Non-Registered Critics: Douglas Messerli

Jan

"The Unseen Hand" and "Killer's Head"

The plays, Killer’s Head and The Unseen Hand represent two of the strangest plays I have seen in a long while, reminding me somewhat of the highly incompetent filmmaker Ed Wood.

Yet we know Shepard is everything but incompetent. It’s just that these works seem both more like amalgams of ideas thrown together in a baggy mess of plot than fully conceived dramas, while nonetheless being totally fascinating.

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Jan

THE LAST SHIP

And for the first time in ages, long hating the tradition of necessary standing ovations, I too stood up and heartily applauded.

The problem with The Last Ship is its own intelligence, its seriousness, its cleverness, the prolificacy of its composer’s sources, and the depth of feeling that he has imbued upon this work.

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Dec

MATTHEW BOURNE'S SWAN LAKE

What we realize in Bourne’s brilliant re-creation of this balletic chestnut is how fresh it can still be and how marvelously accurate it is its conception...

...Swan Lake, as last night’s audience acclaimed it in their long applause, may be the perfect holiday balletic event. But I warn you, don’t take your young child to this; it is not The Nutcracker.

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Dec

Defenders

The small company which presented this arresting play, Pandelia’s Canary Yellow Company, has created a truly admirable production, with all the actors performing quite brilliantly, and with an arresting set by David Goldstein, appropriate costumes by Shon LeBlank, and excellent sound design by Jesse Mandapat. One might wish that all such small theater Los Angeles companies were so wonderfully professional.

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Nov

Department of Dreams

Kosovo dramatist Jeton Neziraj’s play, Department of Dreams, received its world premier in Santa Monica’s City Garage, located in the art center, Bergamot Station. In an odd way, that seems almost appropriate for this experimental company, who have long been committed to French and other European adventuresome productions under the direction of Frėdėrique Michel and Charles A. Buncombe. If their productions have not always been the most scintillating of acting and direction, they have always been interesting, and the company has always committed to daring works by major European and American authors. And for years, the company has challenged us where many other Los Angeles theaters have resisted.

Neziraji’s play is a perfect example of their exceptional perceptions.

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Nov

Tonight only. All other dates cancelled - La Vie En Rose

I feel honored to have been able to hear her sing last night works from several of the most noted singers of chansons, including works by Maurice Yvain, Georges Moustaki, Léo Ferré, Francis Lai, Michel Legrand sung by noted singers such as Edith Piaf, Charles Aznovour, Jacques Brel and others.

The red-haired beauty not only interprets these with great finesse, but provides her audience with a short-course about who the composers and singers were:

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Oct

Treya's Last Dance

As I said, we can never know where her life-journey will take her. But we do know, most surely, that she is a dancer in life with all the beauty and grace she has sought out in her search to comprehend the various pulls she has experienced throughout her youth. Like most of us, actually, she is a blend of cultures, despite some current leaders’ attempts to reclaim an imagined purity of thought and blood. In the end we perceive that Bhatt and her marvelous Treya is one of us.

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Sep

In Circles

This may have been the best production of drama I have seen this year in Los Angeles.

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Sep

THE HEAL

In a sense, this production, co-produced by Washington, D.C.’s acclaimed Round House Theatre, seemed more like a version of “Cliff’s Notes” than an actual presentation of Sophocles’ original.

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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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  • La Vie En Rose with Julia Migenes
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  • The Serpent at the Odyssey Theatre

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