As usual, there’s so much going on in the SoCal area this weekend, including a dangerous fire (try to avoid that). For those who want a memorable experience at the theater, here are 3 options – all have some humor in them, though only one is a laugh out-loud comedy.
There are so many great older actors in Los Angeles, and far too few plays that really give them anything to perform. But Daytona at Roguemachine has three terrific roles, which are inhabited to the hilt by George Wyner and Sharron Shayne as a long-married couple and Richard Fancy as Mr Wyner’s long-absent brother, under the pitch-perfect direction of Elina de Santos. The play takes place in Brooklyn in 1986, where Joe and Elli are preparing for their dance competition the next evening, a hobby they’ve cultivated for the past 15 years. Then Elli goes out to pick up her dress from her sister, where she will also spend the night. Suddenly the downstairs buzzer sounds. Joe is shocked to hear the voice of his brother Billy, who he hasn’t heard from for the past 30 years, and whose entrance will shake up the easy-going world of Joe and Elli. I completely agree with Kathleen Foley’s review in the LA Times that the play has some major problems, most of which crop up in the Second Act, when the writing begins to waver and drift. But, as Ms. Foley asserts, the actors couldn’t be better, and their moment-to-moment character work is thrilling to watch. Certainly Richard Fancy – who I’ve seen in numerous shows at Pacific Resident Theatre and elsewhere around town – has never seemed more focused and relaxed, having the time of his life. This is a play and a production that will likely stay in your mind long after the houselights have come up.
UPDATE: DAYTONA has to close earlier than expected, on Monday October 16, but Roguemachine is looking to move and reopen it, so your support is essential.
Karen Finley, the author and performer of the one woman show at the Redcat in DTLA for this weekend only, is herself something of a unicorn on the American performance art scene, part stand-up comic, part Oracle at Delphi. She came to public prominence in the early 1980s as one of the NEA 4 – 4 performance artists of highly political and controversial works who had received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, much to the disgust of conservative senator Jesse Helms. She has continued to develop her work far out of the mainstream (by choice), using sexual imagery in unexpected ways (just google “Finley yams” and “Finley chocolate” for more detailed accounts) to bring attention to the glorification of rape and other acts of misogyny in the central nervous system of American life. Pretty much alone among her peers, she has managed to maintain her integrity and develop her metaphors in a series of performance art pieces and books and recordings. That alone would provide a good reason to catch her new show at Redcat, if you can still score a ticket. But this is something different than I’ve seen from Ms. Finley before. (I caught both her yam and her chocolate performances.) There is no nudity this time – that’s a first, at least in my limited experience. There are three sections to her performance, and the first two are funnier than anything I’ve seen from her. These satirize American consumerism and American politics, respectively. In the political section, she takes on Hillary Clinton, Trump and their campaigns, to devestating effect. The third (and most powerful) section is Karen Finley being Karen Finley – dispensing with the clown costumes and the wigs and assuming the role of Cassandra the Seer, peering poetically into the darkness of the American soul. What she sees is dark indeed – a hollowness which has to be filled up with things, a death-wish that yearns for mass destruction. Her performance is so dense with references and layers of meaning that it is difficult to take in in one sitting. On the other hand, who knows when you’ll get another chance?
The title of this meta-comedy will be immediately recognizable to any avid fan of Damien Chazelle’s film LA LA LAND. In the film, Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress played by Emma Stone (who won an Academy Award for her performance), writes herself a one-woman show called “So Long Boulder City” in a desperate attempt to boost her faltering career. Only 9 people show up – none of whom is her boyfriend Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling. However, her ploy works out better than she ever expected, since one of the attendees is a high-powered casting agent. All of this is such far-fetched nonsense – as I wrote about in one of my first columns for this website – that it seems to be crying out for lampooning, and this show by Jimmy Fowlie and Jordan Black more than fills the bill. While not everything works, the parts that are funny are howlingly so – as in one bit that features Abraham Lincoln’s niece. Personally, I could see anothere way to go with this parody, that would hone closer to the character of Mia Dolan and evoke Ms Stone’s performance more acutely. But this broadly farcical approach works too, and Mr Fowlie is a hoot as an untalented LA actress who is too in love with herself and her “dreams” to even notice how terrible an actress she really is. I highly recommend this if you want to laugh your ass off at one-person shows in general and at the LA entertainment industry scene in particular. But it’s better if you know the source material well – or can go with someone who does.