Non-Registered Critics: Sylvie Drake

Feb

UNTIL THE FLOOD

...It is this balance and depth of intuition that makes Until the Flood compelling. Orlandersmith’s work displays a deep acceptance of flawed human frailty and the helpless contradictions in all people. Until the Flood escalates in power and vision, ending on a poetic riff that is at once an unanswer, a lament for the state of affairs — and a way of saying, “you decide…”

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Jan

Earthquakes in London

One can admire the play’s ambition and appreciate Rogue Machine’s desire to attempt mounting it, but the sheer structure and size of Bartlett’s creation is overwhelming. It might fare better in a larger venue, with a budget to match, and some American adjustments.

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Jan

Disposable Necessities

Cienfuegos’ staging is confidently sure-footed as he handles the show’s iconoclastic outcomes, aided by a company of five swift actors clearly having a ball. They and the play will delight you. Every note struck is the right one. The setting by David Mauer is kept simple, Christopher Moscatiello’s sound is strong and clear, Christine Cover Ferro’s costumes fit the occasion beautifully.

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Jan

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME

How appropriate it is to have Heidi Schreck’s New York hit, What the Constitution Means To Me, play out on the Music Center’s Mark Taper stage against the backdrop of the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump. History has rarely been so present or theatre so prescient. And how about this timing for a refresher course on our nation’s constitution? It’s not only a welcome reawakening, but also an entertaining one.

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Dec

Seven

Movement, women and words deliver 75 minutes of often stark yet engrossing entertainment. The political message is abundantly clear, and the compounding effect at the conclusion is that women are warriors. They are built with resourcefulness, intelligence and stamina to spare, not only because they are chiefly responsible for perpetuating our human species, which is demanding enough, but also apparently to survive the barbaric legitimized and illegitimate violence to which they are too often subjected.

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Dec

AUGUST WILSON'S JITNEY

Aside from the attention to period detail and the uniformly splendid cast, what makes Jitney tick, despite the lack of much action, are the tales these characters spin and the interplay they provoke. The phone on the wall is busier than these guys, yet we’re never bored, because Jitney is as much a social study as it is a drama — a slice-of-life snapshot that, under Santiago-Hudson’s pinpoint direction, works like a well-oiled machine. Each man may be a cog, but each has a specific role in the unspooling of the drama

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Nov

The Great Leap

Lauren Yee, who gave the world King of the Yees and Cambodian Rock Band and who has received more honors and prizes than she has fingers and toes, certainly has another winner in this Great Leap — a production that could not have matched this success even as recently as 20 years ago.

For the Pasadena Playhouse, however, The Great Leap is not just another winner. It confirms that everything that’s been going right since Producing Artistic Director Danny Feldman took charge of the place some three plus years ago was not by accident, but the fruit of intelligent choices and smart and careful strategy.

Much credit certainly goes to director Wong and to East West Players and its Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai as well as Mr. Feldman, but above all, to the act of collaboration. Theatre is the most collaborative of the arts and this production is another example of when and why collaborations so often make sense. The beneficiaries are everybody, audiences and creators alike.

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Nov

Between Riverside and Crazy

It is a seductive and unpredictable ending made all the more satisfying by the gentle pacing of Guillermo Cienfuegos’ direction that lightly strikes all the necessary notes. The play could shave some of the ramble of the early meandering conversations, but once it starts to fly, it refuses to be kept down. Russell’s performance as Walter is the action’s fulcrum, especially since he makes it look so much easier than it is. He is the anchor, kept in place by an able and carefully selected supporting company and creative team that delivers with energy and precision.

In the end it isn’t just that Guirgis can write. Of course he can. It’s that the conflicted emotions comingle so fruitfully among his characters, and the complicated plots and subplots they generate, reward us with the rarest of gifts: the pleasure of a raffish grace where you least expect to find it.

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Oct

How the Light Gets In

Going to the theatre can be an act of faith, a search for meaning or simply a search for entertainment. It’s unusual to come across a play that satisfies all three in a production that refuses to leave you long after you’ve left it — the most nourishing of possible outcomes.

You will find it at Pasadena’s Boston Court for another ten days (it closes October 27). How the Light Gets In is a study in inward emotions. You may read into that whatever you wish. This intimate piece is written with a few well-chosen words by E. M. Lewis and directed by Emilie Pascale Beck just as quintessentially as it is written. That is its triumph.

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Oct

Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson

Gem is ANW’s first foray into August Wilson territory, a fact that makes the production’s strength all the more laudable. This company, its California roots on full display, continues to reveal itself as a powerful player on the local scene with achievements that are growing to be anything but parochial.

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Oct

Sisters In Law

The balance of the production wisely emulates the playwright’s affection for simplicity, as the other creative artists took their cue from his approach. Patricia McGregor’s spot-on direction, Rachel Myers’ minimal settings and Yee Eun Nam’s projections that smoothly bridge scene changes with images of the parade of passing political eras, all contribute to the unencumbered presentation.

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Sep

A PLAY IS A POEM

One cannot tout A Play Is a Poem as any more than what it is—a kind of throwback to the years before television, when such small skits were still considered worthy theatrical fare. We’ve had sturdier stuff on our not-so-small TV screens since, let alone on our theatre stages. Because yes, times have changed.

As usual, the actors give it their best, and the simplicity of the settings by Riccardo Hernández, plus the focused lighting by Tyler Micoleau, counteract in their sobriety the overarching expectations of this inflated event.

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Sep

ON BECKETT

Irwin’s exceptional skills, physical and verbal, are as sharp as ever. But lecturing or verbally explaining his feelings to us in a slightly overextended lecture/performance puts us on a diet that yearns for more of his physical genius. We love that part of him too much to not miss it. It is the thing we crave, and even envy, since we all have brains and bodies that we wish we could manipulate to do all of the aspirational things that Irwin does with his.

If only…

A savvy friend referred to On Beckett as a master class on acting. It is absolutely that and more. But greed wouldn’t pay. A little of Bill Irwin is a whole lot more than just about any feast anyone else could offer.

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Sep

In Circles

...what makes the current OTE revival of In Circles enjoyable is not an expectation that it should make sense, but that it should entertain. And that it does. It all lies in its conception by Carmines and in its execution, which in this case rests primarily with director David Schweizer.

...The result makes for a kind of well-curated vacancy, entirely sustained by these talented artists. The impression, correctly, is that of a period piece playing out of its time, yet faithfully and lovingly representing it. 

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Sep

THE CHINESE LADY

Rebecca Wear’s unhurried direction may not be for all markets, but it is exactly the right one for this uncommon material. The production, set on a square empty stage, takes place in a box-like showcase at its center (set and props are by Austin Kottkamp). The historical Chinese and other costumes are the distinguished contributions of designer Hyun Sook Kim and the lighting is by Wesley Charles Chew.

What is so astonishing about this theatrical experience is the delicate manner in which the writer takes his two characters on a meandering journey from anticipation to despair, pointing out exactly how and why it had to happen.

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Sep

LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS

His performance is the most imaginative, rude, funny, coaxing and frank lesson in American history to occupy a major American stage, for which a lot of credit is also due to director Tony Taccone, who helped him create it a few years back at Berkeley Rep and who has shepherded it ever since.

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Sep

Nick Dear's Frankenstein | California Premiere

While Michael Michetti’s perceptive direction and Dear’s economical stage adaptation combine to deliver a polished and moving production at A Noise Within, there are other artists involved that have also made major contributions.

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Sep

Witch

Taken all together, Witch delivers a lot of tasty stuff—fun along with more of a punch to the gut than one had bargained for.

Predictably, the devil gets to have the last word. And it won’t be the one you expect.

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Sep

Hannah and the Dread Gazebo

Hannah and the Dread Gazebo also is different not just because it is presented in association with East West Players (another worthy Los Angeles company) or because it is written by Jiehae Park and is breathlessly directed by Jennifer Chang, but because it seems perpetually on the verge of making a point without quite making it.

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Aug

Twelfth Night

Director Ellen Geer’s cast being a talented mix of youth and age, all with energy to spare, substitutes here and there for the frequent absence of detail in these rustic productions—fitting right in with the untamed environment.

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