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
Feb

Matthew Bourne’s ‘Cinderella’

Everything about a work by Sir Matthew Bourne is pure magic; his angular, Nijinsky-inspired choreography is almost tribal in its individuality, heralding a new rule-breaking form of artistic communication almost primitive in nature. His hilariously inventive take on this familiar old classic could easily be compared to watching those indigenous ethnic tribes, long hidden in the planet’s last bastions of remaining wilderness, performing their own self-evolved consanguineous raindances passed down from generation to generation, as Bourne’s work should also be.

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Feb

The Cripple of Inishmaan

It seems lucky to me the six plays of Martin McDonagh’s pair of County Galway trilogies surfaced in a time before the current climate where the only way to not offend anyone is to write about trees. Today, without having achieved classic status, there would surely be some group or another outside the Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center carrying signs of protest. Still, if that ever did happen, all the good folks at Anteaus would need to do is invite them in and offer them seats, for once anyone begins to understand the heart and endearing nature lurking below the crusty surface of ignorant inappropriateness that dogs residents of Inishmaan Island, they will surely abandon their signs and applaud this stellar production along with the rest of us.

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Feb

An Inspector Calls

In 1992, Stephen Daldry took J.B. Priestley’s mission one step further, innovatively blasting apart and reassembling his old melodramatic warhorse into his multiple award-winning revival, a kind of nonrealistic, expressionistic theatrical mindfuck. Now returned here to the Wallis, this is still a magical effort even better today when the absurdity of real life is more than enough to contemplate on a daily basis.

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Jan

Hir

Through humor and shock value that blasts through at full gallop, what energizes Taylor Mac’s signature vision more than anything else is its blistering indictment of the ways our society has marginalized the folks struggling to navigate and understand our existence in these troubling time, an era when many of us are edging closer and closer to the kitchen sink to cough up all the bile Tweeted by our inglorious “leader” on a daily basis as those around him ignore all the Isaacs trying their damnedest to come home.

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Jan

LINDA VISTA

Tracy Letts’ newest opus to our dysfunctional society two decades into the millennium not only takes no prisoners, but somehow once again manages to make us laugh our fool heads off as we simultaneously wince at what we’re watching unfold before us.

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Dec

LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE

Described as a live multimedia concert celebration of the soundtrack for the hit 2003 holiday movie, LA’s award-winning production team For the Record have come to peddle their festive wares at the Wallis and it’s a match made in heaven, bringing together the ingenuity and imagination of their original concept and the classy opulence and resources of their new venue partners.

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Dec

DIXIE’S TUPPERWARE PARTY

Dixie Longate hasn’t only arrived at the Douglas to sell us Tupperware, thank goodness for people like me for whom the kitchen is a foreign country and already have a set of hermetically-sealed containers to keep our weed fresh and fragrant. Don’t get me wrong: “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” is, first and foremost, absolutely hilarious. It is uniquely energized by Our Miss Longate’s unearthly manic energy, blasting through an hour-and-a-half informercial like Bette Midler on uppers (been there) and throwing out a plethora of cleverly off-color innuendos tumbling from her ruby-red lips.

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Dec

THE BLACK HOLE

“It’s a small, seedy world after all” in the welcome return to the LA intimate theatre scene of our own homegrown pop-culture-mad 99-seat John Waters, the ever-shocking, ever-incredibly clever Michael Sargent, whose darkly grotesque and crudely fascinating plays exploring the long gone but not-so secret underbelly of LA and its environs began surfacing in our city’s bravest counterculture venues in the 1980s. This new piece confirms that Sargent’s signature vision, though in its wordsmithery spectacularly evolved over the years, is still not without its share of rampant sexual randiness as it runs at full speed from the onset of ageism and knocks our youthful dreams from their idyllic pedestal. Sargent also directs his newest piece, his quick wit and razor-sharp sense of humor only surpassed by his ability to lead his gamely worshipful performers in what in lesser hands would come off as overacted, a feat that could rival the old days when Edie the Egg Lady worried about a future world without chickens and her daughter Babs gobbled up a big handful of poodle shit.

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Dec

Sugar Plum Fairy

There’s something bizarrely reassuring about this seasonal treat, like finding an old Diane Arbus photo and being torn between fascination, revulsion, and familiarity. We all have a great and usually horrifying holiday memory to tell, don’t we? Thank Terpsichore Sandra Tsing Loh continues to share hers so openly and with such splendidly entertaining dose of self-deprecation. To see her in 3-D is another thing entirely, her manic energy and wide-eyed, angst-ridden woebegone delivery yet another wonder to behold. I’m not sure what Miss Loh is “on,” but I want some.

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Nov

COME FROM AWAY

Beyond the continuous thread of a Gaelic wink and the bareboned though magically evoked quality of a production created by master craftsmen, the true stars of this fresh new musical are the people of Gander, Newfoundland who, in this current age where destructive conmen remain in power and the ugly return of racism is systematically destroying everything so many of us have tried to conquer in our society, prove there are still good, decent people in this big mess of a world of ours who will band together to hold one another’s hands in time of crisis and make the pain of strangers easier for them to endure. Just as I was wondering if every ounce of faith in humanity had drained from me into the ugly depths of the daily news reports, “Come from Away” showed up and, thankfully, has helped me breathe a little lighter again.

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Nov

HANSEL AND GRETEL

Besides Doug Fitch’s massive, fanciful creatures and equally huge cartoon sets which roll in and out with astonishing regularity, there’s the fact that Engelbert Humperdinck’s enduring though not monumental score is conducted by the legendary James Conlon leading the impressive LA Opera Orchestra and, at the piece’s finale, all of the Witch’s pintsized victims who have been turned into gingerbread men emerge as a glorious band of survivors beautifully voiced and sweetly performed by members of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus.

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Nov

Blacktop Highway

The return of John Fleck’s astonishing solo performance piece, which he describes as a gothic horror “screenplay’d on one man’s body,” is a 90-minute 3-D acid trip into wildly creepy absurdity. Here, with the help of Heather Fipps’ Warholian video projections and Bosco Flanagan’s eerie lighting, the master storyteller plays all parts, even mimicking the cries of all the exotic animals the tale’s deranged and incestuous siblings keep in cages in the dark basement of their former veterinarian clinic transformed into a taxidermy studio.

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Nov

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

I have a new favorite one-person show and, without a doubt, I have also seen the best production of anything presented on any Los Angeles stage this year. And guess what? It’s that familiar old warhorse A CHRISTMAS CAROL in a jaw-dropping, fresh new world premiere production created specifically for the Geffen Playhouse starring the unearthly Jefferson Mays. Created with his wife Susan Lyons and wunderkind director Michael Arden, the genius Mr. Mays takes on nearly 50 different roles in this incredibly brilliant adaptation based on the edited version Dickens himself would use for public performances of his story.

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Nov

A BRONX TALE

The bigassed Broadway musical version of Chazz Palminteri’s once-humble 1989 one-man performance piece, co-directed by Robert DeNiro and Jerry Zaks and with an infectious Motown-meets-JERSEY BOYS score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, had its bareboned beginnings right here in good ol’ El Lay. There’s nothing earthshattering or new about the ultimately formulaic production, but it is remarkable that such a charming, comfortable little tale could, under the watch of some considerably talented dramatists, morph from a simple one-man show to become a huge, incredibly glitzy and exciting major musical production without losing its heart—or the impact of Palminteri and director Mark W. Travis’ original concept.

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Nov

VALLEY OF THE HEART

There’s another culture clash that hangs over Luis Valdez’ epic and often leaves it feeling rudimentary and basically unfinished. Despite the exceptionally slick production values available to and implemented by the venerable Center Theatre Group, there’s a clash between those spectacular theatrical appointments and the simple folksy nature of Valdez’ script, a feeling, especially considering the glaringly uneven performances delivered by the ensemble cast, that leaves the piece seeming as though it might still be more successful being performed in the back of one of those flatbed trucks in the middle of a field in Delano in the storied early days of El Teatro Campesino.

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Nov

Cost of Living

All four actors are superb and Martyna Majok’s dialogue is tough and hard and relentless, yet her genius for bluecollar drama is continuously underscored by a lyricism and poetic quality that makes her play, indelibly aided by the Fountain’s usual impressively loving and beautifully designed production and director John Vreeke’s sturdy, literally in-your-face staging, an instant classic.

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Nov

Cleo, Theo & Wu

Vangsness’ quest for righting some tilting ancient windmills once turned by remarkable female rulers could not possibly stay lingering in the many-cylindered chambers tucked into the deepest crevices of their mentor’s volcanic mind. If you look up the term “force of nature” in the dictionary, don’t be surprised if the entry includes a photograph of Kirsten Vangsness.

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Nov

Steambath

When it was originally presented, Bruce Jay Friedman’s brazenly sharp-edged and then considered obscene humor camouflaged his play’s rather slim premise that these typically dysfunctional humans continue to obsess about the same petty crap that obsessed them before they Bit the Big One. In this revival, the play’s shortcomings are glaringly revealed by the passage of time since it was written and the slings and arrows of our own daily lives as our world spins off to oblivion, something accentuated further by the characters’ lack of community. For Steambath to succeed in the era of Trump, #METOO, Samantha Bee, caravans from Guatemala, and the imminent devastation from climate change, it needs something new and fresh and inventive to make it work again. Ron Sossi’s skillfully realized production, although certainly reverent to the original, is done in by the world in which we exist today.

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Nov

The Little Foxes

Beyond all the world-class Antaeusian accoutrement delivered in this smart and sumptuous production, what lingers the most after the final curtain descends is the classic script by Lillian Hellman, who so clearly understood the Southern mentality and, despite the political incorrectness of exposing it, more importantly saw the dangers of not calling it out.

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Oct

DEAR EVAN HANSEN

With a wonderfully insightful and intelligent book by Steven Levenson and a breathtaking score for the ages by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Oscar and Golden Globe-winning composers of La La Land), to simply say experiencing Dear Evan Hansen provides an amazing journey of the heart and soul is a terrible understatement. It offers the kind of message capable of changing a life if heard at a time such as this, a time when it’s so desperately needed to help encourage and empower the young people of today and aid in the survival of this next generation soon to be challenged in ways we cannot even possibly imagine.

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