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

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