Tag Archives: Reviews

Early and Often at Open Fist Theatre, Los Angeles

Screwball comedy takes the stage at Open Fist Theatre in the west coast premiere of Early and Often written by Barbara Wallace and Thomas R. Wolfe.

Set in Chicago 1960, democrats, republicans and everyone else will stop at nothing to compete for votes, power and a political code of honor in this tumultuous, zany, murder-mystery filled with whodunits, real estate scams and plenty of illicit affairs all around.  It should have been hilarious and at times, is.  But Early and Often has difficulty finding its way through the gags, setups and style as good guys do bad things to prevent the bad guys from having their share of the “goods” when suddenly there becomes a vacancy in the state assembly.  Unevenly written and directed, there is never-the-less, an interesting show in development.

READ THE REVIEW (click here)

EARLY AND OFTEN

Now playing at Open Fist Theatre                                                                                        6209 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038

For showtimes and tickets visit: www.openfist.org

April 7-May 26th                                                                                                                     Fridays and Saturdays @ 8pm                                                                                             Sundays @ 2pm                                                                                                                              Tickets $25.00

Reviewed by Tracey Paleo

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The Model Critic Reviews: The Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet

Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
 Recently, Gelsey Kirkland’s Academy of Classical Ballet (GKA) energetically presented a truly pleasing showcase of both her young, dynamic students, as well as a debut for her newly minted, fledgling Academy.
    What was pleasing?: Youth, strength, quickness, on the one hand, coupled with a ready enthusiasm and joy exuding from Kirkland’s well trained dancers–they came to deliver their best performances with surefire commitment, nothing held back. When this fortunate event occurred, the audience didn’t necessarily look for perfection of technique from the budding dancers, which by the way was very accomplished, but to the exchange of the infectious, energetic dynamics given so generously by the performers. And indeed, grounding this energy was a very evident clarity of acting ability that connected character and story, giving the varied program depth and delight.
      The theme of the night was the “Art of the Ballerina–The Triumph of Feminity.”  Kirkland and Michael Chernov tell us, to achieve this goal “we look to the archetype of the ballerina, who represents the ideas of purity, gentleness, sensitivity, empathy, and tolerance while demonstrating strength of body, heart and mind parallel to that of the bravest heroine.”
    The program was well chosen–”Mostly Bournonville and Petipa”:  “Pas de Huit” from a Folk Tale, “Excerpts from Le Conservatoire,” Napoli Pas de Six,” from Bournonville; “Neapolitan” and “Hungarian” from Swan Lake, “Drum Dance,” and the longer closing piece from La Bayadere, “Jewels,” “Blue Bird Pas de Duex,” and “Red Riding Hood and the Wolf” from Sleeping Beauty–all these from Petipa.  And special mention to the wonderful “Pas de Quatre” by Perrot/Dolin, beautifully performed and costumed, as well as the final La Bayadere lead couple, pas de trois, and corps.  La Vivadiere by Arthur St. Leon was also exciting and well received.
    The mission statement at GKA is also well worth mentioning…“we believe the development of a ballerina is dependent on more than simply providing excellent instruction in technique; the dancer must also be nurtured in the light of inspiration and the waters of culture…to encourage a renaissance of dramatic storytelling in ballet.”
     That GKA stresses storytelling is refreshingly evident, and so correct to my mind.  So often at the bigger, important productions from abroad, as well as a trend in national companies, ballet, at times, has become showier, more gymnastical, with dancers performing bravura movements with more regularity.  Too much of this display and the message becomes the dancer’s individual prowess instead of the work at hand; everything becomes subverted, and we loose nuance and subtlety. Yes, this approach is commercial, sells tickets, and has its place in divertissements, but can in the end, become cloying and unsatisfying, beyond the spectacle, projecting nothing.  So, having the dancer’s live their roles with honesty, grounded in the context of verisimilitude with the story, will always, in the end, appeal to the audience’s desire for inspiration, transcendence, and the enjoyment of recognition of truth and beauty.
      Perhaps from this group of dancers we will one day see an individual emerge that can lead the way to a new and honest view of dance that bridges the gap to the past (i.e. Dame Margot Fonteyn), and reflects the actual gift of performance that Gelsey Kirkland herself offered the world of ballet.  Look at her Nutcracker for instance!
  Here’s wishing the Directors, Faculty, and dancers all the luck in achieving their goals, and congratulations on your auspicious beginnings.
(company photos courtesy of GKA)

Gia Reviews: Fruit Fly Now Playing at The Celebration Theatre in Hollywood, CA

 Fruit Fly the new show written and performed by Leslie Jordan is enough to make any other Southern Belle blush.  And, with plenty of hilarious humor, playfulness, twists, turns, hammed up bloopers and a little bit of polite dissing, Mr. Jordan gives us a surprising, sentimental and bittersweet picture of what it was like growing up a boy who really loved being a girl in the South, with the off-handed help of his grandmother, Mary Lucille, and mother whose early sage advice was, “just don’t tell daddy,” giving us more than a devilish take on the age old question, “Do gay men become their mothers?”

Read the review by clicking:  HERE

Now playing at The Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 18. $34. Call (323) 957-1884  or www.celebrationtheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Reviewed by Tracey Paleo

Food Review LA: Tiro Vino Wine Bar

by Tracey Paleo

SPUMONE!  The password to delight.

Tiro Vino Wine Bar on Melrose Avenue has become my Saturday night home away from home and choice of casual movie theater experience. (yes, really, it’s the bonus.)  It’s warm, osteria/bar feeling mixed with elegance and down right Italian chic surpasses expectation in friendliness and food including desserts — especially ones like the uniquely Neapolitan, favorite, Spumone.  This better than gelato sampler, introduced to the United States in 1870 as a Cosmopolitan-style ice cream, is the perfect trifecta for variety seeking taste buds.  And along with a completely eclectic menu whose flavors are as delightful as the restaurant itself, you will find that eating fresh and dining Italian never tasted soooo good!  And you can always get a seat at the bar.  Dinner and a movie anyone?  READ THIS REVIEW.  CLICK HERE.

Did you know that August 21st is National Spumoni Day in the United States and November 13th is National Spumone Day in Canada?

Tiro Vino is now Closed.

The Model Critic Reviews The Sokolow Theater Dance Ensemble

Cunningham Studio, New York, New York
 Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
 
Anna Sokolow (1910-2000), iconic modern dance choreographer, whose career vigorously spanned the entire 20th Century; an artist in whose life and times  collaborated with many of the great dancers and choreographers of her era; an artist with deep roots in Israel, Mexico, and the New York dance scene, was honored with a performance of a few of her representative pieces, Nov 14th, at the Cunningham Studio.

Photo Credit: Meems

 
Before “Odes,” the most important offering of the evening, a short film presented Sokolow working with dancers at Ohio State University, and these asides are loosely recalled:
 
Words lie, movement never lies.
Steps are important, but what really matters is the mood and the drama created.
I don’t want to be popular.  I don’t want to please everybody.  I want to tell the truth.
 
Sokolow, above all, wanted her dancers to be committed, to be connected to belief, to seek the most beautiful way of expression.  She also stressed clarity of movement, and definite, strong gestures.
 
“Odes”–Accompanied by flutist Roberta Michel, and music by Edgard Varese, twenty-three dancers created an intense, highly dramatic mood of terror and dehumanization.  With mechanical blips and bleeps in the soundscape, conveying the interior horrors of a concentration camp, the dancer’s frenzied movements of fear and impending doom created a frightening mood.  The dancer’s total commitment to living the choreography with honesty, belief, and energy made this piece entirely engrossing.
 
But if you were to deconstruct the choreography from “Odes” and “Two Preludes” which topped the evening’s presentation, the dominant theme would be pain and suffering, nothing light, nothing edifying;  misery, we would find, is the human condition, the overriding motif of these dances.  That Sokolow defined this theme well cannot be denied here; in this sense she accomplished her ends.  In “Two Preludes,” an intimate solo, danced beautifully by long-limbed Melissa Birnbaum, we have a dance created twenty years after “Odes,” but with the same mood, although not as deadly intense:  remorse, loss, internal suffering, contractions to the floor, implosions of energy, fetal postures, head cupping, unsteady footing–everything pointing to imprisonment on being.  The same applied to the personal work of artistic director Jim May, in his solo “Passage” and “At the Still Point of the Turning World” by Ernestine Stodelle–a very literal dance to a poem by T. S. Eliot; both encompassing the very same themes–No Exit.
 
As you view these dances, you are reminded that as culture evolves, language changes.  The same applies to dance vocabulary–the symbols and images become dated and loose their frisson.  For example, if you see a performance of a Broadway show like “A Chorus Line” today, it reads as refreshingly quaint, and a bit dusty; no modern viewer would believe, for all its merits, that it had won a Pulitzer Prize in its day.  It simply doesn’t speak to today. The same applies with these museum pieces by Anna Sokolow; once relevant, but difficult to watch now.
 
But most relevant to this performance, is the notion of depressing doom and gloom.  It begins to look like artistic self-indulgence or posing–to have one idea pounding out the nastiness of life, and nothing else. Of course few view the world quite like this, or else we’d all jump into the East River. Finally, we can look at this performance either as a bad choice of programming the pieces of this legendary choreographer, or perhaps as a real glimpse into Sokolow’s concerns as a choreographer.  In either case, it was difficult to watch, not solely because the dance movement did not transcend time, but because the ideas expressed were not balanced.
 

Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake! at Sacred Fools

Justin Timberlake your my hero!

“Awesomeness” wins the day in the current production of Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake) written by Sheila Callaghan and directed by Jeremy Aluma (and I still have no idea why he makes an appearance in this show…But who cares!  Cool and chemicals Set The MoodDude you rule! )

Managing to elude the creep factor of a vengeful, languishing apartment with its own personal opinion of cleanliness and living, a spiteful and troubled little girl with a death wish and a mom who can’t see past her own panic attack induced hysteria or the kitchen, Sacred Fools Theater turns in an amusing, South Park style rendition of a family in turmoil and falling apart in every possible way.  Read the review.

Reviewed by Tracey Palwo

Monkey Adored at the Rogue Machine

Through allegorical collage, puppetry, projection and “animal magnetism”  playwright Henry Murray explores the ideas of experientiality versus DNA, sexuality and violence, and prejudice in Monkey Adored, a humorous, modern day Animal Farm, farce.  Read the review…(click here)

Bechnya at the Hudson Theatre, LA

After a number of award winning plays taking on the issues of Eastern Europe, writer, Saviana Stanescu, turns in a convoluted, hot, mess of a production at the Hudson Theatre in Los Angeles. Not knowing what she wants to say, Stanescu takes us back and forth from America to the fictional town of Bechnya in search of revenge, answers and atonement for the bitter fate of a sister who lives through the neglect of orphanages and the horrors of war after she is abandoned by her baby sister through an American foreign adoption.  A modern Grimm Fairytale with several kinds of endings, a history lesson and a play that would have done better to present itself as an art installation commenting on adoption, religion, war and family.  Click here to read the full review.

The Model Critic Reviews the passion of ABT’s Swan Lake

SWAN LAKE

American Ballet Theatre

Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic

A ballerina must possess many qualities, but balance, strength, and control are paramount.  Earlier this summer, Polina Semionova, guest artist with ABT, was truly flawless as Odette-Odile.  Her balance was deep-center to gravity, unfailing the entire performance; her understanding and ability to execute choreographic form and detail, and her unerring musicality, drew great moments of audience appreciation, while her shimmering arms were seemingly boneless, and otherworldly.

Take the beautiful pas de duex in Act Two with Prince Siegfried (Marcelo Gomes) and Odette, by the lake:  A study in simple passé, pirouette, arabesque en dedans, then en dehors, repeated with slight variations in all directions, creating a heroic, poetic vision of liquid smoothness between the lovers.

Siegfried finds his young, seeking soul in Odette.  He must choose a bride to become King.  As a human, Odette, transformed and trapped as a swan by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart, awakens him. Only able to become human at night, she tells of her plight: the spell can only be broken if a virgin youth swears his undying love. When they dance, Gomes dances Siegfried with the requisite passion and abandonment of an unbounded soul.  Semionova, on the other hand, plays Odette, not withstanding her powerful technique and luminous dance ability, with an emotional remoteness, an indecipherable heart. [Was that her choice?]  Gomes combines scintillating dance with passion, and projects a more fully realized performance. He communicates deep feeling with a virile, but open sensitivity, that is remarkably rare in a dancer.

photo courtesy of The Prince and the Swan blog

Two years ago, I must mention that Gomes danced Siegfried with the great, but now retired Nina Ananiashvili. Then, perhaps because he wasn’t so sure of his role, or for whatever other reason, he too was more of a technician, and didn’t communicate subtlety.  Ananiashvili, like Gomes in this Swan Lake, was the total package.  Even though at the end of her career, her technique faltering, but still blazing, her ability to transmit the complex feelings of Odette/Odile was fully realized. In her case, she always possessed passion, combined with impeccable dance ability, first seen when she made her American debut as Kitri in Don Q, at the New York State Theatre. And even though it’s not fair to compare dancers, since all bring special, individualistic talents, nonetheless, passion and depth of character rank high in how a performance is perceived;  it’s that ineffable quality that permeates along the stage lights into the darkness of the theatre, creating a transporting magic.

Of course, this is what makes dance the most wonderful of the performing arts.  Watching a ballet competition, for example, of eight couples dancing the third act of Sleeping Beauty, you’ll witness eight individual energies, all creating something different while the music and choreography remains the same, the technique similar.  Some wonderful, unidentifiable spark differentiates the performers.  Is it experience?  Is it soul? Is it some kind of knowingness?  As a dancer grows and matures, they seem to naturally deepen their understanding of character, as Gomes realizes in this Swan Lake.

At Siegfried’s birthday party, the corps dance around the spinning maypole, weaving and unweaving the ribbons; wearing festive violets, muted lavenders, and royal blue outer skirts, with tiaras for the women; men, in handsome waistcoats that mimic the same colors.  On marbled floors, in the outside garden overlooking the lake, drinks are served in golden cups. The Queen Mother, played by former ABT’s outstanding principal dancer, Susan Jaffee, presents Siegfried with a crossbow, and all celebrate.  The very lyrical pas de trois, at the end of the party, the fading sun, and the exotic reverie dance, bring the ensemble together for a soft close; then, an unexpected, rousing and proud Czards, to dignify the proceeding, and pulse the heart, like a final kiss of departure. His young heart full, Siegfried wanders into the forests to soothe his yearning soul, alone.

What makes Swan Lake such a captivating work of Art?  One could start with the mythical proportions of the story:  the metaphor of the eternal quest for authenticity and wholeness; spiritual ascendency through heroic and unconditional love; the moral struggle and triumphant battle over the smoke and oppression of evil–all elemental forces.  Call it Swan Lake, Swanansee, Le Lac de Cygnes, what you will, staged and re-staged for the last 150 years, since Petipa and Lev Ivanov choreographed, and Tchaikovsky’s mesmerizing score; the elements of story, mood, magic, poetry, and  dazzling symphonic ideas, never ceases to enlighten, transport, and make this work a holy event.

The audience applauds in profound appreciation, realizing what it has witnessed is not ordinary–the uplifting love expressed in the final act; Odette’s signature, joyous celebration of freedom, completing her triumphant thirty-two perfect fouettes; to the lovers final leap of faith– all epitomizes this dazzling work of Art: a strong coherence of music, choreography, and libretto; the unity of flutes, oboes, violins, and horns, the blending of stylized, ideal human movement, and finally, the depth, variety, and passion of a genius score. Clearly, Swan Lake has no equal in Ballet.

The Model Critic Reviews: ABT’s Coppelia

COPPELIA

Dance Review by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic

    It was a grand night for ABT’s, Paloma  Herrera!  This Argentinean-born dancer, celebrating her twenty seasons with American Ballet Theatre, and dancing in one of the most cherished of all ballets from the Classical Era, presented a perfect opportunity for Ms. Herrera to perform once again, and to remind audiences of the immense pleasure she has so graciously given throughout the years–quite an extraordinary accomplishment.

http://youtu.be/WGrBNYLahmc - Paloma Herrera’s Final Bows.

A Tribute to ABT's Paloma Herrera

     One can’t ask more from a ballet than Coppelia.  Consider the lush music of Leo Delibes, first performed in Paris in 1870, filled with gaiety and surprising variety; paired with the choreography of Frederic Franklin (after Nicholas Sergeyev), presenting a panoply of Mazurkas, Czardas, Spanish, and Scottish character dances, embedded harmoniously into the development of comedy, love dances, and group celebrations. Add to these, the tone poems dances of Hours, Dawn, and Prayer, in Act 111, and you have a rich amalgam of visual and aural art.

    The story is simple and sweet.  Franz (Angel Corella) is in love with Swanilda (Herrera), but sees a doll in Dr. Coppelius’ (Victor Barbee) window, reading a book, and falls in love with her.  Swanilda becomes jealous, sneaks into Dr. Coppelius’ workshop with friends at night, and discovers that the doll is merely what she is, a doll.  Coppelius discovers the intruders, and chases them away, except for Swanilda, who quickly disguises herself as the doll. She then decides to play a trick on Coppelius, and come to “life” as the doll.  Coppelius thinking he has created an animate being ( historically in the realm of Dr. Frankenstein), has drugged Franz, who has also tried to sneak in the workshop, and proceeds to try to magically imbue Franz’s heart to Swanilda.  As Swanilda mechanically moves through the workshop, with the help of Coppelius, she magically “transforms” to human.  She dances her Spanish and Scottish dance with fine style and to the delight of Dr. Coppelius; then proceeds to create mayhem in the workshop by winding up all the other dolls and running amuck. All intruders escape, and the next morning the villagers celebrate the many marriages.  The Burgomaster gives dowries of gold to all, including Dr. Coppelius, for the trouble he has endured, and all are united in joyous celebration.

    The dances seem to come and go fluidly throughout the performance, as each builds from grace note to grace note.  Moving from the introduction of the villagers in Act 1, to the celebratory dances for the impending nuptials, elegance and aplomb is on proud and playful display.  Special mention to the Polish Mazurka, and Czardas performed with charm, masculine haughtiness, and most of all, elegance; to the Grand Pas de Duex with Corella and Herrera, cast perfectly together, and delighting the audience with their intuitive partnering. Herrera, small, pixyish, and flexible was at the same time, comedic as the doll, and romantic and expressive as Swanilda.  As for Corella, one could say he always brings his welcomed boyish charm, and dances his heart out with each performance.

    In Act 111, the children from JKO’s school for ABT, performed wonderfully in beautiful light green tulle, and presented a visual and poetic dance to the passing of the hours.  Stella Abrera gloriously performed her tribute to dawn, and Marie Riccetto’s prayer dance, was moving and delicately reverent.  Mending their love, Herrera and Corella, ended the performance to the great familiar music, and an astonishing fish dive, where the ballerina is lifted and quickly tilted forward, body inverted.  Usually done to the front, the audience was rewarded with a spectacular bravura dive to the rear.  Both dressed in shimmering white, displaying open and gracious personalities, set the tone for the real celebrations afterwards.

Bang! Out of the (Black) Box

“And we’re off!”

The Hollywood Fringe Festival has begun and right from the start shows are putting their best feet forward.  I am pleased to say that I probably had the very good fortune to see one of the best playing in the next two weeks that Fringe has to offer.

THE NEXT BEST THING written and performed by Antonio Sacre was a powerhouse that not only touched my heart but tickled me pink with its humor — some of which takes place in my own home town (Boston, MA).  A must see for — and this will be a surprise — all men heartbroken or destined to be.  Read my review on LA Theater Weekly for more…

The Model Critic Reviews: The Importance of Being Ernest

 
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
by Oscar Wilde
Reviewed by Carlos Stafford
The Model Critic
     The supremely accomplished English actor, Brian Bedford, both directs and acts in this revival of Oscar Wilde’s, The Importance of Being Earnest, at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater, in New York City.  It comes here via Des McAnuff’s production in Ontario’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Please pass the scones and marmalade, we’re in for a wild ride.
    At a time in Bedford’s career, where he easily could be playing Lear, Cardinals, and Popes, he instead tackles the imperious, supercilious Lady Bracknell, in drag. That the gifted Bedford plays this hefty role, against type and gender, would at first seem distracting. But truly, the moment he first arrives on stage, he creates an immediate suspension of disbelief.  With only his face exposed, dressed in outlandishly beautiful period frocks in colorful silk, wigs, hats, jewels, and eyelashes, he delivers Lady Bracknell’s character with hilarious tartness and aplomb. Playing the character in a ” serious manner,” he confidently never telegraphs, or cajoles the humor, but rather lets the lines resonate on their own, “trippingly on the tongue”. Perfect!
    As far as the play itself, it is easily one of the Greats in modern English drama. The famous Lady Bracknell interview with the suitor, John (Jack) Worthing, for Gwendolen Fairfax’s hand in marriage is brilliant:
                Lady Bracknell:  Do you smoke?
                Jack:  I must admit I smoke.
                LB:  I’m glad to hear it.  A man should always have an occupation of some kind.  There are
                       far too many idle men in London as it is.
                LB:  I have always had the opinion that a man who desires to be married should know everything or nothing.  Which do you know?
                Jack:  I know nothing, Lady Bracknell
                LB:  I am pleased to hear it.  I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance.
                       Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit, touch it and the bloom is gone.  The whole theory
                       of modern education is radically unsound.  Fortunately in England, at any rate, education
                       produces no effect whatsoever.  If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper
                       classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
                LB:  Are your parents living?
                Jack:  I have lost both my parents.
                LB:  Both?  To loose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both
                       looks like carelessness.
    When Jack reveals that, as a child , he was found in a hang-bag  in Victoria Station, Lady Bracknell delivers her famous “In a hang-bag?” response in a voice so low and aspirated with chagrin and disbelief, that the air fills the entire theater, reaching the usher at the rear in Row ZZZ.
    As for the play itself, Wilde’s clever work cuts in many farcical directions; essentially, a humorous look at the desiccated, starchy manners of English high culture during the Victorian Age, where people don’t say exactly what they mean, have secret agendas, small larcenies, and hidden pasts. For love, both Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing  assume the name of Earnest, while Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew, will marry no one but a man called Earnest, creating hilarious entrapments.
    But for all the comedic repartee, verbal badinage, and witty aphorisms, it amounts to nothing but a tempest in a teapot–earnestly pure entertainment, without any real moral or social significance. One leaves the theater refreshed and delighted.  And bringing this all together, along with Bedford, was a fine assemblage of actors–notably Sarah Topham (Gwendolen) and David Furr (Jack Worthing), who were very good, and of course, the reliable Dana Ivey as Miss Prism and Paxton Whitehead as Chasuble.
    I once saw this play done in Killarney,Ireland, in a small pub over pints of Guinness; perhaps twelve people drinking and watching.  One of my partners, not a fan of drama of any sort, had a huge grim on his face throughout. Afterwards, he grabbed my arm and asked again the name of the play, if it wasn’t already obvious, then bought rounds for everyone.
    It would be looked upon as carelessness if you missed this play.
 CAST
 Lane                                Paul O”Brian
Algernon Moncrieff       Santino Fontana
John Worthing               David Furr
Lady Bracknell              Brian Bedford
Gwendolen Fairfax       Sara Topham
Cecily Cardew               Charlotte Parry
Miss Prism                    Dana Ivey
Rev. Chasuble               Paxton Whitehead
Merriman                    Tim MacDonald
Servant                        Amanda Leigh Cobb