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.


The Pasadena Playhouse To Host This Year’s Drama Critics Circle Awards

The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) has begun the celebration of its 50th anniversary by announcing its nominations for the year 2018 (Dec. 1, 2017 – Nov. 30, 2018). The Awards will take place on Monday, April 8, 2019, at the historic Pasadena Playhouse, in Pasadena’s Playhouse District.

Although the Pasadena Playhouse will be hosting the LADCC Awards for the very first time, returning once again is onstage host Wenzel Jones of IMRU, the LGBTQI Radio News Magazine on KPFK 90.7, as well as local composer-conductor Christopher Raymond as musical director for his second consecutive year. The entire production will be in the hands of stage manager Heatherlynn Gonzalez, veteran of more than a decade’s worth of LADCC service.

One or more plaques will be presented in each of 18 categories and seven special awards will also be presented. Topping the nominations, the Antaeus Theatre Company has a total of 12 in various categories, including for the McCulloh Award for Revival (plays written between 1920 and 1993) for their productions of both “The Hothouse” and “The Little Foxes.”A Noise Within has 10 nominations, including for Production for “A Picture of Dorian Gray.” The Center Theatre Group has a total of nine nominations, including for Production of “Come From Away.” Both the South Coast Repertory and East WestPlayers have seven nominations each. And the Celebration Theatre and the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, each with seven and six nominations, respectively, are uniquely both up for the McCulloh Award for Revival for their individual productions of “Cabaret.”

Sergio Trujillo, is nominated for Choreography for both “Ain’t Too Proud,” Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre and “On Your Feet,” Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Allison Dillard, is nominated for her work in Costume Design for both “Bliss, Or Emily Post Is Dead,” Moving Arts and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” Celebration Theatre. Set Designer John Iacovelli, a winner of multiple LADCC awards for Scene Design, is nominated for “The Little Foxes”, Antaeus Theatre Company.

The LADCC special award recipients are as follows:

  • The Polly Warfield Award for an excellent season in a small to mid-size theatre will be awarded to Echo Theater Company.
  • The Ted Schmitt Award for the world premiere of an outstanding new play goes to Lauren Yee for Cambodian Rock Band, originally produced by South Coast Repertory.
  • The Kinetic Lighting Award for distinguished achievement in theatrical design goes to sound designer Robert Oriol.
  • The Milton Katselas Award for distinguished achievement in direction goes to Cameron Watson.
  • The Gordon Davidson Award for distinguished contribution to the Los Angeles theatrical community will be presented to Native Voices at the Autry.

More of the complete list of nominees for the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards for theatrical excellence in 2018 is here.

The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle was founded in 1969. It is dedicated to excellence in theatrical criticism, and to the encouragement and improvement of theatre in Greater Los Angeles.

The Pasadena Playhouse is at 39 S El Molino Ave, in Pasadena. Standard general admission tickets (a small service fee applies) are $40 and are now available. All purchased tickets will be held at Will Call and tickets are also available at the door. The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a pre-show reception in the courtyard. The show will commence at 7:30 p.m. and nominees will receive instructions via email regarding how to claim complimentary tickets.

For all other inquiries, email: criticsawards2019@gmail.com.


JOAN OF ART: Delicious Food, Cinderella Like You’ve Never Seen Her Before, Art at the Rendon, and a Classical Musical That Never Grows Old

Now that the rain is over and the sun will be shinning it’s time to step out of your house, get into your car and explore some very cool events that will be happening this weekend in Los Angeles.

I love food… I consider myself of foodie… However my definition of a foodie is someone that loves to try new and different things to eat. I love restaurants that do a twist on classic dishes. Having said that, I am happy to report that you don’t have to go too far to experience one of my favorite restaurants that does just that… JAVIER’S which is considered the finest food of Mexico.

JAVIER’S presents a rich heritage of elevated Mexican cuisine in a friendly, captivating ambiance. Enjoy hand-shaken margaritas, rare tequilas, craft cocktails and a vast selection of beer and fine wines. Dine in the main dining room, al fresco patios, one of their intimate private dining rooms, or at the exquisite bar surrounded by one of the West Coast’s largest selection of the world’s finest tequilas.

JAVIER’S considers all their wonderful customers a part of their family and they thank them for their support and sharing in the success and joy that is JAVIER’S. Everyone needs to experience the freshness of their original Mexican cuisine in a warm, friendly environment at one of their six locations.

I’ll be going to the one located at the Westfield Century City this weekend.

Their other locations include Newport Beach, Las Vegas, Irvine, Los Cabos, and La Jolla. I promise it doesn’t matter which location you decide to visit, you will not be disappointed. Their food is absolutely exquisite and in everyone of their resturants you will experience the same fine dining that they are famous for.

Javier’s selects only the best and freshest ingredients available. The fish is always fresh and in season. They serve only number one White Mexican Prawns, Scallops, Dungeness Crab and Maine Lobster- all sustainable seafood. Oh and their Margaritas are unique and absolutely delicious. It’s hard to stop at one. I’ll be there this weekend for my friend’s birthday and I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

Javier’s is located at 10250 Santa Monica Blvd #1005, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Hours: Open at 10:30 and Closes at 10pm.

You can make reservations via OpenTable.com or by calling (424) 313-8143.

Now if you’re not too stuffed from feasting on all this incredible food, I suggest you get back into your car and head over to the Ahmanson Theatre to see Matthew Bourne’s CINDERELLA. I promise this is not your childhood Cinderella.

Matthew Bourne transforms the classic fairy tale into a wartime romance with a twist of Hollywood glamour. A chance meeting results in a magical night for Cinderella and her dashing RAF pilot together just long enough to fall in love before being parted by the Blitz.

Performed to Prokofiev’s magnificent score, this new production comes alive with heart stopping choreography, vivid theatrical storytelling and sumptuous award winning scenic and costume designs that will transport you, the audience, to the heart of war torn London for a timeless story of the power of love.

I’ve seen many of Bourne’s shows and I’ve been especially looking forward to this one.

The show plays at the Ahmanson and for tickets and more information go to CenterTheatreGroup.com.

CINDERELLA plays from February 5-March 10th 2019. The Ahmanson Theatre is located at The Music Center, 135 North Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles. If you see the show, leave your review on their page at Better-Lemons.com/production/cinderella-2.

Now what would a weekend be without ART and once again the Rendon Gallery l is presenting another one of their unique and I have to say amazing art shows. This one is called THE CASSPIR PROJECT.

For this iteration of THE CASSPIR PROJECT, Ziman has designed the massive gallery space with a “macro and micro” experience in mind. Each room within the gallery space brings context to the next, informing the project as whole. The exhibition starts with an installation of brightly colored AK-47s leading into a room with large photographs taken in Soweto. For the photos, Ziman recreated scenes from newspapers during the apartheid, incorporating many of the elements found within the exhibition such as the beaded guns and SPOEK 1. A screening room shows a 20 minute documentary by Ziman which tells the history of the Casspir, from its design and conception to people’s personal experiences with it in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It chronicles Ziman’s reclaiming of the Casspir, detailing how he transformed and Africanized it. The exhibition culminates with the dramatic presentation of SPOEK 1, lit only by a spotlight in a dark room.

Opening a dialogue between those who remember and those too young to know, The Casspir Project is a profound attempt to reconcile history. Ziman has reclaimed the savagely violent brute—embellished and bedazzled, the Casspir has been made less threatening, its power and authority subverted.

10% of sales of artworks (excluding the Casspir) will be donated between Brady Center To Prevent Violence, whose mission is to create a safer America by ending America’s gun violence epidemic, and The Ron Finley Project which aims to transform inner-cities around the World, from food deserts to food forests through urban gardening.

Ralph Ziman was born in 1963 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He has had solo exhibitions at Joseph Gross Gallery in Tuscon, AZ, and C.A.V.E. Gallery in Venice, CA, as well as group exhibitions at the National Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa, Brooklyn NY and the FNP Art Fair in Johannesburg, South Africa. His work has been written about in Art in America, BCC, and The Guardian.

For more information go to therendongallery.com. The off site location is at 1242 Palmetto Street Los Angeles. The Project will be on view from February 7th to March 7th 2019.

Whatever you choose to do this weekend, have a great one people!


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 2

This is a three part series.

To read Part 1 of this series, which discusses the recent production of The Picture of Dorian Gray that was performed at the Pasadena Playhouse, please go to Novel Entertainments – Part 1.

In a short run recently at Red Cap, co-presented with Center Theatre Group, the members of The Gob Squad fashioned Creation (Pictures for Dorian Gray). It’s a fascinating thematic exploration of The Picture of Dorian Gray by the seven-member, Anglo-German “arts collective” based in Berlin.


In the program the Squady quotes Wilde from the preface to the novel: “It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.” Which speaks to the endless reflections of looking into the mirror, which is what The Portrait is for Dorian. So, as one of the members told me, the work is based on Dorian’s reaction to first seeing the portrait of himself, his contemplation of what he sees – and what he makes of it as it ages and he doesn’t.

There is no attempt to bring its story, even its characters, to life. It’s not an adaptation. But it is theatrical, albeit more didactic than dramatic. All seven members of the Gob Squad are self-identified as middle-aged. They employ three local actors over eighty and three in their twenties to assist in making their Dorian-esque exploration of youthful hopes and beauty versus the elderly value of memories and experience – the dreams of youth in the light of the value of aging. Beginning with an Ikibana floral display which they put under a heat lamp to see the effects, they continue discussing the theme and creating examples using the young and the elderly singing and in confessional self-revelation.

It was an intriguing astringent amongst a group of dramatized novels, related to but with no attempt at capture the novel on stage.

***

Another offering in Pasadena this fall (at The Pasadena Playhouse) is Susan Hill’s acclaimed novel, The Woman in Black. It’s one of those English Christmas stories of ghostly gothic horror set in the very early years of the 20th Century. Written in 1983, it was dramatized in 1987 and presented in London’s West End in 1989 where it’s still (almost 30 years on) playing eight times a week. Mostly to tourists, I suspect.

Hill’s book tells the tale of a young lawyer who encounters horrific visions in an isolated windswept mansion set amidst the eerie marshes and howling winds of England’s forbidding North Coast. Brought to the stage by virtue of Stephen Mallatratt’s minimalist two-characters script, it is now touring the US in a re-creation of the London production. And it’s come for Halloween. Good timing. We colonials like our ghosts in their proper time slot – on All Hallows’ Eve or Dia de Los Muertos. Generally, we want our Christmas stories warm and toasty, infused with the exhilaration of a brightly wrapped present, not served on a plate of misty gloom with spine-tingling chills and startling thrills.

In the Playhouse production two excellent American actors (Bradley Armacost and Adam Wesley Brown) successfully capture a handful of the book’s idiosyncratic characters with consummate skill, and the technical production, the design, lighting, and special effects all work to create the novel’s mood. It is all one could ask for.

But as a piece of spooky stage drama? Adapted from a novel? Well, the play-within-a-reading concept seems at odds with itself. For this viewer, it never really achieves the “scary” heights the book provides, and the theatrical promos promise. Indeed, it seems that the brilliance of the theatricality and the clever direction work against it.

In the most recent film of the novel, Daniel Radcliffe played Arthur Kipps the central character, as a young troubled lawyer, whose unease was affecting his career. So, his journey to the haunted house was meant to give him a reboot. Hah! In this stage version Arthur Kipps is a middle-aged man (not the youngster of the novel) needing to share the horrors of his past with friend and family (so the action is in flashback). He’s written it down, and he starts the evening by reading it us. That he’s hired a never-named actor to help him with his presentation provides a wonderfully entertaining, charmingly humorous opening that leads the two of them to “act out” what Kipps has written down. This cleverly tips its hat to the prose origins of the story. Yet the rollicking entertainment of the opening sets an expectation of comedy. And as the tale unfolds, the stage script frequently breaks in on the intended mood of otherworldly eerie-scary. It shatters the illusion, mostly because the humor doesn’t flow from the tale but reminds us that the tale is being enacted on a stage.

The result is a production greatly to admire but ultimately a less than effective transmogrification of a top-notch ghost story into a spooky coup de theatre.

***

Another classic piece of ghostly English prose brought to the stage this fall in Los Angeles is another two-character reduction, this time of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, by noted playwright-screenwriter Jeffry Hatcher (screenwriter of the sublime Mr. Holmes and the lavish The Duchess). There are three characters if you believe you see the lady in Black.

Of the handful of adaptations viewed for this writing, even with its less than effective production values, this was the most satisfying – because the script hones to the intent of the novel and the actors were so convincing. Both actors made the experience of the novel’s legendary ambiguities palpable.

But it’s Hatcher’s script that, even if reduced to a handful of characters, quite successfully captures the tone of the novel, reducing the action to its essentials. Hatcher vividly brings key passages to life in mostly short effective scenes that sweeps the audience into and through the story. Like The Lady In Black, it takes place in a house haunted by past horrors. This time it’s about a young governess determined to care for two young children, but in over her head. Is the naughty boy playing a spooky game intent on driving her mad? Are there two spirits haunting the house, jealous of the governess’ presence? Is the all too knowing creepy housekeeper working to maintain control over the house by driving her bonkers? The questions, as per the novel, remain long after the curtain calls. And the mood lingers in the memory.


JOAN OF ART – A Great Broadway Musical, Salsa Dancing, Comedy, and a Car Show

Hope you all had a great thanksgiving weekend and are ready for some really fun pre-holiday events. First up is an awarding winning show straight from Broadway entitled COME FROM AWAY at the Ahmanson located at 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. This is a show that proves there are still some really great people on planet Earth.

The musical takes place on 9/11 when the world stopped. This is the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them. Cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night and gratitude grew into enduring friendships. The musical was written by Tony nominees Irene Sankoff and David Hein and features Christopher Ashley’s Tony winning direction.

I’m seeing tonight when it opens but the show plays until January 6th 2019 so you have plenty of time to see it. For tickets go to CenterTheatreGroup.org or call 213-628-2722.

In addition to theatre, music, film and eating, I love cars, especially vintage cars. Well there aren’t any vintage car shows around, but there is the 2018 L.A. Auto Show at the LA Convention Center from November 30th – December 9th and I’ll definitely be there. This is the world’s largest auto show with over 1000 vehicles. Whether it’s new vehicle shopping, free test drives, experiencing the latest tech or exploring an assortment of customized rides and exotics this is the place to be. The doors open at 9 am and close at 10pm. For tickets or more information go to LAAutoShow.com.

I also love to Salsa. Not sure if I put that on my list of fun things to do. Every Friday night is Salsa night at El Floridita Restaurant located at 1253 Vine Street in Los Angeles. Not only do they have delicious Cuban food but the band is sensational and the dancers, wow. It can be a little intimidating since their so good but everyone is welcoming and it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or a professional, it’s all about having a great time and I promise you, you will. For more information go to ELFloridita.com

And lastly if you want to laugh then get over to the Comedy Store in Hollywood. Saturday, December 1st, Dane Cook, Arsenio Hall, Bryan Callen, Brian Monarch and many more will be on stage sharing their humor with you.

The famous Comedy Store is located at 8433 Sunset Boulevard. The Main Room opens at 6:30 and there’s a two drink min per person. For more information or to purchase tickets to to TheComedyStore.com.

Whatever fun thing you chose to do people, have a great weekend.


Now registered this week on the Better Lemons Calendar August 20 to September 2, 2018

NEW! Shows and film festivals that have registered on the Better Lemons calendar. For more shows visit our Calendar. For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.
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BIG NIGHT and HEAD OF PASSES: the Hipster Scopes out Two New Shows at CTG

BIG NIGHT by Paul Rudnick, Directed by Walter Bobbie

Brian Hutchinson and Wendie Malick are son and mom in “The Big Night”

Paul Rudnick is a witty man.  In fact, no, he is a very witty man. I met him a few times at various New York theaters in the late 1980s, and each time he looked like he was on his way to a costume party, dressed as either the young Oscar Wilde or as Dorian Gray (is there a difference? not sure).  This might have seemed pretentious in someone else, but not with Paul Rudnick, to whom quips and bon mots come as naturally as sports metaphors do for the average male.  And, honestly, he probably is as close to our own homegrown Oscar Wilde as we are likely to get.

Which is both what is really good and what is really bad about his new play, BIG NIGHT, getting its world premiere now at the Kirk Douglas.  Rudnick has been all over town lately talking about how the mass murders at the Pulse nightclub “inspired” his play, because of the way it happened on the night before the 2016 Tony Awards.  “I remember thinking that that particular combination of showbiz celebration and human tragedy was very interesting to me as a writer and seemed like a high stakes and also comic situation,” Rudnick told The Jewish Journal.

The witty Mr. Rudnick

The killing of 49 gay people – 0r 26 LGBT  youth in the play – is “comic”?  Really?  Pray tell, how is that so?

The conceit of Rudnick’s play is that a gay actor of around 40 has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting actor, and the big night has finally arrived.  Early on we meet Cary (Max Jenkins) – probably the best-written character and best performance in the play – and his banter with Michael (Brian Hutchinson), Cary’s client and the nominated actor, establishes the showbiz-bubble world that they live in.

All good so far.  While the barbs are fired at familiar targets – Hollywood folks are “superficial”! Hold the presses! – there is still lots of fun to be had, staring in the mirror at their (and our) narcissism. Soon they are joined in the not very convincingly 21st century hotel suite (I half-expected Sammy Davis Jr to spring out from behind the sofa) by Michael’s transgender niece (Tom Phelan) and glamorously sexy mom (Wendie Malick), and the jollity continues. A few surprises ensue, and I wouldn’t dream of divulging them, but they did make me wonder about casting Ms Malick as the mom.  Don’t get me wrong – she’s a star, and very funny in everything she does, from Dream On to Just Shoot Me! to Hot in Cleveland.  But the character here is a nurturer, and that doesn’t really suit Malick’s persona.  I can think of a half-dozen actresses (with Linda Lavin at the top of the list) who would make this a much deeper and richer character, which is something this play dearly needs.

Because when the tragic events unfold, as they do, it’s not just Hollywood folk who end up seeming superficial.  The characters in this play, who have mostly been lots of fun to hang out with, become oddly reduced to one dimension, and fits of melodrama suddenly break out onstage like a disease that everyone becomes stricken with at once.

I’m sure this play will end up in New York, where it will doubtless have its admirers.  There is, yes, lots to admire in the brilliance of Paul Rudnick’s humor in general.  But his attempt to turn his gift towards the serious clanks off the backboard like a Carmelo Anthony 3-point brick (said the hetero critic).

 

HEAD OF PASSES by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Directed by Tina Landau

Phylicia Rashad and others. Photo: Glenn Koenig/LA Times

Ten minutes into the performance I saw of HEAD OF PASSES at the Taper, I was seized by an odd and discomforting feeling of deja vu.  This play reminded me uncannily of something else I’d seen before.  Here was the house in a storm and all these characters running around saying things that I couldn’t quite make any sense of.  There was the man running around with the potato salad gone bad, and there was Phylicia Rashad in the middle of it all, appealing to the Lord as the events around her went from bad to worse. But it wasn’t until the spectacular stage design apocalypse at the end of the Act that I realized – I’d seen this play before, 18 months ago, at the Public Theatre in NYC!  That’s why it seemed so familiar!  But why did it take me so long to figure it out?

It’s not memory – that hasn’t started a downhill slide yet.  I do see a lot of plays – something like 400 in the last two years alone – and that was definitely a factor.  But no, I think it has to do first with the title – “Head of Passes” – is that the most forgettable title ever?  And I have no idea what it means.  I’ve seen the play twice now, and it’s no clearer.  But no, the real reason is that nothing that happens in Act I has any emotional staying power.  And as a friend of mine remarked, you can see Eugene O’Neill’s style here and Tennessee Williams’s style there, and August Wilson‘s style everywhere.  I’m not saying that Tarell McCraney plagiarized anything, simply that his playwright’s voice is drowned out by those of his influences in Act I, which I think is why I didn’t realize right away that I’d seen this play before.  The writing comes across as generic, and frankly, the direction by Tina Landau doesn’t help matters by failing to find standout dramatic moments for the audience to hang onto.  It all becomes a jumble of bad news, a litany of misery, in which the outwardly affluent family is beset with problems that can no longer remain hidden.  And they don’t.

Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney,, whose talent emerges in Act II

Which brings us to Act II, when the real play emerges.  Though not before more emotionally-messy dramaturgy, when the characters leave an old woman in a crumbling house by herself without putting up much of an argument.  But once she is left alone, Ms Rashad’s Shelah wrestles with God in a compulsively watchable way, giving a performance that can genuinely be called a legend in the making.  And yes, it’s thrilling, a brilliant and soul-stirring turn.  It’s tempting to read more into Ms Rashad’s performance, to see her self-lacerating monologue as relating to her private misgivings about her public support for her friend Bill Cosby.  But again, I’m conjuring that out of thin air and only wish it was true.

[NOTE: my manager found this reference to Cosby offensive and urged me to remove it. This being Yom Kippur, I’m certainly not out to offend anyone – but being myself a victim of sexual abuse, I can’t help having the fantasy that Ms Rashad is secretly doing her own atoning.  Critics are allowed to have fantasies, aren’t they?]

What is absolutely self-evident is that Phylicia Rashad is one of our greatest actors, and if you want to see her reach unforgettable heights in a heartfelt but mostly-forgettable play, then you need to see “Head of Passes” – or is it “Bed of Asses”?  “”Spread of Gasses”?  “Ted’s New Glasses”?  – before it closes on October 22nd.

And, oh yeah, that set is pretty great too.  Kudos to set designer G.W. Mercier.  That’ couldn’t have been easy to make happen, but it serves as the perfect metaphor for this imploding family.

 


THE PLAYWRIGHT AS HERO – Shepard, Kushner, Stephens and Yee

I am going to talk about the National Theatre Live screening of Tony Kushner’s ANGELS IN AMERICA with Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield, and two new plays at CTG theaters, HEISENBERG and KING OF THE YEES.   But, to be completely honest, I’m having trouble moving on from the death of Sam Shepard.  Silly, I know.   I mean, I already wrote about my one extended encounter with him, so what more is there to say? Sam had a great run – 44 plays written, all the honors in the world (10 OBIE awards!), 68 film and TV roles, 27 screenplay credits, 32 credits for “himself” – that is, for playing Sam Shepard.  Remarkable.

when he arrived in NYC at 21

Of course, to be honest, Sam hadn’t written anything great since A LIE OF THE MIND and PARIS, TEXAS, both in 1984-85.  His 20 years of amazing creativity began in 1964 with Cowboy and The Rock Garden, and it included such gems (which you should definitely check out, if you don’t know them) as The Geography of a Horse Dreamer, The Unseen Hand, and Seduced – his odd but ingenious play about Howard Hughes, whose effectiveness depends on who’s playing Hughes.  I was lucky enough to see Rip Torn, and I’ll never forget it.

The thing with Sam is, he never sold out.  Some of his acting roles aren’t great – his dad afflicted with periodic spells of blindess in 1994’s Safe Passage is definitely not going in the time capsule – but even there, he never embarrassed himself, and he rarely if ever seemed to do anything just for the money.

in 1983, when he had the world by the short hairs

He was flat-out great as both Chuck Yeagar in The Right Stuff and as Major-General “Bill” Garrison in Black Hawk Down.  He was the best thing in the film of August Osage County, though his role should have been larger.  But if you really want to see a mind-blowing performance, check out Sam in 2012’s Mud as a fat, balding retired U.S. military sniper.  It’s not just that he’s unrecognizable, but his character is very real, and so different from anything else he’s ever done.

It’s hard to be as gifted as Sam was, and to become as famous as Sam did, and still hold on to your honor, your humility and your soul.  So here’s to Sam: you put up a battle with your demons that we can all be proud of.  Sleep well, my friend.

In my 2004 theater memoir, Best Revenge,  I wrote, “As tremendous as Tony Kushner’s achievement was [in Angels in America], its “universality” may have been largely a product of being in the right place at the right time.  It will endure as dramatic literature, not drama.”  Wrong.  So wrong.  After viewing the eight hours of Angels on successive Thursdays in the National Theatre Live production, I can only say “Wow. What a writer.  And what an epic!  How universal!”  It really is one of the great American plays, which does things and goes places that no other writer has done or gone.  It has the largeness of spirit of Walt Whitman (the main character is “Prior Walter”) with the analytic genius of George Orwell and the sheer theatricality of Brecht at his greatest and, well, Tony Kushner at his greatest too.  What a vision!  This production is directed by Marianne Elliott (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime) and features Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter, Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn, Denise Gough as Harper Pitt, Russell Tovey as Joseph Pitt, Susan Brown as Hannah Pitt, James McArdle as Louis, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Belize and Amanda Lawrence as the Angel.  All excellent actors, worthy of mention.  The major curiosity, of course, surrounds the two best-known actors, Garfield and Lane.  How were they?

Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter. Photo by Helen Maybanks

Now I saw both the original Broadway cast  and their replacement cast, as well as the Mike Nichols film, so I have some basis of comparison.  Andrew Garfield is very good, but I’ll still take Stephen Spinella, who originated Prior Walter on Broadway.  Garfield has more charisma and style than Spinella, but Spinella had more gravitas, a more matter-of-fact sense of hurt.  Spinella anchored the show in the reality of his gayness, the richness of his emotional pain.  Garfield just doesn’t have that.  As for Nathan Lane — sorry, but no.  He’s a great actor, one of our greatest, but he’s not right for this role; in fact he couldn’t be more wrong.  Physically, he suggests J. Edgar Hoover, not Cohn.  Lane’s great gift is to humanize his characters, to show us the clown crying on the inside, and that doesn’t work here.  Giving Roy Cohn a soul – wrong!  That’s not how Kushner wrote him.  Ron Liebman was the greatest Cohn I’ve seen, seething with rage at the injustice of his fate.  But Pacino was also great.  Neither of them gave Roy Cohn the gooey center that Nathan Lane does, and it simply doesn’t work.  For me, this production was stolen by McArdle and Tovey, who are both endlessly fascinating as Louis the temp and as Joe Pitt, the Mormon lawyer he works for.  Both are much better than the other actors I’ve seen take on those roles.   Stewart-Jarrett comes alive in Perestroika, the second half of the show, but he can’t hold a candle to Jeffrey Wright in the original Broadway cast.  (I doubt anyone ever will.)  Gough is fine as Harper, the pill-popping wife of the gay lawyer, but both Marcia Gay Harden on Broadway and Mary Louise Parker in the Nichols’ film were better.  I loved Susan Brown’s work as Hannah, the gay lawyer’s mother, she’s gruff at first, but then reveals her inner sexiness in a way I don’t recall seeing before.  Still, better than Meryl Streep or Kathleen Chalfant?  Not really possible.  On the whole, the production didn’t shake up the world the way that Wolfe’s did.  But the real star is and always will be Kushner, who has written an American masterpiece about the way we dream.  My only caveate – and I have to say it – is that ending, in which Prior Walter becomes Tony Kushner and “blesses” the audience as “fabulous.”  Sorry but that feels patronizing.  Just stay inside your character, Tony, and let him speak for himself.  No need to pat yourself on the back when everyone else already wants to.  That said, go and see an encore showing of this video version – essential viewing for anyone with a brain.

KING OF THE YEES by Lauren Yee, Directed by Joshua Kahan Brody

Lauren Yee’s play The King of the Yees is about Lauren Yee and her family’s 150 year old trade association, to which only male Yees can be admitted.  This is actually a great idea for a play, with a great central  metaphor: the red double doors to the family association, doors which Lauren as a female has never been able to open.  And I’m convinced that there’s a very good – even possibly great – 90 minute play hidden in the 125 minutes of the current version about how Lauren finally gains admission to the secret history of her ancestors.  If I was a dramaturg – a position I held for 5 years at an Off-Broadway theater – and I was assigned to this play, I would say: I know that this play is based on your life and that many events related here actually happened, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily belong in your play.  Because right now the First Act is 10-15 minutes of good theater and 30 minutes of pseudo-theater, in which you’re playing silly games and stalling for time, so you can slip in two minutes of a cliffhanger before intermission.  A third of your audience left, and I would have too if I wasn’t contracted to stay.   Then you have 40 good minutes in your Second Act and another 15 minutes of bullshit.  Let’s find a way to take this apart and put it back together into 90 strong minutes.  As Scott Carter (Bill Maher’s producer) once told me, “If you do five minutes of standup, and there are two good and three bad minutes, the audience is not going to love you for the two good minutes; they’re gonna hate you for wasting their time with the three bad minutes.”

HEISENBERG by Simon Stephens, directed by Mark Brokaw

Mary Louise Parker and Dennis Arndt

This is an enigmatic little play which belongs in a small theater not as large a space as the Mark Taper.  The Taper seems to realize this, and they seat audience on both sides of a skinny slice of stage space, trying to create as intimate a playing area as they can.  Personally I was sitting in the 5th row, and the magic didn’t quite touch  me.  (A friend of mine told me she sat in the third row, and she was swept away, so maybe that’s the key.) I admired the eccentricity of Mary Louise Parker’s performance as a 40 year old woman who begins the play by kissing the back of the neck of a 77 year old stranger in a bus station, an event that in real life might instigate many things, but significant dialogue is not one of them.  I was deeply aware throughout of the unlikelihood of this scenario, this sequence of events, though that seemed to be what the playwright, Simon Stephens (The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime, Punk Rock), is going for.  “How far can I push these highly unlikely events?  How long can I sustain this highly ridiculous premise?”  The actors, Mary Louise Parker and Dennis Arndt, are both deeply focused and committed, though I kept wondering why Parker didn’t have a British accent?  In the play she speaks again and again about how she comes from Islington in London, but Parker makes no attempt to change the speaking voice that we are so accustomed to from Weeds and so many other shows; and Arndt’s character never mentions this, so I simply don’t get it.  Nevertheless, there is something engaging, even moving, in the way that Stephens stretches out his slight and unlikely premise into a full-length play.  The play after all is titled Heisenberg, the scientist who is known for giving us The Uncertainty Principle in Quantum Physics.  Simon Stephens captures here both the uncertainty of the human condition and the uncertainty of ever really connecting with another human being.  It’s only around until August 6th, so go this weekend if you can.  Just sit in the first 3 rows, okay?


Center Theatre Group’s 2018 Richard E. Sherwood Award Application deadline has been extended!

Center Theatre Group annually awards $10,000 to one innovative and adventurous Los Angeles-based theatre artist. A grace period has been extended to all applications that have been started by June 5. All submissions and materials (including the letter of recommendation) for Center Theatre Group’s Sherwood Award must be received by Friday June 9, 2017 at 11:59 pm.
The application, eligibility guidelines, and information for the 2018 Sherwood Award are now available at CenterTheatreGroup.org/Sherwood.
Since 1996, nineteen artists have received the $10,000 Sherwood Award, which was established in memory of Richard E. Sherwood as an endowed fund to support innovative, adventurous theatre artists working in Los Angeles.
This past January, lighting designer, Pablo Santiago, was presented with the 2017 Sherwood Award at the annual Ovation Awards ceremony, which recognizes excellence in theatrical performance, production and design in the Greater Los Angeles Area and are produced by LA STAGE Alliance.
Three finalists are announced prior to the Ovation Awards and all three Finalists are celebrated leading up to the Award Announcement, allowing each Finalist more involvement with Center Theatre Group’s initiatives. An honorarium of $2,000 is awarded to each of the two remaining finalists. Please note that artists can only be eligible for the Finalist Honorarium for two consecutive years, after which they must wait one calendar year before reapplying.
The application and more information about the Sherwood Award can be found here.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email Sherwood@CTGLA.org.


CENTER THEATRE GROUP NOW ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS FOR THE E. SHERWOOD AWARD

CENTER THEATRE GROUP NOW ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS
FOR THE 2018 RICHARD E. SHERWOOD AWARD

June 5 is the Deadline to Apply for $10,000 Award
for Emerging L.A. Theatre Artists 

Center Theatre Group is now accepting submissions for the 2018 Richard E. Sherwood Award. The deadline to submit an application is June 5, 2017, at 11:59 p.m.
The Sherwood Award is an annual $10,000 prize that supports innovative and adventurous theatre artists and engages them in a professional relationship with Center Theatre Group. The award is presented each year at the Ovation Awards ceremony produced by LA Stage Alliance. Two additional finalists will receive a $2,000 honorarium.
Center Theatre Group invites individual emerging artists to submit an application if they have resided in Los Angeles for at least two years and have developed or collaborated in at least two fully produced projects in Los Angeles. Sherwood awardees demonstrate leadership qualities, push existing boundaries and are dedicated to improving the future of their respective artistic fields. Artists are not limited by title, role or genre, but they must have a relationship to contemporary performance rooted in theatre.
Center Theatre Group will also offer two information sessions to prospective applicants on Friday, May 12 at 6pm. (must RSVP by Wednesday, May 10) and Monday, May 22 at 7 p.m. (must RSVP by Thursday, May 18). To RSVP or to receive more information about the sessions, please email Sherwood@CTGLA.org. Both sessions will be held at The Music Center Annex building, 601 W. Temple Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.
Created in memory of Richard E. Sherwood, the $10,000 award aims to cultivate emerging theatre artists working in Los Angeles who push formal and aesthetic boundaries and demonstrate dedication to improving their respective artistic fields.
Richard E. Sherwood was a patron of the arts with a special appreciation for emerging artists who are in the vanguard of theatre. He was president and then chairman of the Center Theatre Group Board of Directors from 1980 until his passing in 1993. The 2018 Sherwood Award Accepting Submissions Through June 5 – 2 award is established as an endowed fund at Center Theatre Group by his family, friends, colleagues and fellow board members to honor Sherwood’s passionate commitment to theatre.
Past recipients of the Richard E. Sherwood Award include lighting designer Pablo Santiago, Miwa Matreyek of Cloud Eye Control, Sean Cawelti of Rogue Artists Ensemble, Miranda Wright of Los Angeles Performance Practice, Lars Jan of Early Morning Opera, lighting designer Christopher Kuhl and costume designer Ann Closs-Farley, among others.
Center Theatre Group, one of the nation’s preeminent arts and cultural organizations, is Los Angeles’ leading nonprofit theatre company, programming seasons at the 736-seat Mark Taper Forum and 1600 to 2000-seat Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles, and the 317-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. In addition to presenting and producing the broadest range of theatrical entertainment in the country, Center Theatre Group is one of the nation’s leading producers of ambitious new works through commissions and world premiere productions and a leader in interactive community engagement and education programs that reach across generations, demographics and circumstance to serve Los Angeles.
For more information about the Richard E. Sherwood Award, please visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/Sherwood. For questions or concerns about the application process or to RSVP to the information sessions, please contact Sherwood@CTGLA.org.


Drama League Awards, CTG Playwrights Initiative and more – This Week's Must Read

HERE ARE THIS WEEK’S BEST ARTICLES ABOUT THE PERFORMING ARTS AND CULTURE

  • Center Theatre Group partners with NY Second Stage in commissioning new work (New York Times)
  • Center Theatre Group Launches New Playwrights Initiative (American Theatre)
  • 11 of the funniest Shakespearean insults (What’s On Stage)
  • Sam Gold on Trump and theatre: ‘We have a place to put our anger and fear’ (Guardian)
  • Participatory Performance, Activism, and the Limits of Change (Howlround)
  • The George Takei musical ‘Allegiance’ is coming to L.A. (LA Times)
  • This Is a Journey Into Sound: Simon McBurney on ‘The Encounter’ (American Theatre)
  • Emma Rice: Shakespeare’s Globe board ‘did not respect me’ (The Stage)
  • Drama League Awards Nominees- What It All Means for the 2017 Tony Awards (Broadway World)
  • Steve Martin on Teaching You (and Himself) How to Be a Comedian (NY Times)
  • What Role Can Art Play In Politics? (Theatre Times)

What “must read” stories in the arts did you encounter this week?