Category Archives: Theatre

“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

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.

Get Your Name in a Neil LaBute Script

L.A. Theatre Works has launched its third annual online auction at Charitybuzz.

latheatreworks2Kick off your holiday shopping and charitable giving from the comfort of your own home, and take advantage of star-studded experiences not found in any stores.

Bidding is open through December 17, 2014.

Neil-LaBute-medVisit the set of Madam Secretary, have lunch with Seamus Dever and Susan Sullivan of Castle, or see Disgraced on Broadway and meet Josh Radnor.

Other items include meetings with top agents and casting directors, your name in a Neil LaBute script, and much, much more.

To view these and other exciting items, go to www.charitybuzz.com/latw. where you can register for free with no commitment to bid.

About L.A.Theatre Works
Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, L.A. Theatre Works is the leading radio theater company in the U.S., committed to using innovative technologies to preserve and promote significant works of dramatic literature and bringing live theater into the homes of millions. The company’s public radio series, featuring stage plays performed by America’s top actors augmented by interviews with the artists and others, can be heard nationwide and can also be streamed on demand at www.latw.org. Over 11,000 libraries carry LATW’s plays on audio, and recordings and teaching materials are used by over 3,000 middle and high schools across the country. For more information, go to www.latw.org.

Giving Voice to the Immigrant Experience in “La Vispera”

La Vispera_1

.

When a random, mysterious airplane part falls from the sky and crashes through the roof of their church just two days before Christmas, security guard Gio and local residents Alma, Danny, Rocio and Samuel are thrown into a tizzy. Adding insult to injury, parish priest Edgar  has been called back to Mexico for his mother’s funeral. Who will lead the service, even if that old cynic José the roofer can get the hole fixed in time? Meanwhile Johnny and Alex are both in love with José’s daughter, local zumba instructor and single mom Flor, and Flor’s aging neighbor Diana, who babysits Flor’s son, has been trying for years to bring the old man around.

24th STreet Theatre’s Teatro del Pueblo (“Theater of the Village”) returns in 2014 with the world premiere of La Víspera (“The Eve”), a warm, funny and unique holiday play about love and sacrifice created from stories shared by members of the local immigrant community during workshops with professional theater artists.

Written by Victor Vazquez, co-directed by Jesús Castaños-Chima and Sayda Trujillo, and supported by The James Irvine Foundation Exploring Engagement Fund, La Víspera gets four performances Dec. 6 through Dec. 14 at 24th STreet Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.

24-centsAll performances are in Spanish with English supertitles, and admission is only 24 cents.

Following each performance, the audience will be invited to join the performers for a Posada (Christmas procession) around the neighborhood before heading back to the theater for homemade tamales, warmponche (punch) and a traditional star-shaped piñata.

La Víspera started out as series of “story circles” in which local residents were invited to share their personal stories.

“I recognized a common theme right away,” says playwright Vazquez, who was commissioned by 24th STreet to write a play inspired by local stories. “The pain of families separated by borders, and the joy of the new families they create in another country. I wanted to honor both those realities.”

La Víspera (“The Eve”) will have four performances over the course of two weekends: Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m., Dec. 6 through Dec. 14.

The theater is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call (213) 745-6516 or go to www.24thstreet.org. Appropriate for all ages.

WHERE:
24th STreet Theatre
1117 West 24th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90007-1725

TICKET PRICE:
24 cents

PARKING:
Secure lot on the southwest corner of 24th and Hoover: $5

Join them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/24thST
Follow them on Twitter @24thST
YouTube:http://www.youtube.com/user/24thStreetTheatre

 

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