Reviews and Interviews by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move and Guy Picot
LIFE SUCKS at The Broadwater
“Life Sucks. But what am I supposed to feel bad for you?”
As a “sort of adapted”, modern refresh of Anton Chekhov’s, “Uncle Vanya”, playwright Aaron Posner’s, LIFE SUCKS, directed by Barry Heins, is hands-down one of the most cleverly written and staged, interactive plays this season. Highly engaging and less open-ended than its inspiration, this impressive, fourth-wall breaker next-levels wit, humor, intellect and even the bravura of the presentational style itself.
Interact Theatre Company members John Ross Bowie, Anne Gee Byrd, Olivia Castanho, Erin Pineda, Lily Rains, Marc Valera, and Steve Vinovich are charged with answering, universal, life-affirming dilemmas and debates on love, longing, desire and loss among its many themes. And through the comedy of life, their characters quite hilariously stumble through the answers. But, it’s the audience that offers the summation, which makes this production also one of the most satisfying.
Super homey set (Evan A. Bartoletti), lighting (Carol Doehring), sound (Joseph “Sloe” Slavinski) and costume (Michael Mullen) design adds to the warmth of the piece as does the live music (Dylan Gorenberg on guitar and Madison Leinster on violin) and projections (Ly Eisenstein). LIFE SUCKS is a welcome tearjerker that offers a charismatic tone to venerable classic.
VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Nicole Travolta is DOING ALRIGHT
When you sink to the bottom of a bottomless pit, you might think, “It’s hard to get any lower.” But Nicole being Nicole, she manages.
The difficulty might not be so much that she’s got the last name of a famous, movie star relative (yup, that one). Or, that she’s got a family that expects way too much of her. Or, that she was a compulsive shopper who luckily freed herself from debt and shame as a reluctant spray tan artist in West Hollywood. Or even, that her father walked out on her and her mom to free himself from the albatross of their fiscal mismanagement.
It’s questionable – even with all the bad decisions she’s made or the royally awful and embarrassing catastrophes she landed herself in or outright created. And then, of course, there’s the, “being sued by AMEX, thing”. That was pretty scary.
For Nicole Travolta, however, it might just be, that being human, is the most difficult thing about life after all.
Los Angeles-based actress and comedian, Nicole Travolta returned to her home base at The Groundlings on Melrose Avenue this month, for a revisit to her solo comedy, DOING ALRIGHT, which debuted earlier this year. Tapping into her most spectacularly, cringe-worthy episodes, Travolta owns every ounce of her gloriously fucked-up self, one step, story and mimicry at a time. In her one-woman show, Travolta quite bravely risks everything, including her self-respect, in order to navigate mental, emotional and financial recovery, and get to the literal start line of her life. In the tabulation of all she’s intentionally and accidentally endured though, she’s nevertheless concluded that she’s, “doing alright”. We think so too.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at A Noise Within
A Noise Within continues to explore its “Balancing Act” season with clowns, chaos, conflict and everything “out of whack” in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. The high-stakes, high-wire production forgoes many of the customary style staples of Shakespeare’s masterwork, and imagines the contentious relationships of the play in darker and deeper tones. Visually striking and extreme in its discourse, the optics render a rather somber human picture that spills over into the already feuding fairy realm upending everyone in this tumultuous world.
Puck, nevertheless, is an even cheekier and more contrarian sprite. Titania, less Fairy Queen and more overprotective mother with Oberon just as selfish and brutish but a bit more forgivable. The lovers are no longer laughable in their follies. Nor the mechanicals rendered to the background of Bottom’s Dream. Even Hippolyta’s outrage to her unwilling nuptials is given bolder expression. The whole production is sharper in word and deed. And finally, a Helena, in actor, Jean Syquia, who plays the comedy and the language so perfectly she truly is the Goddess divine, even without the accidental love potion.
Underneath all the muscularity of the play, there is a certain and subtle weave that underscores the, “we’re all in this together” notion as each action and reaction moves the production to its inevitable close.
October 14 through November 12. Visit www.anoisewithin.org for more info.
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott
Starring: Greta Donnelly, Rafael Goldstein, Rachel Han, Zach Kenney, Kasey Mahaffy, Ed F. Martin, Trisha Miller, Hakop Mkhsian, Alex Morris, Brendan Mulligan, Cassandra Marie Murphy, Riley Shanahan, Lauren Sosa, Erika Soto, Frederick Stuart, Jeanne Syquia, Erick Valenzuela
Presented by A Noise Within, Geoff Elliot and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, producing artistic directors
The creative team includes scenic designer Frederica Nascimento; lighting designer Ken Booth; composer and sound designer Robert Oriol; costume designer Angela Balogh Calin; wig and makeup designer Tony Valdés; properties designer Stephen Taylor; and dramaturg Dr. Miranda Johnson–Haddad. The production stage manager is Angela Sonner, with Talya Camras assisting.
THE AMAZING BANANA BROTHERS at The Elysian Theatre – Reviewed by Guy Picot
You either die an artist or you live long enough to see yourself become a stuntman. Bill O’Neill uses every trick up his sleeve to explore the oldest one in the book. The Amazing Banana Brothers, directed by the award-winning Natalie Palamides, follows two daredevil brothers attempting the impossible—slipping on 1000 banana peels. Through a surreal performance of loss, failure, masculinity and death-defying pratfalls, O’Neill challenges the limits of the human body and spirit. One banana peel at a time.
The first of many jokes in THE AMAZING BANANA BROTHERS is the title, there is only ever one man on stage. Bill O’Neill was nominated Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for this tour-de-force high-brow slapstick extravaganza.
O’Neill starts the show as the aggressive and bombastic carny barker Kevin Calamity, who promises the audience 1000 banana slips, aided by his banana-peeling brother and sidekick Joey. Kevin goes off-stage to fetch Joey, who comes on alone, there is a tragedy off-stage and Joey, the underdog, steps up to perform his brother’s act.
Joey has a tentative start, doing just his half of their cross-talk intro schtick. It’s silly and funny and is no preparation for what follows.
What ensues is a masterclass in clowning. The slips arrive as advertised, not 1000, but more than enough to put a normal person in hospital. The inventive pratfalls are genuinely impressive in their relentless rapidity, but they pale in contrast to the twisted psychological drama that unfolds as Joey opens up to us. There is refreshingly sure-footed audience participation, there are songs, there are dances (one with an audience member, one with a skeleton).
An impossibly fast quick-change allows Kevin to make a brief appearance again mid-show, raising the stakes.
Although the show is ostensibly free-wheeling and anarchic, the control is total. O’Neill reveals himself by turns as a precise and delicate mime, an assured stand-up, a stunt-man, and a heart-breaking dramatic actor. There are shades of Pee Wee Herman in Joey’s endearing naivete, and echoes of Gallagher in his destruction of fruit, but I can’t think of a precedent for his nipple-twisting with salad tongs.
O’Neill takes us on an improbable journey through childhood trauma and sibling rivalry and lost dreams, and we are with him every step, ending up in a place that seems far-removed from a comedy show, but we have laughed throughout.
The show is directed by acclaimed clown Natalie Palamedes and employs every arrow in the comedy quiver, but always underpinned with real emotional justification.
The show was well-received in London both before and after its Edinburgh success. And if the capacity crowd at the Elysian are any indicator, Los Angeles will be just as appreciative.
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THE ENGAGMENT PARTY at the Geffen Playhouse
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QUIXOTE NUEVO at Southcoast Rep
Just like the story it is based on, QUIXOTE NUEVO is full of adventure and takes us on the heroic journey of two of literature’s most iconic characters, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, realized through a dark, magical Tejano-styled, comedy that takes place at the Texas/ Mexico border wall. Read More
ELEPHANTS R US at Skiptown Crawl
You expect an evening of sketch comedy to be patchy, and it was, but there were more hits than misses in ELEPHANTS R US. Listen Here
Center Theatre Group Unveils New Los Angeles Theater Initiative. Read More
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