Way Off Broadway http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blogen-USCopyright 2012, Frontiers_PublishingMon, 09 Jul 2012 10:44:00 GMTMon, 09 Jul 2012 10:44:00 GMThttp://emmisinteractive.comhttp://www.frontiersla.com/EI/sharedobjects/handlers/ir.ashx?p=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&w=144&mw=400Way Off Broadwayhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blogJekyll & Hyde<p>Taking a grand musical theater piece and placing it into an intimate space can be a daunting task. While shows in the past have done this to nice effect (<em>Chess</em>, <em>The Color Purple</em>), it is not always an easy feat to manage. This summer the DOMA Theatre Company has chosen to attempt this sort of undertaking by mounting the 20-year-old musical <em>Jekyll & Hyde</em> on a stage that is more suited for intimate dramas than big production numbers. As impressive and honorable as this effort is, it frequently threatens to burst at the seams.</p> <p>With music by Frank Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, <em>Jekyll and Hyde </em>began as a concept piece in the late '80s.  When it finally had its debut in the early '90s, it did so to mixed reviews, although it was still Tony-nominated. While the show certainly has memorable songs, the book is where its problems lay. </p> <p>Opening with Jekyll (Chris Kerrigan) trying to understand the madness that inflicts his father, he faces a Board of Governors asking to take a patient at the mental asylum in hopes of using a potion he’s developed that will separate the madness from the man. He is (of course) denied this request and his dreams are shattered. Meanwhile, he is engaged to be married to one of the board members' daughters, Emma Carew (Amber Gildersleeve), and soon enough he is at his own engagement party. Having tunnel vision, Jekyll heads off to what can only be assumed is some sort of bachelor party at the local whorehouse. There he meets Lucy Harris (Cassandra Nuss), a sexy sinner with a heart of gold whom he takes a fancy to. </p> <p>But he has no time for that, because despite the engagement and his night out with the boys, he must figure out how to continue his experiments. In desperation (and in a highly charged power ballad), Jekyll takes the potion himself and instead of simply separating the madness from the man, he creates a split personality called Edward Hyde—a devilish man who threatens anyone who steps in his path. And quite frequently, slices and dices them as well.</p> <p>That’s Act One. Act Two is all about Jekyll trying to get a hold on Hyde while dodging Emma and pursuing Lucy. And in modern musical fashion, pretty much everyone dies in the end. </p> <p>While I wanted to really like this production and I appreciated the attempt to give the theater a certain feel of time and place, the low budget and lack of space created a look and feel that felt a little like community theater. The brownstone and mansion facades are nicely rendered but can be a bit distracting when you’re supposed to be inside a house, yet everyone is performing in front of it. The engagement party is sparse and only really given a nod of grandeur with two mini chandeliers that momentarily drop down. The showgirl’s burlesque house is nothing more than a tiny stage and a few chairs, but nary a red curtain or sparkly backdrop to give it any sort of pop. Probably the oddest staging choice is Jekyll’s lab which consists only of a wall of shelves above a fireplace. On these shelves are random objects such as a pictures, books and haphazardly placed vials and decanters of colored “potion” that Jekyll absently mixes together as if he’s seasoning a steak. And need I repeat the obvious? <span style="font-style: italic;">Potions. Above a fireplace.</span></p> <p>With the production in a smaller house, some of these issues can be overlooked. (<span style="font-style: italic;">Except the potions. Resting above FIRE.</span>) But what is troublesome is the direction by Marco Gomez which seems to be almost nonexistent. Actors frequently sing to the audience rather than each other, songs are sung standing in one spot when the grandeur of the music pleads with the actors to move around the stage. With nothing to do, arms get thrown around as if reaching for someone to tell them what to do. Whenever there is a disagreement or concern between two characters, one will frequently turn away from the other as if the issue is just so complex they can’t face it anymore. This is the kind of staging we expect from a high school and/or community theater production, not from L.A. stage.</p> <p>Choreography by Angela Todaro feels more like crowd control—again—with the cast dancing for the audience and frequently looking a little embarrassed about it all. The movements have that stop/start quality so popular today, but not only does it feel anachronistic, it frequently doesn’t make a lot of sense. When you have a rollicking number like the burlesque “Bring on the Men,” we should be on our feet applauding when the song ends. It’s a fun song, but the four dancers look unsure and couldn’t stay together. This could have been the show-stopper, instead, it became a head-scratcher.</p> <p>Luckily, the cast is game and tends to rise above the staging and direction. Not every cast member is successful, but there are some standouts. Gildersleeve as Emma is a beautiful girl with a great voice and she plays the role of the benign and sweet Emma perfectly. Banai Boyd as Nellie, the Madame of the whorehouse, has a fantastic voice and a great song with Nuss, called “The Girls of the Night.” The dreamy Randal Miles as Simon Stride doesn’t have much to do, but when he has his moment at the engagement party we hope for more from his velvety voice. (Why he does not end up a challenging suitor for Emma’s hand is beyond me. Blame the book writer.) Chris Kerrigan as Jekyll and Hyde has an amazing voice and throws himself into the role with gusto. However, I blame the direction for the fact that his acting is overshadowed by how many times he runs his hands through his disheveled hair, throws his chest out and drops his arms awkwardly behind him to show his transformation into Hyde. There could have been a creepier and more subtle way to do this. Regardless, there is no mistaking his terrific voice.</p> <p>All of this said, the greatest thing this show has going for it is in seeing a star being born in Cassandra Nuss. As Lucy, she has some of the most gorgeously sung show-stopping solos (“Someone Like You,” “A New Life”) and has the stunning beauty and poise that prove she is a star. Remember the name, because it won’t be long before this girl is one of Broadway’s future leading ladies.</p> <p>I will say this: the show sounds great. Had this been done in “concert format,” it would have been a complete success. As it stands, it’s a stubborn combination of good and bad elements that make for a show with a split-personality all its own. I guess that might make it kind of brilliant, considering the source.</p> <p><span style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">Jekyll & Hyde</span><span style="font-style: italic;"> runs through July 29 at the MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave, L.A. Tickets are $30 for General Admission, $10 for Seniors and Students with ID. Visit </span><a href="http://www.domatheatre.com/" target="_blank"><span><span style="font-style: italic; text-decoration: underline;">domatheatre.com</span></span></a><span style="font-style: italic;"> for more information.</span></p>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2012/07/09/jekyll--hydehttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2012/07/09/jekyll--hydeMon, 09 Jul 2012 10:44:00 GMTKevin TaftFor the Record: Coen Bros.<p>L.A.’s best theatrical experience—Show at Barre’s <em>For the Record</em> series—continues its rotation of cabaret-style shows with the return of one of its most popular: <em>For the Record: Coen Bros.</em> Taking songs from the film’s soundtracks and rearranging them into a phenomenal interactive concert experience is just one of the many pleasures of this innovative series.<br /><br />Featuring songs from films such as <em>O Brother Where Art Thou</em>, <em>Fargo</em> and <em>The Big Lebowski,</em> the Coen Bros. would seem at first to be an odd choice for a concert event. But interestingly enough, the music the directors chose for their films perfectly captures the essence of the film itself. What the <em>For the Record</em> casts do with those songs, however, is the real surprise. <br /><br />Opening with songs from <em>O Brother</em> starts the night off with a rousing good time with the entire cast contributing to various numbers as well as three of the guys taking on the roles made famous by George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson. Likewise, the gals of the cast collaborated on a head-nodding version of “Don’t Leave Nobody But the Baby.” But it’s the more interesting change-ups that brought the biggest surprises. “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’” made famous by Nancy Sinatra, here, is given a rousing male version by Jason Paige. In the same vein, hearing Danielle Truitt sing a slightly bluesy and powerful take on “Danny Boy” from the film <em>Miller’s Crossing</em> is to hear the song for the first time. <br /><br />As usual, every performer in the show exhibits a wow factor that needs to be witnessed. With most of the 12 members of the rotating cast being Broadway veterans, there really isn’t a better group of singer/actors in L.A. This is truly the best ensemble you will see in any Los Angeles show and to be able to behold such talent on a weekly basis is L.A.’s gift to music and film lovers anywhere. <br /><br />And here’s the thing—you don’t need to know the films of the Coen Bros. to enjoy this show. I had only seen four of the nine films showcased. But that doesn’t matter.  The scenes the cast acts out in between numbers are still hilarious and the arrangements of the songs (by co-creator Christopher Bratten) are just as awesome and surprising as the performers. Having recently taken their “Tarantino” installment to SXSW—playing an expanded version in a 2,500-seat theatre—it is quite possible this show will be headed to bigger and broader places in the near future. Broadway anyone? So if you want to say you saw it from the beginning, get your butt to Show at Barre pronto. It’s already an enormously popular series, and it’s a definite must-see for the gay community who a) have a particular love of musical theater, and b) who appreciate awesome vocal talent—and let’s face it—a freakin’ gorgeous cast. Even a 100 percent gay man like myself has about four crushes on the show’s female performers. <br /><br />While the rotating cast might give you a different (but always amazing) experience, the opening night cast was phenomenal as usual. When you hear the stunning Jackie Seiden sing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” from <em>True Grit</em> you will fall in love. Ginifer King’s sassy takes on songs like “Tammy” from <em>The Big Lebowski</em> will make you an instant fan. And Milena Govich is just a constant surprise you can’t help but eagerly await what number she has next. And I’ll say it again: Truitt’s “Danny Boy.” It got a standing ovation. Just sayin.<br /><br />As for the guys—again—all spectacular. Handsome Steve Mazurek charms his way through a number of songs with a silky and seductive voice. Mischievous Jason Paige belts out his numbers in a gorgeously raspy tone that knocks you out with its power. And Anderson Davis wows with not only his numerous and varied characterizations, but his many vocal acrobatics. And any time Rogelio Douglas Jr. takes the stage the energy in the room goes up about a thousand percent.<br /><br />If you haven’t yet seen any of the installments of <em>For the Record</em>, I urge you to quickly get a seat. You will have one of the most entertaining nights you’ve had in a long time and trust me when I tell you, you will be back: not only for future installments (the next of which is a show based on the songs used by director Paul Thomas Anderson), but by bringing all of your friends so you can share the experience again and again.  It’s really that good.<span style="font-weight: bold;"><br /><br />For The Record: Coen Brothers </span><em> runs through Sunday, April 29. Weekly performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m. and Sunday at 8 p.m. For ticket information, please call (323) 661-6163 ext. 20 or visit <a href="http://www.fortherecordlive.com/" target="_blank"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">fortherecordlive.com</span></a>. </em></p>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2012/04/09/for-the-record-coen-broshttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2012/04/09/for-the-record-coen-brosMon, 09 Apr 2012 14:13:00 GMTKevin TaftTheatre Unleashed's 'The Spidey Project'<div style="margin: 1ex;"> <div>Let’s be clear: Julie Taymor and U2’s collaboration train wreck of a success <em>Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark</em> is not playing in Los Angeles. No. But the original and first Spiderman musical is. It’s called <em>The Spidey Project</em> and had an initial run off-Broadway a few years back. Instead of the elaborate and self-serious plot and musical numbers (that frequently had cast members of the big budget Broadway musical in the hospital), this version is strictly tongue-in-cheek, and low-low-low-budget fun.</div> <div><br />Playing at Theatre Unleashed’s space at the Studio/Stage in Los Angeles, <em>The Spidey Project</em> is having its Los Angeles premiere from March 8-April 14.  Part parody, part heartfelt musical, this experiment in combining comic book characters with the musical format comes back to us with mixed results.</div> <div> <p>The story is familiar and simple: Geek social misfit Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider which transforms him from nerd to super human faster than you can say “web-slinger.” Soon enough he has become the hero of his city, fighting crime and amassing an ego the size of a skyscraper. Along the way he attempts to court his high school love Gwen Stacey, work at his internship at the <em>Daily Bugle</em> as a photographer and defend the city from all sorts of mutant-like bad guys. There’s a lot going on for sure, and for a scant running time of 75 minutes, it certainly is a lot to take in. <br /><br />Charmingly utilizing a sort of micro-budget approach, the set design by Katie Sikkema is overly simplified with occasional props like a table that doubles as a set of lockers, and a backdrop that is a simple white wall on which a few comic-book inspired paintings are hung to establish place. Costume changes (also overseen by Sikkema) are minimal, but efficient in handling the changing of characters by the small cast.<br /><br />Speaking of the cast, this is the sort of jolly group that seems as if they banded together to “put on a show” <em>Little Rascals</em>  style.  While they are all game and highly energetic, the acting and singing chops are varied and not always successful. It’s not that anyone is bad, it’s just kind of like walking into a really good-natured high school production. <br /><br />Ryan J. Hill, who plays Peter Parker/Spiderman, is an appealing actor with the best of the male voices, and Kyle Cooper, who plays a number of characters including the school’s arrogant jock Flash Thompson, is also fun to watch. The standout of the cast, however, is newcomer Lauren Turner as Peter’s <em>Daily Bugle</em> supervisor Betty Brant. Played as a sort of desperate Karen Walker, her comic timing is impeccable and her voice soars over the rest of the cast. Sadly, her role is limited although there is a moment where I truly believed she was going to become the villain of the piece (which got me excited). Unfortunately, after a hilarious scene where her jealousy of Peter’s relationship with Gwen surfaces, her character seems to disappear. Too bad, because Theatre Unleashed has a star on their hands.<br /><br />The band—allocated to what appears to be a closet off of the left hand side of the theatre—is problematic in that if you sit too close to that side of the theatre, you can barely hear the singers over the music attacking you from the right. It’s too bad, because a lot of the lyrics ended up being lost due to this bit of odd staging. Because of the small space, it’s hard to figure out what they could have done to remedy this, but it’s sort of an issue.<br /><br />Overall, it’s a diverting evening with mixed results. There were a gaggle of young women in front of me that laughed hysterically from the moment the show started until the end. I’d hazard a guess they knew the cast, because their reaction was a bit extreme compared to the rest of the audience. Not a misfire for sure, but it really all comes down to the show’s book which doesn’t work.  Tonally, the show is all over the place. While it could have been a parody of Broadway shows in general, it edges there but doesn’t quite make it. As a total spoof of the comic book genre, it dances around it, but never fully commits. And as a straightforward musical about a guy coming to terms with his new powers (or a guy embracing his newfound stardom), it also doesn’t fully succeed—mostly because we’re not sure if there is going to be a punchline coming.<br /><br />Thankfully, the cast is so dedicated to what’s on stage, there is a bit of infectious energy to it. Ultimately, the short running time is a gift. And so is that Turner girl, because she was pretty fantastic.<span><br /><br />The Spidey Project<em> runs from March 8-April 14<sup>th</sup> at the Studio/Stage, 520 Western Ave., L.A. Tickets are $20 at the door, or $16 if purchased online. Visit </em></span><em><a href="http://www.theatreunleashed.com/" target="_blank"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">theatreunleashed.com</span></a></em><span style="font-style: italic;"> for more information.<br /></span></p> </div> </div>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2012/03/19/theatre-unleasheds-the-spidey-projecthttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2012/03/19/theatre-unleasheds-the-spidey-projectMon, 19 Mar 2012 12:37:00 GMTKevin TaftFor the Record: Baz Luhrman & Tarantino<p>The best theater experience in Los Angeles kicks off the year with two of their best shows. Created by Shane Scheel and Christopher Lloyd Bratten, the <em>For The Record</em> series at Show at Barre (located inside Vermont Restaurant in Los Feliz) is a wildly popular cabaret-style production that has only increased in popularity since it’s inception about a year and a half ago. Using the soundtrack songs from various directors' filmographies, the show is a clever combination of acted scenes and amazing vocal performances by some of the best vocalists in Los Angeles.</p> <p>Using the small space to their advantage, the eight performers (in a rotating cast of 22) dance and sing on small stages, the bar and in between the tables squeezed into the tiny lounge. But what might seem awkward and a bit uncomfortable (it is, but you don’t care) actually makes the experience that much more thrilling. The audience becomes a part of the show and the energy of the performers and the live band is infectious.</p> <p>What’s amazing about the show is how it showcases the talents of the film’s music supervisors and how they intelligently chose songs that truly fit the emotions that were occurring in the story. It is easy to see how <em>Romeo + Juliet</em> could become a musical simply by using the songs from the film, and musical director Christopher Lloyd Bratten does an amazing job of incorporating the songs into the show as well as altering the arrangements to thrilling effect. </p> <p>Next up is a fun little interlude of songs from Luhrman’s first film, <em>Strictly Ballroom</em> with the cast dressed in dance costumes and giddily bopping around the venue to songs like <em>Happy Feet</em> and <em>Love is in the Air</em>.</p> <p>After a short break, Act Two is all about <em>Moulin Rouge</em>. Also staged as a sort of mini-musical, the cast cleverly uses the space to make the movie come alive—even using the tree outside the main window of Barre as a set piece. Covering 16 songs from the film, the cast gamely mimics the actors from the movie itself, while adding their own twist to them. Standouts from this portion of the evening include Steve Mazurek’s velvety-voiced take on Ewan MacGregor’s Christian, Ginifer King’s lovely and goofy Satine and Michael Motroni’s energetic and over-the-top portrayal of Zidler. Rogelio Douglas Jr’s performance of “Roxanne” is a knockout as well.</p> <p>In fact—the entire evening is a slam-dunk night of amazing vocal performances and clever and dexterous staging. Special note goes to the performers who must navigate the spaces between the tables in order to get to their marks on time and have enough room to perform choreography without knocking an audience member out. What is most impressive is that while you are almost guaranteed to be bumped a little, the cast will place their hand on your shoulder or arm—without breaking character—as an almost respectful way of saying, “Sorry for elbowing you in the back.”</p> <p>While the Baz Luhrman show plays every Wednesday through Sunday until March 4, the company’s popular <em>For the Record: Tarantino</em> edition runs every Tuesday through Feb. 21. With songs from the soundtracks of <em>Reservoir Dogs</em>, <em>Pulp Fiction</em>, <em>Jackie Brown</em>, <em>Kill Bill Vol. 1</em> and <em>2</em>, <em>Death Proof</em> and <em>Inglorious Basterds</em>, the <em>Tarantino</em> show is a hilarious and perfectly executed night of music. As with each show, eight performers rotate each week assuring you get a different experience should you return more than once. But no matter when you go, every single performer is outstanding. Sincerely, these are some of the best performers and vocalists in L.A.—many of whom have been on the Broadway stage—if not the nation. You will never worry about singers hitting the notes or being “pitchy.” These are class-acts that soar.</p> <p>On the night I saw the <em>Tarantino</em> show, this fact could not have been more in evidence: matinee-idol handsome Steve Mazurek took on a variety of key roles and stood out with his rendition of Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town.” Margaret Spirito killed it as Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace performing the songs “If Love is a Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)” and Shivaree’s “Goodnight Moon.” Jason Paige rocked the house with Joe Tex’s “I Gotcha” and Santa Esmeralda’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” The hilarious Anneliese van der Pol gave us a beautifully understated version of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang.” Tawny Dolley as Jackie Brown doing Randy Crawford’s “Street Life” was both hilarious and made you want to get up and move. Ben D. Goldberg played many of the film’s heavies and among his numbers, performed “Stuck in the Middle with You” as a duet with the cast’s Von Smith while acting out the torture scene from <em>Reservoir Dogs</em>.</p> <p>One of my gay man crushes is on the company’s Kristolyn Lloyd who grooved it out with Pam Grier’s “Long Time Woman” from <em>Jackie Brown</em>. Lastly, you cannot say anything about Von Smith (of <em>American Idol</em> fame) except… wow. The man’s voice is absolute perfection and sends chills through your body in every solo. Johnny Cash’s “A Satisfied Mind” was the incomparable standout of the night and—if you could get out of your chair without knocking things over—would have been the time for a standing ovation. That’s not to take anything away from this remarkable cast because they are all excellent, but this guy was a stunner.</p> <p>For audiences, though, the <em>For the Record</em> series is our gift. A truly special night of music, laughs and amazing vocals, it’s a show that can really be enjoyed by anyone. Whether you are a fan of a particular director or not (they’ve also done directors Joel and Ethan Cohen and John Hughes), or fear it might be too much like a “musical,” this is an experience all its own. Not only will you be coming back again and again, you’ll be bringing all of your friends with you as well.</p> <p>Special notice must go to the awesome band and the behind-the-scenes crew that do so much with lighting and sound in a small space that larger theatres should be jealous.</p> <p>The <em>For the Record</em> series is quite simply the most exhilarating night out you can have in Los Angeles. And look out, because it’s about to hit Austin SXSW and Palm Springs. Who knows where it will go after that?</p> <p><strong>For the Record: Baz Luhrman</strong><em> runs Jan. 12 through March 4, Wednesday and Sundays at 8 p.m., Thursday through Saturday at 9 p.m. </em><strong>For the Record: Tarantino</strong><em> runs every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. through Feb. 21. For more information or tickets, visit <a href="http://www.showatbarre.com">showatbarre.com</a> or call (310) 652-5252.</em></p> <p> </p> <p><a href="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/Jackie_Brown_(Von_Smith,_Rogelio_Douglas_Jr.,_Steve_Mazurek)-001.jpg" target="_blank"><img style="margin-right: 12px;" src="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/Jackie_Brown_(Von_Smith,_Rogelio_Douglas_Jr.,_Steve_Mazurek).jpg" alt="" width="200" height="134" /></a><a href="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/Mike_Motroni-001.jpg" target="_blank"><img style="margin-right: 12px;" src="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/Mike_Motroni.jpg" alt="" width="200" height="299" /></a><br /><br /></p>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2012/01/25/for-the-record-baz-luhrman--tarantinohttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2012/01/25/for-the-record-baz-luhrman--tarantinoWed, 25 Jan 2012 09:54:00 GMTKevin TaftJesus Christ Superstar<p>In a time when religion and politics seem to be fatefully intertwined, along comes a startlingly relevant musical that is—oddly—40 years old. What began life as a concept album, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s <i>Jesus Christ Superstar</i> became something of a sensation with a popular album and Top 40 hit single. After a fairly successful Broadway run and movie adaptation, <i>Jesus Christ Superstar</i> has been a mainstay in theatres around the globe ever since.</p> <p>With the arrival of The Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of <i>JCS, </i>however, this is the first time in decades that the play will be headed back to Broadway. Already praised by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, the new production of <i>JCS</i> is a savvy take that amps up the political aspects of the story and ends with a knowing punch to the gut.</p> <p>Set in 33 A.D.—but with modern contrivances that relate the story to modern times—the new <i>JCS</i> has all the usual suspects: Judas Iscariot (Josh Young) is one of the many disciples of Jesus Christ (Paul Nolan)—a prophet who has been teaching the Jews how to live more peaceful and all-loving lives. Having performed a miracle or two, he has become quite the attraction and has garnered many followers. While Judas firmly believes in what Jesus has to say, he’s uncomfortable with his ensuing popularity and worries that it’s starting to go to his head. He also isn’t happy that Jesus has been carrying on with Mary Magdalene (Chilina Kennedy), a former prostitute who dotes on Jesus.</p> <p>Taking place five days before Passover, the musical shows how the Romans set out to destroy Jesus by using Judas to lead them to him. Meanwhile, Jesus continues to spread the good word, but at the same time has startling moments where he admonishes his followers (and non-followers) for the acts that they do. When he is too overwhelmed by the lepers who want his healing touch, he finally screams “HEAL YOURSELVES!” Apropos for modern times where people look to blame others for their misfortunes or who are always looking for something outside of themselves to make things right. When he arrives at a temple and finds exotic dancers, gambling and a marketplace set up, Jesus turns over tables and hollers for everyone to get out. Perhaps he isn’t the most gentle of Jesuses, but it does go to prove that he was human and that even as the son of God, he had his own moments of weakness.</p> <p>As the story goes, Jesus is taken away on the night of The Last Supper and eventually crucified. The show ends with the title song “Superstar” and a quiet moment on the cross as he dies.</p> <p>The new production is well-executed and while the overall take of the show is a bit chilly and industrial, it’s the performances of the exquisite cast that send this play into excellence. Paul Nolan’s Jesus is overtly calm and collected. He plays Jesus as a man that allows people to take care of him, but is also willing to give of himself completely. He has his moments of passionate anger and, of course, doubt as shown in the difficult and powerful power ballad “Gesthemene” that Nolan nailed to perfection.</p> <p>As directed by Des McAnuff there is also a hint that Mary is—indeed—Jesus’girlfriend as the two are frequently shown walking into different situations holding hands. While he never fully expresses his possible romantic interest in Mary—she does. In the now classic ballad “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” Kennedy’s Mary breaks the hard shell she has portrayed Mary as having and admonishes herself for loving a man she knows she can’t have. This stronger Mary is an interesting choice as the character is usually a little softer. Here, she doesn’t put up with anyone’s bullshit—especially from Judas who isn’t keen on their relationship. Notable are also Tom Hewitt as Pontious Pilate who doesn’t approve of Jesus, but kind of doesn’t care what he does either. In this he shows cocky power, but also a weakness in allowing the opinions of others to direct his actions. Bruce Dow is excellent as the flamboyant King Herod whose “Herod’s Song” is a giddy highlight. Lee Siegel’s Simon does a show-stopping job with “Simon Zealotes”—a rousing number that blew the roof off of the theatre and was the moment the play really came alive.</p> <p>The showiest role of Webber’s rock opera, however, is Josh Young’s Judas. Fervent and misguided, Judas is simply a man who believes in his friend, but who is fearful the more Jesus gets popular, the more that popularity will backfire on the Jews. In his eyes, his betrayal of him is a sacrifice for the greater good and Young’s ardent portrayal of him is electric.</p> <p>While this new take makes the story completely relevant to today’s political landscape, it does lack the emotional power that it might need. At times I wasn’t sure what the company’s perspective was for the story. That said, by the end it started to come together with a point-of-view. Seeing Jesus standing above the audience preaching about love and compassion only to have his words drowned out by the incessant singing of his followers was telling. As he is wheeled around on a platform—continuing to speak but being met with people praising him but not hearing him—the meaning of this updated <i>JCS</i> was clear: That in today’s landscape, there are many that praise his name, but when a majority of them aren’t really living the life he preaches about, isn’t the point all but lost? It’s a brilliant bit of staging that leads to a quiet end with Jesus on the cross talking to God as Mary watches on. It’s a lovely final moment to a pretty remarkable evening of a brilliantly sung score and an interesting take on a story often told—but rarely ever really “heard.”</p> <p><i><b>Jesus Christ Superstar</b> plays through Dec. 31 at La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla. <a href="http://www.lajollaplayhouse.org">lajollaplayhouse.org</a></i><span style="color: #215b96;"><b></b></span></p>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/12/13/jesus-christ-superstarhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/12/13/jesus-christ-superstarTue, 13 Dec 2011 10:00:00 GMTKevin TaftCirque du Soleil's IRIS<p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">While Cirque shows seem to have found homes in Canada and Vegas, Los Angeles has only ever been a stop-off point for any number of touring versions. But as of Sept. 25, L.A. is now the birthplace to one of its own: Cirque du Soleil’s <i> IRIS</i>.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">A love letter to all things “film,” <i>IRIS</i> takes the audience on a journey through sight and sound, shadow and light, color and spectacle. It’s not a show with a definitive plot or narrative, but a sort of poem through the many aspects of cinema with a bunch of other craziness thrown in for good measure. It’s a visual spectacular to be sure, although how some of the acts fit into the theme can leave viewers scratching their heads. But that doesn’t mean it won’t wow you just the same.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">On a set that reminds one of a bit of Coney Island-meets-Barnum & Bailey’s-meets a movie studio, <i>IRIS</i> opens with a singular musician playing a piano. He is the “Buster” of the show, a man who spots the woman of his dreams in “Scarlett,” a gal looking to make it big in movies. The two become separated by the razzle-dazzle of the industry and each get sucked into the frenzy of movie-making.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Here’s where <i>IRIS</i> becomes a bit of a stretch. The first number—glorious for sure—is an Aerial Straps Duo routine where twin men soar through the air suspended by ropes. They fly and pose, leap and embrace. It’s gorgeous to watch, even though I’m not sure what it had to do with filmmaking. Perhaps we can say they were making the leap into the unknown, which is what the first filmmakers were doing. Regardless, it’s a beautiful routine punctuated by a lovely score by composer Danny Elfman.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Just as filmmaking progressed, so do the acts in <i>IRIS</i>. Contortionists bend and pose to stunning effect in a sort of “shadow puppet” way that recalls what early storytelling must have been like. A Hand to Hand routine has two “porters” launching their partners through the air and balancing on their person in ways that genuinely produce “oohs” and “aahs.” The filmic projections of these acrobats also give it the feel of early cinema.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">In one of the cleverest sequences, a live-action “film strip” enters the stage featuring seven individual frames. The performers that enter the frames do so in a way that suggests each frame is the same performer just in a different point in motion. This demands very precise choreography that is not only stunning, but giddily mind-boggling. This is followed by one of the most original and truly tense-filled acts; the Kiriki. Eight acrobats dressed in colorful insect costumes flip and spin each other while continually balancing on their backs and feet. This is the point in the show that you literally grasp your neighbor’s arm and silently pray that the performers succeed in every flip and somersault. The end result is overwhelmingly impressive.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">After a brief intermission, we move into the more obvious cinema age where Scarlett is seeking stardom and the chaos of the movie set is exemplified. In the opening sequence of Act Two there is so much going on your eye is not sure where to focus. While it certainly gives the sensation of on-set frenzy, it’s almost impossible to follow. It’s the section of the show that begs repeating with at least five or six performances occurring at the same time. It’s dazzling to be sure, but exhausting just the same.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The rest of the lengthy second act consists of a beautiful trapeze artist that defies gravity, trampolinists who bounce around a city’s rooftops in an ode to action movies and a bit of the Keystone Cops, and a showcase of film noir that is punctuated by an amazing set that peeks into the windows of a variety of inhabitants of a Gotham apartment building. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">By the end of the evening, the thrill of our heroine Scarlett performing a hand balancing routine is impressive, but a bit of a letdown as the final big act. The true ending of the evening is a wow moment; however, depending on your seat in the theatre, it might be difficult to see. (From my seat, I barely saw anything. And for this to be the final moments of the show, it ends up being kind of a disappointment.)</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">For sure, <i>IRIS</i> is sensory overload in the best of ways. Fantastic costumes, funny clown-like characters, impressive death-defying performances and downright jaw-dropping sets, it’s the definitive in entertainment. Visually you will want for nothing and the acts certainly have the wow factor. That said, is this the best Cirque show I’ve seen? No. Having recently seen <i>Zumanity</i> in Vegas, I will say that show had a better narrative and more consistently stunning performers. Every act floored the audience and they kept building in intensity. With <i>IRIS</i>, the acts vary with their ability to impress. Nothing is UN-impressive, but the intensity wasn’t consistent so the finale that should have had me wanting more, had me simply reverentially impressed at the whole affair.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">With a 10-year residency and acts that will most likely be changing and evolving, perhaps the narrative of the show will become more streamlined, and the wow factor can keep building to a punch-in-the-gut finish.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Is it worth it? For sure. Is it the best? No. But if you’ve never seen a Cirque show before, this is a terrific place to start.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i>Tickets range from $43-$133 with VIP tickets for $253 and can be purchased via <a href="http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/" target="_blank">cirquedusoleil.com</a> or call (877) 943-IRIS.</i></span></p>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/09/26/cirque-du-soleils-irishttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/09/26/cirque-du-soleils-irisMon, 26 Sep 2011 12:41:00 GMTKevin TaftShrek The Musical<div><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Continuing the trend of movies becoming musicals and titles of shows adding “the musical” to the end of them to differentiate from the movies they come from, comes the latest: <i>Shrek The Musical.</i></span></div>   <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">A hit on Broadway, the touring version of the show has come with a myriad of changes: The book by David Lindsay-Abaire (who wrote the relentlessly depressing play <i>Rabbit Hole</i>) has been re-worked, the sets made simpler and the song order has been changed in an attempt to make the show more streamlined. Luckily I went to see this version with someone who had seen the Broadway production and was able to point out the differences in a compare-and-contrast way. In her words, the humor was dumbed down and the emotional connection seemed a bit lost in the switch-up of songs. She also thought the sets were oversimplified whereas the Broadway version was very intricate.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But how does it stand up to someone who has not seen the Broadway version?  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">First, let’s take a look at plot of the stageshow. We open on the 7-year-old green ogre named Shrek (Hayley Feinstein) being sent out into the world by his unconcerned parents (“Big Bright Beautiful World”). Told he is ugly and creepy and will be a fright to anyone he encounters, Shrek gathers his meager belongings and heads away from home. He is quickly met with fear and disdain being not only continuously insulted and run away from, but almost burned at the stake.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Years later, the adult Shrek (Eric Petersen) settles into a swamp and isolates himself from society by becoming a foul grump. It’s not until a cadre of fairy tale characters arrive that he is forced, once again, to deal with the outside world and find a way to become a kindler, gentler version of himself.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">These fairy tale characters are being banished by Lord Farquaad (David F.M. Vaughn), a fey self-appointed king with a crippling case of short-man’s disease. Amusingly played by Vaughn, he performs the character on his knees so as to give the illusion that he is a wee man. This joke is funny in a vaudeville sort-of-way and the creators play it up in various sight-gags and musical numbers (“What’s Up, Duloc?”)</span>.</p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Shrek is sent to stop Farquaad from banishing the characters to his swamp as he wants to be left alone. As he travels to Farquaad’s theme park castle, he meets Donkey (Alan Mingo Jr.) a wise-cracking, nervous and all-around annoying animal that attaches himself to Shrek and becomes a part of his overarching journey.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Meanwhile, Farquaad wants someone to rescue a trapped princess so he can marry into her family and become a “real” king. So after hearing Shrek’s request to get rid of his unwanted guests, he sends Shrek to complete the task and in return he will make the characters leave his swamp. So Shrek travels a bit more to a dungeon/tower watched over by a fire-breathing Dragon (Carrie Compere) with the voice of Aretha Franklin. </span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><br /> Once Princess Fiona (Haven Burton) is freed and enters the picture, the emotional ache of the story begins with both Shrek and Fiona acting like the David and Maddie from “Moonlighting.” Once they discover they have some things in common, however (farting and burping oh my!), the attraction between the two begins to form.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Anyone who has seen the original Dreamworks’ film will know the outcome of the story and all the directions it takes in between. The enjoyment comes from the staging and the performances. Your overall connection to the play will determine if those qualities are good enough to make it worthy of your time or not.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The cast is completely game and their energy is palpable. The problem is the book which relies on stale jokes that appeal to general audiences and a storyline that seems like a “greatest hits” of the Shrek film rather than a full story that has some emotional heft to it.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Burton’s Fiona is a fun character and her voice is truly remarkable. The song that marks her life from age seven onward (“I Know It’s Today”) is the highlight of the show, yet comes so early in the story this becomes a problem. Petersen is fine as Shrek but there’s a talkiness to his singing voice that doesn’t let it soar until late in the second act in his ballad “When Words Fail.” As written, his role takes a backseat to the more showy characters like Donkey, Fiona, and Farquaad. Even Pinnochio and the Dragon upstage the ogre which is an issue when the show is called <i>Shrek</i>.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Overall, it’s a fairly entertaining production and the audience seemed to enjoy it enough, but it seems truly aimed at the younger set and for those who don’t frequent musical theatre. It’s a bit like watching a too-long show at Universal Studios. There was a point where, as an adult, I felt a bit silly trying to take it seriously as musical theatre. That said, there is an audience for it. It’s not a travesty, it’s just not the pinnacle of the craft.</span> </p> <div><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i><b>Shrek: The Musical </b>continues at the Pantages Theatre through July 31</i><i>. Tickets can be purchased by visiting <a href="http://www.broadwayla.org/" target="_blank">broadwayla.org</a>. Photo by Joan Marcus<br />  </i></span></div>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/07/15/shrek-the-musicalhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/07/15/shrek-the-musicalFri, 15 Jul 2011 11:21:00 GMTKevin TaftKrunk Fu Battle Battle<div><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The dance movie comes to the stage with the East West Players world-premiere hip-hop musical, <i> Krunk Fu Battle Battle.</i> Set in Brooklyn, the oft-told tale switches things up by setting the story amidst an all Asian cast and making it a full-fledged musical rather than just a story with dance numbers.</span></div>   <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The show opens with Jean Lee (knockout singer Joan Almedilla) and her son Norman (Lawrence Kao) as they move back to a small apartment in Brooklyn—a far cry from their previous Connecticut address. There, Jean runs into an old high-school friend, Sir Master Cert (Blas Lorenzo), the complex's repair man who harbors not just a crush on Jean, but a bigger secret he hasn’t let on.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Needless to say, the buttoned-up Norman doesn’t like his new digs and his polo shirt makes him stand out in an area that favors graffiti-inspired T-shirts, beanies and high-tops. As he explores his new surroundings he runs into Wingnut (standout Matt Tayao) a hyper kid with an abundance of energy and an even bigger heart. He takes Norman under his wing, gives him a makeover, and becomes his right-hand man at school. Which is where Norman runs into a few problems.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Crossing the blacktop to get to class, he quickly discovers this simple act is a no-no according to a dance crew headed by Three-Point (Leng Phe). You see, they “own” that area of asphalt and by Norman crossing it, he has initiated a dance battle. If he wins, he becomes the king of the school and can walk wherever he wants to. If he loses, he is ostracized from not just the school, but from Brooklyn itself.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">While I’m sure Norman’s mother would have something to say about this and the stakes are not entirely believable, this is the catalyst that starts the action of the play. Norman has to learn how to dance, set up his own dance crew, woo the girl of his dreams—Cindy Chang (Liza B. Domingo)—and has to hide all of this from his mother.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Interspersed in training montages and battle sequences are some nice songs with lyrics by Beau Sia and music by Marc Macalintal. While the numbers aren’t completely memorable, they are fairly catchy and sung really well by the entire cast. Although, Almedilla gets most of the applause with her beautiful voice and power solos, the best being “We Will Get There” which illustrates how she and her son will make something of their new life.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Kao as Norman is alternately nerdy and newly hip creating a charming character that transforms before our eyes. His mortal enemy Three-Point is a bit one-note as the local baddie, and Cindy Chang is appealing but doesn’t have much of an arc. She’s pretty cool throughout most of the play until the end where she makes an out-of-character decision that puts Norman in jeopardy. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Lorenzo’s Sir Master Cert is a hoot, popping and locking his middle-aged body into a memorably fun performance of a man with secrets of his own.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But the stand out here is Tayao. An L.A.-based dancer who has performed with the likes of Katy Perry, Ke$ha and Puff Daddy, he is the most magnetic of the actors. Not only is his character the most fun, but he nails the humor and genial nature of the character while dancing his ass off in the process. Part goofball, he’s also unassumingly sexy which makes him a blast to watch.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i>Krunk Fu Battle Battle</i> doesn’t offer much in the way of story, and translating the energy of hip-hop to a theater format isn’t entirely successful. But what it lacks in electricity is made up for with terrific actors and an investment by all to entertain. The East West Players may not always have perfect material to work with, but the actors just happen to be one of the best theatre companies in Los Angeles. So for that, I recommend anything they do.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i><b>Krunk Fu Battle Battle </b>runs through June 26 at the East West Players Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles. For tickets, visit </i></span><a href="http://www.eastwestplayers.org/" target="_blank"><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; color: #0000ff; font-size: small;"><i><span style="text-decoration: underline;">eastwestplayers.org</span></i></span></a><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i> or call (213) 625-7000.</i></span></p>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/05/23/krunk-fu-battle-battlehttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/05/23/krunk-fu-battle-battleMon, 23 May 2011 10:17:00 GMTKevin TaftThe Emancipation of Alabaster McGill<div><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The topic of gay rights and gay marriage is a hotbed for theater as of late, what with play after play being produced in Los Angeles alone over the past few years since Prop. 8 was passed. And just when you think the subject can’t come up with an original angle, up pops Jeff Goode’s <i>The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill</i>.</span></div>   <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Set in 1865, the action takes place in and around the front porch of a house in a Kentucky border town on the eve of the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation. But this isn’t a play about African-American civil rights. No. The emancipation of one particular slave is used as a metaphor for the right of gay couples to marry as well as gay rights in general.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">We first meet the adorable Ethan (Brett Fleisher) and Evan (Matt Valle), two hicks from different towns who have become fast friends. Shirtless in overalls and chewing on weeds, the boys aren’t the brightest of fellas, but what they don’t have upstairs, they have in charm. So much so they seem to be very fond of each other, although openly admitting that hasn’t really occurred yet.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The two meet to “wittle” (used awkwardly as a metaphor for masturbation) and find themselves near the house of their friend Captain Avner Pilicock (James Sharpe). A stoic and genial man, he serves the boys sweet tea and allows them to wittle right there on his front porch. He even joins them. But just as the sun beats down and the three enjoy the day, they witness crazy old Deacon Chickory (Nathaniel Stanton) falling down the hill of his house and landing in the street. Grabbing him before he gets run over by a horse-drawn carriage, the boys bring him onto the front porch with them. There the Deacon explains how much he hates his wife and later, how the church was actually a brothel that has been out of business for some time.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">While the Deacon regales the group with stories, a riled-up Deputy Lynch (Jude Evans) arrives to announce that loony old Abraham Lincoln has signed the Emancipation Proclamation allowing the slaves to go free. He believes this to be the end of times and in doing so, reveals himself to be a Klan member ready to do some “hangin’!” Which is when Grocer Baggot (Frank Ensenberger) shows up, hollering about how the Emancipation will cause all sorts of problems with his store, not to mention lower property values.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">All of this bigotry is mixed in with the fact that Evan is from a town across the bridge called Collard Green. Because he is a “collard,” he is treated with disdain by many, even the confused Ethan who keeps ignorantly voting for the collards to be hanged even though he is clearly in love with him. It’s as if no-one really knows where they stand because the simple issue of getting along with each other gets confused by everyone’s personal and political agenda.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Sound familiar?</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">It’s when Act Two begins and the Emancipation has passed that the Captain’s long-standing African American friend Alabaster is allowed on the porch and the question of racism and bigotry is put into light and compared to gay civil rights. This is done in quite a clever and amusing way. Most notably is the fact that everyone seems to accept Alabaster outright until they are “told” he is black and then suddenly they have a problem with him.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Throughout the active Act Two, the Deacon has a wonderful extended bit on the abominations of the Bible, and the Grocer gets to bombastically try and get the new equality of the blacks to be not so equal.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">There are many pleasures in <i>The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill</i> and it’s best to let the giddiness of the story unfold without any idea where it’s going. Not that shocking surprises abound, but Goode is quite good at making his points while disguising them as something else. The only trouble is, he has a lot of points to make and this creates a play that goes on about a half hour too long. It is also so skillfully metamorphosed that the play almost demands a second viewing to get every reference.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Some of the bawdy gay humor doesn’t work, but still manages to cause a chuckle or two. (Evan’s fascination with Alabaster's long knife is pretty funny.) It will certainly get the gays in the audience to laugh, although the play is written so that those against gay marriage will see the error of the ways. Unfortunately, this is another play about gay rights that will be preaching to the choir. Not that it won’t give people that are pro-gay good fodder for arguments to their friends, family and co-workers who are against the equal rights, so in that, it’s a good thing.</span> </p> <div><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">All in all, though, <i>The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill</i> is a charming show with terrific actors all around and an original premise that stands out among the myriad of equal rights plays that have flooded our stages. Expertly directed by Eric Curtis Johnson, this is a show to seek out. We just have to get the gays to take that long trip to North Hollywood to see it.</span></div> <div> </div> <div><i><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Performances run through June 18 at T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., NoHo. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at <a href="http://www.skypilottheatre.com">skypilottheatre.com</a>.</span></i><span><span style="color: black;"><br /></span></span></div>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/05/18/the-emancipation-of-alabaster-mcgillhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/05/18/the-emancipation-of-alabaster-mcgillWed, 18 May 2011 09:48:00 GMTKevin Taft'The Columbine Project' & the Lie of the American Dream<p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">It’s hard to say anything bad about a play that has its heart so firmly in the right place that to say anything even remotely negative is to betray it. Not that I have anything that terrible to say about the latest production of the award-winning play <i>The Columbine Project</i>, which, if you haven’t already assumed, deals with the tragedy that occurred April 20, 1999.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Written by Paul Storiale, <i> The Columbine Project</i> effectively handles a touchy subject with mindful restraint and respect for those involved. At the same time, it does not shy away from showing us the violence of that fateful day, because without it, the horror of what occurred wouldn’t have such a devastatingly lasting effect on the audience.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The show is spare and simple with a black box set that utilizes few props and set pieces. The story maneuvers between time periods starting with a field journalist reporting on the shooting then shifts to weeks before when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were discussing their plans for that day, to years later when the victim’s families are still begging their town for answers.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">At first, the shifting timelines and the alternating focus keeps the audience off-balance, but this is a show that builds in intensity as well as thoughtfulness. It also fairly represents everyone involved without making us choose sides.  The show presents the events, but in them we begin to ask questions.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Harris and Klebold aren’t portrayed as simple lunatics, they are given rounded characters. Eric Harris (Riley Bodenstab) is subtly drawn as a borderline psychopath, manipulating everyone around him into believing he has it all together when deep down he is not only in pain, but plotting one of the most tragic mass murders in American history.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Dylan Klebold (Morgan Roberts) is probably the best drawn of the large cast of characters, showing us a boy who was desperately trying to find himself and teetered on the brink of doing the right thing. But when manipulated by Harris, all reason was thrown out the window and he choice to act out. As played by Roberts, he is a boy with more to offer the world, but his ability to be influenced by Harris made those possibilities too far-reaching.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Shifting through a maze of characters, <i>The Columbine Project</i> allows us into the world of Klebold and Harris’s “friends,” their parents, various lawyers, teachers and law enforcement, the parents of those kids who were killed, as well as a variety of students they interacted with. Notably, Rachel Scott (Sara Swain), the Christian girl with an open mind and heart that is shot on the school’s lawn and has became a worldwide inspiration in her own right.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">As these various story threads weave in and out connecting and re-connecting, the power of the play becomes greater. When the tragedy of that fateful day is played out in restrained but brutal frankness, the horror comes crashing home.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">There are aspects of this production that don’t completely work such as a few awkward transitions. In one instance, a very emotional monologue by Mrs. Shoels (Pamela Taylor) whose African-American son was killed in the library of the school is suddenly shifted into a scene of light-hearted conversation with her son that seemed jarring. The gunshot sound effects which need to be startling and horrific come across like whispers rather than screams.   </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But those are minor quibbles when the cast works very well as an ensemble, and while some succeed in their roles more than others, it’s hard to complain about it when the result is so emotional. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Special note goes to Morgan Roberts who plays Klebold. He’s been with the cast since the beginning (the show is an off-Broadway success story), and his work shows. Completely effective in the role, he creates a character that becomes, for me, one of the most tragic figures of recent American history. We understand what he wants from his life, but we also understand how he allows himself to be manipulated by Harris. The character is devastating because we are allowed to see just how close this boy was from making the right choices, and how small moments tipped his hat in the wrong direction. If ever there was an illustration of how bullying and lying affect the young, this is it.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">While it is well worth it to see the show, it is also a treat to see it when the cast comes out for a Q&A after the show. Here they provide really interesting insight into the writing of the play and what is and isn’t truth. Incidentally, according to Assistant Director and actor Bree Pavey, everything you see is real and true. Apparently, both Harris and Klebold’s journals are online and even a videotape they made prior to their assault on the school was partly transcribed in order to give that scene of the show its truth. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But more so, this is a time for people to express their feelings on the events themselves. Some members of the audience lived in Littleton, Colo., and/or knew people that survived the tragedy. Other people questioned why it all happened. While Goth music and violent videogames seemed to be the blame at the time, Pavey points out that Goth Metal music comes from Germany and videogames began in Japan: two places where this type of tragedy doesn’t occur. So why here?</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Jack Millard who plays a variety of roles spoke up about this. Being part Japanese he made a point that in Japanese culture, young people’s frustration with the world and their lives cause teenagers to focus their anger inward, which is why teenage suicide in Japan is so prevalent. Here in America, we express that anger outward. Which made me wonder why?  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that in the United States, we grow up with the promise of the "American Dream." It’s a vague expression of hope because no one ever defines what that dream is except for adults to say to the young, “you can be anything you want to be.” But that’s not necessarily true. Everyone’s situation is different, whether it be social status, geography, genetics or simple ability to do or not do a particular “thing.” But when we’ve been promised the world and the world doesn’t deliver, kids get frustrated. They get angry. Teenagers have been taught, in a way, that they are entitled to anything they want, but never told about all the gray areas that might prevent that from happening. Therein lays the disappointment.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"> <br /> There are a hundred other contributing factors such as adult complacency, bullying and school systems in general, but it seems that when the American Dream isn’t being realized, kids want to act out.  They get angry because of a promise broken. Nothing is their fault, it’s everyone else’s. Even when maybe it’s no one’s fault at all. It’s just the way the world is. But when you’re promised the moon, how can you not be disappointed when the moon doesn’t show up at your front door?</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I have no answers to this and I’m not sure how this can be changed for future generations. There needs to be a move away from competition and “winning” to a more compassionate life of tolerance, acceptance and cooperation. We need to not look at ourselves as divided from each other, but a part of each other. Only then I think will we ever change our perception of our places in the world. What it takes to make that happen is anybody’s guess.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i>The Columbine Project is playing at The Avery Schreiber Theatre in North Hollywood. Performances run May</i><b><i> 5, 6, 7, 13, 14 at 8 p.m. </i></b> <i>Visit </i></span><a href="http://www.thecolumbineproject.com/" target="_blank"><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; color: #0000ff; font-size: small;"><i><span style="text-decoration: underline;">thecolumbineproject.com</span></i></span></a><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i> or call (818) 766-9100 for tickets.</i></span></p>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/05/02/the-columbine-project--the-lie-of-the-americahttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/05/02/the-columbine-project--the-lie-of-the-americaMon, 02 May 2011 10:40:00 GMTKevin Taft'Burn the Floor'<div>I’m pretty sure the TV dance competition craze led to the latest Broadway offering now playing at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. And I’m also pretty sure that’s not a bad thing. When the TV staple <i>So You Think You Can Dance</i> hit summer airwaves a number of years ago, attention was turned from the all American singing idol to all things dance. While not an immediate hit, <i>SYTYCD</i> (as the insiders like to call it) has a built in reputation and popularity thanks to some egocentric judges, amazing choreography and incredibly talented amateur dancers. (There’s no way you can fake your talent, here.) Then ABC revived it’s '70s staple <i>[Blanking] with the Stars</i> (remember <i>Circus of the Stars</i>?) and came up with a dance version which pairs Z-list “celebrities” with real-life dancers who tromp their way through simple routines set to bad karaoke music.</div> <div> </div> <div>While I’m not a fan of ABC’s offering, it did open America up to the beauty and athleticism of dance. Which is what will make <i>Burn the Floor</i> so damn popular.  </div> <div> </div> <div>Basically two hours of Cha-Chas, Rumbas, Waltzes, etc., etc., <i>Burn the Floor</i> is simply “A Night of Dance!” Featuring eighteen dancers and two singers, the cast careens around the Pantages stage like they own the place. And for the running time of the show, they do. The stage is spare and black with a small staircase rising in the back that leads up to the two soloists who take the stage every once in a while to offer a little bit of song amidst the plies. A drummer and percussionist inhabit the rear of the stage adding that extra beat that keeps the night moving swiftly. Add to that a myriad of costume changes and dance styles and <i>Burn the Floor</i> rages through the auditorium like a tornado of fast-moving beauty all performed by a cast that is distractingly good-looking.  </div> <div> </div> <div>Beginning with nine numbers encompassing a variety of inspirational styles from the Cha-Cha to the Viennese Waltz to the Jive, Foxtrot, Lindy and Samba, here is where we meet our talented dancers and reflect on the types of dance we’ll be treated with throughout the fast-moving evening. The second half of the first Act is the best part of the night with a “Things That Swing” section featuring five numbers that encompass the styles of the Swing era. This portion of the night is fast and fun and brings the house down in a way that had the audience roaring.  </div> <div> </div> <div>Act Two is all about the Latin inspiration including a Salsa, Tango, and Paso Dobles.  The last part of the evening combines many of the evening’s styles in an orgiastic celebration of all things dance.  Wait’ll you catch their interpretation of “Proud Mary!”  Not only was it inspirational but literally brought the audience to their feet.  </div> <div> </div> <div>Fans of <i>SYTYCD</i> will be happy to see fan favorites “Anya & Pasha” taking center stage as the “stars” of the production and their talent never wavers. But that doesn’t take away from the rest of the cast which has its own standouts in Kevin Clifton and Giselle Peacock (all fiery passion) in a few solo numbers together, Karen Hauer featured as a sort of Indian Princess pursued by four men and Aljaz Skorjanec and Santo Costa dueling each other in a Paso Doble.  </div> <div>Backing up the dancers are two vocalists: Peter Saul and Vonzell Solomon who are amazing in their own right, adapting to various styles and wowing the crowd with their incredible instruments.  </div> <div> </div> <div>While <i>Burn the Floor</i> might not be the be-all and end-all of dance shows, it is by all means a fun and rousing evening with hot choreography, hot dancing and even hotter dancers. For boys and girls, gay or straight, the eye-candy is as dazzling as the quick steps. The show closes May 8, so you better get to the Pantages now before they burn the stage to ash!    </div> <div> </div> <div><i><b>Burn the Floor</b> plays Monday through Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Photo by Joan Marcus<br /></i></div>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/04/28/burn-the-floorhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/04/28/burn-the-floorThu, 28 Apr 2011 09:20:00 GMTKevin Taft'The Mercy Seat' & Trying to Disappear<div style="margin: 1ex;"> <div><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Neil Labute is a playwright with a very specific model of characters.  Usually, they are white-collar people in a selfish world. Mostly, they tend to veer toward the unlikeable. Always, they are interesting characters, but it’s finding the part of them to like that can sometimes be a challenge.</span><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"> Labute’s <i>The Mercy Seat</i> is a play created out of the events of 9/11. In the wake of that tragedy, Labute asked himself if someone would ever use an event such as that to disappear and start a new life. So in that, a two-character play asking this very question was born.</span> </div> <div> </div> <div> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Ben (Johnny Clark) is a mid-30s businessman with a wife and two kids who was supposed to have a meeting in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. Instead, he went to the loft of his boss and lover Abby (Michelle Clunie) for a bit of fun.  When the towers came crashing down, he thought to himself that this could be his way out of having to tell his wife their marriage was over. And be with Abby.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The play opens the following morning with Ben sitting almost comatose on Abby’s couch, ignoring his ringing phone. Abby enters having just gone shopping and already pissed off. Basically, she wants Ben to take some action. You see, she asked him to please make the call to his wife to tell her it was over so they didn’t have to run around on the sly. But when the planes hit the WTC, the world changed and so did his priorities. Instead, he’s been running scenarios through his head trying to figure out if there is a way for him to get what he wants without having to inject hurt into someone else.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Abby, meanwhile, seems generally irritated with Ben, constantly making sarcastic comments and forever commenting on his young age. (They are 12 years apart.) The two bicker and spat like a long-married couple with only an occasion here and there where they confess any real feelings for each other. And just when things seem to settle, Ben reveals his plan for them to escape which riles Abby up into a whole new set of dissatisfactions.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i>The Mercy Seat </i>is interesting on a relationship level, where two people are staying together for all the wrong reasons. In fact, watching the characters interact I was not sure exactly how they were even attracted to each other. She thought of him as a kid, he thought she was a cold bitch. He couldn’t even have sex with her without doing it doggie-style even though later he admitted this to be “intimate” to him. (Which is a far more interesting subject, by the way.) The two really seemed to hate each other so all I kept thinking was, “Oh my God, just break up already!”</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">While the interaction is interesting on a “boy these two are fucked up” type of way, I grew frustrated with them and finally, I couldn’t pry my anger away from Ben. Here is a man who is willing to give up ever seeing his kids again, just so he can be with a woman who he has decent sex with and that’s about it. These two are incredibly wrong for each other yet he’s considering destroying his wife and kids by pretending to be dead. It’s a disgusting thought and made me dismiss him and not care for him at all. Because Abby only softens twice in the show and the rest of the time is incredibly snide, I really just wanted him to say “fuck you” and leave, but then again, the two deserved each other.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">That said, I liked the actors a lot, especially Clunie who does spiteful well and is a magnetic presence on stage. We all know someone like her and her exasperation at Ben is valid, her character just goes about it the completely wrong way.  She really seems like a woman who is going to spend many years alone. And perhaps that’s what she’s doing: self-sabotaging herself by not only having a relationship with her employee, but doing so with someone who is not available.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The set design is amazing, completely transforming the set into a NYC loft. Sound design is key prior to the show starting where we hear a constant stream of interviews, news reports and songs related to 9/11 and the themes it represents.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Unfortunately for me, the question of whether or not you’d disappear using the catalyst of a tragedy gets lost amidst the mess of these two people. I’d almost like to see the question asked with two people who are truly in love in a healthy way, but are both trying not to hurt other people. Then, the question can be the focus. Here, the focus is on two awful people, tumbling down like the buildings themselves, killing everything inside. And maybe that was Labute’s point. Which is why it’s a play that can cause so much discussion.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Which begs the question: if you had the ability to disappear and start again… would you?</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">This is a question I’ve pondered from time to time when things just get too much. When I feel like I’m fucking everything up in my life or when everyone around me overwhelms me so much I just want a clean slate. To make myself over into the person I want to be and bring new people and situations into my life with no overt baggage from the past. Of course, the baggage will always find us and in 10 years time I’d probably want another clean sweep.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But don’t you just want to do things differently, even just for a small amount of time? Take a trip with someone you don’t know and be someone else for just a moment? Do things you’ve never done before and just escape from life even for just a few days? I mean, a vacation is good and all but you still bring life with you. You bring your expectations… your bags…</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But to spontaneously take off…. alone or maybe with an acquaintance... and just be a different person for a few days.  Change your name. Dress in a different way. Act in unexpected ways. Be the person you wish you had formed yourself into. A mini-makeover, if you will.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><br /> We might not have 9/11 to use as the mechanism to get lost forever, but perhaps for a few days we should all disappear. Close our Facebook, shut off our phones, leave town and just have the adventure of not existing anymore. Perhaps when we do, we’ll find how to take the best parts of the person we are and mix them with the person we want to be in order to find the self we would never want to disappear.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><b><i>The Mercy Seat</i></b><i> plays at [Inside the Ford] at the Ford Amphitheatre from now until April 24. Visit </i></span><a href="http://www.fordtheatres.org/" target="_blank"><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; color: #0000ff; font-size: small;"><i><span style="text-decoration: underline;">FordTheatres.org</span></i></span></a><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i> or call (323) 461-3673 for tickets and more information. General admission is $20.</i></span></p> </div> </div>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/03/21/the-mercy-seat--trying-to-disappearhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/03/21/the-mercy-seat--trying-to-disappearMon, 21 Mar 2011 14:52:00 GMTKevin Taft'The Adventures of Pinnochio' & Finding the Magic<div style="margin: 1ex;"> <div> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">To celebrate its 20<sup>th</sup> Anniversary, Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood brings us a most magical production: a new version of <i>The Adventures of Pinocchio</i> written by Lee Hall and based on the 1883 Carlo Collodi novel. As directed by Stephen Rothman, the new play combines farce, slapstick, high-drama, improvisation, puppetry and the artistry of deaf theatre to create a special night that is not only enchanting, but inspiring.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Following the original book, the story is something most of us have heard our whole lives, but mostly due to the Disney film. The tale is simple: a man creates a wooden boy puppet out of magic wood. He names him Pinocchio and the puppet immediately takes off getting into mischief, mostly out of a crippling naivety. Gepetto sets out looking for him as he has grown to love the puppet like a son. Along the way, Pinnochio becomes part of an acting troupe, meets a fairy, dies at the hands of a mean ole’ fox and gets kidnapped by a Ringmaster who turns him into a donkey. We all know that he eventually becomes a real boy, but the fun is in the adventures he has along the way, and the life lessons he learns while having them.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Having never seen a Deaf West production before, I was curious as to how the deaf members of the cast would work into the production. While most of the hearing actors know sign language and perform and say their lines at the same time, Matthew Henerson who played both Geppetto and the Puppetmaster with gruff charm was generally followed by an interpreter (Colin O’Brien-Lux) who played off the action cleverly. For example, if Gepetto was knocking on the door of a “house” and out of view of the audience, Colin would be visible above the doorway, signing what he was saying. The cute part is when Gepetto finally came into the scene with Colin actually on his shoulders. All of this is played with a wink-wink to the audience which was a lot of fun.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">As for the main performers, some were deaf and had someone else speak their lines while they acted and signed their roles. Amber Zion took on the title role of Pinocchio giving him a wobbly, earnest and naïve persona that was amusingly voiced by Darrin Revitz. Revitz was dressed in the same outfit as Zion, but sat on a stool at the edge of the stage. While this would seem to prove distracting, it was actually really interesting, unimposing and fun to watch and listen to. (Some of Revitz’ lines were clearly improvised which made the night unpredictable and hilarious.)</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Lexi Marman as Cat and Girl (the Blue Fairy) is a deaf actress who also speaks her lines. She was charming in her roles and brought a new element to the night. The enormously handsome James Royce Edwards played a variety of roles that included the Ringmaster, and the voices of Pantaloon and Fox. He is exceptional in his voices and accents, and he has incredibly stage presence. His one minute role as the Rabbit of Death is worth the admission alone.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But it’s not just the cast that is excellent; everything about the production is crafty and exuberant. Director Stephen Rothman keeps the action moving at a breezy pace, executing every imaginative scene change or character’s entrance with an inventiveness rarely seen. The scenic design is gorgeous and inspired using a variety of set pieces, props and actors to create a change of scene or alter the mood of the proceedings. Equally, the lighting by James L. Moody, the costume design by Ann Closs-Farley, and the Hair, Wig & Makeup by Carol F. Doran are flawless and wondrously creative.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">There really is no misstep here. <i>The Adventures of Pinocchio</i> is truly a delightful night out at the theatre for young and old alike. It’d definitely not a children’s show, but kids will like it. It’s the adults, however, that will be transported by the magic. Just like the shows we saw as kids when CGI didn’t exist and imagination was key. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Today, magic is so ordinary there isn’t anything kids don’t expect can be seen, at least at the movies. When <i>Star Wars</i> hit the screen there was a collective “wow” from the world with its advances in special effects and detail in the physical building of the ships and sets. Today, everything is created via computer so there is no end to what we can see on screen. While it’s still an inspired craft, there can be something a little cold about it.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">With theater, the rushing of getting anything onto stage sometimes does the experience a disservice. (With <i>Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark</i> being the exception as it will probably be 2012 before that thing “officially” opens.) Each new musical seems to have one big set piece. (The falling chandelier! The barricade! The helicopter!)  But what about being dazzled throughout an entire show? Sure, it happens. But it’s getting rarer. It’s harder to find the magic of theater which is why seeing <i>Pinnochio </i> truly infected me with the giddiness of its delights. There was magic there and it reminded me that there can be magic all around us. We just need to look beyond our computers to find it.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i>The Adventures of Pinocchio is playing at the Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood. For tickets contact </i></span><a href="http://www.deafwest.org/" target="_blank"><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; color: #0000ff; font-size: small;"><i><span style="text-decoration: underline;">deafwest.org</span></i></span></a><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i> or (818) 762-2773 (voice) or (866) 954-2986 (video phone). Performances run Feb. 25</i><i>-March 27</i><i>.</i></span></p> </div> </div>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/02/28/the-adventures-of-pinnochio--finding-the-magihttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/02/28/the-adventures-of-pinnochio--finding-the-magiMon, 28 Feb 2011 12:50:00 GMTKevin Taft'The Sonneteer' and the Secrets That Kill Us<p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The hate and ignorance of one person can have an amazingly long reach in the lives of those around them. One comment or one opinion—heard by random ears or directed at a loved one—can be so instrumental in the development of another that in one moment, a future tragedy can be born.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">This is one of the themes of the new Nick Salamone play, <i>The Sonneteer</i>, having its world premiere in the Davidson/Velentini Theatre at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. Revolving around two generations of an Italian-American family, <i>The Sonneteer</i> is about what happens when the disease of ignorance infects one family.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Opening at the hospital bed of Louie (Paul Haitkin), his fiancé Livvy (Sandra Purpuro) recites a sonnet she clearly has written about her life. These sonnets are sprinkled throughout the show revealing a woman with a talent for words, but without the talent to speak those feelings to the people around her.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">We cut to the past where Louie and Livvy are preparing for the birth of their child. Louie is getting out of a marriage that didn’t work and the two have to deal with his outspoken family and friends: quiet brother Michael (Ray Oriel), loud-mouthed sister Vita (Cynthia Gravinese) and mousey family friend Elle (Victoria Hoffman.) All have their own issues and feelings about the situation, but for Louie and Livvy, they are in love and to hell with everyone else.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">When Michael accidentally causes a life-threatening accident to Louie while also injuring himself, the family is faced with another crisis. To top it off, Michael’s “best-friend” Joey comes to visit him in the hospital causing more friction in the family. Why? Because Louie found Michael and Joey making out in their house and forbid it to ever happen again.  At this point, everyone knows Michael is gay, but everyone wants to shove it under the rug. Including Michael who decides, instead, to rekindle a romance with the clueless Elle in order to save face.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The friendship of this family is further explored after Louie’s passing. Livvy has the baby and stays close to the group. Michael and Joey’s relationship splinters with Michael becoming a closeted introvert, marrying Elle, denying his homosexuality and suffering in silence. Livvy however, goes through a post-partum depression and her life spirals down causing a radical decision at the end of Act One.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Act Two begins 20-plus years later where we check in with the same group. This is when the real theme of the show comes to light. Without giving away too many plot points, most of the issues in this family involve denial and ignorance. And those actions trickle down causing unhappiness, fear and regret. Only one (maybe two) people come out unscathed while the rest suffer at their own expense.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The writing in <i>The Sonneteer</i> is strong and the direction by Jon Lawrence Rivera is simple, yet elegant. But it’s the acting that makes this show soar, and everyone excels in their roles.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Haitken plays a dual role of father and son and the changes in the characters are clearly drawn. At first a tough-guy Italian, he softens as the son who has a life that he refuses to keep silent about. Effective in both performances, Haitkin truly shines, and if they hadn’t already cast the role of <i>Superman</i>, casting directors should have looked no further than Haitken. The resemblance is uncanny.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Purpuro as Livvy is a bundle of complications. At once a happily-in-love new mother-to-be, she soon devolves into a slightly bitter widow, and then a stalwart and close-minded single mom. The most developed of the characters, she delivers a knockout performance that is the connecting thread of the story.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The rest of the ensemble is terrific, each creating a distinct character that we care about, even when we’re angry at them.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">What starts out as a tale of one family becomes something more as the effects of what we believe trickle down to everyone around them. It’s a clever and relatable way to show how we can truly affect the people we love.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I remember as a kid I would hear certain comments about gay people. There were the usual gay slurs: fag, faggot, gay-boy, pansy, etc. Those were said almost on a daily basis in one way or another, whether to me or just in passing. But I remember my father saying to me when I brought up the fact that “two guys in my camp had fooled around,” he said that he hoped that none of his kids were that way. Unfortunately, I was actually talking about myself and indeed, I was that way.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">While my father eventually came around to understanding me and what I was, at the time, his ignorance scarred me and scared me. I didn’t want to disappoint my father any more than I thought I already had, so right then and there I put myself into the closet and firmly shut the door. I was about 10 at the time and it would take 12 more years for me to finally come out to my family. Two more years to tell my brother and sister, who, upon revealing my secret didn’t seem to care. My sister knew, actually, and had even suggested this to my parents at one point, to which I guess my father responded that he didn’t think so, “but I don’t know.”</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I also remember a male family member took me to New York City for my high school graduation. As we walked down 42<sup>nd</sup> street, a gay guy checked him out. “Faggot,” my companion muttered under his breath. And one step back into the closet I went. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I even remember my father explained what gay people did once. I’m not sure of the context of the conversation, but he gave me some very vile description of what occurred between them behind closed doors. Something that they clearly do not do and would never do, because it was, quite frankly, truly disgusting. But of course, I was impressionable and right then and there, I was like “Oh my God! I don’t want to be gay!!” Deeper I went into the cold, dark closet. I look back now and I laugh (as I’m sure my father would if he were alive.)  Based on ignorance he was taught, he stated ridiculous “facts” that I took as truths. He believed that gays were these disgusting things based on lies he heard from others.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">And that’s how it starts. Ignorance begets ignorance and that infects those around them.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">In <i>The Sonnneteer</i> this ignorance ruins quite a few lives, creating depressed and unhappy individuals, both gay and straight. This is a common occurrence and why we have so many teen suicides and marriages based on a lie. If only people would find out the facts before they blather on and on about something they don’t understand. It baffles me when lawmakers want to make decisions about my life as a gay person, yet they aren’t gay themselves and clearly haven’t taken the time to get to know anyone who is.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">If they had, maybe their opinions would change. I challenge those out there who don’t understand homosexuality to take two hours out of your life and sit down with someone who is gay. Ask whatever question you want to ask. We’ll tell you. We’ll give you the honest truth. I bet you’ll come out the other side with a new perspective.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">And that education might just save a few lives in the process.<i></i></span><span style="font-size: 10pt; color: #002060;"></span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><b><i>The Sonneteer</i></b><i> is playing at the Davidson/Valentini Theatre. Extended through April 17. Tickets can be purchased at </i></span><a href="http://www.lagaycenter.org/boxoffice+or+by+calling+323.860.7300" target="_blank"><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; color: #0000ff; font-size: small;"><i><span style="text-decoration: underline;">lagaycenter.org/boxoffice</span></i></span></a><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i> or by calling (323) 860-7300.</i></span><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i> Photo by Mikaela Pollock</i></span></p>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/02/23/the-sonneteer-and-the-secrets-that-kill-ushttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/02/23/the-sonneteer-and-the-secrets-that-kill-usWed, 23 Feb 2011 16:28:00 GMTKevin Taft'Rock of Ages' & Living in the '80s <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">In the now long tradition of Jukebox Musicals (read: pretty much the only thing Broadway churns out anymore) along comes <i>Rock of Ages</i>, a tongue-firmly-pressed-in-cheek parody of life in '80s Hollywood.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Basically spoofing every music video and rock band cliché from the Decade of Embarrassment, <i>Rock of Ages</i> is a musical that does nothing more than try to make you smile knowingly at their cleverness. Not that the show is all that clever, but it has it’s moments of “oh yeah! I remember that” and “oh my God, I did that!”</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i>Ages</i> has a familiar tale to tell: Boy works for famous Hollywood night club called Bourbon as a barback, but secretly yearns “to ROCK!” He meets the innocent Kansas farm-girl who has come to L.A. to be a star! Falls in love. She loses her way. He loses his way. They find each other. Things (kind of) work out.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Essentially, there is nothing in <i>Rock of Ages</i> we haven’t seen for years.  It’s an oft-told story, but here it is punctuated by a soundtrack of hair-band songs from the '80s, sung in a sort of rock/Broadway hybrid that is both interesting and silly. It’s as if the cast of <i>Glee</i> was doing a Rock Band episode.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Here, the show stars <i>American Idol </i>cast-off Constantine Maroulis who was Tony-nominated for his role, as well as MiG Ayesa who competed in CBS’s short-lived reality series: <i>Rockstar: INXS</i>. Maroulis plays Drew, a soft-spoken guy who has dreams of rocking the house. He falls for Sherrie (Rebecca Faulkenberry), the innocent actress-wannabe who gets a job working at the bar after accidentally showing off her “ass”etts. (And yes, her name was designed to lead up to a finale featuring the classic Steve Perry song.)</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Bourbon is owned by Dennis Dupree (Nick Cordero) a tall, gravelly voiced man who clearly hasn’t left the '70s.  His sidekick and the “narrator” of the show, Lonny (Patrick Lewallen), seems to always be hanging around but without any sort of real role at the bar. But when a German father/son developing team comes to the Sunset Strip and makes a deal with the mayor (Rashad Naylor in his best Urkel impression) to develop the infamous street into a sort of strip mall, Dupree has to find a way to stop them. He soon discovers that Stacee Jaxx (Ayesa), the lead singer of a popular band called Arsenal, is going solo and asks him if they want to play their farewell concert at his club. He figures this will bring in enough tax revenue to keep their business open.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But things don’t go exactly as planned. The developers are foiled by a whacky activist named Regina (pronounced like vagina) played by Casey Tuna (in her best Joan Cusack/Julie Brown impression). Stacee Jaxx proves to be a problem on his final show night, putting Drew front and center on stage where he blows away the audience.  But with the threat of the club closing, Drew’s chance at stardom looks slim. And Sherrie… well… when things don’t go right for her, how do you think she’ll earn enough money to survive? Three words.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Live. Nude. Girls. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Nothing in this show is surprising, but the sometimes clever/sometimes sophomoric spoofing of '80s rock videos is kind of fun. The musical numbers are mostly mash-ups of songs in the style of the “Elephant Love Medley” from <i>Moulin Rouge</i>. Unfortunately, that can be problematic when you start getting into a song and then it shifts to another in the middle of it.  Everything just seems like a big goof, without anything to really grab onto. The only time this works is when Drew takes Sherrie on a date up in the Hollywood Hills. Using a number of '80s ballads, the two sing their way around their feelings in a hilarious montage of cheesy '80s video stereotypes. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Stacee Jaxx’s songs tend to be the most successful because the creators allow him to sing the entire song rather than switching it to other songs three or four times during the middle of it. He also has a stronger voice and more charisma than Moroulis who seemed to be “pitchy” throughout a lot of the show. Faulkenberry has a strong voice, but she too struggled with a few patches of notes where her pitch seemed strained.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The rest of the show is a mess of clichés, over-wrought story ideas, an explosion of songs (“let’s see how many we can fit into one show!”) and a confused tone. Frequently, the narrator commented on the action, even having a discussion with Drew at one point about the fact that they were both, in fact, in a Broadway show. It’s just kind of weird and strange, but does have its pleasures.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">When the ballads begin and the audience lifts up the fake lighters they were given as they walked into the auditorium, it truly does bring you back to that time. For those who didn’t live through the '80s, it might be amusing in an “OMG” way, but for those of us who were there, it does get a bit nostalgic.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">It’s funny to think back and realize how oversexed and drug-induced that time was. But what’s even stranger is how tame it was compared to today. Back then, talk about oral sex and drinking Schnapps was about as risqué as you would get. In my high school, it was the big gossip if someone actually had sex and I remember the enormous scandal when a guy was caught getting a blow job from another student in the hallway after school. Those were big deals. Bigger still was going to a house or field party and drinking rum and coke or beer from a kegger. Discussions of what “base” someone got to were all the rage, but all in all, it was pretty tame. Sure, MTV had its debut in the '80s and as videos became more popular, so did sexual overtones in videos.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I remember as a gay man being turned on by the sight of hot rockers in leather and spandex. (Hello David Lee Roth and Joe Perry!) Half-naked pictures of guys, much less actual porn, were not as readily available as they are now what with the internet. So music videos were like my porn. The inside album sleeve of Prince’s <i>1999</i> with his butt half-exposed was like candy for me. There just was no other outlet for discovering your sexuality, straight or gay.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But now, you look at what is offered to teenagers and it’s almost shocking. Not that I’m a prude, but sex, drinking and all sorts of drug concoctions are everyday things for kids. Nothing shocks them and everything is available. It’s pretty sad, but I guess for our parents, they were shocked by all that we were exposed to.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I liked growing up in the '80s. It was a strangely innocent time of experimentation and change. Teen movies were about real issues (bless you John Hughes) and we, as teenagers, actually spent time together, not just texting or chatting online all day. We had house parties, we went to the mall, we went to concerts…. and despite all our music being borderline crap, we loved it. It spoke to us. Pat Benetar empowered women, Survivor and R.E.O. Speedwagon sang about what we had in our souls, and Whitesnake and Poison?  Well, they made us want to go out and get wild. Crazy, sexy, wild.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Not that I ever did, mind you. I was a total nerd and didn’t even have my first taste of beer until my high school graduation party.  Actually, I take that back. I had a <i>sip</i> of Rum and Coke at a very tame basement party at a friend’s house, where, the next day, they tried to convince me I had asked out this girl. When I insisted I didn’t, they said I must have been too drunk to remember. From that one sip of alcohol I apparently had gone straight, attempted to hit on a girl and then blacked out. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Oh, sweet innocence.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But as for the memory of it all? Rock on!</span></p> <p><br /><span style="font-family: arial; color: black; font-size: x-small;"><i><b>Rock of Ages</b> is playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through Feb. 27. For tickets, contact <a href="http://www.broadwayla.org">BroadwayLA,org</a> or <a href="http://www.RockofAgesMusical.com">RockofAges Musical.com</a>. Photo by Joan Marcus.<br /> </i></span></p>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/02/16/rock-of-ages--living-in-the-80shttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/02/16/rock-of-ages--living-in-the-80sWed, 16 Feb 2011 10:59:00 GMTKevin Taft'Spring Awakening' & the Curiousity of Gay/Straight Sexuality<div style="margin: 1ex;"> <div><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The Broadway smash <i>Spring Awakening</i> which launched the careers of <i>Glee</i>’s Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff arrives at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, angst intact.</span>  <p></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i>Awakening </i> is an odd little show: audience members get to sit onstage almost on top of the actors, the music is pop/rock a la <i>Rent</i>, but the action takes place a century ago. Part over-the-top mugginess/part earnest teenage pleading/part serious exploration of a sexual coming-of-age, the show is a strange hybrid that either appeals to you or it doesn’t.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Having seen it in its original Broadway form with its original cast, I enjoyed the show but wasn’t in awe as I was when I saw <i>Rent</i>, for example. The performers were amazing for sure, and I found the story interesting as it explored some dark sexual subject matter. And while it takes place in the distant past, what the show does well is illustrate how teenagers deal with the same confusion and yearning today as they did then.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The story takes place in a school where boys and girls are educated separately. Our focal points for the guys are Moritz (Coby Getzug), an underachiever with a loser complex, and Melchior (Christopher Wood), the sure-of-himself hero that will later start to fear the anger that lurks inside him. For the girls, we focus on Wendla (Elizabeth Judd), the innocent of the group who will eventually be deflowered even though she doesn’t even know that’s what has happened. </span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"> <br /> Between the group of boys and girls, the issues of abuse, masochism, masturbation, losing one’s virginity, abortion, homosexuality and “free love” all are explored in varying degrees. All set to a rocking soundtrack by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Based on the original play by Frank Wedekind, <i>Spring Awakening</i> is clearly a cleverly conceived piece of theater, but what a show like this comes down to are the songs. And while they are all performed with passion and gusto, by night’s end, they all start to sound the same. They seem (for someone not schooled in music) to be caged in a certain box of notes where I wanted the songs to leap out and fly free. Not necessarily to make it more Broadway, but to give the songs life. They seem to be suppressed in a way that made it all sound repetitive. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">A terrible (but totally gay) example is if you compare the score to Kelly Clarkson’s underperforming album, <i>December</i>. Critics and fans alike found it lacking something and if you listen to it, you want her choruses to explode out of the confines of the range she’s chosen. It’s like none of the songs were ever able to soar, which is the way I felt with most of the music in <i>Awakening</i>.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">To be fair, the Pantages tour stop is well-produced and the actors are pitch-perfect, especially Judd’s Wendla and Getzug’s Moritz.  Christopher Wood’s Melchior is terrific, but he had a few pitch problems at the beginning of the performance. He also doesn’t have the magnetism that Jonathan Groff did, but for those uninitiated, it won’t matter. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">When it’s all said and done, it’s the story that will appeal to people. And it’s a subject rarely explored intelligently. Most of what we get are dumb teen comedies about coming of age and a teenager’s “first time.” What’s interesting is that this rite of passage is different for gay people. When most of our friends were having crushes they spoke openly about and were dealing with having sexual thoughts and desires for the first time, the gays were still closeted and hiding in the shadows with shame for the natural stirrings they were having. Basically what heterosexuals go through as teenagers regarding sex and dating happen about 10 years later for gay people. Although with homosexuality being more openly embraced, this is (thankfully) changing.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">What’s interesting about the straight experience is that they are surrounded by straight “agenda” as it were: Books, movies, shows, commercials, school classrooms, church, etc. It’s all straight. I remember when I had just come out and was buying gay-themed books and magazines, my mom asked me, “Why do you feel the need to surround yourself with things that are gay?” And I responded by explaining that I had to make the effort to do that, when she didn’t have to even try.  Everything surrounding her was hetero-focused. And for most gay teens, learning about sexuality in all its forms, is something they do on their own.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Sure, there’s the basics: how do gay people (men or women) have sex? For the most part, we all just kind of figured it out by instinct. We knew what we found attractive and things we wanted to do and explore. It was natural. But there are other aspects of sexuality that we had to discover, just like the kids in <i>Spring Awakening</i>. When Melchior is asked to whip Wendl (at her request so she could “feel something”) he loses himself in the act and fears what this is about for him. He was already aware of sex, but this became an aspect of his personality and his sexuality that he was confused by.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">In that sense, both gays and straights are the same. There are many aspects to sexuality and the sex act itself that people want to explore. And for the most part, for gays and straights, they are the same. They learn what feels good for them specifically, and then onto other aspects like voyeurism, exhibitionism, fetishes, etc. And while many are ashamed to discuss them (like Melchior), I find in the gay community we just aren’t all that resistant to talking about it. For sure, in a small town with no gays, a gay person might be reluctant to talk about or explore these things, and for someone who is generally closed off, they might not be so willing to talk about it. But in my experience, for a gay person living in an accepting community, their view of sex is actually healthier than most.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I mean, talking about masturbation with a friend or even an acquaintance isn’t that unusual. How many times have I asked a friend what they are doing and they say something like “I gotta JO and go to bed.” It’s like saying “I need to take a Lunesta and hit the sack.” Which is pretty refreshing.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Because, with the shame and fear people have about something so normal and natural, disaster can ensue. And if/when you see <i>Spring Awakening</i>, you’ll see the tragic outcome of repressed sexuality. So why not take a little note from the gays? Stop freaking out. No one’s stabbing anyone! It’s just sex!</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><b><i>Spring Awakening</i> </b><i>continues at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through Feb. 13</i><i>. For tickets go to <a href="http://www.broadwayla.org">BroadwayLA.org</a>, <a href="http://www.ticketmaster.com">Ticketmaster.com</a> or call 800-982-ARTS. Photo by Phil Martin.</i><b><br /></b></span></p> </div> </div>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/02/09/spring-awakening--the-curiousity-of-gaystraighttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/02/09/spring-awakening--the-curiousity-of-gaystraigWed, 09 Feb 2011 15:53:00 GMTKevin Taft'The Break of Noon' & the Inability to Believe<p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Neil LaBute is not known for subtlety or for playing it safe. His screenplays and plays have always pushed a lot of buttons and have even been criticized for their perceived misogynist portrayal of women. But for what it’s worth, he is a writer that divides critics and audiences, but never bores.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">His latest, <i>The Break of Noon</i>, is a bit of a diversion from his previous work. Not as angry and “arrrggh” as he has been in the past, <i>Noon</i> is a fairly breezy 90 minutes that focuses on one man undergoing a spiritual awakening.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">John Smith (Kevin Anderson) is the lone survivor of an office shooting where a disgruntled employee killed all of his co-workers. Except one. Somehow, John survived and he attributes that to God speaking to him (literally) and telling him to stay in a certain place so he’d live. Because of this, he feels like he has been chosen to spread God’s message of “being good” to each other, even though previously he was something of a prick. In fact, in his final monologue of the show, we get to hear what a true asshole he really was.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">John first visits a Lawyer (John Earl Jelks) to see how he can do God’s work. He offers up a picture he took on a cell phone that shows the shooter in action, not to mention dead bodies littering the floor. By selling the photo he stands to make millions, most of which he says he’ll give to charity. But it is clear he is struggling with what is “right” as opposed to what would be more beneficial to him.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">He then goes to see his ex-wife to show her he is a changed man and try to win her back. Unfortunately, he is met with disbelief and hostility and his old actions begin to surface.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">When John goes on an <i>Oprah</i>-like talk show, he is once again confronted by a non-believer in the show’s host, Jenny (Tracy Chimo). Or at least, someone who doesn’t totally buy the “God spared me” story and uses this conflict to titillate her audience. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">By the play’s end, John has visited a woman he was having an affair with (also played by Dent), a Detective who isn’t buying John’s “sole survivor” story (also played by Jelks), and a hooker who he has a secret connection to (also played by Chimo).  In the end, John is indeed a changed man, but at what price?  And is this change for the better? Is he doing God’s work, or just making himself out to be more than he is?</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i>The Break of Noon</i> doesn’t break any new ground. In fact, every scene seems like something we’ve seen before whether on the big screen or on some procedural drama on television. The tone of the show is all over the place with Chimo and Jelks performances so affected they seem like they should be in a <i>Saturday Night Live</i> skit. The most effective is Catherine Dent when she plays a Brooklyn-esque white trash woman John had been seeing on the side. She seemed the most real, while the others seemed more one-note. Even John doesn’t seem to have that much depth. The whole play is on the surface and while its subject makes for a fairly interesting evening, it’s nothing you are going to hold onto once you leave. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">That said, what I found interesting about the piece was that after John comes out of the tragedy and tries to spread God’s word, he is met with a lot of resistance. He wasn’t pushing his new beliefs on anyone, he was just excitedly telling people what had happened and what message he thought he had to send. And it wasn’t anything dramatic like “everyone must get to church and worship like crazy,” it was simply, “we need to be good to each other.” But because his experience was so peculiar and out of the ordinary, no one can seem to buy it. In fact, the talk-show host says it best when she states, “we want to believe, we just don’t want to believe you.”  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Which is funny, isn’t it? Because people will put all of their faith in a book written thousands of years ago and buy it hook, line, and sinker, but someone tells you they’ve experienced a miracle and they’re all, “yeah, right.” Everyone wants proof, but I ask you, where is the proof that the Bible is valid? Where is the actual proof God exists and that Jesus came down to save us from our sin? Where is the proof that everything written in the Bible is ACTUALLY God’s word?   </span><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"></span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">We don’t have it. But billions and billions of people swear by it.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But if I tell you that I am an Empath and feel and sense things that most people don’t, I’ll get looked at like I’m a whackjob. It’s true. For years I’ve understood that there is something about me that is different from other people. (Sexual orientation aside.) I actually “feel” more than most people, much to my detriment. People’s emotional pain travels into me making me feel their pain. I can’t listen to someone talk about a difficult situation without suddenly and physically feeling the emotion they are feeling. I am immediately put into their situation and begin to experience their pain and/or joy. And it’s not something I can control. In fact, it’s kind of annoying.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">When I finally googled this trait of mine, I discovered that I am an Empath. Empaths can sense the truth behind the cover and will act compassionately to help that person express him/herself. We can have empathy toward people as well as animals, plants and nature in general. We are highly sensitive to another’s emotions and feelings and have a “deep sense of knowing.” Mostly on an emotional level. From what I’ve read, empathy in an Empath works as an energetic vibration or frequency and that the Empath is able to sense and recognize even the subtlest changes undetectable to the naked eye or the five senses.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">It’s weird, right? But it’s something I know and feel on a daily basis. And even by typing these words, I feel like I will be judged, much like John was judged. What happened to him was almost too much to handle. Everyone’s negativity toward his experience soured something he felt positive about and changed by. Which is actually the real tragedy here, and something our society can’t seem to stop doing. We love to knock people down; especially if it’s regarding something we don’t understand or relate to. (Hello, Prop. 8!)</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Yet even in that, a large percentage of the world believes in a being that they can’t see or touch.   In fact, I remember when the book <i>Conversations with God</i> came out, a woman I work with who was super-religious said that she wouldn’t read it because he was not a prophet. And I’m thinking, why not? Why can’t he be? Why God can’t be speaking through someone right here and right now? Why is that so hard for us to believe, but some book telling me that mold and mildew is a sin is the ultimate word of the Creator of the universe?</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I just find it all funny and interesting. Kind of like <i>Break of Noon</i>. It’s not a brilliant play by any stretch, but it did make me wonder what it will take for us to truly believe in miracles again. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Or maybe just believe in people, again.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i><b>The Break of Noon</b> is now playing at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood and runs through March 6, 2011.<br /></i></span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"><i>For tickets or more information, visit </i></span><a href="http://www.geffenplayhouse.com/" target="_blank"><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; color: #0000ff; font-size: small;"><i><span style="text-decoration: underline;">geffenplayhouse.com</span></i></span></a></p>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/02/04/the-break-of-noon--the-inability-to-believehttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/02/04/the-break-of-noon--the-inability-to-believeFri, 04 Feb 2011 09:23:00 GMTKevin TaftHAIR & The Freedom to be Me (and You)<div style="margin: 1ex;"> <div><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I didn’t grow up in the time of free love and draft cards, but I was BORN in the same year that the musical <i>HAIR</i> takes place.  So I guess there’s some sort of tenuous connection between me and the generation of pot-smoking hippies that just want peace… man.</span> <br /><br /> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Funnily enough, I relate a lot to what these crazy slackers wanted: To make love not war.  To have the freedom to be who you want to be.  To live life to the fullest outside of the sometimes restricted confines of what society thinks you should be.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The musical <i>Hair</i> was first produced in Los Angeles in 1967, just a few blocks from the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood where the touring company of the Broadway revival is now playing.  Based on a very specific time and place,<i> Hair</i> was the first rock musical that also had the cast interacting with the audience in an effort to make them all understand who these kids were, what they stood for, and how they lived their lives.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">In a lot of ways, <i>Hair</i> doesn’t have much of a plot (unless you’ve seen the film version which has a storyline not approved by the original creators of the show.)  It’s really just about getting to know these teenagers who suck us into their world of sex, drugs, rock and roll, all wrapped up in their quest for peace and truth.  Amen, brother.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The touring company of <i>Hair </i> consists of an energetic cast that opens the show with the now classic anthem, “Aquarius.”  They take us on a lively and sometimes trippy two and a half hours of unadulterated joy that they continuously throw out to the audience. Along with flowers and lots and lots of love.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">In a nutshell, the show focuses on Berger (Steel Burkhardt), a free-spirited long-haired kid just kicked out of high-school for drugs who is determined to get himself to Canada to avoid the draft.  This is the time when Vietnam loomed large and started to divide the country. Claude (Paris Remillard) is another free-spirit trying to escape the clutches of his controlling parents in Queens.  When he gets his draft notice, he starts to question how he will survive without his adopted “family” and what this means for his life.  And while he doesn’t believe in fighting the war, he also isn’t one to totally betray the rules.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">There are a number of other great characters in the “Tribe” of <i>Hair</i>, all played expertly by a cast that is so energetic and so talented, their performances electrify.  Burkhardt displays such an amazing charisma and sexuality he practically has half the audience aroused, and Remillard is so charming and unassumingly dreamy, he had the rest of the audience falling in love with him.  Add in their amazing vocal gifts and you have two actors that blew the roof off of the theatre, especially with songs like “Hair” and “I Got Life.”</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The entire play takes place in what appears to be one location, but the use of lighting and the constant re-positioning of the cast makes it seem like they are travelling the city, spreading their love throughout.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">By the end, when the cast sings the titular song “Let The Sun Shine In,” they’ve not only made us believers, but they’ve made us want to be a part of something real.  Whatever people might think of the politics of the show or the lifestyle these kids lived, they believed in something.  They stood for something.  And that brought an entire generation together.  That doesn’t happen anymore.  We had a taste of it when the war in Afghanistan began, but now more than ever, people are fighting for themselves rather than a cause and as a result, what they really believe in gets lost in translation.  With the Prop 8 debacle in California, there was more of a camaraderie amongst the supporters of gay marriage.  The protests and marches did create that feeling of being a part of something important and real..  It brought a community together and there definitely were points where you could feel the love and support around you.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But nothing like the hippie generation.  There’s a line in the play that a tourist says where she tells the audience that she wishes everyone would go home and tell their kids to have the freedom to be who they want to be and do whatever they want to do… as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">And you know what?  That’s exactly how the world should be.  You want to be a conservative Christian? Go ahead.  Just don’t hurt anyone else.  You want to run around sleeping with everyone you can?  Go ahead!  Just don’t hurt anyone else.  You want to move to New York City and pursue your dreams of stardom?  Do it!  As long as you aren’t hurting anyone else.  If you want to walk the streets of the world with just a backpack and a mangy dog next to you…. Well by all means… GO!  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">My point is:  we seem to be a country with such clear lines drawn that unless someone sees the world exactly like we do, they aren’t valid. Do I believe the same things my super conservative Christian family members and friends believe?  No.  Does it bug me?  Sometimes.  But <span style="text-decoration: underline;"> if</span> they aren’t actively trying to squelch my rights and livelihood (not all conservatives are) then I feel like… do it!  Be a crazy conservative.  If that’s what floats your boat!  Just don’t hurt anyone by being that way.  And if I want to be a crazy liberal and fight for animal rights or gay marriage or whatever it is I feel is right and true… I should do it!  If I’m not hurting anyone, who cares?</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">And that is the ultimate point:  Why are we so concerned about each other?  If we aren’t hurting people or causing damage, then why can’t we just live our lives the way we want to.  With the gays, I look at the homophobes or those against gay marriage or gay adoption and I’m like… “how is this affecting your life?  Maybe you believe marriage is between a man and a woman because of your Bible, but that isn’t necessarily my belief.  So go ahead, have your belief.  Just let me have mine and don’t try to force your ideas onto me.”</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">This morning I saw a girl walking on the sidewalk with bright red hair.  And I thought, on the East Coast where I was brought up, or even the mid-west, this girl would be snickered at.  “Nice hair,” they’d say, silently mocking her.  (Or maybe not so silently.)   But here in Los Angeles, she wouldn’t get a sideways glance.  I’m not saying people on the “Left Coast” are better than anyone, but I do think that in this city, people have learned to be open and accepting of people that aren’t like themselves.  Because really, who cares if that girl has red hair?  How is it affecting anyone’s life?  She might be the nicest, sweetest, most giving person on the planet who just happened to feel like changing things up one morning.  Who. Cares?  Live and let live, I say.  And that’s what the kids of <i>Hair </i>were saying.  Sure, they might have gone about things the wrong way, but their heart was in the right place. (I feel this way about the liberals and Democrats of which I am both.  We might not go about things in an effective way, but the instinct is right.  Our spirits are choosing to do the right thing.)</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Just like in <i>Hair</i>, all I want is peace, love, and understanding.  And when the cast invites dozens of audience members onstage to dance and sway along with them at the end of the show, you really do feel it. And it’s quite a high… man.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"> <br /> Peace!</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">HAIR continues at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through January 23, 2011.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">For tickets: </span><a href="http://www.broadwayla.org/" target="_blank"><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; color: #0000ff; font-size: small;"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">www.broadwayla.org</span></span></a></p> </div> </div>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/01/07/hair--the-freedom-to-be-me-and-youhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2011/01/07/hair--the-freedom-to-be-me-and-youFri, 07 Jan 2011 11:18:00 GMTKevin TaftCAUGHT & Looking for Answers from the Religious Conservatives<div style="margin: 1ex;"> <div><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Gay theatre can sometimes be about as good as gay feature films, and that is to say, not so good.  Frequently there’s a lot of overacting and cloying earnestness that is not only embarrassing, but exhibits a lack a complexity much needed in the genre.</span> <br /> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I’m happy to say the new play CAUGHT by David L. Ray overcomes these pitfalls and presents a gay-themed play that raises questions that aren’t always easy to answer.  While it sometimes veers toward earnestness, the cast expertly sidesteps these moments bringing the characters to life without making us want to roll our eyes at them.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Set in Los Angeles, CAUGHT opens with two men preparing for their impending nuptials. (The play takes place in 2008 when this sort of thing was legal.) Troy (Will Beinbrink) is a confident professional who exerts a little too much control over his partner Kenneth (Corey Brill) who is more relaxed about things, including his relationship.  That is until his Christian conservative sister calls and says she’s coming (that same day) to LA with her teenage daughter.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Not having ever really accepted her brother’s lifestyle “choice,” her visit couldn’t happen at a worse time and this throws the couple into a spiral of issues they haven’t totally worked out.  Kenneth wants to hide their relationship, making Troy put away gay-themed objects (including his artwork) and make sure that they don’t get affectionate in front of his sister.  Troy just wants Kenneth to come clean about everything and not hide him or their commitment to each other.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">When his sister Darlene (Deborah Puette) arrives, she is the quintessential Bible-thumper, Bible actually clutched in her hand wearing a long, conservative dress and with an expression of fear and worry plastered on her face.  She is a southern woman through and through, and it’s clear that this life is all she’s ever known.  She is not privy to other lifestyles and experiences so in a way, she can’t be blamed for who she is.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">That said, her eighteen-year old daughter Krystal (Amanda Kaschak) immediately knows the deal and is super-excited to not only have a gay uncle, but to be able to experience all LA has to offer, including the more elusive things she is so curious about. Within hours she is ready to move to the city of angels and start a life there, much to the chagrin of her controlling mother.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Things go bad quickly as the two men continue to keep their wedding a secret from Darlene and their opinions about homosexuality with Darlene clash.  But Darlene isn’t there just for a vacation, and soon enough we realize just what is up with her.  And it puts everyone’s idea of what is right and wrong (Biblically speaking) into greater perspective.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">While this is a play that touches on distinctly gay issues, it tells a more personal story that is relatable to a wide group of people.  While Darlene might be laughable to some, she quickly becomes a well-rounded character who is a victim of what she’s been taught.  And when some truths about her own family are brought to the surface, she has to rethink everything she thought she knew.  Hers is the most compelling character in CAUGHT and actress Puette brings her to vivid and heartbreaking life.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The whole cast of the play (expertly directed by Nick DeGruccio) is excellent.  Aside from Puette, another stand-out is Kaschak as her daughter.  What could have been just a silly character, Kaschak makes Krystal wholly likable and quite fun to watch. Brill as the confused Kenneth is also quite good, bringing a depth to the conflict he faces between his sister and his partner.  Micha McCain as the men’s sassy best friend Splenda is always a hoot (he was in the equally great play “Title of Show”) and Richard Jenik as Darlene’s preacher husband is appropriately infuriating as a man who doesn’t exactly live by the word he preaches. (Shocking, I know.) Beinbrick is alternately likable and not-so-likeable as partner Troy, but this doesn’t come from his performance, it’s more how he was written.  He was a little nit-picky and controlling and I kinda’ didn’t think the two were a match, but that’s just me.  I also had a bit of a crush on Kenneth so in my mind, I was competing. (*wink wink)</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Adding to the performances is a lovely set by Adam Flemming and expert lighting by Lisa D. Katz.  All in all, this is a show to seek out for the issues it raises and for the actors that make it brilliantly come alive.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">It’s interesting that this play is called CAUGHT.  Part of the reason for that title can’t be revealed as it would be a spoiler, but it’s apropos for the subject.  Many times I’ve questioned the church’s stance on homosexuality and gay marriage only to have the Jesus Wall come up and the conversation ends.  Why I can never get a real answer to my concerns and questions is beyond me.  Every answer I do get is vague and conflicting and when I logically point these things out, the conversation gets more muddled and is finally ended by the person who sides with the conservative religious viewpoint.  It’s like they are “caught” in their ignorance (or sudden realization of the truth) and the discussion is over.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The truth is, my questions are simple:</span> </p> <ol type="1"> <li><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Why is homosexuality apparently the worst sin in the Bible when it’s mentioned only a few times, yet the abominations of divorce and infidelity get more airtime.  When are we stoning the divorced?</span></li> </ol>  <br /> <ol start="2" type="1"> <li><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Why are shellfish, mold, and a cotton/wool blend hunky-dory when, per the Bible, they are just as much a sin as “laying with another man?”</span></li> </ol>  <br /> <ol start="3" type="1"> <li><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">What about lesbians?  It seems they are a-okay because they don’t get a shout-out in the Good Book.</span></li> </ol>  <br /> <ol start="4" type="1"> <li><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Why do some religious people believe that marriage was created by God for procreation when in fact it is a documented fact that it was created as a contract to bind two families?</span></li> </ol>  <br /> <ol start="5" type="1"> <li><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">If homosexuality and its inherent evil are so bad, why does Jesus not mention it at all?</span></li> </ol>  <br /> <ol start="6" type="1"> <li><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Did you know that the word “homosexual” did not appear in any version of the Bible until the 1950’s when it was used in place of a Greek word that no-one knew the translation of?  Not to mention, in the Greek language there was no word for homosexual, so how some translator got the go-ahead to use the word and make it stick is beyond me.  </span></li> </ol>  <br /> <ol start="7" type="1"> <li><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Just how do conservatives think gay marriage will bring about the fall of the institution?  Hasn’t divorce already ruined it? Again, why are we not picketing divorce courts and throwing rocks at anyone who has ended their marriage?</span></li> </ol>  <br /> <ol start="8" type="1"> <li><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Of course, most of those against homosexuality only see the word “sex” here, so that is what they consider to be the biggest sin of it all.  But my word, the acts performed by gay people are also performed by straight people so stop looking down your noses at something ya’ll do!</span></li> </ol>  <br /> <ol start="9" type="1"> <li><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">As for children being “taught” homosexuality in schools. I’m not sure what the agenda would be as I never had a class in heterosexuality, but if what is taught is the fact that two people of the same sex can fall in love and get married, well, that’s a pretty short lesson.  If gay marriage is legal then the teacher would simply be stating a fact.  I can’t imagine there would be a class on it.  Like I said, I never had a class in straight marriage. Not to mention, most kids today could care less if someone is gay. It’s their ignorant parents that teach them to hate based on a book they don’t understand.  </span></li> </ol>  <br /> <ol start="10" type="1"> <li><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Which brings me to my next question.  How can you talk about the Bible when you really don’t understand it? The Bible is a historical document that reflects the times it was written in.  For example, the Bible seems to say masturbation is wrong, yet at the time the Bible was written people thought the “egg” of a potential child was in the sperm. A women’s uterus was just the receptacle for that egg which is what sex was for.  So if you masturbated, you didn’t allow that egg to become a baby.  Hence… it was wrong to please yourself.  The same goes for homosexuality.  There was a population issue and the law was that you should be helping populate the world, so if you a man slept with a man rather than a woman, he wasn’t helping the situation.  (Again, where are the lesbians in this discussion?)  </span></li> </ol>  <br /> <ol start="11" type="1"> <li><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Most importantly… why do you care?  My relationship with a man and/or my marriage to a man will not affect your life at all.  At all.  Yes, you might see two men in the mall holding hands, but I assure you, you will not spontaneously explode or suffer some sort of preternatural convulsion. </span></li> </ol>  <br /> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">So while I’m certainly preaching to the choir by writing this, I wonder if someone can intelligently answer these questions.  The sad fact is, I don’t think it will happen, mostly because by having to really look at the facts presented, it will cause a shake-up of a religious person’s faith which is something they won’t want to do.  Which is sad, because I think it’s high-time we as a human race started thinking for ourselves.  It’s time to question what is right and what is important in this world.  All this back and forth bickering and constant stroking of our egos is setting the human race back thousands of years.  We aren’t evolving anymore, we are regressing into idiocy. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Hopefully this awakening that is supposed to happen in 2012 will actually happen, because we need it.  The gay issue is just a small part of how messed up our world has become.  We’ve forgotten how to respect and love each other.  We’ve forgotten that we shouldn’t judge others because nothing is black and white or has an easy answer.  We all have a depth to us that makes us act the way we act, which is why I have compassion for conservative people that I don’t agree with.  Their opinion is all they know.  It’s what they were taught.  Yes, we can say that they now have the choice to change their opinion, but when they really don’t think there are any other options, how can we damn them?  We can hope they educate themselves and try to understand, but shouldn’t we have compassion, even when we are angry or hurt?</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I personally have a few relatives and friends who are very conservative and very Christian.  While I have distanced myself from Christianity and organized religion as a whole, I respect their beliefs even when they are wholly against mine and cause damage to my life.  Why?  Because I agree with the teachings of “God,” whoever or whatever he might be.  (I prefer to think of it as just energy – like “The Force.”)  We are here to love and respect.  And while I get really angry at the ignorance and stupidity of those that want to limit my rights and show me a lack of respect, I also try to see where they are coming from.  In their eyes, they are trying to save us out of love.  They believe we are going to hell and they desperately don’t want that to happen.  So in that ignorance, there is a weird, distorted compassion.  As misdirected as it may be… as horribly as it might be expressed…. it’s funny to see that there might actually be a loving reason for their madness.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">In CAUGHT, Kenneth’s sister is so fearful for her brother’s lifestyle, she constantly prays for him to overcome it.  She clearly doesn’t understand there is no choice involved and hasn’t taken the time to understand him and homosexuality as a whole.  But in that she is still loving her brother.  In a strange way, her heart is in the right place.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">And like those I know that are the same, maybe one day they will be “caught,” too.  Caught in the realization that it might be time to reassess their beliefs. That way they can start living the way God has asked them to live.  Without judgment.  And with only love for all living things.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"> <br /> CAUGHT is playing at the Zephyr Theatre, Los Angeles through January 23<sup>rd</sup>.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">For more information, go to <a href="http://www.caughttheplay.com/" target="_blank">www.Caughttheplay.com</a></span></p> </div> </div>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/12/16/caught--looking-for-answers-from-the-religiouhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/12/16/caught--looking-for-answers-from-the-religiouThu, 16 Dec 2010 10:38:00 GMTKevin TaftThe Santaland Diaries & Co-Workers I've Wanted to Slap<p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Shitty jobs have always been good fodder for the entertainment business.  What with half the sit-coms on television revolving around the workplace and a wide number of indi films being ensemble comedies centering around a bar, restaurant, chain store, or convenience store, having a crappy work environment is something audiences can relate to.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">With THE SANTALAND DIARIES, humorist David Sedaris’ dry wit is brought to the theatrical stage in the Joe Mantello adaption of the holiday hit.  Directed by local theatre wunderkind Michael Matthews, the one-man show is a mini-tour de force for the play’s star Nicholas Brendon, best known as Xander from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show. He stars as David himself, a nebbish, out-of-work soap opera actor hopeful who, on a dare, applies to be a Macy’s Department Store Christmas Elf.  Much to his chagrin he lands the job and spends his holidays with nauseated children, creepy Santa Clauses, racist parents, and enough distaste for the human race to fill a hundred sleighs.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Tackling the role with awkward flair is Brendon, who played awkward for seven years on Buffy.  Here, he puts on a squeaky, almost child-like voice to represent the unusually-voiced Sedaris.   (This was the only part of the performance I wasn’t fond of.)  Playing to the audience, and many times, WITH the audience, Brendon dashes around the stage telling tales of work auditions, haughty co-workers, and the various elves he took a fancy to. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Opening on a minimal stage with a red and green backdrop, Brendon utilizes the space wisely and director Matthews doesn’t make anything too frenetic in order to keep us interested.  The focus is Brendon and he charmingly delivers the goods.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Once “David” begins his job, the stage opens up to the set of a fake Christmas village which Brendon also makes good use of, keeping the stories and the action flowing.  The only misstep in the production is really the script itself.  Essentially a radio-friendly monologue, the anecdotes that are relayed don’t always flow from one to the next.  Stories sometimes end without a punchline making for clumsy transitions.  The end, especially, doesn’t really tie the show together and just sort of stops abruptly.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Never a guffaw-inducing show, The Santaland Diaries is certainly an amusing confection for the holidays.  It will make you smile and goes down as easily as a Christmas cookie.  And the stories about the workplace, well, they will certainly have you thinking about past jobs you’ve had and the idiots you had to work with.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I can relate because I worked at the East Coast K-Mart rip-off Caldor, which was my first job ever.  When I applied I asked to work in the record department, but was immediately assigned to the Hardware Department, probably the department I was least qualified to be in.  When asked if we had a certain tool the best I could do was blindly point toward an aisle and then dash away before they could come back to tell me the item the wanted wasn’t there.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">During my sentence, I had two alcoholic bosses, a philandering boss, and crushes on about five different employees.  I was the master of the quick checkout as I had fast fingers and was also armed with the ability to perform a job that a ferret could do.  Seriously, how hard is it to type in a bar code and throw a dishtowel set into a bag?</span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"> <br /> When I got over this work environment, I moved on to McDonalds for the summer.  It’s hard to dismiss this place of employment because quite frankly, it was pretty awesome.  I worked with a number of good friends, I got free food, and my bosses were terrific.  Especially the one I had a crush on.  And although I was too shy to say or do anything about it, I think he had a thing for me, too.  I mean, when I needed the key to the backroom and he was busy fixing a machine, he just told me to fish it out of his back pocket.  As a closeted nerd from the East Coast, this was quite a thrill as I got to run my hand over this guy’s backside.  How on earth I didn’t see how obvious a tactic this was, I’ll never know, but I damn myself for not making more out of the situation.  (Hey, I was only human.)</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But if we really want to talk about bad jobs, I will say that there was a position I held at some point in the last twenty years (see how vague) where I was forced to work with a woman that I will call The Sigher.  This girl, who was in her mid-forties, couldn’t start the day without a full-on depressed sigh.  Actually, she couldn’t start MY day without it.  Every morning I’d come in and head to my cubicle.  She sat on the other side of me so each day I had to stare at that sad-sack face for eight hours.  And like clockwork, I would be just about to sit down when The Sigher would do it.  The deep breath in… and the looooooong drawn-out breath out.  As if God himself just told her she had to pull a Sissyphus and roll a rock up and down a hill for the whole day.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Worse still, the girl had some sort of Munchausen Syndrome.  You know that disease where you purposely make bad things happen so you get attention?  Like that mother in The Sixth Sense who made her little girl sick so she’d get sympathy from her friends.  Well, The Sigher thrived on the same sort of attention.  Now, to be fair, some of it was unavoidable.  She had a few tragedies in her life within a small period so that was not her fault, but damn did those same events come up when someone else was getting too much attention.  Or when she needed some drama. But it wasn’t even just that.  This is a woman that would actually copy the events of other people.  And she was so obvious about it that it was almost embarrassing.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">For example, one day a co-worker had a panic attack and needed some anti-anxiety meds.  Not a big deal.  The situation was handled and we all moved on.  But a mere hour later, when another co-worker was blathering on about a personal matter, The Sigher decided this was the perfect time to state that the co-worker’s stories were “triggering” some bad memories and suddenly… you guessed it… she needed to take some anti-anxiety meds, too.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">One day we had a meeting in our manager’s office.  I sauntered in to find The Sigher, always the kiss-ass, already seated with her notebook in hand.  To take what sort of notes, I was never clear. Anyway, I sat down and bemoaned the fact that I had a pop song stuck in my head.  The Sigher chuckled, clearly starting to get restless with the fact that attention was on me for ten seconds.  An hour later, whaddya know?  The Sigher had a song stuck in HER head.  Not that we have music playing in the office.  Not that it was the same song I had stuck.  She just randomly had to turn the day around so that it focused on her again.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">If all of that wasn’t enough, everything about the work day was drama.  She thrived on it. She lived for it.  The more out-of-control the better.  Every little minute problem became a potential holocaust and she’d run her fat ass into the manager’s office to not only prove she knew the issue occurred first, but also because it created a crisis that she could bemoan all day long.  This would lead to more sighing and outbursts of (her own) exasperation.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Thankfully, I escaped the tractor beam of her negativity and am in a much better environment.  But I still see The Sigher from time to time and wouldn’t you know it? When I pass by her, I still hear The Sigh. Every. Single. Time. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Lucky for me, instead of feeling a wrench in my chest at the sound of it, I simply roll my eyes and keep moving.  And sometimes - when I’m feeling as mischievous as a disgruntled Chrismas Elf - I imagine that as I pass by her and she starts to take in that breath that will eventually be her annoying declaration of woe, I will grab the side of her head and swiftly knock it into the nearest wall. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">And as she stares at me slack-jawed and wide-eyed, I’ll get real close to her dumb little face, take a looooong deep breath in, and let it out. </span> </p> <div><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Really… really… slowly.</span> </div>  http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/12/07/the-santaland-diaries--co-workers-ive-wanted-http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/12/07/the-santaland-diaries--co-workers-ive-wanted-Tue, 07 Dec 2010 10:38:00 GMTKevin TaftCRIMES OF THE HEART & Having A Real Bad Day<div style="margin: 1ex;"> <div><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The East West Players is quickly becoming one of my favorite theatre groups (and venues) in Los Angeles.  After seeing the well-crafted adaptation of the Scott Heim novel <i> Mysterious Skin</i> and now with their current production of Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play <i>Crimes of the Heart</i>, they are a theatre to be reckoned with.  Starring a talented collection of actors, <i> Crimes of the Heart</i> is the story of the Magrath sisters who all come together in Mississippi to tend to their youngest, Babe (Maya Erskine.)  Babe has been accused of trying to murder her husband for the simple reason that she “just didn’t like his stinkin’ looks.”</span>  <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The three gather at the home of Lenny (Elizabeth Liang) the shy, awkward middle sister who has just turned thirty and is swiftly becoming an old maid.  Arriving from Hollywood, older sister Meg (Kimiko Gelman) saunters in smoking her way through conversations about her life in the City of Angels where she was intent on becoming a singer.  While the three sisters report on where their lives are at and deal with their own interpersonal issues, cousin Chick (Hiwa Bourne) keeps interrupting the proceedings with her endless town gossip and thoughts about Babe’s predicament.  On the sidelines are Doc Porter (Tim Chiou) an old paramour of Meg’s, and Barnette Lloyd, the young lawyer entrusted to Babe’s case. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The actual murder case isn’t the focus of the play, however.  While we do find out motivation and it is implied where it will all end up, this is a play about three sisters finding their way through disappointments and faded hopes.  The three main actresses are excellent in their roles.  Elizabeth Liang, last seen in <i>Mysterious Skin</i>, is the show’s soul and she plays it beautifully, inelegant as the character can be.  Kimiko Gelman slathers on that southern drawl to great effect as Meg, whose disillusionment with her absent career has caused her to find other ways to fill the void in her life.  Lastly, Maya Erskine as Babe shows the plucky innocence of someone who didn’t want to put up with her husband’s crap anymore, but who doesn’t totally get why her extreme actions aren’t justifiable.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">With a mother that killed herself for “having a bad day,” these three siblings come to realize that the bad days happen.  It’s how you deal with them that makes all the difference.  And how you cling to those that you are closest to is how you make it through them.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">We’ve all had bad days.  Whether it is a break-up, the realization that your career isn’t where you want it to be, or outside influences as intense as the death of a loved one or as infuriating as a busted car.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">For me, this year was full of very bad days, but the funny thing of it all is that I feel I’m in a better place emotionally than I have been in years.  2010 began with my best friend moving away to Boston.  Fifteen years this man was by my side as my constant companion. For five of those years he was my partner and for ten years after that he was like my platonic husband.  Never have I met someone I connected so well with and could go to for anything.  So when he decided to take some time away from Los Angeles, I was devastated.  After driving across country with him, we arrived at my mom’s house in Connecticut.  And two days later I was hugging him and saying goodbye.  It was incredibly hard and I can easily say it was a “really bad day.”</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Over the next few months I was kinda/sorta dating someone yet the relationship was going nowhere and I quickly found out that this person had a lot more baggage than I first thought.  When I started being talked down to and yelled at for (wait for it) “wanting to spend time with him” I finally had enough and ended the friendship/relationship… whatever bullshit it actually was.  But you have to remember, my best friend was gone so I had been spending a lot of time with this new guy and his friend.  And suddenly, it was gone.  I mean, “good riddance” is certainly apropos here, but it was a loss and yet another “really bad day.”  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But it was the death of my sister – an event that surprised us all – that truly gave me the worst day of the year and probably the worst day since my father passed away eight years ago.  Losing a sibling is a devastating experience and something that is hard to deal with even now.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">When my sister was put into hospice care, my days were filled with a number of very bad days.  And when she finally passed, I was relieved she was out of pain, but overcome by the loss of one of my best friends.  Siblings are a strange thing.  You can go from hating them as kids, to loving and needing them as adults.  My sister got me through some very rough patches throughout my life and was a staunch supporter of my being an openly gay man.  I could talk easily about things with her and as we got older we got closer.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But illness and a rough home life caused a fissure that made that closeness go away.  As her illness increased and her mental faculties faded, I realized early on I was losing the sister I had known my whole life.  She was still there, for sure, but not the same person. And that loss was hard.  But within the changes there were glimpses into the woman she used to be.  The person I laughed with and shared secrets with.  Who I cried to when I was upset, and who became my buddy after all that teenage angst had passed.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">So like the Magraths, I understand the connection siblings have.  I’ve started to develop that bond with my brother, someone who has the strong character and a good sense of family and responsibility.  While my sister and I related on more of an emotional level, my brother and I relate in a different way.  Something that is a bit more restrained but I think there is a quiet understanding there as well.  We get each other without having to talk endlessly about it.  And I think with the passing of our sister, that will only grow stronger and morph into something more overt.   And I appreciate that.  I liked having different relationships with each of my siblings.  They each brought something different to my life.  And even though sometimes we might drive each other crazy… we might dislike each other at times… they are our blood… and they will be the ones who will get us through.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">As a result of this year’s bad days, I became more independent when my best friend moved away. (He’s back, btw.) I understood what I would, and would not, put up with regarding the people I date.  And although the loss of my sister still affects me every day, I use the strength she had in fighting her diseases to forge through the absolutely surmountable problems I face.  I know that in the loss of her life, I intend on living mine to the fullest.  And even though she’s not on this physical Earth anymore, she’s with me in a different way… watching over me and making sure my “really bad days” are not so bad anymore.</span></p> </div> </div>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/11/12/crimes-of-the-heart--having-a-real-bad-dayhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/11/12/crimes-of-the-heart--having-a-real-bad-dayFri, 12 Nov 2010 13:36:00 GMTKevin TaftTHE TRAIN DRIVER & the Phantom of Guilt<div style="margin: 1ex;"> <div> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Critically acclaimed playwright, actor, and director Athol Fugard brings what he calls his most personal play to The Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles.  Best known for plays such as “Master Harold… and the Boys” and “The Road to Mecca,” his book “Tsotsi” was adapted for the screen winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Continuing his journey into the emotional depths of South Africa, Fugard now brings us a two person play that throws together a grave digger and a white South African train driver in a story about guilt and redemption.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Simon Hanabe (Adoplphus Ward) is a grave digger who buries the nameless dead in a squatter camp on the outskirts of Motherwell, South Africa.  His is a solitary life, spending his days in the scorching heat, digging holes in the ground and burying men, women, and children he never sees and doesn’t know.  Having no names, he buries them in graves marked only by the rusty car parts he places on their sites so he knows not to bury anyone else in their spot.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">One hot day Roelf Visagie (Morlan Higgins) arrives asking Simon if he recently buried a woman and her baby.  Simon is unsure as he doesn’t “look in the bags” of the bodies he buries.  But Roelf is obsessed with finding out.  At first he says he wants to spit on her grave and yell at the dead woman, but as we learn the truth, we discover he needs her forgiveness… and to understand.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">You see, the woman had stepped onto train tracks, holding her baby in a sack behind her back, and was pulverized when the train Roelf was driving struck them.  While it is clear he had no time to stop the train, the fact that it occurred, and the fact that the woman looked into his eyes right before she was killed, haunts him.  As a result he wants answers… forgiveness… and a way to comprehend what occurred.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">It is his meeting Simon where those needs will be met, but in ways he didn’t expect.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Perfectly acted by Higgins and Ward, The Train Driver is an intense, and at times, difficult play.  The South African accents are sometimes a struggle to understand and the subject matter is eternally heavy, even when the dialogue attempts to lighten the mood – however briefly.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"> <br /> That said, it’s an interesting character study and the end… while seemingly cut and dry, really leaves the audience to decide what happened in a more ethereal sense.  The affect the men had on each other results in an interesting dynamic that changes both of them.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The Fountain Theatre is a very small space that can seem a bit claustrophobic but also gives the play an immediacy it might not have in a bigger venue.  The set itself is covered in sand and rusty auto parts with a portion of a squatters hut used beautifully on one side of the stage. Sound is brought in effectively as is the subtle changes in lighting that not only evoke time of day, but mood.  Overall, it’s a beautifully realized play, but might be too challenging for some.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">What’s fascinating about the play is the topic of guilt.  Guilt can be an overriding emotion in many people causing us to make decisions and choices that might not be in our best interests, simply because we can’t get over our own actions.  But sometimes, like Roelfe, those actions aren’t even something we had a choice in.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Another aspect of the play that hits close to home is the pattern we have of turning a blind eye to the realities of the world around us.  (Which can also cause guilt.)  For me, there are so many injustices and travesties in the world that it’s hard to decide what to focus on.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Doesn’t it seem like every month, some person, either at work or in your family, is asking for money for some charity they feel is worthwhile?  Breast cancer, AIDS, Autism, and the fight to save some poor school’s theatre program are all valid and worthy causes, but it’s not always possible to give to each one.  Then we decide to choose just one so that we can really make a good contribution, yet the guilt we have when we say “no” to the other charities just makes the whole thing go down hard.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I know that since my nephew has Cystic Fibrosis, I choose to focus my attention on that charity, yet my sister had cancer and being in the gay community, I want to also focus some energy on AIDS education and research.  Then, of course, there’s the need to educate and support gay and lesbian youth so I feel like I should support The Trevor Project.  But then… there are only so many hours in the day.  There’s only so much money in the old bank account that I have to start to pick and choose what is more important to me.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">And then comes the guilt.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">And sadly, I have guilt about a hundred other things that this type of guilt is really just another straw on the camel’s back.  Or perhaps a monkey on mine.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I’m one of those people that feel guilty if he doesn’t spend enough time with friends or doesn’t help his friends and family out.  If I can, I will.  Case closed.  To me, that’s what you do.  You help those that you love.  But many times I forget that I need to love myself and my helping others can be detrimental to my own well-being.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Lately I’ve been overextending myself to the point of exhaustion.  Not only that but I pulled something in my back and have been in constant pain for the last week which not only makes me moody toward people (guilt), but also causes me to have to break plans (guilt guilt).  Then when my back is better I’ll have a list of people I have neglected and proceed to fill in every hour I have available seeing those people and doing things that I promised I would do.  And it’s not like I don’t want to see these people.  I do.  But when I run bleary-eyed from one person to the next, I wonder if the time spent is really quality when I’m running on fumes.  But if I don’t do it… you guessed it… guilt guilt guilt.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But this guilt, while very real (and very strange) is nothing compared to guilt I feel over personal things that have occurred with my family.  Living three-thousand miles away, I haven’t been there when my mother endlessly took care of my ill sister and her two children.  I’m not there to see my nieces and nephew grow up, nor was I there when decisions were made about my sister’s failing health.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Yes, I chose to move away years ago and the resulting tragedies that have occurred aren’t my fault.  I have to continue to live my life too, but somehow the guilt always creeps back in.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">So what do we do with the guilt?  Do we seek redemption like Roefle?  Do we try counseling to discover where the guilt comes from?  Or do we just deal with it as a fact of life?</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">While my guilt is something that I need to learn to control, I guess it’s the people that feel no guilt at all that we should worry about.  Those people that treat others poorly and feel no remorse about it.  The people that become so self-involved “guilt” isn’t a word in their vocabulary.  Those are the people to fear.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;"> <br /> For me, I’ll deal with the guilt… and little by little I will find ways to reduce it.  To figure out what guilt is acceptable, and what guilt should be pushed away.  Because I know that if I feel <span style="text-decoration: underline;"> some</span> guilt, at least I know I’m human.  At least I know that I have compassion and feel some sort of responsibility toward others.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">And in that, perhaps there is my redemption.</span></p> </div> </div>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/10/20/the-train-driver---the-phantom-of-guilthttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/10/20/the-train-driver---the-phantom-of-guiltWed, 20 Oct 2010 11:10:00 GMTKevin TaftGod's Favorite & The Question of Faith <div style="margin: 1ex;"> <div><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">This past weekend I visited a theatre space I had never been to before called <i>The Actors Co-op’s Crossley Theatre.</i>  Located in the heart of Hollywood, the charming space consists of two theatres that are located on the campus of the Hollywood Presbyterian Church. This is interesting in itself as church and theatre don’t always seem to co-exist so easily together.  One is a more restrictive institution, while the other questions many things that may or may not be offensive to a religious body.</span> <br /><br /> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">That said, the play I saw was (coincidentally) “God’s Favorite” by Neil Simon.  Originally produced in the 70’s, the play is a retelling of the biblical story of Job where cardboard box manufacturer Joe Benjamin (Steve Gustafson) is visited by a messenger of God.  This messenger is a man named Sidney Lipton (Greg Baldwin) who cracks jokes like a Jewish vaudeville comedian and tells Joe that God wants him to do him one favor: he wants Joe to “renounce” him.  This stuns Joe who is a devoutly religious man and he quickly wonders why God would want him to do such an offensive thing?  As a result, he flatly refuses which eventually causes God to inflict a number of tragic events on him aimed at making him carry out what He’s asked. But while he keeps refusing to renounce God, his family and his livelihood are constantly threatened.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">This is a play about faith and devotion.  It’s about a man who is so firm in his beliefs and knowing what is “right” for himself, that even amidst setback after setback, he doesn’t waver in his faith.  It’s also about a family who has different levels of faith.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">His wife Rose (Rebecca Hayes) is so content in her belief that she will be provided for and that she deserves what she has, that she doesn’t appreciate what Joe has given her.  His twins Ben and Sarah (Adam Dlugolecki and Rhonda Kohl) are so utterly devoted they are practically blind to anything going wrong, but also so dependent they literally act like toddlers even though they are young adults.  His oldest son David (Jeff Guilfoyle) is the one with no faith.  And that lack of faith has caused his life to be shattered and disillusioned to the point where he lives a life unhealthy and misdirected.  He doesn’t believe his father is worthy of his faith and that lack of belief has caused his life to crumble into ruins.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">While the message here is interesting, Simon’s play doesn’t really stand the test of time which is probably why it isn’t produced that often.  Incredibly dated, director Greg Zerkle has even chosen to “take the audience back in time” by making it seem as though the audience is a “studio audience” watching a live performance of a play being aired on television.  A number of old commercials are shown on TV’s on the sides of the stage which also “air” the play as it’s happening.  While a cute idea, it doesn’t really add much to the show and in fact, was confusing.  For a while I was thinking there was some concrete connection for this gimmick, but it seems as though it was simply supposed to help the audience get into an early 70’s mindset.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The pluses in this production are the lead performances.  Gustafson is solid as the devout Joe who is faced with a number of tests and challenges that wake him up to the reality of the life he has created for himself.  Baldwin’s crazy messenger Sidney Lipton boasts an energetic performance that slips into an old-school type of comedy, but still manages to make it seem fresh.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">As a whole, though, the play feels off in today’s climate. One reason is that the family seemed to be an atypical family that has their firm religious beliefs.  In today’s world, there has been a shift away from religion and more toward the spiritual.  While some may argue this is heartbreaking, for many, it just seems to be a natural progression.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">For me, my own move away from organized religion was a gradual wake-up call instigated by a number of things, not the least of which was common sense.  But one of the bigger was organized religion’s general attitude toward gay people.  (My side note here is that I’m aware that not all religons are against homosexuality, but the ones that are, are the most vocal.) </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I’m not sure how being gay became the Bible’s number one abomination and sin, but it has. The few mentions of homosexuality in the Bible (none by Christ himself) have caused the continuous restriction of rights toward gay people that has so negatively affected the community (see the number of suicides reported lately) it’s hard to be a part of an institution that is so comfortable with their ignorance that they treat human beings unfairly.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I could go through all the reasons why people’s belief in the “gay” parts of the Bible are wrong, but I’d be preaching to the choir so I won’t waste my breath.  As an author friend of mine once said, it’s not worth talking to overtly religious people about these issues because eventually you will hit the “Jesus wall” and the conversation will be over. Their reasoning begins and ends with The Good Book. Any sort of common sense or logic is overruled by a document written by human beings (not God) fifteen hundred years ago.  That’s five hundred years AFTER Christ died.  Clearly you can see how this book just might be a little off in the factual department, but for some reason, billions of people put their faith and livelihood in it just because generation after generation was told to believe it was absolute truth.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Yet, on the same hand, I can tell people that a certain famous actor is gay and these same people won’t believe it.  They will demand proof. “How do you know?  Have you SEEN him making out with a guy?  Did you go on a date with him?”  So even though it’s a known truth in the industry and many people have first-hand accounts about this actor’s gay dalliances, unless they see it for themselves or I tell them I have slept with him, it isn’t true.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">So how is a belief in God any different?  Why is my doubt not valid when the “facts” of God are only backed up by a book written two centuries ago?  And why should I believe in the story of Christ when the exact same story has been handed down by other cultures for thousands of years before Christ supposedly existed?  The exact same story!  Carpenter? Check.  Virgin birth? Check. December 25<sup>th</sup> birthdate? Check. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I can talk to the most logical and rational of people…. people who expect me to prove everything I say no matter what subject I’m discussing with them… yet these same people believe the Bible to be conclusive. We look back at the Greeks and we chuckle at their “Gods.”  But who’s to say in a thousand years that human beings won’t look back at us and chuckle at our beliefs?</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Which brings me back to faith.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I applaud people who have faith that God exists and they will go to some kingdom in the sky when they die.  That they will have some sort of eternal life after this life is over.  (It better be spectacular though if I have to spend eternity there, I’ll tell you that!)  I think faith is a good thing, even if it’s just glorified hope.  My problem, however, is when that faith causes the rights and livelihood of others to be denied. </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">My personal belief is that… if there is a God, he has no problem with my being gay.  He made me this way.  I’m not hurting anyone.  My relationships are consensual.  And quite frankly, it’s just about love.  Most of those against homosexuality only see “sex” in that word.  But being gay isn’t just about sex.  Granted, our culture is more open about sex, but that’s just because we’re more straightforward about our sexuality than a lot of our straight counterparts.  That doesn’t make us perverts, it makes us honest.  But when it comes down to it, being gay just means that we fall in love with members of our own sex.  We have loving feelings toward other men (or for lesbians, other women).  It’s really not brain surgery.  Love is love.  I can’t control who I fall in love with. It’s not a choice.  It’s a fact of nature.  It’s found in hundreds of other species of animals.  And to repeat… it’s about love.  And when is consensual and honest love ever wrong?</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">So whether or not I believe in God, or wonder if we’re all just fooling ourselves into believing a fantasy that was created to not make us feel hopeless, there is one thing I can assure everyone, religious or not:</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The earth will not implode if I am allowed to marry.  Those that are straight will still be straight, and those that are gay will always be gay.  And most importantly, the world will keep turning if gay people are treated as equals.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">That, I have utter faith in. </span></p> </div> </div>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/10/12/gods-favorite--the-question-of-faithhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/10/12/gods-favorite--the-question-of-faithTue, 12 Oct 2010 11:27:00 GMTKevin TaftRUINED & The Strength of the Women in my Life<p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I’ll admit, I knew nothing of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize winning play RUINED.  Directed by Kate Whoriskey, RUINED is a searing portrait of women who take refuge in a brothel in the Congo.  Having been abused, traded into slavery, raped, and/or damaged from all the sexual violence they’ve been subject to, these are women that need a place to feel safe and heal.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The drama, now playing at The Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, CA, is set in a small mining town in the Ituri Rainforest.  The story unfolds in Mama Nadi’s bar which caters to not only anyone who happens to be traveling in the war-torn area, but to a host of local soldiers and miners.  Playing surrogate mom to a handful of girls, Mama Nadi (Portia) is also a Madame of sorts, pimping out her borders to anyone who takes a fancy to them.  But when Christian (Russell G. Jones) one of Mama Nadi’s suppliers asks her to take in his niece and niece’s friend, Mama Nadi will find her life changing.  And not all for the good.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Sophie (Condolo Rashad) is a young woman so “ruined” by the repeated sexual abuse she’s suffered, she walks with a limp.  Her friend, Josephine (Cherise Boothe) is a girl with one eye permanently half-closed and nervous twitches that expose the suffering she’s endured.  The two join Mama Nadi with Josephine becoming one of her “girls,” while Sophie, having been too ruined to be of use as a prostitute, is designated to bartender and singer.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But as civil unrest grows, so does the danger for Mama Nadi and her clan.  And when Josephine’s husband comes looking for her, the lies and violence escalate until everyone’s lives are altered.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">What’s fascinating about this show is how accessible it is.  Not knowing much about the political goings-on in the Congo, nor the plight of the Congolese women, I was able to easily enter their world.  For me, even though the writing was a bit simplified in order to suck in a general audience, I became invested in the people, and at the same time, I was educated about a situation I didn’t know much about.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I had heard from many people how depressing RUINED was and how it wasn’t the most pleasant night out at the theatre.  This made me wonder if they had ever seen EQUUS. But I guess in that isn’t the point.  RUINED made me aware of a part of the world I have turned my eyes away from for so long, and now feel like I know a fraction of what’s occurring there and am curious as to how to change it.  And in that, the play is entirely effective.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">The performances in the Los Angeles cast are all first rate, with Portia being the stalwart root of the show and even with her hardened persona, is the most changed when all is said and done.   Rashad is heartbreakingly effective as Sophie, a woman that has been though years of hell, only to still have a light shining out of her that symbolizes the belief she has that things will get better. While she seems almost naïve at first (constantly reading her romance novels and thinking the best of people), we soon see that outlook is all she has.  It’s what keeps her alive and gives her the strength to get out of bed everyday.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">Similarly, Boothe’s Josephine might be a mess of nerves and zero self-esteem, but when she explains her past, we understand her personal damage and the resulting power she’s gained from it.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">And this all got me to thinking:  we can choose to look at a sad truth or a depressing story and simply brush it off as too gloomy to experience.  “I don’t want to see that. It’s too much of a downer.”  And sure, sometimes we just want something light.  We want exuberant entertainment to get us out of our own lives that may or may not be at their most fulfilling.  But that’s distressing.  Because within the ruin of these women’s lives, lies a hope for the future: a strength that has grown big and hard inside them that the fact they are still standing, is cause for celebration.  So in the misery of their stories, there still is a joy.  And that joy is what we should latch onto.  That potency is where our focus should be.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">I look at the women in my own family and I see a similar power and it humbles me.  My sister passed away this June after a ten year battle with cancer, kidney disease, and an un-diagnosable condition that caused a myriad of mental and physical problems.  Her quick decent was unexpected and one of the saddest times in my life.  But while I sat next to her bedside as she slipped away from us in hospice care, I thought back to the amazing vigor she had throughout her health battles and even for years before that.  For a long time after getting married, she was essentially a single mother.  She took care of her two children with the zeal of an Olympic athlete, all while working a full-time job.  Many nights I’d visit her and watch as she prepared the kids for school, did the housework, and still found time to take a moment to enjoy something for herself.  Unfortunately, she should have had more time to herself, but she continued on with a smile and a massive bubble of love that she surrounded her children with.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">When she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, she was also going through her own marital problems which just added to the stress and pressure the disease had already put on her.  But with the help of my parents and the love of her kids, not to mention the rest of the family, she beat it and forged ahead with life.  But it seemed that life kept beating her down.  Medical issue after medical issue caused a number of problems that afflicted her day in and day out.  This caused a hopelessness that stayed with her for many years.  Again, she found an inner strength to go on, a hope that things would get better, and that love for her children that made her fight day after day.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">So as she lay in her hospital bed, her too short life gliding away, I made sure to appreciate how much she endured.  She survived ten rough years that many people wouldn’t have been able to bear.  And while she wasn’t always positive about everything, she did the best she could with the conditions she was given.  I’m not so sure I would have survived as long as she did, and for that, she is a hero to me.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But I can’t talk about the power of my sister, without also honoring another strong woman in my life: my mother.  Having been a nurse, my mother did a lot of caring for my sister, along with the mothering she so obviously would do for an ill daughter.  She parented my sister’s children when my sister wasn’t able to, and made sure she was as comfortable as she could be.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">A year and a half after my sister was diagnosed and healed from the cancer, my father passed away unexpectedly.  So here my mother stood, worried about her daughter,but without the support of my father to lean on.  When my sister moved with her kids to my mother’s house, my mom truly became a mother again.  Gone were her days of “retirement” and moving on from the death of my father.  Instead, she became a full time mother and caretaker.  But she did it, she says, because “she’s my daughter.”  There was no question in her mind.  Your daughter is sick, you help make her better.  Your daughter needs help, you make sure she gets it.  Her kids need guidance, you do it.  It didn’t matter that my mother was getting older and being a mother to two teenagers and caring for an ill daughter was exhausting.  You did it because it was your family.  There were no options here.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">My mom gave a lot of herself for that next seven years and to then have to hold the hand of her daughter as she passed from this life to the next must have been agonizing.  I would watch her in the hospital wanting desperately to hold her “baby girl” in her arms like she had when my sister was a child, but not being able to.  Life wasn’t working out like I’m sure she had imagined or dreamed, and that pain and disappointment has to be, at times, excruciating.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">But she forged ahead and did what had to be done. She cared for her daughter. She loved her grandkids.  She gave of herself whether it caused her pain or not.  And even during those times of great sadness, I still saw a light in her.  The same light I saw in my sister.  Sometimes that light dimmed to just a flicker and I wondered if it would ever burn brightly again.  For my sister, I think now her light is shining so bright it’s become a part of the sun itself. And at night, her essence is in the glow of the moon that guides our way.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">As for my mother, the light is coming back.  In memories.  In the love of her sons.  In the companionship of her sister. In the friends that she adores and that adore her back.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: small;">This is the strength I saw in the women of RUINED:  one that comes from deep inside at that point behind your stomach that twinges with sickness…. excitement… terror… bliss… and elation.  It’s the place that we draw from when we need to overcome the damage that we’ve suffered and to remind ourselves that there will always be hope. There will always be wonder.  There will always be a day when we will feel joy again, no matter how long we’ve gone without it.  Because with that kind of resolute faith, we can never be truly ruined.</span></p> <div><i>RUINED runs September 7 – October 17, 2010 at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood Village, Los Angeles, California 90024</i></div> <div><i>For tickets call <span style="color: #0000ff;"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">310.208.5454</span></span><span style="color: black;"> or visit <a href="http://www.geffenplayhouse.com/" target="_blank">www.geffenplayhouse.com</a>.</span></i></div><a href="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/MOM(2)-001.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/MOM(2).jpg" width="200" height="150" style="margin-right: 12px;"/></a><a href="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/Ruined (c) Chris Bennion-001.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/Ruined (c) Chris Bennion.jpg" width="200" height="134" style="margin-right: 12px;"/></a><br/><br/>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/09/23/ruined--the-strength-of-the-women-in-my-lifehttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/09/23/ruined--the-strength-of-the-women-in-my-lifeThu, 23 Sep 2010 10:30:00 GMTKevin TaftMYSTERIOUS SKIN & My Abduction By Aliens<div>Scott Heim’s fantastic book “Mysterious Skin” was an impulse purchase one day about 15 years ago.  I remember devouring the story about a boy who, at age eight, woke up underneath his house with no memory of the last few hours of his life.  I was instantly intrigued.  This is the stuff I love.  And then when the character started thinking it might be because he had been abducted by aliens, well, I was even more fascinated.  <br /><br />Now, for anyone who has read the book or has seen the excellent film version by indie phenom Gregg Araki, you all know that not is all as what it seems in this story.  And I won’t spoil any of the mystery for you. Suffice to say it’s disturbing and heartbreaking, but incredibly effective.  I think I read the last page about fifteen times when I first finished it, just so I could savor the impact the book had on me.<br /><br />Cut to September 2010, the East West Players—the longest running “theatre of color” in the United States—opens their 45th season with a theatrical adaptation of the book.  Written by playwright Prince Gomolvilas and performed by an all Asian cast, the mystery of Mysterious Skin is lovingly adapted into a funny, difficult, moving, and distressing night of theatre that hits all the right notes of the book without compromising the harder-hitting moments that some might have found difficult to adapt.<br /><br />The play is directed by Tim Dang on a stage that is encompassed by a large wire fence, similar to those found behind home plate of a baseball field.  A full moon glows large in the center of the backdrop, changing frequently to offer muted pictures that give the scene a sense of place, while simple set pieces establish the minimal locations we visit throughout.<br /><br />The story opens where we meet Brian Lackey (Scott Keiji Takeda), a nerdy college student meeting thrity-one year old Avalyn (Elizabeth Liang) for the first time. They stand in her bedroom, discussing why Brian contacted Avalyn in the first place: he thinks he’s been abducted by aliens.  Having been abducted over twenty times herself, Avalyn, a socially awkward woman with no friends but a charming personality, is more than excited to help Brian recover the lost time he experienced in his childhood. He, in turn, is ready to finally figure out what happened so he can stop being haunted by the unknown.<br /><br />Meanwhile, Neil McCormick (David Huynh) has recently arrived in New York City to start a new life with his best fag-hag Wendy (Christine Corpuz).  But his never-ending desire to hustle his body for older men is upsetting to Wendy and she warns him that if he doesn’t stop, things could go terribly wrong.  But he can’t shake the desire to please these men, and by the end of the show we will understand where that came from.<br /><br />These two boys’ lives will soon connect and the mystery of Brian’s missing time will finally be resolved.  But at what cost?<br /><br />The East West Players production of Mysterious Skin is very well-crafted and the adaptation by Gomolvilas is impactful, falling nicely into a theatrical format.  Many of the secondary characters are played by three actors who slip in and out of the various roles effectively.  As for the leads, Takeda’s Brian is appropriately geeky and uncomfortable, although his breathy distress as he uncovers the truth about his past leans toward an amateurish display of “emotion.”  Elizabeth Liang, however, is wonderful as Avalyn bringing much-needed humor and warmth to a difficult subject matter.  <br /><br />But it is David Huynh as Neil that is a revelation, mixing a seductive sexuality, deep-set pain, and an “everything’s cool” mask to create a memorable character that takes flight as soon as he appears on stage.  Your eye is consistently drawn to him and the complexity of his character is handled with grace and ease.<br /><br />I will admit that the dialogue seemed a bit rushed in the performance I attended.  While overlapping dialogue feels natural in an ensemble show, here it seemed as though the actors were stepping on each other’s lines, which did take away from the emotion of the piece.  If they pull back and allow the characters to “listen” to each other, the entire show would be that much more effective.  As it is, it’s a compelling piece of theatre.  With a few tweaks, it could be an award winner.  That said, Liang and Huynh should be remembered come award time.<br /><br />Which brings me to alien abductions.  (That was a crappy segue, I know.  It’s like suddenly saying, “which brings me to the subject of plums.)  <br /><br />Anyway… aliens. UFO’s.  I’m fascinated by them.  I’ve written a TV series about them and am always reading books about the possibilities of their existence.  It’s so interesting to me that some day we might be able to meet an entity from outside of our world… some creature that could give us a bigger perspective on the way we live and how we live.  That’s if they don’t zap us with a laser beam or vivisect us for sport.<br /><br />Why, you might be asking, do I feel like I might have been abducted? Well, there are a few reasons why and it wasn’t until a trip to Greece did I really start to consider the possibility.  Not that Greece has anything to do with it exactly, other than the fact that I was going down the list of strange experiences I’ve had and one of the people I was with became convinced I had been abducted.<br /><br />So what happened to me?  What vague incidents occurred that have me convinced I’ve experienced an alien presence?  Here goes:<br /><br />1)    They say that people who have unexplained nose-bleeds might have been abducted and have had experiments performed on them.  Sure, nose-bleeds happen to everyone and I didn’t think much about it until I looked back and realized that I used to get nosebleeds all the time.  And not just those “oops, look at that little spot on my tissue” nosebleeds.  My nosebleeds were gushers and would last for hours.  I remember not being able to do my paper route one day because my nose just wouldn’t stop pouring out blood.  Why did my nose bleed?  No idea.  It would just start happening.  I remember waking up to a pool of blood on my pillow with no explanation for why it had started.</div> <div><br />2)    When I was reading UFO/Abduction Expert Whitley Streiber’s book “Communion,” I was taking it all with a grain of salt as he is a science fiction writer and could truly be making all of the crap up.  Not that I wasn’t fully entertained, mind you, but I am a natural skeptic.  “I WANT to believe” as the saying goes, but I rarely am convinced.  But toward the end of the book, Strieber mentions that in order for the aliens to make their abductees forget their experience of being poked and prodded aboard their spaceships, they would tap the forehead of their victims with a metal rod.  There would be a flash of light and suddenly all memories of the experience would be gone.  Well, as soon as I read this I was shaken.  You see,  I would say that once every two years or so, I would have an incident where I’d be laying in bed, half asleep or trying to sleep, and I’d see a blinding flash of light.  Because the room was dark, I’d immediately assume someone had come into my room and turned on the light.  This act alone would annoy me, so I’d quickly roll over to see who was bothering me.  Every time this happened, not only would no-one would be there, but the lights would be off.  And every time I would be startled by the fact that I know I saw the bright light, but suddenly I would be engulfed in the usual night-time darkness.  This type of incident has occurred in my childhood home and every place I’ve lived since.  It isn’t as frequent as it used to be, but it still happens.</div> <div><br />3)    When I was younger I would have little medical issues… pains, marks, etc., that doctors would have no idea what they were.  They’d make mention of it. “Did you notice this mark here?”  I’d say, yeah, I’ve seen it.  They’d shrug and that would be the end of it.  Sometimes, I’d have a few symptoms and they’d give me medicine to fix the problem, but they would have no idea how it occurred or why it did.  In fact, I’ve had strange issues happen all my life and every time the doctors are stumped.  A few years ago, in fact, I hurt my right side upper back/shoulder and not only was the pain incredible and nothing would make it go away, but my right pectoral muscle disappeared almost overnight.  The docs were stumped.  No one ever solved the mystery and although my pec is back to normal, I have residual pains in that area and still wonder what exactly happened to me.</div> <div><br />4)    When I lived in my very first apartment with a high school friend, I woke up one morning to find the power had gone out during the night.  When I came home that evening, my roommate asked if I had made it to work in time.  I said, yes and asked if she had.  She said, “I was awake when the power went out.”  I said, “really?”  Her response was, “Yeah. There was a blue light outside the window and then the power went out.”  Now, you have to understand that we lived on the fifth floor of an apartment complex.  She thought it was a police car flashing its light on the building, to which I reminded her that a police light would have been white, not blue.  There was nothing outside our apartment that could actually glow either, so for a blue light to be shining out our windows was highly unusual and for the power to go out as it happened?  Come on now.<br /><br />Other than that, I occasionally I feel like I’m being watched and sometimes feel a presence in my bedroom, but are those my little alien friends or am I just being dramatic?  (I just heard every one of you reading this say to yourselves, “He’s being dramatic!”)  I only hope that if I’ve really been taken by little green men that they’ve been kind to me.  Hopefully I don’t have alien children running around on some ship somewhere, unless it’s like the Battlestar Galactica, and then, my dear readers, I’m taking off and going with them.  <br /><br />My last wish is that the reality of my abductions isn’t like Brian Lackey’s experience from Mysterious Skin.  Because that is something truly horrifying and something no child should have to experience.  And if your curiosity is whetted now, go buy Scott Heim’s book.  It’s a quick read and incredibly compelling and affecting.  If you’re in Los Angeles, go see the show.  It’s worth the ticket.<br /><br />And if anyone wants to do regression therapy on me to see if I’ve been taken over the years, I volunteer.  But if the results are anything like that Milla Jovovich movie “The Fourth Kind” forget it.  Cuz’ that s**t was freaky!!!</div><a href="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/MYSTERIOUS SKIN 5-001.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/MYSTERIOUS SKIN 5.jpg" width="200" height="134" style="margin-right: 12px;"/></a><a href="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/MYSTERIOUS SKIN 6-001.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/MYSTERIOUS SKIN 6.jpg" width="200" height="134" style="margin-right: 12px;"/></a><br/><br/>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/09/16/mysterious-skin--my-abduction-by-alienshttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/09/16/mysterious-skin--my-abduction-by-aliensThu, 16 Sep 2010 10:23:00 GMTKevin TaftTHEATRICUM BOTANICUM: It’s Not Just Fun To Say<p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">To falsely quote Hamlet… “Plays Plays Plays.”</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">In the past few months I think I’ve seen more plays than I have since I started seeing theatre as a child.  And while I love going to the theatre… and what with comp tickets it’s a great dating tool… I was getting a bit burned out.  So in order to explore something different… something that wouldn’t seem like I had “just done this” a week ago… I stumbled upon this theatrical venue deep in Topanga Canyon called The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">Best described as a small, outdoor 299-seat amphitheatre in the woods of the canyon, The Theatricum Botanicum was created by blacklisted actor Will Geer (best known as Grampa on “The Waltons”) in the early 1950’s as a performance space for other blacklisted actors.  Since he wasn’t able to find work for many years, he also created a large garden where he sold vegetables, fruit, and herbs.  Once his popularity soared based on his work on “The Waltons” he formed a nonprofit corporation called the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum.  For the past 35+ years the Theatricum has offered full season of plays and special music performances.  There are also education programs that serve more than 20, 000 children annually.  In fact, their list of offerings is so vast, it’s best to just give out their website for your perusal. (Jump to the end of the blog for that information.)</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">All of this said, there are currently five plays in reparatory playing right now at the Botanicum.  I had the pleasure of attending two: <i>Terrence McNally’s Master Class</i> and an adaption of <i>Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.</i></span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">Driving through the canyon is an experience all it’s own as you suddenly feel like you are seriously not in Los Angeles anymore.  This alone is refreshing enough.  But when you finally pull into the “blink-or-you-miss-it” entrance to the theatre, you feel as if you’ve arrived at a family campground.  The parking lot is small as most people choose to park on the street for free.  Being the lazy sonofabitch that I am, I chose to park and pay the $5 parking fee that is collected in a small box on the honor system.  You don’t see THAT everyday in Los Angeles.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;"> <br /> Prior to the show you can sit at one of many tables or benches outside the theatre, and enjoy a snack of soda, water, chips and candy at the Hamlet Hut, which looks exactly like something out of a local baseball league’s snack shack.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">Seating in the amphitheatre is on a first-come/first-served basis so guests begin to line up about thirty minutes prior to when the show begins.  There are both afternoon and evening shows, of which I only attended the ones in the evening.  On the way in, you have the option of renting seat pads for $1 as the benches you sit on in the amphitheatre are a little hard on the behind.  In fact, many people brought their own, extra-fluffy versions.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">As you enter the theatre, you are taken through massive wooden double-doors and are immediately thrust back to a time when Shakespeare ruled the land.  Everything appears as if it is cobblestone and wood.  The woods themselves encompass you and every time you breathe, you take in the scent of the forest.  Honestly, for me as a lover of the outdoors, this was a real treat.   </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">Once we found our seats it was time to take a look around.  The stage is spacious with a large tree jutting up from the middle of the stage, and the backdrop is the woods and hills themselves.  All of this is utilized in various ways during each different production.  There is a small “house” on the right that can be changed to become a different aspect of the show and has two levels, perfect for those Shakespearean balcony scenes.  On the far left above the entrance to the theatre is another level with a stained glass window, also used well during certain productions.  In fact, everything surrounding the stage has the potential to be used which is what is so fascinating about the space.  It’s like theatre made cinematic, which is not only exciting, but gives the show an interactive effect that is somehow communal.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">The first show I saw was Terrence McNally’s Tony-Award winning <i>Master Class.</i>  The play stars Ellen Geer, legendary stage and screen actress who was also the daughter of the late Will Geer.  Ms. Geer seems to have her hands in everything, and it’s a wonder she finds the time to do it all.  Not only is she starring in <i>Master Class</i>, but she adapted the current presentation of <i>The Three Musketeers</i> herself, and has an original show performing once every weekend called <i>Carry It On</i> which showcases influential figures from American History.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;"> <br /> With all of that said, her performance of the renowned opera singer and diva Maria Callas is a pitch-perfect portrayal of a woman whose ego has been built up by her successes, and hardened by her disappointments.   The play is essentially a “Master Class” at Julliard given by Callas herself.  During the show she instructs three different students:  Sophie (Elizabeth Tobias), a soprano who is a bundle of nerves and naïve energy, Sharon (Meaghan Beckett), another soprano also full of nerves but with a surprising backbone, and Tony (Andreas Beckett), a cocky tenor who might be a bit too sure of himself.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">Every performer in the show is phenomenal, but this is Geer’s show and she excels.  Funny, demeaning, arrogant, and heart breaking, Geer’s Callas is to be remembered.  And while I initially worried that not having a diva such as Patti Lupone or Fay Dunaway in the role would diminish the effect, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Ellen Geer inhabits the role as if she is Callas, and this alone makes the play most effective.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">The second show I saw was Geer’s adaptation of Dumas’ <i>The Three Musketeers</i>.  On certain nights, the Botanicum offers a dinner prior to the show that reflects the theme of the performance.  For ours, we had a buffet with a French theme complete with beef tri-tip with a red-wine reduction, potatoes au gratin, salad, bread, and lemonade or tea to drink.  Desserts were a variety of treats from mini-éclairs to a lemon/poppy seed shortbread to fruit.  The fare was fairly straight-forward, but actually pretty good.  The setting was a bit camp like, what with tables covered in plastic sheeting, but it’s such a genial feel-good place, it doesn’t matter.  The staff is so friendly and welcoming, it’s like coming to a family reunion.  House manager Victoria Hilyard was incredibly kind and warm on both visits, it’s almost worth it just to say hi to her alone.  </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">As for the show, <i>Musketeers </i> wasn’t as successful as <i>Master Class</i>, but for some, it will still offer a modicum of entertainment.  For me, the adaptation was a bit confusing and I wasn’t sure where my focus was supposed to be.  Who was my hero and who was my villain?  At times these seemed to shift, which added to the confusion.  Tonally it’s a bit muddled from standard period drama to a bit of a silly lark.  That’s not to say it’s not amusing, but it did wear on your patience after a while.   </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">The cast is fairly game and well suited, with one of the Musketeers played by a female.  While at first distracting, Melora Marshall gave a terrific performance as Aramis, the woeful musketeer who is constantly trying to choose between swashbuckling and the church.  Also of note, the laundress Constance (Willow Geer) who is sought after by our hero d’Artagnan, and my personal favorite, Milady DiWinter (Abby Craden) a spy of sorts who seduces d’Artagnan in order to find out more about an illicit love affair between the British Buckingham and Queen Anne.  While her performance is the broadest of the night by far, she is hopelessly entertaining.  Sexy, sly, and a wee-bit over the top, she adds a fun element of the “love-to-hate-her” kind.  Lastly d’Artagnan played by Jackson McCord Thompson is charming as the bumbling boy who becomes the fourth of the “three” musketeers.  While his character is written as both hero and idiot, thus making his character a bit of a mess, he was still fun to watch in a play that delves into so much political mayhem, it’s nice to have that gravitas.</span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">All in all though, the Theatricum Botanicum is a wonderful place to see theatre.  Hands down, it is one of my new favorite venues and I look forward to their next season.  Do yourself a favor and take a mini-vacation out of the city and go enjoy a play in a most unpretentious and lovely place as the Theatricum Botanicum.  Besides… it’s so much fun to say! </span> </p> <p><span style="font-family: Cambria; font-size: small;">For a full schedule of their plays in repertory, go to:  <a href="http://www.theatricum.com/" target="_blank">http://www.theatricum.com/</a></span></p>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/09/07/theatricum-botanicum--its-not-just-fun-to-sayhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/09/07/theatricum-botanicum--its-not-just-fun-to-sayTue, 07 Sep 2010 13:56:00 GMTKevin TaftChess: Broadway's Red-Headed Step-Child<span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess: The Musical</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;"> just can’t get a break.  It’s like the child that keeps getting A’s on his report card, but their problem-child little brother keeps getting all the attention.  He just wants to scream, “Hey! Over here!  Look at me, I’m awesome!!!”  Yet little Bobby (or “</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">The Addams Family</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">” for example) keeps dazzling mom and dad by being relentlessly unremarkable. </span><br /> <br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;"> first opened in London in 1986, running for three years after a successful Concept Album was produced to excite audiences and investors.  When it came to Broadway shortly after with a much-altered book, it flopped, closing after only two months.  Over the years, it has had a profitable touring version and has been restaged in a variety of sizes both off-Broadway in 1990, and a well-reviewed small staging in Los Angeles where the two leads won Ovation and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards.  The book itself has been constantly tweaked with the settings and time period continuously changing in order to “correct” all of the perceived problems with the story.  Strangely, the story has always been fairly straight-forward.  And while the love story could gel better, it’s a compelling and easy-to-follow plot that challenges in its complexity, rather than patronizes by being overly simplistic.  </span><br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;"><br class="kix-line-break" /> Years later, the go-to version of </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;"> is to stage a “concert,” which basically means the entire score is acted and performed just like a play, but without the elaborate sets seen in a typical Broadway show.  So while it is billed as a concert, you’re still getting the emotional impact of the piece and not just a countdown of the most popular songs.  In  2008, a wildly popular concert version starring Josh Groban and Idina Menzel was performed at the Royal Albert Hall (and New York) with a reworked script that creator Tim Rice has now declared as the official version of </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">.  It aired in the U.S. on PBS and was released on CD and DVD at the same time.</span><br /> <br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Which all begs the question:  what the hell is so wrong with </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">?  Why did it flop on Broadway and why do some people hate it, while others… MANY others… can’t live without it?   That would be me.  </span><br /> <br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">When I was an acting major at the University of Connecticut in the 80’s, one of my peers let me borrow the concept album on tape.  Upon hearing it, I instantly fell in love.  Over the years I’ve fallen for other musicals…. </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Les Miz, Miss Saigon, Rent</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">… but I have always come back to </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">.  The complex and fascinating score… the gorgeous and affecting ballads… it’s a mixture of amazing styles from gorgeous choral arrangements, to intricate quartet pieces, to the aforementioned ballads and duets that are not only stirring, but the type of songs you want to listen to over and over again and belt out in the privacy of your car. This is a quality seriously missing from today’s crop of musicals where, for the most part, the songs all sound the same. </span><br /> <br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">So over the years, </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;"> has remained my absolute favorite.  It’s one of those musicals that can reduce me to tears by the sheer beauty of the score.  When I watched the Royal Albert Hall concert, Josh Groban’s version of “Anthem” made me and my best friend cheer in my living room, and the finale, which brought out the entire cast, was a stunner.  It’s a musical that can literally make you gasp at the astonishing beauty of its songs, which I realize is histrionic, but this is how I get about </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">.  It’s probably the one collection of music I’d ask to listen to before I died.  I only hope that as I entered the pearly gates - or whatever the hell is out there - it would be as gorgeous up there as the music that was leading me into it.  Yes, I realize I’m being a big drama queen.  But YOU listen to </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Anthem</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;"> and tell me if you don’t get goose bumps for days!</span><br /> <br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">So let me tell you what the latest “yay” is involving </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">. CHESS: THE CONCERT has been lovingly revived in Los Angeles, and is now playing at the MET Theatre in what has already been an extended run.   Directed by Robert Marra, the concert is brought to life in a small, but effective space.  Surrounded by black walls, the cast performs in front of a surprisingly lush 10-piece orchestra with minimal props and simple, yet effective staging.  </span><br /> <br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Being “in concert” does not mean that the emotion of the show is forgotten.  In fact, to me, this is still as much a theatrical experience as any regular show.  You don’t feel as if you’re watching a concert as much as experiencing a simplified version of a show that doesn’t necessarily need huge set pieces.  This is because the star of the show is the music.  And the music is brought to miraculous life by a stellar cast.  </span><br /> <br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">For those of you who don’t know the story of </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">, I’ll briefly explain.  During the Cold War, the International Chess Championship was down to two players fighting for the win: An American (Freddy) and a Russian (Anatoly).  Freddy is an arrogant mess of a man whose need for attention is matched only by his love for himself.  Anatoly, on the other hand, is a quiet, stoic man who is just trying to play the game he adores, while also coming to terms with a country he loves, but is considering leaving.  The emotional core of the show is Florence, Freddy’s assistant.  For years, they have had a tumultuous relationship, but Florence has always been a reliable and supportive companion.  However, when Freddy’s behavior starts to show his true colors, Florence finds herself falling for Anatoly, and he for her.  And if each of their patriotic allegiances wasn’t complication enough, Anatoly has a wife (Svetlana) and children back in Russia.</span><br /> <br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">While the plot also focuses on the politics of the championship itself and how that works into the conflicts in the interpersonal relationship of the show’s “players,” the heart of </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;"> is the four leads.  They all have their own hopes and demons, and they desperately try to work them out while being pulled in different directions by people with their own agendas.</span><br /> <br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Which brings me back to the cast.  Because performances in </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">are everything.  In this production every cast member, including every chorus member is astounding.  Blake McIver Ewing plays Freddy with the right amount of arrogance and shame, and uses his otherworldly voice to great effect.  When he first sings, it’s almost like his voice is coming from somewhere else.  It’s so pitch-perfect it’s almost as if it was pre-recorded.  Emily Dykes’ Svetlana, while not appearing in the show until the middle of the second act, nails her solo “Someone Else’s Story,” and her duet with Florence (the famous “I Know Him So Well”) is gorgeous.  The drop-dead handsome Peter Welkin is perfect as Anatoly, with a stunningly rich voice that delivers every note with magnificence and power.</span><br /> <br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">But it is newcomer Nicci Claspell as Florence that binds the show together with the power of her presence and the beauty and grace of her flawless instrument.  Her character and thus, Claspell herself, become the star of the show.  This is something I never really recognized before, even in the 2008 concert version.  The show becomes her story and she easily leads us through the “passion and pain, love and hate” that the show offers. She, and the rest of the cast, should be shoe-in’s for Drama Desk awards at the end of the year.</span><br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;"><br class="kix-line-break" /> This production, of which I intend on seeing at LEAST once more before it closes (and there are rumors of another extension), only solidified my love for </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess.</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">  And it seems that there is so much love for this show that you wonder just why it has been such the bastard-child for so many years.  In fact, a new version is being mounted as we speak in England and I hear tell there is a revival coming to Broadway.  Hopefully this time it will be the success it deserves to be. </span><br /> <br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Perhaps </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;"> was just too ahead of it’s time.  And maybe with all musicals based on movies or using other artist’s songs, it will be nice to see something as original and operatic as </span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;"> is.  It’s not a silly show with moderately enjoyable songs; this is a truly a masterpiece. If I haven’t convinced you already, do one of two things:  go see the Los Angeles production, or, if you’re not in the LA area, go rent the concert version on DVD.  Sit back.  Let the power of it wash over you.  And come out two and a half hours later… changed</span><br /> <br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Chess: In Concert continues at The MET Theatre on August 27</span><span style="font-size: 7.2pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: super;">th</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">, 28</span><span style="font-size: 7.2pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: super;">th</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">, & 29</span><span style="font-size: 7.2pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: super;">th</span><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;"> at 8pm.</span><br /> <span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Tickets: </span><a href="http://www.plays411.com/chessinconcert"><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 255); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: underline; vertical-align: baseline;">www.plays411.com/chessinconcert</span></a><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times New Roman; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent; font-weight: normal; font-style: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;"> or 323-960-7735.  </span> <a href="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/chess-PROD_STILL_1-001.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/chess-PROD_STILL_1.jpg" width="200" height="134" style="margin-right: 12px;"/></a><br/><br/>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/08/23/chess-broadways-red-headed-step-childhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/08/23/chess-broadways-red-headed-step-childMon, 23 Aug 2010 13:14:00 GMTKevin TaftSTILL STANDING & The Need for Connections<pre>All of us want to feel connected to other people.  We all want a<br /> “family” we can count on and call our own.  And we all go about trying<br /> to attain this by using any means possible, when sometimes we miss the<br /> most important connection of all:  the connection to ourselves.<br /> <br /> This weekend I went to see a small play on theatre row called Still<br /> Standing.  Written by Shyla Marlin, it is about the bond of a family<br /> who survived the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and now must survive<br /> the news of a long-lost relative they never knew about.  Hardened Tracy<br /> (Nichelle Hines) and irresponsible Julius (Rondrell MCormick) are a<br /> brother and sister living in New Orleans shortly after Katrina<br /> destroyed their neighborhood leaving their house one of the few left<br /> standing.  Their apathetic mother Celeste (Monique McIntyre) is<br /> currently in a facility where she is recovering from a stroke.  <br /> <br /> In Los Angeles, Laura (Vanessa Peruda) lives with her boyfriend George<br /> (played in our performance by Jeff Irwin) while attempting to go<br /> through her recently deceased father’s things.  In them she discovers a<br /> decades-old letter from a woman who claims she had his baby.  Feeling<br /> somehow responsible, Laura decides to seek out her father’s long-lost<br /> child and make a connection.  <br /> <br /> Cut to a few weeks later when Laura arrives on the doorstep of Tracy whom she has already informed<br /> that they are sisters.  While both are of mixed race, Tracy’s physical<br /> appearance is of a black woman, while Laura’s appears white.  At first,<br /> the comedy of the situation is apparent in this alone, but it is the<br /> differences of the two women where the humor and drama arises.  <br /> <br /> Laura is an uptight, but eternally jolly young woman whose work at an<br /> independent fashion magazine in Los Angeles is a stark difference to<br /> Tracy’s working-class life in Louisiana.  But the two try to make the<br /> best of this newfound relationship, and attempt to find ways in which<br /> they are similar and have some commonality.  In this, a connection is<br /> formed which will ultimately be threatened by ulterior motives and<br /> misunderstandings. <br /> <br /> There are a number of terrific things about this play, one of which is the acting itself.  As I’ve bemoaned in<br /> previous reviews of the LA Theatre scene, it seems play upon play is<br /> inhabited by actors who simply cannot act.  Or perhaps it is the<br /> directors who don’t know how to pull naturalistic performances out of<br /> their actors.  Whatever the case, here we have an entire cast that is<br /> believable, charming, and real.  No one chews the scenery or overacts<br /> in that amateurish way that we often see in high school productions and<br /> community theatre. In Still Standing, every actor excels and makes us<br /> care.<br /> <br /> Nichelle Hines as Tracy is the play’s magnet, pulling us in to her world where she feels too responsible and too over-whelmed. <br /> She is a woman trying to find her way, while feeling she has to take<br /> care of everyone around her, but herself.  This stress causes her to be<br /> a little hard-edged, but Hines plays it in a way that lets her<br /> character breathe through it.  She isn’t a one note anxiety-ball that<br /> bitches at everyone around her.  Sure, she gets snarky and off-putting,<br /> but it comes from a place we understand.  <br /> <br /> Vanessa Peruda as Laura is the exact opposite of Tracy which of course, makes for some<br /> hilariously awkward moments where the two try to find some common<br /> ground in which to relate.  Laura is a ball of nervous energy, always<br /> going for a joke or saying the wrong thing while desperately trying to<br /> fit in.  And that’s what’s so lovely about her.  She isn’t just trying<br /> to fit in with a sister’s family whose way of living is the polar<br /> opposite of hers, she’s trying to fit in to her own life as well.  And<br /> deep down, you can see she is using this new connection to a sister she<br /> never knew as a way to find the connections she’s lacking at home. <br /> <br /> All of these relationships are explored well by playwright and actress<br /> Shyla Marlin who has created a world that is accessible and fresh. <br /> While it certainly deals with some heavy issues, those moments are<br /> balanced by quick-witted humor and exquisite characterizations.  As<br /> directed by Nick Mills, Still Standing is sure-footed and uses a small<br /> space to great effect, evoking different locations and moods with a<br /> change of lighting or props.  This isn’t one of those plays that feels<br /> like a play.  It feels true.<br /> <br /> Which brings me back to the topic of “connections.”  What’s interesting is that while we are all seeking<br /> connections and a place to feel at home, the only reason I saw this<br /> play was because of a random connection I had made and a post on<br /> Facebook.  Someone I met casually online and became Facebook friends<br /> with (we’ve never met in person) is friends with the playwright and was<br /> promoting the show in his status.  I messaged him saying I’d give the<br /> show some coverage.  And how glad am I that I did?  Seeing as many<br /> shows as I do, I now have to be picky at what I see.  There’s only so<br /> much time in the week and I’m not sure if I would have selected Still<br /> Standing for the simple reason I didn’t really know much about it.  So<br /> by having that tenuous connection to the writer, I was able to<br /> experience one of the better plays this season.  And a play that made<br /> me think about how I, myself, go looking for connections to other<br /> people.<br /> <br /> In the play, Laura is so desperate to have a bond with someone she travels across the country to find it.  Her relationship<br /> with her boyfriend is in the midst of crumbling and with her father<br /> gone and only her supportive aunt as her confidante, Laura is in need<br /> of companionship; Someone to rely on and who will truly see her.<br /> <br /> In this day and age, we have so many ways of doing this at our disposal,<br /> but in some ways we seem to be growing farther and farther from real<br /> connectivity.  We have Facebook which brings a lot of old friends back<br /> into our lives and keeps us updated on close friends and those we<br /> barely ever see.  Somehow we feel we know all these people because we<br /> are aware of their vacations, their hatred of their jobs, or the play<br /> by play of their daily lives.  But this isn’t connection.  Facebook,<br /> texting, and instant messaging have replaced creating real<br /> relationships even though the facade makes it seem like we really are.<br /> <br /> And with the gays, we now have that time-wasting iPhone app otherwise known<br /> as Grindr.  Sure, it’s a great way to meet people, and while some use<br /> it simply for potential hook-ups, there are those that are genuinely<br /> looking to meet new people and establish friendships.  But at the same<br /> time, it appears as if those “friendships” sometimes end up only<br /> existing in the app itself. Whether it’s fear of meeting face-to-face<br /> (guilty!) or that you can be more yourself with the protective layer of<br /> cyberspace between you (guilty again!), Grindr isn’t helping connect<br /> people as much as it’s keeping up the distances.<br /> <br /> But it does seem as though we all keep using these networking sites to find those<br /> connections.  However, like Laura, we might be going about it the wrong<br /> way.  Five hundred friends on Facebook does not make a satisfying<br /> social life. Sure, we can become close to people over the net.  Don’t<br /> get me wrong.  Strangers on Facebook are like the “pen-pals” of<br /> yesteryear, but we also cannot force connections, because this does not<br /> bond us to people in a way that will be fulfilling. <br /> <br /> So maybe the first step is to take these “relationships” out of cyberland and<br /> make them flesh and blood.  Only then that we can see if those<br /> connections… those relationships… have staying power.  And like Laura,<br /> we might try too hard to make them that way, but that doesn’t mean they<br /> won’t happen.  Because sometimes we have to stumble over a few speed<br /> bumps while trying to find the hands we need to grasp.  And those speed<br /> bumps tend to be ourselves.  We need to understand what we need and why<br /> so that we go about looking for connections that will have staying<br /> power and meaning in our lives.  When we do… it can be wondrous.  And<br /> if they last… if years down the road those relationships are “still<br /> standing,” well… that makes the bumps in between worth it.  Even if<br /> those connections ultimately fade, at least we’ve discovered a little<br /> bit about ourselves in the process.<br /> <br /> </pre> http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/08/18/still-standing--the-need-for-connectionshttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/08/18/still-standing--the-need-for-connectionsWed, 18 Aug 2010 10:28:00 GMTKevin TaftProcreation & The Popularity of NegativityThis weekend three people told me I’m negative.  Two of them were referring to my opinions on movies and theatre, and while I know I can be critical, the comments stuck with me. But it was the other person that got me thinking. I mean, if I’m going through something upsetting on a personal level, sure, my mindset goes for the negative, but I really try not to be that way in my everyday life. In fact, I’ve done a lot of work on that and I’ve distanced myself from people that act that way. Sure, we all have our moments, but now I wonder, do I not even realize I’m doing it?<br /> <br /> Many times when I’m being negative, in my mind, I’m just goofing around.  Sometimes I’m actually being negative to be ironic or just funny, but via text or a blog, perhaps that doesn’t come across that way. Even in person I guess the facetiousness maybe doesn’t come through.<br /> <br /> In my defense however, with movies and plays, mostly, I’m just trying to be honest. The truth is, there isn’t a heck of a lot of great movies out there and the theater scene in Los Angeles is spotty at best. (An actor friend of mine confirmed this.)  So would you rather I sit here and placate you and try my best to find only the good things to say about a movie or play, or tell the truth? In one of my favorite movies this year (Timer) the lead character is talking to her mother who has just forced herself to say something nice about the new guy her daughter is seeing. The daughter responds: “That’s like going to someone’s play and saying ‘However did you learn all those lines?’”<br /> <br /> And that’s how I feel. I could find the most benign thing to say, or I could be truthful. Hey, it’s not my fault if theatre around here isn’t that great. Or if Hollywood can’t make a decent movie worth plunking down $15 for. Right?<br /> <br /> That said, I went to see the new Justin Tanner play PROCREATION this weekend. Apparently in some circles, Justin Tanner is very popular and respected. While I vaguely had heard of some of his plays, I didn’t really know who he was except for remembering seeing his name in the credits of “Gilmore Girls.”  Tanner is one of those playwrights that focus on the (eh-hem) negativity of people and amps it up to a ridiculous level.  He is also one of those writers that use the same actors again and again in his productions.<br /> <br /> Currently playing at the Odyssey Theatre in Westwood, Tanner’s PROCREATION does what he does best.  Produced with a cast of his regulars, Tanner puts together a bunch of hyper-negative and mean-spirited people in a room and watches the fireworks explode.<br /> <br /> The setting is Highland Park, California and a dysfunctional family is preparing for their mother’s birthday. Hope (Melissa Denton) is a bitch of a woman who seems to hate everyone and everything including her overweight fifteen year old son, Gavin (Kody Batchelor) and her pussy husband, Michael (Michael Halpin).  Her house is a mess and she’s given up caring about anything.<br /> <br /> Arriving for the “festivities” are her newly separated playboy brother Andy (Brendan Broms), her gay, slacker brother Trey (Danny Schmitz) who brings along his drug-dealing friend Alison (Chloe Taylor), her sister Deanie (Patricia Scanlon) and Deanie’s husband Bruce (Andy Marshall Daly).  All of them whine and complain about their lives and about the fact that they can’t stand their alcoholic mother Ruby (Danielle Kennedy) who arrives fresh from a cruise with her new (and much younger) husband in tow, Perry (Jonathan Palmer).  Soon enough, Ruby has ingratiated herself back into the fold, but this time with the announcement that she has quit drinking and that she’s pregnant. With octuplets. At age sixty-something.<br /> <br /> This is the set-up for the family to keep complaining, arguing, insulting, back-stabbing, and revealing life-altering secret after secret. It is a most unpleasant family created from a mother that was cruel and mostly absent while the kids grew up.  Now their lives are less than stellar and they continue this behavior in their own lives.<br /> <br /> While dysfunctional families are nothing new to theatre (the excellent AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY being one), it’s how the dysfunction is handled that makes or breaks the play.  While I was entertained by PROCREATION, I was also mildly irritated by it as well. For one, the acting is off-balance. While some of the cast (Schmitz and Taylor) play their parts in a more realistic and natural way, others in the cast get all “actory” and pull us out of the action to remind us that we are, indeed, watching someone “acting.” This might be the fault of director David Schweizer who frequently does things like have Denton’s Hope deliver her dialogue downstage with her arms folded in order to make us understand that she’s clearly irritated with her family. Her husband Michael, played by Halpin, appears to be in a different play altogether with very particular acting choices that don’t ring true. And while I enjoyed Kennedy’s Ruby and Scanlon’s crazy-eyed Deanie, the performances didn’t always mesh with the rest of the cast. Which is not their fault particularly, it’s just that the casting was so off-balance.<br /> <br /> And that’s the other thing about the show. The family is just mean, negative, and awful to each other.  So how enjoyable you find this, will determine how much you can stomach the play. Yet, this is what’s so interesting. It seems like that is the state of the world today, anyway, so Procreation will feel very familiar.<br /> <br /> I’ve said for a few years now that real people in the real world have started to act like they are in a television comedy.  It’s what I call “Sit-Com Syndrome.” For some reason, everyone wants to have the last line and wants it to be a zinger.  The better the insult, the more they feel they’ve won. (Won what, I don’t know.)  Heck, they might love the person they are “joking” with, but it seems like everyone wants to come up with that perfect one-liner for every situation.  In turn, this type of “ain’t I clever” banter starts to alienate others and also teaches children that it’s okay to consistently insult the people you love, all for a cheap laugh.<br /> <br /> I say this because it seems like Procreation, which is clearly meant to be larger than life, is what popular entertainment has become. A never-ending barrage of insults designed to make us laugh at other people while trying to make us feel better about ourselves.  Look at sit-coms like Will & Grace, Seinfeld, and even Friends? These people constantly insulted each other, so much so that you wonder why they even hung out together.  Why were Will and Jack friends? He did nothing but roll his eyes and complain about Jack, while Jack never stopped making fun of Will.  Yet somehow, in every tenth episode or so, we’d see that Will cared about Jack and/or vice versa. Therefore, being mean became how characters expressed their love for each other. And this behavior bled its way into the real world where people now think this is an appropriate way to act.  (If you don’t believe me start reading friends’ back and forth comments on Facebook.)<br /> <br /> So is this the type of negativity that I’m guilty of?  No, but this weekend’s comments have made me taken a deeper look at myself.  Do I want to end up like the miserable family in Procreation?  Do I want to alienate people because my go-to place is one of negativity? I recently stopped hanging out with someone for that very reason. This person didn’t like anything, thought everything was stupid, and oh yeah, thought they were right about everything and better than everyone else, too. It was unpleasant to be around, because for them this behavior wasn’t a situational response, it was their norm.<br /> <br /> Clearly this is not me.  I know I’m picky about movies and plays and that’s not going to change.  I love film and I love theatre, and I want to adore everything I see.  But when more and more of what is released isn’t so good, I get disappointed and frustrated and I talk about it.  But in terms of my everyday life?<br /> <br /> If I start to head down that path, I give my friends permission to slap me. Because truly, this life is a short one and there is a lot to appreciate in the world. I know I’m starting to sound like someone who has wind-chimes clanging on his porch, but seriously… It’s easy to find the beauty in the people you surround yourself with, whether it’s friends or family, and our instinct should be to lift them up, not tear them down for a cheap laugh. I’m not saying we can’t lighten the mood every once in a while with a clever pun or a teasing comment, but when it becomes the go-to place to joke at the expense of someone else, or to belittle someone we feel is lesser than ourselves, maybe we need to ask why we are so desperate to do that?  Life doesn’t have a laugh track. We’re not being scored by the Neilsen ratings. And most of us aren’t making a hundred thousand dollars an episode.<br /> <br /> The family in Procreation is our warning sign.  The more we live a life of insults, wise-cracks, and put-downs, the more our life will sink into depravity. I mean, seriously, if I look back at my life and all I see is “Two and a Half Men”… shoot me.  But in the meantime, if a movie or play sucks, you’re gonna’ hear about it.<br /> <br /> Procreation runs July 16-August 22 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025.<br /> www.odysseytheatre.com<br /> Box Office: 310-477-2055<br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/PROCREATION_0014-001.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/PROCREATION_0014.jpg" width="200" height="143" style="margin-right: 12px;"/></a><br/><br/>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/08/04/procreation--the-popularity-of-negativityhttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/08/04/procreation--the-popularity-of-negativityWed, 04 Aug 2010 09:54:00 GMTKevin TaftYoung Frankenstein and The State of the American MusicalIt seems that ever since Beauty and the Beast became one of the first<br /> movies to head to the stage and be successful, Broadway has taken a nod<br /> from the Hollywood playbook and somehow lost all originality. Add in<br /> the success of The Lion King and the state of the American Musical<br /> started going downhill. Not because The Lion King wasn’t unique, but<br /> because it’s success created a monster.<br /> <br /> Broadway used to be the bastion of high culture, where artistry gave<br /> way to new and exciting theatrical experiences and classics were born. <br /> While many Broadway musicals are based on existing material, the source<br /> is usually a book. (South Pacific being one example.) The most<br /> enduring American musicals have been of the Rodgers and Hammerstein<br /> sort, what with The Sound of Music, Oklahoma, and Carousel continuing<br /> to delight audiences after many, many years.<br /> <br /> In the eighties and early nineties, there seemed to be a spike in<br /> original musicals, from the spectacle that is Phantom of the Opera, to<br /> the glorious melodrama of Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. Then along<br /> came Rent and an exciting, new type of rock musical was born. This led<br /> way for future shows like Spring Awakening and 13.<br /> <br /> But something happened along the way. Broadway seemed to be dying and<br /> it needed to have a resurgence. It wanted to make money, but needed to<br /> appeal to a large audience that isn’t just made up of high-brow New<br /> Yorkers. The answer, it seemed, was to create generic, broad<br /> entertainment with a pedestrian familiarity that would appeal to Ma and<br /> Pa Jones from Kentucky, as well as hard-core theatre lovers.<br /> <br /> And this is how the new wave of American musical was born. Instead of<br /> creating something new and fresh, there were two common musical<br /> productions being churned out of the Broadway factory: The Jukebox<br /> Musical, which consists of a thin plot strung together with songs from<br /> a familiar musical artist. Billy Joel’s library created Movin’ Out.<br /> Abba’s little diddies created Mamma Mia, and the hair ballads of the<br /> 80’s bred Rock of Ages.<br /> <br /> The second new category of musicals is the most disturbing. It’s the<br /> Movie Musical. And we’re not talking about a Broadway show turned into<br /> a film (Chicago, Evita, or Nine). No. I’m talking about the fact that<br /> every “new” musical on Broadway is based on a hit movie. And not even<br /> a musical movie, mind you, just a movie that will be familiar to<br /> audiences so they will flock to the theatre to revel in familiarity. <br /> To name just a handful: Billy Elliot, The Full Monty, Sister Act, The<br /> Color Purple, Shrek: The Musical, The Producers, 9 to 5, and yes, even<br /> Young Frankenstein.<br /> <br /> Some of these shows have been acclaimed (Billy Elliot and The<br /> Producers), and because all have made money, Broadway now feels it has<br /> such a winning formula that it won’t stop. Gone are the days of<br /> risk-taking shows like Chess or productions by beloved composers like<br /> Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Aspects of Love. Now we are forced to deal with<br /> the likes of… 101 Dalmatians!! Yes, you heard me right. They’ve made<br /> a musical out of 101 Dalmatians. I mean… seriously… who thought<br /> turning a movie about a bunch of dogs on the run into a musical was a<br /> good idea? It’s almost as if Broadway has turned into an overpriced<br /> version of the kind of show you go to at Universal Studios, because<br /> it’s too hot to stand in line for the Terminator ride.<br /> <br /> Which brings me to Young Frankenstein. Because The Producers was such a<br /> success on Broadway (the movie version was a train-wreck and box-office<br /> flop), the Powers-that-Be decided “well hey now! Mel Brooks must be a<br /> musical wunderkind!” So they dug into his film repertoire and pulled<br /> out Young Frankenstein. Much of that original movie worked because of<br /> the brilliance of Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, and Terri Garr. The<br /> movie is filled with sight gags and lewd humor that appealed to teenage<br /> boys who love a good boob joke. Why this seemed like a good base for a<br /> family musical I’m not sure, but surprise, here it is. And it was<br /> successful, despite mixed reviews.<br /> <br /> The touring company reunites stars Roger Bart (as Frederick<br /> Frankenstein) and Shuler Hensley (as The Monster) from the original<br /> Broadway production. While it is a pleasure to see members of the<br /> original cast, Bart seems to be so familiar with his part that it<br /> sometimes appears like he isn’t even trying. A mug here, a kick of the<br /> heels there, and the audience roars with glee. His performance is<br /> almost an afterthought and some of his delivery choices are odd at<br /> best. In fact the whole show is odd. The performers do anything for a<br /> cheap laugh, so much so it feels like we’re watching an old vaudeville<br /> routine complete with, you guessed it, “boob jokes” and a plethora of<br /> obvious sexual double-entendres.<br /> <br /> For those not familiar with the film, Young Frankenstein is about the<br /> grandson of Victor Frankenstein, the doctor/scientist who infamously<br /> brought a man back to life. When Victor dies, Frederick Frankenstein,<br /> a professor of science in New York, is brought to Transylvania to<br /> settle his grandfather’s affairs. But upon arriving, he is met by<br /> Victor’s previous right-hand man Igor, a hunchback who pledges his<br /> allegiance to Frederick and entices him into continuing his<br /> grandfather’s work.<br /> <br /> Frederick is then introduced to Inga, a Swedish assistant whom<br /> Frederick is immediately attracted to. In an amusing, but overly<br /> obvious number, Inga sings about having a “Roll in the Hay” as she and<br /> Frederick travel in a hay wagon to Frankenstein’s castle. While she is<br /> clearly referencing the hay wagon itself, the song takes on an overtly<br /> sexual meaning complete with bouncing breasts and yodeled orgasms. If<br /> this is your cup of tea, you’ll be rolling in the hay along with them. <br /> (The dancing horses were funny, though.)<br /> <br /> Once at the castle, Frederick meats Frau Blucher, a scary housekeeper<br /> who over-dramatically recites her lines as if trapped in Hammer movie.<br /> Soon enough, Frederick becomes intrigued by his grandfather’s work and<br /> goes about trying to revive the dead.<br /> <br /> Young Frankenstein the musical has a few things going for it. The set<br /> design by Robin Wagner is gothically gorgeous and the costumes by<br /> Willaim Ivey Long are inspired. The songs by Mel Brook’s himself are<br /> catchy and clever, mixing a familiar range of styles that fit easily<br /> into the vaudevillian-style of the show, and the performances by<br /> everyone involved are energetic and for the most part, infectious.<br /> <br /> The problem with the show is the book itself. Your enjoyment of it<br /> will depend on your penchant for sophomoric humor and continuous sexual<br /> gags. Gags that a thirteen year old boy would love. (Which my guest<br /> and I witnessed as the teenage boy next to us was rolling in his seat<br /> at each dick joke.) There is a constant mugging in the production that<br /> grows weary. This isn’t a Broadway show, it’s shtick. If that’s what<br /> you want to pay $100 and up for, then by all means, this show is for<br /> you. I found myself rolling my eyes and marveling at how many people<br /> laughed out loud every time someone made reference to the Monster’s<br /> monstrous appendage or delighted in an entire song about Frankenstein’s<br /> fiancé getting it good from the Monster (“Deep Love.” Get it?).<br /> <br /> I came out of Young Frankenstein a little saddened. Why is it that<br /> pedestrian humor has became the norm for Broadway? Why is it that<br /> something familiar will get people into the audience, gobbling up what<br /> they feel is art, when it’s nothing more than a weak plot strung<br /> together by a bunch of pop songs (Mamma Mia!)<br /> <br /> I can’t say there weren’t moments of Young Frankenstein that I didn’t<br /> enjoy. The big number toward the finale where The Monster is revealed<br /> to the world and has a big ole’ tap number to “Putting on the Ritz” was<br /> perfectly choreographed by Susan Stroman and wonderfully clever. The<br /> women in the cast fare better than the men in the song department, with<br /> Elizabeth’s (Beth Curry) song about not being touched (“Please Don’t<br /> Touch Me”) being especially winning, and Frau Blaucher’s (Joanna<br /> Glushak) admission anthem that she loved Frederick’s grandfather (“He<br /> Vas My Boyfriend”) stealing the show.<br /> <br /> But when it’s all said and done, what are we saying about the American<br /> Musical and thus, theatre audiences in general? Are we just<br /> spoon-feeding them familiar product so Broadway can make a buck? Are<br /> we not allowing them to discover something new and original because we<br /> don’t think they’ll show up? Phantom of the Opera was a stunner when<br /> it opened in the eighties and got both theatre snobs and Joe Schmo off<br /> the street into the seats. Why is it Broadway doesn’t feel like they<br /> can do that again? Look at Avenue Q and even Wicked. Although it rose<br /> out of an already published work and contained familiar characters, it<br /> was still an original piece of theatre that became a phenomenon. Point<br /> being? It’s still possible to be original. It’s still possible to<br /> create something fresh that audiences will get excited about again. <br /> And more so? Give me genuine emotion over mugging any day. Make me<br /> feel something, even amidst the laughter. Make me care. Don’t make me<br /> want to go home and watch the source material instead.<br /> <br /> Sadly, I don’t think things will change much because these shows<br /> continue to draw crowds, and thus, money. And be warned… you know that<br /> someone, somewhere, is already making a case for Twilight: The Musical.<br /> And it would be huge. <a href="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/Young-Frankenstein-Credit-P-001.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.frontiersla.com/pics/Feeds/Articles/20131003/161216/Young-Frankenstein-Credit-P.jpg" width="200" height="160" style="margin-right: 12px;"/></a><br/><br/>http://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/07/29/young-frankenstein-and-the-state-of-the-amerihttp://www.frontiersla.com/wayoffbroadway/blog/2010/07/29/young-frankenstein-and-the-state-of-the-ameriThu, 29 Jul 2010 11:25:00 GMTKevin Taft