Non-Registered Critics: Tony Frankel - Stage and Cinema

Feb

Suspended - Rorschach Fest

Meshing some awesome performances with some misfires is typical of most small L.A. Theatre, but this feels like a reading without scripts.

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Feb

SUSPENDED - Human Interest Story

With no intentions of reviewing, I caught the world premiere of Human Interest Story at the Fountain Theatre last night, and it can’t be more highly recommended.

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Feb

Revenge Song

It’s almost as if the producers don’t trust the intelligence of the so-called nerds. One surmises that this play was chosen just so the Geffen — as with many many playhouses around the country — could show off its commitment to youth and diversity. Now you understand the subtitle A Vampire Cowboys Creation. I assure you that no play in the 1930s was subtitled A Theatre Guild Creation. C’mon, we all know the play’s the thing … or perhaps not anymore.

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Feb

ALL PERFORMANCES CANCELED BY CTG - THE BOOK OF MORMON

The Book of Mormon remains a perfectly packaged fusion of the satire our world desperately needs, and it’s both touching and furiously funny. The show filled me with golden tablets of faith that all is not lost for this classic American art form.

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Feb

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

Thanks to Lanie Robertson’s bedrock-basic script, Wren Brown’s dedicated staging, Karole Foreman’s extraordinarily vulnerable performance, and Stephan Terry’s elegant piano playing, Ebony Rep’s 90-minute revival of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill pays full homage to Billie Holiday’s heroism and heartbreak.

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Feb

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE

Though the third act’s screwball contrivances ensure an accidentally happy ending, it’s only because Arsenic relies so much more on plot than character. What character development there is is accomplished by playing each stereotype’s single note with a large helping of authenticity while never shying away from a slow burn or double-take. And this cast soars at that... HIGHLY RECOMMEND

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Feb

RED INK

Morris is an acute and very smart writer, and he knows this most important subject well. Yet even as it compels, this script feels like a first draft with a positively incongruous denouement. And if it sounds a bit complicated and dense, it is: Psychodrama, breaking the fourth wall, a memory play-within-a-play, imaginary people, and other meta-theatrics don’t always support the emotional core. Still, some scenes positively crackle: A devastating argument between Jerome and his wife elucidates his manic need for integrity, even at the cost of a marriage, and a heartbreaking scene in which Jerome is forced to lay off a long-time music critic highlights Jerome’s powerlessness.

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Feb

Earthquakes in London

The play’s problematic in some ways, and certainly dour, so it’s incredible that directors John Perrin Flynn and Hollace Starr manage to create a smooth flow, finding character richness and humor along the way (choreographer Marwa Bernstein’s dance breaks are truly inspired). Somehow, though, the scene changes seem more polite than they should; I would have preferred them overlapping and crashing into each other like tectonic plates causing an earthquake in London.

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Feb

UNTIL THE FLOOD

But something has changed for Orlandersmith with Flood: her acting is profoundly deeper than in the past, which is mandatory to offer a truer and more compassionate verdict of the Ferguson flash-point. It’s performed on scenic designer Takeshi Kata’s unadorned raised stage surrounded by candles, and other memorabilia honoring Michael Brown (lit beautifully by Mary Louise Geiger). Upstage, Nicholas Hussong’s projections display photos on a sheet not unlike a Klansman’s cloak. In this unsafe zone where fear clashes with broken trust, Orlandersmith transforms herself into a telling cross-section of townsfolk caught in the troubles.

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Jan

THE LAST SHIP

The perfectly-cast leads and impeccable ensemble honor the driven dreams that few but Sting capture so completely. Even if it’s a misfire, I want this show to succeed. I wonder. With more ballast and less cargo, this musical may one day float.

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Jan

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME

If this were simply a lecture given at a college, I would say this is highly recommended. It’s an exciting history lesson with thought-provoking stories about everything from sock monkeys and Dirty Dancing to a harrowing experience on the way to an abortion clinic. But as theater, it has not yet arrived. Let’s just say it could use some amendments.

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Jan

VOLTA

The obscure storyline and so-so clowning may lessen comprehension for young viewers, but physically, Volta still manages moments of spectacle and pageantry that are sure to electrify you. Cirque du Soleil has visited Los Angeles about two dozen times in the past three decades; Volta holds up well with previous visiting editions, especially in its best acts and most glitzy visual effects.

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Jan

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

The 2017 tour of Curious Incident played the Ahmanson with a terrific production, but this 99-seat intimate space actually upped some of the thrilling aspects.

A visceral young actor who channels everything at just the right moment and pace, Kohn kinetically registers Christopher’s anguished, electrifying living-in-the-moment. A jittery mindset that initially feels chaotic and anarchic evolves magnificently; Kohn embodies Christopher’s determination perfectly (would that so many students are that ardent to to pass an A-level math exam).

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Jan

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER

With its Shakespearean-sized necessities, a truly brilliant version of The Man Who Came to Dinner may be impossible these days. But I’m glad to have seen this reminder of the halcyon days between the great wars; the two-and-a-half hours fly by, with the best moments offering a risible throwback to an era of grand silliness.

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Nov

UNCLE VANYA

This low-budget affair isn’t a revelation, frankly, but it’s loving ensemble and lack of stuffiness make it a perfect way to introduce Chekhov to newbies while reminding those of us familiar with his work just how amazingly universal his writings remain.

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Nov

Key Largo

Utilizing superb craftsmanship, this project fails to wrench out of its premise the suspense needed to validate this adaptation – and a large part of that is miscasting. Still, Shakman and Co. are definitely headed in the right direction.

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Nov

The Thanksgiving Play

For 90 minutes on Sara Ryung Clement’s awesome set lined with high school production posters — 4.48 Psychosis and American Buffalo among them (what a hoot!) — they will stay politically sensitive or heads will roll (and they do!). Not only is there a mess on stage at the end, but we still recognize the mess that American playwriting is in.

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Nov

Big River: The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn

Do whatever you can. Take a raft, pretend you’re a duke, toss pig blood around your lean-to so everyone thinks you’re dead, but get to Rubicon Theatre in Ventura for what is easily the most satisfying and uplifting musical experience in recent memory...

The nearly three hours are true to Twain’s legacy: lively and astonishing adventure, lighthearted to caustic wit, heart-wrenching scenes lifted from the realities of slavery, and moments from the irreverent to the deeply spiritual. Twain himself could hardly have foreseen his works and clear-eyed commentary immortalized in a seven-time Tony Award-winning musical, but it’s not too big a stretch to think he would have approved. Anyone from eager history buffs to Americana fans to musical theater aficionados to, well, anyone must board this raft now for the adventure of a lifetime.

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Nov

THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP - A PENNY DREADFUL

They are clearly very talented performers. The pair has drawn seven very different characters and they have mastered the art of physical comedy and quick changes quite well. The production feels a little on the cheap side, but Vicki Conrad’s costume creations stood out. This is not director Carla Cackowski’s métier; her physical shtick just doesn’t play well, which makes our interest turn on and off. I see in her bio that she’s never directed a play, just sketch comedy and a one-woman comedy show. Ah, that explains it. The mystery of this Irma Vep solved!

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Nov

IN TROUSERS

Still, Knot Free Productions still offers a commendable production. For many reasons, and songs with groundbreaking exposition such as “How Marvin Eats His Breakfast,” the show is entertaining and an important visit for all musical theatre aficionados.

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