and available but far too easy.  Neither wants the other to be free, let alone happy, and all bystanders are in play.   This is of  course not limited to  fiction.  The arts  teach us much including that there’s usually something lurking under even the most banal situation.  There’s usually some benefit to being aware of it if not for advancement at least for self-preservation.  ‘Go placidly amid the noise and waste’ says Deteriorata, ‘And remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof.’  As such ‘Dance’ does double duty.  Fine entertainment on its surface and instruction between the lines.

Dance of Death
by August Strindberg, adapted by Conor McPherson
directed by Ron Sossi
The Odyssey Theatre

Regular Performances
September 23 – November 19
Visit the show webpage for dates and times

Online tickets through Ovationtix
or via the Box Office 310-477-2055 EXT. 2

Box Office Hours
Wed/Thurs – 1pm – 6pm or curtain
Fri/Sat – 1pm – 8pm
Sunday – 12pm – 4pm

 

Guilty pleasures: Ashish Xiangyi Kumar’s piano analyses

Youtube offers many channels with high quality classical music accompanied by synchronized scores.  Ashish Xiangyi Kumar has an especially good one for piano fans.    A large number of his videos feature two or more pianists interpreting the same work.   To these, he offers his own thoughts on the pieces and the interpretations.   A young Singaporean now studying law at Cambridge, Kumar  brings to task a razor sharp mind and keen persuasive skills honed through a championship debate career.  His notes read like chess matches analyzed by a grandmaster who can both understand and explain  features large and small.  He’s also a composer and if he can play what he writes, his  chops must be first-rate.

The guilt?  The recordings and scores come from somewhere…

For best results, start the videos, then click on the “Watch on Youtube” button and read the commentaries.

Channel: Ashish Xiangyi Kumar

Double-take: ‘Rhinoceros’ at PRT

Courtesy Pacific Resident Theatre

The November 8th tragedy and the ascendance of the mephistocracy guaranteed the revival of Ionesco’s ‘Rhinoceros.‘ The play’s well-known humanist and anti-fascist themes make it an obvious, almost reflexive choice, guaranteed to please progressive audiences but this simple explanation does not do justice to the crackling rendition recently opened on Pacific Resident Theatre’s main stage.

Director Guillermo Cienfuegos, a skilled cast, and a top-notch production team deftly imbue subtlety and nuance while staying faithful to a brash, repetitive, and yes, absurd text in Derek Prouse‘s translation. Weak-willed alcoholic everyman Berenger sees his provincial town replete with its well-dressed residents, charming bistros, and local businesses overrun step-by-step and inch-by-inch by rhinos. His friends and neighbors are first alarmed, then intrigued, and ultimately co-opted. When the movement spreads worldwide he is left alone to declare his resistance in a final act of defiance.

Sweet coincidence had Ionesco releasing the play the same year that Rod Serling began ‘The Twilight Zone’ on American television. Berenger’s (Keith Stevenson) transformation from milquetoast to man begins with a thorough scolding and airing of his shortcomings from  putative friend Jean (Alex Fernandez who looks suspiciously like Cienfuegos). A stampeding animal, unseen but definitely heard, interrupts this cafe intervention and draws the notice of all including local costermongers, residents, a logician, and a busking mime. The slapstick first act concerns itself with disbelief and some humorous attempts at analysis. Academics are funny and mimes are annoying in any era and in any circumstance.

Ionesco’s purposefully repetitive and clichéd dialogue can tire even a focussed reader. Fortunately, the cast delivers the needed dimension and shade bringing the words to vigorous life. Characters speak to and not at one another, conversations ebb and flow while pulling the viewer purposefully to a destination. Not all productions of absurdist material can manage this. Themes of desire and transformation are on par with the conventionally political. The long play does take time to find its feet and explodes in a riveting second of three acts. Berenger goes to Jean’s apartment to make amends for their quarrel only to watch his friend mutate before his eyes. Fernande-fuegos towers over Stevenson physically and vocally, bringing palpable rage to several minutes of sustained, mesmerizing terror. Later, Dudard (Jeff Lorch), Berenger’s rival in love and for advancement stands tall on the sidelines rationalizing the rhino onslaught,  until Daisy (Carole Weyers) chooses against him. A simple slouch, a growl, and he too is off.

PRT’s mainstage is not large by any means and it would have been understandable had this been a minimalist, black-box affair, striking while the political iron was still hot. The company however committed to twelve performers, costumes (Christine Cover Ferro), lights (Justin Preston), full sets (David Maurer), and an  evocative soundscape (Christopher Mosciatello).   Several wildly clever stage transformations in the tight space rightly drew loud applause on opening night.

It would have been easy to map current faces onto Ionesco’s lecherous bosses, armchair socialists, deplorables, ladder climbers, and wonks. Cienfuegos wisely does not take the bait and manifest these to make any particular topical statement. It is also very easy to see the play as a blow for a pluralist, inclusive, and heterogeneous society against the reactionary. In actuality, the excellent but decidedly monochrome characters and cast are under concerted attack by dark, malevolent Asiatic and African forces. Nudge nudge, wink wink. Look back at the grisly campaign and grislier aftermath, a large segment of the US and the world views itself as stalwart Berenger refusing to capitulate to the invading other. There are many of them, they vote, and the division is not going away.  That this ‘Rhinoceros’ speaks across the spectrum including both extremes is its triumph.

'Rhinoceros'
by Eugène Ionesco
Directed by Guillermo Cienfuegos

Pacific Resident Theatre - Mainstage
13 July to 10 September 2017
703 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291

Thursday – Saturday 8pm;
Sunday 3pm
Tickets $25 to $34
Purchase online or through the Box Office:  310-822-8392