Tag Archives: theatre

Flying high: “The Secret in the Wings” at Coeurage Theatre

“Three Blind Queens” from “The Secret in the Wings.”  Courtesy Coeurage Theatre Company, (c) John Klopping

Fairy tales are usually geared towards younger audiences.  Mary Zimmerman‘s ‘Secret in the Wings’ is a marked exception featuring  uncommon dreamy horror without the usual and unambiguous triumph of good over evil.  Angelenos have two weeks left to see a mostly perfect small theatre adaptation of her work by  Coeurage Theatre Company.

The through line is part Twilight Zone, part Beauty and the Beast blended with lesser-known works redolent of the Grimms and Hans-Christian Andersen.  Neglectful parents leave their young daughter in the charge of their creepy neighbor while they head off to a party.   Thereby hangs both tale and a tail since only the child can see that old Mr. Russom has one dangling off of him.   He’s an ogre who repeatedly proposes marriage to her.  It might all be normal in Alabama but still jars in California.  Serially rebuffed, he reads to her, and his increasingly disturbing stories come to life.

And such stories of power and cruelty are both plentiful and timeless.  The ones in ‘Wings’ atypically have women setting the rules, serving as both tormentors and victims while gormless men are easily led.   The play has been around since the early 1990s and early reviews refer to minimalist stagings.  It has since gained popularity and production value.  Berkeley Rep’s 2004 presentation of the original Chicago Lookingglass show was what God might have done if He had the money.  Director Joseph V. Calarco delivers the same shock and awe in a tenth of the floor space and one surmises even a smaller budget.  This is no staged reading but a fully realized production, expertly set (JR  Bruce), lit (Brandon Baruch), and costumed (Kumue Annabelle Asai).  Pride of place goes surprisingly to the soundscape, also by Calarco – the show would be unimaginable without it.  It surrounds and grabs the audience from the get-go and steers it through  interwoven and suspended plots, a sonic picture frame around grim interiors and grimmer exteriors.   The play’s world transcends its set and Tasheena Medina’s choreography  joins with the sound to make it manifest on a tiny stage.  A nine-person ensemble moves with grace, precision, and above all supreme individual and collective confidence.

Zimmerman’s story choices  eerily foresee current events – a widower king lusts after his daughter (Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann,  Leslie Murphy), young men fight an eternal war while their families  starve.  She also leaves room for theatrical ‘inside baseball’.  An angry young princess (the magnetic Katie Pelensky) will marry only the man who can make her laugh, all other comers to be beheaded.  Her willing and unwilling suitors are tried reverse-Scheherazade through an open-mic night that, like the war, ends in the death of all the young men of her kingdom.   The imperfection?   The most poignant story of a faithless woman (Audrey Flegel) and her loving sap of a husband (Randolph Thompson) is set to music.  Those who dislike sung theatre can instead enjoy the clever stagecraft that accompanies it.   It all ties up in the end with a nice little twist but it is rightly not a full restoration.  Stories reflect human society, fears, and failings.  They’d have no power otherwise.   The symbolic dangers may vanish at a snap but the realities they abstract do not and that horror we take away and keep with us.

The term small theatre here refers only to the size of the space at  The Lankershim Arts Center.   Coeurage’s ambitions are as large as Ziggurat’s were when it was producing in LA and on par with Jaime Robledo’s excellent work with the Sacred Fools.   The ambitions are exceeded.   With Christmas comes the usual large and small adaptations of Dickens and Bob’s Holiday Office Party, each exploring extrema of the spectrum from cloying to crass.   Calarco has made a strong case for ‘Wings’ as the Halloween play for adults, chock full of the fear, ambiguity, and cruelty that grow with each passing day in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  All Coeurage performances are “Pay What You Want.”  Go with generosity.

The Secret in the Wings
by Mary Zimmerman
Directed by Joseph V. Calarco
Remaining performances 7-9 and 13-16 December 2017, all at 8pm
at The Historic Lankershim Arts Center
5108 Lankershim Boulevard
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Arrive early to find street parking

All performances are “Pay What You Want”
Online ticketing via Secureforce

 

 

Ashes to Ashes, Hirst to Hirst

Our last encounter — I remember it well.  Pavilion at Lord’s in ’39, against the West Indies.  Hutton and Compton batting superbly, Constantine bowling, war looming.
— Hirst to Spooner in ‘No Man’s Land’

Pinter, cricket fancier, named his “No Man’s Land” antagonists Hirst and Spooner after two well-known players.  The play nicely mirrors the game –  stretches of  groundwork and moments of  attack, usually ending in a draw.  At one time videos of the 1978 tv adaptation with Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud were available on the web.   I downloaded a full version without knowing why.   The characters are unlikeable, their purposes unclear, and the author famously, contemptuously, refusing to answer any questions about his intentions and denying  meaning to any of it.   Like a lot of Pinter, it is hard to like yet it tends to stick.   I’ve seen three different stagings in person and this grainy recording from the videotape era is more vibrant and three-dimensional than any of them, even the overpraised Stewart/McKellen effort from 2013.   It works surprisingly well without the visuals.  I’ve taken the two Sirs on walks, cellphone in my pocket, headphones in my ear.  Their poetry made time and distance disappear for me as the Pinter does to their characters.

Here is a gem of a short film about the sport narrated by a younger Richardson.  The Pavilion at Lords features prominently as do Hutton and Compton, although not batting as superbly as in ’39.  England’s hope for the Ashes fell to ashes under the captaincy of  Australia’s legendary Donald Bradman.   A short clip from the tv production still on the web follows and then the author himself reading one of the most mournful and beautiful passages from it.

Channel: British Council

Channel: filmnoir2019

Channel: hildyjohnson

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

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

 

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

Deja vu – RED at International City Theatre, Long Beach

John Logan’s ruminations on art, the universe, and everything appears in a handsome but perplexing limited run at International City Theatre in Long Beach. The production is up to the company’s usual high standards – well-designed, colorful, and nicely lit. Tony Abatemarco and Patrick Stafford are solid as Mark Rothko and his assistant Ken, declaiming, strutting, storming, pronouncing, and even painting as part of “…captur[ing] the dynamic relationship between an artist and his creations.” The pull quote is from The New York Times and the play has won six Tony Awards. The production will be a good introduction of ICT to those who don’t normally range that far south for theatre.
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Independent Shakespeare Co.’s 2013 Griffith Park Summer Festival

Another strong, well-attended season in Griffith Park for the small company that started it’s life in LA ten years ago as a rental at the Odyssey.   ‘Macbeth’ is especially good – honed to a fine edge over several months at ISC’s Atwater Village studio and steeped in blood by evening’s end.  The young actors get better and more resonant every year and the strong core company ricochets unamplified off the walls of the Old Zoo  overcoming picnics, coyotes, and just about any other distraction.

Anything except three addled hikers who got lost and infected with poison-oak in an urban recreation area, requiring three helicopters to appear just as Luis Galindo’s Macbeth burst out for the climactic scene.  Blade noise and spotlights of one kind held up blade noise and spotlights of another kind for forty minutes to conduct an airlift.  Of people lost a knife flick away from a thousand theatregoers.  The show did go on and finish well despite the circumstances – the sound and fury speech concluding just as the last copter disappeared.

One more chopper and it could have been Stockhausen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13D1YY_BvWU

Macbeth and As You Like It run in repertory through 1 September.  Details and schedules at http://www.iscla.org