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Friday, October 20, 2017

STEPPING LIVELY! THE 39 STEPS

 Now and then an unabashed rave is fun to write.  For LA locals and near by or those who love to travel to be amazed and laugh..  The Actors' Co-op has mounted a gem.  We are not talking a 'diamond in the rough' this one is perfectly cut and laser sharp and more fun that you can do something fun with.

Townsend Coleman "Mr. Memory" and many others
An old Voice Over pal, Townsend Coleman, along with a cast of thousands: Carly Lopez, Lauren Thompson and Kevin Shewey bring Patrick Barlow's adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps to life with quick changes of characters and costumes and carryings on that defy gravity.. maybe once?

What Theatre is supposed to do.. well, what Art is supposed to do, I think.. is to take us to new places where we abandon whatever our current issues might be,  to just be somewhere else.. Richard Hannay (Shewey) is out of his flat. Suddenly, at the Palladium, being entertained by Mr. Memory (Coleman) things take a turn for the dramatic. Enter Lauren Thompson as a raven haired femme fatale and we are off to the races.  Racy races and silly stuff! Director Kevin Chesley has whipped his cast into a virtual frenzy that leaves the audience in tears!  Or breathless .. or both.

As Clown, Ms Lopez .. Coleman is listed as Clown, also.. because the two of them, along with Ms Thompson take on a myriad of characters .. too many to list and immediately the fun begins.  

How author  Barlow imagined Hitchcock's noir classic as a stage romp is explained in the program.  Go to the Actors' Co-op, read the program and enjoy the show.  

Kudos to cast and crew for blasting the headlines and current hew and cry that rocks our world with little interest in decency and for a couple of hours marvel at the Theatre at its best.  Keep in mind that the old addage (I can't remember where this addage came from.. so.. ) that when watching a British detective show on PBS, no matter how much you turn up the volume, you may not be able to understand the dialogue.  If fact that may be true in this production, but it really doesn't matter!  Not at all!!

No holds barred.  Great fun.  Don't miss it! 

THE 39 STEPS
Actors Co-op
1760 N Gower St.
 Hollywood, CA 90028 
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm 
Sundays at 2:30 pm ... 
Closes Sunday Oct. 29, 2017 
Tickets and information 
323 462 8460
Closes October 29, 2017

Friday, October 6, 2017

STEVEN KENT: FRIEND, MENTOR, DIRECTOR, GENIUS

October 6, 2017

Steven Kent: 1943 - 2017..  
Steven Kent..  If you are the photographer or know who he/she is.. please credit here.

Some of the best 'shows' I've ever attended were memorials for folks who were so loved that lots of people came to tell stories and to be with one another. The ritual of Theatre is partly this.. especially when it works.  Playwright/Poet Deena Metzger, who collaborated with Steve many times over the past forty or more years talked about magical happenings when working on a project.  Anyone who was a part of The James Joyce Memorial Liquid Theatre or The Emergence, two of The Company Theatre's amazing productions directed by Steven will understand that what the Theatre is supposed to do and did do in a few bright shining years of transformation on Robertson Boulevard changed people's lives, figuratively as well as literally for some of us. 
This leads me to say that what Steve Kent did was more than direct plays and work with actors to mount a production.  What he did was transform people into a place where whatever the production was, it was an ensemble of actors, musicians, designers and the text. always.. the text .. and that left an audience in a special contract with the production that sent them away changed. Better or at least with ideas that did not lead to going directly on to the next thing.  There was spirit and heart in every production.. And, I realized again that what Theatre is all about must be about transformation.  Not just an evening diversion.. or a matinee..  but, the importance of Theatre is living human beings interacting in an intimate way with other humans with the goal of the live performance melding their spirits.  

Of course, some shows are just a diversion. and some are better than others.. but every single audience that attends live Theatre is in a holy place... where something may happen that reaches deep into our hearts and fills it with something. Steve Kent's goal was to give colleagues, students, friends, actors and all.. the opportunity to make a difference in our lives.  

So.. about a hundred friends of Steven Kent's came to La Verne University today and there was a sort of show.  I was warned off the lengthy parts of eulogies and there were some, but we all sat and remembered a man who touched every person with whom he came in contact in a magical way. 

Today's event reminded me of those early days of The Company and how I, as a hanger on.. was involved in a very special way.  Working in Steve's workshops, I stole dozens of his theatre games to share with my students at Long Beach State.  

 There were many heart felt stories .. personal stories of working with Steve and lists of his accomplishments.  Members of The Company Theatre:  Jack Rowe, Don Harris, Barry and Don Opper, Candy Laughlin, Louie Piday, Bob Walter, Nancy Dannevik and Wiley Rinaldi were in attendance.  Tina Preston, Michael and Roses Pritchard were there, too. 

I met Steve's  neighbor, Martin Cox, who told me the story of going over to check on Steve and say hello.  In the end, Steve was sometimes coherent and sometimes not.  Martin came in, greeted Steve and was holding his hand and speaking to him.  Steve did not respond.  This was not all together unusual, but Martin was concerned. Then he thought that maybe Steve had died, but he didn't want to touch him inappropriately.. So.. he took a break and went back to his apartment and put his clean dishes away. Then, he got a text from a hospice worker who was on his way and asked how Steve was doing. Martin didn't want to text back that he thought that Steve was dead because the guy was on the road, driving.  Finally, he did arrive and Steve was taken care of.. Martin and I decided that the story would make Steve laugh .. and we did.

The kids.. the students who had Steve as a teacher and graduates who loved him gave eulogies.  Tom Moose, talked about meeting his wife in the very space where this gathering was held. He played his version of "I'll Fly Away" on his mandolin. Really touching. 

Our host was a twenty year old junior who had been Steve's student for only two years.. He was filled with emotion and charm. Cherubic. He summed up the memorial with lines from Hamlet. Act I, Scene Two:  "He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again." 

Yes. yes indeed..  
take care, michaelsheehan.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

FOOD FOR THOUGHT / CURVE OF DEPARTURE: A WORLD PERMIERE

Christian Barillas, Kim Stauton, Larry Powell and Allan Miller 
 Photo by Debora Robinson

Rachel Bonds' new play, Curve of Departure, commissioned by South Coast Repertory Theatre, faces off with life and death.  And, with humor and grace discusses them both.  "Don't get old, boys," says Rudy (amazing Allan Miller), "Everything inside turns to liquid!" And, as Linda (Kim Staunton) hustles him into the bathroom in a hotel in Santa Fe, we see the story unfold of why Rudy's son, Cyrus, now dead and gone and not well remembered by his widowed ex-wife, Linda, nor her son, by Cyrus, Felix (Larry Powell), because he was, in a word.. a shit.  As it becomes clear that there will be a funeral for Cyrus the following day, Felix and his boy friend, Jackson (Christian Barillas) discuss the whys and wherefores of dealing with essentially saving the life of Jackson's niece who is two.

Rudy is a Jew.  His memory is fading, playing tricks and even as he fades, he knows that life is coming to an end.  He repeats himself, loses short term introductions and recalls and repeats more than one time events and good times from the past.  It's sad and  even funny sometimes because victims of aging often return to childhood and speak the truth, foregoing polite convention.  Confusion and fear creep in along with inappropriate repartee.

As this disparate family unites to uncomfortably face the family that Cyrus begat after running out on Linda and Felix, the issue of Rudy insisting that on March 15th, that will be his end emerge. He is fortunate to have his grandson, Felix, close right now and to have Felix's mom, loyally take care of him.  She's not so high on suicide, but just getting him to the bathroom on time right now is enough to keep her busy.

Director Mike Donahue is fortunate to have not only four excellent actors at his command,  but a playable scenic design by Lauren Helpern that functions without a hitch. Sunrise in Santa Fe is a coup!   It's a play in real time with real issues and the reality is that when the actors are brought into that realm and are not carried away by a muse, it's down to earth and we experience the feelings of each of these characters as they face at least the one issue that everyone faces.   The side story of what's next for Felix and Jackson and the inevitable for Rudy is touching and relevant. Serious food for thught. Applause.  It's a world premiere that speaks the truth. 

Curve of Departure
by ​Rachel Bonds
Directed by Mike Donahue
South Coast Repertory Theatre
655 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626 
WORLD PREMIERE  
JULIANNE ARGYROS STAGE
September 24, 2017 - October 15, 2017


 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

DEAF WEST! THE PASADENA PLAYHOUSE! THORNTON WILDER!

It's hard not to gush about Deaf West. As time goes by, this excellent company of dedicated Theatre Artists has produced award winning Theatre.  My first experience was years ago at their tiny space on Lankershim where new light was shed on A Streetcar Named Desire.  

Partnered in this production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town with the Pasadena Playhouse, we have a taste of basic storytelling that slowly unfolds: a beautiful tapestry of memories. 

Deric Augustine and Sandra Mae Frank   Photo by Jenny Graham
Celebrating its centennial this year,   The Pasadena Playhouse launches into new leadership with the arrival of Danny Feldman as the Producing Artistic Director The notion of bringing the comfort of 'H ome' to the community is a very good idea. The beauty of Wilder's play is that like the comfort food of toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, it simply reaffirms that love and family and community matter.  The charm of signing actors, some of whom speak as well as sign and some who are interpreted by another actor speaking just out of the scene is engaging

Outstanding in the cast, along with Jane Kaczmarak as the Stage Manager we meet The Webbs (Russell Harvard as Mr., Annika Marks as Mrs. and Sandra Mae Frank as Emily) and The Gibbs (Jud Williford as Dr., Alexandria Wailes as Mrs. and Deric Augustine as George) carry the arc of the story.  Outstanding as the local milkman, Harold Foxx and his cow season the play perfectly.  A faded red straight backed wooden chair is featured as the basic logo for the production. The entire ensemble of eighteen dedicated actors each have some version of a simple chair that reminds us that this is not a complicated story.  Youth, Marriage and ... of course, Death.  Act III, is the most touching as we participate in the funeral of Emily, who has married her childhood love, George and now joins friends and family in the local cemetery.  Sheryl Kaller's staging has no real surprises: appropriate for this simple show.

David Myer's beautifully straight forward set with a backdrop that reminds us of the one hundred year history of The Playhouse gets a couple of ropes and some ladders for those who feel the need for scenery. Perfect. Jared A. Sayeg's lighting design compliment the production.

I don't know if there are regional accents in American Sign Language, but slight indications of 'down east' by the speaking actors works just fine.   
Ms Kaczmarak, continues a trend to cast the Stage Manager as a woman and I'm sure that the playwright would heartily approve.  Her laconic approach, through the fourth wall, as Wilder directed, we meet the town of Grover's Corners and the residents who intermingle in three acts. 

Deaf West's presentation of Our Town is a beautiful tribute to this American Classic. Especially today, October 3, 2017, it's time to remember the basics:  Family, Love, Friendship. Seeing the Opening Night Show with more than half of the audience in conversations: signing pre-show in the courtyard and inside over the aisles to greet one another lent a quiet and even respectful air. I was fortunate to 'chat' with a deaf friend of one of the actors in the ensemble who taught me ASL for 'far out!

Return to our American roots and do not miss Our Town


OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Sheryl Kaller
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S El Molino Ave.
Pasadena, California 91101
Continues through Sunday, October 22, 2017, Tuesday – Friday evenings at 8:00 p.m.; 
Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. 
Sunday at 2:00  
No Sunday, October 1 matinee performance; 
No Tuesday evening performances on October 3 and 17 
No performance on Wednesday evening 
October 18 
Final performance: 
Sunday, October 22 at 7:00 p.m.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

So Long Falcon.. Hello Garry Marshall: McNally's MASTER CLASS

The old adage about change: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" does not ring true as we enter the newly redesigned Garry Marshall Theatre in Toluca Lake.  All of the posters that reminded us of twenty years of thoughtful theatre produced by Mr. Marshall are gone.  The Fortune Teller from the feature film "Big" (directed by Garry's sister Penny) is gone. It's stark and new.  As upsetting as change may be, something tells me that if Garry was sitting there where he used to sit, by the entry to the lobby of his theatre, that he would nod and put his hand on my shoulder and tell me that change is a good thing and this change is what he approves of.  All of the nostalgia of twenty years at The Falcon gives way to memories of the man who changed all of our lives. Memorabilia from Garry's early TV writing days to a Happy Days cast jacket to dozens of other collected memories now grace the space.

Sitting a couple of seats away from me was the charming Marion Ross: Mrs. Cunningham, Richie's mom on Happy Days. She extolled the virtues of how Garry "gave me my life" and made me think of the gifts that this guy gave to all of us. Simple laughter that turned on something good.
 



Carolyn Hennesy (Maria Callas) Roy Abramsohn (Accompanist)




                                                    Photo by Chelsea Sutton
 We are here  for the inaugural production introducing the neighbors to The Garry Marshall Theatre: Terrance McNally's MASTER CLASS.   First produced at The Mark Taper Forum and other theatre companies in 1995, praise for the performances on Broadway garnering Tony Awards continues. And, it's no wonder. On Francois-Pierre Couture's elegant wooden set with grand piano, masterly attended  by Manny (Roy Abramson), we are met by La Divina:  Maria Callas. Somewhere in there is the gorgeous Carolyn Hennesy, but the woman on the stage is Callas! And, make no mistake about it, she, and only she is in charge. The delicate balance of humor and power washes over the audience. We are here to observe! Not to participate.   Ms Hennesy takes the stage and for two full acts of the play, ranges from complete control to tears. She brings Callas to life. The arc of the character is palpable. I heard someone at the reception use the term "tour de force." Yes.

Director Dimitri Toscas's collaborative hand has brought six actors together, each of whom with a gift of extraordinary talent: undeniable stage presence... to share the hope for opera and the love that Callas most certainly had for The Art. 

A divine Diva, Hennesy suffers no fools. Her First Soprano Sophie de Palma (lovely Megan McConnell) arrives a bit late and through constant interruptions brings Lady Macbeth to life. 

There is something grand in McNally's writing that is natural and moving. Meeting the Second Soprano, Sharon Graham (feisty Aubrey Trujillo-Scarr) La Divina finds a challenge and the connection is electric.  Ditto as Tenor Anthony Candolino (Landon Shaw II) turns a casual approach (You can call me "Tony") to a confrontation, to singing that, as with the two sopranos, fills the studio with sound that is, to me, astounding.  It is an inspiring piece of theatre where not only have the aspiring singers learned lessons, but, we, the audience must go away with an appreciation for 'Art' as defined by Callas: "What we do matters!" 

Ms Hennesy's total absorption of her character and her complete focus on the arc that McNally provides is a must see.  For artists, it may be a recollection of why we have chosen Art.  For the theatre audience, it must be a moment of appreciation. 

Every aspect of what happens on the stage is important and the seasoning that makes the moussaka so tasty is the Stage Hand: Jeff Campanella. He embodies what Callas teaches:  An Entrance! and an attitude. 

Francois-Pierre Couture's exquisite set, JM Montecalvo's lights and Michele Young's costumes enhanced by Laura Camponera's wig design bring McNally's words to life.     


Master Class
By Terrence McNally
Directed by Dimitri Toscas
September 22 – October 22, 2017
Previews: September 20 and 21, 2017
Opens: September 22, 2017 at 8pm 
Saturday September 23 at 2pm
Thursdays, Fridays at 8pm
Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Garry Marshall Theatre
4252 W Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
$45-$65
Box Office: (818) 955-8101
Twitter: @GMTheatre_org
Instagram: @garrymarshalltheatre