Saturday, July 4, 2015

King Dick by Christian Levatino

By Joe Straw

“A while ago, on a sunny afternoon, in a restaurant next to Book Soup, I saw Prince strutting his way and obliquely prowling the magazine rack outside the store. 

Prince was traveling in incognito.  Well, sort of, he had on a bright orange suit and was traveling with his bodyguard who was approximately 10 times his girth.  

Well, you know, Prince is very angular and slight. 

Anyway, I wanted to shout out  “Hi Prince”, but my bad luck because that’s when he had changed his name to a symbol you couldn’t pronounce, so I didn’t say anything.

Side note: Does someone really go out in a bright orange suite if they don’t want to be noticed? – Narrator

I don’t get invited to the Hollywood Fringe Festival, except on Facebook and 2015 was no exception.  In any case, the Hollywood Fringe is just something you go and experience, because, metaphysically, it’s like an out-of-body experience.

There was one show I wanted to see.  And while trying to find a parking space, I noticed a man, who looked like Elvis, walking south on Lillian Way, engaged in an animated discussion with someone who must have been his bodyguard. 

“Dis must be de place!” This was exactly the show I wanted to see, “King Dick”.

At Theatre Asylum where it was playing, no one was around. “Where’s King Dick playing? Where is the ticket office?  Where do I go?”  No one had answers.  Finally I checked the log sheet outside the theatre.  It said: “King Dick – Lab”.

What does that mean?

Finally, I saw Elvis (Christian Levatino) strutting west on Santa Monica Boulevard.  He introduced himself and very graciously directed me to the right spot.

King Dick written by Christian Levatino, produced & directed by Leon Shanglebee, which I suspect is also a Levatino alias, had a wonderful run at the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2015.

The Gangbusters Theatre Company makes terrific use of the Lab Theatre, a small black-box venue.  The Lab is extremely suitable for both the imaginative spirit and the spirits of a drug-induced character working for the benefit of mankind.  

King Dick, a fully staged workshop production, is a marvelous play that is brilliant in imaginative ways. Levatino’s historical farce plays upon emotions that one yearns for in theatre where reality, character eccentricities, and absurdity are thrown together in a madcap soup of theatrical madness. And by way of the Elvis’s moral discontent, one is treated to a message with a strong social significance. This is a wonderful work of art by an artist who is finding his niche as a playwright and certainly one to seriously consider.   

I am a true fan of Elvis, and, have read about it, seen the pictures, and well, you really can’t make this stuff up.

Blame it on Mercury in retrograde, an excuse Elvis used as justifications for his insanity because he had a serious problems with drugs and guns.  How he got in to see Nixon in less than a day defies comprehension.

The play takes place sometime in December 1970, a year after the Tate–LaBianca murders. E (as he is known in the play) is horrified by the direction the country is taking due to drugs and drug murders.  He has a solution but it requires obtaining a badge from a Federal Drug Enforcement agent. The badges he proudly holds now are honoree badges and therefore useless. His vision is to get that badge from some legitimate law enforcement agency in Washington D.C., so that he can serve the greater good.

So E is off to Washington D.C. to take care of business, meet with whomever he needs to meet, and get the required badge.

E gets on the plane using an alias as Jon Burrows. The problem is the costume, the jewelry, the cane, the sideburns, the black hair, sunglasses, and the face immediately gives him away. Dottie Stevens (Corryn Cummings), the stewardess, is willing to keep a secret for the time being, but that secret lasts the length of Tootsie Pop between them.  

E sits next to Mancini Moore (Ian Verdun), a soldier who is coming back from Vietnam and who is visibly affected by the war. He looks up to see E and smiles.

“…plane ain’t going down with your ass on it.” – Moore  

E wants to know more about what went on.  Moore lets off a stream of consciousness sympathetic to the anti-war movement and E, by all appearances, does not comprehend the true meaning of his message.

Still, E wants to help Moore.  He runs to Schilling, demands the expense money Shilling is holding and then gives Moore some Christmas money.

That out of the way, E racks his brains in pursuit of the badge.

Next the stewardess introduces Senator George Murphy (Darrett Sanders) to the King and Murphy offers E his opinions about the direction of the country, about the war, and the badge.  

E does not get the war, but given his mission to get a badge, he takes Murphy’s advice to pen a letter to the President of The United States, Richard Milhouse Nixon (John Combs).

Dwight Chapin (Patrick Flanagan), a P.T. Barnum bi-curious government official, receives the letter E dropped off at the White House’s front gate and takes it to his supervisor, Bud “Egil” Krogh (Andy Hirsch), a play-by-the-book government official (later imprisoned in the Watergate scandal).  Krogh puts ethics aside to see if he can get E a badge.  

Meanwhile Sonny West (Andrew Dits) visits E’s hotel room and talks to Schilling about the unholy madness E is getting himself into. E, coming into the room dressed in a robe and bathing cap, is hurt to see that West is without his gift, the TCB necklace.

“You make me want to spontaneous combust.” - E

Later we learn that Nixon has gotten himself into a little trouble with Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers and a trickle of the downward spiral starts here. But, hoping to plug the drain, Nixon wants to meet with E.

“King Creole” was spectacular!” – Nixon

L - Christian Levatino and John Combs

This was a very exciting cast that brought a lot of backstory to the lives presented on stage.  Still, I have a few observations.

Matthew Hudacs filled the role of Jerry Schilling and did a fine job.  Hudacs has a good look and is natural on stage, but needs to make more of the relationship with E.  His backstory needs an added element as to adequately define the relationship. This is not to take away from anything on stage but to add.

Christian Levatino was fantastic as E, bringing with him a grand physical life of the character, karate moves and all, along with mental complexities of being a pharmaceutical poster boy for the drug industry.  And because of the drugs E is constantly asking for help from his friends, but when something goes wrong in the Oval Office, and he may lose his badge, he begs the President to help.

“Dick! Help me!  Dick!  Help!!!” - E

Corryn Cummins does a delightful turn as Dottie Stevens, the stewardess. Bright and cheery, Dottie gives E a run for his money right outside the lavatories, a discomforting intimate moment, on the plane, and confusing E with her brilliance, just a bit.  Amatory speculations abound in her effort to join the mile high club with a celebrity but E was on a mission. Cummins was remarkable in the role.

Ian Verdun does some really nice work as Mancini Moore. Verdun is natural on stage. But, he needs to be make more of the conflict with his counterpart, if only to say:  “I didn’t get the cushy job in Germany, I went to Vietnam where there was a lot of killing and dying going on.”  Moore should convince E to add his voice to the inequities going on in the nation and thus introduce more conflict into the scene.   

Darrett Sanders was impressive as Senator George Murphy, a down-to-earth guy who speaks the truth to anyone willing to listen. Sanders is a fantastic actor who makes it all look so easy.  His delivery is sharp and focused and his characterization is this side of brilliant. (In reality, George Murphy was a former song and dance man, and the president of the Screen Actors Guild, before his foray in Republican politics.)

Andy Hirsch plays Bud ‘Egil’ Krogh and the character was solid to the craziness around him.  He was outstanding in his office, bedrock in motive. Still there has to be more to this character. (In real life Krogh went to jail for the Watergate conspiracy and then later became a Senior Fellow on Ethics (Ethics?) and Leadership at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.)  On top of what Hirsch is already doing, he should incorporate something to give the character an added dimension, one of larceny, and possibly non-ethics.

Patrick Flanagan is delightful as Dwight Chapin, the slightly disheveled, bi-curious, do anything, speak your mind, kind of guy. (In real life Chapin, Special Assistant, was convicted of lying to a grand jury for perjury during the Watergate Scandal and served nine months at the Federal Correctional Institution, Lompoc) This is a performance not to miss and a marvelous one at that.

Andrew Dits plays Sonny West and had some nice things going on.  Dits is tall, muscular, and very angular (a model).  As the character, West speaks of E as out of control but does little to help him get on the right path. More is needed to help the character West dulcify his relationship to E.  Still, Dits has a very strong presence on stage.   

John Combs brings a lot of laughs into the Oval Office as Richard Nixon.  One has to wonder who was the crazier of the two.  Combs does a tremendous job of creating a character that is coming undone, of giving us a glimpse of Nixon’s ultimate downfall, of blaming others, and showing us the famous peace sign outside of Marine I. Combs is very funny and wonderful in the role.

Sean McSweeney is the still photos man Ollie Adkins.  McSweeney has little or no dialogue but is very clever on stage with a very nice stage charisma.

Levatino’s play is a lot of fun and works as a stand-alone project.  On a side note Levatino looks at honesty and politics and finds the bitterest of contradictions as part of the presentation as a whole.  He also incorporates absurdity into a real life situation, which makes this performance a very pleasant outing. 

Produced and Directed by Leon Shanglebee which one suspects is also a Levatino alias. This production has minimal props and set pieces and Shanglebee has the actors do most of the work.  The moments hit their mark and the precision with which this was done was exquisite.

Nicely produced by Mary Kelsey and LQ Victor.  Co-Produced by Daniel Coronel.  Associate Produced by Margo Rowder & Corryn Cuminns.  Sound Design by Mohane Sebastion.  The Elvis Costume was by Mimi Chong.   Wigs by Kim Ferry.  Stage Management by Deacon Waiver and the Social Media was covered by Corryn Cummins and Margo Rowder.

Kevin Spacey has a film in postproduction now with “Elvis and Nixon”, and another film  “Elvis Meets Nixon” with Rick Peter was released in 1997 so Elvis still holds a viable fascination with the public many years after his death.   

Thursday, June 25, 2015

André & Dorine by Jose Dault and Garbine Iñsausti


By Joe Straw

One can look at a theatrical presentation and come up with backstory that has little to do with the actual production.  For the fun of it, here is my backstory.

Dorine (Garbine Iñsausti) loved playing the cello.  At a very young age, in an empty music room, she stumbled upon a bow, first, and the cello second.  She looked around – saw no one – and when she slid the bow across a string, well, that made her heart dance.  She also felt a strange vibration in her stomach and on her fingers.  From then on, that “C” or “G”,  “D” or “A”, or whatever it was, haunted her, in every dream.  She was almost on her hands and knees begging her mom, a strong single woman, to let her have one, even a used one would be good to start.    

From then on, Dorine was hooked; she had to know more, searched for ways until she exceled all the way through college.  Just recently, she found a four-piece jazz collective to play with for a little scratch, money. 

Oh, when she became a young adult, Dorine was hot, and the notes she played were equally hot.  The notes accompanied her body, well, they just wafted around her arms, her breast, massaging her shoulders, and curled around her legs like bean vines around a singing cornstalk.  Music was so much a part of her life; nothing was going to take her away from it.  Nothing.

Andre (Jose Dault) had very little direction is school.  Polyester was not a clothing choice.  His mother, hesitantly and under duress, bought him bell-bottoms jean.   The fit was tight, too tight, but good if you wanted the female of the species to notice, and they did.

Then something happened in college, just a footnote of someone who appreciated his work.  He had “a flair” – albeit slight praise, but very promising. A professor made a note, decided to read his paper in front of the class as he blushed, fiery red, while sweat poured out of every polyester fiber he owned.  The smelled and heat lifted from inside his shirt to his face - and his smell, on that day, was not that pleasant.  

Now André – working as a doorman in a legit musical theatre house – was befriended by a trumpet player who played in the orchestra.  His friend, a victim of a muscular disorder, walked on crutches, was nice enough to stop by and chat. And out of the blue, man gave him a typewriter to write.  And André fell in love with that typewriter, keeping it with him day and night, typing on his murphy bed.  

The theatre got him open invitations to different venues around town and that’s when he met a certain cello player, so he hustled himself, and placed him in a position to meet her. And mentally, internally, he vociferously cleped her name, again, and again, until she stepped outside the stage door.

And then André met Dorine, life happened, they got old, and things suddenly changed.

Kulunka Teatro presents André & Dorine by Jose Dault, and Garbiñe Insausti and directed by Iñaki Rikarte, which ended its three-week run at the Los Angeles Theatre Center on Spring Street.

Kulunka Teatro was created in The Basque Country in Spain in 2010.  (The Basque Country – a land mass in the shape of a heart – is the northeast region of Spain and borders France.  And, by strange coincidence, the masks are representational of characters from both countries.) 

Kulunka Teatro’s goal is to use masks to demonstrate life on stage, a type of theatrical experience that will transcend boundaries and languages in the way that music and human physicality have no barriers.

The masks by Garbiñe Insausti are twice the size of a human head, the features; the pronounced proboscis, eyebrows, and jowls are conspicuous and inspire a somber perspective. The masks are almost the same for the older selves as the younger selves except the younger ones have a tighter mask with a little more sunglow. Visually, the actors wearing the masks, looked like large puppets with invisible strings.

The eyes - the window to the souls - are behind the mask, and are dark, completely black and do not reflect the eyes of the wearer. And the color of their skin at curtain call suggests the masks were extremely hot.

“There are no words for this play.” – Jose Luis Valenzuela, Artistic Director of the Latino Theatre Company

The play is without words. Acting teachers emphasize that actors do not need the words if the intention/objective is strong.  Writers tend to disagree but, for this play, the actions define the play and confirm that the words are not necessary for a show that effortlessly travels across borders.

The actors in this production move brilliantly in the celebration of life to the end, where age robs of mental and physical faculties.  And at times the moments are so heartbreaking one want to cover one’s eyes and turn away.   

The play, presented in vignettes, starts with the older Andre working at his typewriter, still writing, as Dorine tries to play her cello in the same room.  Each in their own passionate eloquence, move as they have for many years, not otiose, but movement with a purpose, now fully aware the sound from each other’s instruments are getting on each other’s nerves. And in their wearisome repetition to complete a task neither one is able to satisfy a mental need.  

The sound of doorbell ringing, along with the punching typewriter, and the misguided notes coming from the cello, masks (no pun intended) the sounds of someone trying to get into the house.

Dorine or André pause from their work.   Their chairs squeak while competing to stay in their seat to work, for the other to get the door, and then sit back to task. Finally, when the noise of the relentless ringing becomes too much, Dorine, nearest to the door, answers it. It is their son.

The air of tension is briefly lifted as André and Dorine warmly greet their prodigy. But as that moment passes, they start fighting over him pulling him to and fro. André wants the son to read his new book, while Dorine ambles into the bedroom to fetch an egregious red patterned sweater for her son to wear.  

The son takes their action in stride but one sees a character that did not get much attention in his formative years with his mother busy with her music and his father always writing and never taking the opportunity to be with his son.

And with “no words,” the son’s character projects a fascinating life on stage.

And a simple moment – the son noticing Dorine shirt buttoned incorrectly – foreshadows her pending health issues.

In the third vignette, the son takes Dorine to the doctor’s office; when they enter the waiting room, they find a rogue patient who is sitting in the middle of three seats scratching vociferously.  Dorine has no problem sitting next to him on one end and implores her son to take a seat. But the son has a problem with catching any creative chigger that may fly off this miscreant’s body and embed itself deeply within the cavity of his own groin.

Naytheless it is in the office, the son becomes aware of Dorine’s illness.  And later, when he presents it to his dad, André, André ignores the letter and gives his son the new book he has written.

Moments accumulate as Dorine hangs her coat on the cello rack. Seeing the changes in Dorine, André reminisce about their meeting, her infatuation with his words, and their marriage.  

Jose Dault, Garbiñe Insausti, and Edu Carcamo bring a fantastic life to each character, André, Dorine, and son. There are other characters but there were never more than three characters on stage so one suspects there were only three actors in the play. The nurse seems a lot taller than the rest of the cast members and it’s hard to know how the messenger boy was done because he appeared much smaller.

The masks made the actors bigger than life and they physically rose to the occasion with aplomb.  This was a fantastical, no holds barred, whimsical expression of life that asks us to take a look at another human being and to take stock in the wonderful creation before you.

Wonderfully directed by Iñaki Rikarte with images of life that will steal your heart.

And as Dorine stares into nothingness and rubs the bow, a forgotten instrument against the back of her hand, the images on stage jump out for a dramatic impact, of the coat on the cello rack, the mess in the bathroom, soiled linens, sitting alone, hair disheveled, and wearing her clothes backwards, And after trying to overcome the obstacles, André just shrugs his shoulders and escorts her toward the door to venture out, warts and all.   

And the most important feeling that I took with me was that André really loves Dorine and would do anything to help her. And that was a beautiful feeling to take home.

The music by Yayo Cáceres, Music Composer, was very European and very divine.

Other members of this remarkable crew are as follows:

Set Design: Laura Gómez
Light Design:  Carlos Samaniego
Costume Design: Ikerne Giménez
Photographs: Gonzalo Jerez
Music Composer:  Yayo Cáceres
Assistant Director: Rolando San Martín
Technician:  Arturo López

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Paloma by Anne Garcia-Romero


Ethan Rains, Caro Zeller

By Joe Straw

Ghosts are not the visions you see, walking through doors and up staircases; they are the mental images that haunt your every waking moment, the memory of a smile, a feathery pulse of air slipping by your ear, the fragrant scent of a body, the noise of the last words spoken, the lasting images of screaming, ‘sblood on a train, and the recalcitrant history of an event never to be forgotten.   – Narrator

Paloma is a story of images – a narration of good and evil – wound tightly around a not so intense love story – an exordium of love – of love that never was – a distorted figment of a lover’s imagination – and a poetic love of two drawn together by something that could never be – a Catholic woman and a Muslim man.

Surrena Saffari

And here you sit listening to the original and pleasant music of Guitarist: Surenna Saffari, an image, a spotlight on quiet chords that fill the empty spaces of the theatre, finding their way, with no direction but bouncing to their lovingly end destination.

Ibrahim Ahmed (Ethan Rains) casually lying down with a book in hand, “The Ring of the Dove” by Tawa al-Hamámah “El Collar del al Paloma”*, as though he were in a park, listening to his lawyer, Jared Rabinowitz (Jesse Einstein) speak about the not too distant past. Ibrahim is in a lot of trouble and he needs a lawyer, this lawyer.  “Why” – is the first question?

(*“The Ring of the Dove” was written around 1022 by Ibn Hazm, a devout Muslim who wrote on the themes of love, chastity, and restraint.)

Love to fruition – an act that is impossible for these two misguided friends – their love stands at the base of a cliff attempting to reach for the peak.  And in this particular case between a chaste Muslim man and a not so chaste Catholic woman – their love might as well have started at the base of Mount Everest.

The Los Angeles Theatre Center presents the West Coast Premiere of Paloma by Anne Garcia-Romero and directed by Alan Freeman through June 21st, 2015.

Paloma, wonderfully written by Anne Garcia-Romero and is brilliantly executed by Alan Freeman, the director.  Told from a survivor’s perspective this is a story - a despairing reflection - of one who can love but remains chaste because his religion is an unyielding barrier.  And from that chaste perspective, it is at times a deeply disturbing story.

Paloma, the play, is not linear in form.  The action moves from the present to the past.  That reflection is used to define the characters, and the relationships to the end. And from the beginning the audience is presented with little information. We are privy to relationships only when they are given in tiny increments, and some so far in the play, that we are entreated to a final sense of acknowledgement, an enigmatical tranquility, which is indeed poetically painful and tragic.

The setting of the play takes place from 2003 to 2005 in New York City and in various cities in Spain.  Ibrahim Ahmed is speaking with Jared Rabinowitz, his lawyer and they appear to be in the park as he is prostrate on the ground.

Jesse Einstein, Ethan Rains

“Abe,” who prefers to be called Ibrahim, does not want to change his name while he is on the witness stand.  But Rabinowitz suggests this is best given the current nature of Americans’ feelings toward Muslims.

Rabinowitz wants all the information, of Abe and Paloma’s (Caro Zeller) relationship, from the beginning to the end.  

So, the past is revisited in the NYU library where Ibrahim Ahmed and Paloma Flores are studying from “The Ring of the Dove” and the rules on how to love. Abe is studying for his MA in Islamic Studies while Paloma is studying for her MA in World History, but only one will allow a physical relationship. 

They note that Paloma means dove.

“Is that a come on?” – Paloma
Breaking in from time to time Rabinowitz wants to know if Abe told his parents about their relationship.

“No.” – Ibrahim

Meanwhile Paloma wants to know if Abe is religious.  Abe tells her “Yes” and he prays five times a day. (Note: we never see him pray.)

“You’re like a monk...don’t drink? or f*ck?” – Paloma

“No.” - Ibrahim

It is Abe’s recollection that they both decide that Spain would be a good place to go, since it’s cheap, for their study of Islam and world history, and to consummate their love.

Meanwhile Rabinowitz offers another theory – that Paloma, when left alone in the hotel, got on the train, and that’s when the events unfolded.

“Your mother and I know.  God will punish you.” – Ibrahim’s father.

But no matter what Rabinowitz tries, visiting Mosques, trying to talk to the parents, or to church leaders, no one will testify on Ibrahim’s behalf.

Ethan Rains does a marvelous job as Ibrahim Ahmed.  Rains has a disquieting peculiarity in his character, a way about him that is completely realistic and natural on stage. But what is it about the character that appears to be so emotionally unattached after the events in Madrid? The casual lying around, in a hoodie, in the opening moments of the plays says nothing of the preceding events.   It is somewhat curious and odd. He needs to bring in the history of the Madrid bombings as well as provide a representational element, an injury, and/or her necklace, however slight or grand. Ibrahim seems to leave that all behind him, a part of his life that is now done. Rains does an impressive job showing emotions on the witness stand (much to his detriment) but presents unyielding rigidity in his emotional commitment to his true love. Still, Rains’ work is quite arresting. 

Caro Zeller is charming as Paloma, and yet one feels her frustration.  Zeller has a powerful voice and inhabits the character with aplomb. She is a stunning actress that gives a lot of life to the character. Paloma, with her urbane playfulness, is emotional when trying to have her way and getting her lover into bed proves to be her unconquerable obstinacy.  

Jesse Einstein brings a substantial life to Jared Ravinowitz, the attorney who will stop at nothing to give his client a favorable outcome. He has a strong presence on stage and is specific in action and in completing his objective. That said, more needs to be made to define the relationship between him and his client, his friend, for which he provides his service gratis. 

Alan Freeman, the director, does an incredible job with this production. The actors move with precision moving in and out of a moment, going back and forth in time.  

But the opening was slightly frustrating because of Ibrahim’s prone position.

“Got any smokes?” – Ibrahim

One is at a complete loss about the purpose of this moment, especially after Madrid, the loss of a true love, and a civil suit that could destroy his life.  Also, it says little about the relationship between the two and seems attorney/client casual. Also, the scene presented itself like a criminal in a holding cell speaking to his attorney. We don’t get the sense of the place in this scene.  

Also, if the story is from Ibrahim’s perspective, then the scene of Paloma alone in the hotel room must be a figment of someone’s imagination. It is not visibly connected on stage.  The note in the book to Ibrahim, did not play out adequately later in the play.  

One more thing, I loved the bar scene.   

For Anne Garcia-Romero, the writer, this is a very impressive work of art. One is caught off guard by its brilliance, the diverse nature of the characters, and the message it conveys. It is also a tenebrous subject matter of how religion plays a role in diminishing the love of a fully committed couple.  The play also offers a different perspective of the Madrid bombings that killed 192 people - killed for reasons that have never been satisfactorily made clear. The play is beautiful in intention and it also reminds us of the iniquitous nature of the unpleasantness around the world.

Ann Sheffield did an incredible job with the Set Design; a beautiful multi-level set that gave us the wonderful elements of humanity. Megan Hill was the Assistant Set Designer.

Trevor Norton, Lighting Design, presents us with beautiful images and lights that appeared from every direction giving us a sense of place.

Laura Wong, the Costume Designer, presented the actors in the correct time. Her work was marvelous.

Other members of this fabulous crew are as follows:

Raul Staggs – Casting Director
Matt Sweeney – Special Effects Design
Willie Mae Michiels – Stage Manager

Run! Run! And take a friend, better yet a Unitarian Universalist, someone that embraces all religions.  

Reservations:  213-489-0994

Sunday, June 7, 2015

This is a Man’s World by Sal Lopez

Sal Lopez

By Joe Straw

Leaving the theatre after watching “This is a Man’s World” by Sal Lopez I was overcome by a profound sense of sadness that nearly overtook me on the drive home. Clearly, theatre on this night had affected some kind of change, for the better or worse; I’m not sure which.  I suspect it was for the better. – Narrator

Jose Luis Valenzuela, in his introduction, stood on stage and mentioned that Sal Lopez approached him about doing a new show.

“Well, what’s it about?” – Jose Luis Valenzuela

“It’s about being a man.” – Sal Lopez

Jose Luis just stared, thinking back, remembering the image of Sal proudly standing in front of him, the final word of “man” just press forth from his lips. 

Slightly dumfounded, Jose Luis waited for more to come but then realized that that was it.  He paused and questioned the moment and speculated where all of this was going.  “…about being a man”.   He seemed to be saying, “I am a man, you are a man, and we are both men”.  The recognition factor of how being a man might be a show, at this moment, at first glance, did not seem appealing.

Instead Jose Luis just stared, a bottomless vacuous stare.


“Well, um, okay.” – Jose Luis Valenzuela

This is a Man’s World A Candid Coming of Age Story by Sal Lopez, directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela, and produced by The Latino Theatre Company will be playing through June 21, 2015 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.

There is something truly profound about Sal Lopez’s work.  The title says little of what the play is about, “This is a Man’s World”, borrowing a line from James Brown work of art, a song.   Rather it’s about Sal becoming a man and the steps leading to that exalted position in his life.  

And it’s all generated by an aggravated unfortunate event. 

The play starts out with Sal on a hospital bed suffering from after-effects of a stroke following a strenuous workout at Bally’s.  And lying in bed, allows Sal enough time to contemplate the moments, hear the voices, see the shadows, think about the time that passed.  And after losing 6 hours of his life to amnesia, the first thing he thinks is: How did I get here?

The silhouette, behind the curtain, lifted like a caliginous shadow from a corpse, a rising lifeless form, well, nearly dead.  The specter awoke from a deep sleep.

But when Sal came out and threw back the curtains, something happened—the rapport between the actor and audience felt slightly uncomfortable.  And I thought, “Was this “man” thing going to work?” 

That feeling was only temporary as the moments started to gel under Valenzuela’s direction and the night sailed on into Sal’s manhood.

And, why did the night have a dramatic effect on me?

Well, for one, the time frame is familiar to me, growing up in the sixties with the manly images of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan (Tarzan and His Mate 1934) and George Reeve’s Superman (1952) projected on screen.  Those were images that young men saw on TV and identified with at that time.

(Playing Superman and flying off the chest of drawers onto the bed until it broke was not unheard of in our house.)

Secondly, Sal had seven brothers, (all who were there in the audience that night) and with a house full of boys, someone was bound to get into some kind of trouble.    

And three, we can all identify and have an emotional attachment to the time you got your first car and the first time you fell in love, and the moment we first made contact with your forever love.    

And as life progresses, something changes when you get married and have your first child; you say the wrong thing at the very wrong time, something that you can never take back; you have let down your first born and they give you that look that you never forget, ever. 

These are the first things, the first notion, that what you say, as a man, has a dramatic effect on those around you. And these are the first steps, in a long line of steps,  of recognizing what it means to be a man.   

But just when you think you've got a lock on it all, there are the moments when you recognize what a real man was like, remembering your dad—a hard disciplinarian one day, the brave dad who saves the day when you are in trouble, or the proud dad who visits you on your set, and sadly, the dad who leaves you without saying his final goodbye.

Sal Lopez, the writer and the actor, did an exceptional job.  Lopez has an unquestionable appeal and is infinitely enlightening.  With fluidly he moves about the stage inhabiting the characters with fantastic precision. The characters are specific, each and everyone, and the moments are captivating, especially when one looks into his eyes as he pauses to think on stage. And in this very intimate space, you get Sal Lopez, up close and personal.

One cannot help but have tremendous admiration for Jose Luis Valenzuela’s directorial work and how he makes things work almost seamlessly on stage.  One can be sure; the night will be filled, not only with significant drama but, dance and music as well. 

That said, one might question how the opening and the almost-drowning scenes did not tie in convincingly to the story being told. The drowning scene took us away from the moment that had been running smoothly until then.  The opening is a little trickier in that the actor has to tie in the reason why he is speaking to us, how he wants to tell us that it is a man’s world, and how he wants to convince us of that fact.

At the end of the day, the short journey of life, one has to contemplate the journey and decide whether one has made a significant impact to those around you, that you did enough for humankind, and that you did not hurt too many people along the way.  And Jose Luis, gives us the answers, and ties it all together with a brilliant ending, a proud moment that lifts the audience to their feet.  

Yee Eun Nam was responsible for the Set & Projection Design. Ivan Robles created the Sound Design.  Phillip W. Powers did an exceptional job with the Lighting Design.  And Urbanie Lucero was responsible with the Costume Design.

The Stage Manager was Henry “Heno” Fernandez.

Run! Run! And take someone who loves comic books.  There are a lot of heroes in this one.

Reservation:  213-489-0994

Thursday, May 28, 2015

An L.A. Journey – The Story of Lorenzo Alfredo by Emmanuel Deleage & Lorenzo Alfredo

By Joe Straw

Sometimes, you just don’t know, you don’t know how you got here because people, family, are not wiling to talk, to give their accounts of what exactly happened, how they arrived in this country, their perspective.  

Maybe concealing is a way of keeping you safe and in this country, your family safe, your friends safe, your loved ones safe.

They both came in the early 1900’s, and lived in the San Joaquin valley, working the fields, and had a son, Jose.  His mother got sick, possibly of tuberculosis, died within a matter of months, at the ripe old age of 18, in 1919. His father chose to move on to greener pastures. Jose, the infant, was given away, to a relative, or a friend, someone whispered, and that friend Americanized his name to Joe.

It’s like a whisper, the game you played when you were a kid, from ear to ear, bits and pieces of information that gets lost in the telling.  And so it goes. And so it goes. – Narrator

Casa 0101 presents An L.A. Journey The Story of Lorenzo Alfredo written by Emmanuel Deleage & Lorenzo Alfredo and directed by Emmanuel Deleage through June 7th, 2015.

If one were going to make to movie of this play, it would have to be in Cinemascope because of the large cast and landscape. And Jesus Eduardo Magaña, Paulina Bouyer-Magana, and JJ Paredes, the Projection Designers, certainly gives us the scope of the landscape by the projections on the walls.  The projections authentically give us the look of these locations.  The characters in the play performed in front of the projections, which were very appealing and fun to watch.

An L.A. Journey is the story of an eight-year-old boy Lorenzo (Olin Tonatiuh) who lost his mother and father. His grandmother took care of him, and when she could not do it anymore, Lorenzo was on his own.

Lorenzo—a K’iche Indian, Mayan—went to the city to find a place to work and live. 

Hungry, Lorenzo runs into Olivia (Blanca Melchor), a rather crusty, unhappily married woman, who recognizes the usefulness of a small boy to help her with selling of tortillas.  She invites him home to sleep on the couch.  Olivia tells him that it is only temporary until her husband, Jorge (Felix I. Hernandez), comes back home from wherever and whomever he is sleeping or drinking with.

Lorenzo, happy to have a roof over his head, gets up early and hits the streets to sell tortillas. 

When Jorge arrives and finds Lorenzo, he doesn’t want him there; still he sees the value of Lorenzo helping around the house and lets him stay.

Things are suddenly unhappy at home.  Jorge is drinking and abusing Olivia.  They really don’t get along.  One night, Olivia tells Lorenzo that she is leaving Jorge for a boyfriend who is now living in New York and she will take him with her if he wants to go.

Well, Lorenzo doesn’t like Jorge and keeps Olivia’s secret until it is the time for them to go.  Lorenzo says goodbye to his little friend, Rosita (Kathy Pedraza).  And, in the dead of night, Lorenzo and Olivia start their journey to El Norte.

Olivia tells Lorenzo, they are traveling, as mother and son and she wants him to call her “mom” until they get into the United States. Unfortunately, Olivia doesn’t have that much money, and she is also not that smart when it comes to dealing with other people along the path to El Norte.

At first glance, An L.A. Journey The Story of Lorenzo Alfredo by Emmanuel Deleage and Lorenzo Alfredo seems like a wonderful story.  One is very hard pressed to pass up a story about a boy 8 years old trying to get to Los Angeles.  

A couple of things: one, the title should say “The True Story of Lorenzo Alfredo” because everyone likes a true story.

Secondly, it should be Lorenzo's story and not the story of others around him.  During the course of the play, we lose sight of the cause, the boy, and the travel.  While the focus of the writing might change when introducing new characters, the characters should be introduced from Lorenzo’s perspective because it is his story.  This is not a story about Olivia; rather it is the story of how Olivia is perceived through the eyes of a young boy.  The same holds true of the other characters that enter Lorenzo’s life.

This is a difficult task for a young actor to carry.

But the writing has some problems because of what Radio DJ (Angel Lizarraga) reveals as he tells the story to Caller (Erick Chajon). 

In any case, if it is from the perspective of Radio DJ, then the story, as told on stage, should have been more precise, the journey fraught with more peril, and the passage more linear so that the characters are not traveling around in circles. No one likes to see an excursion in circles unless it is done to comic effect.

Carmelo Alvarez does an exceptional job with the character Hector and moves over into the dark side with the Money Exchanger.

Yolanda Gonzales also contributes mightily with portrayals of Dona Mare, and Grandmother. Her work was very enjoyable.

Felix I. Hernandez is outstanding as Jorge.  He has a strong voice and a strong stage presence and I hope to see him in other plays.

Aurelio Medina does some really nice work as Spicy, the coyote, that brings Lorenzo to the United States. Medina fits right into the role and has a very nice look on stage. One particularly likes the idea that Spicy will go to great lengths to provide for those who need his help, including using a helicopter. (If only the boy had expressed joy in that scene.)

Blanca Melchor as Olivia plays angry most of her time on stage.  This is not an interesting choice when there are so many other actions that would help the character. Angry doesn’t get a character anywhere but having a strong objective will take an actor on an incredible journey.  

Olin Tonatiuh is Lorenzo and has a very tough role in that he is on the stage most of the time.  Olin has a very good look and also has much to learn on his thespian journey.

There was some nice singing from Lorenzo Alfredo, the writer/actor, in this play.

Kathy Pedraza is very lovely as lovely Rosita.

The other actors filling out the roles are Erick Chajon, Angel Lizarraga, Estuardo Muñoz, Noemi Pedraza, Sharon Robles, Yocani Tonatiuh, and Katie Ventura.

Casa 0101 has a beautiful and spacious theatre.  The idea of having original works of Latino themed plays is a good one.  This is segment of Los Angeles actors that are ignored in Hollywood.  But now, at CASA 0101, they are showcased, up on their feet creating art, and by all means that is a good thing.  

I, for one, would like to see Roger’s and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” done with an all Latino cast, complete with great Latino voices, great Latino actors and musicians.  

But, that dream aside, the script needs more work.  This is tough to do when the director and one of the writers, Emmanuel Deleage, are one in the same. In this case the writers, director and the producer should contribute to the making of a play.   Also, the actors need to work harder to find their place and their light in their craft.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Edward Padilla – Producer
Rafael O. Calderon – Producer
Josefina López – Founding Artistic Director of CASA 0101
Abel Alvarado – Costume Designer –Very nice work.
César Retana-Holguín – Set Designer
Cristina “Crispy” Carillo-Dono – Assistant Stage Manager
Ed Krieger – Publicity Photographer
Jorge Villanueva – Light Board Operator
Jules Bronola – Assistant Stage Manager
Juanita Gina Medina – Stage Manager
Mark Kraus – Webmaster
Matthew Sanchez – Props Master
Maura McGuinness – Lighting Designer
Ramon “Rooster” Cabrera – Assistant Stage Manager
Sohail e. Najafi – Technical Director
Miguel Carachure – Assistant Stage Manager
Steve Moyer Public Relations
Vincent Sanchez   - Sound Designer

Run!  And take someone who likes to whisper in your ear, over and over again, “I crossed. He cruzado la frontera.”  

Box office:  323-263-7684

Email tickets: