Non-Registered Critics: Philip Brandes

Sep

The Gin Game

At Theatricum Botanicum, two fine actors remind us why ‘The Gin Game’ won a Pulitzer...

While Blumenfeld’s comic timing is impeccable, he also shows us how much more is at stake for Weller. Amid the joyless captivity of the nursing home, belief in his card-playing expertise is one of Weller’s few remaining pillars of self-respect, and he loses more of it with each defeat.

With equal nuance, James peels away the layers of prim-and-proper Fonsia’s scolding to reveal her terrified loneliness and the desperation behind her increasingly sharp-edged teasing. As she and Weller lash at each other’s psychic wounds, they shred the self-delusions that can no longer sustain them in the twilight of their lives.

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Aug

Nick Dear's Frankenstein | California Premiere

...fans of Shelley’s Gothic novel will appreciate how elegantly the show streamlines its principal plot points and characters, and how it illuminates the enduring scientific, medical and ethical questions so presciently posed by its 19-year-old author more than two centuries ago.

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Aug

Andy Warhol’s Tomato

Playwright Melocchi has clearly done his homework with respect to historical accuracy. Nevertheless, the play offers more than a biographical sketch thanks to the reciprocal fleeting connection between Chariton’s Warhol and Stevenson’s equally complex performance as Bones, a sympathetic Everyman who harbors an unfulfilled dream of becoming a writer.

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Jul

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Faithfully adhering to Brecht’s characters and plot, the Anta eus ensemble’s abstract style precludes emotional catharsis and ensures we never forget the theatrical artifice we’re witnessing.

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May

VIOLENCE: The Misadventures of Spike Spangle, Farmer

The visceral staging by Bob Turton makes excellent use of the Actors’ Gang signature impassioned commedia dell’arte physicality, enhanced with unsettling masks and face paint.

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Apr

EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED

The performers deliver an emotional wallop, but the show suffers the same problem inherent in adapting any literary work in which the manner of the telling is as integral as the story itself. Foer's sprawling, distinctively stylized novel employed Alex and Jonathan as dual narrators. A streamlined 2005 film version by Liev Schreiber limited the focus to Alex's point of view.

To its credit, Block's play illuminates more of Jonathan's internal journey, but that proves double-edged. In particular, his imagined lives of his distant ancestors and meditations on writing itself are steeped in literary eloquence — they read beautifully on the page but in live presentation remain stubbornly closer to recital than dramatic performance.

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Mar

Fuddy Meers

...under Jenny Sullivan's direction, the cast brings clarity and a sense of genuine stakes to each of Lindsay-Abaire's flamboyant characters.

Accomplished individual performances notwithstanding, there's room for tightening the ensemble's comic timing, especially in the overlapping frenzied slapstick sequences. In the play's more serious aspects, however, the production masterfully illuminates the characters' struggles to move beyond their own limitations.

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Feb

HEISENBERG

England's phenomenally expressive Georgie is a whirlwind of self-defeating manic extremes, the opposite of Parker's cooly ironic cipher. Grifter, lover, damsel in distress — England cycles through Georgie's multiple facets with pinpoint precision.

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Jan

Fine performances and a strikingly original premise. Brian Letscher's new comedy unexpectedly pivots into a quirky take on romantic possibilities in a brave new world of technology.

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Dec

SOUTH PACIFIC

Like the shifting waves in those projected seascapes, the serious message of “South Pacific” still teases, retreats and, ultimately, lands with timely urgency. Although it's easy enough to rail against things we're against, Rodgers and Hammerstein challenged us to dig deeper and recognize what we stand for.

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Dec

BUS STOP

Notwithstanding the sizable cast of characters, Inge's 1955 romantic comedy is fundamentally about loneliness, a timeless theme that director Ann Hearn Tobolowsky illuminates with style and grace.

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Nov

The Value of Moscow

With hilarious deadly accuracy, playwright Dellagiarno's snappy dialogue captures the kind of put-downs and barbed comebacks only siblings who know one another all too well can use to pick at one another's psychic scabs.

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Aug

Cry It Out

The dynamic between the characters opens the door to a host of real-world issues, including the physical toll of breastfeeding and options for juggling careers and parenting. Looming over everything is an implicit cultural expectation that treats child rearing as an auxiliary task with not much of a social safety net. Under Lindsay Allbaugh's well-paced direction, these problems are articulately examined from the characters' varied socioeconomic perspectives. The seasoned cast brings clarity, conviction and abundant humor to these sharply differentiated roles.

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Jun

Lysistrata Unbound

The sharp contrast in the presentation and archetypal characters links the piece to its ancient theatrical origins, but the graft of modernist sensibilities is not a seamless one. Every thought and motive is spelled out with declamatory zeal, and the lack of subtext, or even subtlety, is particularly problematic when trying to incorporate the complexities of gender inequality and sexuality.

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May

Noises Off

The enduring popularity of this production, once again co-directed by the wife-husband team of Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott, lies in its spot-on performances, surgically-precise slapstick and ingenious deconstruction of the conventions of farce even as it faithfully executes them — from slamming doors to bawdy double-entendres... Watching once again from the house perspective as the hapless troupe's final performance completely unravels, it finally dawned on me that far from being a mere entertaining diversion, "Noises Off" is the living embodiment of thermodynamic entropy in action.

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May

The Baby Dance: Mixed

It would be interesting to see the lawyer played by a woman in a future version. After all, "The Baby Dance" has already shown its willingness to be fruitful and multiply.

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May

Auto Draft reviewed by

Razor-sharp focus and clarity from director Andi Chapman and her stellar Antaeus ensemble steer us through wild leaps in time between 20-year-old Bigger's brutal crimes, memories of his damaged childhood and clumsy attempts to evade capture.

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Nov

Mr. Burns- a post electric play

Offering terrific value for a $15 ticket price, director Jaime Robledo and his stellar ensemble cast and technical crew make spectacular use of Sacred Fools' entire Broadwater multi-stage theater complex (formerly the Elephant Stages)...The whole elaborate environmental experience is weird, creepy and, as its title character would proclaim it, “Excellent!”

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Oct

The Madwoman of Chaillot

A work that defies easy labels, “The Madwoman of Chaillot” delivers insightful social criticism with sharp-eyed realism, then veers abruptly into a whimsical utopian fantasy. L.A. veteran stage director Stephanie Shroyer proves an ideal choice to steer A Noise Within's ensemble through the play's mash-up of classical and modernist elements.

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Oct

The Dance of Death

Artistic Director Ron Sossi wrings every drop of black humor from McPherson's sharp-edged verbal assaults. Larson and Kimball frequently draw laughs with their perfectly-inflected insults. The disintegrating civility of LeBeau's Kurt in the face of Edgar's needling and Alice's seduction is particularly well-focused.

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