Registered Critic: Marc Wheeler - Stage and Cinema

Marc Wheeler is an arts reviewer with a varied background in theater, dance, music, theme park haunts, film, and television. His writing has been featured in Stage and Cinema and Gia On The Move. Marc studied media in Oxford, England, where he also worked for the Oxford Playhouse. He received his B.A. in Communications from Waldorf College in Forest City, IA.
Mar

CANCELLED - Alice in Wonderland

Childhood whimsy is seen through the looking-glass of adult sophistication at A Noise Within. Based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), this 1932 stage adaptation — co-written by Eva Le Gallienne and Florida Friebus — faithfully honors its source materials, blending the two books seamlessly. With its classy aesthetic and an ensemble delivering more hit performances than misses, this Wonderland will have you grinning as wide as a Cheshire Cat.

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Mar

Suspended - Rorschach Fest

Theater isn’t just what it brings to us, it’s also what we bring to it. At least, that’s the general idea behind Open Fist Theatre Company’s Rorschach Fest, a series of five experimental one-act plays from risk-taking playwrights: John O’Keefe, Harold Pinter, Daniel MacIvor, and Caryl Churchill. These shorts get divided among three separately-priced programs (Inkblots) playing in repertory at Atwater Village Theatre for Open Fist’s 30th Anniversary Season. Reviewed here are Inkblots “A” and “B” – or as I see them, two “ink splats” (Ghosts and Landscape) followed by one “ink-credible” short (Never Swim Alone).

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Feb

Postponed - Found

Found: A New Musical is determined to find its way. After a run off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre Company in 2014, this reworked West Coast premiere — now playing at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in Downtown L.A., stumbles through its first act with vague ambitions, disconnection, and cloying clichés, only to return post-intermission leaning into its quirkiness, discovering its heart, and, ultimately, coming into its own.

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Feb

Frankenstein

Those expecting a traditional telling of Frankenstein may be largely disappointed — or pleasantly surprised — in this warped curiosity. Because its overblown artistry bogs down its inventiveness, it may leave people perplexed. Ironically, a work warning against the unrestrained gets trapped by it: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Fortunately, underneath its newfangled exterior lies a visceral center beating with ingenuity. You just gotta look past the stitches.

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Feb

THE $5 SHAKESPEARE COMPANY

In a climate where even Equity — the stage actors’ own union — is doing their darndest to make it nearly impossible for 99-seat theaters to survive (including those producing stellar, innovative work), this particular “love letter” isn’t helping.

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Feb

The Father

Every once in awhile a play comes along that reminds us what – and how exciting – theater can be. In The Father (Le Père), French playwright Florian Zeller doesn’t just present a man with dementia, he makes us feel as if we have it, too. Electrifying Southern California with Zeller’s genius is the Pasadena Playhouse and their returning director, Jessica Kubzansky. Translated into English by Christopher Hampton, The Father is a masterful achievement.

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Feb

Fun Home

Fun Home tackles with devastating contrast the social realities facing gay Americans across generations. And while it’s by no means a complete reflection of the gay experience, the work’s personal, biographical truths reveal with brutal honesty how such social change can quite literally mean the taking of life or the giving of it. (The fun or the funeral.) In experiencing such a work, we allow queer voices to be heard from either side of fate reminding us of the power society wields in shaping our own destinies. So step inside. While it certainly doesn’t live up to the large-scale national tour that swept through the Ahmanson three years ago, even with its cracks, this lil’ Home’s worth a night’s visit.

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Feb

FOR THE LOVE OF A GLOVE: An Unauthorized Musical Fable About The Life Of Michael Jackson...As Told By His Glove

On the heels of Leaving Neverland — the jaw-dropping 2019 documentary that explores the sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson — comes the world premiere of a musical that posits a bizarre, untold story of the King of Pop. For the Love of a Glove is a ribald, lampooning satire that offers point-by-point explanations for the superstar’s early rise to power, not the least of which is his pact with space aliens. It’s an audacious work some may find of questionable taste. It’s overly-long and heavy-handed in its soapbox takedowns of racism and religion. But it’s also a cleverly constructed, uproarious oddity that feeds our collective desire for catharsis through humor. The show, in all its absurdities, is a theatrical manifestation of our collective psyche in processing the unthinkable.

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Feb

I Decided I’m Fine: A Roach Play

If I Decided I’m Fine: A Roach Play teaches us anything – consciously or unconsciously – it’s that less is more. While audiences will likely take away personal nuggets of insight, they’re buried in a theatrical hodgepodge that, like its protagonist, accumulates without knowing how or when to stop. Like any hoarder knows, when the roaches come out, the time to reassess has long since passed.

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Feb

This Side Of Crazy

In signature Shores style, Southern family dysfunction, religion, and homosexuality are interwoven into this hilarious, heart-rending work. One thing this son-of-a-pastor excels at — and this work proves no exception — is illuminating the complexities of humanity, warts and all. Whether through drama or humor (his works employ both), Shores’ plays showcase his keen observations of the human condition, even as he heightens them for theatricality. And while Crazy is diminished at times with expository dialog, it nevertheless succeeds in presenting three-dimensional characters who mirror our deepest challenges and provide a provocative journey into the heart of forgiveness.

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Jan

Nowhere On The Border

Nowhere on the Border offers theatergoers a gentle, semi-heart-tugging reminder of the people and struggles behind the headlines. It likely preaches to the choir. It doesn’t challenge or offer uncomfortable truths, complex characters, or even a unique perspective. It has nothing new to say. While some people are more than happy to bathe in a warm tub of previously established beliefs, others need more compelling reasons to enter a theater.

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Dec

MATTHEW BOURNE'S SWAN LAKE

While dance is the visionary director-choreographer’s weapon of choice, it’s a means of expressing a grander narrative. Bourne’s genius is in his ability to lure audiences to said medium and make wordless stories leap from the stage. In Swan Lake he not only updates the overall aesthetic with brazen eroticism, he revamps the story to heightened emotional impact.

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Dec

DISNEY'S FROZEN

With so many movies-turned-musicals on Broadway these days, it’s reasonable to be skeptical of yet another obvious cash grab. Is this one? Of course. But when it comes to sheer entertainment and spectacle, it delivers, even with the high bar set for it.

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Dec

punkplay

In many ways the work is a lost youth without any clear direction or purpose. It can’t decide whether it wants to damn the man, do the man, or be the man. But in order for us to make sense of its world, it needs to offer more than vague concepts with no clear reasons to care – or what’s the meaning of it all?

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Nov

Eight Nights

A barrage of human suffering — anti-Semitism, racism, anti-Muslim hostility, misogyny, LGBT closets, slavery, Japanese-American internment camps, miscarriages, PTSD, death, and a literal onstage kitchen sink — are given the holiday treatment in Jennifer Maisel’s Hanukkah-inspired Eight Nights.

[The play] is more an exercise in “woke” virtue signaling than it is effective storytelling.

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Nov

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET: A Live Musical Radio Show

What makes this version unique is Jon Lorenz’s original music. Under the music direction of Anthony Lucca, these jazzy spirits spill out in a multitude of ways: advertising jingles during newly scripted commercial breaks; reworked traditional carols; and original numbers with tight harmonies reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters. Lorenz’s delightful music and lyrics elevate the book magically. So integrated is his 40s-era score into this radio play, it’s easy to forget it was never originally there. In fact, it’s hard now to imagine Miracle without it.

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Nov

THE NEW ONE

The delivery here is perfectly wholesome, commercially safe comedy. It’s cautious in its confessions: asking scary questions but bubble-wrapping the answers. It neither challenges nor entertains too much. It doesn’t allow the relentlessness of parenting to overshadow its beauty. It’s as satisfying and forgettable as vanilla ice cream. An evening that evokes smiles even as it short-changes. It’s audacious in its premise but hesitant in its follow-through. The New One is ultimately a risk untaken.

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Oct

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

As Little Shop of Horrors teaches us: sometimes you just need fresh blood. In that vein, the Pasadena Playhouse more than delivers. Their audacious revival of the quirky cult classic – directed with exemplary vision by Mike Donahue – offers audiences something they may not have realized they craved. In this ground-up reimagining, complete with ingenious casting, we’re treated to a more representative sampling of the American story.

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May

Daniel's Husband

Even when we can see where the play’s going, getting swept up in its emotion is easy. And despite its polemics and forced means of delivery, it excels in getting us to reconsider our individual perspectives and prejudices.

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Apr

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY

This isn't great entertainment. It's run-of-the-factory, relying more on nostalgia than originality. For a story imploring us to live in a world of pure imagination, we should expect what's baked to be more satisfying and delicious.

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