Friday, July 21, 2017

THE TEMPEST at OC Shakespeare

When I first saw The Tempest performed, at the Mark Taper Forum, it featured Anthony Hopkins as Prospero and introduced a myriad of new ideas about staging.  The roiling seas vanished into the top of the mountain on the magical island!  Mr. Hopkins' mastery of the language was mesmerizing.  He brought the Bard to life.  
Clockwise from top-left: Harry Groener as Prospero; Daniel Kim as Ariel; Cora Riley as Miranda; Robert Tendy as Ferdinand
Image credit: Jordan Kubat

Entering the Shakespeare Orange County venue in Garden Grove,we are met by huge drops painted in the style of Chinese ink paintings by Dipak Gupta.  Roller coaster upstage platforms bring exciting opportunities for the movement to come. The Asian Influence is unexpected and welcome.   

Director Peter Uribe's take on The Tempest takes broad license to the story by turning to the way  Garden Grove has developed culturally over the past fifty years.  The influx of immigrants from Vietnam as well as other Asian countries brings his casting brilliantly together with local available talent.  Calling upon well known actors: Harry Groener as Prospero, Hal Landon as Gonzalo, to bring their long experience beautifully to the show works just fine.  But, the real surprises lie in Uribe's casting of dozens of Ariels and "Arielettes" who dance and fly to and fro at Prosper's magical bidding. The conceit works beautifully with Jay Lee and Daniel Kim bringing Ariel's personality to life, though the other twenty or so actors are delightful as they do their master's bidding.   

The Asian touch to The Tempest is brought amazingly to life in the banquet scene with Miock Ji's Korean Dancers.  A tribute to local culture surprises with the interval performance of Korean drumming that is astounding. 

The story of how Prospero is set adrift and lands on Caliban's island and the subsequent storm the magician  raises to capture his 'detractors' all plays out with the cast of over forty working as a finely tuned machine.  Stand out performances include Groener as Prospero, who brings his natural quality to the character, simply taking care of business: manipulating the charade.  Cora Riley (Miranda) breaks onto the scene full of energy at odds with Groener's more natural style.  Stand outs as Stephano (Tony Torrico) and Trinculo (Michael Calacino) make the most of the clowns that Shakespeare took time to expand and have some fun with. 

The creative choices made by director Uribe embrace the local culture and bring jaw dropping spectacle to the show. Every performer gives a professional performance. To the last Arielette, the actors' dedication to the play brings the audience to its feet.  Bring a pillow! And...  a sweater. 

The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare Orange County
12762 Main St.
Garden Grove, CA 92840
Dates: July 8–29, 2017
Curtain time: 8 PM
Tickets and Information: 714.590.1575

Monday, July 10, 2017


 EST/LA is hard at work making what turns out to be the very foundation of the dramatic arts.  New plays by member playwrights, acted and directed by fellow members. Program C is the last in a series with four diverse one acts that turn on relationships.
Christopher Reiling, Jody St. Michael, Susan Rudick, Elin Hampton, and Oliver Muirhead 
Directed by Patty Cornell, Elin Hampton’s Things That Matter is a fanciful musical where we meet anthropomorphic flotsam and jetsom that an angry couple, probably in the throes of divorce, place in their driveway as they liquidate their ‘assets.’  We meet Christopher Reiling, a VHS tape rewinder, still in the box; Jody St. Michael, a drum kit with really amazing tennis shoes; playwright Elin Hampton as the recycled wedding dress, and cuddly Susan Rudick, an amorphous stuffed animal who tap dances and is the cutest of the lot.  These characters are over seen by Oliver Muirhead, the NFS Grandfather clock, who comments on  time, reminding us that that old clock waits for us all.  Each has a song that reflects their status in “life” and as the day ticks on, some are bought and some are not.  Musical director/composer Gerald Sternbach on the keyboard.  The opening chord reminded me of The Fantasticks.

How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall by Nick Ullett features the playwright as Victor, a thriving and somewhat jaded concert violinist.  He steps off the stage to be greeted by his man servant,  John (Peter Basch) who announces that Victor has a visitor.  Charlie (Graham Sibley)  is a fan who, many years ago met  Victor.
Nick Ullett and Peter Basch
He wants to thank the maestro for the incredible influence that he had on his life as a young man.  As with many who are in the public eye, Victor receives his visitor graciously and fields his fawning, learning that his criticism of the younger musician, who… evidently had played for him, had told him that he had the technical skills of the fiddle down perfectly but lacked the ‘fire’ to tackle music as a career. As a result, Charlie, abandoned his dream, went to the family business, settled down with a wife and kids. He has come again just to thank his ‘hero’ for being honest with him.  When his fan exits, Victor is reflective. “That’s what I say to everyone,” he says. 

Perhaps it’s a way to keep the competition to a minimum?  He wonders who will take care of him, now that he’s chosen his artistic path. “We’ll take care of each other,” says John. Food for thought.  Jenny O’Hara directs with a delicate hand.

My Jesus Year by Tony Foster and directed by Shaina Rosenthal, was difficult to understand.  Jerry (Christopher Reiling) is in hospital  accompanied by his vivacious ‘friend’ Trish (Tarah Pollock).
Tarah Pollock, Christopher Reiling, and James Bane
James Bane, a hunky nurse, is being hit on by Trish to no effect which reveals itself as the Nurse intimately sympathizes with Jerry.

Most effective of the evening is a longer and more complicated piece that may expand to become a character study and a full length play. 
Jayne Taini and Susan Wilder
Between Friends by Katherine Cortez gives two women, friends for more than twenty years, room to move.  Slender Valerie (Susan Wilder) has been a dedicated mom and recovering alcoholic for many years, but here in the woods with her old pal, Judy (Jayne Taini), she yearns for a little kick to their lemonade as they struggle to complete a one thousand piece jigsaw puzzle: Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  Cortez and director June Carryl explore the true nature of friendship. They succeed.   The arc for each character as the women await the arrival of Jack, Val’s son, exposes what those of us lucky enough to have true friends may experience. The dialogue is natural and the characters bring their connection to life.  Funny and poignant, seeing this piece expanded to include some back story and flesh out other characters (Judy’s deceased husband,
Max; Val’s husband and her son, Jack) discussed but never seen has the makings of what Tennessee Williams might have been thinking of at one time or another.

Amanda Knehans’ basic and perfectly functional set tended by ensemble members works perfectly, given the workshop nature of these pieces.  

Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA  
3269 Casitas Ave. LA, CA 90039. 
Tickets: $19.95 – $26 (at the door). Tickets and information: 
(818) 839-1197. 
7/8 Saturday @8pm
 7/9 Sunday @2pm
 7/13 Thursday @8pm
 7/14 Friday @8pm
 7/15 Saturday @2pm and 8pm
 7/16 Sunday @2pm

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Recently I advocated for Los Angeles actors to bolt the AEA and move forward with a local union that will fairly represent local actors.  Just received this announcement.  Please pass it on to all Los Angeles theatre companies and to all actors whether they are members of Equity.  How AEA can make life miserable for loyal members makes no sense.  Bolt this recalcitrant organization and keep the 99 Seat option open!  The message below is from Pro99 News. Please share and share again!

From: PRO99 News
Subject: Action Item: 99 Theatre Co. asks Community to sent Support Letters for NLRB hearing vs AEA

View this email in your browser

LA 99 Theatre Co. asks Community for Support Letters for NLRB Hearing vs AEA THIS WEEK

Los Angeles theatre company New Musicals Inc. is asking members of the LA theatre community for letters of support in their upcoming NLRB hearing versus Actors’ Equity Association.  NMI has filed a charge against AEA through the National Labor Relations Board for unfair business practices, and accusing AEA of placing New Musicals Inc. on a “Do Not Work” list without cause.

In a statement provided to Pro99 members, Scott Guy, Executive Director of New Musicals, Inc. said, “The NLRB has requested that we gather some evidence that AEA is threatening or intimidating its members, either directly (with letters, phone calls, or meetings) or indirectly with implicit threats of disciplinary action, fines, sanctions or even expulsion from the union.”

Guy continued, “Our case is, of course, focused on NMI charges, but we sense there’s an opportunity to engage the NLRB’s interest if an alarming number of actors offer evidence.”

NMI will submit the letters as evidence in their upcoming hearing on Thursday July 6th, and is asking they be emailed to by Wednesday July 5th. Guy also noted that letters can also be submitted anonymously if people request, and that no email or contact information will be shared with the NLRB.
NMI issued its appeal for community support last week in an “Open Letter to the Theatre Community,” published in Footlights.



Source: Footlights
Last week New Musicals Inc. filed a charge against Actors Equity Association through the National Labor Relations Board.  The charge centers upon unfair business practices, accusing AEA of placing New Musicals Inc. on a “Do Not Work” list without cause.
Actors Equity Association is demanding that its members do not engage with NMI, threatening union members with penalties, sanctions and possible expulsion from the union.  By including NMI on a ‘Do Not Work’ list, we feel that AEA is attempting to cause NMI to discriminate against union members, encouraging them to refuse to perform any services for NMI, and requiring its members to cease doing business with NMI.
Actors Equity has contacted a number of actors appearing in NMI’s Fringe shows and threatened them with “disciplinary actions” which presumably includes fines, sanctions and even expulsion from the union.  It’s causing a lot of heartbreaking situations in which actors are being told not to appear in our presentations.  These are wonderful artists with a passion for new musicals, and for them to be frightened away because of their union is just unconscionable.
Our charges also include that Actors Equity Association’s inclusion of NMI on its “Do Not Work” list has resulted in damage to NMI, affecting its commerce, its public reputation, its standing in the Los Angeles theatre community, and its ability to fulfill its nonprofit mission.
As you know, many other membership companies in Los Angeles operate in a manner similar to our Academy Repertory Company, and they have not been placed on the ‘Do Not Work’ list.   We believe that NMI is being treated unfairly and in a manner different from other similar organizations.
You might recall from our previous Open Letter in January 2017 that AEA keeps saying that the reason we’re being denied status as a membership company is that we didn’t apply under the name of the Academy Repertory Company.  We don’t understand this.  Our application included “Academy Repertory Company” right alongside our other dba’s, including the Academy for New Musical Theatre and New Musicals Inc.  You might also recall from that we have requested meetings with AEA to discuss this situation on twelve separate occasions, and AEA has refused a meeting each time.  We don’t know why the union is refusing to meet with us to this clear up.  So we’ve turned to the NLRB for help.
The National Labor Relations Board has notified the union of the charges against it.  As we understand it, the next steps will be for the NLRB to collect affidavits from our staff and colleagues and gather evidence and corroboration of our charges, at which time we can expect either dismissal, settlement or a trial.  We’re hopeful that there will be a swift conclusion to this matter.  We feel we’ve been treated very unfairly, and the fact that Equity has refused to meet with us…well, that just seems wrong.
We reiterate that we cherish all the artists we work with: writers, directors, music directors, stage managers, designers…and especially actors. We welcome theatre artists of every variety, you are all always welcome at the Academy Repertory Company, New Musicals Inc, and the Academy for New Musical Theatre, whether or not you’re a member of a union.
We would welcome your support, comments, and reactions. Post those in social media and send them to  Let us know if you’d like your comments to be private.
In the meantime, NMI will continue its performances at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.  (Search for “1001 Minutes of New Musicals” — that’s us!)
Thank you as always.
Scott Guy, Executive Director
Elise Dewsberry, Artistic Director
John Sparks, Founding Director
New Musicals Inc.
Academy for New Musical Theatre
Academy Repertory Company

Pro99 News reports on issues affecting the 99-seat theatre community in LA and beyond to Pro99 members and its supporters.  The community is made up of theatre artists, union and non-union, audience members, business allies and community leaders.  Members are encouraged to engage with the community and make decisions for themselves.
Copyright © 2017 PRO99, All rights reserved.
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Sunday, July 2, 2017


Echo Theater Company Artistic Director Chris Fields takes chances.  Playwright Beckah Brunstetter has taken a chance as well with The Cake.  This World Premiere play opens doors for discussion by addressing a moral question that brings each of us back to the way we are taught. Or, just maybe, the way we have over come our basic education.

For Della (Debra Jo Rupp) Competitive Baker of Della’s Bakery in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the excitement of her ‘niece’  Jen’s! (Shannon Lucio) engagement announcement  crumbles as it becomes clear that her intended is not the cute boy she dated in college, but sophisticated and socially acute Macy (Carolyn Ratteray)! 
Debra Jo Rupp
Photo by Darrett Sanders

Conflict is the key to great theatre and Brunstetter’s story does not disappoint.  Tackling not only same sex marriage but the power of social media and the deep roots of conservative Christian upbringing expanded to middle aged ennui, we have a multitude of issues to conquer.

On Pete Hickok’s  impressive set we first get to know Macy and her modern take on sugar and meat and the issues of the day that embrace responsibility.  Della is excited to learn that Macy is from New York City!  As Macy takes notes (she’s a writer of articles on line) regarding Della’s basic approach to life (butter and sugar are fundamental!) as well as the simple construct that reading the recipe and following instructions is the only way to have your cake (and by extension one’s entire life) bake to perfection.  The imperfection of the dawning of the age of liberation for minorities of every stripe may be in conflict with her basic Bible learnings. 
Carolyn Ratteray and Shannon Lucio
Photo by Darrett Sanders

This is an apt dilemma. The loyalty of love for her best friend’s daughter collides not only with her basic Christian moral platform, but we meet Tim (Joe Hart) her busy plumber/septic tank cleaner husband who, as a good North Carolinian, believes that the Man rules the roost By Declaration. Della’s frustration with her lack of marital intimacy stays under wraps until she begins to get it that Macy and Jen truly love one another. What they do in their bedroom, though aberrant to Della’s upbringing, is, in part, what Love is all about.  More basic moral conflict arises when Macy and Jen themselves butt up against some deeply held beliefs by Jen that Macy has never had to deal with. And! vice versa. 
  Again, we have to be carefully taught.

The fantasy of Della’s imagined appearance on television’s  The Great American Baking Show comes to life when the Godlike voice of “George” (bombastic VO by Morrison Keddie) booms down in harsh criticism berating Della. His crude questions make her question her own state of affairs.  Her desire to win the competition and to “be on TV!!” brings her back to her own basic ingredients for her baking that include in every cake and muffin "...angel’s saliva and good deeds!"

The power of social media bursts onto the scene that reminded me of a scene in the movie “Doubt” where the analogy of a feather pillow bursting over an urban space is used to show how rumor and missed understandings, once unleashed, can never be reclaimed.  Overcoming disappointment and finding fulfillment are not always easy to attain, but this show will not disappoint.  Director Jenifer Chambers’ delicate hand never shows as these skilled actors tell this important story. 

THE CAKE by Beckah Brunstetter
The Echo Theatre Company
3269 Casitas
Los Angeles, CA90039
Through August 6, 2017
Tickets and Information:
310 307 3753

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Wednesday, June 28, 2017
This is the second attempt to get this posted in a readable format.  
For the past ten minutes I've tried to post this with the font and size consistent with the other posts. It's not working unless this looks about right.  Apologies, if it doesn't. 

I started a FB post a couple of days ago filled with ..not anger.. but frustration.  I learned that the Actors Equity Association (AEA) that governs the hiring and work of professional actors and stage managers is still a force majeure to many professional actors here in Los Angeles.  In spite of a resolution that failed regarding the 99 Seat Plan that Equity took some months ago, the power of this union prevails and it should not. 

This is an idea that I really don't have a direct hand in, but I'm weighing in because if someone doesn't step up and do something, the small theatres in Los Angeles will pretty much be driven out of business.    This is just wrong.  

All of the arguments in favor of actors: professionals and wanna bes.. having control of their own destinies are valid.  A few think that pay for small theatre is a good idea.  I think that's a good idea, too...  if the company itself doesn't find itself strapped for:
the rent
the utilities
the necessities to keep the doors open 

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Company Theatre and The Company Theatre Foundation that was organized  by actor friends of mine. They were dedicated to making theatre that was important to them.. this included classics as well as also hosting playwrights like Megan Terry and Michael McClure and Sam Elliott. They also created their own original works of art like The Emergence and The James Joyce Memorial Liquid Theatre.  

About the time that this was going on in the late sixties, the actors in The Company were also interested in making an actual living in theatre and movies and TV professionally.  This meant joining the three actors' unions: Equity, SAG and AFTRA.  Soon Equity came sniffing around the door and demanded things.  Pay for the actors who were, in fact, the administrators, the producers, the directors, the box office personnel, the  designers and builders, the janitors for The Company.   Through a series of negotiations, it was declared that theatre companies with 99 Seats of fewer COULD produce shows and waive the fees for actors.   This was important because the amenities listed above had to be paid and often came out of the pockets of the members themselves. It was, essentially, a collective.  This was a creative endeavor.  Later, with the formation of a non profit foundation, they were able to lobby for funds via grants and other sources allowing for donations to the foundation tax deductible for donors.  Good news.

The Subject of this Post.. as AEA has manipulated the 'rules' to make it difficult for this type of arrangement to now exist.. is BOLT!..  Those in the know KNOW that it is not the Los Angeles branch of Equity that really controls much of anything besides a handful of Equity actors who perform at The Music Center and a few other venues.  The Pantages shows big, big road shows and I am unsure if Equity even has a contract with that theatre.  When you fill huge houses like The Ahmanson and The Pantages, payment for all of the folks involved is a BUSINESS  venture to make money. The 'art' of this type of theatre is about entertainment. It's about money.

I can't find the numbers of Equity members here in Los Angeles, but I'm guessing that if even a hundred actors who are based here are making an actual living from their stage work, that's a stretch.

The point is that, of course, having contracts to protect actors and producers is a good idea.  The current decimation  of small theatres here by AEA is just wrong.  Thus.. this is a call to all Los Angeles AEA members to BOLT.. keep your SAG-AFTRA card and tell Equity to take a hike. Then.. have a party and see who shows up and form a Los Angeles Alliance Defying Equity.. (I wanted the acronym to spell LAA DE DAH.. but.. I'm lazy)... create a fair and workable agreement that producers and the new group think is okay and let New York and their goals to make money do what they will, but not in LA. 

I review small theatre productions here in Los Angeles and have seen some really wonderful stuff.  We try things here. We experiment. We allow folks to take chances.  And,  with a Plank and a Passion (all one really needs?) actors can blow audiences away in honor of what Theatre is really all about.. The Play's the Thing..  There are local producers at The Skylight and The Fountain who are ready and willing to at least discuss this.  Find the art and the artists and then..  go make art..  do Theatre! 

Michael Sheehan
June 28, 2017  

The Complete History of Drag in a Few Mo-Mo

Directed by Mark Silva, the title of David LeBarron’s one person show is slightly misleading..  set in a "shitty little drag club in the valley," bare bones stage on the concrete floor of a utilitarian little theater in West Hollywood .. although he may touch on men in dresses throughout history, the show is short on actual facts. His clever approach is well written and nicely presented with footnotes and ‘exposition.’ 

Of course, in order for the play to progress, there must be exposition and here-in lies the rub.. the tiny theater complex on Formosa is made of concrete.  The sound in this tiny black box space is so ‘live’ that though volume was not a problem, understanding the dialogue was difficult.  The oddest thing was that the woman behind us was laughing her head off and when I turned to see who else was laughing, not everyone was. The timing of  LeBarron’s piece is such that the rhythms may dictate the laughs.

His clever use of breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly as himself for ‘exposition’  and then, with a remote control, changing the lighting and switching back to his “Auntie Luscious” drag character was smooth as silk. The actor delineated his ‘sister performers’ one by one but not enough for us to really keep track of them. The dingy dressing room for the drag show where Auntie was the head liner (who never started on time!!) did not start on time, but once underway was well underway.

This last night of the Hollywood Fringe Festival packed the house with fans and those whose curiosity, like mine, was piqued to find out about this glamorous side of what most straight folks presume to be a gay scene did provide some insight. Though Auntie Luscious is flaming and LeBarron may certainly be gay but is really cool, it seemed to me that the drag scene was first entertainment and secondly filled with homosexuals. Regardless one’s sexual orientation, the illusion in this show was left to the imagination as LeBarron only mimes his makeup and dressing in costume for the impending stage show. 

Rumor has it that the play might find new light somewhere in town. Should it play in a space where the sound is not reverberating off the walls like a tin drum, it would be fun to see again, or to read the script to catch all the missed jokes.  The audience loved it and the parts that I could actually understand, were enjoyable.  Perhaps developed into a full length play like "Melody Jones, a Striptease in Two Acts," a play by Dan Gerrity and Jeremy Lawrence which opened twenty five years ago exposing the back stage life of female strippers in a gay night club, meeting the other female impersonators as actual characters as well as the ‘newbie’ who is young and pretty, might bring more to light the history that LeBarron announces in the title of his piece. 

With the “T” part of the current movement now known as LGBTQ still ambiguous vis a vis female impersonators, dragqueens   transvestites or heterosexual crossdressers, this short piece begins to discuss the issue providing a good start.  It’s just a shame that the acoustics of this particular space and maybe the somewhat hurried pace of Mr. LeBarron made getting the jokes more of a problem than it should have been.