Saturday, November 18, 2017

Yohen by Philip Kan Gotanda


Danny Glover and June Angela - Photos by Michael Lamont


By Joe Straw

Yohen by Philip Kan Gotanda is a metaphor for life’s little beautiful things.  

Yohen is a Japanese word that can be embraced into the English language and finds its meaning only by osmosis.  For some, the meaning hits right away, for others it takes some time.   

The meaning is not layered, or on top, or hidden beneath some dark resource, but out in the open, and caressing to a gentle fault.

The Robey Theatre Company and East West Players with Generous Support from the S. Mark Taper Foundation Endowment for East West Players present Danny Glove in Yohen by Philip Kan Gotanda and Directed by Ben Guillory through November 19, 2017.  

She explained Yohen in the middle of the play, sitting on her tender couch, holding a piece of pottery, turning it in her hand and staring at its beauty.

Yohen, is a Japanese word that describes a flaw in the process of firing a piece of pottery which leaves the ceramic work discolored or misshapen, but perhaps still beautiful.

And so it was with their relationship, their marriage, the thing that has kept them together oh these many years.  But something, in their frangible association, looking at it a new way, that she must discover him all over again, in a new condition.  Why?  Well, it is the metaphor that is examined during the course of the play.

Thirty-seven years in a marriage is a long time.  James (Danny Glover) a happily retired military man and until recently a satisfied man who had been thrown unceremoniously out of his own house, no their home. Or, maybe it was a mutual parting of a temporary nature.

And as he enters, the home he shared with his wife Sumi, (June Angela) looks cold and lifeless.

This is a two-dimensional home.  The upstage wall is compartmentalized filled with her pottery and trimmed bonsai trees decorated by a myriad of light and colors, wonderfully designed by Christopher Scott Murillo and beautifully lit by Michael Ricks, Lighting Designer.

Sumi’s place appears to be that back wall, while James’ place is the sofa and the TV’s viewing chair.  This is a picture of such diversity that one would find in suburb of a military base.

But, there is something wrong here, the place is immaculate, quiet and cold when a James, disheveled in appearance, exhales and knocks on the front door. He knocks with heaviness, a slouching and tattered personage, as though he’s lived here before, but only now visiting, hoping the occupant within will welcome him with open arms.

Such is not the case as he enters the door.  Sumi, his wife, wanted him dressed nice, perhaps she wanted to be presented with a gift, or some flowers, something viewed as an initial first date, a start from the very beginning.  At this point he is a man coming out of the kiln and into view for the first time and at first he does not present a pretty picture.

But for Sumi it’s not enough, she now wants more of James.  She wants him to go back to school. (Into the kiln again, but that process has ended.)  He says he has a nice pension and requests a beer.

The tea is on the table and Sumi doesn’t move.

“I’ll think I get one.” – James

Only to discover things have changed – Sumi has thrown out the beer.  All of it.

Philip Kan Gotanda’s play is a fascinating look at relationships and how one is perceived through another set of eyes or glasses, at another time, and through a different set of circumstances.  Each player has his or her taciturn passion, unable to speak until the final volley has been directed.  They sit with timid passions finding the heated energy to finally let loose and observe the others tremulous reaction.  They want still after all these years but maybe they want what the other does not.  Still, they see what they first saw when they first met and that in itself is the beauty of the play. 

The Yohen metaphor holds throughout the play under Ben Guillory’s direction. The play is so simple, beautiful, and heartbreaking that it takes one’s breath away at any given moment. Guillory takes special precaution in making the metaphor work with a special kind of love in this remarkable love story.

Danny Glover


Danny Glover is never going to change as James.  James is always the man he wanted to be no matter how you decorate him or add little flavors to his existing shell; he is still the man that came from the kiln. Try as he might, and he does try, he is in a no win situation. Glover is terrific in the role.

June Angela


June Angela is simply marvelous as Sumi.  Personified, she is a samurai at one moment standing in fighting position and a businesswoman in another.  She is a wife and proud to be an equal partner in this relationship, but she is at a point where she wants more than he can offer.  She bathes in his beauty, shares in his warmth, and loves in a way that is only particular to him and only him.   

Wonderful costumes by Naila Aladdin Sanders, Costume Designer.  

Other members of the crew are as follows: 

Corinne Carrillo - Sound Designer
Glenn Michael Baker - Property Master
Brandon Hong Cheng - Stage Manager 

Run! Run! And take someone who loves the idea of a metaphor in a play.

 
The David Henry Hwang Theatre at the Union Center for the Arts
120 Judge John Aiso Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

(213) 625-7000

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Radiant by Shirley Lauro

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By Joe Straw

Going to this theatre for a 2:00 pm matinee presented challenges, mostly due to the traffic in that part of town.  Flustered because of time, I noticed parking spaces all around the building, which are designated to the businesses there. Limited parking spaces were available at an hourly charge. Slip in, slip out, pay, and slip back in with only minutes to spare.  

Time got the better of me on this date.

And, also, this place, this building, is a thriving, bustling business theatrical venue, and lordy on Sunday, parking just ain’t right.

The saving grace was Jane Edwina Seymour, the director, who greeted us at the door.  Her voice was so pleasant, so relaxing and inviting, that it was a pleasure to come into this space.  

Resource Performance Workshops and stories about human present The Radiant by Shirley Lauro and directed by Jane Edwina Seymour through November 19th, 2017 at The Other Space at The Actors Company.

The Radiant is an historical drama that makes one wants to go home and read about the characters portrayed in this dramatic interpretation. I thought I knew a lot about these historical figures, but I really didn’t, so a little more reading was in order.

The first thing you notice when entering the theatre is the impeccably authentic set, books, desks, furnishing that takes you back to 1906 Paris France.  The set was wonderfully designed and created by Karen Ipock.   

Secondly, the authentic costumes by Taylor Sandling were equally marvelous and put a significant stamp on this production.

Marie Curie (Nina Sallinen), pale and sullen, saunters into the office of the Chief Paymaster of the Sorbonne (John Moschitta, Jr.) looking for money. The money she believes is due to her in the aftermath of her husband’s, Pierre Curie, death – his skull crushed by a horse and its carriage.   

“I am Madame Curie.  I believe we had an appointment, monsieur?”- Marie

“Qui?” - Paymaster

Displaced by the element of death, Marie stands, a markedly frail woman next to the paymaster, a lecherous man, with despairing reflections.  He only wants what is best for her, and that is he. 

But all the manly devices that he has used in his past imagined fortuitous life have come to naught.

The Paymaster, knew her husband, and he knows Marie.  He hasn’t forgotten that she won the Nobel Prize in Physics. But he wants her to grovel for the money and that is something Marie will never do.

The paymaster tells Marie that she will get the pension money until she dies, or remarries, or through lingering illnesses, but if she were to get a job “All benefits cease!” Marie still not satisfied, mostly with the amount, rips up the check and storms off. 

And the paymaster gets, nothing.  

Paul Langevin (Conrad Cecil) is packing Pierre Curie’s things in his office when Marie walks in. It’s a matter of him putting Pierre in a box and shuffling Marie out of the room with his belongings. 

You – you’re looking well, Madame. Fashionably thin.” – Paul

It is a noticeably nicer approach than the paymaster’s.  There is a movement between the two - shuffling of books and polite conversation -  and one that leads to a pleasant intercourse. Paul tells her that he dropped out of the Ph.D. program and is now teaching lower school to support his wife, three children, and mother-in-law.

But Marie, possibly smitten, and decidedly French in her views, convinces Paul that she can take over the office for now with the hopes the University will offer her a position.  

Paul informs her the obvious  “the closest colleague inherits his Chair” which would be Marie and sadly, with pouting lips, he says that if she leaves no one will teach Radioactivity.

Later Marie’s niece, Katarina (Andrea Flower), is in Marie’s living room working on the samovar and arranging tea and cakes for Madame Curie to nibble on. 

Paul interrupts her, carrying roses for Marie.  (A slightly odd gift that goes unnoticed.)  Katarina is a fury of information, saying she is taking care of Madame Curie, her kids, and the household to get Madame past the grieving period, but she needs to go to the park, and wants to visit her beau in Poland. They are smitten and both are planning to study music this August in Poland. 



But now Marie has other plans for her, having been appointed by the university.  She wants Katarina to stay on until January or February much to Katarina’s disappointment.

Marie has also asked Paul to stay on as her assistant.  She confides to Paul that she is terrified to lecture.  But, with his support, she manages to fill the void and give a terrific lecture.

And to celebrate the moment, she visits Pierre Curie’s grave-site and confesses that she really wants to run away to the country with the girls and make gooseberry jam. 

“Come to Pierre’s office with me?  Science department’s deserted – they just put your name on the door.” – Paul  

Needing not much convincing, Marie walks into her office.

Shirley Lauro’s play is wonderfully written and well crafted.  But make no mistake; this play does not dwell too much on academia and that life but rather it is more of a play about relationships.  Marie interacts with her niece, her lover, the paymaster, and the colleagues who have disagreements with her. And to that end, the relationships must be spot on and have nuance, which one believes the play has.  Lauro leaves it ambiguous enough for the actors to find those moments and soar.     

There is a lot to enjoy from Jane Edwina Seymour’s direction.  The action moves fluidity, and the characters are complete. But this production needs a boost in two ways - deeper characters and a stronger through line. Also, the actor’s lines should be an afterthought; on this date, there were some problems with actors grasping for the words.  (Chalk it up to a Sunday matinee.)

First about the stronger through line—simply put, this is a story about Marie Currie overcoming obstacles to win her second Nobel Prize in chemistry. Although she is the only woman to win prizes in two different categories, she still must fight with the school and her colleagues as well as negotiate life with her niece and her lover who tug on her as she moves to those goals.   
The depth of character I will address below as I discuss the actors.

One more thing, the characters san accents, or slight accents, may have been a conscience choice by the director.  But, in this type of venue, it’s really about upping your game and stretching your chops.

Nina Sallinen is Marie Curie and through her portrayal we get the pale and sickly part but what is missing is the driving force that propels her to her final destination.  Where one wants to embrace her fortitudinous style, we have little of that. Also missing are the moments of peak intelligential thought or ideas that have her head and shoulders above the rest of the characters. It is her style of thought, the manner in which the character negotiates her way to her want.  While Marie Curie is Polish (Maria Salomea Sklodowska), there was little trace of Polish or French accents. Also, there is no sense of elation when Marie wins her second Nobel Prize. The scene at the grave has two things going for it.  The first is a recognized emotional outpouring for her deceased husband, giving her a perceived grander backstory, and a moment in which the character Paul can step in and take Pierre Curie's place, two moments that must happen if we are to continue. Certainly there’s something here to think about and add to an already fine performance.

Conrad Cecil is impressive as Paul Langevin. Cecil manages to fill the marvelous costume. He is polite, articulate, and manages to have a significant relationship in the process. But he has a wife and children and that weight must be carried on his shoulders – one additional backstory.  Maybe not thinking about it is the French way.  But, his relationship is a cause of concern in the play when it is made public. There is also the issue of having a relationship with a person of a different religion, which the French looked down upon at that time. Also, one doesn’t recall Cecil employing a French accent for Langevin who is decidedly French. Still, nick picking aside Cecil is marvelous on stage and presents a splendid figure.



John Moschitta, Jr. plays a number of characters. An interesting note in one scene, he exits the imaginary vomitorium as Lord Kelvin, and returns in just seconds as a completely different character, different costume, through another imaginary vomitorium.  Noted as “America’s Favorite Fast Talker,” the change was down right remarkable.  And the only thing that was similar in character were the beads of sweat coming from his brow.  (Bring something to wipe the brow.) The Paymaster was not subtle in what he wanted, wielding all his perceived power, he did not need to overtly fondle Marie but rather pull her in a way to accomplish his goals.  Also, as the character Lord Kelvin was posturing which is not a terrible thing just overtly obvious.  Moschitta requires a stronger objective for each of these characters, one that gives him a clearer physical life, a purpose, and one that recognizes the conflict in each scene, for each character.

Andrea Flowers shines as Katarina.  She has a number of marvelous moments and does little things in excellent fashion that provides the finishing touches to her character. That said, more could be made of her beau.  Also, her relationship with Paul, could be taken a little farther, the way she presents herself to the visitor, the manner of her dress, her position being explicitly inquisitive in the process.  All things she can add to an already outstanding performance.  

Other members of the crew I have not mentioned are as follows:

Jeanne Marie Valleroy – Stage Manager
Racquel Lehrman – Theatre Planners – Consulting Producer
Philip Sokoloff – Publicity
Ed Krieger – Production Photography
Kristine Ballard – Graphic Design

Run! Run!  And take someone who loves historical drama.
RESERVATIONS: (323) 960-7712.
ONLINE TICKETING: www.Plays411.com/radiant

Monday, November 6, 2017

An Enemy of the Pueblo by Josefina López

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By Joe Straw

Casa 0101 presents An Enemy of the Pueblo by Josefina López directed by Corky Dominguez and Produced by Emmanuel Deleage & Edward Padilla.

You’ve only got one week to see this outstanding production – a modern adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. And this adaptation by Ms. López is exceptional; the directing by Mr. Dominguez sublime, and the acting will warm your soul.

From the torrid sky, the rain falls loudly on the town of Milagros, a colonial town, near the United States border.  Tourists from the United States once visited the hot springs before a drug cartel called “Los Sapos” (the frogs) infiltrated the town and people just, stopped, coming.

Magdalena Del Rio (Zilah Mendoza) is the shaman of the pueblo.  Tonight, she walks in the rain to cleanse her sorrows from the past.  She sees beyond now to that of the future, and turning her head, she listens to the woeful cries of mother earth.

“And it is done.” – Magda

Magda falls asleep in her hammock, outside her home, near the tree that has long ago died, and as the branches moan, she is confronted by the ghost of Eugenio (Javier Ronceros), her former husband, who was gunned down months ago and vows to never leave her side.  This is not something Magda is entirely comfortable with.  But one gets the impressions from him that she is still in danger from physical forces around her.

Petra Del Rio (Laura Bravatti) wants to know why her mother, Magda, is holding a conversation with no one around.  Magda says that she is speaking to her father.  Petra does not have the gift and cannot see him.  No matter, she tells him to leave anyway.



There is something wrong with Petra, her hair is falling out, she has pains, and her husband is nowhere to be found. There is a hint that the elements around her are causing her sickness (the water).  Also, she waits impatiently for her husband, Arturo (Joshua Nuñez) to return.  

Later Laura (Angiee Lombana) who is ready to give birth seeks help from Magda and Petra.  Laura holds onto the rope hanging from the dead tree.  There is a short serrated cry as the child comes with little pain, thanks to Magda.  Coming from around the bend Laura’s husband (Joshua Nuñez) presents Magda with a payment, a bottle of liquor for which Magda readily accepts.

The Ghost of El Sapo (Paul Renteria) now enters the scene, his fists tightly clenched, arms restlessly wavering, and posing like an aged body builder that cannot lower his arms any longer.  He demands that Magda release him from these earthly plains.  But, she is not so eager to do so since Sapo killed her husband and she hasn’t figured out what to do with him.   

The mortal townspeople also come to Magda for help. Elvia (Catalina Shoshan), comes next looking for her husband who left a month earlier.  Madga, working her magic, tells her that he is on the other side (el otro lado), he fell in the desert, broke his leg, and ran out of water.  She gives Elvia the co-ordinates of where she can find the body.

“Yes, Milagros will be better now that the narcos are gone.” - Madga

But now when things have settled down and the town needs a new source of revenue. Pedro Del Rio (Arturo Aranda, Jr.), Madga’s twin brother, has greedily sold the fracking rights for his own egoistic means.  

And soon after, the earthquakes come, waking Clarita (Angiee Lombana), Petra’s daughter.  She enters to find the Ghost of Eugenio staring at her.  He smiles a grandfatherly smile as they stand communicating with each other without saying a word.  

At night, Madga lets the atemporal dreams of knowledge take over, the dance of death that ravages her, in the morning she confides to O’Connor (William Jaramillo), who is smitten with her, that the water is poison and that she must warn the town. But how?

Josefina López has written a wonderful show, a delicious shiver that stays with you long after you have left the theatre.  There are similarities to Ibsen’s 1882 play An Enemy of the People mostly having to do with the poisoning of the hot springs and the water of the town. But López has made the main character a Mexican woman, a shaman, and it is her story, her fight against her brother and the men of the town who want to do her an injustice for telling her intuitive truth.  All the women fight their own little battles against the oppressive men in their community. There are surprising similarities to the current political battles against the forces of greed, corruption, and political upheaval.  Still, this show should have a longer life than its four-week run.

Director Corky Dominguez rises to the occasion in this production. There is some fantastic work going on here, characters have depth, objectives are met, relationships are believable.  Dominguez has given life to an excellent show and he does so with a fiery passion.

Some actors are familiar and the others are new but all bring a delightful surprise to Casa 0101. The actors create a core truth to every single character. 

J.D. Mata provides the music for the show including the special sound effects.  His reverberant clangour elevates this show to improbable heights.  The music and sounds create a mood by providing the special music one hears in the quiet moments of life. It was wonderful work created and composed for this show.  He also played Luis and a man in the Pueblo.

Zilah Mendoza does a lot of special work as Magda, capturing a flavor of the shaman, the liquor in her mouth sprayed around the woman giving birth, the cleansing water falling from the sky and from the dead tree all worked.  Mendoza gives a rich history to the character, and the ease of her character seemed effortless.  Magda knows everyone’s business—she feels it in her being.  She moves the town, steers it in the right direction, and fails miserably at almost every turn but manages to fight until the end.   Mendoza’s work was visually an outstanding work of art and a performance not to miss.  

Arturo Aranda, Jr. has a very good look as Pedro, a man who sells the pueblo to the highest bidder.  Pedro, previously injured by a horse, now the mayor, hobbles around.  He walks with his left leg turned inward and his arm clutches his abdomen as though he were in constant pain. Life for him, in all his adamantine glory, is about the money which has gotten him where he is today, supremely unsatisfied. There is something about the character that requires a subtle want, an unconscious objective that takes him to another level.  



Laura Bravatti brings a deeper ambiguous meaning to the character Petra.  There is something going on, in ineffable sadness, but one is not entirely tuned into her character. Perhaps Petra is ill from the water, or perhaps she misses her husband. In any case, it makes for a strong character case study as to what this woman actually wants. Not satisfied at first glance, she gets her husband, but then she doesn’t want him because of his infidelities.  What she wants remains to be seen.  Still, this is an actor who brings a rich history to the character and projects a mystery in character, one that leads to her final objective.

William Jaramillo is O’Connor, the white character in the play.  While he looks Irish, the name suggests otherwise. O’Connor moves fast as the love interest who, try as he might, never gets the girl. Maybe he isn’t trying hard enough, or drinks too much.  What would be the make or break deal to get the girl?  Jaramillo has a very interesting look and does quite well despite not getting what he came for.



Angie Lombana is incredible as Clarita. Lombana is not a child so she gives Clarita the appearance of a woman in a child’s body, clement in nature, a girl with a gift and a mental handicap.  The facial expressions turns her into that person and works perfectly.  This is just great work, all around. Lombana also plays Laura.

Joshua Nuñez inhabits a number of characters as Laura’s husband, Juan Jose, a newspaper reporter, and Arturo. Arturo is Petra’s husband who has been off in the United States making another family.  When he comes back he is a bit of a bully to his wife. Macho, macho man thinks he can come back to his wife and then have her wait on him hand and foot.  Something she is not willing to do. What we really need in this character is to find how the relationship will work, or how it has worked in the past, and how it may work in the future. Nuñez did good work in the other roles and has an outstanding craft and a very interesting look.  

One can appreciate Paul Renteria as the Ghost of El Sapo.  He has a number of moments of being a funny and an unsatisfied ghost, someone who has shaken off his mortal coil and needs help to step into the light. Also as Señor Reyes he employs a southern accent (Tennessee?).  Where and why that happened, one is not truly sure.  Still, some very good work by an actor that brings a lot of humor to the role.

Javier Ronceros brings just the right touch as Ghost of Eugenio and Eugenio (when he was alive and well).  Ronceros, with liquescent eyes, is very low key on stage and doesn’t force any moments, which makes his actions incredible to watch. All around, it was very good work.

Catalina Shoshan is a stunning actor for whom the light shines bright.  She plays Elvia and Doña Campeche and is excellent in those roles.

Marco De León, Set Designer, has created a beautifully shaded brown workable set, an indoor and outdoor space that gives us a time and a place near the border of Mexico.

All of the intangible tangibles that add to the remarkable body of the play and set were created by the follow crew members who did an outstanding job. Kevin Eduardo Vasquez, Lighting Designer, gives us exceptional moments with the lighting, time, and space, Sohail e. Najafi, was the Technical director and Special Effects person, and Masha Tatarintseva, the Video Designer.

Abel Alvarado, Costume Designer, place us in the location with an excellent defined authenticity.

Edward Padilla was the casting director and that job was exceptional.  He also served as the Producer.

Emmaneul Deleage was another producer and is the Casa 0101 Executive Director.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Laurien Allmon – Stage Manager
Gabriela Pérez – Assistant Stage Manager
Angel Lizarrago – Assistant Director
Julius Bronola – Assistant Costume Designer
Jorge Villanueva – Light Board Operator
Steve Moyer Public Relations – Press Representative
Ed Krieger –Production Photographer
Guadalupe Arellanes – Graphic Design/Casa 0101 Communications and Outreach

This show had a four-week run, which is way too short for this production. 

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who loves the mystical in all things.

Through November 12, 2017

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

New York Water by Sam Bobrick

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By Joe Straw

I was in the lobby of the lovely Pico Playhouse and I noticed the stills of the performers on the wall, one in particular caught my attention.   

I said to my partner, “Wow, this actor is the spitting image of” – and then I drew a blank.  You know! The guy! The face! Westworld! The guy who’s married to Paula Prentiss!  What’s his name? She didn’t know so I resorted to Google – typing Paula Prentiss – there it was, Richard Benjamin – neurons and synapses rejoined - I went back to the photos to see the name “Ross Benjamin”. 

Ross Benjamin, hmm that’s unusual. I wonder if he is related? I asked around and found out that Ross was their son. Sometimes I can be so dense.   – Narrator

The Pico Playhouse has been changed.  They took out all of the seats, the proscenium stage, and now have the audience sitting on risers three quarters around the playing area that is on the floor.  It is much more intimate.

The West Coast Jewish Theatre presents the West Coast Premier of New York Water by Sam Bobrick, directed by Howard Teichman, produced by Howard Teichman and Bill Froggatt, and is now playing at the Pico Playhouse through December 17, 2017.

New York Water by Sam Bobrick is theatre of the absurd, or a farce.  That’s all you really need to know to just sit back and enjoy this wicked and wonderful ride.

Mania: 1.) excessive excitement or enthusiasm; craze or 2. psychiatry, manic disorder.

Linda Shoup (Bridget Flanery) has problems. It’s not something that we see or understand right away.  On a pleasant Sunday afternoon in her sparse singles apartment she pulls herself together and rushes into the kitchen to grab a stack of steak knives and a crowbar.  She places the steak knives under the cushions of the sofa and chair and she delicately hangs the crowbar on her quaint inexpensive lamp.

The man she is waiting for is a prospective mate, a fly caught in her web by way of an unusual personal ad. Finally, he rings the door.  Linda, finished with her weaponry placement, runs to unlock the many latches on the door.   

Idiosyncrasy: a characteristic, habit, mannerism, or the like, that is peculiar to an individual.

Albert Hives (Ross Benjamin) gambols in (slight exaggeration here) to her apartment. He is a little out of breath, and his brain is not functioning at full capacity. He has just skipped from the subway to her apartment and then entered through the broken glass of her apartment building’s front door.  It is only by happenstance that he has made it up the stairs and to her door.  

Blindsided by the unknown, in a room alone, they are caught in the own personal inadequacy; their intercourse lacks a defined authenticity and intimacy. But here in her own element, Linda is slightly elevated in standing; she is the puppet master, the controller of her imaginary strings. 

On top of developing a relationship, both are looking to move up in their social status. Albert is an accountant, and a not very good one at that.

“You said you are a professional.” – Albert

“Yes!” - Linda

“A professional what?” – Albert

“A professional receptionist!” – Linda

It’s almost enough to hastily skip out of her apartment. Still, Albert stays.   

The knives are lying tranquil under the cushions.

A creeping love always blossoms in inexplicable ways and the way they have come together is no exception.   Linda hired a clown, of all things, with balloons at Bloomingdales to pick up a wealthy prospective husband.  It didn’t quite work that way as Albert was just skipping by. Albert won’t go into Bloomingdales – the cologne nauseates him.  But he saw the clown, filled out the postcard and sent it in.

Linda had the postcards tested, handwriting analysis, et al, and found some positive things about Albert.  

Albert, still not completely satisfied and ready to bail, learns that Linda’s rent is $3600.00 a month and really “it’s only twelve blocks from a nice area!”  Despite their physical, emotional, and psychological handicaps, both are wide-eyed and open in their approach to finding a substantial mate.

But what was the clicker?

It couldn’t be that Linda, laying all of her cards on the table, releases information about her alcoholic mother, and her gay father.  She also lets it slip that she accidently killed her grandmother when she was 9 years old!

No, that wasn’t it.

Now, probably thinking of his speed, how fast he can run from her apartment, Albert tells Linda that he can’t run because of his bum knee. She could catch him if he decided to bolt, instead he asks for some New York water, because whatever she is feeling in her manic state, he wants some of the same.

But, when Linda goes to the kitchen for water, Albert discovers the crowbar and then the knives, and before she comes back in Albert has hidden most of her tools of destruction under the sofa.  

She interrupts him with a glass of water that is yellow.  She says it’s lemonade, old lemonade, with no ice. Albert is now a little cautious.

“Drink it!” – Linda

“What did you put in it?” – Albert

Linda might be thinking about the knives right now. But Albert beats her to the punch by grabbing the crowbar and Linda sees this and goes for the machete.

“Are you planning to kill me?” – Albert

“No!” – Linda

Sam Bobrick’s New York Water is funny, farcical, and absurd all at the same time. The play isn’t as absurd as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, or as farcical as Michael Frayn’s Noises Off but manages to make its mark on making fun of life, liberty and the pursuit of relationships.

For the most part, New York Water is a story of a love relationship, a love that doesn’t work so well. But the title New York Water has little to do with the New York water and does not present a grand through line for that matter. In this version, water plays little in the actions of the characters.  After Albert drinks the lemonade (water), he loses some of his inhibitions and asks Linda to marry him. Possibly this is the reason for the proposal.  It’s hard to see anything else.  They just met.

But after they leave New York for Davenport, Iowa they don’t take the water with them.  They finally get accustomed to each other. Not drinking the water, secrets are released, and the relationship gets strained.  Bobrick’s play also makes fun of Hollywood and the way films are made.  How that relates to New York water is unclear.  

The character Linda falls in love with a character we don’t even see, Albert’s brother, an interesting non-Pakistani cab driver who writes a successful book and becomes famous overnight while the main character languishes in his shadow trying not to succumb.  

One would take out the 84-year-old director in this play.



Bridget Flanery is very successful as Linda Shoup.  Her voice is strong and her mannerisms are excellent when the character moves back to New York. Manic, or one end of the bi-polar spectrum, is a word that I would use describe Shoup. Forceful in her vocal prowess she is capable of anything.  That being said the first scene doesn’t go far enough in the manner she would react to a man completely her opposite. How are they so completely different that she would accept his proposal of marriage?  She has to love something about him, or at least find something charming in order to accept the journey she is about to embark upon.  

Ross Benjamin also does well as the unsuccessful accountant Albert Hives. There’s more work to be done in the first scene in order to discover the love match.   Hives has to throw out the bad (knives, crowbar), find the good (her personality, maybe?) and then find the reasons to propose.  This is his last chance for love and we should see that, his fears, his sorrows, his joys. All of these things must come into play in order for him to find his successful mate. After they leave New York for Iowa, Hives is on a downward spiral, pleading for his mate to help him. Los Angeles is even harder on him; there, this accountant is mowing lawns. This is a farce and all movements should include elements of farce and let the reality take care of itself.

Howard Teichman is one of the finest directors working in intimate theatre today.  He understands acting, how actors relate on stage, and is exceptional when defining moments. New York Water presents some challenges in the presentation and in the writing that necessitates a clear directorial stamp, a defined stamps as to what this play is about. Teichman manages to define the relationship but we need to see the why.  Why do they fall in love?  Why do they fall out of love?  What are the moments that supremely change the relationship?  Why does an accountant mow lawns?  Why does a producer of a film allow an eighty-four old woman to direct her film?  Possibly these are things that need a visual element to highlight to moments.  

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Bill Froggatt - Associate Producer/Sound Designer/Video Projection
Henry Lide -  Stage Manager
Kurtis Bedford – Set Designer
Ellen Monocroussos – Lighting Designer
Phil Sokoloff – Publicity
Michael Lamont – Photographer

Run! Run! And takes someone who finds delight in unusual personalities.

Reservations:  323-821-2449
Online Ticketing:  www.wcjt.org


Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Daughters of the Kush by George Corbin

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L - R Alisa Murray, Dee Dee Stephens, Vanoy Burnough - Photos by Alberto Santillan

By Joe Straw

Pledging a fraternity in the south in the 1970s—after weeks of working hard, getting signatures and cleaning the fraternity house, I heard that I was being blackballed. Actually that didn’t surprise me, what surprised me was that my lifelong friends, at that time, told me there was nothing to worry about.  “Well”, they said, “not much.”

I knew who was throwing the blackball my way.  Not much I could do about it except try not to worry, keep a low profile, and keep moving in the right direction.

The big night came; they put my pledge class, about 11 of us, in an unkempt room upstairs in the frat house.  We sat among the stench of wet towels, soiled sheets, and someone’s ungodly body order, waiting. 

Some had somber faces before they were led down to be grilled.  First they asked questions; then they threw the pledge out the front door like a scene from a western movie.  

Now it was my turn. I took the blindfolded steps down the stairway and into the living room.  

A fraternity brother yanked the blindfold off and splashed the spotlight into my face.  Gorgonized, I saw the shadows of about forty members sitting on used dilapidated furniture around the living room; ever so quiet except for the occasional beer can being crushed under the weight of someone’s foot, but nevertheless, between belches, they took their jabs and jobs very seriously and asked poignant questions.

Some questions were easy, others were harder, and then came this, “Are you a smart ass?”

I knew who it was, I let out an exasperated sigh, mixed with a smile, and said: “When I’m in the mood.”

I heard unexpected laughter, all around the room, even from the questioner and for the time being I was saved. – Narrator

The world premier play, The Daughters of the Kush by George Corbin and directed by Veronica Thompson is now playing at the Stella Adler Theatre through October 29th, 2017 in Hollywood. The Robey Theatre Company Advance Playwrights Lab developed the play.

The smallest of lies can alter a life dramatically.  The lie can be historic or current, either way it can have a lasting effect.

The time of the play is 1963.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X are having a dramatic impact on African American college students. Little went unnoticed, from the Civil Rights protest to the four young girls killed in the 16th Street Church Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama (Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carol Robertson and Carol Denise McNair).

But now, Clara (Vanoy Burnough), Brenda (Dee Dee Stephen), and Rhonda (Alisa Murray) are in a lot of trouble.  They, members of the Kappa Lambda Nu sorority, sit politely in chairs and wait for the questions they know will be coming.

Campus police Sgt. Diggs (Mack Miles) is the only African-American officer at Plaines University, which is located in Iowa. He watches the polite young ladies intently as he questions their nocent world about the death of a white pledge, Kathy (Hannah Mae Sturges), who allegedly threw herself out of an eight-story dorm room.

There’s something wrong in their answers, the way they speak about Kathy, the deceased.  Rhonda is deeply upset and crying. Brenda, president chair and pre-law major, is cautious about disclosing information.  Clara, the pledge chair, is angry about the way things went down, throwing out false information and misleading statements. The three indicate they will help in the investigation.

Sgt. Diggs moves on to collect more evidence before the night is through.

And then, we go back in time to see how the drama unfolds. Rhonda, Brenda and Clara sit in Clara’s bedroom, along with Ida (Paris Nicole), an exuberant Kandie pledge, willing to do anything to make her sisters happy.  They put Kandie pledge Ida to work shining shoes when Frat Boy (Conor Sheehan) busts into their room on a panty raid.

L - R Conor Sheehan, Vanoy Burnough, and Paris Nicole


But, white Frat Boy wears a Confederate uniform and immediately knows he is in the wrong place.  The girls grab him and tie him to a chair.  And straightaway, they ask questions, get creative, and put him on a mock trial, until an authoritative voice is heard coming from the hall.  They paint Frat boy’s face with black shoe polish and untie him before they throw him into the hall and all is back to normal.

The young ladies cheer and dance suddenly stopping when Kandie pledge Ida oversteps by joining in and dancing exuberantly. Ida stops, rings her tiny bell, and is dismissed.   

College life continues when Kathy, having set her sights on Kappa Lambda Nu, first inches her way in through Rhonda’s psychology club and then battles through Clara’s obstructionism.  Later, Kathy has the attention of Barry (Brandon Raines), a white assistant track coach; unfortunately Clara has her eyes on him as well.  


Brandon Raines and Vanoy Burnough

And, for the sake of reality, not once on this night did I see anyone open a book and study.  

George Corbin, the playwright, has written a fascinating play that captures the spirit of the times. And while not everything works, there is burning energy and a wonderful core from which to build from this solid foundation. When moments are simple, Corbin excels in dramatic ecstasy.   For example, light skinned Clara’s wonderful story about her white father. Also, the dancing scene with Rhonda and Kathy is so delightful because it starts with a confession, to a plea, and ends in a delightful unity of compassion and love. These are the moments that stay with you long after the night has past.

Hannah Mae Sturges and Alisa Murray


Daughters of the Kush, (the sorority sisters) refers to the women who were from a country south of Egypt, which is now Sudan, and one would suggest the women of that region were dark, all dark.

Sadly we don’t see the sorority sisters get together and discuss allowing a white girl to pledge. There is no scene showing Kathy, her sponsor Rhonda, being introduced to the rest of the sorority sisters.

One thinks the character Barry is responsible for the trouble the young ladies have all gotten themselves into but his actions on stage were pretty tame, even for 1963.

What fails to work are the scenes of hatred that has one sister threating a pledge do to her dirty work for ambiguous reasons. Those scenes require the character to show us the connection, a visible and viable backstory that ties her to that desperate action.   

Also, we are left in the end with the major characters not really feeling good about how their relationship has ended because of this tragedy. And they all go on with their lives holding on to another grave secret, a secret that protects the bonds of being sorority sisters, but ultimately hurts their being as they move on in life.

Also, one got the impression from the first scene that the sisters were recreating the events for the campus police, the reason we go back in time.  This was not the case.

Veronica Thompson, the director, does well in this outing except for the scene changes, which are long and laborious, and stop the momentum of play. Set pieces moved creatively by actors would accomplish two things, one: give real life interactions as one would see in academia and two, would creatively move the play along judiciously.  Aside from dramatic costume changes, the actors need never leave the stage, or possibly they may move in just before their scene.  Clara’s scene alone on stage where she suddenly turns into an angry women, didn’t work, and there wasn’t a basis for why it was there or how it moved the play along.

One would like to see the dance number at curtain call moved up to near the beginning and used as a recruiting device for prospective pledges performed in the commons. This will also facilitate a stronger bond and a richer history between the sisters.  Then move on to the psychology club scene. 

Nancy Renee, Costume Designer, does magnificent work dressing everyone in the 1963 period, and that was outstanding!  

Vanoy Burnough has some marvelous moments as Clara.  Through a set of circumstances she becomes a heavy character in this play and very hard to like at the end. There must be a better approach to the character as she moves in ways that are unbecoming, threatening (the screw driver scene was too much), and sometimes dangerous.  The scene about her father was outstanding and maybe that is the key for other moments in the play with her boyfriend, the pledge, and her sorority sisters.

Mack Miles


Mack Miles seemed to have opening night jitters in his first moments as Diggs.  Those early moments on stage need to set a tone, as the sorority sisters recreate the events leading up to Kathy’s death. But by the end, Miles settled down and really had the character nailed. Miles has a wonderful look and was exceptional.

Alisa Murray is delightful as Rhonda. She is a stunning actor with expressive eyes and an extremely viable craft. Initially, she won’t give an inch to let a white girl join her sorority, but eventually she is open to the possibility, and these transitions in the character present an exceptional craft.

Paris Nicole has some terrific moments as Ida.  And, as far as the progression of the play, her moments accumulated quite nicely right up until the end of the play. It was terrific work and Nicole was outstanding.

Dee Dee Stephens has a stoic presence as Brenda, the leader or president of these young ladies.  Brenda does not give away much and, because she knows everyone’s secret, the less she says the better it is for all of them.  Still I would want to know: what drives this character and what overreaching conflict keeps her from getting it?  

Hanna Mae Sturges is terrific as Kathy.  Sturges has a strong craft and is powerful in her scenes.  But, everything seems so easy for her. She gets her way, all of the time.  She gets the boyfriend.  She is easy to get along with.  Where is the conflict that keeps her from reaching her objective? What drives her and why is she not getting it?

Brandon Raines employs his southern accent (Tennessee?) as Barry, the white assistant track coach, who is single and on the prowl.  We need more of a backstory from Raines. Also, we need to see the thing that keeps him from kissing the girl.  In order for there to be more dramatic conflict, we need to see a stronger interest in both women, in fact this white character should take these choices to the extreme measure to give dramatic movement to the story.  

Connor Sheehan is terrific as the confederate Frat Boy.  The scene he is in plays very well.  There is more to add to this character, humiliation is one thing that would give this character more mileage in this scene. Revenge is another, revenge to those that got him in this predicament. A sincere apology would work and maybe a panty for his effort. He can do this without adding dialogue. 

Charlotte Evelyn Williams

Charlotte Evelyn Williams did not perform the night I was there. 

Kappa Lambda Nu is the name of this fictionalized sorority in this play. (Kappa Lambda Nu was also the name of a fraternity in the successful television show “A Different World”, in fact Wikipedia has a list of fictionalized fraternities and sororities if one were interested.    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fictional_fraternities_and_sororities).

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Kristina Roth – Production Stage Manager
Kenneth Cosby – Lighting Designer/Projectionist
Mark V. Jones – Set Designer
Christian Cesena – Assistant Stage Manager
Melvin Ishmael Johnson – Production Consultant
JC Cadena – Social Media Director
Kurt Maxey – Consultant
Judy Bowman – Promotion

The welcomers in the front of the house were so welcoming!  They are as follows:

Charlotte Plummer
Pam Noles
Raquel Rosser
Levi Austin Morris
Spencer Frankeberger

Run!  And take a sorority sister with you.  Between the dramas there are a lot of funny moments in this play that you will both enjoy.

Stella Adler Theatre
6773 Hollywood Blvd. 2nd Floor
Hollywood, CA  90028

Reservations: 213-908-5032