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.
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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Sep

Nick Dear's Frankenstein | California Premiere

Onstage for a short run at A Noise Within, Frankenstein helmed by Michael Michetti, features an astounding, sympathetic performance by Michael Manuel as the creature. Michetti and his team constructs a visual and aural extravaganza feature dream sequences and impressionistic flash-backs to dramatize the story.  From the opening dumb show as the creature learns to walk and operate his unusable arm (thanks to movement director, Rhonda Kohl) to the more devastating vignettes as the creature becomes the monster (dramatized with original music by Robert Oriol), the spectacle engages our senses. ANW’s impeccable production no doubt deserves a longer run.

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Aug

An Enemy of the People

It’s startling to see the Theatricum Botanicum stage populated by robed members of the Ku Klux Klan at a meeting chaired by David Duke (Conner Clark Pascale) in 1972. But we soon learn that that the main character, Dr. Stockman (Christopher W. Jones) and his wife, Katherine (Earnestine Phillips), were once run out of the little town of South Fork because of their marriage. Stockman has retained friendships across both sectors of the town, however. He unites with Horatio (Max Lawrence) editor of the “Black” newspaper, while Mildred (Katherin Griffith), the town’s mayor is none other than his own sister. Ibsen twists the knot ever tighter when all, even Stockman’s family, turns against him and he is declared “enemy of the people.”

Echoes of our own times abound in Geer’s update. The performers recreate the town’s inhabitants to chilling effect. From the repugnant KKK meeting to the final denouement, the play elicits a visceral effect. To paraphrase Trump’s “There are fine people on both sides” --- here, there are culpable people on both sides.

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Aug

Apple Season

Artistic Director Anthony has overseen a triumphant production on the tiny Moving Arts stage in Atwater Village, helming a three-person cast that features the redoubtable Rob Nagle as Billy Rezz, a former basketball star, now a reclusive farmer who comes to make an offer on the Apple Orchard next door. His offer stirs old wounds for Lizzy (Lisa Hernandez, who works hard to connect), as memories conjure her brother, Roger (a sluggish Justin Huen, seen in flashbacks), ultimately leading to an explosive conflagration. Playwright E.M. Lewis’ storytelling demands ever-changing perspectives of inner and outer moments of dream-like recollections, best achieved by Martha Carter’s magical lighting sleight of hand that, among other things, evokes a traveling box-car, while Scenic designer, Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, commands dimensionality in her rustic evocation of an Oregon back yard

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Aug

Twelfth Night

In their wooded glen, Theatricum’s Twelfth Night unfolds as Count Orsino’s court has been transposed to the world of Gilbert and Sullivan, and the ship-wrecked twin, Viola (Willow Geer), has transformed into a boy in order to make his/her/their way in the early nineteenth century. Her brother Sebastian, (Cavin Mohrhardt) meanwhile, has washed ashore with a ship-mate, Antonio (Sean McConaghy) and two wend their way back to civilization as well. Shakespeare’s clever device pits their journey against Viola’s adventures to create the time frame for the play. Director Ellen Geer shows theatrical flair when portraying the officious Malvolio as a woman. There is much to savor in this Twelfth Night. It might be fun to see Independent Shakespeare-in-the-Park’s production as well to enjoy two variants on the theme of misplaced siblings and misguided loves.

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Jul

The Direction Home

Do You Remember 1979? Former hippies were getting jobs, getting married and growing up; aspiring actors were --- well, still aspiring. That’s where we find the denizens of Greg Vie’s fondly remembered comedy, The Direction Home on view at the Actors Company. Home recalls a fateful six months when a disparate group of roommates find themselves overbooked by one: the inexperienced, shy Steven (Jacob Barnes) winds up with the beautiful but level headed Katie (Emilie Martz) as a bedmate.

Director Kiff Scholl has done his best to integrate the actors into a cohesive ensemble, but there are difficulties that can’t be overcome. It’s hard for the others to counter Amir Levi’s over-the-top portrayal of Ted; Barnes’s gentle, realistic portrait of the central character, Stephen is no match. While Martz is the most even-handed as Katie, Vaughn Eelis as Brad seems ill at ease onstage, and I wonder how “ok” he is about his nude scene.

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Jul

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Executed in a mix of song and dance, narration and dumbshow that his own “Epic” effect popularized, Stephannie Shroyer utilizes every inch of Anteaus’ long stage to keep everything moving in a precise kaleidoscope of story and sound.  Anteaus’ strong ensemble ethic is well represented as veterans interchange roles with newcomers and back again.  It’s no use trying to single out any one performance – they are all strong – but each ensemble member brings his or her own distinctive style to the play. Again, Shroyer’s direction comes to the fore, as these actors represent, they do not embody characters.

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Jul

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

This spoof of a 1920s drawing room drama out-spoofs even the venerable Noises-off. The fictional Cornley University Drama Society production of (organ music here) “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” comes to us as The Play That Goes Wrong. The equally fictional program notes by Chris Bean (Evan Alexander Smith), the director, voice coach, dialect coach, fight choreographer, casting director and costume designer for the drama society, are worth the price of the ticket. Laughter begins almost immediately when the curtain rises on Jonathan Haversham’s “dead” body (Yaegel T. Welch) before he has crawled into place, and it just goes wronger from there.

The piece de resistance of the evening involves the malfunctioning set that is so genius that it received its own Tony Award for the Broadway production. The only sour note forces ingénue Florence Colleymoore (Jamie Ann Romero) and “stage manager” Annie (Angela Grovey) into a senseless and unfunny battle with each other for supremacy at the end of the play.

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Jul

The Narcissist Next Door

The Narcissist Next Door covers much the same ground as Larry Shue’s The Nerd, where the house-guest from Hell wrecks havoc on a variety of characters at a dinner party. Here Tony, The Narcissist, (Luca Malacrino), proves to be a charlatan as well as a pain when he introduces his next-door neighbor, Sebastian (Michael Nardelli) and friend Kate (Kincaid Walker) to a New Age practice called “The Source.” When the practice work wonders in their lives, they welcome Tony into their midst, but as he takes more and more advantage of their trust, inviting himself on a trip to Mexico to “shoot” singing star Charo Veraga (Maggie Miguel), a result from “The Source,” they finally admit his toxicity. Only when he opens the way for a pair of Banditos (Robert and Bryce Harrow) to rob the group, do they finally plot to get rid of him with hilarious results.

Narcissist, Ellen Buckley’s first full-length play, is sprightly and increasingly funny, pointing the way to a future of churning out one crowd-pleaser after another. It has been given a well-developed production by its producers with director Susan Dallan.

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Jul

Mil Grus

Stemming from a tradition of foolery that harks back to the Middle Ages, this grotesque ensemble keeps audiences amused and constantly off-guard. Their deadpan stares, their misshapen and gyrating bodies and their dumb-show drolleries are surreal rather than threatening. It helps, as various members climb through the audience, that they deposit tiny origami birds into outstretch palms. Since there is no through-line to engross us, a spirit of camaraderie descends upon the packed audience. When we are asked to help “tent” ourselves and we can no longer see the stage, we realize that we have been duped into ending the piece ourselves. I thought their joke on us ending their shenanigans was just right.

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Jul

Red, White, Black & Blue

These two one-acts came together in a set of revealing monologues portraying the difficulty of adjusting to lives in transition. Leilani Squire’s “Drowning” depicts Adam (Matthew Thompson), a returning vet whose short fuse has estranged him from his wife and precious daughter. Through his dialogic phone calls, we experience the amount of effort it takes to keep it together in the face of unrelenting rejection, from wary would-be employers to his vindictive spouse. Squire’s tightening tempo reflects the time-bomb ticking inside of this man whose only solution may be suicide.

In “Black & Blue,” Blaine Vedros plays Tom Wilkes, another man whose forced eviction from his job and subsequently his marriage leaves him desperate for retribution. But, as he ruminates, we realize that he is not exactly an innocent victim, and the only way out of his dilemma may be the self-realization that eludes him. Both Thompson’s Adam in “Drowning” and Vedros’ fierce Tom in “Black & Blue” reinforces the fact that, as a group, men have lost important support systems to aid them.

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Jul

Moby Dick - Rehearsed

Theatricum Botanicum’s stage comes alive with Ellen Geer’s configurations of bodies, rigging and narrative to make visceral the image of the fated whaling ship, Pequod, and Moby Dick, the Great White Whale in a recreation of Orson Welles’ imaginative retelling of the Melville Classic. In the last moments before Ahab (Gerald Rivers), the fanatical ship’s captain, is dragged into the sea, and Ishmael (Dane Oliver) must dangle above the ship’s flotsam as the ship breaks up, the scene springs into our imaginations through Geer’s careful staging. By the end of the final, stirring moments, you will swear you’ve been witness to a harrowing journey and a huge shipwreck!

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Jun

INDECENT

Indecent, the title of Paula Vogel’s exquisite rendering of real events stretching from 1906 until the 1940’s chronicles the unfolding of Sholom Asch’s God of Vengeance, from its inception until the Yiddish theatre troupe’s demise during World War II. Vogel’s play centers on the trajectory of a theatrical event, but our hearts bleed for the brave troupe that performed it.

At the Ahmanson, the Huntington Theatre Company co-production fills the stage with kaleidoscopic choreography by David Dorfman, staging scenes from God of Vengeance along with the time-line leading up to and away from the sensational obscenity trial in 1923. Director Rebecca Taichman, who collaborated with Vogel on the creation of the play, recreates a sense of rich Yiddish culture. Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva’s original music reinforces the authenticity of the tale.

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Jun

Ladies

Although there is little in the way of linear narrative, this examination of 18thCentury Femininity contains plenty of thought-provoking moments. Four actresses – Meghan Andres, Carie Kawa, Jully Lee and Tracey A. Leigh – do a wonderful job bringing their respective 18thCentury “Bluestockings” to life. For those as unskilled as I am, the Bluestockings were creative women, far ahead of their time in their attitudes. Playwright Kit Steinkellner has condensed 100 years of activism into illustrative lives of the four, yet worries her subjects into subjective moments that seemed to go with her own interpretation of their “proto-feminist” views. Steinkellner’s words spill out of their mouths through the devise of donning red sunglasses, which were non-existent in the 18thcentury. In my view, the attempt to portray her own doubts and fears to contextualize her play decentralizes the women themselves as subjects.

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Jun

A Streetcar Named Desire

At the Odyssey, a strong ensemble illustrates Streetcar Named Desire Williams’ post-war evocation of New Orleans’ French quarter. Streetcar brings a fragile Blanche Du Bois (Susan Priver) to sister’s doorstep in the quarter where Blanche’s gradual disintegration takes place. This production reinforces Tennessee Williams’ ability to reach beyond the day-to-day minutia of life to reach into the hearts of his characters. Among other joys, this rendition features a uniquely conceived characterization of Stanley by Max E. Williams. Also of note, find a down-to earth Stella (Melissa Sullivan), an equally practical upstairs neighbor, Eunice (Caroline O’Brien), and a suitably stalwart suitor, Mitch (Christopher Parker).

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Jun

Happy Days

Fifteen years after World War 2, Beckett still focused on the futility of existence that war—and French philosophers— engendered.  “What’s it all for?” He seemed to ask. In HAPPY DAYS Winnie (Dianne Weist), the protagonist first buried up to her waist and then to her neck in desolate terrain, asks us to pnder the same question. Her existence seems inexorably tied to husband Willie (Mark Ridko) who rarely, if ever, acknowledges her. As Winnie’s cheery facade gradually falters, we begin to understand her as a metaphor for our own lives.  His existential view of life remains constant, though. In HAPPY DAYS Beckett found, maybe not THE answer, but AN answer.

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May

Dead Accounts

If a crime occurs and nobody finds it, is it still a crime? That’s what Rebeck’s Recession-era play, Dead Accounts, seeks to unravel. In Rebeck’s revealing style, the family banter soon reveals a little matter of 27 million dollars knocks over the family’s traditional values of right and wrong.   Watching the events unfold, putting together clues as the characters interact – that’s the joy of watching a really compelling story as it deepens. And the ending will leave you wondering…what would you do if you found 27 million dollars that no one owned?

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May

JULIUS WEEZER

The Troubies are at it again, and they’ve invaded the El Portal in NoHo to celebrate their 25thAnniversary with Shakespeare’s immortal tale of political intrigue, Julius Caesar, er, Weezer. Teaming an unlikely rock group (Weezer) with a play that doesn’t lend itself to musical interpretation Julius Weezer seems geared to entice a non-Shakespearean crowd with very well-done Shakespearean riffs by the talented, yet demented cast. For sheer fun, this is the show that will make traditionalists happy, while the rest of the crowd keep tapping their feet. It’s in for a short run, so try not to miss it!

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May

Moving On: The One-Acts 2019

At Move On, EST/LA's 2019 One-Act Festival, member-playwrights from two of the company's playwrighting units present five plays in 90 minutes. From the inexplicable to the sublime, these short run-downs don't do them justice:

In Rock Logic. written by Sophia Lewis, a pair of lovers take a detour on the way to a funeral to contemplate the implacability of nature in the face of loss.

Smiling Cat Candy Heart, written by Jennie Webb, is as light-hearted as it sounds.

Divorced parents revisit to old wounds, in part when their daughter speaks only in emojis.

The Cold Place, written by Ashley Rose Wellman tries to navigate a difficult transition as two acquaintances enter into an elaborate, out-of town assignation that veers off-course.

My favorite, Signing-Off, written by Ken Levine features an aging talk-show host who must “vet” his insufferably cocky replacement.

For sheer fun, Possible Deranged Lunatic, written by Christine Hamilton-Schmidt depicts this consistently funny, perfect-for-Halloween mystery, but rather than spine-tingling, the results are hilarious. EST-LA consistently does a lot with a little and these playlets are no exception.

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