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.
Jane Kaczmarek and Alfred Molina in ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ at the Geffen Playhouse
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.
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?