Category Archives: Theatre

Characters vs Story: David Varriale’s, The Last Vig at the Zephyr Theatre

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

gia on the move theatre reviews the last vig

David Varriale has created some specific characters in his new play The Last Vig, which as star actor Burt Young (Big Joe) remarked in a recent interview, “…could be any guy from Mulberry Street to Washington. D.C.” I would have to agree.

In fact, it could be noted that Varriale’s best talent is in actually capturing the nuances, good, bad and ugly, loud and quiet, of people who deeply reflect intriguing insight about themselves through language and behavior. And given that these are a bunch of multi-ethnic wiseguys, three of which are Italian, well, there’s plenty of that.

But although, moments may be telling and characters revealing, in and of themselves they do not paint an entire picture or tell a whole story or even a good one sometimes. And that is what’s kinda, sorta missing in this new production at the Zephyr Theatre about an aging mob boss trying to stay in the game.

What we have are a lot of back door exchanges, the boss with his young, hip-hop devoted assistant Bocce (Ben Adams), the Chinese restaurant owner Paul Li (Clint Jung), long time friend Jimmy “The Fixer” D. (Garreth Williams), the angry cop-on-the-take, Detective Ray Price (Bruce Nozick) and Joe with his wife on the phone, incapacitated by cancer, that don’t always serve up enough of a story.

As individuals, I would argue that the characters are somewhat archetypally written and have an average likable score, I would also argue most people probably have a generalized film glamor point of view about wiseguys, how they regularly behave and what they actually do. Here, though, Varriale adds a bit more on-the-ground reality.

Personally, growing up around these guys daily was at one time my actual, real life. And while everyone loves to tell you how it really is, how it actually was, was pretty ordinary.  Sure there were plenty of over-the-top reactions to many situations, some as silly as – who was gonna open the #$%^!&* coffee shop at 5 am.   More often, when it came down to something serious, subtlety prevailed – a lot like how Varriale has written The Last Vig.

The crew in The Last Vig are definitely bad, distrustful, violent guys with hardly any redeeming qualities, except that they can muster a bit of charm when needed.   And justice (very loosely termed in this situation) gets obstructed or completely derailed by circumstances, not within anyone’s control. So it’s possible that $100,000 gone missing or intimidation from one’s thorn, might result in some big repercussions. Both Big Joe and Jimmy D.  are past their hot-head stage. And finesse is key. Everyone gets played.

There are certainly challenges in this production from the too many telephone interludes to Young’s pacing to the writing to length, which could be shaved. The ending never really addresses Bocce’s character for instance although, by all the references made, we can probably guess his intent. The audience is left to “figure it out.”

What shines in The Last Vig is the strong cast who are working at a higher level with character reality and boosting Young with amped energy, timing and focus, helping him throughout the production. They are THAT good at moving around inside this writing as just a bunch of street guys, Garreth Williams (Jimmy D.) giving one of the most honest, insider portrayals I’ve ever witnessed to date on stage.

Falcon Theatre’s Little Drummer Bowie: “Wow! I didn’t see THAT coming!”

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
gia on the move theater reviews

Katie Kitani, Katie DeShan, Rick Batalla, Joseph Leo Bwarie, Niles Rivers, Cloie Wyatt Taylor Photo by Sasha A. Venola

He seemed to materialize out of nowhere. An androgynous young sub-genre big hair harbinger of glitter-glam, rock and roll to come. A drifter in the desert with a shy voice and “Come, they told me, pa rum pa pum pum. Me and my drum”.

It’s tax time and everyone’s got to pay up. While in one part of town Mary and Joseph are looking for a manger, scheming talent promoter Ben Haramed and his medical doctor wannabe side kick Ali are stuck without means. As serendipity would have it, they stumble upon a young, naive and especially besparkled Ziggy and his two beloved childhood animal buddies Samson and Babaa wandering on the fringes.

An orchestration of cha chings sound immediately in Ben’s inner ears.  After a brief kidnapping and a bit of family flash-back persuasion, the whole band begins touring, Spinal Tap style until a renowned and powerful music agent creates Ziggy Stardust as a world-wide phenomenon. Then all bets are off. Except for Ziggy’s parents, uncle and aunt who might be stuck on Mars. (NO ONE could have seen THAT coming!) It’s a tale of Changes, forgiveness and Modern Love, in Little Drummer Bowie at The Falcon Theatre.

gia on the move theater reviews

Joseph Leo Bwarie Photo by Sherry Greczmiel

A very first step in to The Falcon emerged as a ‘night to remember’. The award-winning Troubadour Theater Company did nothing to blemish their stellar Laugh-In reputation in this musical re-imagining of the drummer boy classic as a spoof on glam rock icon David Bowie.

Matt Walker and Joseph Leo Bwarie (also lead character Ziggy) have directed this piece to perfection in all its spontaneity and more. One cannot even begin to fathom the depth of insanity until experiencing this show. Recognizably ridiculous gags, deft delivery, lightning pace and a bit of cutting edge political humor all collide for a blaring, boisterous night.

Beth Kennedy (Ali), Riccardo Berdini (Ben Haramed),  Lisa Valenzuela (Mary), Rick Batalla (Joseph),  Katie Deshan (Nadhiyah), Niles Rivers (Jamaal), Katie Kitani (Babaa), Cloie Wyatt Taylor (Samson), and Matt Walker (The Voice From Above) dispatch downright galactic hilarity throughout every did-they-just-write-this-just-now? line and audience participation moment. (And yes, I got a hug from a cast member…it was nice.)

Joseph Leo Bwarie (Ziggy)  most widely known for his record 2,000+ performances as ‘Frankie Valli’ in the Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys on Broadway, is solidly exceptional in every way.

Every bit from costumes to lighting to wigs, choreography and music arrangements to the live onstage band hit the mark 100% and then some.

Very highly recommended.

It’s A Hit, It’s A Hit, It’s A Hit! – Merrily We Roll Along at The Wallis

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

gia on the move theater reviews los angeles

Spilt milk, sour grapes and friendships down the drain. Who would have thought that the most sobering musical ending the year could also turn out to be one of the most satisfying.

Audiences just didn’t understand it back in 1981; the opposite linear format of telling a story backwards, or the need to be so depressing. The Broadway production, then directed by Harold Prince, opened to mostly negative reviews, although Sondheim’s score was widely praised. Critics and audiences alike felt it possibly circuitous and the themes left a sour taste in their mouths. And who wanted sit through a recounting of a person’s failures anyway, right?

But life is not a straight line and the road to the top is as jagged as a meat cutter. And when you ‘arrive’, there’s a very good chance you’ll be the only one who’s made it. In Frank Shepard’s case, “It’s lonely at the top” isn’t so much a catch phrase as it is an excruciating reality.

But the story of how he got there is what oddly is soothing and terribly sad.

Merrily We Roll Along is a musical with a book by George Furth and lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim. It is based on the 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

The story rolls back over 20 years of the life of Franklin Shepard, once a talented, penniless composer of Broadway musicals, who has now abandoned his friends and his songwriting career to become a wealthy producer of Hollywood movies. Merrily We Roll Along curates the key moments in Frank’s life which point precisely to how he got there and what he gave up (ahem…a lot).

Directed by Michael Arden, what might have been a downer years ago, is now refreshed by no less than Arden’s signature dynamics. The play has air. And choreographed by Eamon Foley it is physically patterned much like a dance, where the chore reveals the leading man after abandoning his love, returning to find that she is dead and he is left to wallow in his own grief.

The performances by the entire cast are so wonderfully naturalistic as they are set in the 70’s. There are more than a few stellar moments in this show notably and especially by Wayne Brady who plays lead character and colleague/friend of Frank, Charley Kringas as well as the leading man himself. Aaron Lazar (Franklin Shepard) delivers a completely likeable Shepard throughout the journey even through the hurtful, neglectful moments. Donna Vivino as Shepard’s other best friend Mary Flynn is so down to earth that even in the crazy there is no lack of empathy. Whitney Bashor as Beth Spenser, Shepard’s wife, adds an interesting perspective after that of Kringas and calls up the question, “Who’s fault really is the dissolution of friendships?”.

Really, though, Merrily We Roll Along, in every way is a hit.

The Play About The Baby is Dangerous and Gorgeous

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

gia on the move theatre reviews

“If you don’t have wounds, how can you know you’re alive?”

Strange and vast was the mind of playwright Edward Albee as referenced in The Road Theater’s current version of  The Play About The Baby directed to perfection by Andre Barron.

An illusory, complex story on the surface, the play takes the audience down a fundamental path about the deeply painful experience of loss of innocence and immaturity while awakening to suffering, pain, survival and ultimately – the greatest reward of having gone through it all – life.

It’s a giant, all encompassing theme that Albee’s play boldly and deeply addresses through bizarre comedies and intricate precisely manufactured games. Granted permission by the playwright himself to The Road Theatre, Barron moves this play down simultaneous, surreal, sinister and hilarious places.

In The Play About The Baby, we witness a young couple, set in a sort of “Garden of Eden” with only their love for one another to express and explore…until a man and a woman tell the couple that they are here to take their baby and subsequently seek to convince the boy and girl that there was no baby at all.

The couple’s journey is dark and beautiful and startling as it is absurd and even soothing, expressing utterly, the power of human existence.

The Play About The Baby is a gorgeous, dangerous experience, equally performed to excellence by the entire cast, Allison Blaize (Girl), Philip Orazio (Boy), Sam Anderson (Man) and Taylor Gilbert (Woman).

It is hands down one of The Road Theatre’s most extraordinary productions.

The Italian In Me Returns to Theatre West December 3 & 4

gia on the move theatreItalian-Canadian actress Dina Morrone is an adventurous young woman who moves to Rome with grandiose dreams of working in the Italian film business. Her days are filled with countless animated yet fruitless encounters with perverts, priests and producers. When all hope seems lost, she meets the Master himself, the late great Federico Fellini.

“An accelerated full immersion Italian lesson about Cinema, Sex, Saints and Federico Fellini, all set in the Eternal City, Rome…and rendered to [comedic] perfection.”—Dave DePino, Backstage West

Written and performed by Dina Morrone. Directed by Peter Flood

Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, in Los Angeles, CA 90068

Two shows only:
Saturday, December 3, 2016 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, December 4 at 3:00 p.m.

Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass: A Very Real Fairy Tale

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
gia on the move fairy tales hansel & gretal

Angela Giarratana and Caleb Foote in Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass
Photo by Cooper Bates

Immediacy.  That is the first thing you get with 24th Street Theatre’s world premiere adaptation Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass, written by Bryan Davidson and directed by Debbie Devine.

Most recognized as the classic Grimm fairy tale, the story may have originated in the medieval period of the Great Famine (1315–1321), which caused desperate people to abandon young children to fend for themselves, even resort to cannibalism. Set here in depression-era Kentucky in the Appalachian coal mining town of Butcher Holler, Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass moves in a sort of other worldly story-telling realm but also has the fascinating element of being historically real.

Narrated by a local radio jockey as an on-air response to a write-in letter from a young boy who shares his private angst about his baby sister in a time of desperate hunger, the production is paired down to a gorgeous simplicity that needs no deep diving for meaning or explanation.

Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass hones in on the difficulties siblings have in their relationships with one another but even more, the co-dependencies, the frailties, the strengths and the resiliency to overcome those difficulties and in this case, extreme circumstance within which the unlikely orphans find themselves. The story is profound and sincere.

Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass is executive director Jay McAdams’ response in part, to the wave of South American children who immigrated parent-less across the U.S. Border several years ago – some of whom landed in the local North University Park neighborhood. And although it does not specifically address that politic, the story offers hints of insight into the reasoning for child abandonment without curing or apologizing for the motives of letting children “into the wild” alone.

Performances by Angela Giarratana as Gretel and Caleb Foote as Hansel are endowed with a naievity that is absolutely darling. Sarah Zinsser as the mountain woman (witch) layers a downright menacing dimension. Bradley Whitford as radio announcer “The Duke” rounds out this production with hillbilly levity that is pure fun, captivating and compassionate. Whiteford’s voice resonates empathy far beyond the structure.

The characters that play the standout roles in this imaginatively amalgamated production are the video, set, sound, lighting, costume and music, arranged respectively by Mathhew G. Hill, Keith Mitchell, Chris Moscatiello, Dan Weingarten, Michael Mullen and Megan Swan, topped off by featured music by The Get Down Boys (Mark Cassidy-banjo, Scott Gates-mandolin, Israel Parker-dobro, Evan Winsor-bass).

Hansel and Gretel Bluegrass is possibly an even-better version than the original.

Now Playing until December 11, 2017.  Check the listing for more information.