MARVELOUS EUROPEAN PLAY AT THE ODYSSEY
When a play is so thought-provoking that it makes it impossible to sleep afterwards without first googling the facts that it presents, it has, in some not so small measure, served its purpose. When the presentation and individual performances make you want to jump onto the stage and embrace everyone involved, you know, as one eloquent audience member put it, that "a small shard of glass has just been embedded in your mind and each time you turn your head, it will prick you to remind you of this extraordinary production". Such is my reaction to the American premiere of "The King Of Hearts Is Off Again", currently in a far too short run at the Odyssey Theatre, in conjunction with the Studium Teatralne from Warsaw, Poland. The play is performed entirely in Polish, but fear not: Subtitles are provided on a monitor set above the action and trust me, you will certainly need them. This is a complicated and extremely fast-moving piece, but worth every moment of your attention, should you be fortunate enough to attend. The basic storyline is fairly standard, with a couple of twists: Young jewish couple living in Warsaw are separated by the German invasion. He is sent first to Auschwitz and later to a number of other camps. She manages to pass herself off as Polish and never gives up her convoluted quest to keep her beloved husband alive. NOTE: The Poles and the Jews apparently considered themselves to be separate nationalities, a strange phenomenon that persists to this day, according to what we saw and heard last night. The couple survived and were reunited. They went on to have two daughters, who in turn bore grandchildren for the couple. none of whom spoke Polish, since they were raised in Israel. The husband stayed in Vienna after the war; the couple eventually separated and the wife moved to Israel to be with her children; then when the husband became ill, late in life, she returned to Vienna and cared for him until his death. She died a few years ago. As you might surmise, this is based upon a true story, from a book by the late Hanna Krall. When the heroine---and that she was!---realized that she would never be able to explain this story to her grandchildren thanks to the language barrier, she approached Krall, already a noted author, and convinced her to write the book. She hoped that eventually, it would be translated into hebrew for the sake of her progeny. The twists that I mentioned are the fact that both of these people survived the holocaust and were reunited, both rarities, but for the director, even more of a twist was the way in which this woman was driven totally by love of her husband. Another thoughtful audience member commented on the comparison between that intense love and how casually marriage is viewed today in much of the world. The four actors, who between them portray some twenty characters, are fearless, physical to an extreme degree, and uniformly excellent. The two women, Martina Rampulla and Gianna Benvenuto, play the heroine at various ages, as well as other roles. Waldemar Chacholski plays the husband (plus others), while the incredible Piotr Aleksandrowicz narrates as he draws chalk lines on the black floor to delineate various locations. His other roles are intense and fright-inducing. We were shocked to discover at the after party that none of these actors is a trained dancer or gymnast. The final twist for many of us was the revelation that in 1968, the Polish government expelled thousands of jewish citizens, giving them travel documents that stated they were not Poles and would never be allowed back in the country. That little tidbit is what sent me googling at midnight, since I had never heard about this. If you are interested in learning more, just enter "Poland, 1968, Jewish" in your search engine and voila! It's all there. At the Q&A following the performance, the brilliant director, Piotr Borowski, who grew up in Warsaw, told us that when he was young, he had no idea that jewish people had ever lived in his neighborhood. He said that when he was taught anything about WWII, no one ever mentioned that included among the six million people who died were some three million Jews (his figures, not mine). The bizarre information about the relationship between Poland and its jewish population is not common knowledge over here, but then, as I told Mr. Borowski privately, we Americans have our own dirty secrets that he probably knows nothing about. This remarkable production runs through October 14th at The Odyssey. For reservations, call (310) 477-2055, Ex.2, or go to www.odysseytheatre.com. - K.M.
Just when you thought you’d already seen it often enough, along comes a superlative production of “DOUBT”.
The remarkable Westchester Playhouse (“remarkable” for its longevity in a rather off-the-beaten-track location AND for the quality of the work currently on display) has assembled a first-rate cast and a solid director for this well-known piece by John Patrick Shanley.
I freely admit that I had my own “doubts” about attending a play I’d already seen twice fairly recently – first, the Cherry Jones-led production at the Ahmanson (a venue that overwhelmed the play, unfortunately) and then Meryl Streep’s film version, for which Viola Davis won her Oscar. Never having read any reviews of prior plays at the Westchester, I was prepared for…well, an amateur show at best. Boy, was I in for a surprise!
Joanna Churgin, she of the fabulous character face, makes the most of the non-doubting, malicious Sister Aloysius. This is a delicious role, infused with touches of dry humor that Churgin milks to perfection.
Opening the play from his pulpit with a brilliant sermon is MATT LANDIG as Boston-Irish Father Flynn. His good nature is sorely tested by the bitter schoolmistress, Sister Aloyisius, whose underhanded accusations of something unspeakable render him increasingly angry, yet he is unwilling to surrender. Landig is not only sympathetic and believable, he has perfected the difficult Boston-Irish accent, for which he credits assistance from well-known dialect coach, Larry Moss.
Aiding and abetting, mostly against her will and better judgment, is HEATHER BARRETT as the naive young teacher, Sister James. My only quibble with this performance, and it’s a minor one, trust me, is that I kept wishing Barrett would drop her pitch a half-octave or so. That aside, she put in a completely professional performance.
Rounding out this excellent cast is JACQUELIN SCHOFIELD, as Mrs. Muller, the strong-willed and overly protective mother of the young boy at the center of the tragedy. Fresh off a critically praised run of “The Color Purple” at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood, Schofield’s performance garnered the biggest round of applause as she exited the stage, following her only scene. She grabbed on to her character’s ferocity, built it slowly and let loose with a staggering climax. Watch out, Viola Davis. You have real competition now!
Director GAIL BERNARDI knows her stuff and kept the action moving forward from start to final curtain.
The Westchester Playhouse is easy to find, comfortable and friendly. I, for one, will be back, if “Doubt” is any example of the work they put forth.
“Doubt” ends August 18, 2012. For ticket information: (310) 645-5156
– K. Malone
7/12/12 “THE CRUCIBLE” still holds it own.
Arthur Miller’s not-so-subtle jab at McCarthyism in his 1952 masterpiece, “The Crucible”, still packs a frightening and emotional wallop. L.A. hasn’t seen a production of this piece in a long, long time, but at the Lillian Theatre, director and star Bill Voorhees gives it a masterful rendition. When I say “star”, I should qualify that by stating that the role of John Proctor wouldn’t be half as powerful if it weren’t for the phenomenal cast of characters that surround him.
There are far too many excellent actors in this production and that makes it truly difficult to single any out…but you know I will! Jessicah Neufeld as the insanely evil Abigail Williams is a standout and the casting world should take note of this budding beauty. David Ross Paterson is the most hateful “judge” imaginable and oh! such a pro! Also rendering superb, if smaller, roles are Lynn Odele as Rebecca Nurse, Doug Burch as Giles Corey and a little girl, aged 10, who is simply phenomenal as the possessed daughter of Rev. Parris: Grace Kaufman. There are more, but time does not permit.
The play closes this weekend. My apologies for not reviewing it earlier.
– K. Malone
6/23/11 “THE BOOBY PRIZE” is a real WINNER!
Actress and top-notch comedienne, LIZZIE CZERNER, was blessed (or so one might think) with a notable physical attribute: A big, lush bosom that became the focal point of too many sets of eyes from the time this petite cutie first entered puberty.
“Mom! Why do I have 3 heads now?!” was her plaintive cry.
“Why, honey. You’re gonna learn to love ‘em, mark my words.”
Well, Lizzie may not have quite learned to love them, but she certainly learned to use them…as comic relief. They – the twins – form the basis for one of the most outrageously funny one-woman shows we’ve seen in a long time. “Booby Prize” lives up to its name, but Lizzie Czerner doesn’t need those appendages to engage an audience. She exudes unique, unselfconscious humor, with a highly expressive “rubber” face. We aren’t sure if she really knows how pretty she is, but who cares? When the laughs come as fast and furious as they did the other night at Improv Olympics West, on Hollywood Boulevard, there is no need to examine the various factors that elicited them.
As Lizzie says, the boobs enter the room before she does, but what follows is sheer hilarity.
Unfortunately, this latest iteration of “Booby Prize”, part of the Fringe Festival, has ended its short run. You will just have to stay alert and try to catch it the next time it’s performed.
– K. Malone
5/27/11 “KRUNK FU BATTLE BATTLE” – EAST WEST PLAYERS DOES IT AGAIN!
You might casually stroll your way into the wonderful theater that is home to East West Players in Little Tokyo, but we guarantee you’ll be hip-hopping out of there by the time “Krunk Fu Battle Battle” ends. The audience we were part of on a normally quiet Thursday night couldn’t sit still and even the elderly Chinese couple next to us was bopping right along with the younger members of the nearly packed house.
For once, the book of a brand new musical (by Qui Nguyen) actually has a story line that makes sense, with countless musical numbers (lyrics by Beau Sia, music by Marc Macalintal, Rynan Paguio and Jason Tyler Chong) that serve to move this tale of not quite star-crossed lovers, both present-day and long-ago, forward at an amazing clip. If anyone thinks that “Dancing With The Stars” is a calorie killer, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The energy expended on this stage by every single performer is simply phenomenal and, as we discovered after the show, they can’t seem to stop dancing, even after the music has stopped. (Someone needs to build a reality show around the brilliant choreographer, Jason Tyler Chong. What an imagination he must have!)
Very “normal” teenager Norman (Lawrence Kau) and his hard-working, college-educated mother, Jean (former Broadway “Miss Saigon”, Joan Almedilla) have been forced to leave their comfy surroundings in New England and return to Jean’s home town of Brooklyn, due to financial problems. Yes, this obviously takes place during the recession, when finding a decent job has become next to impossible for a smart, 40ish single mom.
Jean has found her old high school pal, now known around the ‘hood as Sir Master Cert (don’t ask – Blas Lorenzo explains his character’s name half-way through the show) and asked him to help her move into a rundown apartment with Norman.
Shortly after moving in, Norman meets a goofy, incredible hip-hopper named Wingnut (Matt Tayan) and his younger brother, Junior (Evan Moua). The three guys become a “crew” of hip-hoppers in order to do dance battle with the meanie, Three Point (Leng Phe), and his own crew (Troy Tershita and Cesar Cipriano). The winners get to control the blacktop where they hang out; the losers will be banished for life from the area.
Enter The Girl, Cindy (Liza B. Domingo), who is already claimed by Three Point. Naturally, as in all good love triangles, Cindy is immediately drawn to Norman and he to her. Cindy’s weird, blue-haired pal, Moe (Megumi Tatsumikawa) is not what she appears to be at first and throws several curve balls into the proceedings.
We all know how this is going to end: happily ever after for one and all. The dancing virtually never stops and is well worth the price of admission. Most, not all, of the performers seem to be dancers first, singers second and actors third, but that does not mean that anyone is weak in any of those areas. Joan Almedilla has a singing voice that soars to the rafters and she has a chance to show it off in several numbers, the most memorable of which is a bluesy ballad, “Broken”, that might easily become a standard.
It is next to impossible to take ones eyes of Matt Tayan. Under the goofiness is a handsome guy with a great body, which he uses in phenomenal ways as he hip-hops around the stage. This is an actor whose career we will be following.
Perhaps the most accomplished of the younger actors is Lawrence Kau. While his singing is passable, his initially weak dancing becomes increasingly professional as the show progresses (as it should, since his character is a rank amateur at the start of the play), but it is his acting that stands out. His every mood change is natural and believable, and he is utterly likable as the underdog who eventually wins the girl. (No – that isn’t giving anything away. This isn’t “West Side Story”, after all.)
It is comedic actor Blas Lorenzo who keeps the show moving along, in more ways than one. Host, narrator, hip-hopper, master of accents – he does it all and has the audience in the palm of his hands throughout the evening.
This is an Equity show, so ticket prices are not exactly cheap. But considering the number of exceptional performers on that stage, all of whom are being paid (unlike at the vast majority of smaller theaters in town), this is a bargain. If you need a pick-me-up, hip-hop down to East West Players, then walk over to one of the funky little Japanese restaurants around the corner. You will definitely be in the mood for sushi or a bento box and you can gloat about the possibility that you were among the first to catch the World Premiere of “Krunk Fu Battle Battle”.
East West Players tickets: (213) 625-7000 or www.EastWestPlayers.org
Show is currently scheduled to close June 26, 2011
– K. Malone
JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY
By Henry Jaglom
Now playing at the Edgemar Center For The Arts, in Santa Monica
When the highlight of a stage production is the set and when the reaction of everyone around you is, “Well, the set, at least, is wonderful!” it’s pretty clear that something is amiss.
In the case of “Just 45 Minutes From Broadway”, Henry Jaglom’s new comedy, the problem is not with the actors, most of whom are up to the task of handling an over-writtencomedy that is too long by at least a half hour.Unfortunately, however,two of the charactersare so annoying that it is difficult to see past the roles and appreciatethe actors portraying them.
Tanna Frederick, in the purported lead (this really is an ensemble cast, folks),is talented,charming, and for the most part, very funny.Her character,Pandora, is a neurotic, over-the-topnut job, whose incessant crying and whining start to wear very thin about twenty minutes into the story.Panda, as she is called by her eccentric family, is the youngest daughter in a typical household of second-rate thespians.Oh, yes, we’ve seen these people before in far better plays:The goofy-but-endearing gypsyish mother (Karen Black) and the befuddled father (Jack Heller) living on past glories of the Yiddish theater.Panda still lives at home with her beloved parents, an uncle (David Proval, almost unrecognizable from his “Sopranos” days) who dotes on them, and a delightfully silly renter (Harriet Schock, a pick-me-up whenevershe’s on stage), who seems to be harboring “feelings” for…someone in the group.
As the play opens, Panda is reeling from her latest breakup and dreading (with good reason) the arrival of her older sister, played with unrelenting bad humor by Julie Davis.Betsy is the only member of the family to have escaped into the real world and she detests the theatricalenvironmentin which she was raised.Now in her late 30s, she arrives with her fiancé, Jimmy, to introduce him to everyone and what a mistake that turns out to be.David Garver as Jimmy is a true find:A tall, blandly good-looking man who provides one of the sexiest, most romantic seductions we’ve seen in years.He is the only one in the piece that seems to be a real, flesh-and-blood human being and is someone with whom you wouldn’t mind sharing a glass of wine or more.
We aren’t sure ifJulie Davis’ portrayal of super-bitch Betsy was meant to be so one-note – meaning if it was written that way or if Ms. Davis was directed that way – but we suspect that there is a good actress lurking beneath.Too bad she isn’t allowed to show us just how good, because as played,Betsy is hateful, with virtually no redeeming qualities.
This is one of those productions in which there are a number of fine performances (Ms. Black should thank director Gary Imhoff for leading her through one of the most grounded, normal charactersshe has ever played – and she is marvelous throughout), but as a whole, the play is rather ordinary and forgettable.If someone could get Panda to stop crying and Betsy to stop bitching, thereby shortening the play by at least twenty minutes, there might just be something better to talk about on the ride home than…Joel Daavid’s truly wondrous set.
– K. Malone
By Zack Hoffman
“Tuxedo Man” is a one-man show written and performed by a Canadian-turned Angeleno-turned Seattleite named Zach Hoffman.He recently took this show about a used-up, has-been lounge singer on the road and our intrepid reporter, Pat Lach (a longtime, very savvy Hollywood actress, who recently relocated to Oregon), was fortunate enough to catch it in Portland.Pat reports:
“Tuxedo Man” was REALLY VERY GOOD!!AND…as I told the star afterwards…WHAT A SET OF PIPES!!Can that man sing!!! He had everyone in the audience shout out their favorite song, then sang a medley of so many “golden goodies” – club songs – that I couldn’t count them.
The material covered all the emotional bases and included audience participation.What a treat to get a one-person show at a level of competence and talent that is more than worth the ticket price!!
L.A. “one man shows” have much to learn from him!Oh, and the accents for each of his characters, along with the voice/pitch alterations…enviable!
Didn’t have a chance to ask, but HOPE he takes it to LA – lots of stuff for our “vintage” to appreciate about those that are “gone!” (one of the tag words on several references), places that are “gone”, and some (Cantor’s, Micelli’s) that are still there.
He wrote this piece and it took him 5-6 yrs. Well worth it!The guy is amazing and really needs to be seen/heard in bigger venues!
For more information on future venues, call Zack at 206-353-4044 or go to www.zackhoffman.com
NOTE FROM Editor:Even though Portland is NOT “Hollywood”, the lesson to be learned from this is that sometimes, an actor just has to create his own opportunities.Think about it…
BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO
By Rajiv Joseph
Mark Taper Forum
April 14 – May 30, 2010
When this play premiered in 2009 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, in Culver City, I very deliberately avoided it, simply because of what the name implied. As an overly empathetic animal lover, I cannot tolerate the thought of any creature suffering and assumed that this play would, at the very least, touch on that. Animal lover or not, when my season tickets at the Taper call, I feel compelled to go. Thankfully, my original reservations about this marvelous piece were misplaced.
In a nutshell, yes, there is a tiger in the ruins of the Baghdad Zoo when the play opens – a tiger played to his grumpy hilt by the only semi-name actor in the piece, Kenneth Tighe. Tighe does not attempt to impersonate a 4-legged animal, however; this tiger is all smart-mouthed humor and dead-on (no pun intended) philosophical musings, relayed with a deep, growly, riveting voice.
Tigh-er is being guarded by a pair of rough-edged American marines – one a self-deluding thief, Tom (Glenn Davis), who feels entitled to the spoils of war and the other, Kev (a slightly over-the-top in Act I Brad Fleischer, who hits his stride in Act II), a stereotypical dumber-than-dirt newcomer to Iraq. A truly stupid encounter with the caged tiger relieves Tom of his right hand and when he returns from his rehab in the States with a state-of-the-art new hand, it causes a certain sexual problem for him: Masturbating left-handed just doesn’t suit him! He enlists the aid of the camp interpreter, Musa (the outstanding Arian Moayed), to explain to a young prostitute (Sheila Vand) exactly what it is he needs her to do for him. This entire exchange is done in Arabic and is hysterically funny.
The play is peppered throughout with extremely active ghosts, the most compelling of which is Uday Hussein, slithering around the stage with the severed head of his brother in a plastic bag. Hrach Titizian is a wonder to behold as Sadam’s most feared and hated son.
The uniformly excellent cast is rounded out by Necar Zadegan, playing both a very much alive Iraqi woman and a hauntingly deformed leper.
I haven’t read the notes in the program yet, but here’s my take on the allegory of the caged animals: As the tiger explains it, he was minding his own business in the Sumatran jungle, having just lunched on a pair of yummy children, when he was captured and transported to this Iraqi jail. Although fed and kept “safe”, he spent the next dozen or so years in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the bombing of Baghdad resulted in the escape of his fellow inmates – a group of lions – he chose to remain in his cage. He discovered that the newly freed lions were almost immediately shot and killed by their so-called liberators and/or “fellow” Iraqi citizens. So, which is better? To be trapped in a place you can never leave (Iraq under Sadam Hussein) or to be liberated, only to suffer years of countless humiliations and losses, thanks to your former enemies? It’s a terrible choice at best and one with which the people of Iraq must deal, as the world watches.
– K. Malone