Eric A. Gordon, writes for People's World (peoplesworld.org). He has written for dozens of local, national, and international publications, mostly about art, music, culture, religion and politics. His undergraduate degree is from Yale and his doctorate in history is from Tulane. He was director of the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring in Southern California from 1995 to 2010. Eric is the author of "Mark the Music: The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein," and co-author of "Ballad of an American: The Autobiography of Earl Robinson." A book he translated from Portuguese ("Waving to the Train and Other Stories," by Hadasa Cytrynowicz) appeared in 2013. In 2015 he executive produced "City of the Future," a CD of Soviet Yiddish music from the 1930s. He is the former Southern California Chapter Chair of the National Writers Union (Local 1981 UAW/AFL-CIO).

THE CHINESE WALL review

50%

The show (seen Jan. 28) features some 20 performers (alas, too numerous to name individually), some playing multiple roles, and sumptuous costumes for all the historical characters. Video projections fill out the story and supply running commentary. Clips of Marx Brothers movies underscore the absurd humor, and contemporary songs about changing times fill out the soundtrack. The set décor tends toward the funky, with movable, multifunctional units. It runs almost two hours, with one intermission. The production is, as I’ve tried to indicate, timely and admirably well intentioned. Like the IWW’s Little Red Book of songs, it aims to “fan the flames of discontent” with wit and righteous anger, and move a mute audience toward action. Yet integrating the crazy-quilt of characters into a Julius Caesar-type of story already laden down with obvious and somewhat repetitive satire, was a challenge this version of the play does not fully meet. All these unnaturalistic roles are difficult to imbue with feeling.

..read full review...

THE HOTHOUSE review

100%

We never see any of the patients of this institution, although from time to time we and the characters on stage do hear strange groans and moans—which may be sounds from the residents on the floors above (treatment? illness? nightmares?), or charitably may be the characters’ conscience calling to them. In any case, the patients are known to the staff only by number, and as we soon learn during the course of the action on one Christmas Day, a couple of them have just undergone major life transitions: Patient 6457 has mysteriously died, while Patient 6459 has given birth to a baby boy, an unmistakable echo of the outcast child born twenty centuries earlier and celebrated on this day.... The acting is ace, the material challenging, the production rare.

..read full review...

THIS LAND review

100%

Although the issues are laid out masterfully and intriguingly, I longed for the hyperactive stage to stand still for a moment or two and allow each character half a minute to voice a poetic address to his or her unique personal and historical predicament.

..read full review...

RUNAWAY HOME review

100%

Kamps writes in a rich, popular vernacular and it rushes by at a fast clip. Audience members surely cannot pick up every word. But I think that is the playwright’s point: to recapitulate the rush of water from the broken levee in the avalanche of words. Oh, I thought more than once, if the actors would only slow down a bit so I could appreciate the sheer poetry they’re speaking. But no, life implodes on us, and sometimes so does theatre. If we want to know a community through the art it produces, we must understand that we will not instantly get every pungent word, every obscure reference, every edgy nuance. Not always easy to grasp on a first exposure, a second look would be well rewarded.

..read full review...

HEAD OF PASSES review

50%

...[F]aith—and salvation, if that’s what you aspire to—is not individualistic. We express our compassion not just in the credos we recite, but primarily in relation to others. Standing fast in obstinate solitude will not save you or anyone else. Shelah is herself a “head of passes”—the family leader who passes on accepting an outstretched hand. If some theatergoers see McCraney’s play as about the “power of faith,” others are equally right to point to its futility, and even the selfishness of it.

..read full review...

LOST IN YONKERS review

50%

That is the outlook that informs the semi-autobiographical play Lost in Yonkers, another coming of age story but with a four-generational psychological through-line. It won Simon the 1991 Pulitzer Prize as well as a Tony Award. Whether it stands up as a true masterpiece over time remains to be seen. I suspect its strength depends, again, more on superb performance than on the script itself, at least judging from The Group Rep production now playing in Los Angeles, my first exposure to the work.

..read full review...

HERSHEY FELDER'S "OUR GREAT TCHAIKOVSKY" review

100%

Much is made of Tchaikovsky’s thundering welcome abroad. Music lovers may recall that he conducted his music at the opening night concert of Manhattan’s new Carnegie Hall on May 5, 1891. A short video about the hall and that opening night can be viewed here. Surely the composer must have known that returning to his oppressive homeland would only deliver ever more assault to his personal sense of self (“identity” we might say today). He was vilified in the press, blackmailed by his legal wife (that’s a story in itself), and thwarted in his loves. In the more modern, liberal societies of the West, he would have found far less harassment, much wider appreciation, and a shower of monetary compensation. But the draw of home was overpowering for him: Was there perhaps a compulsive masochistic component to his retreat to the familiar birch woods of his dacha outside Moscow, and to the fear of exposure that had become engrained into his essential character?

..read full review...

ANIMAL FARM review

100%

It is thoroughly engaging, highly creative, musically charming, and overall a profound educational excursion to “actually existing socialism” in “rural England” “once upon a time.

..read full review...

PARADE review

100%

Anaheim’s Chance Theater gave this show a stunning, innovative production (scenic design by Fred Kinney) on bare wooden planks in a staging involving little more than tables and chairs in constant motion. Costuming by Elizabeth Cox brought out the class disparities of a deeply racist society given to populist appeals against outsiders who besmirch our Southern womanhood. Confederate flags are prominently waving. It has become one of the great American social commentary musicals, a powerful story not just of prejudice and discrimination, but also of feminist emergence as Leo’s wife Lucille (Erica Schaeffer) rises to her husband’s defense, even as he tried to discourage her from asserting herself so visibly (typical man’s “I can handle this” pride).

..read full review...

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE review

100%

This review also covers "Parade" at the Chance Theater in Anaheim: Two successive nights of theatergoing, two Jews lynched, one by law, the other by rope: William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (1597) and the American musical Parade (1998), book by Alfred Uhry, music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, which take us back to Atlanta, Ga., in 1913, when Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-raised Jew making his life with his new Southern-born wife Lucille, was put on trial for the murder of a 13-year-old girl.

..read full review...