Writer: Travis Michael Holder

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER is Opinionatedasswipe-in-Chief for the new handydandy arts-oriented website TicketHoldersLA.com. He has been a LA theatre critic since 1987 and has taught acting at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus since 2010. He was Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today for 21 years, reviewed for BackStage for 12 years, and is also currently a contributor to ArtsInLA.com. As a writer, five of his plays have been produced in LA and his first, "Surprise Surprise," became a feature film in 2010, for which Travis wrote the screenplay and appeared in a leading role. An actor since childhood who originally came to LA under contract to Paramount Pictures, he has appeared in six Broadway productions and has traveled extensively in everything from "Bye Bye Birdie," "Hair," and throughout Europe and Asia in "Hello Dolly" to touring as Amos (Mr. Cellophane) Hart in "Chicago." Locally, Travis received the LA Drama Critics’ Circle Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of "Nasty Little Secrets," a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in "Of Mice and Men," and he has also received six acting nominations from LA Weekly; a Sage Award; Ovation, GLAAD, NAACP, and five Garland Award nominations. Regionally, he was given the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in "Fifth of July," three awards for direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in "Equus," and he was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the premiere of "Oscar & Speranza." His first novel "Waiting for Walk," a memoir of growing up as a child actor, has been sitting in a desk drawer since its completion in 2005, proving there is often a deep divide between talent and functionality. www.travismichaelholder.coms
Oct

ANASTASIA

The trouble here is this is such a throwback to the days when such traditional escapist fare, featuring production numbers about the rain in Spain and real good clambakes, ruled the world of musical theatre. Aside from generally somnambulant performances, the most glaring problem with this big “new” musical is the source material. Although the once-groundbreaking classic warhorses created by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Jerry Herman still work as nostalgia, today we need more. Even if amphetamines were pumped into the ventilation system of the Pantages’ basement dressing rooms before each show to give the cast a much-needed boost of energy, despite its obvious pedigree or how beautifully mounted and produced this show may be, it’s still a tad stodgy and ultimately a letdown.

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Sep

A PLAY IS A POEM

Although the evening is impressively acted, smartly designed, and lovingly directed by frequent Ethan Coen collaborator Neil Pepe, there isn’t much point to any of Cohn's five unrelated short pieces, leaving me at the end with the feeling it was all playtime—albeit well-meaning and beautifully presented playtime—between film projects. I’m reminded of that old adage about Chinese food. No matter how tasty the dish, no matter how unique or well prepared it may be, an hour later you’re hungry again. In the case of this rare CTG misstep, after the performance I was ready to partake in some good solid food by the time I got to Level 6 of the parking lot.

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Sep

ON BECKETT

Bill Irwin's examination of the work of Samuel Beckett transforms repeatedly from his own intellectual but humanly vulnerable observations about the master’s writing to diving headfirst into passages from his work. He begins the journey with a bravely over-pronounced reading from "Texts for Nothing #1," questioning whether it was an exploration into the confusion and fragility inherent in the human condition or was instead simply chronicling the many voices and the conflicted thoughts that pour out of the mysterious chambers of our brains on a continuous basis.

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Sep

Deadly

Under the slick direction of Jamie Robledo, who also helmed Vanessa Claire Stewart’s multi-award-winning  megahit "Stoneface: The Rise and Fall of Buster Keaton" at Sacred Fools several years ago, this impressive new musical retelling of demented 19th century serial killer H.H. Holmes also reunites the duo with composer-musical director Ryan Thomas Johnson.

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Sep

Skintight

Joshua Harmon’s achingly insightful, scathingly bitter, hilariously funny contemporary comedy offers Idina Menzel in her celebrated non-singing performance, bringing along director Daniel Aukin and two of her original Roundabout costars. Harry Groener, a true LA theatrical treasure in the classiest of ways, is a perfect foil for Menzel’s frantic shrillness as her patient stuffedshirt of a father whose wish to be alone and family-free on his birthday is understandable—especially considering his family.

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Sep

In Circles

The evening is ultimately all about Jacque Lynn Colton, whose expressive face can alter from stern admonishment to sweet Abby Brewster-esque kindness at a moment’s notice as she shepherds and leads her costars in how to interpret what she and visionary director David Schweizer perceive might have been Gertrude Stein’s original intention. In a fair world, creator/composer Al Carmines should be recognized with equal reverence as fellows named Rodgers, Hammerstein, Bernstein, and Sondheim. Without him around to make artistic waves during the emergence of the off-Broadway movement in the late 60s and early 70s, we might still only be singing about real good clambakes and corn as high as an elephant's eye.

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Sep

LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS

John Leguizamo chronicles his real-life efforts to help find a suitable Latino hero for his kid to select as the subject of a middle school project, going back all the way to the Mayans in 1000BC and on to perform a dead-on impersonation of Pitbull. Along the way he makes a legion of discoveries of his own, leaving many golden opportunities to get a laugh from his personal realization that “ColumbASS” was the Donald Trump of the New World and that the randy and disease-carrying Conquistadors spread deadly viruses to our vulnerable continent faster than MBA players at a Kardashian pool party.

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Sep

Handjob

Halfway into the play, the title proves playable in a most boldly graphic way, but what could be seen in most other situations as gratuitous, here it is absolutely the opposite. Shocking the heck outta us is exactly what the always-outrageous Erik Patterson wants to accomplish. As Keith (Steven Culp), the playwright’s onstage counterpart, says soon after that little transaction goes south and the characters discuss its impact, “I need to make people uncomfortable. People need to leave this theatre and have this very conversation.” Mission accomplished.

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Sep

Witch

Near the end of Jen Silverman's modern adaptation of a 17th-century morality play Elizabeth, long-scorned by her judgmental community, reverses her decision and might be willing to go the Robert Johnson at the Mississippi crossroads route after all. Elizabeth’s argument for the total annihilation of civilization as we know it is a little unsettling—but it’s unsettling because, at this point in this brilliantly conceived cautionary tale, it seems a worthy argument for how the earth might resolve its current descent into universal madness.

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Aug

Hannah and the Dread Gazebo

Hopefully, the Fountain Theatre-East West Players collaboration on Jiehae Park’s poetic though thematically too ambitious play will spark a new desire to explore issues that touch people whose stories are often overlooked in the quest to shout out about more universal topics overwhelming our society. In that effort, this sincere and well-groomed production should be heralded and congratulated for opening those doors.

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Aug

Nick Dear's Frankenstein | California Premiere

Nick Dear’s adaptation has finally arrived on our coast and how could anything so imaginative be in better hands than those of director Michael Michetti. His exquisitely appointed mounting, perfectly coupled with the world-class designers and well-appointed resources available to him at A Noise Within, makes this a theatrical retelling full of bold new life and visual splendor.

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Aug

Andy Warhol’s Tomato

What Vince Melocchi’s new play has to say about the human condition as we all spin out of control on this risky ol’ orb we call home is what makes it so compelling. Van Gogh once said that great artists are the simplifiers of our existence. If we all stop alienating one another by focusing on our differences, instead trusting and finding motivation in the things we share that make us the same, our species’ ability to dream big dreams could become reality far more often.

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Aug

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

On Frederica Nascimento’s sparse but versatile set with Antaeus’ theatre space opened to the walls for the first time on both sides of the wings, this heartfelt revival explodes with wonder as the 16 dazzlingly committed performers play all the roles, not to mention perform their own musical compositions on their own musical instruments. Alistair Beaton’s sharply contemporary adaptation is superbly staged—no, choreographed—by director Stephanie Stroyer as though we are watching a three-ring circus without elephants or aerialists.

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Aug

The Ruffian on the Stair

Having such a quintessential representation of the outrageous people and situations Joe Orton celebrated as he cleverly called out the societal and political corkscrewing we still endure a half-century later is indeed a treat, especially as brought to life by director Mark Kemble and a trio of slickly harmonious actors, any of whom I suspect Joe Orton would have been thrilled to encounter by chance in the loo at Islington Station.

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Aug

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

Nigel Hooks' ingenious collapsing set is the heart and soul of this production, but not without a troupe of eight performers willing and physically able to make it work. One almost wonders if each of right Wrong player had to be a graduate of a physical workshop led by the late Marcel Marceau before studying agility with Cirque du Soleil and completing a season training with the U.S. Olympics gymnastic team.

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Aug

Apple Season

Darin Anthony stages the action in E.M. Lewis' gossamer new play with a smooth and loving directorial hand, as well as an uncanny ability to make the story swing back and forth through time from present day to that half-century earlier with immeasurable help from lighting designer Martha Carter, the evocative ambient sound plot of Warren Davis, and a trio of amazing actors willing to wholeheartedly willing take the ride.

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Jul

The Producers

This revival is a must-see, once again a testament to the team that keeps turning out jaw-dropping, ingeniously scaled-down Lilliputian versions of huge productions no other intimate theatre company would ever attempt. I am firmly of the opinion that the gamely unflappable Celebration Theatre, especially with the inclusion of the visionary prestidigitation of director Michael Matthews, could take on "War and Peace" and transform it with guaranteed success into a masterful production called "Honey, I Shrunk the Napoleonic Wars."

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Jul

Naked Came the Neighbor

I can’t honestly say this particular piece will stay on my list of personal favorites among his prolific works, but hey—if you’ve never seen a Michael Sargent play mounted and been gloriously shocked by his unique ability to make us laugh out loud as we confront our society’s least publicly discussed hypocrisies, you are doing yourself a grave injustice not to check this out.

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Jul

Mysterious Circumstances

Brilliantly directed by the Geffen's artistic director Matt Shakman with invaluable help from set designer Brett J. Banakis and projection designers Kaitlyn Pietras and Jason H. Thompson, Michael Mitnick’s adaptation is a gem, but it is the production itself that ultimately is the star of show. As the incredibly whimsical and sometimes towering sets evolve into a series of rapidly unfolding vignettes, seven gamely committed actors assay all the roles, led by the tour de force performance of Alan Tudyk as both Lancelyn Green and Sherlock Holmes himself.

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Jun

Anne, A New Play

Director Eve Brandstein works diligently staging this new version of the Anne Frank story on a rather static playing space overpowered by projections of the city and the war, but it’s obvious the play was meant to be a more immersive and audience-interactive piece. On the wide and shallow stage of the Museum of Tolerance’s 300-seat Peltz Theatre, however, the production is hampered by its austere environment surely designed for film showings, awards nights, and speech-giving.

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