Registered Critic: Ed Rampell

Aug

Paul Robeson Theatre Festival

According to its mission statement, the Robey Theatre Company is dedicated to “develop relevant provocative, and innovative new plays written about the Black experience.” With its third biennial Paul Robeson Theatre Festival, the Robey is fulfilling its raison d’être – and will hopefully continue to do so for at least another 25 years. Just like “Ol’ Man River”, the Robey keeps rolling along. And in doing so, this venerable theatrical company keeps the legacy of activist/actor/singer Paul Robeson alive, well, and still giving hell.

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Aug

Nick Dear's Frankenstein | California Premiere

Frankenstein – which was also titled The Modern Prometheus – is a reaction against the forces of science being unleashed by the industrial revolution. It is an expression of the ethos of Romanticism, the early to mid-19th century movement which celebrated nature, passion, the individual and rejected the rational. Above all else Mary Shelley is warning Man not to tamper with the natural world, for by doing so he throws things out of kilter. Given the growing threat of climate change Shelley’s cautionary tale remains all too relevant. And with the development of automation, androids and genetics, the notion of man playing god is very apropos. It’s still not nice to fool Mother Nature!!!

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Aug

Fefu and Her Friends

Fefu's characters are all female, and this is far less common than mixed gender or all male casts... This casting and the fact that the bard is a woman indelibly stamps Fefu with a distinctly feminist point of view. As such, Fefu deals with gender issues, sexual politics, as well as with same sex relationships. But what really sets Fefu apart from most other stage productions is that members of the audience... in Act I must leave their assigned seats and embark on an onstage odyssey in the Odyssey Theatre’s three-stage complex... where different portions of Fornes’ offbeat drama are presented.

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Aug

Twelfth Night

Although it is not a cure for the dire times we live in, this exceedingly good-natured comedy will help you get through these dark days. I had a ball, as did the nearly sold out audience. This play is rated “S”, because a SPLENDID time is guaranteed to all. I’d like to see it another twelve times!

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Aug

TRUE WEST

Shepard is as skillful at writing as the Flying Wallendas are at executing highwire acts fraught with peril, and after the intermission the playwright pulls a second act switcheroo that I didn’t see coming. True West is an acerbic rumination on the movie biz, but beneath that Shepard rips the layers back, revealing the downward trajectories that dysfunctional funky families can propel the children they spawn on. Although Lee and Austin’s father never appears onstage, the haunted memories of him they recount are truly harrowing. One can only wonder what misery little Sam must have experienced growing up...

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Jul

The Skin of Our Teeth

Before I made my way out to the splendid Topanga Canyon amphitheater I had no idea what to expect from the playwright of the spectral, somber Our Town, that popular stage standby for high school theater departments across the USA. But I was pleasantly surprised by its absurdist vibe that, as America joined the global fight against fascism, sought to reassure audiences that humanity shall prevail and survive, no matter what. (It’s still a reassuring and needed message today! O Thornton, wherefore art thou?)

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Jul

Loot

Bart DeLorenzo, who directs the current production at the Odyssey, claims the British playwright’s work hasn’t aged. But I beg to differ – the punch of Loot has been diluted by time. Orton’s two act spoof of Agatha Christie-like mysteries featuring detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple on the page and stage may have jolted auds 54 years ago, but for today’s theatergoers (many of whom did not return to their seats after intermission) Loot is passé. What was a “black comedy” when it debuted is now merely gray.

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Jul

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

It’s Karl Marx meets the Marx Brothers in Antaeus Theatre Company’s adaption of Bertolt Brecht’s 1944 play The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Brecht, who wrote The Threepenny Opera and Mother Courage, is best known for his leftwing agitprop. But many forget what Antaeus wisely remembers – while the German playwright may have been a master polemicist and propagandist (often against the master race) Brecht also had a caustic wit which reaches new heights of Marxist mirth in this production at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center.

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Jul

Scraps

As earthquakes struck SoCal a theatrical aftershock rocked the L.A. stage on July 6 with the West Coast premiere of Scraps. Geraldine Inoa’s brilliant, powerful play is at the cutting edge of the stage and screen cycle of productions reacting to the surge of police and vigilante killings of African Americans and/or the judicial system’s unjust mistreatment of Blacks. And Scraps is among the best of these works protesting racial injustice and inequity perpetrated (and perpetuated) by those perps/twerps – the “men” in blue and in robes (sometimes black, sometimes white).

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Jul

Tales From the Powder Room

Also playing on The Complex Hollywood’s boards right across the hall from the Ruby in The Dorie Theatre was Tales From the Powder Room by Robyn Migel, which won First Place for the Better Lemons Audience Choice Awards and has been extended. This play’s entire action is set in a workplace powder room, a euphemism for the ladies room, thus all of the characters and the eight thesps are females. In this woman-oriented hour-or-so play, the dramatis personae go to the bathroom in a series of six insightful vignettes.

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Jun

An Enemy of the People

The co-directors not only draw finely etched renderings from their thespians but, as is a hallmark of plays performed at this amphitheater under the stars, make exciting use of Topanga’s sylvan glade, the hills and woods surrounding its rustic boards. Geer and Marshall direct a race riot onstage with a mise-en-scène that’s exciting, just like WGTB’s battles in Shakespearean epics such as Julius Caesar and the sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat Nantucket sleigh ride in Moby Dick – Rehearsed.

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Jun

SHAME OF THRONES: The Musical

One may not have to be a “Thronie” to enjoy this fantasy farce - but it sure helps, if you want to sit on the Iron Throne of parody.

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Jun

La Traviata

To be fair, La Traviata does much more than merely perpetrate and perpetuate the trope of uninhibited women suffering for their orgasms and the ones they cause others to enjoy. The story criticizes Germont for his rigidity and narrow-minded, outmoded mores. Far from being a mere frippery and trollop, Violetta reveals herself to be an individual of integrity, capable of great self sacrifice and true love. Hopefully, creators in various art forms will come to embrace and celebrate instead of condemn female sexuality in future works. But this step forward away from the guilty obsessions with “sin” and repression will occur when more women create their own operas, novels, plays, films, etc.

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Jun

Moby Dick - Rehearsed

Today’s viewers are used to Computer Generated Images in big budget motion picture blockbusters - however, WGTB’s decidedly low tech but live “CGI” is far more exciting to behold.

Rehearsed’s grand finale, wreaking mayhem, is alone worth the price of admission and the sojourn to this theatrical enclave ensconced in the forest primeval north of Malibu. If you have to use a whaleboat and (like Orson - see below!) an ambulance, don’t miss this riveting revival of a play by a genius based on a novel by another genius. After all - All’s Welles that Melvilles.

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Jun

Ready Steady Yeti Go

...the best thing about this one-acter is its childhood ambiance, enhanced by scenic designer David Mauer’s set and costume designer Christine Cover Ferro’s outfits. The playbill’s use of photos of the cast and crew from when they were kids is a clever, inspired touch. St. Clair’s brief performance as her parents takes jabs at stage and screen stereotypes of Blacks, while her incarnation of Carly is very poignant.

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Jun

HARVEY

Andrew Barnacle deftly directs his cast of characters incarnated by character actors who all have a comic verve, including Larry Cedar (of HBO’s Deadwood) as Judge Gaffney, who is concerned about being gaff prone when considering the disposition of Ellwood’s estate - and liberty.

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May

Bronco Billy - The Musical

Well, the musical mounted at the Skylight Theatre does indeed have a motion picture pedigree and tie-in - but to a completely different Bronco Billy: the 1980 movie of the same name, starring and directed by Clint Eastwood. However, for once, my recurring error of not completing reading releases paid off, because even if the silent cinema’s first great Western hero isn’t part of the play, Bronco Billy, The Musical is indeed, good fun and worth seeing, especially by aficionados of musical comedies.

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May

Wild Son: The Testimony of Christian Brando

This well-acted, well-written one-hander tells Christian's side of the story, and it is quite a remarkable, tortured tale...

And like his father, what a story Christian had to tell, which Mese convincingly, movingly unravels in about an hour.

Wild Son is a must see for fans of Marlon and those fascinated by his legendary life. I don't know how interesting it will be for those not entranced by the Brando lore, but theatergoers who enjoy the one-man show format, powerful acting and storytelling will probably get much out of it, too.

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Apr

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN

I not only thoroughly enjoyed this almost two hour, 40 minute two-acter, but fell in love with this entrancing, enchanting live stage version of a classic movie. We live in dark days that can get downright depressing, and during periods like ours theatre can serve several functions, such as plumbing the depths of the human condition and exploring society's ills. But works such as Rain take another tack, illumining the innate goodness of people and instilling a sense of sheer exuberance in joie de vivre: The act - and art - of the joy of living.

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Apr

THE ELEPHANT MAN

The Thursday Night Theatre Club's production of Bernard Pomerance's Tony Award winner for Best Play The Elephant Man is simply an exquisitely poetically, philosophically rendered poignant work all about the art of being human...

Overall, this exquisite Elephant Man is among the most moving meditations I've ever seen staged about the beauty within the beast and the human spirit. As Merrick pithily put it: “I am NOT a dog walking on his hind legs!” Here, here! This stellar production is rated “DMI” for: “Don't Miss it!” Kudos!

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

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