Category Archives: Theatre

Grinding gears – “Hamletmachine: The Arab Spring” at City Garage

http://www.citygarage.org/uploads/images/News-Images/Hamletmachine-Flyer_web.jpg

Image courtesy City Garage

“If you feel dissatisfaction
Strum your frustrations away
Some people may prefer action
But, gimme a folk song any old day”
— Tom Lehrer “Folksong Army”

Heiner Müller adapted Hamlet to his purposes in 1977 when the Germanies were split and Moscow ruled with no end in sight. ‘Hamletmachine’ has since become a darling of the late-night set and the adaptation further reschnootered according to the needs and means of its producers.  Magda Romanska flipped the point of view in ‘Opheliamachine’ presented by City Garage in 2013 and now the Garagistes take a second try at the original.  It is a tough slog even for the interested, receptive participant.

It is unclear whether the playwright gave explicit permission for his six page text to be freely interpreted and amended but that’s what happens to it.   The tyrannical regime is now in a generic middle east, the people revolt, and the fallout is unpredictable.  What this has to do with two Hamlets, Gertrude in a wedding dress, Marx in a wheelchair, and  Ophelia in a bomb vest is anyone’s guess.  Video projections cover rioters, dead children, and modern mullahs preaching holy war.  Bits and pieces of Shakespeare peek out in a turbulent, loud, and ultimately opaque river of words.   A bizarre fashion show emceed by a latter-day Marie Antoinette stands out as a caution against the consequences of unchecked inequality. Read it as a fundamental difference between West and East, proof of their equivalence, or anything else that catches fancy. For those who believe no explanation is necessary, for those who don’t none is possible.

It is no fault of City Garage that the Paris attacks  coincided with the day of the opening.  The preshow chatter was the normal silliness, easily silenced with headphones.  Duncombe’s short curtain speech suggested that the events raised important questions in context of the play and invited dialogue after the performance.  Normally it is best to leave opening night parties to  friends and family to chatter with the cast.  The gravity of the day’s events led to unmet hopes for a little more substance.  The company proudly quotes Brecht’s maxim that Art is a hammer with which to shape reality. While it may be true, the  Shakespeare machines are weak evidence.  The contrast between action and contemplation is much more stark in Shaw who wrote “Nothing is ever done in this world until men are prepared to kill one another if it is not done.”  While this can be easily rationalized as strategy versus tactics, it is a better representation of history and a grisly predictor of our future.

‘Hamletmachine’ is the first salvo in City Garage’s Post-Modern Shakespeare Series. It runs until 20 December 2015 followed by Young Jean Lee’s ‘Lear’ and Duncombe’s ‘Othello/Desdemona’ in February and April of 2016.

Hamletmachine: The Arab Spring
by Heiner Müller, adapted by Charles Duncombe
Directed by Frédérique Michel

Fridays, Saturdays 8:00pm; Sundays, 3pm through 20 December 2015
Admission: $25; Students w/ID & Seniors (65+): $20; Sundays “Pay-What-You-Can” (at the door only)
No performances Friday 11/20 and Friday 11/27.

City Garage
Bergamot Station Arts Center
Building T1
2525 Michigan Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Purchase online at Brown Paper Tickets
Box Office: 310-453-9939

Theatre jumps shark – ‘Man Covets Bird’ at 24th Street

[Updated 28 September 2015]

24th Street Theatre does exceptional work in arts education, outreach, and after school programs with a special focus on its underserved neighborhood next to USC.  It has also produced plays over the years with mixed results.  Since 2012, it’s production arm deliberately shifted to “Theatre for Young Audiences” (TYA) and things have frankly gone downhill.  ‘Roma al final de la via’ landed with a thud, ‘Nearly Lear’ was passable but far short of the hype.  I did skip the Dead Grandma show that ran for months and toured to good reviews.   The program  purports despite its name to bring sophistimacated work to all ages.  This is strange since there are plays from antiquity to the modern day that do exactly that and in front of broad demographics.  Rather, TYA seems to be a newish industry with international conferences, showcases, and a substantial caste of arts MBAs overseeing hookups between a cadre of authors and producers.  There’s even a white paper on the topic aggressively titled, “Does Youth Theater Really Have to Be So Pandering and Simple-Minded?”  It’s an interesting read but only for the subtext.

‘Man Covets Bird’ by Finegan Kruckemeyer, a prolific 34 year old Irish Australian, is a wan rehash of the Up With PeopleFree to be You and Me swill some of us were fed in the ’70s and ’80s.  Live your heart, open your dreams, follow your laugh, dance your dissertation, live in an ice cream van down by the river.  Two beardy emerging artists from from your locally-owned, fair-trade, carbon-neutral coffeeshop’s open mic night perpetrate the text to projected animations.  One of the two is responsible for the alleged music.  This after school special is as specific as a horoscope, as flavorful as tofu, and open to any interpretation one might wish to hang on it. It’s a piece calculated to leave talking opportunities for adults and any associated kids – the term ‘conversation’ is popular these days. This usually means the person in power frames the discussion and defines the boundaries. It is a common enough gimmick in the manager-employee relationship. It is also around in the arts world where critics try to justify their marginal value as dialogue mediators. In both cases there’s hell to pay if the employee or reader calls b.s. and chooses to have his own view of things. ‘Bird’ and TYA may be good vocational preparation but the artistic claims are overstated.

It is unfortunate that the company has gone down this route. The curtain speech explains that 24th Street spends most of its money on two pillars of education and outreach, producing theatre only when needed and when funds permit. Here’s to hoping they focus on the nobler work,  abandon the production arm, and occasionally rent the attractive performance space to other organizations.

Aside: The marketing materials for ‘Bird’ all say, “Because it’s a liberating thing to talk publicly about things you’re only supposed to think privately.”

Really?

I Want to Touch People!

Watch this video on YouTube.

I Love Lunacy – Four Clowns presents Hamlet

Image courtesy The Four Clowns

The human eyes can only sense a vanishingly small part of the energy that makes up our Universe. The wonders and horrors out there are mostly invisible to us. Fortunately, we have instruments that can collect where we cannot and translators that can shift those sights and sounds that we may perceive them. The images that come out of our observatories great and small are almost always in false color. There is nothing intrinsically hot about red or cool about blue yet these associations, in expert and honest hands, can reveal something about the world to the layman.

‘Hamlet’ by The Four Clowns takes such a look at the Shakespeare’s violent, philosophical, mad, and maddening Denmark in a limited run at Shakespeare Festival, LA.  This play has always been fodder for interpretation, especially whether the title character is on either side of the fine line between sanity and madness or whether he’s straddling it for his own purposes. Director/adapter Turner Munch has subtracted some of the themes and turned up the gain on the fantastical and bitterly funny elements of the story. It is a false color palette entirely appropriate for a troupe of nine actual clowns playing over a dozen roles.  Who would have thought the old play to have such humors in it?

It is, not surprisingly, hugely physical with pratfalls aplenty and a lot of clever business with props to convey the sometimes suffocating confines of that particular castle. Andrew Eiden’s Hamlet starts off as a prop himself, shaped and molded by his and Ophelia’s families. He quickly brushes them off and transforms into a Hyde-like maniac capable of any torture. His interrogations of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Dave Honigman, Tyler Bremer, and vice-versa), two of the play’s three manifest clowns are violent and brutal. Elizabeth Godley’s charming, porcelain Ophelia fares little better at his hand.   Scotty Farris’s thickly bearded Polonius looks straight out of any LA theatre’s production of [ugh] Chekhov. He is especially put upon, killed with courtesy, and then brought back as one of the gravediggers. Connor Kelly-Eiding is put upon by just about everyone as a Lisa Loopner version of Horatio. Joe DeSoto shatters the fourth wall early as the Ghost and comes through it again as Laertes. It all hangs together very nicely. A father-daughter reunion told in shadow for the fleetest of seconds is a blessed moment of tenderness amid the gore and packs a wallop.

Munch stresses repetition and pauses to set the nerves on edge and as a guide to what lurks underneath. Pinter could be well pleased. He also reworks the text to meet the needs of time and the troupe. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do get theirs for example but not at the hands of a foreign king. The sadly uncredited sound design frames the slapstick nicely but truly shines in the darker stretches with an eerie piano (Visions Fugitives?) ratcheting the tension. Though it is a violent play as written, it culminates here in something out of Sam Peckinpah.

This version runs ninety minutes, about half the span of a full production. In that compression, some loss is inevitable and no two viewers will agree on specifics. The leads, clowns though they may be, mostly handle the demands of Shakesperean language. A shade less R&G and a little more time on the meatier dialogues would have been nice. That’s a minor point in a show that is honest about its purpose and commits to its choices. It is getting repetitive to compare The Four Clowns to other area companies. Indeed Nancy Keystone who has done similar reimaginings is explicity credited in the program. But, perhaps they along with others are together part of something larger. This is not a ‘Hamlet’ for purists but those with the capacity for fun and a little give and take should put it on their calendar quickly. It runs only through 10 October.

And, as we look at the Presidential campaign now underway, remember: When insanity becomes normal, bet on the clowns.


Four Clowns presents Hamlet
by William Shakespeare
adapted & directed by Turner Munch

September 18 – October 10, 2015
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
8 shows only

at Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles
1238 W 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Tickets via Squadup.com

Tennis Anyone? Monty Python's "Sam Peckinpa's Salad Days."

Watch this video on YouTube.

Orgon Therapy – Tartuffe by Molière: A Reality Show at City Garage

Chelsea Militano and George Villas in ‘Tartuffe…’:  Image courtesy Paul Rubenstein and City Garage

“Tartuffe” has become a secular passion play for LA audiences.  It’s staged frequently, in a variety of styles, and it’s message always underlined as particularly timely and pertinent to the day.  Frédérique Michel and Charles Duncombe’s translaptation is a light, fun romp and a surprisingly  faithful representation of the story.  This is not CG’s “Patriot Act: The Reality Show” from 2004.  That systematic destruction of a naive, patriotic schlub by the surveillance state and its media enablers was eerily on point and prescient.  This is Molière as maskless commedia of Beverly Hills riche on a spiffy modernist set.  Then as now, Bo Roberts plays the dupe.  M. Orgon’s  home, daughter, and trophy wife are slowly suborned by a homeless holy man.  We watch the con much like a television audience might with the occasional video projection providing backstory.   The similarity to modern reality shows is an exercise for the viewer.  I don’t watch tv, I don’t even own one.

The bulk of Michel’s cast goes full throttle, each inhabiting his or her own world-within-a-world.  Saucy maid Dorine (a gender-bent J. Carlos Flores) takes on her bosses in Spanglish, daughter Mariane and her beau (Megan Kim, John Hayden) carry on in Valspeak, noble young Damis (Johnny Langan) is hell-bent on saving his family while harboring feelings for his stepmother.  Roberts’s Orgon fumes and blusters, Trace Taylor shines as Mme. Pernelle, and David Frank’ restrained Cléante is the only sane one of the bunch.  At times  supporting players come off as talking past one another.   The two characters typically allowed depth are Orgon’s wife (Chelsea Militano) and the titular Tartuffe (George Villas) and so it is here.  Willowy, elegant Militano, who would be at home on a volleyball court, plays Elmire as absolutely comfortable with who and what she is.  She likes the sweet life, regards it as her due, and has no qualms marrying into it.  Waugh had it right.  Manners are especially the need of the plain.  The pretty can get away with anything. Villas executes the piety and sleaze nicely and the famous seduction scene with Orgon in the arras flies.

Politics is deferred to the last ten minutes. It’s no secret that this play ends with all being restored for the noblesse thanks to the all-seeing eye that looks favorably on the rich and punishes the aspirant.   It is all right to marry for money but running the ruling class’s con game against itself will not be tolerated.  There might even be the merest flash of sympathy for Tartuffe-as-Uriah-Heep, feigning humility as the only way to take his revenge on a hopelessly stratified society.  So, we have a fine production of a classic play but the lingering question is why and why now? The countless stagings of Tartuffe and other satires have made as much a dent in hypocrisy and gullibility as have e-petitions for social justice.  The establishment knows that no lasting movements will result from either and simply keeps on keeping on.   CG loves Molière and has been alternating highly abstract works with accessible ones.  It is likely that this is a little fun and frolic to limber up for an ambitious season of  reinvestigations of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies.  Müller’s Hamletmachine is next followed by Young Jean Lee’s Lear  and Duncombe’s take on Othello.


“Tartuffe by Molière: A Reality Show”
September 11 – November 1, 2015

Directed by Frédérique Michel
Produced by Charles A. Duncombe

City Garage: Bergamot Station Arts Center
Building T1
2525 Michigan Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Fridays, Saturdays 8:00pm; Sundays 5:00pm;
Box Office: 310-453-9939
Admission: $25; Students w/ID & Seniors (65+): $20; Sundays “Pay-What-You-Can” (at the door only)
Online tickets at Brown Paper Tickets

Adventures in Scaling – Independent Shakespeare’s Summerfests

Independent Shakespeare landed in LA with a bang in 2002. The NYC expats mounted a ripping Henry V at the Odyssey with a terrific ensemble, minimal stagecraft, and a laser’s focus on the language. The company moved onto well-received summers at Barnsdall Park and ultimately decamped to Griffith Park a few years ago. It’s a large yet systematic leap from a few patrons in a Westside black box to thousands in the open air of a former zoo. With size has come some compromise. The style is broader, humor is pushed to the forefront and there are costumes, lights, and amplification. There’s also music, live bands, and singing. Mercifully not enough to be musical theatre but we paranoids will worry.

Romeo and Juliet, recently closed, came off just as Andy Griffith said it ought to. As ISC has steadily grown in size and ambition it has simultaneously identified, cultivated, and grown young talent. Nikhil Pai’s Romeo convinces as a generally honorable lad whose blood runs just a shade too hot for his own good. Erika Soto is lovely as diffident ingenue Juliet in the first act, morphing into an assertive, determined woman in the second. It takes talent and presence to hold the stage alongside Bernadette Sullivan (Nurse), Aisha Kabia and Sean Pritchett (Lady and Lord Capulet). Soto shows plentiful stores of both and the switch flip after intermission is impressive. Just a couple of seasons ago, Pai and Soto were on the periphery, now they’re front-and-center to crowds of 2,500. Kalean Ung (Benvolio) shows similar promise. This is transformation and it looks nice, indeed.

The Wit and Wisdom Of Andy Griffith – Romeo And Juliet

Watch this video on YouTube.

Checkoff Night – ‘Shiv’ at Boston Court [Sorry, The Theatre @ Boston Court]

27 July 2015 Update:
The Marketing & Communications Department at Boston Court Performing Arts Center wishes to state that the company presenting ‘Shiv’ is ‘The Theatre @ Boston Court’ and not ‘The Boston Court.’   Duly noted and corrected below.

—-

‘Shiv’ now at The Boston Court The Theatre @ Boston Court achieves little as a play but does shed some unflattering light on what it takes to get on the stage in the first place. This ‘post colonial fantasy’s one success is in asking who decides what stories get told. It is a good question, deserving far more capable hands than the author or the production team. The actual play is a mishmash of flashbacks and flashforwards as immigrant Shivaratri Kumar navigates, often literally, a new life in Skokie following a brief childhood in Punjab. Her father, a successful modernist poet in his homeland, is having rather more difficulties getting his work noticed and published in the U.S. causing him to spiral into booze and blondes. Unseen mummy works hard in a convenience store. Because, of course, that’s what Indians do when they come to America. Shiv the girl loves her Dad. Shiv the teen is disturbed by his decline and departure. Shiv the adult wrangles a job at the estate of the publisher who crushed Dad’s dreams. Why? Who knows but it is all poetic, metaphysical, and richly human. The website tells me so and therefore it must be true. There’s a tie-in to Shiva the deity but regrettably I left my microscope at home.

It is a tough slog for the actors under Emilie Beck’s inept direction on a static, low-budget set replete with cheesy effects. Dileep Rao stands out in a thankless role as Dad, ratcheting the Indian accent up and down on demand and gradually slouching under progressive disappointment. The rest do what they can with what they’re given culminating in Shiv (Monika Jolly) casting off her ties to the past thanks to Ghost Dad and heading off into who knows, or who cares, what. Eighty minutes feel substantially longer no thanks to soggy dialogue, inane Star Trek references, and a tepid almost-romance between immigrant woman and plot device.

But does Boston Court The Theatre @ Boston Court ever get to checkoff a lot of boxes with this slick and utterly cynical piece of schedule billiards: Age, gender, immigrant experience, the Indian diaspora (whatever the hell that is), and colonial hegemony brought up in one swell foop. James Watt’s record has been tied after all these years. There’s also a lot of pointless talking, just like Chekhov. The answer to who gets to choose the stories and what they really think is in the theatre’s men’s room where a poem by an Indian poet hangs over each urinal. When asked if this was at all appropriate, the theatre’s Executive Director said he hadn’t thought of it and could definitely see the point. Swell. Snippets from emerging authors on the toilet tissues are probably next. This artistic choice, and make no mistake, it is one, assuredly won’t be mentioned in the grant proposals and beg letters but the rest will. There are two unpleasant possibilities in all of this. Either ‘Shiv’ represents the best that writers of Indian descent can put forward or this is the kind of pandering bilge they have to write to get the attention of the fat, lazy, but always-smiling hypocrites at the helm of new play development – beady, bulgy eyes fixed on the next Foundation score.

This steaming load of codswallop is at Boston Court The Theatre @ Boston Court until 9th August. Google it if you want more information.

And now, classics from The National Lampoon – the first which should be Boston Court’s The Theatre @ Boston Court’s Theme Song and the second which does something with the immigrant topic.

National Lampoon's Middle Class Liberal Well Intentioned Blues

Watch this video on YouTube.

The Immigrants–National Lampoon Radio Hour

Watch this video on YouTube.

Art of the possible- Astro Boy and the God of Comics at Sacred Fools

Courtesy: Sacred Fools Theatre

21 July 2015 Update: Astro Boy has extended through 8 August

It’s a marvel that the current West Coast Premiere at The Fools takes on so many issues so successfully in the space of seventy minutes.  On its surface, ‘Astro Boy and the God of Comics’ is a retrosynthetic look at Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka, legendary within a circle, but poorly known outside of it.  Natsu Onoda Power has crafted twelve tight vignettes starting with a cartoon character flying off to save the world and working backward to the early years of the man who created him. The steps in between make us ask where exactly the lines between culture and sub-culture, high art and pop art, and science and society are drawn – pun intended.  Director Jaime Robledo and an exceptional cast and crew pull it off much like they did with ‘When Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ a couple of years ago.

This is a tech-heavy show blending live performers, puppets, projections, and real-time art.   It is all required – this artist’s life can’t be told without his creations and those creations have to move.  Tezuka came from a happy childhood, lived through World War II, and watched his art take off into commerce thereafter.  His success in comics fueled an animation empire that generated the beloved Astro Boy cartoon but that ultimately couldn’t sustain itself.

The preshow visuals  warmup the neophyte, hinting at why the man was and is such a big deal.  Small projectors discreetly hidden in the light grid shine on two gauzy screens and the back wall as needed.   It’s ‘Dry Cleaning’ quality work with the added complexities of a large cast living in this half-real, half-animated world.    Matt Richter and Anthony Backman transform a small physical space into a city, a world, a solar-system with tricks of perspective, light, and shadow all without being overtly clever about it.

In an evening of tech done right, it’s live art that vaults ‘Astro Boy’ into tour-de-force.  Performers in Los Angeles are adept at some combination of acting, dancing, singing, and backstage work.  Art Director Aviva Pressman has her ensemble drawing the scenery  in jaw-dropping synch with the rest of the business.    It’s no gimmick, its not mere doodling, and must have presented substantial headscratching in casting.   The actors draw characters and scenery in pens, ink, and charcoal onto large tearaway sheets on the back wall.  The choreography is mesmerizing especially in the Guernica-for-Hiroshima roughly halfway through the work.   Each sheet is ripped down at the end of a scene, crumpled, and hauled off stage.  It’s a damn shame – they’d make fine auction pieces for a theatre in the midst of a capital campaign.  West Liang and Heather Schmidt nimbly represent Tezuka and Astro Boy although the short span of the play doesn’t and can’t fully explore their Gepetto Pinocchio relationship.  There are allusions to Clarke, Dick, and Asimov as the rights, roles, and responsibilities of superhumans bump up against the anxieties of their human creators.   Liang and Schmidt manage to imbue their re-enactions of cartoon scenes with surprising tenderness.  Among the uniformly excellent ensemble, Megumi Kabe stands out with a wistful portrayal, in Japanese, of Tezuka’s utterly loyal but shamefully neglected wife.

Graphic novels, anime, manga –  call them what you will.  At their best, they can take us into worlds orthogonal to more common forms of storytelling.  This intersection of cartoon and stage beautifully serves both and is a tribute to the art of possibilities and the possibilities of art.  Time is running out.  Don’t miss it.

鉄腕アトム日本ゴーゴープロモ!(Astro Boy Japanese Go Go Promo!)

Watch this video on YouTube.
ASTRO BOY AND THE GOD OF COMICS
JUNE 20 – JULY 25, AUGUST 8, 2015
Sacred Fools Theatre Company
Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm
Sundays @ 7pm
660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90004
(310) 281-8337 or Buy Tickets Online

Cast
Heather Schmidt as Astro Boy
West Liang as Osamu Tezuka

Ensemble:
Zach Brown, Megumi Kabe, Anthony Li, Mandi Moss, Jaime Puckett & Marz Richards

Understudies
Erin Sanzo as Astro Boy
Scot Shamblin  as Osamu Tezuka

Ensemble:
Gregory Guy Gorden , Lisa Anne Nicolai, & Aviva Pressman

Crew:
Lead Producer / Technical Supervisor – Brian W. Wallis
Live Art Director – Aviva Pressman
Assistant Director – Rebecca Larsen
Associate Producer (Design/Tech) – Shaunessy Quinn
Associate Producer (Casting/Outreach) – Seamus Sullivan
Marketing Coordinator – Carrie Keranen
Stage Manager – Heatherlynn Gonzalez
Assistant Stage Manager – Suze Campagna
Scenic Design – DeAnne Millais
Lighting Design – Matt Richter
Costume Design – Linda Muggeridge
Prop Design – Brandon Clark
Puppet Design – Natsu Onoda Power
Sound Design – Jaime Robledo
Original Music – Ryan Johnson
Stunt/Fight Choreography – Mike Mahaffey
Suzuki Trainer – Joe Fria
Projection Video Design – Anthony Backman
Projection Animation Design – Jim Pierce
Animation Painter – Danielle Heitmuller
Stage Crew – Bo Powell & Alyson Schultz
Production Intern – Sophie Pietrkowski
Performance PhotographyJessica Sherman Photography
Key Art – Christopher Komuro

 

 

Brand devaluation – August: Osage County at Theatricum Botanicum

Executive summary:  American Indians serve, Indian Americans run motels.   Playwright Tracy Letts tries to be O’Neill, Williams, Miller, Albee, Hellman, Orlandersmith, and assorted Greeks.  And fails.  This three hour slog through combinatorial dysfunction won a Pulitzer.  Then again Kissinger won a Nobel.

http://www.theatricum.com if you want to see for yourself.

Undead Uncles – ‘Heir Apparent’ at ICT

Courtesy International City Theatre

‘Heir Apparent’ at ICT through mid July is Molière by way of MAD Magazine. David Ives adapts a story by Jean-François Regnard into two acts of rhymed couplets set in not France at no specific time. Twenty-something orphan Eraste (Wallace Angus Bruce) wants to marry the lovely Isabelle (Suzanne Jolie Narbonne) but needs his wealthy miserly hypochondriac Uncle Geronte (Matthew Henerson) to hand in his dinner pail and hand him a sizeable fortune. Love doesn’t come cheap, no matter the era. Trouble is that Uncle is healthier than a horse and has designs on the girl himself. Add an ambitious mother (Rebecca Spencer), two clever servants, and stir for farce. If it sounds like ‘Imaginary Invalid’ and other famous French plays, Wikipedia tells us Regnard was heavily influenced by Molière.  Therefore it must be true.

Director Matt Walker effectively marshals an able cast, a large production team, and a small dog. Walker is best known for his work with The Troubadour Theatre where he sets Shakespeare to modern music, typically the rock and/or the roll. The troupe is therefore wildly popular with the young people and are reputed to sell out a show as soon as it is announced. ‘Heir’ is a good way for musical theatre haters to get acquainted with him.

The play’s central conceit is estate fraud. Uncle Geronte’s complaints are mostly digestive and are usually palliated by saucy maid Lisette’s (Paige Lindsey White) potions. The situation is obnoxious but hardly fatal. Lisette is of course enamored of Crispin (Adam J. Smith), valet to Eraste, who can’t marry her until Eraste comes into money. Act One has the robust Geronte bequeathing to distant American relations, coveting the young girl, and generally bypassing his nephew. Then he inconveniently appears to die without formalizing his bequest. What are young people to do in Act Two except to get a gullible lawyer (Adam von Almen) to draft a fake will and forge Geronte’s signature to it?

The script isn’t for analysis, ‘Heir’ is about as French as ‘Mikado’ is Japanese. This is comedy and Walker plays it broadly. The set (Christopher Scott Murillo) and lights (Jeremy Pivnick) well match the frenetic pace. Mark McClain Wilson’s sound design adds sibilance, flatulence, bleeps, plurps, and fleedles right on cue. Since part of the scam involves discrediting the American relations by dressing up as them, credit the wardrobe crew (Michael Greene) in getting several players in and out of Kim DeShazo’s fine costumes.

Smith turns in an excellent Crispin with the evening belonging to the booming Geronte who proves exceedingly difficult to kill – even when it looks like the plots have succeeded. Think Old Mahon from ‘Playboy of the Western World’ and you have him. Incidentally, Henerson played just that role at Furious Theatre in 2002, playing up at least two decades in age then and now. It is axiomatic that we all root for the attractive youngsters but eventually we feel more than a little sympathy for the old guy in the face of forgery, attempted murder, and signs that Eraste is himself a craven, entitled miser in the making.

Jessica Kubzansky, another renowned LA director, staged a riotous  ‘A Servant to Two Masters’ at ICT back in 2001 with sound legend John Zalewski providing live accompaniment from stage right.   ‘Heir’ doesn’t reach that level of mania. It isn’t clear if Ives’s script can benefit from pratfalls and physical comedy or if Walker just elected not to go that route. It all snapped and crackled but didn’t quite pop. Part of it is the script where the Yankee subplot ran a little long and the remainder can be put on the audience. The actors sent tremendous energy into the space but didn’t get enough back. Opening night crowds in LA are often criticized for being too enthusiastic. This one was far from hostile but the laughter and involvement didn’t reach the level required to get the comedic pot to boil. The same production deserves and, in front of different people, should get a much better reception.

Heir Apparent
by David Ives
Directed by Matt Walker
at The International City Theatre
June 17 – July 12, 2015
Thu. – Sat. at 8pm
Sun. at 2pm
Tickets online at Center Stage Ticketing
Box Office: 562-436-4610 (M-F 9am – 5pm)

Don’t bother, they’re here – The Four Clowns at the Hollywood Fringe Fest

Halfwits_Butterbeans

(from left to right) Elizabeth Godley as Nimrod and Don Colliver as Butterbeans Arbuckle. Photo courtesy Drew Eiden and The Four Clowns Theatre Company

‘Halfwits’ Last Hurrah’ by The Four Clowns plays against routine floppy shoe and funny nose expectations of the form. It is, rather, a brisk, lighthearted hour of broad physical comedy and laughs designed for a festival audience and nicely played by a convivial cast.

Jamie Franta and Don Colliver’s storyline is loosely organized around cut-rate impresario Butterbeans Arbuckle (Colliver) and his carefully curated castoffs (the eponymous Halfwits) trying to keep their vaudeville going under external assaults. Arbuckle’s rival, The Real McCoy (Jolene Kim in a trouser role) left showbiz, made a killing in technology, and returns to engulf and devour. This could be an Inside Baseball smirk at the always beleaguered Los Angeles theatre community or just a point of departure for wacky hijinks and tragicomic mayhem – viewer’s choice.

The fourth wall in obliterated as soon as the audience filters in – these clowns can and will work with human props. Those who can roll with good-natured fun should come early and sit in the front rows. The premise is a show-within-a-show as the Halfwits strut their stuff against bad odds. A sturdy German brother and sister act (Jennifer Carroll, Dave Honigman) tumble, an operatic puppeteer (Charlotte Chanler) and her foil capably toss orff ‘O Fortuna’. Dissatisified with the slow progress of sabotage, McCoy and his henchmen (Tyler Bremer, Jamarr Love) resort to kidnapping the troupe including the stiltwalker (Hélène Udy), an unseen knife thrower, and even induce the burlesque dancer (Franta) to switch sides. Ego-driven Arbuckle resolves to finish the show himself with some help from his trusty, cuter-than-most-buttons sidekick Nimrod (Elizabeth Godley). Suffice it to say, things get dark shortly thereafter with an entirely unexpected character (Julia Davis) popping up to save what’s left of the day. Wayne Holland’s understated piano accompaniment neatly frames the carnage smartly lit and costumed by Donny Jackson and Elena Flores.

The Four Clowns formed in 2010 to perform at this same Festival and have since put down roots. They have a core company, tour nationally and internationally, and have assiduously cultivated an audience. It’s a large cast with a capable production team of designers and choreographers standing out among a large number of solo and small-cast shows. Director David Anis pushes the physically risky stuff as far as he responsibly can within the load-in, rehearsal, and strike times associated with shared spaces. The whole affair is reminiscent of the classic Jack Benny radio programs especially those where he feuds with Fred Allen. A sympathetic studio audience is essential in those cases to spackle over minor flubs and timing glitches.  A packed house at the Lillian Theatre ate it up vigorously.

‘Last Hurrah’ is theatrical dessert that wisely doesn’t push a premise beyond its limits. In so doing, it simultaneously whets the appetite for productions of broader scope, length, and complexity from this group. The late, lamented Edge of the World Theatre Festival allowed such risk taking in the past and it appears the Hollywood Fringe is carrying on that good work. Physical theatre has a strong tradition in Los Angeles with resident and touring companies alike setting a high standard for movement, commedia, maskwork, and dance. We can look forward to seeing how The Four Clowns takes a place at this table.

‘The Halfwits’ Last Hurrah’
The Four Clowns Company at The Hollywood Fringe Festival
Thurs. 6/4 at 8:30pm
Sat. 6/13 at 10:30pm
Thurs. 6/18 at 7pm
Sat. 6/20 at 11:55pm
Tues. 6/23 at 8:30pm
Fri. 6/26 at 10:30pm
at The Lillian Theatre
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tickets: http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2166?

O Fortuna Misheard Lyrics

Watch this video on YouTube.