TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER is Opinionatedasswipe-in-Chief for the new handydandy arts-oriented website TicketHoldersLA.com. He has been a LA theatre critic since 1987 and has taught acting at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus since 2010. He was Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today for 21 years, reviewed for BackStage for 12 years, and is also currently a contributor to ArtsInLA.com. As a writer, five of his plays have been produced in LA and his first, "Surprise Surprise," became a feature film in 2010, for which Travis wrote the screenplay and appeared in a leading role. An actor since childhood who originally came to LA under contract to Paramount Pictures, he has appeared in six Broadway productions and has traveled extensively in everything from "Bye Bye Birdie," "Hair," and throughout Europe and Asia in "Hello Dolly" to touring as Amos (Mr. Cellophane) Hart in "Chicago." Locally, Travis received the LA Drama Critics’ Circle Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of "Nasty Little Secrets," a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in "Of Mice and Men," and he has also received six acting nominations from LA Weekly; a Sage Award; Ovation, GLAAD, NAACP, and five Garland Award nominations. Regionally, he was given the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in "Fifth of July," three awards for direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in "Equus," and he was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the premiere of "Oscar & Speranza." His first novel "Waiting for Walk," a memoir of growing up as a child actor, has been sitting in a desk drawer since its completion in 2005, proving there is often a deep divide between talent and functionality. www.travismichaelholder.coms

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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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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LONE STAR By James McClure

This Lone Star returns to its guileless and straightforward roots without the participants bastardizing it into an overlong sketch from the stage of the Ozark Opry or a long-lost episode of Hee-Haw. As displaced Vietnam vet Roy and his possibly brain-damaged brother Ray (Christopher Jordan and Christopher Parker) languish in a pile of rubble and an impressively well-appreciated collection of beer bottles behind Angel’s Bar in Maynard, Texas, the uselessness of their lives is simply presented, without comment or displaced “artistic” judgment. Under David Fofi’s sharply focused and surprisingly kinetic direction, Jordan is wonderfully understated but brilliantly on-target as the drunken Roy, who stares out into the prairie longing for the calls of the coyotes they’ve wiped out from the landscape just as they did the “injuns” before them. As his gaze wanders longingly out front at the lonely nightscape stretched before him, we too see it in his eyes, testament to an actor arrestingly comfortable in his own skin.

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

What could be a better choice to inaugurate Antaeus Theatre’s sparkling new two-theater complex than Tennessee Williams’ masterwork Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, especially directed by Cameron Watson, who has envisioned an amazing retelling of the classic Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. And if there is any reason not to miss this exceptional revival, it is the indelibly memorable work of Harry Groener and Dawn Didawick as dying Pollitt patriarch Big Daddy and his long-suffering spouse Big Mama that is the heart of this production. This real-life man-and-wife team could become recognized as the millennium’s west coast Lunt and Fontaine or Cronyn and Tandy from their turns in these difficult roles. Nowhere in Williams’ prolific stable of screwed-up characters, is there a role with such insurmountable acting traps written into it as Big Daddy. Anyone playing this role seems to fall headfirst into the rhythms and natural bigness of Burl Ives, who undoubtedly will be forevermore identified with the character. Still, instead of shouting gruffly and chomping on a huge cigar, the not-so-big Groener starts so gently and unobtrusively that when his rage emerges, his performance is revelatory. Hats off to a brilliant actor and his equally brilliant director for reinventing Big Daddy Pollitt anew. It’s a humbling honor to see such fine work unfold live right before one’s eyes.

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ABSINTHE

This production could make Zumanity look like Mary Poppins if raunchiness is the judging point. It goes far beyond anything ever envisioned by those innovative imagineers fro Montreal, from exposed skin to incredibly inappropriate comments shouted continuously over the loudspeakers. Absolut Vodka and other heady potions are hawked endlessly from the moment one enters the tent and continue to flow even during the performance, servers passing drinks down through the aisles like the donation box at a Jerry Falwell revival meeting. Oddly, however, no libations are necessary to get high watching Absinthe—the show itself will make you reel.

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Pie in the Sky

There are moments when it seems the chopping and coring and measuring and mixing of some of the dessert’s ingredients, not to mention Dory’s constant eyerolling over her mother’s demands and inappropriate comments, are robbing viewers of our precious and fleeting time on the planet. What makes it all work, however, is the sincerity and downhome spirit of these two veteran actors and the insightful leadership of their director, Maria Gobetti, who just last month was honored with the prestigious Milton Katselas Career Achievement Award from the LA Drama Critics Circle.

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INTO THE WOODS

Under the truly visionary direction of Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, this reinvigorated journey through the bewitched underbrush is meant to be extremely barebones, with 10 incredibly energetic and charismatic actors play all the characters, switching between them with lightning fast alacrity. Derek McLane’s simple floor-to-light-grid jumble of theatrical rigging is meant to indicate the ominous forest of trees, while an industrial-sized ladder evokes Rapunzel’s tower and a small-statured actress is illuminated like a shadow puppet to gargantuan proportions on the back wall to make that notorious lady giant come alive—and subsequently die a most dramatic death. No special effects or wildly intricate projections are utilized to tell this cautionary tale of once-upon-a-times that don’t always portend happy endings.

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HARLEQUINO: ON TO FREEDOM

With committed standout performances all around—particularly Bob Turton as a Pulcinella that feels lifted directly from Orwell’s 1984 and Pierre Adeli as a riotously inappropriate Pantalone—the ensemble grabs this epic modern Commedia by its leotard-stretched balls, paying wonderful homage to Tim Robbins’ amazing script, as well as his gloriously slick staging, clever score, and precision choreography. And along the way, Robbins' warning about the precarious state of our own cherished freedom, right at this very moment, is an urgent cry for us all to get off our complacent asses and join to stop the madness being foisted on the planet all around us.

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Building the Wall

Robert Schenkkan’s script is sometimes predictable, and the premise—as Gloria asks and Rick answers questions about his beaten-down life which so obviously formed his skewed belief system—often feels awkward and too convenient. Still, the combined artistry of Schenkkan and Michael Michetti guiding these two immensely talented performers helps make Building the Wall an urgently important call to arms.

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MESS

Kirsten Vangsness spills out her story with manic energy, her fingers splayed out vertically before her like she’s nursing a drying manicure and her signature quirky body language resembling a kid in water wings floating for the very first time. As she navigates through the admittedly self-induced Mess of her life, she shares with us the realization that, no matter how high the piles of junk grow around you, no matter how many kitten-hating fathers or linoleum-patterned mothers or hypocritical Jesus-freak teenyboppers named Tiffany or imaginary monsters intrude on your life’s personal journey, there’s also a multitude of paths to take and a buttload of channels to click onto. When you’re as strong and as incredibly gifted as Kirsten Vangsness—or even if you’re not, I suspect—our messy conquering hero reminds us that we get to choose the channel and it’s up to us just how much we want to let it take us wherever we want to go.

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THE 25th ANNUAL TICKETHOLDER AWARDS, 2016

Boy, time flies when you’re appreciating art. This is my 25th year creating my annual TicketHolder Awards, which began in the now defunct Beverly Hills Post a friggin’ quarter-century ago. I actually began reviewing theatre in El Lay 30 years ago this month in what was then The Tolucan,...