Category Archives: Reviews

“Indian Ink” Is a Tom Stoppard Gem

BY CARLOS STAFFORD, THE MODEL CRITIC
Indian Ink Poster

When you see a Tom Stoppard play certain elements are always present: he dazzles with his useage of the English language, while at the  same time offering theatrically challanging and provocative ideas.   As playwright and thinker, he often accomplishes his concepts by crafting historically ambiguous, but plausible humanistic visions from the past, and linking them in a time warp to the present, as people and emotions become linked in time, immutable. The trip is breathtaking, and his scope is large.

Luckily, two plays presented by the Roundabout, The Real Thing, starring Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cynthia Nixon and Josh Hamilton, now playing, and Indian Ink, with the incomparable Rosemary Harris and Romola Garai etc, which has recently closed at The Laura Pels, have thrilled Stoppardphiles.  Thanks must be extended to Tood Haimes of the Roundabout for his vision in bringing these two fine works to delight audiences this fall season.

Ms Harris and Ms Garai are peerless in Indian Ink; a play concerned with a magical romance in India between an English woman and an Indian man in the early 20th century; one that time-shifts to 1980’s England, uncovering a long-ago correspondence betweeen sisters. Much like Stoppard’s Arcadia, crafted in a similar telescoping motif, costumes and music are sometimes the only clues that indicate the period separation. Present characters are siblings, biographers and offsprings linked to the past that try to uncover secrets buried long ago. Clues remain, bits and pieces, but enigmas remain undefined.

Essentially, for Indian Ink, Stoppard has said that in the beginning, he wanted to have a play about a conversation between a poet and a painter.  Since Stoppard spent part of his youth in India, having been taken by his parents out of Czechoslovakia during the Nazi Invasion of  WW11, he decided to use India as rich source material for his fictional, free-spirited poet, Flora Crewe visiting India, while suffering from TB, and Nirad Das, a local painter (a wonderful Firdous Bamji) who creates a nude painting of her that survives as a legacy and clue for an English biographer 50 years later researching Flora’s life and poetry. Questions abound from the collected letters, secrets exposed perhaps, but all is imagined from the gauzy view of history.

The backdrop is Jammapour, a fictional Indian locale. The time is 1930’s India, where the English have had colonial rule since the early 17th Century under Queen Elizabeth 1. English culture dominates, but change is imminent as the gracious hosts are primed for independence with the Great Salt March, led by Mahatma Ghandi, in a non-violent protest opposing British rule that disallowed salt to be collected and sold by Indians.

Through intimate, tender and honest conversations between Flora and Nirad, we learn of Hindu culture, Krishna, Brahmin, Vishnu, Gita Govinda, etc., and the the concept of Rasa, “the essence of emotion.” Flora asks Nirad if his painting of her has Rasa. The answer gives meaning to their possible love affair, implied rather than specific, as the painting is found years later with Flora’s younger sister, now the aging Eleanor Swan (Rosemary Harris) living in England. Sensual and evocative, Flora’s and Nirad’s romance crosses cultural boundaries of what was then acceptable.

RASA: is an aspect of Hindu tradition that is defined as the essence of emotion. It has many literal meanings in Sanskrit such as “taste” or “juice.”  The term originates from the ancient Hindu teachings and is used to describe the “emotional essences” of art, literature, and the performing arts. There are nine rasas in total: Shringara (love), Hasya

(joy), Shanta (peace), Raudra (anger), Veera (courage), Karuna (sadness), Bhayanaka (fear), Vibhatsa (disgust). According to Nirad it is the artist’s duty to evoke these rasas in the viewer of a work of art. (Upstage Guide, Roundabout Theatre Company)

The story is nothing if not magically lush and transporting. Real life characters are woven into the fictional story throughout–E.M Forster, and A Passage to India is referenced, H.G. Wells, who is Nirad’s favorite English author, The Bloomsbury Group, Modigliani, who also once painted Flora (again fictionally), Arthur Conan Doyle, Gunga Din from Kipling–all embodied in conversations as life and art merge. Colonialism paints another type of reality and determines the obvious tensions and struggles with power and caste.

Stoppard succeeded in delivering Rasa. And Carey Perloff’s superb ease of direction conveyed a familiarity and understanding in guiding characters from two cultures in two distinct times.  Plus, she well understood Stoppard’s intent, and created a naturalistic, tangible environment. With one set only, used in imaginative ways, an hypnotic world was created between dream and memory, language and perhaps another Passage to India of sorts; I would say it covered as a warm breeze passing on a quiet hillside of memory.

Finally, we have an outstanding story with a beguiling sweep of romance, art, history, colonialism, religion, together with the more intimate and private reminisces of a sister, and a biographer, and the untold story of what really happened to a unique character in an equally unique place in time.

The acting was superb all around, a big success.

INDIAN INK
BY TOM STOPPARD
At the LAURA PELS THEATRE, NYC
CAST:
FIRDOUS BAMJI…NIRAD DAS
ROMALA GARAI…FLORA CREW
ROSEMARY HARRIS…ELEANOR SWAN
BHAVESH PATEL…ANISH DAS
Limited Run No More Performances

 

Almost Maine at The Hudson Mainstage Theatre, Hollywood, CA

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
AM--1-John-&-Travis

“They Fell” Cast: John Lacy and Travis Myers : Dan Warner Photography

“The World is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ~W.B. Yeats

Touching upon a spectrum of emotions and complicated human relationships, Almost, Maine now playing at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre is loaded with plenty of spunk. Developed by the Cape Cod Theatre Project in 2002 the show had an Off-Broadway run in 2006, played to critical acclaim and sold-out houses in 2010 at Portland Stage Company and comes to Los Angeles with a stellar cast, crew and writer/director team.

It’s a fast moving night in the snowy town of Almost — a town that’s so far north, it’s almost not in the United States – it’s almost Canada.  And it almost doesn’t exist.  Because its citizens never got around to getting organized.  So, it’s just…Almost.

Love is confusing and on one cold, clear Friday night in the middle of winter, while the northern lights hover in the sky above, amore goes haywire.  Almost’s inhabitants find themselves falling in and out of love, in the strangest ways.

As a series of literal and figurative, lightly connected vignettes, we go on a journey with the residents of Almost as they quite ridiculously in most cases, work out difficult, even forbidden moments with respective girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, exes and friends. The overarching theme of Almost, Maine is “lost and found love”, or something like it in any case, and although there are some lively gags, it’s not always sweet.  Following a chirpy first act, the second act almost turns somber, but is saved by a high-spirited reprieve as the story eventually and energetically revs full circle for a contented, if not absolutely joyous ending.

Almost, Maine is neatly written and entertaining, sincere and as thoroughly silly as it gets in the comedic love arena. Nine couples work their way in and out of enchantments, affections and crushes, turning the idea of love upside down at times with outrageous accusations, confessions and revelations that are poignant as much as they are funny.

Don’t pass up this offering if you can help it.  The laughs and giggles are well worth the ticket price and time spent in the seat.  Each and every cast member brings their A-game, vulnerability and range to every moment of this show without exception.  All other elements from lighting to costume to scenery are completely complimentary.

“The play is filled with with quirks, surprises and hilarity in the very human quest for connection. Better than ‘almost’.  Almost, Maine is perfect!”

Almost MaineNow Playing until December 21st
at The Hudson Mainstage
Thurs, Fri, Sat @ 8pm
Sun @3pm
General admission is $25.00
Running time 90 minutes
Playwright John Cariani
Directed by Martin Papazian
Scenic Designer Joseph Hodges
Sound Design by D.J. Moosekian
Produced by Martin Papazian, Christopher Armitrano, Peter Breitmayer & Pumpkin Eater Productions

FEATURING:

Allison Tolman, Peter BreitmayerAlex Desert, Marina BenedictMartin Papazian, Presciliana Esparolini, Samantha Sloyan, Dan Warner, Lester Purry, Nell Teare, Laura Marie Steigers, Tyne Stecklein, Misa Moosekian, Devin Crittenden, Travis Myers, John Lacy, Steve Fite, Casey Sullivan, and Ana Lucasey.

 
THE HUDSON MAINSTAGE THEATRE
6539 Santa Monica Blvd..
Los Angeles, CA. 90038
General admission:  323.960.5773

Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

6 Dance Lessons in 6 WeeksLast Tuesday evening had me sitting in the Wilshire Screening Room for the second and final preview of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, the new screenplay by two-time Writer’s Guild Award winner and Emmy nominee, Richard Alfieri based on his Broadway hit show by the same name, to be released this Friday, December 12th, in Los Angeles at Sundance Sunset Cinema, Laemmle Town Center 5, and Edwards Westpark 8 and in NY at AMC Empire 25.

The movie stars two-time Academy Award nominee and two-time Golden Globe winner Gena Rowlands as the crusty 75-year-old South Florida matron Lily Harrison who unexpectedly develops a life-changing friendship with her much younger, gay dance instructor.

Cheyenne Jackson co-stars as Michael Minetti, the frustrated, 30-year-old teacher and former Broadway chorus star who is assigned to Lily after she calls to request a private lesson.  Julian Sands plays Cunard, owner of the dance studio. And what would a dance film be without Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy award winner Rita Moreno (West Side Story) who makes a lively appearance as Lily’s cranky downstairs neighbor.

Six Dance Lessons overall is rather a delightful little film and was certainly well-received by the crowd in attendance.  The movie lightly hits all the intended points about stereotypes, prejudice, intolerance, ageism, gay issues, religion, and most of all the invisibility of older women.

“I’ve noticed so many times older women say, finally something for us,” said director Arthur Allan Seidelman.  Sincerely, this is a film dedicated especially to them.  A love story between a very much older matron and a very young man who genuinely need each other for so many reasons.  And sex actually does sort of come into play, just not for the two of them.  But the story does bring up the issue of older women, their power, loss of identity without a man, loneliness and needs beyond card games, bingo and coffee clutching.

It is a story however “by the numbers” so exact in intention that it feels at times a bit like a Sunday School lecture in relationships. The dialog “fits and starts” at the beginning and feels more like a stage play rather than a film.  In fact, Broadway is exactly where this story was originally debuted.  Characters have been added in to pad the drama and the environment between the two leads, and more layers could have filled the gaps.  But in the end, it does settle into what the director wanted to give us…a beautiful picture and a clear message.  That’s exactly what we got.

As an homage to the ladies of this film, their respective talents, beauty and full-spanning careers, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks is worth the viewing simply for the sentiment and wisdom.  Gena Rowlands and Rita Moreno are as wonderfully spot-on and snappy as ever.  Actress Jacki Weaver as the kittenish, older woman looking for a great time, throws in a tremendous amount of honesty in the few moments she is given on screen.  And all of them supported by a strong and thankfully not overbearing Cheyenne Jackson.  Overall, it’s a sweet, comedic, straight-shooting story of life lessons for everyone.  You’ll want to get your pen and paper out for notes.  Because eventually, this day is coming for all of us.

The Film Collective and Dada Films presents a Docler Entertainment Production in Association with Entpro

And Arthur Allan Seidelman Film.

Screenplay by Richard Alfieri, based on his play.

Directed by Arthur Allen Seidelman

STARRING:

Gena Rowlands as Lily Harrison

Cheyenne Jackson as Michael Minetti

Jacki Weaver as Irene Mossbecker

Rita Moreno as Ida Barksdale

Julian Sands as Winslow Cunard

LA THEATERS
Sundance Sunset Cinema – 8000 Sunset Blvd West Hollywood, CA

Laemmle Town Center 5 – 17200 Ventura Blvd #121, Encino, CA
Edwards Westpark 8 – 3735 Alton Pkwy, Irvine, CA
NY THEATER
AMC Empire 25 – 234 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036

Northanger Abbey: Jane Austen’s Classic Novel with Puppets at the Broad Stage

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

BoxTale4_639x426A very reserved and slightly curious procession with a chest of objects to the stage heralded the opening of Box Tale Soup’s adapted version of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, featuring handmade puppets and an almost exact dialog replication of the novel itself.

As shows accompanied by puppets go this one was no less charming, although much more quiet in temperament and delivery, than anything I’ve seen this year at the Broad or anywhere with any company in Los Angeles.  Appropriate for all ages, it’s definitely more entertaining looking at it through a child’s eyes. And that is my suggestion: bring your children.  And if you are attending as an adult on your own, go forth with an openness to sweetness and possibility.

Viewing at first was a bit difficult.  The Edye is small and seating a bit less raked than I’d like, but that didn’t stop magic from happening throughout the evening.

It is classic storytelling with themes of conflict between marriage for love and marriage for property, the banality of partner selection, and life as fiction.  But not to worry.  As deep as that may sound, there is plenty more then just “rational happiness” and frustration to be experienced in this production.  It is true love Edwardian style, absolutely darling with a little bit of self-made thriller thrown in.

Northanger Abbey, as a historical point of reference was the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be completed for publication, though she had previously made a start on Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.  It tells the story of the young, naive and unlikely heroine Catherine Morland who starts off as a tomboy, grows up to be a pretty girl and has a particular fascination with Gothic novels and melodrama. She is introduced into Society at Bath by her wealthy neighbors where she falls in love quite spontaneously with a dashing Henry Tilney who always seems to be out of reach.  Catherine, additionally, is thwarted at nearly every turn, by the wealth-hunting, spouse-chasing, brother and sister team, Isabella and John Thorpe, who befriend Catherine and her brother James, and keep her mostly occupied to their will until they discover that Catherine’s family is not as rich as they would prefer.  But she manages to finally get an invitation from Tilney’s younger sister to visit Northanger Abbey where she secretly hopes for a romantic connection with Henry.  It’s touch and go for Catherine who humorously and disastrously lets her overactive imagination get the best of her while visiting the Abbey.  Mistaken assumptions on both sides, for a variety of reasons, end in her being abruptly sent home. But just when all her illusions of Tilney are shattered and her destiny sidetracked, he comes back with a rescue.

“Fate manages to throw a Hero in her path and all is well.”

Storytelling comes so much more alive when puppetry is involved and in the oddest way, closer to reality.  And actors Antonia Christopher and Noel Byrne as they interact with and opposite their creations, are delightful in every way.

The length of this production and the lack of a much needed pause or intermission, are the only decided drawbacks.  I found myself fidgeting (luckily way in the back where no one could be disturbed by my restlessness) for a quicker ending.  But as all was well with our story, so was it with the world and the play.  It’s still a recommend.

BoxTale1_426x426There are 5 performances left:

Friday, December 12 @ 8pm

Saturday, December 13 @ 5pm and 8pm

Sunday, December 14 @ 2pm and 5pm

General Admission. Prices vary by performance.

Visit:  www.thebroadstage.com or call the Box Office at 310.434.3200

The Broad Stage is located at 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401.  Parking is FREE.

Neon Hitch : Eleutheromaniac

Neon Hitch HeadShot

As pop princesses go, Neon Hitch might just be the next new thing.

So if you tend to obsess on teen drama, Desi sound and gypsy pop dance tunes listen up and follow this artist!

The British singer, songwriter’s astounding voice and magnetic presence are creating waves internationally in the music industry from her hometown London, to India to America.

Hitch debuted her music in London (where she was roommates with Amy Winehouse), making her way to India and most recently completed her 22- city, “Yard Sale” national tour in America which showcased new material from her much anticipated album release, Eleutheromaniac (which means a passionate mania or obsession for Freedom) and previous #1 Billboard hits.  While hosting actual yard sale events at each show she raised funds and awareness for the LGBT community that has always supported her, along with local, homeless youth initiatives.

We think she’s BRILLIANT!

While touring across America, Neon launched first ever, fan based label #WeRNeon where she can independently release her debut album, Eleutheromaniac. The movement, which is driven by fans through virtual communications on WeRNeon.com, is dedicated to bridging the gaps between the artist and fan.

HONESTLY...YOU ALREADY KNOW NEON

The Gypsy princess has collaborated with Gym Class Heroes on “Ass Back Home”, which landed the 12th spot in the Billboard Hot 100. She has worked with Sia, Bruno Mars, Ke$ha, and Imogen Heap. She also released a series of covers and mash-ups of other artist’s songs including Wiz Khalifa’s “On My Level”, Waka Flocka Flame’s “No Hands”, and Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci”.

Hitch’s musical talent was noticed at a young age as she released single, “Get Over U” co-written by singer Sia, “Silly Girl,” “Bad Dog” and “Poisoned with Love” the latter which appeared in Teen Wolf and Now That’s What I Call Music! 40.  

Listen to the sampler of the Eleutheromanic here:

Find Neon Hitch everywhere:

Website: werneon.com

youtubeYouTube: www.youtube.com/user/neonhitchtv

Available_on_iTunes_Badge_US-UK_110x40_0824iTunes Single Available: smarturl.it/YardSaleSingle

twitter-birdTwitter: @neonhitch

instagram_GOTMLA.comInstagram: @NEONHITCH

facebookFacebook.com/NeonHitchMusic

Ed Asner Is The President in FDR

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

FDR---1

As last weekend came and went, so did the Laguna Playhouse, special event, with Ed Asner starring as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in “FDR”, a solo performance, based upon the 1958 multi – Tony award winning play, “Sunrise at Campobello” by Dore Schary.

It was a “peer group” house for Mr. Asner, which, as I overheard while waiting for the curtain to open, was rumored to include at least one 97 year old woman who actually lived, and even worked in a Roosevelt campaign organization during the presidency.  In other words, this was an audience “in the know” genuinely excited about the material and of course, Mr. Asner, who himself is considered a national treasure, high tempered, gravely voiced, hard hitting and all.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of sitting in on a public reading of a new play written essentially for and with Asner as the lead, along with one of my favorite actresses, a cast of other celebs and Los Angeles theatre up & comers.  So I will say that my excitement and expectation was very high for FDR.  Asner is a serious “shoo-in”.

Overall, I wasn’t disappointed. If you are any sort of history buff it is entirely appealing on every level from players to events. And FDR as a play is witty, entertaining and warm.  It attempts to intelligently elucidate a slightly prankster-ish, but formidible and astute portrait of our 32nd president, who realigned American politics and defined American liberalism for a great part of the 20th century.

But this production was long in the tooth, much more so than the actual historical content.  And although I’m loathe to say it, as it started off well, it became harder to stay with for the length of the play.

Breaking the story down from a 10 character dialog to a one man presentation was a hurdle even for a tsunami talent like Asner who put in “no small effort” to keep the storyline on track wading through public speeches, phone calls, conversations on stage with invisible characters, elections and straight narration.  What worked – worked; what didn’t created gaping holes, ultimately leaving Asner unsupported and having to fill the moments with out loud contemplative sighs, pauses and guffaws, until FDR was ready to burst on into the next subject.  Only by the miracle of hard core experience, creativity, innate personal power and what came across as more self-direction than collaborative blocking was Asner able to keep it going…and keep it believable.

The audience of course, thoroughly enjoyed it.  But then, 90% of the house consisted of men and women who actually lived generationally within inches in time from FDR’s four term presidency which grappled with, as a starter list: the Great Depression, New Deal politics, the creation of Social Security and World War II, to have better understood and/or continued to experience the direct repercussions of his policies for which he remained popular.

That being said, the success of FDR is in giving audiences an empathetic avenue to the personality and humanity about the president.  As a fictionalized version based on evidence, we are invited into the private office of the White House.  We become participants in his predilections to rough humor and sarcasm, imaginative and thoughtful governing, his distant yet admirable marriage to Eleanor, a pea sized insight into his relationship with his daughter, his embarrassment about having to rely on canes to stand because of his disability from Polio and his [alleged] rage at the mishandling of Pearl Harbor for which he was brutally scandalized by the press.  It has been said and written that the president had prior knowledge about the imminent attack which took place before any formal declaration of war was made by Japan.  In turn, FDR always maintained that he had given orders, that might have prevented the heavy losses sustained by getting men off the ground or out of port, but which were never implemented and that he had no knowledge of being disregarded until he received the phone call.   

Inside all of the outward drama of FDR, we get a slightly more intimate look of Roosevelt, the human being, an unapologetic man’s man of his generation, praised by the people, cited for some of the most memorable quotes in history, often criticized by the media and yet ultimately lauded for successfully steering this country through some of its darkest periods.

As FDR, Asner puts in a good fight… “he (the president) would have loved that…”

FDR was a special presentation by The Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach, CA, starring, seven time Emmy Award winner, Ed Asner, on November 19 through November 23rd.  There are no more performances.

FDR---2b

King Lear at the Broad Stage

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

ShakespeareGlobe4_426x426When I think about Shakespeare, I imagine that during his time, he might have  produced a perfect play with a company such as the modern Globe Theatre now touring and having recently made an appearance at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.  It is probably the closest and most authentic I’ll experience to true Elizabethan stage.  This cast was so very deft with every aspect of this production, every word, piece of music, physical movement and breath. It was an immersion like none other which kept my attention for almost 3 hours. And yet, except for the final moments at Cordelia’s death, I was oddly unmoved.

The Tragedy of King Lear is based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological pre-Roman Celtic King, regarded as one of Shakespeare’s supreme character and writing achievements with the title role coveted by many of the world’s most accomplished actors.  As we have come to know him today, Lear is a fearsome, powerful, largely reactive emotional man and a king to boot. He is ruthless, raw, unrefined in too many ways, even cruel and prone to favoritism on a whim as he proves in the beginning of this play.

As a way to exercise a show of it, in a most ego-centric theatricality, he forces his elder daughters to practically beg at his feet by professing,  a love he knows they don’t have for him, in a couched contest against his beloved youngest daughter, Cordelia, who he intends the best portion of his kingdom all along.  What results in a sharp and vengeful turn of events, is the utter dissolution of his power, his sanity and his life as well as all his children, even his friends.  In fact, pretty much no one gets out of this story unharmed or untainted.

This wasn’t the most robust Lear I’ve experienced.  The entire cast is endowed with an extraordinary level of technical prowess in the genre, with the text, the delivery, range and vocal power.  But Lear seemed to be acting all by himself, so much so, directing all emotion and action outward to the audience, that he left the rest of the cast to interact with each other, apace and apart. And so I found it difficult to really “connect”.  Not to mention his behavior was rather less imbued with bravado or eventual madness as opposed to jovial silliness and “possible” confusion.  It just wasn’t appealing in a way that I’d hoped, although still effective.  But that is as far as it went.

As for the rest of this production however, it is magnificent. The language is crystal clear.  The interludes wonderfully surprising.  The multiple character changes by the cast members, exciting.  In short, for any faults at all, the craft made exquisite.

So if you have had any complaints or shyness with Shakespeare before, about following the text, understanding intention, or being utterly confused for lack of aptitude with the language, there is unconditionally no danger of that; certainly not in this production.  Not a moment is ever lost.  And no distraction of any sort of bells & whistles.  Finally, a purity for “true-believers”.

The only real drawback is the attention span of American audiences which may find it difficult to sit through the length of the play.  But it’s a given that if you are going to “hear” a language play, it is an investment in time.  

Alas, this was a short run and there are unfortunately no more performances left.

KING LEAR
By William Shakespeare
Performed by Shakespeare’s Globe
Touring the UK and US on a small-scale, Elizabethan-style stage.
 
CREATIVES
Directed by Bill Buckhurst
Designed by Jonathan Fensom
Composed by Alex Silverman
 
CAST
Gwendolen Chatfield
Goneril/CuranBethan Cullinane
Cordelia/FoolJoseph Marcell
King LearAlex Mugnaioni
Edgar/Duke of Cornwall/Duke of BurgundyBill Nash
Earl of KentDaniel Pirrie
Edmund/Oswald/King of FranceShanaya Rafaat
ReganJohn Stahl
Duke of Gloucester/ Duke of Albany/Doctor