Registered Critic: Michael Van Duzer

Michael Van Duzer is an award-winning playwright and director. He has reviewed opera productions for a variety of print and online media since the mid-1980's. In the past few years, he has added theatre reviews to his resume. He writes features and interviews for LA Stage Alliance's online magazine @This Stage.
Jun

DANA H.

CTG is presenting the world premiere of his new play, Dana H. But perhaps “play” isn’t the correct description for the production that awaits you at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The script is culled from interviews with Hanth’s mother about an incident in her life when she was abducted by an ex-con. And, while there are plenty of scripts based on real-life interviews, Dierdre O’Connell, the actress who inhabits the role of Dana, speaks none of Dana’s words. Instead, she lipsyncs to edited recordings of the interviews.

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Jun

Boxing Lessons

Director Jack Stehlin keeps the performances sharp, the lines crackling, and the play running at full throttle. Kudos as well to another brilliant set from John Iacovelli – convincingly cluttered, but just south of hoarder, with the numerous seascapes bringing their own zany charm to the cabin.

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May

At The Table

The cast works as a seamless ensemble, intricately charting the allegiances and annoyances of the old friends as well as the ways the newcomers affect their all-too-comfortable dynamics. By the play’s end, seismic truths will be told that rock the foundation of their relationships. The fissures are deep and the damage may be irrevocable.

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May

THE SECRET GARDEN

Finding and restoring the titular secret garden is what heals Mary’s soul, but Mary and her garden cannot help but affect some of the other brokenhearted members of her family. Chief among them is Archibald Craven (Dino Nicandros), a bitter and tortured hunchback haunted by the ghost of his wife, Lily (Jeanette Dawson). Nicandros was born to play this role. His dark, brooding looks and the agony he tries to hide with a veneer of harshness make the character’s kinship with Heathcliff more apparent than in any previous production I’ve seen. Nicandros is always an expressive singer, but Archibald is a challenge he pours his heart into. He soars effortlessly to every vocal climax but always manages to keep a delicate thrum of the character’s vulnerability alive in the sound.

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Apr

Diana of Dobson's

Director Casey Stangl brought the play to the company and has done a superb job of guiding her talented cast. If the script had any cobwebs, Stangl's pitch-perfect pacing or, perhaps, some judicious pruning blew them away. The direction also finds an easy balance between the gritty realism of the bookending London acts and the more comic and satiric elements of the Swiss adventure. Under Stangl's sure hand the play pulsates with life and speaks with a striking directness to current societal issues.

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Apr

The Things We Do

Unfortunately, the play seems more concerned with a series of tepid jokes than truly delving into the relationships. Woods has constructed his play around a series of monologues. These monologues offer little character development, and the actions described in them would be more dramatically effective if they were integrated into the play's action.

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Apr

ROTTERDAM

The Skylight Theatre production of Rotterdam is being revived by Center Theatre Group in their Block Party series at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The indelible original cast and creative team are back. And while Jeff McLaughlin's snappy sets have grown to fit the more expansive real estate of the Douglas stage, the production remains as focused, intimate, and moving as ever. If you didn't catch it originally, you must go. If you did, treat yourself to a second viewing. My original review is below.

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Mar

The Wolves

DeLappe's script is every bit as original and effective as reports indicated. The majority of the scenes take place during the team's pre-game warmups. Overlapping dialogue thrusts us into the lives of these young women as they chatter about classes, tampons, boys, and their chance to attend the national championship. DeLappe cleverly crafts these seemingly banal lines in a way that seamlessly reveals the characters and their concerns.

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Mar

Too Much Sun

Nicky Silver's early plays were sharp, acerbic, and hilarious flights of absurdist fantasy though always tinged with underlying darkness and a jolt of real pain. Recently his plays have become more realistic without sacrificing Silver's rapid-fire wit. With The Lyons, the playwright experimented with abrupt tonal shifts and made it work. Too Much Sun, now having its West Coast premiere at the Odyssey, is a different kind of experiment that is far less successful.

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Mar

The Judas Kiss

That is where the skill and dexterity of a performer like Rob Nagle makes all the difference in the world. He inhabits Oscar with the kind of conviction that makes every moment telling. Whether showing the hero or the coward, the lover or the artist, Nagle is effortlessly convincing. He spends 90% of the second act in a chair, but his bon mot crackle, his arguments nearly pierce Bosie's self-absorption, and his performance is so dynamic that the character's physical and mental immobility is immaterial.

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Feb

SWEENEY TODD - THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

Perhaps the most unique element in this production is the reinstatement of several musical moments which have been rarely heard since the original Broadway production. The touring production, which was filmed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, had already cut the tooth-pulling sequence and the “Parlor Songs,” and these cuts became standard. It is a pleasure to see them back where they belong.

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Sep

Gloria

In Gloria, playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins examines office culture at a large, New York-based magazine by focusing on a group of assistants and interns. The office gossip, the petty squabbles, the poorly concealed ambition, and the poisonous sense of privilege these millennials display is every bit as vicious as it is hilarious.

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Jun

Cabaret

From the first potent image of the Emcee (Alex Nee) rising out of a smoky, Stygian darkness, director Michael Matthews announces his intention of challenging our thoughts about Kander and Ebb's classic musical Cabaret. This does not mean that Matthews is disrespectful of the material. He's too good a director to make arbitrary or perverse decisions just to be different. It means that he has studied the script and score in such detail that he is able to find a concept that is personal, provocative, and original.

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Jun

VIOLET

Boston saw a production of Violet that was performed on a moving bus. While I'm sure there were charms to this immersive experience, I'm guessing that Richard Israel's transformation of the Actors Co-op space into a ¾ thrust with a creatively conceived bus (courtesy of Nicholas Acciani's wonderfully effective scenic design) offers better sightlines and acoustics. Beyond the visual concept, Israel directs the show with a tightly focused eye on the emotional truth of the characters. He allows space for the relationships to build and we are drawn in without ever being conscious of it.

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May

SOFT POWER

Soft Power is a satirical one-act play. And it's a musicalized dream. It's also a futuristic panel discussion where the subtext is far more interesting than the commentary. And, finally, it is all those elements refracted through a funhouse mirror and reinvented as a full-scale musical romance and political cris de coeur.

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May

Red Speedo

Hnath's characters hurl his Mamet-tinged dialog like weapons. But mere words won't suffice. Belligerent testosterone rages throughout the play, culminating in a shocking scene of bloody violence. Doping may be the context, but the conflict is more primal. Winning is all. And achieving that win makes everyone's morals more malleable.

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May

NINE WINNING ONE-ACTS

In planning one-act festivals, companies generally choose either to ask playwrights to create works inspired by a particular theme or open their submissions to any play that fits their time parameters. In curating their second one-act festival, Nine Winning One-Acts, The Group Rep chose the latter, resulting in an eclectic array of pieces with far-reaching themes.

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Apr

An Undivided Heart

If this sounds ambitious for a two-hour play with an intermission, it is. And An Undivided Heart, despite some sharply-written scenes and the playwright's inarguable passion, feels so schematic and overstuffed that it only sporadically finds an effective dramatic focus.

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Mar

Daddy Long Legs

Jones is a vibrant, impetuous, and eminently lovable Jerusha. She anchors the production with a solid vocal performance and brings the audience with her every step of the journey. Nicandros is an interesting casting choice. He does not, by any stretch of the imagination, resemble a Daddy Longlegs. He is an undeniably compelling performer, but one with darker hues, both vocally and emotionally, than is the norm for this role. Still, you can't take your eyes off him, and you definitely believe he's Jerusha's soulmate.

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Feb

Priscilla Queen Of The Desert

On their road trip, they'll encounter rednecks and win them over. They'll wear spectacularly strange outfits. And, joined by a trio of singing divas and a quartet of male chorus boys, they will lip-sync a Jerome Kern standard and a Verdi aria, go to town on a couple of 60's classics, and ignite the stage with a host of disco-era and 80's hits.

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