In July 2010, La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts & McCoy Rigby Entertainment will take you onstage with their brand new “ONSTAGE” series which brings a new intimate theatre experience which has been created by placing 199 audience seats on the stage of the theatre.
For the first show of this new series, the stage will be filled with an incredible award-winning musical production and the audience. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts is excited to present Floyd Collins, with music and lyrics by Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza) and book by Tina Landau and which will be directed by Richard Israel who directed its Los Angeles premiere.Â Feel the adventure of Floyd Collins’s dream of fame and fortune as he is trapped in a narrow cave 200 feet below the surface. See how his goal of creating a tourist attraction becomes a reality, with him as the main attraction.
Then join La Mirada on the first Sunday night of each of their mainstage productions as Upright Cabaret, the pre-eminent Los Angeles hot spot for the next generation of world-class entertainers, brings its unique brand of cabaret entertainment to La Mirada! Upright Cabaret boasts one of the most extensive and diverse rosters of talent in the country. Broadway divas, talented troubadours, cabaret legends, Hollywood notables, pop sensations and many future sensations have all found their way to the Upright stage. Upright Alumni include Adam Lambert (“American Idol”), Alan Cumming (Tony Award winner), Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”), Paula Cole (Grammy Award winner), Hunter Parish (“Weeds”) and Lea Salonga (Tony Award winner).
Upright is taking their brand of new generation cabaret to La Mirada with the ‘American Icons Series’. Four rising stars of stage and screen will pay homage to musical idols like Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton and Joni Mitchell in a Cabaret Lounge created in the La Mirada Theatre lobby. Their soulful interpretations of American classics will change the way you think about cabaret. (Actual performers will be announced 3 weeks before show date.)
The first season’s shows include: City of Angels
November 8, 2009
Music of Joni Mitchell, Doris Day and Brian Wilson
New York State of Mind
February 7, 2010
Music of Robert Goulet, Billie Holliday and Bob Dylan
April 18, 2010
Music of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson
The Mighty Mississippi
June 6, 2010
Music of Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley and Prince
July 11, 2010
Music of Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash
Tickets to these extraordinary shows are now available by calling the Box Office at 562-944-9801 or 714-994-6310 or online at www.lamiradatheatre.com
Feature Photo courtesy of www.lolophoto.com/blog featuring a past La Mirada Theatre performance by the Filipino club at Cal State Fullerton.
Mary-Pat Green, Brian Dennehy and James Lancaster in “The Steward of Christendom.” Photo by Craig Schwartz.
2013 has been a good year for Mary-Pat Green in LA theater. In February she played the showstopping maid in Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels at Pasadena Playhouse, which drew this comment from LA Times reviewer Charlotte Stoudt: “The olive perfecting this dry martini is Mary-Pat Green as the Sterrolls’ new maid, who hilariously turns out to be the Most Interesting Woman in the World.” Green says that’s “the best line in a review I’ve ever gotten” — friends started jokingly referring to her as “Olive.” In October, she repeated that role, when most of the same production moved to Laguna Playhouse.
Now she’s appearing in The Steward of Christendom at Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum. In the 1995 Irish play by Sebastian Barry, Green plays Mrs. O’Dea, a compassionate widowed seamstress in the mental asylum where Thomas Dunne (Brian Dennehy) is spending his declining years reliving the vivid adventures of his youth.
Mary-Pat Green in the 2013 Pasadena Playhouse production of “Fallen Angels.”
Thomas Dunne is based on a real historical character — James Dunne, the chief superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and a Catholic loyal to the British crown at a time when Irish Protestants were fighting for their independence from British rule. Among his other duties, he was responsible for maintaining order in Dublin Castle, the headquarters of the British government in Ireland for more than 700 years. To make things even more difficult, he and his family lived there and were part of the “Castle Catholics” regarded with contempt by the revolutionaries.
In 1922 the outgoing British handed Dublin Castle over to Michael Collins, the leader of the Irish Republican Army during the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921 and subsequent leader of the Free State Army during the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923. Collins was assassinated in the late summer of 1922.
The Steward of Christendom begins in 1932, a decade after Dunne’s last days in office. In a program note, playwright Barry — a great-grandson of of the original James Dunne — described Thomas Dunne at that point in his life as “boggy in the head and thinner and unpredictable enough to have his grandchildren kept away from him.”
But apparently he is not frightening to Mrs. O’Dea, according to Mary-Pat Green. “He tells wonderful stories,” she says, “and reminds her of her late husband.” Playing Dunne, Dennehy “is a force of nature. It’s an amazing honor to work with him.”
In fact, Dennehy, whose character lives primarily in his memories, has “10 huge, long monologues and six or seven shorter ones. It’s a bear of a role, which is why not many actors play it…Sebastian Barry’s script is so gorgeous,” Green adds. “It’s poetic writing and it just works.” Steven Robman directs.
“We have Carla Meyer, one of the top dialogue coaches in the country, working with us,” Green notes. “And we have the additional help of Smith, played by cast member James Lancaster, who is himself from Ireland. So we’re in good hands.”
Green was born in Kansas City — but with Irish roots in County Cavan, from her father’s family. Her “incredible parents” supported her decision to leave the University of Kansas at 20 to “follow my passion for musical theater” to New York. Once there, she studied at the Herbert Berghof Studios. But her “amazing education” took off when she answered a non-Equity casting call and won a part in Godspell in 1971.
“We toured for a year, changing venues every one or two nights,” she says. “We played in civic centers and universities and other public places, and everywhere we went the stage was different, and we had to reinvent the blocking and try not to trip over the set.”
In 1979, Green was in the original Broadway cast of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. She played Mrs. Mooney, the pie shop owner who ”put pussies in her pies” — not to be confused with her pie shop rival, Mrs. Lovett, played by Lansbury, who put chunks of Sweeney Todd’s victims in herpies. “It just doesn’t happen that you get to work with Hal Prince, Stephen Sondheim, and Angela Lansbury all at the same time,” Green recalls. “I was incredibly fortunate.” She still harbors a hope that one day she can play Mrs. Lovett.
Green had also spent a year and a half in Hal Prince’s 1974 Broadway revival of Candide. Later, she performed the role of Mother Superior in Nunsense more than 1500 times in Off-Broadway and multiple regional productions. She was the second person to play that part in a series that has been running for decades.
In 1989, she was cast in Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge, a show that was meant to be a “continuation” of the earlier mega-hit Annie. Dorothy Loudon, the original Miss Hannigan, was set to reprise that role, but the misbegotten plot had her escaping from prison and plotting to murder Annie.
“Previews began on December 22 at the Kennedy Center in Washington,” Green explains, “and everyone brought their little girls to see it.” (According to reports, there were 700 children in the audience for that first preview.) “And it was a disaster. Nobody wanted to see a musical in which the child star gets kidnapped and possibly murdered!” Annie 2 opened in Washington on January 4 and closed on January 15 after 36 performances.
In 1991 Green moved to Los Angeles because she wanted to try TV and films, and since then she has worked steadily in both mediums. “The ’90s were a great time for sitcoms,” she says, “and my theater skills turned out to be very helpful.”
Mary-Pat Green and Brian Dennehy in “The Steward of Christendom”
“But now,” she laments, “reality shows have made it a dark time for actors on TV.”
She notes that she plays “either prison inmates or judges, policewomen or murderers” but is most often recognized for the bathroom scene in the film My Best Friend’s Wedding where she calls Julia Roberts a tramp. “People come up to me on the street and holler ‘Tramp!’”.
She still loves musical theater. In 1995 she was nominated for an Ovation award for her role in the musical Chess. And in 2002 she played journalist Lorena Hickok, purported to be Eleanor Roosevelt’s lover, in Michael John LaChiusa’s First Lady Suite. Both plays were produced by the Blank Theatre.
Green even got to bring her musical talents to the non-musical Fallen Angels this year. Art Manke, who directed it in both Pasadena and Laguna Beach, expanded the musical range of her maid character to include songs in French and German. He retrieved the French song from the Coward archives, Green says, and he allowed her to fashion her own song in another language — they picked German because she had a friend who could translate “Get Happy” into German, which she performed Lotte Lenya-style.
She asks, “How could I not enjoy playing a know-it-all maid?”
But for anyone who might expect her to be as funny in The Steward of Christendom as she was in Fallen Angels, she strikes a cautionary note. In her current play, “I’m jolly, but I’m not really funny.”
The Steward of Christendom, Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. Los Angeles. Opens Sunday 7 pm. Tue-Fri 8 pm, Sat 2:30 pm and 8 pm, Sun 1 pm and 6:30 pm through January 5. Also Mondays Dec 23 and 30 at 8 pm. No performances Dec 24 and 25 and Jan 1. Tickets: $20-$70. www.CenterTheatreGroup.org. 213-628-2772.
**All The Steward of Christendom production photos by Craig Schwartz.
Megan Rippey, Sol Mason, Paul Sand and Shay Astar in “Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel.” Photo by G. Bruce Smith.
Santa Monica denizen Paul Sand has a special affinity for one of the local attractions — the jolly fun fair situated along the wooden length of Santa Monica Pier. His Mexican father and Russian mother met and fell in love on the 104-year-old landmark, says the quirky actor/director/producer.
Sand took his first wobbly steps as a toddler on its uneven boards, and he even lived above the carousel when he was a teen. Recalls Sand, “After I graduated high school, I lived there with my girl friend, Joan Rose, over the merry-go-round. The rooms were round — it had round bedrooms and a round living room, and you constantly heard calliope music going.” He laughs.
Now Sand is putting on an artistic director’s hat and starting a new theater company, creating a pop-up cabaret venue on that same pier, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Calling it the West End Theatre, he plans to transform an observation deck at the end of the pier into a “mysterious, waterfront cabaret-style performing space.” The stage will be set and struck every night in a narrow, enclosed space upstairs above the Mariasol Restaurant.
The performance space is intimate, with room for 50-60 seats at the most. Sand anticipates that the presentation, entitled Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel, will consist of a 45-minute performance of a collection of the famed German composer’s songs. “With our theatrical lighting and the performers and the ocean outside, I want to make it a hypnotic show,” Sand murmurs. “I want to get the audience under my spell and keep them there.”
An amiable fellow with a note of mischief in his drawn-out vowels, Sand is perhaps best known for his numerous appearances in TV shows since the mid-’50s. He often played a rumpled, sad-sack characters on comedies such as TheMary Tyler Moore Show, his own short-lived CBS series Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers, Taxi, The Carol Burnett Show, right through to L.A. Law, The X Files and Curb Your Enthusiasm. At a young age he studied with Marcel Marceau in Paris and performed comedy at Chicago’s Second City.
In 1970 Sand was at the Mark Taper Forum in Paul Sills’ Story Theatre, which won an LADCC production award. A year later, Sand won a Tony Award for best performance by a featured actor in a play and a Drama Desk award for his multi-character roles in the same production’s Broadway run. He also won a second Drama Desk Award for his appearance in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, which played on Broadway in repertory with Paul Sills’ Story Theatre. Last year Sand directed David Mamet’s teenaged daughter Clara’s first plays, Paris and The Solvit Kids at Ruskin Group in Santa Monica.
The site for his new theater company certainly holds a special appeal. With its carousel from the 1920s and other rides, an aquarium, numerous novelty shops, local entertainers, a video arcade, a trapeze school, a pub, and restaurants, the Santa Monica Pier is a popular destination for tourists and locals. The far end of the pier is frequented by anglers. Additionally, the bright lights of the solar-powered Ferris wheel and lilting strains of calliope music creates a wild, carnival atmosphere — the perfect location, insists Sand, for a production of Kurt Weill’s edgy songs, “all about revenge, murder and broken hearts.”
Sol Mason and Paul Sand. Photo by Jamie Virostko.
Muses Sand, “The pier is so strange and so wonderful and so mysterious. I can see it from where I live right now. I take walks there, and one night I was walking with some friends, and I said, ‘wouldn’t this be a great place to open a little theater’” that would use some of Weill’s “dark and theatrical songs?”
Sand had previously met the deputy director of the pier, Jim Harris, through mutual friends. Recalls Sand, “He’s a wonderful guy. I called him up and told him about my idea. He told me, ‘We’ve been wanting theater on the pier, and we know your work and your history. I happen to have an available space at the far west end. It hangs out over the ocean and it gets pretty wild up there sometimes… Do you want that space?’”
Sand jumped at the chance. He tried crowd-sourcing on Indiegogo but failed to raise the budget for the inaugural show. He eventually gained a small grant from a discreet local foundation. “At the last minute I heard about this foundation, so I called them up and spoke to this nice lady. She told me I’d better get my application in fast because it all will be closing down in two weeks.” Fortunately he made it under the wire. “I improvised a budget and I got the grant. We got enough to put on the show.”
Assembling a cast proved ridiculously easy, as well, with the entire company formed in two weeks. “It all happened so effortlessly. It’s just weird,” he marvels. Sand says he had seen performers over the past few years who had caught his attention. “Not stars or anything, but people who I thought were vivid and exciting personalities. I had made circles around their name in the programs. Then I found them and asked them and they said yes.”
Paul Sand and Shay Astar
As well as directing, Sand will perform alongside cast members Megan Rippey, Shay Astar and Sol Mason, who plays the narrator and host in this shady waterfront cabaret. Michael Roth, whom Sand calls “insanely perfect,” is the music director. “He’s a specialist in Kurt Weill, luckily enough. He’s so intense, in a great way, and a perfectionist. So this is not just kidding around.” Sand describes himself as “a nice director, I think, but sometimes I lose my temper…”
One of the musicians Sand has enlisted is Tamboura, a “kid from Silver Lake” whom he’d heard busking on the pier. “I’m walking down the pier one afternoon, and I hear this beautiful violin music — this kid is standing there playing perfect violin. I put a few dollars in the hat thing, and then I thought and thought and finally I called James Harris. I asked him, ‘You know how to find these people that are musicians on the Pier, right?’ He did, so I drove to Silver Lake and talked to him. He said, ‘Yes, I love Kurt Weill. Yeah, I’ll do it’.”
Musical accompaniment will include cello and a harmonium. “We rented a piano and it’s just been moved up there,” says Sand. Some of Weill’s best-known songs are on the program: “Mack the Knife,” “Pirate Jenny” and “Barbara Song” from The Threepenny Opera, which Weill penned with Bertolt Brecht; “Surabaya Johnny” from “Happy End;” and “Luck Song,” also known as “The Insufficiency of Human Behavior.” The finale will be “The Alabama Song” from “Mahagonny,” also written with Brecht and performed by the entire company.
“We’re all actor-singers,” says Sand, the excitement building in his voice. “There’s one song I really want to do. It’s the ‘Forgiveness’ song.” Sand is referring to “Call From The Grave/Ballad In Which MacHeath Begs All Men For Forgiveness,” from The Threepenny Opera. “It’s so evil!” he laughs.
To create the right ambience in his new theater, Sand hired surrealist painter Marie Lalanne to design costumes and sets. She has created landscape paintings on large canvas panels that will be hung behind the stage. “It will give it this wonderful carnival atmosphere and we’ll take them down after the second show every night. And then they’ll never know, in the morning, that we were even there,” he adds enigmatically.
If this first show proves a success, Sand anticipates more productions. “I do have my next ideas. I want to stay with the theme of ‘waterfront scary’.”
Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel, West End Theatre, Santa Monica Pier. Opens this Friday, 7:30 pm. No performance Sat Dec. 7. Then Fri-Sat 7:30 and 9 pm Dec. 13, 14, 20 and 21 (with the possibility of an extension) Through Dec. 21. Tickets: $20. www.eventbrite.com/event/8804429285.
Guys, why are the holidays so stressful? You’d think that with all the turkey dinners, the Black Fridays and the Cyber Mondays and the crisp LA weather, we’d be plump, relaxed, and reveling in our discount indulgences, but alas. It’s like December shows up and says HERE! YOU MUST DO ALL THE THINGS!
I cannot, boys and girls, do all the things. But you should. Go out into the world and jump from event to event like keen little pervasive elves. Here are five choices. Choose wisely. (Or recklessly. Just choose.)
RELIGION & THE ARTS
With Chanukah underway and Christmas on the horizon, this seems the appropriate season to discuss the intersection of religion and the arts. LA STAGE Alliance and Theatre of NOTE are co-hosting a discussion about how these two cultural cornerstones work together (or, how they do not). The panel takes place on Tuesday, December 17 (my birthday!) at 7 pm. The event is free, but don’t forget to RSVP.
Theatre 40 is presenting a night of holiday-themed poems, essays, and stories at Westwood Library on Saturday, December 21 at 2 pm. Love it. The readers include Katherine Henryk, Daniel Leslie, Melanie Macqueen, David Reynolds, and James Schendel.
The Hollywood Fringe has already started gearing up for its registration for next summer’s festival. It starts with a meeting to discuss improving venue recruitment. You can help get the ball rolling at Theatre Asylum this Saturday, December 7 at 5 pm. (And, for your 2014 calendar, registration opens on February 1.)
IF YOUR HOLIDAY SPIRIT IS BAROQUE
Ha. See what I did with the title? I’m a clever elf, too.
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is doing a holiday-themed concert this Thursday featuring critically acclaimed virtuoso John Schneiderman playing lute and Baroque guitar. (This is the first in a series of five concerts taking place through out the next six months.) A complimentary wine reception for all ticket holders begins at 6 pm, and the concert starts at 7 pm.
Trisha Hershberger, Gina Yates and Julia Silverman in “Mom’s Gift.” Photo by Sherry Netherland.
I wrote my first play when I was 40.
I’m not sure if there’s a typical career path for playwrights, but if there is, I didn’t follow it. I grew up in Edina, Minnesota, majored in math at Dartmouth College, played football, then tried out for the Chicago Bears. I really wanted to be a pro football player, but unfortunately the Bears weren’t on board with that plan. They placed me on waivers after a month in training camp with Walter Payton, so I enrolled at the University of Chicago and got an MBA from its business school.
My entry into writing came while I was working in commercial real estate in Tampa, Florida. One of my clients asked me if I would perform in a “Shoot — Don’t Shoot” training film for the Tampa police. Even though I had no experience acting, there were several pretty actresses that I would be working with, so I said yes.
The scenario of my first scene was a domestic dispute with my wife, in which we would argue and then she would shoot me. When I asked to see the script, I was told there wasn’t one. I would just have to improvise. So my first experience with writing came in improvising my own death. From there I got the acting bug and started doing sketch comedy and theater in Florida, while still working in commercial real estate.
Thinking I was going to be the next great screenwriter, I moved to Los Angeles to seek fame and fortune. I sold a couple of screenplays that never got made, and I script-doctored three screenplays that were produced — but nothing big. I really wanted to get something produced that I had created, and because plays are easier to get produced than screenplays, I decided to write my first play.
They say to write what you know, and growing up in Minnesota in an emotionally reserved Scandinavian household gave me a lot of material. My father would tell us that he was the Norwegian who loved his wife so much, he almost told her. That line is the basis for much of my writing. In one of my Don’t Hug Me musicals, Clara asks her husband, “Gunner, tell me you love me.” He replies, “Oh, for crying in the sink, Clara. I told you I loved you when we got married. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.”
I’m a big fan of quirky, small-cast musicals, especially those that have a regional flavor such as Pump Boys and Dinettes. My four Don’t Hug Me musicals that I wrote with my brother, Paul, were inspired by the lake our family would visit in Minnesota as well as the characters I knew growing up. I enjoy writing the quirky, broad Don’t Hug Me musicals. They’re very popular around the country, and I’ll keep writing them. In fact, a fifth Don’t Hug Me musical will open next year.
Once in a while, however, I take a break from the Don’t Hug Me musicals and write something from the heart. I wrote my play A Nice Family Gathering in 2000, after my dad passed away. It was a very personal story for me.
Mom’s Gift is another departure from my quirky musicals. Unlike the broad Don’t Hug Me comedies, Mom’s Gift is a dramedy. My mother passed away in 2006 from breast cancer. It was a very emotional time for me. It took me six years to be able to start writing Mom’s Gift after she died, but I knew I wanted to do something for her, so I started writing the play in 2012.
Cyrus Alexander and Chris Winfield
In the play, Mom has been dead for 11 months and shows up at her husband’s birthday party as a ghost with a mission. Like Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life, she has to accomplish a task to earn her wings. Only what the task actually is, is a mystery. There are so many things to fix.
Although Mom’s Gift isn’t about my real family, the character of Mom in the play has qualities similar to my mother, and some of the lines are things she said. My mother had a wonderful sense of humor until the end. She was faced with tragedy and could still laugh, and I admired that. I don’t know if I could do that.
I wanted to capture that spirit in the play by combining a very tragic event with comedy. The comedy in Mom’s Gift is not broad, but it comes from a very real place, from the tragedy of the underlying story. In Mom’s Gift we have equal parts comedy and pathos.
In addition to Mom’s mission to “get her wings,” it’s a story about second chances, miscommunication, forgiveness, and moving on when a loved one dies. There are also a few twists in the play that will surprise the audience. I’ve done several readings of the play, and no one yet has seen the surprises coming.
With Mom’s Gift, it was important to me that people feel something when they leave the theater. My hope is that the audience goes through the same emotions, the same ups and downs that the characters are feeling on stage. Based on rehearsals, I think it’s going to be a three-hanky play with some very funny moments. It’s the kind of story my mother would enjoy seeing.
Mom’s Gift, Group Rep, 10900 Burbank Blvd, North Hollywood 91601. OpensFriday. Fri-Sat 8 pm; Sun 2 pm. Through Jan. 19. Tickets: $22.www.thegrouprep.com. 818-763-5990.
**All Mom’s Gift production photos by Sherry Netherland.
Phil Olson has 13 published plays that have had more than 300 productions around the US. Canada, and Australia. Mom’s Gift will be his seventh play published by Samuel French. The others include, Don’t Hug Me, A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol, A Don’t Hug Me County Fair, Don’t Hug Me I’m Pregnant, A Nice Family Gathering, and Polyester The Musical. Watch for Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married to open in 2014.
LA Weekly’s theater coverage is being slashed as of January 1.
The number of capsule theater reviews per week will drop from the current non-holiday norm of seven (allocated) or eight (sometimes allowed) to only two. The publication’s deputy editor for arts and culture, Zachary Pincus-Roth, said he preferred the phrase “around two” — he allowed for some “flexibility each week, depending on what’s happening.” But it’s safe to say that the Weekly’s free-lance reviewers will find their compensation severely reduced.
Steven Leigh Morris’ commentaries on theater will appear every other week, instead of every week, and the length of those essays will drop from 1,200 words to 800. On the weeks when Morris’ column doesn’t appear, the space will be occupied by articles about other stage-related arts such as dance, comedy, classical music and opera.
Morris says he doesn’t expect the current listings to be reduced, except that a much smaller proportion of them will include a capsule review. The two reviews that appear each week will probably be written by at least some of those who are currently the Weekly’s free-lance reviewers — Pauline Adamek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell, Mindy Farabee, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Jenny Lower and Neal Weaver — but those reviews will now be assigned by Pincus-Roth instead of Morris. Pincus-Roth said that the listings also will be accompanied by more small, reported articles about the arts.
Pincus-Roth has some experience as a free-lance theater reviewer himself — for Newsday in New York, he says. He also covered theater as a reporter for Variety and other publications in New York, even serving as a Tony voter one year, before moving to LA in 2007. Here, he estimated that he goes to the theater “once a week or once every other week.”
Morris called the cutbacks “disheartening,” but he said he believed that the local Weekly management “has done everything in its power to keep that section vibrant for a long time. Those days are over.”
Pincus-Roth, however, denied that the decision was made solely by the Weekly’s corporate overseers — Denver-based Voice Media Group, which in September 2012 was spun off from the Weekly’s previous owner, Village Voice Media Holdings.
“It was a local decision, basically,” ultimately made by the Weekly’s editor Sarah Fenske, Pincus-Roth said. “This decision was hers, based on the budget.”
Steven Leigh Morris. Photo by Eric Schwabel.
The cuts are “obviously disappointing,” Pincus-Roth said, but he emphasized that the theater free-lance budget has been much larger than the free-lance budget for most other coverage areas. “We will take this opportunity to think about what we’re doing to cover other areas” such as comedy, dance, and classical music in the hopes of making the total coverage of the arts “more comprehensive.”
The Weekly plans to continue the annual LA Weekly awards for achievement in theaters with fewer than 100 seats, although the adjudication process may change after January 1 if fewer critics are seeing fewer shows. The cutbacks are not expected to affect the next LA Weekly awards, scheduled for April.
Morris is investigating a plan to take the Stage Raw brand, which has been used to identify the Weekly’s theater blog, to its own website, with the help of community-based fund-raising, but nothing has been settled. Underlying the effort, he said, is the question: “Is there sufficient need to justify the cost?”
The cuts at the Weekly will apparently leave the Los Angeles Times as LA’s print publication that runs the most theater reviews. Although the number of Times theater reviews has been drastically cut in recent years, the Times ran 17 LA-area theater reviews in November (plus a review of Sleeping Beauty, if you want to include an imported dance production that was presented by a local theater-oriented company). After January, the Weekly could possibly reach that level of coverage only if Morris devotes considerable space within his column to commenting on shows that aren’t reviewed by free-lancers.
NO SHORTENING, NO SKATING: This is from the “About Us” page of the website of the LA Weekly’s parent company Voice Media Group (VMG): “While an increasing number of daily papers shorten stories and hire consultants to tell them what to print, VMG papers thrive by cultivating source networks, generating truly original story ideas, and digging into stories rather than skating across their surface.”
TWO FROM SCANDINAVIA: Here comes the winter gloom. But before we’re diverted from the meaning of that transition by the lights of the holidays and by the sometimes spectacular qualities of LA winters, let’s turn our attention briefly to Scandinavia, where the denizens know winter much more deeply than we do
No one ever accused Scandinavia’s two most famous playwrights, Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, of being too light and summery. Although Strindberg’s Creditors is technically set in a Scandinavian summer, it’s metaphorically set in the winter of the soul, and so is Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. Each of these is currently in production in LA.
Justin Lujan, Natasha Harris and Shannon Nelson in “Save Me.” Photo by David Nett.
The seldom-seen Creditors, at the Odyssey Theatre, has received more of the attention, so I’m going to begin with Save Me, an adaptation of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, which will play one more weekend at the Dorie Theatre in Theater Row’s Complex. It was conceived and directed by Valerie Rachelle and written by Rachelle and Rick Robinson for the recently-dormant but now-resuscitated Lucid by Proxy company.
Rachelle has set the play in contemporary America, apparently in some state with a legislature that uses the name “Assembly” for one of its two halves. Gee, that might be California, right? The Save Me state isn’t specifically identified as our own, but it’s easy to imagine that Rachelle is thinking about California.
Despite this re-setting, Rachelle sticks surprisingly close to the Hedda Gabler script. Sure, some of the cosmetic details have changed. This Hedda doesn’t go into the next room to play the piano — she goes there to listen more intently to recordings such as Aretha Franklin’s rendition of “Save Me.” She refrains from such self-consciously antique references as “vine leaves in his hair” and isn’t afraid to indulge in a little profanity.
In a more significant change, Rachelle breaks the realistic surface of the action with brief interludes in which Hedda — and sometimes other characters — wordlessly move to the sounds of Aretha and others, non-verbally expressing what’s going on inside their brains. You can think of these as very short daydreams, appropriately set off with more concentrated lighting. The stifling repression that’s apparent in most of the play is momentarily broken, perhaps appropriately so for a perhaps-California version.
Does this dilute the play’s pressure-cooker quality and make the final explosion less surprising? Well, it might for those who have never seen Hedda Gabler. For those of us who have seen it more than once, these additions provide an unexpected and lively portal into the subconscious and the subtext. And, when the final climax occurred on Saturday night, I still found my jaw dropping as if in shock — even though I knew exactly what was going to happen.
Shannon Nelson and Jack Sochet
It’s true that a couple of narrative factors are less plausible nowadays than they would have been in 19th-century Norway. Evan, the new name for the tortured novelist who once had a fling with Hedda and now is toying with Hedda’s former classmate Thea, still keeps the manuscript of his novel only in the format of one typed, paper copy, attempting to explain that choice by referring to himself as a Luddite. But while an old and famous author might still be able to pull off not having a digital copy, it’s hard to imagine that a young and unpublished novelist would even think of such an option.
More important, in 2013 it’s difficult to take seriously Hedda’s airy dismissal of the notion that she might vary her bored days by seeking outside employment. True, she has apparently been pampered (her father in this version was an apparently-disgraced ex-senator — it isn’t clear if that meant a US senator or a state senator.) But even wealthy heiresses nowadays usually make at least a pretense of trying to find an interesting job. That this Hedda wouldn’t do so makes her manipulations of everyone else look more like the symptoms of a mental basket case than like the products of a pre-feminist wife who has no healthy outlets for her self-expression.
Still, Rachelle’s staging has a gut-wrenching effectiveness, aided immeasurably by an incendiary performance as Hedda by Shannon Nelson — who impressed me earlier this year as the Sally Brown “little sister” character in Absoluely Filthy. Nelson receives sterling support from her five onstage colleagues. Save Me is scheduled for only two more performances.
Meanwhile, across town at the Odyssey Theatre, I finally got to the New American Theatre’s version of Strindberg’s Creditors. And I’m glad I did, especially on the same weekend that I saw Save Me. Jack Stehlin’s character in Creditors is a bitter manipulator almost on the scale of Hedda, but look at this — his Gustav, unlike his female counterpart in Ibsen’s play, doesn’t become suicidal. He more or less remains in control.
Jack Stehlin and Burt Grinstead in “Creditors.” Photo by Ron Sossi.
Unfortunately, Creditors isn’t nearly as good a play as Hedda Gabler. While Ibsen built a sturdy narrative with many developments gradually building and interweaving en route to the final scene, Creditors ends on an abrupt and somewhat baffling and unexplained note that denies us the chance to see its three characters interacting with each other at the same time.
But that’s not the fault of director David Trainer or Stehlin or his co-stars Burt Grinstead and Heather Anne Prete, nor presumably of the translator David Greig. New American Theatre’s return to the Odyssey is in good hands, even if the vehicle has inherent flaws.
Edward Tournier, Joey deBettencourt and Carl Howell in “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Photo by Jenny Anderson.
En route to an eagerly anticipated LA homecoming, Edward Tournier has found himself aboard a fictional vessel called Neverland in a play inspired by J.M. Barrie’s vintage Peter Pan script and his Peter and Wendy novel. The national tour of the comedy-adventure Peter and the Starcatcher makes its LA debut at Center Theatre Group‘s Ahmanson Theatre on Wednesday.
Tournier, who lived in Los Angeles for seven years before moving to New York last February, makes his national tour debut in this fanciful prequel to a classic.
Barrie’s 1904 play Peter and Wendy was the basis for Walt Disney’s classic animated film Peter Pan as well as a perennially popular musical of the same name, which has traditionally featured high-flying gender-bending performances by the likes of Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan, and Cathy Rigby as the titular young boy, an airborne sprite who could never grow up.
Aside from a group of urchins — the Lost Boys — Peter/Boy is the only character from the Barrie originals to appear in Starcatcher, which was created by librettist Rick Elice, based on the novelPeter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The Tony-nominated co-directors of the original Broadway production and the tour are Roger Rees and Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson). Original music is by Wayne Barker.
The Broadway production earned Tonys for Christian Borle (actor in a featured role), Darron L. West (sound design), Paloma Young (costumes), Donyale Werle (scenic design), and Jeff Croiter (lighting).
Starcatchers follows the adventures of an orphan, Peter, who finds love, friendship, and ultimately himself on a faraway island. A 12-actor ensemble plays more than 100 characters. Tournier appears as one of the Lost Boys, named Ted. He describes the character as “an orphan, like Peter. He’s always hungry because he has sort of been malnourished in the orphanage. He’s a very sweet, innocent character, but he has a great-sized appetite for just about anything. It’s a comedic role, so it’s a lot of fun to play.”
Touring with Tournier
Tournier was born in Paris 30 years ago but was moved to the US when he was three years old. Raised near Boston, he’s a graduate of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, and also studied at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.
His recent segue from LA to the magical land of Barrie was swift, following his relocation to New York to seek new acting opportunities. He moved to New York in February, and “we started rehearsals in July. I had started auditioning a bit in New York [in late 2012], and Starcatcher had been my very first audition there. It was for the Off-Broadway production [of Starcatcher], currently running at New World Stages.” He wasn’t cast in that production, but a few months later he was called back to accept his role in the tour edition.
Speaking from the tour engagement in San Francisco, he says, “We opened in mid-August in Denver. So this is about our fourth month now. Right now, the tour is slated through June of next year.”
Has he enjoyed his first experience in a national tour? “Definitely. I did some tours when I was in Boston, but that was just to a few different cities near there.” He hadn’t seen a production of this play, but he was quite familiar with it. He notes, “A college classmate of mine was in the original production, so I have sort of tracked the play, but I had not seen it when I auditioned. I finally went to see it and I was blown away. It was like nothing I had ever seen, so I was really excited to do it.”
He elaborates. “The ensemble of actors works together to use physical theater techniques and props and unconventional ways of storytelling. So much of the fun is how it relies on the collaborative imagination of both the actors and audience, which is obviously very fitting for a story like Peter Pan.”
Joey deBettencourt, Carl Howell and Edward Tournier in the current “Peter and the Starcatcher” tour company. Photo by Jenny Anderson.
As for the experience of being in a touring production, Tournier cites its demanding aspects: “It’s a rigorous schedule. We’re doing eight shows a week, but you add in the element of travel, and being in new cities sometimes every week, or just for a couple of days, and living in hotels, and getting used to each new city.” He says the company members are becoming very close due to sharing living quarters and constantly working together. “It’s a real family that develops,” he says.
He also finds it “fun to get to present the play to different audiences, more than just night to night, but from city to city. Every city has its own sort of personality.” He points out that “different audiences grasp different elements of the play in different ways.” He’s impressed that the show “keeps being fresh, despite performing it eight times a week and for a couple of hundred performances.” He had never done so many performances of one production, and he is interested in discovering how his performance evolves over that period.
He acknowledges that working in so many cities and meeting so many people could also lead to career networking opportunities. “We have been to some great theater towns. Most major American cities have vibrant theater communities.” He believes that Peter attracts theater lovers due to its theatricality, and because “anyone involved in the theater knows it’s a very innovative play. And it had a lot of success with the design Tony Awards.” He points out that the play includes a lot of jokes that “are sort of winks to people who are familiar with and live in live theater.”
Tournier has never acted in New York, and he says he moved there to pursue new career opportunities. Though he has done several television and film roles while in LA, he says he has always preferred theater. “I was doing a lot of theater in LA. And I love that theater community. My seven years in LA were a big part of my life.” He says that both professionally and artistically, “it was everything that I sort of wanted. But I have looked to New York to try something new and because I had never lived there. I wanted to see what it was all about.”
John Glover and Edward Tournier in the 2008 Black Dahlia Theatre production of “Secrets of the Trade.” Photo by Eb Brooks.
During his years in LA, Tournier achieved a lot of rewarding and acclaimed work, including acting nominations from Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly, the Ovations, the Back Stage Garlands, and GLAAD. He mentions that something he hadn’t set out to do but nonetheless happened is that most of his stage acting roles so far have been in new plays.
One achievement that immediately comes to his mind as a favorite is the Black Dahlia’s premiere of Jonathan Tolins’ bittersweet Secrets of the Trade, in which he played opposite John Glover. Tournier played an ambitious young man who forges a relationship with a famous middle-aged actor-director (Glover), who becomes his mentor. “This was a powerful experience, and a great introduction to the LA theater community for me,” he notes. “It was also one of the hardest plays I did there.”
He adds, “It enjoyed a lot of success. It’s a wonderful, smart, funny piece that moved a lot of people. To this day, people still approach me about it. And the play went on to New York, so it had some staying power.” He points out that working with director Matt Shakman and the Dahlia cast and crew fostered connections that “remain to this day.”
He also cites needtheater’s Mercury Fur, calling it a “wonderful play at the totally opposite end of the spectrum — so dark and scary.” He says, “It was a “great experience. And the design stayed with me. A lot of the time what lasts is the collaboration of all of the different pieces, which add up to make the production memorable. I always admire the work of designers. Starcatcher is another play for which the design is really a beauty.”
Also among his favorite experiences here were his productions with Rogue Machine, including his well-received performances in Razorback, Monkey Adored, and Where the Great Ones Run. Joining the company from its inception as a founding member, he ultimately served as producing director for one season and produced a few other shows as well. He says, “These guys are really my family in LA,. and they do incredible work. I’m sure you know that John Pollono’s [multi-award winning] Small Engine Repair [which premiered at Rogue Machine in 2011] just opened Off-Broadway [to much critical acclaim], which is so exciting.”
Edward Tournier in the 2011 Rogue Machine production of “Monkey Adored.” Photo by John Flynn.
He continues, “The work I did there and the friendships I made there will last a lifetime. I’m so glad to get back to LA now to spend some time with them.” He’s grateful for the behind-the-scenes skills he learned at Rogue Machine: “I think when you act for a long time, you sort of start to get into the whole production end. The opportunity to direct and produce makes you a more complete theater artist.”
Among other LA companies where Tournier has performed are Theatre @ Boston Court (Futura), Theatre of NOTE (They’re Just Like Us), an Ensemble Studio Theatre and Getty Villa co-production (The Vesuvius Prophecies), Pacific Stages (Lobby Hero), and Odyssey Theatre (Small Tragedy).
Peter is not Tournier’s first experience at the Ahmanson. His first play in LA in 2007, shortly after he moved here, was that company’s production of The History Boys. He was cast as a cover for three parts and he appeared briefly in one non-speaking scene at each performance. He says, “I was so excited to be a part of that, and so I am excited to get back to the Ahmanson. I met a lot of people there and got acquainted with the theater community at that time.”
He mentions a person he met at the Ahmanson who supports his belief that the LA theater community overlaps in many ways. Lindsay Allbaugh, who became a “great friend’ to him, is one of the two artistic directors of Elephant Theatre Company, for which she directed him in the highly acclaimed Supernova.He triumphed in the role of a rebellious teenager in this heartrending kitchen-sink drama, reminiscent of the works of William Inge.
Allbaugh is also producing associate at Center Theatre Group, and as part of that job “she was involved in bringing Peter to the Ahmanson, so I now get to work with her in a totally unrelated way. It’s great. I’m so happy getting to come back to LA. It’s one of the highlights of the tour for me.”
Joey deBettencourt, Edward Tournier and Benjamin Schrader in “Peter and the Starcatcher”
He points out one additional example of apparent serendipity: “My very first play when I was 10 years old was Peter Pan, at Winchester Cooperative Theater in my home town of Winchester, Massachusetts. I did it because my sister had done it, so I sort of lived up to her example. I was a Lost Boy, but with no lines. So that’s another way this production is sort of a coming-home cycle for me.”
Tournier acknowledges that his first love in the creative arts remains acting, particularly in theater: “I was extremely lucky and blessed to be cast in [Peter], though I haven’t spent a lot of time in New York yet. So I am interested in discovering what that theater scene is like and to hopefully get to keep doing plays.”
Peter and the Starcatcher, Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave, LA. Opens Wednesday.Tue-Fri 8 pm, Sat 2 pm and 8 pm, Sun 1 pm and 6:30 pm. (Several schedule exceptions and added performances.) Through Jan 12. Tickets: $20-110 (subject to change). www.centertheatregroup.org. 213 972-4400.
**All Peter and the Starcatcher production photos by Jenny Anderson.
Pasadena Playhouse is hosting a Dec 16 forum, titled “Diversity: Through the Director’s Eye” — exploring the current state of diversity in Southern California theater. Organized by Stage Directors and Choreographers Workshop Foundation, Pasadena Playhouse, and East West Players, the discussions will focus on the director’s role, probing these questions: “What’s working? What aren’t we doing? How can we work together to increase diversity in Southern California theater?” Moderated by Michael John Garcés (Cornerstone Theater Company), panelists will include artistic directors Tim Dang (East West Players), Sheldon Epps (Pasadena Playhouse), Jessica Kubzansky (Theatre @ Boston Court), Marc Masterson (South Coast Repertory), Michael Ritchie (Center Theatre Group), and Seema Sueko (Pasadena Playhouse and Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company). The panel is free to the public. To attend, RSVP to DiversityForum@SDCweb.org…As the second outing of its 2013-14 season at Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre, Furious Theatre Company — in association with Artists Repertory Theatre (ART) in Portland — is offering Foxfinder, “a futuristic parable,” scripted by Dawn King, helmed by ART artistic director and Furious co-founder Dámaso Rodriguez, opening Jan 8. Foxfinder was originally staged at Finborough Theatre, London, in 2011 and is playing in Portland through Dec 1…Also in Pasadena, A Noise Within (ANW)is extending its revival ofFerenc Molnár’s 1910 farce The Guardsman, translated by Frank Marcus, helmed by Michael Michetti, now running through Dec 2…
PREMIERES…Rachel Rosenthal Company is debuting Instant Fairy Tales -– “a quarterly series of original fairy tales for the 21st century.” The inaugural work, The Longest Winter — an allegorical tale about learning to care for the environment — opens Jan 25 at Espace DbD on South Robertson Blvd in Los Angeles…Following two years in development, Vickie Ramirez’s Stand-Off at HWY #37 -– “a tale about political, environmental and spiritual convictions” –- is premiering at Wells Fargo Theater in the Autry National Center in Griffith Park, helmed by Playwrights’ Arena artistic director Jon Lawrence Rivera, produced by Native Voices at the Autry, opening Feb 28…And Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks is presenting Hollywood Shorts, an evening of original 10 minute plays –- focusing on everyday life — scripted by established television writers, featuring 19 actors, produced by Jake O’Flaherty, opening Jan 8. The eight playwrights include; Bill Diamond (Murphy Brown), Bird York (Crash), Norm Gunzenhauser (Newhart), Gary Dontzig (A Different World), Wayne and Kate Robbins (TV Pilots), Russ Woody (Drew Carey Show) and Ed Horowitz (La Femme Nikita). Directors include Moosie Drier, Bryan Rasmussen and Bird York…
IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK…Providing a darker view on the holiday season,The Visceral Company is presenting Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s The Mystery Plays -– a sojourn within “the most profound of human ideas and beliefs, inspired by the yuletide tradition of the medieval mystery plays” –- helmed by Christopher Basile, opening Dec 6 at Lex Theatre in Hollywood…Acme Theatre in Hollywood is hosting Sparkle! An All-Star Holiday Concert, produced and hosted by Scott Nevins with Jesse Vargas as music director, Fri Dec 13. The talent lineup includes Tony nominee Andrew Rannells (Book of Mormon), singer/actress Lainie Kazan and many more. Proceeds benefit the programs and services of the Actors Fund…Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group in NoHo is staging its “very own fun, freaky and rockin’ turbo-charged version of the famous Dickens’ classic,” A Christmas Carol, helmed by Denise Devin, opening Nov 30…Fountain Theatre in Hollywood is hosting Fiesta Navidad, a holiday edition of its recurring Forever Flamenco series, organized by director/dancer Yaelisa, music direction by guitarist Jason McGuire, featuring singer Kina Mendez, dancers Mizuho Sato, Briseyda Zarate and dancer/percussionist Manuel Gutierrez, Dec 15…
THE THING IS… “I started playing him in 1980. Over the years, the script has changed incrementally, fairly minor changes. With the passage of time, we’ve grown to understand and explore some of the deeper meanings within the text. All of Charles Dickens’ works have a lot of humor in them, but there is also some very strong social commentary about what conditions were like and how bad they were back in those times -– especially for children. He didn’t just write about his concerns; he was quite a social activist, going to meetings and petitioning social welfare organizations. Dickens doesn’t hit those themes quite as hard in this work but he does refer to them. And when he does, he can make it pretty chilling. So I think we have evolved more toward bringing out those elements of his time, revealing how the poor people lived, bringing out the more serious aspects of it. The production hasn’t necessarily gotten bigger since we started doing the play. The theater complex has grown and become much more successful, but that has not translated into creating a larger or more opulent set. We never wanted a bigger, fancier production. There have been some changes in the set as we’ve gone along — mostly, set pieces wore out and were replaced, sometimes adding a different texture to the look onstage. John has been directing it from the beginning and he has maintained its consistency. As for my part, it is such a big and challenging role. It took me 20 years before I felt I could really do it justice. Also, I had a period of time where it did seem kind of a chore. But about five or six years ago I got rejuvenated and now I look forward to it each year” – Hal Landon Jr, who portrays Ebenezer Scrooge for the 34th consecutive year in South Coast Repertory’s annual staging of A Christmas Carol, helmed by John David-Keller, Nov 29-Dec 26…
Edward Everett Horton
INSIDE LA STAGE HISTORY…Edward Everett Horton is born Mar 18, 1886 in Brooklyn, the grandson of writer Edward Everett Hale (The Man Without A Country). He attends but does not graduate from Oberlin College in Ohio and Columbia University in Manhattan. An accomplished baritone, he joins Staten Island-based Dempsey Light Opera Company in 1907. A year later he joins the Louis Mann Company as a chorus boy, making his Broadway debut as a walk-on in The Man Who Stood Still. By 1911, he is working steadily, developing a reputation as a skilled comedic actor. During the teens he tours regularly across the US, eventually settling in Los Angeles, quickly becoming popular in silent films such as Ruggles of Red Gap (1923). Desiring to stay active on the live stage, Horton takes on the mantle of producer, leasing the Majestic Theater at 845 S. Broadway during the mid-1920s. Although he becomes highly in demand with the advent of talking pictures — beginning with RKO’s The Front Page (1931) — he remains loyal to the stage, in 1932 leasing Hollywood Playhouse, which is managed by his brother W.D. Horton. Horton’s big hit on stage is Benn Wolfe Levy’s Springtime for Henry, performing the play more than 3000 times in LA and on the road, including a 1951 Broadway revival. His active local stage work is reduced after the successful release of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film musical, The Gay Divorcee (1934), in which Horton establishes his signature nebbishy persona and comedic double-take. Horton makes no less than six films a year through the 1940s, segueing to television during the 1950s and ’60s. Horton succumbs to cancer on Sep 29, 1970 at age 84…
Julio Martinez-produced and hosted Arts in Review (AIR) celebrates the best in LA-area theater and cabaret on KPFK Radio (90.7FM), Fridays (2-2:30 pm). Arts in Review is taking a Thanksgiving hiatus this week.
Jeanne Witczak, Carole Weyers and Abbe Rowlins in “God’s Gypsy.” Photo by Silvia Spross.
Asked to name a saintly Catholic named Teresa, most laypeople these days would go with the late Mother Teresa. But Coco Blignaut‘s new play God’s Gypsy isn’t about the more recently famous Teresa. It’s about the 16th-century Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic St. Teresa of Ávila.
Blignaut, who also serves as executive producer, will bring her dramatization of Teresa’s tale to the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood, opening Saturday.
“She has something to say to this modern-day world of ours,” Blignaut says of the Spanish Teresa.
“Certainly, yes, she was one of the first charismatic Catholics, but this is beyond religion,” emphasizes Blignaut, who also portrays St. Teresa in the production. “The truth of God goes beyond any religion.”
Among the play’s many themes are the empowerment of women, the complexity of relationships, and “the shame of having to hide who you are,” Blignaut says.
Raised in South Africa, Blignaut is of Jewish descent, and she says it’s one of the connections she has to the character. Teresa of Ávila descended from a paternal grandfather who was a marrano — a Christian convert from Judaism. He was condemned by the Spanish Inquisition for accusations that he later returned to the Jewish faith.
Blignaut draws comparisons between the Spanish Inquisition’s oppression of Jews and the bigotry she witnessed growing up in South Africa.
At the heart of the story is Teresa’s fame as a mystic. Known for the visions she described of visitations from Jesus and the angels of heaven, Teresa was first embraced as a reformer of the practice of cloister, and then later accused of heresy. Her tale of an angel who pierced her heart in rapture with a “long spear of gold” is famously depicted in Gian Bernini’s sculpture, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, in Rome.
“I visited that statue and I was so inspired. That’s what I want. That’s what we all want,” says Blignaut. The play has a “universal message…about us all wanting that moment of rapture, but we don’t want to suffer to get it.”
Words and music
Blignaut based her script on Bárbara Mujica‘s novel, Sister Teresa. The two writers worked together in collaboration for two years to fashion the script. Mujica would often provide historical details and help with rewriting scenes, Blignaut says.
Though the play is set in the 16th century, Blignaut says she specifically stayed away from writing in classical style. “It’s written freshly in a modern way. Sophisticated and elegant, but with modern language.”
Blignaut wanted the play to have a musical score to match the style of her writing. Musician and composer Lili Haydn was an initial inspiration for what Blignaut had in mind.
“Lili was a part of the very first sentence describing the setting. When I didn’t even think that we could actually get her, I wrote: ‘A rock violinist like Lili Haydn,’” says Blignaut.
Blignaut sought Haydn out after one of her performances at Hotel Cafe last spring. “I said, ‘I want you to be in my show,’” recalls Blignaut.
“She asked me to provide a score, and be in it, and bring my songs to it,” Haydn says. She will perform parts of her score live at performances on Nov 30 and Dec 7.
Blignaut describes Haydn’s score as “classically oriented with a bohemian feel to it.”
“Think Baz Luhrmann in terms of comparison,” says Haydn. “It has elements of the time period, but tasteful elements that bring it into more of a modern period.” She says she scored the play “as if it were a film.”
Bringing forth a catalog of unreleased material, she presented Blignaut with a collection of music to choose from. “We just had a gold mine to source from,” says Blignaut.
They tackled the task of selecting the correct songs for the play. “There’s a difference between things that are connected emotionally, and what works,” says Haydn. “Some pieces are too large a production.”
“Some pieces are too complicated, or not the correct theme, ” Blignaut agrees.
“We tried not to comment on the story, but to add to it,” Haydn says.
The songs that Blignaut found most appealing are part of material Haydn is due to release on a new album next year. LiliLand is scheduled to be available in May, 2015.
At least 20 percent of the score is new material inspired by the storyline and the characters, says Haydn. “Usually, honestly, my first instinct is a motif — an initial instrumentation. I’m always driven emotionally, so I start with some type of emotional motif,” she says. “A melody can say a lot.”
Haydn says the score is meant to serve as “a Greek chorus in a way.” The music ” is the muse — kind of the soul of the show.” When she performs live with the show, she says she plants herself “on top of the music that is already scored.”
Coco Blignaut and Tsulan Cooper
“I’m sort of a mist. I wanted it to have a mystical feel,” says Haydn.
Haydn’s music was first included in rehearsals two weeks prior to opening night, and the result was “magical,” Blignaut says. “The moment the music was introduced, the magic started flowing.”
Producer and player
Wearing multiple hats for the production is a challenge, says Blignaut. “An astounding amount of work goes into producing.”
In order to focus on her performance on the stage, she has to “switch off” when rehearsing, and separate her tasks throughout the day by designating specific time slots for checking emails, returning calls, and handling production aspects.
Assembling the correct team is essential, says Blignaut, who made sure that each person was hand-picked for the project. Every actor in the cast was chosen on the basis of previous work, not via auditions. Most of the cast come from the Actors Studio, where she is a member, she says.
“They are intense,” Blignaut says. “There are some very difficult scenes — such as the torture scenes — that are very difficult on the actors. It’s exhausting.”
Exhausting, but rewarding, she adds. “Most of the choices have been magically inspired. Most of the people have had the same instinct.”
“When you choose the right people, you just say, ‘just bring yourself,’” says Haydn.
Not every initial collaboration on the project has been a success. “I had to let go of two directors before this one,” Blignaut says.
An initial hire was replaced due to schedule conflicts that could not be worked around. A second director was let go four weeks into rehearsal due to conflicts over the vision of the production, she explains.
“It was a very big lesson for me to follow my instincts. We hired that director against my instincts,” says Blignaut. Making the decision to dismiss the director wasn’t easy, she says, “but it had to be a very quick decision, so as not to disrupt the rest of the team.”
The fact that everyone else remained on board is a testament to the necessity of the decision, she says. Still, opening night had to be set back two weeks, and additional money was spent to accommodate the new rehearsal schedule.
“It was a huge risk, but we believed in the outcome, and we made the right choice,” says Blignaut.
Joel Daavid originally signed on to the production as the set designer. After a five-hour interview discussing the intricacies of the production, he was selected to assume the reins of the show, Blignaut says.
“When you engage a director, make sure their vision is compatible right from the beginning,” she says.
“He had the aesthetic,” says Haydn.
Gifts and gratitude
Overcoming obstacles and persevering through adversity is a strong theme of the play. Not unlike the title character’s viewpoints and positions, the production has been “forged in the fire of faith,” says Blignaut.
David Haverty, Daniel deWeldon and Edison Park
“It’s in the stillness and darkness where God dwells most. It is when it’s most difficult that God is closest,” she says, quoting from the script.
Back on track, this project — of three years in the making — is an exciting accomplishment for Blignaut, she says. Scheduled for a six-week run at the Lillian Theatre, with a two-week extension, the piece already has interest from Broadway and film producers, she reports.
Grateful to finally bring this story to the stage, Blignaut says “gratitude transforms everything from a negative to a positive…The gift is to truly get to create our vision, and the work you have to do to get to do that, makes it all worth it.”
God’s Gypsy, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood 90038. Opens Saturday. Thu-Sat 8 pm, Sun 6 pm. Through Jan. 12. Tickets: $30. www.godsgypsy.com.866-811-4111.
**All God’s Gyspy production photos by Silvia Spross.
I’ve gotten a bit obsessive about my calendar these past few weeks. Between work, the holidays, and my own frazzled brain, my calendar is the only thing that’s keeping me afloat.
No one tells you when you’re a kid that, eventually, you end up so busy that you have to schedule fun time. It feels so strange to have to pencil in parties, but here we are.
And with that, and because I have parties on the brain, here are five holiday parties you should add to your own calendars.
LA STAGE SPACE OPEN HOUSE
LA STAGE Space houses the LA STAGE Alliance offices, as well as our Warehouse Co-Op and community rooms. We moved into the Space last spring, but we’re officially opening to the public on December 7 and throwing a party to celebrate.
Stop by between 2 pm and 5 pm for some light refreshments, to tour the Space, to learn more about the Warehouse Co-Op, and for an afternoon of fun. Don’t forget to RSVP.
ELITE THEATRE COMPANY
Elite Theatre Company is throwing an end-of-the-year party that’s free and open to the public. I love the theme: 1920s Murder Mystery. You have to RSVP to get a password, and can only get through the door with said password. Brilliant.
The party’s on December 28 at Elite’s theatre and RSVPs close on December 15.
THE DANCE RESOURCE CENTER
Our friends at the DRC are hosting a holiday party on December 8. (Props on their flyer, which is too cute.) Hosted at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, they’ll be providing the usual light refreshments (yes, there will be wine) and are offering a 50% renewal discount to their members who bring non-members to the party if they sign up for membership. Sounds like a good deal.
ACTORS FUND & BROADWAY CARES/EQUITY FIGHTS AIDS
If you’re looking for a holiday party that’s also for a good cause, check this one out on December 2. The Actors Fund and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is throwing an evening of family-friendly music and songs from Disney’s The Lion King sung by cast members at the Pantages. Hosted at the Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood, the evening will begin at 8:30 pm.
SAG-AFTRA is holding its annual winter celebration on December 11 from 7 pm – 9:30 pm at its headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard. All union members can join to celebrate the holiday season. They will also be accepting unwrapped toys for the The Village Family Services toy drive or a non-perishable food item for the AIDS Project Los Angeles food drive.
She’s La Virgen de Guadalupe. You’ve seen her on murals, tire covers and tattoos (I have one on my back) on the east side and on key chains, wallets, caps at Olvera Street. Statues of her are sold by the bulk on Los Angeles Street downtown, on sequined denim jackets, handbags and boots in hipster shops in Silver Lake and on Melrose. And if you haven’t seen her, well, you need to get out more.
Almost everyone recognizes her image. But, not many know the story about the Virgin Mary who appeared to a poor Indian peasant in the hills of Tepeyac near Mexico City in 1531. She is the patron saint of Mexico and regarded as “The Mother of the Americas.”
Latino Theater Company‘s dramatization of the story for the holiday season started in 1991 at downtown LA’s Million Dollar Theatre and continued five years later at East LA’s St. Alphonsus Church, using Luis Valdez’s La Virgen de Tepeyac. Another five years passed — and in 2001, during the construction of the Catholic Church’s new downtown Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Latino Theater Company artistic director Jose Luis Valenzuela said, “We should do La Virgen in the new cathedral.”
I thought it was a long shot, but that has never stopped Jose Luis. Over the past 28 years, his grandiose vision has taken us to places unknown. So, I responded, “great idea.”
The telling of this story goes back centuries since the first publishing of the Nican Mopohua — the first written record in Nahuatl (the indigenous language of the Nahua people) in the 16th century. It has been presented in celebration of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, with pageants and processions. We present it as a pageant play with music and dance, with a huge cast that includes professional actors and musicians, a community choir, Aztec dancers and a cast of children, youth, adults and senior citizens. Our youngest cast member is five years old and our oldest is 94. We offer it as a holiday gift, free to the public, so that poor and working families who can’t afford higher-priced holiday performances can enjoy the play together during the holidays.
It’s a simple story. Juan Diego, a Nahua Indian baptized into the Catholic faith, leaves his indigenous name (Cuauhtlatoazin) and beliefs and is chosen by the dark-skinned virgin who appears to him and speaks to him in Nahuatl, his native language. She sends him to the Archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, with a message from the heavens. But, because he is a poor Indian, he is accused of lying and of sorcery. With the kind encouragement of the Virgin Mother, he returns to the archbishop insisting that her wishes are obeyed. But not until she performs a miracle is Juan Diego believed and revered.
We present the story in Spanish with English supertitles. But because of the play’s universal message of faith, love and perseverance, the play appeals to many people, regardless of race, language or religion. Renowned mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmán will sing the title role of La Virgen, and Latino Theater Company members, professional musicians, and Aztec dancers will also be featured. But we are most proud of how we can include a large community ensemble of children, youth and seniors in the cast.
The image of La Virgen de Guadalupe has become a symbol of justice and equality over the centuries by people such as Father Miguel Hidalgo in the fight for independence of Mexico; in civil rights and police brutality protests in the ’60s and ’70s; by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union; and in the million-immigrant march to City Hall in 2005.
One of my mentors, Luis Valdez, began the tradition of presenting the story of La Virgen de Guadalupe with El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista in the ’70s, and Chicano/a Latino theater makers around the country tell this story as a reminder of our struggles, past and present.
So, we sent a letter to the Cathedral proposing the production for December 2002, two months after the grand opening, and we promptly received a “Thanks, but, no thanks” response. Then, in a dramatic turn of events, on the closing night of our production of Dementia in November 2002, we were informed that the Cathedral folks had changed their minds and wanted the production after all. I had written a new adaptation of the tale, and like a miracle…
And so began our partnership with Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral and a new holiday tradition for the 6,000 people who attend over two days of performances. This tradition is important to our theater company and to our family members, who all give a helping hand in the production. La Virgen has become our own manda (promise) to Los Angeles, the immigrant and working communities, and to all Angelenos, as we take pause from producing at the LATC (although in 2007 we produced it at LATC as well as at the cathedral) and give thanks for all of the blessings we have received throughout the year.
The 2013 production of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin, marks our 11th year presenting our adaptation of the Nican Mopohua. We skipped a year in 2012 because to lack of funding. But, due to public outcry and thanks to a generous donation from Goya Foods and donations from LATC board members Castulo de La Rocha (AltaMed Health Services) and Walter Ulloa (Entravision Entertainment), the story of a poor Indian named Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe will be told at Our Lady of the Angels again We hope to see you there!
La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin, Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, 555 W Temple St, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Dec 4 and 5, 7:30 pm. Free, but preferred seating tickets for $35 available at www.thelatc.org.
**La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin production photos by Carol Petersen.
Evelina Fernandez is an actor and playwright. She is a TCG Fox Actor Fellow and the recipient of the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for A Mexican Trilogy. She has been a member of the Latino Theater Company for 28 years.
As Thanksgiving approaches, here’s something that anyone who’s reading this can be thankful for — that we’re not dead yet. Or at least that’s what I’ve concluded from several of the recent shows I’ve seen in LA: Play Dead, We’re Gonna Die, Exit the King and Endgame.
Besides that minimal standard of still being alive, I also have the blessing of having relatives who aren’t as spiteful or as hypocritical as most of the characters in The Pain and the Itch, which is the one specifically Thanksgiving-set play I’ve seen lately.
But beyond these not-as-bad-as-it-could-be blessings, is anything actually improving in the second decade of the 21st century? Well, if you juxtapose seeing The Normal Heart and The Homosexuals — both in extended LA runs — you might at least tentatively say yes to that question.
Todd Robbins in “Play Dead.” Photo by Michael Lamont.
First let’s juxtapose Play Dead and We’re Gonna Die, both of which opened last week (and the latter has already closed, which is strangely appropriate for a show that’s titled We’re Gonna Die).
Play Dead is the Geffen’s showcase for the brusquely seductive magician/mentalist/horror enthusiast Todd Robbins. He reminds his spectators of our eventual deaths by creating a frisson of fright in the theater — which makes us, momentarily, become more intensely alive. He has used a roller coaster analogy to describe this effect.
In other words, this is a great Halloween show that unfortunately opened after Halloween — perhaps because the Geffen already had another scary show, Wait Until Dark, up for Halloween?
Robbins directly asks his audiences — not just the critics — to avoid being too specific about what happens during Play Dead, when communicating with anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. He has good reasons for wanting people to be as surprised as possible by what happens.
So this will be brief, but let me just say that Play Dead is harrowingly entertaining — so much so that my wife was hoarse for several days after seeing it with me, at least in part because of the involuntary noises that passed through her throat as she responded to some of those surprises.
As an advocate for more locally-set theater, I also applaud the fact that Robbins draws on his Long Beach youth for some of his material. He even introduces us to the story of a real-life Long Beach woman whom he knew before she was murdered.
When he was a teenager, he told after-dark stories to his friends in a Long Beach cemetery. Now he’s doing the same at the Geffen — but with considerably advanced production components, under the direction of Teller.
By contrast, the production elements of Young Jean Lee’s We’re Gonna Die are closer to those of a teenager telling stories than they are to those on display in Play Dead.
Young Jean Lee in “We’re Gonna Die.” Photo courtesy of CAP UCLA.
Although Lee is 39 (according to Wikipedia), she looks, well, younger — not that much older than a teenager. She tells a few autobiographical stories which lead into musical numbers that she performs with the Brooklyn-based band Future Wife. Most of these stories are about embarrassing or painful memories, which gradually lead up to her not-so-grand finale — the titular song “We’re Gonna Die.” As presented by CAP UCLA at the Actors’ Gang theater, the entire show lasted no longer than an hour.
I was underwhelmed by it, perhaps because LA Times critic Charles McNulty had inflated expectations for it far too high in a long front-page review Friday.
Lee maintains her cool while talking and singing about her sorrows and our coming deaths. In the middle of her concluding song, she and the members of the band interrupt the supposedly grim lyrics to present an ironic little dance that appears to be choreographed in an intentionally sophomoric style, almost like something you might see from a collegiate pep squad.
In short, the message seems to be to forget dread and raging against the dying of the light — just accept death as a pleasant little musical number. That’s another way of saying that I felt virtually nothing at all during We’re Gonna Die, other than wondering if Lee was aware of her apparent need to take professional singing lessons.
You might say that Robbins indulges in tricks and hocus-pocus in Play Dead, but at least they result in arousing definite feelings within his audience. I’ll remember the sensations I experienced during Play Dead a lot longer than the bland ho-hum quality of We’re Gonna Die.
Speaking of dying, local companies have recently presented two absurdist takes on kings (and by extension, societies?) in their death throes. Geoff Elliott’s staging of Endgame for A Noise Within closed over the weekend, but A Theatre Connection’s Exit the King continues through Saturday at NoHo Actors Studio.
Jeff Alan-Lee in “Exit the King.” Photo by Nickalas Parker.
After seeing the two within a few days of each other, I prefer Eugène Ionesco’s Exit the King. The king in Ionesco’s play puts up a lot more resistance to his fate than the king in Samuel Beckett’s play. Almost by definition, that creates more drama.
I’ve seen several productions of Endgame, and A Noise Within’s was good enough, but the script has never stirred me nearly as much as, say, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot — although the two plays are frequently discussed as if they are equally Beckett’s masterpieces. I always become more engaged in Godot than I do in Endgame, which usually engenders more of a so-what, why-bother feeling.
I’m not sure that I had ever seen Exit the King, but judging from Pat Towne’s production of a Geoffrey Rush/Neil Armfield translation, it strikes me as closer to Godot in spirit than it is to Endgame. Jeff-Alan Lee’s king — ridiculous and immature though he may be — keeps fighting for quite a while, and the members of his revenue are distinctively engaging, as portrayed by Erin Matthews, Jill Bennett, Terry Tocantins, Analia Lenchantin and Nicholas Ullett.
Play Dead, Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. Tonight 8 pm.Tue-Fri 8 pm, Sat 3 pm and 8 pm, Sun 2 pm and 7 pm. Dark Thanksgiving Day. Closes Dec 22. www.GeffenPlayhouse.com. 310-208-5454.
Exit the King, NoHo Actors Studio, 5215 Lankershim Blvd,, North Hollywood. Fri-Sat 8 pm. Closes Saturday. www.exittheking.com. 818-763-1208.
Wilder Theatrics has revived Bruce Norris’ The Pain and the Itch, giving me my first opportunity to re-visit this earlier work by the playwright since he became famous for Clybourne Park. I admire Clybourne Park, but I didn’t recall admiring The Pain and the Itch all that much during the Boston Court/Furious Theatre co-production of it in 2009, before I had ever heard of Clybourne Park. So I wanted to see if my experience of Clybourne Park might help me gain a greater appreciation of The Pain and the Itch.
Kiara Lisette Gamboa, April Adams, Eric Hunicutt and Beverly Hynds in “The Pain and the Itch.” Photo by Ed Krieger.
Jennifer Chambers stages The Pain and the Itch very well in its current incarnation at the Zephyr Theatre, and some of the acerbic dialogue among the characters is somewhat reminiscent of the dialogue in Clybourne Park. But the essential difference is that Norris wrote an unnecessarily convoluted and somewhat implausible ending for the narrative of The Pain and the Itch, leaving not only a bad taste in the brain but also a somewhat confused taste, making us forget about some of his acid-tongued social commentary.
Chambers sets this version in Pacific Palisades, but it hardly matters in terms of local content. I didn’t hear any references to local landmarks.
The Pain and the Itch, Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., LA. Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm. Closes Sunday. www.plays411.com/pain. 323-960-5774.
The Normal Heart was written nearly three decades ago, as terror was enveloping gay America in response to the outbreak of AIDS. It covers the reaction to the crisis among a group of gay men in New York and sharply condemns New York authorities for their tardy attention to the crisis. As directed by Simon Levy at the Fountain, it has a life-and-death urgency that makes for a gripping evening in the theater — although the preaching gets a little heavy-handed in a few scenes.
Kurt Quinn and Brian Dare in “The Homosexuals.” Photo by Sean Lambert.
The Homosexuals covers a decade of life within a group of gay men in Chicago, from 2000 to 2010 — or rather from 2010 to 2000, as Dawkins used a backwards chronology. The play was first produced in 2011. AIDS is the topic of some discussion in it, and one of the characters is HIV-positive. But the play is primarily about the men’s relationships with each other, as both lovers and as friends.
There is a distinct generational divide on display in The Homosexuals, between the older men who were around during the panic of the ‘80s and the younger men who weren’t. One of the older characters in The Homosexuals, Mark (David Fraiolo), bears such severe emotional scars from the earlier battles that he alienates just about everyone. Meanwhile, the youngest character (Brian Dare) — who’s also the only character in every scene of the play — is so emotionally available that he’s just about everyone’s boyfriend at some point, although he never hooks up with the one friend who brought him into this circle. He also betrays a rather casual sense of caution about protection about the threat of HIV in one scene — but when he becomes sick, it’s appendicitis, not AIDS.
There is one woman in each of these plays. The doctor in The Normal Heart assumes a passionately serious tone throughout the play, while the “fag hag” in The Homosexuals knows how to kid around with the guys.
Levy, the director of The Normal Heart, wants everyone to know the AIDS plague is still ongoing. But Dawkins (and perhaps Michael Matthews, the director of The Homosexuals?) seem eager to point out that AIDS is only one strand in the fabric of gay men’s lives in contemporary America. Gay men today, they seem to be saying, can also pay attention to the conditions of their “normal hearts” — their relationships with each other — in a much more Chekhovian framework.
Of course these relationships aren’t always ideal. And all people everywhere still need to remember that “we’re gonna die,” but at least these characters in The Homosexuals don’t expect to die in the next few weeks. That’s deserving of some thanks.
The Normal Heart, Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., LA. Thu-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm. Dark Thanksgiving Day and Dec 7-8. Closes Dec. 15. www.FountainTheatre.com. 323-663-1525.
The Homosexuals, Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater. Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm. Closes Dec. 15. www.CelebrationTheatre.com. 323-957-1884.
Actress Jane Kaczmarek attended with her 10-year-old daughter Mary Louisa. When asked what brought her to Beauty, she replied “It’s the holiday season, and what a perfect way to kick it off! My older daughter Francis Whitford is a ballerina and wanted to be here but was sick tonight, so I grabbed my other daughter to come with me. I didn’t want to miss this.”
What do you tell the girls about meeting Prince Charming? Kaczmarek glanced at her daughter and laughed heartily, “We-l-l-l, I understand [Bourne's] choreography is quite surprising in many ways so, it’s a nice twist — more humorous and probably a more realistic take on Prince Charming is what I’m assuming.” And I assumed that was her delightful “mom” way to deal with the age-old love tale while raising two young girls.
Kaczmarek’s daughter Francis performed with the Bolshoi this summer. “She’s such a serious dancer. I always loved ballet but was never allowed to take ballet lessons when I was growing up in Milwaukee. I could take baton twirling but not ballet. My father said ballet was not culturally beneficial but baton twirling was.” Really? She added with a big grin, “I think it was also that the lessons were less expensive.”
Mary Poppins composer Richard Sherman has written numerous film scores, musicals and songs. “I came to see my friend Matthew Bourne. He choreographed the stage version of Mary Poppins, and I love ballet. It’s the music of the body. The body can express such beautiful things, and together with music it becomes a very special art form.”
Jane Kaczmarek and daughter Mary Kaczmarek
In the recently released film Saving Mr. Banks, about Walt Disney’s battle to obtain film rights for Mary Poppins, Jason Schwartzman plays Sherman. “Yes” he grinned proudly, “Jason does look like me a little bit. He does a good job.”
What’s the difference between a good song and a great one? “I think there’s a certain magic that takes place if a great idea is wedded to remarkably beautiful musical and expressive original words. That’s when it usually becomes a great song. But, the idea has to come first. A great idea, masterfully expressed, can become a great song.”
Bourne is considered a master in the dance world; what makes his work so special? Sherman’s response was immediate, “Originality; great originality and freshness. He always brings a bright new approach to things. A well-worn old shoe, in the right mind and with the right ideas, can become a brand-new shoe. I haven’t seen this production yet, but it’s a story everyone knows and loves, so I’m very excited to see Matthew’s take on it tonight.”
Debbie Allen arrived wearing a fabulous gray suit, matching hat and “comfy” Uggs. It’s a smart lady who stays warm, protects those talented dancing feet and still manages to look great. “I love Bourne,” she said, “because he doesn’t put himself in a box. He opens up the world to his own creativity and takes the audience on a wonderful journey every time.”
Albert Einstein has been quoted as having said or written that “Dancers are the athletes of God.” Allen pauses for a moment to fully absorb and think about the quote. “Wow, I love that. Yes, yes, I agree because we’re beautiful, sculptured; we fly, we spin, we command time and space. Oh yeah!”
Do you believe in fairy tales? “I do. I still believe in fairy tales. It’s wonderful to dream. You know, the world is such a chaotic place and we need to have someplace where we can go where the mind can be at peace and our spirit can feel joy. Sometimes, that doesn’t exist in the real world, and you need to go into a world of fantasy.”
Richard Sherman and Matthew Bourne
Allen is very proud of her latest project. “We’re doing TheHot Chocolate Nutcracker at Royce Hall on December 14 and 15. The rats take over the story and it’s very funny. This is our third year. We took it and made it fresh. We’re going to play in our fantasy world. You should come.”
After the show, we all met again in the lower lobby to offer a champagne toast to the cast. Bourne beamed and explained, “Every audience and every city is different. You get surprised and you get taken aback sometimes, because it’s not what you expect.” Asked to compare tonight’s audience to others, he said, “Here you can always guarantee an amazing warmth and people who get it, you know? The audience gets it right from the beginning. I felt that tonight and I could feel the company feeling it as well. When a company feels it, they do their best work. They rise to the occasion. I don’t think audiences realize how they can affect a show they are watching. If the audience is good, the show is better.”
This cast does so much more than dance magnificently; they are clearly actors who fly. He laughs delightedly, “That’s right. Yes. A lot of them have worked with me for years and were trained by the company.” Bourne was referring to New Adventures, an internationally successful UK repertory company where he is artistic director.
“They’re not trained actors. The thing we stress is truth — performances they can understand and that mean something to them. We found it’s a good way for dancers to act. Rather than getting too overly complex about it, just find the real truth of it and the audience will believe you. That’s what they do and they’ve become very skilled at it.
“Some of the dancers I’ve worked with have no acting training whatsoever, and they’re becoming really fine actors. It’s just through talking about it; and they get to perform a lot, which is great because it enables them to try things out.”
Matthew Bourne and Debbie Allen
Although much has been written about this version depicting good vs. evil and incorporating supernatural elements into the fairy tale, Bourne says, “for me, the story is about love that has to survive all sorts of things. It’s a classic story really, and that’s what I tried to set up. When they finally meet again in the end, he’s had to change himself into this vampiric fairy. It sounds crazy when I talk about it, but it’s what he must do in order to be there for her when she wakes up. And then she has to accept him as he is. I love that.
“There is the good vs. evil element going on through it, and of course, good has to triumph eventually but not until the end. I think that’s the key in storytelling. The problem with the story is when it winds itself up too early on. I try to keep it going right to the end, so you don’t really know what is going to happen. Maybe she’s going to marry the wrong man. That’s the idea and one of the pleasures of this production, I think.”
What inspires the man who has been an inspiration to so many? “Ah. These days it’s working with great people. The collaborators, the dancers, the designer and of course, always, the music. Whether it’s new or, like Tchaikovsky, old, it’s completely inspiring to me.
“I have to love the people I’m working with, as well as the subject matter, because I work with it so much for such a long time. I still enjoy watching this. After a year, I’m still watching it a lot. I’ve probably watched it over 200 times from beginning to end — not bits, the whole thing. And I get enormous pleasure from the way audiences react to it, as I observe how it renews itself all the time.”
Hannah Vassallo, a veteran of Bourne’s many productions — including Car Man, Play Without Words and Edward Scissorhands — performed the beautiful princess Aurora. The lifts in which Vassallo is partnered by Dominic North are breathtaking. Vassallo reveals that the most exciting part of the evening for her is the story. “I love telling it from start to finish. It’s such a huge journey, and she has a vast arc to cover.”
Matthew Bourne, Dominic North and Hannah Vassallo
Staying in shape on tour is essential. “I’m constantly stretching and rolling out my muscles; also, we have a technical class every day — either ballet or contemporary. It keeps our technique strong. I try to eat healthy food, but that’s difficult because we don’t have a kitchen, so we can’t cook.”
Vassallo has had periods of time when she was out of work but explains her success, simply. “I really love what I do and I love the company I work for. It’s a family and it’s such a nurturing environment. There are always exciting things to look forward to. Success is about always keeping positive and keeping in mind what you really love to do.”
You will love to watch this amazing company in its thrilling production at the Ahmanson through Dec 1.
“Everything was beautiful at the ballet. Graceful men lift lovely girls in white. Yes, everything was beautiful at the ballet. Hey! I was happy at the ballet.”
– “At the Ballet,” A Chorus Line, lyrics by Edward Kleban
From left, cast members Liam Mower and Katy Lowenhoff pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
Christopher Marney, Jodie Gats, Glorya Kaufman, Hannah Vassallo
From left, cast member Christopher Marney, Vice Dean, USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance Jodie Gats, Glorya Kaufman and cast member Hannah Vassallo pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, cast members Adam Maskell and Christopher Marney pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, CTG Artistic Director Michael Ritchie and cast members Hannah Vassallo and Dominic North pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
Hannah Vassallo, Glorya Kaufman, Renae Williams Niles
From left, cast member Hannah Vassallo, Glorya Kaufman and Renae Williams Niles, Music Center, pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, Renae Williams Niles, Music Center, and CTG Producing Director Douglas C. Baker pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, CTG Founding Artistic Director Gordon Davidson and Director/Choreographer Matthew Bourne pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Avenue, LA 90012. Tue-Wed 8 pm, Fri-Sat 2 pm and 8 pm; Sun 1 pm and 6:30 pm. Through Dec. 1. Tickets: $20-110. www.centertheatregroup.org. 213-972-7200.
The cast of “In The Heights.” Photo by Ed Krieger.
Revivals aren’t rare. But it’s very unusual to have a newer musical revived for a second time within a year by the same company. That describes the current co-production by Teatro Nuevos Horizontes (“Theatre of New Horizons” or TNH) and Casa 0101 of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ In The Heights — the 2008 Broadway hit that won Tonys for production, score, orchestrations and choreography. It opens tonight at Casa 0101, following an earlier run last December produced by TNH at the same venue.
For director Rigo Tejeda, 36, and costume designer Abel Alvarado, 41 — both of TNH – and Casa 101 artistic director Josefina Lopez, 44, the musical has special meaning. Even though it is set in Manhattan’s Washington Heights (where Lopez wrote her first play), their theater is in Boyle Heights, east of downtown Los Angeles. The play deals with puertorriqueños and dominicanos in New York, but the production folk and most of the cast are Mexican-American.
Tejeda and Alvarado are both San Gabriel Valley-bred. Lopez hails from San Luis Potosí, Mexico, but was raised in Southern California. All three willingly celebrate their Mexican heritage in their work. Lopez, who has an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA, is best known for writing Real Women Have Curves — first as a play that has received more than a hundred productions in the USA and then as a film. She now runs her theater in Boyle Heights, where she teaches writing for stage and screen. Tejeda directs on the side, as his full-time business is running a flower shop in Whittier (the set features some of his flowers), and Alvarado is the resident costumer for TNH as well as costumer and art director for In The Heights.
Tejeda, the youngest of four boys in his family, likes the idea of combining directing and running a business. “Break down ‘showbiz’ and you have a mash-up of artistic and business acumen. For me, being a small business owner and participating in theater has taught me the need to be strategical when putting together a show as, at the end of the day, you have to make a profit to sustain yourself. And you do it by finding a project that others want to see and learn how to make it great” without breaking the bank. TNH is dedicated to “finding new horizons for yourself. I want to continuously walk this road of theater and passions, with the horizon far away in the distance.”
TNH was founded in 2005 and has produced at least a play a year, mostly community-based. The current co-production of In The Heights with Casa 0101 was a direct result of the success of TNH’s first version last year, at Casa 0101. Tejeda calls it “the first musical that actually accentuates a Latino community” and finds that “inspiring. We don’t believe West Side Story counts, as it’s about divided communities in NYC.”
For Alvarado, “the essence of the show is how Latinos in America are marginalized because of the majority’s fear of those who don’t look like them — racism at its basest. Lin-Manuel wrote about a neighborhood in NYC that, as it happens, is just like Boyle Heights. But what the racists ignore is that we’re all Americans and we help fuel the economy. In turn, Latinos fear becoming mainstream, living all too often in cocoon-like barrios.”
Rigo Tejeda and Abel Alvarado
As a business owner,Tejeda says he relates mostly to the character of Daniela, who runs a beauty salon. “She has to compete with the big-box stores, ultimately having to close down due to rising rents, but moving to a cheaper place that will still allow her to keep her two workers. And she keeps her energy and her ability to maintain a positive attitude while helping others. She’s the go-to person for someone who might need a laugh or a distraction.” It’s at this point that Tejeda begins to weep, which embarrasses him. “Wow. I never show emotion — I will show you my care through actions, not in talking.”
While this version of last year’s show is essentially the same, many of the previous actors got new jobs or agents or furthered their careers from it, so the producers were forced to do some radical re-casting, totaling 17 out of a cast of 22. “The result has been somewhat stronger, but that’s mostly because we knew what had to be fixed from the previous version,” says Tejeda.
For Alvarado, the production is an opportunity for Angelenos who don’t live nearby. “We invite them to see the barrio we live in, in all its reality. And it’s a safe journey, two miles east of downtown, with two Metro stops nearby [Mariachi Plaza and Soto on the Gold Line ], opposite the Hollenbeck Police Station, with free parking at Boyle Heights City Hall [on Friday and Saturday nights], and you get to see an excellent show in a beautiful theater. This musical allows us to see singing-and-dancing Latinos in a play everyone can relate to — the struggle to stay financially afloat amid community emotional support. And the price is fair: $30 for adults, $25 for seniors and students and $20 for residents of Boyle Heights. And if you do come on the Metro, you get a $2 discount.”
In The Heights had played Los Angeles twice, in two national tours, at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood — before its incarnations at Casa 0101. But as this version is in a 99-seat theater, under Actors’ Equity’s relaxed rules, it is much more affordable to those who couldn’t afford higher-priced tickets at the Pantages.
Anastasia Silva, James Oronoz, Santos Hemenway and Michael Torreneuva
In a more serious vein, the two production companies are very aware that they straddle two (usually contradictory) horses: community theater and professional theater. This is an issue close to Alvarado’s heart: “To do a musical of this caliber, there’s a training that’s missing in most community actors. You need the quality preparation you can get from high school, college, or from intensive studying. It’s a fine balance as we’ve taken untrained, but highly talented, local community residents, seeing in them an ability to flourish, which added to our production.”
He continues: “Latino audiences here don’t support theater the way that they do in other Spanish-speaking countries. Mexico City has large theaters, playing major musicals, for example, both foreign and domestic, and audiences flock to them. But because of costs, our people cannot attend the larger theaters here.”
Beyond lower ticket prices, Boyle Heights might add an element of authenticity to the experience of seeing In the Heights that wouldn’t be found on Hollywood Boulevard. “Our musical’s storyline is about taking ownership of where you live and thrive,” Alvarado explains, “making the American dream work from within. My grandparents lived in Boyle Heights long ago. Their people came originally from Mexico, but migrated through Texas to Colorado to LA to the San Gabriel Valley decades ago — we are all full Americans. We live that American dream, and this show exemplifies the similarities that all immigrants go through. We want West Side audiences to travel to our neighborhood and see a show that reflects the diversity on our side of town. Boyle Heights is a new Renaissance District, largely because of Casa 0101, and the new festivals that the city sponsors.”
So far, the area has not been gentrified away from its current flavor — unlike the strife-ridden history of Silver Lake’s merging of Hispanics and LGBT folk. And while the area is still poor, it has genuine life happening in and around it, with the changes coming from within — the gentefication rather than gentrification — according to Alvarado, who is something of a community activist.
Vivian Lamolli, Chrissi Erickson, Katherine Washington and Michael Torrenueva
Alvarado’s background is in costume design. For the current version, he had to tweak the costumes for the newer actors, but his original thought for the designs was to create “a color wheel of life, sabor/flavor and vibrancy. While that didn’t change [for the new show], I was able to implement new ideas — making the costumes pop a little more. Because there’s so much dance in it, I needed the clothes to sway, as if in a breeze, to accentuate the memories of the people who live there — to match the sounds of the music and the smells of the coffee stand, the panadería/bakery and the florist’s shop.” For the one memory sequence, in which Abuela Claudia talks about her native Cuba and the local neighborhood during World War II, the costuming became less colorful and more earth-toned to reflect the idea of a sepia-toned picture.
Last year, he costumed Leslie Ferreira and Tina Kronis’ show at the Odyssey, The Untitled Warhol Project. “It was an amazing show, a retrospective on Andy Warhol — in just over an hour, with 18 actors on stage, we had over a hundred costume changes.” That experience, as tough as it was, also allowed him an opportunity to directly see the ethnic makeup of two very diverse audiences — largely white in West Los Angeles, and largely brown for Heights at Casa 0101.
“You know,” Alvarado continues, “we’re all supposed to be colorblind in our American society, and audiences should be willing to travel to see racially different casts. Audiences need to see others as themselves. Our stories are all the same. In growing up, I was mostly surrounded by American culture, my education, the food, as an artist, and I speak English and Spanish. As Latinos, we have no choice than to see other people’s stories in the movies or on TV, or on stage. I think it’s time that our culture is reflected as part of the American fabric.”
Tejeda agrees: “I think our stories reflect everyone’s concerns. I’m a flower-shop owner, Daniela is a salon owner, and we small business owners are all over this city. We put back into the community by doing what we need to on a daily basis. We help fuel the American dream.”
Rehyan Rivera, Valeria Maldonado and Michael Torrenueva
Alvarado adds that “when outsiders, people with no direct history of our neighborhoods, come into them and make changes, no one takes kindly to the pillaging and thereby making it different — by doing that, they are saying we’re not American enough. I call it the Chipotlization of Latin American culture.”
Tejeda and Alvarado have been working partners in the theater for over three years, producing their own shows. Future plans may include producing the American debut of a Mexico City hit musical, Mentiras /Lies, but they need to convince the owners of the material that they’d do best by introducing it to America in a smaller theater and by not taking the original cast — stars all in Mexico — to Broadway where they won’t be recognized.
Alvarado explains: “It’s a comedy where five women, who are close friends, find out — when the husband of one of the ingénues up and dies — that he’d not only been involved with all of them, he had married two of them. We’re in preliminary negotiations with the rights-holders to let us do it. It would change the face of Latino musical theater in LA and it might happen if we can find the right space and the right producer. The [Ricardo] Montalbán, perhaps, or at the LA Theatre Center.”
Lopez, who has had experience with trying to get her own musical version of Real Women onto the Broadway stage (“it will cost $8-10 million dollars”), is appreciative of the idea of a Broadway show, such as Heights is, playing in the barrio. “It’s unusual to hear [our] songs in a show, whether in Spanish, English or Spanglish. I love that it’s all so collaborative in the performing arts.”
She is also looking to find new plays that deal directly with the history of Boyle Heights, from its beginnings as a Jewish enclave, then as a home to Japanese-Americans who were forcibly relocated during WWII, to the Chicano neighbors who bought up their properties to save them until they returned after the war. Remembering Boyle Heights is a title for the show she’s considering. She’s currently collecting stories from neighbors. One topic for a possible future show is the local synagogue and shul on Breed Street, around the corner from her theater.
For Lopez, as important as it is to have a theater devoted to the Latino cultures that exist all around it, it is more important not to remain in “a ghetto of the mind.”
In The Heights, Casa 0101, 2009 East First Street, Boyle Heights 90033. Opens tonight. Fri 8 pm, Sat 2 and 8 pm, Sun 5 pm. Through December 22.Tickets: $19.99-$45. www.casa0101.org. 323-263-7684.
**All In The Heights production photos by Ed Krieger.
Flora Plumb, Arthur Hanket, Meredith Thomas and John Combs in “Light Up The Sky.” Photo by Ed Krieger.
It’s strange for an actor turned businessman to go back to the boards, but it always feels like home.
I started out as a pretty typical downtown New York actor in the late ’70s through the early ’90s — small avant-garde plays in New York, loads of Shakespearean adventures in the regional theater circuit, peppered with office work in the sales department of a big corporate trading company in New York.
Then, in a friend’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona — a strange cowboy-clown show affair — I met a fetching blonde, who was ubiquitously dressed like Audra Barkley in Big Valley, in a push-up corset that wouldn’t quit. I remained in New York when she moved to LA a month after our romance began. As soon as she settled into a pursuit of TV and film, she came back for a weekend, and I went out to the coast for a “visit” during pilot season. More than a few years later, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Angeleno: house, hybrid car, solar panels and all.
I kept my professional career warm for a while with occasional out-of-town forays in New York and the regions for a number of years, plus my early experiences of LA small theater as a member of the Actors’ Gang. But when my now-wife, the ever-lovely Stephanie Erb, and I elected to adopt our daughter at about the same time I was supposed to be heading to Austin to play Prospero in a buddy’s eclectic production of The Tempest…I knew my acting days were drawing to a close.
Stephanie and I had several remarkable chances to play opposite each other in a few productions out of town which dragged out the inevitable. Then I snagged a national tour of a big musical and I had to turn it down. Our daughter was a one-year-old. And she meant more to me than the show.
Well, sort of…they hired me to do the show even though I said “No,” and my girls worked it out for a year on the road, in and out of town. After that, I felt it was time to settle down if I could. I had been working in the business world all this time, but with a significant back door always open for a show. This time was different. When a full-time job of some substance was offered, I took the plunge and hung up my tap shoes.
Five or six years later, my wife finally convinced me I was unhappy and actually missed the boards. I didn’t believe her. Then she made me read a script that the Open Fist Theatre was about to do and I fell in love with a part, auditioned and joined the ranks of LA 99-Seat Plan actors who do it again and again for the love of the craft and opportunity to stretch and grow as artists.
Stephanie Erb, Flora Plumb, John Combs and Arthur Hanket
Theatre 40 and our production of Moss Hart’s oh-so-charming 1940s gem, Light Up the Sky, is a perfect example of what this kind of theater is about. We have a large group of like-minded artists from the director to all the designers to the stage manager right through all the actors in the cast who are at it every day — in theater, working out. This play is our Gold’s Gym and our Cirque du Soleil. We have the sweet opportunity to make Mr. Hart’s words come alive in characters under the guidance of talented eyes and handlers…just for fun. For the joy of creation and stretching our artistic muscles with old friends and new colleagues.
And so how does a guy who works a typical 40-hour week in a sales and marketing job with typical boiler-room pressure handle rehearsals six days a week and performances on weeknights and weekends? With glee.
The theater makes my business life less normal. The business world makes theater more peculiar and therefore much more fun. Right now, it couldn’t be nicer to be backstage at Theatre 40 waiting to go on with great words in my mouth and grand playmates. By the way, my wife is in the show, so I’m not even away from home. We take our home backstage with us. Ain’t that the way?
Light Up The Sky. Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills 90210. Opens tonight. Thu-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm. Tickets: $24- $26. www.theatre40.org. 310-364-0535.
**All Light Up The Sky production photos by Ed Krieger.
Arthur Hanket has happily been seen in theaters from New York to Los Angeles and anywhere in between. He has performed over two thirds of Shakespeare’s plays and created roles in new works by contemporary playwrights like Eric Overmyer, Joe Fisher, Doug Cooney and Tony Kushner. He is devoted to the Virgos in his life, Stephanie and Zoe.
Veteran actor Dan Gerrity died of a reported heart attack in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Thursday. Gerrity’s initial LA stage appearances were at Odyssey Theatre in West LA, appearing in theCliff Jonestuner, Something’s Rockin in Denmark (1981) and Ionescopade (1982), helmed by Bill Castellino. He was a member of the four-man LADCC-award-winning ensemble that performed John Godber’s Bouncers at Tiffany Theatre in 1986 before taking the show Off-Broadway in 1987, and in 1988 Gerrity produced Shakers, Godber’s women’s counterpart to Bouncers, at the Odyssey. In 1990, Gerrity was nominated for a LADCC award for his featured performance in Stand-Up Tragedy at Mark Taper Forum. Gerrity teamed withJeremy Lawrenceto adapt the David Galloway novel, Melody Jones, premiering at the Cast Theatre in 1992, garnering a production award from LADCC, as well as a lead actor nom for Gerrity. It was revived in 1998, still with Gerrity in the lead, at what was then the Cahuenga Blvd incarnation of Theatre/Theater. In 1999, Gerrity’s then-partner and frequent director, Ron Link, died, and Gerrity moved to Santa Fe in 2000. For the last nine years, he had been serving as news director of Santa Fe’s public radio station, KSFR, while also actively participating in local theater productions. He was in the process of staging a production of A Christmas Carol for Santa Fe Playhouse at the time of his death. Although online reports of his age vary, his employer — KSFR — reported that he was 59. Plans for his memorial service are to be announced…
AROUND TOWN…LA Theatre Works (LATW) is presenting the first West Coast sighting of Reasons to Be Happy, a four-hander comedy about heartbreak and miscommunication, scripted and helmed by Neil LaBute — a sequel to LaBute’s 2008 Reasons to Be Pretty, presented by LATW in September, following the same four characters three years later. Recording before a live audience for future broadcast, the production reunites the September cast — Jenna Fischer, Thomas Sadoski,Gia Crovatin and Josh Stamberg – opening Dec 12 at UCLA’s James Bridges Theater in Westwood…Celebration Theatre is hosting a benefit reading of A Kind of Kind, a new play by Miles Brandman, focusing on the cathartic confrontation of two liberal parents after they learn their son has been hiding his homosexuality from them, starring Wendie Malick and Academy Award nominee Robert Forster, helmed by Ovation-winning Celebration co-artistic director Michael Matthews, Nov 25at Atwater Village Theatre in Los Angeles.Proceeds will support Celebration…That deliciously sleazy music/comedy revue, El Grande de Coca-Cola — revived by two of its co-creators Ron House and Alan Shearman – continues at Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica through Dec 14…Joni Ravenna’s solo drama, Beethoven and Misfortune Cookies, featuring Ernest Harden, Jr as fired music professor Kabin Thomas, helmed by T.J. Castronovo, has moved to the Odyssey Theatre in West LA (Sundays only), following a six-week run at Met Theatre in Hollywood…Victory Theatre Center in Burbank is reviving Kos Kostmayer’s On the Money, a play about financial desperation, which had its West Coast premiere at Victory in 1983, when the playwright’s first name was still John (he legally changed it to Kos in the ’90s). Artistic director Tom Ormeny staged the premiere and also helms the revival…A gaggle of magicians are scheduled to gather at Theatre West for Millennium Magic XIV, hosted by Jeanine Anderson and George Tovar, Dec 6-8…
Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman
IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK…Rubicon Theatre in Ventura is billing itself as Holiday Central, Nov 29-Dec 23. The schedule includes: A Rubicon Family Christmas Concert, helmed by Brian McDonald with music direction by Gerald Sternbach, featuring Broadway stars Joan Almedilla, Teri Bibb, Trey Ellett, Anthony Manough, Natalie Nucci and Brian Sutherland (Nov 29-Dec 8); a cabaret offering of David Sedaris’The Santaland Diaries, featuring McDonald, helmed by Stephanie Coltrin (Dec 6, 7); the premiere of Lucky in Love — based on the letters and lives of Ventura-based philanthropists Micheline and Albert Sakharoff — adapted by Rubicon co-founder/producing artistic director Karyl Lynn Burns and Jenny Sullivan, helmed by Sullivan, cast TBA (Dec 13 only); and the tuner Little Miss Scrooge, a musical mashup of characters and stories by Charles Dickens, wrought by Paul Gordon (composer, lyricist, co-bookwriter) and John Caird (co-bookwriter and director), Dec 18-23… A whole lot of guest talents are scheduled to “drop in” at CTG Kirk Douglas Theatre during its run of The Second City’s A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens, including Casey Affleck, Mindy Cohn, Jane Kaczmarek, Matthew Modine, Rhea Perlman, Yakov Smirnoff, Mindy Sterling and more. One guest star will appear per performance, putting his or her individual comedic stamp on the proceedings. Scripted by Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, helmed by The Second City resident director Marc Warzecha, the production opens Dec 12…Los Angeles Master Chorale (LAMC) and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (LACC) are offering competing performances of Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols on Dec 8. LAMC music director Grant Gershon conducts at Disney Concert Hall while LACC artistic director Anne Tomlinson wields the baton at Pasadena Presbyterian Church…..In downtown LA, 24th Street Theatre’s Teatro del Pueblo (Theater of the Village) is premiering Ladybird — “a holiday play about love and sacrifice, created from stories shared by members of the local community during workshops with professional theater artists” — scripted by Laurie Woolery and Victor Vazquez, helmed by Woolery, opening Dec 7, supported by the James Irvine Foundation Exploring Engagement Fund…
THE THING IS… “I play a Filipina girl in training to be a call-center worker in Manila for American Spirit Airlines. It is set in the present, but she is very fixated with the ’80s TV show, Dallas. Her idea of living the ‘American Dream’ would be a Ewing living at Southfork Ranch in Texas. This play is about her journey to fulfill that dream — what it takes to get there and the sacrifices she is making to get there. She is not easy to understand. We’ve been in rehearsals for five weeks now and I feel like I am finally being her. She makes so many mistakes, yet she is so steadfast about coming to America and making her dream work. The playwright has actually written these great fantasy scenes about Dallas that play out in my character’s head and the rest of the cast are drawn right into the fantasy. I am having a great time on stage with this play. There is much about my character I can relate to. I was born in the Philippines. I came here almost 20 years, living in LA. I came here to work in film, television and on stage. I took some classes at East West Players. I’ve worked with Company of Angels and Grove Theatre Company. I’ve also seen the US with Hereandnow Theatre Company. Of course, at the moment, I am very concerned about the devastation in the Philippines. It hit very close to home for me. Where the typhoon hit is where my family is from. We are doing a benefit performance tonight to help raise funds for relief” — Sandy Yu, who portrays Girlie in the premiere of Dallas Non-Stop, scripted by Boni B. Alvarez, helmed by Playwrights’ Arena artistic director Jon Lawrence Rivera, playing at Atwater Village Theatre through Dec 9…
INSIDE LA STAGE HISTORY… Born Nov 29, 1934 in San Marino, Don Eitner begins acting in TV and feature films by the mid-1950s. In 1964, when Sanford Meisner guru Paul Kent leaves Beverly Hills Playhouse to found the Melrose Theatre, Eitner joins David Galligan, Joan Rowe, Tom Troupe, Carole Cook, Richard Bull and others as founding members. At that time, Troupe is adapting Russian writer Nikolai Gogol’s short story, Diary of a Madman, into a solo play. Troupe asks Eitner to direct, and it’s his debut as a director. The production achieves great success. For Eitner, it is a life- and career-changing experience. For the next 10 years, Eitner directs over 22 productions for the Melrose, two of which are made into films: Diary of a Madman — an Atlanta Film Festival best film winner — and The Three of Him for CBS Repertory Workshop. In 1974, Eitner leaves the Melrose and founds American Theatre Arts (ATA) Conservatory Theatre in Hollywood. In 1976, ATA produces the premiere of Donald L Coburn’sThe Gin Game, helmed by Kip Niven. The play goes on to win the Pulitzer in 1978 after it debuts on Broadway, starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, helmed by Mike Nichols. During its 12-year existence, ATA produces over 50 plays including Abe Polsky’s Devour the Snow, as well as serving as a training facility for several hundred aspiring actors and actresses. In 1992, Eitner is contracted to be resident director and general manager of Warehouse Living Arts Center in Corsicana, Texas. Returning to his home in North Hollywood after his tenure, Eitner becomes theater arts director for Southern California Musical Theatre Association’s summer program for youth. He also launches himself as a freelance stage director, helming The 1940s Radio Hour for Fullerton CLO, The Pleasure of Honesty for the Classical Theatre Lab and William Murray’s Darlingissima at the Santa Barbara Center Theatre. In 2006, he stages Mariette Hartley’s solo work, If You Get to Bethlehem You’ve Gone Too Far at Whitefire in Sherman Oaks. In recent years, Eitner has been teaching scene study with actress Jayne Taini, his collaborator on Symbols: Enriching Personalization for the Actor, a practical manual for actors…
Julio Martinez-produced and hosted Arts in Review (AIR) celebrates the best in LA-area theater and cabaret on KPFK Radio (90.7FM), Fridays (2-2:30 pm). Arts in Review is pre-empted on Nov 22 due special programming honoring the legacy of John F. Kennedy.
String Theory at the 24th Annual Ovation Awards. Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging.
It’s early in the afternoon on November 1. Luke Rothschild is finishing his set-up for the last of nine performances in a four-week span for String Theory, a performance ensemble he co-founded with his wife Holly Rothschild and friend Joseph “Joey” Harvey. Then he’ll head home, gather his luggage, and along with the rest of the group catch a flight to Dallas, where the band is slated to perform the following day. Immediately following that show, String Theory will fly back to LA and perform as the house band for the 24th annual Ovation Awards.
It has been the group’s “busiest ever” month, says Luke. Still, the work at hand requires careful and delicate attention.
Luke screws the last of a few remaining bolts into the seating of the Circle Harp, a 12-string instrument that he created and built. It’s an integral part of String Theory’s musical sound. After that seating is secured, he will then run the mono-brass filament strings from the main stage of San Gabriel Mission Playhouse to the back of the auditorium — a distance of around 80 or 100 feet — attach them to a destination point there, then tune the strings with a series of circular pitch-blocks. On Sunday, when the harp is played by Holly,the strings will literally be suspended above the heads of audience members.
“We call it a long-string harp,” says Luke. “On the harps that I make there’s either 12 strings or 24 strings — the biggest one has up to 48 strings, but we haven’t ever put that many up.”
The Ovation Awards will be something of a sized-down version of a typical (if the word can be used) String Theoryexperience, including seven musicians and no dancers. Larger performances have included up as many as 25 classically-trained and well-esteemed ballet dancers or as many as 10 musicians. Still, there is an inherent theatricality involved in spending an evening with String Theory — whatever its current size. That theatricality is a quality that will not go unnoticed in the nearly 1,400-seat theater filled with some of the best Los Angeles theater actors, directors, and producers.
“Every site space is different. And also energetic-flow is different,” says Luke. “If there’s space to get more movement going, then [we] will. So we want to take advantage of as much physical theatricality as is possible in any given context.”
Being able to adapt is a core philosophy of String Theory. How to describe what an evening with String Theory is like to one who has never seen a long-string harp played or a set of ‘cyclo-drums’ (drums hung vertically that spin on an axel and are pounded on with two large drumsticks) is something of a task in itself. Inspiration for each performance is equally derived from classical composers such as Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, rock musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, painters such as Kandinsky, as well as dance choreographers such as the iconic Pina Bausch.
“I would describe String Theory as a multi-layered immersive performance environment and performance ensemble. It’s music, sonic sculpture and dance,” says Luke.
Having played for many types of acts in different venues across the country and globe (including a performance for the Prime Minister of Singapore in 2007 and opening for Sheryl Crow at the Grand Cayman Ritz), they caught the attention of LA STAGE Alliance CEO Terence McFarland, who then suggested the group to Ovation Awards musical director David O. Together O andString Theory worked out the logistics. O would help decide on an overture piece and aid them in cuing the music and String Theory would simply play its original music and work its own magic.
String Theory with the Curve Harp at Vibiana Catherdral. Photo by Eric Stoner.
“I feel like the Ovation Awards is a microcosm of its own, and in that context we adapted specifically for that,” says Luke. “I think that is a good example of what String Theory does.”
String Theory was built on the backs of its three co-creators in Chicago around 1997. Luke Rothschild and Harvey had moved there to study — Luke from Massachusetts to the Art Institute of Chicago (fine arts and sculpture), Harvey from South Carolina to Roosevelt University (cello). Holly, not yet married to Luke at the time, is a native of Illinois, and majored in business and dance at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Meeting through mutual friends in the Chicago music scene, the three joined their talents to create what would become an early incarnation of String Theory. By compounding their talents, however, they happened upon something that became greater than the sum of its parts and would take the next 16 years to develop and fine-tune.
“Basically we have these three forms kind of converging,” describes Luke. “Joey brought the baroque cello vibe, I was trying to integrate music into performance with sonic sculpture, and Holly brought the choreography and dance aspect.”
After six years of playing with some smaller avant-garde dance troupes, the trio decided to move west, by way of a 25-foot rental truck, and landed in Los Angeles in the fall of 2002. In Venice, String Theory found a house to both live in and create music from. To this day the house is still used for all music rehearsals.
“Coming out here we were definitely much more strapped for cash. But we were just like, if we’re going to do it, we just need to do it,” says Luke.
One of the earliest gigs for String Theory was also one of the earliest transitions for String Theoryinto the theater world. In 2003, the group scored a production of Christian Jan Meoli’s The Dadaists for director Harris Fishman (credited as Harris Mann)at the Met Theatre.
Holly Rothschild with the Circle Harp in Point Clear Alabama. Photo by Luke Rothschild.
“The Dadaists was huge for us,” says Luke. “That made it feel real.”
In addition to the 99-seat stages, String Theory has also played large venues including Hollywood’s Ford Amphitheatre, the Creation Festival at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and Broad Stage in 2009 and in 2011. In 2012 the group performed as a trio for the Los Angeles Public Library ALOUD series, opening for a Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and David Byrne (Talking Heads) conversation at the Aratani/Japan America Theater in downtown Los Angeles. (2013). Luke recalls that experience happily.
“The context was we were supposed to be playing while people were entering, but what ended up happening was they opened the doors early. With over 800 seats the place was packed. So we started playing, and 30 seconds into the first piece the whole place erupted in spontaneous applause.” Luke smiles as he recalls, “It was such a great moment, like pouring right into my heart.”
Aside from the String Theory projects, the group’s creators embark on many side projects individually. Luke has scored as many as six documentaries and Holly, who has been choreographing for 20 years, has choreographed for a variety of different social events, most recently an ‘interactive theater’ event at the old Howard Hughes offices. Holly also has had some of her films seen at the San Francisco International Dance Film Festival (2013) and the Dance-Screen film festival (2013).
In addition, String Theory is working on a theatrical piece, currently titled Remembering Water, that will be directed by Holly and is scheduled to open in 2014.
So theatricality seems to be a natural byproduct of String Theory’s talents. Though musical ingenuity is at the core of the group’s work, it is the accompanying visual stimuli (projected films on the walls, stage lighting, experimental choreography) of each performance that truly enhances the aural experience.
Perhaps 2013 Ovation Award winner Glynn Turman (best lead actor in a play, for CTG’s Joe Turner’s Come And Gone), who describes it best when — speaking from the stage that night — he called String Theory’sperformance at the awards ceremony “magical” and likened it to what the actors do on stage.
String Theory with the Moon Harp in Santa Barbara. Photo by Mat Hale.
“I happened to be offstage at that moment, because I had just finished playing the big [cyclo] drums or was about to play the big drums,” says Luke. “But when he said it, it made me so happy. He was wonderful and it was a wonderful sentiment. “
Though often lauded for its performances, String Theory has little time to rest on its laurels. To be something of a pioneer in an innovative field is to both enjoy the moment and look forward at the same time.
“I’m very grateful for the wonderful people that we work with. For the creative community in Los Angeles, in general. I really enjoy my work and feel blessed for the family we’ve built around the work.” says Luke. As for the future, “I think we continue to step up our game and work on higher-level projects.”
Lane Compton and Ri Versteegh in “Seascape With Sharks and Dancer.” Photo by Agnes Magyari.
I am not going to deprive anyone of my artistic and creative generosity, but I am going to stay the same. Life is life and art is art. In fact, I am hoping for art to be a nice distraction from life. And to take part in a two-person play is a nice, time-consuming piece of distraction if you ever need one.
Seascape with Sharks and Dancer is a beautiful play about two people, Ben and Tracy, finding their way out of loneliness and into togetherness despite — or maybe thanks to — all their flaws and shortcomings. It’s romantic, passionate and brutally painful. For just as all of us who have loved freely know, love changes. Even the strongest, most passionate and most beautiful love is forever changing. And every change is an end and a mourning of the old.
I love change, but I hate endings, especially endings I do not control. Just like Tracy. She seems oddly familiar to me, as someone I have known for a very long time but been ashamed to introduce.
Well, the shame to introduce Tracy has to disappear, because Seascape with Sharks and Dancer opened three weekends ago and Tracy is dying to get out. She is pounding from behind my ribs and scratching my throat for me to trust her and stop interfering with what it is she has to say.
Lane Compton and Ri Versteegh
But what if Tracy is going somewhere I am not planning on going? What if she has things to say that I am too vain to be a vessel for? Granted, she can’t. I am in charge of the imaginative reality. Tracy is lines on a page and I am an actual real, live, flesh-and-blood human person. Still, when the other actor has the kind of talent, heart, and generosity that Lane Compton has, and when the director has the passion, vision, and extraordinary talent that Matt Doherty has, I know I am a part of something greater than myself.
And within that is the relief. Where I was planning on going seems less important. I am not the center of the universe. It would be a shame to let my own fears, insecurities and limitations get in the way of what this piece of theater can be. It would be a shame to let me get in the way of you meeting Tracy. For she has a lot to say, just like the play.
So I let go. Reluctantly and putting up quite a fight, for there is something in Tracy’s passion and desperation I, up until now, have been afraid to know in myself. But then I remember — it is not about me. It is about the story the playwright, Don Nigro, wants to tell the world about two courageous lovers. So I step out of the way in hopes of giving way to something greater.
I let go of my need to control all endings and allow for the change written in the stars. Just as Tracy — reluctantly and with quite a fight — accepts the love and life thrown her way, I accept what is thrown my way. And although life is life and art is art, I allow art to change me, to inspire me, and to open my heart. And I don’t stay the same. I change. I let go of a little more than I intended, give more than I planned, and find myself not to be distracted from life at all but skyrocketed into it.
Seascape With Sharks And Dancer, Santa Monica Little Theater, Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 4 pm. Through December 15. Dark Thanksgiving weekend. Tickets: $12-15. www.theblackboxtheater.org. 310-622-4482.
**All Seascape With Sharks And Dancer production photo by Agnes Magyari.
Ri Versteegh was born and raised in the country of Bergman and Strindberg and has only recently dared to enter the world of improv and comedy. She is a graduate of USC school of drama and a lifetime member of the Actors Studio. She has worked in Sweden, Germany and in the US.
Last week was one of those rare weeks when I could see more than one show around town. Hallelujah.
Last Thursday, I attended the opening night of a four-night run of The Columnist by David Auburn. (My date was LA STAGE Times Editor-in-Chief, Deborah Behrens!) This production, which was also directed by Auburn, was part of LA Theatre Works’ syndicated radio theater series, which is broadcast nationwide each week.
I had actually never been to a reading that was also being taped for broadcast. There was a foley artist, Jeff Gardner, just offstage creating the sound effects needed for the production — pages rustling, a dramatic slap to the face, the plunk-plunk of typewriter keys. (I didn’t see him at first, and noticing him midway through the show was a pleasant surprise.)
I’d definitely recommend the experience to anyone, but particularly audiophiles. The cast — Tara Lynne Barr, Wilson Bethel, John Getz, David Krumholtz, JoBeth Williams and John Vickery (who took Richard Schiff’s place late in the process) — was terrific, and they were certainly chosen in part for their vocal abilities.
Bonus: I briefly met David Auburn backstage post-show. His Proof was published when I was in middle school, and 13-year-old me died a little inside when I got to shake his hand.
The second show I attended was a performance by Red Bastard. Admittedly, this is the third time I’ve seen one of his shows, and it probably won’t be my last.
If you don’t know anything about Red Bastard, part of me thinks I shouldn’t tell you a damn thing. Just go. But if you need more convincing than that… Eric Davis, the actor who plays Red Bastard, is a Gold Nose Award Clown of the Year recipient, has worked with Cirque du Soleil, and co-founded the NY Clown Theatre Festival. His solo show of the same name, Red Bastard, has toured internationally and has earned him acclaim as one of America’s premier buffoons. Yes, buffooning is a thing. Instead of making oneself the butt of the joke, like a clown, a buffoon specializes in mockery.
I really don’t want to spoil anything for you, but I will say that anyone I know who has seen Red Bastard has said more or less the same thing — he forces you to reflect on your life while making you simultaneously delighted and uncomfortable. Go.
LET’S TWITTER PARTY!
There’s a Twitter chat tomorrow happening at 11 am PST hosted by LA County Arts Commission and Arts for LA. By tuning in to #KidsCre8, you can follow and contribute to the conversation about arts education in Southern California.
I love finding cool things that our member companies are doing on social media. I was exploring Celebration Theatre’s Facebook page today and saw that they’ve recently been holding ticket giveaways for their shows. All you need to do is “like” their page and answer the questions that they pose to their followers. Really simple, and well worth the minutia of effort for a free theater ticket. Make sure you follow them if you don’t already.
UH OH, THE HOLIDAYS ARE COMING
I’m already anticipating that the next few Arts Fix columns will be overrun by holiday news and events. Here’s the first drip of holiday cheer leakage. (It tastes like eggnog.)
Hopefully this one won’t include fireworks. The Grove’s tree lighting ceremony lit up the sky all the way to Koreatown on Sunday. I panicked and had to convince myself we weren’t being invaded by a foreign enemy.
Tree lighting at the Grove
(That was, perhaps, a more embarrassing fact than I should admit to in this column…).