Tag Archives: theatre

Engineered Myths: ‘Metamorphoses’ at A Noise Within

Clockwise from center: Erika Soto, Trisha Miller, Rafael Goldstein, Cassandra Marie Murphy.
Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy A Noise Within Theatre and Lucy Pollak Public Relations

ANW’s tribute to myth, art, and engineering is both visually dazzling and a chutzponic choice for this temporary breather from the pandemic.  Water is everywhere – onstage and on the audience – as a gifted cast seamlessly weaves eight stories  and a coda from Ovid  to impressive stagecraft.  The play is sufficiently well-known that there’s no point in recapping the fables-for-grownups  by Mary Zimmerman,  a brand unto herself.   Locally, Stephen Legawiec’s long-departed and much lamented Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble did exceptional service to myth.  The Sacred Fools and Coeurage also deliver technical miracles on a budget.  Zimmerman ups the ante requiring an onstage pool central to her theme.  ANW has built the resources over the years to afford the rights, the engineering, and the resident ensemble to pull it all off.  The costs must be astronomical especially for a barely four week run, an oddly appropriate leap-of-faith in art over economics.

Nicole Javier (top) and Rafael Goldstein (bottom).
Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy A Noise Within Theatre and Lucy Pollak Public Relations

On top of the usual artistic concerns and choices, director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott has to see to the safety of her performers who are feet, knees, and backs in the water as much as they are out of it.  This is no mean feat given costumes (Garry Lennon), props (Shen Heckel),  walking continuously on a wet stage, and a disease spread by droplets.   The company has hewn to its resident artist model (six of the nine performers) although it seems to have gone away from its roots in repertory.  It is interesting to note the changing of the guard having followed the company closely in the 90s to mid 2000s and sporadically thereafter.  Geoff Elliott remains a constant of the motion with Rafael Goldstein and Erika Soto now regular members along with unfamiliar faces with extensive company and classical credits.  That Shakesperean training pays off handsomely with uniformly rich, resonant, and nuanced voices inhabiting instead of reciting the text.  It’s a heady mix of comedy, drama, pathos, and bathos.  Trisha Miller is excellent as Alcyone,  Sydney A. Mason as a nasty Aphrodite, and DeJuan Christopher as Ceyx.  Elliott is all the fathers; Pythonesque as Helios negotiating with Phaeton (Kasey Mahaffy) as well as  Midas and Cinyras navigating daughter problems.  The physical demands are great as the cast have to carry one another in and out of the water throughout the piece where one slip could end many careers.  The level of trust engendered by long and close collaboration must be off the charts and hard to conceive with a team assembled for one production.

But, oh, that engineering – Francois-Pierre Couture (design), Ken Booth (lighting), and Robert Oriol (sound) – deserves a loud, two-syllable, “Damn!”  Even if we take the pool  for granted, electricity, water, and people don’t mix.  This constrains the high powered lights to surround the stage and there again from safe a distance – yet nothing essential is in shadow.   Glowing orbs are undoubtedly enabled by LEDs.  Their collective play off the water and onto the walls are a splendid touch – carrying the audience along waves of action floating on Oriol’s effective yet unobtrusive soundscape.  And we should not take any of this for granted.  Going from page to stage is a tough artistic job but no easier than taking a technical concept through design, build, test, and delivery.  ANW’s timelapse shows the large uncredited crew that made it happen and glimpses the kind of backstage preparation area accessible to very few of the city’s theatremakers.  Yes, there are a couple of songs but … what are you going to do?  Barring extension, only five performances remain so act accordingly.

Note bene: While there are no bad seats at ANW, the raised stage does obscure the water’s surface from the front rows.  There is a benefit (and certainly no harm) in going to the middle or even the back of the house.  Those up front will get splashed.

Youtube Channel: A Noise Within

Metamorphoses
Based on the Myths of Ovid
Written and originally directed by Mary Zimmerman

Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott
for A Noise Within Theatre Company
3352 E Foothill Blvd. 
Pasadena, CA 91107

Thursdays through Sundays, closing 5 June 2022
Two performances Saturdays
Running time: Ninety minutes without intermission
Performance times vary, see the theatre’s website for details

Proof of vaccination/booster required, Masks must be worn inside the theatre

Tickets through the ANW Online Box Office
or
626.356.3100

Where do you go when you go to sleep?: ‘Wakings!’ at The Odyssey

Courtesy The Odyssey Theatre

‘Wakings!,’ Ron Sossi’s quartet of lesser-known Pinter, unknown Coover, and better-known Hesse attempts with varying success to explore ‘models of consciousness’ as Occidental eyes turn inward and then Eastward.

In ‘Rip Awake,’ Darrell Larson who excelled in pre-COVID Strindberg lets it fly as Rip Van Winkle left to figure out what and who is left of his former world.  Robert Coover, the only non-Nobelist on the bill, has written a nice although a touch too long fourth-wall breaking rant where Van Winkle limns the difficult mechanics of his awakening to soft bones, spiral toenails, and frayed mind.  It’s a meaty monologue for the ‘actor of a certain age’ and Larson rages and brawls about the stage with mountain-goat confidence.

Pinter the writer had long become Pinter, dissertation fodder by the time he wrote ‘A Kind of Alaska’ in 1982.    Deborah (Diana Cignoni), now 45, awakes after succumbing to sleeping sickness at age 16 with her devoted doctor (Ron Bottitta) and long-suffering sister (Kristina Ladegaard) attending.    Deborah is nostalgic, uncertain, and kind of a … jerk towards the few she has left and there is a small twist in why these two people still hang about her.    There is some good writing in her coming to and coming to grips with her situation but the mixing of German, Nordic, and British accents dislocates the situation.   For all the acclaim, Pinter is narrowly focussed on specific castes of British jackholes (that American audiences find endlessly fascinating) and efforts to apply him outside that milieu can run into trouble.

The bookends are less effective.  ‘Victoria Station’ another 1982 Pinter effort has taxi dispatcher Bottitta trying in vain to get driver C.J. O’Toole to pick up a fare.  The driver has, to be charitable, checked out, cruising around long gone London landmarks infatuated with a possibly dead passenger.    These Pinters are lesser-known for a reason, the malevolent craftsman behind ‘The Caretaker,’  ‘No Man’s Land,’ and ‘Betrayal’ is barely visible with scarcely a memorable line in the pair.  O’Toole returns in a non-speaking solo in the closer as Siddhartha rambling wild like Rip at first, later finding a secret of time and his enlightenment in a river.  Castmates narrate earnestly from the novel to a clichéd music track.

Yet it is still worth a look.  Self-admittedly a scratching of the surface, Sossi paradoxically succeeds even when the playlets individually stumble.   Models of consciousness aside, there is a strong resonance to a world full of bottled rage peeking out from years of isolation, relearning how to act among others, and looking for some meaning in it all.  The dispatcher’s bosses don’t care that he’s alone, overworked, and can’t get through to a disaffected employee – there’s profit to be had.  Self-centered Deborah alternately denies her condition and snarks at her long-suffering caregivers.  Rip is out for revenge against those, real or perceived, responsible for his prolonged slumber.  He turns wild and this being America, turns gun against dog and daughter imagining them to be others all the while.   The woman to my left just had to consult her phone well into the fourth act.  We live this insanity each and every day with no end in sight and even worse on the horizon.  Against all that, the Hesse is an earnest attempt at hope and release.   Whether it succeeds or not is up to each viewer.   

There are doubtless easier ways to rebuild audience after a plague.  Many Manchin Democrats argue that this is the time for trivial comedy by the usual suspects.  Audiences should consider rewarding The Odyssey for going against that grain and taking this calculated risk.

Wakings!
Directed by Ron Sossi for the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Through 5 June 2022
Friday & Saturday 8pm, Sunday 2pm, May 25 8pm

The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Box Office: 310-477-2055 ext. 2
Online ticketing through Ovationtix

 

 

The pulse of artistic LA is in NYC

From the Sad-but-True department.  Leave it to the NYT to highlight the problems LA theatres face in the aftermath of COVID and bearing the brunt of the ills of the gig economy.  Uber and Lyft skate while tiny arts orgs have to conform to new wage laws while trying to reopen.  Whatever Dr. Soon-Shiong may have done for the LA Times, his inaction on the sacks of filth at his arts and culture desks is unpardonable.

 

Machineries of Gioia: A Poet Laureate on Ray Bradbury

Look at The Martian Chronicles. At the height of American optimism, Bradbury wrote a bittersweet novel about the failures of science, technology, and progress. Humanity makes it to Mars, but the triumph is illusory. Mars becomes a landscape of ghost towns. The novel was an extraordinarily fertile moment in American imagination. He suggested the notion of unlimited positive progress was an illusion. His wasn’t the dystopian vision of Orwell or Zamyatin but something gentler and more elegiac. H. G. Wells could write about the end of civilization from a global perspective. Bradbury made the vision personal and lyric.
Dana Gioia on Ray Bradbury

I’ve read a lot of Bradbury recently, that is to the extent that I can focus long enough to read much of anything. The Illustrated Man was better than the The Illustrated Woman contained in the uniformly depressing Machineries of Joy which I am struggling to finish. There can be no question though that The Martian Chronicles deserves the accolades and adaptations.

I struggle with Bradbury’s categorization as a science fiction writer. Chronicles aside, he is a breed apart from Asimov and Clarke who briskly get down to business peddling a bright future for one and all enabled by the latest in vacuum tubes and servomotors. Bradbury doesn’t fit that mold and through his thick glasses he saw a grimy  future broken by the ones who people it. He is lyrical, almost to excess in fact, and it takes a special frame of mind to deal with his unusual rhythms and devices. His observations on technology are profoundly gloomy.   Not for him the boundless optimism and things coming out well in the wash. Long before Sputnik, Gagarin, or their American counterparts, he saw that a future world, a spacefaring one, would eventually have to send the worst of the species after the best had paved the way. The Chronicles are full of careerists, louts, and brutes going not to explore but to exploit.

In recognition of the Bradbury centennial,  Hawthorne expat and recent state Poet Laureate Dana Gioia speaks to Bradbury’s wide and ongoing cultural impact in dialogue with his biographer. The discussion does locate Bradbury firmly as a Los Angeles writer, a thing that still surprises many as that which does not, can not, or at least ought not to exist in the heart of the entertainment industry.  Gioia acknowledges that “major mainstream journals published [Bradbury’s] fiction, and producers adapted his work for movies, radio, and TV.” He leaves out the stage apart from a brief mention in another list and more’s the pity. The lyricism, the elegiac odes to humanity’s perpetual folly  is what allowed the Pandemonium Theatre Company to bring so many of those stories to life with humans speaking to humans and not through effects in post-production.   Pandemonium was another Bradbury creation nurtured by others until its demise in the early 2000s. The Falcon hosted an uneven Fahrenheit 451 in 2002 with other, more successful productions at Theatre West and the lovely yet now defunct Court Theatre. He often appeared in the audience and, when asked, would say a few words before curtain to an appreciative audience sufficiently steeped in LA etiquette to applaud yet keep a respectful distance.

It is trivial to hang present day realities on deceased authors but there is no doubt that it is the pessimistic futures Bradbury foresaw decades ago that have played out and not those of his compatriots. We don’t have energy too cheap to meter, we aren’t in control of our robots, and ubiquitous telecommunications has served to narrow, divide, and power the slide into darkness.  We are the same desperate creatures that came out of the caves only with flashier and deadlier toys.

Here are two sobering stories adapted in 1950 for the Dimension X radio series.

Youtube Channel: Old Time Radio Researchers

 

So, Exit already

45 isn’t a king but acts like one on television.  L’état c’est lui, a petulant whiny child beheading his enemies with multiple wives and obsequious servants flattering before fading into the desperate end.

It is time, long past time, for this rancid wannabe to make a real exit.

Youtube Channel: City Garage

 

Sunk Costs: ‘Dancing at Lughnasa” at The Open Fist

Memo to self: Always check to see if a playwright is <nationality>’s Chekhov before buying the ticket.  The sinking feeling sets in early with Open Fist‘s otherwise attractive ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ and by 75 minutes into a seemingly interminable first act, plans are set  for an intermission escape.  Then things happen for about 10 minutes and the coin flip comes up as stay to see how it pans out.  We get another 5 to 7 minutes of explanation in the remaining hour as we learn what happens to the hard-luck, bad-luck if any luck at all Mundys of fictional Ballybeg, County Donegal.  In the meantime, five sisters and a cleric brother may be poor but they have one another, then the fast moving world of change rolls over them.

Open Fist brings its traditional craftsmanship and smart casting to Brian Friel’s highly praised but unbalanced memory play.  Lane Allison and Christopher Cappiello stand out as lively, optimistic Maggie and Father Jack, the latter recently returned from decades in Uganda where he found the existing customs and community much more to his liking than the Catholic faith he was sent there to sell.    He’s not the only rambler in the mix as Christina’s (Caroline Klidonas) baby-daddy (Scott Roberts) shows up occasionally to see her and their son (David Shofner) who  is narrating the piece from… the future.   The Mundys are hanging on the edge of society.  Breadwinner Kate (Jennifer Zorbalas) loses her teaching job due to Jack’s apostasy not sitting well with the church school.  Industrialization eliminates a pittance  that Agnes (Ann Marie Wilding) and Rose (Sandra Kate Burck) earn from piecework.  The world  just stomps on their knuckles until they finally let go.    Burck has an especially fine moment in the second act as developmentally-disabled Rose is cruelly used by an unseen admirer despite the  loving protection of Agnes – Friel’s hat-tip to Tennessee Williams, perhaps?  We guess early on that every flicker of light these characters see is just the streamer for the next lightning bolt to hit them but the waits between the strikes are too damned long.    The set, lights, and sounds (James Spencer, Matt Richter, and Tim Labor) do hang well over the production.

The play has won all the awards and feels calculated to do so, much like ‘Anna in the Tropics’ which preceded it.   Both will be good box office for years to come.

Youtube Channel: MetOffice

Youtube Channel: Carpalton

Youtube Channel: Mickey Mouse

 

Dancing at Lughnasa
by Brian Friel
Directed by Barbara Schofield for Open Fist Theatre

Plays Mondays, Saturdays, and Sundays through 18 August 2019
at the Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039

Visit OpenFist.org for showtimes and tickets

Bulbous Bouffons and Kakistocratic Klingons at the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival

MilliGrus – the origami swan part of audience participation

Mil Grus does double duty as the name of “Los Angeles’s Premier Bouffon Troupe” and their eponymous show at the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival.  Ostensibly based on Pliny the Elder’s story of a Thousand Cranes, a five member ensemble in heavy padding, tights, and grotesque makeup do various skits and improvisational bits taken from (if not exactly inspired by) extensive crowd work and audience participation.  The closest hooks to cranes are the elegant little origami handed to a few of us in the front row (right)  with the totality of the hour being a mystery.  The young and young-at-heart in the packed McCadden Place Theatre roared and ohmyGODded with every twitch, tic, and bit of shtick.  Being neither, I was tossed into my recurring nightmare of the final exam in a class I never  knew I was taking.  If there were references I didn’t get them and if there was a through line, it escaped me.  The performers do show talent in physical theatre and this may have been an intentionally loosely-formatted bit of nonsense for a festival audience.  Perhaps their other offerings have at least some structure for those of us that need it.

The swan-like Bird of Prey from the Klingon Tamburlaine Photo courtesy School of Night Theatre Company

Summertime is usually Shakespeare season but one festival company has taken on on the daunting task of mounting rival Marlowe.  This is no easy task as there are probably very good reasons why Shakespeare (or Bacon or DeVere or whomever) has dropkicked contemporaries to the curb over the past few hundred years.  Let’s blindly extrapolate from one or two encounters with the rest and assert that their language isn’t as smooth, their characters as fleshed, or their plots as nuanced.  Nevertheless, School of Night Theatre‘s  adaptation of “Tamburlaine the Great Parts 1 and 2” into the Star Trek milieu is galactic in scope, brazen in ambition, and a stone cold  marvel.   Historical Timur/Tamerlane/Tamburlaine was such a brutal and unrepentant conqueror that transplanting him into a Klingon makes eminent sense.  It is easier to recognize savagery in the other than to acknowledge it in the self.   The uncredited adapter also cleverly remaps various tribes and city-states involved in an endless series of wars into Vulcan, Romulan, and Starfleet counterparts.   Played straight, Tamburlaine’s unremitting and unpunished transition from shepherd to despot would wear thin quickly but Director Christopher Johnson deftly leavens the grim proceedings with wry humor, sight gags, posturing, and plenty of tongue.

Klingon Tamburlaine program

This production would be a tight fit in an outdoor venue and it is the height of q’hutzpagh to put a fully costumed beak-over-tailfeathers cast of 13 and a percussionist/Foley artist  into the 360 square feet offered by the Complex Theatres.   The action is non-stop, full-tilt, loud, and a tad too long with commedia head snaps and full throated oration from start to finish.  Neither is this a land-bound adaptation.  The large design team puts together epic space battles with supernumeraries, starship models, and clever lighting although the bulk of the fighting is incongruously hand-to-hand combat with pointy objects and blades.

There is  no comeuppance, no divine retribution, and no great moral to the story other than lying, cheating, nepotistic, usurping sleazeballs can and do get away with it.   Some things don’t change over the centuries.   If there is a criticism of the production it is that it might have reached out to LA’s vibrant Klingon community to cast parts currently played by human actors in prostheses and makeup.   The theatre world has taken steps toward inclusivity but there is always room to grow.

Mil Grus by Mil Grus Theatre
Closed at the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2019
McCadden Place Theatre

Klingon Tamburlaine by School of Night Theatre
Remaining performances: Thursday 27 June at 8:30pm and Saturday 29 June at 4pm
Ruby Theatre at The Complex, Hollywood
6476 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
Online tickets via the Hollywood Fringe Festival 

Youtube Channel: The Vestibules

 

Youtube Channel: KyleKallgrenBHH

 

 

Comedy of Terrors: “Exit the King” at City Garage

Natasha St. Clair Johnson and Troy Dunn in “Exit the King” at City Garage
Photo courtesy of Paul Rubenstein

If the death of one man is a tragedy and a million a statistic, where does Everyman‘s death fall?  So asks Ionesco as his infinitely mutable Bérenger rages against mortality in “Exit the King,” just opened at City Garage.  This was one of the plays that introduced me to small theatre,  that distinct art form with which I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship ever since.   I didn’t know what to make of Ionesco when I first encountered him.  It was late 1993 and the Independent Theatre Company (ITC)  had staged “Exit” at their tiny House of Candles Theatre on Stanton Street in the lower East Side of New York City.    I had heard of the absurdists,  knew they were “important,” and that this play along with “Rhinoceros” were considered essential by those who knew about such things.     I don’t remember anything specific about the production apart from walking out with more questions than answers and yet willing to try the playwright again.

Chief Garagistes Frédérique Michel and Charles Duncombe have crafted their own translaptation  of the now well-known story – a petulant, arrogant, self-absorbed bigamist struldbrugg of a King Bérenger the First (Troy Dunn) is fading after four hundred years and doesn’t want to go, gently or otherwise, into that good night.   He pouts, sulks, screams, and tantrums  through the five stages of grief as his two wives and small retinue, emblems of his body and the body politic, try to ease what’s left of his mind.  Only the second wife, the keening Queen Marie (Lindsay Plake) shares his belief in the unfairness and tragedy of it all.   The rest try to prepare him for the inevitable, each according to his or her means.

Michel preserves the one act structure and plays up the comedic elements for most of it while not overplaying the house style.  Other than the Doctor’s (Anthony Sannazzaro) Pythonesque silly walk, the movement work is kept in check in favor of  the  text.  There is not much extraneous business and Duncombe’s set supports the action unobtrusively.  (The Actors Gang staged “Exit” 20 years ago, turning a tragicomic romp into a two act slog.  That, my second encounter  with the work, did not survive the merciful intermission.)   We begin to suspect that the King really isn’t and that we’re seeing the end of Everyman Bérenger, majestic in mind only, with other characters representing parts of his failing kingdom-cum-body.   The Doctor and Guard  (David E. Frank) quietly back off the stage leaving him defenseless. Much put-upon Maid Juliette (Kat Johnston in a fine, understated turn) leaves and the myriad autonomous functions of the body, life, and living leave with her.

To the question is this a one character or a six character play, the answer of course, is two.  It’s a bit of a setup but the comedy is a sweet headfake to the denouement between Bérenger and his first wife, the imperious, practical, and sensible Queen Marguerite.  The final scene between the resonant Dunn and cool, elegant, swan-necked Natasha St. Clair Johnson is the slow, terrifying, inevitable waltz that’s on all of our dance cards.  When that end comes, we know, life goes on without us.  Johnson has been appearing frequently in recent productions but is exceptionally well-matched to this role and this moment, the only truly regal presence.    The stage, unencumbered by videos or effects,  smoothly darkens as he ascends his throne for the last time with a single spot closing over his alternately tortured, frightened, desperate, pleading face.   This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.  It is one of those theatrical moments that can leave audiences holding their collective breath before a well-deserved exhale and wild applause.  Or it could have had it not been for the goober taking cellphone photos at intervals throughout the evening doing so at this juncture.  The flash came on in the dying light and to top it off, he began clapping before the fadeout to which the production had been building for the preceding 99 minutes.

Despite Bérenger’s resemblance to 45 (or vice-versa), “Exit” is not the overt political call-to-arms that is “Rhinoceros”  and certainly not the out-and-out political comedy that is “La Leçon/The Lesson” which Liz Pocock knocked into orbit in 2004 at the company’s old Promenade location.  Even if it were that call, the world is voting the other way these days and by and large, the world doesn’t go to see plays.   “Exit”‘s scope is smaller in respects, grander in others but this strong production is certainly worth a visit to Bergamot Station between now and 14 July.

Exit the King
by Eugène Ionesco, translated and adapted by Frédérique Michel and Charles Duncombe
Directed by Frédérique Michel

Running through 14 July 2019 at City Garage
Building T1, Bergamot Station
2525 Michigan Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Fridays, Saturdays 8:00pm;
Sundays, 4pm

Admission: $25; Students w/ID & Seniors (65+): $20; Sundays “Pay-What-You-Can” (at the door only)
Box Office: 310-453-9939
Online ticketing through Brown Paper Tickets

And here’s King Louis the First with Steely Queen Keely with their take on the final curtain.

Youtube Channel: Attila F.


(Link to video updated 5/25/2022)