Sunday, September 27, 2015

In Love and Warcraft by Madhuri Shekar

L - R Jessica Jade Andres, Rosie Naraski, Eddie Vona, Michael Barnum and Justin H. Min - Photo Credit: M. Palma Photography
By Joe Straw

I’m going to make about as true a statement as I can: College football and this show have what in common? Okay, that isn’t a statement but a question, and one that deserves an answer, only later. - Narrator

Artists at Play in association with The Latino Theater Company present the west coast premiere of In Love and Warcraft by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Alejandra Cisneros September 19 – October 11, 2015 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center on Spring Street in Los Angeles, California.

There are two things that make my eyes glass over quickly.  Number one is an auto enthusiast talking about auto repairs and number two is computer geeks talking about computer games.

For now let’s block off car repairs and move that aside.

So, why my interest in seeing this play? Well, there is a commonality between this show and college football. Both college football and the play feature college adults living, working and surviving.  The setting is ripe with conflict, new relationships, making silly mistakes, and learning from those mistakes.   

My reason for attending is that simple.

In Love and Warcraft, written by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Alejandra Cisneros, is a marvelous show with some very exceptional and diverse performers giving us multiple characters that marvelously inhabit their space. There are a lot of laughs and a lot of quality acting, more than you see on television these days and that’s a good thing.

It turns out that Warcraft is a real game created by Blizzard Entertainment, first released November 23, 1994, and now a franchise of video games and novels.

And now it is evolving from TV to interactive computer games, and then back to the theatre. Funny, that’s full circle, and lots of fun.  

This is a story of boy meets girl, kinda.  Girl meets another boy because boy lost girl, well sort of.  Girls dumps boy because she’s lonely, not really.  Girl hasn’t had a date in a while so girl steals already taken boy, well sort of.  Real life played like a computer game with various realities and choices. All in all, they are Avatars.

Avatar:  A graphical representation of the player’s character.  

Evie (Rosie Narasaki) and Ryan are Warcraft virtual girlfriend and boyfriend.  Evie, a college student, makes money writing love letters for other college students that haven’t learned the art of written communication.  And Ryan is an out of work young man living in his parents’ basement in San Diego, going to the top of nowhere.  

Kitty (Jessica Jade Andres), Evie’s spunky tart girlfriend, wants to breakup with her boyfriend.  Oh, it’s all for the best.  She’s ready to move on and search for another victim, boyfriend, all in the quest of fulfilling her dramatic and unquantifiable physical needs.   

Evie, ready for work, waits for Raul (Justin H. Min), so that she can write a love letter for him.  Unfortunately for Evie, Raul turns out to be the hunk she has been waiting for all of her life. 

That’s IRL (in real life), not virtual.  But never mind that, there’s work to be done. Evie is a Healer.

Healer:  Spellcasters with the power to heal other players.

Raul wants to get back with his girlfriend of two years because making up is so much fun.  So Evie, with her literary powers, composes a nice letter for him.  (Funny but I didn’t see payment exchange hands.) 

Justin H. Min, Rosie Narasaki

Later, Evie and Ryan go on a virtual date. Given the circumstances of this long distant relationship, two hours away is about as romantic as they are going to get. Also, Evie has certain physical issues.

Kitty advises Evie that her relationship with Ryan is a lose/lose situation and sending him money is not the way to show affection.  

“You could do better.” - Kitty

The next day, Raul bumps into Evie and says that he didn’t give the letter to his ex-girlfriend because “none of it was true.” And then Raul asks Evie out for a real date, not a virtual one, and Evie accepts. 

Excited Evie runs off to see her Latino gay haircutter, dresser, barber (Eddie Vona as Male).  Male, in his Spanish accent, flits over her like a fly over raw hamburger meat, making her feel the best she can be, all the while going into graphic details of his sexual conquest the night before.    

And after Evie leaves, Female (Cheryl Umaña), in her best Puerto Rican Spanish, recounts her obnoxious date, who shows up late, wearing cheap cologne, putting his hands all over her and himself, and then exploding all over her new jeans.  All this in great details while Male meekly sweeps up.  But Male doesn’t understand anything she is saying. He doesn’t speak Spanish.  Female says it’s all about being authentic.   

Later Evie has a real date with Raul. And Evie remains not interested in sex even after dating for a month.  Although Raul wants more to the relationship, he is willing to wait.

Evie thinks there is something wrong with her vagina so she visits her doctor (Cheryl Umaña) and after a lot of exploration the doctor finds…

Artists at Play (AAP) are a collective of Asian American creative professionals who curate quality theatre in Los Angeles. Truth be told, In Love and Warcraft is as fine example of a theatrical outing as you will find in Los Angeles. 

AAP is filled with exceptional talent. The production has a cast of six but with costume and character changes, it seemed like there were ten or twelve actors on stage.

Jessica Jade Andres is exceptional as Kitty and is able to take that life to extremes. Kitty is witty, oversexed, and has an extremely charming personality. Andres pulls off an amazing physical life for Kitty.

Cheryl Umaña is also exceptional playing a variety of characters.  Her Spanish is top rate and her ability to create differing characters offers this show a lot of creativity. Umaña is an amazing talent and one hopes to see more of her in future shows.

Eddie Vona, Cheryl Umaña

Eddie Vona is also excellent, especially as the barber where one is just stupefied by the things coming out of his mouth.  This small bit is a great showcase for an actor with incredible talent and the ability to create a fantastic multi-level character.

Justin H. Min is Raul the main love interest who gets himself into a lot of trouble in the end.  The character may be too nice as he waits for his companion to come around. There is more to this character, not wanting to wait, dying inside, and demonstrating humorous conflict with no bounds, while he’s waiting. Min has a great look and a very nice presence on stage. He is an actor with a natural flair and should do very well in this industry.

Michael Barnum plays Ryan.  It’s hard to see him when he is stuck on the second level looking on his computer speaking geek. But there is a special quirkiness to his character when he appears on the first level and he does some fine work.

Rosie Narasaki played Evie on the night I was there.  She did some interesting work but she needs to find the core of the character.  Her character is caught between two worlds, the virtual and the real life world.  In the virtual world, she can be anyone, do anything, and be as sexual as she wants to be.  But in the real world, she thinks something is wrong with her sexually and her ability to connect with other living beings.  So much so, that she visits a doctor to find out what is wrong with her parts.  Never once does she consider counseling.  Naytheless, Narasaki must put a definitive stamp on her virtual world, and then deeply explore her real life hang-ups via the inner and physical life of the character. Still, this is not a bad job.

Other members in the cast who did not perform the night I was there are Anita Kalathara (Evie), Ruffy Landayan (Male), Jake Matthews (Raul, Ryan) and Brenda Perez (Kitty, Female).

Alejandra Cisneros, the Director, has an impressive list of actors in Warcraft and she makes full use of the two-level stage.  At times, the show plays like a teen sitcom, but moves beyond with the adult humor. It would be nice to find a way to get the character Ryan out of the rafters and on to the playing floor so that we can make more of his performance.  For the most part, the virtual world was handled in the manner of a real world situation and one thinks there should be a clear distinction. The manner of how Evie feels in a real world situation versus a virtual world should be clearer.   We see that late in the show, but by then it is too late. That note aside, Cisneros does a fine job.

Madhuri Shekar, Playwright, has written an exceptional play. In reality, the virtual world has only tapped a small part of our collective imagination but in Warcraft, Shekar manages to show us how much crazier real life is as opposed to a virtual life.  That said, Warcraft is an exceptional idea that can even go further in its distinction between real and virtual life.  Also, and just a note about the play, it is unclear why two characters in the show are named “Male” and “Female”. All characters in a professional outing should have names. That aside, the writing is superior and the night was exciting.

Art Betanzos, Set Designer, provides a very workable set very similar to teen sitcoms on television.

Magdalena Guillen, Costume Designer, along with Estrella Fernandez, Asst. Costume Designer, does fantastic work especially with the Warcraft costumes.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Anthony Aguilar – Lighting Designer
Iris Zacarias – Sound Designer
Sasha Monge – Property Master, Asst. Set Designer
Jonathan Castanien – Stage Manager
Brandon Cheng – Production Manager
Chloe Haack – Asst. Stage Manager
Julia Cho – Producing Artistic Leader
Stefanie Lau – Producing Artistic Leader
Marie-Reine Velez – Producing Artistic Leader
Nicholas Pilapil – Producer

Members of the LATC crew are as follows:
Jose Luis Valenzuela – Artistic Director
Lori Zimmerman – Interim Gereral Manager
Dr. Chantal Rodriguez – Programming Director

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who loves UCLA football!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mojada A Medea in Los Angeles – A New Adaptation by Luis Alfaro

Justin Huen, Sabina Zuniga Varela

By Joe Straw

“Thy words be gentle:  but I fear me yet
Lest even now there creep some wickedness
Deep within thee.” – Creon – Euripides’s Medea

“Oh, I have tried so many thoughts of murder to my turn,
I know not which best likes me.  Shall I burn
Their house with fire?  Or stealing past unseen
To Jason’s bed – I have a blade made keen
For that-stab, breast to breast, that wedded pair?...

I love the old way best, the simple way
Of poison, where we too are strong as men.” – Medea - Euripides’s Medea

Mojada A Medea in Los Angeles, a new adaptation by Luis Alfaro and directed by Jessica Kubzansky, is being performed through October 3, 2015 at the picturesque Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa.  The Theatre @ Boston Court marvelously produces this show. 

Mojada is a perfect show for this venue given the 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities that inhabit the museum.  The open-air amphitheater (with cushions for seating) is how one would expect to see a Greek play and, in an imagined vision, of how the Greeks saw Euripides’s Medea, when first produced in 431 BCE in Athens, Greece.

Luis Alfaro’s Mojada A Medea in Los Angeles stands alone in its exquisite beauty. Alfaro’s adaptation is remarkable in the manner of its flow and ebb; the method in which exhausted souls speak a profound truth, of survival, of seeking a better life, and then pushing that life to the edge of a hideous precipice.  In short, Alfaro’s adaptation is a different Medea as well as one that stands uniquely on its own merits. 

This is a tragic story of the end of a relationship.  

Tita (VIVIS) slaps the leaves, to the sounds of the blended noises, the false gossipy whispers, which are the backdrop rumblings and clatters of living souls surviving in Boyle Heights.  And in her indigenous language, Tita places a protective shield to the corners of their home against those forces known and unknown.  

Living in Boyle Heights is almost a fantasy for this family and one that defies comprehension. Dreamlike, the house floats in out of nowhere, carried on spirit wheels, mightily pushed by the indigenous people who anchor it to the terra firma while various plants propagate on the porch. 

And Medea (Sabina Zuniga Varela) methodically rolls her sewing machine to her special place, just off the porch, and focuses her sights on the right color of thread.  

One more thing, Medea is not moving far from home.

“Hason’s dream was to come here.” – Medea

It is a dream of bitterest contradictions, of her husband, Hason (Justin Huen), who manages to find work late at night, most nights, and comes home infrequently.  When he does come home, he drinks beer, spits on the ground in polite company, and kicks the soccer ball down the street for his son, Acan (Quinn Marquez), to chase. It is how all Americans behave, he tells himself, in a selfish act of assimilation.

But, despite the grumblings, life appears happy, in this home, a family, complete with the ever present and annoying servant, Tita, someone who gives a humorous respite to the daily grind of surviving in Boyle Heights, doing the dishes and bringing them beer.  

Medea, the artist, an independent contractor, receives $8.00 for each item she sews that is then sold for $120.00 at Bloomindales.  Even with both working, there’s not enough to go around and adequately support the family.

Not while Hason is out and about most nights.  

That aside, on this day, Hason suggests they go for a family outing to the Santa Monica Pier.  Medea says there’s too much work, gets sick and goes inside.

“Hason did not come home last night.” – Tita

Leave it to Tita and her outspoken thoughts to stir up trouble between Medea and Hason.

Moving away, Tita grabs the machete, an augury, foreshadowing events to be played out, but for now she trims the banana plant.  

A short while later, Josefina (Zilah Mendoza) seductively blows into this family like an unwanted boa – offering more than just pan dulce – in exchange for confabulation, juicy gossip, and a new dress.

“I know Hanson…Is he a good lover?” – Josie

Josefina is very provocative and Medea is curious about the things Hason tells other women on the street. But Josefina says she has a husband, he works in the field in Oregon, and she longs for her own prodigy.

Initially, Medea sees Josefina, with her fine figure, as a threat to her family.  That threat is relieved when Josefina appeals to Medea’s sewing nature to make her a new dress so that a newly Americanized “Josie” can be reintroduce to her husband, enticing him into bed, and becoming pregnant herself.

“Tita is a curandera, she can help.” – Medea

Josie steps onto a box in the middle of the yard to be measured. And while this is happening, Tita takes three leaves and medicinally places them over the various erogenous zones of her body.   

Later, and in the quiet moments, Medea silently broods about the events of the day and waits for Hason to come home.  She takes out a blanket and entices Hason to make love with her in the front yard. Hason, confused, suddenly become agreeable until Medea suddenly stops and says she can’t.

Hason understands this thing between them.

“Armida gave me another promotion.  I work in the office with her.” – Hason

Medea is slightly curious about the developing relationship between them but Hason tells her that she should be grateful since Armida (Marlene Forte) is letting them stay in their house for free.  

It’s a grand place considering where they came from four years earlier.

L - R Justin Huen, Quinn Marquez, Sabina Zuniga Varela, VIVIS

And so we travel to their journey four years earlier, as Tita recounts fleeing Michoacán to Boyle Heights in the back of a truck, where at times they were unable to breath.  The journey was difficult and at one point the truck was held up at gunpoint.

And while Hason had a gun pointed to his head, Medea and another young woman were taken off the truck and raped.  

The Getty Villa is the perfect place to see this play and, aside from the heat on this particular night, the night was as enjoyable as any night of theatre I can remember.

That said, Alfaro’s adaptation is night to Euripides’s day and comparisons must be made. And, I have some thoughts, slight tidbits, off the cuff comments about the play, the comparisons, and the actors.

Alfaro’s work is beautiful and there are interesting distinctions between his work and Euripides’ play. For example, in Euripides’ Medea, Medea is caught in the circumstances of being a woman, a sorceress at that, who is cast aside and then projected as being evil. Her dialogue suggests such and the manner in which she conducts herself is not becoming of someone who has all of her wits about her. It is a role that justifies a stronger physical Medea.

Alfaro’s Medea is unable to leave the house, suffering from a type of agoraphobia. She is timid, not forceful, and we are led to believe that this might be because of the rape when in fact it is something deeper.  There is a stronger inner dialogue moving in this Medea trying to make sense of all that is happening around her. 

In Alfaro’s version, the rape scene works against the strength of both Medea and Hason.  Certainly one is led to believe that Medea is now extremely fragile and terrified due to the rape and Hason is emasculated from having to let an armed bandits take his wife.  

And it may have been Alfaro’s intention to not make the characters resilient as they are in Euripides’s Medea where Medea is forcefully strong in her ways and Jason (adventurous, strong, and of the Argonauts fame) is strong in his manner, thus making for an ending that is grander in amplitude.    

Instead, since both characters are fragile, the events of the dramatic ending are lessened; the tragedy may not be as great and they are the victims once again by the manner of their position and circumstances.

In Alfaro’s Mojada, we do not see Medea thinking out loud on stage, calling for desperate measures and action as we do in Euripides’ Medea.  The moments in Mojada are nuanced and profound in subtle ways.

Medea is wronged repeatedly and one would like to see the dramatic moments accumulate in the character, emotional and physically into a frenzied state of rage. The inner dialogue is stronger, but that needs a physical accompaniment especially for the ending because Medea must get some satisfaction for what she has done, in whatever form it takes, but there was little in the way of a physical action, before the leaves, and before the final curtain. 

Nevertheless, it was a grand night for director Jessica Kubzansky’s presentation that manages to capture the dramatic essence of Medea guiding the characters through their miserable indignities to capture a truth. The loudest audible gasp of the night did not come from the brutal scenes but from a word, simply spoken, that collapses a home into a crumbling mass that was once a family. And that is a true testament to Kubzansky’s work.  

VIVIS as Tita give us a grand performance as the non-obsequious servant/mother/nurse to Medea.  Her characterization is flawless and her humor is exquisite.

Justin Huen plays Hason and is probably one of the hardest working actor in Los Angeles (everywhere I go, there he is). That said, Huen’s Hason is not different from the other roles I’ve seen him in. They are well-performed variations of the same character.  This characterization is weakened by the play’s tragic events of four years ago and Huen needs to ways to give the character strength.  More can be added to the character without taking away from this fine performance.

Sabina Zuniga Varela plays Medea, a mother and homemaker, who is hesitant to stray too far from her house.   In this version, Medea hides her mystery well – coming out to show her true colors at the end of the play.  Medea is concerned about her husband’s philandering ways but doesn’t do much to keep him. Only when the marriage is over does she step into opprobrious actions that are beyond reason. Varela’s Medea has her faculties about herself.  We do not see the feverish agitation in her behavior from those events leading to the complete disillusion of their union. And for some reason, I think we need that.

Quinn Marques does a fine comic turn as Acan, Medea’s and Hanson’s son.

Zilah Mendoza is perfect as Josefina, the pan dulce lady, who carefully watches her Boyle Heights neighbors including the men with wandering eyes who visit her stand.  Despite that, she says she only has eyes for her husband.  Not satisfied with her shibboleth, the indigenous dress of her native land, she enlists Medea to make her a new dress, one that will keep her husband home and get her pregnant. Unfortunately, she gets mixed up with the wrong people and when she finally finds out who Medea is she should run, absquatulate into the nether region of Boyle Heights, away rather than casually walk away as she did.  Still, it was a very impressive performance.  

L - R Marlene Forte, VIVIS

Marlene Forte brings the right amount of vivaciousness to the character Armida.  She lives a secret, a conflict that tears her apart in the telling of the secret.  And as she marches upstage in the beautiful dress Medea has made for she we should see an inkling of things that come. Forte gives a subtle yet marvelous performance.

Other member of the cast that I did not see perform the night I was there were; Anthony Gonzalez (Acan), Denise Blasor (Tita/Armida understudy), Presciliana Esparolini (Medea/Josefina understudy) and Adrian Gonzalez (Hason understudy).

The fine people who make up the marvelous crew are as follows:

Jaclyn Kalkhurst – Stage Manager
Alyssa Escalante – Assistant Stage Manager
Efren Delgadillo, Jr. – Scenic Designer/Technical Director
Raquel Barreto – Costume Design
Ben Zamora – Lighting Design
Bruno Louchouarn – Sound Design
Christopher Scott Murillo – Properties Design
Cheryl Rizzo - Production Manager
Cat Sowa - Assistant Production Manager
Rachel Clinkscales - Assistant Costume Designer
Courtney Buchan - Assistant Director
Ellen L. Sandor - Wardrobe
Bobby Gutierrez - Running Crew
The members of The Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater Staff make everyone feel at home.  Some of the names mentioned in the program are as follows:

Laurel Kishi – Performing Arts Manager
Ralph Flores – Project Specialist
Anna Woo – Project Coordinator
Mary Louise Hart – Dramaturge
Shelby Brown – Education Specialist
Adrienne Wohleen, Paradigm Shift Worldwide – Technical Coordinator
Steph Dirden, Heather Alvear, Michael Easley, and Bill King – Technical Production
Visitor Services Department – House Management
Diana Sanchez Martinez – Public Programs Intern

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who wants to have the best time of their life. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dorothy’s Adventures in Oz – Book, Words and Music by Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo


By Joe Straw

“Those horrid things they call men, whether black or white, seem to me the lowest of all created beasts.” – Miss Chim – The Woggle-Bug Book by L. Frank Baum

My daughter and I, needing a diversion after church, decided to go to the Santa Monica Playhouse to find a live theatrical presentation.

The Santa Monica Playhouse, located near the 3rd Street Promenade, has three or four theatres and there is always something for everyone, adults and children alike, so I suggested we go and see a happening. Life imitates theatre, or the other way around, but this time she was in agreement, and there was no grousing.

When we got there, we discovered a children’s show and being fans of the Wizard of Oz we settled on “Dorothy’s Adventures in Oz” by Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo, directed by Chris DeCarlo with Serena Dolinsky.

I’m not sure what that means: “directed by Chris DeCarlo with Serena Dolinsky.”  Did Serena direct it or have a hand in directing it?  Why doesn’t it say directed by Chris DeCarlo and Serena Dolinsky for the love of God?

(Credits can sometimes be a painstaking endeavor with someone always getting the short shift.)   

The play takes place in 1905 on a small farm in Kanasa (This is the name as it appears in the program and I’m not sure if this is a typo.) and on the road to Oz.

Uncle Henry (Aaron Burns) has lost the farm, once again, or is about to lose it, because there is no water; no rain, not a drop, and the crops are dying. And it is up to an energetic Dorothy Gale (Kate Burleigh Huerta), from Kanasa, to go back to Oz and save the drought stricken farm.

(Funny that it has a theme we can all identify here in California at this given moment, given our drought situation.)

This Dorothy is a little long in the tooth….

(Hold on a minute Toto, this is a children’s show. Don’t belittle the actors.)

(Later we find that she is indeed supposed to be older, she is an adult now. But still wearing the same dress?  How does that happen?)

Look, I’m a little fed up saving the crops, the chickens, the horses and the farm.  I’m an adult now and have little to show for it, except this run down farm, a geezer for an uncle, and also, my biological clock is ticking and there is not a man on the horizon!

But now, given the drought situation, Dorothy is on a mission to go back to Oz where it all happened and try to bring water to the desolate landscape. An electrical storm (somehow) throws her back into the land of, well on the road to Oz, and some rather peculiar misfits.

The consortium of characters, a mix-up of Oz characters from various L. Frank Baum books, will either help her or hinder her.  And isn’t that always the case.

And then she meets Shaggy Man. A man, shaggy.

Not even a healthy lookin’ man.  Why can’t I have a normal boyfriend?  Someone who sees me for me? Likes me for me.  That sounds ridiculously redundant, anyway.

The love magnet does not play an important role here where love is concerned.  (We definitely need more love in this production.)  

Shaggy Man (Aaron Burns), covered in tattered cloth, is a single man who, unattached and available, appears as dry as a bone.  His threadbare clothes have seen little water.  His worn clothes, in need of a good washing, are now in just shreds, tatty, and clipped. And all pieces are hanging on by the strangest of strands. It’s a bit peculiar, but he looks awfully like Uncle Henry.  Still,  he promises to help her on her quest. And the only thing he has is a jeweled crown to give to Dorothy, to protect her? Or, bring the rain? One is not sure.

Polychrome (Megan Combes) helps out in her fashion as well as a mixed up Queen Ann (Lauren Holiday).  H.R. Wogglebug (Casey Maher) is also along for the ride as well as Ping (Mary Ann Pianka) who has very long fingers with very little to touch.

Queen Coo-ee-oh (Adya Mohanty) presented a fine figure and has a very lovely voice.

This show is for children, very small at that.  It is a diversion and a good one for very small children.

But, saying that, this show needs clarity and mostly clarity of objectives because in the end no one gets anything and that’s not something you want in any show, including a children’s show. And what this show needs is a perspective so that the kids are glued to their seats in rapt attention.

But what does this all mean?

Well, the characters need somewhere to go, each fighting for their own piece of the pie. For example, and for comparison, the Scarecrow needs a brain, Tin Man needs a heart, the Cowardly Lion needs the courage, and Dorothy needs to find her way back home.

But in this version of “Dorothy…” Shaggy Man needs what?  He is a character whose philosophy of life is love, love, love, and he also has a strange repugnance to material possessions. One saw little of that in Aaron Burns interpretation.  

One is not sure what Polychrome needs, or how she goes about getting it. She is a fairly who dances to keep warm, and uses her magic to help, but little of this is seen in this rendition.  Her father left her at the end of the rainbow stuck on earth. But given that, how does she use this to help Dorothy on her journey?   

H. R. Wogglebug (Casey Maher) is a bug.  Wogglebug wears colorful clothes, and has a rather distasteful view of anything human, and is looking for what? And, how does she get it. And how does she help Dorothy on her journey?

And what in the world could Queen Coo-ee-oh (Adya Mohanty) be wanting? 

And what about the girl with the long fingers Ping (Mary Ann Pianka) who is under some kind of evil spell but manages to get out?  What in the heck does she want? 

And what has all of this got to do with rain in Kanasa?

That said, there are some very lovely voices in this show Kate Burleigh Huerta has got a wonderful voice as does Adya Mohanty, well beyond her young years, beautiful and earthly. They are well worth the price of admission.

But the key to making this show work to greater satisfaction is for the actors to define the relationships and to creatively strengthen their objectives, guided by the directors “Chris DeCarlo with Serena Dolinksy”.  

The road, in this production, was not hard to travel, and the conflict was not that great. Still, my 11 year old enjoyed herself and got a great deal from watching the production.

Other members of the cast that did not perform the day I was there are as follows:

Molly Gillman – Auntie Em/Patches/Ozma
Rachel Galper – Queen Coo-ee-oh
Cydne Moore – Swing for everybody
Gray Silbert – Uncle Henry, Shaggy Man

The songs by Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo are lovely.

Ashley Hayes did an incredible job as Costume Design.  George J. Vennes III was the Technical Director.  James Cooper was responsible for the Lighting and Set Design.  The Attic Room was responsible for the Graphic and Sound Design (I’m sure there are names responsible for that work.) Sandra Zeitzew is the Public Relation Director.  

This show will be running through Halloween 2015.

Santa Monica Playhouse® 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401
p: 310.394.9779; e:
a 501(c) (3) non-profit educational corporation

Monday, August 24, 2015

Disney Beauty and the Beast Jr. – Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, Book by Linda Woolverton

L - Austin Carney, Samantha Spector, Marabel Armstrong

By Joe Straw

During the production of Xanadu I walked into the Veterans Auditorium and waited and for my daughter’s rehearsal to finish.  I found a seat in the back part of the auditorium, pulled out my iphone, and mindlessly browsed Facebook.

Above the ruckus of the children’s chatter - getting final instructions - someone announced, a birthday!  And a few flashes later, the kids broke out into song.

I raised my eyes from the phone because the song was as though the heavens had parted.  Never had I heard “Happy Birthday” sung this way.

I believe the best sound in the world is the sound of children singing.  Tender on the ears and with so many beautiful harmonies it touched a chord within that stays with me today.

And I wondered to myself: Are these dee-Lightful performers that exceptional?  Or, and, am I witnessing a once in a lifetime event? Time will tell.  – Narrator.  

The summer is officially over for dee-Lightful.

And don’t tell anyone but there’s a lot of little theatres who would have loved to have had the multitudes that come to see a dee-Lightful production.  The lobby was incredibly packed for each performance and there’s hardly any room to breath.

The first show produced was Into The Woods, Jr., by James Lapin, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, based on classic fairy tales, which was showcased May 14-16th 2015, and hundreds came.

Into The Woods cast

Then there was Xanadu, Jr., Book by Douglas Carter Beane, Music and Lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, Based on the Universal Pictures Film with a screenplay by Richard Danus and Marc Rubel. That show took place July 9 – 11th, 2015, and again hundreds more.

And finally Disney Beauty and the Beast, Jr., Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, August 12th – 15th, 2015. There seemed like thousands.

The performances were held at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in collaboration with the Culver City Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Service.  And the Music Theatre International, Broadway Jr. Division, made all of the performances possible.

All the shows were directed by the multi-talented Dolores Aguanno and each show, in their own special way, found a special place in my being.

But, my favorite was Beauty and the Beast. 

L - Ben Hilsberg, Samantha Spector

Of course, Ms. Aguanno doesn’t do it alone; there are a number of people on board to wrangle fifty or so small performers that range in ages from 8 to 15 years old. And the end result is just remarkable; beautiful voices, wonderful harmonies, and movement on stage that is second to none.

This is a craft learned and sometimes it is in small increments.  And those fine folks instrumental in helping small children learn the art of singing and dancing are Christine Barocio, Giana Bommarito, Cindera Che, Chris Clark, Chloe Cohen, Natalie D’Amico, Lily Fanali, Nick Freedson, Ben Hilsberg, Merrick Padilla, Carly Shiever, Mila Tigay, Mica Williams and Allegra Williams who is the Choreographer.

And, you would not believe the results.

(There are also a lot of volunteers working behind the scene making sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible. And anyone with a moment to spare is welcome to help)

One of the amazing things about a Dolores Aguanno production is that everyone gets stage time, and even the smallest role is featured, if only for a brief moment. (A star under the lights.)   And being a perfectionist Ms. Aguanno is there every performance, offstage center, directing – making sure things go as effortlessly as possible.

I saw two casts in Beauty and The Beast, the Crepes cast and the Croissants cast, and I loved both shows. And there was something about the individual performances as well as the performances as a whole that would take you by the heart and leave an indelible impression.

And I can’t let you get away without saying something about each cast member. 

L Arden Malsin, Sarah Hager, Evyn Armstrong, Nick Freedson

Bella Veale and Samantha Spector, as Belle, each have a special appeal and did remarkably well.

Eli Rahamim and Nick Freedson were very funny as Gaston and each provided glorious strengths in their portrayal. Zoe Alamillo and Evyn Armstrong did some marvelous work as Lefou, Gaston’s trusty, or untrusted sidekick.

Aidan Nascimento had a marvelous characterization of Maurice, Belle’s father, and Mika Stambler, with her hair pulled back, gave a strong portrayal.

Misha Reiss was the Beast and was very exceptional at the dinner scene, providing everyone with a number of laughs.  Ben Hilsberg, as the Beast, was a more athletic Beast as he pounced from one end of the stage to the other in another exceptional effort. I just wished the hair was away from their face so that I could see the eyes.  

There was much to laugh about Socorro Park and Jules Henderson’s effort in playing Cosworth each giving their all for that reticent character.

Lumiere was played by Eden Tigay and Austin Carney and each were wonderful in the “Be Our Guest” musical number.  Austin Carney has a tremendous voice and did a marvelous job selling the song. The song was certainly one of the highlights of the show and both sang it to perfection backed by the marvelous dishes, knives and forks wonderfully choreographed by Allegra Williams.  

Katelyn Coon and Mirabel Armstrong, as Mrs. Potts, are two terrific performers, each with their strengths, Coon has an extremely lovely voice and Armstrong is a wonderful actor to go along with a simply splendid voice.

Both Ayla Moses and Cate Schilling were very cute as Chip.

(Funny, I didn’t see a “Mr. Potts”.  His fall from the cupboard must have proved fatal while Chip only suffered minor injuries.)

Babette was played by Brooke Rosenbloom and Mica Williams and both did extremely well but the costume was such that we were at a loss to what household item she was.  More feathers for the feather duster please! Both were very funny in the role.

Mila Tigay and Sophia Martin-Straw both demonstrated a lot of poise in the role of Madame de la Grande Bouche and both were grande throughout.

The Narrators were excellent, each with their own brand of storytelling.  The Narrators were Malia Reiss, Arden Malsin, Elena Hilger, Grayson Lee, Bella Hilger, Makena Reiss and Sarah Hager.

I particularly liked the enchantress Kacey Oschack and Mira Saville coming out of their old costume and into their beautiful dresses, and each having their own dance to break the spell.

Monsieur d’ Arque was played by Sam Jassim and was funny, a little offbeat, and mysterious all in the same breath.

Doing a delightful job as the Bookseller was Madisen Matsuura and Anna Kite was the baker.

This was a huge cast and the other members of the ensemble who lifted the show into the stratosphere are:  Evangelia Garza, Sara Herscovitz, Sam Jassim, Anna Kite,Grayson Lee, Spencer Lee, Madisen Matsuura, Annelise Reilman, Caelyn Salzmann, Ben Sanderson, Reese Schiffman, Layla Starr-Weiner, Sasha Framularo, Sarah Hager, Eva Hooten, Arden Malsin, Malia Reiss, Mira Saville, Sadie Tlusty, Josie Winkel, Olivia Andrews, Bella Hilger, Elena Hilger, Maya Matsuura, Colette Miller, Cosette Okker, Kacey Oschack, Makena Reiss, Natalie D’Amico, Ben Hilsberg and Misha Reiss.

I enjoy going to as many dee-Lightful Productions as possible but sometimes I miss a few performances. I did not see the Baguettes Cast but they do deserve a mention.  They are by order of cast member first then actor:

Belle – Hazel Cupp
Gaston – Merrick Padilla
Lefou – Cali Kimura
Maurice – Nick Freedson
Beast – Ben Hilsberg
Cogsworth – Jessie Grimaldo
Lumiere – Lily Fanali
Mrs. Potts – Isabel Parra
Chip – Josie Hooten
Babette – Piper Samuels
Madam de la Grande Bouche – Julia Smith
Villagers – Mira Saville, Kacey Oschack, Ben Sanderson, Reese Schiffman
Enchantress – Malia Reiss
Monsieur d’Arque – Sam Jassim
Bookseller – Madisen Matsuura
Baker – Anna Kite  

Ms. Aguanno has been doing dee-Lightful for many years.  It sure would be nice for this company to have their own home.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Richard III by William Shakespeare

Jon Mullich

By Joe Straw

Shakespeare’s Richard III was written for Sigourney Weaver, a strong woman, like the character Ripley in Alien, a woman who would take all comers, and would use her mind to her advantage at the most opportune moments. (Yes, I believe that is true.)

Certainly, the women in this particular play, are wise, and they are that way if only to competely handle the likes of Richard III.  

But, are they strong? Well, in this version, not as strong as one would like them to be.

Natasha Troop’s version of Richard III, with its grey tones and black somber mise en scéne, explores the play from a benevolent perspective without seeing the other side, her side.

Still, Troop’s version of Richard III is good, bordering on brilliant.  There’s no question about that. And it seems to fall in line with the bits and pieces I’ve seen over the years, including Mark Rylance’s performance at the Tony’s.

(Yes, I was waiting for that scene for a comparison.  That, I should not do. Forgive me. )  

All, in all, there were some marvelous performances in this production of Richard III and yet marvelous is too casual a term to use.  It is a production one doesn’t expect from a 99- seat theatre venue, especially for this type of play.  But, there it was, in all its glory, all three hours of it.   And despite the utmost gravity of this drama, the despicableness of the characters, there was a lot to smile about at the end of the production, a lot.  

Richard III is a play about his struggle for power.  The other characters know that about the Duke of Gloucester, and yet, few have the power to stop him.

But why don’t we see the grasp for power in this production, the alliances forged, the money, the greed, and the indelible impression of lust for power forged on the blade? Why?  

The Eclectic Company Theatre presents William Shakespeare’s Richard III, directed by Natasha Troop, produced by Natasha Troop and Marni Troop through August 30, 2015.  

The Play.

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Richard, Duke of Gloucester practicing heliolatry much in the same way the ancient druids did at Stonehenge but changes a moment later to lament on his features and his ability in bed…

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days
I am determined to prove a villain.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Richard (Jon Mulich), Duke of Gloucester is not the King of England, now, but in order for this villain to reach his objective he must get rid of those in his way.  Simple enough.

Richard has matured into a powerful man, a military man, with wealth beyond his imagination.  His holding in Northern England make him very authoritative and it is his plan to move in the direction of the crown, but first he must get rid of Clarence (David Pinion), his older brother, who is second in line to the throne. 

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, deceptively lugubrious, bemoans as George, Duke of Clarence is being led off to cozy confines of the Tower of London under the orders of their brother King Edward IV.  King Edward had been mislead in believing that someone with “G” in their name would take over his crown.

“Meantime, this deep disgrace in brotherhood
Touches me deeper than you can image.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

“I know it pleaseth neither of us well.” – Clarence

“Well, your imprisonment shall not be long;
I will deliver you, or else lie for you: 
Meantime, have patience.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

The first part of Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s plan is set in motion; Richard knows that Clarence will never leave the Tower of London alive.

“Clarence still breathes; Edward still lives and reigns;
When they are gone, then must I count by gains.” – Duke of Gloucester

L - Rachel Kanouse and Jon Mullich

No sooner this has been said then King Henry VI, the former King of England from the House of Lancaster, mysteriously dies in the Tower of London.  (Or was murdered by Richard).  His body is accompanied by the beautiful Lady Anne (Rachel Kanouse) former daughter-in-law, now a mourner, who sees the devil that is Richard, Duke of Gloucester.  She accuses him of having something to do with his death.  

“Say that I slew them not?” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

“Why, then they are not dead:
But dead they are, and, devilish slave, by thee.” – Anne

“I did not kill your husband.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

(This is a reference to Edward, Prince of Wales, son to King Henry VI, who was once the only surviving heir to the throne of the House of Lancaster.  But he was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury, some years earlier 1471, commanded by none other than Richard, Duke of Gloucester.)

“Why, then he is alive.” – Anne

“Nay, he is dead; and slain by Edward’s hand.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester  

Cute and so it is that the House of Lancaster is finished, forever.  Richard, The Duke of Gloucester, in poor timing, uses this moment to woo Anne. And despite the animosity bantered about, Anne says yes, in her fashion.  

“Bid me farewell.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

“Tis more than you deserve;
But since you teach me how to flatter you,
Imagine I have said farewell already.” – Anne

This scene presents some problems in that the presentation of King Henry VI’s corpse is brought on a stretcher as though he were a casualty on the battlefield rather than a King, and there is a slight confusion as to the identities of the players. The words tell us what is happening but the actions, and setting, convey a different meaning. A little symbolic pomp and circumstance to compliment the grey barren walls, and to present the former King with dignity, would do well here.

Also, Anne is finished.  The House of Lancaster is done.  So Anne, in her way, must maneuver her way into position to be Queen of England once again. And as much as she hates the idea of being with Richard, Duke of Gloucester, she accepts his love.  

One of the fascinating things about this scene is that Richard seems to be asking for some kind of forgiveness for the killing of Edward, her husband, at the Battle of Tewkesbury.  This shakes Anne to the core, a moment understood, between the two that may not have been totally realized on this night.  

In the meantime Queen Elizabeth is concerned about her husband dying, King Edward IV (Tim Polzin), knowing that her overly petulant son Edward V (Micah Watterson) is waiting to take the throne.

“The heavens have bless’d you with a goodly son,
To be your comforter when he is gone.” – Grey

“Oh, he is young, and his minority
Is put unto the trust of Richard Gloucester,
A man that loves not me, nor none or you.” – Queen Elizabeth

Queen Margaret (Janie Steele) suddenly appears as an unfathomable shadow, as someone who predicts the fall of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. She is the prognosticator of future events. But Richard, seeing her as a dimming star, dismisses her like an overly worn codpiece, all in his quest to gain control.  This doesn’t sit too well with Queen Margaret.  

“Thou slewest my husband Henry in the Tower,
And Edward, my poor son, at Tewksbury.” - Queen Margaret.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, cannot be bothered by trivialities in his quest to wrangle his position of power, and manages to dismiss her with the menacing brush of his cane.  

“We follow’d then our lord, our lawful king:
So should we you, if you should be our king.” – Rivers

“If I should be!  I had rather pedlar;
Far be it from my heart, the thought of it! – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Right now Richard, Duke of Gloucester is laughing on the inside.

Jon Mulich is Richard III in this production and does a marvelous job playing a man who has one thing on his mind, the crown. Mulich’s portrayal does not emphasize the physical deformities one reads about, but rather he has a slight limp and walks with the help of a cane. There is much to like about his lurid glares and shifty-eyed performance and the casual way he moves from one predicament to another. On the night I witnessed there were problems with lines (a few) but by the time you see it Mr. Mulich will have evened out his performance.  

L - Jesse Merlin and Jon Mullich

Jesse Merlin is incredible as Buckingham.  Merlin makes Shakespeare look easy with an astonishing voice and is a natural on stage.  Merlin is very meticulous and measured.  Certainly this is an amazing performance and one not to miss for actors and theatergoers alike.   

L - David Pinion, Gary Tremble, Christian T. Chan

Another remarkable performance is that of David Pinion as George Duke of Clarence, brother to King Edward IV, and Richard III, and there’s the rub. Clarence is easily convinced to march to the Tower of London per the commands of the King who has ordered his death. Clarence is sure that Richard III will use persuasive powers to get him out and if that is not enough he has enough wit about him to find other ways out. The gullible Clarence, who in real life was just as lustful as Richard III, is not even a match in wit to secure the crown.

“O, he hath kept an evil diet long,
And overmuch consumed his royal person:” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester – speaking of King Edward IV

Tim Polzin, as King Edward IV is another wonderful performer who seems to create King Edward as a character who is in ailing health, because of the bottle and his diet.  As it is, the performance rings true, the slow gait of death, preceded by ordering acts of kindness to his fellow humans beings. There is not one false note in his performance.

Just a note here, this production was set circa 1930’s, and maybe it was of choice of the director, but the treatment of the King seemed very indolent, no bows, and with very little respect.  History says that Richard was a very big fan of King Edward IV but in this production Richard treated him like an ordinary Joe instead of his brother, the King.   

Micah Watterson does some excellent work as the petulant Prince Edward.  Watterson provides us with some very strong character work and has an extremely nice presence on stage. Still, in his minority, Prince Edward was led away to comforting rooms of the Tower of London, unable to fight off his despicable uncle and was never crowned.  

Jessica Neufeld is delightful as Queen Elizabeth who laments that her time is near and tries to find a way to hang on to the powers she possesses as long as her husband, King Edward IV is alive. And as long as she has powers she will try her best to rid herself of Richard, Duke of Gloucester forever.  This is a terrific performance.

Janie Steele is Queen Margaret.  Well, one would say former Queen from the House of Lancaster, widow of King Henry VI.  She was the mother of Edward of Westminster who was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury.  It is said that she ruled in place of her husband who had frequent bouts of insanity. Now, she has lost all, her son, her husband the King, and England.  Still Margaret moves in this play to present a curse, a device used by Shakespeare to tell us where this will all lead, and to some other end of which I am not entirely sure, and there is the rub. I suspect the only way to play this role is for the actor to get her power back by all means necessary.  Queen Margaret is still a queen and I’m wondering if there is a creative way to be stately, where the words, said in such a way, would sting and not come out as wickedly screeching insults.

“A husband and a son thou owest to me;
And thou a kingdom; all of you allegiance;
The sorrow that I have, by right is yours,
And all the pleasures you usurp are mine.” – Queen Margaret

Again, a note about the direction, we have Queen Margaret move onto the stage, she is dressed nicely, and a woman who appears to have power, once a queen, but no one treats her like a former queen, especially those on the side of the House of Lancaster.  As it appears on stage, she could be anyone in a nice dress. (In reality Queen Margaret was living in France at this time, in obscurity, and penniless.  Shakespeare uses her here as plot device.)

Rachel Kanouse does a nice turn as Lady Anne but there more to had with this relationship with Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Henry VI and Edward all presented in this one scene. Defining the relationships and being clear on her objective would only add to an already fine performance.  Anne hates Richard so much she could kill him but finding a way to be the Queen would give the character a motive to stay in the scene and overcome her hatred. Lady Anne requires more strength to an already fine performance.

Gary Tremble shows a lot of promise as one of the murderers.  Tremble brings a lot of humor to that scene.  He also appears again as Ratcliffe.

Randi Tahara plays Duchess of York, the mother of Richard, Duke of Gloucester.  She has her hands full with that one.  But, we never get a sense that she would treat her sons equally, or unequally for that matter.

Glenn Simon plays Brakenbury and others and is quite commanding on stage. He has a wonderful voice and is in the moment throughout.  

Also, Nate Werner shows a very nice range as Lord Rivers.  He provides a substantial characterization of Rivers and has a very nice voice.

Eliot Troop plays York and does a credible job for his tender young age.

Christian T. Chan plays Catesby.  He has a nice commanding presence on stage, with a lovely voice, and also provided the Fight Choreography.

Alon Dina shows promise as Dorset.

Melody Doyle played Hastings. In reality, Hastings was a procurer of fine women for King Edward IV but I did not see this in her portrayal but this may be something that would give her character a little something extra.

Laura Lee Bahr is the understudy for The Duchess of York, and Carissa Gipprich understudies Lady Anne and Queen Elizabeth.  They did not perform the night I was there.

Wow, Natasha Troop the Director/Set & Lighting Designer had a lot on her plate for this show. One can only admire her tenacity for doing all of these things usually performed by three different people who are usually paid for their services. The set and lighting is very cold and hard, castle like, without the castle.  The actors in many cases make great use of the set with a guiding hand by Troop and that is the best part of the show, the actors who manage to capture living breathing idea of Richard III.  

Wendell C. Carmichael, Costume Designer, gives us a wonderful 1930’s look of her vision of the aristocracy for the time.

Other members of this wonderful crew are:

“MZ” Runyan – Stage Manager
Michael M. Miller – Videographer
Marni L.B. Troop – Photographer  

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who loves revisionist history.

Reservations:  818-508-3003

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