Sunday, May 20, 2018


Wood Boy Dog Fish 
created by Chelsea Sutton and Rogue Artists Ensemble

The Fire Eater (Paul Turbiak) and Puppet (Rudy
Martinez, with puppeteers Lisa Dring and Mark Royston).
Photo by Chelsea Sutton

Carlo Collodi's 1883 timeless tale of love and wood frozen in our minds' eye by the ubiquitous figures of the 1940 Walt Disney animated version of Pinocchio, takes a sudden and spectacular turn to the left under the direction of  Sean T. Caweldi and the Rogue Artists Ensemble.  Using the theme of love and loss with puppets and effects, the audience is engulfed in a transcendental miasma of sights and sounds. 

After my first introduction to the Rogue Ensemble with Kaidan : Walls Grow Thin  (with East/West Players)  in a spooky old storage facility somewhere almost off the map in Los Angeles, I've been a fan. To me the spirit of theatre has many modes: traditional and classic, modern and contemporary, experimental; political and then, the plays that are produced to simply entertain.  Finding a category for this show is impossible, which is the very reason for embracing it. It's a  trip that puts the audience at the precipice of adventure and directly into the experience fully engaged. 

Since 2001, ignoring their limits and pushing the envelope seems to be the goal of the Rogue Artists'  actors, directors, playwrights and troublemakers.  It's the troublemaking part that makes Wood Boy special.  The underlying message of love and devotion: 'becoming' as we recall in the Disney version and somewhat in the original is now turned on its ear by the Rogues. 

Entering the world of the Rogue Imagination starts as one approaches the theatre.  There's a lot of junk.. a lot of stuff...  and as we enter the courtyard and the lobby of The Garry Marshall, our senses are bombarded with the low down and mysterious world of carnival and side show with a fortune teller and an extensive museum of the world to come. The sheer energy of the space, slightly dangerous and intimidating,  prepares us for the adventure waiting at Shoreside: a crumbling resort frayed at the margins but still making a go of it.  

Gepetto (Ben Messmer), the local puppet maker has acquired a special log that has expectations.  We learn that a bulbous tyrant, the Fire Eater, (Keiana Richard) has a huge appetite for new puppets for his Shoreside puppet show. His henchmen: Cat (Tyler Bremmer) and Fox (Amir Levi) pounce upon Gepetto with threats, demanding a quick turn around with their new puppets order.  Bereft of the loss of his true love, Gepetto longs for another bottle of Dogfish whiskey, but agrees to make the new dolls. 

Playwright Chelsea Sutton has borrowed generously from Collodi's Pinocchio story with some dark and dangerous overtones.  Director Cawelti brings the ensemble together with a strong hand, proven by the excellent use of props and special effects. These, combined with the absolute feeling of dedication from the entire ensemble, keep the story movingAs the show blossoms it becomes more a presentation of performance art than any typical theatre experience an audience may have had in the past.  Some of the gags work better than others, but the narrative moves forward with Wood Boy strong willed and ignoring the advice of the poor cricket who is killed with in a few minutes of his first appearance!  Hand puppets and marionettes are expertly manipulated in what becomes Bunraku meets Commedia d'elle Arte! Three puppeteers (Sarah Kay Peters, Mark Royston and Rudy Martinez) manipulate Wood Boy (Martinez) with precision.

Wood Boy meets Wick (Lisa Dring) with whom he foolishly conspires to run away with to Funland where they are promised an everlasting paradise of no school and candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Little do they know that the trade off is to become pinanta donkeys, all to benefit The Funland MC (Miles Taber)! Excellent performances with broad gestures become adjuncts to the over all effect of the spectacle make the show irresistible.    

The Dogfish Ride, Gepetto's thrill ride, sits closed after an industrial accident that killed Gepetto's lady love (Blue) Tane Kawasaki.  Blue haunts the story and factors into the long awaited business of the magic that makes Wood Boy become real.   

Who or what the Dogfish represents may be arguable, but the ride itself is designed to thrill"Fear makes you feel real!"

Rouge Artists Ensemble flirts with the edge of something...  something dangerous: something alive, something real.  Excellent video and other spectacular devices by Dallas Nichols and Hardly Human FX are wonderful.
Shackle your disbelief to your bed post and come for an adventure to Shoreside  

Wood Boy Dog Fish by 
Chelsea Sutton and 
The Rogue Artists Ensemble
Directed by Sean T. Cawelti
Original music by Adrien Prévost
Garry Marshall Theatre
4252 W. Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Opened Friday May 18, 2018
Performances continue
Through June 24, 2018
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 p.m. 
Sundays @ 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


"SEX" Mae West's impudent 1926 theatrical, rears its hoary head with a somewhat imaginative resurrection by Buzzworks Theatre Company at the Hudson in Hollywood.  Revisiting the show that put the playwright / actress in jail for more than a week emerges ninety years after its premiere at Daly's 63rd Street Theatre in  New York City.

At the age of 33, Ms West, writing as "Jane Mast" literally brought the term Roaring Twenties to life.   The diminutive blonde, who would capture Hollywood a few years later, knew that her sultry sui generis  style would be her ticket to ride.  

"Imagine, if you will..." (in the voice of Rod Serling) "... a low down brothel in the Red Light District.  It's 1920's Montreal.  Stage right, a funky old upright piano with Hoagy Carmichael, a hand rolled butt hanging from his pouty lower lip,  plays a Honky Tonk tune that fills the air.  The 'girls' all lounge on velvet sofas as a couple of equally sleazy 'johns' stand uncomfortably across the room.  A smokey haze hangs in the air.  A blousy blonde undulating to the music moves behind the bar secretly watering drinks as the girls gesture alluringly to the fellas.    The party atmosphere is tired.  It's an office for the oldest profession. And, business is not booming."

At rise, however, none of the above.  We see a tableau. Rocky ( Davey Johnson ... who was never a baseball hero) brags that he's about to 'score' big time with a society dame.  Later as the story moves forward, Rocky returns to his brothel with Clara Stanton (versatile Susan Edwards Martin) who, as a somewhat 'mature' society lady from Connecticut, allows herself to be seduced!  And, then, when slipped a 'mickey' is robbed and abandoned by Rocky! The cur!

Exposition with various characters, discusses their unhappy situations.   As Margy LaMont, Andrea Hutchman, in a poorly chosen blonde wig, declares that she's "gettin' out."  Rocky has other plans and declares that he owns her! 

Introduction of the players lays out the polemic of how a woman in difficult circumstances yearns for a 'normal' life.  One of Margy's favorite customers, Lt. Gregg (Wayne Wilderson), a dashing naval officer who genuinely loves her,  after arriving for a 'session' asks her out on a real date!  

With doubling, we meet a gaggle of hookers, low lifes and talented musicians as a musical number intrudes. Margy hooks up with a 'swell' guy, Jimmy Stanton (Ryan Phillips) who is immediately smitten and plays his guitar in tribute.  Not knowing about Margy's past and profession Jimmy makes his move. Gregg demurs to allow Margy to marry into a wealthy family and escape the life that has held her captive.

It is difficult to judge from our early 21st century mores how West's take on Sex might have been received.  Reports tell that the show ran for many weeks before being raided In this Buzzworks production, director Sirena Irwin has created a situation that is neither fish nor fowl.  Opportunities for broad comedy with takes to the audience  and over the top presentation vary from scene to scene and character to character.  All are talented players. Kudos to versatile David Errigo playing six including the French maid, Marie, presenting an amazing full splits in the tropical  club scene!    

Andrea Hutchman (l.), Wayne Wilderson, Susan Edwards Martin   Photo credit: Rich Hutchman

Opportunities for staging and broad action, possibly with strobes to create a nickelodeon effect from time to time have not been realized.  An interesting highlight is Michael Flannery's imaginative set changes with the dramatic release of a variety of colored curtains to indicate new locations, leaving the previous scene rumpled on the stage floor.  Michael Mullan's appropriate costumes bring the Twenties to life. 

SEX by Mae West
Hudson Main Stage Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Opens May 12, 2018
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM
Sundays at 7:00 PM
Through Sunday, June 17, 2018
Tickets may also be purchased at the Hudson box office.

Monday, April 30, 2018


 World Premiere:  ICE by Leon Martell

Tony Dúran and Jesús Castaños-Chima
Photo by Cooper Bates

Full disclosure.   I've been pals with playwright, Leon Martell for a long time.  I've also been a fan of The 24th Street Theatre that celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year. Debbie Devine and Jay McAdams not only keep the doors open at their beautifully restored garage near USC, just off Hoover in a highly eclectic neighborhood, they also provide education in-house as well as opening their doors to literally hundreds of school kids annually producing theatre with messages that send the kids back into their own worlds with food for thought. This, to me, is an important  goal that makes the art of theatre vital.  Tell a story. Send a message. Food for thought.

 As our fragile planet Earth continues to simmer with prejudice and the United States under highly questionable leadership making  provocative statements and rude gestures toward our neighbors to the south, now comes ICE, playwright Leon Martell's commission for The 24th Street Theatre.  Martell's story, may have subtly taken a cue from Steve Martin's 1991 movie "LA Story." Nacho's Taco Truck doesn't actually talk, but the messages are loud and clear. With Keith Mitchell's beautiful set featuring huge television sets that blurt out the news of 1988,  as well as presenting confrontations that Chepe (Jesús Castaños-Chima) has with sundry cheating labor contractors (all well played on video by Davitt Felder who also plays the blind Catholic priest) the story of Chepe's immigration unfolds.   Presented in both English and Spanish, with supertitled translations, Chepe is joined by his friend Nacho (Tony Dúran) also seeking the good life in Los Angeles.  The brilliant use of projections on Chepe's former ice cream truck, a 1971 GMC!.. along with el camion spouting the old melody that in its former life attracted kids in search of el helado, we learn the story of Mexican pals who have sneaked across the border in search of new and prosperous lives.  Resisting Chepe's intention to make gourmet tacos, the truck's willfull personality becomes an additional character that through the brief argument of the play has a few comments of its own with messages projected on the side of the GMC.
Bringing the issue of immigration to light and exposing the challenges of making a successful life in the USA is well delineated as Nacho and Chepe find their way around an occasional intrusion as ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) comes cruising by.

Directed by Debbie Devine,  ICE and The 24th Street Theatre continue to not only present theatre that generously reflects their neighborhood, catering to the locals with outreach to the community  they succeed in their in search for harmony with educational projects and after this particular show an ice cream treat! 

The message is clear: finding our way in spite of being pulled in one direction we may find that heading down another route, eventually, we may find our true and welcome pathway.

ICE by Leon Martell
Directed by Debbie Devine
The 24th Street Theatre
1117 W. 24th ST
Los Angeles, CA 90007
(24th ST  at  Hoover)
Through June 10, 2018
Tickets and information: 
(213) 745-6516