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

The Devil's Wife

For whatever might be lacking, the Skylight’s impressive production values and Tom Jacobson’s unique capacity to entertain is not among the considerations. It’s actually a kinda perfect choice for a mostly mindless night out of summer fun, something desperately needed as our beloved country spirals down into the crapper around us. If I wasn’t such an avid devotee of Jacobson’s work and had no previous reference leading to a prevailing sense of disappointment since I probably was expecting so much, I’ll bet it would have provided a much better time.

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Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

The production serves as proof that the haunting lyricism of Jacques Brel’s music and the insightful nature of his evocative, poetic lyrics can make this classic revue survive just about anything--and even eventually inspire director Dan Fishbach’s less accomplished, initially less magnetic cast to eventually soar to unexpected heights.

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HEISENBERG

Simon Stephens has created a unique play from a predictable situation, delicately peeling away the layers of the 40-something Georgie’s ditsy dysfunctionality and the 75-year-old Alex’ intense emptiness and disappointment with life as their improbable love affair intensifies. Still, a large part of this problem with this production might be the venue itself. The sound at the 739-seat Taper is challenging enough, but when the space is opened to having even more audience on the opposite side while recreating director Mark Brokaw’s original staging from the far more intimate Manhattan Theatre Club, the result is problematic. Regardless, Brokaw’s staging must have been dazzling in better physical conditions and what Stephens’ gives us could easily become a modern classic.

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Les Blancs

The spectre of playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who tragically died of pancreatic cancer in 1965 at age 34 before this play was finished, permeates this long, long overdue mounting of "Les Blancs," the ultimate masterpiece capping her brief but brilliant career. It is long and gritty and epic, which is surely why it has been so long ignored despite its continuing importance, but Rogue Machine and director Gregg T. Daniel have taken it on in its difficult uncut state and, adding a dynamic cast and brilliant production designs, have simply made it the highlight of the season for LA theatre.

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The Cake

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to take on the case of the Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple, Bekah Brunstetter introduces us to a similarly burdened Della (Debra Jo Rupp), a sweetly dutiful god-fearin’ housewife who has found fulfilment in her own small storefront baking business. Director Jennifer Chambers’ cast is uniformly golden and it’s especially glorious to see Rupp onstage playing a darker, naked-er version of Kitty Forman, but the incredibly funny and promising Brunstetter still needs to go back to the drawing board to tie everything up with a bit less episodic television-like ease. As is, The Cake is hilarious, potentially moving, but... well... slightly undercooked.

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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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