Registered Critic: Leigh Kennicott

Leigh Kennicott has an extensive background in theatre, film and television and a Ph.D. degree in Theatre, awarded in 2002. A writer, director and actor, Leigh Kennicott began theatrical reviewing at Backstage, followed by Pasadena Weekly and Stage Happenings blog. As a director in Los Angeles, she directed a neo-realist "Romeo and Juliet" at the Secret Rose Theatre; a new play,“Charlotte Second Chance,” at DramaGarage; and “How I Learned to Drive,” “Nickel and Dimed” and “Top Girls” all at College of the Canyons. Presently, she teaches theatre topics at California State University, Northridge.
May

Impro Theatre's "Jane Austen UnScripted" (Hollywood)

Sampling “Jane Austen Unscripted” was uncannily similar to reading one of her books. Since she primarily set her novels in drawing rooms, it was particularly amusing to watch the haughty Harriett (Kari Coleman) trying to incorporate the word “whoop” into a prim Austen scenario. It was also fun to see how well everyone worked with the identical fireplace that appeared no matter where in the mansion the action seemed to be placed.

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May

Impro Theatre's "Chekhov UnScripted"

Recently, I binged on Impro Theatre Company’s live, spontaneous offerings, including “Chekhov Unscripted.” The suggestion, “Broken Stables and a Lake,” brought to mind Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard. The ongoing sources of humor were found in the actors – Kari Coleman, Kelly Holden Bashar, Dan O’Connor, Mike Rock and Paul Rogan – falling effortlessly into the stereotypes familiar to any Chekhovian aficionado.The technical improvisors (Arlo Sanders and Cory Wyszynksi) were the unsung heroes. Not only do they control the ever-changing backgrounds, but they oversaw the improvised editing on the fly and sometimes, their switching back and forth contributed to the laughter.

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Feb

CANCELLED - The Winter's Tale

At A Noise Within, The Winter’s Tale, begins with yet another of Shakespeare’s jealous main characters and ends with a Satyr dance and a bear. An the intrepid design staff does it’s best to keep up with a structural set, a trap door and a number of bear costumes. Director Geoff Elliott takes his proficient cast through its paces: longtime ensemble actors, Frederick Stuart and Deborah Strang are especially strong as the jealous monarch, Leontes, and resourceful servant, Paulina, respectively, although Jeremy Rabb as the faithful Camillo, and Alan Blumenfeld as the shepherd run a close second. Finally, the notable movement choreographed by Fight Master, Kenneth R. Merckx, Jr. and dances from co-artistic director, Julia Rodriguez Elliott, fill the bill.

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Feb

Frida - Stroke of Passion

Kahlo may be the most ubiquitous Mexican painter in the 20th Century. And, now, Odalys Nanin and her Macha Theatre bring Frida to life in Frida – Stroke of Passion, a guest production at Casa 0101. Nanin as Frida situates Kahlo in her last days, reminiscing about her many loves while attended by Nurse Judith (Tricia Cruz). One after another, a singer (Sandra Valls), a Cuban spy (Kesia Elwin), Josephine Baker (Celeste Creel), actress Maria Felix (Jorie Burgos), a photographer (Tina Modotti) and even Leon Trotsky (Paul Cascante), reappear in Frida’s memory. But the centerpiece of her love is always Diego (an overpowering Oscar Basulto). The exact conditions of her passing serve as the focal point for Nanin’s rendition of Kahlo’s last days. It is a narrative that maintains its riveting momentum until the very last moment.

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Feb

CANCELED - A BODY OF WATER

There are many ways to explain away the syndrome that afflicts an affluent couple, Avis (TrevaTegtmeier) and Moss (Bruce Ladd), who don’t know where they are, who they are to each other, or even their names. Just when we may sense we ‘re getting to the bottom of things, we meet Wren (Ivy Beech), who may or may not be their daughter…. or a caregiver … or a jailor, for that matter. When, after all is done, the play turns back upon itself, playwright Lee Blessing’s satisfying ending rings with such an emotional symbiosis that we know that finally, the truth has been revealed.

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Feb

RED INK

I can’t rave enough about Steven Leigh Morris’ new play, Red Ink,. His play demonstrates how aburdism best expresses the distress – no, anguish – that attends an inexorable extinction of a printable instrument of Democracy. Jerome (a magnificent Leo Marks) is an enthusiastic entertainment writer and editor, who struggles to “keep his head when everyone is losing theirs and blaming it on him,” to quote Rudyard Kipling. Through the deft manipulation of management, Jerome winds up becoming the agent of his own paper’s demise. Peter Van Norden serves as a touching tribute to the rumpled columnists of the by-gone days. Ultimately, this play becomes a gripping paen to independent journalism.

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Jan

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME

With yet another import from Broadway on the Mark Tabor stage, it is interesting to review the rhetoric about the play against the actual product. Heidi Schreck’s play does not disappoint. Her tight, 90-minute plus monologue (with help from original cast, Mike Iveson) captivates for its very personal take on a document that we all (Mostly) take for granted.

But, if this discussion is not enough, the performance ends with a “mock” debate whether the constitution should be abolished, featuring 15-year old Rosdely Ciprian. And, wait! There’s more! Since the previous audience had submitted questions to the debaters (along the lines of “what is your pet’s name”). We must sit and wait through several of them before we are finally released. Now clocking in at a good two hours without an intermission, the evening ends, if you will excuse the plagiarism, “not with a bang, but a whimper.”

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Jan

Sunday Dinner

A family so dysfunctional whose members, idiosyncratic in themselves, comes together, occupy Tony Blake’s Sunday Dinner. The playwright also directs this fine cast. The family springs to life under Blake’s intricate machinations, as one stunning revelation follows another. Typical of Theatre 40’s best work, this cast works well together. There is never a dull moment in the Matera family, and you’ll be entertained until the dinner is in shambles. Few families could survive the extent of these revelations; mercifully, however, there is redemption by the end the evening.

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Dec

A Christmas Carole King

The Troubadour Theatre Company’s version of A Christmas Carol resembles a British Music Hall Panto –those irreverent mash-ups of fairy tales, ribald jokes and song. In A Christmas Carole King, the ensemble performs Carole King’s many hits, accompanied by the “Troubedorchestra,” (musical director, Derrick Finely) to augment the encounters of Ebenezer Scrooge (Mike Sulprizio) with the ghosts of Christmas Past (funny Beth Kennedy, who also narrates); Christmas Present (Cloie Wyatt Taylor) and, well, they never seem to get to the future. All the performers play several roles to flesh out the Cratchit family, but Matt Walker, who also directs, choreographs (with Luis Martinez and Suzanne Joie Narbonne), and has a hand in the adaptation, steals the show with his eerily appealing head of Tiny Tim. You really hadda be there!

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Dec

AUGUST WILSON'S JITNEY

August Wilson’s Jitney shows that some things old are new again. The ride-hailing business in Jitney occupies a soon-condemned building in a gentrifying area of Pittsburg. Becker (Steven Anthony Jones) runs the shop, occupied at various times by a half-dozen drivers who use their own cars to ferry people around the neighborhood. It’s astonishing to think that the personal, ride-share businesses that we consider to be so “21st Century,” were alive and well in African American communities 50 years ago.

Wilson’s writing reveals itself through layer upon layer: oft-told father-son conflict (Becker and Booster, played by Francois Battiste) juxtaposed with struggling young lovers (Youngblood and Rena) constitutes Layer One. The second level can be thought of as the illumination of social norms, circa late 20th Century. The last and most important, I think, is the structure Wilson employs in giving equal weight to each of the characters. Each player gets his or her solo, while the ensemble jams together in eddying circles. There is little left to say about this stunning production, imported from Broadway and directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, except it is not to be missed.

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Dec

The Wrong Kind of People

The Wrong Kind of People, by George W. Corbin, is a contemporary look at some of the sort of every-day prejudices that still inform some aspects of African-American life, in the style of the drawing-room comedies of bygone days.

The location is “the colored room,” a room designated in every hotel to accommodate African-American guests. Theo (Ken Ivey) has booked the room in order to find some peace and quiet in order to study for the California Bar. But there is a catch. One of the bellmen, the resourceful Fixit (Damon Rutledge), uses the room to ferry an assortment of back-door players into the hotel. What could possibly go wrong?

The Robey players, nimbly directed by C. Julian White, strike just the right comedic tone. Foremost among them, Rutledge as Fixit shows a quiet dignity; while the Purdys (Darrell Philip and Stephanie Schulz), maintain a realistic, love/hate balance that exemplifies long-married spouses. Artistic Director and producer, Ben Guillory, enables the performance with solid production values, while director White laces the proceedings with evocative pop songs of the period.

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Nov

Elijah

In Elijah, a group of travelers find themselves stranded by hurricane Elijah in a TGI Fridays Restaurant near a Federal prison. The manager, Lori (Kathleen Bailey) has sent home all the staff but for her wayward niece, Ashley (a spot-on MacKenzie Rickaby), who slouches through her duties. The “inmates” have converged on the Texas town because of a highly publicized execution about to take place. They represent a spectrum of views about capital punishment, from God-fearing Patience (Elle Vernee), reasonable Greg (Jordon Wall) to activist Tim (Jesse Merrill). But it is Dawn (an appealing Molly Gray), who has the biggest stake in the inmate’s death. Throughout, the characters serve Leora’s message, which results in a series of uneven characterizations. Ultimately we ask this questions: does one death solve the problem? It seems that despite the debate, we’re still left with the same questions.

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Nov

Fruition

Fruition pictures a world, hopefully, far into the future. Playwright DeLaRosa (who also plays the upstanding resister, Rainer) has assembled a representative group of survivors to tell his story. Theatre of Note’s production values are exceptional. The company has responded to DeLaRosa’s vision with black-box walls covered with artistic renderings of graffiti that, in themselves, should be viewed as public art!

DeLaRosa tends to overuse violence and the ‘F’ bomb to prove his points, yet his argument asks us to resolve our current stalemates while we still can. Although current observations pop out, wrenching me momentarily out of the future he created, DeLaRosa’s characters ring true . Forest (Trevor H. Olsen) seems to be playing both sides against the middle, while Laila (Kathleen O’Grady) protects Helga (Faith Imafidon). Periodically they must work together to push back the militia (Nick Smerkanich and Thomas Firtzgerald). But with the arrival of Rollo, (Travis York) the right/left, resister/Militia divide comes into focus in a surprising way.

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Nov

THE ART OF DINING

Double and quadruple cast, Gloria Gifford’s production of Tina Howe’s 70s-era, episodic portrait of a Jersey neighborhood restaurant, purported to be situated in the actual home of its cook and head waiter, paints a fascinating portrait of 60s and 70s social life.
Ellen (Kelly Musslewhite) frantically readies herself for an onslaught of guests while her husband, Cal (Billy Budinich), dreams of expanding their little enterprise into a full-scale restaurant. Do you see the tension here?
Celebrants Hannah (Keturah Hamilton) and Paul Galt (Danny Siegel) and blind dates, David (Haile D’Alan) and Elizabeth (Sabrina), are disturbed when a raucous, ravenous threesome (Leana Chavez, Samiyah Swann and Gloria Alvizar) invades. But the most fun of all comes from the action in the working kitchen (part of the overall design by Gifford, Hamilton and Lucy Walsh).
Gifford has accomplished the difficult job of revolving casting, transitioning between the couples with a minimum of fuss. The best part? The friendliness of Gloria Gifford’s bunch of aspiring actors is such a welcome treat.

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Nov

Buried Child

It’s a comfort to see A Noise Within’s resident artists bring such clarity to Sam Shepard’s Buried Child, his most quintessentially absurdist play. The playwright plops young Vince (Zach Kenny) and his girlfriend, Shelly (Angela Gulner), into the midst of his tight-knit and quite eccentric farming family, headed by patriarch Dodge (Geoff Elliott) and his wife, Hallie (Deborah Strang). A great deal is remarked about the fact that corn has not been planted out back since 1935 (It’s now the 70s). As behaviors get stranger, and Vince settles into his family’s rhythms, Shelly finds her inner housewife.
In this second time around, Director Julia Rodriguez Elliott, teases the humor out of the grotesque, ever mindful to highlight the play’s sense of nostalgia. The actors’ created eccentricities seem so organic, we almost feel we’ve stumbled into a time warp.

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Oct

4.48 PSYCHOSIS by Sarah Kane

In Son of Semele ‘s production of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, the hallucinogenic cacophony interrupted by nuggets of dialogue exemplified by Don Bottitta – a psychiatrist who left her too soon – represents the “soup” of Kane’s despair, within which her attempts at recovery swam. Miss Dylan Jones has the unenviable task of repeating this journey four times a week, and any less grounded actor may not have been able to travel the distance from start to finish. As a result, audiences can sit at a safe, dramatic distance without sinking into the same despair. In Kane’s ultimate demise, we catch a glimpse of the hope she held onto even in the act of suicide. “Remember the light,” she wrote. “And believe the light.” Certainly death was her effort to reach it.

Director Matthew McCray brings coherence to the echoes and reverberations this poet set down in an effort to explain herself. Of necessity, the addition of muses Melina Bielefelt, Taylor Hawthorne, Jinny Ryann and Betsy Zajko, in representing her voices, brings order to the chaos; but it robs us of Kane’s disordered mind and the reason she (may have) wanted to express it to herself.

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Oct

The Abuelas

The search for lost children figures at the heart of The Abuelas, a new play by Stephanie Alison Walker about Argentina’s “dirty war” at Anteaus Theatre. Such an example is Gabriella (Luisina Quarleri), a brilliant musician whose Argentine mother, Soledad (Denise Blasor), comes to town. Gabriella’s life positively unravels when a new friend, César (David DeSantos) brings to dinner an uninvited guest, and we learn that the guest, Carolina (Irene De Bari), is Gabriella’s real grandmother. This complex play might have become lugubrious but for director Andi Chapman and Anteaus’ producing team.

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Oct

How the Light Gets In

‘Light’ is an apt metaphor that describes Boston Court’s Emilie Pascale Beck invisibly light touch as director of E.M. Lewis’ new play, How the Light Gets In. The play examines the toll breast cancer takes on Grace Wheeler (Amy Sloan), an otherwise empowered ‘woman of a certain age’, whose emotional journey succeeds only with the aid of a pair of improbable allies: Kat (Chelsea Kurtz), a teen camped out beneath the weeping willow in a Japanese Garden and Haruki (Ryun Yu), a world-renowned architect commissioned to build a simple tea house there. The result is a sweet reminder that we are all capable of providing enough light to heal those around us who are suffering. Dieterich Gray as the tattooist Tommy Z provides welcome surcease from the sort of sentimental treacle most dramas about disease exhibit.

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Sep

The Solid Life of Sugar Water

The Solid Life of Sugar Water, written by Jack Thorne, follows a couple as they negotiate the waters of trauma due to the stillbirth of their child. Randee Trabitz, who directs with sensitivity, has brought the play to life against an aerial view of the marriage bed as a backdrop. The projections —the bed; life size reproductions of the actors — elevate Deaf West’s production beyond more modest aspirations, with Tad Cooley as Phil and Sandra Mae Frank as Alice, drifting in and out of the evolving scenes, punctuated by front–of–stage interactions with their speaking counterparts (Nick Apostolina as Phil and Natalie Camunas as Alice), who also portray other characters as necessary.

This image of a couple in crisis ends in an explosive confluence of events so emotionally fraught that, on the night I attended, the action sent at least audience member from the room. Make no mistake, this production is an extraordinary achievement

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Sep

Early Birds

In Early Birds by Dan Schwartz, an encounter on the high seas between two women in different financial circumstances reveals that warm, human encounters can happen anywhere. With only Saturday and Monday left before it closes, please hurry over to see it! Schwartz’ writing is a light and gentle character study, taking us along with breezy repartee between two unlikely friends. Ivy (Jayne Taini) is a brash, fast talking and comfortable-looking woman, while Nora (Jean Gilpin), fashionable and rather stand-offish, can afford to go anywhere at any price. Stylish Captain Devon (Wendy Elizabeth Abraham), though, is at the ready to attend their needs as they, and we the audience, gradually learn the true nature of the cruise.

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