Monthly Archives: July 2015

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.

Project: Universe reappears on Youtube

The Coast Community College District crafted an excellent distance learning course in astronomy in the late 1970s. ‘Project Universe’ featured Griffith Observatory Director Edwin Krupp and notables from the planetary, space, and astronomical sciences explaining the basics through to the state of the art at the time. I used to watch these episodes when I came home from school on Bay Area PBS affiliates and I still feel their influence. It was science explained rigorously by practitioners before the advent of media clowns. Some of the questions from that era have been answered but much still remains to be explained.

The series popped up on Youtube in 2014 but was taken down fairly quickly. I don’t know why but the College District objected. It has resurfaced and although the sound and video quality aren’t the best, it is well worth a look. I hope that the CCCD relents and makes these broadly available, perhaps allowing eager volunteers to remaster these classic episodes.

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.

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

Heather Schmidt as Astro Boy
West Liang as Osamu Tezuka

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

Erin Sanzo as Astro Boy
Scot Shamblin  as Osamu Tezuka

Gregory Guy Gorden , Lisa Anne Nicolai, & Aviva Pressman

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