Registered Critic: Paul Myrvold - Theatre Notes

Paul Myrvold has been writing theatre commentary for over thirty years, first in the Bay Area covering every kind of performance including plays, musicals, ballet, opera, circus and even a Portuguese-style bull fight. He has written about theatrical performances at all levels in all kinds of venues from the premiere theatres, such as A.C.T., Berkeley Rep and TheatreWorks, to smaller, high quality venues such as San Jose Stage Company, City Lights Theatre Company and Pacific Repertory Theatre in Carmel. He has also covered community theatre productions, college and university productions and, on occasion, high school productions. Now residing in Southern California, Paul has been commenting on shows throughout Los Angeles County and has stretched his beat to Orange County and South Coast Repertory. An Equity actor for over forty years, Paul played Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum in San Jose Stage Company’s award winning production of The Three Penny Opera and the dual roles of Sir Walter Elliot and Admiral Croft in the world premiere of Jane Austen’s Persuasion also at San Jose Stage Company. He earned a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for “Outstanding Performance” in the supporting roles of J. V. “Major” Bouvier and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale in the musical Grey Gardens at TheatreWorks (2008). In the summer of 2018, he appeared in the highly acclaimed Open Fist Theatre production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood as Reverend Jenkins and Narrator. Paul has performed on Broadway (most notably in the hit show Shenandoah with John Cullum), off Broadway, off-off Broadway, in regional theatres, summer stock and as a Guest Artist at colleges and universities from coast to coast. He has performed his signature role Cervantes/Quixote in Man of La Mancha eight times over four decades, the latest of which was an intimate, theatre-in-the round production at Pacific Repertory Theatre. Some other favorite roles include King Lear, Fred Graham/ Petruchio in Kiss Me, Kate, Trigorin in The Sea Gull, Fredrik Egerman in A Little Night Music and Caldwell B. Cladwell in Urinetown. Paul is never happier than when he is in the theatre, either on stage or in the audience, and he hopes to see you at intermission or after the show.
Feb

Human Interest Story

Stephen Sachs’ new play, Human Interest Story, just opened at The Fountain Theatre, is a play for our times that is set “In an American City. Now.” The playwright and the scenic designer have given the play a feeling of New York and Los Angeles, weighed a bit more towards LA than NYC. He has also given his characters names and actions that will resonate in the minds of people of certain ages and experiences. The play is inspired by Frank Capra’s 1941 film, Meet John Doe, which starred Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwick.

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Feb

Law and Order: the Musical!

Sometimes when one has a craving to satisfy, it isn’t filet mignon that one hankers for, but maybe just a really good burger. Sometimes when one goes to the theatre to see a new show, you don’t know what to expect. Will it be a burger or filet mignon? How will it satisfy an inveterate theatregoer who has seen and reviewed hundreds, if not thousands of performances? A title can give a clue. A press release can titillate the proverbial palate with well chosen tropes. Law and Order: The Musical, a new show with book and lyrics by Ilyse Mimoun and music by Jeremy Adelman, which just opened at The Broadwater Second Stage, tickles expectation. What the show delivers is an umami burger, a delicious pastiche of spoofery, an extended, eighty-minute slice of SNL-esque buffoonery, with a bountiful serving of silly, snappy dialogue garnished with enthusiastic song and dance.

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Feb

She Loves Me

The provenance of the musical, She Loves Me, is as impeccable as it is fascinating. The show is based on the 1936 play, Parfumerie, by Hungarian playwright, Miklós László, which morphed into the 1940 film, The Shop Around the Corner, starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. It rose again as In the Good Old Summertime, which starred Judy Garland and Van Johnson. My other brain, who always sits next to me when I go to the theatre, whispered, “This is a lot like You’ve Got Mail.” Sure enough, good old Wikipedia lists it as starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

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Feb

Frida - Stroke of Passion

The action slips in and out of a tenuous realism with Frida interacting with real characters–her philandering husband Diego (Oscar Basulto); Cuban spy, Teresa Proenza (Kesia Elwin); the well known singer, Chavela Vargas (Sandra Valls); and faithful family retainer, Manolo (Francisco Medina, who accompanies Ms. Valls with his guitar).

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Feb

West Adams

The brilliant, disciplined cast (kudos to director Michael A Shepperd) kicks off the action with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, led by a vigorously voiced Andrés M. Bagg (as Edward) who is soon joined by Allison Blaize (as Sarah), Clayton Farris (as Michael), and Jenny Soo (as Julie), two thirty-something married couples. They do the “Star Spangled Banner” proud in spiffy, shiny costumes and impeccable choreography. The two couples are rehearsing to get a shot to perform in a neighborhood block party. They are spritely, happy, white and full of themselves for having moved into classic houses in the historically black neighborhood of West Adams, located just south of Downtown Los Angeles.

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Jan

Pick of the Vine Season 18 - This Year’s Best Short Plays

The short scenes, selected from submissions by veteran playwrights from all over the country and across the sea, boast solid casts of performers that are directed by LFT veterans.

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Jan

"The Unseen Hand" and "Killer's Head"

The Killer’s Head (1975) is a curtain raiser, running about ten minutes or so. A condemned man (Steve Howie, on the evening I saw it) is blind-folded and strapped in an electric chair of the “Old Sparky” design. In a sort of faux calmness, he talks about horses and trucks as the end grows nearer. The affect on this audience member was profound and gripping. The tension ratchets up, increasing when he goes silent. Director Darrell Larson is content to have an audience sit and absorb the minutes. When the inevitable occurs, the slowest light fade I have ever seen gives a release that is perfect.

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Jan

Earthquakes in London

The award winning British playwright, Mike Bartlett (Cock, Bull, King Charles III), won an Olivier prize for his play, Earthquakes in London, in 2010. This prescient play is more meaningful now than when it was first produced. With the climate running rampant due to evermore vigorous human activity that shows no sign of slowing down, Earthquakes in London is entertaining and scary, funny and tragic. It is a pastiche, a potpourri, a potent mix of styles and themes.

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Jan

VOLTA

As in all Cirque shows that I have seen and reviewed, the theme of each show provides a thin veneer of context and story as a platform for astounding physical feats performed by acrobats, aerialists, and dancers. They twist and turn high above the circular stage, on the stage proper, and other platforms, writhing, leaping, bouncing, skating, cycling, and contorting to sounds of music that is aggressively modern, or sometimes lyrical, as when the excellent musician, Camilla Bäckman, runs her bow across the strings of an electrical violin. As a singer, she joins with a nominal master of ceremonies, Eric DeShan, who accompany the action with songs throughout the show.

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Jan

(IM)PERFEKT

Jannica Olin’s one woman show, (IM)PERFEKT, is an exposé of the personal and professional angst engendered by the onset of the incurable condition, Alopecia, which is the sudden, progressive loss of hair leading, in some, to utter baldness. She is onstage when the audience enters. As the crowd settles in, she goes through a fetching routine of preparation—costume, makeup (in an imaginary mirror), the choosing of the right shoes—and so on.

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Jan

Fireflies

Playwright Donja R. Love’s, Fireflies is the second of a three-play trilogy entitled “The Love Plays” that depicts the experiences of queer people of color during slavery (Sugar in Our Wounds), the Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Lives Matter Movement (In the Middle). Set “somewhere down South” in the Fall of 1963 just after the bombing of the African American 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that left four young girls dead, Fireflies is the story of Olivia (Christiana Clark), the brittle wife of Reverend Charles Emmanuel Grace (Lester Purry), a fiery orator in the mode of Martin Luther King, who shares the same kind of strengths and weaknesses of that great man.

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Jan

All My Sons

In this gripping, mesmerizing production, impeccably directed by Elina de Santos, the power of the performance of this modern three-act tragedy gripped this audience member from intriguing opening and exposition, through complications, then on to searing emotion, a stunning climax, and a wistful dénouement.

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Dec

Disposable Necessities

In a fictional land of the future created by playwright Neil McGowan in his astonishing new play, Disposable Necessities, the wealthy can dispose of their bodies and occupy new ones through a company that has developed the ability to extract, at enormous cost, the conscious soul of a person and put it into whatever body they choose to buy. So, for example, the old can refresh themselves with young bodies. A woman can become a man, and vice versa. They can change bodies for the sport of it. They can do this multiple times, theoretically forever.

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Dec

The Christmas Present

Guy Picot’s smart black comedy, The Christmas Present, is a terrific deviation in holiday fair, taking a left turn into the dark alley of repressed desire and yearning need. The scene is set in an upscale hotel room that boasts expensive-looking red sheets on the bed, and, judging by the text of the script and the accents of the cast, takes place somewhere in the still United Kingdom. Colin (dynamic, energetic Troy Blendell), a fit-looking, middle-aged businessman, has booked a room and hired a prostitute for a thirty-six hour stint as a Christmas present for himself. Still smarting over his failed marriage and his sad, self-generated social isolation as upper management type, he is looking for the hooker to give him some kind of connection that, of course, includes sex and something more that is undefinable.

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Dec

Max and Willy’s Last Laugh (A staged reading for Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills)

Max and Willy’s Last Laugh, written by Jake Broder and Conor Duffy, a dark musical comedy, is inspired by the true story of Max Erhlich and Willy Rosen, popular Jewish cabaret stars who plied their trade in Nazi Germany. The racial laws and the onset of war caused the duo to flee to Holland, where they were caught and imprisoned in the Westerbork Transit Camp, a holding place where 94,643 persons were eventually put on trains to the death camps of Auschwitz and Sobibor. The commandant of the camp recognized the comedians and put them to work. They were charged with the task of creating and performing a cabaret show every Monday night. If they were successful in delivering laughs, skits and songs, they could do it again next week. If not, they were on the train to Auschwitz in the morning.

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Dec

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER

The third act ushers in a character named Banjo (the insanely funny, totally uninhibited, outrageously inventive Barry Pearl), clearly based on the antics of Harpo Marx. I have never seen anything like this performance and it is worth the price of admission all by itself.

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Nov

Embridge - Jane Austen Meets Oscar Wilde in World Premiere

I am continually amazed by Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro. This ambitious company again and again puts up shows of quality and excellence both in production and performance. There may be a show now and then that doesn’t quite hit the mark, but for the most part, I have seen great revivals of classic comedies and dramas, as well as newer, contemporary works. The latest Little Fish offering, Embridge, is doubly unique. Written by company member Kathryn Farren, this romantic comedy is set in a great house in Victorian England sometime after the American Civil War. Ms. Farren also takes the lead role of Mabel Martin, a Hepburn-esque beauty and protofeminist who is not immune to the lures of romance. As playwright, Ms. Farren successfully creates a fusion in styles of her two favorite authors, Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde, while juggling three romantic pairings.

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Nov

For The Loyal

If you ever wondered about the term, in medias res, the first moments of Lee Blessing’s 2015 play, For the Loyal, is as good as any. A story that begins that way is without preamble, in the middle of the action, often, in the height of the action. At lights up at For the Loyal, now in production by Sixty-Six Theater Company at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre, Toby (Torrey Drake), is a highly agitated grad student at a major state university in the Midwest.

His wife, Mia (Hilty Bowen), blurts out, “What kind of crime?”
“A sex crime, like you know, with a kid,” says Toby.
“A kid?”
“You can’t tell anybody!”
“I can’t?”
“No, Christ, no! I shouldn’t even be telling you…!”

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Nov

Fifteen Men in a Smoke-Filled Room

Without looking at the press release for Colin Speer Crowley’s play, Fifteen Men in a Smoke-Filled Room, I conjured up mental images of political comedy with over-fed men puffing on stogies while they harangue and scheme and plot ways to subvert the republic and line their pockets with filthy lucre. That is not the game plan for this play. No, it is rather a drama about the sadness of Warren Gamaliel Harding, a reluctant candidate for the 1920 Republican nomination for president.

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Nov

From Baghdad to Brooklyn

The structure of Ms. Azar’s show is not linear, but rather a construct that leaps back and forth in time to reveal the individual stories of the essential family unit. The passionate recounting of her family’s history begins in Baghdad with her father, Shaul Azariahu (later Americanized as Saul Azar), an Iraqi-born Jew. She first portrays him as a mischievous young boy who loves to jump, an action that she performs repeatedly throughout with giddy delight. Her mom, Marsha Singer Azar, is portrayed as an accomplished, “vivacious…dynamic woman with a powerful voice,” who grew up in Brooklyn. Her bubbi, Ada Pickelney, was born in Poland and, at the age of thirteen, suffered the untimely death of her mother while on the boat to Ellis Island. Fearful of her father, who came to New York ahead of his family, she went to Brooklyn to live with her sisters, where “she found her interest in academia and acting.” It is easy to see where and how Michelle Azar became a scintillating talent…

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