Writer: Travis Michael Holder - Ticket Holders LA

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
Mar

Suspended - Rorschach Fest

Although it deals with the mystery and unknown fears of shuffling off our proverbial mortal coil, experiencing the resurrection of John O’Keefe’s 1981 counter-culture classic "Ghosts" is akin to instantly tumbling back to the early days of the artistically brave and unstoppable Bay Area in the innovational days of the Beat Generation; it’s not hard to picture this all unfolding in the back of City Lights performed alongside poetry readings by Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Mr. Ferlinghetti himself.

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Mar

Frankenstein

All this fresh and extremely promising remodeling needs now is yet another Doctor Frankenstein to be brought in to offer a second opinion—a script doctor, that is, if one could be found as wonderfully mad and willing throw convention to the winds as are the unstoppably creative denizens of Four Larks.

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Feb

ALL PERFORMANCES CANCELED BY CTG - THE BOOK OF MORMON

Mormons aren’t alone being royally skewered here, as Trey Parker and Matt Stone have always proven themselves to be Equal Opportunity Offenders. Like their always irreverent hit adult cartoon phenomenon 'South Park,' somehow Stone and Parker (who also co-directs and shared one of the production’s nine Tony Awards with Casey Nicholaw for their effort) can get away with any offense, something that personally gives me hope for the future in a world rather devoid of a sense of humor these days.

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Feb

Human Interest Story

This is a slickly mounted, extremely polished production with a cast and design elements that conspire perfectly make it sing. Stephen Sachs’ striking direction is highly kinetic, his actors on the move between scenes like prowling captive animals trying to escape their cages. His dialogue is smart and insightful throughout but still, Sachs calls his newest play both a call for compassion and an exploration on how an individual is 'forced to confront the truths about himself,' neither of which ever quite gels—perhaps because one theme sometimes seems to cancel out the other.

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Feb

The Father

Who could resist checking out the west coast debut of Florian Zeller’s celebrated Moliere, Olivier, and Tony Award-winning play at Pasadena Playhouse, especially featuring a crisply intelligent translation from the original French by none other than Christopher Hampton. Add into the mix direction by the Boston Court’s artistic director Jessica Kubzansky, one of LA’s most revered talents, and then polish the diamond by casting the phenomenal Alfred Molina in the title role, and you’d have to be quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan to have a valid excuse for not seeing this magnificent production.

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Feb

Revenge Song

Although experimental theatre put off-Broadway on the map in the 1960s and 70s, to me today New York City-spawned counterculture fare seems a little… safe. Still offbeat, yes, I should say—but safely, predictably offbeat, if that makes any sense. These days, here in ol’ poor culturally maligned El Lay, despite the long-suffered distain from the theatre community on that other coast leveled on whatever we create here, our reclaimed desert climes has some amazingly brave resident theatre entities willing to continually challenge the norm. Yet, I was excited to learn Qui Nguyen’s Obie-winning and notoriously off-center theatre company Vampire Cowboys would be coming west to present their newest piece at the Geffen—especially since Nguyen was the very first artist Matt Shakman chose to become the Playhouse’s first commissioned playwright when he took over the reigns as artistic director in 2017. Keeping all that in mind and despite all the hype, including tagging it far and near as a 'new LGBTQ play' and a 'queer musical,' I unfortunately found it to be a major disappointment. There’s tremendous promise here and indeed it was fun to see the puzzlement on the faces of the typical westside botox-heavy opening night crowd as it unfolded, but in the end it’s just not yet ready for primetime.

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Feb

This Side Of Crazy

Del Shores, who also directs as he does many of his productions, is an old hand at writing about dysfunctional religiously-obsessed southerners with families who should all get a group discount on psychotropic medications. This is hardly a genre not excessively explored to the point of artistic redundancy, yet no one does it quite like he does.

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Jan

Nowhere On The Border

Carlos Lacamara’s well-meaning play is a sobering reminder of the personal humanity that too often gets lost in the grander scheme of things as the issue of illegal immigration invariably becomes more political than altruistic. Unfortunately, although the Road’s usual production values are exemplary as always and the play has its moments, Lacamara’s language often bordering on the beautifully poetic, NOWHERE ON THE BORDER indeed goes nowhere that isn’t achingly predictable.

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Jan

THE LAST SHIP

The book is slim for sure, but this production, something akin to Billy Elliot meets Once, still manages to overcome its limitations. This is mostly thanks to the hauntingly evocative score composed by none other than rock legend Sting complemented by a troupe of gloriously-voiced, passionately earnest performers and featuring exquisite design elements.

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Jan

VOLTA

What is most glaringly different this time out is the austerity of the performance. The production is nowhere near as technically dazzling as previous Cirque touring shows. The hydraulics are at a minimum and gone are any pyrotechnics or fireworks or set pieces that look like the surface of an alien planet. Instead, the emphasis is on the performances and what these unearthly limber and courageously gravity-defying daredevils are able to accomplish without all the technical augmentation.

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Jan

RED INK

Steven Leigh Morris’ personal new play is beyond simply a biting, often hilarious, on-the-money treatise laying bare the immorality of corporate greed. It echoes everything wrong as our society and its “leaders” step over us all while cavalierly destroying everything we should be desperately holding dear. We need such courageous and thought-provoking artistic expression more than ever if we are going to get through this discouraging period in our existence.

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Dec

DISNEY'S FROZEN

Okay, so I loved it. Maybe I have a higher tolerance for Gooey Goodie this close to the holidays, but I found this stage adaptation of the megahit animated movie more than visually dazzling—which indeed it is. It features a charming book by Jennifer Lee that compliments the disneyfication of the Pantages for the production and makes it far more palpable than Miss Poppins’ spoonful of sugar or that annoying genie singing that I ain’t never had a friend like him. And the dazzling part: Good Goddess Terpsichore, is there anything the folks at Disney Theatrical Group can’t conjure live right before our eyes?

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Dec

MATTHEW BOURNE'S SWAN LAKE

Marketing for the updated and much anticipated remounting of Sir Matthew Bourne’s trailblazing reinvention of one of the world's most beloved ballets at the Ahmanson, where the production made its American debut on this same stage in 1997 before going on to fame and adulation all around the globe, states this is the return of a work that “changed the dance landscape forever.” It’s a claim that, in this rare case, is undeniably not a puffed-up exaggeration at all.

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Nov

AUGUST WILSON'S JITNEY

Beginning with strident trumpet riffs from Bill Sims Jr’s evocative jazz score, this first of August Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle" itself unfolds as if it were a musical composition. Wilson’s lyrical, singsong-y, grammar-deprived dialogue flows as if it could be music, and his characters are rich and oddly majestic through it all, each filled with a unique grasp on how to maneuver the battles and disappointments inherent in our existence on this often miserable planet—especially if you don’t have the privilege of Anglo-Saxon genes to help you get through the briars.

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Nov

punkplay

Along with all the usual rule-defying and inventive creative genius that has defined Circle X over the past 23 years, co-directors Matt Bretz and Lisa Sanaye Dring do a masterful job interpreting Gregory S. Moss’ raucous yet insightful play, delivering a visually stunning production that meets and clobbers every inherent challenge of an extremely difficult script. Zachary Stone Gearing and Dempsey Byck are spectacular as two lost kids painfully innocent and annoyingly self-centered at the same time. As their insular world evolves and then devolves again, their performances are revelatory and heartbreaking as the teens work harder and harder to stay relevant even as they begin to see they aren’t quite the boldly unstoppable pioneers they had hoped they were becoming.

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Nov

Key Largo

The production, under the leadership of Tony-winning director Doug Hughes, is simply smashing. It is continuously tense, relentlessly engaging, and theatrically dazzling throughout. John Lee Beatty’s majestic two-story set is incredibly detailed and especially amazing when it comes crashing down in that dreaded hurricane at the center of the movie, here recreated with astoundingly real special effects. Still, what makes this production succeed so splendidly is the cast. Andy Garcia is riveting, obnoxiously grandiose and wonderfully slimy in an endearing way and Joely Fisher is mesmerizing, even surpassing Claire Trevor in the role which won her an Oscar. As exceptional and promising as this memorable theatrical reinvention is, it would surprise me if its evolution ended when it closes here. Credit for part of what this team has accomplished is that it was created under commission from the Geffen initiated by and with the blessing of Matt Shakman, who in his two-year reign as the complex’s artistic director has made the Geffen Playhouse a place to watch once again.

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Nov

Waiting for Waiting for Godot

Bruno Oliver and Joe Hernandez-Kolski play two hapless and frustrated understudies hoping for sudden injury or illness so they can finally go on as Estragon and Vladimir in Beckett’s game-changing classic. Understudying is by nature a bizarre trial for any actor, sitting in a musty, cluttered little space constantly staring at yourself in the makeup mirrors and wondering if you still remember the lines and blocking. With tongue firmly implanted in cheek, playwright Dave Hanson gets it, his hilarious little gem of a play perfectly capturing any artist’s age-old dilemma—and so do director Jacob Sidney and his exemplary pair of veteran physical comedians who collectively breathe life into a piece that could be a disaster in less talented hands. In a current end-of-the-year season bursting with exceptional productions in our often parched LA theatre season as the holidays approach, I hope this less dazzling or well-appointed but highly recommended little production doesn’t, like poor unappreciated Ester and Val, get lost in the shuffle—especially for anyone who has ever been dumb enough to decide to be an actor or has been around anyone who is.

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Nov

The Thanksgiving Play

In a suburban middle school classroom turned into a rehearsal space for the drama department “anywhere but in the Los Angeles area,” a terminally overdramatic earthmother tries to produce relevant outspoken social commentary to be performed by her teenaged charges. Germinating from the seriously wicked mind of award-winning playwright Larissa Fasthorse, this wildly hilarious and bitingly topical play should seriously become an annual holiday classic.

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Nov

SUMMER - THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL

Despite what doesn’t work for Des McAnuff and his team this time out, ultimately this dazzlingly-appointed production helped me forget about the show’s sloppy oversentimentality and glaring factual omissions and had me undulating to the contagious beat of the former Miss Gaines’ groundbreaking music along with the rest of the Pantages’ opening night crowd. I don’t think there was a single person, from pintsized kids to us geriatrically-challenged former partypeople in the house, who did not eventually succumb to the need to stand up and rock out by the time the 11th-hour recreation of Donna Summers’ megahit “Hot Stuff” filled the stately Pantages with its joyous spirit guaranteed to make anyone still breathing forget their troubles and come on an’ get happy.

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Nov

Eight Nights

As we desperately try to wake from our own current greed and racially-fueled nightmare at the hands of another historically dangerous madman and the cronies who let him destroy everything for which we stand, only by listening and taking heed in what such stories as Jennifer Maisel’s epic play have to share can we be reminded that we can be equally as brave and strong and unstoppable as her richly evocative characters. Barreling on to the year’s end and its inevitable universal holiday plea to be kind to one another and work together to find world peace on both the global and the most intimate of levels, this should be a required event for every schoolkid and civic group in Los Angeles this “festive” season. It’ll destroy you, but it’s pure theatrical magic from start to finish.

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