Category Archives: Theatre

Challenging Fear in an “Office Hour” at South Coast Repertory

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
Raymond Lee and Sandra Oh in South Coast Repertory's 2016 world premiere of Office Hour by Julia Cho. Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.

Raymond Lee and Sandra Oh in South Coast Repertory’s 2016 world premiere of Office Hour by Julia Cho. Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.

“Is there a more primal emotion than fear?” asks writer John Glare in his introduction to Office Hour, a world premiere commissioned by South Coast Repertory from Korean-American writer Julia Cho (The Language Archive, The Architecture of Loss).

Office Hour is a psychologically riveting and hypothetical amalgamation of real events sparked by the mass school shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 and further influenced by the more recent shootings at UC Santa Barbara. It is one of the most important discourses on the subject of “what if” theatre-goers will experience this year.

Experientially disturbing, embedded in every inch of this text is fear – rational and irrational, unsettling hopelessness and deep internal pain. It is a teacher versus student deadlock in a potentially un-savable situation. It is a struggle for control and identity recognition, a desire to be seen, to claim a humanity that has been stripped because of a person’s “difference”.

Dennis, a seemingly troubled, Asian student in a college screen-writing program composes frightening pornographic, sexual violence, which scares his fellow students and professors alike. All except one – Gina an adjunct professor, also Asian, who thinks he’s weird but not all that unusual. When her colleagues complain about his writing and borderline psychotic classroom behaviors they ask Gina, whose class Dennis is now attending, to “talk” to him hoping she might find a “way in” via their shared ethnicity. Dennis has not actually broken any official school policies and has managed to maintain his grades so the meeting itself already borders, “crossing the line.” But Gina finds a way to do it and it sets the stage for a series of explosive confrontations.

Throughout a single hour, Gina breaks through Dennis’ silence and faces off with him, his intentions, motivations and whether or not he is actually in control of his overwhelming anger, in control enough to either not hurt himself or hurt others. At times, tender at others fiercely combative the session becomes increasingly intense with each new discovery about Dennis’ childhood, his family, his sexual experiences, his outcast status and the depth of his despair.

Real time scenarios continuously shape shift with frighteningly violent, alternate outcomes that challenge perspective in the mere seconds they appear, before returning to the apparent conversation at hand. The possibilities of what could happen in these moments as opposed to what does, are so shocking that each time, we are oddly left in a middle space, a dilemma of conscience, perhaps more enlightened as to the “why” of Dennis but not the “what if”.

Dennis is Gina’s Matterhorn – a mountain of all mountains. There may never be a way to save him or for Dennis to save himself. Gina continues to hope.

Sandra Oh is brilliant in her utterly heartfelt, rational and determined performance; an embodiment of a concerned teacher culturally and personally empathetic to Dennis’ issues having lived them. In some ways, Dennis is a sort of reflection of herself.

Raymond Lee has taken Dennis to an eye-opening extreme of a young man in torment existing at a razor-thin edge.

Performances by Sola Bamis (Genevieve) and Cory Brill (David) round out this play “full spectrum”.

Office Hour is chilling yet profoundly moving and thought-provoking.  It focuses a highly sensitive lens on our personal paranoia, over what could happen in this age of aggressive terrorism and deranged violence and the ongoing debate as to what to do when faced with an uncomfortable person or situation. How do we judge, decide, act. And are we truly objective, or living merely in anxiety? Are we seeing the truth or are we irrationally creating what isn’t necessarily there?

Superb direction by Neel Keller is even more enhanced by a hair-raising lighting design by Elizabeth Harper, sound design by Peter Bayne and beautifully uncomplicated scenic design by Takeshi Kata and Se Oh who use every inch of the space to perfection.  Costume design by Alex Jaeger absolutely serves the genre.

Written by Julia Cho
Directed by Neel Keller

David (student) – Corey Brill
Genevieve – Sola Bamis
Gina – Sandra Oh
Dennis — Raymond Lee

This show is now closed.

Judy! Liza! Peter! Live From “The Boy From Oz”

Reviewed by Marc Wheeler

gia on the move theatre reviews marc wheeler

The life of Peter Allen takes center stage in The Boy From Oz, the Australian-turned-Broadway hit now getting an ambitious 51-seat West Coast premiere at Celebration Theatre under the direction of Michael A. Shepperd.

Who’s Peter Allen?

That’s what I asked when I first heard of this musical. (It’s also what I asked at intermission, but we’ll get to that). The Boy From Oz — book by Martin Sherman, original book by Nick Enright — seeks to answer that question in its sweeping journey from the 1940s-1990s. Briefly, Allen was an award-winning, Australian singer-songwriter who found international success performing in stage shows large and small, from his humble beginnings in pubs and cabarets, to Radio City and the Sydney Opera House. His songs were performed by Olivia Newton-John, Melissa Manchester, Frank Sinatra and others. And it was through a chance encounter with Judy Garland that he met and married her daughter Liza Minnelli before divorcing and coming out as gay.

Ohhh, THAT Peter Allen!

It’s no wonder Celebration — LA’s historic LGBT theater — gravitated toward this show. Their current home at The Lex, however, poses significant challenges in mounting a big Broadway musical. But as they demonstrated a few years back with their wildly successful, small-stage production of The Color Purple, they’re more than crafty at fitting large pieces in intimate spaces.

Which transitions me ever-so-winkingly to the production’s celebrated sexuality. Shepperd knows his audience, and eye candy — for any persuasion — is assured. The show’s intimacy is tender (especially its depictions of Allen’s later years romance), and blatant sexuality — albeit brief — is surprisingly edgy in an otherwise kid-friendly production. The Stonewall Riots are also dramatized (kudos to Eric Snodgrass’s smashing sound design) giving poignancy to sexual awakening.

Peter Allen’s played by fellow Australian Andrew Bongiorno, whose smile is as pleasant as the vocals emerging from it. And yet for all of Act One, even during Allen’s more vulnerable moments, I couldn’t see beyond his saccharine-sweet persona. I thought, Is this it? Is this Peter Allen? And if so, why did they make a musical about him?

Is Bongiorno missing something?
Am I?

I decided to go with Am I? and sat back in my seat. And as Act Two began I realized Shepperd knew exactly what he was doing all along. If Act One is Allen’s caterpillar, Act Two is his butterfly. And boy does he.

Self-love and acceptance do wonders for the soul, and Allen’s spirit flies high and proud, storm clouds be damned. And there are storm clouds. And there is an end — one tied beautifully to “long-ago” Allen, played with an indomitable spirit by Michayla Brown. Her casting is truly inspiring, proving that a young Asian girl can play the childhood version of a white Australian man — this being theater after all.

Kelly Lester is outstanding as Allen’s mother whose support and love rival her constant worries. Her heartbreaking anthem “Don’t Cry Out Loud” not only informs the story, it dares the audience, such power consumes her rendition.

Jessica Pennington is the spitting image of Liza Minnelli, thanks in large part to Michael Mullen’s (across-the-board) glorious costuming, Byron Batista’s hair and wig design and, alas, genetics. While vocally she’s not a dead-ringer, she’s within range. She shines brightest when Liza stands tallest, as in “She Loves to Hear the Music” where Liza claims her power and Pennington shows off hers.

And then there’s Bess Motta as Judy Garland. Make that, Bess Motta is Judy Garland. Her vibrato, gestures. Her throwing the mike cord over her shoulder just so. All of it: Judy. In serenades she takes the audience with her, transporting us back in time. Those who were there can relive their memories, and those who weren’t can swear they were. Power, insecurity and ferocity permeate this performance. Garland’s time in Oz is, like her life, too brief, but ohhh does Motta make the most of it, for all of us.

A strong, multi-racial ensemble rounds out the cast. And one couldn’t ask for a more perfect “descending staircase” in actors’ heights for staging aesthetics.

I was sure The Boy From Oz was a mix of songwriters, Allen making up about half the songs. But no: music and lyrics, they’re all his (including those co-written with Carole Bayer Sager, Burt Bacharach, etc). Notably, “Best That You Can Do,” “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady On Stage,” “I Honestly Love You,” “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and “I Go to Rio” are familiar hits that may inspire a few I didn’t know he wrote that! remarks. But mixed in with these bygone pop songs are some less successful “stage tunes.” None that bad, fortunately, they’re just not all dandies. That being said, a four-piece band under the musical direction of Bryan Blaskie gives this jukebox musical the sound it deserves.

Janet Roston’s choreography is fantastic. Whether bringing cutesy-silliness to the “Love Crazy” ensemble routine, Fosse-esque moves to a Liza number, or orgiastic simulations to “Continental American,” her range is broad and execution sharp.

Celebration Theatre’s The Boy From Oz is a strong example of what can happen under L.A.’s 99-Seat Plan. Not only is it an outside-the-box choice considering its venue size, it’s slick, polished and inventive (risk-taking being an encouraged component of the Plan.) Granted, I find its song selection mixed, and Act One — at least in this staging — had me feeling rather unsure, but by the end I was completely won over. This is, in large part, a wonderful production celebrating — as only Celebration can — the life of a man who learned not to keep it inside.

Now playing through June 19, 2016

Celebration Theatre @ The Lex Theatre
6760 Lexington Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays – 8:00 PM
Sundays – 2:00 PM

Running time:
2 hrs and 20 mins. One intermission.

Tickets:
$45 Reserved
$40 General Seating

Call 323-957-1884 or visit: celebrationtheatre.com

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Death Cab for Cutie, Headline 2016 Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival

AnnouncementThe official lineup for the 46th Annual Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival at the Seattle Center over Labor Day weekend, Friday Sept. 2 through Sunday Sept. 4 includes  Headliners: Seattle natives and hip hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, alternative rock band Death Cab for Cutie, and critically acclaimed Norwegian producer KYGO, among others.

More than 140 additional artists will perform throughout the weekend on more than a dozen indoor and outdoor stages spread throughout the 74 acre festival grounds, including both Memorial Stadium and KeyArena.

To celebrate Seattle’s Festival, headliner Macklemore will throw out the first pitch at Safeco Field during “Bumbershoot Night” on April 29. Fans who purchase a ticket to the Bumbershoot section at Safeco Field will receive a Mariners Bumbershoot T-shirt.

TicketsTickets are available at a special discount using promo code “BUMBERSHOOT”

Event Pass Information and Lineup

Passes for Bumbershoot go on sale Friday, April 29 at 10 a.m. PT

3-Day Passes, starting at $180
Gold Passes, $400
Emerald VIP, $700

Bumbershoot 2016 (PRNewsFoto/Bumbershoot)Arts and Culture Programming Highlights

In addition to a diverse music lineup that includes 90 acts, from international headliners to emerging local artists, Bumbershoot programming includes comedy, film, dance, theatre, words and ideas, youth activities, and more.

Comedy: Ron Funches from NBC’s Undateable as Shelly will bring his comedic talents to Bumbershoot along with Comedians of Comedy alum Morgan Murphy, The Improvised Shakespeare Company, and Seattle native Nick Thune.

film-iconFilm: With something for every age and taste, the 1 Reel Film Festival — curated by the Seattle International Film Festival — will serve up a selection of the year’s best short films.

dance_iconDance: Returning in 2015 after a few year hiatus, Bumbershoot’s dance programming offers a strong lineup of talent in 2016 including MaximumVELOCITY, a showcase of top contemporary choreographers and dance groups and the Northwest’s premiere breaking and street dance competition, Reign Supreme, which drew huge crowds in 2015.

Theatre-Set-Theatre-masks-iconTheatre: Curated by Theatre Puget Sound, 2016 theatre performances will include Are You There God? It’s Me, Karen Carpenter, a musical that juxtaposes classic coming of age novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret with the music of the Carpenters and an unforgettable performance from Tattprov, which includes one member of the comedy group getting a tattoo based on a suggestion from the audience.

PoetryWords & Ideas: Words & Ideas guests include local poet, writer and filmmaker Sherman Alexi, podcast sensation Chris Allen, Seattle’s premiere political comic (according to Seattle Weekly), Brett Hamil, and the writers of Amazon series Transparent.

YOUNGERSHOOT: Returning for its 6th year the Seattle Children’s Museum presents YOUNGERSHOOT, a place for children ages 10 and younger and their guardians to enjoy the festival together with kid-focused entertainment, hands on activities, and performances.

0002_porkshankFood: Other stand out features this year include B-Eats, a new food program created in partnership with Dan Bugge of Matt’s in The Market and Radiator Whiskey to curate a diverse mix of gourmet style cuisine from local chefs.

Seattle-based nonprofit Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDResearch) is the official non-profit partner of Bumbershoot 2016. As part of the relationship, Bumbershoot will donate a portion of each pass sold and encourage fans to donate as well, helping spread global health awareness.

Full Lineup

Musical Performances

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis // Death Cab for Cutie // KYGO // Tame Impala // G-Eazy // Pretty Lights // Halsey // DJ Snake // Porter Robinson // Zeds Dead // Bryson Tiller // Michael Franti & Spearhead // Run The Jewels // Billy Idol // ZHU // Fetty Wap // Marshmello // Father John Misty // Explosions In The Sky // Third Eye Blind // Logic // Andrew Bird // Tyler, The Creator // Melanie Martinez // Reggie Watts // Margo Price // Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals // Chevy Metal // Flatbush ZOMBiES // Maren Morris // Kamasi Washington // Jai Wolf // JoJo // Cashmere Cat // The Front Bottoms // Black Joe Lewis // The Motet // TOKiMONSTA // The Blind Boys of Alabama // St. Lucia // Hippie Sabotage // TroyBoi // Gryffin // Bob Moses // Zella Day // Atlas Genius // Bishop Briggs // Jagwar Ma // Banners // Jimi Charles Moody // Barns Courtney //The Flavr Blue // Donna Missal // Hinds // Lewis Del Mar // Joywave // Naked Giants // Manatee Commune // Shaprece // White Denim // Escondido // Lemolo // Iska Dhaaf // Radiation City // Coast Modern // Erik Blood // Rabbit Wilde // Ryan Caraveo // Secret Weapons // Grave & The Pink Slips // Chastity Belt // Dude York // Desi Valentine // Fly Moon Royalty // Stag // Low Cut High Tops // So Pitted // Strangers You Know // Treasure Fingers // Maiah Manser // Super Square // Pony Time // Snuff Redux // Lisa Prank // DoNormaal // Tracksuit Wedding // COSMOS // Zach Van Lue

Comedy

Ron Funches // The Improvised Shakespeare Company // Kate Berlant // Nick Thune // Goddamn Comedy Jam // Morgan Murphy // Dan Soder // Andy Haynes // Billy Wayne Davis // Adam Ray // Tiffany Haddish // Kevin Barnes // Whitmer Thomas // Jena Friedman // Dan St. Germain // Fahim Anwar // Ashley Barnhill // Moses Storm // Rachel Walls // Seattle’s Most Wonderful // Khadija Hassan // Barbara Holm // Wilfred Padua // Queerz: We’re Hilarious // Stand-up for Yourself with Amy Miller // Natalie Holt // Levi Manis // Improv: Carskee, Jesse + Josh=Josh, CSz Seattle Presents ComedySportz, FEELINGS, The Midnight Goats

Words & Ideas

Writers of Transparent // Seattle Review of Books featuring Sherman Alexie, Robert Lashley, and EJ Koh // Seattle Files with Chris Allen // Seattle Process with Brett Hamil // Why Storytelling? Why Professional Wrestling? Why Now? // Why Tech Industry? Why Homelessness? Why Now? // Why Memes? Why Internet Dating? Why Now? With Emmett Montgomery // Hugo House Presents The Oracle // Battle of The Word Poetry Slam

Dance

Reign Supreme Breakin’ Competition // MaximumVELOCITY

Theatre (Curated by the Theatre Puget Sound)

SWING // Tattprov // DUMP: A Garbage Burlesque // Are You There God? It’s Me Karen Carpenter // Can’t Talk Right Now // Mik Kuhlman “House 30”

Visual Arts

Brent Watanabe // Seattle Experimental Animation Team // Interstitial Theatre // Seattle Center Sculpture Walk // Fine Arts Poster by Ryan Molenkamp

Additional Programming

FILM curated by Seattle International Film Festival // YOUNGERSHOOT curated by Seattle Children’s Museum

Culinary

B-Eats feat. Local chefs of Matt’s In The Market, Radiator Whiskey, Garcia, New Luck Toy, Bok Bok Korean Fried Chicken, and Pike Place Fish Guys

Kitchen Fires Heat Up “My Mañana Comes”

Reviewed by Marc Wheeler

gia on the move theatre reviews marc wheeler

Peter Pasco and Richard Azurdia
Photo by Ed Krieger

As a national dialogue on income inequality and immigration reform takes center stage in America, Elizabeth Irwin’s playful yet deeply potent My Mañana Comes is a timely immersion into the very real struggles the working class face as they attempt to keep their heads — and those of their families — above water.

Set in the kitchen of an upscale Manhattan restaurant, My Mañana Comes — directed by Armando Molina for The Fountain Theatre — follows the lives of four busboys whose behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle allow this fine establishment’s wealthy clientele to enjoy the “good life.”

gia on the move theatre reviews march wheeler

Pablo Castelblanco and Richard Azurdia
Photo by Ed Krieger

Jorge (Richard Azurdia) is a Mexican immigrant who works and saves (and saves and saves…) hoping to one day build a dream home for his family across the border. Pepe (Pablo Castelblanco) is also a Mexican immigrant, though unlike Jorge, is a fresh-faced youngster who’d rather not deprive himself of life’s simple pleasures. Whalid (Peter Pasco) is a Latino ladies man from Coney Island who talks a big game and speaks of “greener pastures,” but who’d rather stare into his phone when responsibility calls. And finally, Peter (Lawrence Stallings) is an African American New Yorker who eschews futuristic dreaming to live in the now, busting his ass to make life work for him and his family.

gia on the move theatre reviews march wheeler

Lawrence Stallings and Peter Pasco
Photo by Ed Krieger

My Mañana Comes is specifically written to be performed by actors of color, yet is targeted for audiences of all shades (a welcome treat to both acting and theatergoing communities). Furthermore, while it’s adequately accessible to English-only attendees, the show’s experience is heightened to those who comprenden even un poquito de Español.

Race and cultural explorations don’t end there, however. The politics inside this Upper East Side kitchen run deeper than the frequent boys-will-be-boys banter (“Ride my nuts, Brooklyn taco” being my personal favorite.) Stakes get raised and lines get drawn — eventually.

The play’s set-up is a long one. Endless “shop talk” and expository chit-chat make up the large initial chunk of this 80-minute piece. While the players are often charming and their unfolding’s quite engaging, significant conflict doesn’t arrive until late in the game when the restaurant’s management decides to cut the busboys’ shift pay, a decision that results in disbelief, panic and ultimatums.

Performances are largely solid. Azurdia’s Jorge is serious and pensive as he plans and saves for a better tomorrow. Castelblanco’s Pepe is endearing in his innocence, yet layered in hopeful desires. Pasco is winsome as the handsome Whalid, yet this dreamer’s head-in-the-clouds persona is likened with Pasco’s notable line-flubbing. Lawrence Stallings is dynamic in his portrayal of Peter, an often charismatic team player who takes pride in his work, and whose passion bleeds into radicalism when livelihoods and equity are threatened.

Scenic design by Michael Navarro in tandem with Dillon Nelson’s props and set dressing earn high marks for their superb recreation of a kitchen in an upscale eatery. Jennifer Edwards’ lighting is especially exceptional in the show’s stark, intimate moments as well as its more colorful, fanciful transitions — transitions that movement director Sylvia Blush maximizes by having cast members float as if in hopeful dream (or is that drown as if in deadly waters?) toward their fated tomorrows.

Stephen Sachs is producer. Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor are co-producers. James Bennett is associate producer.

At its heart, My Mañana Comes is a testament to human dignity, giving visibility to the unsung heroes who are the lifeblood of the American economy. Despite its meandering beginning, it ultimately prevails in its affecting characters and provocative ending. As the rich get richer on the backs of the poor, and as defamation of minorities and immigrants amid threats of walls plague our daily headlines, My Mañana Comes shows what can happen when a match strikes desperation, thus begging the collective question, What will our tomorrow bring?

Now playing through June 26, 2016
Saturdays – 3 PM and 8 PM
Sundays – 3 PM
Mondays – 8 PM

The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90029 (Fountain and Normandie)

Tickets: $15 – $34.95
Premium: $34.95 (VIP center section, includes one free beverage)
Regular: $30 (Side Sections)
Seniors 65 or older: $27 (Side Sections)
Students: $20 (valid ID required)
Rush: $15 (at door, 15 minutes prior to curtain, subject to availability)
Monday nights: Pay-What-You-Can

323-663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com

Parking (secure, on-site): $5.00

Power vs Women in “A Gulag Mouse” at Sacred Fools

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

gia on the move danielle ozymandias arthur jolly women prison camp

“But if she could talk, she would tell you… what? That the skin can grow so tough that nothing penetrates- not the groping of men’s hands or the cutting of their whips? Or that there are places men cannot touch- places where you can remain inviolate, so deep inside, behind fences and guards and dogs, behind a thousand kalanchas, across 87 miles of frozen tundra, and that there you can stay, for years? Are these the words she is looking for? What would she say to you, if she could cry out from inside such a deep place?”

We need only pause for a moment to see the reality of prison life in A Gulag Mouse; to hear the violence of desperation.

Arthur Jolly has written, at face value, a myopic story of five women imprisoned in a brutal Siberian labor camp, without anything but what they can trade, work, lie, maim or even kill for. To the rest of the world they are forgotten. And there is nothing to hope for but survival. All of the women in A Gulag Mouse trapped as they are, will most likely not make it out alive to the end of their sentences. If any do, the scars of the mind will be far worse than the scars on their bodies.

The story centers around Anastasia, a former nurse, who, rather than succumbing to one more beating from her inordinately abusive husband, unexpectedly and unfortunately returned, alive, from the war,
stabs him, which lands her in a Siberian labor camp. Once there, she must deal with and defend herself against the vicious, bunk house inmates who have constructed a depraved pecking order over food scraps, bed privileges and sexual services; an intricate, ever-shifting, codependency which has them nearly killing each other at any given moment. Anastasia’s “soft hands” and “pretty hair” become an immediate battle grounds for the other women who know her beauty is about to usurp the regular favorite and possibly any remnants of certainty they’ve worked so hard to achieve. The reality is however, that the conditions of the camp are so harsh, she probably won’t even survive the week. She is therefore, expendable.

Written as a thriller, A Gulag Mouse, currently making its Los Angeles premiere at the Black Box theater at Sacred Fools (spectacularly renovated as an intimate semi-round) certainly has guts. The raw, gray, set design by Aaron Francis enhanced by the lighting design of Matthew Richter and Adam Earle, deeply evokes the stark and tenuous conditions of the camp as does the costuming by Linda Muggeridge. And although the direction takes a slightly disorienting turn towards the end of the show, it remains steady in its horrifying, realistic impact, entrenched in Jolly’s own idea of the “inextricable experience of being a woman”. Indeed this play was written as a response to his own personal struggle of being powerless to help the most important women in his own life, at a time when they were in crisis.

There is a strong sense of “sacrifice” in this play, indeed it is an overarching thread which ultimately separates Anastasia as the new prisoner from the gang.

Also remarkable is the way Jolly has amalgamated this “scenario of a thousand lives” into a single focal point of violent abuse and reprehensible ideologies or more than acceptable social standards by the men they’ve had to defend themselves against on the outside as well as inside of the camp.

In a word, brutal.

A Gulag Mouse
Now Playing Until May 15
Friday and Saturday at 8pm
Sunday, May 8 & 15 at 7pm
at Sacred Fools Theatre Company
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Written by Arthur Jolly
Directed by Danielle Ozymandias
Starring: Kimberly Atkinson, Heather L. Tyler, Dan DeRyuck, Emily Goss, Crystal Keith, Brandon Bales.

Produced in Special Arrangement with Next Stage Press

For tickets and information visit: SacredFools.org or call 310-281-8337

Theatre of NOTE’s “Phrazzled” Leaves You Frayed, I’m Afraid

Reviewed by Marc Wheeler
gia on the move marc wheeler theatre reviews

Keith Hanson and Will McFadden in Prazzled by Phinny Kyomura. Photo credit: Darrett Sanders

In Theatre of NOTE’s latest, Phrazzled, we find ourselves in the room next to the Room where it all happens. A room where the underpaid and underrated scratch and claw their way to the coveted Room where they’ll know they’ve finally made it.

INT. WRITERS’ ASSISTANTS ROOM

Here we meet Phraz (Tony DeCarlo), a disgruntled TV writer’s assistant who’s discontent with his station in life. Phraz asserts the only way out of the room he’s in — the room adjacent to the real writers’ Room — is to write his way out. In his downtime of doing brutish, agonizing work for his writer-boss (Gina Garcia-Sharp) whom he loathes, he’s writing a play of substance — unlike the crappy TV show to which he seemingly (ironically) aspires — with his buddy Travis (Will McFadden), a previous co-worker. With the guidance of his office-mate Barney (Keith Hanson), he decides to write about the most fascinating of subjects: His life — except not really. Instead of writing about a guy who’s a writer’s assistant to a boss he hates, he decides to write about a guy who’s a writer’s assistant to a boss… he loves! (Write what you know… with a twist!)

Next thing you know we meet a guy named… Frasz (Troy Blendell) who’s — you guessed it! — a writer’s assistant to a boss (Sierra Marcks)… he loves! Frasz has an office-mate Betty (Andrea Ruth) who encourages him to write a play about the most fascinating of subjects: His life — except not really. Instead of writing about a guy who’s a writer’s assistant to a boss he loves, he decides to write about a guy who’s a writer’s assistant to a boss… he hates! (Write what you know… with a twist!) And of course, Frasz has a buddy with whom he’s working on said script, and his name is… Travis (Will McFadden, once again).

Are you following this? Like a dog chasing its tail, I’m sure.

That’s the set-up, and what follows is a back-and-forth exploration of office politics, sexual tension and jealousy in the Phraz/Frasz-led world(s) of TV writing. It’s meta in concept, which actually kinda works. But it’s “frazzled” in content and experience, which sadly doesn’t.

Mid-show, I couldn’t help but think whoever wrote this piece must have experience in television. Turns out, writer-director Phinneas Kiyomura has experience as both a TV writer and TV writer’s assistant. (Write what you know… with a twist!) Furthering this meta concept, I also couldn’t help but wonder how much of Phinneas — the ultimate Writer/God of the play — made it into Phrazzled and its universe, intentionally or not. For starters, Phinneas’s (with a “Ph”) very name may have inspired the Phraz/Frasz, Phrazzled/frazzled concept. Beyond that, I have no idea, and that’s probably for the best. That being said, some aspects of the script at least seem to rely on a truthfulness and/or specificity of this world (or personal experience) to the detriment of its story. (Which is ironic, as this concern is discussed as a “no-no” in both internal storylines). For example, “boss from hell” homework assignments play as a playwright’s exaggerated, aired grievances. Likewise, the plays’s bosses (hired TV writers) are actually bungling amateurs, while their truly talented assistants struggle to catch a break.

While we all know talent isn’t always rewarded in Hollywood (and the inept can be unjustly showered in gold), in order to make a story like this work and not come across as rudimentary revenge porn, the writing has to be really, really good. And Phrazzled’s, unfortunately, isn’t.

Despite its protagonist’s quip, “First sign of a troglodyte? Slim vocabulary,” Phrazzled’s amateurish script is littered with mindless expletives. All the time. By everyone. (Fuck is most common, followed by cuntshit and ass). If this were a Tarantino flick, I’d lap it up. Instead, I bristle. These words play as a substitute for substance and prevent differentiation of characters.

Performances, overall, lean heavily over-the-top. The yelling and emphatic gesturing from stage actors to itty-bitty peeps in the balcony is gratingly unnecessary — considering this under-99-seat theater actually has no balcony, and by consequence, no itty-bitties. DeCarlo’s often bug-eyed-angry Phraz is probably the biggest culprit, and could use dialing down both vocally and physically. On a more positive note, Marcks’s writer-boss is sweet yet provocatively playful, while Garcia-Sharp’s writer-boss (in the alternate universe) ranges icy-hard to shattered.

Dean Harada’s music (especially pre-show) is edgy and fun, and Naomi Kasahara’s office design is dingy and effective.

Producers are John Money and Keith Hanson.

Stories on the inner-workings of Hollywood have been told countless times, to varying degrees of success. By their very nature they draw curious crowds. Phrazzled’s metatheatrical premise certainly provides a provocative structure to such familiar territory — yet a shell of a story does not a helluva story make. Had the interior of this piece matched its clever framework, it could have been a delightfully raucous journey behind-the-scenes of Hollywood. Alas, the best writing’s on the walls of this arduous tale.

Now playing through May 21, 2016

Theatre of NOTE
1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd (just north of Sunset)
Hollywood, CA 90028

Fridays and Saturdays – 8:00 PM
Sundays – 7:00 PM

Tickets:
General admission: $25.00
Students and seniors: $20.00

Call 323-856-8611 or visit:  www.theatreofnote.com 

 

‘It’s Not Complicated’ : Jesse Eisenberg’s ‘The Revisionist’ at the Wallis Annenberg

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

gia on the move theatre reviews tracey paleo

As part of the forward for the world premiere of Jesse Eisenberg’s (The Social Network), The Revisionist, now playing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Tony, Oscar and Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright , John Patrick Shanley wrote this:

“We are living in sterile times. We are losing the ability to BE with other people. Individuals are now losing their connection to humanness itself.  The extraordinary onslaught of virtual communication and social media has allowed us to cultivate something unhealthy in our psyches: the desire NOT to be touched.”

While it’s possible that some audiences will identify with Shanley’s statement, to say that those among us most afflicted by this modern ‘malaise’, a thing labeled as a kind of ‘narcissism’,  will be able to recognize themselves in this production any more than they would in real life, might be more than a stretch.  That is, if The Revisionist is any reflection of the present-day…which sadly…it is.

Directed by Robin Larsen (Uncle Vanya, A Delicate Balance), The Revisionist, highlights the 5-day writing stay-cation of a disconnected, self-centered yet also highly self-deprecating David, while butted up against his elder Polish cousin Maria, played by a spot on Deanna Dunagan, an opinionated, tough, yet very isolated survivor of the Holocaust.  David has come to ignore the world in order to focus on revising his latest book under the guise of a visit.  It quickly becomes apparent to Maria, that his quest for solace means, shutting her out as well.  Their very abrupt and cold beginning sparks the question as to why David would even choose to go there when he could have just sought out a hotel.  For Maria, it’s like turning on the stove at low temps for an eventual violent boil.

They continuously clash.  Maria wants connection and familiarity.  David wants segregation and to remain unaffected by the ‘feelings’ and ‘intimacy’ he doesn’t, nor wants to understand with Maria or anyone else.  But as the days  move on, Maria persists and David is forced to intermittently come of his out own universe and deal with her as well as a simple-minded Taxi-driver friend and helper, Zenon –  for a kerflooey end.

The entire play is an essay on frustration and all three characters seem to be forever stuck in their own corners.  And while it might seem initially easy to dismiss the conversation struck by Eisenberg’s writing as not particularly new, combined with Larsen’s direction The Revisionist’s generational exactitude highlights the profoundly frightening person to person isolation of our time. 

Actor Seamus Mulcahy delivers a rather spot on David – mercilessly selfish but occasionally sensitive on par with Deanna Dunagan’s relentlessly needy and highly volatile Maria.  Ilia Volok utterly captures Zenon, culturally and hilariously making this character much more of a focal point that it might normally be.

The Revisionist

by Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by Robin Larsen
Starring: Deanna Dunagan, Seamus Mulcahy and Ilia Volok

Now Playing until April 17 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Lovelace Studio Theater, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills

Tues-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Tickets: 310-746-5000 or TheWallis.org.

Run time: 1 hour and 45 minutes. No intermission.