I’m going to tread on some slightly new review ground this month. It’s all for you, the theatre enthusiast, that I enter this experiment. I’ve wanted to review the Independent Shakespeare Co. Griffith Park FREE Shakespeare Festival since I’ve been attending, which is pretty much forever now. But, the dates have never been quite right to review one of their individual shows, so, instead I will highlight the festival as a whole. And if I get you there with picnic basket (or Trader Joe’s bag) in hand, it will be worth it.
It’s summer! There’s extra pressure this time of year to get out and have some fun. Luckily in the City of Angles, we have a lot of great entertainment options. One you may want to add to your list is The Last Breakfast Club: Musical Parody at the Rockwell: Table & Stage. Gen Xers and 80’s music enthusiasts, this show is for you.
The show appropriately opens with the familiar R.E.M. song “It’s The End of the World As We Know It” as we find the expected gang of five in weekend detention. All is just as you’d expect, except there’s been a nuclear disaster and they are very likely the last brain, athlete, basket case, princess and criminal on the planet, all holed up in the library. But don’t you worry, Bradely Bredeweg (director, EP, co-writer) and Rockwell veteran Kate Pazakis (EP, artistic director, co-writer) have them all mulling over the same teenage angsty 80‘s issues from the beloved movie as well as a few new topics to add to the mix. Good ‘ole Principal Vernon is there keeping watch, although he is a now a zombie. And Carl the uptight janitor seems to have survived as well. Purists don’t fret, the changes are fun and there are a lot of them, it is The LAST Breakfast Club after all.
A CEO Woman, a Hot Girl, and a Maintenance Man walk into a bar. No, that’s not quite right, and this is not a joke. But the setup does sound like one, doesn’t it? Seven strangers get stuck in an elevator together. No, that’s really, truly the premise of Elevator and it’s currently on stage at Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood. Does it sound familiar to you? It’s possible you saw it at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2010 or at the Macha Theatre after that. But it has been awhile since you’ve had the opportunity and I say there’s no reason not to check it out.
Comedy is big. This isn’t a new thing. It always has been, hasn’t it? We have a long history of wanting to laugh, apparently. There are many options open to you as a comedy-seeker when you live in LA. Pretty much any day of the week, you can catch an 8 or 10PM (even on a school night) stand-up show in multiple locations in the city. You have improv shows in abundance, again, every night of the week. And now storytelling shows like The Moth or Mortified have gained in popularity in the City of Angels as well, which more often than not at least lean comedic. How do you weed through them all? You got me. I say hop around town and enjoy yourself while supporting live performance. But if you need a nudge in a certain direction, I’ve got a recommendation for you.
Ah, Mr. Eugene O’Neill. How is it even possible that you, Mr. Doom & Gloom, wrote Ah, Wilderness!? I’d love the opportunity to sit down and have a drink with Eugene O’Neill and discuss that, amongst many, many other things. If you follow these reviews monthly, you know both my admiration for EO, one of the “best” American playwrights, and that I sat fairly enthusiastically through 3+ hours of Long Day’s Journey Into Night last month at the Geffen. I couldn’t resist the thought of seeing another O’Neill piece the following month at A Noise Within. A completely different kind of piece, which most call a straight-up comedy (though more in the warm/feel good realm vs. the laugh out loud type), in which the main character gets his happy ending. It’s presumed to take place in the same small town as in LDJIN on July 4, 1906. And . . . that’s where most of the similarities end.
Ah, Wilderness! centers around the delightful middle-class Miller family. Nat Miller (Nicholas Hormann) is a newspaper publisher who, along with his doting wife, Essie (Deborah Strang), has been raising their four fine children, as well as providing a home for Essie’s never-been-married sister, Lily (Kitty Swink), and jovial/alcoholic uncle, Sid (Alan Blumenfeld). Wait, alcoholic Uncle Sid? Mr. O’Neill, maybe you DID write this play. Seventeen-year-old Richard (Matt Gall) is the second child and the central character who, gently mind you, rebels and pushes the boundaries by reading “daring” books, spouting socialist ideas, and quoting risque-ish poetry. As you might have guessed, he’s endearingly naive and harmless. It’s also not a stretch to predict that he happens to have fallen in love with Muriel (Emily Goss), but her grumpy and disapproving father has gotten squarely in the way by restricting his daughter to the house, and forcing her to write a letter to end their relationship. Heartbroken, Richard becomes a little unhinged, getting tangled up one crazy night with booze and fast women, before finding his way again, and returning back to her.
When was this written? Who wrote this? Okay, I admit, I didn’t ask the second question because the sole reason I went to see Long Day’s Journey Into Night was because it was written by Eugene O’Neill, thought to be the greatest American playwright (or certainly one of them) of all time, and this, his greatest play. And it’s on stage, people. Remember reading it in theatre school? Yeah, I don’t either. So this rare opportunity is yours—not only if you reside in the City of Angels, but if you live anywhere in the country; BroadwayHD will be streaming it live on March 11th at 7pm PST/10pm EST, with the broadcast then available on-demand through March 21st—if you have a subscription, of course. And this will the streaming site’s first broadcast from the Geffen Playhouse! But let’s go back to the first question. I did actually wonder to myself when this humdinger of a play was written, for two reasons: it’s really long and it’s really current. Current? Read on . . .
Storytelling is hot. I think it’s been hot now for quite some time, so maybe I should say hotter? But that doesn’t sound quite right. You get the idea. I had a terrific plan to follow the heat and catch The Moth GrandSLAM in downtown Los Angeles and share my experience with you, but it was sold out. Remember, storytelling is hot! So I searched the internet for an alternative. I landed on Rant & Rave at the Rogue Machine Theatre. Something like Mortified would have been a closer Moth match, but Rant & Rave is a storytelling-ish show and I was going!
Rogue describes the show as, “An ongoing art project where prose finds voice.” They select a group of Los Angeles writers, give them a topic word (the January show was “ESCAPE”), and a 20ish minute time limit—as far as I can tell—and the writers get up and deliver their own words. The show runs one Monday evening per month and I believe it always sells out. It runs about two hours and there is an intermission. That’s the deal.
I imagine getting a new musical ready to be Broadway-worthy is a challenge. There’s a long list of things that need to be great to feel really good about a musical. Book, music, lyrics, choreography, cast, set, etc. Amélie, A New Musical made its debut at the Berkeley Rep with the Ahmanson as the next, and last, temp home on the path to Broadway. I think Broadway audiences will be grateful for the additional LA pitstop and the opportunity to check off a few more boxes on the list of musical must haves. Unfortunately, it’s a little sparse at the moment.
I’m not sure I’ve met a person who has seen the 2001 French film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant who didn’t fall in love with it. I loved it. I also couldn’t tell you anything about it other than it was magical, REALLY magical, and that I loved Audrey Tautou. The magic hasn’t quite made it to the stage, certainly not at the film levels we are all hoping for, though Phillipa Soo as Amélie has the Audrey T. look and feel (not to mention a great resume with the wildly popular Hamilton right at the top), but just doesn’t fill the shoes . . . yet.
I love theatre. All kinds of theatre. Sometimes I like to shake things up and take a break from the traditional 99 seat theatre ( . . . or 2000 seat, whatever) with a world premiere or revival of a classic to check out one of the many sketch/comedy/improv venues Los Angeles has to offer. There’s something about the team effort and collaboration that I love. You never quite know what you’re going to see and I find that exciting. Sometimes my socks are blown off and other times I’m mildly amused, but I’m usually glad I got my tail in a seat for an hour.
TMI at the Acme Comedy Theatre in Hollywood should be added to the list if it isn’t on yours already. The show was created in 2012 by Second City folks to counter a politically minded show filled with topics from around the world that affect us all. Therefore, TMI was created to provide the stories we actually want, but don’t need, and certainly don’t want to admit to it. Sounds kind of nice, doesn’t it? They say it’s a cross between TMZ and SNL from the 70’s and 90’s (poor, poor 80’s) and that seems about right to me. Over the four years it’s been running, there have been 150-ish shows, 80-ish writers, 130-ish actors, and 140-ish celebrity guest stars! That kind of history and man/woman power is reason alone to check it out, or check it out again.
In general, I’m a fan of the shows the Geffen puts up in their tiny Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre. I’m not sure that they would bill it this way, but I find the shows to possibly be a little more edgy, interesting, risky, or “off,” and I mean that in the best way. Maybe it’s the stage where they can take more chances. Now that’s the kind of theatre I like.
The current offering du jour is The Model Apartment by Donald Margulies. Yes, I know, and you know, of the prolific and talented Mr. Margulies, and you probably love him. He’s a favorite. But I hadn’t heard of this particular offering. Is it new? Old? It turns out it premiered in LA in 1988 and years later won an Obie Award for its off-Broadway showing. But it certainly isn’t one of his best known, and it hasn’t been done here in Los Angeles, since.
The scene opens with Max (Michael Mantell) and Lola (Marilyn Fox) entering their newly purchased retirement condo in Florida (fantastic design by Tom Buderwitz), in which they will be spending their twilight years together. Actually, it isn’t their condo exactly, because it isn’t finished just yet, it’s the “model home” the developer has offered as a place to stay for a few days while their home is being completed. From an acting standpoint, the two actors are magic in their chemistry together, making it easy to believe in their long marriage together as they speak in half sentences while totally communicating with each other.