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.
Nov

Defenders

It feels like the high-tension production is preparing for a vengeful Thor to make an appearance. Or, perhaps, a chiding Bjork. But Harrison’s script treats the supernatural elements with more subtlety. Like a Val Lewton film, the danger is just out of sight, in whispers and hints of danger. However, director Reena Dutt pitches the performances at such a high level that the supernatural elements are all but drowned in the din of the soldiers’ daily struggles.

sweet-sour - ...read full review

Nov

Eight Nights

Jennifer Maisel’s Eight Nights is a ghost story. Not a stately Gothic haunting featuring long-dead strangers, but a visceral visitation from the recent past. In the play’s opening scene, the visibly traumatized Younger Rebecca (Zoe Yale) stands, unspeaking, in her father Erich’s (Arye Gross) Lower East Side apartment while the ghost of her mother watches. It is the first night of Hannukah, and the play will unfold over another seven Hannukah nights spanning nearly seven decades of Rebecca’s life.

sweet - ...read full review

Oct

In Circles

Carmines was a devotee of Stein, musicalizing five other works by her during his career. And while Stein collaborated with Virgil Thomson on the operas, Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All, Opera gives pride of place to the music. It is Carmines’ downtown sensibility that more accurately captures Stein’s innovative style and showcases her humor. His joyous and eclectic score also offers a kaleidoscopic survey of 20th Century popular musical styles.

sweet - ...read full review

Sep

GRUMPY OLD MEN: THE MUSICAL

Matt Lenz’s energetic direction and Michele Lynch’s winter-appropriate choreography almost succeed in cloaking the fact that nothing much happens until the second act. But the fact is that no one on the creative team has made a convincing case that Grumpy Old Men should be musicalized. That makes this one of those musicals based on a film that musical fans and grumpy old critics like me complain about.

sour - ...read full review

Sep

ON BECKETT

His background as a physical performer also gives him a unique understanding of the visual components of Beckett’s art. He convincingly demonstrates the importance of the silhouette in Godot -- the slant of the body and the essential bowler hat. He also offers a hilariously compelling argument against that inevitable iconoclastic director who will insist on making Beckett “relevant” by putting the characters in baseball caps.

sweet - ...read full review

Sep

Deadly

With 22 songs and a running time of more than two-and-a-half hours, Deadly is overwritten. Stewart’s book tries to humanize the victims, but there are too many of them and most feel like sketches rather than actual human beings. Likewise, most of their stories are so similar that the dramatic tension simply flattens out. Johnson’s score might have helped with this, but it always remains in dutiful service to the story, never choosing to try a contrasting tone that might act as commentary.

sweet-sour - ...read full review

Sep

Handjob

I first encountered playwright Erik Patterson with a production of Yellow Flesh/Alabaster Rose and immediately felt a kinship with his black comic sensibility and his sensitivity in crafting the wounded characters who populated that play. Over the years his plots have become more concise and focused, losing the sprawl of those youthful shows. But he has remained a fierce provocateur and his new play, Handjob continues his tradition of pushing the conventional dramatic envelope.

sweet-sour - ...read full review

Sep

DRIVING WILDE

It should be no surprise to audiences familiar with her work that playwright Jacqueline Wright chooses to bend the story to her own purposes with her world premiere adaptation, Driving Wilde. In her introductory notes, Wright points out that she has borrowed from “De Profundis” and other writings by Wilde in creating the play. But, since most biographical dramatizations of Wilde’s life as well the adaptations of his work raid his treasure trove of quotes and aphorisms, the choice doesn’t truly surprise.

sour - ...read full review

Jul

Loot

Orton productions are relatively scarce. Probably because they are difficult to pull off successfully. For a start, they are unapologetically British. Then there is Orton’s heightened language, a wonderfully rich concoction with notes of Wilde and Pinter. Most challenging is getting the tone correct. Emphasizing the farcical elements may dull the satiric blade. Playing the scenes too realistically will flatten the comedy. It’s a tightrope that the director must walk throughout rehearsals.

sweet - ...read full review

Jul

The Producers

A secondary couple in the show has no trouble gleefully inhabiting the caricatures they play, one-upping each other with every exchange, and generally chewing every available filing cabinet on Stephen Gifford’s witty set to the delight of the audience. Michael A. Shepperd’s Roger De Bris is a towering, in every sense of the word, achievement. Vain, preposterous, and utterly irresistible, Shepperd offers a master class in timing, takes, and comic brio. His powerful singing is a bonus, and, if the playing space doesn’t allow him to perch on the edge of the stage, he finds the corded mic equivalent for his Garland moment. Don’t miss an early point in the show where he plays a chorus member channeling Joe in Showboat. Andrew Diego’s Carmen Ghia matches Shepperd laugh for laugh and manages the tricky business of doing another performer’s schtick while making it entirely his own.

sweet-sour - ...read full review

Jun

Scarlett Fever

Scarlett Fever revisits David O. Selznick’s highly publicized search for the perfect actress to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. One of the most successful publicity stunts in Hollywood history, the facts have been examined in books, dramas, and documentaries. Writer/Director/Creator John Wuchte’s idea is to view the story through his unique fusion of kinesics, stylized dialogue, and percussion. The result, unlikely as it sounds, is a captivating and hypnotic dance through a Tinseltown tall tale.

sweet - ...read full review

Jun

The Bully Problem

Director/Choreographer Joanna Sieyk ably guides the large ensemble, many of whom are double-cast, through the numerous group scenes. She is aided by a talented and appealing cast. Everts makes an engaging recluse and clearly charts Kevin’s journey from loner to hero. Costa has a big voice and a well-defined character, both of which she deploys for maximum effect. Mitchell-Love is a delightful scene-stealer as the perpetually smiling Oscar. He brings both a natural sweetness and a single-minded commitment to his often quite human robot.

sweet - ...read full review

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.

sweet - ...read full review

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.

sweet-sour - ...read full review

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.

sweet - ...read full review

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.

sweet - ...read full review

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.

sweet - ...read full review

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.

sour - ...read full review

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.

sweet - ...read full review

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.

sweet - ...read full review

ADS
  • La Vie En Rose with Julia Migenes
  • BEFORE with Pat Kinevane at the Odyssey Theatre
  • CHARLEY'S AUNT

Featured LemonAide