Non-Registered Critics: Willard Manus

WILLARD MANUS has been a Los Angeles-based theater reviewer since 1980, writing for such publications as L.A. Weekly, The Outlook, Northeast Newspapers and Pasadena Star-News. He also served as West Coast correspondent for Playbill.com. For the past ten years he has covered southern California theatre for Total Theatre.com. Manus is also a much-produced playwright whose recent credits include FRANK AND AVA (winner of a best-play prize at the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival); JOE AND MARILYN: A LOVE STORY; BIRD LIVES!; and PREZ–THE LESTER YOUNG STORY. Manus writes novels as well, the best-known of which is MOTT THE HOOPLE, thanks to the British rock band which took its name from his book. A member of Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), his film reviews are carried in lively-arts.com.
Mar

Frankenstein

Frankenstein runs 75 minutes; it’s not enough time to tell a very complicated story in a coherent way.  But there are good scenes all along the way;  now someone must figure out how to keep them from being muddled and wasted.

sour - ...read full review

Feb

Revenge Song

The production,  directed by VC co-founder Robert Ross Parker,  pulls out all the stops in telling its bizarre but sometimes affecting story:  French and American rap music, puppetry, kung fu,  L.A. jokes, dick jokes, video projection. The six-person cast is required to sing, dance, clown, and trick itself out in one outrageous costume after another.  All this unfolds at high speed, propelled by Qui Nguyen’s comic book-like dialogue, which takes liberties with history, time, and believability yet manages to be consistently laugh-out-loud funny and entertaining.

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Feb

ALL PERFORMANCES CANCELED BY CTG - THE BOOK OF MORMON

Bad taste rules the day in Mormon; it is a paean to the dirty joke and  it laughs like hell at mankind’s follies and foolishness, especially where religion and community are concerned.  But the show also has heart and compassion in its DNA, and it is directed and performed with such skill and flair that it’s hard to speak ill of it.

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Jan

The Water Tribe

The Water Tribe is one of the strangest plays I’ve ever seen, a study in insanity, but it’ll be a long time before I forget it.

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Jan

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME

The political and ideological battles that have been, and still are, fought over these constitutional issues give the show its relevance; personal touches (such as Schreck revealing that she herself had an abortion) humanize it as well, making the abstract real. Flashes of wit and humor also help to enliven things.

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Jan

Sunday Dinner

Tabeek makes us feel Michael’s pain and guilt over his sinful behavior (in the eyes of the church).

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Jan

"The Unseen Hand" and "Killer's Head"

The Unseen Hand is about the impossibility of the past reconciling with the present, and the spiritual death of the American Dream. These typical Sam Shepard themes are boldly dramatized in the Odyssey’s production, which is noteworthy for its expert direction and flawless acting. This is little theater at its best.

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Jan

Postponed - ROCK OF AGES

The action at all times is snappy and quick: one short scene after another punctuated with songs (“I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Shadows of the Night,” “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” etc.), and with lashings of bawdy jokes, campy behavior, satirical irreverence.

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Jan

Earthquakes in London

Hats off to Rogue Machine for taking on such an ambitious and costly project—and for succeeding so impressively with it...

Bartlett uses every weapon in his theatrical arsenal to dramatize his story: agit-prop, bawdy humor, satire, realism, fanciful touches, snatches of song, etc. The result is a work of boldness and originality, a one-of-a-kind drama that challenges us to rethink the way we live.

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Jan

Bad Habits

Bad Habits may strain credulity at times, but without question it is one funny, laugh-filled play. My hat goes off to the playwright, director and cast—especially to Alley Mills and Orson Bean.

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Dec

A Christmas Carol

Using his flexible voice, masterful body control and a variety of facial expressions, Mynne is able to bring Dickens’s world to life and make us believe in Scrooge’s conversion from grasping old miser to generous, warm-hearted human being.

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Dec

Little Black Dress The Musical

Irreverent, rambunctious, and filthy-minded , it is definitely not a family show. But it is also funny as hell and immensely enjoyable, a real hoot.

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Nov

Salvage

Salvage is the best original musical I’ve seen in some time. I was caught up in its spell and moved by its scintillating songs and performances. Don’t miss this one.

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Nov

THE DOUBLE V

The didactic part of The Double V weakens the drama for me, but I still can recommend the play, not just for its historical worth but for its strong performances and skillful direction. I am also much impressed with John Iacovelli’s sprightly set.

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Nov

Before

Kinevane, whose home theatre is the Fishamble in Dublin, tells a weird, complex story in Before.

...Kinevane once again flips the story on its head, sends it spiraling into darkness and death. That’s when we realize that the songs in Before are really laments, protests against the cruelty and injustice of the human condition.

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Nov

AUGUST WILSON'S JITNEY

With Ruben Santiago-Hudson repeating as director and several key actors reprising their roles, the play lights up the Taper’s stage and enthralls from beginning to end.

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Nov

Key Largo

Key Largo’s story, which was fresh and powerful in 1946—and two years later in the John Huston movie—seems creaky and contrived today. But it does look good up there on the Geffen stage, thanks to John Lee Beatty’s wizardry.

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Nov

Fifteen Men in a Smoke-Filled Room

Fifteen Men is skillfully acted (the cast also includes Kevin Dulude doubling as a newspaper publisher and a hotel waiter). It is also crisply directed by Jules Aaron…and looks historically accurate, thanks to Jeff G. Rack’s sumptuous, detailed set.

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Nov

The Thanksgiving Play

The four characters in The Thanksgiving Play are caricatures to be sure, and the play’s humor is one-note, but thanks to Fasthorse’s way with jokes and comic invention, I found myself enjoying every minute. The playwright is also blessed with a cast of skilled farceurs and a director (Michael John Garces) who proves masterful at slapstick.

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Nov

Between Riverside and Crazy

Remarkably, Guirgis’s weak, deeply-disappointing play was beautifully acted and directed. Don’t know how they did it, but the actors and the director somehow managed to keep me in my seat for two-and-a-half hours.

sweet-sour - ...read full review

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