Registered Critic: Leigh Kennicott

Leigh Kennicott has an extensive background in theatre, film and television and a Ph.D. degree in Theatre, awarded in 2002. A writer, director and actor, Leigh Kennicott began theatrical reviewing at Backstage, followed by Pasadena Weekly and Stage Happenings blog. As a director in Los Angeles, she directed a neo-realist "Romeo and Juliet" at the Secret Rose Theatre; a new play,“Charlotte Second Chance,” at DramaGarage; and “How I Learned to Drive,” “Nickel and Dimed” and “Top Girls” all at College of the Canyons. Presently, she teaches theatre topics at California State University, Northridge.
Nov

Desert Rats

In the Avalos Theatre at LATC, the production of Desert Rats unveils an ugly undertone beneath hip, happy SoCal life. Written with authority by Nate Rufus Edelman, the play pits two dysfunctional brothers − Frank (Walt Gray IV) and Jesse (Derek Chariton) − against the wiles of Amber (Lila Gavares), their upperclass, teen-aged kidnapping victim. Guided by director Angie Scott, the play explodes onto the stage and does not let up until the fireworks at the end.

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Nov

Letters From Home

Kalean Ung has unique stories to tell: three of them to be exact. Ung grew up immersed in one world, but curious about her father Chinary's Cambodian origins. The result is a compendium of story telling, music and recitation. With the help of Director Marina McClure, Ung interweaves the discovery of her Cambodian heritage, her father's migration and ascent in the world of symphonic music, and the horrific effects of the Khmer Rouge on his Cambodian family. The enormity of the country's tragedy and family losses casts a long shadow over Chinary Ung's considerable success as well as Kalean's narrative.

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Nov

RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET

It's back and it's better than ever! Rubicon brings Broadway to the Beach for Return to The Forbidden Planet. The Rubicon Theatre Company reprises it's 2016 hit to celebrate its 20th year, headed by the award-winning director, Kirby Ward. The cast is stellar, including the digital guest appearance by Fred Willard; the set is appropriately configured to resemble the STAR TREK cockpit, with costumes reminiscent of the show. Part of the charm of creator Bob Carlton's half/serious, half/hilarious spoof on such popular icons as Shakespeare, television and the entire 50s and 60s playbook is its familiarity. It's well worth a day and evening at the beach!

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Oct

ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD

Tom Stoppard's classic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead borrowed the anxiety of the post-war period while A Noise Within's co-Artistic Director, Geoff Elliott, brings a new set of resident actors together in order to portray a time when our social collective reflects the anxiety of an unhinged ruler ricocheting the ship of state toward an uncertain future. To tell the story of two tangential characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet, a series of movable set pieces (designed by Frederica Nascimento) move from indistinct mounds astride the stage to the outlines of a sailing vessel, thanks to ANW's trademark choreographic set transformation.

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Oct

The Tempest

In The Tempest Shakespeare reputedly ripped his story from headlines about an English mercantile ship-wreck in or near Barbados. In keeping with his conception providing vignettes that we imagine take place at various parts of the island, director Rebecca Lynne has demarked her stage against a tree down the slope from the Library in Glendale's Brand Park; their only props consist of a piece of sail and a trunk. Lynne's cast of mostly young, skilled actors are engaging, but a series of unfortunate casting decisions mars Shakespeare's traditional rom-com, said to be the last of his completed works.

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Oct

Showpony

Judith Leora's Show Pony is a snappy, smart and deceptively subtle examination of hierarchical gender and racial relationships in the work place. The playwright places five women together in a board room to hash out the differences in management styles between a white-and-male-majority ad agency and an acquired African-American boutique. Just as with Nine to Five, playwright Leora presents us with a satisfying come-uppance that you've got to see. As Director Tom Ormany says, “Show Pony is about as current as you can get.”

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Oct

Give Me the Sun

The Lounge hosts Tony Tanner's canny adaptation of Ibsen's Ghosts in a production that can only be called a wonder. From its admirable setting that amplifies the Lounge 2's tiny stage, to a succession of skillful performances from classically-trained actors, Tanner's stripped down version of the play misses nothing from the original. ...I cannot stress enough the skill behind Tanner's adaptation, the excellent cast, and the dedicated group of artists who contributes the comfortable set design (Evan Bartoletti), costume coordination (Carin Jacobs) and lighting (James Smith III). Give Me The Sun is a sterling example of Los Angeles' aggregation of high quality theatre.

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Sep

The Rescued

In Julie Marie Myatt's imaginative play we realize that our suspicions are confirmed. Our pets ARE like us! Director Marya Mazor combines the expertise and empathy of a talented ensemble in order to bring the denizens of a menagerie of rescued animals to life. Each performance is extraordinary in its faithful rendition of its own species. Accompanied by appropriate songs offered in karaoke style by the performers, they comprise the body of this touching play. If you care about your pets and wonder what they think of you, this play is the one for you!

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Sep

LOST IN TIME

This is super-sweet! Danny (Kevin Comartin) is completely disoriented when he wakes up back at school with his rather dippy roommate, Robert (Andy Shephard). He sets out to altar a few key, regrettable incidents in his life, by making different choices. Alas, nothing goes as planned. Director Keith Szarabajka uses few frills, but a cohesive cast of EST/LA actors to tell the astonishing story. Does Danny manage to bring his life back around after turning his future on its head? I'll leave it to your attendance at this can't-miss play to see how all this gets sorted out.

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Sep

The Gin Game

D. L. Coburn hangs his deeply affecting tale about ageism onto a marathon Gin Game in a retirement home back in the late 70s. Husband and wife team, Katherine James and Alan Blumenfeld play Fonsia Dorsey and Weller Martin, respectively. Both have wound up in the Bentley Home for the Aged, a low-income retirement facility and they soon became friends over Weller's obsession with the game of Gin Rummy. Under Christian Lebano's well paced dynamic, their relationship builds slowly until the play's explosive ending.

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Aug

YELLOW FACE

This ingenious play, now on view at The Beverly Hills Playhouse, has a long track record, but this San Francisco-originated production is as provocative as ever. Yellowface is a half-autobiographical, half-fantasy portrayal about Hwang's fight for casting equity when Miss Saigon came to New York from London, retaining non-Asian casting in a key role. Hwang asks his audience to unpack what, exactly, cultural and ethnic identities mean. Are they inherent or constructed? The answer hangs over this tantalizing play without offering a clear response.

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Aug

Mayakovsky and Stalin

Padua Playwright Murray Mednick serves up a dish of memories of the Russian Revolution from the immigrant community where he grew up. As his narrator, Max Faugno is masterful as Mednick, at other times playing Stalin's henchman, Kirov, and other fixers, to tell the stories of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (Daniel Dorr) and the dictator, Josef Stalin (Maury Sterling). Although his character sketches vividly breathe life into these long-ago comrades, both stories refuse hard cause-and-effect narratives, and therein lay the difficulty following Mayakovsky and Stalin as a play.

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Aug

Haiti

The sound of drums greets the ear as the preamble to Theatricum Botanicum's Haiti, now running in repertory through the summer. Along with exuberant dancing, the drums herald a history lesson wrapped in a satisfying, swashbuckling adventure, where the clearly delineated good guys vanquish the foppish bad guys. From top to bottom, the entire ensemble works beautifully together to create the ambiance and mood of an old-fashioned melodrama. Artistic Director Ellen Geer keeps the adventure bubbling along with the triumphant casting of the indomitable Ernestine Phillips as “Jaqueline.”

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Jul

Three Days in the Country

After two viewings of 3 Days in the Country, it's fascinating to witness how Antaeus' practice of double casting adds various layers to its meaning. Under Andrew Paul's direction, the two casts bring marked different interpretations to the fore. On opening weekend, “The Assassins” household seems weighted down by depression generated by Natalya (Anna Khaja). Daniel Blinkoff as Arkady, her husband, has learned to tip-toe around her, staying out of the way even when Rakitin (Corey Brill) arrives to offer some harmless flirtation. On the other hand, “The Blunderers” seems much more on edge. Nike Doukas as Natalya is the powder keg; Antonio Jaramillo, as her husband, is just as explosive, and, as Rakitin, Leo Marks's more ascerbic wit serves the rest of cast's temperament to perfection. The young tutor Belyaev (Peter Mendoza), appearing with both casts, serves as the catalyst for the plot.

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Jul

The Chalk Garden

Why should Theatricum Botanicum revive The Chalk Garden? The play itself is delightfully doty. Though dusty, it shows surprising open-mindedness for its time. And the Geer extended family finds ample opportunity to play together, directed by daughter-in-law Susan Angelo, starring Ellen Geer, sister Melora Marshall and daughter Willow Geer. As always, the Geer family works smoothly together, along with long-time collaborator, William Dennis Hunt, while effortlessly including newcomers into their ensemble. Although not quite “cooked” at opening night, watch this team mature and grow through summer.

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Jul

TAR

TAR begins and ends Tom Jacobson's Tryptich on Bimini Baths. TAR seems the most straightforward of his three plays. Much of the trilogy depends upon information shared in this installment, which may account for the high degree of exposition that we hear. Nevertheless, Jacobson uses his playwriting skills to keep suspense going almost to the very end. All-important sound – the wonderful Basie and juke-box music – sets the tone. I believe it will best serve to start one's journey into this absorbing fact-based set of plays with TAR.

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Jul

Mexican Day

If I was confused and intrigued by Tom Jacobson's Plunge at Son of Semele Theatre, Mexican Day brings clarity and perspective to an unspeakable crime, while rehearsing another at the famous Bimini Baths. The play is part of an intriguing trilogy produced by three different theatre companies in June. Tom Jacobson weaves his narrative around the true-to-life events during 1948 to create a fascinating portrait that fills in many of the blanks exposed earlier, while introducing new mysteries. Expertly limned by Jeff Liu, Rogue Machine's wondrous production values enhance the work at every turn. Another “must see” from Tom Jacobson.

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Jun

Sex

In Sex, Mae West played Margy (here performed by a cool Andrea Hutchman), a prostitute struggling to extricate herself from Rocky (Davey Johnson), her pimp, against all odds imposed by straight-laced society in 1926. Director Sirena Irwin strikes a perfect tone evoking an almost 40s-era gangster tradition. It doesn't matter that the production values are sparse, because the entire ambiance contributes to the effect. For a nostalgic trip to a far-off time and an iconic dame like Mae West, you really need to have Sex!

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Jun

The Importance of Being Earnest

Wilde's formulaic plot (two lovers, mistaken identity, complications with a handbag) becomes the scaffolding to hang his outrageous (and very funny) skewering of England's upper classes in the late 19th century. Today, it is still relevant for exposing pedantry. Even with a minimum of sets and lights, this production still lives up to Wilde's succinct dialogue, and Lynne's young actors rise to the occasion. In addition to their yearly visit to Glendale, Dean Productions works with children affected by cancer in a variety of programs. This program is well worth supporting!

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Jun

The Immigrant

Mark Harelik's tender rendition of his family story has been given a lovingly honed production helmed by The Fountain Theatre's Simon Levy. A quartet of excellent actors lend specificity to a tale that runs the gamut of more than 50 years. The tale gains fluency through the use of a sweeping projection designed by Matthew G. Hill. More from Sierra Madre to come!

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