Registered Critic: Shari Barrett

Shari Barrett, a Los Angeles native, has been active in the theater world since the age of six - acting, singing, and dancing her way across the boards all over town. After teaching in local secondary schools, working in marketing for several studios, writing, directing, producing, and performing in productions for several non-profit theaters, Shari now dedicates her time and focuses her skills as an independent publicist to "get the word out" about smaller theaters throughout the Los Angeles area. As a founding member of the LA Stage Alliance Leadership Council Task Force, she and reps from theaters throughout the city worked together to articulate a vision for the theatre community of Greater Los Angeles. Shari has received recognition from the City of Los Angeles for her dedication of heart and hand to the needs of friends, neighbors and fellow members of society for her devotion of service to the people of Los Angeles, and is honored to serve the theatre world in her hometown. Currently she is the Publicist and a member of the Kentwood Players at the Westchester Playhouse.
Nov

Blues in the Night

After its recent run at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Ebony Repertory Theatre (ERT), in association with International City Theatre, now presents BLUES IN THE NIGHT, the Tony and Olivier Award-nominated musical conceived and originally directed by Sheldon Epps. ERT’s Producing Artistic Director Wren T. Brown, a native Angeleno, directs this powerful and soulful blues celebration featuring choreography by Keith Young and music direction by William Foster McDaniel. The luminary cast of four stars two-time Tony Award-nominee Vivian Reed as The Lady from the Road, Ovation Award-winner Karole Foreman as The Woman of the World, Jenna Byrd as The Girl with a Date, and Parris D. Mann as The Man in the Saloon.

Set in 1948 in a Chicago hotel that has seen better days, the interwoven stories of three neighboring women looking for love while dealing with heartache and loneliness evoke the misery and humor of life, love and the dogged determination to do more than just survive. The drama of their lives in the mostly sung-through BLUES IN THE NIGHT reveals itself through glorious songs by Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Alberta Hunter, Harold Arlen, Jimmy Cox, Ida Cox and more.

Vivian Reed as The Lady from the Road seems to be the most comfortably satisfied with her life, having lived out of her costume wardrobe chest for years. Ms. Reed deserves her every moment in the spotlight as she shares her character’s heart and soul, especially during her comical rendition of “Take Me for a Buggy Ride,” which soon becomes obvious has nothing to do with a horse and carriage! That same unbridled desire also heats up the stage during Reed’s renditions of “It Makes My Love Come Down” and “Kitchen Man.”

Karole Foreman as The Woman of the World is gloriously dressed in high society style by costume designer Kim DeShazo, whose many, easy costume changes for the women take place onstage either in full view of the audience, behind a screen, or offstage in the case of Ms. Reed. Foreman’s worldly woman shares happy memories of her life among the wealthy during “Stompin at The Savoy” while she drowns her loneliness with an ever-refilled cocktail tumbler. But it’s her steamy rendition of wanting a “Rough and Ready Man” that allows Foreman to get down and dirty while still maintaining her classy style.

We first meet Jenna Byrd as The Girl with a Date as she hopefully sings “Taking a Chance on Love.” Of course, disappointment follows, leading to her heartfelt duet with Foreman about how to go on “When Your Lover Has Gone.” Later all three women get ready for bed remembering what my mama done told me about men, which leads right into “Blues in the Night,” in which they soulfully commiserate about being alone yet again.

As the three women interact to sing us their tales of woe when dealing with men who don’t appreciate their dedication to love, the other side of the coin is expressed by tap dancing man-about-town Parris D. Mann during his renditions of “I’m Just a Lucky So-And-So” and “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues.” His devil-may-care attitude speaks directly to the universal battle of the sexes from which there is no way out, much to the women’s lament, which is always sung to perfection with soulful harmonies and incredible belting power by Reed, Foreman and Byrd.

“I feel greatly fortunate to have assembled this extraordinary group of actors, designers, and musicians to come together in a work that examines and celebrates the joy and pain of the human condition,” shares Director and ERT Producing Artistic Director, Wren T. Brown. “Through stories both dramatic and humorous, through dance, and with some of the most extraordinary music of the 20th century, BLUES IN THE NIGHT will send you home with tickled funny bones, touched hearts, and unbridled joy during a very blue time.

” BLUES IN THE NIGHT continues through December 5, 2021 at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 West Washington Blvd. in Los Angeles 90016 on Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm; and Sunday at 3:00 pm. Regular tickets range from $40.00 -$50.00 and are available online at ebonyrep.org or by phone at 323-964-9766. Covid safety protocols are in place and will be updated in accordance with city, state, and federal regulations.

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Nov

Blues in the Night

Look for my review on the production at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center event pagr.

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Oct

CLUE

Tech credits enhance the production on every level from Lighting Design by Steven Young; Sound Design by Cricket S. Myers, based on original sound design by Jeff Human; and Properties Design by Kevin Williams. And what a set it is, designed by Lee Savage to allow for the many scenes in various rooms around Boddy Mansion which either open from the sides of the original set or are lowered from above as the actors “run” from room to room. And what fun, clever and extremely comical choreography director Casey Hushion adds in between scenes that allow the actors to literally chew the scenery as rooms fall into place around them!

Leading the cast through the Boddy Manor is its butler Wadsworth, played to the comic hilt with every ounce of his being by Jeff Skowron. John Shartzer effectively portrays mild-mannered visitor Mr. Green as the murders unfold, while the rest of the visitors/suspects, each dressed to marvelously communicate their aliases by Costume Designer Jen Caprio with Hair/Wig/Makeup Design by Kaitlin McCoy, right down to the sophisticated Mrs. White, flashy Miss Scarlet, and frumpy Mrs. Peacock, along with good old boys Colonel Mustard (with his dwindling mental capacity comically on display by Harrison White) and Professor Plum.

Trust me - This Madcap Murder Mystery Will Keep You Dying of Laughter!

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Sep

LIZASTRATA

Laughter and Mischief Return to the Villa’s Outdoor Theater with The Troubies retell Aristophanes’s Lysistrata set to Liza Minnelli’s greatest hits. Troubadour Theater Company (better known as The Troubies) is a free-wheeling, no-holds-barred, Commedia Del Arte-flavored, slapstick-driven, Los Angeles-based ensemble of actors, musicians, and comedians that has been performing for audiences throughout Southern California and beyond since 1995. Over the past 12 years, the Troubies have collaborated with Getty on several occasions. Most recently they presented Getty’s first virtual theater presentation on YouTube with The ODDyssey, a whimsical retelling of Odysseus’s adventure after the Trojan War.

The Troubies fast-paced, laugh-filled, loose adaptations (some of the lines are still there) of classic plays, literature and film, as well as their original productions and hilarious sketch material, make this company a unique and exciting experience for theater-goers of any age, barring their latest show, LIZASTRATA, which is definitely strictly for adult audiences due to subject matter and language.

For those unfamiliar with Aristophanes’s classic Greek comedy Lysistrata, it tells the tale of one woman's extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War by convincing the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands as a means of forcing the men to negotiate a peace. In LIZASTRATA, The Troubies tell the same story in a very modern and bawdy adaptation during which I guarantee you will hear more ways to describe sexual relations than you thought possible, see a wide-range of inflated body parts, and laugh at the outrageously updated lyrics to well-known Liza Minelli songs. To get the general idea, think New York, New York redone as No Pork, No Pork sung by the effervescent Cloie Wyatt Taylor as Lizastrata as she attempts to convince several women from other local SoCal cities to go along with her plan. And what a fun bunch of followers they turn out to be as they offer the men a choice – make war or make whoopie!

Directed and adapted by Matt Walker, who energetically takes to the stage as gender-bending characters the Emcee, Lampito and the Magistrate via quick costume changes by designer Halei Parker, the LIZASTRATA cast also features, along with Walker and Wyatt Taylor as Lizastrata, the multi-talented L.T. Martinez, Rick Batalla, Suzanne Jolie, Amanda Pajer, Jess Coffman, Beth Kennedy (whose puppetry skills will have you roaring with laughter) and Michael Faulkner. Band members who also play several roles include Dave Wright (Banjo), Ryan Whyman (Piano), John Ballinger (Guitar, Clarinet, Banjo & Misc.) and Nick Stone (Percussion). Kudos to the entire production team for such an entertaining and welcome return to in-person theatre by The Troubies!

LIZASTRATA is the 15th annual outdoor theater production in the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa. Performances, which as of this writing are totally sold out, take place on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, September 9 – October 2, 2021, at 8:00 p.m. For all the optimists out there, additional tickets may become available at www.getty.edu/LIZA or by calling (310) 440-7300. Admission for the play does not include admission to the museum, which must be booked separately.

LIZASTRATA contains sexual language, situations, and imagery that are not recommended for persons under the age of 15. Run time is 90 minutes, no intermission. No admittance without reservation. Masks are optional outdoors, but required in all indoor spaces including the café, elevators and restrooms.

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Sep

The Layers of Tom Lehrer

In the 50s and 60s during the Cold War nuclear panic, mathematician Tom Lehrer became an international comedy sensation as he sang twisted tunes that satirized war, pornography, race, kink, death, religion, the environment, education and politics. His comedic style got Tom listed in the same Time Magazine article along with his cohort Lenny Bruce about a new type of comedian, the "SICKNIK." Lehrer inspired the likes of Bo Burnham, Flight of the Conchords, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and "Weird Al" to name a few. So as a fan of Lehrer's creative musical musings for many years. So I decided to chat with comedian and actor Allan Murray who tickles the ivories and brings Lehrer and his acid-tinged ditties to life during this year's Hollywood Fringe Festival in his World Premiere of THE LAYERS OF Tom Lehrer.

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Sep

CLOSED - As Good As Gold

World Premiere Comedy AS GOOD AS GOLD Takes Aim at Hollywood’s Glass Ceiling.
The battle of the sexes has been going on in society for as long as human beings have been on this planet. But with the Women’s Equality and #MeToo movements now in place, playwright, best-selling author, and award-winning film and television writer Marilyn Anderson has created a new play addressing the subject in the world of Hollywood film production, entitled AS GOOD AS GOLD. Its world premiere is now taking place through October 17 at Theatre 40, a professional theatrical company on the campus of Beverly Hills High School. In it, Anderson has put Hollywood show business in her crosshairs as she takes aim from a distinctly female point of view.

There’s laughs aplenty in her incisive look, which centers around three female screenwriters, all frustrated with the sexism and glass ceilings they continue to encounter in Hollywood. Unable to sell their scripts based on the fact they are women dealing with the “good old boy studio executives,” they decide to collaborate on a commercially surefire macho action epic screenplay with a studly hero. And once they have a sure-fire script, the question is how will they get a studio to buy it?

Their solution is to hire a young, naïve would-be-actor to be their front so he can purport to be the author of their screenplay, and rename him Adam Gold. And with his good looks and their great writing, the women know the studios will welcome him into their inner circle. Sure enough, their front/impostor becomes the toast of Hollywood, commanding millions of dollars in asking price for future scripts. But of course, where does all this leave the real hardworking and totally-overlooked three women screenwriters?

Directed with loads of laughs and continuous action by Ann Hearn Tobolowsky, the cast of AS GOOD AS GOLD includes Marie Broderick and Landon Beatty (both recently seen in Theatre 40’s production of Taming the Lion which also addressed a behind-the-scenes look at the Hollywood movie industry), Wendy Hammers, David Westbay, Nicola Victoria Buck, Chance Denman and Will Bradley.

As the three talented screenwriters, Marie Broderick as the group’s ringleader Maggie, Nicola Victoria Buck as the wantonly sexual Karly, and Wendy Hammers as the been-around-for-years-and-seen-it-all Elaine, we are treated to tour-de-force performances representing many of the challenges women face in trying to break into male-dominated industries. Maggie is a brilliant writer in her own right and deserves to gain the attention and respect of those who can bring her scripts into production. Karly knows how to sleep her way to the top, but knows the only way to really get ahead now that so many younger women are playing that same game with men is to get accepted for her mind and not just her dynamic body. And Elaine is starting to wonder if sacrificing her marriage and family for years without really achieving the success she always wanted has really been worth the price she has had to pay with her health and well-being.

As their script is being written, we get to see their hunk of a main character Luke (handsome and rugged Chance Denman) enter the stage through a window, from the audience, or through any number of stage doors, as he acts out the action sequences. Audience members of both sexes will certainly enjoy his first appearance during which the women create his physical persona from being a well-dressed leading man right down to a bullet-laden action hero and eventually an almost-naked boy toy! Denham takes on each challenge with great enthusiasm, just as any brilliant all-around actor should be able to do!

As the would-be much-less-talented actor Jeffrey, who later assumes the identity of the women’s front Adam, Landon Beatty goes from down-home farm boy with an overbite and no wardrobe through all the stages of making it in Hollywood, displaying the wonder and joy such a naïve character would experience as his dreams come true without having to do any real work. Along with the three women writers, you have to be envious of Adam’s new life, playing tennis and golf with the top studio executives and attending parties in the homes of Hollywood’s biggest stars, each of whom wants to star in his next major film. Which of course, the women have to write.

David Westbay appears as studio executive Ed Mansfield, the one man who eventually sees the brilliance of Maggie’s writing and finally gives her the chance to shine in the spotlight on her own two feet. But what she has to go through to get there!

Stealing every scene in which he appears, Will Bradley is a hoot portraying all of the male studio executives and Hollywood stars mentioned in the play. Appearing from various doors and audience entrances, Bradley morphs from character to character thanks to costume designer Michèle Young who, along with the talented actor’s skill, adds in one piece of clothing to denote each character change. Think a cowboy hat for Matthew McConaughey to a towel around his neck for Sly Stallone. I so enjoyed his every appearance and was dazzled by his split-second morphing ability.

Young also has designed a similar easy-to-change wardrobe for each of the three female leads, often with pieces of clothing hanging on the walls of Maggie’s apartment where they meet to work together. Thus many of the slight costume changes via small wardrobe additions are done in full view of the audience, including different hairstyles to denote the passage of time. Kudos to all, especially director Ann Hearn Tobolowsky, for keeping the action moving quickly from scene-to-scene via this quick-change scenario.

Along with Young, tech credits are solid with scenic design by Jeff G. Rack and lighting design by Brandon Baruch. Stage manager/sound designer Nick Foran is to be congratulated for so many aspects of the production, especially making sure all the required food and props are in place and ready for each performance!

So if you are you ready for a comedy about Hollywood that not only addresses that proverbial glass ceiling but offers laughs from start to finish, AS GOOD AS GOLD, produced by David Hunt Stafford for Theatre 40, is definitely a play to add to your theatre schedule!

Performances take place Thurs.- Sat. at 8:00, Sun. at 2:00 through October 17 in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212, on the campus of Beverly Hills High School. Free parking available in the parking lot adjacent the theatre. To access parking, enter through the driveway at the intersection of Durant and Moreno Drives and follow the signs.
Tickets are $35 with advance reservations at (310) 364-0535 or online at www.theatre40.org
Please note Covid safety protocols are in effect on the day of performance will be observed, including showing proof of vaccinated and properly wearing a mask while inside the theater and building.

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Aug

TOSHANISHA - The New Normals

The style of this live performance from Kenya, half a world away and the largest economy in East Africa prior to the pandemic, reminded me of "The Art of Facing Fear" in that listening to the actors talk about how their lives have changed during the pandemic, especially how it closed down theatre, which certainly made me feel at one with with them. I too have experienced longing to be with my friends, having fun, being able to get together without wearing masks, and not worrying that no matter how safe I am trying to be that fear will keep me isolated from in person human interaction. This show definitely promotes the premise that "we are the world" and "we are all one."

I especially enjoyed the scene in which each actor showed a photo from what their social life was like before having to stay away from their friends and family, which is probably the most difficult part of having to life isolated from the company of others. And the scene addressing sexual assault on teenage girls, complete with emotional reactions written across the actresses' bodies, was another way this play united me with them in their life experiences.

It's difficult to talk fairly about technical improvements, especially since streaming live from half way around the world was an amazing feat in itself!

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Aug

A Love Song

This was perhaps the most homoerotic play (or movie) I have ever seen. But what sticks with me is the image of two shattered souls blending as one, a brilliantly artistic muddling of old and young, innocent and evil, guilt and pleasure, as took place between these two prisoners locked in individual cells. Starting from glancing at each other through keyhole images, the two men dance around in each other's minds and bodies (yes, there is full frontal male nudity and suggested masturbation) until the final moments when they become one body longing to leave this world for whatever might come next.

With the death of actor Roberto Francisco on 7/30/21, it would have been easy to drop this show from Fringe. But thankfully a recording was made during the last two months which is being streamed in Fringe now. Filmed in Brazil and recorded in Portuguese, A Love Song is presented with English subtitles. But after awhile, I found myself merely glancing at the words and focusing most of my attention on the movements of the actors. So while I might have missed elements of the story by not understanding the dialogue, I certainly feel as though I saw into the souls of these two lost men as they attempted to reach out to someone for the last time in their lives.

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Aug

TransSetter

Solo show director Jessica Lynn Johnson has found another butterfly ready to break out of its cocoon and show the rest of us how to honestly depict their personal journey of self-realization. Veronica Carey definitely opened my eyes to how her gender decision-making process grew out of learning to cross-dress during the pandemic, shut in and watching You Tube videos all day. Her and his journey into acceptance of being non-binary was just the first step into the battle going on inside of how to live truthfully in her feminine soul while stuck in a man's world. Eye-opening and entertaining from start to finish.

Veronica Carey's astounding ability to switch genders with the changing of a headband was on full display during her many depictions of both men and women along the stages of her life, with two totally different personas and physicalities on display from moment-to-moment. May she always wear the Scarlet del Fuego lipstick as she continues to walk through the doors to the next steps in her life, breaking lots of eggs along the way.

I think the show is perfect as it is, although I would have loved to have seen Veronica, or Carey as he was known then, having makeup applied to her face for the first time while riding on a bus in London!

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Aug

Authenticity: The Musical

WOW! As a former high school theatre arts teacher, I am amazed at the wonderful talent and true-to-life story taking place in this world premiere production. It always amazes me when I am out in public how people are always on their phones and don’t speak to each other in real time. And that’s not just teens but adults as well. This musical deals with that issue; kids trying to be who they think they want others to see them as rather than being honest about who they really are and their real feelings and problems.
The two leads, Norman Thatch as Hudson and Erika Cruz as Aurora (who pretends to be Terri online) take you inside their hearts and souls as they attempt to deal with their judgmental friends while attempting to be authentic with each other. But just who is being real? Is anyone?
Bravo to the entire production team and cast for bringing attention to this noteworthy musical about teen angst and the pressure to fit in, even when feeling as if “I am Not Enough” or “I am Too Much” with each other.
Great strings added to the scenes of heartbreak during the musical, with effective and attention-grabbing small stage choreography throughout. I especially enjoyed the “classroom” scene watching the teacher ruminate about the kids all on their phones, then taking them away which resulted in a major dispute played out through song and movement. Such heart-wrenching lines, such as “We don’t have to be nice because people already like us,” “if everyone is agreeing to the same things (online), it must be right,” and “what does it cost to be deep and authentic?”
Great lighting effects enhanced the scenes, although several times the young performers seemed to miss their marks and sing in the dark for awhile. Good sound engineering during the virtual presentation with the dialogue and songs clearly heard throughout.
Kudos to the entire production team and cast:
john cassidy - playwright and director
noelle hall - producer
vanessa hannish - assistant director
avery potemri - choreographer
melaney garcia - choreographer
jimena ochoa - producer
michael vanbodegom smith - composer
norman thatch - hudson
erika cruz - aurora/terri
amanda boutaud - casey
giancarlo garritano - mr starlson
faye turner - paxton (the girl always in red)
jeffrey delfin - simon
eddie mayer - vinnie
rachel logan - ensemble

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Aug

Gideon and the Blundersnorp

Much like the rags to riches story of The Princess Bride, this hour-long musical tells the tale of a young farm hand who dreams of more, longing to serve as a King's Cavalier who is aided in that quest by the almost-royal Viscountess Alanna (7 cousins would have to die first for her to become Queen).  Narrated by a Troubadour whose cleverly constructed musical musings provide the story exposition in the beginning as well as scene breaks while the cast sets up the next location from the various set pieces on the stage, this enchanting tale of reaching for your dreams during the Age of Adventure (ie" Fantasy) is greatly enhanced by the talents of Dan Amerman as the farm hand Gideon, the incredibly magnificent stage presence and voice of Maggie Ek as Alanna, Viscountess of Cembria, and the ever-present and ready-for-commentary Ember Everett as the Troubadour who reminds us at the end to "dare to be more" than we think we can be and that living your life with valor should always be more important than whatever status into which you were born.

And let's not forget the glorious Blundersnorp whose appearance near the end engulfs the stage in a light show guaranteed to hold the rapt attention of even the most-jaded audience member!

Catchy tunes by Michael Gordon Shapiro and a clean-cut dialogue create a musical appropriate for all fantasy lovers regardless of age. Inventive staging on the small playing area, brilliantly lit and creatively directed to allow for multiple settings from near and far, as well as artistically created horse head puppets used to perfection by cast members which allow us to forget we are inside a theater and imagine the story playing out across the wilds of our imagination.

I originally saw this musical when it was done virtually with all the actors in their own homes. And I can tell you, there is quite an extraordinary difference seeing it done live onstage, especially since the audience has a chance to interact with the actors, encouraging them to even greater feats of creatively.

While I found the entire production very entertaining, early in the show the Troubadour released bits of multicolored paper into the air, which landed on the stage and remained there through the entire show. I kept wondering if someone, ie: the farm hand, simply forgot to sweep them up (since he just had a broom in his hands) and worried that a cast might might trip on them and slide down to an injury during the show. I watched during the next scene break and there was time to sweep everything up, and I encourage the director to consider that addition to the choreography so as not to distract other viewers from focusing on the story rather than the scattered pieces of colorful paper resting on the stage floor.

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Aug

Gideon and the Blundersnorp

Much like the rags to riches story of The Princess Bride, this hour-long musical tells the tale of a young farm hand who dreams of more, longing to serve as a King's Cavalier who is aided in that quest by the almost-royal Viscountess Alanna (7 cousins would have to die first for her to become Queen).Narrated by a Troubadour whose cleverly constructed musical musings provide the story exposition in the beginning as well as scene breaks while the cast sets up the next location from the various set pieces on the stage, this enchanting tale of reaching for your dreams during the Age of Adventure (ie" Fantasy) is greatly enhanced by the talents of Dan Amerman as the farm hand Gideon, the incredibly magnificent stage presence and voice of Maggie Ek as Alanna, Viscountess of Cembria, and the ever-present and ready-for-commentary Ember Everett as the Troubadour who reminds us at the end to "dare to be more" than we think we can be and that living your life with valor should always be more important than whatever status into which you were born.

I originally saw this musical when it was done virtually with all the actors in their own homes. And I can tell you, there is quite an extraordinary difference seeing it done live onstage, especially since the audience has a chance to interact with the actors, encouraging them to even greater feats of creatively.

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Aug

(It’s Been 76 Years and We’re) Still Waiting for Lefty

This show speaks directly to the woes of current society, be it at home, in the workplace, online, because of the pandemic, lack of good jobs or fair housing, in the news, believing everything you read online, or due to discrimination in all its forms. In each of the scenes, it becomes apparent that everyone is waiting for someone else to fix the problem, and while we all can see them and comment on them, nothing is getting done because we are still “waiting for Lefty” to do something about it. Problem is, Lefty isn’t coming. In fact, there probably isn’t anyone named Lefty. So while Tik Tok and Instagram offer quick and fun entertainment, often addressing problems to be fixed, how will anything really get done if we continually wait for someone else? Politicians don’t know, that’s for sure. I guess the message I really took away from this show was that the more things change, the more they stay the same. So let’s just get up and dance. And how can we keep living this way? How? And yet, we do. Must history always keep repeating itself?

The visual presentation was stunning with cast members often moving and freezing in artistic formation in profile against a bright background. And the more that was said, the more relevant the play became to today’s overly depressing and hopeless state of the world. But then, that is the real purpose of art, to address society around us and hope to change things for the better by opening up a window of recognition. Be sure to read the graphics on the wall during the last scene as they send home a message of hope to those wiling to take steps to make things better rather than waiting around for someone else to do it for us.

All the pieces worked well together, although on occasion it was a bit difficult to understand some of the dialogue during the virtual presentation. It was have been great to have the words of the songs broadcast as I am sure more laughter would have been generated due to the subject matter going by so fast that is was easy to miss the meaning.

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Aug

Yes? No? Maybe So?

In the age of "me too," no doubt many people have looked back through their lives and found times when faced with giving consent to be touched seemed just as confusing as saying "yes" or "no" when what you really thought was "maybe." Catherine Barnes takes us on a journey through her life, starting with a game of "nervous" with a local boy led her to realize no matter what, it was always going to be the girl's fault for not saying "no" and meaning it - even if she did. Her journey continues through her Fullbright scholarship days in Brazil to visiting with a neurologist because her hands were tingling and discovering all she really wanted, according to her "inner bitch" was for him to touch her in inappropriate ways.

And all along the way, Catherine sings original lyrics to well-known tunes which let us see into what she is really thinking as opposed to what she really said. It's a conundrum so many of us face when wondering if we really are telling the truth or playing a game with our minds that will allow us to feel comfortable with whatever decision we make, be it "Yes? No? or Maybe So?"

Catherine's ability to take on many characters/accents/physicality and swing back-and-forth between characters during conversations was very entertaining to watch. At first the amount of yelling during conversations was a bit bothersome, but as the show progressed it seemed to be an appropriate way of expressing her anger as the fear and confusion of situations overpowered her logical thought processes.

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Aug

An Octoroon

Director Judith Moreland’s highly-styled staging seems to run the gamut of a myriad of styles, often channeling an off-beat vaudeville revue as well as a modern-day farce and antebellum melodrama. So while I was confused at first about exactly what I was watching, the innovative staging and talented cast certainly filled the lovely outdoor space with a welcome change to challenge my overall comprehension in a myriad of ways. And that is what thought-provoking theatre is all about.

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Aug

The Book That Won't Close: Confessions of a Love Addict

What a powerhouse performance! TL takes you through the chapters of her life as if each is a part of the book that tries to explain how she got to where she is from moment-to-moment. Packed with extremely expressive facials and constantly emotional body movement, TL's life experience as a "hard of hearing" person living in a fluid no man's land of diversity packs a punch that will shake you to your soul. And kudos to her uncredited ASL interpreter whose entertaining presence often becomes an important part of the show's humor! Along with her incredible physicality, the show's lighting and projection design enhanced the emotional impact of the show. The sound quality during the virtual presentation was a bit muffled and fuzzy, often making it difficult to understand what TL was saying. But her physicality always spoke volumes.

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May

Someone Else's House

At the beginning of each performance, Jared guides the audience through examining the materials within the haunting kit box, going over the Johnson family tree and asking selected audience members to read about a few of them from the back of cards in their possession. This is one of the few really interactive times during the performance since once he starts telling tales as he walks through the house, there is no time to stop to ask the audience any questions as Jared winds up running for his life to escape the terror within the Enfield Village Victorian, built in 1800 by the eccentric Johnson family patriarch. And since Jared has shared its floor plan with us, each moment gets more frightening as he runs from room to room while revealing some of the secrets he has discovered about its spooky history.

Kudos to the imaginative Jared Mezzocchi for writing and performing such an entertaining show that will wrap you up in the terror along with him. In fact, be sure to notice the reactions of other audience members on the screen with you as the suspense mounts! Director Margot Bordelon along with the Virtual Design Collective (VIDCO) production team offer dazzling lighting, special effects and mysterious projections that will certainly grab your attention, even when the moment passes so quickly you are left wondering exactly what you just saw!

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Mar

UnRavelled

We first meet Robert and Anne during an intense Scrabble match, then follow the couple through her decision to stick with painting after nursing their son back to health after his car accident crisis has passed. Nagle and Davenport take us into the lives of the married couple as their marriage begins to suffer as Anne withdraws into her studio to create art as her words begin to fail along with her memory. Between each scene, Dr. Marks shares via a lecture to his students about the progression of Anne’s symptoms, which are then brilliantly portrayed by Davenport, showing us how Anne now sees Ravel’s music, as well as most of the world, in squares of different colors that speak to her soul.

I found myself totally pulled into the characters and their stories, gaining new insight into both his music and her art. Now I need to really listen to “Bolero” in the presence of her canvas to appreciate how each square perfectly reflects the spirit and tone of his beautifully repetitive, iconic piece.

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Feb

'ART'

The well-known phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” certainly applies in the Art world, especially when differences of opinion on “what makes Art” can pull friends to opposite sides of any discussion. Thanks to the talents of all three actors, we are allowed to see into both the souls and minds of these three characters as their emotions overtake both their reason and intelligence. Director caryn desai, along with her brilliant technical team including Projections and Sound Design by Dave Mickey and Video Editor Mike Bradecich, move the characters around so it is very clear when they are speaking to each other or breaking the fourth wall sharing directly to the audience about what they are really thinking rather than what they are saying to often appease their friends.

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Jan

Bollywood Kitchen (Los Angeles)

Sri Rao’s BOLLYWOOD KITCHEN Brings the Flavor of Family Favorites into Your Home   

The experience of being a descendant of immigrants to America began Sri Rao’s journey to commemorate his mother’s favorite Indian recipes, along with his knowledge of the Technicolor Utopia of Bollywood films his family watched together while eating, into his cookbook BOLLYWOOD KITCHEN so that his happy childhood memories would remain intact for future generations.

Now transformed into an interactive “dinner and a movie” experience of the same name, produced by the Geffen Stayhouse in association with Hypokrit Theatre Company, the World Premiere of Sri Rao’s BOLLYWOOD KITCHEN invites us to prepare a homemade Indian meal along with him, drawing on the recipes that were staples at his family’s table. As we join him in cooking these delicious dishes in our very own kitchens, Rao interweaves the story of his parents immigrating to America, the joy and nourishment that Bollywood musicals brought to his whole family, and the culinary traditions they shared. Mouthwatering flavors come together on the screen and in person with the colorful exuberance of Bollywood films creating a festive and fun virtual experience about rediscovering the comforts of home.

Prior to your scheduled performance, you will receive a beautiful Bollywood Box containing spices, dry ingredients and recipes delivered to your home. In addition to key recipe ingredients, your beautifully-designed box will include a shopping list for the perishable items you will need to purchase to complete each dish, as well as pre-show food prep instructions so that you can prepare everything in real time with Sri. You can choose to either cook your meal in advance and enjoy it as you watch the show, prep the ingredients beforehand and cook along with Sri in real time, or relax and enjoy Sri’s performance and storytelling, and cook at any time that’s convenient for you.

As the scrumptious meal is prepared, Sri shares stories about his parents, who began their life together via an arranged marriage in India and were then separated for eight years while he father moved to America to study Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech. Listening to how his father learned to adapt to such a different place when he arrived reminded me of stories my father told me about arriving in America from Poland when he was 8 years old, speaking a foreign language and overwhelmed by the new world around him.

After sending each other daily love letters via air mail while separated half-way around the world (just like star-crossed lovers in many Bollywood films), Sri’s parents finally reunited and moved to Mechanicsburg, PA where he was born into one of the few families of color in the entire town. And like my family, his celebrated the joy of being together and honoring their traditions by joining together for large family meals, usually centered in the kitchen. And it is one of those meals Sri prepares during the show, which includes a Mumbai Mule cocktail, Chicken Curry (by the way, curry just means a “sauce”) or Vegan Chana Masala, Basmati Rice, Bollywood Popcorn, Cucumber Raita (a mouth-cooling yogurt side dish), and a Chocolate Chair Affogato dessert drink, all of which viewers can make and enjoy along with him.

A limited number of pre-selected audience members virtually cook alongside and interact with Sri throughout the show, providing them with an opportunity to ask Sri questions and get tips along the way. Thus the entire experience feels like a big party, even though each participant in in their own home, thanks to the common experience of learning to prepare and then enjoying the same food together, all the while chatting about life in general.

No doubt the experience will soothe your soul and make you feel less alone during this time of isolation, almost as if you have been invited to a big party to celebrate the joy of Bollywood films as well as the delicious flavors of India. And by the way, did you know there are twice as many Bollywood films made around the world each year compared to the number of American movies made?  So, when the pandemic is over and we are able to go back inside movie theaters, just take a look around and notice how many multiplexes in your area offer Bollywood films as part of their movie rotation. And take note their beautiful “pulp fiction” style posters, especially since nudity is not allowed in Bollywood films.

The World Premiere of BOLLYWOOD KITCHEN, Written and Performed by Sri Rao, Directed by Arpita Mukherjee, and Produced by the Geffen Stayhouse in Association with Hypokrit Theatre Company, continues at 4pm and 7pm Pacific on Fridays and Saturdays through March 6. Run time is 75 minutes with no intermission. There are multiple tiers of ticketing options priced at $40 - $175 per household, available by phone at 310.208.2028 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org.

Photography by Hartman Benzon Media and Kyle Rosenberg

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