The Pride

Though seemingly simple, under the surface The Pride is a stinging indictment that we, as a species, should live the lives we feel is right for us, without care of what anyone else thinks about our choices. Both in 1958 and 2008, Oliver’s world, which should be rewarding him for his essential gentleness and obvious talents, has turned on him, mainly due to what he has been told all his life was right and what was wrong, leading him into sad, ugly, risky behavior. If we choose to live truthfully, with genuine regard for one another and with our heads held high, nobody can tell us who we should be or what bastardized and antiquated religious-based edicts we must follow.

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Blackbird

To the credit of director Anna Stromberg and her exceptional performers, what this courageously brazen playwright, unfettered by societal mores that might make him a target for our current conservative “leadership,” eventually manages to accomplish is to make us feel a tremendous well of sympathy for both Una and Peter despite the nature of a crime that, in our culture, is considered abhorrent in every regard. What this leaves us wondering, if we’re really willing to listen, is how much human behavior, all those things that should be allowed to be decided on a private and individual basis, turns twisted because we are told it is twisted. Do such things destroy lives because they’re inherently evil—or is it because our accepted and religiously-spawned heritage demands it must be?

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Nicky

Award-winning LA playwright Boni B. Alvarez has done a masterful job adapting Chekhov's Ivanov to reflect our own equally fucked-up times, inventively turning the severely depressed government employee Nikolai Ivanov into Nicky, our brooding anti-hero (Cyrus Wilcox) whose days as a successful internet entrepreneur have dried up as he sits in morose silence baking in the hot desert sun at his slickly contemporary Palm Springs condo. Like ol’ Anton’s Nikolai, Nicky feels fat and used up while his cancer-riddled wife Anna (Sandy Velasco) sings popular songs into her karaoke machine in her bedroom and wonders what happened to their once gloriously loving relationship. Alvarez brilliantly turns the play’s original characters into people highly familiar to us in 2017 as the world just keeps spinning on toward its inevitable destruction at the hands of a species that can’t ever seem to get it right.

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The House in Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage

Under super-director Michael Michetti’s guaranteed inspirational guidance, poet-playwright Dan O’Brien courageously pours out the greatest and most debilitating mysteries that haunt his own life: the alienation and shadowed secrets protected within the tightfisted grasp of his incredibly closemouthed and majorly dysfunctional family. O’Brien eventually leaves us hanging—just as life often does to us all as we are pulled and jabbed and spun uncontrollably by the fickle finger of fate around this puzzling planet of ours. Yet, what he thinks he needs to know about life and the invisible brick walls that seem to hamper him in the creation of his art and in his daily life don’t resolve with much concrete satisfaction, but in the process, he learns a more important lesson: to accept what you’re handed out and do the best to turn what you’re given into something positive you can share with others. They don’t call us “tortured artists” for nothing.

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MATTHEW BOURNE'S EARLY ADVENTURES

Everything about a work by Matthew Bourne is pure magic; his work is almost tribal in its individuality, heralding a new rule-breaking form of artistic communication almost primitive in nature. And this look into his Early Adventures is like watching those indigenous ethnic tribes, long hidden in the planet’s last bastions of remaining wilderness, performing their own self-evolvedconsanguineous rain dances passed down for generations. It’s just what the world needs: a really good shake up to appreciate who we are and stop taking ourselves so seriously.

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NEXT TO NORMAL

This dynamic remounting of a truly arresting modern classic, under the direction of the venerated Nancy Keystone, presents East West Players at the top of its game and the night belongs to Deedee Magno Hall, whose performance as Diana is one of the most memorable highlights of the season in our barren reclaimed desert climes. Never once does she miss a beat, segueing from scene work and monologues into the musical numbers without taking a breath or stopping to fill her lungs before instantly interpreting Kitt and Yorkey’s incredible rock ballads like Joplin on amphetamines.

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ARCHDUKE

I couldn’t help thinking about that classic old 1942 Jack Benny movie that spoofed the Nazis as Rajiv Joseph’s newest play world premiered at the Taper. Like \"To Be Or Not To Be,\" which shocked audiences at the time, Joseph takes historical facts and massages them into such outrageously farcical comic situations that anyone without a permanent stick up the ass will appreciate this amazing new(ish) playwright’s delightfully skewed sense of humor.

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KISS

The producers have asked reviewers not to give away any of the rapid torrents of twists and turns careening thorough highly acclaimed and controversial Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderon’s Kiss, now in its west coast debut at the Odyssey directed by Bart DeLorenzo. This makes the task of writing about Calderon’s insane little masterpiece nearly insurmountable, but let’s just say it starts like a quirky little contemporary dramedy that might have been written by Theresa Rebeck but ends up feeling like an undiscovered play by Sarah Kane. With smartly executed non-union productions of new works as brilliant as this potentially being mounted in LA, it’s purdy much a given that Actors’ Equity Association will soon be ancient history in this town. Nobody is going to control how the passionate artists who inhabit Los Angeles choose to express themselves and create art with the potential to change the world. Nobody.

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THE ORIGINALIST

Although Edward Gero’s performance as Antonin Scalia is a knockout and the play’s counterpoint arguments and political rants are certainly thought-provoking, The Originalist is akin to seeing one of those finely detailed and brightly colored propaganda posters featuring a dashingly handsome and youthful Chairman Mao, flanked by vast amounts of red flags waving off into the horizon as he raises one arm triumphantly in the air in front of a sea of euphoric, adorning people. This production is sharply designed and intelligently written but ultimately, it’s too manipulative to find much praise from me. Scalia was a virulent and dangerous rightwing Frankenstein who wrecked havoc on our country, undeserving of such an obvious whitewashing no matter how well-meaning it may be.

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Lord of the Underworld's Home for Unwed Mothers

Louisa Hill’s dialogue is gritty and often incredibly raw, especially when spouted by the world-weary Corie, yet her subject matter this time out does have the dreaded ring of soapy chick-flick-ery about it that is thankfully skillfully overcome by the production. In the hands of wunderkind director Tony Abatemarco, who stages his players on Cindy Lin’s wildly abstract set to wander seamlessly—and sometimes whimsically—from time zone to time zone, Hill’s script blossoms like a spring flower. Thanks to this slickly mounted and performed introduction to the work of an obviously gifted new playwright, we can all expect a great future.

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Burn, Baby, Burn, or… Bye, Bye, MY American Pie

As I contemplate my current Actors Equity Association dues statement, I have decided, after sixty-something years of acting and diligently paying my toll come hell or highwater over the years both lean and abundant, I will be requesting a leave from the once-respected union, one of which I used...

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DIE, MOMMIE, DIE!

Just at a time when the world seems to be going completely nuts, the victimless madness of Charles Busch could not be more welcome. Entering from her Beverly Hills estate’s garden apologizing to all in attendance for being “up to my elbows in manure,” Drew Droege as fading movie queen Angela Arden immediately takes Busch’s classic role and makes it his own. Where Busch’s deadpan Eve Arden-style performances have always been acerbic and dry as the Mojave, exhibiting his unearthly ability to somehow circumvent the comedic pratfalls which he himself wrote into his own roles, Droege could not be more blatantly campy, like a Zolpidem-sedated Ruby Keeler in her geriatric years playing Baby Jane Hudson while wearing Joan Crawford’s real-life wardrobe.

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