Writer: David MacDowell Blue - Night Tinted Glasses

David MacDowell Blue has been reviewing Los Angeles theatre via his blog "Night Tinted Glasses" since 2012. He has a degree in Theatre Arts and graduated from New York's National Shakespeare Conservatory. At different times, he has acted, directed, written plays and designed things from sets to lights to costumes. Born in San Francisco, he ended up raised in Florida (where he lived through twelve--yes TWELVE--hurricanes) then eventually landed in Los Angeles.
Aug

Experiencing Love On The Spectrum

Experiening Love on the Spectrum, written and performed by George Steeves, is an intimate and very personal tale, full of humor and winning wisdom the hard way, via experience.

Steeves is gay and has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, also known (sometimes) as high functioning autism. He recounts, with an almost startling amount of good humor and wit his romantic history up to the present (or at least up until the writing of this piece).
Along the way, we eventually get an image of a lonely person, growing up with very few friends, struggling with an identity that only seems crystal clear to the very few (and they usually end up mistaken). One of the most poignant moments, for example, is Steeves recounting how in Middle and High School his classmates pretty much assumed he was gay. Yet he refused to even consider that might be true, because he didn't want them to be "right about me."

That...hurt.

In a good way. In a way that makes me feel very much one with this young man I hardly know. Makes me feel one with almost everyone really. This was a sad little vibration in a life that feels at least in tune with myself. And others.
Yet again, it bears repeating--this was lovely. It was funny. I smiled and laughed a lot watching this show, and felt some quite strong flashes of deja vu along the way.

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Aug

Lady LiberTease

Lady LiberTease is about the personal fallout of Trumpelstilskin's election to a California drama teacher who is also a wife and mother--one who felt (as so many did) profound shock not only that this man (of all people) was elected President, but that the Republican Party swept the into control of both houses of Congress. She had been desperately hoping in November 2016 to see the first woman President of the United States, that (as she put it) her ceiling would be her children's floor.
In her emotional tumult, she accidentally summons Columbia, the little remembered "Goddess of Liberty" invented by the Founding Fathers to serve as an icon of unity. Columbia is the statue of freedom atop the Capitol Dome in Washington DC, as well as the model of the Statue of Liberty, and in fact is the source of the name of the District of Columbia. So begins a journey into the history of the United States, with all the hopes one might imagine, but (more importantly) the broken (or at least unfulfilled) promises.
More importantly, this is Kirsten's deeply uncomfortable journey through an even more troubling set of truths--exactly what she can do about all this, and how that involves recognizing when she (however innocently) contributes to it.
This show has a lot of passion and theatricality, with more than a few dashes of mythology which is absolutely my jam.
But to be honest it feels more like a very entertaining lecture than a tale of personal revelation, which is clearly what it is intended to be. Which by no stretch makes this solo show bad, only less than it could be. It pulls its dramatic punch, so the punch lands with less impact than I think was intended.

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Aug

La Divina: The Last Interview of Maria Callas

Not being a big fan of opera (although far from hating or avoiding it) methinks I missed some nuance in this solo show La Divina, But, I'm not at all sure I'm missing that much.

Shelley Cooper wrote and performed this piece, an hour long interview with Maria Callas, the great opera star who became perhaps most famous for her relationship with shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis.

Who we meet in this interview is someone genuinely tormented, but who refuses to dwell on it, focuses instead on her work. In perhaps the most poignant line in the whole play she says "When I sing, that is the only time I feel loved." Fortunately we get to hear (and, importantly, see) Cooper sing, during which she feels that love and it does indeed transform her. The rigid, elegant, controlled person in the interview becomes a rapturous artist in song. Honestly, having no Italian and very little French, I hardly understood a word she said. But there was no need. I could tell she understood every word, and meant them down to her core.

This was indeed exactly what Callas meant when discussing earlier how singing and acting must be combined.

As the interview strayed into more personal territory, we also increasingly understand this mask she wears when not performing--an almost icy demeanor, a perfectionist who believes (or at least claims) this is just devotion to her art. It clearly is that, but equally it seems the habit of a child with no power over her life, with an unloving but controlling mother, surviving the Axis occupation of Greece, then later falling in love with a man who was if anything just as controlling as her mother. Her mask is scar tissue, and her singing freedom as well as love in a lonely life, made perhaps more so by her refusal to feel self pity. Or, not.

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Aug

The Book That Won't Close: Confessions of a Love Addict

Some plays/performances make me laugh, others make me think, a few stun with technical skill and passion, some do indeed make me weep.

The Book That Won't Close does all of the above and more.

TL Forsberg's solo show about her love addiction lays bare a lot of often painful truths. Others, to be fair, run the gamut to hilarious and back (the business with her ASL interpreter is groundbreaking and was worthy of applause in its own right). But when someone in deep pain reveals that, then explores the reasons why--and there are so very many reasons--expect some tears. Forsberg's story peels back a deep sense of confused identity (she is, like most who identify as Deaf, hard of hearing--a fact that which renders her a target for all kinds of small and not-so-small abuse from nearly every direction), as well as a generational tradition of women loathing themselves. An alcoholic father naturally did not help, nor a mother who refused to speak about her daughter's disability. This brief synopsis does little to convey the depth and spectrum of what Forsberg gives us.

In the end I was awestruck. Not least because of the power and skill of the show, but the rawness of what Fosberg shared. She even introduces us to some of the voices we all have in our soul, in her case this includes an analyst and a nightmare version of her child self. As we met all these characters, including her various past boyfriends and a few others, the more I did more than simply empathize with this person on stage bleeding her soul for all to see and (ironically) hear, I recognized her.

That is when I wept. And I wept again as we emerged into who she has become today. Not perfect, but healed to some degree, and healing still to some degree. Also, accepting herself as who she is, including the sharp corners and rough patches.

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Aug

The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign

The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign is a live show from Australia. It marks a return to the Hollywood Fringe from 2017, when I sadly missed it. From "sadly" you can guess at my genuine joy at catching it this year.

First of all there is actor Joanne Hartstone's powerful performance of the fictional would be starlet Evie Edwards, who grew up in the Depression and went to Hollywood during WWII, eventually trying to be a star. Sounds so much like a cliche does it not? Why is it not, though? Because she created (in pretty much every way, since the script emerged from her pen) not a stereotype but a fierce individual, one with a unique relationship to her hard-working, hard-drinking and very loving father. Likewise here is someone who connected to specific stories, to individual movie stars who echoed her own life before and after. Who pushed and worked and tried, with a specific soul getting ground down.

I will remember Evie Edwards for a long time, thanks to Hartstone. Pretty but not beautiful. Good but not great. But someone who wanted so much to be great, to be beautiful, to have her talent recognized and so transformed. In hard, hard times, she pursued her dream and it proved as heartless as the men who sold it.

Second, I must mention the music, not just the songs but the poignant power in each performance, full of nuance and truth. Some folks can hit a note, and bleed their souls into yours. It helps to sing the right songs.

Just as the right set, the right costume, the right music, the right lights all contribute to this deeply moving show. One where I saw a pretty young woman in black climb up onto the Hollywood Sign, and within seventy minutes I recognized her as me.

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Aug

I HEART MAROC

This show is too short.  At roughly forty five minutes I seriously believe it could and should be expanded to twice that.  One can feel the material off stage as it were, eager to jump into the follow spot and shine.  I am left with an aching sense of what else I don't know about my friend, and about this interesting young lady I only thought I knew.  She lived there for two years--and I'm certain lots more stories, lots more moments to touch the heart and stir the imagination, remain to be told.  Hopefully she'll get around to telling some more.

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Aug

Yes? No? Maybe So?

I will admit the fact Yes, No, Maybe So lists itself as a solo musical gave me pause. But less than five minutes in that worry evaporated. Instead I simply went along for the ride, one woman's journey into that most heady of all adventures--making a decision.

Catherine Barnes' show (developed and directed with Jessica Lynn Johnson) focuses on a medical exam which proves very creepy indeed, and then Barnes must figure out what to about this. Because the creepiness in this case went beyond a few of the lines that medical professionals should not cross. Yet, hasn't everyone been rude or creepy sometime? Aren't there more serious problems the powers that be should address? How much time and effort will be needed to even start the process? These and at least a dozen other considerations come to mind, only to have her own inner dialogue proceed about the pros and cons. Barnes' own ability to play a wide variety of characters serve her (and the audience), with some special words should go towards the physicality involved. Such a delight to see and appreciate!

But what about it being a musical? Well, the rule of thumb I read once, which still seems valid, goes "Songs are for those moments, feelings, understandings for which at that moment there are no words." This show achieves precisely that. And with some lovely touches in terms of style, touches which IMHO work best live rather than streaming (but then, that is a pretty good rule of thumb for live theatre in general).

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Aug

Deconstructing Holly

Deconstructing Holly, represents one of an explosion of really well-crafted, well-performed solo shows over the last couple of years in Los Angeles live theatre. It nicely combines both focus and genuine drama in ways worthy of praise.

I'm going to start with one criticism, which is pretty much the only one on offer. Just to get it out of the way. The entire ebb and flow of the writing remains very much "on the nose." Each revelation this character goes through (a refreshing if a bit daunting multitude) is faced in the abstract, we are given a tiny speech, and voila Holly has learned her lesson. Frankly, this does not seem very human to me. It feels more like a cliffnotes version of her growing up with both gender and body issues, rather any kind of a journey. A lot of issues were brought up, then dropped, or glossed over.

Having said that, What is right in this show works extraordinarily well. Me, I'm a man, so I tend to face a different (sometimes related) set of issues and expectations, yet without a doubt the feelings Holly go through resonated. An entertaining delivery coupled with genuine heart, genuine pain, accomplishes much. It certainly did here. Our one character we follow began life with false expectations, a low sense of self worth, and a definition of self too shallow to work for long. Escaping from all that in an effort to find Love and become a Mother has within it several paradoxes Holly explores in ways which ultimately hurt. Her pain is one we recognize. I could feel it from the audience, but also in myself quite vividly.

Probably the strongest part was when she all-but-screamed, Job-like, at the unfairness of it all. She had spent years reshaping herself into a better person, a wiser person, a stronger one--yet in the end her "reward" was to be alone, betrayed, her body surgically altered into something that no longer feels like her, rendering her infertile as well as even more self-conscious about her appearance! It is WRONG. It is UNFAIR. It should NOT happen!

But it did. And facing that, then going forward, takes a lot. Holly honored us by sharing the power and (yes) the glory of that effort.

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Aug

I HEART MAROC

The Hollywood Fringe Festival is back and I've seen one of the first shows!

I Heart Maroc is a one person show written and starring Azo Safo, I have personally known Azo for a few years and was frankly astonished at how much I learned about her in this piece. Never had a clue she spent two years in the Peace Corps, living in a small Morrocan village. But more than those bare facts, interesting they may be (and are), what I really got out of her show was how this experience shaped and taught her.

Solo shows remain popular at the Fringe for often purely logistical reasons, and generally they fall into two groupings. One is a naked exposure of some kind of trauma or pain. The other shares wonder and joy learned, a delight kindled amid life lessons. Sometimes the two blend. I'd clearly say this one falls into the second category, helped in raw showmanship by Safo's marvelous characterizations and humor. We can see her acting out how the people she knew (and recreates) impacted her enough to become who she has become today. Honestly, I felt not only touched, but honored. Which brings me to the one specific fault I can find.

This show is too short. At roughly forty five minutes I seriously believe it could and should be expanded to twice that. One can feel the material off stage as it were, eager to jump into the follow spot and shine. I am left with an aching sense of what else I don't know about my friend, and about this interesting young lady I only thought I knew. She lived there for two years--and I'm certain lots more stories, lots more moments to touch the heart and stir the imagination, remain to be told. Hopefully she'll get around to telling some more.

sweet - ...read full review

Aug

Julius Caesar

So lovely to begin reviewing live theatre again! First up, a Shakespeare at Theatricum Botanicum, Julius Caesar which lends itself to political messages and has done across centuries.

There are a few traps in this play, and few productions avoid them all. Must stay this one fell into several, so that (as per usual) the first part of the play is in many ways the least interesting. Yes Cassius (Melora Marshall) seeks to persuade Brutus (Christopher W. Jones) to join a conspiracy to slay the title character. But why? That needs to be absolutely crystal clear via performance or we frankly have little reason to care. Instead, this production in this part of the play substitutes energy for purpose.

Instead--and this frankly sent a chill down my spine once I realized what what happening--we get a Narrator (who doubles as the Soothsayer eventually) who tells us in modern language exactly what is happening in each scene, up to and including how characters see one another and what their personal hopes are. I honestly hated this. No blame to the actor, who has a pleasing manner as well as fine stage presence, but one of the great strengths of Shakespeare as a playwright is that he leaves the decision making about what we're seeing to the audience! He does not tell the audience how to interpret events!

Frankly in my mind this stunt shows a profound disrespect to both author and cast. Neither to my mind was justified.

To be sure, this was not the best production of this play I've seen, and as ever they (quite properly) cast as dynamic a figure as Mark Anthony as possible (Michael McFall) who after the assassination is literally given one of the best scenes ever written to steal an entire play.

Such is the biggest trap of the play, trying to make anyone else the equal of Anthony after the funeral speech. That is so hard.

I honestly believe the distrust of the cast seems to have hindered most of the first half of this (greatly reduced for length) show, but give them all credit for coming into their own during the second half. Then I finally cared about the conspirators. I felt something about their fall.

Yet I remained irritated at this nice man wandering around on stage telling me what just happened as if I could not figure out for myself, and worse, telling me how to interpret the play!

sour - ...read full review

Mar

Rod Roget's Celebrity Nightcap

Remember Hugh Hefner's t.v. specials? What about the spy films of the 1960s and 70s that seemed really so very silly yet entertaining at the same time? Well, you might realize the blending of these two was something our cultural zeitgeist needed, but behold...!

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Mar

The Bindings

For me...it was an artfully created nightmare, ending with an almost explosive release and escape. Yes, the "action" such as it is, remains slow and subtle. Insidiously and brilliantly so.

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Feb

CANCELED - A BODY OF WATER

This play and production begins with a fair amount of wit, even humor. The humor remains almost to the very end, not least because what else can one do under the circumstances but try to make light of it, to laugh rather than cry in existential terror? No doubt jokes and laughter will rear their heads again after we leave these character to their...fate?Punishment? Bad luck? Something else?

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Dec

For The Loyal

I found For The Loyal by Lee Blessing very compelling. Even beautiful in a heart-wrenching way. It does what most really excellent drama does, in this case very explicitly. At the heart of the story is a seemingly simple question--and leaves it up to the audience to come up with their own answer. But only after we've had all the easy ones stripped bare.

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Nov

Romeo and Juliet

So that tells you right off this production is exciting! More, and this could use lots of emphasis, the leads and several key characters end up emerging from some very fine performances. We believe Romeo and Juliet are not only in love, but we believe their full context of their characters' lives.

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Nov

Defenders

The power of the piece lies in the reality of it. Not physical--afterall, while the uniforms look period, they remain quite dry and even the set is far more suggestive than anything remotely naturalistic. It lies in the emotional reality. We believe each of these five characters as real people. Even when they seem to be at least leaning in the direction of a stereotype, acting and writing do not in fact go there. Which means the spiral of disaster feels both inevitable yet full of surprises.

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Nov

Department of Dreams

Exactly what is said Department of Dreams? It functions as a depository of dreams, their analysis and sometimes their recycling. Citizens turn in dreams and the interpreters decide if the dream is important or trivial.  Important dreams can reveal vital intelligence, such as plots against the government or the identity of traitors. The Department of course functions as a tool of repression, as well as a bureaucracy of those obsessed with their own position.

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Nov

Romeo and Juliet in Hell

Okay, that is simply a delightful and weird premise, which is then milked for every laugh, as our two heroes seek to find a way to navigate out of their personal Hell into...well, somewhere else. Anywhere else. Along the way we meet plenty of other Shakespearean characters, generally coping as best they can (which sometimes means very poorly) with their situations. Did I mention the Devil is Bob Fosse?

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Oct

Never Is Now

It works due to a simple fact--these real lives harrow us, just by the sharing. Such truths lash out, making audiences wince and often weep. I certainly did. Which remains the whole point. If we let ourselves feel, then the experience of such memories shared changes us.

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Oct

The Manitou House

Now doesn't this sound cool? Nicely creepy? A good Halloween show? Well, it is. Sometimes, Sometimes it is not. Frankly I think the author didn't have enough time to transfer his idea with complete success to the live stage instead of film (it began as a screenplay). Many scenes are much too short, and don't really contribute smoothly to the overall feel and rhythm. Yet sometimes they hit it out of the park.

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