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.
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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Mar

ALL PERFORMANCES CANCELED BY CTG - THE BOOK OF MORMON

No doubt like me, you will roar with laughter during the ensemble’s depiction of Elder Price’s recurring dream of Mormon hell, which includes every taboo subject to the faith from dancing Starbucks coffee cups to lust of all types, staged with eye-popping hellish costumes and scenery which moves into place in a matter of seconds, then disappears just as fast to take us back to Africa where Price must face his fellow Elders. Or you may think the funniest scene of the show is the depiction of the Book of Mormon via the song and staging of “Joseph Smith American Moses” put together by Nabulungi and the other Ugandan villagers, which of course has little to do with the real religious text, given Cunningham’s overly active imagining of the stories he has shared with them

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Mar

Human Interest Story

This thought-provoking testament to the universal struggle of living day-to-day in a society whose apathy seems to know no bounds for the down-and-out will grab your attention and keep you at the edge of your seat as Jane Doe's story unfolds. Tanya Alexander's magnificent ability to morph herself from a homeless woman in dirty clothing, sitting on a park bench holding a sign stating "I am NOT Invisible" allows us to see where she has been and how much she really desires to pick herself up by her bootstraps and do whatever is necessary to survive.

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Mar

The Andrews Brothers

In the spirit of what were surely amateur shows at the time, things that can go wrong do go wrong, props and scenery get misplaced or disappear, set pieces get stuck backstage, music is often played off-key, but nothing stops the dedicated and talented cast from presenting the best show possible to their audience of appreciative GIs, in this case, the audience itself. I especially enjoyed when two audience members were pulled onstage by cast members and asked to participate in several numbers, which generated very appreciative responses and laughter from the audience.

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Mar

Ballet BC's Romeo + Juliet

Ballet BC is committed to its role as a leader in the community through dancer training opportunities, community and audience outreach, and professional development activities. The ensemble's dancers are a group of open-minded and curious artists, each unique for their dynamic movement while sharing an intuitive passion for dance. I can certainly attest to the ensemble's dedication and skill on display while watching their expressive contemporary choreography combined with the most provocative, physical storytelling skills I have ever witnessed in any ballet.

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Mar

HOME

The entire play is a visual treat for the senses, not only for what we see but also for what we hear thanks to composer Elvis Perkins who performs several emotionally eerie songs on autoharp and guitar throughout the show as residents, one after the other, wake up in bed, perform daily routines in the bathroom (including full nudity walks in and out of the shower), walk up and down the stairs between floors, sit and watch TV in the living room, gather around the table center stage, or prepare and enjoy meals (as well as company) in the kitchen. And since there is no dialogue, it is up to us to figure out what is being said, although you will soon realize it doesn't really matter as it is just being together for whatever purpose in a house that makes it a home.

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Feb

THE LAST SHIP

The real star of the show is its designed-to-travel, multi-level scenic design by 59 Productions, enhanced by sound designer Sebastian Front and lighting designer Matt Daw, which includes some of the most amazing projections I have ever witnessed that completely transform into the many scenes required, from the shipyard, inside homes, the local beer pub, to an extraordinary church interior that generated gasps from the audience, as well as the appearance of waves crashing on the docks and snow falling. But it is the final scene when the Utopia, the last ship to be built, launches from the soon-to-close shipyard that will take your breath away. It's just a shame it takes almost 3 hours to get to it.

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