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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
www.ShakespeareOC.org

Monday, July 10, 2017

PROGRAM C ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATRE LA


 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.  

2017 EST/LA PLAYWRIGHTS 
ONE ACT FESTIVAL
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

BOLT III

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

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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 admin@nmi.org 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.

______________________________________________

OPEN LETTER TO THE THEATRE COMMUNITY

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 admin@nmi.org.  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.
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Sunday, July 2, 2017

THE CAKE : POPPIN' FRESH AT THE ECHO

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
www.EchoTheaterCompany.com