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.
Are you ready for a two hour play adaptation by great American playwright, Arthur Miller, brought to you by much loved Belgian director Ivo van Hove? Well, get ready. A View from the Bridge is on stage, albeit a very bare stage, at the Ahmanson Theatre after a run on Broadway, winning some Tony Awards, premiering in London, and winning a handful of Olivier Awards. True, awards and well known names aren’t everything, but in this case, they add up to something good.
I’m a big fan of good actors and have been known to recommend mediocre shows for the good acting alone. And please don’t misunderstand, there’s some very fine acting in this show, but you’ll want to see it for it’s concept. It’s Bridge meets Greek Tragedy, and it’s a humdinger. The stage is lined on three sides with a clear bench, and the dark wall upstage has about four stairs to a door (how very greek tragedy chic!). Due to the sheer lack of set, the show rests on the words, the actions, the silence, the emotion . . . with powerful lighting (Jan Versweyveld) and ominous sound (Tom Gibbons), which telegraphs impending doom from the very beginning. There’s no attempt to hide the outcome of this tale, and I’m in full support of the choice.
I had yet to ever see A View from the Bridge and somehow managed to steer clear of the storyline. It isn’t one of Miller’s very best plays, but I have to say it absolutely holds up and I had no problem staying involved for the two hour show. The simple story centers around a hardworking Brooklyn dock worker, Eddie Carbone (Frederick Weller), and his wife, Beatrice (Andrus Nichols), who have raised her niece, Catherine (Catherine Combs), from a young age to almost adulthood. Eddie is fiercely and inappropriately protective of Catherine as his not-so-hidden sexual desire is becoming harder and harder to repress. Beatrice introduces a potential job offer and the opportunity for Catherine to move out on her own, which is met with great disapproval from Eddie. The manner in which Catherine jumps into Eddie’s arms upon each greeting and his hand on her thigh when they chat doesn’t leave much room for pondering whether there could be an increasing problem. The fact that Eddie and his wife haven’t been intimate in ages just adds to the obvious problem.
On top of the already present family issues, the Carbones are “welcoming” two illegal immigrants from Italy into their home, which is commonly viewed as their duty, being Italian-Americans. Eddie promises to protect the new arrivals from immigration and help them find work. Marco (Alex Esola) plans to send money home to his family and return when possible in a handful of years. Rodolpho (Dave Register) has no one to provide for, so his plan is to work, have fun, and stay in America as long as possible, if not forever. Catherine is immediately drawn to Rodolpho and Eddie starts to unravel. First Eddie challenges Rodolpho’s motives in courting Catherine, suggesting that it is for citizenship alone, and when that doesn’t work, he questions his sexual orientation. Catherine is unswayed and she and Rodolfo plan to marry. You can imagine the extremes Eddie will go to prevent the marriage as his jealousy and desperation increases. There is no spoiler when I say Eddie’s actions end in bad, worse, and the worst consequences which destroy all lives involved. All the events are narrated Greek chorus style, by the lawyer Alfieri (Thomas Jay Ryan), who can see the tragic events coming, and is powerless to stop them.
The non-existent set allows for some fascinating visuals. The play opens on a steamy shower scene (no, no nudity), where the dock workers are cleaning up after their day – really impressive. The play ends with a visual that you’d expect in any Greek tragedy, or perhaps even opera. Yes, we are talking operatic-proportion visuals. There was a problem, however, with always being able to see the fantastic visuals – the Ahmanson was, I believe, the wrong choice. The audience was seated on stage stadium-style (serving as onlookers and potential judges of the action), as well as in the normal auditorium seats. From my vantage point on the floor, I missed some action upstage and couldn’t quite decipher the grand finale bang-up-visual until I stood when applauding. That’s simply not good. This show screams for an intimate setting. The Taper is set up stadium style, really, and the Kirk Douglass could have provided the most intimacy with the biggest potential to do . . . whatever! Did they choose the Ahmanson for the potential to bring in the most money? Ugh. Whatever the reason, the venue was the wrong choice and a BIG wrong choice.
Despite the choice of venue being a problem, A View From the Bridge is a thoroughly enjoyable theatre experience for it’s concept alone. Add great direction, fantastic acting and a good story to the aforementioned great concept, and you’ve got a show you should see. Get thee to the (ugh) Ahmanson, NOW!
135 N. Grand Ave.
downtown Los Angeles
Performances, Tuesday-Friday at 8 pm
Saturday at 2 and 8 pm
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm
Thru Sunday, Oct. 16.
Call (213) 972-4400 or go to CenterTheatreGroup.org
Becket (Hunter Garner) and his twin Emily (Rachel Seiferth) in Sacred Fools’ ‘Please Don’t Ask About Becket.’ (Photo by Ed Krieger)
The world premiere (eek!) of Please Don’t Ask About Becket (hum), a memory play (eek!), by celebrated playwright Wendy Graf (yay!) is on stage at the Sacred Fools Black Box theatre (yay!) with Kiff Scholl as captain director of the ship (yay!).
The thoughts in parentheses were my “before” thoughts on the situation and I’m pretty sure they hold true as my “after” thoughts. In more traditional theatre review fashion, I will attempt to explain.
First, the obligatory plot points you can find in any press release:
PDAAB is a story of a loving, but disfunctional family with every bit of power and privilege at their disposal, who could not seem to prevent the loss of one of their own. Their loss was their charismatic and gifted child, the beloved twin, Becket. Emily, the remaining twin, is haunted by the loss of her brother, and the recounting of the progression of his spiral downward is viewed through her eyes and perspective. It’s an intense play asking hard questions of the responsibility of parents in their child’s poor behavior. It raises the possibility of harm in doing too much for a child instead of allowing them to experience the consequences of their own decisions. Also, how does it all go so wrong with one child when the other appears to be fine, while being raised under the same roof?
Laughter is the thing right now. I don’t know that it ever wasn’t a thing, but I’m sure you catch my drift. It’s hip, the funny stuff. In the Los Angeles area, we are fortunate to have many live theatre options when we are in need of a good guffaw.
You can search any ARTS section to find a number of contemporary or classical comedy-type plays running at any given time; theatre that has never been seen before and theatre that has been seen a million times. There are plenty of those kind of shows here. And no matter what part of town you are in, there are standup comedy clubs that are overflowing with comedic talent. And it’s not just a bunch of white guys on stage telling dirty jokes. You can find women and men, young and old, from every background, performing clean comedy, stuff that will make you blush, and everything in between. In need of an immediate laugh? Go look up a comic on Twitter and scroll through a couple of tweets. Comedy is everywhere.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to a new label for your favorite (well, at least mine) type of theatre, the “theatre of argument.” It’s pretty catchy, no? I can’t take credit for it. I was listening to NPR recently while stuck in traffic and that phrase was used to categorize the 2013 Pulitzer Prize wining play, Disgraced, now on stage at the Mark Taper Forum. I can’t come up with anything better. NPR nailed it.
Ayah Akhtar is a playwright, novelist, and screenwriter after my own heart, who could have written Disgraced yesterday, but, in fact, wrote it in 2012, such is its relevance to today. It’s defeating to see how little we’ve figured out about dealing with Islamophobia and bringing Muslim-Americans into the fold. Akhtar has put together a humdinger of a play, with quite a cast of characters, leaving no audience member room to be safe and smug. Every member of the central event, an upscale New York dinner party, has their flaws readily on display. I’m guessing every theatregoer in attendance will change who they identify as the “good guy” and “bad guy” more than once in the alcohol infused meltdown.
There is a lot of buzz in the musical world (and beyond) about Hamilton, the musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda currently taking Broadway by storm. You can’t buy tickets unless you have a lot, and I mean A LOT, of cash in your back pocket. And no, I didn’t see it, nor am I reviewing it, although feel free to start a campaign to send me to NY! The best thing about the Hamilton phenomenon is that it gives hope for the future of musicals in America. I happen to love a good musical, and I guess therein lies the problem: the “good” qualifier. A good, or dare I hope for great, new musical can be hard to come by. We are fortunate in LA because there is another light that can be seen on the musical landscape, which happens to be a local light. It’s from the Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz.
A Brit and an American walk into a bar. Err…no, that’s not exactly right. A British playwright by the name of T.L. Shannon and American playwright Phil Scarpaci have joined forces to give us a new British comedy, Baby oh Baby. It’s premiere location of choice, the lovely little Whitefire Theatre every Saturday night at 8:00 pm in Sherman Oaks.
The play opens with two very different half-sisters living together in a flat just outside of London. Bella (played by the consistently amazing Amy Tolsky) is a single, middle aged woman who may have let herself go a bit, works out of her home for her match making business and has no real dating prospects. Angie (played by the pretty darn stellar Felicity Wren) is the attractive slightly younger sister, similarly single, who has a lot of first dates/one night stands, but no more real luck in the pursuit of a long term relationship, possibly due to her clingy, needy ways. The sisters couldn’t be more different, yet obviously get on well together.
Wait…we have two compelling and relatable women given to us by two male playwrights? Why yes, yes we do. Good job gentlemen.read more
If you are paying attention lately, there’s plenty to be concerned about: the presidential election, racism, terrorism. UGH. I know. I’ll stop. I think we can all agree that a serious dose of silliness is in order for just about all of us. Lucky for the Angelinos, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder on stage at the Ahmanson is here to save the day.
Theatre has many superpowers, one of them is to transport the audience to a better place. So, off we go to Edwardian London. Under the delightful Tony-award-winning direction of Darko Tresnjak, we meet Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey) after attending the funeral for his mother. An unexpected and unknown visitor, Miss Shingle (Mary VanArsdel) pays him a visit with intriguing news. It turns out she happens to know Monty’s mother was disinherited by her wealthy family, the D’Ysquiths, ages ago for marrying a Castilian musician for (gasp!) love. Miss Shingle informs Monte that he is eighth in line to be the Earl of Highhurst. With hope of being welcomed back to the family and a bit of their fortune, he immediately pays Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams), the girl who holds his fascination, a visit to inform her that he may be a man of importance. Her response: to draw his attention to her new pink dress. Isn’t she a keeper? Her fascination obviously lies more with herself than anyone else, and she informs Monty that she will be marrying a rich rival suitor.
You can be the judge if this is the motivating factor that sends Monte on a mission to be brought back into the D’Ysquith fold. He, as expected, is immediately shunned by his estranged family, and he sets off to meet and murder each of the members that stands in the way of him becoming Earl. Murder? This is where we are being transported? To the story of a serial murderer? Think of it as a story of murder (plural, actually; murders!) filled with shenanigans, glee, and love; there’s a little love in there, too.read more