Now Registered on the Better Lemons Calendar – July 29 - August 4, 2019

Theatrical shows, Cabaret, Dance, and Music Programs  NOW registered on the Better Lemons calendar!

For more shows visit our Calendar. For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.

Our Lady of 121st Street

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An Evening with Vickie Shaw

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Edgar Allan Poe

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The Spitfire Grill

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Derina Harvey Band

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Yi-Nuo Wang, piano

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Cirque FLIP Fabrique

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Burton Cumming

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Pablo Sáinz-Villegas’ AMERICANO Trio

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Rosanne Cash with John Leventhal

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We Shall Overcome – A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., featuring Damien Sneed

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Benjamin Baker, violin

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Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood: The Scared Scriptless Tourd Sherwood: The Scared Scriptless Tour

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Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (The Musical)

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Joan Osborne/The Weepies

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Marc Cohn

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Lea Salonga

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Little Women

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ADIOS DOLORES

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Witch

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Skintight

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Fallen Saints: Salem

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American Standard

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Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (30 Plays in 60 Minutes)

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Painting Churches

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LAb Works Play Festival

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SkyPilot Runway - Honeymoon Suite

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Nick Dear's Frankenstein

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Beast on the Moon

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Concrete Rose by LaDarrion Williams - Staged Reading

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Amadeus at North Coast Repertory Theatre

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The Theatricality of Greek Myths

Myths in the Modern Theater

Mary Zimmerman, of Chicago's Lookingglass Theater, is a true national treasure – if by no other measure than the MacArthur Genius Fellowship she was awarded for adapting “seemingly untheatrical source material from classic world literature into compelling theater.” (the MacArthur Foundation's own words). “Arabian Nights,” “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci,” “Metamorphoses,” and “Galileo Galilei,” “The Odyssey” – these and a slew of other works are testament to her “genius.”

What makes Zimmerman's work so valuable is her joyous, endlessly engaging use of the full forces of theater. In the telling of sweeping epics, she transports the audience into ancient worlds filled with a resplendent reality of their own, made not just engaging but intellectually stimulating. Using puppets, music, dance, song, poetry, lavish costumes, clever staging, and surprisingly simple but intriguingly effect stage architecture, Zimmerman's work is designed to be entertaining, thoughtful, and transformative.

On stage, A Noise Within (ANW), L.A.'s classical company, is now producing Zimmerman's Argonautika complete with the sailors climbing the ship's ropes to billow the sail and the Woman of Lemnos singing and dancing on silks (aerial acrobatics while suspended on Lycra drapes).

Argonautika is an adaptation of an ancient Greek legend – Jason and The Voyage of the Argonaut, by Apollonius Rhodius in the 3 rd Century BCE – with certain wrinkles from a Roman re-telling of the myth by Gaius Valerius Flaccus centuries later under the Emperor Vespasian (c. 90 AD). [The Romans were always laying claim the cultural glories of the much older, much more prestigious civilization they'd conquered – mostly to give their empire international legitimacy].

The epic begins when Jason, a brash one-sandaled youth of self-defined heroic stature, asserts his claim to the kingship of Iolcus (being a very early name for Macedonia, which would later spawn Alexander the Great). Raised in the mountains by a Centaur, Jason comes late to his inheritance when he learns that Pelias (a bastard half-brother of Jason's naughty mama) is currently ruling the roost in Iolcus. But when faced with Jason and his buddies – heroes all, Pelias remembers the Oracle's oracular warning that he would be felled by a one-sandaled kid. So Pelias acknowledges Jason's claim, oh sure! BUT – in a move to get rid of Jason, Pelias lays on him one death-defying task to prove his worth (hoping that in this case Death won't be defied) – find and bring the prized golden fleece to the current sitter-on-the-throne.

The intertwining entanglement of claims and counterclaims, descent from gods and demi-gods, and heroics versus bluster is masterfully handled in Zimmerman's breezy dramaturgy. Jason's voyage on the good ship Argo – with the heroic 8 plus the formidable, self-promoting Hercules, a legend unto his own vanity – is a seemingly impossible task made tragic, comic, and romantic by Zimmerman's uniquely gifted approach to character, movement, and motivation.

Surely, for the nautical warriors manning the Argo, the distance alone was a challenge – the Argo was little more than a leaky skiff sailing the rough waters of the Ionian Sea in the Third Century BCE. But the obstacles were daunting to the point of death. - monsters, goddesses.

Perhaps most monstrous and yet tragic of all Jason's obstacles was the formidable sorceress, Medea – the wife and mother of his two sons who he abandoned because, well, honey, you always knew the golden fleece was priority one for me! Yeah, it's that kind of story.

And when it's a good tale, well told, with an ear and eye toward the magic of total theater – it is surely a product of genius.


The Winners at the 50th Annual 'LA Drama Critics Circle' Awards Ceremony Held at the Pasadena Playhouse

The 50th Annual LA Drama Critics Circle Awards at the Pasadena Playhouse, Monday, April 8, 2019. (Photo by Better Lemons)

The LA Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) held their 50th Annual Awards ceremony at the landmark Pasadena Playhouse where Better Lemons was in attendance to live tweet the evening's festivities and entertainment, Monday, April 8, 2019.

Wenzel Jones presided over the festivities, and Christopher Raymond served as music director with musical performances by Kristin Towers Rowles, Constance Jewell Lopez, and Zachary Ford.

There were four recipients of the 2018 Production award: Cambodian Rock Band (South Coast Repertory), Come From Away (Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre), Cry It Out (Echo Theater Company), and Sell/Buy/Date (Geffen Playhouse / Los Angeles LGBT Center).

Better Lemons' Chief Operating Officer Stephen Box (Left,) Publisher Enci Box, and Playwright & Screenwriter Steven Vlasak at the 50th Annual LA Drama Critics Circle Awards at the Pasadena Playhouse, Monday, April 8, 2019.

The Antaeus Theatre Company received the most awards, with three of its productions winning a combined seven trophies. Celebration Theatre's Cabaret took home six awards, the most awards for a single production, including one for Revival. Tom Hanks received a lead actor award for his performance as Falstaff in The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles production of Henry IV in a competitive category. 17 awards were presented in other categories with 17 productions taking home the honors.

In its inaugural this year, the Theater Angel award was presented to Yvonne Bell in recognition of her "long career devoted to fostering theater in Los Angeles ... [and] successful fundraising campaigns" to help open several cultural institutions, such as The Museum of Contemporary Art and the California Science Center.

Eight previously announced special awards were presented, including the Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence in theater to Sacred Fools Theater Company and the Ted Schmitt Award for the world premiere of an outstanding new play to Lauren Yee for Cambodian Rock Band.

The LADCC was established in 1969  “to foster and reward merit in the American Theater and encourage theater in Los Angeles,” the LADCC site quotes from an announcement in the L.A. Times of that year.

Here is the list of award recipients as announced during Better Lemons' live coverage on Twitter:

Featured photo by Enci Box - Theatre patrons in the courtyard of the Pasadena Playhouse for the 50th Annual LA Drama Critics Circle Awards, Pasadena, California, Monday, April 8, 2019. Enci Box contributed to this story and photos.


Now Registered on the Better Lemons Calendar – April 1 - 7, 2019

Theatrical shows registered on the Better Lemons calendar!
For more shows visit our Calendar.
For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.

 

Invisible Tango

“Magic sensation Helder Guimarães returns to the Geffen with the world premiere of his one-man show, Invisible Tango. Directed by legendary film producer and director Frank Marshall (Jurassic World, Indiana Jones, Goonies, Back to the Future), Invisible Tango explores the nature of secrets and how far we are willing to go to discover them. In the midst of the information age and our culture of over-sharing, Guimarães challenges our interaction with the unknown and explores how we can embrace the magic of wonder and mystery. Guimarães last amazed and charmed Geffen audiences in the smash hit Nothing to Hide, the two-man magic show that extended four times before transferring to New York. ”

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SINGIN' IN THE RAIN

“The Tap-Happiest Show Ever! GOOD MORNING TO YOU! LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS & McCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT (celebrating its 25th Silver Anniversary at the theatre) are thrilled to present SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, based on the greatest movie musical of all time with screenplay by Betty Comden & Adolph Green and songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. The fresh new production will be directed & choreographed by Spencer Liff (Emmy nominee for TV's “So You Think You Can Dance” and Broadway's Head Over Heels, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Falsettos), associate director is Cynthia Ferrer (original “Kathy Selden” in the first National Tour of Singin' in the Rain) with musical direction by Keith Harrison.”

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EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED

“ENSEMBLE THEATRE COMPANY (ETC) presents the fourth show of its 40th Anniversary Season, the Southern California premiere of the stunning and wildly popular novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED, adapted by Simon Block and directed by Jonathan Fox.
Jonathan, a young Jewish-American writer, travels to Ukraine to seek out the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He hires Alex, a young Ukrainian tour guide who takes him on a hilarious road trip in search of the woman's village. Along the way, they confront haunting memories as Jonathan and Alex's histories become entwined.”

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Moving On: The One-Acts 2019

“Moving On: The 2019 One Acts features a mix of established playwrights and exciting, emerging younger talent.”

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Boxing Lessons

“A ferociously dark and hilarious new comedy by award-winning playwright John Bunzel (63 Trillion, Death of a Buick). When a famous writer dies under mysterious circumstances, family and friends gather in his cabin on a remote island in the Puget Sound to box up his belongings. As they go through the clutter dad left behind, hidden family secrets come to light — and they come to realize just how much they both despise and love one another.”

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A Bad Year for Tomatoes

“Fed up with the pressures and demands of her acting career, the famous Myra Marlowe leases a house in the tiny Vermont hamlet of Beaver Haven, and settles down to write her autobiography. She is successful in turning aside the offers pressed on her by her long-time agent, but dealing with her nosy, omnipresent neighbors is a different matter. In an attempt to shoo them away, and gain some privacy, Myra invents a mad, homicidal sister – who is kept locked in an upstairs room, but who occasionally escapes long enough to scare off uninvited visitors. The ruse works well, at first, but complications result when the local handyman conceives an affection for “Sister Sadie' (really Myra in a fright wig) and some of the more officious ladies decide it is their Christian duty to save the poor demented Sadie's soul. In desperation, Myra announces that her imaginary sibling has suddenly gone off to Boston – which brings on the sheriff, and the suspicion of murder!”

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Twisted Broadway

“'Twisted Broadway' promises to be an irreverent afternoon offering your favorite Broadway tunes turned upside down and inside out...Theatre LA Cares, LA's newest producing company, is committed to empowerment, healing, and dignity, and robustly supports Time's Up so that someday soon no one will ever have to say, “me, too” again. Time's Up is a unified call for change from women in entertainment and for women everywhere. From movie sets to farm fields to boardrooms alike, Time's Up envisions nationwide leadership that reflects the world in which we live.”

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The First Wives Fight Club

“A musical parody of the cult film classics “The First Wives Club” and “Fight Club” starring Raja, Brooke Lynn Hytes, Ginger Minj, Peaches Christ, and more. Written and directed by Varla Jean Merman & Peaches Christ.”

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Duet for One

“A famous concert violinist is stricken with a disease which necessitates her retirement from the stage and which threatens her marriage as well. The play is structured as a series of interviews between the violinist and her psychiatrist in which she tries to cope with her illness and its effect on her life. Featuring Mia Christou and Howard Leder. ”

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Brain Problems

“A world premiere comedy by Malcolm Barrett, directed by Bernardo Cubría. After being diagnosed with ‘brain problems,' a cynical man copes with his life-threatening condition by retreating into his imagination.”

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The Fantasticks by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt

“The Fantasticks by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt
Produced through special arrangement with Music Theatre International
“Try To Remember” a time when this romantic charmer wasn't enchanting audiences around the world. The Fantasticks is the longest-running musical in the world and with good reason: at the heart of its breathtaking poetry and subtle theatrical sophistication is a purity and simplicity that transcends cultural barriers. The result is a timeless fable of love that manages to be nostalgic and universal at the same time.”

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Dying for Our Voices

“Our journalists are in danger – being forsaken by their people and slaughtered for their pursuit of the truth. As a multidisciplinary piece performed in three different languages, Dying for Our Voices explores that pursuit's high costs, its global impacts, and personal consequences. ”

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The End of Sex

“It's Nancy's birthday. Her daughter and son-in-law come to take the parents out to celebrate. But when new desires and old frustrations collide over dinner, all four slide into a tense standoff as Nancy questions her own collusion with the sexual agreements and power dynamics within her own marriage. Using cutting humor and venturing into tricky territory, The End of Sex (Or What's Wrong With Mom) wrestles with how sexual behavior encourages and creates power arrangements – even in consensual relations.”

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Valley of the Dolls

“An all-star benefit reading of Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls, directed by Richard Hochberg. Susann's infamous tale of cutthroat careerism, wild sex, and fierce female protagonists will be on hilarious display for two nights only. The cast features (in alphabetical order) Steve Bluestein, Wilson Cruz, Joely Fisher, Mo Gaffney, Robert Gant, Tom Lenk, Greg Louganis, Alec Mapa, Laraine Newman, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Gordon Thomson, Joan Van Ark, Bruce Vilanch, Marissa Jaret Winokur.
One hundred percent of the proceeds will benefit Alcott Center for Mental Health Services and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.”

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Wild Son: The Testimony of Christian Brando

“Set under the white-hot glare of Hollywood and Celebrity, “Wild Son: The Testimony of Christian Brando” tells the story of Marlon Brando's troubled, headline-making son…in his own words. Written by Champ Clark and featuring John Mese as Christian, this 59-minute one-act–based on personal interviews conducted by Clark and populated by the likes of Jack Nicholson, Michael Jackson, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Anjelica Huston, Robert Blake and others–is, most importantly, the story of father and son.”

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Argonautika

“In this fresh retelling of the classic Greek myth, Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece has been reframed for our time. Join the fantastic voyage and encounter Hercules, Hera, sirens, centaurs, and more—familiar mythological figures imbued with unexpected character and depth. Discover humor, love, and the unimaginable as Tony Award® winner Mary Zimmerman reveals the humanity in the most monstrous of creatures in this unforgettable journey for the ages.”

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Noises Off

“One of ANW's most beloved production is back: Your favorites are ready to rein in the chaos of this joyfully out-of-control British farce about the auspiciously titled play-within-a-play Nothing On. Step behind the curtain and meet the under-rehearsed and over-worked cast and crew with a penchant for drama more personal than professional. As the production progresses, the bumbling cast brings down the house—literally!
Better Lemons readers receive $5 off with the discount code ANWLemon when you purchase your tickets.”

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Let's Write a Musical

“David Hamilton decides to write a romantic musical comedy with his wife to cheer himself up when he's diagnosed with cancer. “Let's Write a Musical “ is the musical they wrote together with the story of their cancer journey weaving through it. Based on a true story.”

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SkyPilot Runway - A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Divorce

“A Funny Thing …, written by Jeff Gould and directed by Margaret Starbuck, introduces three couples, all going through difficult divorces, as they anxiously and frustratingly wait in a room at a courthouse for an appointment with a mediator. Conversations begin, details of each of their troubled marriages are revealed and they eventually learn more about themselves and their relationships in just hours than they have in years of matrimony.”

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Maroo Village the Musical

“In the Korean language with English Subtitles. In the summer of 2014, Ezekiel Drama Ministry's third project, the musical Maroo Village opened. The musical explores the definition of church and defines it as not a place, but the people themselves. Maroo Village was a success that broke records leading to multiple encore shows in the same year. The Ezekiel is now opening a remastered version that takes on the original 1hr 20 minutes of the musical Maroo Village to a full-length 2-hour musical...this creative Christian musical Maroo Village pertains to 20 actors [and]...There are 24 songs from various genres including Korean folk songs, opera, classic musical, retro rock, hip hop, and waltz.”

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WORKING 2020

“The Actors Gym, in association with the Whitefire Theatre, present WORKING 2020. Created and written by Academy Award winner Bobby Moresco (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), and members of the Actors Gym, produced by Bryan Rasmussen, Bobby Moresco, and Steven Christopher Parker. Working 2020 explores what work means to different people in different circumstances in the U.S. today, adding new characters, and this time focusing on the sadly relevant slide from middle to working class.”

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LET ME HEAR YOU WHISPER & THE STRANGEST KIND OF ROMANCE

“The Group Rep presents two unusual one-acts, Paul Zindel's LET ME HEAR YOU WHISPER directed by Katelyn Ann Clark, and Tennessee Williams' THE STRANGEST KIND OF ROMANCE directed by JC Gafford. LET ME HEAR YOU WHISPER concerns a cleaning lady working in a mysterious lab where experiments are being conducted on mammals. Drawn to one of the subjects, she is shocked when she learns the gentle creature's fate is in danger. In THE STRANGEST KIND OF ROMANCE the proprietress of a boarding house tells a potential tenant that one of the former tenants left his cat behind. This highly unusual piece is peopled with fascinating, strongly-opinionated characters, and someone falls in love with … the cat.”

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Sand Moon

“What does it mean to love someone? What do we do when that person becomes unrecognizable? When a brother and sister start bringing their girlfriends on family vacations, a house built on secrets begins to shift. The push and pull of the ones we love gives us one of two options: resist or relent? WORLD PREMIERE.”

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Dorothy's Adventures in Oz

“A vibrant, joyful family-friendly musical comedy that follows a grown-up Dorothy on the quest to return to OZ… Based on characters created by L. Frank Baum, the originator of the first fourteen Oz books ... Follow the escapades of Dorothy and her companions along the windy road to that mystical place where dreams really do come true and nothing is as it seems…along the way, help Dorothy save her family farm, do battle with the vain but glorious Queen Coo-ee-oh, join forces with a vagabond princess who is revolting (although she doesn't look it), meet a magical Patchwork Girl, a Rainbow Maiden and help to set free the King of the Rainbow, face such looming monsters as war, drought and mortgages, learn a great deal about the world around us, and even a little bit about ourselves.”

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Willy's Lil Virgin Queen

“Winner of the 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival Encore Producer's Award. Willy's Lil Virgin Queen illuminates one woman's journey to discover strength and empowerment and triumph over tragedy as she finds her true power through the words of a playwright; William Shakespeare. This urgently-paced, hilarious and dark coming-of-age-story dives deeply into the many roles that a woman plays on her road from girlhood to womanhood, and it does not shy away from the darker aspects of finding one's own purpose in a world that tells girls to shut-up and look pretty. As was true for the original Virgin Queen Elizabeth, in a man's world it takes a woman to rule herself, and one woman in particular to learn that that within the words of the greatest playwright in history there is truth and within every woman there is a queen.”

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(mostly)musicals: KEEP THE CHANGE

“(mostly)musicals returns to Upstairs at Vitello's with it's 32nd edition on April 8th with a cabaret you'll flip for! Join music director Gregory Nabours and a stellar cast of singers from LA and Broadway for an exciting evening featuring songs about changing your mind, changing the world, changing your clothes, and maybe just spare change!”

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Disrobed

“The producers of the HFF16 immersive hit, Love the Body Positive, are back with the full length comedy, “Disrobed: Why so clothes-minded?” The play has been adapted and updated by Steven Vlasak (HFF18's Nights at The Algonquin Roundtable) from the British naturist classic, “Barely Proper” by Tom Cushing. It's Meet The Parents with a twist! Skye is about to introduce her conservative boyfriend to her family. But she's never told him that she and her family are all nudists! Will their relationship survive? Once again, this immersive theatre experience requires the audience to be in their birthday suits. Don't forget to bring a clothes bag and a towel to sit on! All photography is prohibited and all cellphones must be turned off and stored in the clothes bag upon entering the venue”

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Peter and the Starcatcher

“Tony-winning Peter and the Starcatcher upends the century-old story of how a miserable orphan comes to be The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (a.k.a. Peter Pan). A wildly theatrical adaptation of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's best-selling novels, including marauding pirates and jungle tyrants to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes, Peter and the Starcatcher playfully explores the depths of greed and despair… and the bonds of friendship, duty and love. ”

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Scarlett Fever

“In 1936, producer David O'Selznick began a 2 year search to find an unknown to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. The story unfolds in 10 moments incorporating stylized movement, dance, song, original text, several suitcases, and the great Scarlett dress. All accompanied by live percussion.”

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Homeward LA 2019

“Homeward L.A. 2019 is a program consisting of eleven monologues based on stories of people who've experienced homelessness. Actors of Theatre 40 will perform the show, directed by one of Theatre 40's regular directors, Jules Aaron. Proceeds benefit Midnight Mission.”

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Old Jews Telling Jokes

“'Old Jews Telling Jokes,' which has been called a 'pickle-barrel full of giggles,' showcases five actors in a revue-type production that pays tribute to and reinvents classic jokes of the past and present. It celebrates the rich tradition of Jewish humor and ‘all the rabbis, complaining wives, fed-up husbands, patience-challenged physicians, gossiping ladies, and competitive men' populating it. The humor is suggestive and even raunchy as the ‘Old Jews' make fun of themselves as well as followers of every other religion ... Warning: adult (bawdy) humor. Not for audiences under 21.”

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WHAT I DID FOR A JOB

“In What I Did for… a Job, J. Elaine humorously reveals her unique approach to auditioning and what it took to book 10 Broadway Shows. “I had to learn to break the “rules” in order to be noticed. Many of my audition pieces were practically cabaret acts so I put them in a show.” says Broadway veteran. J. Elaine was last seen playing ‘Alexi Darling” in RENT: LIVE . “I've also added some inside scoop about doing RENT: LIVE.”

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Crime and Punishment

“This award-winning adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's famous novel is a thrilling 90-minute psychological inquiry into the troubled mind of a murderer. Dive into the greatest crime story ever written, a tale of murder, motive and redemption that plumbs the depths of the human soul. Written for only three actors, Crime and Punishment stars Michael Trevino (CW's Roswell, New Mexico; The Vampire Diaries) as Raskolnikov, with Lola Kelly (Circle X, Chance Theatre, SCR, REDCAT) and Brian Wallace (End of the Rainbow at La Mirada, Cash on Delivery at the El Portal) playing all the other characters. 'Engrossing theater… will banish any bad memories you might have of trying to struggle through Dostoyevsky's book'”

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Yes. No. Maybe.

“What would you do for a million dollars? What would you do for someone you love? Can we ever be certain that we'll NEVER do something like have sex for money or career advancement? Thorne & his wife Fleur find themselves in a modern day twist of the Indecent Proposal scenario. Yes, people are being targeted by sexual predators, but what about the people who consciously use sex to get ahead? “Yes. No. Maybe.” examines the moral implications of the ways in which we all prostitute ourselves to advance our careers, improve our bank balances, stay in power, keep a roof over our heads, or get whatever it is we feel we ‘need' to survive, be happy or feel validated ... 'Yes. No. Maybe.' is a dramedy of manners for an adult audience unafraid to consider the possibility that their morals may not be as set in stone as they'd like to believe…Comedy, drama and a splash of contemporary dance merge to create a unique theatrical experience.”

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Cirque du Giselle

“Giselle is an ethereal, “Fringe Festival” contemporary take on the classic ballet. Giselle, a sickly peasant girl , falls in love with, and subsequently dies of a broken heart after discovering her love is actually betrothed to another. A dark and tragic love story of deceit, heartbreak, consequences, and redemption – where love eventually triumphs over vengeance from the grave and beyond. Brought to life on the stage in a swirl of aerial and cirque magic!”

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Octopi Wall Street

“Octopi Wall Street addresses the subject of climate change through a series of vignettes told from the perspective of both human and non-human entities (think drunk birds, drag queen barley, algae, and a glacier). The play is based on extensive research of mainstream media articles dealing with off-beat aspects of global warming and climate change. The opening monologue of the play recently won a nationally recognized award at the Region 8 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival as its 2019 Monologue Selection.”

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Memories Are the Heart's Reality

In The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams' first success and now on stage at A Noise Within theater in Pasadena, a still young man, Tom Wingfield, relives the memories of his last months, living through the Depression with what was left of his family after his father had run out on them. He returns to the scene of this crime-of-the-heart, compelled perhaps as much by a need to justify abandoning the two most important women in his life, as his father had, as to recapture a “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion,” as he tells the audience in the opening moments of the play. “Yes,” he warns us, “I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician.” But don't believe him. Coming from the soul of perhaps America's greatest poet-dramatist, the graceful rhythms of Williams' rueful elegy are truly theatrical magic.

Tom remembers his loving, yet overbearing mother, Amanda, surviving the gloom of
her forsaken life on reminiscences of a proper, well-mannered past that may never have been as genteel as she tries so hard to imagine. He has an aching love of his
handicapped younger sister, Laura, who escapes her intense sense of inadequacy by
mothering a collection of sparkling figurines, most particularly a unicorn – that
mythical symbol of unattainable desire – a glass menagerie, if you will. And then there's the “Gentleman Caller” (Amanda's phrase), Tom's friend from the shoe factory, Jim O'Connor, who Tom invited to dinner one evening to satisfy – you might say, shut up, his mother who needs a suitor for Laura. Jim is a young buck with dreams of breaking into the big time, being a “player,” on the world stage – mostly by applying the confidence he has to believe he's gaining from the course public speaking he's taking.

It's a brash, show-offy color that brings a cold-water splash of reality into the monotony unrealizable neediness that fills the Wingfield's down-at heel apartment in St. Louis.

But what drives this tale of rueful romantic yearning is Tom's craving for a poetry in life that breaths adventure. He longs to be free of the smothering delusions of the women he loves. Amanda and Laura, fill their lives imagining their own “could be's” and “only if's.” But they have no idea of the passions that are driving Tom away from them – passions even he has trouble granting himself. His need to be free of them breeds a corrosive guilt towards mother and sister, feed his anger at life's cruel niceties. He knows they could never, would never, allow or accept him for what he is, what he wants, what he would be.

Played out on a simple setting, young Tom's memories “turn back time…” to a
“quaint period…  when the huge middle class of America was matriculating in a
school for the blind. Their eyes had failed them, or they had failed their eyes, and so they were having their fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet of a dissolving economy.” Williams' The Glass Menagerie refract the many facets of love-hate, alone-togetherness that seem so vivid almost a century later. And A Noise Within is doing a service allowing us to consider it's truths in these troubled times.


A Contemporary Glass Menagerie: Five Questions for Actor Rafael Goldstein

Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is as classic and American a drama as they come. Most of us have had to study it – perhaps in drama school or high school literature class. It exists in a place somewhere between venerable literary text and dramatic playscript. Like memory, as Williams invokes it in the script, our perspective on the play is often-times romantic, soft, nostalgic. However, what has always fascinated me about the play as it appears on the page (particularly in Tennessee Williams' stage directions) is how experimental, meta-theatrical, and innovative the piece wanted to be. Fourth wall address, projections of imagery and text, and expressionistic music are prominently featured as narrative devises. Sounds like something out of a Paula Vogel text. But it was Williams. Rest assured.

Now, more than 70 years since The Glass Menagerie first appeared on Broadway, A Noise Within is reviving the work. Recently, I interviewed actor Rafael Goldstein, who is playing Tom Wingfield in the Geoff Elliot-helmed production. We could not help but gush over what it means to return this play to its technologically and meta-theatrically adventuresome roots in A Noise Within's current production.

Roger Q. Mason (RQM): The Glass Menagerie is noted for innovating the contemporary memory play. Playing Tom, what was your process navigating his memories of his family and his dilemma in the present?

Rafael Goldstein (RG): That is the primary challenge of playing Tom. He is, at once, something of an omniscient narrator, while also being helpless in the riptide of his own memories. He is capable of looking back on his earlier life and analyzing the circumstances of his departure from his family with the benefit of years of experience, but when he is inside the action of the play he is completely overwhelmed, living it, victimized by it. Williams, like Proust, knew about the incredible potency of memory. In the final monologue of the play, Tom says that “a bit of familiar music” or “a piece of transparent glass” can make his long-lost sister manifest physically. Whether this is meant poetically or not, I have found it helpful, in the playing of it, to take Williams at his word.

RQM: I love director Geoff Elliot's notion that Amanda's protection of her children is the very thing that is decaying them and preventing them from growing. Do you think Tom made the right move walking away from his mother and sister? What do you think happened to Laura afterwards?

RG: The tragedy of the Wingfield family is that they love each other desperately but don't know how to navigate their individual priorities or desires without hurting one another. I don't know if Tom's decision to leave his mother and sister can be couched in terms of “right” or “wrong”. I think it is a necessity.

Animals gnaw off limbs to get themselves out of traps. Kasey Mahaffy and Erika Soto, who play Jim the Gentleman Caller and Laura Wingfield, came up to me after a recent run-through and said it's clear, in our production, that Tom has to get out in order to survive, but the price to pay is everlasting regret - a piece of him will always be missing. I'm not sure what might have happened to Laura after Tom leaves, but I don't think it could have been good. Their mother has left them nearly incapable of living in the real world. When Amanda dies, where does Laura go? She has no friends, no family. It is not a pleasant thought.

RQM: The piece is unapologetically autobiographical. What can you share about the real-life story which inspired the play?

RG: According to a couple of biographies I've read on Williams, this play is very close to the bone. Apparently, his mother Edwina Williams was as verbally expansive and as cutting as Amanda is in the play. Their relationship was close, but fraught. She was in the theater on opening night of the original production. His father, unlike Tom's, did not leave the family and headed to Mexico, but was emotionally absent and hard-drinking. A year before The Glass Menagerie premiered, Williams' sister, Rose, underwent a lobotomy at the urging of her mother. She was in her early thirties. She spent the rest of her life in institutions, paid for by Williams and then, after his death, by his estate.

RQM: Another thing I am obsessed with in this play is how experimental it actually is on the page - slides of images, sub textual quotes meant for projection, movement in front of and behind screens and fourth wall address. Are you guys embracing those more expressionistic elements of the play in your production?

RG: We are. When Glass first premiered in the mid-1940s, the technology didn't exist that would have honored Williams' stage directions, which are extensive. Now, as Tom, I can motion to the stage manager in the booth in the middle of a direct-address monologue and, as if by magic, a slide will appear with an image of blue roses, or a basketball star, etc. When I first encountered The Glass Menagerie, I thought it was burdened with the “Great American Play” designation, which, in my mind, meant that it was concerned with realism and subtlety. While those things are present in the actual playing of scenes, the framework that Williams sets up in the very beginning of the play keeps it from being a simple “kitchen sink drama.” The fact that Williams was dismayed at the technical limitations of the original production speaks to how far ahead of his time he was, as well as his high ambitions for the theatre-making world generally.

RQM: This production marks the return of ANW legend Deborah Strang to the role of Amanda. What is one thing you learned working with her?

RG: I learn something from Deborah every time I work with her. She is a tremendously generous actor - diligent, curious, always looking for new ways to work scenes. Sometimes actors who have played a role previously feel they can get away with repeating choices that they made in the past. Not so with Deborah. It's a rare joy to be on stage with someone you know so well who is looking at you as if for the first time, every time. I strive to have that kind of in-the-moment discovery that she brings to every role she assays.

For more information about this production, visit ANoiseWithin.org/play/glass-menagerie

Featured image: Raphael Goldstein as Tom Wingfield and Deborah Strang as Amanda Wingfield. Photo: Craig Schwartz


A 17th Century Tragedy Gets A 21st Century Look

Los Angeles' premiere classic theatre, A Noise Within, has brought to the stage Shakespeare's Othello, directed by Jessica Kubzansky, one of the Southland's most respected directors. And Ms. Kubzansky has given us a 17th century script adorned in 21st century styles, outfitting civilians characters in business wear, with dress blues and camo gear for military personnel – for Othello is a tale of wartime infighting.

So, the question inevitably arises: what happens when you take a four-hundred-year-old play and dress it up in modern duds? Is it suddenly more pertinent? Does it become easier to find some relevance to our own lives as the action unfolds? Does it jolt the imagination into today's news, or add a depth of understanding to the wars we're now fighting? Do we see in the title character, Othello – a black man leading white army – as a sort of precursor of our own Colin Powell? Do Venice's battle against the Turks parallel our current troubles half-way around the globe? These are judgments each member of the audience must and will make for themselves.

But Othello is not actually about war, or even the place of the military in a society, modern or medieval. It's a tragedy of loving “not wisely, but too well.” It's a game of cat and mouse played between naïve nobility and craven jealousy, between powerful and the subservient.

The artistic tension between what the ear hears and the eye sees will depend upon the patron's taste, and the juxtaposition of a formal public social structure with 21st century informality requires constant mental adjustment on the part of the viewer, but not for the cast of this production which handles it with consummate aplomb.

But what Shakespeare wrote in 17th century poetry is as clear cut as a diamond. Othello is the taut tale of a powerful noble African warrior driven to murder his beloved wife by the scheming of a disgruntled subordinate.

Othello, an exotic, grandiloquent warrior, promotes Cassio, a charming if militarily untested junior officer, to second in command. Iago, a proud, cunning, more experienced fighter, is thus passed over in favor of a man he thinks less qualified. To be demeaned is one thing, but that it is so thoughtlessly arranged by a blackamoor general with whom Iago has fought on many occasions leaves Iago seething. And as Roderigo, a buffoonish friend of Iago remembers it, even before Cassio's elevation Iago has a thing for Othello.

“Thou told'st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.”

Why? Perhaps because everything comes too easily to Othello, for Iago's sense of fairness. Othello was written as an exotic, larger than life figure whose powers of seduction attract not just women's adoration and desire, but men's admiration, devotion, and loyalty. Cassio is a young stud, rising fast through the ranks, destined to become another privileged leader. And that what sticks in Iago's craw.

So Iago weaves his web of destruction around Othello's heart, using first his knowledge of Othello's most dangerous – most troubling – secret. Having gained the adoration of Desdemona, a Venetian politician's lily white, virginal daughter, Othello married her - in secret. But is their relationship on solid? When he is questioned, he responds:

She lov'd me for the dangers I had pass'd;
And I lov'd her that she did pity them.

Is that a firm basis for marriage between a favored, young white girl and a black battle-hardened warrior? Can it weather the raging storm of jealousy Iago sets swirling around them? This production plays down the racial tensions – allowing them, but never focusing on them.

And as if that weren't enough, Iago has another, more intimate grievance. He says – maybe just assumes - the noble Othello has slept with Emilia, Iago's wife. Does he believe it, or is it merely a charge Iago concocts to justify his hatred? The audience must decide for themselves. Whatever the truth, the stage ripe for tragedy. Game, set, match!

Director Kubzansky has also brought the casting into the 21st century. It is the mother of Desdemona who objects to her daughter's marriage to the black warrior, not the father as Shakespeare wrote it. And the council who whom this mother takes her grievance is headed by a female duke in consultation with a mixed gender council. The effect of these gender alterations is yet another issue audience must assess according to their own understanding of human relationships.

ANW's Othello presents the title character as a fine and apparently capable leader of men, but does he have the awe-inspiring nobility to elicit the depth of pathos usually associated with Shakespearian tragedy? The question is, is such “awe” necessary for the show to succeed with the audience?

Check it out. Decide for yourself. However you decide, it is a stage worthy production deserving of attention.


Now Registered on the Better Lemons Calendar – February 18 - 24, 2019

Theatrical shows and Rooftop Movies registered on the Better Lemons calendar!
For more shows visit our Calendar.
For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.

MOVES at The Montalbán

“Break the Floor Productions in partnership with The Montalbán in Hollywood present MOVES at The Montalbán, a festival that offers audiences the chance to see the latest emerging talent in the world of choreography and dance. Over the course of the inaugural festival's three-day engagement, the inside of the historic theatre will host engaging live dance performances while dance classes will abound on The Montalbán's rooftop deck. All styles of dance will be seen and taught over the weekend with pre- and post-show entertainment as well. ”

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Les Miz And Friends! A Puppet Parody

“A very human production of “Les Miserables” comes to a halt when the lead actor of Jean ValJean goes missing. In his place, a friendly puppet offers to play the role—though he's never seen the show.
Both a loving homage and a brutal deconstruction of the classic Broadway musical, LES MIZ AND FRIENDS! follows a revolution of its very own—as the puppets attack all the show's shortcomings and decide to transform it into something better.
Full of audience interaction, improvisation, foul language, parody and original music, LES MIZ AND FRIENDS! will delight Les Miserables lovers and haters alike.”

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FREE Staged Reading of Intimate Apparel

“Staged reading of the play. Written by Lynn Nottage. Directed by Michael T. Kachingwe. In 1905 New York, Esther, a Black seamstress, lives in a boarding house for women, and sews intimate apparel for clients who range from wealthy white patrons to prostitutes. One by one, the other denizens of the boarding house marry and move away, but Esther remains, lonely and longing for a husband and a future. Her plan is to find the right man and use the money she's saved to open a beauty parlor where black women will be treated as royally as the white women for whom she sews.”

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POP Presents The Magic Flute

“POP returns to the comfortable 350 seat El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood with another crazy spin on a Mozart classic. Unlike any Magic Flute you've ever seen, this one is going to be “super”. Papageno, Tamino, and the gang are transported to the land of 90s video games with a new English libretto by Josh Shaw and Scott Levin. With two Sunday matinees and a kid friendly setting, this a perfect opera to bring the entire family to see.”

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POP Presents Madama Butterfly

“So what if… what if a brash American naval officer and a young Japanese girl met and fell in love? How would they communicate? (Certainly not in Italian!) In POP's most ambitous production to date, Artistic Director Josh Shaw's long-time dream of a bilingual Madama Butterfly comes to life at The Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo. With a new libretto by Josh Shaw and Eiki Isomura, all Japanese roles will be sung in Japanese (by Japanese-American artists) and all American roles will be sung in English. This is a co-production with Opera in the Heights (Houston). This production is sponsored in part by an Innovations Grant from Opera America.”

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Telenovela

“Force of Nature is proud to present the return of the hilarious hit comedy “Telenovela.” The story follows the bitter and melodramatic rivalry between the Lajarra and Azucar families, Mexico's biggest wine and tequila makers, and their fight for power. Passion, revenge, betrayal, grapes and tequila are all in a day's work. “Telenovela” is a colorful, high-octane comedy that affectionately honors the famous melodramatic “novelas” of Spanish TV that will keep you laughing from beginning to end.”

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Rooftop Movies at the The Montalbán

“The Montalbán's rooftop oasis – outfitted with a bar, concession stand and full kitchen – provides an open-air movie theatre experience complete with a large projection screen, state-of-the-art projector, noise-cancelling headphones, fresh-popped popcorn and even blankets for a chilly night...The Montalbán's staff curates films from all eras including Hollywood classics, cult favorites, select current releases, premieres and special presentations with cast and crew when possible. Doors open at 6:00pm...DRINK beer, wine, mixed drinks and the ever-popular hand-crafted Ramos Sangria; DINE Umami Burger…continues as the venue's rooftop culinary partner (serving Impossible Burgers); PLAY a game of giant Jenga or ham-it-up in the selfie-friendly Simple Booth area; or CHILL in a relaxing beach chair or loveseat while listening to a hand-selected musical soundtrack (over the speakers or in your headphones) until the movie begins.”

"Mean Girls" screening @ Rooftop Movies at The Montalbán

Anti-bullying cult classic, written by Tina Fey. “Cady Heron [Lindsay Lohan] is a hit with The Plastics, the A-list girl clique at her new school, until she makes the mistake of falling for Aaron Samuels, the ex-boyfriend of alpha Plastic Regina George [Rachel McAdams].” - IMDb

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"Grease" screening @ Rooftop Movies at The Montalbán

Because “Grease Is The Word.”

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"La La Land" screening @ Rooftop Movies at The Montalbán

A multi-Academy Award winning film and contemporary musical. “While navigating their careers in Los Angeles, a pianist and an actress fall in love while attempting to reconcile their aspirations for the future.” - IMDb

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"Dirty Dancing" screening @ Rooftop Movies at The Montalbán

Because “Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner.”
“Spending the summer at a Catskills resort with her family, Frances "Baby" Houseman [Jennifer Grey] falls in love with the camp's dance instructor, Johnny Castle [Patrick Swayze.] - IMDb

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Maple and Vine

“Katha and Ryu have become allergic to their 21st century lives. After they meet a charismatic man from a community of 1950's re-enactors, they forsake cell phones and sushi for cigarettes and Tupperware parties. In this compulsively authentic world, Katha and Ryu are surprised by what their new neighbors – and they themselves – are willing to sacrifice for happiness.”

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Suprema

“It's 1940, and celebrated psychologist William Moulton Marston has decided that he wants to create a comic book heroine who stands for valor and love in a world dominated by men and war. Over the course of a single evening, Marston, his wife Elizabeth, and their lover Olive must convince DC Comics executive Max Gaines of the value of such a heroine while downplaying their own unorthodox lifestyle.”

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The Glass Menagerie

“An innocuous visit from a potential suitor unsettles the sheltered Wingfield family. Matriarch Amanda fiercely protects her adult children from the harshness of others, but doesn't realize that her own eccentricities are the biggest threat to their psychological survival. Brimming with poetic language and indelible characters, this play about the enduring but limiting nature of love and family made Tennessee Williams a household name.”

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The Women of Shakespeare

“Back by popular demand, Warriors for Peace Theatre presents another night of The Women of Shakespeare. Come and take a journey through the world of Shakespeare through the eyes of glorious women. This is an opportunity for some of LA's most exciting actresses to delve into the most compelling characters in William Shakespeare's litany of work. Under the direction of Susan Angelo, one of the foremost Shakespeare instructors and directors in the Los Angeles area...Following the performance there will be a programmed talk back with director, Susan Angelo, WFP Theatre executive director, Christopher Loverro, and the stars of Women of Shakespeare. In keeping with WFP mission, the talk back serves as an opportunity to dialogue with the actors and creative team, who are comprised of military veterans and civilians, about the healing effects of art.”

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MATRIARCH

“The Roots and Wings Project Founder/Creative Director Jesse Bliss presents MATRIARCH an unorthodox and intersectional theatrical exploration of the roles women play in a patriarchal society and the urgent need to transform the dynamic. Made possible by a grant from the California Arts Council Cultural Pathways.”

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Five Questions for Actor Michael Manuel

A Noise Within is producing the Bard's Othello as part of their 2018-2019 Season: Let Me In. I called upon actor Michael Manuel, who is playing theatre's favorite miscreant Iago, to learn more about this Jessica Kubzansky-helmed presentation of the play.

Roger Q. Mason (RQM): Othello. Everyone has produced it. Why now at A Noise Within?

Michael Manuel (MM): I don't know why ANW decided to produce Othello this season—that is really a question for Geoff and Julia. But I imagine the reason anyone produces Shakespeare is that the themes are universal and resonate in every age. The things that people worried about, suffered over and struggled with, have been and will continue to be, universal to the end of time. Shakespeare writes the human condition.

RQM: Reading about the production, I understand the Jessica Kubzansky is setting it in the modern military. Tell me more. In what ways are you updating the story? Is it just setting or are there reference/line changes?

MM: This question is better directed to Jessica. But I will say, I think she's cast the parts with a sensitivity to how our culture is represented today. In our production women are playing roles that are traditionally played by men. And while that may change, to some degree, how certain moments are interpreted, it also points out and highlights the universal feelings that we all share - protecting our children, or overprotecting as the case may be; unintended or intended racism, which, of course, knows no gender. Another aspect of our production is placing it in Afghanistan. We are faithful to Shakespeare's text and use Cyprus - but we are imagining that we are on a base in Afghanistan. We've discussed the idea of taking over a piece of land and the effect that it has on the people who live there. The Venetians made Cyprus worse for using it as a military outpost, in the same way we are using Afghanistan.

RQM: What I loved about the description of this production was the idea that Iago and Othello were friends until one felt looked over by the other. Considering our current cultural climate, part of which is being attributed to the “silencing” of a certain “majority culture,” this interpretation is entirely relevant. Was Iago's being overlooked for the promotion really the beginning of his hate for the Moor?

MM: I don't know if it was the beginning of the hate—but it certainly was the last straw. In my imagining of our relationship, Iago and Othello have been friends for years. Our friendship precedes our joining the military. I imagine we grew up together, have been friends and brothers since we were kids. And one of the things that we shared was our “otherness.” He was the black guy. I was the Latino. Everyone else was white. When he rose to prominence, and had the ability to help his brother out, he chose rather to do the more political thing—he chose the guy that had all the right breeding. Cassio looks the part. Iago does not. That pisses Iago off. It offends Iago's sense of justice. What is is right. Iago feels like, “of course, he picks the fucking white guy.” Not to mention the fact that Iago thinks that Othello slept with his wife. Not cool.

People think Othello is the face of jealousy. But in my mind, Othello's jealousy pales in comparison to Iago's. Iago's sickness is that everything that he says about other people lives inside him constantly. He notices “triffles light as air” every second of his life. Every tiny unnoticeable thing he adds to the list of personal grievances against him. And like a ticking time bomb - eventually it goes off. And this play is about what happens when that evil is unleashed. The bottom line for me is that there is no answer to your question. There is no one reason for Iago's motivation, because there are a million reasons.

RQM: I understand you trained under the legendary Earle Gister. What are a few things you'll always remember from your time with him?

MM: Earle didn't let you get away with your crap, your tricks—even the tricks you might have used to get into the drama school in the first place. He forced you to be specific, about every single moment. Being specific about the beats of a scene, and the micro beats. He was a master of human behavior - why people do the things they do. He had such respect for actors, and he taught actors how to have respect for people. All people. And that every character in a play was a real person with a full life.

Here's an example: Our first year we did scene work from Chekhov. I was fascinated by the characters in Chekhov that had almost no lines. How do you figure those people out, make them interesting to watch? We asked Earle. Firs is an 80 year-old servant in The Cherry Orchard, and in the last scene of the play, Firs is alone on stage. All the house has been packed up and everyone else is gone. Firs has been locked in and forgotten in the empty house. He only has a couple of lines. And this is the last image of the play. Earle—who had had his voice box removed because of throat cancer, used an electrolarynx (but he could make that thing talk), anyway, Earle walked slowly over to the chair, said his couple of lines and sat. And the way he just sat there. You saw his whole life. The entire class was weeping.

RQM: What's next for you, Michael Manuel?

MM: I'm not sure exactly what's next for me. I'd like to just keep working. Growing. Learning. Why? You hear about a job?

For tickets and more info on OTHELLO, click here.


Now Registered on the Better Lemons Calendar – February 3 - 10, 2019

Theatrical shows registered on the Better Lemons calendar!
For more shows visit our Calendar.
For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.

Two Trains Running at Matrix

The team behind last year's acclaimed Ovation, LADCC, and Stage Raw award-nominated production of August Wilson's “King Hedley II” returns to the Matrix with another installment of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright's “American Century Cycle” the playwright's decade-by-decade exploration of the black experience in 20th century America. It's 1969 in Pittsburgh's Hill District, where the regulars of Memphis Lee's restaurant struggle to cope with the turbulence of a world that is rapidly changing around them.

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USC School of Dramatic Arts presents: CHILDREN OF THE SUN

Maxim Gorky's darkly comic play is set in Russia on the eve of the revolution. The country's new middle class flounders about, philosophizing and flirting, blind to their impending annihilation. Protasov wants only to immerse himself in his experiments and is oblivious to the advances of the half-crazed widow and his best friend's pursuit of his wife, let alone the cholera epidemic and the starving mob.

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USC School of Dramatic Arts presents: GNIT

Meet Peter Gnit, a recklessly aspiring, self-deluded anti-hero. This twisted adaption of Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt is a rollicking and cautionary tale that challenges what we think we know about this classic character. At this unique moment in U.S. history, the questions and problems raised are alive with relevance.

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USC School of Dramatic Arts presents: SWIMMERS

Coyotes evading police. Billboards predicting the end of the world. It's been a strange day at the office, and it's only 9 a.m. Moving floor by floor from the basement to the roof, scenes between employees in a corporate office explore the angst-ridden relationships between those that people often take most advantage of: their coworkers.

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USC School of Dramatic Arts presents: THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA

Young Proteus only has eyes for his hometown sweetheart, Julia. But one look at the beautiful Silvia on a trip to Milan changes everything. Now he's smitten with his best friend's lover and his sweetheart has no intention of going away quietly. Events spin out of control as romantic rivals face off in this wild comic tale.

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USC School of Dramatic Arts presents: HOLY GHOSTS

Coleman Shedman arrives at the rural meeting house of a southern Pentecostal sect with a lawyer in tow, seeking to retrieve his runaway wife (and the possessions she has taken with her). But his wife, Nancy, is unwilling to forsake the love and protection of her new “husband,” the Reverend Obediah Buckhorn, and return to the brutal, hard-drinking Coleman. Rich with atmosphere and the feel of Southern rural life, the play blends humor and poignancy as it probes into the circumstances and stories of the various cult members.

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USC School of Dramatic Arts presents: THE BUSYBODY

First performed in 1709, this brilliantly witty and fast-paced comedy follows the characters Miranda and Isabinda as they attempt to arrange marriages to the men they love. Meanwhile, the hapless “busy body” Marplot tries to help his friends, but his valiant efforts only succeed in leading them closer towards disaster.

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USC School of Dramatic Arts presents: SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

Inspired by the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's stunning musical masterpiece, merges past and present into beautiful, poignant truths about life, love and the creation of art. One of the most acclaimed musicals of our time, this moving study of the enigmatic painter, Georges Seurat, won a Pulitzer Prize and was nominated for an astounding 10 Tony Awards, including best musical.

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USC School of Dramatic Arts presents: ROUGH MAGIC

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's action-adventure-fantasy conjures a mythical, magical meta-universe in which evil sorcerer Prospero steps out of the pages of Shakespeare's The Tempest and threatens death and destruction in modern-day Manhattan. To combat this supernatural foe, a quartet of unlikely heroes (including a dramaturg with magical powers) will emerge from the ashes to save the city and its citizens from complete and utter destruction.

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USC School of Dramatic Arts presents: QUEEN MARGARET

Margaret of Anjou becomes the central character of her own story in this edit of William Shakespeare's first tetralogy of history plays (Henry VI, Parts 1 -3; and Richard III). Intrigue, betrayal, romance and revenge play out as Margaret evolves from daughter to bride to queen to avenging warrior and grieving widow. Our BFA sophomores tell her tale of resilience, resolve and charisma.

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James and the Giant Peach

Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach features a wickedly tuneful score by the Tony & Academy Award-winning team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land, The Greatest Showman)and a curiously quirky book by Timothy Allen McDonald...When James is sent by his conniving aunts to chop down their old fruit tree, he discovers a magic potion that results in a tremendous peach and launches a journey of enormous proportions.

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Ada and the Engine

As the British Industrial Revolution dawns, young Ada Byron Lovelace (daughter of the flamboyant and notorious Lord Byron) sees the boundless creative potential in the “analytic engines” of her friend and soul-mate, Charles Babbage, inventor of the first mechanical computer. Ada envisions a whole new world where art and information converge – a world she might not live to see. A music-laced story of love, friendship, and the edgiest dreams of the future. Jane Austen meets Steve Jobs in this poignant pre-tech romance heralding the computer age.

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Man Of God

A hidden discovery in a hotel bathroom changes the lives of four Korean American Christian girls on a mission trip to Thailand. Samantha is hurt that someone she trusted could betray her. Jen is worried about how this might affect her college applications. Kyung-Hwa thinks everyone should adjust their expectations. Mimi's out for blood. Amid the neon lights and go-go bars in Bangkok, the girls plot revenge in this funny, feminist thriller.

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Venus in Fur

Thomas Novachek is a playwright/director looking for the perfect actress to play the lead in his adaptation of Leopold Sacher Mashoch's novella, Venus in Furs. He hasn't had much luck and is ready to call it a day when a very late arrival bursts into the room in a wave of chaos. This actress appears to be the worst of a bad lot. Despite his protestations, she manages to cajole him into letting her read and from that point on the night veers into titillating and uncharted territory where Thomas' biases and desires are laid bare. Venus in Fur is about human relationships, gender power dynamics and the matrix of stereotypes and assumptions that root seeming subversions. Its dark comedy and sexually charged scenarios provide fertile soil for exploration of subconscious and culturally mired desires, motivations, and expectations.

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Othello

The Bard's most intimate of family tragedies about the terrible force of love and the breakdown of a man who has everything—power, position, and passion—only to find his world decimated through intense mind games with his ensign. Prescient in its searing social commentary of prejudice, betrayal, and thwarted ambition, Shakespeare's thunderous drama examines who we trust and the price we pay for choosing wrong.

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The Twins of GillyGate

We find our twins on the eve of their 18th birthday in the kingdom of GillyGate. One is set to take the throne while the other sits in her tower with only a dragon to keep her company. Unbeknownst to both, a prophecy is about to unfold much to the dismay of their uncle, Lord Grimbert, who will do anything to stop a woman from taking the throne with the help of his trusty talking high horse. A musical tale woven together by a misfit traveling ensemble, this show will take you back to the Ren Faire. Full of bawdy, drunken fun mixed with some good ol' audience interaction, this show is fun for your whole family!…well maybe not your kids.

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The Chekhov Comedies

See Chekhov as you have never seen him before! Combine 5 short comedies, 25 characters, and 4 female actors, and you get 1 night of hilarity!

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Little Shop of Horror

For the misfits of Skid Row, life is full of broken dreams and dead ends. Seymour Krelborn is a meek and dejected assistant at a floral shop who happens upon a strange plant, which he affectionately names “Audrey II” after his crush at the shop. Little does he know that this strange and unusual plant will develop a soulful R&B voice, a potty mouth, and an unquenchable thirst for human blood. As Audrey II grows bigger and meaner, the carnivorous plant promises limitless fame and fortune to Seymour, as long as he continues providing a fresh supply of blood ... Featuring an electrifying early 1960s-style score from Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman.

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Canyon

In a backyard deep within a canyon during Labor Day weekend 2016 — before everything in America changed — we meet a newlywed couple and a Mexican father and son as they all try their best to find a better view. IAMA Theatre Company partners with the Latino Theater Company to present an immersive staging of this driving new play that takes a look at what happens when two families are rocked by an unpredictable accident that changes their lives forever. A look at gender, citizenship, and the costs of trying to live a conventional American life

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Too Much Sun

The West Coast premiere of the acclaimed off-Broadway hit by Nicky Silver (Broadway's The Lyons). Celebrated actress Audrey Langham reaches her breaking point while rehearsing Medea in Chicago — walking off the stage, out of the production and into her married daughter's summer house in Cape Cod, where her unexpected and unwelcome arrival sets off a chain of events alternately hilarious and harrowing.

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Phalaris's Bull: Solving the Riddle of the Great Big World

Harvard-educated molecular biologist, visual artist and provocative visionary philosopher, Steven Friedman has the answers to life's big questions. Using personal narrative, poetry, art, and science, he delivers a spell-binding performance reflecting his prismatic, transformative and deeply consoling vision of the world. Friedman offers a solution to the worlds pain based not on belief or faith but on logical rigor a philosophy starting from Kierkegaards story of an ancient torture device, Phalariss bull, that turns the terrible sounds of pain into music. To create is to enter Phalariss bull, and our pain becomes beauty.

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The Winners at the 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards

The 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards were presented on Monday, January 28, 2019, at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles where 36 awards were bestowed on theater productions, producers, directors, artists, and technicians.

Sixteen different Southern California theatre companies won thirty-six awards, including the Center Theatre Group for "Soft Power", Rogue Artists Ensemble and East West Players for "Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin," the Bootleg Theatre for "Theater Movement Bazaar's Grail Project," the Geffen Playhouse for "Ironbound," "Sell/Buy/Date," and "Skeleton Crew," the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts for "South Pacific" and "Ain't Misbehavin'," the Celebration Theatre  for "Priscilla Queen of the Desert,"  and  The Echo Theater Company  for "Cry it Out." A Noise Within received the Best Season Award  for "A Raisin in the Sun," "A Tale of Two Cities," "Henry V," "Mrs. Warren's Profession," "Noises Off," "The Madwoman of Chaillot."

Members of The Kilroys, hosts of the 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Monday, January 28, 2019. Photo by Monique A. LeBleu.

The Ovation Honors, which recognizes outstanding achievement in areas that are not among the standard list of nomination categories, were awarded to Adrien Prevost (Music Composition for a Play, Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, Rogue Artists Ensemble co-produced with East West Players) and Brian White, Sean Cawelti, Greg Ballora, Morgan Reban, Jack Pullman, and Christine Papalexis (Puppet Design, Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, Rogue Artists Ensemble co-produced with East West Players).

The Center Theatre Group presented the 2018 Richard E. Sherwood Award to writer, comedian, and performance artist Kristina Wong, which also includes $10,000 endowed by the Sherwood family for innovative and adventurous artists.

Wong, who took the unique opportunity of this night to announce her candidacy for Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council Subdistrict 5 Resident Representative, said in acceptance, “In this line of work there's a very fine line between being a madwoman and a visionary. It is so validating to be recognized as the latter by this vibrant LA Theatre community that has made me the performance artist slash political candidate that I am today."

The Kilroys came with their message to the theater community at large to encourage the hiring and support of more women, trans, and non-binary artists in theater in order to achieve gender balance. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Paula Vogel, offered words of encouragement to the theater community as well, aligning with The Kilroys message of the evening with "The sooner produced, the sooner prolific."

This year's show, held at the glorious landmark United Artists 1927 movie palace that is now the Theatre at Ace Hotel, was directed by Artistic Director of Coeurage Theatre Company Jer Adrianne Lelliott, also featured live performances including by women's choral group Vox Femina.

The Ovation Awards is annually produced by LA STAGE Alliance, "a non-profit organization dedicated to building awareness, appreciation, and support for the performing arts in Los Angeles" and companies DOMA Theatre CompanyUCLA School of Theater, Film & Television, F&D Scene Changes Ltd., USC School of Dramatic Arts, Bakers Man Productions, Venture Hill Entertainment LLC, Seven Waves Entertainment LLC, Requiem Media Productions LLC, Variety, and Ken Werther Publicity sponsored the event.

Here's the complete list of winners. For more information visit LAStageAlliance.com

The awards show was broadcast live on YouTube and Facebook, in case you missed the show or would like to relive it.

Featured top photo: Rachel Myers accepts her Ovation Award for Scenic Design (Large Theatre) for "Skeleton Crew" (Geffen Playhouse) at 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards, Theatre at Ace Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles, Monday, January 28, 2019. Photo by Monique A. LeBleu.


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Novel Entertainments - Part 1

Ever read a book and wish you could experience it, live? That's what playwrights are in business to do, isn't it? But how can the hundreds of pages of a novel be captured in “the two hours' traffic of the stage?” With nearly 600 pages, The Cider House Rules by John Irving needed two plays (well, one play in two parts for a five-hour encounter) to do it justice. The movie version reduced it to just over two-hours, leaving out so much, but wonderfully capturing the essence of Irving's intent. Shakespeare worked mostly with short stories and historical accounts, not whole novels – a chapter of Holinshed's Chronicles of England, one of the tales in Boccaccio's Decameron or Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a section of Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. But The Bard was mostly interested in plot points and character, not mood, tone, or style.

And most theater-goers in the 16th/17th Centuries hadn't read the story or poem that was crafted from the “best sellers” or important literary works available in their day. Today, books are often evaluated before publication for their dramatic potential with an eye to the commercial value they bring to a project. (“Everybody's read it.” “They're dying to see it on stage!” “It'll sell like hot cakes.”) And the dramatizations are usually (too often, perhaps) evaluated for their “faithful” representation of the source.

Of course, in the limited a space of a theater, with less than a tiny portion of the army of collaborators that's scrolled at the end of a film, what can you do? Obviously, it ain't easy. We've had five (and a sixth “inspired by”) such productions in Los Angeles this fall. Let's look at how they fared.

Let's begin with Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, recently presented in a relatively large-scale, rather complex production at Pasadena's popular classical repertory theater, A Noise Within.

There is a mythic conceit at the center of Oscar Wilde's late-Nineteenth Century novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. A trope that taps “into a root of Western folklore” according to the author of a recent study of the poet John Gray, who is believed to be the real Dorian Gray.

The conceit of the tale is the painted image of a beautiful young man that suffers the corrupting ravages of age while its living subject physically retains the bloom of youth. Hence, the vanity of beauty is made visibly dramatic by a Faustian bargain – a bargain that leads the living Dorian Gray to regret the deal he made, for it brings him a loveless life and the corruption of his soul. With this conceit, Wilde the novelist sets out to plumb the cost to the spirit of rampant narcissism. Originally made available to the public as a homoerotic magazine serial, the critical reception to Dorian Gray was typically Victorian – the wit and the writing were praised but it was deemed “unclean,” “poisonous,” “heavy with the mephitic odors (noxious vapors) of moral and spiritual putrefaction.” Sometime later, Wilde “cleaned up” the prose, extended the tale by a few chapters, and published it as a novel. That was 1890.

Five years later, 1895, Wilde was defending himself in a court of law against the charge of “gross indecency,” for which the main exhibit against him was his novel. He insisted that The Portrait of Dorian Gray was “a highly moral book decrying the pursuit of pleasure devoid of empathy or personal responsibility.” Does that mean that by portraying the sin of vanity as it inevitably corrupts the soul, one is forearmed against the commission of that particular sin? Isn't that like showing you the effects of excessive fatty food intake as a cure for the ills of obesity?

It is with a deep appreciation of Wilde's intent that one of the Southland's most talented directors, Michael Michetti, has created his own stage adaptation of Dorian Gray. Originally produced at the Boston Court in Pasadena, Michetti's newly revised adaptation, in a no-holds-barred, visually fascinating production aptly achieves the homoeroticism of Wilde's work.

Okay, but does Michetti's unquestioned artistry (and A Noise Within's restrained-lavish production elements) succeed in creating an effective stage work? In this case, it depends upon what one thinks is the purpose of the novel. Michetti, as director, has an abundance of theatrical ideas, filling the stage with Wilde's wit, strident music, and a wide-ranging cast of Victorian characters. At the center is, of course, the handsome youth, Dorian Gray. But there is also a loquacious Wilde stand-in, Sir Harry Wotton, the enlightening goad to Dorian's tragedy. Do these two characters give us a satisfying performance version of the novel's essence?

Unfortunately, except for a stunningly-staged finale, the real drama, the raison d'etre of the novel, seems veiled behind the verbal onslaught of Wilde's notorious wit and some over-wrought modern dancing.

While director Michetti fills the stage with movement and adaptor Michetti with a full evening's helping of the Wildean excess, “the mephitic odors of moral and spiritual putrefaction” – the corrosive effects of vanity on the soul – seems to get lost in the theatricality.

Even more than Shakespeare's Hamlet, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an internal drama – the soul as the battlefield between social values and naked impulse, the need to hold on to one's youth being at odds with the richness of experience and age. In Michetti's version, what seems to be lacking is the interior of the character. We are given a blank picture frame instead of being able to see the painting age, as Dorian's soul is increasingly devastated by the corruption of immortality.

Michetti, the ever-inventive director, has a penchant for countering expectations. In Michetti the adaptor's version of Shakespeare's Hamlet (also for A Noise Within, but many years ago) he eliminated the Ghost of King Hamlet. Why? Because, I think, Michetti the director wanted us to believe the dead monarch was not a ghost, but a deep-seated construct within the psyche of young Hamlet. So, his Hamlet is both characters, speaking the lines of the revengeful spirit facing a mirror (or really any reflective surface, for that matter). An intriguing idea that didn't always work.

Oscar Wilde, the novelist, is exploring the internal agony of Dorian's external vanity, but in Michetti's Dorian Gray, it's largely (not completely) missing – presented off-handedly, an observation here or there, buried in directorial business, or presented enigmatically in a Martha Graham-esque dance with extensive narration read from the novel. How much more moving would it be, how much more dramatic to hear – in private moments – Dorian speaking to himself, first recognizing, then denying, eventually trying to manage, finally being overwhelmed by the inner corruption that forces him to put a violent and tragic end to the conceit. But where Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is a tragedy, Michetti's Dorian is melodrama.

Of course, there is a more contemporary way of handling Wilde's novel. It would require some modest changes to the plotting, but it would realize the hidden drama – Oscar Wilde confronting his own beliefs. What adaptor every worried about a little dramatic license? By positioning Sir Henry as the central character and Dorian as the object of Henry's influence – just as Salieri, the lesser composer in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, sets Mozart, the better composer, on the road to destruction – it would allow the book's deeper concerns to be dramatically realized. Sir Henry would for all intents and purposes be Oscar Wilde, the narrator/novelist, living through the experience he's relating. And like Dr. Dysert, in Shaffer's Equus – a tame if wise psychiatrist, trying to cure the very pagan passions (in a young patient) he only wishes he was brave enough to experience – such a dramaturgic approach would allow the audience to experience the tragedy Wilde's novel give us.

Either approach would allow the stunningly-staged climax to bring Wilde's confrontation with the dangers of beauty to a more successful conclusion. Destroying the Picture of Dorian Gray would be the only way out.