Writer: Travis Michael Holder

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
Jul

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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Jul

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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Jul

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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Jun

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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Jun

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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Jun

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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May

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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May

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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May

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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May

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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May

KISS

The producers have asked reviewers not to give away any of the rapid torrents of twists and turns careening thorough highly acclaimed and controversial Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderon's Kiss, now in its west coast debut at the Odyssey directed by Bart DeLorenzo. This makes the task of writing about Calderon's insane little masterpiece nearly insurmountable, but let's just say it starts like a quirky little contemporary dramedy that might have been written by Theresa Rebeck but ends up feeling like an undiscovered play by Sarah Kane. With smartly executed non-union productions of new works as brilliant as this potentially being mounted in LA, it's purdy much a given that Actors' Equity Association will soon be ancient history in this town. Nobody is going to control how the passionate artists who inhabit Los Angeles choose to express themselves and create art with the potential to change the world. Nobody.

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May

KISS

The producers have asked reviewers not to give away any of the rapid torrents of twists and turns careening thorough highly acclaimed and controversial Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderon's Kiss, now in its west coast debut at the Odyssey directed by Bart DeLorenzo. This makes the task of writing about Calderon's insane little masterpiece nearly insurmountable, but let's just say it starts like a quirky little contemporary dramedy that might have been written by Theresa Rebeck but ends up feeling like an undiscovered play by Sarah Kane. With smartly executed non-union productions of new works as brilliant as this potentially being mounted in LA, it's purdy much a given that Actors' Equity Association will soon be ancient history in this town. Nobody is going to control how the passionate artists who inhabit Los Angeles choose to express themselves and create art with the potential to change the world. Nobody.

sweet - ...read full review

May

KISS

The producers have asked reviewers not to give away any of the rapid torrents of twists and turns careening thorough highly acclaimed and controversial Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderon's Kiss, now in its west coast debut at the Odyssey directed by Bart DeLorenzo. This makes the task of writing about Calderon's insane little masterpiece nearly insurmountable, but let's just say it starts like a quirky little contemporary dramedy that might have been written by Theresa Rebeck but ends up feeling like an undiscovered play by Sarah Kane. With smartly executed non-union productions of new works as brilliant as this potentially being mounted in LA, it's purdy much a given that Actors' Equity Association will soon be ancient history in this town. Nobody is going to control how the passionate artists who inhabit Los Angeles choose to express themselves and create art with the potential to change the world. Nobody.

sweet - ...read full review

Apr

THE ORIGINALIST

Although Edward Gero's performance as Antonin Scalia is a knockout and the play's counterpoint arguments and political rants are certainly thought-provoking, The Originalist is akin to seeing one of those finely detailed and brightly colored propaganda posters featuring a dashingly handsome and youthful Chairman Mao, flanked by vast amounts of red flags waving off into the horizon as he raises one arm triumphantly in the air in front of a sea of euphoric, adorning people. This production is sharply designed and intelligently written but ultimately, it's too manipulative to find much praise from me. Scalia was a virulent and dangerous rightwing Frankenstein who wrecked havoc on our country, undeserving of such an obvious whitewashing no matter how well-meaning it may be.

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Apr

Lord of the Underworld's Home for Unwed Mothers

Louisa Hill's dialogue is gritty and often incredibly raw, especially when spouted by the world-weary Corie, yet her subject matter this time out does have the dreaded ring of soapy chick-flick-ery about it that is thankfully skillfully overcome by the production. In the hands of wunderkind director Tony Abatemarco, who stages his players on Cindy Lin's wildly abstract set to wander seamlessly—and sometimes whimsically—from time zone to time zone, Hill's script blossoms like a spring flower. Thanks to this slickly mounted and performed introduction to the work of an obviously gifted new playwright, we can all expect a great future.

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Apr

DIE, MOMMIE, DIE!

Just at a time when the world seems to be going completely nuts, the victimless madness of Charles Busch could not be more welcome. Entering from her Beverly Hills estate's garden apologizing to all in attendance for being “up to my elbows in manure,” Drew Droege as fading movie queen Angela Arden immediately takes Busch's classic role and makes it his own. Where Busch's deadpan Eve Arden-style performances have always been acerbic and dry as the Mojave, exhibiting his unearthly ability to somehow circumvent the comedic pratfalls which he himself wrote into his own roles, Droege could not be more blatantly campy, like a Zolpidem-sedated Ruby Keeler in her geriatric years playing Baby Jane Hudson while wearing Joan Crawford's real-life wardrobe.

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Apr

LONE STAR By James McClure

This Lone Star returns to its guileless and straightforward roots without the participants bastardizing it into an overlong sketch from the stage of the Ozark Opry or a long-lost episode of Hee-Haw. As displaced Vietnam vet Roy and his possibly brain-damaged brother Ray (Christopher Jordan and Christopher Parker) languish in a pile of rubble and an impressively well-appreciated collection of beer bottles behind Angel's Bar in Maynard, Texas, the uselessness of their lives is simply presented, without comment or displaced “artistic” judgment. Under David Fofi's sharply focused and surprisingly kinetic direction, Jordan is wonderfully understated but brilliantly on-target as the drunken Roy, who stares out into the prairie longing for the calls of the coyotes they've wiped out from the landscape just as they did the “injuns” before them. As his gaze wanders longingly out front at the lonely nightscape stretched before him, we too see it in his eyes, testament to an actor arrestingly comfortable in his own skin.

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Apr

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

What could be a better choice to inaugurate Antaeus Theatre's sparkling new two-theater complex than Tennessee Williams' masterwork Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, especially directed by Cameron Watson, who has envisioned an amazing retelling of the classic Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. And if there is any reason not to miss this exceptional revival, it is the indelibly memorable work of Harry Groener and Dawn Didawick as dying Pollitt patriarch Big Daddy and his long-suffering spouse Big Mama that is the heart of this production. This real-life man-and-wife team could become recognized as the millennium's west coast Lunt and Fontaine or Cronyn and Tandy from their turns in these difficult roles. Nowhere in Williams' prolific stable of screwed-up characters, is there a role with such insurmountable acting traps written into it as Big Daddy. Anyone playing this role seems to fall headfirst into the rhythms and natural bigness of Burl Ives, who undoubtedly will be forevermore identified with the character. Still, instead of shouting gruffly and chomping on a huge cigar, the not-so-big Groener starts so gently and unobtrusively that when his rage emerges, his performance is revelatory. Hats off to a brilliant actor and his equally brilliant director for reinventing Big Daddy Pollitt anew. It's a humbling honor to see such fine work unfold live right before one's eyes.

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Apr

ABSINTHE

This production could make Zumanity look like Mary Poppins if raunchiness is the judging point. It goes far beyond anything ever envisioned by those innovative imagineers fro Montreal, from exposed skin to incredibly inappropriate comments shouted continuously over the loudspeakers. Absolut Vodka and other heady potions are hawked endlessly from the moment one enters the tent and continue to flow even during the performance, servers passing drinks down through the aisles like the donation box at a Jerry Falwell revival meeting. Oddly, however, no libations are necessary to get high watching Absinthe—the show itself will make you reel.

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Apr

Pie in the Sky

There are moments when it seems the chopping and coring and measuring and mixing of some of the dessert's ingredients, not to mention Dory's constant eyerolling over her mother's demands and inappropriate comments, are robbing viewers of our precious and fleeting time on the planet. What makes it all work, however, is the sincerity and downhome spirit of these two veteran actors and the insightful leadership of their director, Maria Gobetti, who just last month was honored with the prestigious Milton Katselas Career Achievement Award from the LA Drama Critics Circle.

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