at the International City Theatre
Reviewed by Polly Warfield
Stephen Bill's play quivers with pain and he calls it a comedy. Richard Hochberg directs its West Coast premiere and makes Bill's good play better. He, too, calls it a comedy and notes the two meanings of its title: Curtains conceal, and "curtains" means "the end."
Curtains asks tough questions that have no easy answers and poses dilemmas whose only solutions are painful. A comedy? A tragicomedy, perhaps, as life abounds in the presence of death, as tears and laughter mingle--as in a Chekhov play. Indeed, set one of Chekhov's turn-of-the-century Russian families down in Bill's present-day city of Birmingham, England, and they would be right at home.
English matriarch Ida sits helpless in her wheelchair, confused, in pain, her senses slipping away. She is enduring the agony of her 86th birthday party, surrounded by the forced gaiety of her well-meaning but insensitive family, all wearing silly little party hats and, what's worse, subjecting her to the indignity of wearing one as well, and ignoring the evident fact that she wishes they would just go away. Imprisoned in her own tortured flesh, all Ida wants is out.
As if impelled by some irresistible force, one daughter--Katherine, the quiet one--siezes an opportunity and, at much cost to herself, lets Ida out. Is it a loving act of mercy or was it murder? Quite clearly, Bill's play opts for the former interpretation. But Katherine feels compelled to confess, no matter how the others try to stop her. It's family crisis time.
Director Hochberg establishes a deep rapport with Bill's characters, and with the actors who play them. The cast is superb. In Jacqueline Stehr's portrayal, mousy Katherine emerges as a reluctant heroine with steel in her spine. As her husband, Geoffrey, Edmund Sheff has a P.G. Wodehouse air. Christopher Jaymes, as their son Michael, is a rebellious but likable young hothead. Gail Godown's wound-up-tight daughter Margaret has fits of hysteria and bouts of migraine, and Godown is that relative rarity, a beautiful woman who doesn't mind making funny faces. In or out of audience focus, she is always in the moment and in the truth of the scene. Brenan Baird, as her lanky, good-looking husband, Douglas, is a helpful Mr. Fix-It and a pillar of comfort and common sense. Denise Poirier of the flexible features is understandably nervous and intense as Ida's prodigal daughter Susan, who arrives unexpectedly and unwelcome. Bette Rae as good-hearted Mrs. Jackson, a neighborly care giver, is a cheerfully bustling busybody always at the ready with a spot of tea all 'round.
And as the hapless cause of all of the hubbub, Cynthia Mason goes to the core of mordant, moribund Ida, with expressive face, beseeching eyes, and inarticulate eloquence. When Ida silently appears in a pre-curtain, post-curtains tableau looking lovely, elegant, and young, it is not only a poignant contrast but Hochberg's directorial benison and benediction (it's not in the script). Also providing subliminal contrast and comment is Hochberg's use of joyful, romantic music by Al Bowley, an English musical sensation of the 1930s, Ida's heyday.
Flawless design elements include David Wisniewski's richly detailed set, Gina Davidson's character-defining costumes, and luminary Paulie Jenkins' lighting.
"Curtains," presented by and at the International City Theatre, Long Beach City College campus, Clark St. and Harvey Way, Long Beach. July 31-Sept. 6. (562) 938-4128.
DANNY AND THE
DEEP BLUE SEA
at the Beverly Hills Playhouse
Reviewed by Madeleine Shaner
People who are out of alignment are the specialty of playwright John Patrick Shanley, and the neighborhood bar, sometimes the loneliest place in town, is often the staging area for his bruised and alienated characters. Meeting in a derelict Bronx bar in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Danny (Martin Marino), interning as a psychopath, and Roberta (Nanea Reeves), a single mother in hate with herself, both tightly wrapped in their barbed isolation, are flagship orators for his theses.
Danny thinks he may have killed a man; Roberta knows her soul is dead; both are seeking punishment and absolution. Limited people with few resources, abused by brute life, and verbally and emotionally incoherent, they inevitably aim for each other like heat-seeking missiles. No "cute meet" here, their engagement is the Apache dance of street ruffians, to the death or the delivery.
Both players are awesome. Reeves steeped in anguish, and Marino blind with rage, are so totally honest in their portrayals that there is an actual physical change in both from start to finish of the play. The bad and the ugly give way to the almost good and the nearly fair--real (theatrical) life isn't about absolutes. Despite the foul language that seems to be the currency of contemporary urban drama, both actors find the rough poetry in Shanley's dedicated crudity.
Using stark balletic black-light sequences as punctuation, director Robert Walden does an intensely creative take on a close encounter of a fairly familiar kind; his approach is as much psychological chiropractic as it is stage direction. He handles his superb players with amazing strength and tenderness and, with the help of Gary Randall's innovative set design and Doc Ballard's lighting, equally manages the so often cumbersome set changes with neat theatrical agility, bringing in an athletic night clean-up crew to close up the bar and set the scene for the incredibly sexy collision between the two combatants. Marcos Questas' choreography and Francisco Viana's fight choreography are major contributors to the lovely balletic rhythm of the production.
"Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," presented by Flying Blue Productions at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. Aug. 7-Sept. 6. (213)660-TKTS or (818)907-6852.
THIS IS A SIZE 6...
AND THIS IS YOUR HEAD
at Theatre at the Improv
Reviewed by Polly Warfield
Carlos Alazraqui is a name that gets attention, and when he gets it, he knows what to do with it. It's an exotic name, hinting at a romantic lineage, Basque maybe. But his parents are from Argentina and speak with an accent. Nevertheless Carlos Jaime Alazraqui was picked by his Concord, California, high school as its All-American Boy. Sure he is. Carlos is anyone or anything he wants to be, including a cute little chihuahua pup with big eyes, big ears, and a big yen for Taco Bell. It's Alazraqui's voice on the TV commercial du jour that gives the pup a boulevardier's sheen of sophistication and savoir faire and makes him just so super cool.
But it's not the voice alone that does it. This mosaic of monologues, imitations, impressions, and evocations makes it clear that Alazraqui belongs to that rare category of chameleonesque actors who adopt the color, coat, and quality of whatever host they light upon. It's the voice and more; it's also the fluid physical grace, the buoyant energy, and the sentient intelligence that underlies these. Alzaraqui is plenty savvy; he proves it by choosing Maria O'Brien as director and Ann Slichter as co-writer of what is in effect his professional theatrical debut.
The tone of his six soliloquies is predominantly sunny; if Alzaraqui has a somber thought, he keeps it to himself. He accepts life's vagaries and human eccentricities with sanguine spirit. A smile that slants slightly downward at the corners is a clue to his acerbic humor. He has a Spanish (maybe Basque) face that would look good on an intellectual. But he's an All-American Boy and proud of it , who speaks English without an accent--Spanish too--and talks affectionately of his "crazy Latina" mother and "Mr. Mellow" dad, who is on record with the statement that "an Argentinean is an Italian who speaks Spanish and thinks he's British and wishes he were French."
Carlos is a daredevil skydiver and a soccer buff. His impersonation of an Argentine shoe salesman in a U.S. mall trying to find a too-small size six shoe for an importunate customer is delicious--especially when he breaks into a tango riff and a Brando imitation ("Estella!"). He emulates Jack Nicholson, Jimmy Stewart, Peter Finch, and others, including his revered Scottish soccer coach John Haney, who gives him good advice: "Stay away from acting gurus." There's a bit of Alzaraqui in each of them--and vice versa.
"This Is a Size 6... and This Is Your Head!," presented by Eve Brandstein and Marie O'Brien with and at Theatre at the Improv, 8l62 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. July 29-Aug. 27. (3l0) 887-52l8.
YOU BETTER WORK!
at the Tell-It Theater
Reviewed by Ken Pfeil
The howling mythologies of racist representations of black labor figures--Uncle Toms, Pickaninnys, Big Black Bucks, and big, big Mammies--roll from the throats and bodies of four actors (Joyce Guy, Charles Lane, Fana Baba Dayo, and Joel Talbert) in a kind of starkly humorous warning and exorcism. This is a critique made no less powerful by the hyperbolic portrayals of stereotypical black characters who crow and croon stories about lives and bodies brutally shaped by ceaseless toil. That the maid and the clean-it-up man, the cook and the handyman flash white grins of subordination at the same time divulging masterful acts of espionage simply by appearing to be the dullards their white masters believe, gives one pause in light of the artifice and unknown awareness these figures use to survive.
You Better Work! hits powerfully with its inundation of the totems of servile lives--the mops, brooms, rolling pins, ironing boards, hammers, and nails--and the constant pattering dance with these items in which the characters engage, a dance unheard by the masters/owners/jailers/etc. They are items of power and in the respect given them through unending use, these totems serve to strengthen the poetic repetition of the play's writing. The very stage on which the play is set seems built of these items, and makes the attention to specific detail in the production's visual design incredibly poignant.
As an anthology of the Black work ethic, You Better Work! presents its stories in a fluid motion, and stays away from abrupt transitions. The result is a rhythmic entity, part of which are the amazing musical cadences of Derf Reklaw, an artist of great scope who puts a distinct and harmonious voice into his part. Under Bob Devin Jones' direction, You Better Work! is a bold commentary, charged with important emotion. Following the play is a 45-minute documentary film by Florence M'mbugu-Schelling about women breaking rocks, which serves as an open-ended close to the production, leaving an undeniable responsibility on the viewer.
"You Better Work!," presented at Watts Labor Community Action Committee's Tell-It Theater, 10950 South Central Ave., Los Angeles. Aug. 1-23. (310) 789-4440.
at the Pantages Theatre
Reviewed by Terri Roberts
The nightlights dim over three small beds. A small, bouncy light suddenly appears and flits across the room, illuminating a dollhouse and snapping open dresser drawers. Hearts skip, breath stops, skin goes all goosebumply, and even the oldest of us becomes an excited, wide-eyed 10-year-old again as the nursery windows fly open and in swoops Peter Pan.
It is surely one of the most magical entrances ever staged in musical theatre, And in the current touring production now at the Pantages, it is made even more so by the astonishing Cathy Rigby in the title role.
The former Olympic gymnast is perfection as the perennially young Pan. Boundless curiosity sends her spinning back and forth across the nursery--turning over, looking under, riding on, balancing on everything she sees. Even back in Neverland, she seizes every opportunity for adventure with that childlike eagerness to cram every bit of fun possible into every second of every day.
But director Glenn Casale realizes that as wonderful and magical as Peter's life is, it doesn't come without cost. Together, he and Rigby show us the high price he pays for choosing to never grow up. Peter may be the personification of youth, joy, and freedom, as he declares, but he is also willful, narcissistic, and resentful, all of which exacerbates his fear of abandonment to such a point that he cannot bear to be touched or to accept the love for which he so desperately searches.
Paul Schoeffler is also exceptional in his dual role as Mr. Darling/Captain Hook. Here is a more realistic, loving father than we are used to seeing, one who enjoys, rather than endures, his children. As Hook, Schoeffler keeps him loud, sneering, and comical, but stays away from buffoonish. He has some real menace to him as well.
Elisa Sagardia is an eager Wendy, Chase Kniffen a properly proper Michael, and Drake English an adorable John. Dana Solimando also gets a dual role as the Darling's housekeeper, Liza, and as the proud Tiger Lily. Though there are some darker hues in this production of Peter Pan, it still sparkles with life, exuberance, and joy. Your heart will break during the plaintive "Distant Melody," your mouth will turn up a grin during "I Gotta Crow," and your whole body will find itself ready to jump up in the air during the extraordinary drumming and dancing of "Ugg-a-Wugg" (choreography by Patti Colombo and new orchestration by musical director Craig Barna).
You may think you're too grown up for Peter Pan--that it's only for kids. This production will change your mind. Guaranteed, you're never too old to learn how to fly.
"Peter Pan" presented at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Aug. 4-16. (213) 365-3500.
A NEW YORK
at the Coast Playhouse
Reviewed by Anne Louise Bannon
Mary Setrakian suffers beautifully, delightfully, and poignantly in her one-woman sing-a-thon about breaking up, getting over it, getting back together, and breaking up again.
While I do not wish to diminish her wonderful voice--it handles the entire gamut of vocal music gymnastics from opera to rap without a hitch or sour note--her voice alone couldn't have made the show work as well as it does.
According to the press notes, the show started out as part of a workshop where Setrakian was trying to put together a cabaret act. What evolved instead was a dramatic through-line and the character of Maddy Madison, a flautist living in Manhattan whose boyfriend Bill has a problem with a former girlfriend he can't get out of his mind -- so "let's be friends."
Setrakian mopes about her apartment (on a set more spacious than any Manhattan flat) singing song after song as her mood swings back and forth between despair and good-riddance. The acting and the singing cannot be faulted. But what really sets this show off from just another compilation of standards and other tunes are the sight gags and bits and the emotional subtext carried throughout.
For example, moping in the middle of the night, Setrakian pulls out milk and a bowl, reaches for a box of Kashi, pauses, then reaches behind the healthy stuff and pulls out a box of Cap'n Crunch instead. A simple maneuver, but it speaks volumes.
In the same sequence, Setrakian sings "They're Writing Songs of Love, But Not For Me," through a mouthful of potato chips, crunching to highlight the beat. It's quite a testament to her skill that each word, for the most part, is still understandable.
Setrakian is accompanied by pianist Todd Schroeder, who is mostly invisible. And she does play her flute--a lovely interlude with the Pachelbel Canon. All in all, it's an eclectic evening linked by the through line, which allows for a tremendous variety of music. And as long as you're not the one with the broken heart, it's a fun way to suffer.
"A New York Romance," presented by Darren Lee Cole in association with the Armenian General Benevolent Union at the Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hollywood, July 9-Aug. 23. (213) 660-8587.
MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP
at the Rose Alley Theatre
Reviewed by Les Spindle
During the dog days of summer, there's nothing quite as refreshing as a sparkling theatrical tonic. The Zeitgeist Theatre Company's Miles to Go Before I Sleep is a charming double bill of one-act comedies exploring the human capacity for escaping from life's disappointments through fantasy and obsessive behavior.
Leading off the evening is the bittersweet Flo, by R. T. Martin, sensitively directed by Boyd Holister. This touching fable depicts the colorful dream-world of an elderly former makeup artist. The widowed Flo (Laura McCann) is so starved for company that she finds excuses to have her ever-patient handyman Zeke (Alex Ferrer) drop by so she can browse through her scrapbook and spin tales of her amorous adventures with the likes of Clark Gable (Holister) and Humphrey Bogart (Robert Sutton), and her platonic adventures with the fey Truman Capote (Dana Vitatoe). As Zeke confides to the audience, Flo obviously had her image superimposed into the photos beside the stars.
This unpretentious work, reminiscent of Woody Allen in his fantasy mode, is greatly enhanced by the wry performance of McCann, who deftly underplays this endearing character to marvelous effect. Sutton, Holister, and Vitatoe are all highly amusing as egocentric Hollywood legends in the paunchy phase of their lives, receiving tips from Flo on bolstering their sagging images.
The second offering, Knife Play by Francine Taylor, crisply directed by Vitatoe, gives Ferrer a lot more to work with, as he shines in the role of Greg, a beleaguered but determined knife salesman who arrives for a demo at the home of a couple of bizarre roommates (L. T. Fusaro as April and Kerry Menchin as Helen). April has a spooky affinity for knives of all shapes and sizes that are stashed all over the apartment and ominously sings the praises of Lorena Bobbitt. Helen feels insecure about her lesbian alliance with April and becomes jealous of the poor sap Greg, who's just trying to do his job. Fusaro and Menchen are pricelessly funny as support-group junkies for whom therapy clearly is a lost cause. Fuzzy Fusaro and Vitatoe also elicit laughs in the roles of bemused security officers. Taylor's darkish comedy never quite delivers the nightmarish Orton-esque tone that it promises, but you'll be laughing too hard to care.
This is the last production for Zeitgeist in the Rose Alley Theatre, as the group moves next year to a new facility in North Hollywood. As evidenced by this finely crafted production, this is a company worth following.
"Miles to Go Before I Sleep," presented by the Zeitgeist Theatre Company at the Rose Alley Theatre, 318 Lincoln Blvd. #117, Venice. July 31-Sept. 5. (818) 348-6967.
CHILDREN OF SHAME
at the Lex Theatre
Reviewed by Ken Pfeil
The unfolding of playwright W. Colin McKay's drama is a lot like the deceptive Chinese box--there is constantly more inside it than at first impression, which, in itself, registers high and invites close attention. As it plays off the volatility of war, specifically the Serbian conflict, the story sets up a surface interrogative and works to answer that by covert means. Subsequently, complex information is doled out in a stagger-step of bits and pieces, the play thus being an original and poignant puzzle.
The story's protagonist is Molly Hinson (Sandra Thigpen), a tough-as-nails war crimes investigator persuaded by Major Robertson (Lee Spencer) to gather information aimed at indicting a Serbian war criminal. To do this, Molly must interview a trio of Christian missionaries (Mary Linda Phillips, Tricia Dong, and Karen James) having their own valuable information regarding the case, but being reluctant to give it up. It is these interactions with Thigpen seeming to subordinate the sisters of mercy which ring loudest. While able to stay focused on her goal, Molly nonetheless exemplifies how one might change one's notion of a question to better get the answer. The closer the answer looms, in fact, after all the blind alleys and backtracking, the more apparent it becomes that Thigpen's Molly has not only waded in the mire of half-truths and cover-ups of the investigated, but has subtly delved into her own recesses for some powerful self-discovery.
Anthony Barnao directs performances that often hit marks of very rich tension and conflict. And viewing these sometimes evokes the urge to throttle the characters, particularly when they feign stupidity and smoke-screen their ways through interrogation. This speaks loudest of all: in our quick-answer world of absolutes, discretion as a matter of life and death often escapes us. McCay's address of important personal issues in equally important political and social environments offers no quick absolutes; more it leaves us wondering exactly what it is we want to know.
"Children of Shame," presented by Blue Sphere Alliance at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave, Hollywood. July 10-Aug. 30. (213) 957-5782.
at Actors Theatre
Reviewed by Kerry Reid
Steven Dietz's Private Eyes, at its best, intertwines the ominous, yet playful, uncertainty of Harold Pinter (especially Pinter's plays The Lover and Betrayal) with a particularly American sense of earnestness and optimism. The Dreamstackers and Genesius Theater Company production (a Northern California premiere), under the direction of Louis Parnell, mostly succeeds at keeping the intricacies of Dietz's plot flowing with panache and heartfelt performances by the cast.
The trickery begins before the play does: as the audience enters the theatre, black-clad "stagehands" are still working on the set. Soon, another man in black (Finn Curtin) enters and begins playing a video, which contains footage of several actors delivering Dietz's own thoughts about the genesis of the play, contained in the program notes. Slowly, we learn that the man is a casting director, given to pompous pronouncements such as, "I think truth is air, and air is very precious around here."
As the first act unfolds, we realize that the preceding scene is part of a play-within-a-play, in which a husband-and-wife team, Matthew and Lisa (Curtin and Linda Whalen) are being directed by a truly pompous British director, Adrian (Bill English.) The illicit affair between Lisa and Adrian forms the dramatic crux of the play, but Dietz's cast of shady characters includes Cory (Susi Damilano), an alleged private dick who follows Matthew in an attempt at either physical seduction or information-gathering, (or possibly both) and Frank (Parnell), Matthew's hilariously prissy and patronizing shrink, whose own agenda becomes increasingly cloudy.
Dietz's real subject is the unknowability of one's lovers, and the inability to fully trust those who occupy the most intimate places in our hearts and lives. What his skillfully constructed funhouse of a play reflects in its mirrors are characters torn between wanting the absolute truth, and desiring the safety of protective lies. "An innocent question. Now wouldn't that be something?" snarls Cory, and we are reminded that such a thing doesn't really exist between two people who love and need each other.
Parnell's staging is slick and inspired, and English's set design, with its sliding flats divided by the suggestion of a faultline, beautifully captures the sense of uncertainty and impermanence conjured by Dietz's script. The one major flaw in the production is the abrupt and somewhat pat ending--it feels like Dietz got so caught up in his Chinese boxes that he simply couldn't find a more graceful or intellectually satisfying way to end the proceedings.
Still, the cast delivers fully committed and intelligent performances, especially Curtin as the increasingly distraught Matthew and Whalen as the tormented, passionate, and essentially honorable Lisa. Damilano and Parnell play their parts with the right mix of menace and irritating smugness, respectively. And the ensemble of stagehands (Jena Luksetich, Janis Taylor, and Jeff Wincek) are well-integrated into the play-within-a-play-within-a-therapy-session world Dietz creates.
"Private Eyes," presented by Dreamstackers and Genesius Theater Company at Actors Theatre, 533 Sutter St, San Francisco. Aug. 6-Sept. 5. (415) 675-4796.
CRAZY FOR YOU, THE PAJAMA GAME, CABARET
at the Sacramento Music Circus
Reviewed by Barry Wisdom
For 48 years, the Sacramento Music Circus has been a tradition in the state's capital. Under the aegis of the Sacramento Light Opera Association, the musical theatre company delivers daily performances in-the-round for seven weeks each summer, with a new show opening under its tent every Monday.
Long before the original Love Boat and Fantasy Island capitalized on the nostalgic appeal of familiar television and film actors, Music Circus provided a summer home for long-dormant triple-threats. In recent years however, that practice has been abandoned in favor of hiring active theatre professionals. Whatever it lost in terms of name recognition, Music Circus gained in terms of reliable performances free of Urkel-like associations.
This season's first three productions, Crazy for You, The Pajama Game, and Cabaret, typify all that is glorious--and aggravating--about shows under the blue-and-green-striped tent.
It wouldn't be Music Circus without at least one laugh-getting gaffe opening night and Crazy For You held with tradition.
The frothy plot is simple boy-meets-girl fluff. Banking heir Bobby Child (Bob Walton) wants to be a Broadway star, but in order to retain his allowance must serve a foreclosure notice on a Nevada theatre. After falling in love with the theatre owner's daughter, Polly (Stephanie J. Block), he tries to pay off the mortgage by putting on a show disguised as impresario Bela Zangler.
In his first scene as Zangler, Walton's mustache began to peel off. Walton, who with his receding hairline and lined face, looks a bit too old for the part of Bobby, proceeded to become unglued as well--delivering an overly long string of ad-libs to the cast and audience as he struggled to stick the piece back on.
Though many first-nighters were delighted by his impromptu cabaret, I agreed with the lone audience member who shouted, "Just take it off!" I don't know if it's the "circus" atmosphere of the circular stage that encourages slack attitudes regarding staying in character, but could director Gred Ganakas please write a memo?
Walton's early descent into self-aggrandizement was entirely in keeping, however, with his odd interpretation of Bobby as a smug, preening brat. A cranky sound system that made Walton sound like he was trapped in a well didn't help his lackluster performance.
Much better in all departments is co-star Block. Her solos on such classic Gershwin tunes as "Someone to Watch Over Me," "I Got Rhythm," and "But Not For Me" are alternately touching and soaring. Kudos to designer Robinette Lloyd for Polly's fabulous, character-appropriate wardrobe (and for the Follies Girls' costumes as well).
Serving up big numbers on Music Circus' fairly small platter of a stage has always been difficult--an obstacle Angelique Ilo's reproduction of the original choreography couldn't overcome. With the dancers scattered on two levels and around the perimeter of the stage, it really didn't matter if they were in synch or not--you couldn't tell one way or the other.
On the other hand, The Pajama Game's emphasis on the playful lyrics and melodies of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, rather than on show-stopping production numbers, makes it perfectly suited for in-the-round presentation.
Though the 43-year-old story of man-versus-woman and labor-versus-management at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory is really beginning to fray in the light of 21st century sensibilities, it does provide a serviceable framework for ballads, novelty tunes, and featured dance numbers. These are superbly performed here by a uniformly talented cast led by Stephen Zinnato as plant superintendent Sid Sorokin and Mary Gordon Murray as Sorokin's intended, union representative Babe Williams.
Of course, if Sleep-Tite were a real company it would need a gaggle of lawyers on retainer. While company picnics still exist, the freedom to "be wild, be a child, raise the roof, be a goof" even on that "Once-A-Year-Day!" no longer exists. Kiss Katie's ear now and you and your company will be slapped with a sexual harassment suit.
Indeed, the best acting in the show has to be by the female cast members, who don't reveal a bit of feminine outrage during such numbers as "Isn't Her?" (which happens to be an inspired kick featuring Dink O'Neal as the appropriately geeky union president and the mesmerizing Mylinda Hull).
Zinnato and Murray are strong, emotional, character-driven singers terrific in their respective solos and ensemble numbers, but they bring down the house in Act One's vocal highlight "There Once Was a Man."
Everyone is quite good--better than the show deserves. Credit director Mark S. Hoebee, who keeps things moving so quickly you forget you're supposed to disapprove of the rampant sexism.
Save for Hull's delightful intimate showcases that mix laughs with simmering sexuality, dance doesn't predominate, though Dan Mojica's choreography keeps scenes well animated. Though clever in concept, "Hernando's Hideaway" fails to ignite, thanks to its reliance on very unreliable lighters as props. Costume designer Robinette Lloyd also has to be complimented for her part in making "Once-A-Year-Day!" a stand-out number with the cast's "play clothes" stunning in madras and Ban-Lon.
Mindful of its rather conservative subscribers, Music Circus producers continue to deliver De Mille over Fosse. I still recall the early exodus of several "ringside" audience members during the company's 1979 production of Pippin.
It's no surprise then that the Cabaret presented under the big top this summer doesn't come close to emulating the delicious sleaziness of 1929 Berlin as portrayed in Broadway's current incarnation of the Kander and Ebb musical. Instead, director Glenn Casale and choreographer Linda Goodrich have given us a PG-rated Kit Kat Klub. The only thing one could imagine catching from this club's chorus girls is a pop fly hit during a Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS charity softball game.
That's not to say the production will be opening in Branson, Mo., anytime soon. The metaphor of the club representing Germany during Hitler's rise to power is intact and delivered powerfully by the entire cast, from the eccentric ghoulishness of the Emcee (Francis Jue) to the understated poignancy of Brooks Almy and Lenny Wolpe as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz.
As British expatriate and aging chanteuse Sally Bowles, Nancy Ringham is too good a singer to be believable. With the wonderful voice she demonstrates in "Maybe This Time," as well as the title song, shouldn't Sally be headlining in New York? Her jittery, breathless take on the self-absorbed Sally, while not inspired, served the material well. Nat Chandler's idealistic Cliff also convinces in a well-done if toned down outing.
"Crazy For You" (July 13-19), "The Pajama Game" (July 20-26), and "Cabaret" (July 27-Aug. 2) presented by and at the Sacramento Light Opera Association's Music Circus, 1419 H St., Sacramento. (916) 557-1999.
at the New Conservatory Theatre Center
Reviewed by Matthew Surrence
At its best, 42nd Street Moon--the San Francisco company that presents semi-staged, book-in-hand versions of rarely revived Broadway musicals--breathes new theatrical life into unjustly forgotten scores. At its worst, which is none too bad indeed, the company's "Lost Musical Series" serves a valuable archival role, letting contemporary audiences hear just how dumb some Broadway musical books actually were.
One of the dumbest was written for George and Ira Gershwin's 1930 musical Girl Crazy. Guy Bolton and Jack McGowan's joke-heavy story of a Broadway playboy who finds true love on an Arizona ranch served as a clothesline on which some standards ("Embraceable You," "I Got Rhythm," "But Not for Me") could be pinned by Ginger Rogers in her second Broadway musical and Ethel Merman in her first.
The shoestring 42nd Street Moon version takes place on a stage bare but for a couple of theatrical cubes, a row of chairs and a piano, on which the accompaniment is played masterfully by musical director David Dobrusky (joined by cast member Brandon Adams for the overture). The two-and-a-half-hour, two-act show begins with a sweetly harmonic "Bidin' My Time" sung with an easy, relaxed grace by four cowboys--Adams, Anthony Martinez, Bill Fahrner, and Greg Grabow--who sound as if they've spent more time at the barbershop than on the prairie.
Their moseying is interrupted by the arrival of two city dudes: playboy Danny Churchill (Joshua Brown, a one-dimensional, young Ron Howard type) and his sidekick Gieber Goldfarb (Richard Frederick, a funny Robert De Niro look-alike) who drove him all the way to Arizona in a taxi. Danny quickly falls for the down-to-earth postmistress Molly Gray (a well-scrubbed Dyan McBride, self-assured in her red and black cowboy boots in the Ginger Rogers part, singing a sweetly crystalline "But Not for Me"), who makes him jealous of long-time romantic rival Sam Mason (Grabow, wobbly and weak on some line readings).
The wisecracking Gieber (a role written for Bert Lahr, but played in the original by vaudeville comic Willie Howard) gets in trouble with local roughneck Lank Shannon (Jesse Caldwell, doing a robust Slim Pickens) and attracts the eye of local beauty Patsy West (the charming and talent Paula Sonenbert, doing her best with a misconceived, exaggerated, squeaky characterization). Comic complications are piled on by the arrival of gambler Slick Fothergill (Fahrner, the brightest, sharpest comic actor in the cast) and his wife, Frisco Kate (Lisa Peers, who, in the Merman part, belts out a four-square "I Got Rhythm" in a strong, clear, but slightly nasal voice).
Talented Amy Cole and beautiful Alison Bloomfield provide strong support as local ladies both in Arizona and on a brief jaunt south of the border, as do Tom Jermain and the appealing, charismatic Adams. If some of the show's laughs are sparked by dated references--"On Western prairies we shoot the fairies and send them back to the East" goes one lyric line in "Bronco Buster"--many of its delights are courtesy of the snappy direction of Roy Casstevens and the cute choreography of Berle Davis, particularly Danny and Molly's nifty "Embraceable You" dance.
"Girl Crazy," presented by 42nd Street Moon at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Aug. 5-23. (415) 861-8972.
at the Powerhouse Theatre
Reviewed by A.R. Clark
One does not see enough physical theatre being offered these days. At its best, physical theatre is able to combine madness and control, bypass the analytical, and connect to a part of us that existed before language. It replaces our commonplace bodies with a transcendent reality. This is the aim of most theatre styles of the 20th century, but most especially that of physical theatre.
It is heartening, therefore, that the Burglars of Hamm have mounted Flee Circus, nine short pieces exploring the theme of escape, at the Powerhouse Theatre in Santa Monica. It is a bumpy ride, not entirely successful, but fun and lively. The ensemble of Carolyn Almos, Jon Beauregard, Victor Ortado, and Selina Smith are quite capable performers, although sometimes lacking the physical precision that makes this kind of theatre sparkle. But they are fine committed actors who bring a great sense of adventure to the stage.
One piece that stands out as exemplary is "Productivity," an exploration of the ill-suited marriage between efficiency and humanity that takes place in the workplace. It is a stunning piece that is hypnotic by the end. Three riffs on boredom, "Doldrum Suite," is also zany and inventive.
Unfortunately, Matt Almos' direction is spotty. Some of the pieces are too long and there is little sense of musicality, a vital element in physical theatre. Some of the pieces, notably "Chain," don't seem finished as a result. Still, when the direction works, as is the case with "Productivity," it is beautiful.
The original music by Michael Werckle adds a fun but eerie circus (naturally) feel to the pieces, making us feel as if we are looking into a world that isn't (and is) our own.
"Flee Circus," presented by the Burglars of Hamm and the Powerhouse Theatre at the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica. July 31-Sept. 6. (323) 769-5431.
WHITE TRASH WEDDING AND A FUNERAL
at the Attic Theater
Reviewed by Wenzel Jones
Impeccable direction and lusty performances combine to make one of the more mean-spirited and irritating shows currently available, but it would be unfair not to mention that the audience loved it. This particular demographic is usually the prime target of the summer movies, if that helps.
The Factory Theater, based in Chicago, is using this production as its calling card to Los Angeles and though the initial temptation is to murmur, "We are not receiving," the potential on display here is quite impressive. Sean Abley has directed this with such skill and precision that he manages to wring laughs out of a text that deserves none of them. Mike Beyer and Bill Havle have tossed up a script that is so crude that the title (which also functions as all the plot summary you'll need) may be the longest string of words we encountered that didn't employ an obscene gerund or vividly sexually descriptive term. It reached a point where we were certain we'd heard absolutely every expletive currently extant when, by gosh, they managed one more. And loudly. This show is so loud.
The cast is game, though, and a couple even manage to rise above the yelling. Stephanie Boles is as touching as it's possible to be under the circumstances as Aunt Shirley, a sweet sort who gives beer and cigarettes as a wedding gift, and Brooke Dillman as the mouthy Gladys has a sort of Carol Burnett charm. Dillman also gets extra points for sporting the most incredibly unflattering costumes. Oddly, the costumes, wigs, and makeup, all of which are quite well (as in over-) done, are uncredited.
Though I can't recommend it, I certainly can't deny that a show like this has a certain popular appeal. You'll want to avoid the front row as beer, both from the can and from the cast, gets spewed.
"White Trash Wedding and a Funeral," presented by The Factory Theater at The Attic Theater, 6562 1/2 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Aug. 7-Sept. 26. (323) 469-3786.
IN THE CITY FOR THE SUMMER
at the Angels Theatre
Reviewed by Michael Jordan
In Madge Storm Beletsky's new farce, two sociology professors, married to each other, forego their European summer vacation with a friend. Instead they plan to study an underclass couple, publish a paper about them, and achieve mutual tenure. The academics' plan goes awry, when their subjects kidnap them and their friend, whose ambiguous sexuality complicates matters further.
Beletsky mostly draws rich, consistent, compelling characters, and gives them snappy dialogue. Her rollicking script uniquely wanders into tangents, milking and wringing hilarity from comedy-of-manners observations. However, the material loses momentum as it repeatedly trots out the same issues, loses organizational focus, and eventually becomes entangled in cheap, tired, derogatory gay jokes.
Jan O'Connor's direction fails to trim the two-and-a-half-hour frivolous comedy, so the pacing takes a nose dive in Act Two. Much of the plot relies on the actors' passion, which O'Conner solicits with mixed results. Her high number of poorly coordinated, blackout set changes gives the crew so much stage time as to nearly qualify as part of the cast.
Nancy Fassett, as Prof. Miranda creates a marvelous phony. Conniving as Iago, her character's carefully executed development becomes the central story. As her husband, Scott Lee struggles with an over-the-top role that stretches disbelief too far. Highly skilled Tony DeCarlo renders the explosive personality of a cornered thug who wants more out of life. As his girlfriend, Laura Pursell balances energetic creativity with her own masterful style. Sadly, while plenty handsome, John H. Ford's canned timing misses many laughs and his lack of preparation shows in elusive lines.
Kenny Klimak's breakaway set stands up to the athletic action and Richard Freer's sound design nobly attempts to entertain during the many prop shuffles. The uncredited costume designer may want to pin Ford's fly more securely.
"In the City for the Summer," presented by Company of Angels at the Angels Theatre, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silverlake. Aug. 7-Sept. 12. (213) 660-8587.
GETTING AND SPENDING
at the Old Globe Theatre
by Charlene Baldridge
Slickly staged by esteemed director John Tillinger, Michael J. Chepiga's Getting and Spending, in its world premiere, is marked by exceedingly funny dialogue. But despite the moral, ethical, and legal issues he introduces, the play he delivers is a facile and adept meringue. It's especially frustrating when the intelligence required to dig more deeply seems apparent.
Replete with stock-market intrigue and a posturing, power-suited female (Kali Rocha), the work has resonance with Jerry Sterner's Other People's Money. In this case, Wall Street wizard Victoria Phillips (Linda Purl) is accused of insider trading. Never mind that with her ill-gotten gains she built high-rise housing for homeless families with children and their families. Motivation, in this case, is not admissible as evidence.
Having read of a brilliant former trial lawyer named Richard O'Neill (James Morrison), Victoria and her stalwart admirer (David Lansbury) go to a rural Franciscan monastery where O'Neill is about to take orders. A generation steeped in Michael Crichton novels and film and television trials knows what to expect. Chepiga's play is predictable, its outcome apparent. Even his one ace is no surprise. Extremely competent and attractive, Purl and Morrison do what they can with a love relationship that has little buildup and even less development or sustenance.
We are capable of understanding more, but are given a super-light exploration of the charges against Victoria, a shallow legal preparation, and a lightning-fast trial (what was that final plea?). One hoped that the scene of denouement, which promises Act Three of Massanet's Manon, would deliver more. Alas, it lacked what could have been gutsy eroticism. Neither character delivers the goods.
Laughs are abetted by MacIntyre Dixon as a deaf Franciscan gatekeeper, by the luminous Debra Mooney, who manages to avoid stereotype as Victoria's mother, and by the amazingly physical and "blank" Derek Smith as the bumbling Brother Alfred, whose predecessors date back to Plautus.
James F. Noone's minimalist, light-strip, ticker-tape set is endlessly fascinating. Michael Krass creates stylish costumes, although one wonders why the women's blouses are frequently untucked. On opening night, Jeff Ladman's Jeopardy-like sound design sometimes overwhelmed scene-ending dialogue.
But the real problem here is that Chepiga must decide whether Getting and Spending is merely about getting laughs.
"Getting and Spending," presented by and at the Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego. Aug. 1-Sept. 5. (619) 239-2255.
THE FUR and A COUCH STORY
at the Actor's Workshop
Reviewed by Barry Wisdom
Buck Busfield, as he's demonstrated time and time again as producing director for the B Street Theatre, is a champion of those new American plays that deftly mix comedy with drama, pratfalls with pathos. But in The Fur, his latest moonlighting stint as playwright for Edward Claudio's Actor's Workshop, the dramatic component of the serio-comic one-act is faux, relying on a series of improbable miscommunications to set up the climax.
As Chicago furrier August Babiak (Claudio) says to his late wife via a conversation with her photograph--their shop's stock-in-trade is suffering a decline in popularity. Like cigarettes, liquor, and kindness, furs have fallen out of favor, he says, replaced by a new, all-consuming pastime--complaining. Nowadays, "everything sucks," he sighs, as he prepares to finally close the business opened by his parents 56 years earlier. At the top of his personal "suck" list are creditors and their hardball-playing representatives. And, so, when a middle-aged woman (Jan Ahders) he hopes is a customer turns out to be a lawyer looking for his signature, he goes ballistic (before going to the bottle). Her subsequent return and partial clarification of her mission only draws another verbal attack by the old man before the play's emotional--if manipulative--closing catharsis.
Of course, the majority of Babiak's histrionics could have been avoided if the lawyer had been professional and simply announced her intentions when she walked in (perhaps we're to forgive this point--and her too-casual wardrobe--since she's a new lawyer). Though Claudio and Ahders, as well as director Roy Conrad, do all they can to pull it off, Busfield's contrived script fails them.
David Pierini's A Couch Story also requires its audience to accept some pretty unbelievable behavior on the part of a lead character in order to keep its own roller-coaster ride of silliness and sentimentality moving along.
High school seniors Lucy (Amanda Loncor) and Tom (Alex Finch), pals since freshman year, have turned a study date into a night of videos and vino. Fortified by the grape, Tom declares his desire to be more than friends with a passionate kiss that not only surprises Lucy, but prompts her to proclaim newfound lesbianism. Staggered by her confession, he pooh-poohs his shock and disappointment, acknowledging what should have been obvious to a best friend: "Of course you're a lesbian, you drive a truck!" Tom and Lucy's evening stretches into a wise-beyond-their-years discussion about the awkward dance that is teenage courtship, what being a "man" truly entails, and how to break the genetic parenting link.
During this time, it becomes clear she's no lesbian. When she finally recants the statement, her explanation is frustrating and frivolous and betrays a character so thoughtful and eloquent about other matters.
Loncar is appealing in her portrayal of the gal pal with secret desires of her own, and though Finch's monotone delivery was irritating--especially in its fluctuations between excruciating loud and inaudibly soft--it seemed appropriate in hindsight.
"The Fur" and "A Couch Story," presented at the Actor's Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento, July 12-Sept. 6. (916) 484-3750.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
at the Knightsbridge Theatre
Reviewed by Richard Scaffidi
With The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde attained a level of literate wit and satirical snap unsurpassed by Shaw or anyone else in the century since its creation. It is clearly one of the greatest comedies ever written, brimming with irresistible characters and dazzling dialogue that can charm and delight us, even after encountering innumerable other productions of it. Yet precisely because another mounting is never far away, one must always ask, "What is the importance of seeing this particular Earnest?" The answer in this case is "not enough."
Oh, there are decent performances all right. For instance, the lithe and lovely Nora Dickey makes the fetching country ward Cecily Cardew particularly mischievous in her youthful romantic ardor, and Jennifer Hubbs, as city socialite Gwendolen Fairfax, is notably skillful at the wonderful Wildean language--not to mention the alluring feistiness beneath it. Accordingly, the verbal catfight between Cecily and Gwendolen in Act Two is first-rate, and quite nearly sufficient to recommend the show overall.
What prevents this endorsement, however, are the three other lead performances, and the questionable direction by Deborah Riecks which largely accounts for them. Riecks chooses to emphasize a pace and style more suited to blunt farce than stylish comedy. This does enable the astonishing possibility of a major three-act play eliminating not only one intermission but actually barreling along with no break at all. (Mind you, it's still two hours long.) On the other hand, most of her actors play far too broadly, and we see more sweat from them than Wilde would ever tolerate.
One doesn't mind so much that minimal dimension is accorded the secondary roles of Cecily's prim tutor Miss Prism (JoAnna Jocelyn), the stuffy Reverend Canon Chasuble (Richard Large), or the ever-discreet valets Lane and Merriman (doubled by Warren Davis). What grates is that the show's excessively farcical approach extends to Glenn Richards' incessant flouncing and smirking as an ultra-foppish Algernon Moncrieff, and to Owen Bailey's monochromatic interpretation of John Worthing as a befuddled sniveler. In the case of Tia Odiam, portraying the disapproving high society matron Lady Bracknell, her focus is less on brittle wit and more on vocal affectation.
These three principals--unlike Dickey and Hubbs--make too many funny faces and are too easily caught working in their scenes. The play calls for breezy banter, intellectual subtlety, and effortless elegance. What it too often delivers here is italicized dialogue, clumsy framing, and frantic activity. It also doesn't help that the scenic design for this, of all plays, is obviously impoverished, marked by garish, uneven lighting and cheap, mismatched furniture.
"The Importance of Being Earnest," presented by and at the Knightsbridge Theatre, 35 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. July 25-Sept. 6. (626) 440-0821.
WALT AND ROY
at the Glaxa Studio Theater
Reviewed by J. Brenna Guthrie
Anyone born within the last 50 years has grown up with Mickey Mouse, Disneyland, and the genius behind it all, Walt Disney. But relatively few of us know much about the man behind the mouse except rumors that he had himself cryogenically frozen or that he was a Nazi sympathizer. Even fewer are aware that behind the driving creative force of Walt himself was his older brother and financial backbone Roy.
Canadian playwright Michael McKinlay's fascination with Disney and this sibling relationship has given birth to the wildly uneven Walt and Roy. The press notes indicate that the play has won numerous awards in the playwright's home country, but if this production is any indication, these awards are completely unwarranted. The piece takes place on the night before the two brothers are to meet with the Bank of America to gain financing for what will become one of Walt's seminal creative triumphs, the first full-length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
McKinlay uses this situation to try and illuminate the tempestuous relationship between the two brothers, but the action reveals nothing about the two men and is reduced to a two-hour petty argument between two men we never gain any sympathy for. The play simply asks more questions than it ever answers.
While McKinlay's quote in the program that he "began to read between the lines" while doing his research may be partly to blame, the Bare Stage Theatre's sloppy production is as much at fault for the play falling flat. It seems that director Robert Lane attempted only a cursory read of the piece before staging, prompting numerous staging problems. In one of the most confusing moments, Walt tells Roy he has thrown his brother's suit down the incinerator chute, but has never actually left the stage to perform this crucial action. John Allore as Walt and Tom Babuscio as Roy have a certain chemistry together, but try as these two seemingly talented actors might, they cannot overcome the meaningless banter and muddled direction to create a cohesive picture.
Design-wise, Alex Grayman has made great use of Glaxa's space to create an office set, surrounded by two brightly colored proscenium arches, which allows for a functional working space while at the same time giving a whimsical Disney touch (though I must point out that an Oscar is prominently placed on a back table, and Walt wasn't awarded one until years later). The additions of Michael Laughlin's wonderful sketches from Snow White add a bit of wonder to an otherwise thoroughly uninteresting evening.
"Walt and Roy," presented by Bare Stage Theatre and Glaxa Studios at Glaxa Studio Theater, 3707 Sunset Blvd., Silverlake. July 30-Sept. 12. (213) 694-0519.