PRISCILLA's Jessica Hanna Making Outsized Theatre Magic Within Intimate L.A. Parameters

The Celebration Theatre will be presenting the Los Angeles intimate theatre premiere of PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT - THE MUSICAL as their second show of their 2017-2018 season, beginning February 10, 2018. We had the opportunity to chat with a die-hard, creative contributor to the Los Angeles Theatre community, Jessica Hanna, who just happens to be directing this huge extravaganza in the tiny, but always efficient Lex Theatre.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Jessica!

You have worked with a number of Los Angeles theatres, especially Bootleg Theatre which you co-founded. What magnetic forces drew you to The Celebration and PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT - THE MUSICAL?

I've been a fan of Celebration Theatre for some time, but hadn't had the chance to work with them. So when Michael Shepperd asked me to direct PRISCILLA... well, it's PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT - THE MUSICAL at Celebration Theatre, how would that not be a fantastic project? I was honored they brought me on and I'm having a fantastic time making it. PRISCILLA is about transformation. All of the characters, even the bus, go through some sort of transformation on the outside and in. We are living in a time of transformation, which isn't easy, but it can be glorious. And in this case, sparkly. The stage version is lavish with a very large cast and, well, the titular character is a bus, so the puzzle of how to make this epic journey story in an intimate theater also excited me. Working within parameters seems to be something I thrive on. We have to find ways to tell the story that work on the scale of the space without losing the surprise and delight built in to the show. We have a great team of collaborators in the room and I'm very excited about what we've found so far and can't wait to see what we have on February 16.

I scored an early screener of the 1994 film, and I must have watched it with friends at least twenty times within the first three months I had it. Were you first familiar with the film? Or the stage musical that began in 2006?

I never saw the stage version, but the movie was striking when it came out. The images and story were fierce and groundbreaking. It helped to create change in Western culture's perception and feelings about gender. Plus, it had amazing costumes, super fun music, and at the time, was a window into another country and culture that I didn't know much about and found totally exciting.

As a multi-creative, did you want to just sink your teeth into PRISCILLA then? Which creative aspect of PRISCILLA did you want to tackle? Or did you simply enjoy it as a 'civilian'?

Well, when I saw it, I was a just a child (ahem). So it never occurred to me that it would be something I could work on. When I heard it was a musical, all I could think was, it has to be a giant show because it has to have a bus in it, right? How do they do that? A lot of the theater work I've made or been part of making, has a flare or spectacle aspect involved. So the challenge of making a giant show in an intimate setting means figuring out how theater magic can create spectacle in a small space. My theater tastes run the gamut from simple and small to giant costume shows. This one lands more on the giant costume side. Yet, at its heart is a simple story of being true to yourself, facing your fears, and finding support and acceptance with friends and family.

The movie is iconic for many artistic reasons, but also, because it was groundbreaking. We wouldn't have RuPaul's Drag Race today without it. PRISCILLA is set in the 90s and we are working hard to pay homage, but not make it a copy or a dated period piece. We're reflecting where we are now within a period piece. For instance, the three Queens (Tick, Bernadette and Adam) all represent different eras of drag to me. Bernadette is the earlier Les Girls style - more in the style of burlesque. Tick is the late 70s/80s avant-garde drag of early RuPaul, and Adam is closer to us now as gender becomes more fluid. I think, or I hope, by following these ideas, we'll end up with a very relevant show that reminds us where we came from and encourages us to keep progressing forward.

Any particular moments really register with/touched you?

Tick's relationship with his son or his finding a relationship with his son always moved me. Remember this was 27 years ago, so the idea that a gay drag queen would or could be married and have a child was still very taboo. To watch Tick fear that his son would reject him, and then see that who he is, is exactly who his son wants and needs, was deeply moving. And, of course, watching Bernadette kick ass against bigots was fantastic to watch. Still is.

The movie itself was such a convergence of magical talents - songs, costumes, performances, sweeping fabric atop a giant high heel atop a pink bus, ping pong balls. What can the Celebration Theatre audiences expect to see in their tiny, but so-efficiently-used space?

They're going to get all that and, oh, so much more. The space is going to be packed with joy. And sparkles. And heart. I hope that audiences will be jumping in their seats, overcome with the creativity on the stage, fighting the urge to sing along, and in the next moment find themselves moved by the beautiful relationships and the friendship and acceptance the Queens find. Celebration always makes the most of their space and this show will carry on that tradition. We have a spectacular team of theater magic makers and they are employing all their tools. I hope that there will be a lot of surprise at what we have created.

Aside from the aforementioned tiny space of the Celebration, what challenges did you have to deal with and overcome in mounting PRISCILLA there?

Working within parameters causes creative choices that would never have been thought of if the space were giant and the budget unlimited. We must be creative in order to figure out how to tell the story the way we want within the parameters. There have been challenges in figuring out how to scale the cast size down to something workable for the space. How to then schedule rehearsals with a large cast of working actors is also a bit of a dance, always is. I love ensemble theater work and I strive to make space for the ensemble to find each other, which is difficult when you have a very limited rehearsal time and a LOT of material to learn quickly. But we were able to take a little time to do some ensemble work that really helped the group gel and grew their excitement about working with each other. And when working in a small space, cultivating excitement and awareness of each other makes a huge difference in focus that permeates the stage and effects the audience in beautiful ways.

Have you worked with any of this cast and crew before?

I've worked with a few of these artists, but most are new to me, which I love. I'm always excited to meet talented strangers! Los Angeles is teeming with amazing artists. I feel privileged to have opportunities to get to know and work with more of them.

I've never directed Tad Coughenour (Bernadette), but he has been in a couple shows I've produced. And I've been a fan of Gina Torrecilla (Marion) and her work at Celebration, so that's been a treat to work with her. Becca Kessin sound designed a show I produced at Bootleg years ago, but we hadn't found another project to work on until this. And Brandon Baruch, the lighting designer, and I have a long and fructiferous history of collaboration and we're having a ball on this one.

You have contributed to the theatre community using many of your various talents. Which gives you the most satisfaction - hearing the audience direct responses to your own performance onstage? Or sitting in the back of the house listening to the audience respond to the combination extension of your talents?

Sitting at the back of the house - or if a space has a vom, I love to watch & listen from a vom.

Wait, Jessica! Sorry to interrupt your train of thought, but what's a 'vom'?

The 'vom' is an entrance or aisle into a theater - comes from Ancient Rome, I think, when that aisle or hall out of the theater led to the vomitorium. You can stand in the vom and not be seen by the audience.

My new word of the week - 'vom.' Can't wait to use it. "I was standing in the vom on my way to the vomitorium and..." I digress, back to you, Lovely Lady.

I actually have a hard time sitting in an audience during a show I've directed. The energy I get from bearing witness to an audience's reactions to my collaborators performances and ideas is moving. Literally. I love hearing/feeling an audience say, "Yes!" and take the ride with the company. That's the exciting part when I'm onstage or off. Nothing like an audience saying, "Yes! I'm in. What happens next?!"

Since co-founding Bootleg Theatre in 2006, what growth have you noticed in the Los Angeles theatre scene?

You got another few pages of space? The growth has been astounding really. In the artists and the levels and variations of storytelling. L.A. is vast, and there is space for all different kinds of theater artists and their interests. And, one could argue, more importantly the audiences have grown. There is an interest in live performance in the city that feels different. Maybe it's because of the times we live in, and the technology that isolates us; but more and more I see ALL kinds of people out seeing art. Wanting to have a group experience that illuminates their humanity. Audiences all walks of life with different interests. Angelenos are craving experience. We are adventurous by nature, that's how many of us ended up here in the first place. We followed our interest, our dreams. Dared ourselves. And you can see it in the cultural landscape of the town. So much new work being incubated. Retelling of old stories in fantastic ways. Artists seem to feel a safety here to express, to attempt their wildest dreams. We encourage each other to reach because that's why we're here too. I'm gonna really start waxing poetic here soon. I can talk about theater and art for hours. It's my favorite subject.

One more thing on this topic, there has been an energizing in the L.A. theater community in the last few years, as many of us were forced to more clearly define what our theater scene has been, what it is and what we want it to become. It is a difficult and sometimes infuriating process, but it has caused conversation, collaboration and creative solutions. And I hear more pride in what we create and how we create it than ever before. It's an exciting time to be an artist anywhere, but especially in Los Angeles.

As one who's been in and around the Los Angeles theatre community, what do you see as its status in the next five years?

I think it will continue to grow. The theater that's made here will be exported more with tours of L.A.- based productions and scripts developed here in L.A. being picked up by regional theaters. Busting the myth that L.A. isn't a theater town. New plays will continue to be developed here, as I don't see the small screen giving up on all the amazing playwrights they're hiring lately. And those playwrights are based here and want to make plays. And the plays they are writing and will write will reflect the diversity of L.A., and make them more accessible in more places outside of L.A. National New Play Network rolling premieres will become more prevalent. What's really going to be key, I think, to the continued growth of the L.A. theater community is support, not just financial (though that's always welcome), from the city and state. I would love to see the city put more effort into promoting the theater and live performance scene as an asset, a glorious facet of an exciting city. Finding ways to get more young people interested in theater and art early. Helping artists make spaces that encourage collaboration and conversation that will energize all Angelenos.

Next ten years?

Ten years from now, L.A. will all be gearing up for the Arts Festival that I hope will be happening in tandem with the Olympics that summer. The city will find exciting ways to highlight and celebrate local artists, as well as, bring in some international artists, hopefully from Latin and South America. And by that time, I hope we have at least two new midsize theaters that will be supporting the growth of shows year-round by local artists. The larger houses will be casting and hiring a majority of local artists. Work will highlight diversity and give voice to those without equality more and more, because that's what audiences want to see. And since we're dreaming about the future, the city will have at least ten well-appointed spaces around town that they rent for theater and live performance for $1 a year.

What do you see for Jessica Hanna in the next five, next ten years?

Lots and lots of theater making. Continuing to allow my interest to dictate what I work on. I have a couple stories I'd like to tell in the television format as well. I will be touring theater pieces that I've directed, outside of L.A. and outside of the country. Being hired to direct outside of L.A. Working with artists all over the world, yet always being based in L.A., 'cause I mean, the weather's pretty damn amazing. And as stated above, I love this L.A. scene. I will have created an incubator space for artists of all mediums to collaborate, develop and present their work - including my own. And I will be a part of whatever arts component is happening with the Olympics. Working to highlight local artists and raising the profile of Los Angeles theater.

Thank you again, Jessica! I do so look forward to reliving my Australian road trip on the pink bus through your eyes!

You're so welcome, Gil!

To check ticket availability for Celebration Theatre's PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT - THE MUSICAL running through March 25, 2018; log onto CelebrationTheatre.com


"TOXIC MASCULINITY" IN HOLLYWOOD (Onstage)

Given how much "toxic" masculinity there is around these days - just this morning, some jerk in Northern Cali joined the growing list of lethal shooters, at a children's elementary school, no less - well, I thought I'd begin with a memoir from a non-toxic Hollywood male.

BORN STANDING UP: a comic's life by Steve Martin, published by Scribner's

"I was not naturally talented - I didn't sing, dance or act - though working around that minor detail made me inventive.  I was not self-destructive, though I almost destroyed myself. In the end, I turned away from standup with a tired swivel of my head, until now," writes Steve Martin, in the first chapter of this fascinating self-analysis of his 18 year career as a standup comic.  Martin adds: "I was seeking comic originality, and fame fell on me as a by-product."

This is not a new book - it's been out 10 years already - but it has sat on my shelf for some-time now, unread.  I am suspicious of celebrity culture of any kind, and self-analysis is usually of the most superficial variety with such folk.  But Steve Martin has been more unpredictable than most, branching out to playwriting, literary fiction, painting, musicals.  And I found his book to be unexpectedly and delightfully insightful, both into the formation of "Steve Martin, standup" who became the first comedian to play stadiums, and into the art of standup comedy itself.  Steve Martin spent years as a standup failure, bombing hard and often.  He lost managerss, he lost lovers, he had no money. His father never believed in him and was clearly hoping he would call it quits.  Even the months before his stardom were filled with gigs with small audiences and loud hecklers.  How and why did it change?  Read the book and find out.  I was deeply impressed with the honesty and humility with which Martin was able to view his own development as an entertainer and creative force.   He comes across as a flawed but genuinely good guy, a private person from Orange County who is well aware of the demands of celebrity, keeping it at as great a distance as he can afford to.

STUPID KID by Sharr White, Directed by Cameron Watson

Joe Hart, Taylor Gilbert, Rob Nagle, Allison Blaize, Ben Theobald (Brian Cole)

There are sometimes when the opening scene of a new play is so original and mind-blowing that I worry about how the rest of the play is going to be able to continue on this level, much less top it.  Such was the case with Sharr White's Stupid Kid at the Road.  The play opens with a knock on a door - suddenly Chick (Ben Theobald), a wayward man in his late 20s, is facing his father Eddie (Joe Hart) on the threshold of the run-down family home.  "Who are you?" Eddie keeps asking, and he seems unable to comprehend that this stranger at his door is actually his son.  Soon mother Gigi (Taylor Gilbert) joins the fray, and things only get more wildly out of control.  What's so winning about this opening scene, from a playwright's point of view, is that the three major characters are established and we begin to get a glimpse of the terrible tragedy/media event 14 years earlier that changed their lives - all without ever slowing down the play or compromising its reality to give us any exposition.  The play has raised several intriguing questions without giving away any crucial information.  Soon after this, the "toxic masculinity" in the play is introduced in the character of Uncle Mike (Rob Nagle).  Uncle Mike was the town sheriff, until he was unceremoniously removed.  Now he's running for town judge to get his revenge.  Uncle Mike has moments of greatness, but his character ends up raising more questions than the play is able to answer, chief among them: why would a man so concerned with power and domination rent a boy's room in his sister's run-down house for the last 14 years?  Given the depth of sadism, maybe he needs people to dominate; but other questions emerge that simply prove to be too big for this play to deal with.  Still, it's a terrific production, with great costumes by Kate Bergh and a wonderfully-detailed set by Jeff McLaughlin.  It has six more performances and is worth catching.

LES LIASON DANGEREUSES by Christopher Hampton, from the novel by Choderlos de Laclos, directed by Robin Larson

Reiko Aylesworth and Henry Lubatti in the Libertine cast (Geoffrey Wade)

This would seem to be the perfect play for right now, dealing as it does with the sexual misdeeds of two 18th Century aristocrats, La Marquise de Merteuil and Le Vicomte de Valmont, who conspire together to pray upon the more vulnerable members of their society.  There's even this quote from a mother to her teenage daughter in the early moments of the play, regarding why Valmont continues to be received in polite homes, despite his tawdry history: "You'll soon find that society is riddled with such inconsistencies, we're all aware of them, we all deplore them, and in the end, we all accommodate them."   As Jenny Lower pointed out in her Stage Raw review, this could be a description of how Harvey Weinstein's uncouth behavior and violations went unpunished for so long.

Antaeus is famous for having two separate casts for each show - in this case, The Libertines and The Lovers.  I saw The Libertines cast, with Reiko Aylesworth and Henry Lubatti in the lead roles, and the production simply didn't work for me, because Mr Lubatti didn't make me feel the emotional devestation that Valmont causes by rejecting his true love, La Presidente de Tourvel.  In her Stage Raw review, Jenny Lower raves about how well this worked with the actors in The Lovers cast.  Something to think about.

REDLINE by Christian Durso, directed by Eli Gonda, presented by IAMA Theatre at the Lounge

This father-son play about the consequences of a 5 second outburst of toxic masculinity has all the emotional devestation I found missing from Liason Dangereuse, and much more.  It is the culmination of a two year development process in which playwright Christian Durso continued to work on his play with director Eli Gonda and actors James Eckhouse and Graham Sibley, having readings, making changes. The play is still finding its levels and filling in a few details, and the ending still feels a bit tentative, but this is an example of what small theaters can do that major institutional theaters rarely can.  The collaborative elements here are outstanding, and IAMA Theatre deserves huge kudos for helping to bring about such a powerful theatrical experience.  Every family will be able to relate to the central event in the play - an argument between mom and dad on a skiing field trip that gets out of hand and ignites a moment of chaos that results in a tragedy for many people.  Further, the play shows how the emotional damage is compounded and passed along from father to son, resulting in another heartrending and entirely preventable tragedy.  Eckhouse and Sibley are two of SoCal's best actors, and both are at the top of their games here.  But, again, the brilliance here is the result of a great collaboration between all aspects of theater, including the flexible steel set by Rachel Myers and the excellent lighting by Josh Epstein.  Kudos also to producers Tom DeTrinis and Jen Hoguet for their contribution.  There are only 3 performances left with available tickets: this Saturday at 2 and 8 pm and this Sunday at 2.  Grab one fast.

 


Audio Interview: James Eckhouse - Jim Walsh of TV's "Beverly Hills, 90210" - stars in “Redline” at The Lounge Theatre

Enjoy this interview about “Redline” By Christian Durso staring James Eckhouse (Jim Walsh in a recurring role on the TV series Beverly Hills, 90210) at The Lounge Theatre, running until Nov 19th. You can listen to this YouTube interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage.  For tickets and more info Click here.


THIS IS NOT EMMA STONE'S "BOULDER CITY"

Jimmy Fowlie as Mia Dolan at the Celebration Theatre

SO LONG BOULDER CITY by Jimmy Fowlie and Jordan Black, performed by Mr Fowlie and directed by Mr Black

The title of this meta-comedy will be immediately recognizable to any avid fan of Damien Chazelle's film LA LA LAND.  In the film, Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress played by Emma Stone (who won an Academy Award for her performance), writes herself a one-woman show called "So Long Boulder City" in a desperate attempt to boost her faltering career.  Only 9 people show up - none of whom is her boyfriend Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling.  However, her ploy works out better than she ever expected, since one of the attendees is a high-powered casting agent.

All of this is such far-fetched nonsense - as I wrote about in one of my first columns for this website - that it seems to be crying out for lampooning, and this show by Jimmy Fowlie and Jordan Black more than fills the bill.  While not everything works, the parts that are funny are howlingly so - as in one bit that features Abraham Lincoln's niece.  Personally, I could see anothere way to go with this parody, that would hone closer to the character of Mia Dolan and evoke Ms Stone's performance more acutely.  But this broadly farcical approach works too, and Mr Fowlie is a hoot as an untalented LA actress who is too in love with herself and her "dreams" to even notice how terrible a performer she really is.

I highly recommend this if you want to laugh your ass off at one-person shows in general and at the LA entertainment industry scene in particular.  But it's better if you know the source material well - or can go with someone who does.

The fun continues at Celebration Theatre until November 6th.  But if it keeps selling out the house, as it's been doing... do I hear extension?


INTIMATE AND TWISTED - LOVE, THE STRINDBERG WAY

 

BONO AND THE EDGE WAITING FOR GODOMINO'S - two more shows at the Whitefire!

This very funny show originated at the 2017 Fringe and has moved to the Whitefire Theatre on Ventura Blvd, where it has two more performances.  Here is my coverage from last summer:  "While a parody of Beckett's Waiting for Godot that will appeal to all theater geeks, it's also a hoot for the general public in its spin around the recordings of U2, notable both for their great musicianship and their sometimes pretentious self-seriousness.  All the actors are wonderful, and the final twist that comes with the arrival of the longed-for pizza takes it to another level.  Do the bandmates finally find what they are looking for?"  Catch it on Saturdays at 10 pm to find out!

 

THE DANCE OF DEATH by August Strindberg, adapted by Conor McPherson, at the Odyssey Theatre

Jeff LeBeau, Lizzy Kimball and Darrell Larson in "The Dance of Death"

 

August Strindberg  is well-known for plays like The Father and Miss Julie, that depict a battle of the sexes so vicious that it could more accurately be called a cage match to the death.  These plays were ripped from his own pain, from his three failed marriages and the five children he ended up having no relationship with, from the terrible episodes of paranoia that afflicted him.  But it was not always so.

In 1875, aspiring writer August Strindberg met the love of his life, aspiring actress Siri von Essen.  Two years later they were married.  While their first child was stillborn, they went on to have three healthy children together, two girls and a boy.  Meanwhile, Siri was accepted into the acting company of the Royal Court in Stockholm, where she acted in the early plays of her husband's, among many others.  In early 1882, Strindberg stated his purpose: "My interest in the theatre, I must frankly state, has but one focus and one goal - my wife's career as an actress."  He followed up his early plays with a collection of short fiction, Getting Married, that advocated the equality of women so enthusiastically that Strindberg was sued for blasphemy by right-wing groups in Sweden.  (He was acquitted.)

What I really enjoyed about Ron Sossi's production of Strindberg's Dance of Death was that it captured this sense of deep love lost, of passion that has curdled into lingering disappointment.  In the play, Edgar (Darrell Larson) and Alice (Lizzy Kimball) are on the verge of their 25th anniversary.  Edgar is a Captain of the Guards, Alice is a former actress in Copenhagen.  They live in a converted prison facing the sea, where they have no friends in the village.  They've had two children, a boy and a girl, both of whom have gotten far away and have as little to do with their parents as possible.  Edgar and Alice have no more career aspirations, they have run through what money they had and have just lost their one servant, with little chance of attracting another.  Familiarity has indeed bred contempt, and they are depressingly familiar with every aspect of each other.  And yet, and yet, and yet - there is still love there.  Or at least the memory of it.

Into this impossible tangle comes Kurt (Jeff LeBeau), Alice's cousin and the person who first introduced her to Edgar.  He is the new quarrantine officer for the island and has come here "seeking peace" he says, after having lost his three children in a brutal custody battle.  What happens instead is that Kurt becomes a pawn in the war between Alice and Edgar.  As it turns out, cousins Alice and Kurt had a love affair which ended when Kurt got married; in fact, that was his purpose in introducing Alice to Edgar, to have him take her off his hands. LeBeau does a wonderful job in bringing Kurt to vivid life, especially as he falls more and more under the influence of cousin Alice.  He puts just the right comic spin on the character, while retaining the pathos of a dedicated family man who is lost without his children, whose only real sense of purpose comes from being the head of a family.

Lizzy Kimball and Darrell Larson, under Sossi's direction, are expert at mining all the dark humor they can find in the twists and turns of Alice and Edgar's epic battles.  They convincingly portray the strong bond of love and hate that still keeps them together but brings them no joy, that's a source of torment that still feels like home.  The McPherson adaptation brilliantly clears away all the local color of the time, the distracting minor characters and Strindberg's jabs at the legal codes of the day, to come up with a richly concentrated version of Strindberg's play, one that speaks vividly to contemporary audiences.

It also brings out with great clarity the enormous influence that this play has had on succeeding generations of playwrights.  There are echoes of Beckett, O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and, most of all, Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  All of this in the kind of intimate theater that Strindberg first conceived of in the early 20th Century - his was 160 seats, this one is 99, but the principle is the same.  And it provides a very intimate setting in which to get to know these deeply flawed characters in this deeply human dilemma.

For tickets, click here.

 


THREE QUICK HIPSTER TIPS FOR THE WEEKEND

As usual, there's so much going on in the SoCal area this weekend, including a dangerous fire (try to avoid that).  For those who want a memorable experience at the theater, here are 3 options - all have some humor in them, though only one is a laugh out-loud comedy.

 

George Wyner and Richard Fancy are brothers in "Daytona". Photo: John Perrin Flynn

DAYTONA by Oliver Cotton, directed by Elina de Santos

There are so many great older actors in Los Angeles, and far too few plays that really give them anything to perform.  But Daytona at Roguemachine has three terrific roles, which are inhabited to the hilt by George Wyner and Sharron Shayne as a long-married couple and Richard Fancy as Mr Wyner's long-absent brother, under the pitch-perfect direction of Elina de Santos.  The play takes place in Brooklyn in 1986, where Joe and Elli are preparing for their dance competition the next evening, a hobby they've cultivated for the past 15 years.  Then Elli goes out to pick up her dress from her sister, where she will also spend the night.  Suddenly the downstairs buzzer sounds.  Joe is shocked to hear the voice of his brother Billy, who he hasn't heard from for the past 30 years, and whose entrance will shake up the easy-going world of Joe and Elli.  I completely agree with Kathleen Foley's review in the LA Times that the play has some major problems, most of which crop up in the Second Act, when the writing begins to waver and drift.  But, as Ms. Foley asserts, the actors couldn't be better, and their moment-to-moment character work is thrilling to watch.  Certainly Richard Fancy - who I've seen in numerous shows at Pacific Resident Theatre and elsewhere around town - has never seemed more focused and relaxed, having the time of his life.  This is a play and a production that will likely stay in your mind long after the houselights have come up.

UPDATE: DAYTONA has to close earlier than expected, on Monday October 16, but Roguemachine is looking to move and reopen it, so your support is essential.

Karen Finley in the The Expanded Unicorn Gratitude Mystery (Photo: Carolina Restrepo)

THE EXPANDED UNICORN GRATITUDE MYSTERY by Karen Finley at Redcat

Karen Finley, the author and performer of the one woman show at the Redcat in DTLA for this weekend only, is herself something of a unicorn on the American performance art scene, part stand-up comic, part Oracle at Delphi.  She came to public prominence in the early 1980s as one of the NEA 4 - 4 performance artists of highly political and controversial works who had received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, much to the disgust of conservative senator Jesse Helms.  She has continued to develop her work far out of the mainstream (by choice), using sexual imagery in unexpected ways (just google "Finley yams" and "Finley chocolate" for  more detailed accounts) to bring attention to the glorification of rape and other acts of misogyny in the central nervous system of American life.  Pretty much alone among her peers, she has managed to maintain her integrity and develop her metaphors in a series of performance art pieces and books and recordings.  That alone would provide a good reason to catch her new show at Redcat, if you can still score a ticket.  But this is something different than I've seen from Ms. Finley before.  (I caught both her yam and her chocolate performances.)  There is no nudity this time - that's a first, at least in my limited experience.  There are three sections to her performance, and the first two are funnier than anything I've seen from her.  These satirize American consumerism and American politics, respectively.  In the political section, she takes on Hillary Clinton, Trump and their campaigns, to devestating effect.  The third (and most powerful) section is Karen Finley being Karen Finley - dispensing with the clown costumes and the wigs and assuming the role of Cassandra the Seer, peering poetically into the darkness of the American soul.  What she sees is dark indeed - a hollowness which has to be filled up with things, a death-wish that yearns for mass destruction.  Her performance is so dense with references and layers of meaning that it is difficult to take in in one sitting.  On the other hand, who knows when you'll get another chance?

Jimmy Fowlie as Mia Dolan at the Celebration Theatre

SO LONG BOULDER CITY by Jimmy Fowlie and Jordan Black, performed by Mr Fowlie and directed by Mr Black

The title of this meta-comedy will be immediately recognizable to any avid fan of Damien Chazelle's film LA LA LAND.  In the film, Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress played by Emma Stone (who won an Academy Award for her performance), writes herself a one-woman show called "So Long Boulder City" in a desperate attempt to boost her faltering career.  Only 9 people show up - none of whom is her boyfriend Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling.  However, her ploy works out better than she ever expected, since one of the attendees is a high-powered casting agent.  All of this is such far-fetched nonsense - as I wrote about in one of my first columns for this website - that it seems to be crying out for lampooning, and this show by Jimmy Fowlie and Jordan Black more than fills the bill.  While not everything works, the parts that are funny are howlingly so - as in one bit that features Abraham Lincoln's niece.  Personally, I could see anothere way to go with this parody, that would hone closer to the character of Mia Dolan and evoke Ms Stone's performance more acutely.  But this broadly farcical approach works too, and Mr Fowlie is a hoot as an untalented LA actress who is too in love with herself and her "dreams" to even notice how terrible an actress she really is.  I highly recommend this if you want to laugh your ass off at one-person shows in general and at the LA entertainment industry scene in particular.  But it's better if you know the source material well - or can go with someone who does.