Category Archives: Theatre

Abjured Magic: ISC’s Richard III

The highs and lows average to solid in ISC’s Richard III on until the 24th July at Griffith Park.  Impresario David Melville assumes the mantle and a couple of other positions surrounded by an often amazing cast and disturbing electrification.   Director Melissa Chalsma codistills the original and Colley Cibber‘s once-popular adaptation amplifying the action but wisely restoring some of Cibber’s deletions.   Melville forgoes the hump for a limp,  is convincing when raging and scheming, and less-so when sweet-talking and seducing.  Amid the new faces is the welcome return of company veteran Lorenzo Gonzalez  whose own Richard dazzled at Barnsdall Park in 2005.

There’s a lot of ground to cover in the first half, mostly with corpses.  Not short by any means, it feels rushed and it is often a strain to figure out who is doing what to whom and why.  With so much real and implied gore, we wonder if nibs of the Merrie Olde were bound by any laws at all.  Post intermission fares better especially in a superb scene redolent of the Trojan Women in which exhausted ladies of war-ravaged houses contemplate a grisly future.  Bernadette Sullivan, Mary Goodchild,  Aisha Kabia, and Kalean Ung swim this 4×100-m hatred relay brilliantly and it is a good job that it was part of the restoration.   That anchor leg is a pipterino and further marks Ung as one to watch.

ISC is rightly proud of the number of people it reaches through the summer fest.  But, pursuing and serving that metric isn’t free.  The kit grows every season.  2016 features a large lighting rig courtesy of a foundation grant, more microphones, more speakers, a NASA-sized mixing board, ever fancier costumes, and stage fog.  Some of the tech does afford the leeway to cast actors with differing levels of vocal preparation but it grows farther from the no-frills aesthetic the company brought to LA back in 2002 and preserved until the past few seasons.  Most intrusive is the addition of a loud rock band that strikes up  to crush the magic the moment a scene ends.  The Duke of Buckingham pleads with King Richard, “Give me some little breath, some pause, dear lord.”  We know where he’s coming from but we too aren’t requited.  There’s no time to savor the words because a quartet of the play’s supporting cast occasionally supplemented by Melville shred the air with guitar and drum.   To be fair, most of the crowd ate it up.

ISC takes care to survey its audiences and perhaps this is what it has to do to keep people coming to the Old Zoo.  The festival audience could be of the growing belief that silence of any kind is not to be trusted.  Maybe we’ll see two distinct sets of offerings in the future: Old school ISC indoors at its studio and a flash-bang summer season for the Internet generation at Griffith Park.

The Tempest begins July 30th.

RICHARD III

Adapted by Independent Shakespeare Co. based on the work of Colley Cibber
Begins Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26 Then plays Wednesday – Sunday until July 24
Performances at 7:00 pm  at
The Old Zoo, Griffith Park

FREE (donations gratefully accepted)

http://iscla.org  

Bei Mir Bist Duchenne: ‘Lunatics and Actors’ by The Four Clowns

 

“Honesty. That’s the thing in the theater today. Honesty … and just as soon as I can learn to fake that, I’ll have it made.”
Anonymous

Grab the speedometer and move it, the car does not speed up. Mock up an airport, planes will not come. We are conditioned to causality and that the mere appearance or measure of a thing is not (usually) a handle into the thing itself. We smile when happy, cry when sad, and believe that we can tell when emotions are genuine or contrived. It comes as some surprise that this may not be entirely true. There is evidence that outward expressions, real or fake, may drive physiological processes instead of merely being driven by them. This two-way street is at once interesting and lucrative. Demagogues and marketeers profit by inventing stimuli to induce specific responses. A big part of culture and its preservation is in the transmitting feelings and emotions through performance.  Authenticity – whatever its definition – is considered essential.

Click image  to enlarge: G.-B. Duchenne de Boulogne, Synoptic plate 4 from Le Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine. 1862 – Wikimedia Commons: Public Domain

Playwright David Bridel takes on the latter in ‘Lunatics and Actors’ mounted through the end of May by The Four Clowns at Shakespeare Center LA. Scientist Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne (Thaddeus Shafer) asserts that he can evoke performances from his trio of patient/inmates (Tyler Bremer, Andrew Eldredge, and Alexis Jones) that surpass in intensity and authenticity those by conventionally trained actors. His electrochemical method will find gleeful interest from results-oriented directors tired of having Stanislavski flung back at them. The intriguing premise draws from nineteenth century events. The historical Duchenne performed early research in connecting human physiological and physiognomical reactions to electrical stimuli. He applied shocks to patients, photographed their faces, and in time could evoke specific expressions from them at will. Much of this work would be frowned upon today for ethical reasons but it came with other results in different areas that persist. Duchenne laid the foundations for modern neuroscience. The bidirectionality of emotion has since been intensively and controversially studied by Ekman, Zajonc, and others.

(standing) Thaddeus Shafer as DR. DUCHENNE (seated from left to right) Tyler Bremer as BON-BON, Alexis Jones as FIFI, and Andrew Eldredge as PEPE. Photo courtesy of Andrew Eiden

(standing) Thaddeus Shafer as DR. DUCHENNE (seated from left to right) Tyler Bremer as BON-BON, Alexis Jones as FIFI, and Andrew Eldredge as PEPE. Photo courtesy of Andrew Eiden

The setup requires actors in the audience to volunteer for light onstage duty. This being Los Angeles, it isn’t a problem. Duchenne runs through an interview followed by exercises and a compare/contrast. Meisner, Linklater, and Alexander may help the aspiring actor but a healthy zap from the glowing Volta pile invokes a style of its own. The inmate trio, all experienced clowns, win the intensity fight in a walk. Director Jeremy Aluma has to take his time churning the cream and the laughs hide a somewhat lengthy introduction. It snaps into butter when the contest shifts to ‘Hamlet’ and its endless opportunities to test authenticity (or anything else of interest to artists). Convention holds its own for subtlety but not for pain, fear, or terror. A change from funny to harrowing occurs in a tight, disturbing vignette to rival ‘Clockwork Orange’ or ‘1984’. A final distillation of ‘Hamlet’ to a delicate touch of ‘Pagliacci’ is a marvel. Focussing on the terrifying, it is entirely different from the troupe’s recent reimagining. Give substantial credit to the large design team. Their coherent efforts drive a fanciful story which might fall flat in less skilled hands. The Clowns don’t skimp on production and one wonders how they balance the books against a batguano-crazy $15 ticket price.

There are inside jokes aplenty within the world of the play. Theatre in Los Angeles is considered the domain of the insane.  Are the three inmates victims of an unscrupulous workshop-monger?  Bridel is the incoming Dean of Theatre at USC. Does this foreshadow his plans for the school?  Perhaps only artists can or will get the full scope of it. But, the promise and threat of machines has been a staple of storytelling from ‘Frankenstein’ to ‘Blade Runner’ and beyond. Can we controlled by electrodes? Yes but we’re attached enough to our screens to make such a physical connection unnecessary. A more unnerving question is what form the next evolutionary step will take once we or our algorithms figure out what makes us tick. The reductionist approach claims that once we find the root of the structure that everything will follow. Others argue for multiple processes that compete with and against one another in a sort-of roshambo. Either way, the tacit assumption is that machines would then emulate us, only much much faster. Why stop there? The Melancholy Dane may have been overly optimistic about the Godlikedness of man – we are most likely just another step along the path. That’s what make these clowns the ones of nightmares. Go see them but leave the kids at home.

Four Clowns presents
Lunatics & Actors
by David Bridel
directed by Jeremy Aluma

A WORLD PREMIERE

April 29 – May 28, 2016
at The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles
1238 W 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Performances start at 8pm
Street parking in the neighborhood

Stage Manager Ashley Jo Navarro
Assistant Director Amaka Izuchi
Set Designer Fred Kinney
Lighting Designer Azra King-Abadi
Costume Designer Elena Flores
Sound Designer Kate Fechtig
Propsmaster Niki Mercs
Technical Director Matt MacCready
Producers Jeremy Aluma and David Anthony Anis
Associate Producers Jennifer Carroll and Julianna Stephanie Ojeda

ILHAMA feat. DJ OGB – Bei mir bist du scheen

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Agreement Clinic: ‘A Walk in the Woods’ at ICT

Courtesy International City Theatre

Courtesy International City Theatre

Lee Blessing could not have forecast in 1988 that the Cold War would take an abrupt turn for the weird just two years later. ‘A Walk in the Woods’ at ICT through 22 May has nevertheless enjoyed a successful life despite drastic shifts in superpower status and the methods of war. It isn’t surprising. It is easy to look back wistfully at Mutually Assured Destruction as nation states veer on collapse and real power is concentrated in a few hidden hands.

The play’s setup is simple and historically informed – two arms negotiators, veteran Botvinnik and newcomer Honeyman, try to achieve in the Swiss woods what they can’t over the bargaining table. The amiable Russian tries to engineer a friendship, the formal American worries that he’s being worked. That can happen when one’s opponent is the namesake of a legendary Russian grandmaster. The four evenly timed acts alternate between Pythonesque rhetorical posturing (“I came here for an agreement! No you didn’t!”) and moments of genuine connection when it looks like our heroes may have given their masters a face-saving way back from the brink.

This, however, isn’t a documentary or even intrinsically theatrical. Blessing strives for a duet of ideas, some more compelling than others. ‘Walk’ shines when the younger American slowly realizes what his older counterpart has learned: Neither side wants an agreement – MAD is too good for business on both sides of the curtain. The corrosive stalemate on the large scale is recapitulated on the small and all levels in between. The interwoven buddy comedy lives well with Tony Abatemarco (Botvinnik) and David Nevell (Honeyman) under John Henry Davis’s direction on a stark set (Christopher Scott Murillo) and subtle lighting (Donna Ruzika). But, cynics have the advantage in these situations and Blessing’s asymmetrical characterization keeps Honeyman on the back foot until the very end when he figures out that what’s real and what’s virtual in the world of diplomacy.

The monsters in ‘Walk’ are less frightening today than the one in Blessing’s equally popular ‘Going to St. Ives.’ Nations may treat one another poorly but they reserve true brutality for their own. Both have characters doubling as ideologies (and vice versa) reminiscent of Shaw’s theatrical polemics. Although the premise and the balanced characterizations give ‘Ives’ the edge as a play, ‘Walk’ is an evening of theatre worth the trip.

A Walk in the Woods
by Lee Blessing
at International City Theatre
27 April to 22 May 2016
Thu. – Sat. at 8pm
Sun. at 2pm
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
330 East Seaside Way
Long Beach, CA 90802

Tickets: Online and at the Box Office 562-436-4610 (M-F 9am – 5pm)

Argument Clinic – Monty Python's The Flying Circus

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Nice Work if You Can Get It: ‘Lear’ at City Garage

Playwright Young Jean Lee has a Guggenheim, two Obies, a couple of Duke Foundation awards, a basketful of government and private grants, multiple commissions, a screenplay, a Berkeley degree, and her own theatre company whose mission is to produce the work of Young Jean Lee.

God help us.

http://www.citygarage.org for details of her take on King Lear

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'

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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!

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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."

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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

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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

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The Immigrants–National Lampoon Radio Hour

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