Registered Critic: Ed Rampell - Hollywood Progressive

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/reviewer and co-author of “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book”.
Sep

GRUMPY OLD MEN: THE MUSICAL

Sexuality and love are important themes in Grumpy – and the lack of same could well account for the characters’ grumpiness. If you hadn’t made love for 19 years you might be a bit on the grouchy side, too. However, friendship and community are also important themes in this small town U.S.A. musical comedy where, when it comes to the matter of race, the residents are color blind. For a crowd pleaser Grumpy is unexpectedly heartwarming, moving and at all times, highly enjoyable. ...And what a treat to see Barney Miller [Hal Linden] live!

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Sep

Miss Lilly Gets Boned

Miss Lilly Gets Boned possesses one of those things I value most in the arts – originality – and is indeed an exceedingly audacious, unique and imaginative production that is always entertaining, brought alive by a creative team of humans and puppets. I was unable to guess what direction the story and characters were moving to.

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Sep

THE HEAL

Even though there’s nary a toga in sight, aided by a cast and crew with the gifts of the gods, Aaron Posner’s interpretation rings true and is thoroughly entertaining and dare I say enlightening, from start to finish. The Heal is nothing less than a joy to behold. The 14th of the Villa’s outdoor extravaganzas reviving Greek classics, this latest offering to the gods is among the Getty’s best. From antiquity to modernity, audiences would be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable meditation on eternity, the condition of being all-to-human. The setting, like the thesps, is peerless and in our dire times we can’t get enough laughter, especially when liberally laced with wisdom. Strap on those sandals and make an Olympic-like dash down to the ‘Bu to catch The Heal.

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Sep

Deadly

Book writer and lyricist Vanessa Claire Stewart has wrought a highly stylized production about America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes (Keith Allan of SYFY Network’s Z Nation series), an actual historic figure. And like Charlie Chaplin’s 1947 Monsieur Verdoux,  Stewart has mixed social commentary with her murder mystery. While Chaplin slyly critiqued capitalism and war, Stewart adds a feminist dimension to her vision. While Holmes’ “victims and their stories vanish into the ether” in his and others’ accounts of their demise, as she writes in the playbill’s author’s note, Stewart gives his female fatalities voices, through dialogue, lyrics and music (composed by musical director Ryan Thomas Johnson).

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Aug

Paul Robeson Theatre Festival

According to its mission statement, the Robey Theatre Company is dedicated to “develop relevant provocative, and innovative new plays written about the Black experience.” With its third biennial Paul Robeson Theatre Festival, the Robey is fulfilling its raison d’être – and will hopefully continue to do so for at least another 25 years. Just like “Ol’ Man River”, the Robey keeps rolling along. And in doing so, this venerable theatrical company keeps the legacy of activist/actor/singer Paul Robeson alive, well, and still giving hell.

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Aug

Nick Dear's Frankenstein | California Premiere

Frankenstein – which was also titled The Modern Prometheus – is a reaction against the forces of science being unleashed by the industrial revolution. It is an expression of the ethos of Romanticism, the early to mid-19th century movement which celebrated nature, passion, the individual and rejected the rational. Above all else Mary Shelley is warning Man not to tamper with the natural world, for by doing so he throws things out of kilter. Given the growing threat of climate change Shelley’s cautionary tale remains all too relevant. And with the development of automation, androids and genetics, the notion of man playing god is very apropos. It’s still not nice to fool Mother Nature!!!

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Aug

Fefu and Her Friends

Fefu's characters are all female, and this is far less common than mixed gender or all male casts... This casting and the fact that the bard is a woman indelibly stamps Fefu with a distinctly feminist point of view. As such, Fefu deals with gender issues, sexual politics, as well as with same sex relationships. But what really sets Fefu apart from most other stage productions is that members of the audience... in Act I must leave their assigned seats and embark on an onstage odyssey in the Odyssey Theatre’s three-stage complex... where different portions of Fornes’ offbeat drama are presented.

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Aug

Twelfth Night

Although it is not a cure for the dire times we live in, this exceedingly good-natured comedy will help you get through these dark days. I had a ball, as did the nearly sold out audience. This play is rated “S”, because a SPLENDID time is guaranteed to all. I’d like to see it another twelve times!

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Aug

TRUE WEST

Shepard is as skillful at writing as the Flying Wallendas are at executing highwire acts fraught with peril, and after the intermission the playwright pulls a second act switcheroo that I didn’t see coming. True West is an acerbic rumination on the movie biz, but beneath that Shepard rips the layers back, revealing the downward trajectories that dysfunctional funky families can propel the children they spawn on. Although Lee and Austin’s father never appears onstage, the haunted memories of him they recount are truly harrowing. One can only wonder what misery little Sam must have experienced growing up...

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Jul

The Skin of Our Teeth

Before I made my way out to the splendid Topanga Canyon amphitheater I had no idea what to expect from the playwright of the spectral, somber Our Town, that popular stage standby for high school theater departments across the USA. But I was pleasantly surprised by its absurdist vibe that, as America joined the global fight against fascism, sought to reassure audiences that humanity shall prevail and survive, no matter what. (It’s still a reassuring and needed message today! O Thornton, wherefore art thou?)

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Jul

Loot

Bart DeLorenzo, who directs the current production at the Odyssey, claims the British playwright’s work hasn’t aged. But I beg to differ – the punch of Loot has been diluted by time. Orton’s two act spoof of Agatha Christie-like mysteries featuring detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple on the page and stage may have jolted auds 54 years ago, but for today’s theatergoers (many of whom did not return to their seats after intermission) Loot is passé. What was a “black comedy” when it debuted is now merely gray.

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Jul

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

It’s Karl Marx meets the Marx Brothers in Antaeus Theatre Company’s adaption of Bertolt Brecht’s 1944 play The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Brecht, who wrote The Threepenny Opera and Mother Courage, is best known for his leftwing agitprop. But many forget what Antaeus wisely remembers – while the German playwright may have been a master polemicist and propagandist (often against the master race) Brecht also had a caustic wit which reaches new heights of Marxist mirth in this production at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center.

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Jul

Scraps

As earthquakes struck SoCal a theatrical aftershock rocked the L.A. stage on July 6 with the West Coast premiere of Scraps. Geraldine Inoa’s brilliant, powerful play is at the cutting edge of the stage and screen cycle of productions reacting to the surge of police and vigilante killings of African Americans and/or the judicial system’s unjust mistreatment of Blacks. And Scraps is among the best of these works protesting racial injustice and inequity perpetrated (and perpetuated) by those perps/twerps – the “men” in blue and in robes (sometimes black, sometimes white).

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Jul

Tales From the Powder Room

Also playing on The Complex Hollywood’s boards right across the hall from the Ruby in The Dorie Theatre was Tales From the Powder Room by Robyn Migel, which won First Place for the Better Lemons Audience Choice Awards and has been extended. This play’s entire action is set in a workplace powder room, a euphemism for the ladies room, thus all of the characters and the eight thesps are females. In this woman-oriented hour-or-so play, the dramatis personae go to the bathroom in a series of six insightful vignettes.

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Jun

An Enemy of the People

The co-directors not only draw finely etched renderings from their thespians but, as is a hallmark of plays performed at this amphitheater under the stars, make exciting use of Topanga’s sylvan glade, the hills and woods surrounding its rustic boards. Geer and Marshall direct a race riot onstage with a mise-en-scène that’s exciting, just like WGTB’s battles in Shakespearean epics such as Julius Caesar and the sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat Nantucket sleigh ride in Moby Dick – Rehearsed.

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Jun

SHAME OF THRONES: The Musical

One may not have to be a “Thronie” to enjoy this fantasy farce - but it sure helps, if you want to sit on the Iron Throne of parody.

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Jun

La Traviata

To be fair, La Traviata does much more than merely perpetrate and perpetuate the trope of uninhibited women suffering for their orgasms and the ones they cause others to enjoy. The story criticizes Germont for his rigidity and narrow-minded, outmoded mores. Far from being a mere frippery and trollop, Violetta reveals herself to be an individual of integrity, capable of great self sacrifice and true love. Hopefully, creators in various art forms will come to embrace and celebrate instead of condemn female sexuality in future works. But this step forward away from the guilty obsessions with “sin” and repression will occur when more women create their own operas, novels, plays, films, etc.

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Jun

Moby Dick - Rehearsed

Today’s viewers are used to Computer Generated Images in big budget motion picture blockbusters - however, WGTB’s decidedly low tech but live “CGI” is far more exciting to behold.

Rehearsed’s grand finale, wreaking mayhem, is alone worth the price of admission and the sojourn to this theatrical enclave ensconced in the forest primeval north of Malibu. If you have to use a whaleboat and (like Orson - see below!) an ambulance, don’t miss this riveting revival of a play by a genius based on a novel by another genius. After all - All’s Welles that Melvilles.

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Jun

Ready Steady Yeti Go

...the best thing about this one-acter is its childhood ambiance, enhanced by scenic designer David Mauer’s set and costume designer Christine Cover Ferro’s outfits. The playbill’s use of photos of the cast and crew from when they were kids is a clever, inspired touch. St. Clair’s brief performance as her parents takes jabs at stage and screen stereotypes of Blacks, while her incarnation of Carly is very poignant.

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Jun

HARVEY

Andrew Barnacle deftly directs his cast of characters incarnated by character actors who all have a comic verve, including Larry Cedar (of HBO’s Deadwood) as Judge Gaffney, who is concerned about being gaff prone when considering the disposition of Ellwood’s estate - and liberty.

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