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.
Aug

Andy Warhol’s Tomato

The skill of Melocchi’s writing is matched by the remarkable acting work by Stevenson and Chariton. Together they breathe life into every line of Melocchi’s text, creating flesh-and-blood characters that hold you in thrall from start to finish.

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Jul

Renovations for Six

Foster’s unique brand of visceral comedy is well-executed by the skilled cast and its director, Howard Storm.

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Jul

FRIENDS! THE MUSICAL PARODY

Although I’m one of the few Americans who didn’t watch “Friends” during its ten-year run on network TV, I still enjoyed Friends! The Musical Parody now running as a guest production at the Kirk Douglas. Complete familiarity with the sitcom didn’t prove necessary, especially not when the characters in the revue---Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey---are lampooned time and time again in repetitive fashion.

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Jul

Scraps

The playwright paints a powerful and true portrait of what it’s like for black people to live in a world of terror and fear—it’s just unfortunate that she obscures the portrait by throwing too much paint at it.

Aside from some problems with diction, the cast perform well and give all they could to this gutsy but flawed theatrical experiment.

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Jul

Transference

Navigating all the abrupt changes in character was surely a challenge for the actors, but  they rose to the occasion and by dint of their gutsy, highly polished performances made sitting through Transference a rewarding experience.

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Jul

Mysterious Circumstances

Fantasy and reality, past and present, intertwine in Mysterious Circumstances, making for a kind of psychedelic time machine in which Holmes ends up investigating his own possible murder. It’s all very clever and post-modern, but it still failed to connect with me in any kind of visceral fashion...

What did fascinate me, though, were the play’s production values. Set Designer Brett J. Banakis, working with projection designers Kaitlyn Pietras and Jason H. Thompson, plus Illusion Designers Francis Menotti and David Kwong, put on a magic show replete with fast-changing scenery, walls that folded in and out of themselves, dazzling backdrops…and many other tricks and stunts that defy description. Would that the script were half as good as their work.

I came away feeling that the actors also deserved the highest praise possible.

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Jul

Rory and the Devil

McElwee shows great promise as a writer; Rory and the Devil is his first produced play, and it is a vibrant, powerful and  excellent piece of work.  He is to be praised as well for his directorial skill and for the way he achieves maximum results with his actors. A skilled bunch, they come through with full-blooded performances that resonate long after the play ends.

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Jun

My Trans Wife

Aided by video projection and, especially, by Deborah Pearl’s deft, skilled direction, My Trans Wife tells a love story like no other.

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Jun

A Night Out by Harold Pinter

The 12-person cast, led by director Sam Grey, does a fine job in creating the Pinteresque world of A Night Out, a world shot through with menace and cruelty.

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Jun

Loot

Bottitta and his fellow actors play this kind of scabrous humor to perfection, drawing laugh after laugh from the audience. Orton’s anarchic vision of the world is alive and well at the Odyssey.

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Jun

Ready Steady Yeti Go

I was happy to have spent an evening in their company—even though I did feel the play would have worked a lot better at sixty rather than ninety minutes.

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Jun

Anne, A New Play

On the positive side is the portrayal of Anne by an extraordinary young actress named Ava Lalezarzadeh, who captures Anne’s complex character, by turns romantic, selfish, idealistic, fiery and feisty, with remarkable skill and flair.

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Jun

Butcher Holler Here We Come

Part ghost story, part psychological thriller, part dark comedy, Butcher Holler is a remarkable drama featuring five actors whose commitment and dedication to this challenging, uncompromising work are worthy of a Fringe prize.

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Jun

INDECENT

It is not to be missed...

All his life Asch stood for tolerance, culture and compassion. All of those qualities are celebrated in Indecent, a play that is a testament to his courage and stature as a man.

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Jun

EXIT THE KING

As performed with heart-breaking power by Troy Dunn, The King is vain, confused, self-centered, yet all too human and likable—a man we know all too well, for he is us. He struggles mightily to cling to life, leave a mark on the world, only to finally fizzle out like a shooting star.

This isn’t to say Exit the King is all existential gloom; Ionesco is too much of a showman for that; he garnishes his story with humor, slapstick and bawdiness.

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Jun

Moby Dick - Rehearsed

The true director of Moby Dick—Rehearsed, Ellen Geer, does wonders with the operatic sweep of Melville’s story; in this she is aided by fight choreographer Dane Oliver and by Marshall McDaniel’s sound design and original music. Never has a typhoon at sea and a life-and-death battle between man and beast sounded so terrifyingly dramatic and real.

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Jun

DANA H.

Dana H. is a remarkable play, a departure from the norm, powerful and mesmerizing from beginning to end.

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Jun

HERSHEY FELDER: A PARIS LOVE STORY

In Felder’s hands the portrait of Debussy becomes clearer and stronger over the course of his 90-minute show.

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May

Bronco Billy - The Musical

Director Hunter Bird doesn’t play any of this in realistic fashion, opting instead for a slightly cartoonish, over-the-top style of performance. He also pushes the action hard, going for short, swift scenes (and songs). Thanks to its compliant and high-spirited 14-person cast, and to the snappy choreography of Janet Roston, Bronco Billy took flight at the Skylight and sped by in rousing, rollicking fashion.

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May

Invisible Tango

Created and performed by Helder Guimaraes, a Portuguese-born magician now residing in L.A., Invisible Tango mixes fabulous card tricks with personal storytelling in a masterful and captivating way. When not gasping with amazement at his legerdemain, the audience sits entranced by his way with words. A small, bespectacled chap with a lively, vibrant personality, Guimaraes knows how to talk to strangers, form a human connection with them, catch them up in his spell.

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