Monthly Archives: April 2015

Artifice in the Underworld – ‘Big Shot’ at TMB


This is not a Möbius strip of Big Shot which is not The Godfather

For over 15 years, Theatre Movement Bazaar has graced area stages with wry, witty, and often unsettling takes on classic and classical texts. Tina Kronis and Richard Alger are at the heart of the business. Alger chooses, slices, dices, and reassembles texts always with a twist. Kronis gives the words life through vigorous, athletic choreography full of sight gags and flying props. They’ve applied a Picasso-meets-Jay Ward style to Inge, StrindbergWilliams, Stevenson, the Greeks, and others. This company’s postcards should be Möbius strips.

It takes considerable skill to pull this off in theory and in practice. Over the years, TMB has consistently found that performance and production talent in the city’s underappreciated small theatre community. These shows are eagerly anticipated and usually deliver the goods. Interestingly, the high water mark for TMB may have been 2006’s ‘Dry Cleaning’ where Kronis and Alger dispensed with the large cast and themselves performed their Le Carré version of Orpheus and Eurydice in front of mesmerizing video projections at the 24th Street Theatre. A more recent triumph was 2013’s ‘Hot Cat’ at Theatre of NOTE which kebabbed ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ with some of the most cohesive, hell-bent-for-leather ensemble acting in recent memory.

Unlike so many other excellent local companies, TMB has been recognized outside the city limits and has toured within the U.S. and to other countries. They recently premiered their latest underworld adventure this past weekend at South Coast Rep’s Pacific Playwright’s Festival. ‘Big Shot’ takes on the much-revered ‘Godfather’ film franchise and is a bit of a headscratcher. We swap the classical underworld of ghosts and gods for a modern one of guns and goombas. Compared to its predecessors, however, it is an alloyed delight.

Six fine actors play uncounted roles in scenes mixmastered from the book and movies. Mario Puzo testifies before Congress, Michael Corleone and Kay Adams nervously attend a wedding, the Corleone boys jockey for position, and Michael slowly shifts from hero to brute. Bones and the fourth wall break with regularity. Of all the major characters, Don Vito Corleone is not represented. We’re told that Mr. Brando was approached but that death cancelled his obligations. We, the audience, stand for him and the actors play their respects. We learn quite a bit about the performers themselves and their family backgrounds in the course of things. Those of us who have neither seen the movies nor read the book can be reassured since one of the actors hasn’t either.

It speaks to the power of the franchise and the production that we get it nevertheless.

At its best, ‘Big Shot’ is far more than just scene re-enactment. Decidedly non-Italian creators, cast, and crew churn up the meaning of family, belonging, honor, and the immigrant experience using the novel and films as a toolkit for their own purpose. The subtitle: “This is not the Godfather” suddenly becomes apt. The hallmark TMB physicality is out in force and the cast executes with panache flinging chairs and slurping pasta in natty suits and dresses without missing a beat.

But. American and LA theatre are both besotted by two unspeakable and inedible phenomena: The works of  Chekhov and the musical. TMB has convicted themselves on multiple counts of the former through at least six adaptations. ‘Big Shot’ indicts them on a major count of the latter. There’s singing, lots of it. It’s not that the actors can’t sing, for they can. Even one or two Mob Hits could be charming in context and a good attorney could bargain it down to the slightly less felonious ‘its a play… with music’. But there’s enough of it and to so little purpose that it becomes the lead mixed with the gold. Yet there are those who like such things. If they like a little nonlinear storytelling with that, they will go batguano crazy for this production. Right-thinking followers of legitimate theatre should appreciate it albeit through tears of betrayal.

‘Big Shot’ plays through 3 May 2015 at South Coast Rep and then moves moves to The Bootleg Theater in the Rampart District from 14 May to 6 June 2015. The Bootleg boasts a wine and beer bar where audiences and artists alike can get bombed before, during, and after the show.

Big Shot A.K.A.: This is Not The Godfather
Created by Kronis + Alger
Directed and choreographed by Tina Kronis
Text by Richard Alger

Ensemble: Caitlyn Conlin, Mark Doerr, David Guerra, Jesse Myers, Paula Rebelo, Mark Skeens

Costume design by Ellen McCartney
Music direction/arrangement by Wes Myers
Stage managed by Richelle Buchmiller
Technical Direction by Aaron Francis
Scenic and sound design by TMB.

At South Coast Repertory – The Nicholas Stage
30 April through 3 May 2015

At The Bootleg Theater
14 May to 6 June 2015
2220 Beverly Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90057
Check in May for ticketing information

So much for ‘Don’t be evil’ – Google Maps jumps the shark

Yes, it is a stretch and yes, Google’s changing map features will rank among the lesser of their evils. We can still shake our heads at the gradual decline of a landmark service, especially in light of a huge user outcry.

Google’s mapping service started out clean, crisp, and fast. Mapquest and other providers were left in the dust. Paper map sellers took a beating. When traffic and routing came along, it was a boon to drivers in the traffic hell that is Los Angeles. The frosting on this cake was incorporating historical data into the algorithm. If you get directions as you are heading out the door, good luck. Google maps allowed one to pick a day and time, see some average of traffic patterns, and get an estimated trip travel time.

For over a year, Google has been test driving its new maps interface and notionally soliciting feedback. Fortunately, the older ‘Classic’ interface was selectable and very, very popular. That’s out the window now. Google has announced that Classic maps will be going away and we’re going to have to get used to the new release pessimized equally for tablets, phones, and browsers. It takes talent to bugger something up this badly and to its credit, Google can recruit and channel that talent. To what end? Who knows?

Here’s a Classic Map, made today for a hypothetical Monday afternoon drive to Pasadena from Redondo Beach.

Traffic for the greater LA Basin still shows. This is incredibly helpful. The blue route line is lightly overlaid over the traffic indicators. Directions are on the left, there are several items in the right-click context menu.

Here’s the ‘new and improved’ version.


Only the route is clear and then again with blocky, ugly elements. The rest of the traffic for the Basin is almost invisible except for a few light red lines where things are particularly bad. One has to explicitly hide a bottom bar full of irrelevant photos and recommendations and the left side of the screen is taken up by boxes that roll up and down like a cheap dorm shutter. Ad dollars must be driving this (pun intended) and it is a shame.

And, yes, this is a first world problem. But what’s galling is the snotty response to users screaming bloody murder on the Google Forums and asking for the Classic Maps to be left as a option. True to 21st century form, a 20-something Community Manager tells us ‘Change is difficult’ but that it is all for our own good. She doesn’t say much to users with specific and well-reasoned arguments except that they are taking suggestions.

Interestingly, competing map tools are staying away from providing the all-important traffic forecasting based on historical data. One wonders why and hopes that they add this capability in short order.

Dialogue for disturbing times – ‘Dreamscape’ returns to the LATC

‘Dreamscape’ image courtesty LATC

When Rickerby Hinds brought ‘Dreamscape’ to the Encuentro Festival in 2014, the news was full of police violence against minority suspects. It is mind boggling that the situation has only gotten worse in the last few months culminating with video evidence of a policeman shooting a fleeing, unarmed suspect and planting evidence on him.

Whether by plan or by coincidence, the 90 minute hip-hop theatre and dance meditation on the 1998 Tyisha Miller case will be returning to Spring Street for a four week run. Previews on 16th and 17th April, performances through 17 May 2015.

Dreamscape (April 16-May 17)
Presented by the Latino Theater Company & Hindsight Productions
Written and Directed by Rickerby Hinds | Produced by Hindsight Productions

April 16 (Previews)
April 17 (Previews)
April 18 (Opening Night)
April 19 – May 16
May 17 (Closing Night)

Ticket Prices:

-Previews: $15 (April 16-17)
-General Admission (April 18-May 17 ONLY): $30
-Promotions (April 18-May 17 ONLY): Limited number of tickets available at $20 & $10*
-Group Sales of 12 or more: $10 off per ticket (call 213-489-0994)
*Available online only, while supplies last.

Prior post from September 2014 ‘In dubio pro reo’ here.

Elderly Man River rolling no more – RIP Stan Freberg

Sad news from Santa Monica, legendary satirist and later ad man Stan Freberg has passed away.

Via LA Observed

Stan Freberg had one of those Los Angeles careers. He was at the end of the national radio programs and the start of TV, including for KTLA Channel 5. He did voice work for Warner Bros, Disney and others. He was known to many first as a cultural and political satirist, putting out albums that spoofed hit songs of his day, and as an advertising executive he created memorable unconventional campaigns. The phrase “just the facts, ma’am” attributed to Dragnet’s Joe Friday is actually from Freberg’s spoof of Dragnet, apparently. His friends included Ray Bradbury.

Shout it out – Break of Noon at City Garage

Two mysteries at work here: Why did City Garage choose this play? Why did it choose to amplify the weaknesses identified in several reviews of other productions?

If you like religious philosophizing delivered relentlessly in forced New York accents at high decibels from a few feet away, this is your show. Others, be warned.

Nota bene: This was my first exposure to playwright Neil LaBute who is very popular with the young people. I didn’t read anything about the work until afterward.