Non-Registered Critics: Douglas Messerli

Sep

Handjob

While Erik Patterson’s new play, performed the other afternoon at the Echo Theater Company’s venue at Atwater Village Theater in Los Angeles, is not precisely a major theatrical masterwork, it is, nonetheless certainly an intriguing work, which will allow you to leave the theater with a great many questions about gay sex, sexual exploitation, sexual abusiveness, racial identity, and the white community’s inability to perceive racial concerns—as well as what writer’s do to individuals in involving them into their literary “plots.” There’s lots to chew on here, and lots of issues that simply cannot be answered by either the author or his audience.

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Aug

Fefu and Her Friends

Just to see a new production, however, was enough to engage me. You can read it, as all drama students from 1980 on have been required to, but you do need to experience it, to get yourself up and walk through those haunted avenues of these lovely women, fearing, hating, and being forced to unnecessary subjugation.

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Jul

Anna in the Tropics

I have to salute artistic director Martha Demson and the collaborative Open Fist group for continuing to produce such innovative and challenging theater.

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Jun

Loot

A lot of humor of this work exists in its endless site-gags, some of which, despite the generally excellent acting of the play’s characters, just didn’t quite come off. Yet the wit of Orton’s dialogue is so infectious that even the appearing and disappearing coffin and body, a bit clumsy at moments, doesn’t truly slow down the play much.

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Jun

A Streetcar Named Desire

Surely they know that with legendary figures such as Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter, and others having literally defined their roles, that any revival can only compared in the minds of a mature audience. And the actors and director here actually gave homage, in part, to these figures, as well as the great original director of both the stage play and film Elia Kazan.

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Apr

FALSETTOS

Anyone who has lived through the 1980s or realizes what happened in those dark days cannot but leave the theater with a new devotion to the thousands of lives lost which this American opera sings of. No, this is not a family comedy—although it seems to attempt to cover its tragedy by pretending it is. This is an American tragedy that we now recognize was covered by the entire culture, a grand pretense that breaks the heart.
The opening night crowd seemed to recognize this, and rightfully applauded with standing ovation.

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Feb

An Inspector Calls

If nothing else, however, we might perceive that Inspector Goole in this play, a “ghoul” or a “ghost”—who also keeps disappearing off stage at moments in the production of the play—is a figure who is both reminding the family of their sins and warning them of their fates as in a Greek drama.

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Feb

Hir

If this play is often very funny, it's also quite terrifying to me, after just seeing the 1945 drama An Inspector Calls, for just how similar the family breakdown in this contemporary drama is to that of the figures who led us to both World Wars. There is no right “hir,” only a terribly loneliness that will lead them all into a corner from which they may never escape.

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Feb

HELLO DOLLY

We love Buckley in a slight memory of her greatness, if not as much in her presence. Yes, she lifts up her dress a bit and even attempts to convince us of her dancing skills. But alas, in both voice and gams she's simply not the Dolly we need to convince us of the magic the character achieves, bringing the entire Yonkers community into her domain and suddenly forcing even the grumpy Horace of her amazing transformative gifts, let alone allowing the gods to let her former loving husband speak through her new fiancé's voice.
Still, I'd go again to this lovely production, and stand up to applause for the lovely songs she belts out.

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Nov

Blacktop Highway

I'll embrace Fleck's crazy vision of values any day, and hope in the last days of this production, everyone rushes to experience them as a good dose of reality in these days of delusion.

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Nov

The Woman Who Went to Space as a Man

I think its so fascinating that this author chose an alternative reality, both imaginatively and in terms of gender, to demonstrate her talents... I should add, that besides the cast members I mention above, all the ensemble players, including Kamar Elliott, Emma Zakes Green, Nathan Nonhof, Robert Paterno, and Ashley Steed were quite convincing. The lighting by Rose Malone was memorable. I'll be back to worship at the altar of this small space soon.

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Nov

VALLEY OF THE HEART

I told you Valdez is not a subtle writer, and he gives his audience what they (we) want to hear when, late in the play, one of his central characters states: "California is now half Latino and Asian, and there's not a damn thing anybody can do about it." When the lights went down and came up again, the audience, made up of some of the old-time subscribers, but also, amazingly, of a audience of Japanese men and women and Chicano couples, some even dressed in their native attire, hollered out with screams and hoots for their complete appreciation of Valdez's work. His is truly a theater of the people, something perhaps we need in these terribly divisive times. Valdez's play is about bringing communities together, and it works. Let us now praise famous men.

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Sep

Old Clown Wanted

In the end, this is a kind of sly play in its investigation of the differences between buffoonery, mimicry, and true acting. And along the way, there were a great many moments of simple fun. But I am not sure that I might define this as a profound theatrical event.

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Sep

All Night Long

The acting, in all cases, is exceptional, and the company expresses in this revival of the San Francisco Magic Theater production the freshness of this 38-year-old play.

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Sep

Haiti

Never, on stage, have I seen a more convincing sword fight, with remarkable acrobatics, grand theatrical gestures, and heart-throbbing events. The mostly West Side Los Angeles audience, but this time, fortunately, joined by a large contingent of LA's black community, reacted with boos, pleas of salvation, and, at times, open laughter, that I might never have imagined in contemporary theater. Suddenly I realized just how much had been lost in the rise of modernism over this kind of old-fashioned melodramatic writing, a theater that didn't mind mixing up politics, love, fate, and just plain high-jinx. ...This is theater at its very best. The director Ellen Geer has done something quite marvelous with her very large ensemble cast, children included, particularly given the fact that she determined to revive a play that should have never been lost.

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Aug

Arrival & Departure

What was polite in the British version is here gritty, even somewhat violent, particularly when Emily dares to visit Sam on his own territory, in the classroom in which he appears to live. And even that visit terribly excites her, the halls filled with signing young men and women which reveal the truth of her now repressed homelife of devotion and faith.

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Aug

Side by Side by Sondheim

I know, I promised that I was not going to compare. I'd just say, hey, these kids are “Broadway Babies,” even though they're performing today in LA, who ought to see their names “all over Times Square.” I'd go back to this musical revue any day, except I can't bear to think about hearing their wonderful singing all night long, as I did last night. I need my sleep. But you should go—and often. I will probably return as well, as soon as I can once again “lose my mind.”

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Jul

Mayakovsky and Stalin

With projected photographs (some of them, such as Mayakovsky's body after his death, quite amazing) and a wonderful cast, Mednick has taken history and brought it to life through the telling rather than the showing.

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Jul

Arrival & Departure

Sachs' work, accordingly, redeems the quiet repressions of Lean's film by setting everything into the tumult of American life, with all its endless comings and goings, its constant sense of motion. The couple at its center fall increasingly in love in the midst of those greasy, sugar-coated tables serving donuts and coffee, not in a slightly steam-and-smoke filled cottage serving up English tea and other edibles. What was polite in the British version is here gritty, even somewhat violent, particularly when Emily dares to visit Sam on his own territory, in the classroom in which he appears to live.

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Jun

Bearing Witness

POIGNANT… COMPELLING… Bird's story of two generations of military experiences is so different and moving that it FAR SURPASSES MOST SUCH WORKS OF ITS GENRE.

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ADS
  • Fefu and her Friends at the Odyssey Theatre
  • DIRTY TRICKS w/ The New Bad Boys of Magic
  • Give Up the Ghost at the First Christian Church of Whittier

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